WeirdSpace Digital Library - Culture without borders

30,000 on the Hoof

Country of origin: USA USA
Available texts by the same author here Dokument

Chapter 15

   Huett met his old friend Al Doyle in the bank. As a young man Al had helped build the Union Pacific Railroad and the Santa Fe. He had been pioneer, cattleman, lumberman, teamster, and guide. If there was one Arizonian who knew the West it was Doyle. Of late years Doyle had been guiding geologists and archaeologists into the canyon country, and hunters down over the Tonto Rim.
   "Howdy, Al," said Huett.
   "Wal, hullo, old-timer," replied Doyle. "What do you hear from your sons?"
   "Not much lately. Letters few and far between, and all cut up. Makes me tired. Abe's at the front. They shoved him along pronto. George and Grant among the reserves."
   "They'll smoke up that Boche outfit before the snow flies. Hell of a war, Logan! We got in just in time to save France and England. With Hindenburg falling back and the Yanks arriving by shiploads it won't be long now."
   "Al, I haven't sold out my cattle yet."
   "Say, old timer, you don't have to tell me that. You've ootfiggered all the big blokes who reckoned they was smart. But, Logan, don't be a hawg. Don't wait too long. There's bound to be a slump when winter sets in. On the q.t. I'll give you a tip from Charteris. The Government has ordered cattle from the Argentine."
   "You don't say!" ejaculated Huett, astonished and impressed.
   "If the war ended in November, say, you fellows who're hanging on to your cattle would be left holding the sack. After the war the bottom will drop out of everything. I went through the Civil War, Logan; I know. If we had hard times after that Civil War, what'll we have after this World War?"
   "Hard times! Why, Al, that's not conceivable. Take Flagg. The place is lousy with money. You see money sticking round loose. No one would stop to pick up a greenback from the gutter."
   "Shore. And that's just why, Logan. This war has made the U.S. enormously rich. Seventeen thousand new millionaires! Everybody is rich. The value of money has been lost sight of. An orgy of spending, gambling, wasting will follow this. And then just you wait!"
   "Al, are you giving me a tip or a hunch?" queried Logan, good-humouredly, though he began to take the old westerner seriously.
   "Both...How's your stock making oot? It's a dry season."
   "They're okay. I sent some cowboys down last month to keep tab on them. If everything wasn't jake I'd have heard."
   "Best canyon ranges in Arizona. And you're running thirty thousand head?"
   "Thereabouts. Some over that, George counted."
   "Huett, are you getting dotty in your old age? Cattle selling now at forty dollars on the hoof! Good God, what do you want?"
   "I been holding out. Was offered forty-two a while back. Reckon I can get more from Mitchell, the Government buyer."
   "Wal, Logan, if I was you I'd take what I could get while the army is shelling oot greenbacks by the car-load. It won't last. Not in the face of Argentine cattle! Shore, the price might and probably will go up. But don't take the risk. Anyway, you and your family will have more money than you can spend all the rest of your lives...Logan, yours has been a long, hard, uphill pull. You've done great...It's thirty-three years ago since I met you at Payson, while you were soldiering with Crook, and tipped you off about Sycamore Canyon. Remember?"
   "You bet I do, Al. And there's been a hundred times in that thirty-three years when I wanted to murder you."
   "Ha! ha!...Wal, all's well that ends well. I shore gave you a good hunch. Thirty thousand head at forty or over?...Lord, I can't figure it up."
   "One good hunch deserves another. Maybe I can return it some day."
   "Huett, have you reckoned what a hell of a mess Mitchell will make of that drive up from Sycamore?" queried Al, seriously.
   "Have I? Well, I should smile. But I reckon I can make this deal without delivery at the railroad."
   "All the same you don't want a thousand head lamed and lost. Mitchell will make some kind of a count."
   "That's what George advised. I'd better have some say in the drive."
   "You want a lot of say. Those cattle will be fat. They mustn't be drove hard. You're lucky that no herds have come up from the Tonto all summer. Grass will be enough, Water scarce. Drive ten days--six miles a day. And fifty good cowboys, old timer, red rookies from the camp. There were a lot turned down. Failed to qualify. And that's funny, Logan.. Where's the cowboy who never broke a bone?"
   "Damn if I know. Al, what'll I do about such a big outfit?"
   "Wal, reckon we'd better get my son Lee on the job. Mitchell won't swiggle at five dollars a day. And that'll be easy picking for a lot of boys. Let me see. Joe Arbell, Jack Ray, Hal McDonald, Con Sullivan, Bill Smith, all the Rider boys, except Al, who went to France. And Wetherill would let his son fetch a bunch of Navajos...Logan, that ootfit, with some other riders thrown in, can do the job okay."
   "Fine...Al, by gosh, I reckon you've pushed me off. I was tilting on the fence. Will you make an offer to Lee for me?"
   "Shore will. I can almost guarantee it a go."
   "I'll look you up to-night...Now, what'n hell did I come in here for?"
   "Money, same as me, I'll bet. There's still some left. While we've been talking here I've seen stacks of long-green pass out that window. Beats me where it comes from...So long, Logan. Don't get weak-kneed now. Sell!"
   Logan finally remembered that his errand in the bank was to draw money for Lucinda and Barbara. He wrote out a cheque and noted the amount of his balance had dropped below ten thousand dollars. He had had much more than that, the accumulation from years of sales of small herds. Where had so much money gone? Cashing the cheque Logan wended his way home.
   All through late spring and summer, since the boys had gone, Lucinda and Barbara had worried Logan more and more. Lucinda had altered, broken, greatly. She suffered under a hallucination that her sons would never come back from the war. She was queer sometimes. She wept at night when she thought he lay asleep. Barbara, mentally at least, appeared to be worse than Lucinda. Losing Abe with no certainty of his return had proved a terrific strain. Logan could only judge of her state of mind by her pale face, her great burning eyes, her courage, her restless energy and insatiate passion for all forms of war relief service.
   Both she and Lucinda had plunged into work with all the other women of Flagg, and particularly those who had sons, brothers, sweethearts, cousins, friends who had gone to France, or to the training-camps. They organized bazaars, concerts, socials, knitting-circles. They were persistent and relentless about raising money for their soldier boys, for relief work, particularly the Red Cross. Logan swore he had contributed a pretty penny to that cause. He had come to fume a little about all this crazy obsession. From morning till late at night his womenfolk ran and worked and harangued themselves until they were so tired, so nervous, so upset that they could not sleep.
   But when Logan got home to lunch, to see Lucinda's sad face and Barbara's strained eyes, he reproached himself for his impatience and irritation. When all was said, his women were the least carried away by this infernal war mania. At least Lucinda did not quite make a fool of herself and Barbara did not forget that she was the wife of Abe Huett.
   "Any news, Dad?" asked Barbara.
   "About the same, Bab. The bulletin said 'All quiet on the Western Front.'"
   "All quiet! Oh, the liars! I get so sick reading that line."
   "Why sick, my dear?"
   "Because it's false. Just think how hideous! You read that down town--and Mrs. Hardy reads a wire from Washington that Joe has been killed in action. Crashed over the German lines! Cited for bravery!...Oh-h!--poor Joe! That boy, who loved machines...He couldn't fight!"
   "Aw!...That's a punch below the belt...That's real...I'm sorry--awful sorry, I'll drop in to see Mrs. Hardy."
   "Logan, did you remember to get the money?"
   "Yes, Luce, I did--finally. Here...Folks, we've been spending a lot of money somehow."
   "Money doesn't mean anything these days," said Lucinda.
   "I reckon not. But it took a long time to earn some...I'm not kicking, Maw. I was just telling you."
   "Dad, could you let me have a--a hundred?" asked Barbara, hesitatingly.
   "I reckon so--if you promise to rest once in a while, and stop that damned knitting. Every time I come home, even at meals, you knit, knit, knit. It's getting on my nerves, honey."
   "It's not the knitting, Dad. But I'll have to quit for a while. My fingers are raw."
   "Well, after all, I have got some news," declared Logan, sitting down and slapping a big hand on each knee. "I reckon I'll sell out."
   "Your cattle?" cried Barbara eagerly.
   "Logan, how often you've said that," added his wife incredulously.
   "I reckon I'll sell at forty. Might get more, if I stuck it out. But Al Doyle called me a hawg, and darn me if he wasn't near right."
   "Daddy! Sell at forty! And you have thirty thousand head?...Why, that's over a million!"
   "Sure. And if I waited to get one dollar more a head--why, that'd be five thousand more for each of the Huetts. Can you see now why I've hung on so tight?"
   "Oh, Dad!--It's too good to be true!"
   "Not much. It is true...Set out some lunch, Luce, and the sooner I'll mozy down town while I'm in this humour."
   "Mother, think how we can help the Red Cross," murmured Barbara.
   Logan grunted forcibly. "Yes, my girl, but there'll be a limit. The war has got you both hipped."
   Mitchell, buyer for the Government, suavely welcomed Logan into his office and moved a chair for him. Mitchell was a man over forty, with stern, smooth face and shrewd, cold eyes.
   "Good day, Huett. You certainly have taken your time about giving me an answer."
   Logan returned his greeting and drawled: "I'm never in a hurry with cattle deals."
   "You'd have done well if you had been in a hurry," returned Mitchell, curtly. "The price of cattle went up. You cattlemen lost your heads. You could have sold once for forty dollars a head--then thirty-eight. When it was thirty-two I warned you--advised you to close. But you knew it all. Yesterday I bought the last of Babbitt's for twenty-eight. To-day I wouldn't give you twenty-five."
   Huett took that for a crafty, greedy bluff. Nevertheless it added to his concern. Doyle had been right--he had waited too long.
   "I can sell to Kansas City buyers for more than that."
   "Go out and try it. The stockyards there are flooded."
   Huett got up slowly and clapped on his sombrero. "Good day, Mitchell," he said gruffly, and stamped out.
   Mitchell called after him: "Your family will suffer for your pig-headedness!"
   That surprising sally added anger to Huett's amazed concern. It happened to hit an extremely sore spot. In the next hour he was to learn that the market for cattle had closed, so far as it pertained to Flagg. Babbitt, Charteris, Wilson, Little, all the cattle barons confirmed this, and admitted frankly that they had gambled for too high stakes. But Huett could not be convinced. A man who had thirty thousand head of cattle to sell held a fortune in his hands. The boom might be past, but beef and hides represented gold more or less. He wired to Kansas City for an offer, and then hunted up Doyle.
   "Let's have a drink, old-timer," suggested Al. "We need it."
   "Don't care if I do...Mitchell turned me down cold. Wouldn't give me twenty-five!"
   "Logan, I don't like that girl-chasin' dude," replied the old Arizonian, bluntly. "I just had a talk with my son Lee. He was keen about your offer, and he can get a dozen or more good cowboys and fifty Navvies."
   "Humph! If I can't sell I can't drive."
   "Sell? Of course you can sell. It's tough to come down, but you must reckon on the large number of cattle in your herd. The three thousand head sold here since early May averaged only twenty dollars a head. Some went for thirty and most of them for fifteen or less."
   "So I reckoned. Just wired to Kansas City."
   "Logan, Lee thinks this buyer is hot after Barbara. It's pretty well known, Lee says, among the young people. Mitchell has been playing high jinks among the Flagg girls. But Barbara snubbed him, which made him mad about her."
   "Most young men and older ones too fall for Barbara. She had to give up the dances because of the fights over her."
   "Shore. But this is different, Logan," rejoined Al, seriously. "In war-time women are not responsible. Or else they're inspired about somethin'. I remember during the Civil War that officers in uniform just played hell with women. It's worse now, for this is a hell of a war."
   "But God, Barbara is--"
   "Just like all the other young women, thrown off her balance. My daughter is only fifteen, but she's loco. She despises cowboys that were not accepted for draft. To sum it up, women are not themselves nowadays. Wal, war plays hell with men, too...The hunch I want to make about Barbara is this. You can't keep her out of this war-relief work, but you can keep her away from Mitchell."
   "I sure can, if it's necessary," returned Logan, his surprise succeeding to grimness.
   "Mitchell thinks he has you in a corner now. His refusal to buy was a bluff. He might be low-down enough to work on Barbara with this cattle deal."
   "Ah-huh. I wouldn't put it above him. Thanks, Al," replied Logan, soberly, and went his way.
   From that hour he meant to take interest in what was going on in Flagg. But he resisted his desire to interrogate Lucinda and Barbara. Next day he received an answer to his telegram. His Kansas buyer offered ten dollars on the hoof. That did not interest Logan. But he accepted the fact of a slump in the market price of cattle and that he had lost considerably by holding on. That was the gamble of cattle-raising. The gamble still applied. He had a week or two yet that he k could wait, and still make the cattle drive that fall. Meanwhile he walked the streets, talked war and cattle, read the bulletins and the papers, and had a keen eye for all forms of relief work.
   One night Barbara presented herself late at the supper table, most becomingly dressed, very handsome indeed. Logan particularly noted the red spots in her white cheeks and the brilliancy of her eyes.
   "Bab, you sure look good for sore eyes...Where are you going all togged up?"
   "I have a date with Mr. Mitchell," replied Barbara, frankly. "Some bazaar or Red Cross affair?"
   "No. He wants me to see a war picture at the theatre."
   "Ever go with him before?"
   "No. He never asked me."
   "Barbara, it's all over town that Mitchell is hot after you," said Logan, gravely.
   "Oh, Dad!" she cried. "I didn't think you listened to gossip!"
   "I didn't until lately...Has Mitchell made love to you?"
   "He tried. He's gallant, like a romantic soldier. Likes all the girls, and they like him. But since I told him I was married he's been very--nice."
   "Has he mentioned my cattle to you?"
   "Yes. He intimated you were a greedy old cowman who'd hang on to his cattle and let his family starve. He predicts that cattle and hides will have no value after the war. I told him I could persuade you to sell. Indeed, I was going to talk to you presently."
   "My girl, has this slick hombre hinted that he'd buy my cattle if you were very--nice to him?"
   "What do you mean?" asked Barbara hotly.
   "Bab, I knew you were an innocent, unworldly girl, but I didn't think you could be so green."
   "Father! You've insulted Mr. Mitchell, and now you insult me," protested Barbara, hotly.
   "No, honey. And I swear I think more of you for your innocence. But don't be a little fool, Bab."
   "Oh, I can't believe what you hint about Mr. Mitchell."
   "Barbara, you women couldn't see the devil himself if he had on a uniform...Now you take my word for it until you see for yourself...Let's slip one over on this fellow, as the saying goes here. You go to the movies with him, but come home pronto. Be sweet to the lady-killer. Give him a dose of his own medicine. Tell him you are afraid your Dad will go broke hanging on to his cattle herd. Tell him if he'll only buy it you'll be very--very nice to him."
   "Logan Huett!" burst out Lucinda, red in the face. "Dad, I'm surprised," added Barbara, hotly.
   "You'll be a damn sight more surprised if you do as I ask," declared Logan, bluntly.
   "I'll do it and I'll--I'll mean it," returned Barbara, spiritedly. "I think you're suspicious, unjust, old-fashioned. I think you're--"
   "Never mind what I am," interrupted Logan, in the first stern tone he had ever used to her. "I know what you mean by being nice. You'd be yourself. Mitchell will take it another way. But after to-night you are never to go anywhere with him again, or ask him in here if he calls, or lay yourself open to any occasion with him alone. Do you understand me, young lady?"
   "I--I couldn't help it."
   "You'll obey me?"
   "Yes, Father."
   That ended the discussion, though not the confusion and resentment Logan's women-folk felt. As for Logan, he had taken pains to find out all about Mitchell, and he felt not only justified, but quite elated. He attended that motion-picture, to his regret. The scenes of marching soldiers and embarking marines, the long lines of moving artillery, the endless streams of trucks, the soldiers, miserable and begrimed in muddy trenches, the tanks belching fire, and the cannons puffing smoke, the great holes blown in the ground by bursting shells--all these scenes purported to have actually been filmed at the front made Logan sick and dazed.
   "So that's war!" he muttered, jostling through the noisy crowd emerging into the street. "And I sent my sons into that...Good God! I reckoned they'd have a chance. Man to man, with rifles, behind trees and rocks, where the sharp eye and crack shot would prove who was best! But that--God Almighty--what would you call that?"
   Logan went home to find Lucinda out, as usual. He lighted the lamp and building a fire in the open fireplace, he composed himself to his pipe when Barbara entered quickly. Her beautiful face was white instead of pale, and her great eyes appeared to flare lightnings.
   "Hello, Bab. Glad you got home so early. What upset you?"
   "Dad, I don't know which was the worse, Mr. Mitchell or that ghastly motion-picture," she replied, with suppressed agitation.
   "Humph. That picture was pretty damn bad. It made me sick."
   Barbara threw off her coat and hat, and stood in the open door of her room, facing Logan. He had never seen her as she was now, and he felt a surge of elation.
   "Dad, I apologize," she said, her dark eyes on him. "You were right about Mitchell. I started out to be very sweet and nice, as I had bragged to you I'd be...I'm afraid I overdid it. On the way home, just now, he--he...Well, I'd have been happier and safer With Jack Campbell...But I got away from your lady-killer without destroying his illusion that he'd made an easy conquest of the simple little country-jake. Which I was!"
   "Ha! ha! Well, I'll be doggoned...I hope he didn't insult you, Bab. It takes me off my feed for weeks to kill a man."
   "Hush, Dad. He insulted me, but he didn't guess that. I reckon he thinks it his charming, masterly way with women."
   "Humph. I'm not so stuck on that--. Did Mitchell mention cattle?"
   "He did. He'll send for you to-morrow. And he'll buy. It's up to you now, Dad. I'll never let him come near me again."
   Logan sat up, smoking, and waiting for Lucinda to come in. He would sell his thirty thousand head. Then what? Wait for the boys to come home. He would miss the brown game trails and the lovely coloured woods this fall. What strange inexplicable creatures women were! But wonderful, good, faithful--most of them! And men? He was not learning so much to make him proud of his sex these days. War, greed, lust--they seemed to go together.
   Next morning Logan had a stroke of good fortune in the shape of an offer from a Chicago firm, through its local buyer who had arrived in Flagg, of twenty-five dollars a head for his cattle, delivered at the company's cost at the railroad. When, therefore, Logan received a verbal message to call upon the Government official he felt pretty self-assured. He would get more than twenty-five, and anything more he felt was a windfall.
   Mitchell was cool, calculating, business-like when Logan entered his presence. Logan's last vestige of respect fled before this smooth, mask-faced man who had only the night before insulted his daughter. Logan sensed something he had never encountered before in his deals with men, and it baffled him. But he divined what an infinitesimal figure he cut in the machinations of this suave gentleman. It affected Logan exceedingly.
   "Morning, Huett. I hear Blair made you an offer."
   "Yep. He came across pretty good."
   "Twenty-five a head and expenses of delivery. He told me Al Doyle had prompted the offer and that you'd accept."
   "Wal, that was fine of Al. But I couldn't think of it."
   "No, you wouldn't," retorted Mitchell tartly. "What do you want this morning?"
   Logan conceived the idea that Mitchell really did not care what the cattle cost, once he made up his mind to buy. It was an unusual deduction for Logan to make, and he shrewdly thought he would test it out by asking a high figure from which he could come down considerably and still make a big deal.
   "I want expense for the drive and full charge of it. Thirty-five dollars a head, paid on delivery at the railroad--in cash."
   "In cash?" repeated Mitchell in amazement.
   "Yes, in cash. I might have to wait on a bank draft for so much money. It'll take two weeks or more to drive. That'd give you plenty of time to get the cash."
   Mitchell waved a deprecatory hand, which meant that it was no matter of importance how the debt was paid. But before he averted his eyes, Logan caught a fleeting glimpse of an extraordinarily steely flash. Also the man crushed a piece of paper that he held in his hand. These evidences of feeling puzzled Logan until Mitchell turned with a light on his face. Then Logan imagined the singular reaction had to do with Barbara.
   "Expenses and management of delivery okay," said Mitchell, blandly. "But thirty-five dollars is too high. I can't pay it."
   They argued. Logan certainly felt the buyer's flinty edge, yet he did not seem to grasp sincerity. Logan distrusted his own deductions. He had made too many blunders. Here he meant to hold out a little, then capitulate for anything above twenty-five.
   "Twenty-eight dollars on the hoof!" launched Mitchell, out of a doubtful sky.
   Logan shook at the tigerish leap of hot blood. After all his stern resistance and the flex and reflex of prices, to call so soon was balm to his wounded pride, gratification to his greed.
   "Sold!" he boomed, and extended a great horny hand. But the army official was writing and appeared not to notice the gesture.
   "Logan Huett. Flagg, Arizona. Thirty thousand on the hoof. Twenty-eight dollars a head. Pay in cash on delivery. Expense to drive extra," he droned crisply, while he wrote rapidly. He shoved the paper back and his sleek head came erect with a hawk-like swiftness. "Huett, the deal is on. Drive under your personal supervision. Get a move on!"
   At high noon, five days later, Huett stood on an elevated part of the rim at the confluence of Turkey and Sycamore Canyons.
   The resonant yells of cowboys floated up to his tingling ears; the weird, wild cries of Indians whipped back in echo from wall to wall.
   "Sight of your life, old-timer!" called Doyle, hoarsely in Huett's ear.
   "It is, Al, and thirty-three years' wait makes it sweeter."
   Far as eye could see, across the floor of Turkey Canyon and up its six-mile length, spread a living, restless mosaic of cattle. The yells that pealed from cowboy to cowboy and Indian to Indian were the relays down to Huett. His answering shout was to start the drive. The cowboys had taken three days moving the cattle in Turkey over to Sycamore. Huett's arrival on the rim was the signal that Lee Doyle and Jess Smith waited for.
   "Blow your horn, Gabriel," said Al, with gusto.
   Huett began to draw in breath, to fill his wide lungs and expand his deep chest; and when he was full to bursting, he expelled it all in one stupendous stentorian explosion. "Waahoo-oo!"
   Abe's old hunting-call, augmented to grand volume by Huett's passion, boomed across the canyon and banged back. All the hope and failure, the ambition and discouragement, the endless toil and unceasing trouble, all Huett's life as a cattleman, the terrible years at last crowned with victory, success, wealth, pealed out in that long, wonderful yell. Before echoes ceased the Indians below on each side of the herd relayed the signal one to another up the canyon until their voices were lost in the distance. The head of that magnificent herd was out of sight round the bend, probably far beyond the cabin.
   Huett watched in silence. He could hear his heart beating. At last, far up the canyon, the mass of cattle began to move. Like a turgid current of stream, congested by tossing driftwood and roots of stumps, the movement came on down slowly through the herd until all the cattle were on the move.
   "The drive's on, old timer," shouted Al, waving his sombrero. "Good-bye, old bulls and long-horns--good-bye to Sycamore."
   Huett lingered. The herd moved at a slow walk, gradually going faster as the forward mass broke into free action. The old cattleman waved to them a farewell to Sycamore. There was a lump in his throat. His eyes grew dim so that the red and white and black chequered carpet of cows and steers blurred in his sight. This was the most exceedingly full, the greatest moment of Logan Huett's life.
   "Wal--Al, they're off," he said, in husky accents. "My cup is almost full...If only my sons could see!"
   They left the rim, climbed over the rough ledges to the open woods, and out to the road and the waiting car. Huett had the driver run the six miles up to Long Valley, and stop at the forks of the road, where the branch led down to his ranch. But instead of going down to a vantage-point on the wall below, Huett, this time alone, climbed the steep bluff and got out on the edge above his cabin. He gazed, and an irresistible yell escaped his panting lips.
   His cabin appeared to be a little moss-roofed, green-logged island in a river of many colours and jostling waves and milling eddies. The narrow construction of the canyon here was packed solidly with wagging, bawling cattle. "Whoopee!...Ki-yi-ki-yi!" rang up the piercing yells a the cowboys. Their echoes mingled with the sing-song chant of the Navajo riders. The trample of thousands of hoofs made a low, subdued roar. Dust rose in puffs and patches, rolling back on the light breeze to merge into a cloud that obscured the wide mass of the herd below.
   This scene was intimate and beautiful. Huett could smell the cattle, the manure, the dust, the hoof-ploughed earth of his corn and alfalfa fields. What of his great patch of potatoes? He could see the burly bulls, the wide-horned cows, the thick-necked steers, the yearlings and heifers, crowding along the corrals, obliterating the brook, colouring the bench, surrounding the cabin, passing on under the pines. Huett thought he revelled in bliss, but there was a pang in his breast. His cattle were going. Something was passing. It seemed almost like the end of life.
   Soon the vast volume of animals down around the corner in the wide stretch from wall to wall by their very momentum forced those ahead in the constricted neck of the canyon into a lumbering gallop. And then the trample grew deafening, the dust rose to hide the motley stream. Huett stood a while longer above the ranch he could not see and the cattle that thundered by under a yellow pall. Then he retraced his steps back down off the bluff and out to the road where Doyle and the driver awaited him.
   "Makes me think of the old buffalo days," said AL "Hope that run doesn't develop into a stampede."
   "Nothing to--worry us," panted Huett. "They're crowding--through that narrow neck...She opens out soon. Before sunset they'll be--up on the range."
   They drove up to the end of Long Valley, and leaving the road, bumped and swayed over rough going through the woods until compelled to stop. Then they dismounted and walked. Two chuck-wagons, widely separated, awaited the drivers at the point where the open range sent a grey wedge into the woods. Huett and Doyle were not far ahead of the vanguard of the herd. For three hours Huett sat on a chuck-wagon seat, watching his cattle flow like a magic colourful river out of the forest and spread across the wide corner of range. Those hours might have been minutes.
   Before sunset the entire herd was up on the level and halted for the night. Cowboys came swinging in on dust-caked horses. Soon Lee, Bill, Jack Ray, Con Sullivan, and other drivers rode up to pay their happy respect to the cattleman. They were all as black as the nigger Johnson, but not so shiny of face.
   "Mr. Huett--Dad," called Lee, cheerfully, as with a scarf he wiped his begrimed face to show it red and wet, "it was easy as duck-soup."
   "Wal, old-timer," drawled Bill Smith, with the dust rolling off him in little streams, "we shore piled along high, wide, and handsome."
   "Mister Huett, it waz graa-ndd," boomed the Irishman.
   Johnson's eyes rolled to show their contrasting whites. "Boss, we done it. Yas, suh, we sho did."
   "From now on," said Jack Ray, "it'll be sing an' roll on, little dogies."
   When Huett got a chance he shouted: "I'd rather be a cowboy than President!"
   "Come an' git it before I pitch it out!" yelled the cook.
   During the drive Logan went three times from Flagg to cheer the boys and feed his insatiate love of all which pertained to cattle. As luck would have it, the good fall weather persisted, and on the afternoon of the tenth day the herd rolled, tired and slow, but in fine condition, into the railroad pastures. Lee Doyle and Bill Smith, astride their horses, one on each side of the gate, counted the cattle. Lee gave the number to be thirty-one thousand and sixth odd.
   A counter for Mitchell did not attend, much to Huett's dissatisfaction. The erstwhile suave Government buyer struck Huett as being sore under the collar. Barbara, upon being questioned, made the reason perfectly clear to Huett; the man, so far as women were concerned, was brazen, unscrupulous, and extraordinarily vain.
   Five hundred and more cattle-cars cluttered up the side track and yards of the Santa Fe. For the first several days Mitchell loaded and shipped an average of fifteen hundred head every twenty-four hours. After that, with cowboys and railroad men working in double shifts, he shipped three trainloads every day until the great herd was gone. At his office that night he informed the waiting cowboys and Indians that he would pay off next morning. For some reason or other he was inaccessible to Huett.
   Sleep did not soon visit Huett's eyelids that night. The November wind sang paeans under the eaves. And the morning sunlight danced for the rancher's magnifying eyes. He was prodigal in promises to his wife and daughter. And he went down street with boots ringing on the frosty sidewalks. Mitchell, urging press of settling his affairs, put him off until two o'clock.
   It was a Saturday afternoon--a half-holiday for the bank. Huett had hoped to bank his cash upon receipt of it. Nevertheless nothing could concern him this day. On the sunny sidewalk he waited the Government man's pleasure. Holbert and Doyle were with him, loyal, proud, excited. They both took some share of credit for Huett's dramatic finish with the cattle.
   "Al, did I ever tell you about Abe's shooting at the training camp?" asked Logan, fully aware of other listeners.
   "Not that I recollect," replied Al.
   "Wal, it was sure great...The first day when Abe was marched out on the shooting range with a lot of green recruits a red-headed cuss of a sergeant shoved Abe up to the mark, and handed him a thirty Government rifle: 'Hey, long legs, do you know one end of this from the other?'...Abe said he reckoned he did. 'All right, then take your turn. Shoot,' ordered the drill sergeant. 'What at?' asked Abe. 'At the target, you dumb head!'...Then Abe saw a lot of white targets with black centre and rings. Fifty yards, a hundred, two hundred, and so on up to a thousand. Abe asked which one he should shoot at. 'Rooky, look here. Can you shoot?' yelled the sergeant, and Abe modestly replied that he reckoned he could not shoot very well. 'But I wouldn't want to shoot at this first target,' added Abe...Then he threw up the rifle. Gosh! It always was wonderful to see Abe get set and aim. When he was a little boy he took to guns...Well, Abe took five shots at the thousand-yard target, off hand. The flag man waved back three bull's-eyes and two shots inside the first circle...Ha! That red-headed sergeant got red in the face. 'Hell, you said you couldn't shoot.' And Abe kind of kidded him cool and easy: 'my ole man says I can't.'"
   Mitchell finally called Huett into his office. Another official in khaki sat on the other side of a table containing a few papers and two large, neatly wrapped packages, identical in size and appearance.
   "Huett, my man's count was thirty thousand nine hundred," began Mitchell, cold of voice and mien.
   "All right. That's near enough."
   "Sign here," went on the buyer, indicating a dotted line on an official-looking document. Huett bent over the table, and taking the proffered pen wrote his name with a fine flourish. "Witness his signature, Lieutenant."
   When the official had done this, Mitchell folded the document and put it in his pocket. Then he handed one of the packages to Huett.
   "Here's your money," he said, brusquely, and shoved it into Huett's hands as if it burned him. "I don't need to tell an old westerner like you that the town's full of bums, redskins, greasers...Good day."
   Huett found himself out in the street, light-headed with a heavy, compellingly pregnant parcel under his arm.
   "Let's have a drink," he said, gaily to Holbert and Doyle.
   They went into the corner saloon and sat at a table. Huett placed his parcel between his knees out of sight. They drank. Huett would not hear of his friend's returning the compliment--not on that day of days. Then he ordered another drink. Scarcely had they set down their glasses when Mitchell, accompanied by a stranger in civilian garb, entered the saloon. Mitchell espied Huett and his friends, and with a direct gesture and an elated laugh he drew the attention of his companion to them. They turned abruptly on their heels and went out.
   "Them Eastern army men are queer hombres," remarked Holbert.
   "Wal, if you ask me," drawled the shrewd Doyle, "that swelled-up galoot got took in by a plain westerner and snubbed by his daughter."
   "Let's have another drink," said Huett, chuckling with a deep grin.
   Holbert and Doyle were the first to make a move. One on each side of Huett, they steered him through the crowd. The short fall day had almost closed. Cold wind slipped down from the dark peaks and the dust swirled. Huett's comrades made sure no one was following them. They left him at the gate.
   "Wal, old-timer, cache that little windfall to-night and sleep with one eye open," advised Doyle.
   "An' have yore guns layin' around," added Holbert. "Some hombre might have seen you comin' out of that office."
   Logan went in and locked the door. The sitting-room was cheerful with lighted lamp and fire. A smell of ham and coffee was wafted in from the kitchen. Lucinda appeared wiping her hands on her apron and Barbara ran from her room.
   "Wal, Bab, have you seen your soldier admirer to-day?" asked Logan, cheerily, as he laid the parcel on the table.
   "Have I? Dad, not half an hour ago he sneered at me and laughed in my face. I didn't know what to make of it.'
   "Luce, pull down the blinds--and shut the kitchen door...I've something to show you."
   His big hands shook as he stripped the tight rubber bands from the heavy parcel. "Thirty thousand nine hundred at twenty-eight!" he whispered tensely.
   "Oh Dad--hurry...I feel..."
   Logan rasped the stiff paper covers flat. A neat pile of cut newspaper and tinfoil pieces spread out over the table.

Chapter 16 >