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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 19. The Brave Buckaroo
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The Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 19. The Brave Buckaroo Post by :prospertogether Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :2608

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The Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 19. The Brave Buckaroo

CHAPTER XIX. THE BRAVE BUCKAROO

"BOISE, IDAHO, _December 23.

"BRAVE BUCKAROO,--

"I wonder if you ever in your whole life got a Christmas present? I've been cultivating the Louise of me, and here are the first fruits of my endeavor; I guess that's the way they say it. I've spent so much time sitting by mommie when she's asleep, and I get tired of reading all the time, so a nurse in this ward--mommie has a room to herself of course, but not a special nurse, because I can do a lot of the little things--well, the nurse taught me how to hemstitch. So I got some silk and made some nice, soft neckerchiefs--one for you and one for me.

"This one I made last. I didn't want your eagle eyes seeing all the bobbly stitches on the first one. I hope you like it, Ward. Every stitch stands for a thought of the hills and our good times. I've brought Minervy back to life, and I try to play my old pretends sometimes. But they always break up into pieces. I'm not a kid now, you see. And life is a lot different when you get out into it, isn't it?

"Mommie doesn't seem to get much better. I'm worried about her. She seems to have let go, somehow. She never talks about the ranch much, or even worries about whether Phoebe is keeping the windows washed. She talks about when she was a little girl, and about when she and daddy were first married. It gets on my nerves to see how she has slipped out of every-day life. The nurse says that's common, though, in sickness. She says I could go home and look after things for a week or so just as well as not. She says mommie would be all right. But I hate to leave her.

"I'm awfully homesick for a good old ride on Blue. I miss him terribly. Have you seen anything of the Cove folks lately? Seems like I'm clear out of the world. I hate town, anyway, and a hospital is the limit for dismalness. Even the Louise of me is getting ready to do something awful if I have to stay much longer. Mommie sleeps most of the time. I believe they dope her with something. She doesn't have that awful pain so bad. So I don't have anything to do but sit around and read and sew and wait for her to wake up and want something.

"Pal, the Billy of me is at the exploding point! I believe I'll wind up by getting out in the corridor some day and shooting holes in all the steam radiators! Did you ever live with one, Ward? Nasty, sizzly things; they drive me wild. I'd give the best cow in the bunch for just one hour in front of our old stone fireplace and see the sparks go up the chimney, and hear the coyotes. Honest to goodness, I'd rather hear a coyote howl than any music on earth--unless maybe it was you singing a ten-dollar hoss an' a forty-dollar saddle. I'd like to hear that old trail song once more. I sure would, Ward. I'd like to hear it, coming down old Wolverine canyon. Oh, I just can't stand it much longer. I'm liable to wrap mommie in a blanket and crawl out the window, some night, and hit the trail for home. I believe I could cure her quicker right on the ranch. I wish I'd never brought her here; I believe it's just a scheme of the doctors to get money out of us. I know my poultices did just as much good as their old dope does.

"And this is Christmas, almost. I wonder what you'll be doing. Say, Ward, if you want to be a perfect jewel of a man, send me some of that jerky you've got hanging at the head of your bunk. I swiped some, that last time I was there. It would taste mighty good to me now, after all these hospital slops.

"And write me a nice, long letter, won't you? That's a good buckaroo. I've got to stop--mommie is beginning to wake up, and it's time for the doctor to come in and read the chart and look wise and say: 'Well, how are we to-day? Pretty bright, eh?' I'd like to kick him clear across the corridor--that is, the Billy of me would. And believe me, the Billy of me is sure going to break out, some of these days!

"I hope you like the neckerchief. I want you to wear it; if I come home and find it hasn't been washed a couple of times, there'll be something doing! Don't rub soap on it, kid. Make a warm lathery suds and wash it. And don't wave it by the corners till it dries. Hang it up somewhere. You'll have my stitches looking worse frazzled than my temper.

"Well, a merry Christmas, Pal-o'-mine--and here's hoping you and mommie and I will be eating turkey together at the Wolverine when next Christmas comes. Nummy-num! Wouldn't that taste good, though?

"Now remember and write a whole tablet full to


"WILLIAM LOUISA,
"WILHEMINA,
"BILL-LOO,
"BILL-THE-CONK,
"BILLY LOUISE,
"FLOWER OF THE RANCH-OH."


Phoebe put that letter on the mantel over the fireplace, the day after Christmas. Frequently she felt its puffy softness and its crackly crispness and wondered dully what Billy Louise had sent to Ward.

Billy Louise refrained from expecting any reply until after New Year's. Then she began to look for a letter, and when the days passed and brought her no word, her moods changed oftener than the weather.

Ward's literary efforts, along about that time, consisted of cutting notches in the window-sill beside his bunk.

On the day when the stage-driver gave Billy Louise's letter to Phoebe, Ward cut a deeper, wider notch, thinking that day was Christmas. Under the notch he scratched a word with the point of his knife. It had four letters, and it told eloquently of the state of mind he was in.

It was the day after that when Seabeck and one of his men rode up the creek and out into the field where Ward's cattle grazed apathetically on the little grass tufts that stuck up out of the snow. Ward was reading, and so did not see them until he raised himself up to make a cigarette and saw them going straight across the coulee by the line fence to the farther hills. He opened the window and shouted after them, but the wind was blowing keen from that direction, and they did not hear him.

Seabeck had been studying brands and counting, and he was telling Floyd Carson that everything was straight as a string.

"He must be out working this winter. I should think he'd stay home and feed these calves. The cows are looking pretty thin. I guess he isn't much of a stock hand; these nesters aren't, as a general thing, and if it's as Junkins says, and he puts all he makes into this place, he's likely hard up. Mighty nice little ranch he's got. Well, let's work over the divide and back that way. I didn't think we'd find anything here."

They turned and angled up the steep hillside, and Ward watched them glumly. He thought he knew why they were prowling around the place, but it seemed to him that they might have stretched their curiosity a little farther and investigated the cabin. He did not know that the snow of a week ago was banked over the doorstep with a sharp, crusty combing at the top, to prove that the door had not been opened for some time. Nor did he know that the two had ridden past the cabin on the other side of the creek and had seen how deserted the place looked; had ridden to the stable, noted there the unmistakable and permanent air of emptiness, and had gone on.

Floyd Carson alone might have prowled through both buildings, but Seabeck was a slow-going man of sober justice. He would not invade the premises of another farther than he thought it necessary. He had heard whispers that the fellow on Mill Creek might bear investigation, and he had investigated. There was not a shadow of evidence that the Y6 cattle had been gotten dishonestly. Therefore, Seabeck rode away and did not look into the snow-banked cabin, as another man might have done; and Ward missed his one chance of getting help from the outside.

Of course, he was doing pretty well as it was; but he would have welcomed the chance to talk to someone. Taciturn as Ward was with men, he had enough of his own company for once. And he would have asked them to make him a cup of coffee and warm up the cabin once more. Little comforts of that sort he missed terribly. If the room had not been so clammy cold, he could have sat up part of the time, now. As it was, he stayed in bed to keep warm; and even so he had been compelled to drag the two wolf-skins off the floor and upon the bed to keep from shivering through the coldest nights and days.

One day he did crawl out of bed and try to get over to the stove to start a fire. But he was so weak that he gave it up and crawled back again, telling himself that it was not worth the effort.

The letter with the silk neckerchief inside gathered dust upon the mantel, down at the Wolverine. When the postmark was more than two weeks old, another letter came, and Phoebe laid it on the fat one with fingers that trembled a little. Phoebe had a letter of her own, that day. Both were thin, and the addresses were more scrawly than usual. Phoebe's Indian instinct warned her that something was amiss.

This was Ward's letter:


"Oh, God, Ward, mommie's dead. She died last night. I thought she was asleep till the nurse came in at five o'clock. I'm all alone and I don't know what to do. I wish you could come, but if you don't get this right away, I'll see you at the ranch. I'm coming home as soon as I can. Oh, Ward, I hate life and God and everything. BILLY LOUISE."

"Please Ward, stay at the ranch till I come. I want to see you. I feel as if you're the only friend I've got left, now mommie's gone. She looked so peaceful when they took her away--and so strange. I didn't belong to her any more. I felt as if I didn't know her at all--and there is such an awful gap in my life--maybe you'll understand. You always do."


The day that letter was written, Ward drew a plan of the house he meant to build some day, with a wide porch on the front, where a hammock would swing comfortably. He figured upon lumber and shingles and rock foundation, and mortar for a big, deep fireplace. He managed to put in the whole forenoon planning and making estimates, and he was so cheerful afterwards that he whistled and sang, and later he tied a piece of jerky on the end of a string and teased a fat fieldmouse, whose hunger made him venturesome. Ward would throw the jerky as far as the string would permit and wait till the mouse came out to nibble at it; then he would pull the meat closer and closer to the bed and laugh at the very evident perturbation of the mouse. For the time being he was a boy indulging his love of teasing something.

And while Ward played with that mouse, Billy Louise was longing for his comforting presence while she faced alone one of the bitterest things in life--which is death. He had no presentiment of her need of him, which was just as well, since he was absolutely powerless to help her.

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