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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Long Shadow - Chapter 3. Charming Billy Has A Fight
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The Long Shadow - Chapter 3. Charming Billy Has A Fight Post by :Jay_Jennings Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :July 2011 Read :2361

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The Long Shadow - Chapter 3. Charming Billy Has A Fight

CHAPTER III. Charming Billy Has a Fight

If Billy Boyle had any ideals he did not recognize them as such, and he would not have known just how to answer you if you had asked him what was his philosophy of life. He was range-bred--as purely Western as were the cattle he tended--but he was not altogether ignorant of the ways of the world, past or present. He had that smattering of education which country schools and those of "the county seat" may give a boy who loves a horse better than books, and who, sitting hunched behind his geography, dreams of riding afar, of shooting wild things and of sleeping under the stars.

From the time he was sixteen he had lived chiefly in tents and line-camp cabins, his world the land of far horizons, of big sins, and virtues bigger. One creed he owned: to live "square," fight square, and to be loyal to his friends and his "outfit." Little things did not count much with him, and for that reason he was the more enraged against the Pilgrim, because he did not quite know what it was all about. So far as he had heard or seen, the Pilgrim had offered no insult to Miss Bridger--"the girl," as he called her simply in his mind. Still, he had felt all along that the mere presence of the Pilgrim was an offense to her, no less real because it was intangible and not to be put into words; and for that offense the Pilgrim must pay.

But for the presence of the Pilgrim, he told himself ill-temperedly, they might have waited for breakfast; but he had been so anxious to get her away from under the man's leering gaze that he had not thought of eating. And if the Pilgrim had been a _man_, he might have sent him over to Bridger's for her father and a horse. But the Pilgrim would have lost himself, or have refused to go, and the latter possibility would have caused a scene unfit for the eyes of a young woman.

So he rode slowly and thought of many things he might have done which would have been better than what he did do; and wondered what the girl thought about it and if she blamed him for not doing something different. And for every mile of the way he cursed the Pilgrim anew.

In that unfriendly mood he opened the door of the cabin, stood a minute just inside, then closed it after him with a slam. The cabin, in contrast with the bright light of sun shining on new-fallen snow, was dark and so utterly cheerless and chill that he shrugged shoulders impatiently at its atmosphere, which was as intangibly offensive as had been the conduct of the Pilgrim.

The Pilgrim was sprawled upon the bunk with his face in his arms, snoring in a peculiarly rasping way that Billy, heavy-eyed as he was, resented most unreasonably. Also, the untidy table showed that the Pilgrim had eaten unstintedly--and Billy was exceedingly hungry. He went over and lifted a snowy boot to the ribs of the sleeper and commanded him bluntly to "Come alive."

"What-yuh-want?" mumbled the Pilgrim thickly, making one word of the three and lifting his red-rimmed eyes to the other. He raised to an elbow with a lazy doubling of his body and stared dully for a space before he grinned unpleasantly. "Took 'er home all right, did yuh?" he leered, as if they two were in possession of a huge joke of the kind which may not be told in mixed company.

If Charming Billy Boyle had needed anything more to stir him to the fighting point, that one sentence admirably supplied the lack. "Yuh low-down skunk!" he cried, and struck him full upon the insulting, smiling mouth. "If I was as rotten-minded as you are, I'd go drown myself in the stalest alkali hole I could find. I dunno why I'm dirtying my hands on yuh--yuh ain't fit to be clubbed to death with a tent pole!" He was, however, using his hands freely and to very good purpose, probably feeling that, since the Pilgrim was much bigger than he, there was need of getting a good start.

But the Pilgrim was not the sort to lie on his bunk and take a thrashing. He came up after the second blow, pushing Billy back with the very weight of his body, and they were fighting all over the little cabin, surging against the walls and the table and knocking the coffee-pot off the stove as they lurched this way and that. Not much was said after the first outburst of Billy's, save a panting curse now and then between blows, a threat gasped while they wrestled.

It was the dog, sneaking panther-like behind Billy and setting treacherous teeth viciously into his leathern chaps, that brought the crisis. Billy tore loose and snatched his gun from the scabbard at his hip, held the Pilgrim momentarily at bay with one hand while he took a shot at the dog, missed, kicked him back from another rush, and turned again on the Pilgrim.

"Get that dawg outdoors, then," he panted, "or I'll kill him sure." The Pilgrim, for answer, struck a blow that staggered Billy, and tried to grab the gun. Billy, hooking a foot around a table-leg, threw it between them, swept the blood from his eyes and turned his gun once more on the dog that was watching treacherously for another chance.

"That's the time I got him," he gritted through the smoke, holding the Pilgrim quiet before him with the gun. "But I've got a heap more respect for him than I have for you, yuh damn', low-down brute. I'd ought to kill yuh like I would a coyote. Yuh throw your traps together and light out uh here, before I forget and shoot yuh up. There ain't room in this camp for you and me no more."

The Pilgrim backed, eying Billy malevolently. "I never done nothing," he defended sullenly. "The boss'll have something to say about this--and I'll kill you first chance I get, for shooting my dog."

"It ain't what yuh done, it's what yuh woulda done if you'd had the chance," answered Billy, for the first time finding words for what was surging bitterly in the heart of him. "And I'm willing to take a whirl with yuh any old time; any dawg that'll lick the boots of a man like you had ought to be shot for not having more sense. I ain't saying anything about him biting me--which I'd kill him for, anyhow. Now, git! I want my breakfast, and I can't eat with any relish whilst you're spoiling the air in here for me."

At heart the Pilgrim was a coward as well as a beast, and he packed his few belongings hurriedly and started for the door.

"Come back here, and drag your dawg outside," commanded Billy, and the Pilgrim obeyed.

"You'll hear about this later on," he snarled. "The boss won't stand for anything like this. I never done a thing, and I'm going to tell him so."

"Aw, go on and tell him, yuh--!" snapped Billy. "Only yuh don't want to get absent-minded enough to come back--not whilst I'm here; things unpleasant might happen." He stood in the doorway and watched while the Pilgrim saddled his horse and rode away. When not even the pluckety-pluck of his horse's feet came back to offend the ears of him, Charming Billy put away his gun and went in and hoisted the overturned table upon its legs again. A coarse, earthenware plate, which the Pilgrim had used for his breakfast, lay unbroken at the feet of him. Billy picked it up, went to the door and cast it violently forth, watching with grim satisfaction the pieces when they scattered over the frozen ground. "No white man'll ever have to eat after _him_," he muttered. To ease his outraged feelings still farther, he picked up the Pilgrim's knife and fork, and sent them after the plate--and knives and forks were not numerous in that particular camp, either. After that he felt better and picked up the coffee-pot, lighted a fire and cooked himself some breakfast, which he ate hungrily, his wrath cooling a bit with the cheer of warm food and strong coffee.

The routine work of the line-camp was performed in a hurried, perfunctory manner that day. Charming Billy, riding the high-lines to make sure the cattle had not drifted where they should not, was vaguely ill at ease. He told himself it was the want of a smoke that made him uncomfortable, and he planned a hurried trip to Hardup, if the weather held good for another day, when he would lay in a supply of tobacco and papers that would last till roundup. This running out every two or three weeks, and living in hell till you got more, was plumb wearisome and unnecessary.

On the way back, his trail crossed that of a breed wolfer on his way into the Bad Lands. Billy immediately asked for tobacco, and the breed somewhat reluctantly opened his pack and exchanged two small sacks for a two-bit piece. Billy, rolling a cigarette with eager fingers, felt for the moment a deep satisfaction with life. He even felt some compunction about killing the Pilgrim's dog, when he passed the body stiffening on the snow. "Poor devil! Yuh hadn't ought to expect much from a dawg--and he was a heap more white-acting than what his owner was," was his tribute to the dead.

It seemed as though, when he closed the cabin door behind him, he somehow shut out his newborn satisfaction. "A shack with one window is sure unpleasant when the sun is shining outside," he said fretfully to himself. "This joint looks a heap like a cellar. I wonder what the girl thought of it; I reckon it looked pretty sousy, to her--and them with everything shining. Oh, hell!" He took off his chaps and his spurs, rolled another cigarette and smoked it meditatively. When it had burned down so that it came near scorching his lips, he lighted a fire, carried water from the creek, filled the dishpan and set it on the stove to heat. "Darn a dirty shack!" he muttered, half apologetically, while he was taking the accumulation of ashes out of the hearth.

For the rest of that day he was exceedingly busy, and he did not attempt further explanations to himself. He overhauled the bunk and spread the blankets out on the wild rose bushes to sun while he cleaned the floor. Billy's way of cleaning the floor was characteristic of the man, and calculated to be effectual in the main without descending to petty details. All superfluous objects that were small enough, he merely pushed as far as possible under the bunk. Boxes and benches he piled on top; then he brought buckets of water and sloshed it upon the worst places, sweeping and spreading it with a broom. When the water grew quite black, he opened the door, swept it outside and sloshed fresh water upon the grimy boards. While he worked, his mind swung slowly back to normal, so that he sang crooningly in an undertone; and the song was what he had sung for months and years, until it was a part of him and had earned him his nickname.

"Oh, where have you been, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?
I've been to see my wife,
She's the joy of my life,
She's a young thing and cannot leave her mother."

Certainly it was neither musical nor inspiring, but Billy had somehow adopted the ditty and made it his own, so far as eternally singing it could do so, and his comrades had found it not unpleasant; for the voice of Billy was youthful, and had a melodious smoothness that atoned for much in the way of imbecile words and monotonous tune.

He had washed all the dishes and had repeated the ditty fifteen times, and was for the sixteenth time tunefully inquiring:

Can she make a punkin pie, charming Billy?

when he opened the door to throw out the dishwater, and narrowly escaped landing it full upon the fur-coated form of his foreman.

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