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The Coming Of A Native Son








From: Flying U Ranch

The Happy Family, waiting for the Sunday supper call, were grouped
around the open door of the bunk-house, gossiping idly of things purely
local, when the Old Man returned from the Stock Association at Helena;
beside him on the buggy seat sat a stranger. The Old Man pulled up at
the bunk-house, the stranger sprang out over the wheel with the agility
which bespoke youthful muscles, and the Old Man introduced him with a
quirk of the lips:

"This is Mr. Mig-u-ell Rapponi, boys--a peeler straight from the Golden
Gate. Throw out your war-bag and make yourself to home, Mig-u-ell; some
of the boys'll show you where to bed down."

The Old Man drove on to the house with his own luggage, and Happy Jack
followed to take charge of the team; but the remainder of the Happy
Family unobtrusively took the measure of the foreign element. From his
black-and-white horsehair hatband, with tassels that swept to the very
edge of his gray hatbrim, to the crimson silk neckerchief draped over
the pale blue bosom of his shirt; from the beautifully stamped leather
cuffs, down to the exaggerated height of his tan boot-heels, their
critical eyes swept in swift, appraising glances; and unanimous
disapproval was the result. The Happy Family had themselves an eye to
picturesque garb upon occasion, but this passed even Pink's love of
display.

"He's some gaudy to look at," Irish murmured under his breath to Cal
Emmett.

"All he lacks is a spot-light and a brass band," Cal returned, in much
the same tone with which a woman remarks upon a last season's hat on the
head of a rival.

Miguel was not embarrassed by the inspection. He was tall, straight,
and swarthily handsome, and he stood with the complacence of a stage
favorite waiting for the applause to cease so that he might speak his
first lines; and, while he waited, he sifted tobacco into a cigarette
paper daintily, with his little finger extended. There was a ring upon
that finger; a ring with a moonstone setting as large and round as the
eye of a startled cat, and the Happy Family caught the pale gleam of it
and drew a long breath. He lighted a match nonchalantly, by the artfully
simple method of pinching the head of it with his fingernails, leaned
negligently against the wall of the bunk-house, and regarded the group
incuriously while he smoked.

"Any pretty girls up this way?" he inquired languidly, after a moment,
fanning a thin smoke-cloud from before his face while he spoke.

The Happy Family went prickly hot. The girls in that neighborhood were
held in esteem, and there was that in his tone which gave offense.

"Sure, there's pretty girls here!" Big Medicine bellowed unexpectedly,
close beside him. "We're all of us engaged to `em, by cripes!"

Miguel shot an oblique glance at Big Medicine, examined the end of his
cigarette, and gave a lift of shoulder, which might mean anything
or nothing, and so was irritating to a degree. He did not pursue the
subject further, and so several belated retorts were left tickling
futilely the tongues of the Happy Family--which does not make for
amiability.

To a man they liked him little, in spite of their easy friendliness with
mankind in general. At supper they talked with him perfunctorily, and
covertly sneered because he sprinkled his food liberally with cayenne
and his speech with Spanish words pronounced with soft, slurred
vowels that made them sound unfamiliar, and against which his English
contrasted sharply with its crisp, American enunciation. He met their
infrequent glances with the cool stare of absolute indifference to their
opinion of him, and their perfunctory civility with introspective calm.

The next morning, when there was riding to be done, and Miguel
appeared at the last moment in his working clothes, even Weary, the
sunny-hearted, had an unmistakable curl of his lip after the first
glance.

Miguel wore the hatband, the crimson kerchief tied loosely with the
point draped over his chest, the stamped leather cuffs and the tan boots
with the highest heels ever built by the cobbler craft. Also, the lower
half of him was incased in chaps the like of which had never before been
brought into Flying U coulee. Black Angora chaps they were; long-haired,
crinkly to the very hide, with three white, diamond-shaped patches
running down each leg of them, and with the leather waistband stamped
elaborately to match the cuffs. The bands of his spurs were two inches
wide and inlaid to the edge with beaten silver, and each concho was
engraved to represent a large, wild rose, with a golden center. A dollar
laid upon the rowels would have left a fringe of prongs all around.

He bent over his sacked riding outfit, and undid it, revealing a
wonderful saddle of stamped leather inlaid on skirt and cantle with
more beaten silver. He straightened the skirts, carefully ignoring the
glances thrown in his direction, and swore softly to himself when he
discovered where the leather had been scratched through the canvas
wrappings and the end of the silver scroll ripped up. He drew out his
bridle and shook it into shape, and the silver mountings and the reins
of braided leather with horsehair tassels made Happy Jack's eyes greedy
with desire. His blanket was a scarlet Navajo, and his rope a rawhide
lariat.

Altogether, his splendor when he was mounted so disturbed the fine
mental poise of the Happy Family that they left him jingling richly
off by himself, while they rode closely grouped and discussed him
acrimoniously.

"By gosh, a man might do worse than locate that Native Son for a silver
mine," Cal began, eyeing the interloper scornfully. "It's plumb wicked
to ride around with all that wealth and fussy stuff. He must 'a' robbed
a bank and put the money all into a riding outfit."

"By golly, he looks to me like a pair uh trays when he comes bow-leggin'
along with them white diamonds on his legs," Slim stated solemnly.

"And I'll gamble that's a spot higher than he stacks up in the cow
game," Pink observed with the pessimism which matrimony had given him.
"You mind him asking about bad horses, last night? That Lizzie-boy never
saw a bad horse; they don't grow 'em where he come from. What they don't
know about riding they make up for with a swell rig--"

"And, oh, mamma! It sure is a swell rig!" Weary paid generous tribute.
"Only I will say old Banjo reminds me of an Irish cook rigged out in
silk and diamonds. That outfit on Glory, now--" He sighed enviously.

"Well, I've gone up against a few real ones in my long and varied
career," Irish remarked reminiscently, "and I've noticed that a hoss
never has any respect or admiration for a swell rig. When he gets real
busy it ain't the silver filigree stuff that's going to help you hold
connections with your saddle, and a silver-mounted bridle-bit ain't a
darned bit better than a plain one."

"Just take a look at him!" cried Pink, with intense disgust. "Ambling
off there, so the sun can strike all that silver and bounce back in our
eyes. And that braided lariat--I'd sure love to see the pieces if he
ever tries to anchor anything bigger than a yearling!"

"Why, you don't think for a minute he could ever get out and rope
anything, do yuh?" Irish laughed. "That there Native Son throws on
a-w-l-together too much dog to really get out and do anything."

"Aw," fleered Happy Jack, "he ain't any Natiff Son. He's a dago!"

"He's got the earmarks uh both," Big Medicine stated authoritatively. "I
know 'em, by cripes, and I know their ways." He jerked his thumb toward
the dazzling Miguel. "I can tell yuh the kinda cow-puncher he is; I've
saw 'em workin' at it. Haw-haw-haw! They'll start out to move ten or a
dozen head uh tame old cows from one field to another, and there'll be
six or eight fellers, rigged up like this here tray-spot, ridin' along,
important as hell, drivin' them few cows down a lane, with peach trees
on both sides, by cripes, jingling their big, silver spurs, all wearin'
fancy chaps to ride four or five miles down the road. Honest to grandma,
they call that punchin' cows! Oh, he's a Native Son, all right. I've
saw lots of 'em, only I never saw one so far away from the Promised Land
before. That there looks queer to me. Natiff Sons--the real ones, like
him--are as scarce outside Calyforny as buffalo are right here in this
coulee."

"That's the way they do it, all right," Irish agreed. "And then they'll
have a 'rodeo'--"

"Haw-haw-haw!" Big Medicine interrupted, and took up the tale, which
might have been entitled "Some Cowpunching I Have Seen."

"They have them rodeos on a Sunday, mostly, and they invite everybody to
it, like it was a picnic. And there'll be two or three fellers to
every calf, all lit up, like Mig-u-ell, over there, in chaps and silver
fixin's, fussin' around on horseback in a corral, and every feller
trying to pile his rope on the same calf, by cripes! They stretch 'em
out with two ropes--calves, remember! Little, weenty fellers you could
pack under one arm! Yuh can't blame 'em much. They never have more'n
thirty or forty head to brand at a time, and they never git more'n a
taste uh real work. So they make the most uh what they git, and go in
heavy on fancy outfits. And this here silver-mounted fellow thinks he's
a real cowpuncher, by cripes!"

The Happy Family laughed at the idea; laughed so loud that Miguel left
his lonely splendor and swung over to them, ostensibly to borrow a
match.

"What's the joke?" he inquired languidly, his chin thrust out and his
eyes upon the match blazing at the end of his cigarette.

The Happy Family hesitated and glanced at one another. Then Cal spoke
truthfully.

"You're it," he said bluntly, with a secret desire to test the temper of
this dark-skinned son of the West.

Miguel darted one of his swift glances at Cal, blew out his match and
threw it away.

"Oh, how funny. Ha-ha." His voice was soft and absolutely
expressionless, his face blank of any emotion whatever. He merely spoke
the words as a machine might have done.

If he had been one of them, the Happy Family would have laughed at the
whimsical humor of it. As it was, they repressed the impulse, though
Weary warmed toward him slightly.

"Don't you believe anything this innocent-eyed gazabo tells you, Mr.
Rapponi," he warned amiably. "He's known to be a liar."

"That's funny, too. Ha-ha some more." Miguel permitted a thin ribbon of
smoke to slide from between his lips, and gazed off to the crinkled line
of hills.

"Sure, it is--now you mention it," Weary agreed after a perceptible
pause.

"How fortunate that I brought the humor to your attention," drawled
Miguel, in the same expressionless tone, much as if he were reciting a
text.

"Virtue is its own penalty," paraphrased Pink, not stopping to see
whether the statement applied to the subject.

"Haw-haw-haw!" roared Big Medicine, quite as irrelevantly.

"He-he-he," supplemented the silver-trimmed one.

Big Medicine stopped laughing suddenly, reined his horse close to the
other, and stared at him challengingly, with his pale, protruding eyes,
while the Happy Family glanced meaningly at one another. Big Medicine
was quite as unsafe as he looked, at that moment, and they wondered if
the offender realized his precarious situation.

Miguel smoked with the infinite leisure which is a fine art when it is
not born of genuine abstraction, and none could decide whether he was
aware of the unfriendly proximity of Big Medicine. Weary was just on the
point of saying something to relieve the tension, when Miguel blew the
ash gently from his cigarette and spoke lazily.

"Parrots are so common, out on the Coast, that they use them in cheap
restaurants for stew. I've often heard them gabbling together in the
kettle."

The statement was so ambiguous that the Happy Family glanced at him
doubtfully. Big Medicine's stare became more curious than hostile,
and he permitted his horse to lag a length. It is difficult to fight
absolute passivity. Then Slim, who ever tramped solidly over the flowers
of sarcasm, blurted one of his unexpected retorts.

"I was just wonderin', by golly, where yuh learnt to talk!"

Miguel turned his velvet eyes sleepily toward the speaker. "From the
boarders who ate those parrots, amigo," he smiled serenely.

At this, Slim--once justly accused by Irish of being a "single-shot"
when it came to repartee--turned purple and dumb. The Happy Family,
forswearing loyalty in their enjoyment of his discomfiture, grinned and
left to Miguel the barren triumph of the last word.

He did not gain in popularity as the days passed. They tilted noses at
his beautiful riding gear, and would have died rather than speak of it
in his presence. They never gossiped with him of horses or men or the
lands he knew. They were ready to snub him at a moment's notice--and
it did not lessen their dislike of him that he failed to yield them an
opportunity. It is to be hoped that he found his thoughts sufficient
entertainment, since he was left to them as much as is humanly possible
when half a dozen men eat and sleep and work together. It annoyed them
exceedingly that Miguel did not seem to know that they held him at a
distance; they objected to his manner of smoking cigarettes and staring
off at the skyline as if he were alone and content with his dreams. When
he did talk they listened with an air of weary tolerance. When he
did not talk they ignored his presence, and when he was absent they
criticized him mercilessly.

They let him ride unwarned into an adobe patch one day--at least, Big
Medicine, Pink, Cal Emmett and Irish did, for they were with him--and
laughed surreptitiously together while he wallowed there and came out
afoot, his horse floundering behind him, mud to the ears, both of them.

"Pretty soft going, along there, ain't it?" Pink commiserated
deceitfully.

"It is, kinda," Miguel responded evenly, scraping the adobe off Banjo
with a flat rock. And the subject was closed.

"Well, it's some relief to the eyes to have the shine taken off him,
anyway," Pink observed a little guiltily afterward.

"I betche he ain't goin' to forget that, though," Happy Jack warned when
he saw the caked mud on Miguel's Angora chaps and silver spurs, and the
condition of his saddle. "Yuh better watch out and not turn your backs
on him in the dark, none uh you guys. I betche he packs a knife. Them
kind always does."

"Haw-haw-haw!" bellowed Big Medicine uproariously. "I'd love to see him
git out an' try to use it, by cripes!"

"I wish Andy was here," Pink sighed. "Andy'd take the starch outa him,
all right."

"Wouldn't he be pickings for old Andy, though? Gee!" Cal looked around
at them, with his wide, baby-blue eyes, and laughed. "Let's kinda jolly
him along, boys, till Andy gets back. It sure would be great to watch
'em. I'll bet he can jar the eternal calm outa that Native Son. That's
what grinds me worse than his throwin' on so much dog; he's so blamed
satisfied with himself! You snub him, and he looks at yuh as if you was
his hired man--and then forgets all about yuh. He come outa that 'doby
like he'd been swimmin' a river on a bet, and had made good and was
a hee-ro right before the ladies. Kinda 'Oh, that's nothing to what I
could do if it was worth while,' way he had with him."

"It wouldn't matter so much if he wasn't all front," Pink complained.
"You'll notice that's always the way, though. The fellow all fussed
up with silver and braided leather can't get out and do anything.
I remember up on Milk river--" Pink trailed off into absorbing
reminiscence, which, however, is too lengthy to repeat here.

"Say, Mig-u-ell's down at the stable, sweatin from every pore trying to
get his saddle clean, by golly!" Slim reported cheerfully, just as Pink
was relighting the cigarette which had gone out during the big scene of
his story. "He was cussin' in Spanish, when I walked up to him--but he
shut up when he seen me and got that peaceful look uh hisn on his face.
I wonder, by golly--"

"Oh, shut up and go awn," Irish commanded bluntly, and looked at Pink.
"Did he call it off, then? Or did you have to wade in--"

"Naw; he was like this here Native Son--all front. He could look sudden
death, all right; he had black eyes like Mig-u-ell--but all a fellow had
to do was go after him, and he'd back up so blamed quick--"

Slim listened that far, saw that he had interrupted a tale evidently
more interesting than anything he could say, and went off, muttering to
himself.





Next: When Greek Meets Greek

Previous: Trails End



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