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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Long Shadow - Chapter 12. Dilly Hires A Cook
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The Long Shadow - Chapter 12. Dilly Hires A Cook Post by :hcubed Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :July 2011 Read :2281

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The Long Shadow - Chapter 12. Dilly Hires A Cook

CHAPTER XII. Dilly Hires a Cook

It is rather distressful when one cannot recount all sorts of exciting things as nicely fitted together as if they had been carefully planned and rehearsed beforehand. It would have been extremely gratifying and romantic if Charming Billy Boyle had dropped everything in the line of work and had ridden indefatigably the trail which led to Bridger's; it would have been exciting if he had sought out the Pilgrim and precipitated trouble and flying lead. But Billy, though he might have enjoyed it, did none of those things. He rode straight to the ranch with Dill--rather silent, to be sure, but bearing none of the marks of a lovelorn young man--drank three cups of strong coffee with four heaping teaspoonfuls of sugar to each cup, pulled off his boots, lay down upon the most convenient bed and slept until noon. When the smell of dinner assailed his nostrils he sat up yawning and a good deal tousled, drew on his boots and made him a cigarette. After that he ate his dinner with relish, saddled and rode away to where the round-up was camped, his manner utterly practical and lacking the faintest tinge of romance. As to his thoughts--he kept them jealously to himself.

He did not even glimpse Miss Bridger for three months or more. He was full of the affairs of the Double-Crank; riding in great haste to the ranch or to town, hurrying back to the round-up and working much as he used to work, except that now he gave commands instead of receiving them. For they were short-handed that summer and, as he explained to Dill, he couldn't afford to ride around and look as important as he felt.

"Yuh wait, Dilly, till we get things running the way I want 'em," he encouraged on one of his brief calls at the ranch. "I was kinda surprised to find things wasn't going as smooth as I used to think; when yuh haven't got the whole responsibility on your own shoulders, yuh don't realize what a lot of things need to be done. There's them corrals, for instance: I helped mend and fix and toggle 'em, but it never struck me how rotten they are till I looked 'em over this spring. There's about a million things to do before snow flies, or we won't be able to start out fresh in the spring with everything running smooth. And if I was you, Dilly, I'd go on a still hunt for another cook here at the ranch. This coffee's something fierce. I had my doubts about Sandy when we hired him. He always did look to me like he was built for herding sheep more than he was for cooking." This was in August.

"I have been thinking seriously of getting some one else in his place," Dill answered, in his quiet way. "There isn't very much to do here; if some one came who would take an interest and cook just what we wanted--I will own I have no taste for that peculiar mixture which Sandy calls 'Mulligan,' and I have frequently told him so. Yet he insists upon serving it twice a day. He says it uses up the scraps; but since it is never eaten, I cannot see wherein lies the economy."

"Well, I'd can him and hunt up a fresh one," Billy repeated emphatically, looking with disapproval into his cup.

"I will say that I have already taken steps toward getting one on whom I believe I can depend," said Dill, and turned the subject.

That was the only warning Billy had of what was to come. Indeed, there was nothing in the conversation to prepare him even in the slightest degree for what happened when he galloped up to the corral late one afternoon in October. It was the season of frosty mornings and of languorous, smoke-veiled afternoons, when summer has grown weary of resistance and winter is growing bolder in his advances, and the two have met in a passion-warmed embrace. Billy had ridden far with his riders and the trailing wagons, in the zest of his young responsibility sweeping the range to its farthest boundary of river or mountain. They were not through yet, but they had swung back within riding distance of the home ranch and Billy had come in for nearly a month's accumulation of mail and to see how Dill was getting on.

He was tired and dusty and hungry enough to eat the fringes off his chaps. He came to the ground without any spring to his muscles and walked stiffly to the stable door, leading his horse by the bridle reins. He meant to turn him loose in the stable, which was likely to be empty, and shut the door upon him until he himself had eaten something. The door was open and he went in unthinkingly, seeing nothing in the gloom. It was his horse which snorted and settled back on the reins and otherwise professed his reluctance to enter the place.

Charming Billy, as was consistent with his hunger and his weariness and the general mood of him, "cussed" rather fluently and jerked the horse forward a step or two before he saw some one poised hesitatingly upon the manger in the nearest stall.

"I guess he's afraid of _me_," ventured a voice that he felt to his toes. "I was hunting eggs. They lay them always in the awkwardest places to get at." She scrambled down and came toward him, bareheaded, with the sleeves of her blue-and-white striped dress rolled to her elbows--Flora Bridger, if you please.

Billy stood still and stared, trying to make the reality of her presence seem reasonable; and he failed utterly. His most coherent thought at that moment was a shamed remembrance of the way he had sworn at his horse.

Miss Bridger stood aside from the wild-eyed animal and smiled upon his master. "In the language of the range, 'come alive,' Mr. Boyle," she told him. "Say how-de-do and be nice about it, or I'll see that your coffee is muddy and your bread burned and your steak absolutely impregnable; because I'm here to _stay_, mind you. Mama Joy and I have possession of your kitchen, and so you'd better--"

"I'm just trying to let it soak into my brains," said Billy. "You're just about the last person on earth I'd expect to see here, hunting eggs like you had a right--"

"I _have a right," she asserted. "Your Dilly--he's a perfect love, and I told him so--said I was to make myself perfectly at home. So I have a perfect right to be here, and a perfect right to hunt eggs; and if I could make that sentence more 'perfect,' I would do it." She tilted her head to one side and challenged a laugh with her eyes.

Charming Billy relaxed a bit, yanked the horse into a stall and tied him fast. "Yuh might tell me how it happened that you're here," he hinted, looking at her over the saddle. He had apparently forgotten that he had intended leaving the horse saddled until he had rested and eaten--and truly it would be a shame to hurry from so unexpected a tete-a-tete.

Miss Bridger pulled a spear of blue-joint hay from a crack in the wall and began breaking it into tiny pieces. "It sounds funny, but Mr. Dill bought father out to get a cook. The way it was, father has been simply crazy to try his luck up in Klondyke; it's just like him to get the fever after everybody else has had it and recovered. When the whole country was wild to go he turned up his nose at the idea. And now, mind you, after one or two whom he knew came back with some gold, he must go and dig up a few million tons of it for himself! Your Dilly is rather bright, do you know? He met father and heard all about his complaint--how he'd go to the Klondyke in a minute if he could only get the ranch and Mama Joy and me off his hands--so what does Dilly do but buy the old ranch and hire Mama Joy and me to come here and keep house! Father, I am ashamed to say, was _abjectly grateful to get rid of his incumbrances, and he--he hit the trail immediately." She stopped and searched absently with her fingers for another spear of hay.

"Do you know, Mr. Boyle, I think men are the most irresponsible creatures! A _woman wouldn't turn her family over to a neighbor and go off like that for three or four years, just chasing a sunbeam. I--I'm horribly disappointed in father. A man has no right to a family when he puts everything else first in his mind. He'll be gone three or four years, and will spend all he has, and we--can shift for ourselves. He only left us a hundred dollars, to use in an emergency! He was afraid he might need the rest to buy out a claim or get machinery or something. So if we don't like it here we'll have to stay, anyway. We--we're 'up against it,' as you fellows say."

(Illustration: "WE--WE'RE 'UP AGAINST IT,' AS YOU FELLOWS SAY.")

Charming Billy, fumbling the latigo absently, felt a sudden belligerence toward her father. "He ought to have his head punched good and plenty!" he blurted sympathetically.

To his amazement Miss Bridger drew herself up and started for the door. "I'm very sorry you don't like the idea of us being here, Mr. Boyle," she replied coldly, "but we happen to _be here, and I'm afraid you'll just have to make the best of it!"

Billy was at that moment pulling off the saddle. By the time he had carried it from the stall, hung it upon its accustomed spike and hurried to the door, Miss Bridger was nowhere to be seen. He said "Hell!" under his breath, and took long steps to the house, but she did not appear to be there. It was "Mama Joy," yellow-haired, extremely blue-eyed, and full-figured, who made his coffee and gave him delicious things to eat--things which he failed properly to appreciate, because he ate with his ears perked to catch the faintest sound of another woman's steps and with his eyes turning constantly from door to window. He did not even know half the time what Mama Joy was saying, or see her dimples when she smiled; and Mama Joy was rather proud of her dimples and was not accustomed to having them overlooked.

He was too proud to ask, at supper time, where Miss Bridger was. She did not choose to give him sight of her, and so he talked and talked to Dill, and even to Mama Joy, hoping that Miss Bridger could hear him and know that he wasn't worrying a darned bit. He did not consider that he had said anything so terrible. What had she gone on like that about her father for, if she couldn't stand for any one siding in with her? Maybe he had put his sympathy a little too strong, but that is the way men handle each other. She ought to know he wasn't sorry she was there. Why, of _course she knew that! The girl wasn't a fool, and she must know a fellow would be plumb tickled to have her around every day. Well, anyway, he wasn't going to begin by letting her lead him around by the nose, and he wasn't going to crumple down on his knees and tell her to please walk all over him.

"Well, anyway," he summed up at bedtime with a somewhat doubtful satisfaction, "I guess she's kinda got over the notion that I'm so blame _comfortable_--like I was an old grandpa-setting-in-the-corner. She's _got to get over it, by thunder! I ain't got to that point yet; hell, no! I should say I hadn't!"

It is a fact that when he rode away just after sunrise next morning (he would have given much if duty and his pride had permitted him to linger a while) no one could have accused him of being in any degree a comfortable young man. For his last sight of Miss Bridger had been the flutter of her when she disappeared through the stable door.

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