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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_361" id="Page_361">[Pg 361]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER XXVI</h2> <h3>OYSTERS AND AMBITIONS</h3> <br /> <p>"If you'd come on and go to Wyoming with me, Duke, I think it'd be better for you than California. That low country ain't good for a feller with a tender place in his lights."</p> <p>"Oh, I think I'm all right and as good as ever now, Taterleg."</p> <p>"Yes, it looks all right to you, but if you git dampness on that lung you'll take the consumption and die. I knew a feller once that got shot that way through the lights in a fight down on the Cimarron. Him and another feller fell out over&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"Have you heard from Nettie lately?" Lambert broke in, not caring to hear the story of the man who was shot on the Cimarron, or his subsequent miscalculations on the state of his lights.</p> <p>Taterleg rolled his eyes to look at him, not <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_362" id="Page_362">[Pg 362]</SPAN></span>turning his head, reproach in the glance, mild reproof. But he let it pass in his good-natured way, brightening to the subject nearest his heart.</p> <p>"Four or five days ago."</p> <p>"All right, is she?"</p> <p>"Up and a-comin', fine as a fiddle."</p> <p>"You'll be holdin' hands with her before the preacher in a little while now."</p> <p>"Inside of a week, Duke. My troubles is nearly all over."</p> <p>"I don't know about that, but I hope it'll turn out that way."</p> <p>They were on their way home from delivering the calves and the clean-up of the herd to Pat Sullivan, some weeks after Lambert's fight at Glendora. Lambert still showed the effects of his long confinement and drain of his wounds in the paleness of his face. But he sat his saddle as straight as ever, not much thinner, as far as the eye could weigh him, nothing missing from him but the brown of his skin and the blood they had drawn from him that day.</p> <p>There was frost on the grass that morning, a foretaste of winter in the sharp wind. The <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_363" id="Page_363">[Pg 363]</SPAN></span>sky was gray with the threat of snow, the somber season of hardship on the range was at hand. Lambert thought, as he read these signs, that it would be a hard winter on livestock in that unsheltered country, and was comfortable in mind over the profitable outcome of his dealings for his employer.</p> <p>As for himself, his great plans were at an end on the Bad Lands range. The fight at Glendora had changed all that. The doctor had warned him that he must not attempt another winter in the saddle with that tender spot in his lung, his blood thinned down that way, his flesh soft from being housebound for nearly six weeks. He advised a milder climate for several months of recuperation, and was very grave in his advice.</p> <p>So the sheep scheme was put aside. The cattle being sold, there was nothing about the ranch that old Ananias could not do, and Lambert had planned to turn his face again toward the West. He could not lie around there in the bunkhouse and grow strong at Vesta's expense, although that was what she expected him to do.</p> <p>He had said nothing to her of his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_364" id="Page_364">[Pg 364]</SPAN></span>determination to go, for he had wavered in it from day to day, finding it hard to tear himself away from that bleak land that he had come to love, as he never had loved the country which claimed him by birth. He had been called on in this place to fight for a man's station in it; he had trampled a refuge of safety for the defenseless among its thorns.</p> <p>Vesta had said nothing further of her own plans, but they took it for granted that she would be leaving, now that the last of the cattle were sold. Ananias had told them that she was putting things away in the house, getting ready to close most of it up.</p> <p>"I don't blame you for leavin'," said Taterleg, returning to the original thread of discussion, "it'll be as lonesome as sin up there at the ranch with Vesta gone away. When she's there she fills that place up like the music of a band."</p> <p>"She sure does, Taterleg."</p> <p>"Old Ananias'll have a soft time of it, eatin' chicken and rabbit all winter, nothing to do but milk them couple of cows, no boss to keep her eye on him in a thousand miles."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_365" id="Page_365">[Pg 365]</SPAN></span>"He's one that'll never want to leave."</p> <p>"Well, it's a good place for a man," Taterleg sighed, "if he ain't got nothin' else to look ahead to. I kind o' hate to leave myself, but at my age, you know, Duke, a man's got to begin to think of marryin' and settlin' down and fixin' him up a home, as I've said before."</p> <p>"Many a time before, old feller, so many times I've got it down by heart."</p> <p>Taterleg looked at him again with that queer turning of the eyes, which he could accomplish with the facility of a fish, and rode on in silence a little way after chiding him in that manner.</p> <p>"Well, it won't do you no harm," he said.</p> <p>"No," sighed the Duke, "not a bit of harm."</p> <p>Taterleg chuckled as he rode along, hummed a tune, laughed again in his dry, clicking way, deep down in his throat.</p> <p>"I met Alta the other day when I was down in Glendora," he said.</p> <p>"Did you make up?"</p> <p>"Make up! That girl looks to me like a tin cup by the side of a silver shavin' mug now, <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_366" id="Page_366">[Pg 366]</SPAN></span>Duke. Compare that girl to Nettie, and she wouldn't take the leather medal. She says: 'Good morning, Mr. Wilson,' she says, and I turned my head quick, like I was lookin' around for him, and never kep' a-lettin' on like I knew she meant me."</p> <p>"That was kind of rough treatment for a lady, Taterleg."</p> <p>"It would be for a lady, but for that girl it ain't. It's what's comin' to her, and what I'll hand her ag'in, if she ever's got the gall to speak to me."</p> <p>The Duke had no further comment on Taterleg's rules of conduct. They went along in silence a little way, but that was a state that Taterleg could not long endure.</p> <p>"Well, I'll soon be in the oyster parlor up to the bellyband," he said, full of the cheer of his prospect. "Nettie's got the place picked out and nailed down&mdash;I sent her the money to pay the rent. I'll be handin' out stews with a slice of pickle on the side of the dish before another week goes by, Duke."</p> <p>"What are you goin' to make oysters out of in Wyoming?" the Duke inquired wonderingly.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_367" id="Page_367">[Pg 367]</SPAN></span>"Make 'em out of? Oysters, of course. What do you reckon?"</p> <p>"There never was an oyster within a thousand miles of Wyoming, Taterleg. They wouldn't keep to ship that far, much less till you'd used 'em up."</p> <p>"Cove oysters, Duke, cove oysters," corrected Taterleg gently. "You couldn't hire a cowman to eat any other kind, you couldn't put one of them slick fresh fellers down him with a pair of tongs."</p> <p>"Well, I guess you know, old feller."</p> <p>Taterleg fell into a reverie, from which he started presently with a vehement exclamation of profanity.</p> <p>"If she's got bangs, I'll make her cut 'em off!" he said.</p> <p>"Who cut 'em off?" Lambert asked, viewing this outburst of feeling in surprise.</p> <p>"Nettie! I don't want no bangs around me to remind me of that snipe-legged Alta Wood. Bangs may be all right for fellers with music boxes in their watches, but they don't go with me no more."</p> <p>"I didn't see Jedlick around the ranch up <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_368" id="Page_368">[Pg 368]</SPAN></span>there; what do you suppose become of him?"</p> <p>"Well, from what the boys told me, if he's still a-goin' like he was when they seen him last, he must be up around Medicine Hat by now."</p> <p>"It was a sin the way you threw a scare into that man, Taterleg."</p> <p>"I'm sorry I didn't lay him out on a board, dern him!"</p> <p>"Yes, but you might as well let him have Alta."</p> <p>"He can come back and take her any time he wants her, Duke."</p> <p>The Duke seemed to reflect this simple exposition of Jedlick's present case.</p> <p>"Yes, I guess that's so," he said.</p> <p>For a mile or more there was no sound but the even swing of their horses' hoofs as they beat in the long, easy gallop which they could hold for a day without a break. Then Lambert:</p> <p>"Plannin' to leave tonight, are you Taterleg?"</p> <p>"All set for leavin', Duke."</p> <p>On again, the frost-powdered grass brittle under the horses' feet.</p> <p>"I think I'll pull out tonight, too."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_369" id="Page_369">[Pg 369]</SPAN></span>"Why, I thought you was goin' to stay till Vesta left, Duke?"</p> <p>"Changed my mind."</p> <p>"Don't you reckon Vesta she'll be a little put out if you leave the ranch after she'd figgered on you to stay and pick up and gain and be stout and hearty to go in the sheep business next spring?"</p> <p>"I hope not."</p> <p>"Yeh, but I bet she will. Do you reckon she'll ever come back to the ranch any more when she goes away?"</p> <p>"What?" said Lambert, starting as if he had been asleep.</p> <p>"Vesta; do you reckon she'll ever come back any more?"</p> <p>"Well," slowly, thoughtfully, "there's no tellin', Taterleg."</p> <p>"She's got a stockin' full of money now, and nobody dependin' on her. She's just as likely as not to marry some lawyer or some other shark that's after her dough."</p> <p>"Yes, she may."</p> <p>"No, I don't reckon much she'll ever come back. She ain't got nothing to look back to here <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_370" id="Page_370">[Pg 370]</SPAN></span>but hard times and shootin' scrapes&mdash;nobody to 'sociate with and wear low-neckid dresses like women with money want to."</p> <p>"Not much chance for it here&mdash;you're right."</p> <p>"You'd 'a' had it nice and quiet there with them sheep if you'd 'a' been able to go pardners with Vesta like you planned, old Nick Hargus in the pen and the rest of them fellers cleaned out."</p> <p>"Yes, I guess there'll be peace around the ranch for some time to come."</p> <p>"Well, you made the peace around there, Duke; if it hadn't 'a' been for you they'd 'a' broke Vesta up and run her out by now."</p> <p>"You had as much to do with bringin' them to time as I did, Taterleg."</p> <p>"Me? Look me over, Duke; feel of my hide. Do you see any knife scars in me, or feel any bullet holes anywhere? I never done nothing but ride along that fence, hopin' for a somebody to start something. They never done it."</p> <p>"They knew you too well, old feller."</p> <p>"Knowed <i>me</i>!" said Taterleg. "Huh!"</p> <p>On again in quiet, Glendora in sight when <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_371" id="Page_371">[Pg 371]</SPAN></span>they topped a hill. Taterleg seemed to be thinking deeply; his face was sentimentally serious.</p> <p>"Purty girl," he said in a pleasant vein of musing.</p> <p>"Which one?"</p> <p>"Vesta. I like 'em with a little more of a figger, a little thicker in some places and wider in others, but she's trim and she's tasty, and her heart's pure gold."</p> <p>"You're right it is, Taterleg," Lambert agreed, keeping his eyes straight ahead as they rode on.</p> <p>"You're aimin' to come back in the spring and go pardners with her on the sheep deal, ain't you, Duke?"</p> <p>"I don't expect I'll ever come back, Taterleg."</p> <p>"Well," said Taterleg abstractedly, "I don't know."</p> <p>They rode past the station, the bullet-scarred rain barrel behind which Tom Hargus took shelter in the great battle still standing in its place, and past the saloon, the hitching-rack empty before it, for this was the round-up season&mdash;nobody was in town.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_372" id="Page_372">[Pg 372]</SPAN></span>"There's that slab-sided, spider-legged Alta Wood standin' out on the porch," said Taterleg disgustedly, falling behind Lambert, reining around on the other side to put him between the lady and himself.</p> <p>"You'd better stop and bid her good-bye," Lambert suggested.</p> <p>Taterleg pulled his hat over his eyes to shut out the sight of her, turned his head, ignoring her greeting. When they were safely past he cast a cautious look behind.</p> <p>"I guess that settled <i>her</i> hash!" he said. "Yes, and I'd like to wad a handful of chewin' gum in them old bangs before I leave this man's town!"</p> <p>"You've broken her chance for a happy married life with Jedlick, Taterleg. Your heart's as hard as a bone."</p> <p>"The worst luck I can wish her is that Jedlick'll come back," he said, turning to look at her as he spoke. Alta waved her hand.</p> <p>"She's a forgivin' little soul, anyway," Lambert said.</p> <p>"Forgivin'! 'Don't hurt him, Mr. Jedlick,' she says, 'don't hurt him!' Huh! I had to <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_373" id="Page_373">[Pg 373]</SPAN></span>build a fire under that old gun of mine to melt the chawin' wax off of her. I wouldn't give that girl a job washin' dishes in the oyster parlor if she was to travel from here to Wyoming on her knees."</p> <p>So they arrived at the ranch from their last expedition together. Lambert gave Taterleg his horse to take to the barn, while he stopped in to deliver Pat Sullivan's check to Vesta and straighten up the final business, and tell her good-bye.</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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