Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 16
“I have a short article here which may interest you, Miss Della,” said Dunk, coming out on the porch a few days later with a Butte paper in his hand. The Little Doctor was swinging leisurely in the hammock.
“It’s about the picture,” he added, smiling.
“The picture? Oh, let me see!” The Little Doctor stopped the hammock with her toe and sat up. The wind had tumbled her hair about her face and drawn extra color to her cheeks, and she looked very sweet, Dunk thought. He held out the paper, pointing a well-kept finger at the place he wished her to read. There was a rather large headline, for news was scarce just then and every little thing was made the most of. The eyes of the Little Doctor clung greedily to the lines.
“What do you think of that? Isn’t the ‘modest genius’ rather proud of the hit she has made? I wish you could have seen the old stockmen stand around it and tell wolf stories to one another by the hour. The women came and cried over it—they were so sorry for the cow. Really, Miss Della, she’s the most famous cow in Butte, just now. I had plenty of smaller offers, but I waited till Senator Blake came home; he’s a crank on Western pictures, and he has a long pocketbook and won’t haggle over prices. He took it, just as I expected, but he insists that the artist’s name must be attached to it; and if you take his offer, he may bring the picture down himself—for he’s quite anxious to meet you. I am to wire your decision at once.”
The Little Doctor watched a pale green “measuring worm” loop its way hurriedly along the floor of the porch. She was breathing rather quickly and unevenly, and she seemed to be thinking very fast. When the worm, reaching the end, doubled out of sight, she started the hammock swinging and leaned back upon her cushions.
“You may tell him to come—I should like very much to see him,” she said. “And I am very much obliged to you for the service you have performed.” She became very much interested in a magazine, and seemed to dismiss Dunk and the picture entirely from her mind. Dunk, after waiting till he was convinced she had no intention of saying more, went off to the stables to find a messenger for the telegram, telling himself on the way that Miss Della Whitmore was a very cool young person, and not as grateful as he would like her to be.
The Little Doctor went immediately to find Chip, but that young man, who had been just inside the window and had heard every word, was not so easily found. He was down in the bunk house, thinking things. And when she did find him, near supper time, he was so utterly unapproachable that her courage and her patience failed together, and she did not mention the picture at all.
“Hello, Doctor!” It was a heartening voice, sounding very sweet to the ears of the Little Doctor just then. She turned eagerly, her arms still clasping Silver’s neck. She had come down to the corral to feed him sugar and tell him what a very difficult young man his master was, and how he held her at arm’s length with his manner, and yet was nice and friendly and sunny enough—like the sun shining on an iceberg. But human sympathy was within reach of her hand, and it was much more satisfying than the mute sympathy of a horse.
“Weary Willy Davidson, you don’t know how glad I am to see you! As the sayin’ is: ‘Yuh think of angels an’ their opposets ain’t fur off.’ I am glad to see you.”
“Dirt and all?” grinned Weary, for he had ridden far in the heat, and was dust-grimed and travelworn. He pulled the saddle off Glory, also, travelworn and sweat-grimed, and gave him an affectionate slap of dismissal.
“I’d chance money you wasn’t thinking of me,” he said, pointedly. “How is the old ranch, anyhow? Splinter up, yet?”
“You must think I’m a feeble excuse for a doctor,” retorted she. “Of course he’s up. He walks all around the house and yard with a cane; I promoted him from crutches yesterday.”
“Good shot! That was sure a bad foot he had on him, and I didn’t know—— What’s he been putting in the time at? Making pictures—or love?”
“Pictures,” said the Little Doctor, hastily, laying her cheek against Silver’s mane. “I’d like to see him making love!”
“Yuh would?” said Weary, innocently, disregarding the irony of her tone. “Well, if yuh ever do, I tell yuh right now you’ll see the real thing. If he makes love like he does other things, there won’t any female girl dodge his loop, that’s straight. What about the pictures?”
“Well, he drew a picture of J. G. sliding down the kitchen steps, before he was out of bed. And he made a picture of Dunk, that time Banjo bucked him off—you saw that happen, I suppose—and it was great! Dunk was standing on his head in front of his horse, but I can’t show you it, because it blew out of the window and landed at Dunk’s feet in the path, and he picked it up and tore it into little bits. And he doesn’t play in Chip’s yard any more.”
“He never did,” grinned Weary. “Dunk’s a great hand to go around shooting off his mouth about things he’s no business to buy into, and old Splinter let him down on his face once or twice. Chip can sure give a man a hard fall when he wants to, and not use many words, either. What little he does say generally counts.”
The Little Doctor’s memory squirmed assentingly. “It’s the tone he uses,” she said, reflectively. “The way he can say ‘yes,’ sometimes——”
“You’ve bumped into that, huh? Bert Rogers lit into him with a tent peg once, for saying yes at him. They sure was busy for a few minutes. I just sat in the shade of a wagon wheel and laughed till I near cracked a rib. When they got through they laughed, too, and they played ten games uh pool together that night, and got——” Weary caught himself up suddenly. “Pool ain’t any gambling game,” he hastened to explain. “It’s just knocking balls into the pockets, innocent like, yuh see.”
“Mr. Davidson, there’s something I’d like to tell you about. Will you wait a few minutes more for your supper?”
“Sure,” said Weary; wonderingly, and sat down upon the edge of the watering trough.
The Little Doctor, her arms still around Silver’s neck, told him all about “The Last Stand,” and “The Spoils of Victory,” and Chip, and Dunk, and herself. And Weary listened silently, digging little trenches in the hard soil with the rowels of his spurs, and, knowing Chip as he did, understanding the matter much better than did the Little Doctor.
“And he doesn’t seem to know that I never meant to claim the picture as my work, and I can’t explain while he acts so—oh, you know how he can act. And Dunk wouldn’t have sold the picture if he had known Chip painted it, and it was wrong, of course, but I did so want Chip to have some real encouragement so he would make that his life work. You know he is fitted for something better than cow-punching. And now the picture has made a hit and brought a good price, and he must own it. Dunk will be furious, of course, but that doesn’t matter to me—it’s Chip that I can’t seem to manage.”
Weary smiled queerly down at his spurs.
“It’s a cinch you could manage him, easy enough, if you took the right way to do it,” he said, quietly.
“Probably the right way would be too much trouble,” said the Little Doctor, with her chin well up. “Once I get this picture deal settled satisfactorily, I’m quite willing to resign and let him manage himself. Senator Blake is coming to-morrow, and I’m so glad you will be here to help me.”
“I’d sure like to see yuh through with the deal. Old Blake won’t be hard to throw—I know him, and so does Chip. Didn’t he tell yuh about it?”
“Tell me!” flashed the Little Doctor. “I told him Senator Blake was coming, and that he wanted to buy the picture, and he just made him a cigarette and said, ‘Ye—e-es?’ And after that there wasn’t any conversation of any description!”
Weary threw back his head and laughed.
“That sure sounds just like him,” he said, and at that minute Chip himself hobbled into the corral, and the Little Doctor hastened to leave it and retreat to the house.