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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_95" id="Page_95">[Pg 95]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER VII</h2> <h3>THE HOMELIEST MAN</h3> <br /> <p>That brilliant beam falling through the barber's open door and uncurtained window came from a new lighting device, procured from a Chicago mail-order house. It was a gasoline lamp that burned with a gas mantle, swinging from the ceiling, flooding the little shop with a greenish light.</p> <p>It gave a ghastly hue of death to the human face, but it would light up the creases and wrinkles of the most weathered neck that came under the barber's blade. That was the main consideration, for most of the barber's work was done by night, that trade&mdash;or profession, as those who pursue it unfailingly hold it to be&mdash;being a side line in connection with his duties as station agent. He was a progressive citizen, and no grass grew under his feet, no hair under his hand.</p> <p>At the moment that the Duke and Taterleg <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_96" id="Page_96">[Pg 96]</SPAN></span>entered the barber's far-reaching beam, some buck of the range was stretched in the chair. The customer was a man of considerable length and many angles, a shorn appearance about his face, especially his big, bony nose, that seemed to tell of a mustache sacrificed in the operation just then drawing to a close.</p> <p>Taterleg stopped short at sight of the long legs drawn up like a sharp gable to get all of them into the chair, the immense nose raking the ceiling like a double-barreled cannon, the morgue-tinted light giving him the complexion of a man ready for his shroud. He touched Lambert's arm to check him and call his attention.</p> <p>"Look in there&mdash;look at that feller, Duke! There he is; there's the man I've been lookin' for ever since I was old enough to vote. I didn't believe there was any such a feller; but there he is!"</p> <p>"What feller? Who is he?"</p> <p>"The feller that's uglier than me. Dang his melts, there he is! I'm going to ask him for his picture, so I'll have the proof to show."</p> <p>Taterleg was at an unaccountable pitch of <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_97" id="Page_97">[Pg 97]</SPAN></span>spirits. Adventure had taken hold of him like liquor. He made a start for the door as if to carry out his expressed intention in all earnestness. Lambert stopped him.</p> <p>"He might not see the joke, Taterleg."</p> <p>"He couldn't refuse a man a friendly turn like that, Duke. Look at him! What's that feller rubbin' on him, do you reckon?"</p> <p>"Ointment of some kind, I guess."</p> <p>Taterleg stood with his bow legs so wide apart that a barrel could have been pitched between them, watching the operation within the shop with the greatest enjoyment.</p> <p>"Goose grease, with <i>pre</i>-fume in it that cuts your breath. Look at that feller shut his eyes and stretch his derned old neck! Just like a calf when you rub him under the chin. Look at him&mdash;did you ever see anything to match it?"</p> <p>"Come on&mdash;let the man alone."</p> <p>"Wrinkle remover, beauty restorer," said Taterleg, not moving forward an inch upon his way. While he seemed to be struck with admiration for the process of renovation, there was an unmistakable jeer in his tone which the barber resented by a fierce look.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_98" id="Page_98">[Pg 98]</SPAN></span>"You're goin' to get into trouble if you don't shut up," Lambert cautioned.</p> <p>"Look at him shut his old eyes and stretch his neck! Ain't it the sweetest&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>The man in the chair lifted himself in sudden grimness, sat up from between the barber's massaging hands, which still held their pose like some sort of brace, turned a threatening look into the road. If half his face was sufficient to raise the declaration from Taterleg that the man was uglier than he, all of it surely proclaimed him the homeliest man in the nation. His eyes were red, as from some long carousal, their lids heavy and slow, his neck was long, and inflamed like an old gobbler's when he inflates himself with his impotent rage.</p> <p>He looked hard at the two men, so sour in his wrath, so comical in his unmatched ugliness, that Lambert could not restrain a most unusual and generous grin. Taterleg bared his head, bowing low, not a smile, not a ripple of a smile, on his face.</p> <p>"Mister, I take off my hat to you," he said.</p> <p>"Yes, and I'll take your fool head off the first time I meet you!" the man returned. He <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_99" id="Page_99">[Pg 99]</SPAN></span>let himself back into the barber's waiting hands, a growl deep in him, surly as an old dog that has been roused out of his place in the middle of the road.</p> <p>"General, I wouldn't hurt you for a purty, I wouldn't change your looks for a dollar bill," said Taterleg.</p> <p>"Wait till I git out of this chair!" the customer threatened, voice smothered in the barber's hands.</p> <p>"I guess he's not a dangerous man&mdash;lucky for you," said Lambert. He drew Taterleg away; they went on.</p> <p>The allurements of Glendora were no more dazzling by night than by day. There was not much business in the saloon, there being few visitors in town, no roistering, no sounds of uncurbed gaiety. Formerly there had been a dance-hall in connection with the saloon, but that branch of the business had failed through lack of patronage long ago. The bar stood in the front of the long, cheerless room, a patch of light over and around it, the melancholy furniture of its prosperous days dim in the gloom beyond.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_100" id="Page_100">[Pg 100]</SPAN></span>Lambert and Taterleg had a few drinks to show their respect for the institutions of the country, and went back to the hotel. Somebody had taken Taterleg's place beside Alta on the green bench. It was a man who spoke with rumbling voice like the sound of an empty wagon on a rocky road. Lambert recognized the intonation at once.</p> <p>"It looks to me like there's trouble ahead for you, Mr. Wilson," he said.</p> <p>"I'll take that feller by the handle on his face and bust him ag'in' a tree like a gourd," Taterleg said, not in boasting manner, but in the even and untroubled way of a man stating a fact.</p> <p>"If there was any tree."</p> <p>"I'll slam him ag'in' a rock; I'll bust him like a oyster."</p> <p>"I think we'd better go to bed without a fight, if we can."</p> <p>"I'm willin'; but I'm not goin' around by the back door to miss that feller."</p> <p>They came up the porch into the light that fell weakly from the office down the steps. There was a movement of feet beside the green <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_101" id="Page_101">[Pg 101]</SPAN></span>bench, an exclamation, a swift advance on the part of the big-nosed man who had afforded amusement for Taterleg in the barber's chair.</p> <p>"You little bench-leggid fiste, if you've got gall enough to say one word to a man's face, say it!" he challenged.</p> <p>Alta came after him, quickly, with pacific intent. She was a tall girl, not very well filled out, like an immature bean pod. Her heavy black hair was cut in a waterfall of bangs which came down to her eyebrows, the rest of it done up behind in loops like sausages, and fastened with a large, red ribbon. She had put off her apron, and stood forth in white, her sleeves much shorter than the arms which reached out of them, rings on her fingers which looked as if they would leave their shadows behind.</p> <p>"Now, Mr. Jedlick, I don't want you to go raisin' no fuss around here with the guests," she said.</p> <p>"Jedlick!" repeated Taterleg, turning to Lambert with a pained, depressed look on his face. "It sounds like something you blow in to make a noise."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_102" id="Page_102">[Pg 102]</SPAN></span>The barber's customer was a taller man standing than he was long lying. There wasn't much clearance between his head and the ceiling of the porch. He stood before Taterleg glowing, his hat off, his short-cut hair glistening with pomatum, showing his teeth like a vicious horse.</p> <p>"You look like you was cut out with a can-opener," he sneered.</p> <p>"Maybe I was, and I've got rough edges on me," Taterleg returned, looking up at him with calculative eye.</p> <p>"Now, Mr. Jedlick"&mdash;a hand on his arm, but confident of the force of it, like a lady animal trainer in a cage of lions&mdash;"you come on over here and set down and leave that gentleman alone."</p> <p>"If anybody but you'd 'a' said it, Alta, I'd 'a' told him he was a liar," Jedlick growled. He moved his foot to go with her, stopped, snarled at Taterleg again. "I used to roll 'em in flour and swaller 'em with the feathers on," said he.</p> <p>"You're a terrible rough feller, ain't you?" Taterleg inquired with cutting sarcasm.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_103" id="Page_103">[Pg 103]</SPAN></span>Alta led Jedlick off to his corner; Taterleg and Lambert entered the hotel office.</p> <p>"Gee, but this is a windy night!" said the Duke, holding his hat on with both hands.</p> <p>"I'll let some of the wind out of him if he monkeys with me!"</p> <p>"Looks to me like I know another feller that an operation wouldn't hurt," the Duke remarked, turning a sly eye on his friend.</p> <p>The landlord appeared with a lamp to light them to their beds, putting an end to these exchanges of threat and banter. As he was leaving them to their double-barreled apartment, Lambert remarked:</p> <p>"That man Jedlick's an interesting-lookin' feller."</p> <p>"Ben Jedlick? Yes, Ben's a case; he's quite a case."</p> <p>"What business does he foller?"</p> <p>"Ben? Ben's cook on Pat Sullivan's ranch up the river; one of the best camp cooks in the Bad Lands, and I guess the best known, without any doubt."</p> <p>Taterleg sat down on the side of his bed as if he had been punctured, indeed, lopping forward <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_104" id="Page_104">[Pg 104]</SPAN></span>in mock attitude of utter collapse as the landlord closed the door.</p> <p>"Cook! That settles it for me; I've turned the last flapjack I'll ever turn for any man but myself."</p> <p>"How will you manage the oyster parlor?"</p> <p>"Well, I've just about give up that notion, Duke. I've been thinkin' I'll stick to the range and go in the sheep business."</p> <p>"I expect it would be a good move, old feller."</p> <p>"They're goin' into it around here, they tell me."</p> <p>"Alta tells you."</p> <p>"Oh, you git out! But I'm a cowman right now, and I'm goin' to stay one for some little time to come. It don't take much intelligence in a man to ride fence."</p> <p>"No; I guess we could both pass on that."</p> <p>The Duke blew the lamp out with his hat. There was silence, all but the scuffing sound of disrobing. Taterleg spoke out of bed.</p> <p>"That girl's got purty eyes, ain't she?"</p> <p>"Lovely eyes, Taterleg."</p> <p>"And purty hair, too. Makes a feller want <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_105" id="Page_105">[Pg 105]</SPAN></span>to lean over and pat that little row of bangs."</p> <p>"I expect there's a feller down there doin' it now."</p> <p>The spring complained under Taterleg's sudden movement; there was a sound of swishing legs under the sheet. Lambert saw him dimly against the window, sitting with his feet on the floor.</p> <p>"You mean Jedlick?"</p> <p>"Why not Jedlick? He's got the field to himself."</p> <p>Taterleg sat a little while thinking about it. Presently he resumed his repose, chuckling a choppy little laugh.</p> <p>"Jedlick! Jedlick ain't got no more show than a cow. When a lady steps in and takes a man's part there's only one answer, Duke. And she called me a gentleman, too. Didn't you hear her call me a gentleman, Duke?"</p> <p>"I seem to remember that somebody else called you that one time."</p> <p>Taterleg hadn't any reply at once. Lambert lay there grinning in the dark. No matter how sincere Taterleg might have been in this or any other affair, to the Duke it was only a joke. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_106" id="Page_106">[Pg 106]</SPAN></span>That is the attitude of most men toward the tender vagaries of others. No romance ever is serious but one's own.</p> <p>"Well, that happened a good while ago," said Taterleg defensively.</p> <p>But memories didn't trouble him much that night. Very soon he was sleeping, snoring on the <i>G</i> string with unsparing pressure. For Lambert there was no sleep. He lay in a fever of anticipation. Tomorrow he should see her, his quest ended almost as soon as begun.</p> <p>There was not one stick of fuel for the flame of this conjecture, not one reasonable justification for his more than hope. Only something had flashed to him that the girl in the house on the mesa was she whom his soul sought, whose handkerchief was folded in his pocketbook and carried with his money. He would take no counsel from reason, no denial from fate.</p> <p>He lay awake seeing visions when he should have been asleep in the midst of legitimate dreams. A score of plans for serving her came up for examination, a hundred hopes for a happy culmination of this green romance budded, bloomed, and fell. But above the race <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_107" id="Page_107">[Pg 107]</SPAN></span>of his hot thoughts the certainty persisted that this girl was the lady of the beckoning hand.</p> <p>He had no desire to escape from these fevered fancies in sleep, as his companion had put down his homely ambitions. Long he lay awake turning them to view from every hopeful, alluring angle, hearing the small noises of the town's small activities die away to silence and peace.</p> <p>In the morning he should ride to see her, his quest happily ended, indeed, even on the threshold of its beginning.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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