Chip, of the Flying U/Chapter 9

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Before the Round-up.

“The Little Doctor wants us all to come up t’ the White House this evening and have some music,” announced Cal, bursting into the bunk house where the boys were sorting and packing their belongings ready to start with the round-up wagon in the morning.

Jack Bates hurriedly stuffed a miscellaneous collection of socks and handkerchiefs into his war bag and made for the wash basin.

“I’ll just call her bluff,” he said, determinedly.

“It ain’t any bluff; she wants us t’ come, er you bet she wouldn’t say so. I’ve learned that much about her. Say, you’d a died to seen old Dunk look down his nose! I’ll bet money she done it just t’ rasp his feelin’s—and she sure succeeded. I’d go anyway, now, just t’ watch him squirm.”

“I notice it grinds him consider’ble to see the Little Doctor treat us fellows like white folks. He’s workin’ for a stand-in there himself. I bet he gets throwed down good and hard,” commented Weary, cheerfully.

“It’s a cinch he don’t know about that pill-thrower back in Ohio,” added Cal. “Any of you fellows going to take her bid? I’ll go alone, in a minute.”

“I don’t think you’ll go alone,” asserted Jack Bates, grabbing his hat.

Slim made a few hasty passes at his hair and said he was ready. Shorty, who had just come in from riding, unbuckled his spurs and kicked them under his bed.

“It’ll be many a day b’fore we listen t’ the Little Doctor’s mandolin ag’in,” croaked Happy Jack.

“Aw, shut up!” admonished Cal.

“Come on, Chip,” sang out Weary. “You can spoil good paper when you can’t do anything else. Come and size up the look on Dunk’s face when we take possession of all the best chairs and get t’ pouring our incense and admiration on the Little Doctor.”

Chip took the cigarette from his lips and emptied his lungs of smoke. “You fellows go on. I’m not going.” He bent again to his eternal drawing.

“The dickens you ain’t!” Weary was too astounded to say more.

Chip said nothing. His gray hat-brim shielded his face from view, save for the thin, curved lips and firm chin. Weary studied chin and lips curiously, and whatever he read there, he refrained from further argument. He knew Chip so much better than did anyone else.

“Aw, what’s the matter with yuh, Splinter! Come on; don’t be a chump,” cried Cal, from the doorway.

“I guess you’ll let a fellow do as he likes about it, won’t you?” queried Chip, without looking up. He was very busy, just then, shading the shoulders of a high-pitching horse so that one might see the tense muscles.

“What’s the matter? You and the Little Doctor have a falling out?”

“Not very bad,” Chip’s tone was open to several interpretations. Cal interpreted it as a denial.

“Sick?” He asked next.

“Yes!” said Chip, shortly and falsely.

“We’ll call the doctor in, then,” volunteered Jack Bates.

“I don’t think you will. When I’m sick enough for that I’ll let you know. I’m going to bed.”

“Aw, come on and let him alone. Chip’s able t’ take care of himself, I guess,” said Weary, mercifully, holding open the door.

They trooped out, and the last heard of them was Cal, remarking:

“Gee whiz! I’d have t’ be ready t’ croak before I’d miss this chance uh dealing old Dunk misery.”

Chip sat where they had left him, staring unseeingly down at the uncompleted sketch. His cigarette went out, but he did not roll a fresh one and held the half-burned stub abstractedly between his lips, set in bitter lines.

Why should he care what a slip of a girl thought of him? He didn’t care; he only—that thought he did not follow to the end, but started immediately on a new one. He supposed he was ignorant, according to Eastern standards. Lined up alongside Dr. Cecil Granthum—damn him!—he would cut a sorry figure, no doubt. He had never seen the outside of a college, let alone imbibing learning within one. He had learned some of the wisdom which nature teaches those who can read her language, and he had read much, lying on his stomach under a summer sky, while the cattle grazed all around him and his horse cropped the sweet grasses within reach of his hand. He could repeat whole pages of Shakespeare, and of Scott, and Bobbie Burns—he’d like to try Dr. Cecil on some of them and see who came out ahead. Still, he was ignorant—and none realized it more keenly and bitterly than did Chip.

He rested his chin in his hand and brooded over his comfortless past and cheerless future. He could just remember his mother—and he preferred not to remember his father, who was less kind to him than were strangers. That was his past. And the future—always to be a cow-puncher? There was his knack for drawing; if he could study and practice, perhaps even the Little Doctor would not dare call him ignorant then. Not that he cared for what she might say or might not say, but a fellow can’t help hating to be reminded of something that he knows better than anyone else—and that is not pleasant, however you may try to cover up the unsightliness of it.

If Dr. Cecil Granthum—damn him!—had been kicked into the world and made to fight fate with tender, childish little fists but lately outgrown their baby dimples, as had been his lot, would he have amounted to anything, either? Maybe Dr. Cecil would have grown up just common and ignorant and fit for nothing better than to furnish amusement to girl doctors with dimples and big, gray eyes and a way of laughing. He’d like to show that little woman that she didn’t know all about him yet. It wasn’t too late—he was only twenty-four—he would study, and work, and climb to where she must look up, not down, to him—if she cared enough to look at all. It wasn’t too late. He would quit gambling and save his money, and by next winter he’d have enough to go somewhere and learn to make pictures that amounted to something. He’d show her!

After reiterating this resolve in several emphatic forms, Chip’s spirits grew perceptibly lighter—so much so that he rolled a fresh cigarette and finished the drawing in his hands, which demonstrated the manner in which a particularly snaky broncho had taken a fall out of Jack Bates in the corral that morning.

Next day, early in the afternoon, the round-up climbed the grade and started on its long trip over the range, and, after they had gone, the ranch seemed very quiet and very lonely to the Little Doctor, who revenged herself by snubbing Dunk so unmercifully that he announced his intention of taking the next train for Butte, where he lived in the luxury of rich bachelorhood. As the Little Doctor showed no symptoms of repenting, he rode sullenly away to Dry Lake, and she employed the rest of the afternoon writing a full and decidedly prejudiced account to Dr. Cecil of her quarrel with Chip, whom, she said, she quite hated.