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By James B. Hendryx

White Horse was a hard town in those days when the frontier was new, a tough
town where sudden wealth and sudden death ran hand in hand—a fitting scene
for the passing of Ike Runyon and for Dixie's coming into her own

FIFTEEN two, fifteen four, fifteen six, an' three is nine, an' out." The cribbage game was over; the old cowman had won the rubber and, shoving back from the table, he stalked to the window and gazed thoughtfully at the storm.

The snow eddied and swirled about the eaves of the bunkhouse and whirled into drifts along the fence line. Tex and I lolled at the table and Milk River Joe put rawhide to soak in the wash dish preparatory to braiding a quirt.

"'Pears like some folks in these parts is pilin' on a heap o' dawg with their big marble gravestones. When I come by from town t'other day, I see they had three of them big white monymints stickin' up 'mongst the wood slabs on Dead Ridge—'stead of two." Milk River Joe spoke slightingly, as though the placing of a marble shaft over a grave were a mark of ostentation not to be condoned.

Tex paused in the rolling of a cigarette: "That might be what yo' think about it, Milk Riveh, but somehow I've always took a fancy to them two white stones, standin' up theh alone, so diffe'nt from the othe's. One day when I was ridin' by I rolled off my cayuse an' clim the fence jest to find out whose they was. One of 'em b'longs to some proffesseh fellow, I don't rec'lect his name, but the otheh—the one that stands off alone oveh dost to the back fence—it says: 'Sacred to the mem'ry of Ike Runyon. Died April the 27th, 1885.' An' undeh that, jest the fo' words: 'He was a Man.' I ain't neveh found out who the pahty was, an' I've asked some consid'ble few folks too. But it's a long time since he cashed in. I reckon them that know'd has fo'got. All the same I neveh pass Dead Ridge without I staht studyin' about who he was an' what he done that someone should loosen up fo' a thousan' dollah stone to put oveh him.

"I reckon it's that theh notice that's onto it, stuck in my craw mo'n the stone; 'He was a Man,' it says—an' the Man paht of it is cut out in big lettehs like they wasn't no two ways about it Seems like I'd rutheh have that cut oveh me than two foot of po'try tellin' how I was enjoyin' myself blowin' my hahp amongst the angels."

As Tex talked the Old Man turned from the window and stood regarding him with approval. Presently he seated himself and, tilting his chair against the wall, lighted a cigar. When the Old Man assumed this position we prepared to listen to a tale of the good old days "'fore the railroad."

"Yes, it's as Milk River says," he remarked, slowly puffing out the blue smoke, "they's three stones there now an' when the last hand is played out that was dealt that deal they'll be four.

"They ain't many left hereabouts that members the passin' of Ike Runyon, an' how he came to have a stone shipped all the way from St. Paul an' set up over him. An' when you come to think on it, Ike's takin' off was only a side play of fate in ravelin' out the tangled threads of lives. I c'n see it all now, same as if 'twas yesterday.

"You boys thinks White Horse is some lively now; you'd ought to been here long in the '80's— 'fore the railroad. Them was the times—she was a real camp then, an' they was real men—'twas the railroad brung in the mailorder catalog cowpunchers an' the tinhorns.

"Everything was wide open, work was plenty an' wages was good; everyone makin' money an' spendin' it fast as they made it. All night long chips rattled an' glasses clinked an' music floated out from the dancehall doors; all kind o' jerky like, an' mixed with singin' an' cursin' an' laughin'— always the laughin'-high-pitched it was, an' nervous, an' necessary. It was the trouble gauge. Too little an' in the mornin' men would be ridin' out into the hills, an' in a few days they would come ridin' back; an' from the cotton woods along some crick, things would be swingin' slow like in the wind with the buzzards circlin' over 'em. After that the chips would rattle an' the glasses clink, an' again the music, an' the cursin', an' the laughin'.

"Some nights they'd be too much of it; louder an' higher strung it would get an' the music would go faster, the stakes would get higher an' more glasses would clink an' smash. All to oncet a gun would crack somewhere in the thick of it, an' another, an' an' hell would be broke loose, Women runnin' screamin' out the doors, men shootin' an' fightin', with the air fogged up so thick you couldn't see. Some layin' flat to get out of range, an' some shootin' right an' left where the smoke swirled. An' the crash of glass when a bullet would rake the back-bar. Then all at oncet it would stop. The smoke would drift out the doors an' men would be raisin' offen the floor, an' some standin' with their backs to the wall lookin' foolish at their empty guns. The women would come crowdin' in, everyone askin' who started it, an' like as not no one could tell— an' damned few cared.

"The barkeeps would rake out the broken glass an' mop up the spilt licker, an' set out a row of fresh bottles an' glasses. The dealer would finger the box, the little ball would spin 'round the wheel, an' again the sound of chips, an' glasses, an' the music, an' the laughin'—always the laughin'. In the mornin' the camp would turn out an' travel slow over to Dead Ridge, packin' picks an' shovels an' some pine slabs, an' in front some things in blankets—the ones which didn't raise offen the floor.

SLIM PASQUERT an' me was pardners them days, rode the range together an' went together with the trail herds. When we'd made us a grub- stake we'd hit fer the mountains, prospectin' an' trappin'. Slim was consid'ble younger'n me but I sure did like him. He was quiet an' easy goin', which same fooled a good, many 'fore they come to know him. I've saw him gentle consid'ble of these here wolves what reckoned it was their night to howl. Him bein' so youngish an' onobstreperous lookin', he'd get picked out fer the goat frequent. The same party never done it but oncet, but the population in them days was consid'ble floatin', an' 'bout the time as Slim'd get his standin' 'stablished in camp, in would drift a fresh bunch of frolickers a-honin' fer joy, an' seemed like they jest natch'ly picked out Slim fer to exuberate on.

"Good lookin' too, barrin' a curious scar on his forehead—birthmark it was, an' I could tell how mad he'd got by the redness of it. Always made a hit with the women-not that he cared fer 'em in particular, neither-danced with 'em an' bought 'em drinks same as the rest of us, but he always got the pick of the bunch an we'd take what was left.

"I don't go much on these here dancehalil women, but oncet in a while there's one that's different. Dixie was. Us old-timers all recollects her. She's the onliest one of the whole lot that's remembered now, the rest of 'em—even their names is fergot, an' should be. She had a head, an' she had a heart, an' she used 'em both. In some particulars she was the same as the rest but— well—she wasn't no more like 'em than black's like white. "She was a gambler, an' a good one, but square as a die. Seemed like she was jest natch'ly lucky an' she made a heap of money; that's how she come by her name. 'Long 'bout that time the Dixie Lode over on Tin Cup opened up an' it was the richest strike ever made in Choteau County.

"Kid Owens run the Eldorado then, an' that spring the Dixie developed so big the gold jest rolled into White Horse an' the Kid was corrallin' in the heft of it. One night when things was runnin' full swing, in drifts this here woman. She looks on at the different tables awhile till she fetched up to the layout where Kid was a-dealin'. Directly she begun to play, easy at first an, slow, like she was studyin' the run of the cards; then she begun to play higher an' higher. Sometimes she'd lose but most times she'd win, till her play hit the limit. The limit at Kid's was five thousan', an' it wasn't often it was hit, even in them days. Everyone else had dropped out an' was crowded 'round watchin' the deal. She played 'long fer a spell an' then she kinda yawned like an' she says to Kid, she says; 'Maybe you'd like to play a real game.' The Kid he hesitates a second, then he says: 'Anything to 'commodate a lady; the limit's off.'

"Right then started the biggest game ever played in these parts. The woman kep' her eyes on the cards; she took her time an' made her bets slow, an' she kep' a winnin'. Them lookin' on seen Kid was gettin' nervous; his hand shuck a little when he dolt an' he wiped his forehead frequent. 'Long 'bout daylight Kid looked up an' kinda laughed. 'Well, you done the trick,' he says; 'the bank's busted.' She studied fer a minute an' then she says: 'What's yer layout worth—the whole outfit jest as she stands?' The Kid 'lowed forty— thousan'd cover it. 'I'll play you fer it; er I'll pay you fer it,' she says.

"Spite of him tryin' not to let on, everyone seen that she had him plumb buffaloed. His face had went a pasty white color as he set there rifflin' the cards, an' little beads stood on his forehead like dew on a tombstone. His nerve was gone. He wet his lips with his tongue, an' when he spoke his voice sounded high-strung an' onnatch'el. "Pay me," he says; "I ain't got no chanct to beat you. I'll never turn another card agin' a woman."

"She counted out the cash, arrangin' it careful in little stacks. 'Talk 'bout yer Dixie strikes!' says Ike Runyon, lookin' on. The Kid goes over to the bar an' writes out a bill of sale; 'fore he starts he stops. 'What name?' he says. She kinda hesitates a minute: 'Why—why—oh, jest Dixie,' she says, smilin' over at Ike as she run her fingers through the little stacks of yeller boys in front of her. So The Frontier, October, 1924 ~ I that's the way he made it out, transferrin' to Dixie, fer the sum of forty thousan' dollars to him in hand paid, all his holdin's real an' unreal, in the heavens above, earth beneath, an' the waters in—under it, lock stock an' barrel, heirs an' assigns fer ever an' ever, s'elp me God, till death do us part, world without end amen, er words to that effec'.

"I said she was a good woman, an' she was; never made no hurrah 'bout it neither, but many's the poor devil 'twill always remember the good of her, fer she done a thousan' times more good than she ever done harm, an' that's more'n the heft of us can say. She'd brace a man up when he felt plumb down an' out, an' send him back to the range thinkin' of them big smilin' eyes an' the kind words ringin' in his ears an' with his own outfit under him after the barkeeps had held it a week agin' the booze he couldn't pay fer. I could set here all day an' tell of things she done fer folks; an' she always done it so's you thought you was the one 'twas favorin' her.

"She must of been risin' thirty-five when she blowed into White Horse—that was in the spring of '80—an' a finer lookin' woman I never see, tall an' dark, an' big soft, brown eyes; she could smile with them eyes without ever movin' her lips. But most alway' they was sad lookin', an' far off, like she was thinkin' of things past an' gone. She was game though, talked lively, an' laughed an' danced, played cards an' drank some; but her heart wasn't in it. Some of us seen it an' we'd try an' make her have the good time that she wanted, but 'twasn't no use.

"She 'peared happy enough, an' I reckon she fooled most folks, but, as I say, they was some of us that knowed it was a bluff, an' we liked her better fer her gameness. You'd natch'ly think that the life she 'peared to live would show up in her looks— you know the kind, with their painted faces an' cold, hard eyes—but not her. She was different. Her skin was clear as a baby's, an' her hair was thick an' glossy an' black, an' her lips was red an' curvin'.

I REC'LECT the night she first seen Slim Pasquert. 'Twas in the fall of '83. We was gatherin' the beef herd fer the trail, an' camped on the flats. Course, all of us 'twasn't holdin' herd spent our nights in White Horse. Me an' Slim was off guard that night so we saddled up after we'd et an' high-tailed fer the bright lights a-winkin' acrost the flats. We fooled 'round a while, here an' there, an' presently we drifted into Dixie's Eldorado. Things was goin' full tilt an' we danced a spell an' had a couple of drinks an' then loafed over to the tables. We didn't surmise to play none, 'count of pay-day bein' so far on the bad! trail.

"Dixie was dealin' when we fetched up there, an', bein' as Old Man Moore an' Ike Runyon was playin', the game run some hefty. Me an' Slim looked on 'long of six er seven more an' at the end of the deal Dixie matched up Moore's stack an' raked in Ike's. Then she looked up. She nodded to me an' was 'bout to speak when her eye happened to fall on Slim. Boys, you'd of thought she seen a ghost. Her breath drawed in quick an' catchy, like it was sucked through a chain pump, an' the box she was holdin' clattered on the floor, but she got holt of herself quick.

"Slim never seen the look she give him, bein' took up with tryin' to figger how much dinero was in Old Man Moore's stack. She set there a minute an' then she kinda catched at her throat an' stood up, 'The game's closed, boys; I—I'm sick,' she says. I seen she was mighty shaky, so I helps her over to the dancehall an' a couple of the girls took her back to her room.

"I went over to the bar where Old Man Moore was settin' 'em up an' growlin' 'bout his luck, him havin' to quit on a winnin' streak; not that he blamed Dixie— he knowed she wasn't no piker. After we'd lickered I seen one of the girls motionin' by the dancehall door, so I aidged acrost. 'Dixie wants to see you a minute,' she whispers. I follered back an' found her layin' on a lounge an' whiter'n the top of Big Baldy. They was dark rings in under her eyes an' she looked ten years older. The girls had undid her collar an' it lopped down on her dress.

"'Dave,' she says, 'Dave, who is that boy?'

"'What boy?' I says.

'"You know what boy! The one standin' by you watchin' the game. What's his name? Where did he come from? Tell me all you know about him. Please, Dave, tell me; I must know.'

"I can't talk it like her. Seemed like she come by schoolmarm lingo natch'el. I was in consid'ble of a quander', me feelin' sorry fer her, but, at that, it ain't no man's business to publish out a friend's past performances. She seen I was studyin' an' she reached out an' took holt of my hand.

"'Set down,' she says, soft like. I set on the aidge of the lounge.

"'Look here, Dave, ain't I always been on the square—with you, an' with everyone?'

I nodded.

"'Ain't I always helped the boys when they needed it?'

"'Sure.' I says.

"'Dave,' she says, 'I know I ain't a good woman. I'm mighty far from it, I'm a gambler an'—an'—that's all. I wasn't always what I am; sometimes I think you've guessed that, you an' a few of the boys. But you never let on. You've tried to help me ferget without my knowin' it, but I do know, Dave. Oh, if I could jest tell someone what I've suffered.' She choked up an' big tears was trailin' down her cheeks. 'Dave, I'm askin' you in the name of what I once was, please tell me. It means so much to me, an' I have so little left.'

"I hadn't never saw a woman cry till then. Seemed like I wanted to squawk myself. I snorted an' swallered a time er two an' when I tried to say somethin' I made a noise like someone stepped on the pup's tail. I was plumb 'shamed of myself; no one hadn't never talked that-away to me, an', as the feller says, it got my goat. At last I busted out an' told her everything I knowed 'bout Slim, an' I reckon it was the heft of what he knowed 'bout hisself. Him an' me bunked together an' when we'd be layin' there in our blankets of a night, with the stars a-shinin' an' no sound but the scrunch an' grind of the beef herd an' the song of the night guard soundin' far off an' dreamy, he'd open up an' talk, an' talk, an' I'd lay an' listen till I drowsed off.

"'Peared like she never would get tired hearin' 'bout him. I'd tell a while an' stop an' she'd ask some question or 'nother an' I'd start agin. I told 'bout him bein' in some school— boardin' school, he called it, back East somewheres—an' 'bout him blowin' the outfit an' boltin' fer Texas when he was twelve. How he had follered the dogies since, him bein' twenty then, an' 'bout him trailin' up with the old Long X an' blowin' 'em fer the Circle C.

"When I told 'bout how we was on trail with the beef, an' wouldn't be back till clost onto spring, she says:

"Do you reckon he'll come back 'long of you an' the boys?'

"'You're gettin' too deep fer me,' I says, 'You know the cow country an' you know that none of us mightn't come back. Even barrin' accidents, the trail is long, an' while we like our job an' the range an' the folks, that ain't sayin' we won't find none we like better.'

"'That's true,' she says. 'But you always have come back, an' this time you must try to bring him with you.'

'"I'll try,' I says, 'but you c'n lay your bet that if he feels like comin' he'll come, an' if he don't feel like comin' all hell can't fetch him.'

"She laid there so long with her eyes shet that I j edged she'd fell to sleep, so I started sneakin' out. Never till then did I sense what an all-fired racket them old big rowel spurs an' janglers kicks up. I'd made it 'bout half ways to the door without no more noise than a weddin' charivari, when she opens her eyes an' says; 'You didn't tell me how he got that scar.'

"'No,' I says, 'an' neither c'n he, but I reckon bis mother could.' She took an awful spell of coughin' jest then an' I dug out fer to get her some whisky, but time I come back she was over it. She leant over an' took up my hand in the two of hern an' her voice sounded husky like.

"'Thank you, Dave,' she says, 'be a good boy, an'—an' God bless you.' I walked out to the bar an' took three drinks straight, it was the first time I'd ever been God blessed.

"I studied consid'ble over the thing, but me not savvin' women no better'n what I did, I couldn't dope it out, so I stood pat— never even told Slim."

THE Old Man shifted in his chair and relighted his cigar and, while Milk River Joe cut long strips of rawhide, he resumed. "Well, we did come back that year an' whenever we'd hit White Horse Dixie'd have an' eye on Slim. She tried not to show it, but, shucks, any one couldn't help but notice. The boys got to devilin' him 'bout it an' at first he didn't mind none, laughed 'long of the rest, but bymbye he got sore 'n busted a few heads now'n then.

"One mornin' jest 'fore the round-up me an' Slim walks into the Eldorado an' calls for a couple of drinks. Slim had been jambereein' the night b'fore an' he wasn't none ami'ble, had jest 'nough of a holdover to feel onery an' not 'nough mornin's mornin' to balance off. Ike Runyon an' four or five T U boys waa settin' over to a table playin' Stud, an' when Slim ordered the third drink we all refused, which that didn't humor him up none. Now, it ain't good a man should drink alone, but Slim stood at the bar an' poured out his licker. As he was raisin' the glass Dixie slips in an' lays her hand on his arm.

"'Don't drink that,' she says. 'Go acrost to the hotel an' get a good hot breakfast. It'll do you a heap more good.'

"Slim turned 'round with a snarl: 'You mind your own business, you-------------!"

"Dixie cringed back like she'd been struck in the face, an' her voice sounded like a moan. 'No, no, no, never that!'

"From acrost the room come the short, nasty rasp of a chair shoved back, Slim heard it an' whirled. A gun roared, an' Ike Runyon sunk slow acrost the table 'mongst the cards and chips.

"I looked 'round fer Dixie, but she was gone. Slim stood there lookin' from one to the other, but no one took it up. Of course, Ike had drawed first but, bein' as things was, Slim didn't make no friends by his quick gunplay. We carried Ike over to Dead Ridge after dinner an' when we got back Slim had rode. I hung 'round awhile an' managed to slip a note under Dixie's door, tellin' how Slim had throwed that drink on the floor an' gone over an' et; someways I thought she'd like to know.

"After that Slim was different; didn't have much to say to no one, not even mo. He quit ridin' to town with us an' the boys figgered he was layin' fer to go bad. We always managed to slip a few bottles into camp past old Brewster, an' when he wasn't 'round, we'd pass 'em back an' forth, Slim never refused his turn but soon I noticed that he was takin' his drinks with his tongue over the mouth of the bottle. After that, I savvied he wasn't breedin' trouble. He seen he'd did a thing he couldn't never undo, an' he know'd it was the whisky made him do it.

"Course, the shootin', after things got that far—it was him or Ike, but it was the name he called Dixie made Ike draw. I felt sorry fer the boy but, I never let on, an' I didn't wise up the bunch; things like that a man's got to work out fer hisself.

"That fall me an' Slim didn't go on the beef trail. We drifted over on the South Slope, patched up one of the old Lazy Y line camps, an' put in the winter trappin' an' wolfin'.

ABOUT ten mile acrost from where we was, up on the head of Black Coulee, lived a curus old feller that folks called Old Lonesome. No one knowed his name, nor where he come from. Seems he drifted in 'long in the early '70's an' squatted in an' old prospector's cabin. Queer lookin' cuss he was, with his long white hair an' smooth shaved face an' hawk-bill nose. Folks said he was loco. Didn't have a brute beast on the place, jest set 'round an' read books all day an' half the night, when he wasn't rangin' up in the mountains afoot. We used to pass his cabin frequent, us havin' a line of wolf traps over on Box Elder. Sometimes we'd see him settin' by the window readin' but he never took no notice of us.

"One day when it was workin' 'long toward spring, we was ridin' a line of traps up agin' the foot of Tiger Butte. It had thawed consid'ble much the day before an' the goin' was mighty pernickity, 'special as our horses had wore all their cork off. All to oncet my horse give a snort an' a sideways jump that nigh fetched me, an' there, at the foot of a rock ledge, laid Old Lonesome. He wasn't dead but we could see he was all in, an' a good six mile from his cabin. It was the devil's own job gettin' him home, 'cause he sure was busted up. One leg broke, chest kinda caved in, an' a big ugly cut acrost his head. We fixed him up best we could with liniment an' bandages, but I savvied, first off, 'twasn't no use. We built up the fire an' set 'round waitin' fer the end.

"He laid still fer a long spell, an' several times we thought he'd quit breathin', but he was a tough old pilgrim fer all he didn't look it, an' bymbye he begun to get res'less. He moved a little on the bunk an' took to mutterin', an' now an' then throwed a groan when the pain would catch him sharp. I mixed up some whisky an' water middlin' stout an' we fed it to him. It done him good. His breath came a little stronger an' more reg'lar an' a little life color came into his face, which before that he'd been paper-white, like all the blood had been dreened out of him. It run 'long thataway till 'bout midnight when Slim stepped to the bed fer to give him another dose of hot whisky.

"'Come here,' he says, 'he's came to!' I went over, an', sure 'nough, his eyes was wide open a- lookin' at us kinda dazed like; seemed like he was tryin' to rec 'lect where he was at.

"You're all right, Old Timer,' Slim says kinda soothin' like as he stoops over the bunk, 'Jest you lay still an' take it easy!'

"He laid there lookin' at us fer a spell an' then he asked fer a drink of water, an' his hand went to his chest where his ribs was stove in. He drunk the water an' then he says how he seen he didn't have long to live.

"They didn't 'pear to be no sense in lyin' to him, so I says: 'You can't never tell 'bout such things, but even at that, you've lived quite some consid'ble spell a' ready.'

"'Too long! Too long!' he says, 'I shall welcome death which will put an end to my miserable existence.'

"'Been ailin'?' I asks, feelin' sort of mean 'bout us not bein' better neighbors to him.

'"No, physically I have been well, but for years I have mentally suffered the tortures of the damned.' I rec'lected what folks said 'bout him bein' loco.

'"That sure is hell,' I agrees, feelin' it best not to rile him. He started in to say somethin' but the blood from his busted lungs clogged up his throat an' he fought fer breath. I thought he was a goner fer sure, but we got some whisky down him an' he eased off, an' after a spell he tackles it agin:

"'Gentlemen,' he says, 'I don't know who you are nor what brings you here, but I realize that my hours are numbered an' before I die I must unburden myself to a fellow human.'

'"Sure thing.' says Slim, 'get it out of yer system if it'll help you any, but if I was you I'd shut up an' take it easy. 'Nother one of them spells an' you'll sure cash in.'

"But Old Lonesome wouldn't hear to it an' he starts in an' tells 'bout how he was a perfesser in some college back East an' 'bout him gittin' married long in the '60's—I rec'lect thinkin' at the time that there couldn't be no girl as pretty an' han'some as what he told. An' how they lived happy an' had a little kid, finest little kid in the world he claimed, an' had a birthmark on his head, an' how, after the kid had got a couple of year old er so, he started in gettin' jealous of his wife. An' how one day he catched her in the garden with a man an' he seen him kiss her when he went away.

"Then he told 'bout firin' her out without givin' her no chanct to explain, an' how he found out after that it was her brother which he hadn't never saw, an' how he got the kid took care of by a aunt of hissen, an' quit his job an' started huntin' fer his wife. Seems like he spent consid'ble many years at it, goin' from one place to another an' from one country to another, an' when the kid got big 'nough he put him in a school. He never found her, an' one time when he went to see the kid they told him he'd skipped out. An' he told 'bout how at last he give up an' come out to the South Slope where he could hate hisself unint'rupted.

"By the time he'd got through he was 'bout all in an' he told us if we ever run acrost his wife to tell her how he was huntin' her fergiveness plumb to the last.

SURE thing, old-timer,' says Slim, thinkin' to humor him up. 'But what might yer name be, so's in case we'd ever meet up with the lady we'd know she was her.'

"'My name?' he says, 'Oh, yes, my name is Edward Henry Pasquert.'

"'Pasquert!' says Slim, almost yellin' it out as he leant half out of his chair an', stared at the old man. 'Pasquert, did you say? An' you say how that kid had a birthmark on his forehead—like this?'

He turned his head so't his face showed plain, an' shoved his hat back. The scar glowed brick-red in the lamp light. The old man stared at it an' struggled to raise up but he fell back with a groan.

"'My boy! my boy!' he says, kinda chokey like. 'My little son! At last—after all these years!' He worked one hand out an' stretched it, shakin' toward Slim.

"An' Slim he set there like he was petrified, borin' the old man through with them eyes of hissen. When he seen that tremblin' old hand reachin' out to him, he fetches up onto his feet with a jerk.

"'No!' he roars. 'By God, no! Where's the woman it was up to you to look out fer an' take care of? Damn you! Where's my mother?' Without another word he turned an', crossin' over to the door, went out.

"The old man settled back like he was stunned; his breath come in big chokin' gasps.

"'Come back—son—forgive—I need you so—at the—last.' He motioned me to come closter an' fumbled fer his pocket. 'Her picture—give— him.'

"His hand dropped limp on the blanket an' I took the picture an' stuck it in my pocket an' started out after Slim. I was mad clean down to my boot heels, an' I aimed to bring Slim back if I had to beat him up an' drag him in an' choke the fergiveness out of him. I sure was sorry fer the old feller. Course the way he done her was plumb wrong but, God knows, he'd suffered for that, an', bein' as he was dyin', Slim didn't have no call to do like he done.

"I went out. It was cold, an' the stars winked bright above Big Baldy an' 'round the jagged edges of Saw Tooth. When my eyes got use' to the dark I seen Slim leanin' up agin' the old broke- down horse corral. His face was covered up in his arms an' his hat had fell off an' was layin' on the snow. His shoulders was heavin' till they shook his whole body an' the old loose corral too. There wasn't no sound, jest that dry jerky heave of the shoulders. I never seen a man similar an' I never want to; it's too deep— they're feelin' too much.

"As I stood lookin' at him all the mad died out of me; I see the thing from his slant. But jest the same I wanted he should go in an' call it quits with the old man—him a-dyin' that way, so I walks over an' lays my hand on his shoulder.

"'Slim,' I says, 'he's suffered a thousan' times more'n what you have, 'cause he loved her an' he knows what he's missed. Go in an' tell him you don't hold it agin' him. What he done was in a fit of temper like— like when you called that name to Dixie an' had to kill Ike Runyon fer it.' He turned like he was goin' to speak an' fer a minute he stood lookin' far out over the peaks, where the stars glittered an' the pines showed black agin' the snow. Then he went in an' I picked up his hat an' follered. He'd left the door open an' when I got to it I stopped. He was kneelin' by the side of the bed with one arm throwed acrost the old man an' the limp white hand in hissen.

"'Dad, Dad,' he was sayin', 'I've came back to you. You'll fergive me, won't you? It's our temper, Dad; it's in the blood. Oh, I'm sorry—sorry——'

"Then the tears come an' done him good— but the old man never knowed.

"In the mornin' Slim an' me rigged up a pole drag to take the body as far as Moore's. There he could get a spring wagon an' take his father on to town so's he could be buried decent on Dead Ridge. I stayed to look after the traps, an' that evenin' when I was cookin' supper I happened to run my hand in the pocket of my coat an' drawed out the picture that I'd fergot to give to Slim.

"I took it over to the light an' looked at it an' I seen right there that the old man hadn't bragged her up none in the tellin', an' yet, as I looked, it seemed to me that I had saw that face somewheres; they was somethin' familiar 'bout it. I stood there studyin' quite a spell, an' all to oncet it come to me— it was the eyes, them big, smilin' eyes. Right then a whole heap of things wised into my head. I stuck the picture back in my pocket, bolted what grub was handy, an' caught up my cayuse.

"In ten minutes I was only hittin' the high places to Moore's. They told me how Slim had been there 'bout noon, got a team an' spring wagon an' pulled out, so I trailed along. At Lloyd I woke up Jake LaFranz an' found out that he'd stopped an' et supper there. I figgered he couldn't no more'n make Thompson's that night so I dusted on. I'd got wise to his wagon track so, when I come to Thompson's lane, I piled off an' lit some matches. Slim hadn't turned in an' I knowned I was up agin' a forty mile stretch of bench to White Horse, barrin' the chanct of him makin' a dry camp.

"They was a bunch of saddle horses in Thompson's corral so I turned mine in an' caught me up a fresh one. The way I took after Slim wasn't none slow. It was dark but I knowed the horse would keep the trail, so I rode on a loose rein an' throwed the rowels into him.

WHEN I rounded Snake Butte I catched the rattle of wheels ahead where he went clatterin' down into the coulee at Twelve-mile. I let out a whoop an' dug in my spurs an' the next thing I knowed me an' that horse was a-rollin' down-hill where the trail drops offen the corner of the butte. First I'd be on top, then the horse, an' him thrashin' out with his laigs like the devil beatin' tan-bark. One of my spurs had got hung up in the cinch an' doggone me if I could kick loose nohow. D'rectly we come to the bottom an' laid still.

"I tried to move an' a bunch of pains went shootin' up my left arm all hot an' sudden, like them blades of blue colored lightnin' that slashes 'mongst the peaks when one of them real thunder storms hits the divide. I didn't waste no time though, 'cause I didn't know how long 'twould suit that horse to lay still, so I worked my right hand down an' after some consid'ble twistin' an' pullin' I loosed my spur strap. Gradual, I eased my arm out from in under the horse an' got him up, but he was stove up so bad he couldn't even limp decent, so I pulled off the saddle an' bridle an' turned him loose. My arm was broke in two places so I rigged up a sling an' hit the trail afoot.

"From then on I don't rec'lect much except that my boots hurt my feet an' I tried to pull 'em off, but I couldn't make it, one-handed. I kep' a goin,' but I must of got light headed, what with the pain in my arm an' the want of water. Anyways the last thing I know I left the trail an' headed up Big Dry, huntin' a drink.

"When I opened my eyes agin I was layin' in a bed with sheets, on. I studied quite a spell 'bout them sheets, but I couldn't make nothin' of it, so I begun to look 'round a little. I seen they was a woman settin' by the bed an' I aidged my head 'round so's to get a look at her when I felt a soft, cool hand on my forehead.

"'Feelin' better, Dave?' she asked.

"'Sure,' I says. Then I looked up an seen it was Dixie, an' all to oncet the whole thing came back to me. "'Have you saw Slim?' I asked.

"She smiled an' smoothed back my hair, gentle like, with her fingers.

"'He'll be in 'fore long. He went over to the bank on business.' "'Where am I at?'

"'Right here in White Horse, in the hotel.'

"'Hotel!' I says. 'In White Horse!' An' I eyed them sheets. Then I figgered out that they must of stuck me in the dude room they kep' fer drummers.

"Seemed funny to me 'bout Slim havin' business at the bank, but I was plumb worried 'bout how to keep Dixie away from the old man till they got him planted. Y'see she gen'ally helped 'round folks that way, seein' to it that their eyes was closed an' such, 'fore they was carried over to Dead Ridge; an' I'd got it doped out that if ever she got a good look at him she'd rec'nize him an' prob'ly go all to pieces. Then all of a sudden Slim'd find out that she was his mother an'— well, I didn't know how he'd take it, bein' as things was. A man couldn't never tell which way Slim'd jump, an' I wanted the chanct to break it to him easy. Direc'ly I hit on a scheme.

"'I ain't feelin' none too good, Dixie,' I says. 'Seems like I'm gettin' worse. I reckon Slim's gone over to tend to buryin' a friend of ourn that died over on the South Slope. He wasn't none of the boys that hung 'round White Horse, so you won't care to go over to the Ridge. If you'll stick here an' sort of keep an eye on me, I'll take it mighty kind.'

"'Dave, why are you so anxious to keep me away from there?'

"'I ain't,' I lied. 'I don't care none if you want to go, but fact is I'm 'fraid I'm bad off an' I'd kinda like to have someone 'round case of anythin' should happen. Course, though,' I says, meanin' fer my words to sound pitiful an' disjointed, 'if you'd ruther go, why go ahead, only I kinda thought that maybe------'

"'There, there, boy,' she says, an' she looked at me with them big soft eyes of hern, an' then leant over an' kissed me, 'I know now what sent you tearin' over the trail all through that long, dark night, killin' horses an' nearly killin' yerself. But all that was two weeks ago, Dave. I saw him—my husband—layin' cold in death, an' I heard the story of his long search an' his sufferin' from the lips of my own son— my little boy, who has growed up into a big boy now, an' a wild, thoughtless boy sometimes; but all that's past. I've sold the Eldorado an' we're goin' back East, my boy an' I, to begin life all over agin.'

'"Then Slim knows?'

"'Yes, he was there when I looked down an' saw the face of my husband, so white an' still on the blanket. But I can't understand how you guessed who I am.'

"'The picture,' I says. 'It's in my coat pocket. He give it to me fer Slim, an' I plumb fergot it till evenin'.' "She carried it over to the window an' was still lookin' at it when we heard footsteps comin' up the stairs an scrapin' 'long the hall, like a feller does when he tries to walk soft in high heeled boots. Then the door opened an' Slim come in.

"'Hello, Dave,' he says. 'Woke up at last, did you? How you feelin'?'

"'Fine,' I says.

"Then he went over to where Dixie was by the window, he slipped his arm 'round her an' brung her over to the bed.

"'My mother, Dave,' he says, an' he bent down an' kissed her.

"'I know,' I says, an' I shut my eyes to keep the tears from splatterin' over them sheets.

THE next couple of weeks I put in gettin' back my strength. In a few days I could set up an' Dixie clost herded me like she was my own mother. We'd set an' talk an' she'd read to me by the hour. Slim wasn't 'round much an' when I'd ask where he was at, she'd say he was off tendin' to some business. I soon got so I could walk 'round town a little, pleasant days. Slim drifted in one night an' in the mornin' the three of us et breakfast together. It was a bright, sunshiny day an' the feel of spring was warm in the air.

"'Dave,' Slim says, after he'd rolled him a cigarette, 'd'you feel strong 'nough to take a drive?"

"'Sure,' I says. So he got a rig an' me an' Dixie piled in.

"Where you headin' fer?' I asks, when I seen he had took the Clear Crick trail.

"'Thought we'd drift out an' spend the night at the Y bar,' he says, kinda casual.

"Any old place suits me, but I didn't know you an' McAdams hit it off so doggone thick," I says, thinkin' of a certain head-punchin' McAdams had fell heir to, a year or so previous, 'long of him underestimatin' Slim's usefulness with his lunch hooks.

"Oh, me an' Mac has come to terms all right,' an' him an' Dixie swapped laughs.

"'Long 'bout four o'clock we come to the Y bar lane. One of McAdams's cow-hands come 'long an' he climbs down an' opens the gate.

"'Say,' he hollers, as we drove through, 'how 'bout that——'

"'Oh, yes, that saddle trace?' cuts in Slim. 'Well, come up to the house this evenin' an' we'll talk it over.' He drove on, leavin' the puncher standin' by the gate lookin' like he was locoed.

"Slim pulled up in front of the house an' hitched the team, then he helps me an' Dixie down an' we follers him into the house. 'Peared to me Slim was actin' almighty familiar like 'round McAdams's ranch, but that wasn't a patchin' to what he done next.

"'Hey, you Chop Suey,' he yells, an' direc'ly a grin-faced chink sticks his head through the kitchen doorway.

'"You get a hump on an' have supper early. We're hungry—see.' The chink seen all right, jedgin' by the hustlin' that sounded from the kitchen.

'"Want to look 'round a while an' stretch yer laigs?' says Slim. So we walked down by the horse corrals an' stables, an' took a peek in the bunkhouse, an' looked over all the wagons an' mowers an' stuff in the machinery shed; then we went back to the house an' set on the porch.

"'Where's McAdams an' the missus?' I asks.

'"I don't know; down to Benton, I reckon. That's where they said they was goin'. How d'you like the layout, Dave?'

'"How do I like it?' I says, 'Why every one knows the Y bar's one of the best outfits in the country. But what gets me is the way you go sashayin' 'round like you owned the place.

'"I do,' he says, fishin' in his pockets fer his papers an' tobacco, 'that is, she bought it,' reachin' over an' takin' one of Dixie's hands.

'"By gosh!' I says, struck all of a heap with Slim's good luck. 'You sure made a good buy. This here outfit had ought to pay sixty percent.' Then I figgers on hittin' a lick fer myself. "'Say,' I says, 'you'll be needin' a good wagon boss that knows the range. How 'bout me?' thinkin' I might's well hit him fer a good job as a common one.

"'No,' he says, 'old Hank Evers stays with the outfit. He's as good a foreman as a man wants.'

"'Well,' I says, laughin' a little so's they wouldn't notice I was disappointed, "you'll sure give me a job ridin' at forty per?'

'"No, I can't even do that, Dave. Y'see, we got 'bout all the riders we need right now,' he says, lookin' down at his boots.

"I felt like I'd been hit with a club. I thought them two was the best friends I had in the world, an' here they wouldn't give me a measly forty— dollar job, an' right when I needed a job too. It got my goat, as the feller says. I was that discouraged I felt plumb down an' out, an' there was a sort of drawin', sickish feelin' 'round the pit of my stomach. Then Slim began to talk.

"'Y'see, Dave, it's "like this—' Right there I braced up an' got mad.

"You needn't bother to explain,' I says, tryin' hard to hold my voice even. 'I don't need yer damn job, nohow. I got to be driftin' now, an' if you'll be so kind as to rent me a horse I'll pull out fer the Circle C. I reckon Brewster c'n put me to work.'

"I got up an' started 'round to the bunk-house. I wasn't very strong yet an' I hadn't got more'n a rope's length away till Dixie catched up with me. First thing I knowed she had one of my hands corraled an' her other arm was 'round my belt line an' she was walkin' me back where I come from. There was tears in her eyes, but she was smilin'.

"'I find I've got two big boys to look after, 'stead of only one,' she says. 'An' sometimes they're mighty hard to manage. Now, Dave Crosby, you set right down there an' listen to what I've got to say, an' don't you dare open your mouth till I'm through. Do you hear?'

"I heard all right, but by that time I was so mixed up in my feelin's that I didn't know whether I was afoot or ahorseback, so I set down an' shut up.

"'I told you b'fore that we're goin' back East to live,' she says, 'but I heard that this ranch was for sale, an' I saw it was a good investment so I bought it. The only thing I needed was a pardner, a reliable managin' pardner, an' I knowed where I could get him. In fact, he couldn't get away 'cause he was flat on his back with a broken arm an' a touch of brain fever.

"How does it strike you, Mr. Pardner—a half interest in the whole outfit an' you stay right here an' make it pay. Wait a minute; you're not goin' to say you can't do it. It's too late to refuse, 'cause the papers are all made out. An' anyway, Dave, you couldn't go back on yer friends, could you?' There it was agin, jest the way she always done, her makin' out like I was doin' her the biggest kind of a favor acceptin' a half interest in a two- hundred-thousan'-dollar cow outfit.

"That's how I got my start, which is another little side play of Fate in ravelin' out the tangle of them lives.

A FEW days later they left fer back East, an' in a little while them two stones come out— one fer the old man, an' one fer Ike Runyon. I'm glad Slim remembered Ike. Last winter Dixie died an' Slim brung her out an' laid her beside her husband. Queer, ain't it, how them two will lay there ferever, not ten foot apart, after him spendin' years of his life an' huntin' half the world over to find her? An' then to think that he never knowed how things worked out.

"There was only Slim an' me to foller her body out to the Ridge, an' I'm glad it was so. A couple of weeks ago the stone was set up over her. It's the same as the other two, only it's got her name cut onto it an' underneath, jest the one word—Dixie."

The Old Man stalked to the window and stared out at the slashing slants of wind-hurled snow.

"Fate sure deals some funny hands in the big game," he said, "an' sometimes it looks like she makes a misdeal."