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The Rell Ole Cowpuncher Goes Home








From: The Flying U's Last Stand

I don't suppose anything can equal the aplomb of a child that has always
had his own way and has developed normally. The Kid, for instance, had
been wandering in the wild places--this was the morning of the sixth
day. The whole of Northern Montana waited anxiously for news of him. The
ranch had been turned into a rendezvous for searchers. Men rode as long
as they could sit in the saddle. Women were hysterical in the affection
they lavished upon their own young. And yet, the Kid himself opened his
eyes to the sun and his mind was untroubled save where his immediate
needs were concerned. He sat up thinking of breakfast, and he spied
Andy Green humped on his knees over a heap of camp-fire coals, toasting
rabbit-hams--the joy of it--on a forked stick. Opposite him Miss Allen
crouched and held another rabbit-leg on a forked stick. The Kid sat
up as if a spring had been suddenly released, and threw off the gray
blanket.

"Say, I want to do that too!" he cried. "Get me a stick, Andy, so I can
do it. I never did and I want to!"

Andy grabbed him as he came up and kissed him--and the Kid wondered at
the tremble of Andy's arms. He wondered also at the unusual caress; but
it was very nice to have Andy's arms around him and Andy's cheek against
his, and of a sudden the baby of him came to the surface.

"I want my Daddy Chip!" he whimpered, and laid his head down on Andy's
shoulder. "And I want my Doctor Dell and my--cat! She's lonesome for
me. And I forgot to take the string off her tail and maybe it ain't
comfortable any more!"

"We're going to hit the trail, old-timer, just as soon as we get outside
of a little grub." Andy's voice was so tender that Miss Allen gulped
back a sob of sympathy. "You take this stick and finish roasting the
meat, and then see what you think of rabbit-hams. I hear you've been a
real old cowpuncher, Buck. The way you took care of Miss Allen proves
you're the goods, all right. Not quite so close, or you'll burn it,
Buck. That's better. I'll go get another stick and roast the back."

The Kid, squatting on his heels by the fire, watched gravely the
rabbit-leg on the two prongs of the willow stick he held. He glanced
across at Miss Allen and smiled his Little Doctor smile.

"He's my pal," he announced. "I bet if I stayed we could round up all
them cattle our own selves. And I bet he can find your horse, too.
He--he's 'customed to this country. I'd a found your horse today, all
right--but I guess Andy could find him quicker. Us punchers'll take
care of you, all right." The rabbit-leg sagged to the coals and began to
scorch, and the Kid lifted it startled and was grateful when Miss Allen
did not seem to have seen the accident.

"I'd a killed a rabbit for you," he explained, "only I didn't have no
gun or no matches so I couldn't. When I'm ten my Daddy Chip is going to
give me a gun. And then if you get lost I can take care of you like
Andy can. I'll be ten next week, I guess." He turned as Andy came back
slicing off the branches of a willow the size of his thumb.

"Say, old-timer, where's the rest of the bunch?" he inquired casually.
"Did you git your cattle rounded up?"

"Not yet." Andy sharpened the prongs of his stick and carefully impaled
the back of the rabbit.

"Well, I'll help you out. But I guess I better go home first--I guess
Doctor Dell might need me, maybe."

"I know she does, Buck." Andy's voice had a peculiar, shaky sound that
the Kid did not understand. "She needs you right bad. We'll hit the high
places right away quick."

Since Andy had gone at daybreak and brought the horses over into
this canyon, his statement was a literal one. They ate hurriedly and
started--and Miss Allen insisted that Andy was all turned around, and
that they were going in exactly the wrong direction, and blushed and
was silent when Andy, turning his face full toward her, made a kissing
motion with his lips.

"You quit that!" the Kid commanded him sharply. "She's my girl I guess I
found her first 'fore you did, and you ain't goin' to kiss her."

After that there was no lovemaking but the most decorous conversation
between these two.

Flying U Coulee lay deserted under the warm sunlight of early forenoon.
Deserted, and silent with the silence that tells where Death has stopped
with his sickle. Even the Kid seemed to feel a strangeness in the
atmosphere--a stillness that made his face sober while he looked around
the little pasture and up at the hill trail. In all the way home they
had not met anyone--but that may have been because Andy chose the way up
Flying U Creek as being shorter and therefore more desirable.

At the lower line fence of the little pasture Andy refused to believe
the Kid's assertion of having opened and shut the gate, until the Kid
got down and proved that he could open it--the shutting process being
too slow for Andy's raw nerves. He lifted the Kid into the saddle and
shut the gate himself, and led the way up the creek at a fast trot.

"I guess Doctor Dell will be glad to see me," the Kid observed
wistfully. "I've been gone most a year, I guess."

Neither Andy nor Miss Allen made any reply to this. Their eyes were
searching the hilltop for riders, that they might signal. But there was
no one in sight anywhere.

"Hadn't you better shout?" suggested Miss Allen. "Or would it be better
to go quietly--"

Andy did not reply; nor did he shout. Andy, at that moment, was fighting
a dryness in his throat. He could not have called out if he had wanted
to. They rode to the stable and stopped. Andy lifted the Kid down and
set him on his two feet by the stable door while he turned to Miss
Allen. For once in his life he was at a loss. He did not know how best
to bring the Kid to the Little Doctor; How best to lighten the shock
of seeing safe and well the manchild who she thought was dead. He
hesitated. Perhaps he should have ridden on to the house with him.
Perhaps he should have fired the signal when first he came into the
coulee. Perhaps...

The Kid himself swept aside Andy's uncertainties. Adeline, the cat, came
out of the stable and looked at them contemplatively. Adeline still had
the string tied to her tail, and a wisp of paper tied to the string. The
Kid pounced and caught her by the middle.

"I guess I can tie knots so they stay, by cripes!" he shouted
vaingloriously. "I guess Happy Jack can't tie strings any better 'n me,
can he? Nice kitty--c'm back here, you son-a-gun!"

Adeline had not worried over the absence of the Kid, but his hilarious
arrival seemed to worry her considerably. She went bounding up the path
to the house, and after her went the Kid, yelling epithets which were a
bit shocking for one of his age.

So he came to the porch just when Chip and the Little Doctor reached it,
white-faced and trembling. Adeline paused to squeeze under the steps,
and the Kid catching her by the tail, dragged her back yowling. While
his astounded parents watched him unbelievingly, the Kid gripped Adeline
firmly and started up the steps.

"I ketched the son-a-gun!" he cried jubilantly.

"Say, I seen a skink, Daddy Chip, and I frowed a rock and knocked his
block off 'cause he was going to swipe my grub. Was you s'prised, Doctor
Dell?"

Doctor Dell did not say. Doctor Dell was kneeling on the porch floor
with the Kid held closer in her arms than ever he held the cat, and
she was crying and laughing and kissing him all at once--though nobody
except a mother can perform that feat.





Next: The Fight Goes On

Previous: Her Name Was Rosemary



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