The Rell Ole Cowpuncher Goes Home





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.





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