Dark Horse--A Story of the Flying U
B M Bower
Chapter One THE
Chapter Two HERO
FOR A NIGHT
FAME IS FLEETING
Chapter Four THE
Chapter Five RED
Chapter Six ALL
IN THE SAME BOAT
PEACE IS THE
Chapter Ten LEN
TAKES A HAND
ANDY TELLS A
THE NATIVE SON
HONESTY IS SLOW
MORE DARK HORSES
THE LIGHTNING STRIKES
Loping along the trail that scalloped over foothill ridges
between Meeker’s ranch and the Flying U, Big Medicine
sweated and cursed the month of April for arrogating to itself
the sultry heat of July. The cigarette he had rolled and lighted
before mounting for the homeward ride was smoked to its stub. It
did not seem worth while to light another. What Big Medicine
craved most was a quart bottle of cold beer. Failing that, his
thoughts kept recurring to the trickle of cold spring water down
his gullet. Following that thought his head swung involuntarily
to the left, where a faint stock trail angled down a barren ridge
into One Man Coulee. And without any command to do so, his sorrel
horse, Cheater, turned in response to the glance and began
picking his way through rock rubble on that trail. A trivial
incident on an unimportant ride; yet such are the inscrutable
ways of destiny that the turning aside to drink from a certain
spring he knew was not the small matter it seemed to Big
Medicine. He was not the man to shy from anything in the trail he
chose to ride; one glimpse into the future, and even the blatant
courage of Big Medicine must certainly have fled the thing before
That glimpse was not offered. So Big Medicine and his sorrel
horse, Cheater, went down into One Man Coulee and drank with an
audible gusto from the spring seeping out beneath a bulging,
moss-covered ledge: Big Medicine lying flat on his belly, mouth
and sun-burned nose submerged in the clear pool, Cheater, fetlock
deep in the ooze, knees bent while he sucked the cold water
avidly through flaccid lips and big yellow teeth. Big Medicine
lifted his face to the blasting sun, stared at the heat waves
radiating from the rock walls near by, and drank again. Then he
pulled off his big Stetson and soused his bullet head three times
to his collar. He got up gasping and blowing luxuriously, dragged
Cheater back out of the mud where yellow jackets were crawling,
made himself a cigarette and heaved himself reluctantly to the
From the spring his best trail lay down the coulee, following
the narrow, brushy water-course to the gravelly road that cut
across the coulee’s mouth on its way to certain remote
ranches and that forbidding wilderness known as the Badlands.
Refreshed, the sorrel loped steadily down the grassy trail,
rutted here and there with the passing of infrequent wagon
wheels—but he could not lope fast enough to escape the
thing into which Big Medicine’s thirst had betrayed him,
for when Destiny chooses to make use of a man, his least act will
lead to the task appointed.
As he topped the hill leading out of the coulee, Big
Medicine’s pale, round eyes sent a startled glance toward
the west. In the little while he had been hidden within the high
walls of One Man Coulee a storm had rolled up from the sky line
over toward Lonesome Prairie. Already a greenish gloom lay upon
the land to the westward, and the hot breeze had died into a
sinister silence so great that the cheep of a bird in a bush sent
Cheater shying skittishly out of the road.
When Big Medicine’s hand dropped to his horse’s
neck the hair crackled as in winter. His own skin prickled. The
air seemed soaked with electricity. He sent an uneasy look around
him and his mouth pulled down at the corners. He did not like the
sullen way the lightning was lifting and parting the sluggish
roll of clouds up there. Deep, that storm was; deep and ugly,
full of water. Full of wind too, and thunder and lightning. A
ripsnorter, like you’d have a right to expect in July or
Big Medicine stopped Cheater, got off and untied his yellow
slicker from behind the saddle. Smelled fishy, in all this heat,
but he flapped himself into it, buttoned it to his chin, and
remounted, pulling the peaked slicker tail well down over the
cantle of his saddle and tucking the edges neatly under his legs.
Never saw a meaner storm, not even in the Pecos country where
cyclones would come and tear the grass right up by the roots. He
yanked his big hat down tighter over his pale eyebrows, tilted
his spurs to graze Cheater’s sweaty flanks and rode grimly
forward. No shelter close enough to do any good; he’d have
to ride and let ’er rip.
He was a little dubious about Dry Gulch, which lay just ahead.
Might come a cloudburst before he got through, and the banks were
too shaley and steep to climb. Big Medicine had been caught in a
cloudburst once, and the experience had left him leery of low
ground in a storm. He’d have to chance it, though; which he
did at a swift gallop, watching the approach of the storm he was
riding to meet. And for the first time he wished he had not
ridden down into One Man Coulee to that spring. Only for that
he’d have this stretch of trail safely behind him, with
high level prairie to travel.
Into the smothered stillness of Dry Gulch there came the faint
drumming of strange hoofbeats ahead of him on the trail. Coming
his way, the fellow was. Between the muttering of thunder he
could hear his steady approach, and in another minute a lathery
black horse galloped into sight around a bend, his rider jouncing
in the saddle, one hand gripping the horn.
Big Medicine snorted his disdain of all pilgrims when there
came an ear-splitting crash and a blinding glare. The wide grin
wiped itself off his mouth. The black horse fell as if a giant
hand had slapped him down. One glimpse he had of the rider
pitching headfirst into a clump of weeds, as Cheater squatted and
whirled back up the gulch. With an iron hand he fought the
sorrel’s stark terror, spurring him back to the spot. The
stench of brimstone was in his nostrils. Frozen mice were dancing
under his hat. His knees buckled under him when he dismounted,
but the stern stuff of the Good Samaritan was woven into the
fiber of Big Medicine’s soul and he went forward, dragging
Cheater stiff-legged at the end of the bridle reins.
Shore was funny, the way lightning acted. That one bolt
shooting straight down, and the rest playing crack-the-whip up in
the clouds till you couldn’t hear yourself think. The black
horse lay flat and shapeless, every bone in his body crunched, by
the look of him. The pilgrim wasn’t dead, though. Black as
a nigger, except for his light hair, but there were no marks on
him so far as Big Medicine could see, when he bent over the
clawing figure in the weeds.
Big Medicine spoke to him, but the man went limp and still,
lying on his face. He yelled another question, then stooped and
lifted the fellow in his arms and staggered over to where Cheater
stood rolling his eyes until the white showed all around.
“Don’t yuh wall yer eyes at me,” Big
Medicine bellowed peremptorily. “You gotta pack double,
from here to the ranch. Make up yer mind to it right now, by
He reached for the dragging reins, caught the inert figure
firmly under the arms, and heaved him up to the saddle. At that
instant the lightning ripped a blinding rent in the gloom, there
came on the heels of it another deafening report, and the big
sorrel ducked and was gone, legging it for home with his head
held sidewise, so that he would not trip on the reins. Clods of
sandy soil hurtled backward from his pounding hoofs.
In the crackle and roar of the storm Big Medicine stood and
damned the horse as long as he was in sight. Then, because the
stranger was still breathing and no man with a heart would leave
him there to die, Big Medicine heaved and grunted and swore until
the flaccid body was balanced across his shoulders like a
fresh-killed buck. A fool’s job, most likely. The fellow
would probably die on the road, but Big Medicine could not help
that. Since it was his damnable luck to ride along there and see
the lightning strike, he’d have to do what he could to save
the man’s life. So he hitched his burden to a more perfect
balance and started for home, walking bow-legged under the load
and searching his memory for new and more blasting epithets which
he applied to Cheater.
A gust of wind stopped him in the trail until its first fury
was spent. Blinding thrusts of swordlike lightning lifted the
hair on his bullet head. Thunder crashed above him and rolled
sullenly away to give place to the next ear-splitting explosion.
Before he had gone ten rods the rain came in a sudden deluge:
gray slanting curtains of water blown stiffly against him,
blotting out the yellow banks on either side. He, who had so
lately craved cold water, walked through rain so dense he felt
like a diver ploughing along at the bottom of the sea.
HERO FOR A NIGHT
Thinking uneasily of cloudbursts, Big Medicine almost trotted
the two-mile stretch to the hill that spelled safety. Up the
soapy incline he toiled, slipping and sweating and swearing but
somehow never falling or stopping until he reached the top. He
wished he had thought to take off his spurs before he
started—but hell, a feller can’t think of everything
at once. He wished he had worn his old boots; these new ones made
of his heels a flaming agony. But there was a new
schoolma’am boarding at Meeker’s, and a feller hated
to ride in run-over boots.
While he trudged those weary miles, he sent furtive glances
this way and that beneath the streaming brim of his big hat. If
there were only some cut-bank with an over-hang—if there
was a tree or a clump of bushes, even, he would lay the fellow
down under shelter and go on after a rig to haul him in to the
ranch. But there was no cut-bank, no tree, no clump of bushes on
that level prairie.
Anyway, the boys shore would have to hand it to him for nerve,
packing a long-geared son-of-a-gun like this feller all the way
in from Dry Gulch. He’d bet there wasn’t another one
in the bunch that would have sand enough to tackle it, even. A
growing pride in his strength and big-heartedness steadied his
feet as they squashed along the rutted trail.
After that it suddenly occurred to him that a rescue party
would probably ride into sight over the next ridge. The minute
Cheater showed up at the ranch with an empty saddle the boys
would pile onto their cayuses and start right out. They’d
think he was struck by lightning or something. By cripes, they
shore would bug their eyes out when they saw him walking in with
a man on his back, unconcerned as if he was packing a stick of
dry wood to the fire. It pleased him to picture the look on the
faces of the Flying U boys when they came galloping out to find
him. It pleased him to invent careless phrases, telling of his
prodigious deed. “Oh, jest a feller struck by
lightnin’ over in Dry Gulch. Hawse broke back on
me—had to hoof it home.”
But as he plodded mile after mile and no bobbing horsemen
showed on the blurred horizon, his pale, frog eyes hardened
perceptibly. By cripes, them lazy hounds had time enough to meet
him with an ox team. Time enough to push a wheelbarrow to Dry
Gulch, by cripes! Damn a bunch of selfish boneheads that’d
set in the bunk-house and let a feller lay out on the range and
rot, for all they knew or cared! He’d show ’em up, by
cripes! He wouldn’t say a word; just the bare fact of what
he was man enough to do would show ’em up for what they
was. Yellow-livered skunks—there wouldn’t be a
damn’ one that could look him in the eye. He’d ride
’em to a fare-you-well for this.
The thunder and lightning slowly drew off, muttering, to the
high canyons of the Bear Paws. When he reached the brow of the
hill that formed the north wall of Flying U Coulee, the storm had
diminished to a steady drizzle, deepening the murky gloom of
early evening. As he toiled up from the willow-fringed creek, the
sight of Cheater standing tail to the storm beside the stable
made him grind his teeth in wrath beyond even his extensive
vocabulary. One sweeping glare showed him other horses sheltered
in the dry strip on the corral side of the stable. Not a saddle
missing under the shed; everybody inside, dry and warm—and
be damned to them! The light in the bunk-house window, shining
yellow through the rain-washed dusk, taunted him like a leering
face, but he was too near the end of his strength to do more than
grunt at this final insult. With a rocking, sidewise gait he
staggered up the path to the cabin, his failing energy gathering
itself for one savage kick upon the closed door.
“Hey! Cut that out!” yelled a voice he recognized
as Cal Emmett’s.
“Say, wipe the mud off your feet! We scrubbed the floor
to-day,” admonished another.
Big Medicine bellowed anathema as he let go the dangling ankle
of his load and threw open the door. The Happy Family, humped
around a poker game, looked up with casual glances that steadied
to a surprised interest. Pink straddled backward over a bench and
came forward, his eyes big with questions, though he said
“Who’s that?” blurted Slim unguardedly.
“Somebody hurt?” Weary swept in his cards and
rose, recklessly scattering the piled matches.
“Hully gee!” Cal Emmett exclaimed, kicking over a
chair in his haste to come forward.
“Git outa my way!” panted Big Medicine, tottering
toward his bunk in a far corner. “By cripes, I
wouldn’t ast none of yuh to go to no trouble—you kin
go to hell instid!” He turned himself about, leaned
awkwardly to one side and let his limp burden slide to the
blankets. With a great sigh born of exhaustion, he stooped
creakily and lifted the lax legs to the bed. While the Happy
Family stood huddled and staring, he shucked himself out of his
slicker and flopped upon the opposite bunk, where he lay on the
flat of his back, glaring contemptuously up at them.
“Don’t do nothin’ to save that pore
feller’s life,” he implored with heavy sarcasm.
“Gwan back and set down on yer damn’ haunches
an’ let ’im die!”
Pink and Weary were already at the bunk, feeling the inert
figure. Pink straightened from his ineffectual pawing and stared
down at Big Medicine.
“What’s the matter with him, Bud? There
ain’t any blood nor any broken bones on
’im—what is this; a frame-up?”
“Here, take a look at him, Mig.” Weary stepped
aside to make room for the Native Son, who had a certain deftness
in ministering to the injured. “Darned if I can see
anything wrong with him. Might be pickled, from the
looks—only he lacks the breath of a drunk man.”
“His pulse is making good speed,” Miguel
announced. “I think he is having one fine siesta,
“Siesta my foot!” Big Medicine heaved
himself to an elbow. “Honest to grandma, the taxpayers uh
this county had oughta build ’em an idiots’ home.
They’s a bunch uh candidates on this ranch it’s a sin
to let run loose. Why don’t yuh do something? That
pore feller’s been lightnin’ struck, by cripes! Let
’im lay there and die, will yuh? Never lift a
“Lightning struck?” Weary looked blankly from one
“There ain’t been any lightning to amount to
anything for a couple of hours,” Cal Emmett pointed out.
“Don’t try any Andy Green stunt on us, Big
“No, by golly,” Slim cut in; “one
liar’s enough in this outfit.”
Big Medicine let down his feet to the floor and sat glaring
from one to another.
“Over in Dry Gulch you kin find his hawse,” he
snarled. “If you lazy hounds had of took the trouble to
come and see what had went wrong, when Cheater came in without
me, I wouldn’t a had to pack that pore feller clear from
Dry Gulch on m’ damn’ back. His
“Pulled out and left him?” Weary prompted.
“Killed. Busted every bone in his body. You kin ride
over there t’morra mornin’ and take a look. There
ain’t a feller on the ranch that’s man enough to do
what I done, by cripes! Packed that pore pilgrim eight mile, by
“How d’you know he’s a pilgrim?” Pink
demanded suspiciously. “He ain’t dressed like a
“No, by cripes, but I seen how he set on a hawse
’fore that streak uh lightnin’ come at ’em. All
right,” he snorted disgustedly, as he lay down again,
“let ’im lay there an’ die, then! I packed
’im in, by cripes; I ain’t goin’ to nurse
’im back to health!”
“Well,” Weary yielded, “he sure don’t
look like a sick man to me, but we’ll take your word for
it, Big Medicine. Get his shoes off, boys—we better strip
off these wet clothes and roll him in a hot blanket. Happy, you
go up and see if the Old Man’s got any brandy—the
Little Doctor mighta left some in her medicine chest—and
don’t sample it on the way back!”
“Yeah, yuh might give me a jolt of it too,” said
Big Medicine, sitting up again with an eager look. “Shore
is a fur piece from here to Dry Gulch—walkin’ on foot
with a back load like that there.”
“Darned right,” Weary agreed sympathetically.
“Ain’t every man could do it. Stick your foot up here
and let me pull off them wet boots.”
“Be darn careful, then,” sighed Big Medicine.
“I got blisters the size uh saddle blankets on both heels,
“Hully gee!” breathed Cal, sucking air through his
teeth when the blisters were displayed to a sympathetic group of
bent faces. “Anybody but you’d ’a’ laid
on his back and stuck his feet in the air and howled like a
whipped pup. We never dreamed you’d get set afoot, Bud.
Anybody in the darn outfit but you.”
“The best a riders has accidents,” Big Medicine
stated loftily. “It was hard goin’, all
right—but it was his life er my feet, and any man that is a
man woulda done the same, I reckon. I’d ’a’
packed ’im twicet as fur if necessary.”
“Yeah, that’s you,” Pink gave
admiring testimony, eyeing the injured feet with something
approaching awe. For a cowpuncher set afoot is the most pitiable
sight on the range, and blistered heels are more dreaded than
bullet wounds. “You oughta soak them heels in carbolic
before you get lockjaw or something.”
“Haw-haw-haw-w-w!” chortled Big Medicine, his
spirits lifted amazingly by admiration and two fingers of
excellent brandy. “I’m the toughest ole wolf that
ever howled along the Pecos River, by cripes! And the
biggest-hearted. I saved a feller’s life and I’m
proud of it. Give ’im a shot uh that there brandy, and then
I’ll have another little snort. By cripes, I earnt
The Happy Family agreed with him. With fine loyalty they first
inspected the brandy, just to make sure that it was fit for
medicinal purposes, and administered it sparingly to Big Medicine
and the stranger brought within their gate. They glowed with
pride in Big Medicine’s achievement, in the greatness of
his heart and in his fortitude. They felt a warm benignity toward
the pilgrim, lying there flushed and speechless—but
unmistakably alive—in Big Medicine’s bunk. Until long
past midnight a light shone into the drizzle through the two
square windows of the Flying U bunk-house. Snatches of song,
laughter, the cheerful confusion of voices raised in facetious
argument overrode the drumming of rain on the low roof.
In a word, the Happy Family were for the time being in
complete accord with Big Medicine and his splendid role of Good
Samaritan. When at last they laid themselves between their
blankets, the brandy flask had been emptied to the last drained
drop—for medicinal purposes only—and Big Medicine was
still wearing the warped halo of a saint (if one might believe
the Happy Family’s sleep-drugged statements). The rescued
stranger was a hero also. Though his lips had not once opened for
speech and nothing was known of his identity, they were for the
time being perfectly willing to accept Big Medicine’s
optimistic statements and let it go at that.
Warm-hearted heroes all, they slept in happy ignorance of what
the morrow might hold for them. Which was just as well.
FAME IS FLEETING
Fame is a fickle thing, as has often been stated and as Big
Medicine straightway discovered. He went to bed a hero. He rose a
man who has boasted overmuch and who must be put in his place and
kept there. To a man the Happy Family snubbed him for the thing
he had done; or which he claimed to have done. With slightly
bloodshot eyes, they watched him ostentatiously salve his
blistered heels, sucking his breath in through his teeth in a
childish play for sympathy. They refused to be impressed.
“You’d think, by thunder, a man would have sense
enough to buy boots to fit,” Cal Emmett observed tartly to
no one in particular.
“I never seen a man always trying to show off his little
feet, by golly, that had a lick uh sense,” Slim growled
“They always suffer for it when they have to walk half a
mile or so,” Pink yawned.
“Yeah, I betcha Big Medicine never packed that guy a
mile,” Happy Jack declared sourly. “I’ve saw
grandstand plays before.”
“If he did, it was just a mile too far,” drawled
the Native Son. “Tell yuh right now, I’d feel a darn
sight more like booting him away from the ranch than packing him
in here. He don’t look so good to me,
“Well, damn the hull of yuh fer a hard-hearted bunch of
booze hounds!” snarled Big Medicine, screwing his face into
agonized grimaces while he slid his feet into his oldest boots.
“Lapped up a hull quart of brandy the Little Doctor was
keepin’ fer medical cases like me ’n’ that pore
feller I brung home on m’ damn’ back! Lapped it up
like a bunch uh sheep herders, by cripes! You
“You wasn’t bashful about swillin’ it down,
yourself,” Cal snorted. “We had to take a nip or two
so we could stomach your darned bragging.”
“Braggin’! Me? Well, by cripes!” Big
Medicine sat on the edge of his bunk and goggled amazedly around
at the disgruntled group. “Me brag! Packed ’im a
mile, hunh? I dare the bunch of yuh to ride over to Dry Gulch and
see where I packed ’im from, and then say ag’in that
I packed ’im a mile, mebby.”
“Don’t worry—that’s right where
we’re heading for, soon as we eat,” drawled Weary.
“If you packed that man on your back clear from Dry Gulch,
my hat is off to you. You can brag about it for the rest of your
life, for all me.”
So a truce was tacitly declared for the time being.
“By golly, looks like he done it, all right,” Slim
admitted reluctantly an hour later, pointing a gloved finger
toward drying footprints in the trail.
“Shore, I done it.” Big Medicine, riding his
chastened sorrel at the head of the little cavalcade, twisted in
the saddle to glare back at the group. “It don’t take
my tracks in the mud to show I done it, either. My word for it
had oughta be sufficient, by cripes!” He lifted an arm and
gestured accusingly toward the far-away broken line of low ridges
that marked Dry Gulch. “Six mile acrost this bench and two
mile down the gulch, and I hoofed it every step uh the way with
that pore feller on m’ back. And you darned chumps
settin’ there in the bunk-house lettin’ me do
“Yeah, we heard that before,” Pink reminded
“It was mentioned, amigo, seventeen times last
night, and four times since we left the corral,” the Native
Son reminded him gently.
“Well, it’s the truth, by cripes,” Big
Medicine bellowed over his shoulder. “When a man’s
hawse shows up with a empty saddle, it’s time somebuddy
rode out to see what took place. I coulda laid out here and
died, by cripes!” His pale stare went from face to
face. “That gits me.”
“Aw, gwan!” snorted Happy Jack. “There
wouldn’t nothin’ git you. I betcha a double-bitted
axe wouldn’t only show a few nicks if a feller tried to
brain yuh with it. I betcha sparks ’d fly off your head
like hackin’ at a rock. You wouldn’t lay out
an’ die nowhere!”
“Wonder who that fellow is,” Weary tactfully
observed. “Not a thing in his pockets to show where he come
from or where he was headed for. Cadwalloper and I went through
his clothes and we didn’t find the scratch of a
“I betcha he’s on the dodge,” Happy Jack
hazarded, with his usual pessimism. “He’s got a mean
look, to me.”
“So’d you have a mean look, if you was struck by
lightning,” Big Medicine defended loudly. “The pore
feller ain’t goin’ to be pesticated about no
pedigree. He’s all right—barrin’ he don’t
know how to set a hawse. Pullin’ leather with all two
hands, and his hawse only in a high lope—but hell, that
ain’t no crime.” He sent another sweeping stare over
his shoulder. “I’ve saw as pore ridin’
more’n once, right in Flying U Coulee.”
“Who, for instance?” Cal Emmett demanded
Big Medicine hedged. “Well, I ain’t namin’
no names—but I could shore spit in the feller’s eye
right now that I seen chokin’ his saddle horn one
They disputed that assertion with bitter argument, while over
their heads gray curlews sailed with slim legs dangling, curved
rapier beaks thrust out as they called “Cor-reck?
Cor-reck?” in aimless inquiry. On storm-draggled bushes,
meadowlarks teetered and sang sweet snatches of rippling melody,
endlessly repeated as if they had forgotten the rest of the song.
These things, while seemingly unregarded, nevertheless soothed
their mood appreciably.
“Oh, I forgot to say the Meekers aim to drive over
t’day if the weather’s good,” Big Medicine
announced suddenly, forgetting his grievance as they rode into
Dry Gulch. “The new schoolma’am never has saw any
real bronk ridin’, so when Joe made a remark about
ridin’ over to watch me gentle that gray outlaw,
schoolma’am spoke up an’ said she wanted to come. So
they kinda framed up a Sunday picnic over t’ our
“Hully gee, I guess lightnin’ musta struck you
instead of that pilgrim,” Cal Emmett grinned. “Why
didn’t yuh say they was comin’? I’d
’a’ rode over to Bert Rogers’
“Time enough yet, if you hurry,” Weary pointed
out. “Happy, you might drift on over to Adamses and get
Len, if she’s home. And you might swing around by
“Aw, the Pilgreens’ is comin’ anyway, if the
old lady gits over her toothache,” Happy Jack cut in
“Oh. So that’s where you was all yesterday
forenoon! Lucky for you, ole timer, that Chip ain’t back
“Chip better git a wiggle on, by golly!” Slim cast
an appraising glance out over the rolling hills, now brightly
tinted with the green of new grass. “That there hot
spell’s shore puttin’ grass on them hills.”
“Andy oughta be rollin’ in to-day or
to-morrow,” Pink observed rather wishfully.
“There’s a few snuffy ones in that last bunch we
gathered that I’d sure like to see Andy go up
“Why? Want all them nice new fillings jarred loose outa
“By golly, the way he talked ’fore he left,
Andy’ll come home packin’ enough gold in his mouth to
start a bank!” Slim chortled. “Swaller all that and
we’d have to beef ’im to git it back.”
“By the looks of that last bunch, Andy’s gold
fillings ain’t the only things liable to get jarred
loose,” Weary predicted, with a laugh. “Come on,
boys—let’s get this inquest over and done with. How
much farther is it, Big Medicine?”
“Right around that next turn.” Big Medicine reined
importantly in the lead and went galloping down the gulch to
where the dead horse lay. The Happy Family, dismounting at the
spot, gathered in a silent, staring group.
“What I can’t sabe is how that guy at the
ranch escaped with a whole bone in his body,” Weary
observed soberly at last.
“Well, he wasn’t touchin’ nothin’ but
the horn and stirrups when she struck,” Big Medicine
explained. “Prob’ly the lightnin’ slid in under
’im. Yuh might say that’s oncet a feller’s life
was saved by his pore ridin’. If he’d been
settin’ in the saddle like a human, he’d be
playin’ a harp right now, chances is, and wonderin’
how he got there.”
“Moral, ride high and loose in a thunder-storm,”
Pink declared in his clear treble.
“Say, I know that horse,” Cal suddenly exclaimed.
“I sure remember that bob-wire scar on the shoulder. That
horse come from the livery stable in Dry Lake. Grab a leg, boys,
and turn him over. We oughta pull the saddle, anyway.”
They heaved the carcass to the other side, bringing the
branded hip uppermost.
“Yeah, I could swore that was the horse,” Cal
confirmed his first statement. “That’s the cayuse I
rode to Box Elder after that locoed roan son-of-a-gun last
spring, the time he busted his bridle and got away. Hard-gaited
as the devil. I ain’t surprised that pilgrim was anchored
to the saddle horn. I know my back bone like to punched a hole in
my hat before I’d rode this old pelter a mile.”
“Well, the pilgrim’s got no kick coming, at that.
He’s alive and the horse ain’t. Better take his
outfit back to the ranch, hadn’t we?” Pink stopped
and untied the small, leather bag that had evidently seen more
hard usage than the storm would account for. The Happy Family
gravely inspected it, discovered that it was locked and handed it
over to Big Medicine as the natural guardian of the
They removed the saddle and bridle from the dead horse,
discussed the advisability of dragging the repulsive carcass off
somewhere out of sight and smell of the road, and decided against
doing it. For one thing, it would take a little time and they
were in a hurry. For another, Weary raised the point of legal
requirements. It might be wise, he thought, to leave the animal
where it fell, so that the owner would have evidence of the
manner of its death. Only lightning could work such havoc on
bones without a surface mark. It might be important. Anyway,
there was room to drive around the carcass, and they could come
back later and drag it off.
All of which had a certain bearing on later developments, as
they were soon to discover.
THE UNWELCOME GUEST
These seemingly small matters disposed of to their
satisfaction, the Happy Family rode cheerfully homeward; all,
that is, save Happy Jack, who galloped away on a narrow stock
trail which led by a short cut to the Adams ranch and on up to
Jackson’s; and Cal Emmett, who turned off at the upper gate
on his way to bring Bert Rogers.
With a hundred and more horses fresh from the range and
needing to know that man is master, no preparation for a
bronk-riding contest was necessary. Give them an appreciative
audience roosting on the top rails of the corral, and
Monday’s hard work would become Sunday afternoon’s
sport. They’d coax old Patsy to cook up a flock of
blueberry pies and make plenty of coffee, and it would be a real
picnic. Maybe some of the women would object to dancing that
evening, on account of its being Sunday, but even old lady
Jackson, who was said to be a member of the Baptist Church back
East somewhere, allowed Rena to play games on Sunday. The Happy
Family decided that there would be plenty doing, and if it
didn’t rain again, there would be a full moon for good
“If Bert’ll ride that Flopper horse of his over, I
might give him a race with Glory. Any money in this crowd?”
Whereupon Slim had a sudden thought that brought a queer look
into his eyes.
“Say, Weary, mebby I oughta told yuh
b’fore—but that red-headed cousin of Bert’s is
out here ag’in. Bert told me in town. You want to keep yer
Certain men in the group had never heard of Bert Rogers’
cousin, who had caused Weary more trouble than one woman has any
right to cause. Those who did not know the story asked questions
which Slim, rolling uneasy eyes toward Weary, blunderingly tried
to parry. Then suddenly Weary laughed and turned to face
“Ancient history, boys. Myrt Forsyth and I went to
school together back in Chadville, Iowa, and I got a bad case of
calf love over her. Then I got the notion she was double-crossing
me, so I pulled out and came west. I never knew she was
Bert’s cousin till she showed up out here at a dance in Dry
Lake. I was all cured long ago, but mamma! It’s women that
taught cats how to deal a mouse misery. Myrt—” For
once Weary hesitated, groping for words.
“Shore, we know the rest.” Big Medicine laughed.
“You went and had a relapse.”
Weary flashed a glance at him.
“That’s just the trouble; I didn’t. No
woman—some women—never can seem to realize a man can
fall out of love as easy as he falls in. Myrt wasn’t to
blame, I guess, for trying a little spite work when she found out
I wasn’t packing any busted heart on her account.
She’s all right—”
“Aw, why don’t you tell the truth about
’er?” Slim growled. “How she went an’
lied about yuh, and tried to bust up you ’n’ Miss
Satterly—an’ did, by golly! I always thought that was
at the bottom of her pullin’ out fer home—”
“I don’t know as that’s important right
now,” Weary rebuffed him. “The point is, Myrt
Forsyth’s here, and it’s likely she’s forgotten
the whole thing. I know I have, just about.”
Whereupon Slim twisted his bulky torso in the saddle and
lowered a fat eyelid at the others.
“Fergive and fergit is what the Good Book says,”
he stated sententiously. “I don’t guess it’ll
spoil your riding any to have Myrt Forsyth hangin’ over the
top rail watchin’ yuh.”
“Not what you could notice,” Weary grinned.
“I’m going to try that glass-eye sorrel a whirl; the
one that come up in that bunch from Wyoming.”
“Did you notice the spur marks on him?” the Native
Son inquired. “But no mark of the saddle. A bad sign,
“All signs are bad when you ease your saddle up on a
bronk’s middle,” Weary retorted. “Yes, he looks
about as snaky as anything in the bunch. If I don’t gentle
him down, some of you boys are liable to get hurt; and it’s
too close to round-up to let you take a chance.”
As Weary intended, the talk ranged far from girls and broken
romances after that. Even the pilgrim was forgotten until they
dismounted at the stable and hung the town saddle by one stirrup
on a spare peg in the shed. The Native Son untied the small black
satchel from behind his cantle and held it up with a peculiar
light in his eyes.
“Has it struck you fellows as being just a little
peculiar, our unexpected guest heading into the Badlands in such
a hurry with only this little bag?” he asked. “A
locked bag.” He looked at Big Medicine. “Before we go
up to the bunk-house again, I think you ought to know that I
caught him watching us on the sly and taking in every word we
said about him.”
“Say, when was that?” Big Medicine demanded with
some resentment in his voice. “If yuh’re tryin’
to make out he was playin’ me fer a
“I didn’t say that. It was when you kicked my
boots back under the bunk, Pink, and I was down on the floor
fishing them out. That hombre was watching you fellows
like a trapped coyote. I saw his eyes turning from one to another
through the slit of his eyelids. He was supposed to be
unconscious, you remember. It was when Big Medicine was trying to
convince us we ought to haul him to a doctor.”
“That was before breakfast,” said Pink, grinning a
“He got better, right away,” Miguel added drily.
“Asked for some coffee, you remember, and said he
didn’t feel so bad, only he had a head on him like the
morning after, and he guessed he’d stay in bed to-day.
“Say!” bawled Big Medicine angrily. “What
yuh tryin’ to make out? That pore feller never knowed what
hit ’im, by cripes! When he woke up and found himself in a
strange place this mornin’, he just nacherly wanted to size
up the layout ’fore he let on he was awake. I’d do
the same thing m’self.”
“They’s something to that, all right,” Slim
agreed, looking from one to the other, wondering which side to
take. “By golly, it was a tough-sounding bunch this
“Yes, but there’s something off-color in the whole
thing,” Miguel persisted, forgetting his little Spanish
mannerisms, as he did when he was very much in earnest.
“Why would a tenderfoot hire a livery horse and go pelting
into the Badlands? That horse was a lather of sweat when he was
struck dead. Didn’t you boys notice it when we turned him
over? Where the rain didn’t wash off the dried sweat, it
showed plain as day. And in a twenty-mile ride a man
doesn’t get saddle-galled like that hombre
was—unless he’s been hitting a fast pace.”
“By golly, that’s right,” Slim admitted.
“I never seen a man’s legs skun any worse.”
“Well, what’s the answer, Mig?” Weary looked
up from rolling a cigarette.
“Quien sabe?” The Native Son shrugged as he
reached for the tobacco sack dangling by its string from
“I s’pose yuh want ’im kicked off’n
the ranch jest because he ain’t got any sense about
ridin’ a hawse!” Big Medicine flung at him
disgustedly. “Honest to grandma, I never seen such a
suspicious feller as you are, Mig.”
“All right, have it your way. Just the same, if you
didn’t pack a load of trouble into this coulee last night,
I’ll be surprised.”
“Well, he can’t steal any of my
money,” Pink observed philosophically. “I lost
m’ last two-bit piece on that full house of Slim’s,
just before our brave hero came staggering into our midst with
the dying man on his shoulders. I’m safely broke, thank
“The dying man could have walked in if he’d wanted
to,” the Native Son tersely declared. “I kinda
thought last night he was playing possum to a certain extent.
“This mornin’ you’re goin’ to get the
livin’ tar knocked outa yuh!” bawled Big Medicine,
who was nothing if not loyal to what he considered his
responsibility. “That feller ain’t able to knock them
words down yore throat, but I am, by cripes!” While he
talked, he began peeling off his coat.
“All right, if that’s the way you feel about it. I
tell you now, and time will prove it—that hombre is
a crook. He’ll deal you dirt, you mark my words. He’s
got about as much gratitude as a rattlesnake. Now, come on and
fight!” The Native Son yanked off his new gray sombrero
with its fancy silver-inlaid band and horsehair tassels, stepped
into a clear space and put his hands in the significant posture
of a trained boxer. Big Medicine rushed at him, grinding his
teeth, but like a cat Pink leaped and landed on his back,
wrapping arms and legs around him and clinging there like a
leech. Weary stepped in close to the Native Son.
“Cut it out, Mig. You fellows’ll need your energy
for those bronks you’re due to tackle before long.
To-morrow morning, if you still want to tear each other apart,
we’ll all get up early and let you go to it. But folks are
coming here to-day for a good time. If this is your
“Oh, forget it!” snapped the Native Son, reaching
for his hat. “I admit this is a poor time to call the turn.
But to-morrow morning I’ll sure as hell show this frog-face
Samaritan where he heads in.”
Big Medicine halted in the act of pulling on his coat.
“And I’ll learn a greaser to keep his mouth
shut!” He started forward belligerently.
The insult turned Miguel’s face livid with anger. He
whirled to do battle, met Weary’s steadying gaze and
shrugged. Some one was driving briskly up the creek road, the
rattle of the wagon sounding loud on the rocks as the horses
splashed through the shallow ford. Miguel sent one hostile glance
toward Big Medicine and picked up his rope, turning toward the
corral. Even so, Weary did not appear satisfied. He followed
Miguel through the gate, talking earnestly in an undertone, his
hand on Miguel’s shoulder.
“Now what they framin’?” Big Medicine
twitched his coat into place and started for the two.
“I’ll beat the liver outa both of ’em in a holy
minute, if they start framin’ on me!”
“Aw, come back here!” Pink clutched his arm.
“Weary’s just calming Mig down. What you go and call
him a greaser for? Don’t you know he won’t stand for
that kinda talk? He’s liable to knife yuh for
“Well, damn ’im, he called me a Samaritan!
There’s some things I don’t stand from no man!”
Big Medicine lunged toward the gate.
“Aw, that’s a compliment, you bonehead!”
Pink tightened his grip.
“Like hell!” snorted Big Medicine, forging to the
gate and dragging Pink with him.
“Sure, it is. Samaritan means helpful cuss—same as
the word pinto means a spotted horse. You ask Weary.”
Big Medicine slowed, staring doubtfully after the Native
“Well, I wish, by cripes, Mig would stick to plain
United States,” he grumbled. “That’s no way to
carry on an argument—draggin’ in Mex words a feller
never heard before.” He grinned suddenly at Pink.
“Little One, you saved Mig’s life, by
“All right, that makes me a Samaritan too,”
dimpled Pink. “Hey, Weary! Here’s the
A lumber wagon came rattling into the yard and stopped a dozen
feet from the shed, and with the clannishness for which the Happy
Family was noted, the boys came grinning to welcome these
neighbors whom no one save Happy Jack particularly liked. Mr. and
Mrs. Pilgreen, with their listless daughter, Annie, occupied the
lopsided front seat. Behind them on two quilt-cushioned boards
laid across the wagon box rode five juvenile Pilgreens of
assorted sizes. All were grinning bashfully, save the old lady
herself, whose beady eyes were roving here and there, seeking
food for criticism.
“Well, now, how are yuh?” Big Medicine greeted
them in his bellowing voice. “Storm any, down your
“Some. Wasn’t you boys gittin’ ready to
fight, a minute ago?” Mrs. Pilgreen looked hard at Big
“Hunh? Fight? Not on your life!”
“I could hear you swearin’ something awful,
comin’ up from the crick, and I saw you peelin’ off
your coat and shakin’ your fist at somebuddy. I d’
know what you’d call it but a fight.” Mrs. Pilgreen
eyed him coldly. “I don’t approve of swearin’,
especially on Sunday. Or fightin’, either.”
“No, mom, you’re dead right. We wasn’t,
though. We was jest joshin’ an’ actin’ the
fool. Can I help you down?”
“I clumb in without help and I can climb out the same
way,” the lady retorted, peering over the edge like a hen
turkey inspecting a roost. “You help the
But Weary, Miguel and Pink were already performing that
service. Big Medicine assisted the lank and lifeless Annie to the
ground, wondering what Happy Jack could see in her to like. For
thanks, she smiled and swallowed and looked at her feet, standing
limply waiting for her waspish mother to make her clawing,
backward descent over the wheel.
“Louise Bixby to home?” Mrs. Pilgreen flipped her
calico skirt into place and glared at Big Medicine.
“Countess? Shore! Go right on up to the house. She come
to git the house cleaned ’fore Chip and the Mrs. git home.
She’ll be tickled to see you folks.”
“An’ that’s a lie, if I ever told one in
m’ life,” he muttered later to Weary, watching the
visitors go straggling through the big gate. “Guess
I’ll go take a look at the pilgrim. Come on, Mig. I git mad
sometimes, but I’m reasonable, by cripes. I want you should
see fer yourself the pore feller ain’t runnin’ no
whizzer. I’m willin’ you should prove yore case
ag’in ’im. And if that ain’t fair enough, what
“That’s fine with me, amigo.” The
Native Son swung into step with him and they went off together.
Weary and Pink, watching them go, glanced at each other and
Andy Green, having arrived in Dry Lake on the noon train the
day before, “caught a ride” within an hour to the
Rogers ranch. From there to the Flying U transportation would be
simple; a borrowed saddle horse could be returned at his
convenience—or, the next day being Sunday, Bert would
probably ride over with him and bring the horse back. And when
Cal Emmett rode into the yard on Sunday morning with his
invitation for Bert, Andy greeted him like a brother. Lady Luck,
in Andy Green’s opinion, might nearly always be depended
upon to play him for a favorite.
“Yuh know, Cal, my brain has been turning somersaults
trying to scheme some way to get a lovely bunch of red
loco over to the ranch to-day,” he confided. With
one arm thrown affectionately over the neck of Cal’s horse
and with his hat pushed back from his forehead, Andy looked
innocent and earnest as a school-boy.
“Yeah. Bert’s cousin’s here on a visit from
the East. You haven’t seen her yet. Prettiest red hair you
ever saw in your life. Complexion like rose leaves floatin’
in sweet cream. Eyes—”
“Hull-ee gee!” Cal’s eyes rounded into the
baby stare his fellows knew of old. “You wanta drift clean
over the ridge, old-timer. If yuh mean Myrt Forsyth, I know that
bunch of poison weed to a fare-ye-well.”
“That’s her name. But man, oh, man! She sure
ain’t poison to me!” Andy looked as if he meant it.
“Now I’ll get to ride with her to the ranch. She can
watch me tame a bronk. With them blue eyes of hers looking down
from the top rail—man, I can gentle chain lightning till
you can roll it up like barb wire!”
“Loco is right,” observed Cal
sententiously. “You’ve got it in your system and
there’s only one cure ’t I know of.” He
grinned, and added in response to Andy’s questioning look,
“Go on till you get your belly full. If it don’t kill
yuh, you’re cured.”
“That’s the kinda medicine I’m crying
for,” Andy declared boldly. “But what’s
eatin’ on you, Cal? She says she was out here, awhile back.
Did you fall for that little gal yourself and get turned
“Never you mind what I done. Get a move on. The boys was
hopin’ you’d show up to-day—they’ve got a
horse or two picked out for you to ride. Nice easy ones. You
better git over there before they frame something on yuh.”
Cal turned away then to shake hands with a fragile-looking young
woman with shining red hair waving distractingly around her
Dresden china brow, and long, heavy-lidded blue eyes whose
briefest glance was calculated to raise a man’s pulse at
least ten beats a minute.
“Cal!” she breathed, laying her free hand
over his. “You, of all people!”
“Same to you, Myrt,” Cal smiled down at her.
“I sure never expected to see you this morning.”
Andy Green watched the two with narrowed eyes. That hand clasp
was too significant, their fingers loosened too reluctantly to
please him. It seemed to hint vaguely at past tenderness which
might flare up again with the slightest encouragement. Andy did
not like it. No one at the Flying U had ever mentioned Bert
Rogers’ cousin. Knowing the Happy Family, it certainly was
queer that none of the boys had ever joshed Cal about her. They
did whenever he looked at a girl—why not Myrtle
The mystery nagged at Andy. The ride to Flying U Coulee was
not what he had hoped for. Cal and Myrtle kept harking back to
her first visit in a way that made him an outsider. After a
wonderful evening with her, sitting in the bay window of the
Rogers house watching the storm, with Myrtle squealing and
clutching his arm whenever there came a flash of lightning, it
did not look right to him that she should be all eyes for Cal
Though it might not be polite to “horn in” on
their conversation, Andy owned a little streak of stubbornness.
He would not let them pair off by themselves as he suspected they
would do at the first chance, but rode right with them and broke
in with questions about the boys and the ranch and all that had
happened since he had left ten days before. Not that he was so
darned anxious to know; he’d get the news soon enough from
the boys. But when Cal was answering his questions, he
couldn’t talk to Myrtle and gaze into those blue eyes of
The trick served its purpose for the time being, and they
heard all about Big Medicine’s adventure. But that only
gave Andy a new grievance. Myrt Forsyth sure wasted a lot of
sympathy on the stranger; more than he had coming to him. All
right to be sorry—but she needn’t have called him
“that poor, poor boy” so often. The one cheerful note
was that Cal was getting sore about it too.
For this reason Andy Green was not in his normal sunny humor
when he left the two at the corral where the Happy Family were
foregathered and rode on up to the White House with a letter for
the Countess which was marked “Important,
Rush!” in the Little Doctor’s well-known
“Keep away from that horse’s heels,” he
paused to admonish a small Pilgreen child, who ran down the steps
as he was about to enter the kitchen. “He’ll lam your
“I wanta ride! Can I have a ride?” Two other young
Pilgreens were converging upon the horse.
“No, you can’t. Keep away, now. He’ll take
an ear off you in a minute.” Scowling, Andy waited until
they had withdrawn a little, then walked inside. The Countess
rose from looking into her oven, gave him a harassed frown and
beckoned him into her immaculate pantry.
“What under the shinin’ sun am I goin’ to do
with them kids?” she demanded accusingly.
“They’ve been here an hour, and I’d ruther have
the locusts of Egypt devourin’ the land.”
“I dunno. What did Moses do with the locusts?”
Andy looked up from searching for the Little Doctor’s
letter among a conglomeration of papers such as men carry for no
reason whatever in their inside coat pockets.
“I’m a Christian woman, but if I don’t feed
them kids poison fly paper before the day’s
“Think it would work?” Andy grinned and returned
to his search. In his present mood he could sympathize with the
Countess as never before.
“Something’s got to. You’re so good at
thinkin’ up tricks, I should think you could do something.
That old woman’ll drive me to murder, if the kids
don’t.” She listened through the closed door, heard
the crash of falling tin-ware in the kitchen and gave Andy one
desperate look as she rushed out. Having found the letter he was
seeking, Andy helped himself to a doughnut from a two-gallon
stone jar and went out, taking large bites.
“Gimme a doughnut. I wanta doughnut! Maw, can’t I
have a doughnut?”
Andy ate fast, moving forward in the midst of beseeching young
Pilgreens. As the last crisp morsel disappeared down his throat,
he reached the Countess. Through the open doorway Mrs. Pilgreen
could be seen in the living room, solemnly rocking, with her
hands folded in unaccustomed idleness across her starched white
apron. Andy gave her one swift, appraising look. An overworked
ranch woman on a Sunday visit is pretty hard to dislodge, as he
had long ago learned from observation, but there was something in
her personality that grated on his nerves. He turned to the
Countess and said, in a voice pitched to carry above the clamor
of young voices:
“Here’s a letter from Mrs. Chip. Somebody ought to
telegraph Chip not to bring her and the kid home yet. With
smallpox on the ranch—”
In the living room Mrs. Pilgreen had stopped rocking. The
Countess gasped, caught Andy’s look and nodded.
“I don’t know what under the shinin’ sun
we’re goin’ to do,” she complained fretfully.
“D’ you s’pose that pore feller they brought in
“It’s a wonder he ever got this far. They’re
all stirred up over it in town. Worst case—”
There was a swish of starched calico, and Mrs. Pilgreen stood
glaring in the doorway. Behind her stood Annie, her listless blue
eyes wider than Andy had ever seen them.
“Louise Bixby, d’ you mean to tell me
there’s smallpox on this ranch and we was let to come here
without a word bein’ said?” The old lady’s eyes
glittered as they darted quick glances from one to the other.
“You come of your own accord,” snapped the
Countess. “I’m sure I never asked you.”
“You’d let us expose these innocent children
without a word of warnin’. Annie, you get them kids’
bunnits on ’em, quick. Alviry, you run tight as you can and
tell your paw we’re goin’ home this
More was said, to which Andy Green listened with a lifting of
his spirits. Through the window he watched the departure. More
than ever Mrs. Pilgreen resembled a hen turkey anxiously hustling
her brood in out of the wet. The Countess, waiting until they
were well through the big gate, turned then upon Andy Green.
“The Bible says a tongue without a bridle on is worse
than a runaway horse, and I guess it’s so,” she
snorted. “Why under the shinin’ sun couldn’t
you think up something besides that? Lyin’ outa whole
cloth—she’ll backbite this bunch for the rest of the
summer. I should think you’d be afraid the wrath of the
Lord’d fall upon yuh for talkin’ that way.” But
the twinkle in her near-sighted blue eyes softened the
“Oh, I don’t know.” Andy pushed back his hat
and ran his fingers absently through his hair where it was
inclined to curl at the temples. “I did hear something
about smallpox in town. Jimmy Myers at the store was
talkin’ about it while he was loading the groceries for
Rogers. They’ve got a case, or think they have. Jimmy was
kiddin’ old Rogers about layin’ in a supply because
he’d be scared to show up in town again for a month. I
didn’t get the straight of it—Jimmy’s an awful
liar. But I wasn’t lyin’ outa whole cloth, Countess.
And anyway, it worked.”
“It’s workin’ like a jug of yeast,”
the Countess complained, glancing uneasily down the path.
“’Tain’t much to start with, but if it’s
left long enough, it’ll be all over the suller. Let Sary
Pilgreen tell that yarn a few times and she’ll have us all
dead and buried and the coroner settin’ on us. Seems to me
you coulda thought up something that wouldn’t spread so
easy. I d’know but what, if I slapped one of them kids, it
woulda had the same identical effect of startin’ ’em
fer home and she wouldn’t find so much to talk
“Well, by gracious!” Andy exclaimed, in a hurt
tone. “If there’s no gratitude around this ranch, how
about another doughnut? They certainly are fine; about as good as
I ever laid a lip across.”
The Countess succumbed to the flattery and gave him three,
which Andy strung neatly on the butt end of his quirt, the
Countess scolding him continuously. She told him to get along out
of the kitchen or she wouldn’t have a crumb of anything
left, and she pinched her lips tightly together to keep from
smiling at him. So Andy mounted and rode down to the
bunk-house—a distance of about fifty yards—carrying
the quirt like a spear. He dismounted there and went in after his
chaps, spurs and a new silk neckerchief. As he stood before the
uneven square of broken bar mirror, adjusting the shining folds
of blue silk around his throat, he suddenly decided that he
needed a shave. Anyway, the Pilgreens might not have left yet,
and it would do no harm to wait awhile before he showed up at the
stable. And this thought reminded him to take a look at the
lightning-struck jasper Big Medicine had carried all the way from
Andy pivoted slowly, scanning each bed as he turned. He had
the bunk-house to himself. The fellow couldn’t be much
hurt, after all. With a sudden chill running down his spine, Andy
stepped back to where he could crane through a window and see the
trail where it left the stable yard. If old lady Pilgreen saw
that fellow walking around—but no, there they went, driving
off in their lumber wagon, the Happy Family with Myrtle Forsyth
watching them go. Andy’s eyesight was keen, but to satisfy
himself, he made a deliberate count of the figures down there. No
sign of the pilgrim anywhere. Then, just as he was turning away
puzzled, he saw the fellow emerge from the mess house a few rods
away and go down the path, walking wide, as a man will do who has
saddle sores to think about.
Andy grinned in complete understanding. He knew that gait and
all that it implied. He watched until the group at the stable
turned to receive the stranger and moved on toward the corral out
of sight, then got his white enamel shaving cup and ducked across
to the mess house to beg hot water from old Patsy. Though he
would not admit to himself that he felt any uneasiness whatever
over the competition foreshadowed down there, he wasted no
seconds after that.
Smooth and bearing a faint odor of bay rum, Andy pinched his
gray hat crown into the creases he favored most, set it upon his
fresh-combed brown hair at a jaunty angle which he also
especially favored, pulled his chap belt into position, stepped
into the saddle and rode leisurely down the slope, munching the
third doughnut as he went along and looking very well satisfied
His reception was all that he hoped it would be. Myrtle
Forsyth, standing on the rear end of a hay-rack backed against
the corral, was clinging to the top rail and watching
breathlessly the saddling of a bronk inside. But she saw Andy at
once and beckoned with a slim, gloved hand. Andy left his horse
standing with dropped bridle reins and climbed the fence
limberly, settling himself astride the top rail to which she
“You bad, wicked man! You told a fib,
didn’t you? All the boys said so when those poor Pilgreens
started home.” She shook a finger at him, with a sidelong
glance which any man would have found disturbing. “They say
no one can believe a word you say! I think you’re
Andy opened his mouth to defend himself, but some of the boys
in the corral had spied him and he was given a minute’s
respite while he answered their helloes. When he turned to the
girl, she was looking at the stranger who leaned against the
fence near the gate, peering into the corral between poles.
“That’s the poor boy you fibbed about,” she
murmured. “If you had only known what really is the
matter with him—I think it’s the most tragic thing I
ever heard of!”
Andy glanced again. “He looks all right to me,” he
said. “Better than I’d expect, after what happened to
him last night.”
“Oh, but you haven’t heard!” She leaned
closer, speaking behind her hand. “That poor boy—he
just tottered down here as the Pilgreens were driving
away—and it’s lucky for you he didn’t
come before they left—that lightning shock gave him
amnesia!” Since she apparently expected
astonishment, Andy permitted his mouth to sag open.
“Mr. Rapponi and that huge man they call Big Medicine
were telling me all about it. They say he doesn’t remember
who he is or where he came from, or
anything.” She looked at Andy sidelong.
“Mustn’t it be simply dreadful not to know anything
about your past?”
“That depends,” said Andy, gazing thoughtfully at
the unquiet group in the middle of the corral. “It’s
a heap worse not to know anything about your future, don’t
“Oh, but Big Medicine says the poor boy is just worried
sick over it. He tried so hard to tell them his
name,—oh, he’s looking this way. I hope he
Whether he heard or not, the stranger had turned and was
walking slowly toward them. Andy watched him curiously. Barring
the unmistakable stiff gait of a saddle-galled man and a slight
uncertainty in his movements as if he might still be somewhat
dazed from the shock, the fellow seemed little the worse for his
experience. He was dressed in gray tweed trousers and coat, pale
blue shirt and dark blue tie. In spite of the wrinkles and travel
stains, his clothes gave him the look of a city-bred man; the
pilgrim type which furnishes so much amusement on the cattle
ranges. But he carried his shoulders well and his bare head
balanced itself almost haughtily upon a powerful neck. His hair
was blond and almost as curly as Pink’s, and his eyes were
blue and set in shallow sockets, curiously pointed at the
corners. They did not, however, look especially dazed or
bewildered. They were sophisticated eyes, and though they had an
Irish twinkle, they did not invite one to share the joke.
“Howdy,” said Andy, in a tone that did not commit
him to anything.
“Hello yourself,” said the other. “I
don’t remember seeing you around here before.” His
eyes went to the girl, which of course was natural. “You
don’t happen to know who I am, do you? I was afraid you
wouldn’t. No one around here seems to.”
“You—you can’t remember who you are, at
all?” Myrtle’s eyes and her voice were soft with
“I could be a Chinaman for all I know. So far as I can
tell, I’m nameless.” He laughed shortly.
“I think it must be perfectly thrilling, not to
know your name or anything about your past,” said Myrtle,
in a tone that jarred on Andy’s nerves.
“The present is thrilling enough for me,” said the
stranger. “I’m not worrying right now about my
past.” And he laughed in a diffident way as he climbed up
Andy’s black eyebrows came together. He looked at Myrtle
and saw her edging along to make room for the fellow. She seemed
to have forgotten all about last evening in the bay window at the
Rogers ranch. And although he stubbornly held to his place beside
her, not once did he turn his face toward her. So far as he was
concerned, that particular rail was occupied only by Andy
ALL IN THE SAME BOAT
The clatter of knives and forks on eighteen enamel plates, and
the clink of eighteen tin spoons stirring coffee in eighteen
enamel cups had ceased. The confusion of voices talking and
laughing together had drifted outside the mess house. In the
words of Cal Emmett, old Patsy had sure spread himself on that
dinner. Never had the Happy Family gorged themselves in a more
hilarious mood, for girls seldom sat down to eat at the long
table. Even the Countess and J. G. himself had come down from the
White House, and for once in her life the Countess had refrained
from making disparaging remarks about the cooking. Old
Patsy’s blueberry pies had never been more luscious, and
Patsy wore an unaccustomed smile as he began clearing away the
dÃ©bris of the feast.
“Looks like the Meekers aren’t coming at
all,” Weary remarked, halting outside the door to roll a
smoke before he settled himself on the tarp which some of the
boys had thoughtfully spread in the shade for the girls to sit on
while the Happy Family rested for awhile in the blissful lethargy
of repletion. “They sure missed a good meal,” he
“Yeah, how about it, Big Medicine?” Cal wanted to
know. “Looks like that new schoolma’am’s
throwed off on yuh.”
“And how about that purty ride you was goin’ to
make all so fast?” Slim bantered in his slow and heavy
drawl. “Way you et, you’ll be crawlin’ off into
the strawpile to snooze with the rest of ’em. Not
castin’ no reflections on the hogs,” he added in
“If I done that, I’d shore have to root you outa
your nice warm nest,” Big Medicine came back at him.
“Ever see a human bein’ poke so much warm pie into
his face as Slim done?” He turned and grinned widely at
Myrtle Forsyth who sat next to him, her slim booted feet tucked
under her blue riding skirt.
“You sure Joe said he was coming over?”
Weary’s eyes lifted to scan the trail where it dipped down
over the crest of the high bluff and began its winding descent to
the creek bottom.
“Shore, he was. Schoolma’am was crazy to see some
real bronk ridin’, and Joe, he said he’d hitch up and
bring the folks awn over. Last thing he said to me was,
he’d be here somewheres around noon.” Big Medicine
canted an eye upward, then sent a sweeping glance around the
yard. “Shadders say it’s one o’clock or
“If you’re talking about the Meekers,” Len
Adams said, strolling down from the White House arm-in-arm with
Rena Jackson, “I saw a rig just coming down that long ridge
below their place, as we rode up out of Dry Gulch. They sure
ought to be here by now. They weren’t more than an hour
“Well, they might as well not come as to git insulted
and have to leave after they git here,” growled Happy Jack,
with a resentful glance at Andy Green. “Mis’
Pilgreen’ll have it in fer the hull outfit, from now on. I
betcha she won’t let a feller near the house after what
Andy went and done.”
“Me? I never spoke to the old gal, only to pass the time
of day,” Andy protested virtuously.
“Aw, gwan. I know what she said when I met ’em
down the crick. You can’t crawl out of it,
“But it does seem queer the Meekers haven’t come
yet,” Len Adams tactfully changed the subject. “I
know it must have been them I saw coming. You know how Joe
drives; there was a streamer of dust for half a mile down that
slope. It couldn’t have been any one else—they
hadn’t left the big field yet, so they had to be coming
“That team’s pretty steady,” Weary comforted
himself. “Still, accidents will happen. Maybe somebody
better ride up on the bench and take a look.”
“There’s a dust up there now,” declared
Pink, and every face was immediately turned toward the hill
“Not enough for a team and wagon,” Cal remarked.
“Stock hanging around up there, looks like to
“Horsebackers,” Slim stated heavily, and heads
nodded acquiescence while they watched.
“It can’t be Joe and the schoolma’am,”
Len insisted. “That Miss Brumley can’t ride off a
walk to save her life. She’d be falling off before she
reached the gate. I know. I saw her trying to ride Joe’s
old Kate, and she just hung on for dear life and lost every
hairpin out of her head and screamed blue murder because Kate
started to trot a little.” Her eyes turned involuntarily
toward the stranger, who was standing with his back against the
log wall, though every other person was sitting. (At least, those
sat who were not sprawled lazily upon full stomachs.) Len’s
brown eyes had an impish gleam, and her teeth showed a white line
before she drew her lips together, politely repressing her
range-girl’s enjoyment of the stranger’s predicament,
which she thoroughly understood.
“There’s five of ’em, anyway,” said
Weary. “The whole family wouldn’t be riding horseback
when they’ve just bought that new double-seated buggy. Now,
what does that mean, do you suppose?”
Up on the brow of the hill the five horsemen were halted in
earnest conversation. Hands were flung outward in gestures of
argument. While those below watched curiously, four of the riders
came on down the first steep pitch of the hill, while the fifth
dismounted and stationed himself beside the road, sitting down in
the shade of a huge boulder where he could observe what went on
below. Where the bluff levelled off in a rough terrace extending
far up and down the coulee, two riders left the trail, one riding
to the left and the other to the right.
The Happy Family looked at one another in silence. Without
turning his head, the velvety brown eyes of the Native Son slid
sidewise toward the stranger. Pink got up with an ostentatious
yawn and stood with his thumb hooked lightly inside his chap
belt, and without a word the Native Son rose and sauntered to the
corner of the cabin, where he paused and began the leisurely
rolling of a cigarette which he did not need, since he had
dropped an unlighted one as he got up.
“Why, how funny!” said Rena Jackson in her clear,
unthinking treble. “They must be looking for stock or
“Yeah,” said Cal Emmett, in a peculiar, hushed
voice, “I reckon they must be.” He glanced at Weary,
caught an almost imperceptible signal and rose to his feet.
Within three minutes every man in the group was standing,
curiously expectant. Weary waited until the two men left on the
trail had ridden down off the Hogback and into the willows along
the creek, then he turned to the others.
“I guess maybe I better mosey on down and see what it is
they want,” he said with elaborate carelessness. “You
needn’t all come. Just make yourselves comfortable.
I’ll be right back.” He looked at Pink and the Native
Son, standing with the stranger between them. As if further
exertion was far from their intention, they settled their
shoulders against the wall and smoked negligently.
“Say, I guess I’ll go along, if it’s all the
same to you,” Big Medicine announced suddenly and started
to follow. Weary turned, gave him a keen glance and the two went
together down the path.
Conversation at the mess house languished. Myrtle Forsyth went
over and stood close to the Native Son, looking up into his face
and smiling while she whispered. The Native Son whispered in
reply, his dark eyes devouring her.
“No fair, whispering in company,” said Len, rising
and coming toward them. “We know what you’re talking
“Sure, we do,” the stranger unexpectedly stated.
“You think maybe I’m an escaped convict or something,
and that’s a posse on my trail. Maybe I am; for all I know
I might be Jesse James. I don’t feel like a
criminal, but—Honest, I feel like as if some one had spit
on my slate and wiped it off clean. I’m just a nameless guy
that had his past knocked off.” He looked at them with a
rueful twist of his lips into what just missed being a smile.
“Chances are, that’s my past riding up to the stable
right now. Can you blame me for feeling kind of edgy about
nudging and whispering in this crowd?” Then he laughed
mirthlessly. “Don’t worry, folks. I’ll take my
medicine, whatever it is. Anyway—I might be the missing
heir, for all I know. I claim the benefit of the doubt for five
“That’s all right, Nameless,” Andy
Green’s quiet drawl answered him. “Seems like I
almost know who you are. I haven’t got you placed yet, but
it’s a cinch I never met yuh in the pen—I’ve
never been in one—”
“Yet,” Happy Jack finished sourly. “You will
be some day, if yuh don’t quit your lyin’.”
“Oh, cut out the weeping and wailing, Happy! Annie still
loves yuh—she told me so. What I wanted to say was, you
girls better run along up to your mothers. There might be
language passed back and forth that your maws wouldn’t want
you to hear. Nameless don’t know what he’s up
against, nor we don’t. We’d kinda like to have plenty
of talkin’ room—you get me?”
“Oh, we get you,” Len retorted drily. “And
we’ll stay and ride herd on your tongues, if you
don’t mind. If Mr. Man here has done something he
can’t remember, those fellows will break it a lot more
gently if ladies are present. Don’t you think we ought to
“Why, I wouldn’t miss it for worlds,” Rena
“I think it’s just the most thrilling thing
I ever heard of in my life!” cried Myrtle, whom Len and
Rena had rather pointedly ignored. “It’s the most
romantic adventure a person could possibly have. Just
think! This poor boy stands here without the slightest
idea of what those men will say to him when they come up
the path. It’s like waiting to hear what the jury
“What do you know about juries?” Len cut in.
“Don’t gush so, Myrt. You’re not reading Laura
Jean Libby just now.” She turned to Andy, who was looking
at her attentively, as if after long acquaintance he had just
decided that he did not know Len Adams. “I think we may as
well stay and see the thing through. There is such a thing as
hospitality. Our nameless guest is entitled to our full support,
don’t you think?” She looked at the stranger with a
smile of understanding. “Every man is a gentleman till he
proves himself the other thing,” she told him. “And
there’s no use jumping to conclusions. They may not be
concerned with you at all. You see, they aren’t breaking
their necks to get their hands on you.”
“By gracious, that’s right.” Andy was
staring fixedly down the slope. “That looks like Al Roberts
and Mel Davisson, to me. Mel’s a deputy sheriff, all
right—probably Al is too, for the time being. Why
don’t they get off their horses, or ride up here, or
something? What’re they edging off like that for? Come on,
boys. Let’s drift down that way and see what’s the
matter. Want to come, Nameless?”
“Sure, I’ll come.” The pilgrim moved
reluctantly away from the wall. With the indefinable look of a
hunted animal brought to bay, he glanced toward the brush-fringed
creek no more than a pistol shot away. “As Miss Forsyth so
cleverly put it, the jury is ready—” He lifted his
shoulders in a shrug that accepted his fate and walked stiffly
down the path with the others.
“All right for you, Andy Green,” called Len.
“For half a cent I’d tag along. Shall we,
So the two linked arms as if to push Myrtle Forsyth farther
from them, and went down the slope after the boys, loitering in
spite of themselves because they knew they were not wanted, but
stubbornly proving their independence nevertheless by going. They
were nearly to the big gate when they heard one of the horsemen
“You stay where you’re at—all of yuh!
Don’t yuh come another step closer! You got your orders,
now keep ’em. There’ll be men guardin’ this
coulee on all sides, and they’ve got orders to shoot
anybody that tries to make a break away from here.”
“Aw, gwan!” Happy Jack’s voice interrupted
in raucous protest. “You dassent shoot nobody!”
“You try it once—if yuh feel lucky,” the
other made ominous retort. “That’s the law, and
we’re here to enforce it. Where’s J. G.? It’s
him I want to serve notice on.”
“He’s coming,” Andy Green announced,
glancing back toward the house.
Mystified, the girls drew aside from the path and the Old Man
went past them, truculence in every line of his stubby figure.
They followed hesitantly, curious to hear what it was all about.
So was old J. G. curious, judging from his pace and the way he
“Keep back, J. G.,” Mel Davisson warned, reining
his horse away. “Don’t come any closer than what you
are. You’ve got smallpox on the ranch and I’m
puttin’ you all under quarantine. I want you to see
“Smallpox?” The Old Man turned himself slowly
about, searching faces until he came to Andy Green, whom he
transfixed with a withering stare. “Dawgone you, Andy,
I’ve stood about all I’m goin’ to from you. Now
you can roll your bed and git off the ranch. A joke’s a
joke, but I’ll be dawgoned—”
“Say, this ain’t no joke!” Mel
Davisson’s voice rose angrily. “We followed that man
to where we found his horse—struck by lightnin’,
accordin’ to all the sign—and we saw where a bunch
had rode out from this coulee to that horse. Fresh horse tracks,
made this mornin’. We saw where they come back again.
We’ve spent a couple hours back up on the bench there,
watchin’ this place. Meekers we turned back, right up there
about a half a mile this side your gate. I sent a man back to
town with word for the county health officers—”
“I don’t care a dawgone who yuh follered or who
yuh sent for!” stormed the Old Man. “There’s no
dawgoned smallpox on this ranch, and there ain’t been.
“Aw, what’s he got to do with it? Don’t I
know what I’m talkin’ about?” He leveled a
shaking finger at the pilgrim. “That man and his pardner
got off a freight night before last at the water tank. They come
into town about supper time and was around the Elkhorn all
evening. Other feller was sick, and he kep’ gettin’
worse, till along after midnight Rusty Brown got kinda worried
about ’im and sent for old Doc to come and take a look at
’im. Doc wasn’t in no condition to tell much about
it, so Rusty put the feller to bed in his back room there till
Doc sobered up some. Yesterday when they went to look ’im
over, any fool could tell what ailed ’im. He was broke out
from his head to his heels—you couldn’t put a pin
down on ’im—
“This here feller had been stayin’ with his
pardner, so he musta been about the first one to find out what
was the matter. Time we got organized and went lookin’ for
’im to take ’im to the pest house, he’d
vamoosed. We been huntin’ him ever since.” He eyed
the frozen group, one after the other, and came back to J. G.
“You know I hate like h—everything to do it, J.
G.—but you know I got to. Old Doc was sober this morning,
and he told me it’s about as bad a case as he ever saw in
his life. He thinks the feller’s goin’ to die. That
there’s his pardner, standin’ right over there. Even
if he ain’t come down with it yet, he will b’fore
long. And this hull ranch is exposed.” He spread his hands
in a gesture of ominous finality.
“So that’s how she lays. I’m under oath to
do my duty and you know what that is. I guess I could trust this
bunch—but the law don’t take no chances, in a case
like this. There’ll be more men out from town b’fore
night to patrol this coulee. And a doctor’ll be down from
Benton to vaccinate the hull outfit. Any supplies you want, or
any word you want t’ send, you can send somebuddy up as far
as that white rock up there by the trail. There’ll be
somebuddy ride down part way from the top to take your message,
and stuff ’ll be delivered that far down.
S’long—it’s hell, but it can’t be
They stood in stunned silence and watched him ride back to
join his companion who had remained discreetly in the
background—probably with a gun handy in case of
“Hunh!” said the Old Man at last, and turned
without a word and left them standing there.
“Boys, I’m damned sorry for this,” said the
stranger, in a voice that shook perceptibly. “If I’d
“Oh, dry up!” snarled Cal Emmett under his
“No, but on the square, I don’t see how I could
ever have left my partner in a fix like that. I—it
ain’t in me to do a dirty trick like that.” He
sent an anxious, almost beseeching glance from one to another.
“And you must remember I didn’t come over here of my
own accord. I couldn’t have been heading for this place at
all. I don’t know where I was going, or why, but I must
have had some good reason—some errand— It’s all
a blank. But one thing you’ve got to admit. I was carried
here without my knowledge or consent.”
“That,” said the Native Son in a tone as smooth as
glare ice—and as cold—“that is what I call
“It’s the truth,” Big Medicine made instant
answer. “Nameless wasn’t ridin’ within eight
mile of the ranch. If anybody’s to blame for packin’
smallpox in here, I am, by cripes!”
“Anybody that blames you has got me to lick,
old-timer,” said Pink, and slapped Big Medicine on the
“Smallpox!” Weary’s eyes went meditatively
to where the three women stood scared, in the path just beyond
the big gate. “Quarantined—oh, mamma!”
“An act of God, amigo,” the Native Son said
softly, and smiled as his brown eyes rested on Myrtle
AND PULLING TOGETHER
“Andy had a right to put us wise, same as he did the
Pilgreens,” Bing Adams, phlegmatic brother of Len,
complained. “I thought we was good enough friends to get
tipped off to a thing like this before the trap was
sprung.” Bing was a stocky young man who took life and his
ranch work seriously. “Smallpox or no smallpox, I’m
going home,” he said flatly. “I’ve got to
plough up that patch down by the crick to-morrow and cut a sack
or two of potato seed. I got no time to be layin’ around
here.” He thrust both hands deep into his pockets and
scowled heavily at the two deputies riding up out of the willows
beyond the ford.
“Yes, but I was just joshing old lady Pilgreen,”
Andy explained patiently. “On the dead, I never dreamed it
was the truth.”
“Darn right yuh never. If yuh had, yuh wouldn’t
’a’ told it,” Happy Jack sneered. “All
you thought of was gettin’ Annie off’n the
“Aw, come off. You musta had some idee it was so, or you
never woulda thought of such a thing.” Bing spat
“No, you’re dead wrong there, Bing. Andy, he
don’t need no ideas,” Cal Emmett broke in.
“Andy, he just opens his mouth and lets the words
“Aw, I betcha this is just some josh Andy ribbed up in
town,” gloomed Happy Jack. “I betcha this is all a
frame-up with them guys up there.”
Faces were seen to lighten for a moment. It could be
so—experience had long ago proved to the Happy Family that
Andy was capable of a thing like that. Then the fantastic hope
fluttered to earth again like a broken-winged bird.
“Andy didn’t have any way of knowing Big Medicine
had packed Nameless down here,” Bert Rogers suddenly
remembered. “Andy hit our place about fifteen minutes ahead
of the storm yesterday. No, he couldn’t have framed that
little speech of Mel’s. ’Tain’t
“Aw, gwan!” Happy Jack gloomily insisted.
“It don’t have to be possible. If it’s a lie,
Andy’d tell it anyway.”
While they discussed him thus frankly, Andy lifted one foot
across his other knee, bent and drew a match sharply along the
sole. He lighted his cigarette with the leisurely care that
bespoke an unruffled temper, blew out his match and dropped it to
earth, grinding the stub under his heel.
“Any of you fellows want to take a chance on riding up
that trail?” he asked carelessly, after his second mouthful
of smoke. “Go on, Happy. You try it.”
“Aw, I don’t haff to. All us boys has done ever
since you come here is ride around provin’ you’re
a—josher.” The last word was so evidently a hasty
revision that every one laughed.
“No use beefing around about it, boys,” Weary
interrupted the argument. “As the Countess says, ‘Man
plans and God displans.’ We’re up against it right,
if you ask me. What we’ve got to do is make our plans.
Here’s Nameless, been scatterin’ germs like a farmer
scatters corn for the chickens. We better do something about
“Yeah. You stand over there, Nameless.” Slim
suddenly awoke to the perils of infection. “By golly, I
don’t want no more germs off’n you blowin’ onto
Audible chuckles greeted that precaution, but there was a
noticeable shifting of positions to the windward of the pilgrim.
Into the midst of their anxious discussion of the problem the
feminine element suddenly projected itself, as so often
“Isn’t it thrilling!” Len Adams
called ironically from beyond the big gate, forestalling Myrtle,
whose red lips had opened for some such exclamation. “I
think it’s just too romantic for words! Have any of you
boys broken out yet?”
Heads turned for brief and startled glances.
“You girls had better go on up to the house,”
Weary advised in the persuasive tone one uses to meddlesome
“Will you please tell me why you’re always trying
to drive us up to the house?” Len demanded with spirit.
“I thought misery loved company. Aren’t we all in the
“Yeah, but you’re rockin’ it,” Pink
flung back, his dimples softening the charge.
“We believe in women’s rights.” Len stood
her ground, just inside the big gate. “If that’s a
council of war you’re having, we’re going to be in
it. Aren’t we, Rena?”
“What you can notice,” Rena Jackson promptly
“All right, stay then,” Weary called, grinning
queerly. “We kinda thought we better do this job alone.
Come on, Nameless.”
“Oh, what are you going to do to him?”
shrieked Myrtle, running toward them. “Will Davidson, you
leave that poor boy alone. Every one knows it isn’t his
fault—when he was carried here unconscious and
couldn’t help himself. You leave him alone, I
tell you!” For the first time that day, Myrtle Forsyth
showed symptoms of real emotion. “He isn’t to
blame,” she reiterated, tears standing in her narrow blue
“No, he’s more to be pitied than censured,”
the Native Son agreed, taking a step toward Myrtle.
“I won’t have him abused by that brute of a Will
Davidson! He’s capable of anything!”
Myrtle’s voice held more than a hint of tears.
“Oh, go on up to the house, Myrt,” her cousin Bert
commanded, quite unimpressed. “Don’t start
“But what are you boys going to do with
him?” With a broken engagement lying unmended between Bert
Rogers and herself, Len Adams’ tone was brusque.
“Myrt’s absolutely right, for once in her life. He
isn’t to blame for being here.”
“Smallpox don’t stop to ask who’s to
blame,” Bert Rogers retorted.
“No, by golly, it don’t,” cried Slim.
“Us fellers has got to pertect ourselves, regardless of
who’s to blame.”
“But what are you going to do?” Len advanced
purposefully through the gate. “We’ll stick worse
than sand burrs till you tell us exactly what you boys are going
to do to him.”
The Happy Family looked at one another in some embarrassment.
Then Weary threw up his hands in a gesture of exasperation,
though his lips twitched.
“Well, if you must know, we’re going to take
Nameless down to the creek and strip him, and put him to soak
while we burn the clothes he’s wearing. You sand burrs can
stick as tight as yuh darn please. Come along,
“You better soak your heads while you’re about
it,” Len made angry retort, though her face turned crimson
from collar to hat brim. “You’re liable to get brain
fever, you’re so smart all at once. Come on,
Their haughty retreat, somewhat marred by surreptitious
giggling, was watched in dead silence by the Happy Family, until
the girls reached the steps of the White House porch. Then
Weary’s gaze returned to the stranger. He crooked a
“Say, why don’t you wise birds get busy and do a
little thinking?” Nameless protested while they closed in
on him, shooing him toward the bunk-house. “If you burn my
clothes, somebody will have to donate another suit.” He
added with extreme irony. “Didn’t you guys ever hear
of such a thing as fumigation?”
“Keep moving,” Weary ordered grimly, and canted an
inquiring look toward the others.
“All I’ve got in the world, so far as I know, is
this suit of clothes and that little satchel you say is mine. I
can’t see the point in burning them, when disinfection will
answer the same purpose and I won’t have to be beholden to
you guys for the clothes on my back. All this scare about
smallpox is just so much poppy-cock, if you ask
“How do you know?” the Native Son caught him up.
“I thought you couldn’t remember anything.”
“I can’t. But a fellow can have a hunch,
can’t he? That wise bird on the horse didn’t sound
convincing to me, somehow. But I’m willing to play the
“Hell,” snorted Pink, “nobody asked you to
“It might make it simpler for you guys if I am.
I’ll take a bath—”
“Darn right, you will.”
“But I’ll be damned if I’ll stand for having
my clothes burnt.”
“No? Just what was you aimin’ to do about
“Do? I’ll slip up on you when you’re asleep
and blow my breath on every blamed one of you.
“You get in there and get that satchel of yours, and all
the beddin’ you slept on last night, and bring ’em
out here pronto,” Weary cut in sternly. “What
you’ll do don’t interest nobody. It’s what
we’ll do that counts around this ranch.” But when the
stranger sullenly disappeared within the bunk-house, Weary looked
at his companions and grinned. “Got spunk, anyway,”
he remarked. “I wondered about that. Up till right now
he’s been altogether too flannel-mouthed to suit
“There’s a bag of sulphur down in the chicken
house,” Slim said thoughtfully. “I been aimin’
to get after them mites, soon as I could git around to it. What
say we kill two birds with one stone?”
“If you smoked that hombre along with his
clothes, you’d be doing a good deed,” said the Native
“Sulphur smoke ’ll kill a human,” Slim
objected in perfect sincerity.
“I was thinking of that,” Miguel replied in his
This drew fire from Big Medicine, who was sensitive concerning
his protÃ©gÃ©. Others took a hand in the argument, Andy Green and
Pink siding with Big Medicine. The wrangle had only one tangible
result, however. It established once and for all the fact that no
one had more clothes than he needed for himself. The Happy Family
unanimously decided to fumigate Nameless along with the chicken
mites, and let it go at that.
So they herded him and his load to the hen-house which was
roomy and fairly clean. They drove him, swearing, inside to
disrobe, and they crowded doorway and window to watch the
proceeding and to offer ribald comment and advice. Even Big
Medicine and the Native Son forgot their incipient feud and
chortled together when a white hen unexpectedly flew off a nest
in an obscure corner and dashed blindly against the muscular bare
legs of Nameless, who was at that moment draping his underwear
across a roost. Followed fluent blasphemy and a hysterical
cackling, while the Happy Family blocked all exits and
“By this and by that I’ll get even for this, and
I’ll get even right!” gasped Nameless, when the
tumult subsided and he was standing sweating and breathless, the
white hen, plaintively squawking, clasped tight to his heaving
chest. “What I won’t do to you! My memory of the past
may be gone, but it sure will be working from now on. If it takes
“Haw-haw-haw-w-w!” bellowed Big Medicine, tears
rolling down his weathered cheeks. And
“Hoo-hoo-hoo-oo!” came the cachinnations of the
“I hope you all have smallpox till you look like a mess
of tripe,” snarled Nameless, a sinister glitter in his
eyes. “You laughing hyenas ’ll sweat blood for
this—you mark what I tell you.”
“Say, it’ll be worth it, by golly,” declared
Slim huskily, having laughed himself hoarse. “Drag that
there tub over into the middle where it won’t ketch your
things afire. There’s paper an’ kindlin’ all
ready in it. . . . Now set that there bag of sulphur on
“Well, take this damn’ chicken, some of
you,” snapped Nameless, and flung the hen viciously into
the face of the Native Son. “It’s your turn now, but
mine will come. And don’t forget that.”
“All right, Nameless, but in the meantime there’s
a bath coming your way. Get busy and light your fire.”
Weary flipped a match inside. Nameless caught it deftly, lighted
the fire and leaped naked into their midst. The Happy Family
backed hastily, and Slim slammed the door shut and hung an old
canvas over it as he always did when waging a periodical war on
“Hand me a blanket, somebody,” Nameless implored,
craning toward the White House.
“Head for the creek,” Weary told him.
“We’ll walk behind so you won’t be seen.”
Which they proceeded to do, grinning heartlessly while the
pilgrim went nipping painfully over the rocks ten feet in advance
However warm may be the sunshine, running water is cold in the
month of April in Montana. But the Happy Family could not be
bothered with that trivial circumstance. With threats and flipped
pebbles they drove the pilgrim shivering into a pool where the
water came to his middle, and roosted in a row on the bank to see
that he was thorough.
“Souse down into it, Nameless! It’ll feel warmer
“Sure! Nothin’ like gittin’ used to a
thing,” Bing Adams encouraged.
“Say, here’s the carbolic. It ain’t
strong—been setting on a shelf for a year and lost darn
near all its strength,” said Pink. “Sprinkle it onto
your head good. Germs stick in the hair something
Nameless foolishly obeyed, gave an abrupt howl and submerged
himself completely while the Happy Family writhed in convulsions
of mirth on the bank. He came up blue and chattering and they let
him out on dry land. Big Medicine went off and gleaned a horse
blanket from the shed, wrapped the pilgrim solicitously, and led
him to the nearest haystack where he might sit in the sun and
wait for his clothes.
“How long?” he controlled the tremble of his chin
to ask with ominous calm.
“Till the sulphur’s all burnt up and the smoke
quits pourin’ out the cracks,” Slim informed him.
“Mites is hard to kill and so is germs, by golly. You got
to give ’em both plenty uh time.”
“You might stake me to a cigarette, somebody.”
“Smoke in that haystack? Not on your life!” Weary
denied him the indulgence in a shocked tone. “Come on,
boys. We’ve got to set on Big Medicine’s case next.
Packing Nameless clear over from Dry Gulch the way he
did—Mamma, I bet he’s plumb polluted with
“Darn right,” several voices made instant
agreement. “Gosh, why didn’t we think of that before?
We coulda smoked him same time we did Nameless.”
“You go to granny,” said Big Medicine. “I
had my slicker on and it was pourin’ rain. Any germs that
lit on me was washed off into the road. What about Mig, over
there? He packed that satchel home behind his cantle; and all the
rest of yuh that undressed that pore feller last night and dried
his clothes for ’im? Looks to me like you’re all
tarred with the same stick, by cripes.”
The Happy Family looked at him dubiously.
“By golly, that’s right,” Slim admitted.
“We’d oughta saved out some of that sulphur for the
bunk-house. What’d yuh do with that there carbolic, Pink?
I’m goin’ to wash my clothes.”
While enough sulphur smoldered in the hen-house to fumigate
every building on the ranch, the Happy Family toiled with strong
lye water and carbolic acid, sterilizing the bunk-house and that
portion of the mess house which Nameless had occupied. Blankets
flapped on barbed-wire fences, and the bushes down by the creek
flowered with laundry washed to the tune of loud and acrimonious
They nearly forgot Nameless, wrapped in the horse blanket and
vengeful meditations beside the haystack. When he came slipping
up to the bunk-house at dusk they had no heart for banter. They
were watching the distant flicker of flame up on the brow of the
hill where their guards were cooking supper, and they were
thinking uneasily that, take what measures they might, this
quarantine business was going to be no joke.
PEACE IS THE WORD
Monday passed so quietly that the Old Man began again to cast
distrustful glances toward Andy Green. The Happy Family rode
bronks they had expected to ride the day before, with the girls
looking on from the vantage point of the hay-rack. Nameless had
recovered his clothes and with them his temper, and was tacitly
accepted as an unexpected guest who seemed pleasant enough and
quite inoffensive for a city guy, even if he did beat it out of
town and leave his partner sick with smallpox. Big Medicine
argued that the pore feller probably didn’t realize that he
was taking the disease along with him, and for all anybody knew
he might have had some important mission in the Badlands or
wherever he was headed for. Until they knew the straight of it,
they ought to let that subject drop; which they did.
For one thing, Tuesday gave them something new to think about.
Tuesday brought a doctor from Fort Benton, armed with vaccine
enough for the whole Bear Paw country. The Happy Family bared
arms cheerfully enough and guyed one another about growing horns
and hoofs, as the doctor—a jolly old fellow—told them
was once believed to be the result of vaccinating with cowpox.
They pretended to accept the old superstition as a scientific
fact, but underneath their banter they were visibly impressed
with the gravity of the situation.
Even Happy Jack had to admit that this did not look like one
of Andy Green’s tricks. Wholesale vaccination by a doctor
from the county seat meant business, however much he might joke
about it. Nothing to be afraid of, though. Sore arms for a day or
so when the stuff began to take hold, and after that they could
forget about it. Just a safety law that would hold them in the
coulee for twelve days,—unless Nameless came down with
smallpox, of course. In that case, the quarantine would have to
The doctor examined Nameless and pronounced him in splendid
physical condition. As to the loss of memory, that of course was
the result of the lightning shock and probably would right itself
in time. There was nothing he could do about it, he said. Time,
plenty of exercise in the open air, normal conditions of
living—really, the life he was living here on the ranch was
what any physician would prescribe for him. The doctor was
interested, but not especially concerned. The man’s partner
in Dry Lake was delirious, he said, and there was no information
to be gained there. Confluent smallpox was a serious matter, and
the proper treatment had been lacking at the beginning of the
case. He was a very sick man. It was doubtful whether he would
He did not stay longer than was necessary, because he meant to
vaccinate every man, woman and child in the district as a
precautionary measure. With proper vaccination, he assured them
in leaving, the danger of an epidemic was greatly minimized; and
if they did contract the disease, it was not likely to prove
With those cheering words he walked down to the willows at the
ford, where a livery rig from town and the means of disinfecting
himself had waited. And for the rest of the week the Happy Family
worked with their bronks and made a game of it, the girls usually
Sunday morning came again, warm as June and with a brooding
stillness broken only by the cheerful cackling of hens in the
miteless chicken house. Down by the creek, Andy Green sat with
his back against a rock shaded by a young cottonwood tree, and
listlessly carved an intricate pattern of serpentine stripes down
a green willow stick which he was painstakingly fashioning into a
cane for Len Adams. Twice in the last three minutes he had paused
in his work to feel with gentle finger tips a certain place on
his swollen left bicep, midway between elbow and shoulder. He had
laid down the stick and was unbuttoning his shirtsleeve for a
closer inspection when Pink came along, a bundle of soiled socks
and handkerchiefs wadded into the crook of one arm.
“Oh, hello, Andy,” he gave casual greeting.
“How’s she coming?”
“Sore as seventeen boils. She’s swellin’
like a poisoned pup. I been sick as a dog ever since last night,
but I can’t lay and listen to Happy. How’s
Pink immediately hunkered down on his boot-heels, dropped his
laundry and unbuttoned his own left sleeve.
“She’s slow,” he said, “but oh, man,
she’s sure. I thought I’d get my washing done before
it gets any worse. Say, Slim’s arm’s like a
stove-pipe this morning. You see it?” He leaned to look as
Andy’s sleeve went slowly up. “Boy, you’re sure
going to have a pippin,” he passed critical judgment.
“Cal’s laid out, did you know that?”
“By gracious, I’d about as soon have smallpox and
be done with it.” Andy drew slow fingers across his aching
eyes. “Nameless ain’t showing any signs of coming
down yet, is he?”
“Him?” Pink rolled up the other sleeve, gathered
up his washing and went to squat beside the creek. “Nothing
fazes that guy. He’s gone for a walk with Myrt. First thing
he knows, he’ll think he’s tangled with a mess of
wildcats. Native Son won’t stand for him walkin’ Myrt
around, I tell yuh those.” He pulled a worn cake of soap
from his hip pocket, pushed back his big hat, trailed a blue
dotted handkerchief in the water, lifted it dripping and began
soaping it vigorously.
“You oughtn’t to dabble in that cold water, Pink.
Countess says you’re liable to die if yuh catch cold in
that arm,” Andy gave perfunctory warning.
“Yeah, I know she does. Say, what do you think? Is Mig
serious about that red loco gal, or is he just
playin’ up to her for the fun of it?”
“Search me. You can’t tell what’s
goin’ on back of them romantic eyes of his. He sure acts
like he’s building his loop for Myrt, all right.”
Andy whittled without interest.
“From what the boys that knows her tell me, any man is
sure ridin’ for a fall that takes Myrt serious. You heard
about her and Weary, didn’t yuh?”
“Yeah, I heard. Len was telling me the other
“I s’pose yuh know Bert’s crazy about
Len,” Pink glanced over his shoulder to say
“Yeah, I know it. It might help some if Bert let her
know it too. Len’s a good kid. Straight as they grow, but
proud as the devil. Bert’s a fool, that’s all I got
“Nameless seems to be kinda makin’ himself the
white-haired boy with Len too,” Pink observed in a relieved
tone. “He’ll run into Bert if he don’t look
out. And I caught a look in Bing’s eyes when Nameless was
whisperin’ something to Rena. Nameless is buildin’
himself all kinds of trouble, if you ask me.” He rinsed and
wrung the blue handkerchief, spread it upon a warm, flat rock and
reached for a pair of socks small enough for a woman’s
Andy cupped his right palm beneath his left elbow and moved
that arm to a new position, wincing at the pain. He drew his hand
again across his forehead.
“Gosh, but I feel tough!” he sighed. “Would
you mind bringing me a blanket and a pillow down here, Pink?
I’d rather lay out here than in that darn
“Yeah, I don’t blame you. Them that’s up are
crabbing over a card game up there. Sore as she-bears, the whole
bunch of ’em. It sure ain’t any place to carry a
headache into.” Pink stood wiping his hands while he
surveyed the sick man. Andy had slumped down upon his shoulder
blades and his head dropped upon his chest. “Anything I can
bring you? Coffee or something? You didn’t eat any
But Andy did not want any coffee. When he opened his eyes, the
treetop above him seemed to sway drunkenly, though there was no
wind. His left arm felt like a dry log in flames. By the time
Pink returned, Andy considered himself the sickest man in the
“Weary says you got to go crawl into bed,” Pink
announced. “It’s pretty quiet up there right now. Big
Medicine and Mig had another run-in over Nameless, but Weary
calmed ’em down before they got past the talkin’
stage. Their arms are too sore to fight, anyway. You better go on
up, Andy. Weary thinks you’re liable to catch cold down
“Oh, hell!” Andy muttered, but he got up
obediently. Weary was boss of the bunk-house while Chip was away,
and what he said might as well be considered law.
In the bunk-house the card game had been abandoned, matches
and white beans heaped promiscuously in the center of the table
just as they had been pushed there by the disgruntled players.
Happy Jack was standing before the broken mirror, distressfully
searching his flushed countenance. The sight of him cheered Andy
immensely. He managed a sickly grin as he walked over and with
his well hand pulled Happy’s collar loose at the back.
“Gwan away f’m me,” Happy Jack said crossly.
“You fellers are just plain damn’ liars. I
ain’t broke out at all.”
“Let’s have another look, Happy. The back of the
neck is where they show up first in red-headed folks.” Andy
plucked and peered again. “What’s that spot down
there between your shoulders? Don’t it feel sore or
“Aw, gwan away. You’re just lyin’.”
Happy twitched himself free, but his well arm went up, fingers
groping at his back.
The Happy Family laughed at that, and Andy advised him not to
be a chump and believe everything he was told. “You know
darn well, Happy, another week almost will have to go by before
any of us could come down. You heard what that doctor told us;
twelve days. Nameless is different. Nobody’s got a line on
His gray eyes, somewhat glassy now with the fever burning
within him, turned for a glance at the pilgrim. Nameless was down
on one knee beside his bunk, looking for his little black
satchel. He drew back his hand, resting his finger tips on the
floor while he looked up at Andy. The posture reminded Andy of
something. He shut his eyes and stood scowling, pain and an
illusive memory racking him.
“Meaning what?” The pilgrim still crouched, eyeing
him between half-closed lids.
“Oh, nothing, I guess. Gosh, but I feel
Andy walked listlessly over to his bed and lay down, nursing
his arm, and for the rest of that day never once opened his lips.
Pain was still warring with memory, and strange distorted
pictures came, held him absorbed for a while, then blurred and
left him. Voices mumbled, rose in petulant dispute, subsided to
uneasy silence in the bunk-house. He heard some one slam the door
and say the Old Man wanted somebody to ride up and hail a guard
and send word into town for a doctor. Old Jim Jackson, father of
Rena, was plumb out of his head, and they needed help at the
White House. He heard Big Medicine’s loud voice
volunteering to go, and he was troubled by something in the tone
the Native Son used in adding his own offer.
“By cripes, they want white help up there!”
Big Medicine shouted in his rough bellow, and there was the
sudden scuffing of feet on the bare floor.
Andy opened his eyes, tried to sit up. Nausea seized him and
he lay down again with a groan. That darned fool of a Big
Medicine—did he want to get himself knifed? Then
Weary’s calm authoritative voice cut through the ominous
silence like a clean wind parting a fog bank.
“Jar loose, you fellows. If I thought Big Medicine was
responsible right now, I’d take a whack at him myself, Mig.
He ain’t, though. He’s just talking to hear his head
roar. Nameless, you’re teacher’s pet right now; you
go on and set up with the sick. Maybe you can get by without
tangling. Go on—beat it. J. G.’s up there alone with
the women, and old Jackson’s crazy as a loon. You’ll
have plenty to do, holding him in bed. And it serves you
right,” he added banteringly, as the door opened and closed
“Now, Mig, you go to bed and try and get some
sleep,” Weary continued persuasively. “You’ll
forget all about it by morning.”
“Me? I never forget. First it is greaser, and
“You know Big Medicine. He’s like a she-bear with
one lone cub. You called Nameless a crook, right after Big
Medicine saved his life. Do you think for a minute he’s
going to admit he got off wrong? Here’s this smallpox
scare, right on top of all our joshing, and Big Medicine’s
touchy as the very devil about it. He knows darned well
he’s the one that’s responsible for all this trouble,
and yet it was that big heart of his that let us in for it. He
wouldn’t have had it happen for the world. He may try to
bluff it out, but I know it’s got Big Medicine where he
lives. He don’t see how he could have done any different,
though, and I don’t either. If you or I or any of the rest
of us had ridden along there when he did, we’d have packed
that pilgrim to the ranch, same as Big Medicine did.”
“We wouldn’t insult—”
“Oh, I don’t know,” drawled Weary. “I
guess we’d try and justify our deed of kindness. We’d
hate like sin to own up we’d made a mistake.”
Andy lifted his heavy lids and saw Weary standing just inside
the door, both hands on Miguel’s shoulders while he
“As for you—I can’t see why
‘greaser’s’ any worse than
‘bog-trotter,’ and that’s what Big Medicine
called me yesterday. That’s just his way—lamming a
fellow on any spot he thinks is sore. It don’t mean a thing
in the world, Mig, and you know it. You don’t want to pay
“No,” chimed in Pink. “Just consider the
source, as the fellow said when the mule—”
“Aw, chestnuts!” Happy Jack’s raucous
protest interrupted him. “Can’t yuh think up
“By gracious, I’ll insult the bunch of you if you
don’t saw off,” Andy suddenly threatened. “You
take that honor of yours and wrap it in cotton, Mig, and lay it
away till this war’s over. I’ve got a
“Yeah, I been insulted too,” Cal Emmett spoke up.
“I didn’t go up in the air about it, though. I was
joshing Nameless about his loss of memory and Big
“I guess we could all dig up something to build a grudge
around if we wanted to,” Weary cut in. “We’ve
got to step careful around them two. Nameless is a maverick and
we don’t know where he stands or what he might be capable
of. He’s got me guessing, I’ll admit that much. Big
Medicine we know. He’s got a heart like an
“And a head like a bull, same as his voice,” came
“Mule, you mean,” Andy muttered the amendment.
“Well, he’s a mixture of both, maybe,” Weary
conceded equably. “The point is, he’s so darned
touchy about Nameless we better all of us ride ’way around
that subject when he’s in hearing. We’re going to be
close-herded on this ranch for Lord knows how long. It would be
the dickens of a note if we got to quarreling amongst ourselves.
If we can’t keep peace in the family—”
“Oh, all right,” the Native Son yielded
grudgingly. “Peace is the word, amigo. But I say to
you now, that Nameless one is not fooling me with his lost
memory. I don’t like him—”
“You don’t have to like him. All you have to do is
keep it to yourself.”
“—and Big Medicine cannot push me too far. Talk of
peace to him, amigo.”
“Don’t think I won’t,” Weary answered,
a tired look in his eyes as his hands dropped from Miguel’s
shoulders. “Better turn in, Mig. We’ll all feel
better to-morrow, maybe.”
There was sense in what he said. Soon a somnolent silence
settled upon the bunk-house, and if it were not peace it at least
answered that purpose for a time. But Weary lay long awake that
night, and behind Andy Green’s closed eyelids strange
thoughts and half-waking visions came and went.
VICTIM NUMBER ONE
“By gracious!” Andy yawned, with the sun shining
full in his eyes one morning. “I’ve heard of a month
of Sundays, but I never saw it happen before. Not right in the
time when spring round-up oughta be starting.” He lay
knuckling his eyes with his well hand, the other arm being still
too sore for unguarded movement. Over in the far corner of the
bunk-house Slim’s bed creaked as he shifted his heavy bulk,
and across the narrow space between bunks Pink’s curly
blond head burrowed deeper into the pillow. Some one went
“Ee-ee-ow” (as nearly as such a sound can be
spelled), yawning luxuriously; but no one made a move to get up
“Hello the house!” called Andy, after a minute,
and leaned to fumble in his pants pocket for his watch.
“You all petrified, or what? Gosh, it’s past
seven!” This, you must know, was a disgraceful hour for the
Happy Family to be rising on a bright morning in spring.
“Crawl out, worms. The early bird has flew to
“Aw, can that noise,” some one advised. It sounded
like Happy Jack’s voice. “Patsy ain’t called
“He’s probably out flaggin’ our guard to
come down and bury this bunch, thinkin’ we’re
dead.” Andy sat up, ran his fingers through his brown hair
and swung limberly out of bed. His glance wandered around the
room and rested upon tumbled blankets on the bed next to
“Shame on you lazy hounds! Here’s the pilgrim, up
hours ago. Hey, Mig! Better come alive, there. Nameless is out
browsing around the red loco patch already.”
“Say, what business is that of Mig’s?” Big
Medicine heaved himself up in his bed to demand truculently.
“Hey, who wants to ride that ginger-colored bronk
to-day?” Andy reached mechanically for his hat, set it on
his head and proceeded to pull on his boots awkwardly, with
grunts and grimaces making it plain to his world that he still
suffered partial disablement.
Pink sat up and in a whisper began counting on his
“—Nine—ten—this is Tuesday,
ain’t it?—Wednesday—Thur—two more days,
boys, and they’ve got to let us out. I guess we’re
all safe from catchin’ anything.” His gaze rested
meditatively on the empty bunk where the pilgrim had slept.
“And that doctor said twelve days is the limit. Looks like
we’re pretty safe. Roll out, you fellows!”
“We oughta be able to start on round-up in a week,
anyway,” said Weary. “And Bing can go home and plant
his spuds. Poke your heads out here, boys, and let’s have a
look at you. Yep—you’re a hard-lookin’ bunch of
rannies, all right, but you don’t show any spots, thank the
Lord.” He went to the door, opened it and glanced out.
“There comes Nameless, trotting up the trail like a grey
wolf. He’s an ambitious cuss, I’ll say that for
“Yeah, he makes the rounds of the coulee every
morning,” Big Medicine stated proudly. “On the high
lope too, by cripes. He—”
“Yeah, afoot.” Big Medicine went and stood in the
doorway, looking over Weary’s shoulder. “Ever see a
man trot along any more graceful than that?” He pointed an
unnecessary finger. “Lookit! Took that gate like a deer! By
cripes, he’s goin’ t’ do it again! You watch
The Happy Family converged swiftly upon the doorway and
window. Down by the big gate the pilgrim was dragging a foot
across the road, marking a line in the dust. On the fence two
panels away, a bronze hen turkey stood craning and
querk-querking uneasily, while on the ground a great
gobbler strutted. The boom of his vibrating wing feathers came
plainly to the ears of the Happy Family while the pilgrim stood
poised upon the score mark he had made.
“By golly, lookit that, would yuh!” Slim elbowed
his neighbor excitedly. “Went over that gate light as a
“And there ain’t a man awn the ranch could equal
that jump awn horseback!” boasted Big Medicine. “Now
he’s comin’ back over this side. Take a look at that
there, by cripes!”
Five clean jumps the pilgrim made, the Happy Family watching
him in wordless amazement.
“Aw, I knowed he was some relation to a flea,”
Happy Jack grunted disparagingly, when the pilgrim made his sixth
leap and landed on all fours like a cat.
“The jumping son-of-a-gun!” Pink exclaimed
admiringly. “Oh, look! Look, boys!
No one had taken notice of the bronze gobbler’s
increasing emotion. His violent gobbling as he strutted and
drummed was too familiar a sound for the senses to register. Now
he hurled himself full on the pilgrim’s bowed back, beating
him unmercifully over the head with one wing, over the haunches
with the other and raking the pilgrim’s back with his
two-inch spurs. One cannot ignore a twenty-pound turkey gobbler
on the warpath. Nameless flattened beneath the weight of him and
yelled, his face in the dust, arms flailing and clutching
“Lemme outa here! I’ll shoot the damn’
thing,” shouted Big Medicine, struggling against the human
barricade in the doorway. It was Weary who clutched him and
hauled him back.
“You stay where you’re at. Nameless ’ll
likely kill yuh if you go butting in right now. If that guy
can’t protect himself from a
“Shore he can!” Big Medicine saw the point.
“Mrs. Chip ’ll have to get her another gobbler,
that’s all. Time Nameless gits through with
“Nameless is through right now,” shrilled Pink,
“only old Chief don’t know it! Yee-oww! Ride
’im, gobbler! Rake ’im from ears to flank!
That’s the stuff!”
At the risk of losing an eye, Nameless rolled and clutched the
great bird. Dust rose in spurts where he writhed and wrestled.
The Happy Family swarmed out and raced to the scene of battle,
shouting encouragement; though whether it was meant for Nameless
or the turkey was not made clear.
The pilgrim struggled somehow to his feet and old Chief
dropped to the ground. But even then the fight was not over.
Feathers flew. Every chicken within gunshot set up a terrific
cackling as the gobbler leaped and nipped viciously, dodging the
pilgrim’s kicks and blows until exhaustion weakened the
attack. As the pilgrim fought his way slowly up the trail, he
spied a piece of neck-yoke and somehow managed to duck and grab
it. Old Chief, having a thorough understanding of sticks,
retreated down the slope, gobbling defiance and dragging broken
wing feathers as he went.
“That darn bird fouled me!” laughed Nameless,
ruefully inspecting his tattered shirt. “Some
“You or old Chief?” Cal wanted to know between
spasms. “Brother, that bird sure rode yuh straight up for a
“Speaking of jumps,” said Weary, when the laughter
had subsided, “what was you trying to do down there before
the turkey bought into the game?”
Nameless flushed a little. “Oh—I kind of like to
get out and ramble, every morning,” he grinned sheepishly.
“I discovered that a good run gives me an appetite for
breakfast. I like to circle the ranch and see what the guards are
doing—and say, boy, they sure do back up when I start
towards them! One up the coulee almost took a shot at me this
morning. He would, I guess, if I hadn’t turned back.
Then—oh, that jumping? Well, the gate was shut when I came
along and I had a sudden notion to jump it. It was easier than I
expected. I just kept on jumping for the fun of it—till
that darned turkey got a half Nelson on me—”
“Say, what the deuce do you know about half
Nelsons?” Bert Rogers caught him up.
“Hunh?” the pilgrim looked blank. “I
don’t know anything about it, I guess. It’s just a
slang phrase, isn’t it?” He looked at the Happy
Family questioningly. “I must seem like an awful
chump,” he apologized. “I say things that I
don’t know the meaning of after the words are out. I
thought maybe if I exercised a lot in the open air, I’d get
things straightened out in my head quicker. Honest, I was just
tickled to death to find out I could jump that blamed gate. I
don’t know why, though. I reckon any of you boys can do
“Ain’t a man awn the ranch can do what you
done,” Big Medicine asserted boldly, and sent a challenging
glance around him.
“You think so?” The Native Son started abruptly
running down the path, lifted himself into the air, and went over
the gate in a flying leap and ran on to the stable, a gratifying
chorus of cheers sounding behind him.
He should have left it at that. Instead, back he came to
repeat the triumph. It was an up-hill jump and he was a bit
winded. One boot-heel caught and he came down in an ignominious
“Haw-haw-haw-w-w!” chortled Big Medicine,
as the Native Son picked himself up and dodged the irate gobbler
which was making for him with blood in his eye. “Yuh will,
ay? Thought it was easy, didn’t yuh?
Haw-haw-haw-w-w!” “You don’t want to try
that in high-heel boots, Mig,” the pilgrim warned him
sympathetically. “You’d have made it all right, only
“Yuh don’t wanta try that in nothin’,”
Big Medicine rubbed it in. “You couldn’t jump that
gate awn horseback, even! Nameless, here,
The Native Son spoke a long crackling sentence which gave the
full rating of Nameless, but fortunately he spoke in Spanish.
Then Weary, scenting imminent trouble, sauntered between the
“Good shot, Mig. We’ll put on our shoes and all
have a whirl at it after breakfast. Wonder you didn’t break
your neck, in those heels. Come on, boys—we ain’t
washed yet and old Patsy’ll be calling breakfast in a
“He better!” Pink supplied further distraction,
leading the way to the creek where morning ablutions were usually
performed in warm weather. “Come on, Mig. You’re so
frisky, I’ll race yuh to breakfast.”
The Native Son’s brow cleared a little as he ran after
Pink. But Weary, hanging back with the excuse of a cigarette gone
cold, made an imperceptible sign to Andy Green, who promptly
halted and offered Weary a match.
“For gosh sake, Andy, what are we going to do with them
two?” Weary sent a worried glance after the others.
“Let ’em tear into each other and be done with
it,” Andy retorted. “You can’t nurse ’em
along only so far. They’ll lock horns the minute your back
is turned, in spite of hell.”
“You know Big Medicine’s record,” Weary
demurred, as the two walked slowly toward the creek.
“Best-hearted in the world, till he’s stirred past a
certain point. Miguel’s the same, only he’s smoother
on the surface. I wish you’d kinda keep an eye
Andy promised that he would.
“Soon as this quarantine lets up and we get out on
round-up, things will straighten out all right,” Weary went
on. “Nameless will pull out for somewhere and Big Medicine
’ll settle down.”
“It ain’t him so much now, Weary. It’s that
red-headed cousin of Bert’s,” Andy told him.
“You’ve been side-stepping the girls, kinda, so you
don’t see all that goes on. Big Medicine’s gone plumb
loco over Myrt.”
“Him? You’re crazy. With a face like
“That don’t make any difference, Weary. Did you
ever see a homely guy that didn’t think he was a helluva
feller with the ladies? Big Medicine’s got it bad. She eggs
him on, I’ll say that for him. You know how she looks at
yuh outa the corner of her eyes?”
“I used to know. I’ve forgot, thank the
“There’s guys on this ranch that’ll wish
they could forget. She turns them eyes on Big Medicine. And Mig.
“Mamma!” Weary stopped to grind his cigarette stub
under his heel in the path. “If they’d just lead Myrt
outa this coulee, we could get along fine with the
“That’s what,” Andy gave emphatic assent.
“I’m free to admit Myrt had me going, right at first.
All in the world that saved me was seeing her scatter them looks
around so promiscuous. That cooked me right then and
Weary did not reply. Patsy had yanked open the door of the
mess house and was banging a tin pan viciously with a
long-handled spoon, and the two took longer steps toward the
creek. There the competition on towels was running high. The
Native Son and Pink flung one toward Weary and raced off to the
mess house, Bert Rogers, Slim and Bing Adams crowding their
heels. The others went trooping in after them and straddled the
long benches eagerly.
With the odor of fried ham and eggs hanging heavy in the warm
air of the long low room, nothing short of actual murder could
have dampened the spirits of the Happy Family just then. Now that
food was spread before them appetites were ravenous. For the
moment, the chief concern of every man there at the table seemed
to be the filling of his plate and his stomach. Breakfast was
late, but no one mentioned the delinquency now that it was being
The meal might have proceeded to the end in perfect peace and
enjoyment, had not old Patsy inadvertently poured scalding coffee
on Cal Emmett’s hand instead of into the cup Cal was
holding up for a second filling. Cal jumped, swore a customary
oath and turned to stare reproachfully at Patsy. Suddenly his
round blue eyes widened with horror. He shied violently against
his neighbor, who happened to be Slim, and with a howl of dismay
scrambled backward over the bench.
“Git away from me!” he shouted, dodging Patsy in
his dash to the door.
“Here! What’s your hurry?” called Bert.
“Look at ’im!” Cal whirled in the doorway
and made a stabbing gesture with his finger. “Old Patsy!
Look at ’im!”
The Happy Family looked and stampeded for the door. Outside,
they stood eyeing the mess house like chickens shut out from
their roosts at sundown.
“And I et two biscuits,” Happy Jack stated
lugubriously and moved aside as Patsy pulled open the door they
had slammed upon their departure.
“Vot you poys make now alreatty?” he demanded
queruously. “Don’t my cooking be goot enough dis
The Happy Family flapped detaining hands at him and backed
“Keep off,” warned Cal. “You’ve got
“I got nottings, py cosh, but heatache like it vould
pust open. Two, t’ree tays now I got dose heatache. I tells
you plenty times alreatty. But I vork yoost da same ven I been so
tissy I could fall down. Now you say I got it! Py cosh, I tell
you plenty times—”
“Go look in the glass,” some one advised him
harshly. “Smallpox. You got it, you old fool.”
LEN TAKES A HAND
Until that moment the Happy Family had not really believed the
dreaded malady would actually appear among them. At the worst it
had been only a threatened calamity which imposed certain
restrictions upon them for a time and had given considerable
physical discomfort. Down deep in their hearts they had clung to
the conviction that it was just a scare. It would blow over and
round-up would go on as always. The Jacksons would drive away to
their own ranch, Bert would take Myrtle back to the Rogers ranch,
Len and Bing Adams would ride home—and Bing would do that
ploughing and planting which worried him so much. The coulee
would seem kind of lonesome when they were gone, but the Little
Doctor and Chip would come home with the kid, and that would
help. All this quarantine business would resolve itself into one
more adventure; nothing more.
All at once the adventure had taken a bad turn. The thing they
didn’t believe would really happen was now a fact that had
to be faced. Shocked, slightly incredulous still, the Happy
Family squatted unhappily in the shade of the bunk-house and
lighted cigarettes that went cold between their lips while they
soberly discussed the situation. Weary had gone straight off to
tell the Old Man and until he returned there was nothing to do
“This is sure going to knock spring round-up in the
head,” Pink broke a moody silence to remark.
“We’re bottled up for another two or three weeks,
best we can do.”
“Pore Bing. Them spuds of his’n won’t git
planted before frost, at this rate,” Big Medicine
contributed, with a wide grin that somehow failed to express
“We’ll be c’relled here all summer, chances
is,” Happy Jack predicted with his usual pessimism.
“I betcha we all come down with it. When I think of them
biscuits we all et—”
“Gee whiz! Can’t you talk about something
else?” snarled Cal.
“Yeah. Quit yawping about them biscuits,” Big
“I wisht now I’d ’a’ saved out some of
that sulphur we used on Nameless and the chicken mites,”
mourned Slim. “Now we ain’t got a
“You’re dead wrong,” Andy cheerfully
interrupted. “Doc brought a whole bunch of some kinda
candles you burn with a special dew-dad that holds a white
fumigating powder. You burn one in a room. Weary’s went
after one, I reckon.”
“You fellows can josh me all you want to,” Bing
Adams spoke up suddenly. “Just the same, it does grind me
to lay around over here, not doing a tap of work, and all that
ploughin’ waitin’ over home. I ain’t afraid of
catching it—it’s spring work that bothers
“Oh, sure,” drawled Andy, and sent a whimsically
appraising glance around the solemn group. “That’s
all that any of us is worried about. There’s just millions
of things outside this coulee that we oughta be doing right now.
Nameless is about the only one in the bunch that can’t
remember any important duties he’s neglecting somewhere
else—and what are you looking so white around the gills
for, Nameless? You didn’t eat a biscuit too, did
“No, that isn’t it at all.” The pilgrim
looked up from the tiny trench he was digging in the packed soil
with a stick he had picked up. “I was just thinking
of—well, there are ladies on this ranch—In a way,
I’m responsible for the danger they’re exposed to. If
I had been killed instead of that poor horse, maybe everybody
would be better off. They claim I was beating it away from my pal
because I was yellow. Oh, I know it’s in your minds, even
if you don’t say it. You all think this is my fault, even
if I didn’t come here of my own free will. In your hearts
you blame me for running away from quarantine in the first place,
and you blame Big Medicine here for bringing me to the ranch.
“As far as I’m concerned, I can’t say
anything because I don’t remember why I was riding to the
hills. There’s just a vague feeling of something I had to
do, no matter what happened. I don’t believe I knew what
ailed my partner when I left him. My honest belief is that when
he saw he was too sick to travel any farther, he told me to go on
alone and do whatever it was we had to do. I’ve thought and
thought, till it seemed like I’d go crazy, but I
can’t bring back anything but just a vague feeling that
there’s something important—and I’ve failed to
do it because I was brought down here and can’t leave; and
even if I could, I can’t remember what it is I ought to
do.” He drew a long sigh, brushed his fingers across his
eyes and dropped his hand with an inarticulate sound like a
“I don’t know as I ought to expect you fellows to
believe a thing I say,” he added dispiritedly, since no one
spoke. “My memory may be gone, but I think I have brains
enough left to see what I’m up against. You fellows have
been kinda holding off, waiting to see if this smallpox business
was a false alarm before you took any stand—”
“And what stand did you expect us to take?” Andy
broke in to inquire. “Think we’d stand you up against
the stable and shoot yuh, maybe?”
“Well, not exactly that, maybe. But—”
While he groped for words to express whatever vague
forebodings troubled him at the moment, Weary came walking down
the path with both hands full of small articles. So absorbed was
he in the strict performance of his duty that he failed to notice
the constrained silence. Or if he did, he probably attributed it
to the misfortune that had just befallen the outfit.
“J. G. says for you boys to set up the bed tent down
beyond that cottonwood by the creek,” he announced, as he
came up and stopped.
The Happy Family immediately rose and flicked fingers down
thighs with the brushing gesture which outdoor men unconsciously
use when they get up off the ground. That done, they resettled
their hats on their heads and were ready for action.
“Don’t set that tent close enough so the limbs
’ll catch fire when we burn it afterwards,” Weary
gave further instruction. “Peg ’er down good and
tight, because the Old Man thinks all this warm weather is
breeding a storm. We better build a frame and take that set of
springs in the blacksmith shop, so Patsy won’t be laying
right on the ground if it should rain. Trench around the tent,
anyway; you jaspers need exercise.
“Soon as Patsy’s moved outa the mess house, we can
plug the cracks and light this gadget the doctor left. It’s
supposed to knock all germs cold in about four hours. Beats
sulphur all to pieces, Doc said, but the powder in this paper is
deadly poison, so I’ll handle this end of the job myself.
And we’re supposed to run up a yellow flag. That’s
the smallpox signal, they tell me.
“Doc gave J. G. full instructions of what to do if a
case broke out amongst us. The patient has got to be kept in bed,
whether he feels sick or not. It’s hell if yuh catch cold,
he says. It ain’t likely to be very bad, on account of
everybody being vaccinated right away. And there’s no use
dodging old Patsy—everybody on the ranch was exposed that
first day, with Nameless here. But the folks at the house think
we better fumigate the mess house before we cook another meal
there, just on general principles.
“So let’s get busy. Andy, you and Mig can plant a
pole and fly our flag of distress. Nameless, I’ll let you
and Bing help me plug up the mess house, and the rest of you
fellows can get the tent ready. Put your flag up at one end of
the tent, boys; we’ll do this thing proper, accordin’
to Hoyle, or we won’t do it at all.” He laughed,
lowering an eyelid as if the whole affair might, after all, be
only an amusing incident.
The tension relaxed as they scattered to their various tasks.
When the girls came down a few minutes later to watch the tent go
up, faces brightened and voices took on the vibrant note of
merrymaking. Nameless and his trouble were pushed into the
background of their minds. Time enough for problems when they
forced an issue. For the past week the girls had not ventured
farther than the White House porch, for they too had suffered.
Moreover, Rena’s father was still in bed and likely to
remain there for some time, because of some chronic ailment, and
with J. G. weathering an attack of rheumatism, there had been
plenty to do. Needless to say, they had been missed.
“The Countess is all right again now, and she chased us
all out of the kitchen a little while ago, so I guess we’ll
have to strike you boys for a job of cooking,” Len
“If you think you can make us mad that way, you’re
all off the track,” grinned Cal.
“Yeah, we thought this was goin’ to let us in for
some of Happy’s horrible mixtures,” said Pink.
“Of course, you’ll have to eat up at the house
to-day; Countess is up to her eyebrows in cooking, and she was
afraid to trust us to fry doughnuts, even.”
“Just as if we never cooked in our lives!” Rena
dutifully seconded the criticism.
“I’ll back my doughnuts against
anybody’s,” Len declared, more than half in earnest.
“Myrt, here—why, where is she? I thought she was
standing right over there watching Andy.”
“She went off with Mig to rustle something yellow for a
flag,” Andy explained, looking up from the hole he was
digging at the end of the tent.
“Better hang Mig awn that pole you’re
puttin’ up,” Big Medicine suggested.
“He’s about as yeller as anything awn the
ranch.” Not one stroke did he miss on the tent peg he was
driving with the flat side of an axe.
“Nope,” drawled Andy, mopping his face with a
handkerchief white as a woman’s. “I don’t
believe that would work. Mig ain’t limber enough to flop in
Those within hearing laughed, just as he meant that they
should. It seemed to him that Big Medicine was losing his sense
of humor and making a grievance of everything the Native Son said
or did. Not that the words themselves might not have been spoken
a month ago—they would have been, probably, if the occasion
had presented itself and Big Medicine had thought of them. But
they would not have carried the venom that filled them now. It
was hard to parry such savage thrusts and make them pass as a
joke. Big Medicine wasn’t joking and he seemed anxious to
let it be known that he was not.
Len Adams looked at him with her steady gray eyes that just
missed being some other color and moved over to Andy’s side
as he bent to his work.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, just above a
whisper. “Is he by any chance jealous of the Native
“Search me,” Andy returned guardedly. “Might
be just bilious; you can’t tell.”
Len sent a casual glance over her shoulder, saw that Big
Medicine had finished with that tent peg and had gone to another
down near the far corner where Rena stood talking, and leaned
“You want to look out for Myrt Forsyth; all of you
boys,” she warned. “She flirted with him—I
caught her at it when Mr. Jackson was so sick and Big Medicine
was helping take care of him. And she makes fun of him behind his
back, because he’s so homely. She mimics the way he laughs
that big ‘haw-haw-haw-w-w’, and then when he comes
around she’s sweet as pie. If you could give him a hint
that she’s just making a fool of him—”
“You want me to commit suicide?” Andy slanted a
quizzical look up at her. “He’d blow my brains out,
“I don’t see why. He’d know you were talking
for his own good.”
Andy straightened up to ease his back and to feel tenderly the
sore muscles of his left arm. His eyes dwelt speculatively upon
Len’s earnest face.
“Sister,” he said gravely, “you’d be
surprised how many murders have been committed because some darn
fool tried to talk to a man for his own good. I want to live.
There’s places to go and things to do I ain’t gone
and done yet.”
“If you’d said ’things to tell’,
I’d be more impressed. And don’t call me sister.
Somebody ought to tell him she’s just stringing him along.
I hate to see a man made a fool of; a good-hearted fellow like
Big Medicine. He ought to know he hasn’t got a chance in
the world with Myrt.”
“How about Mig? Think she’s got any time for
“Well, I hope it won’t hurt your feelings too much
if I say Myrt is rather gone on our fine young Native Son.
He’s the best looking cowboy that ever rode this range, for
one thing. And from the little I’ve seen of them together,
he can sure put a lot of meaning into those velvet eyes of
“Myrt’s no slouch herself when it comes to goo-goo
eyes,” Andy sighed, lifting the digger for another spasm of
“So you’ve got a touch of it too!” Len eyed
him curiously. “Well, you might better have smallpox, if
you ask me.”
“Now, don’t you worry any about me.” Andy
tilted his head again to smile up at her. “Nor the rest of
the boys, either,” he added loyally, jabbing the digger
deep and drawing it up carefully, so as not to spill any of the
moist dirt it held. “Us poor cowboys may look simple and
act simple, but you must remember there’s always safety in
numbers. We may cut each other’s throats, so to speak, in
the bosom of our own bunk-house, but nevertheless we hang
together. E pluribus unum—the tail goes with the
hide. You bet your life.”
Len made a sound like a very ladylike snort. “That may
all be very true—in fact, I know it is—but it
doesn’t work when a woman like Myrt comes into the coulee.
If you don’t tell him—” she indicated Big
Medicine with a turn of her hand “—there’ll be
the Old Harry to pay. And if the rest of you fall for
“We haven’t so far. Not by a long shot.”
“And do you know why?” Len leaned closer and spoke
with a suppressed vehemence rather foreign to her. “Myrt
hasn’t bothered with the rest of you yet. I know it’s
awful to knock a person the way I am Myrt, but I don’t
care. Something’s got to be done about Big Medicine.
You’ve got to warn him, or something.”
Andy once more caressed his sore arm.
“A fellow takes an awful chance, handing out warnings in
love affairs,” he said gravely. “For instance, if I
was to warn you that Bert Rogers is about ready to murder me
because we’ve been talking here by ourselves, and that if
you don’t give him a kind word before
“Oh, you make me sick!” snapped Len and walked off
toward the house.
Myrtle Forsyth and the Native Son were coming, heads close
together and voices lowered, little wooing laughter breaking now
and then through the soft monotone of their talk. Len met them
and passed them without a look or word, and neither took the
slightest notice of her nearness. Andy sent an oblique and
searching glance toward Big Medicine. He was just in time to see
him duck his high hat crown in under the flap of the tent where
he might sulk unseen. Andy shook his head at that. It was not
like Big Medicine to step out of the way of any one.
“We looked and looked and searched for a yellow
cloth,” Myrtle explained, as the two came up. “Then
Miguel asked me why a black cloth wouldn’t do, and I
think it’s the funniest thing I ever heard of, to use black
when we really went after yellow. Do you suppose it will
be all right? Because we really did search the whole place for a
“Sure; anything,” Andy said shortly, as if he were
chiefly anxious to halt her italicized eloquence. “Tie it
on that little end of the pole, there, and let’s get the
thing up and done with. The main thing is to serve notice, and
the sooner the quicker.”
So they flew the black flag of piracy, never dreaming how
sardonically appropriate it was.
NAMELESS LOVES SOLITUDE
The spurious calm of forced inaction lay upon Flying U Coulee.
These were the days when the Happy Family should have been riding
the high green prairies, their tents pitched beside some clear
flowing stream left behind for the next camping. Life should run
free, with the clean winds blowing across new grass and bringing
the scent of spring flowers, the sweet, high warbling of birds
lately returned to the nesting places. Old Patsy should have been
riding the lurching bed wagon, a huge deep pan of rising bread
dough lashed to the seat beside him while he drove his four-horse
team up the hills and down the hollows, hurrying to set up camp
and have the next meal ready when the riders came galloping
Instead, the bed tent that should have been pitched in some
remote wilderness sprawled in the open space beyond the
cottonwood tree, the black flag casting sinister shadow upon its
dingy gray roof. When hat crowns ducked into its doorway, voices
invariably rose to profane argument against old Patsy’s
querulous complaints. Men came out of these scowling and
muttering to themselves, and the tent walls quivered to the roll
of German maledictions. As may be surmised, Patsy was not a
particularly docile patient.
The Happy Family endured three days of this and told one
another they had reached their limit. Then Bing Adams was
discovered sprawled on his bed, suffering from what he called one
of his sick headaches. Weary went after Len and Len immediately
hurried to the bunk-house to investigate.
“It’s all right, I guess,” she reported,
with studied cheerfulness. “Bing gets these spells every
once in a while. All he ever wants is to be left alone.
He’ll sleep it off and be all right in the morning.”
And she went back to help with the supper.
Somewhat reassured, the boys lounged outside and played
seven-up on a canvas spread under a tree where fluffs of cotton
drifted down upon them from the tasseled branches. So far as
appearances went, no one gave Bing Adams another thought. Just a
common headache—too much eating and not enough work.
Nothing to worry about.
But they must have betrayed themselves in spite of the
unmerciful joking and laughter at the supper table, for suddenly
Myrtle Forsyth broke into shrill, half-hysterical laughter.
“It’s the funniest thing,” she
gasped. “The way you all talk and laugh and pretend you
aren’t the least bit worried—it’s exactly like
that book ‘Delambre’!”
Three faces noticeably changed expression. The Native Son,
lifting his cup to his lips, set it down abruptly without
drinking. A slow flush crept from cheeks to brow. Nameless sent
quick, sidelong looks to left and right of him, pulled in his
lips at the corners and bent lower over his plate. Andy Green
swallowed something down his “Sunday throat” and left
the table hurriedly, knocking over a box as he retreated outside.
The others waited for further enlightenment.
“What-all’s that book about?” asked Big
Medicine, his bellowing voice strangely belying the fatuous look
in his frog eyes.
“Oh—it’s an old classic,” Myrtle
hedged with some confusion. “It just tells about a lot of
lords and ladies shut up in an old castle, just outside Paris or
somewhere, waiting to see if they’re going to have the
black plague. All they did was make jokes and tell
stories, just laughing at death in the bravest way, and
pretending they didn’t care.” “And we
kinda remind you of them, do we?” Andy, still red in the
face from his mischance, straddled back into his place.
“Well, you know every one is wondering if Bing
has the smallpox, and nobody dares to mention
“You’re dead right,” said Weary, in a
peculiar, steely tone. “Folks can talk themselves into all
kinds of grief.”
It was the first time Weary had voluntarily spoken to Myrtle
direct, and the Happy Family pricked up their ears, waiting to
see what would happen.
As a matter of fact, nothing did. Myrtle gave Weary a startled
look, her eyes wider than she was in the habit of opening them,
but her red lips came together in a thin line. With a toss of her
bright auburn head she turned from the table and set the
coffeepot on the stove without a word. The voice of Cal Emmett,
asking some one to pass the pie, sounded loud in the silence.
Although no one seemed to know exactly what Weary meant, other
than a rebuke of Myrtle’s tactlessness, the constraint
failed to relax. The Happy Family finished eating and filed out
with scarcely a word to the girls. The pilgrim, however, lingered
to ask if he could help with the dishes and Big Medicine turned
back to offer his services also. Andy Green hesitated just
outside the door, looking curiously at Myrtle, smiling up into
Big Medicine’s eyes. Then with an inarticulate exclamation,
he hurried on to overtake Pink and Cal Emmett.
“Weary’s got his back up, did yuh notice?”
Cal remarked tentatively. “That Myrt ain’t got a lick
of sense, in some ways. Took old Weary to shut her up,
“Yeah. Only Weary didn’t shut her up quite quick
enough.” He glanced at the two sidelong while he licked his
cigarette into shape and fumbled for a match. “Either of
you boys catch on to what Myrt was driving at—about that
Pink shook his head. “I don’t go much on classical
reading,” he confessed. “Them brainy old boys took
too darn long to get to the point. And yuh need a dictionary
right at your elbow to know what they’re driving
“Not with that book you don’t,” Andy said
“It’s sure a bad time to talk about black
plague,” Cal observed tentatively. “That’s what
the book’s about, Myrt said.”
“Yeah, but that ain’t what knocked me off my
perch. Say, listen.” Andy caught an arm of each and they
walked slowly down the path, heads together while Andy talked in
an undertone. Incredulous exclamations punctuated his monologue,
with a great burst of laughter when he had finished.
“Gee whiz! If that’s a classic—” Cal
shook his head.
“You’re just makin’ it up as yuh go
along,” Pink made accusation.
“No, on the square. That’s the book, all
“Where’d you ever read it?” Pink
“Over on the Cannon Ball. I was riding through that
country and got stormbound in a line camp. They had the
Cal half turned to look over his shoulder at the mess
“And you’d think butter wouldn’t melt in her
mouth!” he made wondering comment, and shook his head
again. “What made her tip her hand like that, d’ you
“Thought we was all such ignorant cusses we
wouldn’t sabe anything but what she told us,”
Andy said promptly. “Myrt’s scared, and the way we
were all joshing and cutting up at the table made her think of
that black plague party. She never expected some of the rest of
us might read them old classics. Well, keep it under your hats,
boys. I just had to tell somebody or bust.”
He turned and retraced his steps to the bunk-house, meaning to
take another look at Bing. He found Weary there ahead of him,
staring thoughtfully down at the flushed face on the pillow. He
looked up as Andy came in, and his eyes were troubled.
“That’s no sick headache,” he muttered,
drawing Andy back toward the door. “He was talking crazy as
a loon when I came in a minute ago. Fever’s a mile high. We
might as well go and fix another bed in the tent, don’t you
Andy tiptoed to the bunk and stood looking for a minute at
Bing, then tiptoed back again.
“We might as well,” he said reluctantly, and the
two went out together.
They were carrying an old set of springs across the yard when
the pilgrim trotted up to them, bare-headed and looking very well
pleased with life.
“I don’t know what the idea is in sleeping like
sardines in a can,” he began briskly. “You fellows
can pack yourselves into that bunk-house if you want to, but
I’d like more fresh air than I’m getting at night. I
want to take my blankets back up there in the grove, where I can
hear the creek gurgle and the birds sing their morning how-de-do.
Any objections, Boss?”
Weary, carrying the front end of the springs, shifted the
awkward burden on his shoulders and gave the pilgrim a sidelong
glance from under his hatbrim.
“You can pack your bed as far as those boys on the
ridges will let you,” he said tersely. “By the creek
or in the creek, it’s all the same to me.”
“Sure it’s the beauties of nature you hanker
for?” Andy inquired banteringly, steadying the springs
while Weary got a new handhold.
“What do you mean by that?” The pilgrim whirled on
“Not a thing in the world,” Andy disclaimed.
“Only them same birds might take a notion to fly down this
way to do their singin’. And the same water guggles right
close handy by. You don’t have to go way up past the White
House to get fresh air, either. Of course, though, this might be
too close to the sick—”
“No, that’s got nothing to do with it,” the
pilgrim denied. “Maybe I’m a poet or
something—who knows? There’s a place up there where
the water falls down over rocks and the trees have left a clear
space right beside it. I kinda fell for that spot the minute I
saw it. Guess I’ll go move my blankets up there before it
gets dark.” He started off, then called back to them with a
forced laugh, “Yep, I must be a poet or
“Yeah—you’re a liar or something,”
Andy muttered under his breath.
“Him and his warbling birds and gurgling brooks!”
snorted Weary. “Why couldn’t he say he’s scared
and be done with it? That’s no disgrace—he’s
got plenty of company.”
Andy kept careful pace with Weary, the rusted bed springs
between them. At the tent they eased their load to the ground for
a minute of rest.
“Say, did you ever read that book
‘Delambre’?” he asked abruptly, his gray eyes
turning for a thoughtful glance at Weary.
Weary’s eyebrows came together. “No. Never heard
of it before. Why?”
“Oh, nothing.” Andy resettled his hat and stooped
to lift the springs again. “I’ll bet Nameless has
read it,” he said laconically, and followed Weary inside
Within twenty-four hours Bing Adams had something to worry
about more important than his ploughing. He was down in the
hospital tent with old Patsy, and a cold drizzling rain was
beating down upon the sodden canvas. Two of the boys in streaming
yellow slickers brought hot food in a wash boiler with the lid
pressed down to keep out the rain, and old Patsy grumbled and
swore because the coffee was neither strong enough nor hot
He wanted his camp stove that had gone with him on round-up
every year since Jim Whitmore first ran his own wagons. He wanted
his chuck box set inside the tent, and he wanted plenty of grub.
He and Bing could make out all right without any woman’s
finger in their pie. Patsy did not put the matter in just those
words, but that was his meaning, and he made it perfectly
“Spuds mit onion and egg—und calls it
salet,” he spluttered. “I takes my spuds and cook
’im der vay I vants ’im, py cosh.”
“You’re getting well, that’s all that ails
you,” Weary shrewdly diagnosed his complaining. “All
right, have it your own way. If this rain lets up a little so we
can do it, I’ll have the boys set up your outfit here.
Looks like this thing’s going to hang on indefinite, and
you might as well take charge of the hospital camp, Patsy. Save
the rest of us a lot of legwork running back and forth, packing
grub down here, and it’ll give you something to do. The
girls are making out fine cooking for the bunch. They’d
hate to give it up unless they get sick—which I sure hope
Patsy had his own opinion about how three girls were handling
the work in the mess house. He expressed his opinion freely to
Bing after Weary was gone, but Bing was too sick to care what
happened or how many dish towels were lost. He gave a surly grunt
or two and turned his back, pulling the blankets up over his ears
to shut out the sound of Patsy’s voice. A clammy calm at
last settled upon the tent. Patsy dozed or lay listening to the
dulled patter of rain which seemed never to cease, and waited for
the boys to bring his camp stove.
Not a soul came near until supper time. Then Cal brought a pot
of coffee and a kettle of soup that lacked salt and hastily
recounted the events of the day. The stove had smoked all
afternoon and the girls had to beat it up to the White House and
stay until the boys got things working again. They had been
obliged to take down the pipe and clean it. The elbow was so full
of “sut” that a puff of cigarette smoke
couldn’t have got through on a bet. Didn’t Patsy ever
clean his stove-pipe? It sure looked like that sut had collected
there for ten years. Well, then they had to take the darned stove
to pieces, just about, and drag out the sut under the oven. It
sure was a fright, having to do it in the rain. The darned stuff
blew all over the place whenever any one opened the door, and you
couldn’t set a foot down anywhere without making black
tracks. Cal was willing to bet that Patsy hadn’t touched a
scraper to that stove since it was bought.
Well, the place was like a barn all afternoon, and Len’s
bread didn’t raise like it ought to, and the Countess
didn’t have but one loaf on hand. The girls were going to
make biscuits for supper, but they thought maybe sick folks
oughta have something hot right on time. So this was the best the
girls could do right at present, and if they felt like they
wanted something more after a while, the boys would bring
something down when it was cooked.
With that cheering promise Cal retreated, his slicker
crackling in the cold as he went. Bing and Patsy were still
morosely discussing their wrongs when Weary and Pink appeared
with a lantern and the inevitable wash boiler, wherein various
dishes of food steamed appetizingly when the lid was lifted. They
brought further news. Happy Jack was “on the lift,”
which in range parlance meant that he was down and couldn’t
get up. Or wouldn’t. Weary believed he was sick, but Pink
was inclined to the opinion that Happy was plain scared.
They’d know all about it in the morning, he guessed.
The two did what they could for the comfort of the patients
and departed, empty dishes rattling in the wash boiler. It was
dark as a stack of black cats, they declared, and there was no
sign of a let-up in the storm. But come hell or high water, Patsy
should have his cook outfit next day. And by all the signs, Weary
thrust his head back into the tent to say, they’d have
company in the morning.
He was right. Next day it was plain to all who saw him that
the thing which Happy Jack feared had come upon him. Wrapped like
a mummy in canvas to keep him dry, he was carried down through
the rain and put to bed, for the time being, with Bing.
All that forenoon yellow slickers went flapping here and there
through a misty drizzle, making endless trips to meet old
Patsy’s querulous demands. The Happy Family grumbled a good
deal, but when the task was finished they agreed that it was
worth the trouble and that it solved a growing problem very
satisfactorily. They had left the tent warm and crudely
comfortable, with old Patsy pottering about the stove, stirring
certain savory mysteries that carried the odor of range cooking.
Slim, who lingered to stack a generous supply of wood in the
corner behind the stove, sniffed hungrily and hinted at staying
for dinner, but Patsy drove him out.
“Mamma!” Weary exclaimed earnestly, as he and Pink
left the tent after a neighborly visit that afternoon.
“It’s sure going to be a big relief, the way things
are fixed now. That’ll keep old Patsy outa the mess house
till this quarantine lets up. Gives the girls a free hand.
I’ve been wondering how I could work it so they could go on
cooking for the bunch. This way, it’s fine.”
“Fine for them that are well,” Pink amended.
“But it’s sure tough on the feller that’s sick.
If I get smallpox, I hope I spend the whole entire time
unconscious. If I’ve got to be waited on and pawed over by
old Patsy, I don’t want to know it.”
“All right, Cadwalloper. I’ll bear that in
mind,” Weary grinned. “A gentle tap on the head with
an axe every morning oughta do. Anything to save your
Just then they met Andy coming up from the stable. He too was
full of optimism in spite of the weather. He fell into step
beside them and took up the conversation from his own angle.
“What d’ yuh know about it? Bert wiped the dishes
for Len. Looks like the ice is kinda thawing there, don’t
“I’d want to see it myself,” Pink discounted
“All right, you can ask Mig. Him and Nameless played
euchre with Myrt and Rena while Len and Bert washed the dishes.
The lion and the lamb—”
“Tell another one,” Weary interrupted.
“It’s a fact. I never said how long the game
lasted, you notice. Myrt got ’em started in the first
place. Mig and Bert was foolin’ around in there and
Nameless showed up, so Myrt boned them for a game and neither one
would back down for the other. They must’ve played for a
full ten minutes before it was necessary to create a
“How was that?”
“Hunh? Oh, I forget just how it happened. I sure do hope
it clears up so Nameless can go back to his birds and flowers. Or
if he’d come down with smallpox, even—”
“What you got against Nameless?” Weary demanded.
“Barring he’s a kind of smart aleck, I can’t
see anything wrong with him.”
“By gracious, I’m suspicious of a guy
there’s nothing wrong with.” Andy’s rain-washed
countenance looked stubborn. “He’s such an agreeable
cuss I’m getting darn sick of him. There’s something
about him—if I could remember what it was—”
“Well, I wouldn’t bother much about things I
couldn’t recall,” said Weary. “Take him as he
comes, why can’t you? He’s all right, I
From the mess house as they approached came the reedy notes of
a harmonica mingled with the throbbing of a guitar playing chords
in D with Slim’s well-known variations. As they turned into
the muddy path from the bunk-house there came, high and clear
above these familiar sounds, the tones of a flute. The three
looked at one another inquiringly, then Weary pushed open the
Inside the long, low room the Flying U boys were perched on
the table or sprawled at ease on the nearest long bench. Cal and
Slim were playing “The Mocking Bird,” and lounging
against the wall near them stood Nameless with his arms folded.
The music they had called a flute came from the pursed lips of
the pilgrim, whistling a tenor obligato with a bird song
The boys stood staring at him in amazement until Len raised
her hand and beckoned, signalling for silence in eloquent
pantomime. So they tiptoed across the open space to the stove,
where they stood steaming until the music was ended and they
might divest themselves of slickers and overshoes.
“Isn’t that perfectly wonderful?”
Myrtle’s clear treble inquired above the stamping and
clapping. “And he’s been here all this while, and
never once hinted he was such a perfectly divine
“I didn’t know it myself—if you call that
divine,” Nameless replied, with the proper degree of
modesty in his tone. “I just happened to get started, I
reckon. Lemme have that guitar a minute, Slim. I feel another one
coming on and I’ve got a hunch I can play for it
“He knows darn well he can,” Andy whispered
suddenly to Pink. “Say, I know what it was I couldn’t
But Pink shook his head rebukingly and nudged Andy into
silence. The pilgrim was whistling the “Miserere”
with a haunting lament in the tones, a trembling despair that
made even the Native Son bite his lip. They knew the piece well
enough. The Little Doctor had a complete set of “Il
Trovatore” records up at the White House, with the story of
the opera. But not even the record produced quite that effect of
He should have stopped then, while they marvelled at the sheer
genius of his performance. But he did not. He was a little
excited by his triumph perhaps; a shade too greedy for applause.
He whistled several selections without pause, watching the faces
of the girls for the homage in their shining eyes. He imitated
almost perfectly the robin’s song, the wild canary, the
sweet warble of the meadow lark. “Now you see why I wanted
to sleep up there in the grove,” he interrupted himself to
remark, with a challenging glance at the Native Son. Immediately
afterwards he whistled “The Swallow Song” without
missing one intricate trill or blurring a liquid grace note.
He was like an indefatigable canary which, however lovely his
song, must finally be subdued with a cloth over his cage. The
spell cast by the poignant perfection of the
“Miserere” was gone. Boots began to move restlessly
upon the bare floor. Slim rolled and lighted a cigarette and
flipped the match stub at Bert Rogers, and because it landed on
Bert’s nose Rena Jackson giggled audibly. Glances wandered,
bored listeners seeking mental diversion. And suddenly the
pilgrim broke off in the middle of a phrase and thrust the guitar
into Slim’s arms.
“Play us a waltz, boys,” he cried gayly, flashing
a signal into Myrtle Forsyth’s watchful eyes.
“You bet! Play ‘Sobre las
Olas’.” Like a young seal slipping from an ice
floe, the Native Son slid down from the table and swung Myrtle
into the rhythm of the dance. With a concerted movement that
seemed inspired, Andy Green and Pink captured Len and Rena and
went waltzing down upon the pilgrim, their faces blandly
Nothing was left for the pilgrim except to back into a corner
out of the way. Even so, he did not back quickly enough. As
Myrtle swished past in the arms of the Native Son, Miguel’s
boot-heel come down with considerable force on the
pilgrim’s toes. Miguel instantly begged to be excused for
the accident and whirled his partner away. The pilgrim drew a
sharp hissing breath between his clenched teeth and bided his
The waltz ended with a flourish, but the musicians left little
interval. Cal, in fact, merely gave himself time to moisten his
lips before he began playing a schottische. Again the pilgrim
started forward, but his corner was blocked—inadvertently
we hope—by Weary, who drew back to give Bert Rogers elbow
room with Rena Jackson. By the time Weary realized that Nameless
wanted to pass, the three girls were already dancing. Weary
apologized, but that did not alter the situation in the least.
Again the pilgrim waited, eyes gleaming.
Other dances followed in rapid succession, but somehow Weary,
Bert Rogers, Andy and Pink were always before him, eager to
dance, and fortunate in having Len or Rena at least every other
time. And without any apparent design or collusion, Myrtle
Forsyth seemed always accepting the Native Son for a partner just
before the pilgrim reached her side. The system of cutting in was
not established at that time, unless due notice was served by the
floor manager who might announce a “tag” waltz or
two-step. Cal didn’t make that announcement. It was a case
of get a partner or keep out of the way. Though he may not have
realized it until the affair was over, the pilgrim never had a
“Oh, stop it, for pity’s sake!” Len gasped
at last, reeling dizzily against Bert Rogers and blushing
furiously at the contact. “Don’t dance us to
death—there’s supper to get.”
“Play ‘Whistling Rufus’,” the Native
Son called clearly above the noise. “Myrt and I want to
cakewalk to that tune before we stop!”
Slim and Cal looked at each other dubiously, but the Native
Son was waiting with his partner in the middle of the floor and
Cal licked his sore lips and began the rollicking tune. The
onlookers pressed backward to give space, and the two came
stepping and swaying down the room, elbows flapping, heads
The door slammed upon the pilgrim’s departure, and a
moment later Big Medicine followed him out, turning in the
doorway to glare furiously at the Native Son, who met his look
with an extravagant salute that might have been an integral part
of the dance but probably wasn’t. Not for nothing had Bud
Welch of Coconino County Arizona been rechristened Big Medicine.
The glaze in his pale, protruding eyes promised much as he
slammed the door behind him.
Then Len Adams, who was normally a sensible girl, did a very
foolish thing. She pounced unexpectedly upon Cal and dragged the
harmonica away from his mouth.
“Beat it, you boys! You’ve made those two sore
with your joshing and you ought to be ashamed. Clear out now, the
whole entire bunch of you. Scat—vamoose—beat it, I
tell you! Rena, hand me that broom!”
Whereupon the chortling Happy Family grabbed hats and slickers
and surged out into the rain, uproariously singing the chorus of
that grotesquely appropriate song which the Native Son had
recklessly flung at the pilgrim:
“Didn’t make no blun-der
You couldn’t confuse him—
A perfect won-der,
You had to choose him!
A great musician
Of high position
Was Whistling Rufus, the one-man band!”
BIG MEDICINE DECLARES WAR
“’Way down south in the land of
And the home of the syc-amore tree-ee
Lived a darky called Rufus Blossom,
Black as a nigger could be-ee.
Had a head like a big sledge hammer
And a mouth like a horrible scar-rr,
But nothin’ could touch him in Ala-bama
When he played on his old guit-ar-r!
Didn’t make no blun-der,
You couldn’t confuse him—”
Still singing at the top of their voices, the boys burst
tunefully into the bunk-house. Big Medicine, walking the floor
like a man-eating lion pacing his cage before feeding time,
halted his stride and glared.
“—A per-fect won-der,
You had to choose him—”
sang the Native Son, mirth in his velvet eyes as he
“Say, you damn’ black-an’-tan
Romeo—” Big Medicine bellowed truculently, and got no
farther, because the Native Son’s fist smashed the words
back into his wide mouth.
“That for you, Frog-eyes,” hissed Miguel, his eyes
no longer mirthful. “No man with a drop of Castilian blood
in his veins ever swallowed that insult.”
“You’ll swallow worse’n that,” bawled
Big Medicine, lunging forward. “Anybody that’ll do
the dirty trick you done to Nameless—” He landed a
glancing blow on Miguel’s shoulder and got one in return
that made him grunt.
“Say, why don’t you let Nameless fight his own
battles, Bud?” Weary remonstrated. “He ain’t
“Nameless kin finish—what I leave,” Big
Medicine panted, circling like a dancing bear. “I got
plenty reasons—” What they were he did not state,
chiefly because Miguel’s fist that instant landed neatly on
With an inarticulate bellow he drove at the Native Son. They
clinched and struggled and jabbed, tore apart suddenly and fought
furiously with their fists. The Happy Family kept out of their
way and watched with silent disapproval. There was no just cause
for all this enmity. Until the disturbing foreign element entered
Flying U Coulee, these two had always been the best of friends.
Nameless and Myrtle Forsyth—one to breed distrust and the
other jealousy, and neither apparently giving a thought to the
trouble each had caused.
“Hey, cut it out, you fellows!” Weary suddenly
shouted above the noise of combat. “Pile in there,
boys—this has gone far enough!”
Pink, Andy Green and Cal rushed in upon Big Medicine. Weary,
Bert Rogers and Slim attempted to hold Miguel. It was a mistake.
They found themselves involved in a struggle with two contending
demons who made no distinction between friend and foe. Blows
aimed at a foe too often fell upon a friend whose temper was not
proof against pain. Abruptly the peacemakers were fighting in one
terrible melÃ©e, with Miguel and Big Medicine still concentrating
upon their own affair, their thirst for blood unassuaged.
Into the uproar walked the pilgrim. Two or three of the boys
remembered afterwards that he stood for a moment with his back to
the wall, sizing up the battle with cool, darting glances this
way and that. Beyond that point opinions differed as to his mode
of procedure, though it was agreed that Nameless kinda waded
through the bunch and that the result was surprising.
“There’s one thing I wisht I knew,” Slim
solemnly observed a little later, when the Happy Family had
withdrawn to the stable to talk things over. “Where’d
Nameless git all them arms from? He was hittin’ four ways
to oncet, by golly. I seen him.”
“I tried to tell you boys,” Andy complained,
“but you wouldn’t listen to me. I know all about that
guy now. I can tell you—”
“Don’t tell me anything,” Pink interrupted
him crossly, and gingerly caressed a swelling jaw. “I know
plenty about that jasper right now.”
“Well, but listen a minute! Nameless—”
“Aw, shut up about Nameless,” snarled Bert Rogers.
“We can take a fall outa that guy any time. Where’s
Mig? He’s the boy I’m worrying about right now. If
ever I saw murder in a man’s eyes—”
“Oh, that’s all right,” Weary assured him,
glancing up from inspecting a skinned knuckle. “Brown eyes
like Mig’s always look deadly when a fellow’s mad.
Mig will get over it.”
“Don’t fool yourself,” Bert warned.
“Not when there’s a girl like Myrt eggin’
’em on all the while. It wasn’t the way we got to
runnin’ on Nameless that made Big Medicine see red. It was
Mig dancing with Myrt.”
“Say,” Cal spoke up, “what’s the
penalty for breakin’ outa quarantine?”
“You thinkin’ of making a sneak?” Slim asked
uneasily. “You better not let them guards upon the hill
ketch yuh at it, by golly. They’d shoot yuh down like a
“Well, I was just thinkin’ we might slip some uh
these trouble makers outa the coulee some dark night. Haze Myrt
and Nameless outa here and we’d get along fine.”
“Not Nameless,” Andy Green objected quickly.
“We want to hang onto him, boys. He—”
“Hanging on ain’t the problem,” sighed
Weary. “It’s the lettin’ go. Mamma, but that
boy’s a sure-enough wildcat. I kinda admire the way he
walked into the bunch of us. No ifs nor ands nor asking
who’s to blame—he hears Big Medicine bellering and in
“And out we go,” sighed Pink. “So help me
Josephine, some day I’m going to take that
“Wait till I tell yuh—” Andy Green made one
more attempt to enlighten them.
“Aw, forget it,” Cal implored. “You
can’t tell us anything we don’t know, and if you
could, we wouldn’t believe it.”
“All right, have it your own way,” snapped Andy.
“If you’d rather collect information by hand, go to
it.” He turned and stalked out, just as the Native Son
emerged from the corral, leading a saddled horse.
“That you, Mig? Where you headed for?” Andy spoke
guardedly, walking up to him.
“No law against riding down in the pasture, is
there?” Miguel’s voice was cold and unfriendly. He
did not look at Andy when he spoke.
“Wait a second. I’ll go along if you don’t
mind.” Andy held his voice to a casual tone.
Andy did not answer the challenge directly. “I’ll
go crazy if I don’t get a horse under me pretty
quick,” he complained. “The boys are back in the
empty box stall, chewing the rag like a bunch of old women at a
quilting bee. There’s been too darned much chin-whacking on
this ranch lately to suit me. ’Course,” he digressed
in his disarming fashion, “I don’t have to ride with
you if you’re set on going by your lonesome; I can ride up
the creek and you can ride down, or whichever way you want. But
on the square, I hate to give up the idea of joggin’ around
“Oh, cut out the argument and come along.”
Miguel’s voice had thawed appreciably. “I’m not
good company, amigo. I am trying not to think too much
“Then there’s two of us,” growled Andy.
“I had to get out or start shooting.”
Miguel gave him a sharp, suspicious look, but Andy stood the
test, standing with clenched hands and his mouth pressed into a
thin, straight line. His kindly gray eyes were hidden by his
hatbrim. Miguel’s glance turned toward the stable.
“Lead your horse around the corner of the corral outa
sight till I throw my hull on a cayuse,” Andy directed in
the same low tone of repressed fury.
Miguel started, glanced at him again and did as he was
directed. Within two or three minutes Andy appeared beside him,
leading a gentle little bay horse by the reins. Without a word
the two mounted, then held their horses quiet in the shadows
while five indistinct forms emerged from the stable and went off
up the path, their voices jumbled in argumentative
With the evening a moist wind blew out of the west, pushing
the heavy clouds before it. In the widening patches of clear
purple sky pale stars shone timidly. The creek had risen with the
rain that for two days had sluiced down from the surrounding
hills. Its voice was lifted from the sleepy murmur they knew best
to a rushing monotone. With a tacit understanding of the way they
would go, the two swung aside from the ford and followed the line
of tangled bushes down the wet trail that led to the lower
In certain low places the creek had lipped out over its banks
into the grove. Willows and chokecherry thickets stood knee-deep
in muddy water. Occasionally the horses dropped heads to snuff
the flooded trail, sometimes turning of their own accord to swing
wide of boggy ground. On either hand the coulee walls rose
steeply, and where the road to Dry Lake climbed the north rim two
tents showed as white blotches in the dusk. Between them a camp
fire sent up orange-tinted flames.
“Wonder where they get their wood,” Andy
speculated, like a man whose thoughts have pulled away from
His face was turned that way to watch the flickering yellow
firelight, but he nevertheless saw Miguel leave off staring
fixedly straight ahead of him and send an uninterested glance up
to the camp of the guard.
“Old ties, chances are,” Andy answered his own
implied question. “Sure don’t burn like wet
The Native Son returned to his unseeing stare between his
horse’s ears and for another quarter mile no word was
spoken. The two rode slowly, their horses walking shoulder to
shoulder like a harnessed team. Now and then Andy’s stirrup
touched the stirrup of Miguel; evenly, since both hung on a level
length adjusted to the straight legs of men owning full six feet
of vital bone and flesh between hat and heels.
Clink—a dull, small sound; an inarticulate little
voice hinting that here rides a friend.
Clink—clink—a companionable little sound in
the dark. The faint jar of contact somehow carried sympathy,
understanding, a comradeship felt but never to be put into
Small groups of vague, grazing animals scattered before their
approach. These were for the most part the half-broken saddle
horses gathered from the range for the round-up that would not be
made this spring. Already “reps” had been appointed
by the Stock Association to ride for the Flying U. In a lighter
mood this reminder would have stimulated profane discussion of
the misfortune that had befallen the Happy Family, but to-night
they rode without comment; until one wild group ducked and
snorted, taken unawares behind a clump of brush.
“I believe that’s the buckskin that piled Happy,
that first Sunday,” Andy remarked, twisting in the saddle
for a better look as the horse galloped away. From the tail of
his eye he saw that Miguel turned to glance after the horse.
He faced forward again, fingering his coat pocket and drawing
out tobacco sack and cigarette papers. In somber silence he
sifted tobacco into the tiny paper trough held steady in his
fingers. With the manner of one who automatically performs an act
of courtesy, he offered the tobacco sack and the papers to
Miguel. But the trembling of his hand would have betrayed him to
a man less absorbed in his own thoughts, and the sharp breath he
drew was eloquent of relief when, after an appreciable moment of
waiting, the Native Son pulled his thoughts from their bitter
meditations and took the makings with a muttered
Smoking in silence, they rode as far as they might go without
challenge from the guards who watched the coulee at its lower
end. When they could hear voices and see the figures of men
moving in the zone of firelight they turned aside, riding across
sodden pasture land to the coulee’s southern wall. And with
a second cigarette between his handsome lips, Miguel turned and
gave Andy a long, attentive look.
“To-night I nearly killed a man. Two men.” His
voice was calm, the tone almost casual.
“I had left my gun in the saddle shed where I hung it
the other day.”
“Sure. I know. Saw it there to-day.”
“When I met you at the gate I was almost decided I would
go up and shoot those two and ride—to the Wild
“Well, you didn’t,” Andy stated mildly.
“No, I didn’t. Now I see I was loco.
You’ve helped me to my senses. Such things are not
“It was mainly our fault, Mig. We joshed too hard. I
guess we all of us had a touch of loco weed lately. Kinda
throwed off our base with all these happenstances.” He
laughed under his breath, wanting to lighten his words. “I
reckon the air is cleared considerable now. We all of us had some
fight bottled in our systems. We sure oughta act like humans from
“Si, seÃ±or,” Miguel said mockingly to hide
his deeper emotions. “I shall not ride to the Wild Bunch. I
stay here and have smallpox perhaps and spoil my
ANDY TELLS A SECRET
They rode slowly along, smoking and talking in the old way.
The cold constraint had left Miguel’s voice, his rigid pose
in the saddle relaxed. In the starlight Andy’s watchful
eyes saw once more the familiar swing of the Native Son’s
body riding at negligent ease. They passed the ranch buildings a
long rifle-shot away, but although their gaze clung to the dim
clustered lights, neither suggested riding straight across to the
corral and to their supper. Andy was busy talking, and Miguel was
lounging in the saddle, one foot hanging free of the stirrup, his
rein hand resting on the horn while he smoked and listened.
“You aren’t stringing me, Andy?”
“Not on your life. I’d have placed him long ago,
only I was about half-shot all the while I was in Minot. A girl
had double-crossed me and I rode straight to town and got
drunk—you know.” Andy flapped a hand and Miguel
nodded. “It was that whistling that cinched it. Drunk or
sober, you couldn’t forget a jasper that whistles the way
“Never heard better,” Miguel paid honest tribute.
“It was his sublime conceit that—”
“Yeah, I know. That’s him, all over. Plays to the
gallery a lot—but he delivers the goods; you got to admit
that.” He smoked thoughtfully for a moment.
“So that’s his brand,” he continued.
“Just a plain ordinary brakie, far as any one knew, till
the thing was over. All the shopmen and railroaders backed
him—and boy, how they cleaned the town! Got as high as
four-to-one on Slim, as they called him. It never come out till
afterwards that Slim the brakie was Larry Jones, champ with a
pedigree as long as your arm.”
“Boxing, eh?” The Native Son touched a painful
spot on his cheek bone.
“I’ll say a boxer! And
wrestler—and foot racer—the way he come
streaking past the grandstand was as pretty a sight as a man ever
looked at. They all et his dust that day. But, boy, was they
sore! When it come out who he was, they’d ’a’
mobbed him sure as fate. But Larry jumped a blind baggage and got
outa the country.” Andy flicked his cigarette with a finger
nail and chuckled to himself. “I lost forty-five dollars on
that jasper,” he recalled whimsically. “That’s
a lot of money for a poor cowpuncher, Mig. Even if I was drunk,
“Larry Jones, the whirlwind athlete!” The Native
Son’s tone was a study in mixed emotions.
“That’s him—I’d back my last simoleon
on it. And if he’s as good as he was three years ago in
“He got into some jangle with the athletic clubs on the
Coast, just before I left,” Miguel remembered. “Gave
up athletics, I heard.” He laughed suddenly. “His
lost memory!” he jeered. “I knew there was something
he was keeping under cover. He’s a foxy one, amigo.
I felt all along he was playing us for suckers.”
“Maybe not that so much,” Andy dissented.
“Look what he was up against. Him and his pardner likely
intended to get work in Dry Lake and lay low for Labor Day. He
ain’t a professional any more—you say yourself he
gave that up. But he’s just as good as ever, and
willin’ to pick up any little money he can make that way.
It’s like buying an old race horse for the farm, and then
entering him at the county fair and making a clean-up. Nobody
peddles records beforehand. If I had the stuff Nameless has got,
I’d figure on making money on my talents too.”
“It was a raw deal he got on the Coast,” Miguel
“Well, there you are. Jones is a common name. He coulda
used it here and we wouldn’t of connected him with Larry
Jones. Well, somewhere along the line, him and his pardner picked
up a mess of smallpox germs. That upset their apple cart right as
soon as they landed. The pardner is laid out, and likely he
framed it with Nameless to beat it outa town and lay low till
things kinda got straightened out. Big Medicine picks him up and
packs him in to the ranch, and while he’s playin’ for
time and stallin’ us off with his loss uh memory, here they
come and slap the hull outfit into quarantine. Now his
pardner’s dead and he’s got to look out for himself.
What would you do, Mig, in his place?”
“Go right along with the plan,” Miguel said
promptly, “if I had the stomach for it in the first place.
He can do it, unless we—”
“Which we won’t,” Andy leaned and caught
Miguel’s arm in an arresting grip. “Nameless he is
and Nameless he shall remain, far as I’m concerned.”
He laughed gleefully. “You and me, Mig, can break even with
that Dry Lake bunch that slipped the race horse over on us last
year. All we got to do is look wise and say nothing. Let Loping
Larry handle this in his own way; he sure oughta know his own
game by this time. We got a grandstand seat, boy.”
The Native Son made himself another smoke, lighted up and rode
along in complete silence for a time.
“And how about the other boys?” he asked at
“Well, by gracious, I tried my darnedest to put
’em wise,” Andy said resentfully. “They
wouldn’t let me. They said they wouldn’t believe a
word I said, anyhow.”
“So the secret lies between us two?”
“That’s what. There ain’t another soul that
knows, except Nameless, and he’ll be the last to spill it.
The rest can turn gray-headed waiting for me to tell
“Or for me, amigo,” Miguel said softly, and
blew a long silvery wisp of smoke neatly from his nostrils.
The sky was swept clear of clouds, save here and there a wispy
streamer scudding across the Milky Way. The wind freshened.
“She’ll be fine weather to-morrow,” Andy
predicted cheerfully. “We oughta be able to wrassle bronks
if this wind keeps up. It’ll dry the ground quicker than
“What if Big Medicine—”
“Aw, forget it, Mig. Poor old Bud means all right. We
been running him pretty hard, ever since he lugged the pilgrim
in. I can see his side, all right.”
“His side is damn rough, you must admit.”
“Well, let him beller. Knowing what we know,
this’ll be good as a circus. It’ll sure tickle me to
watch Nameless perform with that lost memory. But remember, Mig,
we keep this under our hats. Is it a go?”
“It’s a go. I can hold my tongue.”
“Yeah,” said Andy slyly, “but how about your
“That too. I turn both cheeks and my back, amigo.
You will see.”
They had reached the upper end of the coulee. Now they turned
back, shaking their horses into a gallop over the springy sod.
“Yep, she’ll be a fine day,” cried Andy.
“There’ll be things doing in this old corral,
There were fewer lights now. The mess house was dark, but they
went in, lighting their way with matches until they found the
lamp. The room was warm, the air heavy with the odor of cooking.
A whitening bed of coals remained in the stove and the coffeepot
stood near the pipe. Two places were set at the end of the long
table nearest the stove, mute evidence that they were expected to
return and eat their supper.
“Pot roast and spuds, Mig,” Andy announced,
lifting the lid of a kettle still comfortably warm. “Shall
I heat up the coffee? What d’ yuh think?”
“Set it in on the coals, amigo. Here’s warm
bread. I knew it was that I smelled.” With his big hat
pushed to the back of his head, the Native Son was haggling thick
slices from a hot loaf. “Get the syrup can,” he
ordered, without lifting his eyes from his work.
“How’s the coffee, Andy?”
“Comin’ up. How many spuds? No use making a lot of
dishes to wash.”
“Two, and plenty of gravy.”
With the syrup can between them and the lamp wick turned too
high; with their hats on the backs of their heads and their
elbows on the table—throwing off all restraint like two
runaway boys—they were mopping their plates with the last
slices from the loaf when Weary opened the door and walked in.
Behind him came Pink and Bert Rogers, anxious-eyed and slightly
battered. They halted just within the door and their faces showed
“Where the dickens have you been?” Bert demanded
bluntly. “We’d about decided to take the mess wagon
and round you up.”
“Yeah,” said Pink. “Where’d you
“Hither and thither,” drawled Andy, hurrying to
take a bite of bread before the syrup dripped over the edge.
“There and thereabouts,” the Native Son further
elucidated. “I’ve got to have more bread to finish
the syrup. How about you, amigo?”
“Nope. I need more syrup to come out even on the bread.
And by gracious, I’m full to my eyebrows right
“Mamma!” Weary exclaimed in a baffled tone.
“The darn chumps’ll eat till they bust. Come on,
boys, leave ’em at it,—I’m going to
With a last wondering stare, the three departed. Andy and
Miguel waited until they were gone, then looked at each other and
TROUBLE IN PLENTY
Their good humor held through the night. At breakfast their
eyes met in glances of secret amusement across the table, and
when the pilgrim came in late, his face glowing from his run and
from his ablutions in cold water, Miguel was the first to slide
the meat platter toward him.
“Have a nice run after the rain, Rufus?” he
inquired, his tone warm and friendly.
“Rufus?” The pilgrim’s eyes scrutinized him
while he held the platter in one hand, his fork poised in the
“Whistling Rufus,” the Native Son explained
gently. “You can’t get along without a name,
amigo. Why not Rufus? Rufus—Jones.” His velvet
eyes dwelt innocently upon the other’s blank face.
“There’s something you need worse than a
name,“ Andy put in hastily, seeing Big Medicine’s
wide mouth opening for speech that would probably make trouble.
“You sure oughta learn to ride a horse.”
“My own feet carry me pretty well,” said the
pilgrim, a guarded glance flashing to Andy.
“Yeah, I know. But in this country a man’s got to
be a rider. If you stay with the outfit you’ll have to go
on round-up—or you’ll most likely want
“Say, by cripes! What—”
“—and you oughta get Big Medicine to learn you how
to ride and throw a rope. Bud’s got his failings,”
Andy explained extenuatingly, “but there ain’t a
better rider in the outfit. I’ll leave it to the
The Happy Family, stealing uneasy glances at one another,
refused to be drawn into the discussion. Big Medicine gasped, his
pale, protruding stare going from Andy to Miguel.
“Well, it might not be a bad idea at that,” the
pilgrim cautiously admitted. “I’ll have to find a job
“Bud, what you ought to do is catch up a gentle horse
and start Rufus right in,” Miguel offered further
suggestion. “He’s bright and active and he ought to
learn easy. Pass the syrup, will you, Bert?”
Big Medicine made an inarticulate sound and swallowed his
coffee too hot. His broad face crimsoned to his bristling tow
hair. He spluttered, damned the coffee in a whisper so that Len
and Rena would not hear, and shot a suspicious glance around the
table, hoping to catch an eye that would signal some key to the
mystery; but the eyes of the Happy Family were attending to their
“I don’t need no advice—not even if it come
from a—from a friend.”
Slim gave a snort of strangled mirth at the hasty and wholly
inadequate termination of Big Medicine’s declaration. Len
Adams had appeared suddenly at his elbow with fresh pancakes.
“Excuse it, then. It seemed to me that on this bright
morning would be the time when Rufus should learn to ride. I
meant no offence, I assure you.” Never had the Native
Son’s smile been more brilliantly disarming, his eyes more
Big Medicine gave him a bewildered stare. There was a
shuffling of feet on the floor, a general shifting of positions
on the long benches. Cal Emmett’s china-blue eyes grew
perfectly round and void of all expression. Pink dimpled, then
scowled as some one kicked him on the shin.
“It’s a darned good idea,” the pilgrim
suddenly declared. “If you ask me, it’s a
da—amned good idea—” whispering the last
syllable of the swear word while he cast a wary glance over his
shoulder. “Rufus goes with me too. Brown, Smith,
Jones—Rufus Jones could be a lot worse. Thanks, Mig, for
the name. And I’ll just take you up on the riding
“Not me, amigo,” the Native Son declined in
his silkiest tone. “Some one you trust.”
“Well, by golly!” gasped Slim, and subsided under
the malevolent stare which Cal Emmett gave him across the
“Sure going to be a fine day to-day if it don’t
rain to-morrow,” Len Adams made flippant comment as she
approached the table once more—this time with the
coffeepot. “What’s wrong with you fellows?
You’ve been as solemn as a flock of moulting owls ever
since you went and bunged each other up in that boxing contest
yesterday.” She stood at the end of the table, studying
their faces as if she were a country schoolteacher and they were
small boys suspected of hiding horned toads in their desks.
“One-two-three black eyes, enough skin missing from the
crowd to cover a saddle, and thr—four cut
lips—you’re certainly the biggest herd of lump-jaws I
ever saw in my life. If it’s catching—”
“It sure is,” murmured Weary, his head bent low
over his plate.
“It sure looks it. Nameless is the only one in the bunch
that had sense enough to keep out of the contest.”
“Oh, mamma!” shuddered Weary, whispering to his
hotcakes the astonishment he dared not express aloud.
“You’d better pattern your behaviour after him,
from now on, and don’t play so rough. Andy Green,”
she charged abruptly, thrusting the coffeepot toward him in an
accusing gesture, “have you been up to anything?”
“Me? No, ma’am.” Andy rolled meek eyes up at
“Just the same, you look guilty, you’re so
“No, mom, you wrong me.”
“Oh. You’re not heavenly innocent! Was it
you that left my bread uncovered to dry out? If the crust is hard
as alder chips, don’t blame me. I’m not saying a word
about one whole loaf missing and the syrup can being almost
empty, but when my bread is left uncovered—”
To the astonishment of his fellows, the Native Son confessed
to that crime and to others which he invented upon the spot with
fantastic details rivaling even that prince of liars, Andy Green.
His sins were so many and his penitence so abject that Len
threatened to brain him with the coffeepot—to put him out
of his misery, she explained.
The diversion served its purpose. Under cover of their foolery
the Happy Family hurriedly finished their breakfast and filed out
into the clean-washed air of early morning. In May the rangeland
is a green world filled with the scent of wild flowers and the
songs of birds. Already the sun shone into Flying U Coulee with a
warmth that set the moist ground steaming. Upon the tip of the
pole that held the black flag fluttering in the breeze a meadow
lark perched and sang his sweet, brief ripple of song, tilted his
head to one side and repeated the melody again and again without
varying a note.
Len Adams in the doorway listened wistfully, the laughter gone
from her lips and her eyes shadowed with worry. The soft air
lifted brown tendrils of hair from her forehead, touched
caressingly the line where her white forehead met the tan. She
never felt that breeze. Her eyes following the group of
long-limbed cowboys walking down the slope to the corrals with
occasional brief halts while they applied flaming matches to
their new-made cigarettes. Rena Jackson, coming to stand beside
her, looked and laughed.
“Boxing contest!” She laughed again. “If
there wasn’t a free-for-all fight in the bunk-house after
they left here yesterday, I miss my guess. I wonder what it was
“Oh, you do!” Len twitched herself free of
Rena’s embracing arm. “I suppose when there’s a
killing over Myrt Forsyth, you’ll wonder what that’s
about too.” She pointed a finger after the retreating
group. “Look how they’re pairing off. You never used
to see that kind of thing going on amongst the Flying U boys, did
you? Big Medicine and Nameless don’t have anything much to
do with the rest, you notice; and it’s Big Medicine that
worries me, Rena. With all the fooling and cutting up this
morning, he never laughed once. I tried my darnedest to make him
turn loose one of those big haw-haw-haws, but nothing fazed him.
He looked ready to do murder.”
“He’s mad at the Native Son,” Rena observed
“You don’t say so!” Len’s shoulders
twitched with impatience. Although Rena was a good girl and a
loyal friend, her mental limitations sometimes palled on Len. But
with the next breath she returned to her immediate worry.
“What do you suppose has struck that soft-eyed Adonis all
of a sudden?”
“If you mean Miguel—why, he certainly was as nice
“Pie!” Len gave another twitch of exasperation.
“He was deadly sweet. He—scares me when he
acts like that. He’s up to something. Take Big Medicine and
that pop-eyed glare of his, and Mig smiling and apologizing all
over the place—and a devil way back in his eyes—oh, I
wish to goodness they’d all come down with smallpox! Maybe
that would take some of the fight out of them.”
“Pock marks,” said Rena gravely, “is
terrible. You wouldn’t want to see Bert—”
“Oh, shut up! Go on up and get Myrt out of bed, will
you? Her lily fingers will have to get busy with the dishpan this
morning, while you tackle this floor. One way to stave off a
killing is to stuff those hyenas with pie and cake. You know the
old song, Rena—
“‘Men are only boys grown tall;
Hearts don’t change much, after all.’
So it’s up to us to keep them calmed down with good
food. The Countess has got nothing on me—I’ll make a
chocolate cake right now. And Rena, if that lazy trollop
doesn’t crawl out and get to work here, douse her with cold
“If I tell her you called her a trollop, she’ll
come fast enough—but then look out!” giggled
“I could call her worse than that without stretching the
truth much,” Len retorted, with a grim look around her
mouth. “Tell her the dishwater is boiling and her beaux are
all flying up the chimney.” With a last troubled glance
toward the corrals, where riders were already mounting to bring
in the horses and begin the work of the day, Len turned back to
her self-imposed task of keeping the males of her species well
fed and comfortable.
Len was not the only person to worry that morning over the
Native Son’s incredible amiability. More than once certain
members of the Happy Family tilted hat crowns together in earnest
private conferences, and in the intervals of bronk-riding puzzled
eyes shot sidelong glances toward Miguel and afterwards sought
other eyes in silent questioning.
Even Andy Green betrayed uneasiness. More than once during the
forenoon his gray eyes rested upon the Native Son in troubled
speculation, and when the dinner call came and they were
straggling up the slope to the bunk-house he beckoned Miguel with
a guarded tilt of the head. The two fell into step behind the
others, and Miguel waited expectantly, smoking and watching Andy
from the tail of his eye.
“Well, amigo, what’s eating on you
now?” he grinned.
“Well, you oughta know. You’re too darned
agreeable, Mig. What you been thinking of, to honey around Big
Medicine the way you been doing all forenoon?”
“But I agreed to be friendly,” drawled Miguel with
a sardonic gleam in his eyes. “I promised to
“When I told you to overlook anything he said or done, I
never thought you’d go it whole hawg. I asked you to treat
him nice, but my Lord, I never expected you’d plaster
compliments on him with a trowel.”
“When I am good,” said Miguel, “I am very,
“Yeah, you’re too good to live,” snorted
Andy. “And another thing: What’d you go and beller
out Jones to Nameless, for? I thought that was to be kept just
between us two.”
“That,” Miguel explained calmly, “was an
experiment. It didn’t work. Either that hombre has
lost his memory just as he claims, or—well, a little
romancing last night was perhaps needed, amigo.” He
gave Andy a sudden penetrating look.
“Well, by gracious!” Andy’s tone was deeply
injured. “That’s enough to make a man swear off on
the truth for the rest of his life! If that guy ain’t Larry
Jones, I’ll eat ’im raw!”
Whereupon the Native Son smiled a secretive, wise smile and
diverged from the trail to the creek where the towels hung on
bushes and cakes of soap were being hastily plucked out of a
prune box set on the gravelly bank in the shade.
“Where yuh goin’?” Andy made suspicious
“To change my shirt, amigo. And I think I shall
shave now while the bunk-house is empty. I’m not hungry
“Off your feed, eh?” Andy gave him a quick,
appraising glance. “Or maybe you’re aiming to eat
with the girls,” he guessed shrewdly.
“Quien sabe?” replied the Native Son,
falling back upon Spanish as he always did when he wished to be
irritating or to be left alone.
Andy took the hint and went on about his business, which took
him to the creek. Savory odors, permeating the air in the
immediate vicinity of the mess house as he passed, served to
hasten his steps. Already a few of the boys were taking long
steps toward their dinner, and the slower ones were splashing
like mad, wanting to push their feet under the table as soon as
any. Andy caught a cake of soap neatly in mid-air as Bert Rogers
flung it toward the prune box and forgot everything but his
“Where’s Mig?” Weary looked up from his
dinner to question him as Andy straddled the bench beside
“Coming,” said Andy, and surveyed the table
hungrily before he reached for the roast beef.
Weary was satisfied for the time being. A little later, when
the chocolate cake appeared and argument arose concerning the
size of the pieces and the possibility of talking Len into making
another just like it for supper, Weary forgot all about Miguel.
It was Andy, leaning forward to look at Slim farther down on his
side of the table, who noticed Big Medicine’s empty place
and took alarm.
“Bud, he didn’t want no dinner,” Slim
explained in his heavy, deliberate way. “That gray he rode
kinda shook him up and give ’im a headache, he said.
He’s went to lay down.”
“Mig’s in the bunk-house shaving,” said
Andy, getting up with the last of his wedge of cake in his hand.
“Come on, Weary, we better go. Them two are liable to
“You said it,” spoke up the pilgrim, whirling to
his feet like a startled cat. “Big Medicine’s been
coiled and ready to strike ever since breakfast.”
There was a loud scraping of feet on the floor, and the squawk
of bench legs moved violently, but the pilgrim was first outside,
racing across to the bunk-house. At the door he stopped and
listened, then shook his head in silent foreboding and went in,
the others treading close on his heels.
Just at first they saw nothing at all save the big, crudely
comfortable room with its beds and double-deck bunks neatly
spread with their canvas tarps over the blankets. On one of them
Big Medicine lay sprawling with his face to the wall. As the boys
stood undecided, feeling rather foolish too, if the truth were
known, he rolled over with a jerk and sat up, glaring at them
with bloodshot eyes.
“Git outa here an’ leave me be,” he roared.
“How many more’s comin’ to grin at me like a
damned hyena? I’ll lay yuh out, by cripes! I’ll brain
the next damn man that stands over me askin’ kin he do
anything! That (thus and so) greaser—”
Weary had advanced upon him, his face set in a terrible
“In hell, where he b’longs!” growled Big
Medicine, lying back heavily. “Can’t come
grinnin’ over me—git outa here. I’ve stood
all—all I’m a goin’
Coming in out of bright sun-light as they had, the shadowed
corners were blurred blotches of shade. But Pink, leaving the
group at the door, had gone blinking to investigate the corners.
Now he exclaimed sharply and dropped to his knees in the space
between the stove and table.
“It’s Mig. He’s killed ’im!”
Pink said in a tone of hushed horror.
“No!” Weary stooped, and between them they lifted
the Native Son and laid him limp upon his bed. “Knocked
out, that’s—” The words stuck in his throat. He
stood staring stupidly at his own reddened palm and at the blood
dripping from his little finger.
“—Stood enough, by cripes!” muttered Big
Medicine, rolling glassy, bloodshot eyes vaguely toward the
stunned group. Then he heaved his big body over on its side and
lay with his face to the wall, mumbling incoherencies.
IT COULD HAVE BEEN A ROCK
This was by no means the first time the Happy Family had faced
tragic emergencies. They bathed and bandaged the Native
Son’s head, their faces composed into a frozen calm that
only betrayed the fear they hoped to hide. It was an ugly wound,
evidently caused by striking the edge of the table with a good
deal of force as he went down; which did not surprise any one,
for Big Medicine always did strike a blow like a grizzly bear. It
was clearly a case for a surgeon. Andy went up then and told J.
G. that Mig had been thrown off a bronk and busted his head open
on a rock and needed the doctor bad. Hadn’t they better
bring him up to the house? J. G. straightway damned all bronks
and yelled to the Countess to get Chip and Dell’s room
ready for Mig-u-ell right away.
So they carried the Native Son up to the White House and put
him to bed while Cal went up the trail to the flat rock and
flagged the guards up on the hill, hurrying one off to town for
help. And for the rest of that day an ominous quiet lay upon the
Once more the horses were turned out of the corral and hazed
down into the lower pasture, since no one had the heart for
riding. Before dark, Big Medicine was half led, half carried down
to the hospital tent—for they were only too familiar now
with certain premonitory symptoms. From his rambling talk they
knew pretty well what had happened. What had looked to them like
a glowering rage had been due mostly to the sickness he was
fighting off as long as possible, until at noon he was forced to
yield as his fever mounted. That was like Bud Welch, they gravely
agreed. He wouldn’t give in till the last minute, and
he’d have died before he would say a word about how he
felt, in the mood he was in after the fight.
The Native Son had gone into the bunk-house, no doubt still
determined to be “very, very good.” He had displayed
altogether too much concern over Big Medicine, who hated to be
guyed even when he was well. Miguel may have turned his back; he
certainly must have been caught completely off guard when Big
Medicine rose up and smashed him with the strength and fury born
of growing delirium. Simple. Appallingly simple—and
Big Medicine lay muttering in the tent, with spells of
shouting insane threats against the Native Son. Such times, three
men were not too many to hold him in his bed, until the doctor
came and rolled up Big Medicine’s sleeve, pressed a tiny
instrument against his arm with firm deliberation and rolled the
sleeve down again. After that, two of the boys went off to bed
for a few hours, leaving the other on guard at the bedside.
Up in the White House the Native Son lay still as a bronze
statue, his heavy black lashes painting a deeper shadow on his
tanned cheeks, his lips pressed together and showing the
beginning of a smile at the corners. But on his forehead, white
where his silver-banded sombrero had kept off the sun, there lay
a frown which gave to his whole face a troubled look of pain in
spite of his half-smiling lips.
Hour after hour he had lain like that. The doctor came at
dark, watched him for awhile with trained fingers on
Miguel’s quiet wrist; examined the wound on his head,
readjusted the bandage and studied his face again.
“Been fighting, hasn’t he?” He leaned and
passed his fingers over some abrasions on Miguel’s cheeks.
“He could have got that injury in a fight—”
“There’s been no trouble at all,” J. G. told
him testily. “It’s hard on them boys, bein’
penned in this coulee in round-up time. Winter, it wouldn’t
be so bad. They’re always scufflin’ and raisin’
the devil, but there’s been no fightin’. That was
done on a rock. They been ridin’ bronks.”
“We-ell, it could have been a rock. Too bad you’re
all under quarantine here. This man should be in a hospital. If
he lived to get there. As matters stand—”
Andy Green and Weary, listening outside the door, turned and
tiptoed out to the porch. For half an hour they sat there
dragging their boot-heels aimlessly along little trenches they
had dug, but neither spoke a word. Their jaws were clamped
tightly together and their eyes stared unseeingly at the
Ages passed. Then the door behind them opened, flooding them
with lamplight. They jumped to their feet and turned, searching
the Old Man’s haggard face. Pink, coming up from the tent,
stood just outside the zone of light, listening. The Old Man did
not say much. The doctor was doing all he could. Weary had better
come inside where they could use him if necessary. Andy was to
see that the message the Old Man held out to him was sent off
right away. Pink the Old Man did not see at all.
So Andy jumped on a horse standing saddled before the
bunk-house, took the lantern Pink lighted for him and went
galloping up the hill to the flat rock. There he waved and
shouted until a guard rode down and dismounted at a safe
distance. By the light of the lantern Andy read the message,
which the guard wrote painstakingly in a notebook which he put
away in his pocket.
“Mig must be pretty bad off,” he remarked
tentatively, reaching for the bridle reins. “Funny. I was
watching that bronk-riding through my glasses. I never seen Mig
“That’s the worst of them field glasses,”
Andy told him indifferently. “They don’t show half
that goes on.” And he added, by way of a hint, “How
long’ll it take you to get that wire sent? Doc wants that
surgeon to catch the ’leven-twenty outa Great Falls. That
oughta put him here’t the ranch before noon
“Yeah, that’s right. I’ll take it in
m’self. Say, I been wonderin’ why none of us fellers
seen you packin’ Mig up from the corral. That’s
“Who said we packed him outa the corral? As it happens,
Mig walked as far as the bunk-house before he passed out.
Nothin’ funny about that, is there? And I’d hit for
town if I was you and get that wire sent off. Wouldn’t do
any harm to give Gordon a coupla minutes to catch that
There was a certain menace in Andy’s tone. The guard
gathered up his reins and thrust his toe in the stirrup.
“Yeah, I’ll hit the high spots, all right. Say,
Bud’s pretty bad too, ain’t he?”
“Worst case we’ve had so far. You sure seem to
keep tabs on what goes on down our way,” said Andy with
grim irony. “Any other little thing you’d like to
know, Ed, I’ll tell yuh when you bring Doc Gordon down the
hill. But if you’re the cause of him missin’ that
train I’ll just about kill yuh.”
“Oh, all right, all right,” Ed gruffly placated
him as he swung to the saddle. “I got over four hours.
Plenty time. You sure do manage to keep the road hot between here
and town, I’ll say that much.”
“But don’t say any more. Ride!”
The guard rode to some purpose. Well before noon a livery
horse came tearing down the hill, and in the saddle, riding with
the sureness of any cowboy on the range, came a tall, fair-haired
Scot whose skill seemed greater to the Happy Family than the
miracles of old. They did not go quite so far as to declare he
could call the soul back into a dead body, but short of that,
they were willing to back him in whatever he chose to do. They
hailed him with subdued shouts of welcome and they grinned and
reached for their sacks of Bull Durham while they watched him
take the White House steps in one long springing stride. Over and
over they assured one another that it was all right now. Nothing
to worry about; Mig would be on his feet in no time. Doc Gordon
was on the job.
For the rest of that day and through most of the night he
remained on the job; so much so that the Happy Family grew
long-faced and silent, sticking close to the bunk-house where
they could see the doctor the minute he stepped outside. Only
once did he leave the house and that was to make a hurried trip
to the hospital tent in a cast-off suit of Weary’s. The
Happy Family—or the miserable few that were left
unscathed—watched him go by without a word. In silence they
waited for his return and they tried to read his face as he
hurried past them to the White House again. They were not the
first to gaze anxiously into the inscrutable face of that great
surgeon, gleaning no more than a vague hope that all would be
Then Weary came and dropped down on his heels beside them to
snatch a smoke and give them what comfort he could.
“Bud’s pretty sick,” he said in the flat
tone of repressed emotion. “I told Gordon the straight of
it. I had to. You couldn’t fool him with that rock
story. He won’t say anything, though.”
“How’s Mig?” Three voices uttered that
“Well—I don’t know, boys. Gordon don’t
know himself. He’s doing all that’s humanly possible
and he won’t leave till he’s satisfied—one way
or the other.” He smoked through a long and heavy silence,
then roused himself and divulged certain gruesome details for
“Mamma, that man’s sure a wizard! Know what he
done? He took a little small dew-dad from his grip and went at
Mig’s head like he was working out his poll tax on a bad
stretch of road. You know that long dent in his head?
Mig’s, I mean. Honest, boys, Gordon just cocked one eye
down at Mig to see if he made a move, and he got busy like
you’d pry a rock outa the ground. Lifted up a piece of
skull darn near as wide as my two fingers. I was standin’
right there with a towel over my face so I wouldn’t breathe
germs or anything onto Mig—and him living with smallpox
under his nose for over two weeks!—and mamma! I could look
right into Mig’s head and see his brains!”
“Oh, shut up!” gasped Bert Rogers, looking
“No, but honest! It wasn’t so bad. He sure done a
neat job. And the way Gordon grinned when Mig opened his eyes and
kinda walled them around (like a baby sizin’ things up in a
strange place), it’s a cinch that was a good sign. But he
passed out again right away and he ain’t made a move since.
Gordon says the next few hours oughta tell the tale.”
“If he don’t get over it,” speculated the
pilgrim, “our friend Big Medicine will be in all kinds of a
“Not on your life,” Weary stated firmly. “He
wasn’t responsible—and anyway, Mig got hurt
ridin’ a bronk. You don’t want to overlook that fact,
any of you; not in public, anyway. Gordon told me Bud has been
sick longer than we had any idea of and that’s what made
him so mean and touchy. Packing Nameless in to the ranch was
quite a strain on him and I guess Big Medicine has had pains and
aches he never would own up to. Then this last deal, coming on
top of everything else—Gordon said it was a wonder to him
how Bud kept going all this while. The last day or so he was
liable to do or say most anything.”
“We don’t need a doctor to tell us that,”
Andy put in with some bitterness.
“No, but we sure might need him to protect Big Medicine
if—well, if Mig don’t pull through.” Weary
looked gravely from one to the other. “We’re all
together here, the only ones that know just what took place. We
ain’t kids. We’ve always hung together when it came
right to a showdown, and we will now. Bert, you’re one of
the bunch, even if you ain’t on the Flying U payroll. And
Nameless, you owe Big Medicine a debt you might be called on to
pay before we’re through. Gordon says, no matter what was
the name of the object that caved in Mig’s skull that way,
he got that injury by accident. We stick to the story Andy told
“And what about Big Medicine, blatherin’ the whole
thing down there in the tent, right before Bing?” Pink
demanded. “Old Patsy’s all right, and so is Happy;
but to tell you the truth, I don’t go so much on
“Bud’s plumb outa his head,” Weary pointed
out. “All he has said could apply to that fight we all got
into. And when he gets over this,” he added meaningly,
“I sure hope he forgets all about it and that
nobody’ll ever tell him.”
There was a silence made uneasy by their anxious thoughts.
“Oh, well,” said Pink at last, with a forced
cheerfulness, “No use crossing that bridge now. I’m
as sure as that I’m setting here that it’ll turn out
all right.” His glance strayed wistfully toward the house.
“Nothing like that’ll happen to our Native
From the heart of every man there rose a silent amen.
THE NATIVE SON
One day in the middle of July (time and events having moved
steadily forward as they have always done in obedience to cosmic
law), a pathetically handsome shadow of the Native Son walked
with the slow circumspection of a convalescent into the White
House living room and asked the Little Doctor if she supposed
Andy Green was anywhere around the place.
It happened to be early in the afternoon of a blistering
Sunday. It was so hot the chickens wallowed low on their
wishbones in the moist hollows they had scratched under the
willows. On such a day no man was likely to exert himself more
than was necessary, and the Little Doctor hoisted her oldest
umbrella and walked in the shade of it to fetch Andy from the
“And the rest of you boys better stay put,” she
advised in the pleasingly dictatorial tone which she assumed
sometimes when it seemed best that earnestness should parade as a
joke. “Miguel’s enough of a job as it is. I’ll
have to hobble him to hold him any longer. He’s been trying
to break back into the herd ever since I let him put his boots
“Why don’t yuh hog-tie ’im?” suggested
Happy Jack, whose complexion was still somewhat mottled but whose
nature remained unchanged by the ordeal he had come through.
“Well, he’s got to learn to use his legs again
sometime, you know. If you all behave yourselves and keep away
from him except when you’re invited, I’ll maybe
promote him to the bunk-house in a week or so. Come on, Andy.
Miguel isn’t the most patient man in the world.”
So Andy took the old umbrella—two of its ribs thrust
shamelessly out into the hot sun-light—and escorted the
Little Doctor back to the house. And presently he and the Native
Son were reclining at ease on a quilt spread under a cottonwood
down by the creek behind the house, out of sight and hearing of
every one on the ranch. One of the Little Doctor’s biggest
and softest sofa cushions was crushed behind the Native
Son’s head and shoulders, and even Andy was conscious of an
odd thrill at the sheer beauty of Miguel’s face, thinned by
illness, and the wistful languor of his soft brown eyes shining
between their heavy fringe of black curled lashes. Andy almost
laughed aloud at the incongruity of Miguel’s first words,
they were so unlike the picture he made.
“Say, you aren’t packing anything on your hip, are
you, Andy?” He raised his mournful brown eyes for a hopeful
glance. “Dios! I’d give my best boots for a
quart of Metropole right now.”
“You’re darned lucky to be alive,” Andy
pointed out, smothering a laugh.
“If you call it living.” Miguel’s melodious
voice was charged with sarcasm. “Milk three times a day,
custard and coddled egg. Laying me cold with his six-gun is
nothing to what I’ve got chalked up against Big Medicine
for letting me in for all this granny grub they’ve been
feeding me. Dios! I never want to see a cow again as long
as I live. Milk toast!” The Native Son spat eloquently.
“I’m afraid to open my mouth for fear I’ll
cackle. Sure there’s no whisky on the ranch,
“It’s a cinch there ain’t,” Andy told
him regretfully. “Nobody’s been to town since the
middle of the week. Happy brought out a bottle then, but it sure
lasted quick. We had a hell of a drouth, remember. It’ll
take about all summer to get soaked up so we’ll hold water
again. Why, Slim run acrost the empty bottle last night and went
to chewin’ the cork. Nope, there ain’t a drop on the
ranch, you can bank on that.”
“Baw-aw-aw!” groaned the Native Son in whimsical
disgust. “Roll me a smoke then.” Looking like a
picture of the angel Gabriel, the Native Son lay back at languid
ease until he might enjoy the forbidden luxury of a
“What’s going on, amigo?” With smoke
ribboning out from his nostrils, Miguel looked less spiritual and
much more natural. “This is the first time I’ve been
let out of the corral, so I haven’t had a chance to talk to
any of you fellows. There’s always been a woman somewhere
within hearing. Little Red Loco has been faithful
as—” He slanted a glance at Andy and blew three smoke
rings from his smiling lips.
“Yeah, I heard about Myrt sticking right by you. I
heard—is it a fact that you’re engaged to
“Why do you ask that, amigo?”
“Because I wanted to find out,” Andy retorted
bluntly. “Myrt’s been dropping hints
“Little Red Loco has been very sweet.”
“Yeah, I don’t doubt that a minute.” Looking
at the Native Son lying back against the cherry satin of that
cushion, Andy thought that any girl in the country would have
been sweet to so handsome a patient. “Has she gone home for
good? I noticed Bert took a couple of grips in the buggy last
night when he come after her.”
“I’m no longer in need of a nurse,” Miguel
said drily. “I’ll soon be able to ride.”
“Oh. Sure.” With a dry twig Andy began absently to
draw a map on the ground just beyond the quilt-edge.
“Before I’m turned back into the herd, I’d
like to know what’s been taking place around here. How
about it, amigo? Has Nameless decided to remember his past
Andy chuckled and rolled over to prop himself on an elbow,
facing the Native Son.
“Little things kinda come back to him now and
then,” he returned, grinning to himself. “Just enough
to get along on. He’s discovered that he’s a pretty
good runner, just lately. Him and Big Medicine ride off by
themselves most every day for a workout, as he calls it. He never
explained where he got hold of that term. They go off away from
the ranch and then Nameless gets down and runs along on foot.
Bud’s been braggin’ that Nameless can keep right at
the tail of a horse on the lope for five miles.”
“You believe that?”
“Well, I’d hate like sin to bet it wasn’t
so. Another thing, Mig—I don’t know as any of the
boys have told you this—Nameless has glommed onto the name
you gave him that last morning at breakfast. When you was so bad
there awhile back, he kinda got a sentimental streak or
something. He said you’d give him the name of Rufus Jones,
and as long as he didn’t have a name to go by, he was
goin’ to take that. When they raised the quarantine, him
and Big Medicine rode in to Dry Lake one day to try and get a
line on Nameless’ pardner that died. ’Course,
everything he had on him was burnt, and the fellow was buried
away back up on the hill by himself and a bob-wire fence built
around the grave. They said there wasn’t a thing in his
clothes to tell who he was or where he come from, so Nameless is
Rufus Jones. Compliments of Mig Rapponi.” Andy laughed.
“Slick, what I mean.”
“Me—or him?” asked the Native Son,
forgetting his college training for the moment.
“Him,” said Andy, who had never come within
gunshot of a college. “He’s playin’ according
to Hoyle, Mig. Framing to run against all comers on Labor Day,
and taking the name of Jones like he’s done, nobody’s
got any kick comin’ afterwards if they get wise to who he
“Do the boys know yet?”
“They do not.” Andy’s mouth hardened a
little. “You know how I tried to tell ’em, that night
of the big settin’. Well, I just let it ride that way.
They’re building up a fine large time for Labor Day, with
horse races, a prize fight and all the trimmings.” He
grinned. “Rufus Jones has entered for about every event,
except maybe the horse race, and I ain’t sure but what
he’ll go out for that, him against the field. Big Medicine
sure is playin’ him up strong. They’ve got
boxin’ gloves down in the bunk-house, Mig, and the bunch is
growin’ cauliflower ears a’ready, training with
Nameless; or letting him paw ’em around to get himself in
shape. And down in the saddle shed there’s a punchin’
bag that’s about wore a hole in the roof. Some darn
fool’s always takin’ a punch at it.”
“Big Medicine, I suppose, goes after it with his
gun,” drawled the Native Son.
“No he don’t—say, what gave you the idea
that he—Mig, don’t you know how you got hurt?”
Andy sat up and crossed his legs Turk fashion. He could argue
more fluently when both hands were free. “You said
something awhile back about him using his six-gun. Mig, your head
hit the table when you went down. That’s
“Was the table upset?”
“Well, no, but you probably steadied it with your
body.” Andy frowned and began rubbing the fire out of his
cigarette against a rock.
“You know that couldn’t happen. And if it
could—listen to me, Andy Green. I had taken off my hat and
was reaching up to that shelf for the shaving cup, and I was
struck from behind; with a six-shooter, I think. Big Medicine
hits like the kick of a mule, but that was no fist on my head,
amigo. I’ve been knocked down before in my life. It
was a gun. There are no blackjacks in the bunk-house.” His
smile was bitter. “It was meant to kill me and it nearly
Andy was sifting tobacco into a fresh cigarette paper, and
some was spilled before he was through. Then he looked up, his
gray eyes holding Miguel’s gaze with impelling honesty.
“Bud was batty,” he declared succinctly. “He
was talkin’ wild and scattering when we got there. You ask
Weary what Doc Gordon said about it, if you don’t want to
take my word. He said Big Medicine wasn’t responsible for
anything he said or done. And you know, Mig, I told yuh to go
slow. You was sure runnin’ him ragged with that politeness
stunt you was pullin’. You can’t hardly blame Bud,
sick as he musta been, and all that.”
“He knew what he wanted.”
“What he thought he wanted at the time. And say, Mig, if
you ain’t satisfied—if you want to get back at Big
Medicine—well, he got all that was coming to him, all
right. Did Myrt tell you?”
“Tell me what? We can find pleasanter subjects than Big
“Well, I sure thought somebody woulda told yuh.”
Andy peered doubtfully into his face. “Wait till you see
him. Mig, if you thought he was a homely cuss before, you sure
oughta see him now. His eyebrows are gone and his winkers, and
he’s as red as a gobbler’s neck. His hair has just
about all fell out, and honest, he’s pitiful to look at.
The Little Doctor says he’ll improve with time, and his
hair’ll grow back in. But if you’ve got any quarrel
with Big Medicine, forget it. That boy’s had a
“But I didn’t bring that to him. Why doesn’t
he take it out on Nameless?”
“Oh, well—” Andy flung out his hands in a
vague gesture that yet implied a great deal “—you
know Bud. He saved his life or thinks he did. And we all beefed
around so much about it that he’d die before he’d
make a holler. You oughta hear him go on now about Nameless as a
boxer and a runner and a few other things. According to him,
Nameless could step out and whip the world.”
The Native Son sagged lower against the cushions. A tired,
dreary look came into his face, as if he were remembering how
quickly Big Medicine would have boasted about his fine qualities
and achievements before the coming of this stranger. He bit his
lip, but the question in his mind nevertheless forced itself into
“And what does he say—about me?”
“You?” Andy’s glance flickered. A brown bird
restlessly hopping from twig to twig on a wild cherry bush near
by claimed his attention. “Well, you know how he is, Mig.
Stubborn as a mule. He’s sorry as hell,
“What does he say?”
“Not a word. From the time the fever left him and he
quit raving, I don’t believe he’s mentioned your name
once. When us boys talk about you, Big Medicine
listens—I’ve seen him hold a cigarette halfway to his
mouth for a minute or more, Mig, when somebody spoke about how
you’re gettin’ along. But not a yelp outa him. You
can tell by his face, though, and his eyes. Even when some of the
boys got to talkin’ about you and Myrt being engaged, he
never had a word to say about it, one way or the other. Nameless
did. Nameless grinned and said he wished you much joy.”
“Half of Big Medicine’s grudge against me was
jealousy,” Miguel recalled, as one does who broods upon
“Well, he’s give that up, I guess. He kinda shied
off from Myrt after he got well. By gracious, I don’t blame
him! I would too, if I looked the way he does. But Myrt was awful
nice to him, I’ll say that for her. Uh course, nothing
you’d need to mind,” Andy hastily interposed.
“Just nice and thoughtful, wanting to make him feel good.
And that musta took nerve. Man, oh, man, but he’s sure a
The Native Son’s expression did not change, though Andy
watched for it. His eyes were somber, his mouth unsmiling. He
stirred finally, pulled a cushion higher behind his shoulders,
reached out his hand for the cigarette Andy was on the point of
“So a few things are clear to me now,” he said
slowly, exhaling smoke through his nostrils. “Loping Larry
is still just Nameless, except that to outsiders he is Rufus
Jones. You think even Big Medicine isn’t wise!”
“I know he ain’t, Mig.”
“So he is a real dark horse. That will be interesting,
amigo, to watch how he does it.”
“My money’ll be on him; every nickel I can rake
and scrape between now and Labor Day. In Minot I was one of the
suckers that bet against him. Lord-ee, how that boy can
“And so the boys have all accepted my
“Yeah, they kinda smelled a mouse when the quarantine
was lifted and still Myrt didn’t want to leave but insisted
on staying to help nurse you. Some of the boys said then that
Myrt had really fell for your fatal beauty. And lately, when we
kinda teased her about it, she didn’t do a thing but admit
it. When’s it to be, Mig?”
“Do I look like getting married?” Miguel turned a
reproachful glance upon Andy. “Be sure of one thing,
amigo; when we have set the wedding day, you will be the
first to know about it from me.”
“Well,” Andy said with dubious optimism, “I
guess you’re old enough to pick the wife you want, Mig.
Myrt seems to be turning out better’n a fellow’d
expect. She sure has settled down a lot since you’ve been
hurt. The Little Doctor told Weary she didn’t know what
she’d of done without Myrtle. I guess—” Andy
forced a higher degree of sprightliness “—if
you’re crazy enough to tie yourself up to any woman for
life, Myrt’ll make a right nice little wife. The
bunch’ll miss yuh like the devil, Mig, but we all wish yuh
well—and all kinds of luck.”
“All kinds,” murmured the Native Son. “So
far I’ve been getting it, I think. And Nameless—has
the announcement spoiled that friendship?”
“Him and Myrt, you mean? Well, he’s kinda cooled
off; it was up to him to back down, I reckon. But they’re
friendly—sure they are. He took his medicine like he always
does, laughing and kidding Myrt. He sure is an amiable cuss. All
the deviling he’s had from the bunch, he’s never once
got upon his hind legs and made any kinda war talk. And he could
mop the earth with any one of us. No, him and Myrt are just
friendly and no more. Like all the rest of us, Mig. You
ain’t got a rival in the world that I know of.” He
hesitated, eyeing the Native Son surreptitiously. “When did
you say you two was aiming to get spliced?”
“All right, darn yuh, don’t tell if you
don’t want to. But just remember, Mig, I’m about the
best friend you’ve got in the world and I’ve got your
interests at heart. You meant it, didn’t yuh, what you said
about my being the first one you’d tell?”
Andy’s laugh could not hide the earnestness beneath it.
“All that—and more.”
Miguel’s long lashes drooped, sleep-weighted.
Andy’s mouth, opened for speech, closed in silence. He sat
back on his heels and watched while Miguel took two long winks,
forgetting to open his eyes after the last one. The lashes lay
black and thick upon his cheeks where the deep tan had lightened
to the pallor of long illness. The half-smoked cigarette slid
from his lax fingers to the quilt. Andy leaned and picked it up,
rose very slowly and went away, walking on his toes.
When he was gone the Native Son opened his eyes and lay
staring into the branches over his head.
“Friendship!” he gritted in a savage whisper.
“He never once speaks my name—not even to ask if I
will live or die. Friendship!”
Until the Little Doctor came to call him, he lay there staring
with the fixed, unseeing gaze of a dead man up into the branches;
thinking, thinking—with his handsome mouth set in the
bitter lines of poignant memory and his eyes clouded with
RUFUS RECALLS SOMETHING
Grass and weeds already grew where the hospital tent had
disappeared in flame on the last day of June, and only the
brighter patch of green and the bare flagpole marked the spot
where it had stood. Had the guards who rode along the
coulee’s rim with loaded rifles tied to their saddles
looked down upon the familiar scene in the latter part of August,
they would have observed a ranch apparently wrapped in the peace
of a well-ordered existence. They would have seen the Happy
Family ride out in the coolest hour of morning, scattering to
their various tasks of the day, and they would have seen them
loitering in the grateful shade of bunk-house or stable during
their hours of leisure.
They would have seen Rufus Jones go trotting up over the hill
in the dawn, running like a lone wolf where the land lay
emptiest, and they would have seen him wrestling like a playful
pup on the stretched canvas down beside the saddle shed, and
heard the shouted advice and jeering criticisms when his training
partner flopped with monotonous regularity upon his back and
stayed until he was released. They would have heard whoops of
laughter, loud bantering, the indistinguishable clamor of
good-natured argument. They would have ridden away,
half-enviously thinking that the Flying U sure was about the
happiest ranch in the country and that the boys who called it
home hadn’t a care in the world.
On a certain sultry afternoon the deceptive air of
friendliness and perfect peace was more than usually apparent. It
happened that Chip and the Little Doctor had driven home from Dry
Lake not more than an hour before, and the Happy Family, having
made a short day of their work, were lounging in the shade as
they loved to do, when Chip came down from the house for a
“Looks to me, Rufus, like a fine large day for you when
you go after those purses they’re hanging up in
town,” he began at once, with a quizzical twinkle in his
eyes. “They’ve boosted ’em another notch. Have
you heard the latest?”
“I don’t know—Bert Rogers was telling me
yesterday that a Swede up at a town they call Shelby has got a
notion he can wrestle. He’s coming down to show us. Hear
“I’d tell a man! He’s a holy terror, they
say. He laid ’em all on the mat in Kalispel the
“Haw-haw-haw-w-w!” chortled Big Medicine.
“Let ’im come! Let ’em all come! By
cripes, I’ll bet my next six months’ wages awn Rufus
here, ag’inst all the Swedes in the country!”
“I wouldn’t be too previous with my hard-earned
coin, if I were you, Bud,” Chip warned. “The worst is
yet to come. A couple of those Milk River outfits have thrown in
together and entered that Spokane athlete, Red Willis. He’s
been cleaning up on the Coast lately. One of the Four-Eleven boys
is a cousin of his and he got Red to promise he’d come if
they’d make it worth his while. All the Northern outfits
are backing him to the hilt.”
“The more the merrier,” Nameless quoted
“By golly, they got no right to ring in
professionals!” Slim protested loudly. “That’s
agin the rules! Nameless don’t have to go up ag’inst
Red Willis and I’ll tell ’em so.”
“What’s Dry Lake going to do about it?”
Weary wanted to know. “Fifty dollars ain’t any
inducement to a man like Red.”
“And don’t think Dry Lake isn’t wise to that
fact.” Chip looked up from tearing an infinitesimal strip
from a cigarette paper; the brown kind. “Somebody pointed
out to our leading citizens that a crowd of outsiders will bring
money into the town and make up for what it lost last spring
during the smallpox scare. There was a public meeting held
Saturday night in the schoolhouse and Dry Lake decided to do
itself proud. I brought a revised list of events and purses, if
any one’s interested.” His drawl emphasized the irony
of the last phrase.
“If they go t’ work and change everything around
and ring in champeens on us, all bets is off and I’ll tell
’em so,” Slim declared, his worried gaze going to the
paper and then to Nameless, who was reading it with Big Medicine,
Cal and Pink looking over his shoulder. “They needn’t
think they can run any such a rannigan on me, by golly. I
wouldn’t stand for it a holy minute, Nameless. What you
better do is ride in there and tell ’em where they get off
“Only somehow I don’t care how many champs they
run in on me. I may not be so good, but I’m willing to bet
I can give ’em a run for their money. Who is this Red
With much elaboration they told him, and their distaste for
Red’s presence on Labor Day increased with every victory of
his that they recalled. They did not belittle his achievements,
and Nameless listened with a half smile. Moreover, they told him
just why the boys up on Milk River would give the shirt off their
backs for a chance to ride home with good Flying U dollars
jingling in their pockets. It had to do with the last horse races
held at Malta, the year before.
“Yeah, them geezers from Milk River has been
waitin’ for a chance to git back at us,” Slim put in.
“We rode in there and cleaned the crowd.” He
thereupon repeated all the intricate details of the cleaning
process, and even enumerated the luxuries indulged in afterwards
by the Happy Family during an orgy of buying leather goods
displayed in the latest Sears Roebuck catalogue.
To all of this and more did Nameless listen and still his face
showed no concern. For the third time he read the rules
officially adopted by the committee on sports and laughed as he
handed the paper back to Chip.
“Fine and dandy. It’s free for all and that suits
me fine. Of course,” he modestly conceded, “this
Spokane lad may be all he’s cracked up to be and he may
beat me to a frazzle. Still—I’ll take a chance if you
fellows will. That hundred-yard dash looks good to me. Go light
on the wrestling and back me as hard as you can on that foot
race. That’s my advice.”
“Oh, we’re backing yuh,” Pink told him a bit
grudgingly. “But you must admit that Red Willis kinda puts
a different face on things. And it ain’t the money that
counts the most from now on, either. We’ve got to beat Milk
River or we’ll have to wade in afterwards and clean up the
whole outfit. I know them Northern boys from away back.
You’ve sure got your work cut out for yuh,
“Say,” demanded Big Medicine, “where’d
you git the idee that Nameless is liable to lose out? Little One,
if I didn’t know you’re good at heart I’d shore
lose my temper with you. Nameless ’ll win at a walk. Shore
he will!” His hand came down on the pilgrim’s
shoulder in an affectionate slap that would have sent some men
“He will—if Red Willis would kindly break a leg
between now and Labor Day,” Pink retorted glumly.
“That’s all right, Bud; I’m loyal as hell. But
I sure do know that Milk River bunch and how they’ll throw
it into the Flying U outfit if their man wins. Nameless is
“Shore he’s good! There ain’t nobody kin
touch ’im,” Big Medicine reiterated jealously.
“Too bad he can’t remember where he learned his
stuff,” Andy hinted, glancing surreptitiously across at the
“Yeah, I sure wish I could,” Nameless regretfully
agreed. “All I can say is, I feel awful confident. When
I’m running it’s just as if I’ve done it all
before, but where or when—” He shook his head with a
look of bafflement.
“By cripes, it don’t make no difference at
all,” Big Medicine declared, with a challenging look
around. “You can run and you can wrassle. I’ll back
yuh agin all comers, whether the rest will or not.”
His glare chanced to fall upon the Native Son, whose left lid
was at that precise instant wrinkling to a wink that answered
Andy Green’s signal of amused understanding. Big
Medicine’s face froze to a look of cold ferocity. His teeth
came together with a snap that lumped the muscles along his jaw.
For the time it would take to count ten they stared into each
other’s eyes, soul speaking to soul in the wordless
language that sears deeper than speech.
Big Medicine’s eyes were the first to flicker and turn
away. The Native Son lifted his shoulders in the shrug that could
mean so much or so little. With infinite calm he pushed the ash
from his cigarette with a negligent finger which supported a ring
with a large round moonstone setting, turned and sauntered down
toward the corrals. It was significant that no one called after
him or gave any sign. The Happy Family were holding themselves to
a rigid neutrality that did not permit so much as a glance of
recognition. But presently Andy also detached himself from the
group and followed.
Miguel was standing by the corral gate, one hand upon the
chain. But he had made no move to unhook its fastening. He was
bowed forward, his forehead resting against his wrist.
“It’s me, Mig,” Andy announced himself
softly, when his footsteps brought Miguel up with a start.
“And what do you want?” The Native Son’s
voice was coldly defensive.
“Oh, nothing. Just got tired of all that
chin-whackin’ up there.” He waited for a minute.
“What’s the matter? If yuh don’t feel
“I’m all right. You know what it is. I’m
going away. If I don’t—” Miguel’s teeth
ground together with an audible sound. And suddenly all the cold
repression of the weeks just past gave way before a tumult of
“Why does he hate me so? You tell me he is sorry, but if
looks could kill—And we were friends. No matter if we did
torment each other and quarrel now and then, we were like
brothers. Under all the joshing and the hard words we were
friends. I would fight for him—A man doesn’t talk of
those things, but we know. All of us against the world, if that
is how it comes. Compadres. Pals. And why—You say he
is sorry. You say it eats into his heart that he came so close to
“I would forgive that, because I was very much to blame.
I said the things I knew would hurt the most. But not to make any
man do murder. Not to make him hate me more because he failed to
kill. When I came down among you again, it was as if I did not
exist. One look he gave me and turned away his face. Not one word
has he spoken—”
“Yeah, and not a word have you said to him, Mig. You got
to see his side too.” Andy hesitated, choosing his words
with care. “Up there, just now—I saw the whole play.
You and me was giving each other the wink, you remember, on
account of what we know about Nameless. Big Medicine, he’s
kinda hot under the collar because it looks like the bunch is
beginning to get cold feet. He’s declared himself and looks
around to see what effect he’s having; and what does he see
but you, giving me the wink.
“Figure it out yourself, Mig. Wouldn’t you have
thought it was on you—puttin’ yourself in Bud’s
place? And that ain’t the first time you’ve got each
other wrong.” Andy’s forehead was drawn into three
deep wrinkles between his eyes. “If you two could get
together and thrash it out—”
“It would be with guns. No other way. And I have taken
his black looks—or no looks at all, which is
worse—because a little while ago he was my friend. But I
warn you, amigo, I had better go now, before the shooting
“Ah, forget it, Mig! Stay and clean up a wad of money
before yuh go, anyway. Gosh, we can’t allow any
strayin’ away from the herd now, doggone yuh! We’ll
need you to help set that Milk River crowd in their places. You
wouldn’t throw us down now, would you? Even with Bert and
Bing and Joe Meeker, they’ll be almost two to one. Of
course,” he artfully conceded, “no one can stop you,
if you’re dead set on going, but it sure wouldn’t set
very well with the boys to have one of us crawl out right at the
last minute. We’ve always been kinda accustomed to
hangin’ together. And if we had any little hard feelings
amongst ourselves, we sure didn’t peddle the news to
outsiders. We kept it private and turned a solid front to the
The Native Son was exceedingly busy at that moment, pulling a
splinter off the rail he leaned his shoulder against. His big hat
shielded his face from view and he neither looked up nor made any
reply, though Andy waited for a full minute.
“Of course,” he repeated his most cutting remark,
“no one can stop you. You’re a free moral agent and
you’ll do as you damn’ please. If your own personal
feelings means more to yuh than the reputation this
outfit’s got for sticking together, go ahead. Irish,”
he added with caustic emphasis, “is comin’ on the
run. He wrote Chip he’d be here by next Sunday, with every
dollar he could beg, borrow or steal, and he’d bet on our
man sight unseen. He said he had some friends that are pretty
good scrappers and he’ll try and bring ’em along so
as to insure a square deal for our man. And that,” he made
biting comment, “is what we call sticking together. But of
He got no further, for Miguel was cursing him in two languages
and his vocabulary was not limited in either. Andy was grinning
from ear to ear when a great clamor arose at the bunk-house. From
the sounds, the Happy Family had suddenly become uproariously
drunk or they were already celebrating some unbelievable victory.
Andy’s fingers clamped down on the Native Son’s
“You tell me the rest some other time, Mig. Let’s
go see what all’s happened up there.”
“But if you ever again so much as hint to me that I am
capable of disloyalty—”
“Forget it, Mig, and come on! Holy smoke, would yuh
listen to that!”
As they neared the corner of the shed, the tumult roared
around it, sweeping them back with the resistless push of an
ocean roller. Yip-yipping like a war party of Sioux, the Happy
Family bore Nameless aloft upon their shoulders. Snatches of
sentences detached themselves from the clamor.
“Hey, Mig! Andy! Rufus got to huntin’
“Boys! Lookit what Nameless—”
“Bring on your champs, by golly!”
“Calm down, you hyenas! Let Nameless—”
“Rufus, you tell ’em!”
They stood the pilgrim upon his own feet, shoved him forward
to face Andy and Miguel and hushed their noise that they might
drink in with avid interest the incredible story he had to
LOPING LARRY JONES
With his face aglow and his Irish eyes dancing with
excitement, Nameless stood waving before their astonished faces a
full page torn from an old magazine published in
California—if the printed line at the top meant anything.
In the center of the wrinkled and weather-stained sheet a large
and rather well done picture stared out at them. The figure was
clad in running trunks and bore a startling resemblance to
“I was hunting a gold pencil that was in my grip,”
he explained breathlessly. “The darn thing slid to the
bottom and I was feeling around for it when it slipped through a
lining I never noticed before. I was feeling in there after it
and I pulled out this!”
“Well, whadda-yuh-know-about-that!” exclaimed
Andy, nudging the Native Son with his elbow, as his fingers
closed upon the proffered paper.
“It all come back to me in a flash, soon as I looked at
that picture of me,” Nameless cried eagerly. “Larry
Jones—yuh know,” he interrupted himself to send an
inclusive glance around the group. “I thought it was kinda
funny, the feeling that come over me when Mig said Jones was a
good name for me. It’s a fact, I felt goose-pimply for a
minute. Larry Jones.” He savored the name with mind
and tongue. “Loping Larry, they called me—it’s
there in that piece. I remember it now.”
“No!” cried Andy again, in the tone a good
elocution teacher would use to illustrate astonishment.
“I sure do. Of course,” Nameless hedged
cautiously, “it ain’t all clear to me. What
that piece says I know is true, but I can’t seem to
“Remember runnin’ a race three years ago in Minot,
South Dakota?” Andy’s steady gray eyes watched him
“Why—no, I don’t.” Loping
Larry’s eyes were as wide-open and as honest as Andy
“I kinda thought you wouldn’t,” Andy told
“We’ve got to keep this quiet,” Pink
insisted. “If a word of this leaks out so that Milk River
bunch gets hold of it—”
“Oh, mamma!” sighed Weary, visioning disaster.
“No reason why it should leak out,” Chip stated
definitely. “They’ve got their champ corralled and
we’ve got ours. It’s a stand-off and they can’t
holler if they get trimmed.”
Pink, having been jostled in the excitement, found himself
standing alongside Andy Green. In the center of the group Big
Medicine was vociferously proclaiming his sentiments to the world
and Pink chanced to observe a peculiar look of secret mirth on
“Say, don’t you realize what this means to
us?” Pink demanded in a reproachful voice. “Read that
record over again.”
“No, I don’t have to,” Andy refused, vainly
trying to pull his twitching mouth straight.
“Well, what’re you grinning so sarcastic
about?” challenged Pink. “Look at that picture.
Loping Larry Jones. Ain’t it the dead image of
“Sure, it is,” Andy admitted, with another secret
nudge for the Native Son.
“Well, damn it, wipe off that grin!” Pink’s
eyes were stormy.
“Who, me? I’m waitin’ till I win back that
forty dollars I lost on Loping Larry in Minot, three years
ago,” Andy drawled.
“Lost on him? Nameless?”
“I wanta tell yuh I did!” Andy handed back the
paper with the weary air of a man whose wisdom goes far, far
beyond his fellows and is therefore useless for his immediate
purpose. It pleased him to see the abrupt change in the faces of
the Happy Family.
“It’s darned funny,” snarled Pink,
“that this is the first we’ve heard of it.”
“Well,” Andy was taking his time and enjoying
every second of it, “that was what I kept trying to tell
you boneheads away back in the middle of May. Mig and I have been
wise to him all the time. I tried my best, but no, you smart
Alecks thought you knew it all and then some.”
“Aw, gwan!” growled Happy Jack. “I betcha
you never knowed a thing about ’im, any more’n what
we did. Ain’t that right, Mig?”
“On the evening before—I fell off a horse and hit
my head on a rock,” said Miguel deliberately, “while
we were taking a ride together, Andy told me how he lost forty
dollars on the foot race in Minot, three years ago. He said that
Nameless is Loping Larry. He remembered by the whistling.”
His languid gaze went around the group, flicking Big
Medicine’s face with a glance that stung. “He asks me
to say nothing. I have my little joke next morning with the name,
and we laugh together because we have a secret. Then I
have—the accident. I have not told, because it is
Andy’s secret joke. And me—I do not betray my
friend.” He looked full at Big Medicine, whose face turned
a deep magenta shade. “As to the money—”
“By gracious, it’s a fact,” Andy broke in.
“I sure did lose money on that race. For-ty dollars. Just
like that. I oughta know.”
“Why, damn your picture,” Nameless shouted in a
sudden betraying fury, “that’s a lie and I can prove
it! I won that race in Minot. At a walk.
“Oh,” said Andy, grinning delightedly.
“It’s comin’ back to yuh, is it?”
“When you say Minot, I—I kinda remember winning a
race there.” Nameless stepped back, drawing his hand slowly
across his eyes. “I know I won.”
“Why, sure you won.” Andy looked innocently around
at the blank faces of the Happy Family. “To my sorrow. I
was drunk as a boiled owl that day. I lost forty dollars
bettin’ on the other fella.”
“Haw-haw-haw-w-w!” bellowed Big Medicine,
moving aside so that his face was hidden from the Native Son.
“Bettin’ agin Loping Larry is jest throwin’
money away. I told yuh all the time—”
“What we won’t do to that Milk River bunch!”
dimpled Pink. “You know, Larry—”
“Say, can that Larry stuff,” Nameless protested
earnestly. “I’m Rufus Jones or Nameless—either
one. But don’t stub your toe, anybody, and call me Larry.
Wouldn’t you say so, Chip?”
“I certainly would. That outfit up north is importing
the present champion on the Coast, which is stretching a point so
fine the Labor Day committee had to get busy and frame new rules
to let him in. They’re turning an amateur sport into a
money-making performance, because they know Red Willis will draw
a crowd down from Benton and Havre—and even Great Falls is
going to be represented, they tell me. So—”
“They’d come a heap farther and a darn sight
faster to see Loping Larry,” Big Medicine could not refrain
from boasting at the top of his voice.
“Only they don’t know it,” Weary pointed
out. “You’ll have to tie a saddle string around
Bud’s nose so he won’t whinny and give us all
away,” he added soberly.
“Shore is a lucky deal for us,” Slim declared with
ponderous emphasis, as if he had just that instant discovered the
fact. “We got t’ keep it dark, by golly.”
“Well,” said Pink, his dimples standing deep in
both cheeks, “now you mention it, Slim, I believe it would
be a good idea.”
“They’re pretty sure to get wise when they see
him,” Weary told them. “Didn’t you ever go up
against Red Willis, Rufus?”
“I—don’t know. It doesn’t mention him
in that piece, does it?” Nameless looked distressed.
“It’s a darn shame, boys. I wish I could remember
everything, but it seems as though the best I can do
is—well, recognize a fact when it’s pointed out to
me. It’s like trying to remember a name you’ve
forgotten. You know—you rack your brain and it just
won’t come. You think till you’re black in the face
and then somebody says it for you and—well, there it is.
You could kick yourself for not knowing it all the time. Red
Willis sounds awful familiar, somehow, but all I get outa the
name is a feeling that I ain’t the least bit worried over
him. I feel like it’s a cinch in the hundred-yard dash.
When it comes to wrestling, though—well, I don’t feel
quite so sure about it. I’ve kinda got a hunch I’ll
have my work cut out for me. That man Red
“Well, here. Let’s figure this thing out,”
Chip proposed, squatting down on his heels with the article on
the ground and the butt end of a dried weed in his fingers. With
a scrape of his palm he smoothed a place in the dust and poised
his weed like a pencil.
“Red Willis has been in the game about five years,
hasn’t he? Mig, you came from the Coast—” Chip
pushed back his gray hat and looked up.
”Willis was just beginning to be talked about when I
left,” said the Native Son, moving aside to be farther from
Big Medicine before he went down on one knee beside Chip.
”That was nearly six years ago. Some time I spent in
Arizona and Wyoming before I came here.
“Six years ago, Rufus, you were maybe matched against
him somewhere. Can’t you remember anything back that
“No, I’m afraid I can’t,” said
Nameless. “Let’s see that piece again. This might be
that old, don’t you think? But there’s nothing about
Red Willis in it. According to this, I was some punkins at one
time, and Mig says Red was making a name for himself too. There
ought to be some mention of him here.” He tossed the page
down in front of Chip and got to his feet as if he were tired of
the discussion. “What’s the diff?” he cried
impatiently. “Six years ago ain’t now. Athletes break
fast, sometimes. If he was such a much he wouldn’t come to
Dry Lake to settle the hash of some hick, not even if his cousin
did ask it as a favor.”
“His record—” began Chip, but Nameless
interrupted him with a shade of arrogance.
“Well, my record ain’t to be sneezed at,
either. You’ve got it there in black and white. If that
ain’t good enough, I’ll back down from the whole darn
works. You’ve found out who I am. Now you can suit
It suited the Happy Family to bet every two-bit piece they had
in the world on Rufus Jones. That old write-up of Loping Larry
was read into rags. Even Slim the slow-witted had conned it so
often that he could—and did—repeat entire paragraphs
of unstinted adulation. Irish, that turbulent cousin of
Weary’s who looked enough like him to be his twin, and
whose entire mental make-up denied the physical likeness, came
galloping in great haste to the ranch, curious to know what dark
horse was concealed there.
Irish brought news from across the big river. Most of the boys
over on the Shonkin and the Musselshell were coming, he reported.
News of Red Willis and the Swede from Shelby had spread into the
most remote ranges. It was going to be a wonderful chance to see
those two in action without having to pay for admission, and
while he had heard some mild speculation concerning the man said
to be entered by the Flying U outfit, without a doubt those other
two were the big drawing cards. The kernel of his talk was what
interested the Happy Family, however. Dry Lake would have the
biggest crowd in its range history.
The days seemed to fly in a flock. Pink (who as every one knew
hailed from the Northern ranges and had even been known as Milk
River Pink until the name dropped from him at the Flying U) sent
offensive challenging messages to the Four Eleven boys and hoped
they would be repeated to other outfits. Which they were, with
embellishments that would have pleased Pink enormously if he had
Nameless walked with a more perceptible swing to his
shoulders, a more pantherish freedom in his hips. More than ever
his head held its haughty poise of conscious superiority, his
eyes looked out upon his world with cool indifference to any
opinion save his own. Big Medicine’s abject worship he took
as his common right and the open admiration of the rest of the
Happy Family he received with careless condescension.
He took no orders from any man and advice he waved aside as
the meddlesome enthusiasm of the amateur. Loping Larry Jones
would have the Happy Family understand that he knew the athletic
game as they knew the trail from bunk-house to corral. According
to that magazine article, he was the only consistent ten-second
sprinter in America—or he had been at the time the article
was written. He could be depended upon to high-jump within a
fraction of an inch of six feet, and it had taken the
middleweight champion wrestler of America to put him three points
down that season. For almost a year he had held the broad-jump
record, but it was as a sprinter that he was expected to make a
shining mark in the athletic world.
In other words, Loping Larry Jones was so good that it would
have been foolish for him to pretend a diffidence in recognizing
his goodness. Or so it apparently seemed to him.
Suddenly he displayed temperamental moods. It got his goat to
have Big Medicine always tagging him whenever he left the coulee
for a workout on the road. No need to hold a watch on him any
more—they all knew what time he was making. Hell,
didn’t that piece say he was the most consistent sprinter
in the game? He could train better alone. He seemed to remember
that it always did make him nervous to have some darn trainer
grannying around after him.
So when he pulled on his trunks in the gray dawn and laced his
spike shoes which Chip had got for him, Nameless was free from
espionage, however friendly it might be. He had a favorite
stretch of road running west across the prairie for exactly six
miles before it dipped into a thickly wooded draw, and up the
hill and along this level stretch he would trot each morning,
coming in to his training breakfast of toast, soft-boiled eggs
and milk long after the boys had eaten and gone about their
One morning less than a week before Labor Day he failed to
appear at his usual time, and Big Medicine, worried as a young
mother whose child has run away, rode up to see what was the
matter. In a remarkably short time he rode home again, glum and
spiritless; but all he would say was that Nameless was all right.
The Happy Family wondered, but they were wise enough to keep
their conjectures to themselves until Loping Larry came trotting
down the hill like a wolf coming late home from the hunt.
“Gittin’ swelled head,” grumbled Slim, who
hated to see Big Medicine snubbed by his idol.
“Well, it ain’t his head we’re bettin’
on; it’s his heels,” Cal told him philosophically.
“Champs is always stuck on theirselves. You never seen any
“Yeah,” grinned Andy, who had overheard the
dialogue. “Don’t let that bother yuh, Slim. Rufus is
only actin’ normal. There ain’t a thing in the world
to worry about. What I’ve seen of his workouts is better
than he was on the track in Minot three years ago. He ain’t
lost a thing, far as I can see. After it’s all over and the
dust settles, you’ll have more money than you ever saw in
“Well, by golly, Bud wouldn’t stand fer it in
anybody else. Lookit the way he treats Mig, here. And then he
lets Nameless treat him like a dog,” Slim growled,
unappeased. “By golly, I c’n hardly keep from
takin’ a crack at him myself, the way he cold-shoulders Bud
half the time.”
“Yeah, he does act like Big Medicine was his hired man
that wasn’t worth his wages,” Andy cheerfully
admitted. “But you want to recollect that Bud brought it on
himself. I’ve always noticed that if yuh lay down and play
doormat, some darn chump ’ll wipe his feet on yuh, sure as
the world. You can’t blame Nameless, when Big Medicine has
wrote welcome all over himself.” He lifted his hat to cool
his forehead, then waved toward the temporary, open-air gym which
Nameless had ordered set up under the cottonwood where the
hospital tent had stood last spring.
“Look at him go over that bar, would yuh! Wings sure
wouldn’t be any advantage to that bird.”
“Nevertheless, that bird will need to fly,”
declared the Native Son, who had just ridden in from a visit to
the Rogers ranch—his little patch of red loco, he
called the place where Myrtle still lingered. “Bert was
talking with a rider from up near Havre. They’re claiming
up on Milk River that Red Willis is doing his sprinting at ten
seconds and less. He’s at the Four Eleven now, training for
the race. Rufus will not let any one see him run, lately. I do
not understand that bird of yours, amigo.” He looked
at Andy across the back of his horse as he loosened the cinch.
“One cannot have a honeymoon without money and my
dinero is all of it fastened to the heels of our dark
“He’ll come loping home with it, Mig; don’t
The Native Son lifted off saddle and blanket together and
turned with them toward the shed.
“Quien sabe?” he flung back over his
shoulder. “I should very much like to see that hombre
sprint in earnest.”
“You wait,” said Andy sententiously. “You
will, all right.”
Thus, for not the first time in his unregenerate life Andy
Green rose to the high plane of prophecy.
LEN LEARNS SEVERAL THINGS
The proprietor of the Palace Hotel in Dry Lake was a canny
soul who realized that, while crowds might once or twice a year
fill his hostelry until the walls bulged outward, any real and
lasting prosperity depended upon the friendship of his neighbors.
Come who would to clamor for meals and lodging, always one table
in his big square dining room was reserved for local guests. And
at the end of the long narrow hall which divided the second story
into two equal parts, six rooms were set apart for those who came
in from the ranches on dance nights or for celebrations such as
this particular Labor Day would furnish. Came they early or came
they late, the women were sure of a room to rest in and to dress
in their best; to leave wraps and parcels and to snatch a little
sleep when the festivities were over and they must await the
pleasure of their escorts who were likely to linger awhile in
Rusty Brown’s Elkhorn saloon across the way before they
left for home.
For that reason the Palace Hotel was accepted as headquarters
for all range dwellers when they came to town, and that is why
Len Adams stood before the walnut-stained dresser in a room at
the end of the hall, heating her curling irons by the somewhat
primitive process of hanging them down the chimney of a bedroom
lamp. Rena Jackson and the other women had already gone up to
find seats in the makeshift grandstand built against the farther
side of the stockyards fence, facing the level stretch of road
down alongside the railroad track where the races would all be
run. Rena had loyally offered to wait, but Len had shooed her off
with the others so that Rena could save a place for her; or so
Len said. It is possible that Bert Rogers, who still lingered in
the Palace barroom, had something to do with the arrangement,
Certainly he was the unconscious cause of Len’s
last-minute decision to do her hair a different way. She had
slept in a new kind of kid curlers the night before, and now she
was not at all satisfied with the frizzes across her head. She
looked like a topknot hen, she said. Even if she missed the
potato race and the fat man’s race it didn’t matter.
She simply was not going to show up in public with her hair like
that. So here she was at the last minute heating her curling
By turning her head toward the window she could watch all that
went on in the street below. There wasn’t much passing now.
Nearly every one had already gone up to the stockyards, visible
over the roof of Rusty Brown’s Elkhorn saloon. If she
tilted her head and looked sidewise to the left, she could see
the general store up beside the railroad track, and if she craned
in the opposite direction she could glimpse the front of the
blacksmith shop at the other end of the street, and all of the
front and side of the livery stable opposite. She therefore
commanded a view of the entire town of Dry Lake with the
exception of the schoolhouse and a few small dwellings behind the
hotel. Bert Rogers had not left the barroom below; she was
absolutely certain of that, because his horse Flopper was tied to
the hitch rail beneath her window. He was going to run Flopper
later in the afternoon in the saddle-horse race, so her deduction
was fairly accurate. The Happy Family had left Rusty’s
place and ridden up to the stockyards some time ago. She would
have wondered why Bert did not go with them, except that away
down in her heart she knew well enough why. It was the same
reason almost that she had for doing her hair a different way at
the very last minute.
As she turned from the window to test the curling iron with
moistened finger tip, she heard footsteps coming up the stairs.
Not Bert’s, of course; and no other man’s steps
mattered. The frizzes were already combed out damp. She parted
off a strand of her brown hair, scrooched a little to look into
the skimpy mirror and set the tongs just right, and began the
meticulous winding of the strand upon the heated iron. So damp as
it was, her hair would need a full minute perhaps for the curl to
set. An idle minute, with nothing to do but hold the tongs steady
The footsteps were coming down the hall. Len turned her face
toward the door, idly wondering whom it could be. The thin
ingrain carpet could not deaden their sound, but the owner of the
feet was doing his best to walk silently. From the sound, Len
guessed that he was walking on his toes. And that was strange.
Whoever had business down at that end of the hall certainly had
no reason to come tiptoeing along in broad daylight. Len did not
like the idea.
Her door was not locked. She never thought of locking a door
except at night and in a strange place. She let the curl take its
chance. She slipped the iron out of its hair cocoon and went over
to stand by the door, making no sound whatever in her thin
The man was coming slowly, apparently stopping at doors to
listen. Len lifted her curling iron which was still pretty hot,
and held it ready to poke into the fellow’s face if he
opened her door. She did not believe it was any range man. The
town was full of strangers, and there had been a good deal of
drinking and excitement over the betting. Bing had said, when he
brought up her suitcase, that the town was hog-wild over the
races and the wrestling match. This might be one of the wild
ones, she thought. And she told herself grimly that he would be
wilder when she got through with him.
So far as she was concerned, it was a false alarm. At the door
next her own the footsteps halted definitely. Len waited,
expecting the other door to open, but instead she heard a faint
tapping spaced in what apparently was some prearranged signal.
Immediately a hinge creaked slightly.
“Oh, I thought you nev-er were coming!”
breathed an agitated voice she had supposed was at that moment
twittering inanities up in the grandstand. “I’ve
simply died a thou-sand deaths waiting for you!”
Mysteries always exasperated Len Adams. Myrtle Forsyth
certainly had left that room more than fifteen minutes before
with her placid aunt, Mrs. Rogers. Len had heard her go down the
hall, talking in her exclamatory fashion, and she had not heard
her return; but naturally she had not listened. She had probably
been at the window watching the street and taking due note of the
fact that while the other boys mounted and rode away toward the
stockyards, Bert Rogers’ Flopper remained tied to the rail.
Well, Myrtle was certainly up to one of her sly tricks. Len
inclined her ear to the wall and listened frankly.
“I couldn’t slip away before,“ whispered a
man. (Len frowned and pressed her ear closer to the narrow crack
at the edge of her ill-fitting door. Whispers are almost
impossible to identify, as every one knows.) “I hired a
fellow to take my stuff to the depot. Are you all set to go,
Myrtle gave a suppressed giggle.
“I’m simply loaded down with clothes I was
afraid to pack. I know I must look a perfect fright with
two sets of underwear and goodness knows how many
petticoats—you’ll have to take me shopping the very
first thing. I’m going to cost you an awful
“Say, what do I care? Stay with me and you can wear
diamonds. I’ll step out of this town with enough
money—” Still that maddening whisper.
So Myrtle and the Native Son were planning to elope. Len
lowered her cooling weapon and straightened with a scornful
little smile. Miguel was such a nice boy, it seemed a shame he
was really going to waste himself on a girl like Myrtle Forsyth.
Myrt had dragged him into this sly business, Len was willing to
bet anything. She half turned to resume her hair dressing when a
sentence froze her to strained attention. With no compunction
whatever, she glued her ear to the crack and heard every word
that was spoken. It was easy enough. The Palace Hotel was a
ramshackle frame building with thin board partitions, and in that
empty upper floor the smallest sounds were audible.
The conference ended in a series of moist inarticulate sounds
that brought a surge of crimson into Len’s cheeks. She
waited until the footsteps died away down the stairs, going as
stealthily as they had come. She even heard the dining room door
open and the tread of feet across the bare floor beneath her. He
was going out the back way, and she needed no proof that he would
presently appear innocently enough on the street in the vicinity
of the blacksmith shop. Myrtle tiptoed from the next room, went
from the lower hall into the hotel parlor, just as Len expected,
and very soon was to be seen flitting across the street with her
aunt, who no doubt had been asked to wait in the parlor for her.
Mrs. Rogers was a huge, inert woman who weighed at least two
hundred pounds and never was known to exert herself more than was
absolutely necessary. She could be entirely depended upon to seat
herself in the largest patent rocker in the parlor and sway
placidly back and forth until Myrtle came for her.
While her curling iron was heating again, Len discerned
Myrtle’s simple strategy. When the iron was hot she began
to wind a strand of hair around the tongs and discovered that her
hands were shaking. By the time she had blistered her forehead in
two places she lost all interest in her hair. What difference did
it make? She would keep her hat on anyway, until after the races,
and she would have time to do her hair before supper.
Stabbing a long hatpin through her new white leghorn hat as
she went, Len fled down the stairs, and without thinking of the
unmaidenliness of it, pushed open the door to the barroom. An
hour before she would not have dreamed of doing that, but neither
would she have dreamed of laying aside her pride—some
called it stubbornness—as she was doing now.
“Oh, Mr. Rogers,” she called crisply, “may I
speak to you a moment?”
To all appearances Bert Rogers was lounging against the bar,
idly moving a mug of beer round and round in its own tracks while
he talked with the bartender. In reality he was keeping an eye on
the street as it was reflected in the bar mirror, and he was
listening for a certain footstep on the stairs beyond the door.
Yet he started with genuine astonishment when Len called him, and
in a less vital matter Len would have snubbed him unmercifully
for the blank amazement in his eyes as he hurried up to her.
“We’ve got to find the boys,” she said in a
fierce undertone, catching his arm and pulling him into the empty
dining room. “All of them—the Flying U outfit. Jump
on your horse and beat it up there and round them all up, but for
goodness’ sake don’t let on it’s anything in
particular. How can we manage it so I can talk to them without
the whole town wondering what it’s all about?”
“You want to do the talking yourself?”
Bert’s hand closed over her fingers on his arm.
“Oh, yes! I must, Bert. It—it’s got to be
handled with kid gloves—but it’s got to be
“I’ll get the bunch together and bring them down
for a drink, then. There’s plenty of time before the real
action starts; all those freak races don’t amount to
shucks. We’ll ride down in a bunch, and you be walking
along and meet us about halfway. Nobody’ll be surprised if
we stop and talk to you for a minute or two. How does that
“Fine, Bert. Beat it up there quick. I’ll keep
watch and start when I see you coming. Out there in the
open—don’t forget, will you?”
“Forget a thing you want?” Bert swept her into his
arms. “Len girl—”
Two minutes were used; neither would have called them wasted.
Then Bert was gone, and Len was left to straighten her hat and
otherwise compose herself while she waited.
Evidently the Happy Family had scattered through the crowd,
swarming beyond the stockyard wings. Len was growing very
anxious, watching the few rods of trail up by the stockyard wings
visible from the window where she stood. It seemed an hour before
the well-known group of riders appeared, Bert Rogers in the
Men headed toward cold beer on a warm day seldom took so
leisurely a pace as these. They came on at a walk. Len
straightened her new hat again, patted the damp tresses of brown
hair on her temples and hurried across the street, holding her
flounced skirt daintily out of the dust.
Six mounted cowboys reining their restive horses to an uneasy
stand before one slim girl so pretty as herself attracted more
attention than Len had anticipated. Curious glances strayed that
way and more than one straggler slowed his steps as he came near.
Len had to make the meeting a brief one and she did. A charge of
birdshot fired point-blank in their faces would scarcely have
startled the Happy Family more than her first sentence.
“Nameless has sold you boys out,” she announced
without prelude. “He’s going to throw the foot race.
That Milk River bunch has promised him the purse and half their
winnings to let Red Willis beat him, and they’ve paid him
two hundred dollars to bind the bargain. For goodness’
sake, keep your heads. If you jump him about it, he’ll lie
himself out, and so will they. You’ve got to figure out
some way to prevent it, that’s all.
“And another thing; Nameless and Myrt Forsyth are
planning to take the five o’clock train for Helena and get
married. Somebody ought to tell Miguel—only he’d try
to kill Nameless and get himself in trouble. I was—”
Len caught a warning signal in Bert Roger’s eyes, looked
the way his glance indicated, and saw two gangling youths stop to
stare open-mouthed, waiting to drink in every word that was
uttered. “I was just going to find the girls,” she
finished lightly, and caught her flounced skirt up at the side as
was the fashion of that day. “Good luck—may the best
She was gone, and with a resentful glance at the two boys, the
Happy Family rode on without a word.
HONESTY IS SLOW TO SUSPECT
“Aw, that’s just some josh of Len’s,”
Happy Jack protested uneasily. “I betcha she made that up
just to scare us fellers.”
“She did not,” Bert Rogers squelched him.
“Wherever she got it, Len believes it, all
“I ain’t a doubt in the world she fed that to us
in good faith,” Big Medicine conceded generously,
“but it’s a damn’ lie. I don’t care who
told her. Nameless is as straight a boy as ever lived.”
“I wonder,” Chip reflected aloud, “if that
happens to be Andy’s idea of a joke. I haven’t seen
him or that Native Son for the last hour or so. Maybe he sprung
that yarn on Len.”
“Not with Mig around, he wouldn’t. Not about that
trip to Helena.” Bert’s tone was positive.
“No, but Andy’s capable of saying anything. He and
Len have been pretty friendly—”
“Say, lemme tell you fellows something. Len and I have
made up. There’s nothing between her and Andy, or anybody
else. And I’ll tell you another thing; she was all upset
over this story, and wanted me to round you boys up right away,
so she could tell you. She never mentioned Andy. Besides, she
knows he’s always playing tricks. She wouldn’t fall
for anything he could tell her.”
They were by that time at the Elkhorn hitch rail, empty now of
all tie ropes save those they were swiftly looping over the rail.
Distant yells indicated the satisfactory completion of the first
event before the grandstand, a potato race for boys under
fifteen. The brass band from Havre struck up “El
Capitan” march, drowning the scattered cheering.
“Well, let’s go through the motions of a
drink,” Chip suggested. “We’ll have to get back
up there. Did she say who told her that yarn, Bert?”
“Not a word. She was going to, if them darned kids
hadn’t come along, trying to get an earful.”
“I betcha that Milk River bunch is back of this,”
Happy Jack made another guess in the dark.
Big Medicine pounced upon it.
“By cripes, you can bank awn it, there’s some
dirty work back of that tale. They want us to pull down our
money, or else force Larry off’n the track. Shore,
that’s what they’re up to! They think we’ll
swaller all that, by cripes, and won’t let ’im run.
And throwin’ that load about him takin’ the five
o’clock train with Myrt—why that there’s just
poppy-cock. He wrassles the Shelby Swede at seven. How’s he
goin’ t’ take the five o’clock train?”
Big Medicine glared from one to the other as if they were somehow
to blame for the accusation.
“You might ask him, Bud,” Chip suggested.
“By cripes, I wouldn’t insult the boy by even
mentionin’ sech a thing. Them skunks from the north is
scared, that’s all. Somebuddy’s got wise to who our
man is and they’re tryin’ to rib up trouble between
us and him.”
“Well, we’d shore be in the middle of a
damn’ bad fix if it was true, by golly.” Slim had
suddenly awakened to the portent of Len’s story. “I
got more up on that foot race than I c’n earn in a year, if
I lose. Say, where’s Nameless at? I’m goin’ to
ast him if it’s so, by golly!”
“No, you ain’t, by cripes!” On the very
steps of the saloon, Big Medicine collared Slim and held him.
“You ain’t goin’ to upset that there boy and
create hard feelin’s right when he’s got that race
awn his mind. He’s nervous as a thoroughbred hawse, by
cripes. I seen him a few minutes ago, settin’ up alone awn
the fence, away back there by the north chute. I was goin’
over to ’im but he flagged me back. He wants to be left
alone, I tell yuh. He shore feels the
responsibility—havin’ all our money awn him.
“Gee whiz, let’s go and cheer ’im up,
then!” cried Cal. “Leave ’im off there by
himself like that—it ain’t right.”
“Come have a beer on me,” said Chip, “and
then we’ve got to get back up there. Bert, you see Len and
find out where she heard that story.”
“Trace it right back, and you’ll find a Milk River
man behind it,” Big Medicine asserted loyally.
“Nameless couldn’t pull off a thing like that if he
wanted to. He ain’t been outa my sight all day.”
Which only proves how honest a man may be and yet be far away
from the truth.
They rode back to the field and found Andy, Miguel, Pink and
Weary roosting in a row on top of the fence, enjoying themselves
hugely with a buggy full of girls from the Marias country in the
shade just below them. Just far enough apart from the group to
give him an air of aloofness, Nameless was perched on a wide
plank, watching all that went on. He waved a negligent
acknowledgment of their hail, but his manner did not invite
company, so they left him to himself. There was nothing wrong
with Nameless; any one of them would have been willing to bet on
his loyalty as they had on his speed.
Len Adams, too, was plainly visible but for the moment quite
unattainable. Bert presently discovered her sitting near the top
of the grandstand, with the Little Doctor on one side and Myrtle
on the other, and all three were engaged in animated
conversation. Rena sat just below Len, making a lively
Bert was some time in catching Len’s glance, and when he
had succeeded it did him no good. To his beckoning she merely
shook her head and remained where she was, entrenched behind the
crowd and seemingly engrossed with her companions.
“Take down your rope, why don’t yuh?”
bantered Cal, who was enjoying himself hugely at Bert’s
expense. “You oughta be able to cast your loop that far
without snaggin’ the wrong filly. Rope ’er and drag
’er down off’n her perch. You can bet your sweet life
I would if it was me.”
“I would for two cents,” Bert retorted savagely.
“She knows darn well I want to talk to her about
“Yeah, and so does the hull population of
Montana,” Cal chortled gleefully.
Whereupon Bert suddenly felt himself the unwitting clown of
the whole show, and rode off red and furious, conscious of the
hilarious laughter of the grandstand.
So the whispered revelation that had so disturbed Len fell
upon practically barren ground instead of the fruitful soil she
had intended and was taking for granted. From where she sat she
could admire what seemed to her the consummate poise of the Happy
Family. She never dreamed that their calm was the fatuous
confidence of the ignorant victims of the plot against their
peace and their pockets together, and she wholly misunderstood
Bert’s frantic efforts to call her to his side. She simply
thought he was a young man delirious with love, and she was going
to give him a piece of her mind for making her so conspicuous
before everybody. Had she suspected the real urgency of the
moment she would have trodden upon a multitude of toes to reach
So all her warning went for nothing, and events were left to
move forward without let or hindrance, to the climax.
NO MORE DARK HORSES
For some reason best known to the committee, the horse races
were held early in the afternoon. Probably the presence of so
popular an athlete as Red Willis had a good deal to do with it,
on the premise that star events should be saved for the last. The
saddle-horse race put some extra money into the pockets of the
Happy Family when Bert Rogers won with his horse Flopper, and
every dollar was immediately wagered on Rufus Jones in the
hundred-yard sprint against Red Willis and the Swede from Shelby.
Len Adams would have been horrified to hear that, and to know
that every bet the Happy Family offered was taken by some man
from up Milk River way.
Big Medicine, looking more worried than his loud partisanship
would seem to permit, at last rode over to where Nameless still
perched in brooding solitude on the wide plank laid over the
corner of a chute.
“C’mon, Rufus. Jar loose from them meditations and
climb awn behind. I’ll take yuh down to git your
runnin’ clothes awn. What’s wrong with yuh
t’day, anyhow? Sick?”
“I’m darned if I know, Bud.” Nameless eased
himself down to where he could slide a leg over the horse behind
the cantle. “Ride around them crazy chumps, will you? I
don’t want to be held up for a lot of damned chin
“What’s wrong?” Big Medicine repeated,
reining across the siding to ride down between the tracks out of
the way of the crowd. “Ain’t yuh well? You wanta buck
up, boy. There ain’t but a coupla more pony races, and then
they’ll just have to scrape and measure the track—and
then, by cripes, we show Red Willis where to head in at!
Lopin’ Larry Jones, by cripes!
“Oh, can that!”
Big Medicine twisted his big body in the saddle, but he could
not see the face of Loping Larry Jones.
“Say, what’s eatin’ awn yuh, Rufus? Yuh
don’t mean t’ tell me—”
“Bud, I’m all up in the air.” Nameless
seemed to let go all at once of his moody silence.
“I’m so worried I’m fair sick at the stomach.
“Say, if somebody has been runnin’ off at the face
about that damn’ Milk River scheme to—”
“No, it’s got nothing to do with Red’s crowd
at all. It don’t concern nobody but me—and you
fellows that have bet your good money I’ll win that race.
I’ve got to tell yuh, Bud—”
“Say, looky here, Nameless—”
“No, let me finish, can’t you? I’ve got to
say it. Ever since the band started to play and the crowd
commenced to yell, I’ve had a queer feeling that I
ain’t any more Loping Larry Jones than you are.”
“Hunh?” Big Medicine acted as if a bee had stung
him. “What’s that?”
“I’ve got a feeling I’m somebody else. Some
darned amateur athlete that maybe took Loping Larry for his hero
and tried to copy after him. I—well, I admit it sounds
crazy, but that’s the feeling I’ve got.”
“That pitcher of Lopin’ Larry was you,” Big
Medicine reminded him tersely, his mind working fast, though his
words came with a gasp.
“It did look like me, a good deal,” Nameless
admitted, “but you want to remember that was all we had to
go on. Just the resemblance. You all jumped to the conclusion it
was me. Now—well, I just don’t feel so sure. Still, I
might be wrong. It’s got my goat.”
“That why you’ve been hangin’ off by
yourself and refused to talk to anybody?”
“That’s it. I’m in a blue funk, if you know
what that means. To think of all you boys have done for me, and
the way you’ve backed me—why, if it should happen
that I ain’t Loping Larry but just some long-legged guy
that looks like him—And if I ain’t, we’re done;
that’s all.” His voice was heavy with despair.
“It’s going to take all the stuff Loping
Larry’s got to beat Red Willis. You know that yourself. I
wish to God I knew what I could do. Why, I was so chesty,
I wouldn’t even let you watch me work out. I was so darn
sure of myself—so sure I had my record all down in black
“What you need,” said Big Medicine heavily,
“is a shot of whisky. That’ll take the kinks outa
yore brain. Why—” he twisted again to make sure his
words struck home “—Andy, he knows
you’re Lopin’ Larry. He seen yuh run, and bet money
agin yuh—and lost it, by cripes! Andy don’t have to
go by no pitcher in no paper. He knows yuh.”
Behind his back Nameless was shaking his head with dismal
“If you’ve said once, I’ve heard you say a
thousand times, that you wouldn’t believe Andy Green under
oath,” he reminded Big Medicine. “I wouldn’t go
much on what he says.”
Big Medicine only grunted in answer to that and reined his
horse across to Rusty Brown’s. They went in, and within
five minutes they emerged, wiping their mouths on the backs of
“You trot over there and git ready, old-timer.”
Big Medicine’s hand came down on the other’s shoulder
with a slap. “I’m right with yuh every step uh the
way, don’t you fergit that. I’m backin’
Lopin’ Larry, by cripes, and Lopin’ Larry is shore
goin’ to bring home the bacon.” He grinned his
widest. “I’ll wait right here for yuh,” he
added in a more casual tone. “Don’t be long,
Fortified by further refreshment, they rode back along the
railroad track the way they had come, but after that Big Medicine
took care to ride where the enthusiasm was loudest.
“Yuh see?” he bawled back triumphantly over his
shoulder, as they loped past the grandstand to the clamor of at
least five hundred pairs of clapping hands, “that
there’s for Lopin’ Larry Jones. Even the women
reckanize who yuh are, by cripes. I reckon them doubts of yourn
are just about gone now, ain’t they, Larry?”
“Just about,” Nameless assured him, though his
voice lacked conviction.
“Well, now, they better be, ’cause here comes yore
turn right now. Here’s the boys. Hang awn now, we
ain’t goin’ to ride like we was goin’ to no
He was right. The pace they took reminded nobody of a funeral
as they dashed off, the Happy Family yelping at their heels. The
Swede and his Shelby backers had already arrived at the starting
point, and across the scraped roadway a dozen Milk River boys
convoyed Red Willis with whoops and jibes for the Flying U.
Nameless slid to the ground and was immediately surrounded by his
friends, each terribly anxious to give some priceless bit of
advice which had just occurred to him.
Big Medicine waved them all back, leaned low over the neck of
his horse and held Nameless with a steely clasp on his
“Run like yuh always done awn that stretch uh trail over
towards the Rogers place,” he admonished.
“They’s a lot uh money awn you, boy.”
“That’s just what worries me, Bud.” Nameless
gazed up at him anxiously. “I told you boys not to take too
big a chance on me.”
“That’s all right,” Big Medicine grinned.
“Don’t yuh let that worry yuh for a minute. We
ain’t takin’ no chance at all.” He bent his
bullet head closer. “We’re backin’ Lopin’
Larry to win. Get that?”
Nameless drew back and gave him a quick, questioning look,
glanced over toward the Milk River group and back again.
“I’ll do my best,” he said in a curious,
“Damn’ right you will,” said Big Medicine in
a tone remarkably subdued for him.
“Come on, you loping lollypop,” Red Willis
suddenly yelled, hitching up his belt as he walked to the
starting line. “Say, boys,” he cried to the Milk
River men, “that dark horse of the Flying U’s looks
more like a buckskin mule to me. Buckskin is that yaller shade,
A great laugh went up among Red’s admirers.
“Nope,” a Four-Eleven man caught up the jibe,
“that dark horse over there is just nothin’ but a
wind-broken maverick the Flying U picked up on the
“Weanin’ time comes early, up on Milk
River,” Pink made contemptuous retort in his clear treble.
“Listen, and you can hear the calves bawlin’ away
“Yeah, there’s going to be a heavy frost up that
way,” Andy predicted cheerfully. “Looks like a cold,
hard winter up on Milk River.”
At that moment the marshal of the day came jogging up on a
white horse from the livery stable. Silence fell abruptly, as if
a door had slammed and shut out the tumult of the crowd. The
Shelby Swede, a stocky, silent, young fellow with clipped blond
hair, took the center of the track and dropped to one knee, still
grinning at the caustic wit of the cowboys. Three feet away at
his left crouched Loping Larry, slim, tense, poised for flight.
And on the right the lean figure of Red Willis staring fixedly at
the goal three hundred feet away.
Milk River men and the Happy Family alike edged off out of the
way, holding their horses with tight rein, ready to follow, eyes
glued to the runners. The marshal backed his white horse, waited
until men’s nerves were taut as fiddle-strings, raised his
gun deliberately, aimed it at a small white cloud and fired the
signal. As if released by some strong invisible spring at the
sound, the three crouched figures shot forward and went streaking
up the smoothed track toward the grandstand.
Fifty feet, a hundred feet—the Swede’s shorter
stride was dropping him inexorably behind. The race was between
the other two and Red Willis was holding his own and a little
“Come on, Larry!” yelled the frantic Happy
“Go it, Red! Beat that lopin’ four-flusher!”
roared the Milk River cowboys.
“Go on, Rufus! Fan it, Nameless!” A note of fear
was creeping into the voices of the Happy Family. Gradually,
almost imperceptibly at first, Loping Larry was dropping behind.
Even the Swede was threatening to take second place.
Then suddenly Big Medicine, riding jealously close to the
track, whipped out his six-shooter and fired. A spurt of dust
flicked up three inches from Loping Larry’s left heel. He
lifted that heel in a tremendous forward leap.
“Run, you son-of-a-gun—run!” bellowed
Big Medicine, planting another bit of lead where it would grow
the most speed. “What’d I save yer life for?
Run!” Another bullet lifted the heel it all but
grazed. “Throw the race, would yuh? Sell us out, would yuh?
Run!” Whenever he shouted “run,” Big
Medicine emphasized the word with a shot. “Steal
Mig’s girl, would yuh? Run, you son-of-a-gun!
Nameless did not exactly run, he flew. He leaped across the
score line exactly six jumps ahead of Red Willis—one jump
for every bullet from Big Medicine’s gun—and he kept
on going. By the time the Happy Family dodged hysterical humans
and topped the brow of the little hill just beyond the stockyard
wings, he had gone.
They galloped down the slope, looking for him, but he had
disappeared utterly. They pulled up at Rusty’s hitch rail,
not because they meant to go in, but from force of habit. Not a
soul was in sight. They could not even see the tracks of his
spiked running shoes in the dust.
“Well,” said Big Medicine, goggling this way and
that, “he run, by cripes!”
“Mamma!” sighed Weary, “That boy’s the
lopin’est wolf that ever dodged a bullet.”
“Yeah,” grinned Andy Green, “the only reason
that bird didn’t take wing and fly, is because Big Medicine
run outa lead.”
“Well, by golly,” Slim contributed ten minutes
later, “about the only way to ketch ’im now is to
round up a bunch uh them gopher-snarin’ Blackfoot squaws
and set ’em to watchin’ them gopher holes this side
the stockyards. They might be able to snare Nameless when he
sticks his head out of a hole—I dunno.”
“Aw, I betcha he’ll dig a burrow clean over to the
Missouri River,” Happy Jack exaggerated Slim’s wild
theory. “He’s liable to drownd if he pushes through
below water line.”
Len Adams, walking fast and forgetting all about her dainty
flounced organdie, projected herself into the argument.
“If you’re looking for any lost or strayed
foot-racer,” she said in her clear, vibrant voice,
“you’ll probably find him over to the depot, hiding
amongst the freight till the train pulls in. I was up where I
could watch him go. I had to laugh,” she broke off to
interpolate, bubbling with mirth. “I kept thinking about
that hotel Chinaman when one of you boys scared his cat half to
death. I know it isn’t ladylike to say, but I kept
thinking, ’Gee cly, watch ’im flew!’
“Anyway,” she went on, when she could be heard
above the cachinnations of the Happy Family, “Nameless
certainly flew. He ducked around the fence and ran crouched down
in all those weeds till he got to the track, and there he
wriggled out of sight between two box cars. I didn’t see
any more of him. Myrtle was walking all over my feet, in a hurry
to get down out of the grandstand, and she headed straight for
the depot too. The rest,” she added, with a pretty little
gesture of finality, “if your heads are working, you can
maybe guess for yourselves.”
Big Medicine’s face went blank and turned a pasty color,
so that every pockmark showed with pitiless distinctness. He
whirled upon the Native Son and transfixed him with his pale,
“Say, Mig, that damn’ skunk is figurin’ awn
runnin’ off with yore girl,” he bellowed hoarsely.
“Wasn’t enough, by cripes, to fetch smallpox onto the
ranch and make all the trouble he could between
us—wasn’t enough to try an’ sell us out to that
damn’ Milk River bunch—he’s got t’ play a
lowdown trick like takin’ a feller’s girl and
runnin’ off with ’er.
“How about it, Mig? Just say the word, and by cripes,
I’ll go kill that dirty whelp m’self. If you want
Myrtle, by cripes, you’re goin’ to have ’er, if
I have to drag ’er over here like I’d drag a
yearlin’ to the brandin’ fire. I’ll stand fer a
lot, by cripes, but—”
“Let them go,” said the Native Son, and laid a
friendly, detaining hand on Big Medicine’s arm. He could
feel the muscles quiver with the intensity of Bud Welch’s
emotion. “Let him have her. It’s all right with me,
“Shore yuh don’t want ’er yoreself?”
Big Medicine stared anxiously into his face. “’Cause
if yuh do—”
For a long minute the two looked deep into each other’s
eyes. Their faces relaxed. When the gaze broke, eyes and lips
were smiling in perfect understanding.
“No, by cripes. I’d call it a good riddance to
both of ’em. They done nothin’ but make trouble ever
sence they set foot awn the ranch.”
“You said it, amigo.”
“Well,” Pink snapped impatiently, as he swung to
the saddle, “we got all the time in the world, of
course—but I’m going to rake in my winnin’s
before that darn Milk River bunch gets outa town!”
“And when you’ve collected,” Len called
after them, “don’t forget the goose that saved
“Say, what kinda candy does that little goose like
best?” Andy inquired over his shoulder, as he reached for
the bridle reins.
“Never you mind what kinda candy,” Bert Rogers
served masterful notice to them all. “I’ll be buying
the candy from now on.”
With a clatter of hoofs and a flurry of lifting dust, the
Happy Family rode blithely away up the slope. One exuberant young
man looked back to wave his hand at the smiling girl who watched
them go. And in the lead of the galloping cavalcade rode Big
Medicine and the Native Son, their voices mingling in eager talk
as though they had just met after a long separation.