Rowdy Hires A New Boss





Next morning, after breakfast, Mr. Rodway followed Vaughan out to the

stable, and repeated Bill Brown's question.



"I'd like to know where yuh got this horse," he began, with an

apologetic sort of determination in his tone. "He happens to belong to

me. He was run off with a bunch three years ago, and this is the first

trace anybody has ever got of 'em. I see the brand's been worked. It was

a Roman four--that's my brand; now it looks like a map of Texas; but I'd

swear to the horse--raised him from a colt."



Rowdy had expected something of the sort, and he knew quite well what he

was going to do; he had settled that the night before, with the memory

of Miss Conroy's eyes fresh in his mind.



"I got him in a deal across the line," he said. "I was told he came from

east Oregon. But last night, when he piloted us straight to your corral

gate, I guessed he'd been here before. He's yours, all right, if you say

so."



"Uh course he ain't worth such a pile uh money," apologized Rodway, "but

the kids thought a heap of him. I'd rather locate some of the horses

that was with him--or the man yuh got him of. They was some mighty good

horses run out uh this country then, but they was all out on the range,

so we didn't miss 'em in time to do any good. Do yu know who took 'em

across the line?"



"No," said Rowdy deliberately. "The man I got Chub from went north, and

I heard he got killed. I don't know of any other in the deal."



Rodway grunted, and Vaughan began vigorously brushing Dixie's roughened

coat. "If you don't mind," he said, after a minute, "I'd like to borrow

Chub to pack my bed over to the Cross L. I can bring him back again."



"Why, sure!" assented Rodway eagerly. "I hate to take him from yuh, but

the kids--"



"Oh, that's all right," interrupted Rowdy cheerfully. "It's all in the

game, and I should 'a' looked up his pedigree, for I knew--. Anyway, was

worth the price of him to have him along last night. We'd have milled

around till daylight, I guess, only for him."



"That's what," agreed Rodway. "Jessie's horse is one she brought from

home lately, and he ain't located yet; I dunno as he'd 'a' piloted her

home. Billy--that's what the kids named him--was born and raised here,

yuh see. I'll bet he's glad to get back--and the kids'll be plumb wild."



Rowdy did not answer; there seemed nothing in particular to say, and he

was wondering if he would see Miss Conroy before he left. She had not

eaten breakfast with the others; from their manner, he judged that

no one expected her to. He was not well informed upon the subject

of schoolma'ams, but he had a hazy impression that late rising was a

distinguishing characteristic--and he did not know how late. He

saddled leisurely, and packed his bed for the last time upon Chub. The

red-and-yellow Navajo blanket he folded tenderly, with an unconscious

smile for the service it had done, and laid it in its accustomed place

in the bed. Then, having no plausible excuse for going back to the

house, he mounted and rode away into the brilliant white world, watching

wistfully the house from the tail of his eye.



She might have got up in time to see him off, he thought discontentedly;

but he supposed one cowpuncher more or less made little difference to

her. Anyway, he didn't know as he had any license to moon around her.

She probably had a fellow; she might even be engaged, for all he knew.

And--she was Harry Conroy's sister; and from his experience with the

breed, good looks didn't count for anything. Harry was good-looking, and

he was a snake, if ever there was one. He had never expected to lie for

him--but he had done it, all right--and because Harry's sister happened

to have nice eyes and a pretty little foot!--



He had half a mind to go back and tell Rodway all he knew about those

horses; it was only a matter of time, anyway, till Harry Conroy overshot

the mark and got what was coming to him. He sure didn't owe Harry

anything, that he had need to shield him like he had done. Still,

Rodway would wonder why he hadn't told it at first; and that little girl

believed in Harry, and said he was "splendid!" Humph! He wondered if she

really meant that. If she did--



He squared his back to the house--and the memory of Miss Conroy's

eyes--and plodded across the field to the gate. Now the sun was shining,

and there was no possibility of getting lost. The way to the Cross L lay

straight and plain before him.



Rowdy rode leisurely up over the crest of a ridge beyond which lay the

home ranch of the Cross L. Whether it was henceforth to be his home he

had yet to discover--though there was reason for hoping that it would

be. Even so venturesome a man as Rowdy Vaughan would scarce ride a long

hundred miles through unpeopled prairie, in the tricky month of March,

without some reason for expecting a welcome at the end of his journey.

In this case, a previous acquaintance with "Wooden Shoes" Mielke,

foreman of the Cross L, was Rowdy's trump-card. Wooden Shoes, whenever

chance had brought them together in the last two or three years, was

ever urging Rowdy to come over and unroll his soogans in the Cross L

bed-tent, and promising the best string in the outfit to ride--besides

other things alluring to a cow-puncher. So that, when his relations with

the Horseshoe Bar became strained, Rowdy remembered his friend of the

Cross L and the promises, and had drifted south.



Just now he hoped that Wooden Shoes would be home to greet him, and

his eyes searched wishfully the huddle of low-eaved cabins and the

assortment of sheds and corrals for the bulky form of the foreman. But

no one seemed to be about--except a bigbodied, bandy-legged individual,

who appeared to be playfully chasing a big, bright bay stallion inside

the large enclosure where stood the cabins.



Rowdy watched them impersonally; a glance proved that the man was not

Wooden Shoes, and so he was not particularly interested in him or his

doings. It did occur to him, however, that if the fellow wanted to catch

that brute, he ought to have sense enough to get a horse. No one but

a plumb idiot would mill around in that snow afoot. He jogged down the

slope at a shuffling trot, grinning tolerantly at the pantomime below.



He of the bandy-legs stopped, evidently out of breath; the stallion

stopped also, snorting defiance. Rowdy heard him plainly, even at that

distance. The horse arched his neck and watched the man warily, ready

to be off at the first symptom of hostilities--and Rowdy observed that a

short rope hung from his halter, swaying as he moved.



Bandy-legs seemed to have an idea; he turned and scuttled to the nearest

cabin, returning with what seemed a basin of oats, for he shook it

enticingly and edged cautiously toward the horse. Rowdy could imagine

him coaxing, with hypocritically endearing names, such as "Good old

boy!" and "Steady now, Billy"--or whatever the horse's name might

be. Rowdy chuckled to himself, and hoped the horse saw through the

subterfuge.



Perhaps the horse chuckled also; at any rate, he stood quite still,

equally prepared to bounce away on the instant or to don the mask of

docility. Bandy-legs drew nearer and nearer, shaking the basin briskly,

like an old woman sifting meal. The horse waited, his nostrils quivering

hungrily at the smell of the oats, and with an occasional low nicker.



Bandy-legs went on tiptoes--or as nearly as he could in the snow--the

basin at arm's length before. The dainty, flaring nostrils sniffed

tentatively, dipped into the basin, and snuffed the oats about

luxuriously--till he felt a stealthy hand seize the dangling rope. At

the touch he snorted protest, and was off and away, upsetting Bandy-legs

and the basin ignominiously into a high-piled drift.



Bandy-legs sat up, scraped the snow out of his collar and his ears, and

swore. It was then that Rowdy appeared like an angel of deliverance.



"Want that horse caught?" he yelled cheerfully.



Bandy-legs lifted up his voice and bellowed things I should not like to

repeat verbatim. But Rowdy gathered that the man emphatically did want

that so-and-so-and-then-some horse caught, and that it couldn't be done

a blessed minute too soon. Whereat Rowdy smiled anew, with his face

discreetly turned away from Bandy-legs, and took down his rope and

widened the loop. Also, he turned Chub loose.



The stallion evidently sensed what new danger threatened his stolen

freedom, and circled the yard with high, springy strides. Rowdy circled

after, saw his chance, swirled the loop twice over his head, and

hazarded a long throw.



Rowdy knew it for pure good luck that it landed right, but to this day

Bandy-legs looks upon him as a Wonder with a rope--and Bandy-legs would

insist upon the capital.



"Where shall I take him?" Rowdy asked, coming up with his captive, and

with nothing but his eyes to show how he was laughing inwardly.



Bandy-legs crawled from the drift, still scraping snow from inside his

collar, and gave many directions about going through a certain gate into

such-and-such a corral; from there into a stable; and by seeming devious

ways into a minutely described stall.



"All right," said Rowdy, cutting short the last needless details. "I

guess I can find the trail;" and started off, leading the stallion.

Bandy-legs followed, and Chub, observing the departure of Dixie, ambled

faithfully in the rear.



"Much obliged," conceded Bandy-legs, when the stallion was safely housed

and tied securely. "Where yuh headed for, young man?"



"Right here," Rowdy told him calmly, loosening Dixie's cinch. "I'm the

long-lost top hand that the Cross L's been watching the sky-line for,

lo! these many moons, a-yearning for the privilege of handing me forty

plunks about twice as fast as I've got 'em coming. Where's the boss?"



"Er--I'm him," confessed Bandy-legs meekly, and circled the two

dubiously. "I guess you've heard uh Eagle Creek Smith--I'm him. The

Cross L belongs to me."



Rowdy let out an explosive, and showed a row of nice teeth. "Well, I

ain't hard to please," he added. "I won't kick on that, I guess. I like

your looks tolerable well, and I'm willing to take yuh on for a boss. If

yuh do your part, I bet we'll get along fine." His tone was banteringly

patronizing "Anyway, I'll try yuh for a spell. You can put my name down

as Rowdy Vaughan, lately canned from the Horseshoe Bar."



"What for?" ventured Bandy-legs--rather, Eagle Creek--still circling

Rowdy dubiously.



"What for was I canned?" repeated Rowdy easily. "Being a modest youth, I

hate t' tell yuh. But the old man's son and me, we disagreed, and one

of his eyes swelled some; so did mine, a little." He stood head and

shoulders above Eagle Creek, and he smiled down upon him engagingly.

Eagle Creek capitulated before the smile.



"Well, I ain't got any sons--that I know of," he grinned. "So I guess

yuh can consider yourself a Cross L man till further notice."



"Why, sure!" The teeth gleamed again briefly. "That's what I've been

telling you right along. Where's old Wooden Shoes? He's responsible for

me being here."



"Gone to Chinook. He'll be back in a day or two." Eagle Creek shifted

his feet awkwardly. "Say"--he glanced uneasily behind him--"yuh don't

want t' let it get around that yuh sort of--hired me--see?"



"Of course not," Rowdy assured him. "I was only joshing. If you don't

want me, just tell me to hit the sod."



"You stay right where you're at!" commanded Eagle Creek with returned

confidence in himself and his authority. Of a truth, this self-assured,

straight-limbed young man had rather dazed him. "Take your bed and

war-bag up to the bunk-house and make yourself t' home till the boys get

back, and--say, where'd yuh git that pack-horse?"



The laugh went out of Rowdy's tawny eyes. The question hit a spot that

was becoming sore. "I borrowed him this morning from Mr. Rodway," he

said evenly. "I'm to take him back to-day. I stopped there last night."



"Oh!" Eagle Creek coughed apologetically, and said no word, while Rowdy

led Chub back to the cabin which he had pointed out as the bunk-house;

he stood by while Rowdy loosened the pack and dragged it inside.



"I guess you can get located here," he said. "I ain't workin' more'n

three or four men just now, but there's quite a few uh the boys stopping

here; the Cross L's a regular hang-out for cow-punchers. You're a little

early for the season, but I'll see that yuh have something t' do--just

t' keep yuh out uh devilment."



Rowdy's brows unbent; it would seem that Eagle Creek was capable of

"joshing" also. "It's up t' you, old-timer," he retorted. "I'm strong

and willing, and don't shy at anything but pitchforks."



Eagle Creek grinned. "This ain't no blamed cowhospital," he gave as a

parting shot. "All the hay that's shoveled on this ranch needn't hurt

nobody's feelings." With that he shut the door, and left Rowdy to

acquaint himself with his new home.





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