If you are knowing in the chronicles of the ring you will recall to mind an event in the early ‘nineties when, for a minute and sundry odd seconds, a champion and a “would-be” faced each other on the alien side of an international river. So brief a conflict had rarely imposed upon the fair promise of true sport. The reporters made what they could of it, but, divested of padding, the action was sadly fugacious. The champion merely smote his victim, turned his back upon him, remarking, “I know what I done to dat stiff,” and extended an arm like a ship’s mast for his glove to be removed.
Which accounts for a trainload of extremely disgusted gentlemen in an uproar of fancy vests and neck-wear being spilled from their pullmans in San Antonio in the early morning following the fight. Which also partly accounts for the unhappy predicament in which “Cricket” McGuire found himself as he tumbled from his car and sat upon the depot platform, torn by a spasm of that hollow, racking cough so familiar to San Antonian ears. At that time, in the uncertain light of dawn, that way passed Curtis Raidler, the Nueces County cattleman–may his shadow never measure under six foot two.
The cattleman, out this early to catch the south-bound for his ranch station, stopped at the side of the distressed patron of sport, and spoke in the kindly drawl of his ilk and region, “Got it pretty bad, bud?”
“Cricket” McGuire, ex-feather-weight prizefighter, tout, jockey, follower of the “ponies,” all-round sport, and manipulator of the gum balls and walnut shells, looked up pugnaciously at the imputation cast by “bud.”
“G’wan,” he rasped, “telegraph pole. I didn’t ring for yer.”
Another paroxysm wrung him, and he leaned limply against a convenient baggage truck. Raidler waited patiently, glancing around at the white hats, short overcoats, and big cigars thronging the platform. “You’re from the No’th, ain’t you, bud?” he asked when the other was partially recovered. “Come down to see the fight?”
“Fight!” snapped McGuire. “Puss-in-the-corner! ‘Twas a hypodermic injection. Handed him just one like a squirt of dope, and he’s asleep, and no tanbark needed in front of his residence. Fight!” He rattled a bit, coughed, and went on, hardly addressing the cattleman, but rather for the relief of voicing his troubles. “No more dead sure t’ings for me. But Rus Sage himself would have snatched at it. Five to one dat de boy from Cork wouldn’t stay t’ree rounds is what I invested in. Put my last cent on, and could already smell the sawdust in dat all-night joint of Jimmy Delaney’s on T’irty-seventh Street I was goin’ to buy. And den–say, telegraph pole, what a gazaboo a guy is to put his whole roll on one turn of the gaboozlum!”
“You’re plenty right,” said the big cattleman; “more ‘specially when you lose. Son, you get up and light out for a hotel. You got a mighty bad cough. Had it long?”
“Lungs,” said McGuire comprehensively. “I got it. The croaker says I’ll come to time for six months longer–maybe a year if I hold my gait. I wanted to settle down and take care of myself. Dat’s why I speculated on dat five to one perhaps. I had a t’ousand iron dollars saved up. If I winned I was goin’ to buy Delaney’s cafe. Who’d a t’ought dat stiff would take a nap in de foist round–say?”
“It’s a hard deal,” commented Raidler, looking down at the diminutive form of McGuire crumpled against the truck. “But you go to a hotel and rest. There’s the Menger and the Maverick, and–“
“And the Fi’th Av’noo, and the Waldorf-Astoria,” mimicked McGuire. “Told you I went broke. I’m on de bum proper. I’ve got one dime left. Maybe a trip to Europe or a sail in me private yacht would fix me up– pa-per!”
He flung his dime at a newsboy, got his /Express/, propped his back against the truck, and was at once rapt in the account of his Waterloo, as expanded by the ingenious press.
Curtis Raidler interrogated an enormous gold watch, and laid his hand on McGuire’s shoulder.
“Come on, bud,” he said. “We got three minutes to catch the train.”
Sarcasm seemed to be McGuire’s vein.
“You ain’t seen me cash in any chips or call a turn since I told you I was broke, a minute ago, have you? Friend, chase yourself away.”
“You’re going down to my ranch,” said the cattleman, “and stay till you get well. Six months’ll fix you good as new.” He lifted McGuire with one hand, and half-dragged him in the direction of the train.
“What about the money?” said McGuire, struggling weakly to escape.
“Money for what?” asked Raidler, puzzled. They eyed each other, not understanding, for they touched only as at the gear of bevelled cog- wheels–at right angles, and moving upon different axes.
Passengers on the south-bound saw them seated together, and wondered at the conflux of two such antipodes. McGuire was five feet one, with a countenance belonging to either Yokohama or Dublin. Bright-beady of eye, bony of cheek and jaw, scarred, toughened, broken and reknit, indestructible, grisly, gladiatorial as a hornet, he was a type neither new nor unfamiliar. Raidler was the product of a different soil. Six feet two in height, miles broad, and no deeper than a crystal brook, he represented the union of the West and South. Few accurate pictures of his kind have been made, for art galleries are so small and the mutoscope is as yet unknown in Texas. After all, the only possible medium of portrayal of Raidler’s kind would be the fresco–something high and simple and cool and unframed.
They were rolling southward on the International. The timber was huddling into little, dense green motts at rare distances before the inundation of the downright, vert prairies. This was the land of the ranches; the domain of the kings of the kine.
McGuire sat, collapsed into his corner of the seat, receiving with acid suspicion the conversation of the cattleman. What was the “game” of this big “geezer” who was carrying him off? Altruism would have been McGuire’s last guess. “He ain’t no farmer,” thought the captive, “and he ain’t no con man, for sure. W’at’s his lay? You trail in, Cricket, and see how many cards he draws. You’re up against it, anyhow. You got a nickel and gallopin’ consumption, and you better lay low. Lay low and see w’at’s his game.”
At Rincon, a hundred miles from San Antonio, they left the train for a buckboard which was waiting there for Raidler. In this they travelled the thirty miles between the station and their destination. If anything could, this drive should have stirred the acrimonious McGuire to a sense of his ransom. They sped upon velvety wheels across an exhilarant savanna. The pair of Spanish ponies struck a nimble, tireless trot, which gait they occasionally relieved by a wild, untrammelled gallop. The air was wine and seltzer, perfumed, as they absorbed it, with the delicate redolence of prairie flowers. The road perished, and the buckboard swam the uncharted billows of the grass itself, steered by the practised hand of Raidler, to whom each tiny distant mott of trees was a signboard, each convolution of the low hills a voucher of course and distance. But McGuire reclined upon his spine, seeing nothing but a desert, and receiving the cattleman’s advances with sullen distrust. “W’at’s he up to?” was the burden of his thoughts; “w’at kind of a gold brick has the big guy got to sell?” McGuire was only applying the measure of the streets he had walked to a range bounded by the horizon and the fourth dimension.
A week before, while riding the prairies, Raidler had come upon a sick and weakling calf deserted and bawling. Without dismounting he had reached and slung the distressed bossy across his saddle, and dropped it at the ranch for the boys to attend to. It was impossible for McGuire to know or comprehend that, in the eyes of the cattleman, his case and that of the calf were identical in interest and demand upon his assistance. A creature was ill and helpless; he had the power to render aid–these were the only postulates required for the cattleman to act. They formed his system of logic and the most of his creed. McGuire was the seventh invalid whom Raidler had picked up thus casually in San Antonio, where so many thousand go for the ozone that is said to linger about its contracted streets. Five of them had been guests of Solito Ranch until they had been able to leave, cured or better, and exhausting the vocabulary of tearful gratitude. One came too late, but rested very comfortably, at last, under a ratama tree in the garden.
So, then, it was no surprise to the ranchhold when the buckboard spun to the door, and Raidler took up his debile /protege/ like a handful of rags and set him down upon the gallery.
McGuire looked upon things strange to him. The ranch-house was the best in the country. It was built of brick hauled one hundred miles by wagon, but it was of but one story, and its four rooms were completely encircled by a mud floor “gallery.” The miscellaneous setting of horses, dogs, saddles, wagons, guns, and cow-punchers’ paraphernalia oppressed the metropolitan eyes of the wrecked sportsman.
“Well, here we are at home,” said Raidler, cheeringly.
“It’s a h–l of a looking place,” said McGuire promptly, as he rolled upon the gallery floor in a fit of coughing.
“We’ll try to make it comfortable for you, buddy,” said the cattleman gently. “It ain’t fine inside; but it’s the outdoors, anyway, that’ll do you the most good. This’ll be your room, in here. Anything we got, you ask for it.”
He led McGuire into the east room. The floor was bare and clean. White curtains waved in the gulf breeze through the open windows. A big willow rocker, two straight chairs, a long table covered with newspapers, pipes, tobacco, spurs, and cartridges stood in the centre. Some well-mounted heads of deer and one of an enormous black javeli projected from the walls. A wide, cool cot-bed stood in a corner. Nueces County people regarded this guest chamber as fit for a prince. McGuire showed his eyeteeth at it. He took out his nickel and spun it up to the ceiling.
“T’ought I was lyin’ about the money, did ye? Well, you can frisk me if you wanter. Dat’s the last simoleon in the treasury. Who’s goin’ to pay?”
The cattleman’s clear grey eyes looked steadily from under his grizzly brows into the huckleberry optics of his guest. After a little he said simply, and not ungraciously, “I’ll be much obliged to you, son, if you won’t mention money any more. Once was quite a plenty. Folks I ask to my ranch don’t have to pay anything, and they very scarcely ever offers it. Supper’ll be ready in half an hour. There’s water in the pitcher, and some, cooler, to drink, in that red jar hanging on the gallery.”
“Where’s the bell?” asked McGuire, looking about.
“Bell for what?”
“Bell to ring for things. I can’t–see here,” he exploded in a sudden, weak fury, “I never asked you to bring me here. I never held you up for a cent. I never gave you a hard-luck story till you asked me. Here I am fifty miles from a bellboy or a cocktail. I’m sick. I can’t hustle. Gee! but I’m up against it!” McGuire fell upon the cot and sobbed shiveringly.
Raidler went to the door and called. A slender, bright-complexioned Mexican youth about twenty came quickly. Raidler spoke to him in Spanish.
“Ylario, it is in my mind that I promised you the position of /vaquero/ on the San Carlos range at the fall /rodeo/.”
“/Si, senor/, such was your goodness.”
“Listen. This /senorito/ is my friend. He is very sick. Place yourself at his side. Attend to his wants at all times. Have much patience and care with him. And when he is well, or–and when he is well, instead of /vaquero/ I will make you /mayordomo/ of the Rancho de las Piedras. /Esta bueno/?”
“/Si, si–mil gracias, senor/.” Ylario tried to kneel upon the floor in his gratitude, but the cattleman kicked at him benevolently, growling, “None of your opery-house antics, now.”
Ten minutes later Ylario came from McGuire’s room and stood before Raidler.
“The little /senor/,” he announced, “presents his compliments” (Raidler credited Ylario with the preliminary) “and desires some pounded ice, one hot bath, one gin feez-z, that the windows be all closed, toast, one shave, one Newyorkheral’, cigarettes, and to send one telegram.”
Raidler took a quart bottle of whisky from his medicine cabinet. “Here, take him this,” he said.
Thus was instituted the reign of terror at the Solito Ranch. For a few weeks McGuire blustered and boasted and swaggered before the cow- punchers who rode in for miles around to see this latest importation of Raidler’s. He was an absolutely new experience to them. He explained to them all the intricate points of sparring and the tricks of training and defence. He opened to their minds’ view all the indecorous life of a tagger after professional sports. His jargon of slang was a continuous joy and surprise to them. His gestures, his strange poses, his frank ribaldry of tongue and principle fascinated them. He was like a being from a new world.
Strange to say, this new world he had entered did not exist to him. He was an utter egoist of bricks and mortar. He had dropped out, he felt, into open space for a time, and all it contained was an audience for his reminiscences. Neither the limitless freedom of the prairie days nor the grand hush of the close-drawn, spangled nights touched him. All the hues of Aurora could not win him from the pink pages of a sporting journal. “Get something for nothing,” was his mission in life; “Thirty-seventh” Street was his goal.
Nearly two months after his arrival he began to complain that he felt worse. It was then that he became the ranch’s incubus, its harpy, its Old Man of the Sea. He shut himself in his room like some venomous kobold or flibbertigibbet, whining, complaining, cursing, accusing. The keynote of his plaint was that he had been inveigled into a gehenna against his will; that he was dying of neglect and lack of comforts. With all his dire protestations of increasing illness, to the eye of others he remained unchanged. His currant-like eyes were as bright and diabolic as ever; his voice was as rasping; his callous face, with the skin drawn tense as a drum-head, had no flesh to lose. A flush on his prominent cheek bones each afternoon hinted that a clinical thermometer might have revealed a symptom, and percussion might have established the fact that McGuire was breathing with only one lung, but his appearance remained the same.
In constant attendance upon him was Ylario, whom the coming reward of the /mayordomo/ship must have greatly stimulated, for McGuire chained him to a bitter existence. The air–the man’s only chance for life–he commanded to be kept out by closed windows and drawn curtains. The room was always blue and foul with cigarette smoke; whosoever entered it must sit, suffocating, and listen to the imp’s interminable gasconade concerning his scandalous career.
The oddest thing of all was the relation existing between McGuire and his benefactor. The attitude of the invalid toward the cattleman was something like that of a peevish, perverse child toward an indulgent parent. When Raidler would leave the ranch McGuire would fall into a fit of malevolent, silent sullenness. When he returned, he would be met by a string of violent and stinging reproaches. Raidler’s attitude toward his charge was quite inexplicable in its way. The cattleman seemed actually to assume and feel the character assigned to him by McGuire’s intemperate accusations–the character of tyrant and guilty oppressor. He seemed to have adopted the responsibility of the fellow’s condition, and he always met his tirades with a pacific, patient, and even remorseful kindness that never altered.
One day Raidler said to him, “Try more air, son. You can have the buckboard and a driver every day if you’ll go. Try a week or two in one of the cow camps. I’ll fix you up plumb comfortable. The ground, and the air next to it–them’s the things to cure you. I knowed a man from Philadelphy, sicker than you are, got lost on the Guadalupe, and slept on the bare grass in sheep camps for two weeks. Well, sir, it started him getting well, which he done. Close to the ground–that’s where the medicine in the air stays. Try a little hossback riding now. There’s a gentle pony–“
“What’ve I done to yer?” screamed McGuire. “Did I ever doublecross yer? Did I ask you to bring me here? Drive me out to your camps if you wanter; or stick a knife in me and save trouble. Ride! I can’t lift my feet. I couldn’t sidestep a jab from a five-year-old kid. That’s what your d–d ranch has done for me. There’s nothing to eat, nothing to see, and nobody to talk to but a lot of Reubens who don’t know a punching bag from a lobster salad.”
“It’s a lonesome place, for certain,” apologised Raidler abashedly. “We got plenty, but it’s rough enough. Anything you think of you want, the boys’ll ride up and fetch it down for you.”
It was Chad Murchison, a cow-puncher from the Circle Bar outfit, who first suggested that McGuire’s illness was fraudulent. Chad had brought a basket of grapes for him thirty miles, and four out of his way, tied to his saddle-horn. After remaining in the smoke-tainted room for a while, he emerged and bluntly confided his suspicions to Raidler.
“His arm,” said Chad, “is harder’n a diamond. He interduced me to what he called a shore-perplexus punch, and ’twas like being kicked twice by a mustang. He’s playin’ it low down on you, Curt. He ain’t no sicker’n I am. I hate to say it, but the runt’s workin’ you for range and shelter.”
The cattleman’s ingenuous mind refused to entertain Chad’s view of the case, and when, later, he came to apply the test, doubt entered not into his motives.
One day, about noon, two men drove up to the ranch, alighted, hitched, and came in to dinner; standing and general invitations being the custom of the country. One of them was a great San Antonio doctor, whose costly services had been engaged by a wealthy cowman who had been laid low by an accidental bullet. He was now being driven back to the station to take the train back to town. After dinner Raidler took him aside, pushed a twenty-dollar bill against his hand, and said:
“Doc, there’s a young chap in that room I guess has got a bad case of consumption. I’d like for you to look him over and see just how bad he is, and if we can do anything for him.”
“How much was that dinner I just ate, Mr. Raidler?” said the doctor bluffly, looking over his spectacles. Raidler returned the money to his pocket. The doctor immediately entered McGuire’s room, and the cattleman seated himself upon a heap of saddles on the gallery, ready to reproach himself in the event the verdict should be unfavourable.
In ten minutes the doctor came briskly out. “Your man,” he said promptly, “is as sound as a new dollar. His lungs are better than mine. Respiration, temperature, and pulse normal. Chest expansion four inches. Not a sign of weakness anywhere. Of course I didn’t examine for the bacillus, but it isn’t there. You can put my name to the diagnosis. Even cigarettes and a vilely close room haven’t hurt him. Coughs, does he? Well, you tell him it isn’t necessary. You asked if there is anything we could do for him. Well, I advise you to set him digging post-holes or breaking mustangs. There’s our team ready. Good- day, sir.” And like a puff of wholesome, blustery wind the doctor was off.
Raidler reached out and plucked a leaf from a mesquite bush by the railing, and began chewing it thoughtfully.
The branding season was at hand, and the next morning Ross Hargis, foreman of the outfit, was mustering his force of some twenty-five men at the ranch, ready to start for the San Carlos range, where the work was to begin. By six o’clock the horses were all saddled, the grub wagon ready, and the cow-punchers were swinging themselves upon their mounts, when Raidler bade them wait. A boy was bringing up an extra pony, bridled and saddled, to the gate. Raidler walked to McGuire’s room and threw open the door. McGuire was lying on his cot, not yet dressed, smoking.
“Get up,” said the cattleman, and his voice was clear and brassy, like a bugle.
“How’s that?” asked McGuire, a little startled.
“Get up and dress. I can stand a rattlesnake, but I hate a liar. Do I have to tell you again?” He caught McGuire by the neck and stood him on the floor.
“Say, friend,” cried McGuire wildly, “are you bug-house? I’m sick– see? I’ll croak if I got to hustle. What’ve I done to yer?”–he began his chronic whine–“I never asked yer to–“
“Put on your clothes,” called Raidler in a rising tone.
Swearing, stumbling, shivering, keeping his amazed, shining eyes upon the now menacing form of the aroused cattleman, McGuire managed to tumble into his clothes. Then Raidler took him by the collar and shoved him out and across the yard to the extra pony hitched at the gate. The cow-punchers lolled in their saddles, open-mouthed.
“Take this man,” said Raidler to Ross Hargis, “and put him to work. Make him work hard, sleep hard, and eat hard. You boys know I done what I could for him, and he was welcome. Yesterday the best doctor in San Antone examined him, and says he’s got the lungs of a burro and the constitution of a steer. You know what to do with him, Ross.”
Ross Hargis only smiled grimly.
“Aw,” said McGuire, looking intently at Raidler, with a peculiar expression upon his face, “the croaker said I was all right, did he? Said I was fakin’, did he? You put him onto me. You t’ought I wasn’t sick. You said I was a liar. Say, friend, I talked rough, I know, but I didn’t mean most of it. If you felt like I did–aw! I forgot–I ain’t sick, the croaker says. Well, friend, now I’ll go work for yer. Here’s where you play even.”
He sprang into the saddle easily as a bird, got the quirt from the horn, and gave his pony a slash with it. “Cricket,” who once brought in Good Boy by a neck at Hawthorne–and a 10 to 1 shot–had his foot in the stirrups again.
McGuire led the cavalcade as they dashed away for San Carlos, and the cow-punchers gave a yell of applause as they closed in behind his dust.
But in less than a mile he had lagged to the rear, and was last man when they struck the patch of high chaparral below the horse pens. Behind a clump of this he drew rein, and held a handkerchief to his mouth. He took it away drenched with bright, arterial blood, and threw it carefully into a clump of prickly pear. Then he slashed with his quirt again, gasped “G’wan” to his astonished pony, and galloped after the gang.
That night Raidler received a message from his old home in Alabama. There had been a death in the family; an estate was to divide, and they called for him to come. Daylight found him in the buckboard, skimming the prairies for the station. It was two months before he returned. When he arrived at the ranch house he found it well-nigh deserted save for Ylario, who acted as a kind of steward during his absence. Little by little the youth made him acquainted with the work done while he was away. The branding camp, he was informed, was still doing business. On account of many severe storms the cattle had been badly scattered, and the branding had been accomplished but slowly. The camp was now in the valley of the Guadalupe, twenty miles away.
“By the way,” said Raidler, suddenly remembering, “that fellow I sent along with them–McGuire–is he working yet?”
“I do not know,” said Ylario. “Mans from the camp come verree few times to the ranch. So plentee work with the leetle calves. They no say. Oh, I think that fellow McGuire he dead much time ago.”
“Dead!” said Raidler. “What you talking about?”
“Verree sick fellow, McGuire,” replied Ylario, with a shrug of his shoulder. “I theenk he no live one, two month when he go away.”
“Shucks!” said Raidler. “He humbugged you, too, did he? The doctor examined him and said he was sound as a mesquite knot.”
“That doctor,” said Ylario, smiling, “he tell you so? That doctor no see McGuire.”
“Talk up,” ordered Raidler. “What the devil do you mean?”
“McGuire,” continued the boy tranquilly, “he getting drink water outside when that doctor come in room. That doctor take me and pound me all over here with his fingers”–putting his hand to his chest–“I not know for what. He put his ear here and here and here, and listen– I not know for what. He put little glass stick in my mouth. He feel my arm here. He make me count like whisper–so–twenty, /treinta/, /cuarenta/. Who knows,” concluded Ylario, with a deprecating spread of his hands, “for what that doctor do those verree droll and such-like things?”
“What horses are up?” asked Raidler shortly.
“Paisano is grazing out behind the little corral, /senor/.”
“Saddle him for me at once.”
Within a very few minutes the cattleman was mounted and away. Paisano, well named after that ungainly but swift-running bird, struck into his long lope that ate up the ground like a strip of macaroni. In two hours and a quarter Raidler, from a gentle swell, saw the branding camp by a water hole in the Guadalupe. Sick with expectancy of the news he feared, he rode up, dismounted, and dropped Paisano’s reins. So gentle was his heart that at that moment he would have pleaded guilty to the murder of McGuire.
The only being in the camp was the cook, who was just arranging the hunks of barbecued beef, and distributing the tin coffee cups for supper. Raidler evaded a direct question concerning the one subject in his mind.
“Everything all right in camp, Pete?” he managed to inquire.
“So, so,” said Pete, conservatively. “Grub give out twice. Wind scattered the cattle, and we’ve had to rake the brush for forty mile. I need a new coffee-pot. And the mosquitos is some more hellish than common.”
“The boys–all well?”
Pete was no optimist. Besides, inquiries concerning the health of cow- punchers were not only superfluous, but bordered on flaccidity. It was not like the boss to make them.
“What’s left of ’em don’t miss no calls to grub,” the cook conceded.
“What’s left of ’em?” repeated Raidler in a husky voice. Mechanically he began to look around for McGuire’s grave. He had in his mind a white slab such as he had seen in the Alabama church-yard. But immediately he knew that was foolish.
“Sure,” said Pete; “what’s left. Cow camps change in two months. Some’s gone.”
Raidler nerved himself.
“That–chap–I sent along–McGuire–did–he–“
“Say,” interrupted Pete, rising with a chunk of corn bread in each hand, “that was a dirty shame, sending that poor, sick kid to a cow camp. A doctor that couldn’t tell he was graveyard meat ought to be skinned with a cinch buckle. Game as he was, too–it’s a scandal among snakes–lemme tell you what he done. First night in camp the boys started to initiate him in the leather breeches degree. Ross Hargis busted him one swipe with his chaparreras, and what do you reckon the poor child did? Got up, the little skeeter, and licked Ross. Licked Ross Hargis. Licked him good. Hit him plenty and everywhere and hard. Ross’d just get up and pick out a fresh place to lay down on agin.
“Then that McGuire goes off there and lays down with his head in the grass and bleeds. A hem’ridge they calls it. He lays there eighteen hours by the watch, and they can’t budge him. Then Ross Hargis, who loves any man who can lick him, goes to work and damns the doctors from Greenland to Poland Chiny; and him and Green Branch Johnson they gets McGuire into a tent, and spells each other feedin’ him chopped raw meat and whisky.
“But it looks like the kid ain’t got no appetite to git well, for they misses him from the tent in the night and finds him rootin’ in the grass, and likewise a drizzle fallin’. ‘G’wan,’ he says, ‘lemme go and die like I wanter. He said I was a liar and a fake and I was playin’ sick. Lemme alone.’
“Two weeks,” went on the cook, “he laid around, not noticin’ nobody, and then–“
A sudden thunder filled the air, and a score of galloping centaurs crashed through the brush into camp.
“Illustrious rattlesnakes!” exclaimed Pete, springing all ways at once; “here’s the boys come, and I’m an assassinated man if supper ain’t ready in three minutes.”
But Raidler saw only one thing. A little, brown-faced, grinning chap, springing from his saddle in the full light of the fire. McGuire was not like that, and yet–
In another instant the cattleman was holding him by the hand and shoulder.
“Son, son, how goes it?” was all he found to say.
“Close to the ground, says you,” shouted McGuire, crunching Raidler’s fingers in a grip of steel; “and dat’s where I found it–healt’ and strengt’, and tumbled to what a cheap skate I been actin’. T’anks fer kickin’ me out, old man. And–say! de joke’s on dat croaker, ain’t it? I looked t’rough the window and see him playin’ tag on dat Dago kid’s solar plexus.”
“You son of a tinker,” growled the cattleman, “whyn’t you talk up and say the doctor never examined you?”
“Ah–g’wan!” said McGuire, with a flash of his old asperity, “nobody can’t bluff me. You never ast me. You made your spiel, and you t’rowed me out, and I let it go at dat. And, say, friend, dis chasin’ cows is outer sight. Dis is de whitest bunch of sports I ever travelled with. You’ll let me stay, won’t yer, old man?”
Raidler looked wonderingly toward Ross Hargis.
“That cussed little runt,” remarked Ross tenderly, “is the Jo-dartin’est hustler–and the hardest hitter in anybody’s cow camp.”