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by William Patterson White

Author of "High Pockets," "Lynch Lawyers," etc.

ANDY BALL was so thin he couldn't shift his chew without losing his balance; he owned more freckles to the square foot than a leopard with the measles, and he was in love usual and extensive. He'd a girl in Swing Valley—hasher at the hotel—and two in Torpedo, till they found each other out; he'd another at Morgan's, one at Deep Creek, and the Rafter O cook, all in one year. Which is siftin' along, I'll say.

Outside of his being a idjit thisaway, six foot tall and a little bow-legged, Andy was right human. If he ever used any judgment I didn't know it. I remember special the time he turned his loving nature loose on a three-hundred-pound squarehead young lady with her features all in the middle of her face and a figure so graceful she looked the same anywhere you stood.

Her name was Susy Svenson, and her pa owned a claim back of Baldy. One day, when Andy and me were riding in from the Blue Creek range, we stopped for the night at Ole Svenson's. From that fatal moment, as the man says, his loving nature like to been the death of Andy.

After supper him and Susy got almighty friendly—she could cook like a house afire—and nothing must do the lady but she's got to take Andy into the setting-room and show him the photograph album, which is squarehead for a large evening.

After a while the lamp went out or something, and Susy made a mistake in the dark, missed the chair she's aiming for, and sat down on top of Andy. This was too much for the self-respect of Andy's chair. It busted simultaneous, and the floor is next. The jar overset a fancy clock, weighing six pounds and a quarter, off the chimney shelf, and the same fetched Andy a healthy swipe square between the eyes. Taking the lady and the clock together thisaway knocked Andy cold like a mule had kicked him.

It took thirty minutes and half the tank to bring him to.

"Let's go," he snuffles in my ear when he's able to stand. "Let's go—now."

But going away ain't so simple as he says it. He made the mistake of calling goodby before he's topped his horse, and Susy reached the upper gate first. Go? I guess not. "I skoll gass not!"

"I ban like you, Andy," she says, looking like a stuffed tent in the moonlight and not minding me a-tall. "More better you stay un talk to your leetle Susy."

"We gotta be pulling our freight," protests Andy, starting to swing up quick. Susy reached out one hand to his collar, and he stopped just as quick.

"Lat's go in de house," she says with' a smile you could button behind her ears, and giving him a playful shake that made his teeth rattle. "I ban make you some kaffee."

If it had been poison she was fixing to feed him he couldn't have gone along more reluctant.

"By hal," says Ole, looking after 'em, "I tank I lose mein leetle gal."

"I'll bet Andy wishes he could," I says unthinking.

"He ban like her, huh?" asks Ole, missing the point a mile.

"How can he help it?" says I. "Love at first sight, Ole, that's what."

"Yaw, yaw," says he vigorous. "I gas mabbe I find me gude cook somevare pretty —— quick."

Ole and me tracked along up to the house. Going by the kitchen I looked in the window. There's Andy sitting on a chair in the comer and grinding the coffee like he hadn't a minute to lose.

"By yiminy," Susy was saying, "I skoll teach you how to cook."

Andy didn't say nothing but he sure looked jo-awful faint and despairing.

Susy brought coffee to Ole and me out on the porch, but her and Andy had theirs in the kitchen. Soon Ole went to the corral and I turned in for the night. I'm sleeping fine when Andy woke me up slumping down on the bed.

"Oh, Lordy! Lordy!" says he under his breath, propping his head on his hands.

"What's the matter?" I asks him.

"Whatsa matter?" he gasps in a whisper. "Whatsa matter? Say, Bill—" changing his tone abrupt— "what am I gonna do?"

"Whatcha talking about?" I grins.

"She—she—that female thinks we're engaged," he bubbles out.

"Ain't you?" I says.

"No, I ain't!" he snaps.

"Well," I says, "I thought you was. I thought your falling through that chair together was a new way of announcing it. Shucks, yes. I thought so; Ole he thought so; and Susy she thought so. What could be fairer than that?"

But he paid no attention.

"She thinks I'm gonna marry her," he groans, batting his eyes desperate.

"I'm stringing my chips with hers," I told him. "Yessir, I sure am. If she says you're gonna marry her, you're gonna. No two ways about that!"

"Not so loud!" he shushes at me. "They'll hear you! My Gawd, Bill!" he rants on, hanging to his trouble like a bulldog to somebody's pants. "I didn't even tell her I liked her! I didn't act mushy nor soft a-tall. I wouldn't mind if I had. I'd have it coming to me then. But I hardly put my arm around her more'n part way."

"Which was doing right well at that," I says, "even for a long-armed gent like you."

"I tell you I didn't mean nothing," he insists. "I was just having pity on the poor girl like. I didn't think—Bill, I can't marry her! I can't! Look at her! Just look at her! Why, it's plumb ridiculous!"

I choked off a laugh, and he snarls:

"That's right, make fun o' me! I thought you was a friend o' mine. Will you do this much? Tell 'em in the morning you ain't seen me."

"Sure," I says. "Why?"

"I'm drifting out of here soon's they get some harder asleep," he explains, pulling off his boots slow and gentle.

"Yeah," I says, "I would."

"What makes your voice sound so funny?" he wants to know, suspicious as a weasel.

"Oh, nothing," I told him, turning over on my stomach so's he couldn't see my face, 'cause the moonlight through the window was light as a lamp, and him talking so confident of going away was surely a joke. I'd looked out the window before I went to bed, and he hadn't—yet.

Andy reached out the makings and smoked lugubrious for a half-hour. Then he picked up his boots and tiptoed to the window. I watched him swing one leg over the sill, and I watched him pull it back.

"What's the matter?" I asks him.

"Nothing," he whispers without turning round. "Good doggie," he goes on, flapping a friendly hand outdoors. "Good feller."

I got up and-looked over his shoulder.

"I see the dog's still there," I says casual. "I noticed him just before I went to bed."

Andy grunted and looked anxious at the animal. It ain't much smaller than a goodsized calf, and it's unfolded every tooth in its head and growling without a break.

"Didn't you know Ole had a dog?" I asks Andy. "He keeps it chained out in the kennel back of the corral as a rule. He must have turned it loose tonight for some reason."

"You think so?" says Andy. "You're real bright for a young fellow. Good doggie!" He switches to the animal and started to crawl out the window again.

"R-r-r-r-uff!" roars the good doggie and sprung at the window.

Andy fell back inside and cussed, so I turned in—to sleep this trip. I woke up sudden to see Andy sliding out the window slow and cautious. She was two hours later by the moonlight on the floor, and I got up and went to the window. I watched Andy, his boots in his hand, a tiptoein' for the corral. The good doggie was nowhere in sight, you better believe, and the corral was only fifty yards away.

Andy was half-way to the bars when there's a howl at the back of the house and a black streak shot round the corner and took after Andy.

Andy didn't dally. He dropped his boots and ran like a jack-rabbit. But for all his head start he only reached the corral a nose to the good. Andy didn't climb the gate. He just sort of throwed himself at it, and before you could wink he's jack-knifed over and up and was roosting all safe on top the posts. And that dog was capering round below a-uttering the most frightful roars I ever heard. Andy was sure stuck, because Ole had built his corral as stingy as possible, and the bars were so wide apart the dog could sift through most anywheres he wanted. I saw him do it in seven different places just while I stood there.

I looked for Ole and Susy to wake up and rescue the rooster, but they didn't—rescue him I mean. Ole woke up all right, 'cause I heard a snicker two windows down. It wasn't my place, me being a guest and all, to go calling off no dog as big as a calf, even to please a friend. Nawsir! I went back to bed, and the last I heard before I fell asleep was Andy calling the dog names and the dog a-worrying and a-teasing Andy's boots all to little flinders.

Next morning I was up in time to see Susy dragging the dog to his kennel and Andy climbing down mighty stiff and slow and looking after the dog every move he makes.

"Das night air ban bad for folks," says Susy at breakfast, spading fried mush out of the pan. "Mabbe you catch cold, huh, Andy?"

But Andy he hadn't caught cold, only a splinter which made him sit sideways, and he scraped up a nervous smile to go with his, "No, Susy," that would have fooled most anybody. When she told him to come see her soon, his face got as long as a well-rope.

"I'd like to, Susy, honest," he says. "I'm gonna miss you like my right eye, but we're so busy shipping feeders just now I don't see how I can manage it right soon. You can see how it is, Susy."

"I tank more better you come," she repeats.

"I tank so, too," says Ole, and he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, got up from the table, reached a .45 Winchester off the hooks behind the stove and begun to clean it.

RIDING away from Ole's place, Andy was blue and silent a lot. Being in his socks thataway—for them boots wasn't worth saving for patches when the dog had finished with 'em—and that bad night on top of his other troubles, sure combined to give him a discouraged appearance.

"What'll I do?" tie says at last. "My Gawd, what'll I do now?"

"You might drown yourself," I says, tapping my nose judicious, "or shoot yourself, or eat wolf-pizen. There's forty ways of committing suicide."

"Aw, you're as helpful as a broken leg," he whines, wriggling like the saddle burnt him. "This is serious."

"You said it was ridiculous a while back," I says.

With that he shut up and didn't say nothing till we're almost back to the ranch.

"I'd take it as a favor," says he, stiff as dry rawhide, "if you'll keep what's happened under your hat."

"You won't mind if I tell Johnny?" I asks, cocking my eye at him.

"Not Johnny!" he busts out. "Whatever you do, don't tell Johnny!"

Everybody knows Johnny's tongue is hung in the middle and flapping eternal. Johnny! What Johnny wouldn't do to that piece of news with his sense of humor— Oh, Lordy! Lordy!

"I ain't gonna say nothing," I told Andy, "but whyn't you drag it? Quit the range? Go off some'ers and don't never come back?"

"There's my claim," he objects. "One hundred and sixty acres almost proved up, and that hundred and sixty I bought off Riley, and that jag o' cows I got running with the Old Man's bunch. Go off some'ers and lose it all? You're talking foolish!"

"You could sell all that stuff," I suggests.

"I couldn't get nothing for it," says he. "You never can at a forced sale."

Andy was always forehanded. Yes indeedy. Not that he was exactly tight, y'understand, but with all his fool lovemaking he never lost sight of the fact that there was a hundred cents to the dollar, corral-count.

"That's whatsa matter," he goes on. "She knows about that land and them cattle. They're what she's after. She thinks I'm a good thing. She's a-fixing to trap me."

"Fixing?" I says. "Well, anyway, Andy old-timer," I tacks on, "let's hope Ole is a poor shot."

He was still cussing when we passed the windmill.

Andy didn't eat much supper that night. Next morning the same. So it went for three days. Then, when nothing happened and no signs of Susy or Ole, he began to chipper up and relish his meals.

The fourth day was Monday. Tuesday the Old Man sent Johnny with a message to Jake Dawson at Blue Creek. Saturday he come back and pounced down on us at supper.

"Congrats!" bawls Johnny, slapping Andy so hard between the shoulders he lost control of a mouthful of coffee and got the hiccups immediate. "Congrats! Y' old fox, whyn't you tell us you was engaged to li'l Susy?"

"Huh—? Andy—? Susy—? Susy Svenson?"

Them punchers went loony demented. And what they didn't do to Andy! No good for him to deny everything, which he done vehement. No good a-tall. He didn't eat no more supper. He took himself and his hiccups out to the woodpile and sat down on the chopping-block.

He must have done a power of thinking out on that chopping-block, 'cause next day at dinner, when Johnny got funny some more, Andy jumped him prompt as a split-second fuse.

Johnny was so took by surprize that Andy hit him three times before he could start. Johnny got a-going final, but one of them three cracks of Andy's was a right to the chin and that had tuckered him at the go-off. He didn't have a chance. Inside of four minutes he's licked an' hollering—

"Uncle! Uncle! Leggo my ear!"

Andy unclamped his teeth and got up off Johnny.

"Listen!" says Andy to the rest of the boys. "Enough is a-plenty. I like a joke but I got my own notion of what's wit and humor, and the next jigger that unloads congratulations on to me or sticks Susy into the conversation anywheres wants to come a-running, 'cause I will."

Nobody says a word, and he went out to the windmill to slosh water on the eye Johnny had closed for him.

TWO days later Riley's young one fetched over a letter for Andy. Andy took it like it's a hot coal. "Whatcha grinning at?" he grunts to Riley's kid.

"I was just a-thinkin'," says the young one,' "how you and Susy musta looked when the chair busted."

"Shut up!" says Andy, flushing red as paint, and then the young one near laughed his fool head off and pulled his freight.

I seen Thompson running to head off the young one at the lower gate, but I didn't let on. Pretty soon Andy slid over to me.

"Susy's coming here next week," says Andy, shaking the letter. "She says if I won't come to see her, she'll come to see me. What kind o' girl is she, pursuing a gent thisaway? Where's her pride? Why can't she take a hint? Why can't she lemme alone? Coming here! Her and Ole!"

"And maybe Faithful Fido," I chipped in, but he never noticed.

"Lookit, Bill," he wades on breathless, "you gotta help me. You're the only friend I got in this nest o' lunatics. They all think it's funny. Funny! My Gawd, them jacks would laugh at a lynchin'! —— it all, I don't wanna leave, but I gotta if she's coming here. I gotta. And there's my cattle and my land. I'll have to let 'em go. I'll lose money, Bill, see? Tell you what now, s'pose you ride over there and tell her I've changed my mind and I wouldn't marry her on a bet. That oughta fix her."

"It oughta fix me, too," I says. "What Ole might miss with his Winchester that dog won't overlook. And there's Susy herself. If she'd ever lay a finger on me in anger just once, I'll gamble I'd lose a year's growth. You're sort o' light in the heft, Andy, but she shook you that time like you was even fighter. Nawsir, Andy old settler, going over and breaking the bad news to Susy and her parent ain't my idea of a pastime."

And that's that, as the man says. Andy sags off slack and listless, a-sucking his lower lip mighty gloomersome.

In the evening come supper, the boys was all talking about furniture and courtship. Was sofys stronger than chairs? Would a chair stand a overload? Should a gent hold a lady on his left knee or his right or both? Thompson says that all depends on the lady, and Andy lays down his knife and fork.

"Tom," says Andy, cold as a froze steer, "did Riley's kid say anything about me?"

"I didn't say so," answers back Thompson, "but you can put down a bet Ole Svenson has been saying something about you to Riley's kid."

I dunno how Andy crossed the table, but he's on top of Thompson anyways quicker than he jumped Johnny. Thompson had the luck to juke Andy's first swing, and Andy's knuckles skimmed past and nudged Sam Bleeker square on the kisser. So-it's two to one, with Andy taking the short end and using everything from his feet to the crockery.

Of course the folks most concerned, being hurried thataway, hadn't time to aim careful, and when the sugar-bowl shaved my ear I went outside. I think there was four of us tried to get out the door simultaneous, but I know I was winner.

"Lookit!" screeches Simmsy, combing condensed milk out of his whiskers. "Lookit!"

You've guessed it. There's Susy and Ole in a buckboard. She's a week ahead of time.

"Where's Andy at?" she wants to know.

I didn't need to answer that question 'cause just then him and the other two pinwheeled out the door in a tangle. For all she was fat Susy could move quick. In no time she was off the buckboard and had Thompson by the hair. The riot calmed down abrupt. Sam Bleeker and Thompson crawled back into the bunk-house, and Susy hugged Andy till his ribs cracked.

"I ban come take you home mit me," she says. "I tank we skoll marry next veek."

"Lemme change my clo'es," begs Andy, who'd lost most of his shirt.

"Better hurry," advises Ole, and he snaked out that .45 Winchester from under the seat and laid it across his knees.

"I'll be right back," promises Andy, and he scrambles into the bunk-house immediate.

I walked round the bunk-house and, sure enough, he was crawling through a back window.

"Bill," he whispers, pointing to the cottonwoods lining the creek, "I can make it to the creek if you'll keep Susy and Ole from getting suspicious. They didn't fetch the dog along, so I'll be safe hiding out by the flat rock in the box-elders, and by and by you come tell me what's happened and we'll Jigger out what I better do next."

I thought to myself he wouldn't do much figgering, but right then didn't seem the proper time to tell him that, so I went back round the house again.

I talked fast and easy, and Susy didn't get suspicious for as long as ten minutes. Then she began to wonder out loud where Andy's at. From wondering she went to looking at me kind of hard. I stepped back out of arm-reach. She jerked the whip out of the socket and allowed plenty decisive she's a-going to search the bunk-house.

There's no stopping her. She searched that bunk-house, searched it thorough, and when she didn't turn up Andy she's wild. To hear her take on you'd think she'd lost a gold watch.

And all the time Ole was step-laddering up and down in front the bunk-house a-talking to Heaven about what's he's aiming to do to the skinny shoe-string that's addled the affections of his girl Susy. He didn't leave much unsaid, Ole didn't, and every now and then he'd flick open his breech-cover half-way and see was the cartridge still in the chamber. Also he kept that rifle cocked.

Me personal, I was behind the woodpile and only an eye peeking up now and then. The rest of the boys was engaged similar wherever there's cover. Not that we're afraid of Ole, y'understand, but we couldn't lock horns with him without crowding li'l Susy.

Susy ran down final and shooed Ole into the buckboard and drove off, so I went over to the flat rock in the box-elders where Andy's a-sitting, both ears on the stretch.

"WHAT a relief," he says, easing up luxurious when I told him they'd gone. "But look here, Bill, didn't I hear Susy screaming and carrying on a while back? I sure hope you didn't try to argue with her."

"No," I says, solemn as a coffin, "I didn't try to argue with her and I won't— not while I got my health. And if you wanna keep yours and stay a bachelor you fork your horse instanter and drag it full split. Nemmine your broad acres and them plump cows. Nemmine nothing but how soon you can punch the breeze. You hear me whistling, cowboy?"

Andy's property thataway was the one temptation to last it out, but when he'd thought twice of Susy and her survigorous pa, that half-section sort of dwindled down and petered out, and distance lent enchantment to the view—and the farther away the view was the better pleased he'd be to see it close.

After he'd decided to flit he spent the rest of the night fixing it up with the Old Man to sell his land and cattle for him. It was graying to dawn when Andy and me—I was a witness—come out of the office, and the first thing we ran into outside the door was Susy Svenson and her pa!

Which them two reptyles had outguessed Andy once more. As I found out later, they'd switched back after leaving the bunkhouse, cached their buckboard down the creek a mile and laywayed for their prey the best part of seven hours.

There's nothing to do—nothing—absolutely nothing. Andy Ball was a spent shell, a busted flush and a plugged nickel from the second Susy ballooned up from the log she's sitting on and lolloped down on his neck with a glad and joyful cry of—

"Oh, my Andy!"

He got his sentence in less'n five minutes. Susy says they'll drive over to Torpedo that very morning and be married by Judge Jackman. She wasn't taking any more chances, so she wasn't.

Poor Andy! He didn't have no spirit left. He agreed to everything she said without a peep. He was so discouraged and downhearted I cinched up and rode over with 'em to Torpedo just to be sort o' friend-at-the-deathbed-to-the-last like.

At Torpedo there's a hitch. Judge Jackman, who issued marriage licenses as a side line, was out of town. He's coming back on No. 3. So Susy herded Andy down to the railroad station to wait for No. 3. Ole started to take in the saloons immediate, but I trailed along with Andy and his keeper.

Lordy! Lordy! I don't believe Susy hobbled her tongue once them three hours. She got Andy's future mapped out fourteen years in advance by the time No. 3 rolled in.

The first citizen off was Judge Jackman. The second was a two-by-tamarack runt of a squarehead with pop-eyes, a cowhide bag and a tin trunk. He was so short he'd have to climb up to sit down, and he stood there a-mopping his flat face and blinking in the sunlight.

"Axel! Axel!" squealed Susy, stampeding down on him.

"Mein Susy! Mein Susy!" cried the squarehead, fending her off with the tin trunk and giving her just one quick-action kiss. "I ban glad for find you, Susy. I ban hunt you tree—four year. How you vas, huh? Steel mein leetle Susy? You steel vait for your boy Axel, huh?"

"Sure I vas vait," she tells him. "I vait and I vait and I break mein heart vaiting. I tank you skoll never come."

"Dot's all your fault," says he cross-like and frowning at her like a bandy-legged banty. "You vas leave no address ven you leave Veenona, Meenesota. And ven I come back from de oh country you vas gone a year already, and I can not find you. And if I haf not seen Yon Yonson in Nort' Platte last veek I tink I skoll never find you. Vy vas you leave no address, Susy? Dot ban no vay for do. You gotta learn do more better, Susy, I tall you. I teach you, you bet. We skoll marry right avay. You need a man for boss you around. Pick up de trunk, Susy, and come along show me vare I buy de license."

With that this half-portion o' nothing handed Susy the cow-hide bag for good measure and spraddled off up Main Street like he owned the earth. And Susy did what she was told exact as a baa-lamb. She'd forgot Andy complete and effectual.

Me personal, I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was awake; then I turned round to ask Andy if he seen what I'd been seeing. But Andy was having hy-sterics.