The Bigger The Hat The Smaller The Herd
From: The Fighting Edge
Combing Crooked Wash that afternoon Bob rode with a heavy and despondent
heart. It was with him while he and Dud jogged back to the ranch in the
darkness. He had failed again. Another man had trodden down the fears to
which he had afterward lightly confessed and had carried off the
situation with a high hand. His admiration put Hollister on a pedestal.
How had the blond puncher contrived to summon that reserve of audacity
which had so captivated the Utes? Why was it that of two men one had
stamina to go through regardless of the strain while another went to
pieces and made a spectacle of himself?
Bob noticed that both in his report to Harshaw and later in the story he
told at the Slash Lazy D bunkhouse, Dud shielded him completely. He gave
not even a hint that Dillon had weakened under pressure. The boy was
grateful beyond words, even while he was ashamed that he needed
At the bunkhouse Dud's story was a great success. He had a knack of
drawling out his climaxes with humorous effect.
"An' when I laid that red-hot skillet on the nearest area of
Rumpty-Tumpty's geography he ce'tainly went up into the roof like he'd
been fired out of a rocket. When he lit--gentlemen, when he lit he was
the most restless Ute in western Colorado. He milled around the corral
considerable. I got a kinda notion he'd sorta soured on the funny-boy
business. Anyhow, he didn't cotton to my style o' humor. Different with
old Colorow an' the others. They liked to 'a' hollered their fool haids
off at the gent I'd put the new Slash Lazy D brand on. Then they did one
o' them 'Wow-wow-wow' dances round Rumpty-Tumpty, who was still smokin'
like he'd set fire to the cabin."
Cowpunchers are a paradox. They have the wisdom of the ages, yet they are
only grown-up children. Now they filled the night with mirth. Hawks lay
down on his bunk and kicked his feet into the air joyfully. Reeves fell
upon Dud and beat him with profane gayety. Big Bill waltzed him over the
floor, regardless of his good-humored protest.
"Tell us some more, Dud," demanded the cook. "Did yore friend Rumpty put
hisse'f out by sittin' in a snowbank?"
"I don't rightly recollect. Me 'n' Bob here was elected to lead the grand
march an' we had to leave Rumpty-Tumpty be his own fire department. But I
did notice how tender he lowered himself to the back of his hawse when
they lit out in the mawnin'."
Bob saw that Hollister made the whole affair one huge joke. He did not
mention that there had been any chance of a tragic termination to the
adventure. Nor did the other punchers refer to that, though they knew the
strained relations between the whites and the Utes. Riding for a dogie
outfit was a hard life, but one could always get a laugh out of it
somehow. The philosophy of the range is to grin and bear it.
A few days later Bob rode into town with a pack-horse at heel. He was to
bring back some supplies for the ranch. Harshaw had chosen him to go
because he wanted to buy some things for himself. These would be charged
against the Slash Lazy D account at Platt & Fortner's store. Bob would
settle for them with the boss when his pay-check came due.
It was a warm sunny day with a touch of summer still in the air. The blue
stem and the bunch grass were dry. Sage and greasewood had taken on the
bare look of winter. But the pines were still green and the birds
It was an ordeal for Bob to face Bear Cat. June was better, he had heard.
But it was not his fault she had not died of the experience endured. He
could expect no friendliness in the town. The best he could hope for was
that it would let him alone.
He went straight to the office of Blister Haines. The justice took his
fat legs down from the desk and waved him to a chair.
"How're cases?" he asked.
Bob told his story without sparing himself.
Blister listened and made no comment to the end.
"You're takin' that Ute business too s-serious," he said. "Gettin'
s-scalped 's no picnic. You're entitled to feel some weak at the knees.
I've heard from Dud. He says you stood up fine."
"He told you--?"
"N-no particulars. T-trouble with you is you've got too much imagination.
From yore story I judge you weakened when the danger was over. You gotta
learn to keep up that red haid like I said. When you're scared or all in,
stretch yore grin another inch. You don't need to w-worry. You're doin'
Bob shook his head. Blister's view encouraged him, though he could not
agree with it.
"Keep yore eye on that Dud Hollister hombre," the justice went on. "He's
one sure enough go-getter."
"Yes," agreed Bob. "He's there every jump of the road. An' he didn't tell
on me either."
"You can tie to Dud," agreed Blister. "Here's the point, son. When you
g-get that sinkin' feelin' in yore tummy it's notice for you to get up on
yore hind laigs an' howl. Be a wolf for a change."
"But I can't. I seem to--to wilt all up."
"Son, you know the answer already. T-throw back yore haid an' remember
you got dominion."
Dillon shifted the conversation, embarrassed eyes on the floor.
"G-gettin' well fast. On the porch yesterday. Everybody in town stopped
to say how g-glad they was to see her out. Been havin' the time of her
life, June has. Mollie's always right good to sick folks, but she
c-ce'tainly makes a pet of June."
"I'm glad. She's through with me, o' course, but I hope her friends look
out for that Jake Houck."
"You don't need to worry about him. He's learnt to keep hands off."
Bob was not quite satisfied to let the matter rest there. In spite of the
fact that he had made an outcast of himself he wanted to reinstate
himself with June.
Hesitantly Bob approached the subject. "Maybe I'd better send her word
I'm glad she come through all right."
Blister's eyes were stony. "Maybe you'd better not. What claim you got to
be remembered by that li'l' girl? You're outa her life, boy."
Bob winced. The harsh truth wounded his sensitive nature. She had been
his friend once. It hurt him to lose her wholly and completely.
He rose. "Well, I gotta go an' get some goods for the ranch, Mr. Haines,"
"I reckon you'd like to s-slide back easy an' have folks forget," Blister
said. "Natural enough. But it won't be thataway. You'll have to f-fight
like a bulldog to travel back along that trail to a good name. You ain't
really begun yet."
"See you again next time I get to town," Bob said.
He was sorry he had raised the point with Haines of a message to June.
That the justice should reject the idea so promptly and vigorously hurt
his pride and self-esteem.
At Platt & Fortner's he invested in a pair of spurs, a cheap saddle, and
a bridle. The cowboy is vain of his equipment. He would spend in those
days forty dollars for a saddle, ten for boots, twenty-five for a bridle
and silver plated bit, fifteen for spurs, and ten or twelve for a hat. He
owned his own horse and blankets, sometimes also a pack-animal. These
were used to carry him from one job to another. He usually rode the ranch
broncos on the range.
But even if he had been able to afford it Bob would not have bought
expensive articles. He did not make any claim about his ability to punch
cattle, and he knew instinctively that real riders would resent any
attempt on his part to swagger as they did. A remark dropped by Blister
came to mind.
"The b-bigger the hat the smaller the herd, son. Do all yore b-braggin'
with yore actions."
It is often a characteristic of weakness that it clings to strength. Bob
would have given much for the respect and friendship of these clear-eyed,
weather-beaten men. To know that he had forfeited these cut deep into his
soul. The clerk that waited on him at the store joked gayly with two
cowboys lounging on the counter, but he was very distantly polite to
Dillon. The citizens he met on the street looked at him with chill eyes.
A group of schoolboys whispered and pointed toward him.
Bob had walked out from Haines's office in a huff, but as he rode back to
the ranch he recognized the justice of his fat friend's decision. He had
forfeited the right to take any interest in June Tolliver. His nature was
to look always for the easiest way. He never wanted trouble with anybody.
Essentially he was peace-loving even to the point of being spiritless. To
try to slip back into people's good will by means of the less robust
virtues would be just like him.
Probably Blister was right when he had told him to be a wolf. For him,
anything was better than to be a sheep.
He clamped his teeth. He would show the Rio Blanco country whether he had
a chicken heart. He would beat back somehow so that they would have to
respect him whether they wanted to or not. If he made up his mind to it
he could be just as game as Dud Hollister.
He would go through or he would die trying.
Next: June Discovers A New World
Previous: Dud Qualifies As Court Jester