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A Hero Is Embarrassed

From: The Fighting Edge

Following the Ute War, as it came to be called, there was a period of
readjustment on the Rio Blanco. The whites had driven off the horses and
the stock of the Indians. Two half-grown boys appropriated a flock of
several thousand sheep belonging to the Indians and took them to Glenwood
Springs. On the way they sold the sheep right and left. The asking price
was a dollar. The selling price was twenty-five cents, a watermelon, a
slice of pie, or a jack-knife with a broken blade.

The difficulties that ensued had to be settled. To get a better
understanding of the situation the Governor of the State and a general of
the United States Army with their staffs visited the White River country.
While in Bear Cat they put up at the hotel.

Mollie did a land-office business, but she had no time to rest day or
night. Passing through the office during the rush of the dinner hour, she
caught sight of Blister Haines sprawled on two chairs. He was talking
with Bob Dillon.

"Hear you done quit the Slash Lazy D outfit. What's the idee?" he said.

"Nothin' in ridin'," Bob told him. "A fellow had ought to get a piece of
land on the river an' run some cattle of his own. Me an' Dud aim to do

"Hmp! An' meanwhile?"

"We're rip-rappin' the river for old man Wilson."[4]

Blister was pleased, but he did not say so. "Takes a good man to start on
a s-shoestring an' make it go with cattle."

"That's why we're going into it," Bob modestly explained.

Mollie broke in. "What are you boys loafin' here for when I need help in
the dining-room? Can either of you sling hash?"

The fat man derricked himself out of the chairs. "We can. L-lead us to
the job, ma'am."

So it happened that Blister, in a white apron, presently stood before the
Governor ready to take orders. The table was strewn with used dishes and
food, debris left there by previous diners. The amateur waiter was not
sure whether the Governor and his staff had eaten or were ready to eat.

"D-do you want a r-reloadin' outfit?" he asked.

The general, seated beside the Governor, had lived his life in the East.
He stared at Blister in surprise, for at a council held only an hour
before this ample waiter had been the chief spokesman in behalf of fair
play to the Indians. He decided that the dignified thing to do was to
fail to recognize the man.

Blister leaned toward the Governor and whispered confidentially. "Say,
Gov, take my tip an' try one o' these here steaks. They ain't from dogy

The Governor had been a cattleman himself. The free-and-easy ways of the
West did not disturb him. "Go you once, Blister," he assented.

The waiter turned beaming on the officer. His fat hand rested on the
braided shoulder. "How about you, Gen? Does that go d-double?"

Upon Blister was turned the cold, hard eye of West Point. "I'll take a
tenderloin steak, sir, done medium."

"You'll sure find it'll s-stick to yore ribs," Blister said cheerfully.

Carrying a tray full of dishes, Bob went into the kitchen choking down
his mirth.

"Blister's liable to be shot at daybreak. He's lessie-majesting the U.S.

Chung Lung shuffled to the door and peered through. Internal mirth
struggled with his habitual gravity. "Gleat smoke, Blister spill cup
cloffee on general."

This fortunately turned out to be an exaggeration. Blister, in earnest
conversation with himself, had merely overturned a half-filled cup on the
table in the course of one of his gestures.

Mollie retired him from service.

Alone with Bob for a moment in the kitchen, June whispered to him
hurriedly. "Before you an' Dud go away I want to see you a minute."

"Want to see me an' Dud?" he asked.

She flashed a look of shy reproach at him. "No, not Dud--you."

Bob stayed to help wipe the dishes. It was a job at which he had been
adept in the old days when he flunkied for the telephone outfit.
Afterward he and June slipped out of the back door and walked down to the

June had rehearsed exactly what she meant to say to him, but now that the
moment had arrived it did not seem so easy. He might mistake her
friendliness. He might think there was some unexpressed motive in the
back of her mind, that she was trying to hold him to the compact made in
Blister Haines's office a year ago. It would be hateful if he thought
that. But she had to risk it if their comradeship was going to mean
anything. When folks were friends they helped each other, didn't they?
Told each other how glad they were when any piece of good luck came. And
what had come to Bob Dillon was more than good luck. It was a bit of
splendid achievement that made her generous blood sing.

This was all very well, but as they moved under the cottonwoods across
the grass tessellated with sunshine and shadow, the fact of sex thrust
itself up and embarrassed her. She resented this, was impatient at it,
yet could not escape it. Beneath the dusky eyes a wave of color crept
into the dark cheeks.

Though they walked in silence, Bob did not guess her discomposure. As
clean of line as a boy, she carried herself resiliently. He thought her
beautiful as a wild flower. The lift and tender curve of the chin, the
swell of the forearms above the small brown hands that had done so much
hard work so competently, filled him with a strange delight. She had
emerged from the awkwardness and heaviness of the hoydenish age. It was
difficult for him to identify her with the Cinderella of Piceance Creek
except by the eager flash of the eyes in those moments when her spirit
seemed to be rushing toward him.

They stood on the bank above the edge of the ford. June looked down into
the tumbling water. Bob waited for her to speak. He had achieved a
capacity for silence and had learned the strength of it.

Presently June lifted her eyes to his. "Dud says you an' he are going to
take up preemptions and run cattle of your own," she began.

"Yes. Harshaw's going to stake us. We'll divide the increase."

"I'm glad. Dud ought to quit going rippity-cut every which way. No use
his wastin' five or six years before he gets started for himself."

"No," Bob assented.

"You're steadier than he is. You'll hold him down."

Bob came to time loyally. "Dud's all right. You'll find him there like a
rock when you need him. Best fellow in all this White River country."

Her shining eyes sent a stab of pain through his heart. She was smiling
at him queerly. "One of the best," she said.

"Stay with you to a fare-you-well," he went on. "If I knew a girl--if I
had a sister--well, I'd sure trust her to Dud Hollister. All wool an' a
yard wide that boy is."

"Yes," June murmured.

"Game as they make 'em. Know where he's at every turn of the road. I'd
ce'tainly back his play to a finish."

"I know you would."

"Best old pal a fellow ever had."

"It's really a pity you haven't a sister," she teased.

Bob guessed that June had brought him here to talk about Dud. He did, to
the exclusion of all other topics. The girl listened gravely and
patiently, but imps of mischief were kicking up their heels in her eyes.

"You give him a good recommendation," she said at last. "How about his

"Tom Reeves?"

"No, Bob Dillon." Her dark eyes met his fairly. "Oh, Bob, I'm so

He was suddenly flooded with self-consciousness. "About us preemptin'?"
he asked.

"No. About you being the hero of the campaign."

The ranger was miserably happy. He was ashamed to have the thing he had
done dragged into the light, embarrassed to hear her use so casually a
word that made him acutely uncomfortable. Yet he would not for the world
have missed the queer little thrills that raced through him.

"That's plumb foolishness," he said.

"Yes, it is--not. Think I haven't heard all about it? How you dragged
Jake Houck into the willows right spang from among the Utes? How you went
to the river an' got him water? How you went for help when everybody
thought you'd be killed? An' how you shamed Dud into going back with you?
I made Mr. Harshaw tell me all he knew--and Dud too. He said--Mr. Harshaw

Bob interrupted this eager attack. "I'll tell you how it was, June. When
I saw Houck lying out there with a busted leg I didn't know who he
was--thought maybe it was Dud. So I had to go an' get him. If I'd known
it was Houck--"

"You knew it was Houck before you dragged him back, didn't you?" she
charged. "You knew it when you went to the river to get him water?"

"Truth is, I was scared so I shook," he confessed humbly. "But when a
fellow's sufferin' like Jake Houck was--"

"Even your enemy."

"Oh, well, enemies don't count when you're fightin' Utes together. I had
to look after him--couldn't duck it. Different with Dud when he rode back
to get Tom Reeves. Did you hear about that?"

She put a damper on the sudden enthusiasm that lilted into his voice.
"Yes, I heard about that," she said dryly. "But we're talking of another
man now. You've got to stand there an' take it, Bob. It won't last but a
minute anyhow. I never was so tickled in my life before. When I thought
of all you've suffered an' gone through, an' how now you've stopped the
tongues of all the folks who jeered at you, I went to my room and cried
like a little girl. You'll understand, won't you? I had to tell you this
because we've promised to be friends. Oh, I am so glad for you, Bob."

He swallowed a lump in his throat and nodded. "Yes, I'll understand,
June. It--it was awful nice of you to tell me. I reckon you ought to hate
me, the way I treated you. Most girls would."

She flashed a quick look at his flaming face. His embarrassment relieved

"As if you knew what most girls would think," she derided. Nevertheless
she shifted the conversation to grounds less personal and dangerous. "Now
you can tell me some more about that Dud you're always braggin' of."

Bob did not know as he talked of his friend that June found what he said
an interpretation of Robert Dillon rather than Dudley Hollister.


[4] Piling up brush to protect the bank from being washed away.

Next: A Responsible Citizen

Previous: Three In A Pit

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