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B.M. BOWER

THE FLAW IN THE ARMOR

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First published in The Popular Magazine, September 1907

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2020
Version Date: 2020-04-06
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The Popular Magazine, September 1907, with "The Flaw in the Armor



The sad case of a cowboy whose fierceness was masked by dimples and good looks—both the subject of much merriment on the part of the Happy Family. B.M. Bower tells how he had to go outside his own friends for appreciation.




Illustration

HE Happy Family was rolling after-breakfast cigarettes in the mess-house. When they had smoked, they would troop down to the corrals to saddle for their several duties of the day. With round-up over and the cattle thrown back on their winter-range; with a tang of coming snows in the air of a morning; with horses that felt the nearness of winter and humped their backs ominously to the feel of cold saddle-leather and laid their ears flatter than usual when chilly bridle-bits were thrust between their protesting teeth, the Happy Family had relaxed perceptibly from the hurry of summer stress and smoked comfortably inside before riding out where duty and the Old Man impressed.

"Girls," said Pink authoritatively, licking his cigarette into shape and motioning to Weary for a match, "are all right in their place. I'd hate to go to a dance where there wasn't any, but if yuh ask me, I'd just as soon swing some other fellow's girl as my own—supposing I had one, which I thank the Lord I ain't got—and maybe I'd a little rather. It's fun to watch the other fellow give yuh the bad-eye during the swinging- process."

"Nobody with a lick uh sense would turn a hair if yuh swung his girl all night," fleered Jack Bates, with the safety of many miles between his girl and the dimples of Pink. "There ain't a female girl living that would take yuh serious. She might like yuh to play with, same as kid girls like to dress up puppies and cats and make 'em set up pretty in the high-chair to a table. She might want to curl your hair for yuh and tie that rosy handkerchief of yours in a pretty bow under your dimpled little chin; but when it come to a showdown, and real love-making, she'd look around for a man."

Pink lost his dimples at this blunt statement of an unpleasant truth, and for a minute trouble hovered over the Family. Then...

"If your girl wasn't back East yuh wouldn't crow quite so loud, or flop your wings so free," he retorted calmly. "I sure do love to see a man climb a tree and then make a big war-talk. You haven't got any girl in swinging-distance—and so there's no use listening to yuh."

"You can swing my girl," offered Irish generously, because he hadn't one to call his own. He, like Pink, gloried in his freedom of feminine thrall.

"The facts uh the case is," said Pink, getting up and hunting for his hat, "I never saw the girl yet that wasn't dead willing for me to swing her; and I never saw the human girl yet that I'd go a rod out of my way to swing. They all look alike to me, and that's straight—and they don't look good enough to bother with. If I thought I was fool enough to let a girl break up my night's sleep, or make me do things I didn't want to do, I'd go bat my head against a rock and pray for a new set uh brains. So help me Josephine, I'd know I sure needed them!"

"Cadwolloper thinks he don't like girls, but yuh notice he swears by one continual," drawled Weary. "He's always calling on Josephine—"

"Oh, git!" snapped Pink, and went out and shut the door so that the whole cabin rattled.

All this because Weary's schoolma'am had been trying to coax the Happy Family into another entertainment, and because Pink would have none of it.

PINK, whose solitary duty it was to line-ride a certain part of the range which stretched brownly and unevenly away to the northeast, promptly forgot his irritation at the stupidity of the Happy Family, and whistled blithely to himself, a-tingle with the pure pleasure of galloping over the springy sod to the tune of jangling spur-chains and the creak of saddle-leather; to say nothing of the metallic burr of Skeeker—Pink himself is responsible for the outlandish name—rolling industriously the "cricket" in his bit. All that is music to a true son of the range-land, and it was music to Pink, and put him in a very good humor with the world.

Still, the words of Jack Bates rankled now and then when memory was unkind enough to bring them back. Girls did look upon Pink with amused admiration; and Pink resented, secretly and bitterly, the attitude. Surely, it was not his fault that he stood only a meager five-feet-five, stretch as he might; nor was it his fault that he was slim and girlish as to form, and a tanned cherub as to features. How could the average girl understand that a very giant of daredevil courage and manliness hid in that "cunning" personality?

That was it: they thought him "cunning." He had overheard a girl call him that once, and Pink always gritted his teeth impotently when he thought of it. "She might like yuh to play with, same as kids like to dress up puppies and set 'em in a high-chair." It did not go well with all the little satisfying accompaniment of spur-clank and saddle-creak, and of Skeeker rolling his cricket. Pink swore a little at Jack Bates and at the tribe feminine without exception, and put it all out of his mind in the way that he usually discarded his troubles. There was one vow, however, that he made in all seriousness within himself: He would never fall in love with a girl, and so give her a chance to hurt him lastingly. Pink, with all his irresponsibility, was shrewd enough to know that the power of woman is leashed and harmless unless man is so foolish as to love her. Therefore, he would be wise; he would never love.

In that way he got back the mood to whistle.

Over a ridge, where a long slope drifted idly away to the abrupt barrier of another ridge. Pink came within sight—and smell—of a band of sheep scattered wide and blatting gratingly as they fussed here and there, feeding. Pink hated sheep. He hated them with all the inherent hatred of a cowman—the hatred that comes naturally as does the breath to one's lungs—and with the personal hatred which was but an inborn aversion to their stupid, yellow-eyed faces, and the rank, musty odor of them. Whenever he got upon the wrong side of a band of sheep, or even crossed the unmistakable trail of them, it was Pink's custom to hold his nose tightly and put spurs to his horse.

He did both at this time, and only varied his habit by looking about angrily for the herder. In this case the sheep were not where Pink thought they should be. I refrain from stating the exact spot which Pink named as the proper abiding-place of sheep and sheepmen, but at all events it was not where they were at that time.

Over on the windward side he discovered the herder sitting on a rock, while a horse nibbled at the ripened grass near-by. The inevitable pair of sheep-dogs were apparently very busy over a gopher-hole. Pink, with wrath in his heart and his gloved hand to his nostrils, galloped over to the group. There were several paragraphs seething just back of his tongue, and he was in a hurry to put them into scathing speech.

When he was quite close enough to begin, however, he promptly forgot the opening sentences, and so rode up in silence. The herder, hearing hoofs, turned an inquiring face toward him. The herder was a girl, and she was sitting facing the sheep, with her hands clasped dejectedly in her lap and her shoulders drooped a bit, as if to emphasize the dejection. When she turned, Pink saw plainly that she had been—was even then, to be exact—crying.

Pink felt no premonitory fluttering of his heart; instead, that organ thumped regularly away at its work of sending the healthy young blood ("red blood of youth" is growing trite) through his body, unmoved by so much as an extra throb. He was not susceptible; neither was he bashful. He had a certain unceremonious frankness with women which made him piquantly interesting without being quite rude.

"What's gone wrong?" he asked, in just the same tone he would have used to a man he found in trouble.

The girl looked at him again, and blinked the moisture from her lashes. "Everything, I guess," she answered dolefully. I should like to describe her as a very pretty girl; only she wasn't—quite. She was little and slim, and she had tan and freckles in the generous abundance which Montana gives to her daughters gratis. Also, her eyes were red-rimmed and the color was not quite clear. Pink's heart kept methodically at work.

"Trying to herd sheep?" he inquired, with a polite attempt at keeping his disgust off the last word.

"Trying—yes. I—I just hate the sight of sheep!" The last sentence came out with a vindictiveness that warmed the interest of Pink. She went on, with the freedom of speech which comes of living in a wide land of few inhabitants: "They won't go the right way, and they blat enough to send one raving distracted; and those miserable dogs won't mind a thing I say!"

Pink eased himself in the saddle and looked down at her reflectively. "If it was me," he said judicially, "I'd quit the job cold and let the sheep go to—thunder, and the dogs, too."

She was blinking again, and kept her face turned away from him. When she spoke, her voice had little unsteady places in it.

"You wouldn't, if they were your father's sheep, and he was away, and—and expected you to look after things. You—you'd do the be-best you could."

Pink began to feel a little sorry, along with his very natural curiosity. A lady sheep-herder was something out of the usual run of things, to say the least. He was beginning, also, to feel that a lady sheep-herder may deserve pity.

"Did your dad have the nerve to go off and leave you to herd—"

"Don't you say a word against my father!" She flashed wide, indignant eyes at him. Pink felt more discomposed than if he had been facing a gun. "Papa had to go away; his brother died, away back in Vermont. And I could look after things, all right, only one of our men went right off to town and get on a big drunk; and Ole—he's the herder—tried to tend the stock, and a horse kicked him. He's laid up and can't walk. And mama has him to wait on; and he's been talking Swede to the dogs till they don't Can—can you talk Swede?"

"Thank God, no!" Pink told her solemnly.

The hope in her eyes went back to discouragement, so that Pink came near wishing that he could talk Swede, if it would help her out any.

"I thought—if you could, you might tell them what I want them to do. They've been digging at that hole for two solid hours—"

"What do yuh want them to do?" Pink looked at the half-buried dogs as if he contemplated thrashing them both for bothering a lady.

"I want them to tend to the sheep, of course; that's what they're here for. But Dooley is a natural-born shirk, and won't do a thing he can get out of; he knows enough—it's just pure cussedness."

The last word, brought out with a certain winsome recklessness, struck a spark of—something he did not name—from Pink's hardened susceptibilities.

"Olafson is just a pup; he depends on Dooley to take the lead. And Dooley knows I'm green at herding; he just takes advantage."

"Which one is Dooley?" There was an ominous ring in the voice of Pink.

The girl looked up at him quickly. Evidently she understood. "I sha'n't tell you," she returned firmly. "It wouldn't do any good to—to whip him; he'd just go under the barn and sulk for days. If only you could—could swear—just a little, teeny bit—in Swede." She regarded him wistfully.

"Er—wouldn't a mixture of English and Mexican and Blackfoot do?" Pink asked, showing briefly his dimples. "It sure makes a fierce combination. If it will, and you'll go off a ways—"

She shook her head, and Pink observed that she, also, had dimples. The knowledge somehow made him feel that there was a bond between them. He wondered involuntarily if any one had ever called her cunning; he could easily believe it.

"Ole has herded with them for more than a year," she sighed. "They always mind him, and he always talks Swede to them."

There was a minute or two when neither found anything to say. Pink looked at the scattered sheep, at the mutinous dogs, and at the girl; it is only the plain truth to say that he looked at the girl longest, and that he made another discovery: Her hair had little waves in it that caught the sunlight, and it curled in distracting little tendrils around her face. He rolled a cigarette and puffed thoughtfully.

"I should think," he ventured at last, "that a fellow could drive a bunch uh sheep like yuh do cattle. If yuh like, I'll try it a whirl."

She glanced up eagerly. "Oh, could you? But—I oughtn't to bother you. You—you must have work of your own to do."

"No bother at all," lied Pink. "If minutes were dollars, I'd be—Where do yuh want to drive 'em to?"

"Well, Ole said that at ten or half-past I should start them down to that creek away over there. It's nearly eleven now. I did try to drive them myself, but they just ran all around me and—and blatted!" That last seemed the crowning offense. "You see," she confessed, "I haven't been at home very much since we came on to the ranch. I never drove cattle, either."

Pink carefully pinched out his cigarette stub and straightened in the saddle. "Well, I guess the two of us can make it, all right. Shall I help you on your horse?"

But she shook her head, got up, and caught the dragging bridle-reins of her gray, turned the stirrup ready for her foot, grasped the horn, and swung up. Pink told himself that she "went up like a cow-puncher"—which was the highest praise he knew. She looked even better upon a horse, he thought, with her divided skirt hanging in straight, graceful folds, than she had looked sitting on the rock. Also her eyes were not quite so red- rimmed, and he could tell better their color. They were that sort of gray which just falls short of brown. He believed, from the way she sat her horse, that she knew how to ride; he liked her better for that belief.

"You take this side," he commanded, "and don't try to hurry them. Just keep up the drag, and point 'em down the hill. I'll go and round up the main bunch, and get 'em going. And don't yuh worry any more about it, we'll sure get them to water, all right."

She smiled gratefully; and with eyes and dimples helping out the smile, her face became very attractive to Pink. He rode away feeling the glow which comes of a service performed without hope of other reward than a complacent conscience. At least, that is what he thought it was.

With a self-sacrificing chivalry which it is a pity the girl could not understand, he had given to her the windward side of the band, and rode heroically, with every fiber of his being protesting against the outrage around where the odor was overpowering. When the first whiff assailed his shrinking nostrils, he swore viciously the while he took down an end of his rope, and began to "haze" the vile-smelling brutes into a more compact band.

"Darn sheep!" he gritted, when their yellow-eyed stupidity and the harsh tremolo of their blatting got upon his nerves. But he went at the work with all his accustomed thoroughness and energy, and—what is more to the point—he succeeded better than he had hoped.

If any one had told Pink, even as late as that morning, that he would some time be guilty of herding sheep—and herding sheep for sake of a girl, of all things—there would undoubtedly have been immediate and serious trouble for the daring prophet. Yet here he was, swinging his loop across shying gray backs, and shouting the "whoo-ee" which the range cattle know well, but which must have sounded strange to the sheep.

It was warm work, and at times irritating almost beyond endurance. Sometimes the sheep bolted, a panic-stricken blanket of gray wool, which it took all Pink's skill to turn back with the others. Sheep are so distressingly prone to do things en masse. Yet such was the indomitable will of him, that the whole band moved steadily down to the far creek-bottom. Across the dingy gray square of uneasy movement Pink could see the girl driving up the stragglers. He could not help seeing that she observed and copied his tactics closely—a fact which gave him a certain vague pleasure.

In the shallow creek-bottom he rode around and met her. Dooley and Olaf-son—names which betrayed the nativity of former herders—had at last felt the prick of duty, and were following shamefacedly at the heels of her horse. She greeted Pink with another illuminating smile. Her eyes were not even pink-rimmed now; and they were rather pretty eyes, he thought. Also the way she sat her horse did certainly please him; without doubt, she could ride.

"Well, we made it, all right," he gloated mildly, when he came close to her. "I'll have to ride on, I guess—but I'll be back this way in a couple of hours. It will be all right to leave the sheep here till then, I reckon. Herders most always hold them on water an unmerciful long time." Past experience with certain refractory herders had taught Pink that.

"It's wonderful—the things a man can do! I'd have been sitting back there on that rock yet, crying like a silly goose—only for you." There was sincere tribute to his masculinity in her voice, even more than in the words.

Pink blushed a little; it was new to him to have a girl take him so seriously. Still, he liked it more than he would own even to himself.

"Oh, that's nothing," he disclaimed. "Sheep-herding isn't the kind of work a girl ought to know, anyhow. Are you sure you'll be all right for a couple of hours? Maybe," he promised rashly, "I can get back a little sooner, if you want me to. Sure you ain't afraid?" (If the Happy Family could have beard that from the lips of Pink!)

"I don't want to bother you at all," protested the girl. "It's—it's awfully silly of me—but a man is a—a comfort You can't go, anyway, till you've had some lunch. Oh"—reading the refusal in his eyes—"there's plenty for both of us. I brought extra sandwiches, and extra doughnuts for the dogs. But they don't deserve any lunch, and I sha'n't give them a bite. You can have their share."

Presently Pink, who had vaingloriously boasted that he never would permit a girl to exercise the slightest influence over him, was sitting on a grassy hillock meekly eating the dogs' share of sandwiches and doughnuts, to the accompaniment of much blatting of sheep, and with the detested tang of unwashed wool in his nostrils. More, he appeared to be enjoying himself.

When all the lunch was gone, and they had drunk from a water- flask which the girl carried, he went reluctantly over to Skeeker and mounted. "I've got a little line-riding to do over north here," he explained; "but it won't take long. I'll be back in time to help yuh throw 'em back on the hills. Sure yuh ain't afraid out here all alone?" It was the second time he had asked that question, and the girl smiled up at him while she shook her head in denial.

"I think you're awfully kind to me," she said. "It must be great to be a man and do things without help."

"Still," Pink flung back laughingly, "we like to have girls around to do things for; it would be a funny old world without 'em."

He rode away at the pace which ever marked Pink among his fellows, and which bade fair to keep his promise to be back soon. Loyalty to the Flying U made him cover every rod of the distance he was expected to ride, and to drive back a bunch of wanderers which he descried upon a hilltop far to the east. The wanderers, like the sheep, did not take kindly to interference with their liberty, so that Skeeker was in a lather and Pink in a villainous temper long before he could conscientiously take the homeward trail. By the sun he knew that he was a full hour later than he had told the girl he would be; and he fretted over what she would think of him. It seemed to matter much to Pink what she would think. Besides, he had an uncomfortable feeling that she would be afraid; that particular creek-bottom was a lonely place, and he hated to think of her waiting there, and watching futilely over a lot of fool sheep. It was no kind of work for a girl he told himself in extenuation of his feelings on the subject.

When he reached the place where he had left her sitting on the hillock she was gone, and the sheep with her. Pink pulled up and looked around him with a peculiar sinking of spirits. Back whence she had come he could see far; and there was no sign of her. She was not up the creek, for he had come that way; there was but one thing to do, and that was to follow down-stream till he caught some trace of her. Sober-eyed and with a deep uneasiness at his heart Pink hurried Skeeker over the rough ground.

The creek had many windings, and at one place flowed through a deep, lonely gulch. It was there that he came upon them at last; and as the familiar stench assailed his nostrils he gave a deep sigh of thankfulness.

The girl was on her horse, and she rode hurriedly to meet him. In her eyes was a grateful welcome that made Pink feel inches taller; no girl had ever looked at him just like that before.

"Oh, I thought you'd never come," she cried, between a laugh and a sob. "I've had the horridest time! A little while after you'd gone, a lot of cattle came crashing down the creek and scared the sheep, and they just ran and ran, and I couldn't stop them. And Dooley wouldn't help me at all—the mean thing. He'd just stand and wag his tail and look at me. So then I got angry, and got off my horse and threw rocks at him. And Dooley," she finished naively, "hit the trail for home, with Olafson at his heels. I'm so glad you're here!"

If one might judge from the look of him, Pink was also glad to be there. Without a thought for the distastefulness of the work, he rode and yelled, and at last got the sheep out of the gully and up on the grassy level, where they went to feeding as quietly as sheep know how to do. After that he felt at liberty to sit beside the girl and say trifling things just for the pleasure of hearing her laugh and reply in a manner quite as trifling. It never once occurred to him that he was doing anything out of the common.

The thing which most appealed to him, and most disarmed his natural caution, was the way the girl seemed to depend on him. She did not think him "cunning," and refer openly and amusedly to his dimples or his curls and long lashes; she looked up to his superior wisdom and strength and general protectiveness in a way that took him all unawares. When he told her his name—with certain abbreviations—she called him "Mr. Perkins" quite respectfully. Other girls usually called him Pink; one bit of impertinence had even addressed him as "Perky," and as a crowning insult "Pinky." It was good to be called as other men are called. And Pink was a man, however much he might look a mere boy.

Her name, she said, was Mary Wilson; but Pink called her, in his usual daring fashion, "Little Bo-peep;" and persisted in it, even after she had assured him that she had not lost any sheep. He also offered to ride into town that evening and fetch out the man who was on the drunk, but she pointed out the fact that the ranch was much better off without him, and that he could not herd sheep, anyway. Until Ole got able to be around, she declared, she would herd the sheep herself. She said that with a little practise she could do better; and she would have Ole teach her enough Swede that night to make Dooley understand that she was not to be trifled with.

Pink openly doubted her ability to learn enough Swede swear- words in one evening to manage a dog of Dooley's evident perspicacity, and asserted that he should ride around that way in the morning to see how she made out with him.

The girl did not offer any objections to this, so that Pink considered the matter settled. What more they said would sound rather flat without the atmosphere of the wide prairie-land, and the feelings of Pink and the girl, and the novelty of their sudden acquaintance to give color to the words.

When the sun dropped low they remounted and drove the sheep ranch-ward. There was no trouble, though a couple of dogs, properly obedient, would undoubtedly have been a help.

Still, it was sundown before Pink left her and the sheep at the brow of the hill beneath which lay the sheds and corrals and the rambling ranch-house she called home. And because he waited there till he was sure she would have no trouble corraling them, it was after dark when Pink got home, and the Happy Family was at supper, wondering much at his unaccountable absence; for Pink had never before been later than two o'clock.

"Been to town?" asked Happy Jack bluntly.

Pink came near saying that he had, until he remembered that some one would immediately ask for the mail.

So he told them no, and sat down in his place with the first guilty feeling he had ever known.

"We thought you was lost, Cadwolloper," said Weary. "We were just organizing a rescue-party to go out with lanterns after yuh. Where was yuh, anyway?"

Pink, usually serenely indifferent to what any one thought of his movements, blushed; also he hesitated over what to reply. The Happy Family was looking at him curiously. It seemed to him that he had never before seen such an exhibition of inquisitiveness on the part of the Happy Family.

"None of your business," he retorted, with belated defiance.

"Sure not," Weary told him politely. "I only asked because yuh look kinda funny."

"He smells like sheep," sniffingly announced Irish, who sat next Pink.

Pink remembered going to the rescue of a half-grown lamb that had fallen off a caving cut bank; the girl had been afraid the lamb's leg was broken, and Pink had carried it several rods in his arms. Now he swore inwardly.

"Been having a scrap with some sheep-herder?" asked Cal. "Yuh might tell us about it, anyhow."

Pink retorted profanely.

"I betche the herder licked him; that's what ails him," guessed Happy Jack suddenly.

Pink, in sheer desperation, encouraged them, by his silence, to think so. To be sure, they would make life miserable to Pink for the rest of the evening; but he did not so much mind that. They had not guessed the truth; the humiliating truth that he had spent most of the day actually herding a band of sheep—and at the behest of a girl. Pink shivered whenever he thought of what would happen if they knew.

So great was his disgust with himself that he started out next morning with the determination of not going near the girl, or the sheep. If she wanted to make a fool of herself and try to do things she couldn't do, and had no business to do if she could, why, it was nothing to him. There was no reason why he should leave his own work to help her out. He told himself self- righteously that the Flying U wasn't paying him to herd sheep for any Mary Wilson, and eat the dogs' share of lunch for his trouble. It seemed to him that she had kind of put him down on a level with the dogs, the way she spoke about the sandwiches and doughnuts. He hadn't thought of it at the time, but he thought of it now, all right; and he didn't like it a bit.

"Darn girls, anyway!" he said aloud, when his meditations had reached that uncomfortable point.

But even while he said it, the long-lashed eyes of Pink were searching unconsciously the prairie off to the north for a slow- moving, gray square against the brown. And when for some time he could not discover it, he changed the direction he was traveling and rode up on a high knoll that he might see farther. Truly, he was not a consistent young man that morning.

It was nearly an hour after that that he rode up to where she was again sitting on a rock. It seemed to him that she had purposely tried to keep him from finding her; for she was hidden from sight till he got almost up to her; and the sheep were browsing down in a hollow where the sage was thick. He felt a little tinge of resentment at the trouble she had made him—until he got close enough to see her face clearly.

"Well, how's sheep-herding?" he greeted, riding close and looking down at her. She could find no hint in his manner of the long search he had been obliged to make, or of any resentment he had felt.

"Not so worse," she returned, as airily as he. "I brought a book along today, and the sheep can do as they please till it's time to drive them home. I'm not going to shed any more tears over them, anyway."

Pink's spirits fell a little; she was so self-composed and so little in need of help apparently. He began to fear that, after all, she regarded him as merely "cute."

"All right," he said resignedly. "I guess I might as well ride on, then."

Still he did not go, but sat with one foot swinging free of the stirrup, sifting tobacco into a tiny trough of paper. He looked up while he was drawing the sack shut with the string in his teeth, and found her watching him wistfully.

"I—I hope the sheep will behave," she remarked tentatively.

"How's the Swede lessons?" he wanted to know. "Learned enough to do any good with the dogs?"

"No-o; Ole only laughed when I asked him. He said: 'Ay tank dem dog she need more as Svenske talk; she not like for be boss around by a vomans. Yo bet yo Dooley she knows de deef'rance, all right.'"

"Yuh hear a lot about the sheep-herder's faithful dog," Pink observed, still making no move to go. "To hear some folks talk, you'd think the dogs are the whole show, with the calliope hitched on behind. They're supposed to know enough to herd sheep all winter by their lonesome."

"They do—only Dooley won't unless he feels in the mood. I don't even know where they are now. They took after a jack- rabbit on the way over here, and that's the last of them. If a coyote should come—or a wolf—"

She glanced apprehensively behind her.

That settled Pink. He got down and stretched his slim length in the grass, resting on an elbow while he smoked. "I see right now that you've got to be looked after," he said; and there was a new light in the blue eyes of him—a light no other girl had ever seen. "Coyotes are pretty thick this fall; and they sure love fresh mutton."

"Well, I don't suppose they'd eat me," she retorted. "Still...."

SO Pink stayed, and watched her face in a way that would have been a revelation to the Happy Family if they had seen him. And it certainly seemed that Mary Wilson liked to have him there. Near noon they ate sandwiches together beside a creek where the sheep were drinking and Matting; and after that Pink galloped furiously away upon his round—and got back before the band had any thought of moving on.

By sundown the girl had promised to go with Pink to the next dance—Pink sighed to think how far off the next dance was in the future—and she had also agreed that cattle were much nicer to own than sheep, and came near admitting that she wouldn't mind living on a little ranch somewhere, with cattle and—Pink. She came near admitting all that, but not quite; near enough, however, for Pink to get a new outlook on life, and to feel that truly there was something better than being a self- sufficient young man with no one depending on him but himself.

When they were almost to the brow of the hill back of her home, Weary and Irish rode past within a hundred yards of them. They did not stop, or call out, or do a single impolite thing, though Pink was at that minute trying desperately to turn an obstinate half-dozen of his charges. The two rode at a walk and watched him; and, though he only saw them from the corner of his eye, he felt that they were grinning at each other, with a thorough understanding of the whole situation.

But Pink did not care. He said good-by to Bo-peep, and rode homeward a half-mile behind Irish and Weary, whistling softly to himself, and dreaming dreams all about the girl and a little ranch of their own. And tucked away in the inner, left-hand pocket of his coat was a yard of crumpled red ribbon that had that morning been tied around the soft, pink throat of Mary Wilson.



Illustration


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
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