The Happy Family (B M Bower)/Lords of the Pots and Pans
Lords of the Pots and Pans
The camp of the Flying U, snuggled just within the wide-flung arms of an unnamed coulee with a pebbly-bottomed creek running across its front, looked picturesque and peaceful—from a distance. Disenchantment lay in wait for him who strayed close enough to hear the wrangling in the cook-tent, however, or who followed Slim to where he slumped bulkily down into the shade of a willow fifty yards or so from camp—a willow where Pink, Weary, Andy Green and Irish were lying sprawled and smoking comfortably.
Slim grunted and moved away from a grass-hidden rock that was gouging him in the back. "By golly, things is getting pretty raw around this camp," he growled, by way of lifting the safety-valve of his anger. "I'd like to know when that darned grub-spoiler bought into the outfit, anyhow. He's been trying to run it to suit himself all spring—and if he keeps on, by golly, he'll be firing the wagon-boss and giving all the orders himself!"
It would seem that sympathy should be offered him; as if the pause he made plainly hinted that it was expected. Andy Green rolled over and sent him a friendly glance just to hearten him a bit.
"We were listening to the noise of battle," he observed, "and we were going over, in a minute, to carry off the dead. You had a kinda animated discussion over something, didn't yuh?" Andy was on his good behavior, as he had been for a month. His treatment of his fellows lately was little short of angelic. His tone soothed Slim to the point where he could voice his woe.
"Well, by golly, I guess he knows what I think of him, or pretty near. I've stood a lot from Patsy, off and on, and I've took just about all I'm going to. It's got so yuh can't get nothing to eat, hardly, when yuh ride in late, unless yuh fight for it. Why, by golly, I caught him just as he was going to empty out the coffee-boiler—and he knew blamed well I hadn't eat. He'd left everything go cold, and he was packing away the grub like he was late breaking camp and had a forty mile drive before dinner, by golly! I just did save myself some coffee, and that was all—but it was cold as that creek, and—" Habit impelled him to stop there long enough to run his tongue along the edge of a half-rolled cigarette, and accident caused his eyes to catch the amused quirk on the lips of Pink and Irish, and the laughing glance they exchanged. Possibly if he could have looked in all directions at the same time he would have been able to detect signs of mirth on the faces of the others as well; for Slim's grievances never seemed to be taken seriously by his companions—which is the price which one must pay for having a body shaped like Santa Claus and a face copied after our old friend in the moon.
"Well, by golly, maybe it's funny—but I took notice yuh done some yowling, both uh yuh, the other day when yuh didn't get no pie," he snorted, lighting his cigarette with unsteady fingers.
"We wasn't laughing at that," lied Pink pacifically.
"And then, by golly, the old devil lied to me and said there wasn't no pie left," went on Slim complainingly, his memory stirred by the taunt he had himself given. "But I wouldn't take his word for a thing if I knew it was so; I went on a still-hunt around that tent on my own hook, and I found a pie—a whole pie, by golly!—cached away under an empty flour-sack behind the stove! That," he added, staring, round-eyed, at the group, "that there was right where me and Patsy mixed. The lying old devil said he never knew a thing about it being there at all."
Pink turned his head cautiously so that his eyes met the eyes of Andy Green. The two had been at some pains to place that pie in a safe place so that they might be sure of something appetizing when they came in from standing guard that night, but neither seemed to think it necessary to proclaim the fact and clear Patsy.
"I'll bet yuh didn't do a thing to the pie when yuh did find it?" Pink half questioned, more anxious than he would have owned.
"By golly, I eat the whole thing and I cussed Patsy between every mouthful!" boasted Slim, almost in a good-humor again. "I sure got the old boy stirred up; I left him swearin' Dutch cuss-words that sounded like he was peevish. But I'll betche he won't throw out the coffee till I've had what I want after this, by golly!"
"Happy Jack is out yet," Weary observed after a sympathetic silence. "You oughtn't to have put Patsy on the fight till everybody was filled up, Slim. Happy's liable to go to bed with an empty tummy, if yuh don't ride out and warn him to approach easy. Listen over there!"
From where they lay, so still was the air and so incensed was Patsy, they could hear plainly the rumbling of his wrath while he talked to himself over the dishwashing. When he appeared at the corner of the tent or plodded out toward the front of the wagon, his heavy tread and stiff neck proclaimed eloquently the mood he was in. They watched and listened and were secretly rather glad they were fed and so need not face the storm which Slim had raised; for Patsy thoroughly roused was very much like an angry bull: till his rage cooled he would charge whoever approached him, absolutely blind to consequences.
"Well, I ain't going to put nobody next," Slim asserted. "Happy's got to take chances, same as I did. And while we're on the subject, Patsy was on the prod before I struck camp, or he wouldn't uh acted the way he done. Somebody else riled him up, by golly—I never."
"Well, you sure did put the finishing touches to him," contended Irish, guiltily aware that he himself was originally responsible; for Patsy never had liked Irish very well because of certain incidents connected with his introduction to Weary's double. Patsy never could quite forget, though he might forgive, and resentment lay always close to the surface of his mood when Irish was near.
Happy Jack, hungry and quite unconscious that he was riding straight into the trail of trouble, galloped around a ragged point of service-berry bushes, stopped with a lurch at the prostrate corral and unsaddled hastily. Those in the shade of the willow watched him, their very silence proclaiming loudly their interest. They might have warned him by a word, but they did not; for Happy Jack was never eager to heed warnings or to take advice, preferring always to abide by the rule of opposites. Stiff-legged from long riding, the knees of his old, leather chaps bulging out in transient simulation of bowed limbs, he came clanking down upon the cook-tent with no thought but to ease his hunger.
Those who watched saw him stoop and thrust his head into the tent, heard a bellow and saw him back out hastily. They chuckled unfeelingly and strained ears to miss no word of what would follow.
"Aw, gwan!" Happy Jack expostulated, not yet angry. "I got here quick as I could—and I ain't heard nothing about no new laws uh getting here when the whistle blows. Gimme what there is, anyhow."
Some sentences followed which, because of guttural tones and German accent emphasized by excitement, were not quite coherent to the listeners. However, they did not feel at all mystified as to his meaning—knowing Patsy as they did.
"Aw, come off! Somebody must uh slipped yuh a two-gallon jug uh something. I've rode the range about as long as you've cooked on it, and I never knowed a man to go without his supper yet, just because he come in late. I betche yuh dassent stand and say that before Chip, yuh blamed old Dutch—" Just there, Happy Jack dodged and escaped getting more than a third of the basin of water which came splashing out of the tent.
The group under the willows could no longer lie at ease while they listened; they jumped up and moved closer, just as a crowd always does surge nearer and nearer to an exciting centre. They did not, however, interfere by word or deed.
"If yuh wasn't just about ready t' die of old age and general cussedness," stormed Happy Jack, "I'd just about kill yuh for that." This, however, is a revised version and not intended to be exact. "I want my supper, and I want it blame quick, too, or there'll be a dead Dutchman in camp. No, yuh don't! You git out uh that tent and lemme git in, or—" Happy Jack had the axe in his hand by then, and he swung it fearsomely and permitted the gesture to round out his sentence.
Perhaps there would have been something more than words between them, for even a Happy Jack may be goaded too far when he is hungry; but Chip, who had been washing out some handkerchiefs down by the creek, heard the row and came up, squeezing a ball of wet muslin on the way. He did not say much when he arrived, and he did not do anything more threatening than hang the handkerchiefs over the guy-ropes to dry, tying the corners to keep the wind from whipping them away up the coulee, but the result was satisfying—to Happy Jack, at least. He ate and was filled, and Patsy retired from the fray, sullenly owning defeat for that time at least. He went up the creek out of sight from camp, and he stayed there until the dusk was so thick that his big, white-aproned form was barely distinguishable in the gloom when he returned.
At daylight he was his old self, except that he was perhaps a trifle gruff when he spoke and a good deal inclined to silence, and harmony came and abode for a season with the Flying U.
Patsy had for years cooked for Jim Whitmore and his "outfit"; so many years it was that memory of the number was never exact, and even the Old Man would have been compelled to preface the number with a few minutes of meditation and a "Lemme see, now; Patsy's been cooking for me—eighty-six was that hard winter, and he come the spring—no, the fall before that. I know because he like to froze before we got the mess-house chinked up good—I'll be doggoned if Patsy ain't gitting old!" That was it, perhaps: Patsy was getting old. And old age does not often sweeten one's temper, if you notice. Those angelic old men and old ladies have nearly all been immortalized in stories and songs, and the unsung remainder have nerves and notions and rheumatism and tongues sharpened by all the disappointments and sorrows of their long lives.
Patsy never had been angelic; he had always been the victim of more or less ill-timed humor on the part of the Happy Family, and the victim of hunger-sharpened tempers as well. He had always grumbled and rumbled Dutch profanity when they goaded him too hard, and his amiability had ever expressed itself in juicy pies and puddings rather than in words. On this roundup, however, he was not often amiable and he was nearly always rumbling to himself. More than that, he was becoming resentful of extra work and bother and he sometimes permitted his resentment to carry him farther than was wise.
To quarrel with Patsy was rapidly becoming the fashion, and to gossip about him and his faults was already a habit; a habit indulged in too freely, perhaps, for the good of the camp. Isolation from the world brings small things into greater prominence than is normally their due, and large troubles are born of very small irritations.
For two days there was peace of a sort, and then Big Medicine, having eaten no dinner because of a headache, rode into camp about three o'clock and headed straight for the mess-wagon, quite as if he had a right that must not be questioned. Custom did indeed warrant him in lunching without the ceremony of asking leave of the cook, for Patsy even in his most unpleasant moods had never until lately tried to stop anyone from eating when he was hungry.
On this day, however, Big Medicine unthinkingly cut into a fresh-baked pie set out to cool. There were other pies, and in cutting one Big Medicine was supported by precedent; but Patsy chose to consider it an affront and snatched the pie from under Big Medicine's very nose.
"You fellers vot iss always gobbling yet, you iss quit it alreatty!" rumbled Patsy, bearing the pie into the tent with Big Medicine's knife still lying buried in the lately released juice. "I vork und vork mine head off keeping you fellers filled oop tree times a day alreatty; I not vork und vork to feed you effery hour, py cosh. You go mitout till supper iss reaty for you yet."
Big Medicine, his frog-like eyes standing out from his sun-reddened face, stared agape. "Well, by cripes!" He hesitated, looking about him; but whether his search was for more pie or for moral support he did not say. Truth to tell, there was plenty of both. He reached for another pie and another knife, and he grinned his wide grin at Irish, who had just come up. "Dutchy's trying to run a whizzer," he remarked, cutting a defiant gash clean across the second pie. "What do yuh know about that?"
"He's often took that way," said Irish soothingly. "You don't want all that pie—give me about half of it."
Big Medicine, his mouth too full for coherent utterance, waved his hand and his knife toward the shelf at the back of the mess-wagon where three more pies sat steaming in the shade. "Help yourself," he invited juicily when he could speak.
Those familiar with camp life in the summer have perhaps observed the miraculous manner in which a million or so "" will come swarming around when one opens a can of fruit or uncovers the sugar jar. It was like that. Irish helped himself without any hesitation whatever, and he had not taken a mouthful before Happy Jack, Weary and Pink were buzzing around for all the world like the "yellow-jackets" mentioned before. Patsy buzzed also, but no one paid the slightest attention until the last mouthful of the last pie was placed in retirement where it would be most appreciated. Then Weary became aware of Patsy and his wrath, and turned to him pacifically.
"Oh, yuh don't want to worry none about the pie," he smiled winningly at him. "Mamma! How do you expect to keep pies around this camp when yuh go right on making such good ones? Yuh hadn't ought to be such a crackajack of a cook, Patsy, if you don't want folks to eat themselves sick."
If any man among them could have soothed Patsy, Weary would certainly have been the man; for next to Chip he was Patsy's favorite. To say that he failed is only one way of making plain how great was Patsy's indignation.
"Aw, yuh made 'em to be eat, didn't yuh?" argued Happy Jack. "What difference does it make whether we eat 'em now or two hours from now?"
Patsy tried to tell them the difference. He called his hands and his head to help his rage-tangled tongue and he managed to make himself very well understood. They did not argue the fine point of gastronomic ethics which he raised, though they felt that his position was not unassailable and his ultimate victory not assured.
Instead, they peered into boxes and cans which were covered, gleaned a whole box of seeded raisins and some shredded cocoanut just to tease him and retired to wrangle ostentatiously over their treasure trove in the shade of the bed-tent, leaving Patsy to his anger and his empty tins.
Other men straggled in, drifted with the tide of their appetites to the cook-tent, hovered there briefly and retired vanquished and still hungry. They invariably came over to the little group which was munching raisins and cocoanut and asked accusing questions. What was the matter with Patsy? Who had put him on the fight like that? and other inquiries upon the same subject.
Just because they were all lying around camp with nothing to do but eat, Patsy was late with his supper that night. It would seem that he dallied purposely and revengefully, and though the Happy Family flung at him taunts and hurry-up orders, it is significant that they shouted from a distance and avoided coming to close quarters.
Just how and when they began their foolish little game of imitation broncho-fighting does not matter. When work did not press and red blood bubbled they frequently indulged in "rough-riding" one another to the tune of much taunting and many a "Bet yuh can't pitch me off!" Before supper was called they were hard at it and they quite forgot Patsy.
"I'll give any man a dollar that can ride me straight up, by cripes!" bellowed Big Medicine, going down upon all fours by way of invitation.
"Easy money, and mine from the start!" retorted Irish and immediately straddled Big Medicine's back. Horses and riders pantingly gave over their own exertions and got out of the way, for Big Medicine played bronk as he did everything else: with all his heart and soul and muscles, and since he was strong as a bull, riding him promised much in the way of excitement.
"Yuh can hold on by my collar, but if yuh choke me down I'll murder yuh in cold blood," he warned Irish before he started. "And don't yuh dig your heels in my ribs neither, or I'm liable to bust every bone yuh got to your name. I'm ticklish, by cripes!"
"I'll ride yuh with my arms folded if yuh say so," Irish offered generously. "Move, you snail!" He struck Big Medicine spectacularly with his hat, yelled at the top of his voice and the riding began immediately and tumultuously.
It is very difficult to describe accurately and effectively the evolutions of a horse when he "pitches" his worst and hardest. It is still more difficult to set down in words the gyrations of a man when he is playing that he is a broncho and is trying to dislodge the fellow upon his back. Big Medicine reared and kicked and bellowed and snorted. He came down upon a small "pin-cushion" cactus and was obliged to call a recess while he extracted three cactus spines from his knee with his smallest knife-blade and some profanity.
He rolled down his trousers' leg, closed his knife and tossed it to Pink for fear he might lose it, examined critically a patch of grass to make sure there were no more cacti hidden there and bawled: "Come on, now, I'll sure give yuh a run for your money this time, by cripes!" and began all over again.
How human muscles can bear the strain he put upon his own must be always something of a mystery. He described curves in the air which would sound incredible; he "swapped ends" with all the ease of a real fighting broncho and came near sending Irish off more than once. Insensibly he neared the cook-tent, where Patsy so far forgot himself as to stand just without the lifted flap and watch the fun with sour interest.
"Ah-h want yuh!" yelled Big Medicine, quite purple but far from surrender, and gave a leap.
"Go get me!" shouted Irish, whipping down the sides of his mount with his hat.
Big Medicine answered the taunt by a queer, twisted plunge which he had saved for the last. It brought Irish spread-eagling over his head, and it landed him fairly in the middle of Patsy's great pan of soft bread "sponge"—and landed him upon his head into the bargain. Irish wriggled there a moment and came up absolutely unrecognizable and a good deal dazed. Big Medicine rolled helplessly in the grass, laughing his big, bellowing laugh.
It was straight into that laugh and the great mouth from where it issued, that Patsy, beside himself with rage at the accident, deposited all the soft dough which was not clinging to the head and face of Irish. He was not content with that. While the Happy Family roared appreciation of the spectacle, Patsy returned with a kettle of meat and tried to land that neatly upon the dough.
"Py cosh, if dat iss der vay you wants your grub, py cosh, dat iss der vay you gets it alreatty!" he brought the coffee-boiler and threw that also at the two, and followed it with a big basin of stewed corn.
Irish, all dough as he was, went for him blindly and grappled with him, and it was upon this turbulent scene which Chip looked first when he rode up. The Happy Family crowded around him gasping and tried to explain.
"They were doing some rough-riding—"
"By golly, Patsy no business to set his bread dough on the ground!"
"He's throwed away all the supper there is, and I betche—"
"Mamma! Yuh sure missed it, Chip. You ought—"
"By cripes, if that Dutch—"
"Break away there, Irish!" shouted Chip, dismounting hurriedly. "Has it got so you must fight an old man like that?"
"Py cosh, I'll fight mit him alreatty! I'll fight mit any mans vat shpoils mine bread. Maybe I'm old yet but I ain't dead yet und I could fight—" The words came disjointedly, mere punctuation points to his wild sparring.
It was plain that Irish, furious though he was, was trying not to hurt Patsy very much; but it took four men to separate them for all that. When they had dragged Irish perforce down to the creek by which they had camped, and had yelled to Big Medicine to come on and feed the fish, quiet should have been restored—but it was not.
Patsy was, in American parlance, running amuck. He was jumbling three languages together into an indistinguishable tumult of sound and he was emptying the cook-tent of everything which his stout, German muscles could fling from it. Not a thing did he leave that was eatable and the dishes within his reach he scattered recklessly to all the winds of heaven. When one venturesome soul after another approached to calm him, he found it expedient to duck and run to cover. Patsy's aim was terribly exact.
The Happy Family, under cover or at a safe distance from the hurtling pans, cans and stove wood, caressed sundry bumps and waited meekly. Irish and Big Medicine, once more disclosing the features God had given them, returned by a circuitous route and joined their fellows.
"Look at 'em over there—he's emptying every grain uh rolled oats on the ground!" Happy Jack was a "mush-fiend." "Somebody better go over and stop 'im—"
"You ain't tied down," suggested Cal Emmett rather pointedly, and Happy Jack said no more.
Chip, usually so incisively clear as to his intentions and his duties, waited irresolutely and dodged missiles along with the rest of them. When Patsy subsided for the very good reason that there was nothing else which he could throw out, Chip took the matter up with him and told him quite plainly some of the duties of a cook, a few of his privileges and all of his limitations. The result, however, was not quite what he expected. Patsy would not even listen.
"Py cosh, I not stand for dose poys no more," he declared, wagging his head with its shiny crown and the fringe of grizzled hair around the back. "I not cook grub for dat Irish und dat Big Medicine und Happy Jack und all dose vat cooms und eats mine pies und shpoils mine pread und makes deirselves fools all der time. If dose fellers shtay on dis camp I quits him alreatty." To make the bluff convincing he untied his apron, threw it spitefully upon the ground and stamped upon it clumsily, like a maddened elephant.
"Well, quit then!" Chip was fast losing his own temper, what with the heat and his hunger and a general distaste for camp troubles. "This jangling has got to stop right here. We've had about enough of it in the last month. If you can't cook for the outfit peaceably—" He did not finish the sentence, or if he did the distance muffled the words, for he was leading his horse back to the vicinity of the rope corral that he might unsaddle and turn him loose.
He heard several voices muttering angrily, but his wrath was ever of the stiff-necked variety so that he would not look around to see what was the matter. The tumult grew, however, until when he did turn he saw Patsy stalking off across the prairie with his hat on and his coat folded neatly over his arm, and Irish and Big Medicine fighting wickedly in the open space between the two tents. He finished unsaddling and then went stalking over to quell this latest development.
"They're trying to find out who was to blame," Weary informed him when he was quite close. "Bud hasn't got much tact: he called Irish a dough-head. Irish didn't think it was true humor, and he hit Bud on the nose. He claims that Bud pitched him into that dishpan uh dough with malice aforethought. Better let 'em argue the point to a finish, now they're started. It's black eyes for the peacemaker—you believe me."
While the dusk folded them close and the nighthawks swooped from afar, the Happy Family gathered round and watched them fight. Chip and Weary thoughtfully went into the bed-tent and got the guns which were stowed away in the beds of the combatants, so that when their anger reached the killing point they must let it bubble harmlessly until the fires which fed it went cold. Which was exceeding wise of the two, for Big Medicine and Irish did get to that very point and raged all over the camp because they could not shoot each other.
The hottest battle must perforce end sometime, and so the camp of the Flying U did at last settle into some semblance of calm. Irish rolled his bed, saddled a horse and rode off toward town, quite as if he were going for good and all. Big Medicine went down to the creek for the second time that evening to wash away the marks of strife, and when he returned he went straight to bed without a word to anyone. Patsy was gone, no man knew whither, and the cook-tent was as nearly wrecked as might be.
"Makes me think uh that time we had the ringtailed tiger in camp," sighed Andy Green, shaking sand out of the teakettle so that it could be refilled.
"By golly, I'd ruther have a whole band uh tagers than this fighting bunch," Slim affirmed earnestly. Slim was laboring sootily with the stove-pipe which Patsy had struck askew with a stick of wood.
Outside, Happy Jack was protesting in what he believed to be an undertone against being installed in Patsy's place. "Aw, that's always the way! Anything comes up, it's 'Happy, you git in and rustle some chuck.' I ain't no cook—or if I be they might pay me cook's wages. I betche there ain't another man in camp would stand for it. Somebody's got to take that bacon down to the creek and wash it off, if yuh want any meat for supper. There ain't no time to boil beef. If I'd a been boss uh this outfit, I betche no blame cook on earth would uh made rough-house like Patsy done." But no one paid the slightest attention to Happy Jack, having plenty to think of and to do before they slept.
Not even the sun, when it shone again, could warm their hearts to a joy in living. Happy Jack cooked the breakfast, but his coffee was weak and his biscuits "soggy," and Patsy had managed to make the butter absolutely uneatable with sand; also they were late and Chip was surly over the double loss of cook and cowboy. Happy Jack packed food and dishes in much the same spirit which Patsy had shown the night before, climbed sullenly to the high seat, gathered up the reins of the four restive horses, released the brake and let out a yell surcharged with all the bitterness bottled within his soul. He had not done anything to precipitate the trouble. Beyond eating half a pie he had been an innocent spectator, not even taking part in the rough-riding. Yet here he was, condemned to the mess-wagon quite as if he were to blame for Patsy's leaving. The eyes of Happy Jack gazed gloomily upon the world, and his driving seemed a reckless invitation to disaster. "I betche I'll make 'em good and sick uh my cooking!" he plotted while he went rattling and bumping over the untrailed prairie.
He succeeded so well that two days later Chip gave a curt order or two and headed his wagons, horses and his lean-stomached bunch of riders for Dry Lake, passing by even the Flying U coulee in his haste. Just outside the town, upon the creek which saves the inhabitants from dying of thirst or delirium tremens, he left the wagons with Happy Jack, Slim and one alien to set up camp and rode dust-dogged to the little, red depot.
The telegram which went speeding to Great Falls and to a friend there was brief, but it was eloquent and not quite flattering to Happy Jack. It read like this:
"John G. Scott,
"The Palace, Great Falls.
"For God's sake send me a cook by return train; must deliver goods or die hard.
"Bennett, Flying U."
Whether the cook must die hard, or whether he meant the friend, Chip did not trouble to make plain. Telegrams are bound by such rigid limitations, and he had gone over the ten-word rate as it was. But he told Weary to receive the cook, be he white or black, have him restock the mess-wagon to his liking and then bring the outfit to the ranch, when Chip would again take it in hand. He said that he was going home to get a square meal, and he mentioned Happy Jack along with several profane words. "Johnny Scott will send a cook, and a good one,"; he added hopefully. "Johnny never threw down a friend in his life and he never will. And say, Weary, if he wires, you collect the message and act accordingly. I'm going to have a decent supper, to-night!" He was riding a good horse and there was no reason why he should be late in arriving, especially if he kept the gait at which he left town.
In two hours Weary, Pink and Andy Green were touching hat-brims over a telegram from Johnny Scott—a telegram which was brief as Chip's, and more illuminating:
"Kidnaped Park hotel chef best cook in town will be on next train.
J. G. Scott."
"Sounds good," mused Andy, reading it for the fourth time. "But there's thirteen words in that telegram, if yuh notice."}}
"I wish yuh wouldn't try to butt in on Happy Jack's specialty," Weary remonstrated, folding the message and slipping it inside the yellow envelope. "If this is the same jasper that cooked there a month ago, we're going to eat ourselves plumb to death; a better meal I never laid away inside me than the one I got at the Park Hotel when I was up there last time. Come on over to the hotel and eat; their chuck isn't the best in the world, but it could be a lot worse and still beat Happy Jack to a jelly."
The whole Happy Family—barring Happy Jack, who was sulking in camp because of certain things which had been said of his cooking and which he had overheard—clanked spurs impatiently upon the platform and waited for the arrival of the train from the West. When at last it snorted into town and nosed its way up to the platform they bunched instinctively and gazed eagerly at the steps which led down from the smoker.
A slim little man in blue serge, a man with the complexion of a strip of rawhide and the mustache of a third-rate orchestra leader, felt his way gingerly down by the light of the brakeman's lantern, hesitated and then came questioningly toward them, carrying with some difficulty a bulky suitcase.
"It's him, all right," muttered Pink while they waited.
The little man stopped apologetically before the group, indistinct in the faint light from the office window. Already the train was sliding away into the dark. "Pardon," he apologized. "I am looking for the U fich flies."
"This is it," Weary assured him gravely. "We'll take yuh right on out to camp. Pretty dark, isn't it? Let me take your grip—I know the way better than you do." Weary was not in the habit of making himself a porter for any man's accommodation, but the way back to where they had left the horses was dark, and the new cook was very small and slight. They filed silently back to Rusty Brown's place, invited the cook in for a drink and were refused with soft-voiced regret and the gracious assurance that he would wait outside for them.
Weary it was, and Pink to bear him company, who piloted the stranger out to camp and showed him where he might sleep in Patsy's bed. Patsy had left town, the Happy Family had been informed, with the declaration often repeated that he was "neffer cooming back alreatty." He had even left behind him his bed and his clothes rather than meet again any member of the Flying U outfit.
"We'd like breakfast somewhere near sunrise," Weary told the cook at parting. "Soon as the store opens in the morning, we'll drive in and you can stock up the wagon; we're pretty near down to cases, judging from the meals we have been getting lately. Hope yuh make out all right."
"I will do very nicely, I thank you," smiled the new cook in the light of the lantern which stood upon the fireless cook-stove. "I wish you good-night, gentlemen, and sweet dreams of loved ones."
"Say, he's a polite son-of-a-gun," Pink commented when they were riding back to town. "'The U fich flies'—that's a good one! What is he, do you think? French?"
"He's liable to be most anything, and I'll gamble he can build a good dinner for a hungry man. That's the main point," said Weary.
At daybreak Weary woke and heard him humming a little tune while he moved softly about the cook-tent and the mess-wagon, evidently searching mostly for the things which were not there, to judge from stray remarks which interrupted the love song. "Rolled oat—I do not find him," he heard once. And again: "Where the clean towels they are, that I do not discover." Weary smiled sleepily and took another nap.
The cook's manner of announcing breakfast was such that it awoke even Jack Bates, notoriously a sleepy-head, and Cal Emmett who was almost as bad. Instead of pounding upon a pan and lustily roaring "Grub-pi-i-ile!" in the time-honored manner of roundup cooks, he came softly up to the bed-tent, lifted a flap deprecatingly and announced in a velvet voice:
"Breakfast is served, gentlemen."
Andy Green, whose experiences had been varied, sat up and blinked at the gently swaying flap where the cook had been standing. "Say, what we got in camp?" he asked curiously. "A butler?"
"By golly, that's the way a cook oughta be!" vowed Slim, and reached for his hat.
They dressed hastily and trooped down to the creek for their morning ablutions, and hurried back to the breakfast which waited. The new cook was smiling and apologetic and anxious to please. The Happy Family felt almost as if there were a woman in camp and became very polite without in the least realizing that they were not behaving in the usual manner, or dreaming that they were unconsciously trying to live up to their chef.
"The breakfast, it is of a lacking in many things fich I shall endeavor to remedy," he assured them, pouring coffee as if he were serving royalty. He was dressed immaculately in white cap and apron, and his mustache was waxed to a degree which made it resemble a cat's whiskers. The Happy Family tasted the coffee and glanced eloquently at one another. It was better than Patsy's coffee, even; and as for Happy Jack—
There were biscuits, the like of which they never had tasted before. The bacon was crisp and delicately brown and delicious, the potatoes cooked in a new and enticing way. The Happy Family showed its appreciation as seemed to them most convincing: They left not a scrap of anything and they drank two cups of coffee apiece when that was not their habit.
Later, they hitched the four horses to the mess-wagon, learned that the new cook, though he deeply regretted his inefficiency, did not drive anything. "The small burro," he explained, "I ride him, yes, and also the automobile drive I when the way is smooth. But the horses I make not acquainted with him. I could ride upon the elevated seat, yes, but to drive the quartet I would not presume."
"Happy, you'll have to drive," said Weary, his tone a command.
"Aw, gwan!" Happy Jack objected, "He rode out here all right last night—unless somebody took him up in front on the saddle, which I hain't heard about nobody doing. A cook's supposed to do his own driving. I betche—"
Weary went close and pointed a finger impressively. "Happy, you drive," he said, and Happy Jack turned without a word and climbed glumly up to the seat of the mess-wagon.
"Well, are yuh coming or ain't yuh?" he inquired of the cook in a tone surcharged with disgust.
"If you will so kindly permit, it give me great pleasure to ride with you and to make better friendship. It now occurs to me that I have not yet introduce. Gentlemen, Jacques I have the honor to be name. I am delighted to meet you and I hope for pleasant association." The bow he gave the group was of the old school.
Big Medicine grinned suddenly and came forward. "Honest to grandma, I'm happy to know yuh!" he bellowed, and caught the cook's hand in a grip that sent him squirming upon his toes. "These here are my friends: Happy Jack up there on the wagon, and Slim and Weary and Pink and Cal and Jack Bates and Andy Green—and there's more scattered around here, that don't reely count except when it comes to eating. We like you, by cripes, and we like your cookin' fine! Now, you amble along to town and load up with the best there is—huh?" It occurred to him that his final remarks might be construed as giving orders, and he glanced at Weary and winked to show that he meant nothing serious. "So long, Jakie,"he added over his shoulder and went to where his horse waited.
Jacques—ever afterward he was known as "Jakie" to the Flying U—clambered up the front wheel and perched ingratiatingly beside Happy Jack, and they started off behind the riders for the short mile to Dry Lake. Immediately he proceeded to win Happy from his glum aloofness.
"I would say, Mr. Happy, that I should like exceeding well to be friends together," he began purringly. "So superior a gentleman must win the admiration of the onlooker and so I could presume to question for advisement. I am experience much dexterity for cooking, yes, but I am yet so ignorant concerning the duties pertaining to camp. If the driving of these several horses transpire to pertain, I will so gladly receive the necessary instruction and endeavor to fulfil the accomplishment. Yes?"
Happy Jack, more in stupefaction at the cook's vocabulary than anything else, turned his head and took a good look at him. And the trustful smile of Jakie went straight to the big, soft heart of him and won him completely. "Aw, gwan," he adjured gruffly to hide his surrender. "I don't mind driving for yuh. It ain't that I was kicking about."
"I thank you for the so gracious assurement. If I transgress not too greatly, I should like for inquire what is the chuck for which I am told to fill the wagon. I do not," he added humbly, "understand yet all the language of your so glorious country, for fich I have so diligently study the books. Words I have not yet assimilated completely, and the word chuck have yet escape my knowledge."
"Chuck," grinned Happy Jack, "is grub."
"Chuck, it is grub," repeated Jakie thoughtfully. "And grub, that is— Yes?"
Happy Jack struggled mentally with the problem. "Well, grub is grub; all the stuff yuh eat is grub. Meat and flour and coffee and—"
"Ah, the light it dawns!" exclaimed Jakie joyously. "Grub it is the supply of provision fich I must obtain for camping, yes? I thank you so graciously for the information; because," he added a bit wistfully, "that little word chuck she annoy me exceeding and make me for not sleep that I must grasp the meaning fich elude. I am now happy that I do not make the extensive blunder for one small word fich I apprehend must be a food fich I must buy and perhaps not to understand the preparation of it. Yes? It is the excellent jest at the expense of me."
"There ain't much chuck in camp," Happy observed helpfully, "so yuh might as well start in and get anything yuh want to cook. The outfit is good about one thing They don't never kick on the stuff yuh eat. The cook always loads up to suit himself, and nobody don't ask questions or make a holler—so long as there's plenty and it's good."
Jakie listened attentively, twisting his mustache ends absently. "It is simply that I purchase the supplies fich I shall choose for my judgment," he observed, to make quite sure that he understood. "I am to have carte blanche, yes?"
"Sure, if yuh want it," said Happy Jack. "Only they might not keep it here. Yuh can't get everything in a little place like this." It is only fair to Happy Jack to state that he would have understood the term if he had seen it in print. It was the pronunciation which made the words strange to him.
Jakie looked puzzled, but being the soul of politeness he made no comment—perhaps because Happy Jack was at that moment bringing his four horses to a reluctant stand at the wide side-door of the store.
"The horses, they are of the vivacious temperament, yes?" Jakie had scrambled from the seat to within the door and was standing there smiling appreciatively at the team.
"Aw, they're all right. You go on in—I guess Weary's there. If he ain't, you go ahead and get what yuh want. I'll be back after awhile." Thirst was calling Happy Jack; he heeded the summons and disappeared, leaving the new cook to his own devices.
So, it would seem, did every other member of the Flying U. Weary had been told that Miss Satterly was in town, and he forgot all about Jakie in his haste to find her. No one else seemed to feel any responsibility in the matter, and the store clerks did not care what the Flying U outfit had to eat. For that reason the chuck-wagon contained in an hour many articles which were strange to it, and lacked a few things which might justly be called necessities.
"Say, you fellows are sure going to live swell," one of the clerks remarked, when Happy Jack finally returned. "Where did yuh pick his nibs? Ain't he a little bit new and shiny?"
"Aw, he's all right," Happy Jack defended jealously. "He's a real chaff, and he can build the swellest meals yuh ever eat. Patsy can't cook within a mile uh him. And clean—I betche he don't keep his bread-dough setting around on the ground for folks to tromp on." Which proves how completely Jakie had subjugated Happy Jack.
That night—nobody but the horse-wrangler and Happy Jack had shown up at dinner-time—the boys of the Flying U dined luxuriously at their new-made camp upon the creek-bank at the home ranch, and ate things which they could not name but which pleased wonderfully their palates. There was a salad to tempt an epicure, and there was a pudding the like of which they had never tasted. It had a French name which left them no wiser than before asking for it, and it looked, as Pink remarked, like a snowbank with the sun shining on it, and it tasted like going to heaven.
"It makes me plumb sore when I think of all the years I've stood for Patsy's slops," sighed Cal Emmett, rolling over upon his back because he was too full for any other position—putting it plainly.
"By golly, I never knowed there was such cookin' in the world," echoed Slim. "Why, even Mis' Bixby can't cook that good."
"The Countess had ought to come down and take a few lessons," declared Jack Bates emphatically. "I'm going to take up some uh that pudding and ask her what she thinks of it."
"Yuh can't," mourned Happy Jack. "There ain't any left—and I never got more'n a taste. Next time, I'm going to tell Jakie to make it in a wash tub, and make it full; with some uh you gobblers in camp—"
He looked up and discovered the Little Doctor approaching with Chip. She was smiling a friendly welcome, and she was curious about the new cook. By the time she had greeted them all and had asked all the questions she could think of and had gone over to meet Jakie and to taste, at the urgent behest of the Happy Family, a tiny morsel of salad which had been overlooked, it would seem that the triumph of the new cook was complete and that no one could possibly give a thought to old Patsy.
The Little Doctor, however, seemed to regret his loss—and that in the face of the delectable salad and the smile of Jakie. "I do think it's a shame that Patsy left the way he did," she remarked to the Happy Family in general, being especially careful not to look toward Big Medicine. "The poor old fellow walked every step of the way to the ranch, and Claude"—that was Chip's real name—"says it was twenty-five or six miles. He was so lame and he looked so old and so—well, friendless, that I could have cried when he came limping up to the house! He had walked all night, and he got here just at breakfast time and was too tired to eat.
"I dosed him and doctored his poor feet and made him go to bed, and he slept all that day. He wanted to start that night for Dry Lake, but of course we wouldn't let him do that. He was wild to leave, however, so J.G. had to drive him in the next day. He went off without a word to any of us, and he looked so utterly dejected and so—so old. Claude says he acted perfectly awful in camp, but I'm sure he was sorry for it afterwards. J.G. hasn't got over it yet; I believe he has taken it to heart as much as Patsy seemed to do. He's had Patsy with him for so long, you see—he was like one of the family." She stopped and regarded the Happy Family a bit anxiously. "This new cook is a very nice little man," she added after a minute, "but after all, he isn't Patsy."
The Happy Family did not answer, and they refrained from looking at one another or at the Little Doctor.
At last Big Medicine brought his big voice into the awkward silence. "Honest to grandma, Mrs. Chip," he said earnestly, "I'd give a lot right now to have old Patsy back—er—just to have around, if it made him feel bad to leave. I reckon maybe that was my fault: I hadn't oughta pitched quite so hard, and I had oughta looked where I was throwin' m' rider. I reelize that no cook likes to have a fellow standin' on his head in a big pan uh bread-sponge, on general principles if not on account uh the bread. Uh course, we've all knowed old Patsy to take just about as great liberties himself with his sponge—but we've got to recollect that it was his dough, by cripes, and that pipe ashes ain't the same as a fellow takin' a shampoo in the pan. No, I reelize that I done wrong, and I'm willin' to apologize for it right here and now. At the same time," he ended dryly, "I will own that I'm dead stuck on little Jakie, and I'd ruther ride for the Flying U and eat Jakie's grub than any other fate I can think of right now. Whilst I'm sorry for what I done, yuh couldn't pry me loose from Jakie with a stick uh dynamite—and that's a fact, Mrs. Chip."
The Little Doctor laughed, pushed back her hair in the way she had, glanced again at the unresponsive faces of the original members of the Happy Family and gave up as gracefully as possible.
"Oh, of course Patsy's an old crank, and Jakie's a waxed angel," she surrendered with a little grimace. "You think so now, but that's because you are being led astray by your appetites, like all men. You just wait: You'll be homesick for a sight of that fat, bald-headed, cranky old Patsy bouncing along on the mess-wagon and swearing in Dutch at his horses, before you're through. If you're not so completely gone over to Jakie that you will eat nothing but what he has cooked, come on up to the house. The Countess is making a twogallon freezer of ice-cream for you, and she has a big pan of angel cake to go with it! You don't deserve it—but come along anyway." Which was another endearing way of the Little Doctor's—the way of sweetening all her lectures with something very nice at the end.
The Happy Family felt very much ashamed and very sorry that they could not feel kindly toward Patsy, even to please the Little Doctor. They sincerely wanted to please her and to have her unqualified approval; but wanting Patsy back, or feeling even the slightest regret that he was gone, seemed to them a great deal too much to ask of them. Since this is a story of cooks and of eating, one may with propriety add, however, that the invitation to ice cream and angel cake, coming though it did immediately after that wonderful supper of Jakie's, was accepted with alacrity and their usual thoroughness of accomplishment; not for the world would they have offended the Little Doctor by declining so gracious an invitation—the graciousness being manifested in her smile and her voice rather than in the words she spoke—leaving out the enchantment which hovers over the very name of angel cake and ice cream. The Happy Family went to bed that night as complacently uncomfortable as children after a Christmas dinner.
Not often does it fall to the lot of a cowboy to have served to him stuffed olives and lobster salad with mayonnaise dressing, French fried potatoes and cream puffs from the mess-tent of a roundup outfit. During the next week it fell to the lot of the Happy Family, however. When the salads and the cream puffs disappeared suddenly and the smile of Jakie became pensive and contrite, the Happy Family, acting individually but unanimously, made inquiries.
"It is that I no more possess the fresh vegetables, nor the eggs, gentlemen," purred Jakie. "Many things of a deliciousness must I now abstain because of the absence of two, three small eggs! But see, one brief arrival in the small town would quickly remedy, yes? It is that we return with haste that I may buy more of the several articles for fich I require?" He spread his small hands appealingly.
"By golly, Patsy never had no eggs—" began Slim traitorously.
"Aw, gwan! Patsy never fed yuh like Jakie does, neither!" Happy Jack was heart and soul the slave of the chef. "If Chip don't care, I'll ride over to Nelson's and git some eggs. Jakie said he'd make some more uh that pudding if he had some. It ain't but six or seven miles."
"Should you but obtain the juvenile hen, yes, I should be delighted to serve the chicken salad for luncheon. It is the great misfortune that the fresh vegetable are not obtain, but I will do the best and substitute with a cleverness fich will conceal the defect—yes?" Jakie's caps and aprons had lost their first immaculate freshness, but his manner was as royally perfect as ever and his smile as wistfully friendly.
"Well, I'll ask Chip about it," Happy Jack yielded.
Eggs and young chickens were of a truth strange to a roundup in full blast, but so was a chef like Jakie, and so were the salads, stuffed olives and cream puffs; and the white caps and the waxed mustache and the beautiful flow of words and the smile. The Happy Family was in no condition, mentally or digestively, to judge impartially. A month ago they would have whooped derision at the suggestion of riding anywhere after fresh eggs and "juvenile hens," but now it seemed to them very natural and very necessary. So much for the demoralization of expert cookery and white caps and a smile.
Chip also seemed to have fallen under the spell. It may have been that the heavenly peace which wrapped the Flying U was, in his mind, too precious to be lightly disturbed. At any rate he told Happy Jack briefly to "Go ahead, if you want to," and so left unobstructed the path to the chicken salad and cream puffs. Happy Jack wiped his hands upon an empty flour sack, rolled down his shirtsleeves and hurried off to saddle a horse.
Happy Jack did not realize that he was doing two thirds of the work about the cook-tent, but that was a fact. Because Jakie could not drive the mess-wagon team, Happy Jack had been appointed his assistant. As assistant he drove the wagon from one camping place to another, "rustled" the wood, peeled the potatoes, tended fires and washed dishes, and did the thousand things which do not require expert hands, and which, in time of stress, usually falls to the horse-wrangler. Jakie was ever smiling and always promising, in his purring voice, to cook something new and delicious, and left with the leisure which Happy's industry gave him, he usually kept his promise.
"Now, Mr. Happy," he would smile, "I am agreeable to place the confidence in your so gracious person that you prepare the potatoes, yes? And that you attend to the boiling of meat and the unpacking and arrangement of those necessary furnishings for fich you possess the great understanding. And I shall prepare the so delicious dessert of the floating island, what you call in America. Yes? Our friends will have the so delightful astonishment when they arrive. They shall exclaim and partake joyously, is it not? And for your reward, Mr. Happy, I shall be so pleased to set aside a very extensive portion of the delicious floating island, so that you can eat no more except you endanger your handsome person from the bursting. Yes?" And oh, the smile of him!
A man of sterner stuff than Happy Jack would have fallen before such guile and would have labored willingly—nay, gladly in the service of so delightful a diplomat as Jakie. Except for that willing service, Jakie would have been quite overwhelmed by the many and peculiar duties of a roundup cook. He would have been perfectly helpess before the morning and noon packing of dishes and food, and the skilful haste necessary to unpack and prepare a meal for fifteen ravenous appetites within the time limit would have been utterly impossible. Jakie was a chef, trained to his profession in well-appointed kitchens and with assistance always at hand; which is a trade apart from cooking for a roundup crew.
Happy Jack, in the fulness of time, returned with the eggs. That is, he returned with six eggs and a quart or two of a yellowish mixture thickly powdered with shell. He took the pail to Jakie and he saw the seraphic smile fade from his face and an unpleasant glitter creep into his eyes.
"It is the omelet fich you furnish, yes? The six eggs, they will not make the pudding. The omelet—I do not perceive yet the desirableness of the omelet. And the juvenile hen—yes?"
"Aw, they wouldn't sell no chickens." Happy Jack's face had gone long and scarlet before the patent displeasure of the other. "And my horse was scared uh the bucket and pitched with me."
Jackie looked again into the pail, felt gingerly the yellow mess and discovered one more egg which retained some semblance of its original form. "The misfortune distresses me," he murmured. "It is that you return hastily, Mr. Happy, and procure other eggs fich you will place unbroken in my waiting hands, yes?"
Happy Jack mopped his forehead and glanced at the sun, burning hotly down upon the prairie. They had made a short move that day and it was still early. But the way to Nelson's and back had been hot and tumultuous and he was tired. For the first time since his abject surrender to the waxed smile, Happy Jack chafed a bit under the yoke of voluntary servitude. "Aw, can't yuh cook something that don't take so many eggs?" he asked in something like his old, argumentative tone.
The unpleasant glitter in the eyes of Jakie grew more pronounced; grew even snaky, in the opinion of Happy Jack. "It is that I am no more permitted the privilege of preparing the food for fich I have the judgment, yes?" His voice purred too much to be convincing. "It is that I am no more the chef to be obeyed by my servant?"
"Aw, gwan! I ain't anybody's servant that I ever heard of!" Happy Jack felt himself bewilderedly slipping from his loyalty. What had come over Jakie, to act like this? He walked away to where there was some shade and sat down sullenly. Jakie's servant, was he? Well! "The darned little greasy-faced runt," he mumbled rebelliously, and immediately felt the better for it.
Two cigarettes brought coolness and calm. Happy Jack wanted very much to lie there and take a nap, but his conscience stirred uneasily. The boys were making a long circle that day and would come in with the appetites—and the tempers—of wolves. It occurred to Happy Jack that their appetites were much keener than they had ever been before, and he sat there a little longer while he thought about it; for Happy Jack's mind was slow and tenacious, and he hated to leave a new idea until he had squeezed it dry of all mystery. He watched Jakie moving in desultory fashion about the tent—but most of the time Jakie stayed inside.
"I betche the boys ain't gitting enough old stand-by-yuh chuck," he decided at length. "Floatin' island and stuffed olives—for them that likes stuffed olives—and salad and all that junk tastes good—but I betche the boys need a good feed uh beans!" Which certainly was brilliant of Happy Jack, even if it did take him a full hour to arrive at that conclusion. He got up immediately and started for the cook-tent.
"Say, Jakie," he began before he was inside, "ain't there time enough to boil a pot uh beans if I make yuh a good fire? I betche the boys would like a good feed—"
"A-a-hh!" Happy Jack insisted afterward that it sounded like the snarling of a wolf over a bone. "Is it that you come here to give the orders? Is it that you insult?" Followed a torrent of molten French, as it were. Followed also Jakie, with the eyes of a snake and the toothy grin of a wild animal and with a knife which Happy Jack had never seen before; a knife which caught the sunlight and glittered horridly.
Happy Jack backed out as if he had inadvertently stirred a nest of hornets. Jakie almost caught him before he took to his heels. Happy never waited to discover what the new cook was saying, or whether he was following or remaining at the tent. He headed straight for the protection of the horse-wrangler, who watched his cavvy not far away, and his face was the color of stale putty.
The horse-wrangler saw him coming and came loping up to meet him. "What's eating yuh, Happy?" he inquired inelegantly.
"Jakie—he's gone nutty! He come at me with a knife, and he'd uh killed me if I'd stayed!" Happy Jack pantingly recovered himself. "I didn't have no time ta git my gun," he added in a more natural tone, "or I'd uh settled him pretty blame quick. So I come out to borrow yourn. I betche I'll have the next move."
The horse-wrangler grinned heartlessly. "I reckon he's about half shot," he said, sliding over in the saddle and getting out the inevitable tobacco sack and papers. "Old Pete Williams rode past while you were gone, loaded to the guards and with a bottle uh whisky in each saddle-pocket and two in his coat. He gave me a drink, and then he went on and stopped at camp. He was hung up there for quite a spell, I noticed. I didn't see him pass any uh the vile liquor to little Jakie, but—" he twirled a blackened match stub in his fingers and then tossed it from him.
"Aw, gwan! Jakie wouldn't touch nothing when he was in town," Happy Jack objected. "I betche he's gone crazy, or else—"
"Well," interrupted the horse-wrangler, "I've told yuh what I know and all I know. Take it or leave it." He rode back to turn the lead-horse from climbing a ridge where he did not want the herd to follow. He did not lend Happy Jack his gun, and for that reason—perhaps—Jakie remained alive and unpunctured until the first of the riders came loping in to camp.
The first riders happened to be Pink and Big Medicine. They were met by a tearful, contrite Jakie—a Jakie who seemed much inclined to weeping upon their shirt-fronts and to confessing all his sins, particularly the sin of trying to carve Happy Jack. That perturbed gentleman made his irate appearance as soon as he found that reinforcements had arrived.
Big Medicine disengaged himself from the clinging arms of the chef, sniffed suspiciously and wiped away the tears from his vest. "Well, say," he bellowed in his usual manner of trying to make all Chouteau County hear what he had to say, "I ain't t' blame if he got away on yuh. Yuh hadn't ought to uh done it—or else yuh oughta made a clean job of it sos't we could hang yuh proper. Supper ready?"
"It is that the supply of eggs is inadequate," wept Jakie, steadying himself against the tent-pole while he wiped his eyes upon his apron. "Because of it I could not prepare the floating island—and without the dessert I have not the heart to prepare the dinner, yes? It is that I am breaking of the heart that I assail the good friend of me. Oh, Mr. Happy, it is that I crave pardon!"
Happy Jack came near taking to his heels again when he saw Jakie start for him; he did back up hastily, and his evident reluctance to embrace and forgive started afresh the tears of remorse. Jakie wailed volubly and, catching Pink unaware, he wept upon his bosom.
Others came riding in, saw the huddle before the mess-tent and came up to investigate. With every fresh arrival Jakie began anew his confession that he had attempted to murder his good friend, Mr. Happy, and with every confession he wept more copiously than before.
The Happy Family tacitly owned itself helpless. A warlike cook they could deal with. A lazy cook they could kick into industry. A weeping, wailing, conscience-stricken cook, a cook who steadfastly refused to be comforted, was an absolutely new experience. They told him to buck up, found that he only broke out anew, threatened, cajoled and argued. Jakie clung to whoever happened to be within reach and mixed the English language unmercifully.
"Happy, you'll have to forgive him," said Weary at last. "Go tell him yuh don't feel hard towards him. We want some supper."
"Aw, gwan. I ain't forgive him, and I never will. I—"
Big Medicine stepped into the breach. With his face contorted into a grin to crimple one's spine, with a voice to make one's knees buckle, he went up to Happy Jack and thrust that horrible grin into Happy's very face. "By cripes, you forgive Jakie, and you do it quick!" he thundered. "Think you're going to ball up the eating uh the whole outfit whilst you stand around acting haughty? Why, by cripes, I've killed men in the Coconino County for half what you're doing! You'll wish, by cripes, that Jakie had slit your hide; you'll consider that woulda been an easy way out, before I git half through with yuh. You walk right up and shake hands with him, and you tell him that yuh love him to death and are his best friend and always will be! Yuh hear me?"
Happy Jack heard. The Happy Family considerately moved aside and left him a clear path, and they looked on without a word while he took Jakie's limp hand, muttered tremulously, "Aw, fergit it, Jakie. I know yuh didn't mean nothing by it, and I forgive yuh," and backed away again.
Jakie wept, this time with gratitude. They got him inside a tent, unrolled his bed and persuaded him to lie down upon it. They searched the mess-box, found all that was left of a quart bottle of whisky, took it outside and divided it gravely and appreciatively among themselves. There was not much to divide.
Happy Jack took charge of the pots and pans, with the whole Happy Family to help him hurry supper, while Jakie forgot his woes in sleep and the sun set upon a quiet camp.
Next morning, Jakie was up and cooking breakfast at the appointed time, and the camp felt that the incident of the evening before might well be forgotten. The coffee was unusually good that morning, even for Jakie. He was subdued, was Jakie, and his soft, brown eyes were humble whenever they met the eyes of Happy Jack. His smile was infrequent and fleeting, and his voice more deprecating than ever. Aside from these minor changes everything seemed the same as before the sheepmen had stopped at camp.
That afternoon, however, came an aftermath in the shape of Happy Jack galloping wildly out to where the others were holding a herd and "cutting out." He was due to come and help, so nobody paid any attention to his haste, though it was his habit to take his time. He shot recklessly by the outer fringes of the "cut" and yelled in a way to stampede the whole bunch. "Jakie's dying," he shouted, wild-eyed. "He's drunk up all the lemon extract and most uh the v'nilla before I could stop him!"
Chip and Weary, riding in hot haste to the camp, found that it was true as far as the drinking was concerned. Jakie was stretched upon his back breathing unpleasantly, and beside him were two flat bottles of half-pint size, one empty and the other very nearly so; the tent and Jakie's breath reeked of lemon and vanilla. Chip sent back for help.
For the second time the Flying U roundup was brought to an involuntary pause because of its cook. There was but one thing to do, and Chip did it. He broke camp, loaded Jakie into the bed-wagon, and headed at a gallop for Dry Lake in an effort to catch the next train for Great Falls. Whether he sent Jakie to the hospital or to the undertaker was a question he did not attempt to answer; one thing was certain, however, that he must send him to one of those places as soon as might be.
That night, just before the train arrived, he sent another telegram to Johnny Scott at rush rates. He said simply:
"Send another cook immediately this one all in am returning him in baggage coach this train.
Just after midnight he went to the station and received an answer, which is worth repeating:
"C. Bennett, Dry Lake: Supply cooks running low am sending only available don't kill this one or may have to go without season on cooks closed fine attached to killing, running with dogs or keeping in captivity this one drunk look for him in Pullman have bribed porter.
It was sent collect, which accounts perhaps for the facetious remarks which it contained.
It was morning when that train arrived, because it was behind time for some reason, but Chip, Weary, Pink and Big Medicine were at the depot to meet it. The new cook having been reported drunk, they wanted to make sure of getting him off the train in case he proved unruly. They were wise in the ways of intoxicated cooks. They ran to the steps of the only Pullman on the train and were met by the grinning porter.
"Yas sah, he's in dah—but Ah cyan't git 'im off, sah, to save mah soul," he explained toothily. "Ah put 'im next de front end, sah, but he's went to sleep and Ah cyan't wake 'em up, an' Ah cyan't tote 'em out nohow. Seems lak he weighs a ton!"
"By cripes, we'll tote him out," declared Big Medicine, pushing ahead of Chip in his enthusiasm. "You hold the train, and we'll git 'im. Show us the bunk."
The porter pointed out the number and retreated to the steps that he might signal the conductor. The four pushed up through the vestibule and laid hold upon the berth curtains.
"Mamma!" ejaculated Weary in a stunned tone. "Look what's in here, boys!"
They thrust forward their heads and peered in at the recumbent form.
"Honest to grandma—it's old Patsy!" The voice of Big Medicine brought heads out all along down the car.
"Come out uh that!" Four voices made up the chorus, and Patsy opened his eyes reluctantly.
"Py cosh, I not cook chuck for you fellers ven I'm sick," he mumbled dazedly.
"Come out uh that, you damned Dutch belly-robber!" bawled Big Medicine joyously, and somewhere behind a curtain a feminine shriek was heard at the shocking sentence.
Four pairs of welcoming hands laid hold upon Patsy; four pairs of strong arms dragged him out of the berth and through the narrow aisle to the platform. The conductor, the head brakeman and the porter were chafing there, and they pulled while the others pushed. So Patsy was deposited upon the platform, grumbling and only half sober.
"Anyway, we've got him back," Weary remarked with much satisfaction the next day when they were once more started toward the range land. "When Irish blows in again, we'll be all right."
"By cripes, yuh just give me a sight uh that Irish once, and he'll come, if I have to rope and drag 'im!" Big Medicine took his own way of intimating that he held no grudge. "Did yuh hear what Patsy said, by cripes, when he was loading up the chuck-wagon at the store? He turned in all that oil and them olives and anchovies, yuh know, and he told Tom t' throw in about six cases uh blueberries. I was standin' right handy by, and he turns around and scowls at me and says: 'Py cosh, der vay dese fellers eats pie mit derselves, I have to fill oop der wagon mit pie fruit alreatty!' And then the old devil turns around with his back to me, but yuh can skin me for a coyote if I didn't ketch a grin on 'is face!"
They turned and looked back to where Patsy, seated high upon the mess-wagon, was cracking his long whip like pistol shots and swearing in Dutch at his four horses as he came bouncing along behind them.
"Well, there's worse fellers than old Patsy," Slim admitted ponderously. "I don't want no more Jakie in mine, by golly."
"I betche Jakie cashes in, with all that lemon in him," prophesied Happy Jack with relish. "Dirty little Dago—it'd serve him right. Patsy wouldn't uh acted like that in a thousand years."
They glanced once more behind them, as if they would make sure that the presence of Patsy was a reality. Then, with content in their hearts, they galloped blithely out of the lane and into the grassy hills.