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The Jimmyjohn Boss








From: The Jimmyjohn Boss And Other Stories

I

One day at Nampa, which is in Idaho, a ruddy old massive jovial man
stood by the Silver City stage, patting his beard with his left hand,
and with his right the shoulder of a boy who stood beside him. He had
come with the boy on the branch train from Boise, because he was a
careful German and liked to say everything twice--twice at least when it
was a matter of business. This was a matter of very particular business,
and the German had repeated himself for nineteen miles. Presently the
east-bound on the main line would arrive from Portland; then the Silver
City stage would take the boy south on his new mission, and the man
would journey by the branch train back to Boise. From Boise no one could
say where he might not go, west or east. He was a great and pervasive
cattle man in Oregon, California, and other places. Vogel and Lex--even
to-day you may hear the two ranch partners spoken of. So the veteran
Vogel was now once more going over his notions and commands to his
youthful deputy during the last precious minutes until the east-bound
should arrive.

"Und if only you haf someding like dis," said the old man, as he tapped
his beard and patted the boy, "it would be five hoondert more dollars
salary in your liddle pants."

The boy winked up at his employer. He had a gray, humorous eye; he was
slim and alert, like a sparrow-hawk--the sort of boy his father openly
rejoices in and his mother is secretly in prayer over. Only, this boy
had neither father nor mother. Since the age of twelve he had looked out
for himself, never quite without bread, sometimes attaining champagne,
getting along in his American way variously, on horse or afoot, across
regions of wide plains and mountains, through towns where not a soul
knew his name. He closed one of his gray eyes at his employer, and
beyond this made no remark.

"Vat you mean by dat vink, anyhow?" demanded the elder.

"Say," said the boy, confidentially--"honest now. How about you and me?
Five hundred dollars if I had your beard. You've got a record and I've
got a future. And my bloom's on me rich, without a scratch. How many
dollars you gif me for dat bloom?" The sparrow-hawk sailed into a
freakish imitation of his master.

"You are a liddle rascal!" cried the master, shaking with entertainment.
"Und if der peoples vas to hear you sass old Max Vogel in dis style they
would say, 'Poor old Max, he lose his gr-rip.' But I don't lose it." His
great hand closed suddenly on the boy's shoulder, his voice cut clean
and heavy as an axe, and then no more joking about him. "Haf you
understand that?" he said.

"Yes, sir."

"How old are you, son?"

"Nineteen, sir."

"Oh my, that is offle young for the job I gif you. Some of dose man you
go to boss might be your father. Und how much do you weigh?"

"About a hundred and thirty."

"Too light, too light. Und I haf keep my eye on you in Boise. You are
not so goot a boy as you might be."

"Well, sir, I guess not."

"But you was not so bad a boy as you might be, neider. You don't lie
about it. Now it must be farewell to all that foolishness. Haf you
understand? You go to set an example where one is needed very bad. If
those men see you drink a liddle, they drink a big lot. You forbid them,
they laugh at you. You must not allow one drop of whiskey at the whole
place. Haf you well understand?"

"Yes, sir. Me and whiskey are not necessary to each other's happiness."

"It is not you, it is them. How are you mit your gun?"

Vogel took the boy's pistol from its holster and aimed at an empty
bottle which was sticking in the thin Deceiver snow. "Can you do this?"
he said, carelessly, and fired. The snow struck the bottle, but the
unharming bullet was buried half an inch to the left.

The boy took his pistol with solemnity. "No," he said. "Guess I can't do
that." He fired, and the glass splintered into shapelessness. "Told you
I couldn't miss as close as you did," said he.

"You are a darling," said Mr. Vogel. "Gif me dat lofely weapon."

A fortunate store of bottles lay, leaned, or stood about in the white
snow of Nampa, and Mr. Vogel began at them.

"May I ask if anything is the matter?" inquired a mild voice from the
stage.

"Stick that lily head in-doors," shouted Vogel; and the face and
eye-glasses withdrew again into the stage. "The school-teacher he will
be beautifool virtuous company for you at Malheur Agency," continued
Vogel, shooting again; and presently the large old German destroyed a
bottle with a crashing smack. "Ah!" said he, in unison with the smack.
"Ah-ha! No von shall say der old Max lose his gr-rip. I shoot it efry
time now, but the train she whistle. I hear her."

The boy affected to listen earnestly.

"Bah! I tell you I hear de whistle coming."

"Did you say there was a whistle?" ventured the occupant of the stage.
The snow shone white on his glasses as he peered out.

"Nobody whistle for you," returned the robust Vogel. "You listen to me,"
he continued to the boy. "You are offle yoong. But I watch you plenty
this long time. I see you work mit my stock on the Owyhee and the
Malheur; I see you mit my oder men. My men they say always more and
more, 'Yoong Drake he is a goot one,' und I think you are a goot one
mine own self. I am the biggest cattle man on the Pacific slope, und I
am also an old devil. I have think a lot, und I like you."

"I'm obliged to you, sir."

"Shut oop. I like you, und therefore I make you my new sooperintendent
at my Malheur Agency r-ranch, mit a bigger salary as you don't get
before. If you are a sookcess, I r-raise you some more."

"I am satisfied now, sir."

"Bah! Never do you tell any goot business man you are satisfied mit vat
he gif you, for eider he don't believe you or else he think you are a
fool. Und eider ways you go down in his estimation. You make those men
at Malheur Agency behave themselves und I r-raise you. Only I do vish, I
do certainly vish you had some beard on that yoong chin."

The boy glanced at his pistol.

"No, no, no, my son," said the sharp old German. "I don't want gunpowder
in dis affair. You must act kviet und decisif und keep your liddle shirt
on. What you accomplish shootin'? You kill somebody, und then, pop!
somebody kills you. What goot is all that nonsense to me?"

"It would annoy me some, too," retorted the boy, eyeing the capitalist.
"Don't leave me out of the proposition."

"Broposition! Broposition! Now you get hot mit old Max for nothing."

"If you didn't contemplate trouble," pursued the boy, "what was your
point just now in sampling my marksmanship?" He kicked some snow in the
direction of the shattered bottle. "It's understood no whiskey comes on
that ranch. But if no gunpowder goes along with me, either, let's call
the deal off. Buy some other fool."

"You haf not understand, my boy. Und you get very hot because I happen
to make that liddle joke about somebody killing you. Was you thinking
maybe old Max not care what happen to you?"

A moment of silence passed before the answer came: "Suppose we talk
business?"

"Very well, very well. Only notice this thing. When oder peoples talk
oop to me like you haf done many times, it is not they who does the
getting hot. It is me--old Max. Und when old Max gets hot he slings them
out of his road anywheres. Some haf been very sorry they get so slung.
You invite me to buy some oder fool? Oh, my boy, I will buy no oder fool
except you, for that was just like me when I was yoong Max!" Again the
ruddy and grizzled magnate put his hand on the shoulder of the boy, who
stood looking away at the bottles, at the railroad track, at anything
save his employer.

The employer proceeded: "I was afraid of nobody und noding in those
days. You are afraid of nobody and noding. But those days was different.
No Pullman sleepers, no railroad at all. We come oop the Columbia in
the steamboat, we travel hoonderts of miles by team, we sleep, we eat
nowheres in particular mit many unexpected interooptions. There was
Indians, there was offle bad white men, und if you was not offle
yourself you vanished quickly. Therefore in those days was Max Vogel
hell und repeat."

The magnate smiled a broad fond smile over the past which he had kicked,
driven, shot, bled, and battled through to present power; and the boy
winked up at him again now.

"I don't propose to vanish, myself," said he.

"Ah-ha! you was no longer mad mit der old Max! Of coorse I care what
happens to you. I was alone in the world myself in those lofely wicked
days."

Reserve again made flinty the boy's face.

"Neider did I talk about my feelings," continued Max Vogel, "but I nefer
show them too quick. If I was injured I wait, and I strike to kill. We
all paddles our own dugout, eh? We ask no favors from nobody; we must
win our spurs! Not so? Now I talk business with you where you interroopt
me. If cow-boys was not so offle scarce in the country, I would long ago
haf bounce the lot of those drunken fellows. But they cannot be spared;
we must get along so. I cannot send Brock, he is needed at Harper's. The
dumb fellow at Alvord Lake is too dumb; he is not quickly courageous.
They would play high jinks mit him. Therefore I send you. Brock he say
to me you haf joodgement. I watch, and I say to myself also, this boy
haf goot joodgement. And when you look at your pistol so quick, I tell
you quick I don't send you to kill men when they are so scarce already!
My boy, it is ever the moral, the say-noding strength what gets
there--mit always the liddle pistol behind, in case--joost in case. Haf
you understand? I ask you to shoot. I see you know how, as Brock told
me. I recommend you to let them see that aggomplishment in a friendly
way. Maybe a shooting-match mit prizes--I pay for them--pretty soon
after you come. Und joodgement--und joodgement. Here comes that train.
Haf you well understand?"

Upon this the two shook hands, looking square friendship in each other's
eyes. The east-bound, long quiet and dark beneath its flowing clots of
smoke, slowed to a halt. A few valises and legs descended, ascended,
herding and hurrying; a few trunks were thrown resoundingly in and out
of the train; a woolly, crooked old man came with a box and a bandanna
bundle from the second-class car; the travellers of a thousand miles
looked torpidly at him through the dim, dusty windows of their Pullman,
and settled again for a thousand miles more. Then the east-bound,
shooting heavier clots of smoke laboriously into the air, drew its slow
length out of Nampa, and away.

"Where's that stage?" shrilled the woolly old man. "That's what I'm
after."

"Why, hello!" shouted Vogel. "Hello, Uncle Pasco! I heard you was dead."

Uncle Pasco blinked his small eyes to see who hailed him. "Oh!" said he,
in his light, crusty voice. "Dutchy Vogel. No, I ain't dead. You guessed
wrong. Not dead. Help me up, Dutchy."

A tolerant smile broadened Vogel's face. "It was ten years since I see
you," said he, carrying the old man's box.

"Shouldn't wonder. Maybe it'll be another ten till you see me next." He
stopped by the stage step, and wheeling nimbly, surveyed his old-time
acquaintance, noting the good hat, the prosperous watch-chain, the big,
well-blacked boots. "Not seen me for ten years. Hee-hee! No. Usen't to
have a cent more than me. Twins in poverty. That's how Dutchy and me
started. If we was buried to-morrow they'd mark him 'Pecunious' and me
'Impecunious.' That's what. Twins in poverty."

"I stick to von business at a time, Uncle," said good-natured,
successful Max.

A flicker of aberration lighted in the old man's eye. "H'm, yes," said
he, pondering. "Stuck to one business. So you did. H'm." Then, suddenly
sly, he chirped: "But I've struck it rich now." He tapped his box.
"Jewelry," he half-whispered. "Miners and cow-boys."

"Yes," said Vogel. "Those poor, deluded fellows, they buy such stuff."
And he laughed at the seedy visionary who had begun frontier life
with him on the bottom rung and would end it there. "Do you play that
concertina yet, Uncle?" he inquired.

"Yes, yes. I always play. It's in here with my tooth-brush and socks."
Uncle Pasco held up the bandanna. "Well, he's getting ready to start. I
guess I'll be climbing inside. Holy Gertrude!"

This shrill comment was at sight of the school-master, patient within
the stage. "What business are you in?" demanded Uncle Pasco.

"I am in the spelling business," replied the teacher, and smiled,
faintly.

"Hell!" piped Uncle Pasco. "Take this."

He handed in his bandanna to the traveller, who received it politely.
Max Vogel lifted the box of cheap jewelry; and both he and the boy came
behind to boost the old man up on the stage step. But with a nettled
look he leaped up to evade them, tottered half-way, and then, light as a
husk of grain, got himself to his seat and scowled at the schoolmaster.

After a brief inspection of that pale, spectacled face, "Dutchy," he
called out of the door, "this country is not what it was."

But old Max Vogel was inattentive. He was speaking to the boy, Dean
Drake, and held a flask in his hand. He reached the flask to his new
superintendent. "Drink hearty," said he. "There, son! Don't be shy. Haf
you forgot it is forbidden fruit after now?"

"Kid sworn off?" inquired Uncle Pasco of the school-master.

"I understand," replied this person, "that Mr. Vogel will not allow
his cow-boys at the Malheur Agency to have any whiskey brought there.
Personally, I feel gratified." And Mr. Bolles, the new school-master,
gave his faint smile.

"Oh," muttered Uncle Pasco. "Forbidden to bring whiskey on the ranch?
H'm." His eyes wandered to the jewelry-box. "H'm," said he again; and
becoming thoughtful, he laid back his moth-eaten sly head, and spoke no
further with Mr. Bolles.

Dean Drake climbed into the stage and the vehicle started.

"Goot luck, goot luck, my son!" shouted the hearty Max, and opened and
waved both his big arms at the departing boy: He stood looking after the
stage. "I hope he come back," said he. "I think he come back. If he come
I r-raise him fifty dollars without any beard."


II

The stage had not trundled so far on its Silver City road but that a
whistle from Nampa station reached its three occupants. This was the
branch train starting back to Boise with Max Vogel aboard; and the boy
looked out at the locomotive with a sigh.

"Only five days of town," he murmured. "Six months more wilderness now."

"My life has been too much town," said the new school-master. "I am
looking forward to a little wilderness for a change."

Old Uncle Pasco, leaning back, said nothing; he kept his eyes shut and
his ears open.

"Change is what I don't get," sighed Dean Drake. In a few miles,
however, before they had come to the ferry over Snake River, the recent
leave-taking and his employer's kind but dominating repression lifted
from the boy's spirit. His gray eye wakened keen again, and he began
to whistle light opera tunes, looking about him alertly, like the
sparrow-hawk that he was. "Ever see Jeannie Winston in 'Fatinitza'?" he
inquired of Mr. Bolles.

The school-master, with a startled, thankful countenance, stated that he
had never.

"Ought to," said Drake.

"You a man? that can't be true!
Men have never eyes like you."

"That's what the girls in the harem sing in the second act. Golly whiz!"
The boy gleamed over the memory of that evening.

"You have a hard job before you," said the school-master, changing the
subject.

"Yep. Hard." The wary Drake shook his head warningly at Mr. Bolles to
keep off that subject, and he glanced in the direction of slumbering
Uncle Pasco. Uncle Pasco was quite aware of all this. "I wouldn't take
another lonesome job so soon," pursued Drake, "but I want the money.
I've been working eleven months along the Owyhee as a sort of junior
boss, and I'd earned my vacation. Just got it started hot in Portland,
when biff! old Vogel telegraphs me. Well, I'll be saving instead of
squandering. But it feels so good to squander!"

"I have never had anything to squander," said Bolles, rather sadly.

"You don't say! Well, old man, I hope you will. It gives a man a lot
he'll never get out of spelling-books. Are you cold? Here." And despite
the school-master's protest, Dean Drake tucked his buffalo coat round
and over him. "Some day, when I'm old," he went on, "I mean to live
respectable under my own cabin and vine. Wife and everything. But not,
anyway, till I'm thirty-five."

He dropped into his opera tunes for a while; but evidently it was
not "Fatinitza" and his vanished holiday over which he was chiefly
meditating, for presently he exclaimed: "I'll give them a shooting-match
in the morning. You shoot?"

Bolles hoped he was going to learn in this country, and exhibited a
Smith & Wesson revolver.

Drake grieved over it. "Wrap it up warm," said he. "I'll lend you a
real one when we get to the Malheur Agency. But you can eat, anyhow.
Christmas being next week, you see, my programme is, shoot all A.M. and
eat all P.M. I wish you could light on a notion what prizes to give my
buccaroos."

"Buccaroos?" said Bolles.

"Yep. Cow-punchers. Vaqueros. Buccaroos in Oregon. Bastard Spanish word,
you see, drifted up from Mexico. Vogel would not care to have me give
'em money as prizes."

At this Uncle Pasco opened an eye.

"How many buccaroos will there be?" Bolles inquired.

"At the Malheur Agency? It's the headquarters of five of our ranches.
There ought to be quite a crowd. A dozen, probably, at this time of
year."

Uncle Pasco opened his other eye. "Here, you!" he said, dragging at his
box under the seat. "Pull it, can't you? There. Just what you're after.
There's your prizes." Querulous and watchful, like some aged, rickety
ape, the old man drew out his trinkets in shallow shelves.

"Sooner give 'em nothing," said Dean Drake.

"What's that? What's the matter with them?"

"Guess the boys have had all the brass rings and glass diamonds they
want."

"That's all you know, then. I sold that box clean empty through the
Palouse country last week, 'cept the bottom drawer, and an outfit on
Meacham's hill took that. Shows all you know. I'm going clean through
your country after I've quit Silver City. I'll start in by Baker City
again, and I'll strike Harney, and maybe I'll go to Linkville. I know
what buccaroos want. I'll go to Fort Rinehart, and I'll go to the Island
Ranch, and first thing you'll be seeing your boys wearing my stuff all
over their fingers and Sunday shirts, and giving their girls my stuff
right in Harney City. That's what."

"All right, Uncle. It's a free country."

"Shaw! Guess it is. I was in it before you was, too. You were wet behind
the ears when I was jammin' all around here. How many are they up at
your place, did you say?"

"I said about twelve. If you're coming our way, stop and eat with us."

"Maybe I will and maybe I won't." Uncle Pasco crossly shoved his box
back.

"All right, Uncle. It's a free country," repeated Drake.

Not much was said after this. Uncle Pasco unwrapped his concertina from
the red handkerchief and played nimbly for his own benefit. At Silver
City he disappeared, and, finding he had stolen nothing from them, they
did not regret him. Dean Drake had some affairs to see to here before
starting for Harper's ranch, and it was pleasant to Bolles to find how
Drake was esteemed through this country. The school-master was to board
at the Malheur Agency, and had come this way round because the new
superintendent must so travel. They were scarcely birds of a feather,
Drake and Bolles, yet since one remote roof was to cover them, the
in-door man was glad this boy-host had won so much good-will from
high and low. That the shrewd old Vogel should trust so much in a
nineteen-year-old was proof enough at least of his character; but when
Brock, the foreman from Harper's, came for them at Silver City, Bolles
witnessed the affection that the rougher man held for Drake. Brock shook
the boy's hand with that serious quietness and absence of words which
shows the Western heart is speaking. After a look at Bolles and a silent
bestowing of the baggage aboard the team, he cracked his long whip and
the three rattled happily away through the dips of an open country where
clear streams ran blue beneath the winter air. They followed the Jordan
(that Idaho Jordan) west towards Oregon and the Owyhee, Brock often
turning in his driver's seat so as to speak with Drake. He had a long,
gradual chapter of confidences and events; through miles he unburdened
these to his favorite:

The California mare was coring well in harness. The eagle over at
Whitehorse ranch had fought the cat most terrible. Gilbert had got a
mule-kick in the stomach, but was eating his three meals. They had a new
boy who played the guitar. He used maple-syrup an his meat, and claimed
he was from Alabama. Brock guessed things were about as usual in most
ways. The new well had caved in again. Then, in the midst of his gossip,
the thing he had wanted to say all along came out: "We're pleased about
your promotion," said he; and, blushing, shook Drake's hand again.

Warmth kindled the boy's face, and next, with a sudden severity, he
said: "You're keeping back something."

The honest Brock looked blank, then labored in his memory.

"Has the sorrel girl in Harney married you yet?" said Drake. Brock
slapped his leg, and the horses jumped at his mirth. He was mostly
grave-mannered, but when his boy superintendent joked, he rejoiced with
the same pride that he took in all of Drake's excellences.

"The boys in this country will back you up," said he, next day; and
Drake inquired: "What news from the Malheur Agency?"

"Since the new Chinaman has been cooking for them," said Brock, "they
have been peaceful as a man could wish."

"They'll approve of me, then," Drake answered. "I'm feeding 'em hyas
Christmas muck-a-muck."

"And what may that be?" asked the schoolmaster.

"You no kumtux Chinook?" inquired Drake. "Travel with me and you'll
learn all sorts of languages. It means just a big feed. All whiskey is
barred," he added to Brock.

"It's the only way," said the foreman. "They've got those Pennsylvania
men up there."

Drake had not encountered these.

"The three brothers Drinker," said Brock. "Full, Half-past Full, and
Drunk are what they call them. Them's the names; they've brought them
from Klamath and Rogue River."

"I should not think a Chinaman would enjoy such comrades," ventured Mr.
Bolles.

"Chinamen don't have comrades in this country," said Brock, briefly.
"They like his cooking. It's a lonesome section up there, and a Chinaman
could hardly quit it, not if he was expected to stay. Suppose they kick
about the whiskey rule?" he suggested to Drake.

"Can't help what they do. Oh, I'll give each boy his turn in Harney City
when he gets anxious. It's the whole united lot I don't propose to have
cut up on me."

A look of concern for the boy came over the face of foreman Brock.
Several times again before their parting did he thus look at his
favorite. They paused at Harper's for a day to attend to some matters,
and when Drake was leaving this place one of the men said to him: "We'll
stand by you." But from his blithe appearance and talk as the slim boy
journeyed to the Malheur River and Headquarter ranch, nothing seemed
to be on his mind. Oregon twinkled with sun and fine white snow. They
crossed through a world of pines and creviced streams and exhilarating
silence. The little waters fell tinkling through icicles in the
loneliness of the woods, and snowshoe rabbits dived into the brush. East
Oregon, the Owyhee and the Malheur country, the old trails of General
Crook, the willows by the streams, the open swales, the high woods
where once Buffalo Horn and Chief E-egante and O-its the medicine-man
prospered, through this domain of war and memories went Bolles the
school-master with Dean Drake and Brock. The third noon from Harper's
they came leisurely down to the old Malheur Agency, where once the
hostile Indians had drawn pictures on the door, and where Castle Rock
frowned down unchanged.

"I wish I was going to stay here with you," said Brock to Drake. "By
Indian Creek you can send word to me quicker than we've come."

"Why, you're an old bat!" said the boy to his foreman, and clapped him
farewell on the shoulder.

Brock drove away, thoughtful. He was not a large man. His face was
clean-cut, almost delicate. He had a well-trimmed, yellow mustache, and
it was chiefly in his blue eye and lean cheek-bone that the frontiersman
showed. He loved Dean Drake more than he would ever tell, even to
himself.

The young superintendent set at work to ranch-work this afternoon of
Brock's leaving, and the buccaroos made his acquaintance one by one and
stared at him. Villany did not sit outwardly upon their faces; they were
not villains; but they stared at the boy sent to control them, and they
spoke together, laughing. Drake took the head of the table at supper,
with Bolles on his right. Down the table some silence, some staring,
much laughing went on--the rich brute laugh of the belly untroubled by
the brain. Sam, the Chinaman, rapid and noiseless, served the dishes.

"What is it?" said a buccaroo.

"Can it bite?" said another.

"If you guess what it is, you can have it," said a third.

"It's meat," remarked Drake, incisively, helping himself; "and tougher
than it looks."

The brute laugh rose from the crowd and fell into surprised silence; but
no rejoinder came, and they ate their supper somewhat thoughtfully. The
Chinaman's quick, soft eye had glanced at Dean Drake when they laughed.
He served his dinner solicitously. In his kitchen that evening he and
Bolles unpacked the good things--the olives, the dried fruits, the
cigars--brought by the new superintendent for Christmas; and finding
Bolles harmless, like his gentle Asiatic self, Sam looked cautiously
about and spoke:

"You not know why they laugh," said he. "They not talk about my meat
then. They mean new boss, Misser Dlake. He velly young boss."

"I think," said Bolles, "Mr. Drake understood their meaning, Sam. I have
noticed that at times he expresses himself peculiarly. I also think they
understood his meaning."

The Oriental pondered. "Me like Misser Dlake," said he. And drawing
quite close, he observed, "They not nice man velly much."

Next day and every day "Misser Dlake" went gayly about his business, at
his desk or on his horse, vigilant, near and far, with no sign save a
steadier keenness in his eye. For the Christmas dinner he provided
still further sending to the Grande Ronde country for turkeys and other
things. He won the heart of Bolles by lending him a good horse; but the
buccaroos, though they were boisterous over the coming Christmas joy,
did not seem especially grateful. Drake, however, kept his worries to
himself.

"This thing happens anywhere," he said one night in the office to
Bolles, puffing a cigar. "I've seen a troop of cavalry demoralize itself
by a sort of contagion from two or three men."

"I think it was wicked to send you here by yourself," blurted Bolles.

"Poppycock! It's the chance of my life, and I'll jam her through or
bust."

"I think they have decided you are getting turkeys because you are
afraid of them," said Bolles.

"Why, of course! But d' you figure I'm the man to abandon my Christmas
turkey because my motives for eating it are misconstrued?"

Dean Drake smoked for a while; then a knock came at the door. Five
buccaroos entered and stood close, as is the way with the guilty who
feel uncertain.

"We were thinking as maybe you'd let us go over to town," said Half-past
Full, the spokesman.

"When?"

"Oh, any day along this week."

"Can't spare you till after Christmas."

"Maybe you'll not object to one of us goin'?"

"You'll each have your turn after this week."

A slight pause followed. Then Half-past Full said: "What would you do if
I went, anyway?"

"Can't imagine," Drake answered, easily. "Go, and I'll be in a position
to inform you."

The buccaroo dropped his stolid bull eyes, but raised them again and
grinned. "Well, I'm not particular about goin' this week, boss."

"That's not my name," said Drake, "but it's what I am."

They stood a moment. Then they shuffled out. It was an orderly
retreat--almost.

Drake winked over to Bolles. "That was a graze," said he, and smoked for
a while. "They'll not go this time. Question is, will they go next?"


III

Drake took a fresh cigar, and threw his legs over the chair arm.

"I think you smoke too much," said Bolles, whom three days had made
familiar and friendly.

"Yep. Have to just now. That's what! as Uncle Pasco would say. They are
a half-breed lot, though," the boy continued, returning to the buccaroos
and their recent visit. "Weaken in the face of a straight bluff, you
see, unless they get whiskey-courageous. And I've called 'em down on
that."

"Oh!" said Bolles, comprehending.

"Didn't you see that was their game? But he will not go after it."

"The flesh is all they seem to understand," murmured Bolles.

Half-past Full did not go to Harney City for the tabooed whiskey, nor
did any one. Drake read his buccaroos like the children that they were.
After the late encounter of grit, the atmosphere was relieved of storm.
The children, the primitive, pagan, dangerous children, forgot all about
whiskey, and lusted joyously for Christmas. Christmas was coming! No
work! A shooting-match! A big feed! Cheerfulness bubbled at the Malheur
Agency. The weather itself was in tune. Castle Rock seemed no longer
to frown, but rose into the shining air, a mass of friendly strength.
Except when a rare sledge or horseman passed, Mr. Bolles's journeys to
the school were all to show it was not some pioneer colony in a new,
white, silent world that heard only the playful shouts and songs of the
buccaroos. The sun overhead and the hard-crushing snow underfoot filled
every one with a crisp, tingling hilarity.

Before the sun first touched Castle Rock on the morning of the feast
they were up and in high feather over at the bunk-house. They raced
across to see what Sam was cooking; they begged and joyfully swallowed
lumps of his raw plum-pudding. "Merry Christmas!" they wished him, and
"Melly Clismas!" said he to them. They played leap-frog over by the
stable, they put snow down each other's backs. Their shouts rang round
corners; it was like boys let out of school. When Drake gathered them
for the shooting-match, they cheered him; when he told them there were
no prizes, what did they care for prizes? When he beat them all the
first round, they cheered him again. Pity he hadn't offered prizes! He
wasn't a good business man, after all!

The rounds at the target proceeded through the forenoon, Drake the
acclaimed leader; and the Christmas sun drew to mid-sky. But as its
splendor in the heavens increased, the happy shoutings on earth began
to wane. The body was all that the buccaroos knew; well, the flesh comes
pretty natural to all of us--and who had ever taught these men about
the spirit? The further they were from breakfast the nearer they were
to dinner; yet the happy shootings waned! The spirit is a strange thing.
Often it dwells dumb in human clay, then unexpectedly speaks out of the
clay's darkness.

It was no longer a crowd Drake had at the target. He became aware that
quietness had been gradually coming over the buccaroos. He looked, and
saw a man wandering by himself in the lane. Another leaned by the stable
corner, with a vacant face. Through the windows of the bunk-house
he could see two or three on their beds. The children were tired of
shouting. Drake went in-doors and threw a great log on the fire. It
blazed up high with sparks, and he watched it, although the sun shown
bright on the window-sill. Presently he noticed that a man had come in
and taken a chair. It was Half-past Full, and with his boots stretched
to the warmth, he sat gazing into the fire. The door opened and another
buckaroo entered and sat off in a corner. He had a bundle of old
letters, smeared sheets tied trite a twisted old ribbon. While his
large, top-toughened fingers softly loosened the ribbon, he sat with his
back to the room and presently began to read the letters over, one
by one. Most of the men came in before long, and silently joined the
watchers round the treat fireplace. Drake threw another log on, and in
a short time this, too, broke into ample flame. The silence was long;
a slice of shadow had fallen across the window-sill, when a young man
spoke, addressing the logs:

"I skinned a coon in San Saba, Texas, this day a year."

At the sound of a voice, some of their eyes turned on the speaker, but
turned back to the fire again. The spirit had spoken from the clay,
aloud; and the clay was uncomfortable at hearing it.

After some more minutes a neighbor whispered to a neighbor, "Play you a
game of crib."

The man nodded, stole over to where the board was, and brought it across
the floor on creaking tip-toe. They set it between them, and now and
then the cards made a light sound in the room.

"I treed that coon on Honey," said the young man, after a while--"Honey
Creek, San Saba. Kind o' dry creek. Used to flow into Big Brady when it
rained."

The flames crackled on, the neighbors still played their cribbage. Still
was the day bright, but the shrinking wedge of sun had gone entirely
from the window-sill. Half-past Full had drawn from his pocket a
mouthorgan, breathing half-tunes upon it; in the middle of "Suwanee
River" the man who sat in the corner laid the letter he was beginning
upon the heap on his knees and read no more. The great genial logs lay
glowing, burning; from the fresher one the flames flowed and forked;
along the embered surface of the others ran red and blue shivers of
iridescence. With legs and arms crooked and sprawled, the buccaroos
brooded, staring into the glow with seldom-winking eyes, while deep
inside the clay the spirit spoke quietly. Christmas Day was passing,
but the sun shone still two good hours high. Outside, over the snow
and pines, it was only in the deeper folds of the hills that the blue
shadows had come; the rest of the world was gold and silver; and from
far across that silence into this silence by the fire came a tinkling
stir of sound. Sleighbells it was, steadily coming, too early for Bolles
to be back from his school festival.

The toy-thrill of the jingling grew clear and sweet, a spirit of
enchantment that did not wake the stillness, but cast it into a deeper
dream. The bells came near the door and stopped, and then Drake opened
it.

"Hello, Uncle Pasco!" said he. "Thought you were Santa Claus."

"Santa Claus! H'm. Yes. That's what. Told you maybe I'd come."

"So you did. Turkey is due in--let's see--ninety minutes. Here, boys!
some of you take Uncle Pasco's horse."

"No, no, I won't. You leave me alone. I ain't stoppin' here. I ain't
hungry. I just grubbed at the school. Sleepin' at Missouri Pete's
to-night. Got to make the railroad tomorrow." The old man stopped his
precipitate statements. He sat in his sledge deeply muffled, blinking
at Drake and the buccaroos, who had strolled out to look at him, "Done a
big business this trip," said he. "Told you I would. Now if you was only
givin' your children a Christmas-tree like that I seen that feller yer
schoolmarm doin' just now--hee-hee!" From his blankets he revealed the
well-known case. "Them things would shine on a tree," concluded Uncle
Pasco.

"Hang 'em in the woods, then," said Drake.

"Jewelry, is it?" inquired the young Texas man.

Uncle Pasco whipped open his case. "There you are," said he. "All what's
left. That ring'll cost you a dollar."

"I've a dollar somewheres," said the young man, fumbling.

Half-past Full, on the other side of the sleigh, stood visibly
fascinated by the wares he was given a skilful glimpse of down among the
blankets. He peered and he pondered while Uncle Pasco glibly spoke to
him.

"Scatter your truck out plain!" the buccaroo exclaimed, suddenly. "I'm
not buying in the dark. Come over to the bunk-house and scatter."

"Brass will look just the same anywhere," said Drake.

"Brass!" screamed Uncle. "Brass your eye!"

But the buccaroos, plainly glad for distraction, took the woolly old
scolding man with them. Drake shouted that if getting cheated cheered
them, by all means to invest heavily, and he returned alone to his fire,
where Bolles soon joined him. They waited, accordingly, and by-and-by
the sleigh-bells jingled again. As they had come out of the silence,
so did they go into it, their little silvery tinkle dancing away in the
distance, faint and fainter, then, like a breath, gone.

Uncle Pasco's trinkets had audibly raised the men's spirits. They
remained in the bunkhouse, their laughter reaching Drake and Bolles more
and more. Sometimes they would scuffle and laugh loudly.

"Do you imagine it's more leap-frog?" inquired the school-master.

"Gambling," said Drake. "They'll keep at it now till one of them wins
everything the rest have bought."

"Have they been lively ever since morning?"

"Had a reaction about noon," said Drake. "Regular home-sick spell. I
felt sorry for 'em."

"They seem full of reaction," said Bolles. "Listen to that!"

It was now near four o'clock, and Sam came in, announcing dinner.

"All ready," said the smiling Chinaman.

"Pass the good word to the bunk-house," said Drake, "if they can hear
you."

Sam went across, and the shouting stopped. Then arose a thick volley of
screams and cheers.

"That don't sound right," said Drake, leaping to his feet. In the next
instant the Chinaman, terrified, returned through the open door. Behind
him lurched Half-past Full, and stumbled into the room. His boot caught,
and he pitched, but saved himself and stood swaying, heavily looking at
Drake. The hair curled dense over his bull head, his mustache was spread
with his grin, the light of cloddish humor and destruction burned in his
big eye. The clay had buried the spirit like a caving pit.

"Twas false jewelry all right!" he roared, at the top of his voice. "A
good old jimmyjohn full, boss. Say, boss, goin' to run our jimmyjohn off
the ranch? Try it on, kid. Come over and try it on!" The bull beat on
the table.

Dean Drake had sat quickly down in his chair, his gray eye upon the
hulking buccaroo. Small and dauntless he sat, a sparrow-hawk caught in a
trap, and game to the end--whatever end.

"It's a trifle tardy to outline any policy about your demijohn," said
he, seriously. "You folks had better come in and eat before you're
beyond appreciating."

"Ho, we'll eat your grub, boss. Sam's cooking goes." The buccaroo
lurched out and away to the bunk-house, where new bellowing was set up.

"I've got to carve this turkey, friend," said the boy to Bolles.

"I'll do my best to help eat it," returned the school-master, smiling.

"Misser Dlake," said poor Sam, "I solly you. I velly solly you."


IV

"Reserve your sorrow, Sam," said Dean Drake. "Give us your soup for a
starter. Come," he said to Bolles. "Quick."

He went into the dining-room, prompt in his seat at the head of the
table, with the school-master next to him.

"Nice man, Uncle Pasco," he continued. "But his time is not now. We have
nothing to do for the present but sit like every day and act perfectly
natural."

"I have known simpler tasks," said Mr. Bolles, "but I'll begin by
spreading this excellently clean napkin."

"You're no schoolmarm!" exclaimed Drake; "you please me."

"The worst of a bad thing," said the mild Bolles, "is having time to
think about it, and we have been spared that."

"Here they come," said Drake.

They did come. But Drake's alert strategy served the end he had tried
for. The drunken buccaroos swarmed disorderly to the door and halted.
Once more the new superintendent's ways took them aback. Here was the
decent table with lights serenely burning, with unwonted good things
arranged upon it--the olives, the oranges, the preserves. Neat as parade
drill were the men's places, all the cups and forks symmetrical along
the white cloth. There, waiting his guests at the far end, sat the slim
young boss talking with his boarder, Mr. Bolles, the parts in their
smooth hair going with all the rest of this propriety. Even the daily
tin dishes were banished in favor of crockery.

"Bashful of Sam's napkins, boys?" said the boss. "Or is it the
bald-headed china?"

At this bidding they came in uncertainly. Their whiskey was ashamed
inside. They took their seats, glancing across at each other in a
transient silence, drawing their chairs gingerly beneath them. Thus
ceremony fell unexpected upon the gathering, and for a while they
swallowed in awkwardness what the swift, noiseless Sam brought them.
He in a long white apron passed and re-passed with his things from his
kitchen, doubly efficient and civil under stress of anxiety for
his young master. In the pauses of his serving he watched from the
background, with a face that presently caught the notice of one of them.

"Smile, you almond-eyed highbinder," said the buccaroo. And the Chinaman
smiled his best.

"I've forgot something," said Half-past Full, rising. "Don't let 'em
skip a course on me." Half-past left the room.

"That's what I have been hoping for," said Drake to Bolles.

Half-past returned presently and caught Drake's look of expectancy. "Oh
no, boss," said the buccaroo, instantly, from the door. "You're on to
me, but I'm on to you." He slammed the door with ostentation and dropped
with a loud laugh into his seat.

"First smart thing I've known him do," said Drake to Bolles. "I am
disappointed."

Two buccaroos next left the room together.

"They may get lost in the snow," said the humorous Half-past. "I'll just
show 'em the trail." Once more he rose from the dinner and went out.

"Yes, he knew too much to bring it in here," said Drake to Bolles. "He
knew none but two or three would dare drink, with me looking on."

"Don't you think he is afraid to bring it in the same room with you at
all?" Bolles suggested.

"And me temperance this season? Now, Bolles, that's unkind."

"Oh, dear, that is not at all what--"

"I know what you meant, Bolles. I was only just making a little merry
over this casualty. No, he don't mind me to that extent, except when
he's sober. Look at him!"

Half-past was returning with his friends. Quite evidently they had all
found the trail.

"Uncle Pasco is a nice old man!" pursued Drake. "I haven't got my gun
on. Have you?"

"Yes," said Bolles, but with a sheepish swerve of the eye.

Drake guessed at once. "Not Baby Bunting? Oh, Lord! and I promised
to give you an adult weapon!--the kind they're wearing now by way of
full-dress."

"Talkin' secrets, boss?" said Half-past Full.

The well-meaning Sam filled his cup, and this proceeding shifted the
buccaroo's truculent attention.

"What's that mud?" he demanded.

"Coffee," said Sam, politely.

The buccaroo swept his cup to the ground, and the next man howled
dismay.

"Burn your poor legs?" said Half-past. He poured his glass over the
victim. They wrestled, the company pounded the table, betting hoarsely,
until Half-past went to the floor, and his plate with him.

"Go easy," said Drake. "You're smashing the company's property."

"Bald-headed china for sure, boss!" said a second of the brothers
Drinker, and dropped a dish.

"I'll merely tell you," said Drake, "that the company don't pay for this
china twice."

"Not twice?" said Half-past Full, smashing some more. "How about
thrice?"

"Want your money now?" another inquired.

A riot of banter seized upon all of them, and they began to laugh and
destroy.

"How much did this cost?" said one, prying askew his three-tined fork.

"How much did you cost yourself?" said another to Drake.

"What, our kid boss? Two bits, I guess."

"Hyas markook. Too dear!"

They bawled at their own jokes, loud and ominous; threat sounded beneath
their lightest word, the new crashes of china that they threw on the
floor struck sharply through the foreboding din of their mirth. The
spirit that Drake since his arrival had kept under in them day by day,
but not quelled, rose visibly each few succeeding minutes, swelling
upward as the tide does. Buoyed up on the whiskey, it glittered in their
eyes and yelled mutinously in their voices.

"I'm waiting all orders," said Bolles to Drake.

"I haven't any," said Drake. "New ones, that is. We've sat down to see
this meal out. Got to keep sitting."

He leaned back, eating deliberately, saying no more to the buccaroos;
thus they saw he would never leave the room till they did. As he had
taken his chair the first, so was the boy bound to quit it the last. The
game of prying fork-tines staled on them one by one, and they took to
songs, mostly of love and parting. With the red whiskey in their eyes
they shouted plaintively of sweethearts, and vows, and lips, and meeting
in the wild wood. From these they went to ballads of the cattle-trail
and the Yuba River, and so inevitably worked to the old coast song, made
of three languages, with its verses rhymed on each year since the first
beginning. Tradition laid it heavy upon each singer in his turn to keep
the pot a-boiling by memory or by new invention, and the chant went
forward with hypnotic cadence to a tune of larkish, ripping gayety. He
who had read over his old stained letters in the homesick afternoon had
waked from such dreaming and now sang:

"Once jes' onced in the year o' 49,
I met a fancy thing by the name o' Keroline;
I never could persuade her for to leave me be;
She went and she took and she married me."

His neighbor was ready with an original contribution:

"Once, once again in the year o' '64,
By the city of Whatcom down along the shore--
I never could persuade them for to leave me be--
A Siwash squaw went and took and married me."

"What was you doin' between all them years?" called Half-past Full.

"Shut yer mouth," said the next singer:

"Once, once again in the year o' 71
('Twas the suddenest deed that I ever done)--
I never could persuade them for to leave me be--
A rich banker's daughter she took and married me."

"This is looking better," said Bolles to Drake.

"Don't you believe it," said the boy.

Ten or a dozen years were thus sung.

"I never could persuade them for to leave me be" tempestuously brought
down the chorus and the fists, until the drunkards could sit no more,
but stood up to sing, tramping the tune heavily together. Then, just as
the turn came round to Drake himself, they dashed their chairs down and
herded out of the room behind Half-past Full, slamming the door.

Drake sat a moment at the head of his Christmas dinner, the fallen
chairs, the lumpy wreck. Blood charged his face from his hair to his
collar. "Let's smoke," said he. They went from the dinner through the
room of the great fireplace to his office beyond.

"Have a mild one?" he said to the schoolmaster.

"No, a strong one to-night, if you please." And Bolles gave his mild
smile.

"You do me good now and then," said Drake.

"Dear me," said the teacher, "I have found it the other way."

All the rooms fronted on the road with doors--the old-time agency doors,
where the hostiles had drawn their pictures in the days before peace had
come to reign over this country. Drake looked out, because the singing
had stopped and they were very quiet in the bunk-house. He saw the
Chinaman steal from his kitchen.

"Sam is tired of us," he said to Bolles.

"Tired?"

"Running away, I guess. I'd prefer a new situation myself. That's where
you're deficient, Bolles. Only got sense enough to stay where you happen
to be. Hello. What is he up to?"

Sam had gone beside a window of the bunkhouse and was listening there,
flat like a shadow. Suddenly he crouched, and was gone among the sheds.
Out of the bunk-house immediately came a procession, the buccaroos still
quiet, a careful, gradual body.

Drake closed his door and sat in the chair again. "They're escorting
that jug over here," said he. "A new move, and a big one."

He and Bolles heard them enter the next room, always without much noise
or talk--the loudest sound was the jug when they set it on the floor.
Then they seemed to sit, talking little.

"Bolles," said Drake, "the sun has set. If you want to take after Sam--"

But the door of the sitting-room opened and the Chinaman himself came
in. He left the door a-swing and spoke clearly. "Misser Dlake," said he,
"slove bloke" (stove broke).

The superintendent came out of his office, following Sam to the kitchen.
He gave no look or word to the buccaroos with their demijohn; he merely
held his cigar sidewise in his teeth and walked with no hurry through
the sitting-room. Sam took him through to the kitchen and round to a
hind corner of the stove, pointing.

"Misser Dlake," said he, "slove no bloke. I hear them inside. They going
kill you."

"That's about the way I was figuring it," mused Dean Drake.

"Misser Dlake," said the Chinaman, with appealing eyes, "I velly solly
you. They no hurtee me. Me cook."

"Sam, there is much meat in your words. Condensed beef don't class with
you. But reserve your sorrows yet a while. Now what's my policy?" he
debated, tapping the stove here and there for appearances; somebody
might look in. "Shall I go back to my office and get my guns?"

"You not goin' run now?" said the Chinaman, anxiously.

"Oh yes, Sam. But I like my gun travelling. Keeps me kind of warm. Now
if they should get a sight of me arming--no, she's got to stay here till
I come back for her. So long, Sam! See you later. And I'll have time to
thank you then."

Drake went to the corral in a strolling manner. There he roped the
strongest of the horses, and also the school-master's. In the midst of
his saddling, Bolles came down.

"Can I help you in any way?" said Bolles.

"You've done it. Saved me a bothering touch-and-go play to get you out
here and seem innocent. I'm going to drift."

"Drift?"

"There are times to stay and times to leave, Bolles; and this is a case
of the latter. Have you a real gun on now?"

Poor Bolles brought out guiltily his.22 Smith & Wesson. "I don't seem to
think of things," said he.

"Cheer up," said Drake. "How could you thought-read me? Hide Baby
Bunting, though. Now we're off. Quietly, at the start. As if we were
merely jogging to pasture."

Sam stood at his kitchen door, mutely wishing them well. The horses were
walking without noise, but Half-past Full looked out of the window.

"We're by, anyhow," said Drake. "Quick now. Burn the earth." The
horse sprang at his spurs. "Dust, you son of a gun! Rattle your hocks!
Brindle! Vamoose!" Each shouted word was a lash with his quirt. "Duck!"
he called to Bolles.

Bolles ducked, and bullets grooved the spraying snow. They rounded a
corner and saw the crowd jumping into the corral, and Sam's door empty
of that prudent Celestial.

"He's a very wise Chinaman!" shouted Drake, as they rushed.

"What?" screamed Bolles.

"Very wise Chinaman. He'll break that stove now to prove his innocence."

"Who did you say was innocent?" screamed Bolles.

"Oh, I said you were," yelled Drake, disgusted; and he gave over this
effort at conversation as their horses rushed along.


V

It was a dim, wide stretch of winter into which Drake and Bolles
galloped from the howling pursuit. Twilight already veiled the base of
Castle Rock, and as they forged heavily up a ridge through the caking
snow, and the yells came after them, Bolles looked seriously at Dean
Drake; but that youth wore an expression of rising merriment. Bolles
looked back at the dusk from which the yells were sounding, then forward
to the spreading skein of night where the trail was taking him and the
boy, and in neither direction could he discern cause for gayety.

"May I ask where we are going?" said he.

"Away," Drake answered. "Just away, Bolles. It's a healthy resort."

Ten miles were travelled before either spoke again. The drunken
buccaroos yelled hot on their heels at first, holding more obstinately
to this chase than sober ruffians would have attempted. Ten cold, dark
miles across the hills it took to cure them; but when their shootings,
that had followed over heights where the pines grew and down through
the open swales between, dropped off, and died finally away among the
willows along the south fork of the Malheur, Drake reined in his horse
with a jerk.

"Now isn't that too bad!" he exclaimed.

"It is all very bad," said Bolles, sorry to hear the boy's tone of
disappointment.

"I didn't think they'd fool me again," continued Drake, jumping down.

"Again?" inquired the interested Bolles.

"Why, they've gone home!" said the boy, in disgust.

"I was hoping so," said the school-master.

"Hoping? Why, it's sad, Bolles. Four miles farther and I'd have had them
lost."

"Oh!" said Bolles.

"I wanted them to keep after us," complained Drake. "Soon as we had a
good lead I coaxed them. Coaxed them along on purpose by a trail they
knew, and four miles from here I'd have swung south into the mountains
they don't know. There they'd have been good and far from home in the
snow without supper, like you and me, Bolles. But after all my trouble
they've gone back snug to that fireside. Well, let us be as cosey as we
can."

He built a bright fire, and he whistled as he kicked the snow from his
boots, busying over the horses and the blankets. "Take a rest," he said
to Bolles. "One man's enough to do the work. Be with you soon to share
our little cottage." Presently Bolles heard him reciting confidentially
to his horse, "Twas the night after Christmas, and all in the
house--only we are not all in the house!" He slapped the belly of his
horse Tyee, who gambolled away to the limit of his picket-rope.

"Appreciating the moon, Bolles?" said he, returning at length to the
fire. "What are you so gazeful about, father?"

"This is all my own doing," lamented the school-master.

"What, the moon is?"

"It has just come over me," Bolles continued. "It was before you got in
the stage at Nampa. I was talking. I told Uncle Pasco that I was glad no
whiskey was to be allowed on the ranch. It all comes from my folly!"

"Why, you hungry old New England conscience!" cried the boy, clapping
him on the shoulder. "How in the world could you foresee the crookedness
of that hoary Beelzebub?"

"That's all very well," said Bolles, miserably. "You would never have
mentioned it yourself to him."

"You and I, Bolles, are different. I was raised on miscellaneous
wickedness. A look at my insides would be liable to make you say your
prayers."

The school-master smiled. "If I said any prayers," he replied, "you
would be in them."

Drake looked moodily at the fire. "The Lord helps those who help
themselves," said he. "I've prospered. For a nineteen-year-old I've
hooked my claw fairly deep here and there. As for to-day--why, that's
in the game too. It was their deal. Could they have won it on their own
play? A joker dropped into their hand. It's my deal now, and I have some
jokers myself. Go to sleep, Bolles. We've a ride ahead of us."

The boy rolled himself in his blanket skillfully. Bolles heard him say
once or twice in a sort of judicial conversation with the blanket--"and
all in the house--but we were not all in the house. Not all. Not a full
house--" His tones drowsed comfortably into murmur, and then to quiet
breathing. Bolles fed the fire, thatched the unneeded wind-break (for
the calm, dry night was breathless), and for a long while watched the
moon and a tuft of the sleeping boy's hair.

"If he is blamed," said the school-master, "I'll never forgive myself.
I'll never forgive myself anyhow."

A paternal, or rather maternal, expression came over Bolles's face, and
he removed his large, serious glasses. He did not sleep very well.

The boy did. "I'm feeling like a bird," said he, as they crossed through
the mountains next morning on a short cut to the Owybee. "Breakfast will
brace you up, Bolles. There'll be a cabin pretty soon after we strike
the other road. Keep thinking hard about coffee."

"I wish I could," said poor Bolles. He was forgiving himself less and
less.

Their start had been very early; as Drake bid the school-master observe,
to have nothing to detain you, nothing to eat and nothing to pack, is a
great help in journeys of haste. The warming day, and Indian Creek well
behind them, brought Drake to whistling again, but depression sat upon
the self-accusing Bolles. Even when they sighted the Owyhee road below
them, no cheerfulness waked in him; not at the nearing coffee, nor
yet at the companionable tinkle of sleigh-bells dancing faintly upward
through the bright, silent air.

"Why, if it ain't Uncle Pasco!" said Drake, peering down through a gap
in the foot-hill. "We'll get breakfast sooner than I expected. Quick!
Give me Baby Bunting!"

"Are you going to kill him?" whispered the school-master, with a beaming
countenance. And he scuffled with his pocket to hand over his hitherto
belittled weapon.

Drake considered him. "Bolles, Bolles," said he, "you have got the
New England conscience rank. Plymouth Rock is a pudding to your heart.
Remind me to pray for you first spare minute I get. Now follow me close.
He'll be much more useful to us alive."

They slipped from their horses, stole swiftly down a shoulder of the
hill, and waited among some brush. The bells jingled unsuspectingly
onward to this ambush.

"Only hear 'em!" said Drake. "All full of silver and Merry Christmas.
Don't gaze at me like that, Bolles, or I'll laugh and give the whole
snap away. See him come! The old man's breath streams out so calm. He's
not worried with New England conscience. One, two, three" Just before
the sleigh came opposite, Dean Drake stepped out. "Morning, Uncle!" said
he. "Throw up your hands!"

Uncle Pasco stopped dead, his eyes blinking. Then he stood up in the
sleigh among his blankets. "H'm," said he, "the kid."

"Throw up your hands! Quit fooling with that blanket!" Drake spoke
dangerously now. "Bolles," he continued, "pitch everything out of the
sleigh while I cover him. He's got a shot-gun under that blanket. Sling
it out."

It was slung. The wraps followed. Uncle Pasco stepped obediently down,
and soon the chattels of the emptied sleigh littered the snow. The old
gentleman was invited to undress until they reached the six-shooter that
Drake suspected. Then they ate his lunch, drank some whiskey that he had
not sold to the buccaroos, told him to repack the sleigh, allowed him
to wrap up again, bade him take the reins, and they would use his
six-shooter and shot-gun to point out the road to him.

He had said very little, had Uncle Pasco, but stood blinking, obedient
and malignant. "H'm," said he now, "goin' to ride with me, are you?"

He was told yes, that for the present he was their coachman. Their
horses were tired and would follow, tied behind. "We're weary, too,"
said Drake, getting in. "Take your legs out of my way or I'll kick off
your shins. Bolles, are you fixed warm and comfortable? Now start her up
for Harper ranch, Uncle."

"What are you proposing to do with me?" inquired Uncle Pasco.

"Not going to wring your neck, and that's enough for the present.
Faster, Uncle. Get a gait on. Bolles, here's Baby Bunting. Much obliged
to you for the loan of it, old man."

Uncle Pasco's eye fell on the 22-caliber pistol. "Did you hold me up
with that lemonade straw?" he asked, huskily.

"Yep," said Drake. "That's what."

"Oh, hell!" murmured Uncle Pasco. And for the first time he seemed
dispirited.

"Uncle, you're not making time," said Drake after a few miles. "I'll
thank you for the reins. Open your bandanna and get your concertina.
Jerk the bellows for us."

"That I'll not!" screamed Uncle Pasco.

"It's music or walk home," said the boy. "Take your choice."

Uncle Pasco took his choice, opening with the melody of "The Last Rose
of Summer." The sleigh whirled up the Owyhee by the winter willows, and
the levels, and the meadow pools, bright frozen under the blue sky.
Late in this day the amazed Brock by his corrals at Harper's beheld
arrive his favorite, his boy superintendent, driving in with the
schoolmaster staring through his glasses, and Uncle Pasco throwing
out active strains upon his concertina. The old man had been bidden to
bellows away for his neck.

Drake was not long in explaining his need to the men. "This thing must
be worked quick," said he. "Who'll stand by me?"

All of them would, and he took ten, with the faithful Brock. Brock would
not allow Gilbert to go, because he had received another mule-kick in
the stomach. Nor was Bolles permitted to be of the expedition. To all
his protests, Drake had but the single word: "This is not your fight,
old man. You've done your share with Baby Bunting."

Thus was the school-master in sorrow compelled to see them start back
to Indian Creek and the Malheur without him. With him Uncle Pasco would
have joyfully exchanged. He was taken along with the avengers. They
would not wring his neck, but they would play cat and mouse with him and
his concertina; and they did. But the conscience of Bolles still toiled.
When Drake and the men were safe away, he got on the wagon going for the
mail, thus making his way next morning to the railroad and Boise, where
Max Vogel listened to him; and together this couple hastily took train
and team for the Malheur Agency.

The avengers reached Indian Creek duly, and the fourth day after his
Christmas dinner Drake came once more in sight of Castle Rock.

"I am doing this thing myself, understand," he said to Brock. "I am
responsible."

"We're here to take your orders," returned the foreman. But as the
agency buildings grew plain and the time for action was coming, Brock's
anxious heart spoke out of its fulness. "If they start in to--to--they
might--I wish you'd let me get in front," he begged, all at once.

"I thought you thought better of me," said Drake.

"Excuse me," said the man. Then presently: "I don't see how anybody
could 'a' told he'd smuggle whiskey that way. If the old man [Brock
meant Max Vogel] goes to blame you, I'll give him my opinion straight."

"The old man's got no use for opinions," said Drake. "He goes on
results. He trusted me with this job, and we're going to have results
now."

The drunkards were sitting round outside the ranch house. It was
evening. They cast a sullen inspection on the new-comers, who returned
them no inspection whatever. Drake had his men together and took them
to the stable first, a shed with mangers. Here he had them unsaddle.
"Because," he mentioned to Brock, "in case of trouble we'll be sure of
their all staying. I'm taking no chances now."

Soon the drunkards strolled over, saying good-day, hazarding a few
comments on the weather and like topics, and meeting sufficient answers.

"Goin' to stay?"

"Don't know."

"That's a good horse you've got."

"Fair."

But Sam was the blithest spirit at the Malheur Agency. "Hiyah!" he
exclaimed. "Misser Dlake! How fashion you come quick so?" And the
excellent Chinaman took pride in the meal of welcome that he prepared.

"Supper's now," said Drake to his men. "Sit anywhere you feel like.
Don't mind whose chair you're taking--and we'll keep our guns on."

Thus they followed him, and sat. The boy took his customary perch at the
head of the table, with Brock at his right. "I miss old Bolles," he told
his foreman. "You don't appreciate Bolles."

"From what you tell of him," said Brock, "I'll examine him more
careful."

Seeing their boss, the sparrow-hawk, back in his place, flanked with
supporters, and his gray eye indifferently upon them, the buccaroos grew
polite to oppressiveness. While Sam handed his dishes to Drake and
the new-comers, and the new-comers eat what was good before the old
inhabitants got a taste, these latter grew more and more solicitous.
They offered sugar to the strangers, they offered their beds; Half-past
Full urged them to sit companionably in the room where the fire was
burning. But when the meal was over, the visitors went to another room
with their arms, and lighted their own fire. They brought blankets from
their saddles, and after a little concertina they permitted the nearly
perished Uncle Pasco to slumber. Soon they slumbered thems





Next: A Kinsman Of Red Cloud




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