Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 10

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CHAPTER X.

What Whizzer Did.


“I guess Happy lost some of his horses, las’ night,” said Slim at the breakfast table next morning. Slim had been kept at the ranch to look after the fences and the ditches, and was doing full justice to the expert cookery of the Countess.

“What makes yuh think that?” The Old Man poised a bit of tender, broiled steak upon the end of his fork.

“They’s a bunch hangin’ around the upper fence, an’ Whizzer’s among ’em. I’d know that long-legged snake ten miles away.”

The Little Doctor looked up quickly. She had never before heard of a “long-legged snake”—but then, she had not yet made the acquaintance of Whizzer.

“Well, maybe you better run ’em into the corral and hold ’em till Shorty sends some one after ‘em,” suggested the Old Man.

“I never c’d run ’em in alone, not with Whizzer in the bunch,” objected Slim. “He’s the orneriest cayuse in Chouteau County.”

“Whizzer’ll make a rattlin’ good saddle horse some day, when he’s broke gentle,” argued the Old Man.

“Huh! I don’t envy Chip the job uh breakin’ him, though,” grunted Slim, as he went out of the door.

After breakfast the Little Doctor visited Silver and fed him his customary ration of lump sugar, helped the Countess tidy the house, and then found herself at a loss for something to do. She stood looking out into the hazy sunlight which lay warm on hill and coulee.

“I think I’ll go up above the grade and make a sketch of the ranch,” she said to the Countess, and hastily collected her materials.

Down by the creek a “cotton-tail” sprang out of her way and kicked itself out of sight beneath a bowlder. The Little Doctor stood and watched till he disappeared, before going on again. Further up the bluff a striped snake gave her a shivery surprise before he glided sinuously away under a sagebush. She crossed the grade and climbed the steep bluff beyond, searching for a comfortable place to work.

A little higher, she took possession of a great, gray bowlder jutting like a giant table from the gravelly soil. She walked out upon it and looked down—a sheer drop of ten or twelve feet to the barren, yellow slope below.

“I suppose it is perfectly solid,” she soliloquized and stamped one stout, little boot, to see if the rock would tremble. If human emotions are possible to a heart of stone, the rock must have been greatly amused at the test. It stood firm as the hills around it.

Della sat down and looked below at the house—a doll’s house; at the toy corrals and tiny sheds and stables. Slim, walking down the hill, was a mere pigmy—a short, waddling insect. At least, to a girl unused to gazing from a height, each object seemed absurdly small. Flying U coulee stretched away to the west, with a silver ribbon drawn carelessly through it with many a twist and loop, fringed with a tender green of young leaves. Away and beyond stood the Bear Paws, hazily blue, with splotches of purple shadows.

“I don’t blame J. G. for loving this place,” thought the Little Doctor, drinking in the intoxication of the West with every breath she drew.

She had just become absorbed in her work when a clatter arose from the grade below, and a dozen horses, headed by a tall, rangy sorrel she surmised was Whizzer, dashed down the hill. Weary and Chip galloped close behind. They did not look up, and so passed without seeing her. They were talking and laughing in very good spirits—which the Little Doctor resented, for some inexplicable reason. She heard them call to Slim to open the corral gate, and saw Slim run to do their bidding. She forgot her sketching and watched Whizzer dodge and bolt back, and Chip tear through the creek bed after him at peril of life and limb.

Back and forth, round and round went Whizzer, running almost through the corral gate, then swerving suddenly and evading his pursuers with an ease which bordered closely on the marvelous. Slim saddled a horse and joined in the chase, and the Old Man climbed upon the fence and shouted advice which no one heard and would not have heeded if they had.

As the chase grew in earnestness and excitement, the sympathies of the Little Doctor were given unreservedly to Whizzer. Whenever a particularly clever maneuver of his set the men to swearing, she clapped her hands in sincere, though unheard and unappreciated, applause.

“Good boy!” she cried, approvingly, when he dodged Chip and whirled through the big gate which the Old Man had unwittingly left open. J. G. leaned perilously forward and shook his fist unavailingly. Whizzer tossed head and heels alternately and scurried up the path to the very door of the kitchen, where he swung round and looked back down the hill snorting triumph.

“Shoo, there!” shrilled the Countess, shaking her dish towel at him.

“Who—oo-oof-f,” snorted he disdainfully and trotted leisurely round the corner.

Chip galloped up the hill, his horse running heavily. After him came Weary, liberally applying quirt and mild invective. At the house they parted and headed the fugitive toward the stables. He shot through the big gate, lifting his heels viciously at the Old Man as he passed, whirled around the stable and trotted haughtily past Slim into the corral of his own accord, quite as if he had meant to do so all along.

“Did you ever!” exclaimed the Little Doctor, disgustedly, from her perch. “Whizzer, I’m ashamed of you! I wouldn’t have given in like that—but you gave them a chase, didn’t you, my beauty?”

The boys flung themselves off their tired horses and went up to the house to beg the Countess for a lunch, and Della turned resolutely to her sketching again.

She was just beginning to forget that the world held aught but soft shadows, mellow glow and hazy perspective, when a subdued uproar reached her from below. She drew an uncertain line or two, frowned and laid her pencil resignedly in her lap.

“It’s of no use. I can’t do a thing till those cow-punchers take themselves and their bronchos off the ranch—and may it be soon!” she told herself, disconsolately and not oversincerely. The best of us are not above trying to pull the wool over our own eyes, at times.

In reality their brief presence made the near future seem very flat and insipid to the Little Doctor. It was washing all the color out of the picture, and leaving it a dirty gray. She gazed moodily down at the whirl of dust in the corral, where Whizzer was struggling to free himself from the loop Chip had thrown with his accustomed, calm precision. Whatever Chip did he did thoroughly, with no slurring of detail. Whizzer was fain to own himself fairly caught.

“Oh, he’s got you fast, my beauty!” sighed the Little Doctor, woefully. “Why didn’t you jump over the fence—I think you could—and run, run, to freedom?” She grew quite melodramatic over the humiliation of the horse she had chosen to champion, and glared resentfully when Chip threw his saddle, with no gentle hand, upon the sleek back and tightened the cinches with a few strong, relentless yanks.

“Chip, you’re an ugly, mean-tempered—that’s right, Whizzer! Kick him if you can—I’ll stand by you!” This assertion, you understand, was purely figurative; the Little Doctor would have hesitated long before attempting to carry it out literally.

“Now, Whizzer, when he tries to ride you, don’t you let him! Throw him clear-over-the stable—so there!”

Perhaps Whizzer understood the command in some mysterious, telepathic manner. At any rate, he set himself straightway to obey it, and there was not a shadow of doubt but that he did his best—but Chip did not choose to go over the stable. Instead of doing so, he remained in the saddle and changed ends with his quirt, to the intense rage of the Little Doctor, who nearly cried.

“Oh, you brute! You fiend! I’ll never speak to you again as long as I live! Oh, Whizzer, you poor fellow, why do you let him abuse you so? Why don't you throw him clean off the ranch?”

This is exactly what Whizzer was trying his best to do, and Whizzer’s best was exceedingly bad for his rider, as a general thing. But Chip calmly refused to be thrown, and Whizzer, who was no fool, suddenly changed his tactics and became so meek that his champion on the bluff felt tempted to despise him for such servile submission to a tyrant in brown chaps and gray hat—I am transcribing the facts according to the Little Doctor’s interpretation.

She watched gloomily while Whizzer, in whose brain lurked no thought of submission, galloped steadily along behind the bunch which Slim made haste to liberate, and bided his time. She had expected better—rather, worse—of him than that. She had not dreamed he would surrender so tamely. As they crossed the Hog’s Back and climbed the steep grade just below her, she eyed him reproachfully and said again:

“Whizzer, I’m ashamed of you!”

It did certainly seem that Whizzer heard and felt the pricking of pride at the reproof. He made a feint at being frightened by a jack rabbit which sprang out from the shade of a rock and bounced down the hill like a rubber ball. As if Whizzer had never seen a jack rabbit before!—he who had been born and reared upon the range among them! It was a feeble excuse at the best, but he made the most of it and lost no time seeking a better.

He stopped short, sidled against Weary’s horse and snorted. Chip, in none the best humor with him, jerked the reins savagely and dug him with his spurs, and Whizzer, resenting the affront, whirled and bounded high in the air. Back down the grade he bucked with the high, rocking, crooked jumps which none but a Western cayuse can make, while Weary turned in his saddle and watched with sharp-drawn breaths. There was nothing else that he could do.

Chip was by no means passive. For every jump that Whizzer made the rawhide quirt landed across his flaring nostrils, and the locked rowels of Chip’s spurs raked the sorrel sides from cinch to flank, leaving crimson streams behind them.

Wild with rage at this clinging cow-puncher whom he could not dislodge, who stung his sides and head like the hornets in the meadow, Whizzer gathered himself for a mighty leap as he reached the Hog’s Back. Like a wire spring released, he shot into the air, shook himself in one last, desperate hope of victory, and, failing, came down with not a joint in his legs and turned a somersault.

A moment, and he struggled to his feet and limped painfully away, crushed and beaten in spirit.

Chip did not struggle. He lay, a long length of brown chaps, pink-and-white shirt and gray hat, just where he had fallen.

The Little Doctor never could remember getting down that bluff, and her sketching materials went to amuse the jack rabbits and the birds. Fast as she flew, Weary was before her and had raised Chip’s head upon one arm. She knelt beside him in the dust, hovering over the white face and still form like a pitying, little gray angel. Weary looked at her impersonally, but neither of them spoke in those first, breathless moments.

The Old Man, who had witnessed the accident, came puffing laboriously up the hill, taking the short cut straight across from the stable.

“Is he—dead?” he yelled while he scrambled.

Weary turned his head long enough to look down at him, with the same impersonal gaze he had bestowed upon the Little Doctor, but he did not answer the question. He could not, for he did not know. The Little Doctor seemed not to have heard.

The Old Man redoubled his exertions and reached them very much out of breath.

“Is he dead, Dell?” he repeated in an awestruck tone. He feared she would say yes.

The Little Doctor had taken possession of the brown head. She looked up at her brother, a very unprofessional pallor upon her face, and down at the long, brown lashes and at the curved, sensitive lips which held no hint of red. She pressed the face closer to her breast and shook her head. She could not speak, just then, for the griping ache that was in her throat.

“One of the best men on the ranch gone under, just when we need help the worst!” complained the Old Man. “Is he hurt bad?”

“J. G.,” began the Little Doctor in a voice all the fiercer for being suppressed, “I want you to kill that horse. Do you hear? If you don’t do it, I will!”

“You won’t have to, if old Splinter goes down and out,” said Weary, with quiet meaning, and the Little Doctor gave him a grateful flash of gray eyes.

“How bad is he hurt?” repeated the Old Man, impatiently. “You’re supposed t’ be a doctor—don’t you know?”

“He has a scalp wound which does not seem serious,” said she in an attempt to be matter-of-fact, “and his left collar bone is broken.”

“Doggone it! A broken collar bone ain’t mended overnight.”

“No,” acquiesced the Little Doctor, “it isn’t.”

These last two remarks Chip heard. He opened his eyes and looked straight up into the gray ones above—a long, questioning, rebellious look. He tried then to rise, to free himself from the bitter ecstasy of those soft, enfolding arms. Only a broken collar bone! Good thing it was no worse! Ugh! A spasm of pain contracted his features and drew beads of moisture to his forehead. The spurned arms once more felt the dead weight of him.

“What is it?” The Little Doctor’s voice called to him from afar.

Must he answer? He wanted to drift on and on——

“Can you tell me where the pain is?”

Pain? Oh, yes, there had been pain—but he wanted to drift. He opened his eyes again reluctantly; again the pain clutched him.

“It’s—my—foot.”

For the first time the eyes of the Little Doctor left his face and traveled downward to the spurred boots. One was twisted in a horrible unnatural position that told the agonizing truth—a badly dislocated ankle. They returned quickly to the face, and swam full of blinding tears—such as a doctor should not succumb to. He was not drifting into oblivion now; his teeth were not digging into his lower lip for nothing, she knew.

“Weary,” she said, forgetting to call him properly by name, “ride to the house and get my medicine case—the little black one. The Countess knows—and have Slim bring something to carry him home on. And—ride!

Weary was gone before she had finished, and he certainly “rode.”

“You’ll have another crippled cow-puncher on yer hands, first thing yuh know,” grumbled the Old Man, anxiously, as he watched Weary race recklessly down the hill.

The Little Doctor did not answer. She scarcely heard him. She was stroking the hair back from Chip’s forehead softly, unconsciously, wondering why she had never before noticed the wave in it—but then, she had scarcely seen him with his hat off. How silky and soft it felt! And she had called him all sorts of mean names, and had wanted Whizzer to—she shuddered and turned sick at the memory of the thud when they struck the hard road together.

“Dell!” exclaimed the Old Man, “you’re white’s a rag. Doggone it, don’t throw up yer hands at yer first case—brace up!”

Chip looked up at her curiously, forgetting the pain long enough to wonder at her whiteness. Did she have a heart, then, or was it a feminine trait to turn pale in every emergency? She had not turned so very white when those kids—he felt inclined to laugh, only for that cussed foot. Instead he relaxed his vigilance and a groan slipped out before he knew.

“Just a minute more and I’ll ease the pain for you,” murmured the girl, compassionately.

“All right—so long as you—don’t—use—the stomach pump,” he retorted, with a miserable makeshift of a laugh.

“What’s that?” asked the Old Man, but no one explained.

The Little Doctor was struggling with the lump in her throat that he should try to joke about it.

Then Weary was back and holding the little, black case out to her. She seized it eagerly, slipping Chip’s head to her knees that she might use her hands freely. There was no halting over the tiny vials, for she had decided just what she must do.

She laid something against Chip’s closed lips.

“Swallow these,” she said, and he obeyed her. “Weary—oh, you knew what to do, I see. There, lay the coat down there for a pillow.”

Relieved of her burden, she rose and went to the poor, twisted foot.

Weary and the Old Man watched her go to work systematically and disclose the swollen, purpling ankle. Very gently she did it, and when she had administered a merciful anæsthetic, the enthusiasm of the Old Man demanded speech.

“Well, I’ll be eternally doggoned! You’re onto your job, Dell, doggoned if yuh ain’t. I won’t ever josh yuh again about yer doctorin’!”

“I wish you’d been around the time I smashed my ankle,” commented Weary, fishing for his cigarette book; he was beginning to feel the need of a quieting smoke. “They hauled me forty miles, to Benton.”

“That must have been torture!” shuddered the Little Doctor. “A dislocated ankle is a most agonizing thing.”

“Yes,” assented Weary, striking a match, “it sure is, all right.”