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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesStarr, Of The Desert - Chapter 9. Pat, A Nice Doggums
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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 9. Pat, A Nice Doggums Post by :jellon Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :3079

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Starr, Of The Desert - Chapter 9. Pat, A Nice Doggums


"'The human polyp incessantly builds upon a coral reef. They become lithified as it were and constitute the strata of the psychozoic stage'--I told you the butter's at the spring. Will you leave me alone? That's the third page I've spoiled over psycho-what-you-call-it. Go on back and herd your goats, and for gracious sake, can that tulip-and-rose song! I hate it." Helen May ripped a page with two carbon copies out of the machine, pulled out the carbons and crumpled three sheets of paper into a ball which she threw into a far corner.

"Gee, but you're pecky to-day! You act like an extra slammed into a sob lead and gettin' up stage about it. I wish that long-worded hide had never showed up with his soiled package of nut science. A feller can't _live with you, by gosh, since you--"

"Well, listen to this, Vic! 'There is a radical difference between organic and social evolution, the formula most easily expressing this distinction being that environment transforms the animal, while man transforms the environment. This transformation--'"

"Hel-up! Hel-up!" Vic went staggering out of the door with his palm pressed against his forehead in the gesture meant to register great mental agony, while his face was split with that nearly famous comedy grin of his. "Serves you right," he flung hack at her in his normal tone of brotherly condescension. "The way you fell for that nut, like you was a starved squirrel shut up in a peanut wagon, by gosh! Hope you're bogged down in jawbreakers the rest of the summer. Serves yuh right, but you needn't think you can take it out on me. And," he draped himself around the door jamb to add pointedly, "you should worry about the tulip song. If I'm willing to stand for you yawping day and night about the sun growin' co-old, and all that bunk--"

"Oh, beat it, and shut up!" Helen May looked up from evening the edges of fresh paper and carbon to say sharply: "You better take a look and see where Billy is. And I'll tell you one thing: If you go and lose any more goats, you needn't think for a minute that I'll walk my head off getting them for you."

"Aw, where do you get that line--walk your head off? I seem to remember a close-up of you riding home on horseback with moonlight atmosphere and a fellow to drive your goats. And you giving him the baby-eyed stare like he was a screen idol and you was an extra that was strong for him. Bu-lieve me, Helen Blazes, I'm wise. You're wishing a goat would get lost--now, while the moon's workin' steady!"

"Oh, beat it, Vic! I've got work to do, if you haven't." And to prove it, Helen May began to type at her best speed.

Vic languidly removed himself from the door jamb and with a parting "I should bibble," started back to his goats, which he had refused to graze outside the Basin as Holman Sommers advised. Helen May began valiantly to struggle with the fine, symmetrical, but almost unreadable chirography of the man of many words. She succeeded in transcribing the human polyp properly lithified and correctly constituting the strata of the psychozoic age, when Vic stuck his head in at the door again.

"From the des-urt he comes to thee-ee-ee,
And he's got a dog for thee to see-ee."

He paraphrased mockingly, going down to that terrifically deep-sea bass note of a boy whose voice is changing.

Helen May threw her eraser at him and missed. It went hurtling out into the yard and struck Starr on the point of the jaw, as he was riding up to the cabin.

Whereat Vic gave a brazenly exultant whoop and rushed off to his goats, bellowing raucously:

"When you wore a too-lup, a sweet yellow too-lup
'N I wore a big red ro-o-ose--"

and looking back frequently in a half curious, half wistful way. Vic, if you will stop to think of it, had been transplanted rather suddenly from the midst of many happy-go-lucky companions to an isolation lightened only by a mere sister's vicarious comradeship. If he yearned secretly for a share of Starr's interest, surely no one can blame him; but that he should voluntarily remove himself from Starr's presence in the belief that he had come to see Helen May exclusively, proves that Vic had the makings of a hero.

Starr dismounted and picked up the eraser from under the investigative nose of a coarse-haired, ugly, brown and black dog that had been following Rabbit's heels. He took the eraser to Helen May, standing embarrassed in the doorway, and the dog followed and sniffed first her slipper toes and then her hands, which she held out to it ingratiatingly; after which appraisement the dog waggled its stub of a tail in token of his friendliness.

"If you was a Mexican he'd a showed you his teeth," Starr observed pridefully. "How are you, after your jaunt the other night?"

"Just fine," Helen May testified graciously. It just happened (or had it just happened?) that she was dressed that day in a white crepe de chine blouse and a white corduroy skirt, and had on white slippers and white stockings. At the top button of her blouse (she could not have touched that button with her chin if she had tried) was a brown velvet bow the exact shade of her eyes. Her hair was done low and loose with a negligent wave where it turned back from her left eyebrow. Peter had worshipped dumbly his Babe in that particular dress, and had considered her beautiful. One cannot wonder then that Starr's eyes paid tribute with a second long glance.

Starr had ridden a good many miles out of his way and had argued for a good while, and had finally paid a good many dollars to get the dog that sniffed and wagged at Helen May. The dog was a thoroughbred Airedale and had been taught from its puppyhood to herd goats and fight all intruders upon his flock and to hate Mexicans wherever he met them. He had learned to do both very thoroughly, hence the argument and the dollars necessary before Starr could gain possession of him.

Starr did not need a dog; certainly not that dog. He had no goats to herd, and he could hate Mexicana without any help or encouragement when they needed hating. But he had not grudged the trouble and expense, because Helen May needed it. He might have earned more gratitude had he told her the truth instead of hiding it like guilt. This was his way of going at the subject, and he waited, mind you, until he had announced nonchalantly that he must be getting along, and that he had just stopped to get a drink and to see how they were making out!

"Blame dog's taken a notion to you. Followed me out from town. I throwed rocks at him till my arm ached--"

"Why, you mean thing! You might have hit him and hurt him, and he's a nice dog. Poor old purp! Did he throw rocks, honest? He _did_? Well, just for that, I've got a nice ham bone that you can have to gnaw on, and he can't have a snippy bit of it. All he can do is eat a piece of lemon pie that will probably make him sick. We hope so, don't we? Throwing rocks at a nice, ugly, stubby dog that wanted to follow!"

Starr accepted the pie gratefully and looked properly ashamed of himself. The dog accepted the ham bone and immediately stretched himself out with his nose and front paws hugging it close, and growling threats at imaginary vandals. Now and then he glanced up gratefully at Helen May, who continued to speak of him in a commiserating tone.

"He sure has taken a notion to you," Starr persisted between mouthfuls. "You can have him, for all of me. I don't want the blame cur tagging me around. I'm liable to take a shot at him if I get peeved over something--"

"You dare!" Helen May regarded him sternly from under her lashes, her chin tilted downward. "Do you always take a shot at something when you get peeved?"

"Well, I'm liable to," Starr admitted darkly. "A dog especially. You better keep him if you don't want him hurt or anything." He took a bite of pie. (It was not very good pie. The crust was soggy because Johnny Calvert's cook stove was not a good baker, and the frosting had gone watery, because the eggs were stale, and Helen May had made a mistake and used too much sugar in the filling; but Starr liked it, anyway, just because she had made it.) "Maybe you can learn him to herd goats," he suggested, as though the idea had just occurred to him.

"Oh, I wonder if he would! Would you, doggums?"

"We'll try him a whirl and see," Starr offered cheerfully. He finished the pie in one more swallow, handed back the plate, and wiped his fingers, man-fashion, on his trousers.

"Come on, Pat. He likes Pat for a name," he explained carefully to Helen May. "I called him about every name I could think of, and that's the one he seems to sabe most."

"I should say he does! Why, he left his bone when you called Pat. Now that's a shame, doggums!"

"Oh, well, we'll let him polish off his bone first." Starr made the offer with praiseworthy cheerfulness, and sat down on his heels with his back against the adobe wall to wait the dog's pleasure.

"Well, that makes up for some of the rocks," Helen May approved generously, "and for some of the names you say you called him. And that reminds me, Man of the Desert, I suppose you have a name of some sort. I never heard what it was. Is it--Smith, perhaps?"

"My name's Starr," he told her, with a little glow under the tan of his cheeks. "S, t, a, double r, Starr. I forgot I never told you. I've got a couple of given names, but I'd want to shoot a man that called me by 'em. Folks always call me just Starr, and maybe a few other things behind my back."

Helen May dropped her chin and looked at him steadily from under her eyebrows. "If there's anything that drives me perfectly wild," she said finally, "it's a mystery. I've just simply got to know what those names are. I'll never mention them, honest. But--"

"Chauncy DeWitt," Starr confessed. "Forget 'em. They was wished onto me when I wasn't able to defend myself."

"Given names are horrid things, aren't they?" Helen May sympathized. "I think mine is perfectly imbecile. Fathers and mothers shouldn't be allowed to choose names for their children. They ought to wait till the kids are big enough to choose for themselves. If I ever have any, I'll call them It. When they grow up they can name themselves anything they like."

"You've got no right to kick," Starr declared bluntly. "Your name suits you fine."

His eyes said more than that, so that Helen May gave her attention to the dog. "There, now, you've licked it and polished it and left teeth marks all over it," she said, meaning the bone. "Come on, Pat, and let's see if you're a trained doggums." She looked up at Starr and smiled. "Suppose he starts running after them; he might chase them clear off the ranch, and then what?"

"I guess the supply of rocks'll hold out," Starr hinted, and snapped his fingers at the dog, which went to heel as a matter of course.

"If you throw rocks at that dog, I'll throw rocks at you," Helen May threatened viciously.

"And I'll hit, and you'll miss," Starr added placidly. "Come on, let's get busy and see if you deserved that bone."

Helen May had learned from uncomfortable experience that high-heeled slippers are not made for tramping over rocks and sand. She said that she would come as soon as she put on some shoes; but Starr chose to wait for her, though he pretended, to himself as much as to her, that he must take the bridle off Rabbit and let him pick a few mouthfuls of grass while he had the chance. Also he loosened the cinch and killed a fly or two on Rabbit's neck, and so managed to put in the time until Helen May appeared in her khaki skirt and her high boots.

"That's the sensible outfit for this work," Starr plucked up courage to comment as they started off. "That kid brother of yours must get pretty lonesome too, out here," he added. "If you had some one to stay with you, I'd take him out on a trip with me once in a while and show him the country and let him learn to handle himself with a horse and gun. A fellow's got to learn, in this country. So have you. How about it? Ever shoot a gun, either of you?"

"Vic used to keep me broke, begging money for the shooting gallery down near our place," said Helen May. "I used to shoot there a little."

"Popgun stuff, but good practice," said Starr succinctly. "Got a gun on the ranch?"

"No, only Vic's little single-shot twenty-two. That's good enough for jack rabbits. What would we want a gun for?"

Starr laughed. "Season's always open for coyotes, and you could pick up a little money in bounties now and then, if you had a gun," he said. "That would keep you out in the open, too. I dunno but what I've got a rifle I could let you have. I did have one, a little too light a calibre for me, but it would be just about right for you. It's a 25-35 carbine. I'm right sure I've got that gun on hand yet. I'll bring it over to you. You sure ought to have a gun."

They were nearing the goats scattered over the slope that was shadiest, chosen for Vic's comfort and not because of any thought for his charges. Vic himself was sprawled in the shade of a huge rock, and for pastime he was throwing rocks at every ground squirrel that poked its nose out of a hole. The two hundred goats were scattered far and wide, but as long as Billy was nibbling a bush within sight, Vic did not worry about the rest. He lifted himself to a sitting posture and grinned when the two came up.

"Didn't think to bring any pie, I s'pose?" he hinted broadly, and grinned companionably at Starr.

"You've had two handouts since lunch. I guess you'll last another hour," Helen May retorted unfeelingly. "See the dog that followed Mr. Starr out from town, Vic! We're going to see if he can herd goats."

"Well, if he can, he's got my permission, that's a cinch."

"I do believe he can; see him look at them! His name's Pat, and he likes me awfully well."

"Now, where does he get that idea?" taunted Vic, and winked openly at Starr, who was good enough to smile over what he considered a very poor joke.

"Well, let's see you bunch 'em, Pat." Starr made a wide, sweeping gesture with his left arm, his eyes darting a quick look at the girl.

Pat looked up at him, waggled his stub of a tail, and darted down the slope to the left, now and then uttering a yelp. Scattered goats lifted heads to look, their jaws working comically sidewise as though they felt they must dispose of that particular mouthful before something happened to prevent. As Pat neared them, they scrambled away from him, running to the right, which was toward the bulk of the band.

Down into the Basin itself the dog ran, after a couple of goats that had strayed out into the level. These he drove back in a panic of haste, dodging this way and that, nipping, yelping now and then, until they had joined the others. Then he went on to the further fringes of the hand, which evened like the edge of a pie crust under the practised fingers of a good cook.

"Well, would you look at that!" Helen May never having watched a good sheep-dog at work, spoke in an awed tone. "Vic, please write!"

Vic, watching open-mouthed, actually forgot to resent the implication that Pat had left him hopelessly behind in the art of handling goats.

"Seems to have the savvy, all right," Starr observed, just as though he had not paid all those dollars for the "savvy" that made Pat one of the best goat dogs in the State.

"Savvy? Why, that dog's human. Now, I suppose he's stopping over there to see what he must do next, is he?"

"Wants to know whether I want 'em all rounded up, or just edged up outa the Basin. G' round 'em, Pat," he called, and made a wide, circular sweep with his right arm.

Pat gave a yelp, dropped his head, and scurried up the ridge, driving all stragglers back toward the center of the flock. He went to every crest and sniffed into the wind to satisfy himself that none had strayed beyond his sight; returned and evened up the ragged edges of the hand, and then came trotting back to Starr with six inches of pink tongue draped over his lower jaw and a smile in his eyes and a waggle of satisfaction at loved work well done. The goats, with a meek Billy in the foreground, huddled in a compact mass on the slope and eyed the dog as they had never eyed Vic, for all his hoe-handle and his accuracy with rocks.

Helen May dropped her hand on Pat's head and looked soberly into his upturned eyes. "You're a perfect miracle of a dog, so you can't be my dog, after all," she said. "Your owner will be riding day and night to find you. I know I should, if you got lost from me." Then she looked at Starr. "Don't you think you really ought to take him back with you? It--somehow it doesn't seem quite right to keep a dog that knows so much. Why, the man I bought the goats from had a dog that could herd them, and he wanted twenty-five dollars for it, and at that, he claimed he was putting the price awfully low for me, just because I was a lady, you know."

Starr, was (as he put it) kicking himself for having lied himself into this dilemma. Also he was wondering how best he might lie himself out of it.

"You want to look out for these marks that say they're giving you the big end of a bargain just because you're a lady," he said. "Chances are they're figuring right then on doing you. If that fellow had got twenty-five dollars for his dog, take it from me, he wouldn't have lost anything."

"Well, but do you think it would he right to keep this dog?"

Since she put it that way, Starr felt better. "I sure do. Keep him anyway till he's called for. When I go back, I'll find out where he comes from; and when I've located the owner, maybe I'll be able to fix it up with him somehow. You sure ought to have a dog. So let it stand that way. I'll tell yuh when to give him up."

Helen May opened her lips, and Starr, to forestall argument and to save his soul from further sin, turned toward the dog. "Bring 'em home, Pat," he said, and then started toward the corral, which was down below the spring. "Watch him drive," he said to Helen May and so managed to distract her attention from the ethics of the case.

Without any assistance, Pat drove the goats to the corral. More than that, at Starr's command, he split the band and held half of them aloof while the rest went in. He sent these straight down the Basin until Starr recalled him, when he swung back and corralled them with the others. He came then toward the three for further orders, whereupon Vic, who had been silent from sheer amazement, gave a sudden whoop.

"Hey, Pat! You forgot something. Go back and put up the bars!" he yelled. Then he heaved his hoe-handle far from him and stretched his arms high over his head like one released from an onerous task. "I'll walk out and let Pat have my job," he said. "Herding goats is dog's work anyhow, and I told you so the first day, Helen Blazes. Hadn't herded 'em five minutes before I knew I wasn't cut out for a farmer."

"Go on, Pat; you stay with your goats," Starr commanded gently. And Pat, because he had suckled a nanny goat when he was a pup, and had grown up with her kid, and had lived with goats all his life, trotted into the corral, found himself a likeable spot near the gate, snuffed it all over, turned around twice, and curled himself down upon it in perfect content.

"He'll stay there all night," Starr told them, laying the bars in their sockets. "It's a little early to corral 'em, sundown is about the regular time, but it's a good scheme to give him plenty of time to get acquainted with the layout. You get up early, Vic, and let 'em out on the far side of the ridge. Pat'll do the rest. I'll have to jog along now."

"Well, say," Vic objected, rubbing his tousled blond hair into a distracted, upstanding condition, "I wish you'd show me just how you shift his gears. How the dickens do you do it? He don't know what you say."

Before he left, Starr showed him the gestures, and Vic that evening practised them so enthusiastically that he nearly drove Helen May wild. Perhaps that is why, when she was copying a sentence where Holman Sommers had mentioned the stars of the universe, Helen May spelled stars, "Starr's" and did not notice the mistake at all.

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