English Audio Books

Duke of Chimney Butte, The




Lambert was a busy man for several weeks after his last race with the will-o'-the-wisp, traveling between Glendora and Chicago, disposing of the Philbrook herd. On this day he was jolting along with the last of the cattle that were of marketable condition and age, twenty cars of them, glad that the wind-up of it was in sight.

Taterleg had not come this time on account of the Iowa boy having quit his job. There remained several hundred calves and thin cows in the Philbrook pasture, too much of a temptation to old Nick Hargus and his precious brother Sim to be left unguarded.

Sitting there on top of a car, his prod-pole between his knees, in his high-heeled boots and old dusty hat, the Duke was a typical figure of the old-time cow-puncher such as one never meets in these times around the stockyards of the Middle West. There are still cow-punchers, but they are mainly mail-order ones who would shy from a gun such as pulled down on Lambert's belt that day.

He sat there with the wind slamming the brim of his old hat up against the side of his head, a sober, serious man, such as one would choose for a business like this intrusted to him by Vesta Philbrook and never make a mistake. Already he had sold more than eighty thousand dollars' worth of cattle for her, and carried home to her the drafts. This time he was to take back the money, so they would have the cash to buy out Walleye, the sheepman, who was making a failure of the business and was anxious to quit.

The Duke wondered, with a lonesome sort of pleasure, how things were going on the ranch that afternoon, and whether Taterleg was riding the south fence now and then, as he had suggested, or sticking with the cattle. That was a pleasant country which he was traveling through, green fields and rich pastures as far as the eye could reach, a land such as he had spent the greater part of his life in, such as some people who are provincial and untraveled call "God's country," and are fully satisfied with in their way.

But there seemed something lacking out of it to Lambert as he looked across the verdant flatness with pensive eyes, that great, gray something that took hold of a man and drew him into its larger life, smoothed the wrinkles out of him, and stood him upright on his feet with the breath deeper in him than it ever had gone before. He felt that he never would be content to remain amongst the visible plentitude of that fat, complacent, finished land again.

Give him some place that called for a fight, a place where the wind blew with a different flavor than these domestic scents of hay and fresh-turned furrows in the wheatlands by the road. In his vision he pictured the place that he liked best—a rough, untrammeled country leading back to the purple hills, a long line of fence diminishing in its distance to a thread. He sighed, thinking of it. Dog-gone his melts, he was lonesome—lonesome for a fence!

He rolled a cigarette and felt about himself abstractedly for a match, in this pocket, where Grace Kerr's little handkerchief still lay, with no explanation or defense for its presence contrived or attempted; in that pocket, where his thumb encountered a folded paper.

Still abstracted, his head turned to save his cigarette from the wind, he drew out this paper, wondering curiously when he had put it there and forgotten it. It was the warrant for the arrest of Berry Kerr. He remembered now having folded the paper and put it there the day the sheriff gave it to him, never having read a word of it from that day to this. Now he repaired that omission. It gave him quite a feeling of importance to have a paper about him with that severe legal phraseology in it. He folded it and put it back in his pocket, wondering what had become of Berry Kerr, and from him transferring his thoughts to Grace.

She was still there on the ranch, he knew, although Kerr's creditors had cleaned out the cattle, and doubtless were at law among themselves over the proceeds by now. How she would live, what she would do, he wondered. Perhaps Kerr had left some of the money he had made out of his multimortgage transactions, or perhaps he would send for Grace and his wife when he had struck a gait in some other place.

It didn't matter one way or another. His interest in her was finished, his last gentle thought of her was dead. Only he hoped that she might live to be as hungry for a friendly word as his heart had been hungry of longing after her in its day; that she might moan in contrition and burn in shame for the cruelty in which she broke the vessel of his friendship and threw the fragments in his face. Poor old Whetstone! his bones all scattered by the wolves by now over in that lonely gorge.

Vesta Philbrook would not have been capable of a vengeance so mean. Strange how she had grown so gentle and so good under the constant persecution of this thieving gang! Her conscience was as clear as a windowpane; a man could look through her soul and see the world undisturbed by a flaw beyond it. A good girl; she sure was a good girl. And as pretty a figure on a horse as man's eye ever followed.

She had said once that she felt it lonesome out there by the fence. Not half as lonesome, he'd gamble, as he was that minute to be back there riding her miles and miles of wire. Not lonesome on account of Vesta; sure not. Just lonesome for that dang old fence.

Simple he was, sitting there on top of that hammering old cattle car that sunny afternoon, the dust of the road in his three-day-old beard, his barked willow prod-pole between his knees; simple as a ballad that children sing, simple as a homely tune.

Well, of course he had kept Grace Kerr's little handkerchief, for reasons that he could not quite define. Maybe because it seemed to represent her as he would have had her; maybe because it was the poor little trophy of his first tenderness, his first yearning for a woman's love. But he had kept it with the dim intention of giving it back to her, opportunity presenting.

"Yes, I'll give it back to her," he nodded; "when the time comes I'll hand it to her. She can wipe her eyes on it when she opens them and repents."

Then he fell to thinking of business, and what was best for Vesta's interests, and of how he probably would take up Pat Sullivan's offer for the calves, thus cleaning up her troubles and making an end of her expenses. Pat Sullivan, the rancher for whom Ben Jedlick was cook; he was the man. The Duke smiled through his grime and dust when he remembered Jedlick lying back in the barber's chair.

And old Taterleg, as good as gold and honest as a horse, was itching to be hitting the breeze for Wyoming. Selling the calves would give him the excuse that he had been casting about after for a month. He was writing letters to Nettie; she had sent her picture. A large-breasted, calf-faced girl with a crooked mouth. Taterleg might wait a year, or even four years more, with perfect safety. Nettie would not move very fast on the market, even in Wyoming, where ladies were said to be scarce.

And so, pounding along, mile after mile through the vast green land where the bread of a nation grew, arriving at midnight among squeals and moans, trembling bleat of sheep, pitiful, hungry crying of calves, high, lonesome tenor notes of bewildered steers. That was the end of the journey for him, the beginning of the great adventure for the creatures under his care.

By eleven o'clock next morning, Lambert had a check for the cattle in his pocket, and bay rum on his face where the dust, the cinders and the beard had been but a little while before. He bought a little hand satchel in a second-hand store to carry the money home in, cashed his check and took a turn looking around, his big gun on his leg, his high-heeled boots making him toddle along in a rather ridiculous gait for an able-bodied cow-puncher from the Bad Lands.

There was a train for home at six, that same flier he once had raced. There would be time enough for a man to look into the progress of the fine arts as represented in the pawn-shop windows of the stockyards neighborhood, before striking a line for the Union Station to nail down a seat in the flier. It was while engaged in this elevating pursuit that Lambert glimpsed for an instant in the passing stream of people a figure that made him start with the prickling alertness of recognition.

He had caught but a flash of the hurrying figure but, with that eye for singling a certain object from a moving mass that experience with cattle sharpens, he recognized the carriage of the head, the set of the shoulders. He hurried after, overtaking the man as he was entering a hotel.

"Mr. Kerr, I've got a warrant for you," he said, detaining the fugitive with a hand laid on his shoulder.

Kerr was taken so unexpectedly that he had no chance to sling a gun, even if he carried one. He was completely changed in appearance, even to the sacrifice of his prized beard, so long his aristocratic distinction in the Bad Lands. He was dressed in the city fashion, with a little straw hat in place of the eighteen-inch sombrero that he had worn for years. Confident of this disguise, he affected astonished indignation.

"I guess you've made a mistake in your man," said he.

Lambert told him with polite firmness that there was no mistake.

"I'd know your voice in the dark—I've got reason to remember it," he said.

He got the warrant out with one hand, keeping the other comfortably near his gun, the little hand bag with its riches between his feet. Kerr was so vehemently indignant that attention was drawn to them, which probably was the fugitive cattleman's design, seeing in numbers a chance to make a dash.

Lambert had not forgotten the experience of his years at the Kansas City Stockyards, where he had seen confidence men and card sharpers play the same scheme on policemen, clamoring their innocence until a crowd had been attracted in which the officer would not dare risk a shot. He kept Kerr within reaching distance, flashed the warrant before his eyes, passed it up and down in front of his nose, and put it away again.

"There's no mistake, not by a thousand miles. You'll come along back to Glendora with me."

A policeman appeared by this time, and Kerr appealed to him, protesting mistaken identity. The officer was a heavy-headed man of the slaughter-house school, and Lambert thought for a while that Kerr's argument was going to prevail with him. To forestall the policeman's decision, which he could see forming behind his clouded countenance, Lambert said:

"There's a reward of nine hundred dollars standing for this man. If you've got any doubt of who he is, or my right to arrest him, take us both to headquarters."

That seemed to be a worthy suggestion to the officer. He acted on it without more drain on his intellectual reserve. There, after a little course of sprouts by the chief of detectives, Kerr admitted his identity, but refused to leave the state without requisition. They locked him up, and Lambert telegraphed the sheriff for the necessary papers.

Going home was off for perhaps several days. Lambert gave his little satchel to the police to lock in the safe. The sheriff's reply came back like a pitched ball. Hold Kerr, he requested the police; requisition would be made for him. He instructed Lambert to wait till the papers came, and bring the fugitive home.

Kerr got in telegraphic touch with a lawyer in the home county. Morning showed a considerable change of temperature in the frontier financier. He announced that, acting on legal advice, he would waive extradition. Lambert telegraphed the sheriff the news, requesting that he meet him at Glendora and relieve him of his charge.

Lambert prepared for the home-going by buying another revolver, and a pair of handcuffs for attaching his prisoner comfortably and securely to the arm of the seat. The little black bag gave him no worry. It wasn't half the trouble to watch money, when you didn't look as if you had any, as a man who had swindled people out of it and wanted to hide his face.

The police joked Lambert about the size of his bag when they gave it back to him as he was starting with his prisoner for the train.

"What have you got in that alligator, Sheriff, that you're so careful not to set it down and forget it?" the chief asked him.

"Sixteen thousand dollars," said Lambert, modestly, opening it and flashing its contents before their eyes.