Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 7
Love and a Stomach Pump.
An electrical undercurrent of expectation pervaded the very atmosphere of Flying U ranch. The musicians, two supercilious but undeniably efficient young men from Great Falls, had arrived two hours before and were being graciously entertained by the Little Doctor up at the house. The sandwiches stood waiting, the coffee was ready for the boiling water, and the dining-room floor was smooth as wax could make it.
For some reason unknown to himself, Chip was “in the deeps.” He even threatened to stop in the bunk house and said he didn’t feel like dancing, but was brought into line by weight of numbers. He hated Dick Brown, anyway, for his cute, little yellow mustache that curled up at the ends like the tail of a drake. He had snubbed him all the way out from town and handled Dick’s guitar with a recklessness that invited disaster. And the way Dick smirked when the Old Man introduced him to the Little Doctor—a girl with a fellow in the East oughtn’t to let her eyes smile that way at a pin-headed little dude like Dick Brown, anyway. And he—Chip—had given, her a letter postmarked blatantly: “Gilroy, Ohio, 10:30 P. M.”—and she had been so taken up with those cussed musicians that she couldn’t even thank him, and only just glanced at the letter before she stuck it inside her belt. Probably she wouldn’t even read it till after the dance. He wondered if Dr. Cecil Granthum cared—oh, hell! Of course he cared—that is, if he had any sense at all. But the Little Doctor—she wasn’t above flirting, he noticed. If he ever fell in love with a girl—which the Lord forbid—he’d take mighty good care she didn’t get time to make dimples and smiles for some other fellow to go to heaven looking at.
There, that was her, laughing like she always laughed—it reminded him of pines nodding in a canyon and looking wise and whispering things they’d seen and heard before you were born, and of water falling over rocks, somehow. Queer, maybe—but it did. He wondered if Dick Brown had been trying to say something funny. He didn’t see, for the life of him, how the Little Doctor could laugh at that little imitation man. Girls are—well, they’re easy pleased, most of them.
Down in the bunk house the boys were hurrying into their “war togs”—which is, being interpreted, their best clothes. There was a nervous scramble over the cracked piece of a bar mirror—which had a history—and cries of “Get out!” “Let me there a minute, can’t yuh?” and “Get up off my coat!” were painfully frequent.
Happy Jack struggled blindly with a refractory red tie, which his face rivaled in hue and sheen—for he had been generous of soap.
Weary had possessed himself of the glass and was shaving as leisurely as though four restive cow-punchers were not waiting anxiously their turn.
“For the Lord’s sake, Weary!” spluttered Jack Bates. “Your whiskers grow faster’n you can shave ‘em off, at that gait. Get a move on, can’t yuh?”
Weary turned his belathered face sweetly upon Jack. “Getting in a hurry, Jacky? Your girl won’t be there, and nobody else’s girl is going to have time to see whether you shaved to-day or last Christmas. You don’t want to worry so much about your looks, none of you. I hate to say it, but you act vain, all of you kids. Honest, I’m ashamed. Look at that gaudy countenance Happy’s got on—and his necktie’s most as bad.” He stropped his razor with exasperating nicety, stopping now and then to test its edge upon a hair from his own brown head.
Happy Jack, grown desperate over his tie and purple over Weary’s remarks, craned his neck over the shoulder of that gentleman and leered into the mirror. When Happy liked, he could contort his naturally plain features into a diabolical grin which sent prickly waves creeping along the spine of the beholder.
Weary looked, stared, half rose from his chair.
“Holy smithereens! Quit it, Happy! You look like the devil by lightning.”
Happy, watching, seized the hand that held the razor; Cal, like a cat, pounced upon the mirror, and Jack Bates deftly wrenched the razor from Weary’s fingers.
“Whoopee, boys! Some of you tie Weary down and set on him while I shave,” cried Cal, jubilant over the mutiny. “We’ll make short work of this toilet business.”
Whereupon Weary was borne to the floor, bound hand and foot with silk handkerchiefs, carried bodily and laid upon his bed.
“Oh, the things I won’t do to you for this!” he asserted, darkly. “There won’t nary a son-of-a-gun uh yuh get a dance from my little schoolma’am—you’ll see!” He grinned prophetically, closed his eyes and murmured: “Call me early, mother dear,” and straightway fell away into slumber and peaceful snoring, while the lather dried upon his face.
“Better turn Weary loose and wake him up, Chip,” suggested Jack Bates, half an hour later, shoving the stopper into his cologne bottle and making for the door. “At the rate the rigs are rolling in, it’ll take us all to put up the teams.” The door slammed behind him as it had done behind the others as they hurried away.
“Here!” Chip untied Weary’s hands and feet and took him by the shoulder. “Wake up, Willie, if you want to be Queen o’ the May.”
Weary sat up and rubbed his eyes. “Confound them two Jacks! What time is it?” “A little after eight. Your crowd hasn’t, come yet, so you needn’t worry. I’m not going up yet for a while, myself.”
“You’re off your feed. Brace up and take all there is going, my son.” Weary prepared to finish his interrupted beautification.
“I’m going to—all the bottles, that is. If that Dry Lake gang comes loaded down with whisky, like they generally do, we ought to get hold of it and cache every drop, Weary.”
Weary turned clear around to stare his astonishment.
“When did the W. C. T. U. get you by the collar?” he demanded.
“Aw, don’t be a fool, Weary,” retorted Chip. “You can see it wouldn’t look right for us to let any of the boys get full, or even half shot, seeing this is the Little Doctor’s dance.”
Weary meditatively scraped his left jaw and wiped the lather from the razor upon a fragment of newspaper.
“Splinter, we’ve throwed in together ever since we drifted onto the same range, and I’m with you, uh course. But—don’t overlook Dr. Cecil Granthum. I’d hate like the devil to see you git throwed down, because it’d hurt you worse than anybody I know.”
Chip calmly sifted some tobacco into a cigarette paper. His mouth was very straight and his brows very close together.
“It’s a devilish good thing it was you said that, Weary. If it had been anyone else I’d punch his face for him.”
“Why, yes—an’ I’d help you, too.” Weary, his mouth very much on one side of his face that he might the easier shave the other, spoke in fragments. “You don’t take it amiss from—me, though. I can see——”
The door slammed with extreme violence, and Weary slashed his chin unbecomingly in consequence, but he felt no resentment toward Chip. He calmly stuck a bit of paper on the cut to stop the bleeding and continued to shave.
A short time after, the Little Doctor came across Chip glaring at Dick Brown, who was strumming his guitar with ostentatious ease upon an inverted dry-goods box at one end of the long dining room.
“I came to ask a favor of you,” she said, “but my courage oozed at the first glance.”
“It’s hard to believe your courage would ooze at anything. What’s the favor?”
The Little Doctor bent her head and lowered her voice to a confidential undertone which caught at Chip’s blood and set it leaping.
“I want you to come and help me turn my drug store around with its face to the wall. All the later editions of Denson, Pilgreen and Beckman have taken possession of my office—and as the Countess says: ‘Them Beckman kids is holy terrors—an’ it’s savin’ the rod an’ spoilin’ the kid that makes ’em so!’”
Chip laughed outright. “The Denson kids are a heap worse, if she only knew it,” he said, and followed her willingly.
The Little Doctor’s “office” was a homey little room, with a couch, a well-worn Morris rocker, two willow chairs and a small table for the not imposing furnishing, dignified by a formidable stack of medical books in one corner, and the “drug store,” which was simply a roomy bookcase filled with jars, bottles, boxes and packages, all labeled in a neat vertical hand.
The room fairly swarmed with children, who seemed, for the most part, to be enjoying themselves very much. Charlotte May Pilgreen and Sary Denson were hunched amicably over one of the books, shuddering beatifically over a pictured skeleton. A swarm surrounded the drug store, the glass door of which stood open.
The Little Doctor flew across to the group, horror white.
“Sybilly got the key an’ unlocked it, an’ she give us this candy, too!” tattled a Pilgreen with very red hair and a very snub nose.
“I didn’t, either! It was Jos’phine!”
“Aw, you big story-teller! I never tetched it!”
The Little Doctor clutched the nearest arm till the owner of it squealed.
“How many of you have eaten some of these? Tell the truth, now.” They quailed before her sternness—quailed and confessed. All told, seven had swallowed the sweet pellets, in numbers ranging from two to a dozen more.
“Is it poison?” Chip whispered the question in the ear of the perturbed Little Doctor.
“No—but it will make them exceedingly uncomfortable for a time—I’m going to pump them out.”
“Good shot! Serves ‘em right, the little——”
“All of you who have eaten this—er—candy, must come with me. The rest of you may stay here and play, but you must not touch this case.”
“Yuh going t’ give ‘em a lickin’?” Sary Denson wetted a finger copiously before turning a leaf upon the beautiful skeleton.
“Never mind what I’m going to do to them—you had better keep out of mischief yourself, however. Mr. Bennett, I wish you would get some fellow you can trust—some one who won’t talk about this afterward—turn this case around so that it will be safe, and then come to the back bedroom—the one off the kitchen. And tell Louise I want her, will you, please?”
“I’ll get old Weary. Yes, I’ll send the Countess—but don’t you think she’s a mighty poor hand to keep a secret?”
“I can’t help it—I need her. Hurry, please.”
Awed by the look in her big, gray eyes and the mysterious summoning of help, the luckless seven were marched silently through the outer door, around the house, through the coal shed and so into the back bedroom, without being observed by the merrymakers, who shook the house to its foundation to the cheerful command: “Gran’ right ‘n’ left with a double elbow-w!” “Chasse by yer pardner—balance—swing!”
“What under the shinin’ sun’s the matter, Dell?” The Countess, breathless from dancing, burst in upon the little group.
“Nothing very serious, Louise, though it’s rather uncomfortable to be called from dancing to administer heroic remedies by wholesale. Can you hold Josephine—whichever one that is? She ate the most, as nearly as I can find out.”
“She ain’t gone an’ took pizen, has she? What was it—strychnine? I’ll bet them Beckman kids put ’er up to it. Yuh goin’ t’ give ’er an anticdote?”
“I’m going to use this.” The Little Doctor held up a fearsome thing to view. “Open your mouth, Josephine.”
Josephine refused; her refusal was emphatic and unequivocal, punctuated by sundry kicks directed at whoever came within range of her stout little shoes.
“It ain’t no use t’ call Mary in—Mary can’t handle her no better’n I can—an’ not so good. Jos’phine, yuh got——”
“Here’s where we shine,” broke in a cheery voice which was sweet to the ears, just then. “Chip and I ain’t wrassled with bronks all our lives for nothing. This is dead easy—all same branding calves. Ketch hold of her heels, Splinter—that’s the talk. Countess, you better set your back against that door—some of these dogies is thinking of taking a sneak on us—and we’d have t’ go some, to cut ’em out uh that bunch out there and corral ’em again. There yuh are, Doctor—sail in.”
Upheld mentally by the unfailing sunniness of Weary and the calm determination of Chip, to whom flying heels and squirming bodies were as nothing, or at most a mere trifle, the Little Doctor set to work with a thoroughness and dispatch which struck terror to the hearts of the guilty seven.
It did not take long—as Weary had said, it was very much like branding calves. No sooner was one child made to disgorge and laid, limp and subdued, upon the bed, than Chip and Weary seized another dexterously by heels and head. The Countess did nothing beyond guarding the door and acting as chaperon to the undaunted Little Doctor; but she did her duty and held her tongue afterward—which was a great deal for her to do.
The Little Doctor sat down in a chair, when it was all over, looking rather white. Chip moved nearer, though there was really nothing that he could do beyond handing her a glass of water, which she accepted gratefully.
Weary held a little paper trough of tobacco in his fingers and drew the tobacco sack shut with his teeth. His eyes were fixed reflectively upon the bed. He placed the sack absently in his pocket, still meditating other things.
“She answered: ‘We are seven,’” he quoted softly and solemnly, and the Little Doctor forgot her faintness in a hearty laugh.
“You two go back to your dancing now,” she commanded, letting the dimples stand in her cheeks in a way that Chip dreamed about afterward. “I don’t know what I should have done without you—a cow-puncher seems born to meet emergencies in just the right way. Please don’t tell anyone, will you?”
“Never. Don’t you worry about us, Doctor. Chip and I don’t set up nights emptying our brains out our mouths. We don’t tell our secrets to nobody but our horses—and they’re dead safe.”
“You needn’t think I’ll tell, either,” said the Countess, earnestly. “I ain’t forgot how you took the blame uh that sof’ soap, Dell. As the sayin’ is——”
Weary closed the door then, so they did not hear the saying which seemed to apply to this particular case. His arm hooked into Chip’s, he led the way through the kitchen and down the hill to the hay corral. Once safe from observation, he threw himself into the sweetly pungent “blue-joint” and laughed and laughed.
Chip’s nervous system did not demand the relief of cachinnation. He went away to Silver’s stall and groped blindly to the place where two luminous, green moons shone upon him in the darkness. He rubbed the delicate nose gently and tangled his fingers in the dimly gleaming mane, as he had seen her do. Such pink little fingers they were! He laid his brown cheek against the place where he remembered them to have rested.
“Silver horse,” he whispered, “if I ever fall in love with a girl—which isn’t likely!—I’ll want her to have dimples and big, gray eyes and a laugh like——”