Etext prepared by John Bickers, email@example.com and Dagny, firstname.lastname@example.org
See also eBook #13094
HEART OF THE WEST
by O. Henry
I. Hearts and Crosses
II. The Ransom of Mack
III. Telemachus, Friend
IV. The Handbook of Hymen
V. The Pimienta Pancakes
VI. Seats of the Haughty
VII. Hygeia at the Solito
VIII. An Afternoon Miracle
IX. The Higher Abdication
X. Cupid a la Carte
XI. The Caballero’s Way
XII. The Sphinx Apple
XIII. The Missing Chord
XIV. A Call Loan
XV. The Princess and the Puma
XVI. The Indian Summer of Dry Valley Johnson XVII. Christmas by Injunction
XVIII. A Chaparral Prince
XIX. The Reformation of Calliope
HEART OF THE WEST
HEARTS AND CROSSES
Baldy Woods reached for the bottle, and got it. Whenever Baldy went for anything he usually–but this is not Baldy’s story. He poured out a third drink that was larger by a finger than the first and second. Baldy was in consultation; and the consultee is worthy of his hire.
“I’d be king if I was you,” said Baldy, so positively that his holster creaked and his spurs rattled.
Webb Yeager pushed back his flat-brimmed Stetson, and made further disorder in his straw-coloured hair. The tonsorial recourse being without avail, he followed the liquid example of the more resourceful Baldy.
“If a man marries a queen, it oughtn’t to make him a two-spot,” declared Webb, epitomising his grievances.
“Sure not,” said Baldy, sympathetic, still thirsty, and genuinely solicitous concerning the relative value of the cards. “By rights you’re a king. If I was you, I’d call for a new deal. The cards have been stacked on you–I’ll tell you what you are, Webb Yeager.”
“What?” asked Webb, with a hopeful look in his pale-blue eyes.
“You’re a prince-consort.”
“Go easy,” said Webb. “I never blackguarded you none.”
“It’s a title,” explained Baldy, “up among the picture-cards; but it don’t take no tricks. I’ll tell you, Webb. It’s a brand they’re got for certain animals in Europe. Say that you or me or one of them Dutch dukes marries in a royal family. Well, by and by our wife gets to be queen. Are we king? Not in a million years. At the coronation ceremonies we march between little casino and the Ninth Grand Custodian of the Royal Hall Bedchamber. The only use we are is to appear in photographs, and accept the responsibility for the heir- apparent. That ain’t any square deal. Yes, sir, Webb, you’re a prince- consort; and if I was you, I’d start a interregnum or a habeus corpus or somethin’; and I’d be king if I had to turn from the bottom of the deck.”
Baldy emptied his glass to the ratification of his Warwick pose.
“Baldy,” said Webb, solemnly, “me and you punched cows in the same outfit for years. We been runnin’ on the same range, and ridin’ the same trails since we was boys. I wouldn’t talk about my family affairs to nobody but you. You was line-rider on the Nopalito Ranch when I married Santa McAllister. I was foreman then; but what am I now? I don’t amount to a knot in a stake rope.”
“When old McAllister was the cattle king of West Texas,” continued Baldy with Satanic sweetness, “you was some tallow. You had as much to say on the ranch as he did.”
“I did,” admitted Webb, “up to the time he found out I was tryin’ to get my rope over Santa’s head. Then he kept me out on the range as far from the ranch-house as he could. When the old man died they commenced to call Santa the ‘cattle queen.’ I’m boss of the cattle–that’s all. She ‘tends to all the business; she handles all the money; I can’t sell even a beef-steer to a party of campers, myself. Santa’s the ‘queen’; and I’m Mr. Nobody.”
“I’d be king if I was you,” repeated Baldy Woods, the royalist. “When a man marries a queen he ought to grade up with her–on the hoof– dressed–dried–corned–any old way from the chaparral to the packing- house. Lots of folks thinks it’s funny, Webb, that you don’t have the say-so on the Nopalito. I ain’t reflectin’ none on Miz Yeager–she’s the finest little lady between the Rio Grande and next Christmas–but a man ought to be boss of his own camp.”
The smooth, brown face of Yeager lengthened to a mask of wounded melancholy. With that expression, and his rumpled yellow hair and guileless blue eyes, he might have been likened to a schoolboy whose leadership had been usurped by a youngster of superior strength. But his active and sinewy seventy-two inches, and his girded revolvers forbade the comparison.
“What was that you called me, Baldy?” he asked. “What kind of a concert was it?”
“A ‘consort,'” corrected Baldy–“a ‘prince-consort.’ It’s a kind of short-card pseudonym. You come in sort of between Jack-high and a four-card flush.”
Webb Yeager sighed, and gathered the strap of his Winchester scabbard from the floor.
“I’m ridin’ back to the ranch to-day,” he said half-heartedly. “I’ve got to start a bunch of beeves for San Antone in the morning.”
“I’m your company as far as Dry Lake,” announced Baldy. “I’ve got a round-up camp on the San Marcos cuttin’ out two-year-olds.”
The two /companeros/ mounted their ponies and trotted away from the little railroad settlement, where they had foregathered in the thirsty morning.
At Dry Lake, where their routes diverged, they reined up for a parting cigarette. For miles they had ridden in silence save for the soft drum of the ponies’ hoofs on the matted mesquite grass, and the rattle of the chaparral against their wooden stirrups. But in Texas discourse is seldom continuous. You may fill in a mile, a meal, and a murder between your paragraphs without detriment to your thesis. So, without apology, Webb offered an addendum to the conversation that had begun ten miles away.
“You remember, yourself, Baldy, that there was a time when Santa wasn’t quite so independent. You remember the days when old McAllister was keepin’ us apart, and how she used to send me the sign that she wanted to see me? Old man Mac promised to make me look like a colander if I ever come in gun-shot of the ranch. You remember the sign she used to send, Baldy–the heart with a cross inside of it?”
“Me?” cried Baldy, with intoxicated archness. “You old sugar-stealing coyote! Don’t I remember! Why, you dad-blamed old long-horned turtle- dove, the boys in camp was all cognoscious about them hiroglyphs. The ‘gizzard-and-crossbones’ we used to call it. We used to see ’em on truck that was sent out from the ranch. They was marked in charcoal on the sacks of flour and in lead-pencil on the newspapers. I see one of ’em once chalked on the back of a new cook that old man McAllister sent out from the ranch–danged if I didn’t.”
“Santa’s father,” explained Webb gently, “got her to promise that she wouldn’t write to me or send me any word. That heart-and-cross sign was her scheme. Whenever she wanted to see me in particular she managed to put that mark on somethin’ at the ranch that she knew I’d see. And I never laid eyes on it but what I burnt the wind for the ranch the same night. I used to see her in that coma mott back of the little horse-corral.”
“We knowed it,” chanted Baldy; “but we never let on. We was all for you. We knowed why you always kept that fast paint in camp. And when we see that gizzard-and-crossbones figured out on the truck from the ranch we knowed old Pinto was goin’ to eat up miles that night instead of grass. You remember Scurry–that educated horse-wrangler we had– the college fellow that tangle-foot drove to the range? Whenever Scurry saw that come-meet-your-honey brand on anything from the ranch, he’d wave his hand like that, and say, ‘Our friend Lee Andrews will again swim the Hell’s point to-night.'”
“The last time Santa sent me the sign,” said Webb, “was once when she was sick. I noticed it as soon as I hit camp, and I galloped Pinto forty mile that night. She wasn’t at the coma mott. I went to the house; and old McAllister met me at the door. ‘Did you come here to get killed?’ says he; ‘I’ll disoblige you for once. I just started a Mexican to bring you. Santa wants you. Go in that room and see her. And then come out here and see me.’
“Santa was lyin’ in bed pretty sick. But she gives out a kind of a smile, and her hand and mine lock horns, and I sets down by the bed– mud and spurs and chaps and all. ‘I’ve heard you ridin’ across the grass for hours, Webb,’ she says. ‘I was sure you’d come. You saw the sign?’ she whispers. ‘The minute I hit camp,’ says I. ”Twas marked on the bag of potatoes and onions.’ ‘They’re always together,’ says she, soft like–‘always together in life.’ ‘They go well together,’ I says, ‘in a stew.’ ‘I mean hearts and crosses,’ says Santa. ‘Our sign–to love and to suffer–that’s what they mean.’
“And there was old Doc Musgrove amusin’ himself with whisky and a palm-leaf fan. And by and by Santa goes to sleep; and Doc feels her forehead; and he says to me: ‘You’re not such a bad febrifuge. But you’d better slide out now; for the diagnosis don’t call for you in regular doses. The little lady’ll be all right when she wakes up.’
“I seen old McAllister outside. ‘She’s asleep,’ says I. ‘And now you can start in with your colander-work. Take your time; for I left my gun on my saddle-horn.’
“Old Mac laughs, and he says to me: ‘Pumpin’ lead into the best ranch- boss in West Texas don’t seem to me good business policy. I don’t know where I could get as good a one. It’s the son-in-law idea, Webb, that makes me admire for to use you as a target. You ain’t my idea for a member of the family. But I can use you on the Nopalito if you’ll keep outside of a radius with the ranch-house in the middle of it. You go upstairs and lay down on a cot, and when you get some sleep we’ll talk it over.'”
Baldy Woods pulled down his hat, and uncurled his leg from his saddle- horn. Webb shortened his rein, and his pony danced, anxious to be off. The two men shook hands with Western ceremony.
“/Adios/, Baldy,” said Webb, “I’m glad I seen you and had this talk.”
With a pounding rush that sounded like the rise of a covey of quail, the riders sped away toward different points of the compass. A hundred yards on his route Baldy reined in on the top of a bare knoll, and emitted a yell. He swayed on his horse; had he been on foot, the earth would have risen and conquered him; but in the saddle he was a master of equilibrium, and laughed at whisky, and despised the centre of gravity.
Webb turned in his saddle at the signal.
“If I was you,” came Baldy’s strident and perverting tones, “I’d be king!”
At eight o’clock on the following morning Bud Turner rolled from his saddle in front of the Nopalito ranch-house, and stumbled with whizzing rowels toward the gallery. Bud was in charge of the bunch of beef-cattle that was to strike the trail that morning for San Antonio. Mrs. Yeager was on the gallery watering a cluster of hyacinths growing in a red earthenware jar.
“King” McAllister had bequeathed to his daughter many of his strong characteristics–his resolution, his gay courage, his contumacious self-reliance, his pride as a reigning monarch of hoofs and horns. /Allegro/ and /fortissimo/ had been McAllister’s temp and tone. In Santa they survived, transposed to the feminine key. Substantially, she preserved the image of the mother who had been summoned to wander in other and less finite green pastures long before the waxing herds of kine had conferred royalty upon the house. She had her mother’s slim, strong figure and grave, soft prettiness that relieved in her the severity of the imperious McAllister eye and the McAllister air of royal independence.
Webb stood on one end of the gallery giving orders to two or three sub-bosses of various camps and outfits who had ridden in for instructions.
“Morning,” said Bud briefly. “Where do you want them beeves to go in town–to Barber’s, as usual?”
Now, to answer that had been the prerogative of the queen. All the reins of business–buying, selling, and banking–had been held by her capable fingers. The handling of cattle had been entrusted fully to her husband. In the days of “King” McAllister, Santa had been his secretary and helper; and she had continued her work with wisdom and profit. But before she could reply, the prince-consort spake up with calm decision:
“You drive that bunch to Zimmerman and Nesbit’s pens. I spoke to Zimmerman about it some time ago.”
Bud turned on his high boot-heels.
“Wait!” called Santa quickly. She looked at her husband with surprise in her steady gray eyes.
“Why, what do you mean, Webb?” she asked, with a small wrinkle gathering between her brows. “I never deal with Zimmerman and Nesbit. Barber has handled every head of stock from this ranch in that market for five years. I’m not going to take the business out of his hands.” She faced Bud Turner. “Deliver those cattle to Barber,” she concluded positively.
Bud gazed impartially at the water-jar hanging on the gallery, stood on his other leg, and chewed a mesquite-leaf.
“I want this bunch of beeves to go to Zimmerman and Nesbit,” said Webb, with a frosty light in his blue eyes.
“Nonsense,” said Santa impatiently. “You’d better start on, Bud, so as to noon at the Little Elm water-hole. Tell Barber we’ll have another lot of culls ready in about a month.”
Bud allowed a hesitating eye to steal upward and meet Webb’s. Webb saw apology in his look, and fancied he saw commiseration.
“You deliver them cattle,” he said grimly, “to–“
“Barber,” finished Santa sharply. “Let that settle it. Is there anything else you are waiting for, Bud?”
“No, m’m,” said Bud. But before going he lingered while a cow’s tail could have switched thrice; for man is man’s ally; and even the Philistines must have blushed when they took Samson in the way they did.
“You hear your boss!” cried Webb sardonically. He took off his hat, and bowed until it touched the floor before his wife.
“Webb,” said Santa rebukingly, “you’re acting mighty foolish to-day.”
“Court fool, your Majesty,” said Webb, in his slow tones, which had changed their quality. “What else can you expect? Let me tell you. I was a man before I married a cattle-queen. What am I now? The laughing-stock of the camps. I’ll be a man again.”
Santa looked at him closely.
“Don’t be unreasonable, Webb,” she said calmly. “You haven’t been slighted in any way. Do I ever interfere in your management of the cattle? I know the business side of the ranch much better than you do. I learned it from Dad. Be sensible.”
“Kingdoms and queendoms,” said Webb, “don’t suit me unless I am in the pictures, too. I punch the cattle and you wear the crown. All right. I’d rather be High Lord Chancellor of a cow-camp than the eight-spot in a queen-high flush. It’s your ranch; and Barber gets the beeves.”
Webb’s horse was tied to the rack. He walked into the house and brought out his roll of blankets that he never took with him except on long rides, and his “slicker,” and his longest stake-rope of plaited raw-hide. These he began to tie deliberately upon his saddle. Santa, a little pale, followed him.
Webb swung up into the saddle. His serious, smooth face was without expression except for a stubborn light that smouldered in his eyes.
“There’s a herd of cows and calves,” said he, “near the Hondo water- hole on the Frio that ought to be moved away from timber. Lobos have killed three of the calves. I forgot to leave orders. You’d better tell Simms to attend to it.”
Santa laid a hand on the horse’s bridle, and looked her husband in the eye.
“Are you going to leave me, Webb?” she asked quietly.
“I am going to be a man again,” he answered.
“I wish you success in a praiseworthy attempt,” she said, with a sudden coldness. She turned and walked directly into the house.
Webb Yeager rode to the southeast as straight as the topography of West Texas permitted. And when he reached the horizon he might have ridden on into blue space as far as knowledge of him on the Nopalito went. And the days, with Sundays at their head, formed into hebdomadal squads; and the weeks, captained by the full moon, closed ranks into menstrual companies crying “Tempus fugit” on their banners; and the months marched on toward the vast camp-ground of the years; but Webb Yeager came no more to the dominions of his queen.
One day a being named Bartholomew, a sheep-man–and therefore of little account–from the lower Rio Grande country, rode in sight of the Nopalito ranch-house, and felt hunger assail him. /Ex consuetudine/ he was soon seated at the mid-day dining table of that hospitable kingdom. Talk like water gushed from him: he might have been smitten with Aaron’s rod–that is your gentle shepherd when an audience is vouchsafed him whose ears are not overgrown with wool.
“Missis Yeager,” he babbled, “I see a man the other day on the Rancho Seco down in Hidalgo County by your name–Webb Yeager was his. He’d just been engaged as manager. He was a tall, light-haired man, not saying much. Perhaps he was some kin of yours, do you think?”
“A husband,” said Santa cordially. “The Seco has done well. Mr. Yeager is one of the best stockmen in the West.”
The dropping out of a prince-consort rarely disorganises a monarchy. Queen Santa had appointed as /mayordomo/ of the ranch a trusty subject, named Ramsay, who had been one of her father’s faithful vassals. And there was scarcely a ripple on the Nopalito ranch save when the gulf-breeze created undulations in the grass of its wide acres.
For several years the Nopalito had been making experiments with an English breed of cattle that looked down with aristocratic contempt upon the Texas long-horns. The experiments were found satisfactory; and a pasture had been set aside for the blue-bloods. The fame of them had gone forth into the chaparral and pear as far as men ride in saddles. Other ranches woke up, rubbed their eyes, and looked with new dissatisfaction upon the long-horns.
As a consequence, one day a sunburned, capable, silk-kerchiefed nonchalant youth, garnished with revolvers, and attended by three Mexican /vaqueros/, alighted at the Nopalito ranch and presented the following business-like epistle to the queen thereof:
Mrs. Yeager–The Nopalito Ranch:
I am instructed by the owners of the Rancho Seco to purchase 100 head of two and three-year-old cows of the Sussex breed owned by you. If you can fill the order please deliver the cattle to the bearer; and a check will be forwarded to you at once.
Manager the Rancho Seco.
Business is business, even–very scantily did it escape being written “especially”–in a kingdom.
That night the 100 head of cattle were driven up from the pasture and penned in a corral near the ranch-house for delivery in the morning.
When night closed down and the house was still, did Santa Yeager throw herself down, clasping that formal note to her bosom, weeping, and calling out a name that pride (either in one or the other) had kept from her lips many a day? Or did she file the letter, in her business way, retaining her royal balance and strength?
Wonder, if you will; but royalty is sacred; and there is a veil. But this much you shall learn:
At midnight Santa slipped softly out of the ranch-house, clothed in something dark and plain. She paused for a moment under the live-oak trees. The prairies were somewhat dim, and the moonlight was pale orange, diluted with particles of an impalpable, flying mist. But the mock-bird whistled on every bough of vantage; leagues of flowers scented the air; and a kindergarten of little shadowy rabbits leaped and played in an open space near by. Santa turned her face to the southeast and threw three kisses thitherward; for there was none to see.
Then she sped silently to the blacksmith-shop, fifty yards away; and what she did there can only be surmised. But the forge glowed red; and there was a faint hammering such as Cupid might make when he sharpens his arrow-points.
Later she came forth with a queer-shaped, handled thing in one hand, and a portable furnace, such as are seen in branding-camps, in the other. To the corral where the Sussex cattle were penned she sped with these things swiftly in the moonlight.
She opened the gate and slipped inside the corral. The Sussex cattle were mostly a dark red. But among this bunch was one that was milky white–notable among the others.
And now Santa shook from her shoulder something that we had not seen before–a rope lasso. She freed the loop of it, coiling the length in her left hand, and plunged into the thick of the cattle.
The white cow was her object. She swung the lasso, which caught one horn and slipped off. The next throw encircled the forefeet and the animal fell heavily. Santa made for it like a panther; but it scrambled up and dashed against her, knocking her over like a blade of grass.
Again she made her cast, while the aroused cattle milled around the four sides of the corral in a plunging mass. This throw was fair; the white cow came to earth again; and before it could rise Santa had made the lasso fast around a post of the corral with a swift and simple knot, and had leaped upon the cow again with the rawhide hobbles.
In one minute the feet of the animal were tied (no record-breaking deed) and Santa leaned against the corral for the same space of time, panting and lax.
And then she ran swiftly to her furnace at the gate and brought the branding-iron, queerly shaped and white-hot.
The bellow of the outraged white cow, as the iron was applied, should have stirred the slumbering auricular nerves and consciences of the near-by subjects of the Nopalito, but it did not. And it was amid the deepest nocturnal silence that Santa ran like a lapwing back to the ranch-house and there fell upon a cot and sobbed–sobbed as though queens had hearts as simple ranchmen’s wives have, and as though she would gladly make kings of prince-consorts, should they ride back again from over the hills and far away.
In the morning the capable, revolvered youth and his /vaqueros/ set forth, driving the bunch of Sussex cattle across the prairies to the Rancho Seco. Ninety miles it was; a six days’ journey, grazing and watering the animals on the way.
The beasts arrived at Rancho Seco one evening at dusk; and were received and counted by the foreman of the ranch.
The next morning at eight o’clock a horseman loped out of the brush to the Nopalito ranch-house. He dismounted stiffly, and strode, with whizzing spurs, to the house. His horse gave a great sigh and swayed foam-streaked, with down-drooping head and closed eyes.
But waste not your pity upon Belshazzar, the flea-bitten sorrel. To-day, in Nopalito horse-pasture he survives, pampered, beloved, unridden, cherished record-holder of long-distance rides.
The horseman stumbled into the house. Two arms fell around his neck, and someone cried out in the voice of woman and queen alike: “Webb– oh, Webb!”
“I was a skunk,” said Webb Yeager.
“Hush,” said Santa, “did you see it?”
“I saw it,” said Webb.
What they meant God knows; and you shall know, if you rightly read the primer of events.
“Be the cattle-queen,” said Webb; “and overlook it if you can. I was a mangy, sheep-stealing coyote.”
“Hush!” said Santa again, laying her fingers upon his mouth. “There’s no queen here. Do you know who I am? I am Santa Yeager, First Lady of the Bedchamber. Come here.”
She dragged him from the gallery into the room to the right. There stood a cradle with an infant in it–a red, ribald, unintelligible, babbling, beautiful infant, sputtering at life in an unseemly manner.
“There’s no queen on this ranch,” said Santa again. “Look at the king. He’s got your eyes, Webb. Down on your knees and look at his Highness.”
But jingling rowels sounded on the gallery, and Bud Turner stumbled there again with the same query that he had brought, lacking a few days, a year ago.
“‘Morning. Them beeves is just turned out on the trail. Shall I drive ’em to Barber’s, or–“
He saw Webb and stopped, open-mouthed.
“Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba!” shrieked the king in his cradle, beating the air with his fists.
“You hear your boss, Bud,” said Webb Yeager, with a broad grin–just as he had said a year ago.
And that is all, except that when old man Quinn, owner of the Rancho Seco, went out to look over the herd of Sussex cattle that he had bought from the Nopalito ranch, he asked his new manager:
“What’s the Nopalito ranch brand, Wilson?”
“X Bar Y,” said Wilson.
“I thought so,” said Quinn. “But look at that white heifer there; she’s got another brand–a heart with a cross inside of it. What brand is that?”
THE RANSOM OF MACK
Me and old Mack Lonsbury, we got out of that Little Hide-and-Seek gold mine affair with about $40,000 apiece. I say “old” Mack; but he wasn’t old. Forty-one, I should say; but he always seemed old.
“Andy,” he says to me, “I’m tired of hustling. You and me have been working hard together for three years. Say we knock off for a while, and spend some of this idle money we’ve coaxed our way.”
“The proposition hits me just right,” says I. “Let’s be nabobs for a while and see how it feels. What’ll we do–take in the Niagara Falls, or buck at faro?”
“For a good many years,” says Mack, “I’ve thought that if I ever had extravagant money I’d rent a two-room cabin somewhere, hire a Chinaman to cook, and sit in my stocking feet and read Buckle’s History of Civilisation.”
“That sounds self-indulgent and gratifying without vulgar ostentation,” says I; “and I don’t see how money could be better invested. Give me a cuckoo clock and a Sep Winner’s Self-Instructor for the Banjo, and I’ll join you.”
A week afterwards me and Mack hits this small town of Pina, about thirty miles out from Denver, and finds an elegant two-room house that just suits us. We deposited half-a-peck of money in the Pina bank and shook hands with every one of the 340 citizens in the town. We brought along the Chinaman and the cuckoo clock and Buckle and the Instructor with us from Denver; and they made the cabin seem like home at once.
Never believe it when they tell you riches don’t bring happiness. If you could have seen old Mack sitting in his rocking-chair with his blue-yarn sock feet up in the window and absorbing in that Buckle stuff through his specs you’d have seen a picture of content that would have made Rockefeller jealous. And I was learning to pick out “Old Zip Coon” on the banjo, and the cuckoo was on time with his remarks, and Ah Sing was messing up the atmosphere with the handsomest smell of ham and eggs that ever laid the honeysuckle in the shade. When it got too dark to make out Buckle’s nonsense and the notes in the Instructor, me and Mack would light our pipes and talk about science and pearl diving and sciatica and Egypt and spelling and fish and trade-winds and leather and gratitude and eagles, and a lot of subjects that we’d never had time to explain our sentiments about before.
One evening Mack spoke up and asked me if I was much apprised in the habits and policies of women folks.
“Why, yes,” says I, in a tone of voice; “I know ’em from Alfred to Omaha. The feminine nature and similitude,” says I, “is as plain to my sight as the Rocky Mountains is to a blue-eyed burro. I’m onto all their little side-steps and punctual discrepancies.”
“I tell you, Andy,” says Mack, with a kind of sigh, “I never had the least amount of intersection with their predispositions. Maybe I might have had a proneness in respect to their vicinity, but I never took the time. I made my own living since I was fourteen; and I never seemed to get my ratiocinations equipped with the sentiments usually depicted toward the sect. I sometimes wish I had,” says old Mack.
“They’re an adverse study,” says I, “and adapted to points of view. Although they vary in rationale, I have found ’em quite often obviously differing from each other in divergences of contrast.”
“It seems to me,” goes on Mack, “that a man had better take ’em in and secure his inspirations of the sect when he’s young and so preordained. I let my chance go by; and I guess I’m too old now to go hopping into the curriculum.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I tells him. “Maybe you better credit yourself with a barrel of money and a lot of emancipation from a quantity of uncontent. Still, I don’t regret my knowledge of ’em,” I says. “It takes a man who understands the symptoms and by-plays of women-folks to take care of himself in this world.”
We stayed on in Pina because we liked the place. Some folks might enjoy their money with noise and rapture and locomotion; but me and Mack we had had plenty of turmoils and hotel towels. The people were friendly; Ah Sing got the swing of the grub we liked; Mack and Buckle were as thick as two body-snatchers, and I was hitting out a cordial resemblance to “Buffalo Gals, Can’t You Come Out To-night,” on the banjo.
One day I got a telegram from Speight, the man that was working on a mine I had an interest in out in New Mexico. I had to go out there; and I was gone two months. I was anxious to get back to Pina and enjoy life once more.
When I struck the cabin I nearly fainted. Mack was standing in the door; and if angels ever wept, I saw no reason why they should be smiling then.
That man was a spectacle. Yes; he was worse; he was a spyglass; he was the great telescope in the Lick Observatory. He had on a coat and shiny shoes and a white vest and a high silk hat; and a geranium as big as an order of spinach was spiked onto his front. And he was smirking and warping his face like an infernal storekeeper or a kid with colic.
“Hello, Andy,” says Mack, out of his face. “Glad to see you back. Things have happened since you went away.”
“I know it,” says I, “and a sacrilegious sight it is. God never made you that way, Mack Lonsbury. Why do you scarify His works with this presumptuous kind of ribaldry?”
“Why, Andy,” says he, “they’ve elected me justice of the peace since you left.”
I looked at Mack close. He was restless and inspired. A justice of the peace ought to be disconsolate and assuaged.
Just then a young woman passed on the sidewalk; and I saw Mack kind of half snicker and blush, and then he raised up his hat and smiled and bowed, and she smiled and bowed, and went on by.
“No hope for you,” says I, “if you’ve got the Mary-Jane infirmity at your age. I thought it wasn’t going to take on you. And patent leather shoes! All this in two little short months!”
“I’m going to marry the young lady who just passed to-night,” says Mack, in a kind of flutter.
“I forgot something at the post-office,” says I, and walked away quick.
I overtook that young woman a hundred yards away. I raised my hat and told her my name. She was about nineteen; and young for her age. She blushed, and then looked at me cool, like I was the snow scene from the “Two Orphans.”
“I understand you are to be married to-night,” I said.
“Correct,” says she. “You got any objections?”
“Listen, sissy,” I begins.
“My name is Miss Rebosa Redd,” says she in a pained way.
“I know it,” says I. “Now, Rebosa, I’m old enough to have owed money to your father. And that old, specious, dressed-up, garbled, sea-sick ptomaine prancing about avidiously like an irremediable turkey gobbler with patent leather shoes on is my best friend. Why did you go and get him invested in this marriage business?”
“Why, he was the only chance there was,” answers Miss Rebosa.
“Nay,” says I, giving a sickening look of admiration at her complexion and style of features; “with your beauty you might pick any kind of a man. Listen, Rebosa. Old Mack ain’t the man you want. He was twenty- two when you was /nee/ Reed, as the papers say. This bursting into bloom won’t last with him. He’s all ventilated with oldness and rectitude and decay. Old Mack’s down with a case of Indian summer. He overlooked his bet when he was young; and now he’s suing Nature for the interest on the promissory note he took from Cupid instead of the cash. Rebosa, are you bent on having this marriage occur?”
“Why, sure I am,” says she, oscillating the pansies on her hat, “and so is somebody else, I reckon.”
“What time is it to take place?” I asks.
“At six o’clock,” says she.
I made up my mind right away what to do. I’d save old Mack if I could. To have a good, seasoned, ineligible man like that turn chicken for a girl that hadn’t quit eating slate pencils and buttoning in the back was more than I could look on with easiness.
“Rebosa,” says I, earnest, drawing upon my display of knowledge concerning the feminine intuitions of reason–“ain’t there a young man in Pina–a nice young man that you think a heap of?”
“Yep,” says Rebosa, nodding her pansies–“Sure there is! What do you think! Gracious!”
“Does he like you?” I asks. “How does he stand in the matter?”
“Crazy,” says Rebosa. “Ma has to wet down the front steps to keep him from sitting there all the time. But I guess that’ll be all over after to-night,” she winds up with a sigh.
“Rebosa,” says I, “you don’t really experience any of this adoration called love for old Mack, do you?”
“Lord! no,” says the girl, shaking her head. “I think he’s as dry as a lava bed. The idea!”
“Who is this young man that you like, Rebosa?” I inquires.
“It’s Eddie Bayles,” says she. “He clerks in Crosby’s grocery. But he don’t make but thirty-five a month. Ella Noakes was wild about him once.”
“Old Mack tells me,” I says, “that he’s going to marry you at six o’clock this evening.”
“That’s the time,” says she. “It’s to be at our house.”
“Rebosa,” says I, “listen to me. If Eddie Bayles had a thousand dollars cash–a thousand dollars, mind you, would buy him a store of his own–if you and Eddie had that much to excuse matrimony on, would you consent to marry him this evening at five o’clock?”
The girl looks at me a minute; and I can see these inaudible cogitations going on inside of her, as women will.
“A thousand dollars?” says she. “Of course I would.”
“Come on,” says I. “We’ll go and see Eddie.”
We went up to Crosby’s store and called Eddie outside. He looked to be estimable and freckled; and he had chills and fever when I made my proposition.
“At five o’clock?” says he, “for a thousand dollars? Please don’t wake me up! Well, you /are/ the rich uncle retired from the spice business in India! I’ll buy out old Crosby and run the store myself.”
We went inside and got old man Crosby apart and explained it. I wrote my check for a thousand dollars and handed it to him. If Eddie and Rebosa married each other at five he was to turn the money over to them.
And then I gave ’em my blessing, and went to wander in the wildwood for a season. I sat on a log and made cogitations on life and old age and the zodiac and the ways of women and all the disorder that goes with a lifetime. I passed myself congratulations that I had probably saved my old friend Mack from his attack of Indian summer. I knew when he got well of it and shed his infatuation and his patent leather shoes, he would feel grateful. “To keep old Mack disinvolved,” thinks I, “from relapses like this, is worth more than a thousand dollars.” And most of all I was glad that I’d made a study of women, and wasn’t to be deceived any by their means of conceit and evolution.
It must have been half-past five when I got back home. I stepped in; and there sat old Mack on the back of his neck in his old clothes with his blue socks on the window and the History of Civilisation propped up on his knees.
“This don’t look like getting ready for a wedding at six,” I says, to seem innocent.
“Oh,” says Mack, reaching for his tobacco, “that was postponed back to five o’clock. They sent me over a note saying the hour had been changed. It’s all over now. What made you stay away so long, Andy?”
“You heard about the wedding?” I asks.
“I operated it,” says he. “I told you I was justice of the peace. The preacher is off East to visit his folks, and I’m the only one in town that can perform the dispensations of marriage. I promised Eddie and Rebosa a month ago I’d marry ’em. He’s a busy lad; and he’ll have a grocery of his own some day.”
“He will,” says I.
“There was lots of women at the wedding,” says Mack, smoking up. “But I didn’t seem to get any ideas from ’em. I wish I was informed in the structure of their attainments like you said you was.”
“That was two months ago,” says I, reaching up for the banjo.
Returning from a hunting trip, I waited at the little town of Los Pinos, in New Mexico, for the south-bound train, which was one hour late. I sat on the porch of the Summit House and discussed the functions of life with Telemachus Hicks, the hotel proprietor.
Perceiving that personalities were not out of order, I asked him what species of beast had long ago twisted and mutilated his left ear. Being a hunter, I was concerned in the evils that may befall one in the pursuit of game.
“That ear,” says Hicks, “is the relic of true friendship.”
“An accident?” I persisted.
“No friendship is an accident,” said Telemachus; and I was silent.
“The only perfect case of true friendship I ever knew,” went on my host, “was a cordial intent between a Connecticut man and a monkey. The monkey climbed palms in Barranquilla and threw down cocoanuts to the man. The man sawed them in two and made dippers, which he sold for two /reales/ each and bought rum. The monkey drank the milk of the nuts. Through each being satisfied with his own share of the graft, they lived like brothers.
“But in the case of human beings, friendship is a transitory art, subject to discontinuance without further notice.
“I had a friend once, of the entitlement of Paisley Fish, that I imagined was sealed to me for an endless space of time. Side by side for seven years we had mined, ranched, sold patent churns, herded sheep, took photographs and other things, built wire fences, and picked prunes. Thinks I, neither homocide nor flattery nor riches nor sophistry nor drink can make trouble between me and Paisley Fish. We was friends an amount you could hardly guess at. We was friends in business, and we let our amicable qualities lap over and season our hours of recreation and folly. We certainly had days of Damon and nights of Pythias.
“One summer me and Paisley gallops down into these San Andres mountains for the purpose of a month’s surcease and levity, dressed in the natural store habiliments of man. We hit this town of Los Pinos, which certainly was a roof-garden spot of the world, and flowing with condensed milk and honey. It had a street or two, and air, and hens, and a eating-house; and that was enough for us.
“We strikes the town after supper-time, and we concludes to sample whatever efficacy there is in this eating-house down by the railroad tracks. By the time we had set down and pried up our plates with a knife from the red oil-cloth, along intrudes Widow Jessup with the hot biscuit and the fried liver.
“Now, there was a woman that would have tempted an anchovy to forget his vows. She was not so small as she was large; and a kind of welcome air seemed to mitigate her vicinity. The pink of her face was the /in hoc signo/ of a culinary temper and a warm disposition, and her smile would have brought out the dogwood blossoms in December.
“Widow Jessup talks to us a lot of garrulousness about the climate and history and Tennyson and prunes and the scarcity of mutton, and finally wants to know where we came from.
“‘Spring Valley,’ says I.
“‘Big Spring Valley,’ chips in Paisley, out of a lot of potatoes and knuckle-bone of ham in his mouth.
“That was the first sign I noticed that the old /fidus Diogenes/ business between me and Paisley Fish was ended forever. He knew how I hated a talkative person, and yet he stampedes into the conversation with his amendments and addendums of syntax. On the map it was Big Spring Valley; but I had heard Paisley himself call it Spring Valley a thousand times.
“Without saying any more, we went out after supper and set on the railroad track. We had been pardners too long not to know what was going on in each other’s mind.
“‘I reckon you understand,’ says Paisley, ‘that I’ve made up my mind to accrue that widow woman as part and parcel in and to my hereditaments forever, both domestic, sociable, legal, and otherwise, until death us do part.’
“‘Why, yes,’ says I, ‘I read it between the lines, though you only spoke one. And I suppose you are aware,’ says I, ‘that I have a movement on foot that leads up to the widow’s changing her name to Hicks, and leaves you writing to the society column to inquire whether the best man wears a japonica or seamless socks at the wedding!’
“‘There’ll be some hiatuses in your program,’ says Paisley, chewing up a piece of a railroad tie. ‘I’d give in to you,’ says he, ‘in ‘most any respect if it was secular affairs, but this is not so. The smiles of woman,’ goes on Paisley, ‘is the whirlpool of Squills and Chalybeates, into which vortex the good ship Friendship is often drawn and dismembered. I’d assault a bear that was annoying you,’ says Paisley, ‘or I’d endorse your note, or rub the place between your shoulder-blades with opodeldoc the same as ever; but there my sense of etiquette ceases. In this fracas with Mrs. Jessup we play it alone. I’ve notified you fair.’
“And then I collaborates with myself, and offers the following resolutions and by-laws:
“‘Friendship between man and man,’ says I, ‘is an ancient historical virtue enacted in the days when men had to protect each other against lizards with eighty-foot tails and flying turtles. And they’ve kept up the habit to this day, and stand by each other till the bellboy comes up and tells them the animals are not really there. I’ve often heard,’ I says, ‘about ladies stepping in and breaking up a friendship between men. Why should that be? I’ll tell you, Paisley, the first sight and hot biscuit of Mrs. Jessup appears to have inserted a oscillation into each of our bosoms. Let the best man of us have her. I’ll play you a square game, and won’t do any underhanded work. I’ll do all of my courting of her in your presence, so you will have an equal opportunity. With that arrangement I don’t see why our steamboat of friendship should fall overboard in the medicinal whirlpools you speak of, whichever of us wins out.’
“‘Good old hoss!’ says Paisley, shaking my hand. ‘And I’ll do the same,’ says he. ‘We’ll court the lady synonymously, and without any of the prudery and bloodshed usual to such occasions. And we’ll be friends still, win or lose.’
“At one side of Mrs. Jessup’s eating-house was a bench under some trees where she used to sit in the breeze after the south-bound had been fed and gone. And there me and Paisley used to congregate after supper and make partial payments on our respects to the lady of our choice. And we was so honorable and circuitous in our calls that if one of us got there first we waited for the other before beginning any gallivantery.
“The first evening that Mrs. Jessup knew about our arrangement I got to the bench before Paisley did. Supper was just over, and Mrs. Jessup was out there with a fresh pink dress on, and almost cool enough to handle.
“I sat down by her and made a few specifications about the moral surface of nature as set forth by the landscape and the contiguous perspective. That evening was surely a case in point. The moon was attending to business in the section of sky where it belonged, and the trees was making shadows on the ground according to science and nature, and there was a kind of conspicuous hullabaloo going on in the bushes between the bullbats and the orioles and the jack-rabbits and other feathered insects of the forest. And the wind out of the mountains was singing like a Jew’s-harp in the pile of old tomato-cans by the railroad track.
“I felt a kind of sensation in my left side–something like dough rising in a crock by the fire. Mrs. Jessup had moved up closer.
“‘Oh, Mr. Hicks,’ says she, ‘when one is alone in the world, don’t they feel it more aggravated on a beautiful night like this?’
“I rose up off the bench at once.
“‘Excuse me, ma’am,’ says I, ‘but I’ll have to wait till Paisley comes before I can give a audible hearing to leading questions like that.’
“And then I explained to her how we was friends cinctured by years of embarrassment and travel and complicity, and how we had agreed to take no advantage of each other in any of the more mushy walks of life, such as might be fomented by sentiment and proximity. Mrs. Jessup appears to think serious about the matter for a minute, and then she breaks into a species of laughter that makes the wildwood resound.
“In a few minutes Paisley drops around, with oil of bergamot on his hair, and sits on the other side of Mrs. Jessup, and inaugurates a sad tale of adventure in which him and Pieface Lumley has a skinning-match of dead cows in ’95 for a silver-mounted saddle in the Santa Rita valley during the nine months’ drought.
“Now, from the start of that courtship I had Paisley Fish hobbled and tied to a post. Each one of us had a different system of reaching out for the easy places in the female heart. Paisley’s scheme was to petrify ’em with wonderful relations of events that he had either come across personally or in large print. I think he must have got his idea of subjugation from one of Shakespeare’s shows I see once called ‘Othello.’ There is a coloured man in it who acquires a duke’s daughter by disbursing to her a mixture of the talk turned out by Rider Haggard, Lew Dockstader, and Dr. Parkhurst. But that style of courting don’t work well off the stage.
“Now, I give you my own recipe for inveigling a woman into that state of affairs when she can be referred to as ‘/nee/ Jones.’ Learn how to pick up her hand and hold it, and she’s yours. It ain’t so easy. Some men grab at it so much like they was going to set a dislocation of the shoulder that you can smell the arnica and hear ’em tearing off bandages. Some take it up like a hot horseshoe, and hold it off at arm’s length like a druggist pouring tincture of asafoetida in a bottle. And most of ’em catch hold of it and drag it right out before the lady’s eyes like a boy finding a baseball in the grass, without giving her a chance to forget that the hand is growing on the end of her arm. Them ways are all wrong.
“I’ll tell you the right way. Did you ever see a man sneak out in the back yard and pick up a rock to throw at a tomcat that was sitting on a fence looking at him? He pretends he hasn’t got a thing in his hand, and that the cat don’t see him, and that he don’t see the cat. That’s the idea. Never drag her hand out where she’ll have to take notice of it. Don’t let her know that you think she knows you have the least idea she is aware you are holding her hand. That was my rule of tactics; and as far as Paisley’s serenade about hostilities and misadventure went, he might as well have been reading to her a time- table of the Sunday trains that stop at Ocean Grove, New Jersey.
“One night when I beat Paisley to the bench by one pipeful, my friendship gets subsidised for a minute, and I asks Mrs. Jessup if she didn’t think a ‘H’ was easier to write than a ‘J.’ In a second her head was mashing the oleander flower in my button-hole, and I leaned over and–but I didn’t.
“‘If you don’t mind,’ says I, standing up, ‘we’ll wait for Paisley to come before finishing this. I’ve never done anything dishonourable yet to our friendship, and this won’t be quite fair.’
“‘Mr. Hicks,’ says Mrs. Jessup, looking at me peculiar in the dark, ‘if it wasn’t for but one thing, I’d ask you to hike yourself down the gulch and never disresume your visits to my house.’
“‘And what is that, ma’am?’ I asks.
“‘You are too good a friend not to make a good husband,’ says she.
“In five minutes Paisley was on his side of Mrs. Jessup.
“‘In Silver City, in the summer of ’98,’ he begins, ‘I see Jim Batholomew chew off a Chinaman’s ear in the Blue Light Saloon on account of a crossbarred muslin shirt that–what was that noise?’
“I had resumed matters again with Mrs. Jessup right where we had left off.
“‘Mrs. Jessup,’ says I, ‘has promised to make it Hicks. And this is another of the same sort.’
“Paisley winds his feet round a leg of the bench and kind of groans.
“‘Lem,’ says he, ‘we been friends for seven years. Would you mind not kissing Mrs. Jessup quite so loud? I’d do the same for you.’
“‘All right,’ says I. ‘The other kind will do as well.’
“‘This Chinaman,’ goes on Paisley, ‘was the one that shot a man named Mullins in the spring of ’97, and that was–‘
“Paisley interrupted himself again.
“‘Lem,’ says he, ‘if you was a true friend you wouldn’t hug Mrs. Jessup quite so hard. I felt the bench shake all over just then. You know you told me you would give me an even chance as long as there was any.’
“‘Mr. Man,’ says Mrs. Jessup, turning around to Paisley, ‘if you was to drop in to the celebration of mine and Mr. Hicks’s silver wedding, twenty-five years from now, do you think you could get it into that Hubbard squash you call your head that you are /nix cum rous/ in this business? I’ve put up with you a long time because you was Mr. Hicks’s friend; but it seems to me it’s time for you to wear the willow and trot off down the hill.’
“‘Mrs. Jessup,’ says I, without losing my grasp on the situation as fiance, ‘Mr. Paisley is my friend, and I offered him a square deal and a equal opportunity as long as there was a chance.’
“‘A chance!’ says she. ‘Well, he may think he has a chance; but I hope he won’t think he’s got a cinch, after what he’s been next to all the evening.’
“Well, a month afterwards me and Mrs. Jessup was married in the Los Pinos Methodist Church; and the whole town closed up to see the performance.
“When we lined up in front and the preacher was beginning to sing out his rituals and observances, I looks around and misses Paisley. I calls time on the preacher. ‘Paisley ain’t here,’ says I. ‘We’ve got to wait for Paisley. A friend once, a friend always–that’s Telemachus Hicks,’ says I. Mrs. Jessup’s eyes snapped some; but the preacher holds up the incantations according to instructions.
“In a few minutes Paisley gallops up the aisle, putting on a cuff as he comes. He explains that the only dry-goods store in town was closed for the wedding, and he couldn’t get the kind of a boiled shirt that his taste called for until he had broke open the back window of the store and helped himself. Then he ranges up on the other side of the bride, and the wedding goes on. I always imagined that Paisley calculated as a last chance that the preacher might marry him to the widow by mistake.
“After the proceedings was over we had tea and jerked antelope and canned apricots, and then the populace hiked itself away. Last of all Paisley shook me by the hand and told me I’d acted square and on the level with him and he was proud to call me a friend.
“The preacher had a small house on the side of the street that he’d fixed up to rent; and he allowed me and Mrs. Hicks to occupy it till the ten-forty train the next morning, when we was going on a bridal tour to El Paso. His wife had decorated it all up with hollyhocks and poison ivy, and it looked real festal and bowery.
“About ten o’clock that night I sets down in the front door and pulls off my boots a while in the cool breeze, while Mrs. Hicks was fixing around in the room. Right soon the light went out inside; and I sat there a while reverberating over old times and scenes. And then I heard Mrs. Hicks call out, ‘Ain’t you coming in soon, Lem?’
“‘Well, well!’ says I, kind of rousing up. ‘Durn me if I wasn’t waiting for old Paisley to–‘
“But when I got that far,” concluded Telemachus Hicks, “I thought somebody had shot this left ear of mine off with a forty-five. But it turned out to be only a lick from a broomhandle in the hands of Mrs. Hicks.”
THE HANDBOOK OF HYMEN
‘Tis the opinion of myself, Sanderson Pratt, who sets this down, that the educational system of the United States should be in the hands of the weather bureau. I can give you good reasons for it; and you can’t tell me why our college professors shouldn’t be transferred to the meteorological department. They have been learned to read; and they could very easily glance at the morning papers and then wire in to the main office what kind of weather to expect. But there’s the other side of the proposition. I am going on to tell you how the weather furnished me and Idaho Green with an elegant education.
We was up in the Bitter Root Mountains over the Montana line prospecting for gold. A chin-whiskered man in Walla-Walla, carrying a line of hope as excess baggage, had grubstaked us; and there we was in the foothills pecking away, with enough grub on hand to last an army through a peace conference.
Along one day comes a mail-rider over the mountains from Carlos, and stops to eat three cans of greengages, and leave us a newspaper of modern date. This paper prints a system of premonitions of the weather, and the card it dealt Bitter Root Mountains from the bottom of the deck was “warmer and fair, with light westerly breezes.”
That evening it began to snow, with the wind strong in the east. Me and Idaho moved camp into an old empty cabin higher up the mountain, thinking it was only a November flurry. But after falling three foot on a level it went to work in earnest; and we knew we was snowed in. We got in plenty of firewood before it got deep, and we had grub enough for two months, so we let the elements rage and cut up all they thought proper.
If you want to instigate the art of manslaughter just shut two men up in a eighteen by twenty-foot cabin for a month. Human nature won’t stand it.
When the first snowflakes fell me and Idaho Green laughed at each other’s jokes and praised the stuff we turned out of a skillet and called bread. At the end of three weeks Idaho makes this kind of a edict to me. Says he:
“I never exactly heard sour milk dropping out of a balloon on the bottom of a tin pan, but I have an idea it would be music of the spears compared to this attenuated stream of asphyxiated thought that emanates out of your organs of conversation. The kind of half- masticated noises that you emit every day puts me in mind of a cow’s cud, only she’s lady enough to keep hers to herself, and you ain’t.”
“Mr. Green,” says I, “you having been a friend of mine once, I have some hesitations in confessing to you that if I had my choice for society between you and a common yellow, three-legged cur pup, one of the inmates of this here cabin would be wagging a tail just at present.”
This way we goes on for two or three days, and then we quits speaking to one another. We divides up the cooking implements, and Idaho cooks his grub on one side of the fireplace, and me on the other. The snow is up to the windows, and we have to keep a fire all day.
You see me and Idaho never had any education beyond reading and doing “if John had three apples and James five” on a slate. We never felt any special need for a university degree, though we had acquired a species of intrinsic intelligence in knocking around the world that we could use in emergencies. But, snowbound in that cabin in the Bitter Roots, we felt for the first time that if we had studied Homer or Greek and fractions and the higher branches of information, we’d have had some resources in the line of meditation and private thought. I’ve seen them Eastern college fellows working in camps all through the West, and I never noticed but what education was less of a drawback to ’em than you would think. Why, once over on Snake River, when Andrew McWilliams’ saddle horse got the botts, he sent a buckboard ten miles for one of these strangers that claimed to be a botanist. But that horse died.
One morning Idaho was poking around with a stick on top of a little shelf that was too high to reach. Two books fell down to the floor. I started toward ’em, but caught Idaho’s eye. He speaks for the first time in a week.
“Don’t burn your fingers,” says he. “In spite of the fact that you’re only fit to be the companion of a sleeping mud-turtle, I’ll give you a square deal. And that’s more than your parents did when they turned you loose in the world with the sociability of a rattle-snake and the bedside manner of a frozen turnip. I’ll play you a game of seven-up, the winner to pick up his choice of the book, the loser to take the other.”
We played; and Idaho won. He picked up his book; and I took mine. Then each of us got on his side of the house and went to reading.
I never was as glad to see a ten-ounce nugget as I was that book. And Idaho took at his like a kid looks at a stick of candy.
Mine was a little book about five by six inches called “Herkimer’s Handbook of Indispensable Information.” I may be wrong, but I think that was the greatest book that ever was written. I’ve got it to-day; and I can stump you or any man fifty times in five minutes with the information in it. Talk about Solomon or the New York /Tribune/! Herkimer had cases on both of ’em. That man must have put in fifty years and travelled a million miles to find out all that stuff. There was the population of all cities in it, and the way to tell a girl’s age, and the number of teeth a camel has. It told you the longest tunnel in the world, the number of the stars, how long it takes for chicken pox to break out, what a lady’s neck ought to measure, the veto powers of Governors, the dates of the Roman aqueducts, how many pounds of rice going without three beers a day would buy, the average annual temperature of Augusta, Maine, the quantity of seed required to plant an acre of carrots in drills, antidotes for poisons, the number of hairs on a blond lady’s head, how to preserve eggs, the height of all the mountains in the world, and the dates of all wars and battles, and how to restore drowned persons, and sunstroke, and the number of tacks in a pound, and how to make dynamite and flowers and beds, and what to do before the doctor comes–and a hundred times as many things besides. If there was anything Herkimer didn’t know I didn’t miss it out of the book.
I sat and read that book for four hours. All the wonders of education was compressed in it. I forgot the snow, and I forgot that me and old Idaho was on the outs. He was sitting still on a stool reading away with a kind of partly soft and partly mysterious look shining through his tan-bark whiskers.
“Idaho,” says I, “what kind of a book is yours?”
Idaho must have forgot, too, for he answered moderate, without any slander or malignity.
“Why,” says he, “this here seems to be a volume by Homer K. M.”
“Homer K. M. what?” I asks.
“Why, just Homer K. M.,” says he.
“You’re a liar,” says I, a little riled that Idaho should try to put me up a tree. “No man is going ’round signing books with his initials. If it’s Homer K. M. Spoopendyke, or Homer K. M. McSweeney, or Homer K. M. Jones, why don’t you say so like a man instead of biting off the end of it like a calf chewing off the tail of a shirt on a clothes- line?”
“I put it to you straight, Sandy,” says Idaho, quiet. “It’s a poem book,” says he, “by Homer K. M. I couldn’t get colour out of it at first, but there’s a vein if you follow it up. I wouldn’t have missed this book for a pair of red blankets.”
“You’re welcome to it,” says I. “What I want is a disinterested statement of facts for the mind to work on, and that’s what I seem to find in the book I’ve drawn.”
“What you’ve got,” says Idaho, “is statistics, the lowest grade of information that exists. They’ll poison your mind. Give me old K. M.’s system of surmises. He seems to be a kind of a wine agent. His regular toast is ‘nothing doing,’ and he seems to have a grouch, but he keeps it so well lubricated with booze that his worst kicks sound like an invitation to split a quart. But it’s poetry,” says Idaho, “and I have sensations of scorn for that truck of yours that tries to convey sense in feet and inches. When it comes to explaining the instinct of philosophy through the art of nature, old K. M. has got your man beat by drills, rows, paragraphs, chest measurement, and average annual rainfall.”
So that’s the way me and Idaho had it. Day and night all the excitement we got was studying our books. That snowstorm sure fixed us with a fine lot of attainments apiece. By the time the snow melted, if you had stepped up to me suddenly and said: “Sanderson Pratt, what would it cost per square foot to lay a roof with twenty by twenty- eight tin at nine dollars and fifty cents per box?” I’d have told you as quick as light could travel the length of a spade handle at the rate of one hundred and ninety-two thousand miles per second. How many can do it? You wake up ‘most any man you know in the middle of the night, and ask him quick to tell you the number of bones in the human skeleton exclusive of the teeth, or what percentage of the vote of the Nebraska Legislature overrules a veto. Will he tell you? Try him and see.
About what benefit Idaho got out of his poetry book I didn’t exactly know. Idaho boosted the wine-agent every time he opened his mouth; but I wasn’t so sure.
This Homer K. M., from what leaked out of his libretto through Idaho, seemed to me to be a kind of a dog who looked at life like it was a tin can tied to his tail. After running himself half to death, he sits down, hangs his tongue out, and looks at the can and says:
“Oh, well, since we can’t shake the growler, let’s get it filled at the corner, and all have a drink on me.”
Besides that, it seems he was a Persian; and I never hear of Persia producing anything worth mentioning unless it was Turkish rugs and Maltese cats.
That spring me and Idaho struck pay ore. It was a habit of ours to sell out quick and keep moving. We unloaded our grubstaker for eight thousand dollars apiece; and then we drifted down to this little town of Rosa, on the Salmon river, to rest up, and get some human grub, and have our whiskers harvested.
Rosa was no mining-camp. It laid in the valley, and was as free of uproar and pestilence as one of them rural towns in the country. There was a three-mile trolley line champing its bit in the environs; and me and Idaho spent a week riding on one of the cars, dropping off at nights at the Sunset View Hotel. Being now well read as well as travelled, we was soon /pro re nata/ with the best society in Rosa, and was invited out to the most dressed-up and high-toned entertainments. It was at a piano recital and quail-eating contest in the city hall, for the benefit of the fire company, that me and Idaho first met Mrs. De Ormond Sampson, the queen of Rosa society.
Mrs. Sampson was a widow, and owned the only two-story house in town. It was painted yellow, and whichever way you looked from you could see it as plain as egg on the chin of an O’Grady on a Friday. Twenty-two men in Rosa besides me and Idaho was trying to stake a claim on that yellow house.
There was a dance after the song books and quail bones had been raked out of the Hall. Twenty-three of the bunch galloped over to Mrs. Sampson and asked for a dance. I side-stepped the two-step, and asked permission to escort her home. That’s where I made a hit.
On the way home says she:
“Ain’t the stars lovely and bright to-night, Mr. Pratt?”
“For the chance they’ve got,” says I, “they’re humping themselves in a mighty creditable way. That big one you see is sixty-six million miles distant. It took thirty-six years for its light to reach us. With an eighteen-foot telescope you can see forty-three millions of ’em, including them of the thirteenth magnitude, which, if one was to go out now, you would keep on seeing it for twenty-seven hundred years.”
“My!” says Mrs. Sampson. “I never knew that before. How warm it is! I’m as damp as I can be from dancing so much.”
“That’s easy to account for,” says I, “when you happen to know that you’ve got two million sweat-glands working all at once. If every one of your perspiratory ducts, which are a quarter of an inch long, was placed end to end, they would reach a distance of seven miles.”
“Lawsy!” says Mrs. Sampson. “It sounds like an irrigation ditch you was describing, Mr. Pratt. How do you get all this knowledge of information?”
“From observation, Mrs. Sampson,” I tells her. “I keep my eyes open when I go about the world.”
“Mr. Pratt,” says she, “I always did admire a man of education. There are so few scholars among the sap-headed plug-uglies of this town that it is a real pleasure to converse with a gentleman of culture. I’d be gratified to have you call at my house whenever you feel so inclined.”
And that was the way I got the goodwill of the lady in the yellow house. Every Tuesday and Friday evening I used to go there and tell her about the wonders of the universe as discovered, tabulated, and compiled from nature by Herkimer. Idaho and the other gay Lutherans of the town got every minute of the rest of the week that they could.
I never imagined that Idaho was trying to work on Mrs. Sampson with old K. M.’s rules of courtship till one afternoon when I was on my way over to take her a basket of wild hog-plums. I met the lady coming down the lane that led to her house. Her eyes was snapping, and her hat made a dangerous dip over one eye.
“Mr. Pratt,” she opens up, “this Mr. Green is a friend of yours, I believe.”
“For nine years,” says I.
“Cut him out,” says she. “He’s no gentleman!”
“Why ma’am,” says I, “he’s a plain incumbent of the mountains, with asperities and the usual failings of a spendthrift and a liar, but I never on the most momentous occasion had the heart to deny that he was a gentleman. It may be that in haberdashery and the sense of arrogance and display Idaho offends the eye, but inside, ma’am, I’ve found him impervious to the lower grades of crime and obesity. After nine years of Idaho’s society, Mrs. Sampson,” I winds up, “I should hate to impute him, and I should hate to see him imputed.”
“It’s right plausible of you, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson, “to take up the curmudgeons in your friend’s behalf; but it don’t alter the fact that he has made proposals to me sufficiently obnoxious to ruffle the ignominy of any lady.”
“Why, now, now, now!” says I. “Old Idaho do that! I could believe it of myself, sooner. I never knew but one thing to deride in him; and a blizzard was responsible for that. Once while we was snow-bound in the mountains he became a prey to a kind of spurious and uneven poetry, which may have corrupted his demeanour.”
“It has,” says Mrs. Sampson. “Ever since I knew him he has been reciting to me a lot of irreligious rhymes by some person he calls Ruby Ott, and who is no better than she should be, if you judge by her poetry.”
“Then Idaho has struck a new book,” says I, “for the one he had was by a man who writes under the /nom de plume/ of K. M.”
“He’d better have stuck to it,” says Mrs. Sampson, “whatever it was. And to-day he caps the vortex. I get a bunch of flowers from him, and on ’em is pinned a note. Now, Mr. Pratt, you know a lady when you see her; and you know how I stand in Rosa society. Do you think for a moment that I’d skip out to the woods with a man along with a jug of wine and a loaf of bread, and go singing and cavorting up and down under the trees with him? I take a little claret with my meals, but I’m not in the habit of packing a jug of it into the brush and raising Cain in any such style as that. And of course he’d bring his book of verses along, too. He said so. Let him go on his scandalous picnics alone! Or let him take his Ruby Ott with him. I reckon she wouldn’t kick unless it was on account of there being too much bread along. And what do you think of your gentleman friend now, Mr. Pratt?”
“Well, ‘m,” says I, “it may be that Idaho’s invitation was a kind of poetry, and meant no harm. May be it belonged to the class of rhymes they call figurative. They offend law and order, but they get sent through the mails on the grounds that they mean something that they don’t say. I’d be glad on Idaho’s account if you’d overlook it,” says I, “and let us extricate our minds from the low regions of poetry to the higher planes of fact and fancy. On a beautiful afternoon like this, Mrs. Sampson,” I goes on, “we should let our thoughts dwell accordingly. Though it is warm here, we should remember that at the equator the line of perpetual frost is at an altitude of fifteen thousand feet. Between the latitudes of forty degrees and forty-nine degrees it is from four thousand to nine thousand feet.”
“Oh, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson, “it’s such a comfort to hear you say them beautiful facts after getting such a jar from that minx of a Ruby’s poetry!”
“Let us sit on this log at the roadside,” says I, “and forget the inhumanity and ribaldry of the poets. It is in the glorious columns of ascertained facts and legalised measures that beauty is to be found. In this very log we sit upon, Mrs. Sampson,” says I, “is statistics more wonderful than any poem. The rings show it was sixty years old. At the depth of two thousand feet it would become coal in three thousand years. The deepest coal mine in the world is at Killingworth, near Newcastle. A box four feet long, three feet wide, and two feet eight inches deep will hold one ton of coal. If an artery is cut, compress it above the wound. A man’s leg contains thirty bones. The Tower of London was burned in 1841.”
“Go on, Mr. Pratt,” says Mrs. Sampson. “Them ideas is so original and soothing. I think statistics are just as lovely as they can be.”
But it wasn’t till two weeks later that I got all that was coming to me out of Herkimer.
One night I was waked up by folks hollering “Fire!” all around. I jumped up and dressed and went out of the hotel to enjoy the scene. When I see it was Mrs. Sampson’s house, I gave forth a kind of yell, and I was there in two minutes.
The whole lower story of the yellow house was in flames, and every masculine, feminine, and canine in Rosa was there, screeching and barking and getting in the way of the firemen. I saw Idaho trying to get away from six firemen who were holding him. They was telling him the whole place was on fire down-stairs, and no man could go in it and come out alive.
“Where’s Mrs. Sampson?” I asks.
“She hasn’t been seen,” says one of the firemen. “She sleeps up- stairs. We’ve tried to get in, but we can’t, and our company hasn’t got any ladders yet.”
I runs around to the light of the big blaze, and pulls the Handbook out of my inside pocket. I kind of laughed when I felt it in my hands –I reckon I was some daffy with the sensation of excitement.
“Herky, old boy,” I says to it, as I flipped over the pages, “you ain’t ever lied to me yet, and you ain’t ever throwed me down at a scratch yet. Tell me what, old boy, tell me what!” says I.
I turned to “What to do in Case of Accidents,” on page 117. I run my finger down the page, and struck it. Good old Herkimer, he never overlooked anything! It said:
Suffocation from Inhaling Smoke or Gas.–There is nothing better than flaxseed. Place a few seed in the outer corner of the eye.
I shoved the Handbook back in my pocket, and grabbed a boy that was running by.
“Here,” says I, giving him some money, “run to the drug store and bring a dollar’s worth of flaxseed. Hurry, and you’ll get another one for yourself. Now,” I sings out to the crowd, “we’ll have Mrs. Sampson!” And I throws away my coat and hat.
Four of the firemen and citizens grabs hold of me. It’s sure death, they say, to go in the house, for the floors was beginning to fall through.
“How in blazes,” I sings out, kind of laughing yet, but not feeling like it, “do you expect me to put flaxseed in a eye without the eye?”
I jabbed each elbow in a fireman’s face, kicked the bark off of one citizen’s shin, and tripped the other one with a side hold. And then I busted into the house. If I die first I’ll write you a letter and tell you if it’s any worse down there than the inside of that yellow house was; but don’t believe it yet. I was a heap more cooked than the hurry-up orders of broiled chicken that you get in restaurants. The fire and smoke had me down on the floor twice, and was about to shame Herkimer, but the firemen helped me with their little stream of water, and I got to Mrs. Sampson’s room. She’d lost conscientiousness from the smoke, so I wrapped her in the bed clothes and got her on my shoulder. Well, the floors wasn’t as bad as they said, or I never could have done it–not by no means.
I carried her out fifty yards from the house and laid her on the grass. Then, of course, every one of them other twenty-two plaintiff’s to the lady’s hand crowded around with tin dippers of water ready to save her. And up runs the boy with the flaxseed.
I unwrapped the covers from Mrs. Sampson’s head. She opened her eyes and says:
“Is that you, Mr. Pratt?”
“S-s-sh,” says I. “Don’t talk till you’ve had the remedy.”
I runs my arm around her neck and raises her head, gentle, and breaks the bag of flaxseed with the other hand; and as easy as I could I bends over and slips three or four of the seeds in the outer corner of her eye.
Up gallops the village doc by this time, and snorts around, and grabs at Mrs. Sampson’s pulse, and wants to know what I mean by any such sandblasted nonsense.
“Well, old Jalap and Jerusalem oakseed,” says I, “I’m no regular practitioner, but I’ll show you my authority, anyway.”
They fetched my coat, and I gets out the Handbook.
“Look on page 117,” says I, “at the remedy for suffocation by smoke or gas. Flaxseed in the outer corner of the eye, it says. I don’t know whether it works as a smoke consumer or whether it hikes the compound gastro-hippopotamus nerve into action, but Herkimer says it, and he was called to the case first. If you want to make it a consultation, there’s no objection.”
Old doc takes the book and looks at it by means of his specs and a fireman’s lantern.
“Well, Mr. Pratt,” says he, “you evidently got on the wrong line in reading your diagnosis. The recipe for suffocation says: ‘Get the patient into fresh air as quickly as possible, and place in a reclining position.’ The flaxseed remedy is for ‘Dust and Cinders in the Eye,’ on the line above. But, after all–“
“See here,” interrupts Mrs. Sampson, “I reckon I’ve got something to say in this consultation. That flaxseed done me more good than anything I ever tried.” And then she raises up her head and lays it back on my arm again, and says: “Put some in the other eye, Sandy dear.”
And so if you was to stop off at Rosa to-morrow, or any other day, you’d see a fine new yellow house with Mrs. Pratt, that was Mrs. Sampson, embellishing and adorning it. And if you was to step inside you’d see on the marble-top centre table in the parlour “Herkimer’s Handbook of Indispensable Information,” all rebound in red morocco, and ready to be consulted on any subject pertaining to human happiness and wisdom.
THE PIMIENTA PANCAKES
While we were rounding up a bunch of the Triangle-O cattle in the Frio bottoms a projecting branch of a dead mesquite caught my wooden stirrup and gave my ankle a wrench that laid me up in camp for a week.
On the third day of my compulsory idleness I crawled out near the grub wagon, and reclined helpless under the conversational fire of Judson Odom, the camp cook. Jud was a monologist by nature, whom Destiny, with customary blundering, had set in a profession wherein he was bereaved, for the greater portion of his time, of an audience.
Therefore, I was manna in the desert of Jud’s obmutescence.
Betimes I was stirred by invalid longings for something to eat that did not come under the caption of “grub.” I had visions of the maternal pantry “deep as first love, and wild with all regret,” and then I asked:
“Jud, can you make pancakes?”
Jud laid down his six-shooter, with which he was preparing to pound an antelope steak, and stood over me in what I felt to be a menacing attitude. He further endorsed my impression that his pose was resentful by fixing upon me with his light blue eyes a look of cold suspicion.
“Say, you,” he said, with candid, though not excessive, choler, “did you mean that straight, or was you trying to throw the gaff into me? Some of the boys been telling you about me and that pancake racket?”
“No, Jud,” I said, sincerely, “I meant it. It seems to me I’d swap my pony and saddle for a stack of buttered brown pancakes with some first crop, open kettle, New Orleans sweetening. Was there a story about pancakes?”
Jud was mollified at once when he saw that I had not been dealing in allusions. He brought some mysterious bags and tin boxes from the grub wagon and set them in the shade of the hackberry where I lay reclined. I watched him as he began to arrange them leisurely and untie their many strings.
“No, not a story,” said Jud, as he worked, “but just the logical disclosures in the case of me and that pink-eyed snoozer from Mired Mule Canada and Miss Willella Learight. I don’t mind telling you.
“I was punching then for old Bill Toomey, on the San Miguel. One day I gets all ensnared up in aspirations for to eat some canned grub that hasn’t ever mooed or baaed or grunted or been in peck measures. So, I gets on my bronc and pushes the wind for Uncle Emsley Telfair’s store at the Pimienta Crossing on the Nueces.
“About three in the afternoon I throwed my bridle rein over a mesquite limb and walked the last twenty yards into Uncle Emsley’s store. I got up on the counter and told Uncle Emsley that the signs pointed to the devastation of the fruit crop of the world. In a minute I had a bag of crackers and a long-handled spoon, with an open can each of apricots and pineapples and cherries and greengages beside of me with Uncle Emsley busy chopping away with the hatchet at the yellow clings. I was feeling like Adam before the apple stampede, and was digging my spurs into the side of the counter and working with my twenty-four-inch spoon when I happened to look out of the window into the yard of Uncle Emsley’s house, which was next to the store.
“There was a girl standing there–an imported girl with fixings on– philandering with a croquet maul and amusing herself by watching my style of encouraging the fruit canning industry.
“I slid off the counter and delivered up my shovel to Uncle Emsley.
“‘That’s my niece,’ says he; ‘Miss Willella Learight, down from Palestine on a visit. Do you want that I should make you acquainted?’
“‘The Holy Land,’ I says to myself, my thoughts milling some as I tried to run ’em into the corral. ‘Why not? There was sure angels in Pales–Why, yes, Uncle Emsley,’ I says out loud, ‘I’d be awful edified to meet Miss Learight.’
“So Uncle Emsley took me out in the yard and gave us each other’s entitlements.
“I never was shy about women. I never could understand why some men who can break a mustang before breakfast and shave in the dark, get all left-handed and full of perspiration and excuses when they see a bold of calico draped around what belongs to it. Inside of eight minutes me and Miss Willella was aggravating the croquet balls around as amiable as second cousins. She gave me a dig about the quantity of canned fruit I had eaten, and I got back at her, flat-footed, about how a certain lady named Eve started the fruit trouble in the first free-grass pasture–‘Over in Palestine, wasn’t it?’ says I, as easy and pat as roping a one-year-old.
“That was how I acquired cordiality for the proximities of Miss Willella Learight; and the disposition grew larger as time passed. She was stopping at Pimienta Crossing for her health, which was very good, and for the climate, which was forty per cent. hotter than Palestine. I rode over to see her once every week for a while; and then I figured it out that if I doubled the number of trips I would see her twice as often.
“One week I slipped in a third trip; and that’s where the pancakes and the pink-eyed snoozer busted into the game.
“That evening, while I set on the counter with a peach and two damsons in my mouth, I asked Uncle Emsley how Miss Willella was.
“‘Why,’ says Uncle Emsley, ‘she’s gone riding with Jackson Bird, the sheep man from over at Mired Mule Canada.’
“I swallowed the peach seed and the two damson seeds. I guess somebody held the counter by the bridle while I got off; and then I walked out straight ahead till I butted against the mesquite where my roan was tied.
“‘She’s gone riding,’ I whisper in my bronc’s ear, ‘with Birdstone Jack, the hired mule from Sheep Man’s Canada. Did you get that, old Leather-and-Gallops?’
“That bronc of mine wept, in his way. He’d been raised a cow pony and he didn’t care for snoozers.
“I went back and said to Uncle Emsley: ‘Did you say a sheep man?’
“‘I said a sheep man,’ says Uncle Emsley again. ‘You must have heard tell of Jackson Bird. He’s got eight sections of grazing and four thousand head of the finest Merinos south of the Arctic Circle.’
“I went out and sat on the ground in the shade of the store and leaned against a prickly pear. I sifted sand into my boots with unthinking hands while I soliloquised a quantity about this bird with the Jackson plumage to his name.
“I never had believed in harming sheep men. I see one, one day, reading a Latin grammar on hossback, and I never touched him! They never irritated me like they do most cowmen. You wouldn’t go to work now, and impair and disfigure snoozers, would you, that eat on tables and wear little shoes and speak to you on subjects? I had always let ’em pass, just as you would a jack-rabbit; with a polite word and a guess about the weather, but no stopping to swap canteens. I never thought it was worth while to be hostile with a snoozer. And because I’d been lenient, and let ’em live, here was one going around riding with Miss Willella Learight!
“An hour by sun they come loping back, and stopped at Uncle Emsley’s gate. The sheep person helped her off; and they stood throwing each other sentences all sprightful and sagacious for a while. And then this feathered Jackson flies up in his saddle and raises his little stewpot of a hat, and trots off in the direction of his mutton ranch. By this time I had turned the sand out of my boots and unpinned myself from the prickly pear; and by the time he gets half a mile out of Pimienta, I singlefoots up beside him on my bronc.
“I said that snoozer was pink-eyed, but he wasn’t. His seeing arrangement was grey enough, but his eye-lashes was pink and his hair was sandy, and that gave you the idea. Sheep man?–he wasn’t more than a lamb man, anyhow–a little thing with his neck involved in a yellow silk handkerchief, and shoes tied up in bowknots.
“‘Afternoon!’ says I to him. ‘You now ride with a equestrian who is commonly called Dead-Moral-Certainty Judson, on account of the way I shoot. When I want a stranger to know me I always introduce myself before the draw, for I never did like to shake hands with ghosts.’
“‘Ah,’ says he, just like that–‘Ah, I’m glad to know you, Mr. Judson. I’m Jackson Bird, from over at Mired Mule Ranch.’
“Just then one of my eyes saw a roadrunner skipping down the hill with a young tarantula in his bill, and the other eye noticed a rabbit-hawk sitting on a dead limb in a water-elm. I popped over one after the other with my forty-five, just to show him. ‘Two out of three,’ says I. ‘Birds just naturally seem to draw my fire wherever I go.’
“‘Nice shooting,’ says the sheep man, without a flutter. ‘But don’t you sometimes ever miss the third shot? Elegant fine rain that was last week for the young grass, Mr. Judson?’ says he.
“‘Willie,’ says I, riding over close to his palfrey, ‘your infatuated parents may have denounced you by the name of Jackson, but you sure moulted into a twittering Willie–let us slough off this here analysis of rain and the elements, and get down to talk that is outside the vocabulary of parrots. That is a bad habit you have got of riding with young ladies over at Pimienta. I’ve known birds,’ says I, ‘to be served on toast for less than that. Miss Willella,’ says I, ‘don’t ever want any nest made out of sheep’s wool by a tomtit of the Jacksonian branch of ornithology. Now, are you going to quit, or do you wish for to gallop up against this Dead-Moral-Certainty attachment to my name, which is good for two hyphens and at least one set of funeral obsequies?’
“Jackson Bird flushed up some, and then he laughed.
“‘Why, Mr. Judson,’ says he, ‘you’ve got the wrong idea. I’ve called on Miss Learight a few times; but not for the purpose you imagine. My object is purely a gastronomical one.’
“I reached for my gun.
“‘Any coyote,’ says I, ‘that would boast of dishonourable–‘
“‘Wait a minute,’ says this Bird, ’till I explain. What would I do with a wife? If you ever saw that ranch of mine! I do my own cooking and mending. Eating–that’s all the pleasure I get out of sheep raising. Mr. Judson, did you ever taste the pancakes that Miss Learight makes?’
“‘Me? No,’ I told him. ‘I never was advised that she was up to any culinary manoeuvres.’
“‘They’re golden sunshine,’ says he, ‘honey-browned by the ambrosial fires of Epicurus. I’d give two years of my life to get the recipe for making them pancakes. That’s what I went to see Miss Learight for,’ says Jackson Bird, ‘but I haven’t been able to get it from her. It’s an old recipe that’s been in the family for seventy-five years. They hand it down from one generation to another, but they don’t give it away to outsiders. If I could get that recipe, so I could make them pancakes for myself on my ranch, I’d be a happy man,’ says Bird.
“‘Are you sure,’ I says to him, ‘that it ain’t the hand that mixes the pancakes that you’re after?’
“‘Sure,’ says Jackson. ‘Miss Learight is a mighty nice girl, but I can assure you my intentions go no further than the gastro–‘ but he seen my hand going down to my holster and he changed his similitude–‘than the desire to procure a copy of the pancake recipe,’ he finishes.
“‘You ain’t such a bad little man,’ says I, trying to be fair. ‘I was thinking some of making orphans of your sheep, but I’ll let you fly away this time. But you stick to pancakes,’ says I, ‘as close as the middle one of a stack; and don’t go and mistake sentiments for syrup, or there’ll be singing at your ranch, and you won’t hear it.’
“‘To convince you that I am sincere,’ says the sheep man, ‘I’ll ask you to help me. Miss Learight and you being closer friends, maybe she would do for you what she wouldn’t for me. If you will get me a copy of that pancake recipe, I give you my word that I’ll never call upon her again.’
“‘That’s fair,’ I says, and I shook hands with Jackson Bird. ‘I’ll get it for you if I can, and glad to oblige.’ And he turned off down the big pear flat on the Piedra, in the direction of Mired Mule; and I steered northwest for old Bill Toomey’s ranch.
“It was five days afterward when I got another chance to ride over to Pimienta. Miss Willella and me passed a gratifying evening at Uncle Emsley’s. She sang some, and exasperated the piano quite a lot with quotations from the operas. I gave imitations of a rattlesnake, and told her about Snaky McFee’s new way of skinning cows, and described the trip I made to Saint Louis once. We was getting along in one another’s estimations fine. Thinks I, if Jackson Bird can now be persuaded to migrate, I win. I recollect his promise about the pancake receipt, and I thinks I will persuade it from Miss Willella and give it to him; and then if I catches Birdie off of Mired Mule again, I’ll make him hop the twig.
“So, along about ten o’clock, I put on a wheedling smile and says to Miss Willella: ‘Now, if there’s anything I do like better than the sight of a red steer on green grass it’s the taste of a nice hot pancake smothered in sugar-house molasses.’
“Miss Willella gives a little jump on the piano stool, and looked at me curious.
“‘Yes,’ says she, ‘they’re real nice. What did you say was the name of that street in Saint Louis, Mr. Odom, where you lost your hat?’
“‘Pancake Avenue,’ says I, with a wink, to show her that I was on about the family receipt, and couldn’t be side-corralled off of the subject. ‘Come, now, Miss Willella,’ I says; ‘let’s hear how you make ’em. Pancakes is just whirling in my head like wagon wheels. Start her off, now–pound of flour, eight dozen eggs, and so on. How does the catalogue of constituents run?’
“‘Excuse me for a moment, please,’ says Miss Willella, and she gives me a quick kind of sideways look, and slides off the stool. She ambled out into the other room, and directly Uncle Emsley comes in in his shirt sleeves, with a pitcher of water. He turns around to get a glass on the table, and I see a forty-five in his hip pocket. ‘Great post- holes!’ thinks I, ‘but here’s a family thinks a heap of cooking receipts, protecting it with firearms. I’ve known outfits that wouldn’t do that much by a family feud.’
“‘Drink this here down,’ says Uncle Emsley, handing me the glass of water. ‘You’ve rid too far to-day, Jud, and got yourself over-excited. Try to think about something else now.’
“‘Do you know how to make them pancakes, Uncle Emsley?’ I asked.
“‘Well, I’m not as apprised in the anatomy of them as some,’ says Uncle Emsley, ‘but I reckon you take a sifter of plaster of Paris and a little dough and saleratus and corn meal, and mix ’em with eggs and buttermilk as usual. Is old Bill going to ship beeves to Kansas City again this spring, Jud?’
“That was all the pancake specifications I could get that night. I didn’t wonder that Jackson Bird found it uphill work. So I dropped the subject and talked with Uncle Emsley for a while about hollow-horn and cyclones. And then Miss Willella came and said ‘Good-night,’ and I hit the breeze for the ranch.
“About a week afterward I met Jackson Bird riding out of Pimienta as I rode in, and we stopped on the road for a few frivolous remarks.
“‘Got the bill of particulars for them flapjacks yet?’ I asked him.
“‘Well, no,’ says Jackson. ‘I don’t seem to have any success in getting hold of it. Did you try?’
“‘I did,’ says I, ‘and ’twas like trying to dig a prairie dog out of his hole with a peanut hull. That pancake receipt must be a jookalorum, the way they hold on to it.’
“‘I’m most ready to give it up,’ says Jackson, so discouraged in his pronunciations that I felt sorry for him; ‘but I did want to know how to make them pancakes to eat on my lonely ranch,’ says he. ‘I lie awake at nights thinking how good they are.’
“‘You keep on trying for it,’ I tells him, ‘and I’ll do the same. One of us is bound to get a rope over its horns before long. Well, so- long, Jacksy.’
“You see, by this time we were on the peacefullest of terms. When I saw that he wasn’t after Miss Willella, I had more endurable contemplations of that sandy-haired snoozer. In order to help out the ambitions of his appetite I kept on trying to get that receipt from Miss Willella. But every time I would say ‘pancakes’ she would get sort of remote and fidgety about the eye, and try to change the subject. If I held her to it she would slide out and round up Uncle Emsley with his pitcher of water and hip-pocket howitzer.
“One day I galloped over to the store with a fine bunch of blue verbenas that I cut out of a herd of wild flowers over on Poisoned Dog Prairie. Uncle Emsley looked at ’em with one eye shut and says:
“‘Haven’t ye heard the news?’
“‘Cattle up?’ I asks.
“‘Willella and Jackson Bird was married in Palestine yesterday,’ says he. ‘Just got a letter this morning.’
“I dropped them flowers in a cracker-barrel, and let the news trickle in my ears and down toward my upper left-hand shirt pocket until it got to my feet.
“‘Would you mind saying that over again once more, Uncle Emsley?’ says I. ‘Maybe my hearing has got wrong, and you only said that prime heifers was 4.80 on the hoof, or something like that.’
“‘Married yesterday,’ says Uncle Emsley, ‘and gone to Waco and Niagara Falls on a wedding tour. Why, didn’t you see none of the signs all along? Jackson Bird has been courting Willella ever since that day he took her out riding.’
“‘Then,’ says I, in a kind of yell, ‘what was all this zizzaparoola he gives me about pancakes? Tell me /that/.’
“When I said ‘pancakes’ Uncle Emsley sort of dodged and stepped back.
“‘Somebody’s been dealing me pancakes from the bottom of the deck,’ I says, ‘and I’ll find out. I believe you know. Talk up,’ says I, ‘or we’ll mix a panful of batter right here.’
“I slid over the counter after Uncle Emsley. He grabbed at his gun, but it was in a drawer, and he missed it two inches. I got him by the front of his shirt and shoved him in a corner.
“‘Talk pancakes,’ says I, ‘or be made into one. Does Miss Willella make ’em?’
“‘She never made one in her life and I never saw one,’ says Uncle Emsley, soothing. ‘Calm down now, Jud–calm down. You’ve got excited, and that wound in your head is contaminating your sense of intelligence. Try not to think about pancakes.’
“‘Uncle Emsley,’ says I, ‘I’m not wounded in the head except so far as my natural cognitive instincts run to runts. Jackson Bird told me he was calling on Miss Willella for the purpose of finding out her system of producing pancakes, and he asked me to help him get the bill of lading of the ingredients. I done so, with the results as you see. Have I been sodded down with Johnson grass by a pink-eyed snoozer, or