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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 28. All Right And Comfy
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The Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 28. All Right And Comfy Post by :prospertogether Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :1096

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The Ranch At The Wolverine - Chapter 28. All Right And Comfy


Seabeck was a fine weather prophet, for that time at least. It did storm that night and the next day and the next; a howling, tearing blizzard that carried the snow so far and so fast that it almost wore it out; so that when the spasm was over, the land lay bleaker and raggeder than ever, with hard-packed drifts in all the hollows and bare ground between. Of course it was out of the question for Billy Louise to leave the Cove while the storm lasted, so she took care of Marthy and the pigs and chickens and cows, and between whiles she tormented herself with direful pictures of Ward up there alone on Mill Creek. Sometimes she saw him raving in fever and wanting a drink which he could not get, so that thirst tortured him; then calling for her, when she could not come. Sometimes she saw him trying to hobble somewhere on those crutches, and falling exhausted--breaking more bones, perhaps; or catching more cold, or something. She was a most distressed Billy Louise, believe me, and she wished a hundred times a day that she had stayed with Ward; she wished that, in spite of Marthy's need of her. She was terribly sorry for Marthy; but Marthy had not broken any leg, and besides, she was not in love with Marthy.

On the second day John Pringle battled through the storm to see what Billy Louise would have him do. And Billy Louise gave him instructions about finding a man and sending him up to the Cove at once, and looking after the Wolverine ranch until she came, and having Phoebe send up some clothes for her. She felt better when she had set the wheels in motion again, and as she stood in the door and watched John's broad, stolid back out of sight on his homeward journey, she made up her mind that she would start at daylight for Mill Creek, and she didn't care whether it stormed or not. She simply would not leave Ward there alone any longer. She almost wished that she had told Seabeck about Ward; he would have sent a man over to look after him. But she was selfish, and she wanted Ward to herself; so she had not so much as mentioned his name to Seabeck.

She milked the two cows by lantern light, next morning; and the pigs did not seem to want to leave their nests when she poured their breakfast into the trough by the wavering light she carried. She made coffee for Marthy and took it to her in bed, and told her that she would leave plenty of wood and kindling, and that Marthy must sleep as long as she could and not worry about a single, living thing. She said she must get an early start, because it might be "bad going" and she meant to bring Ward back with her if he were able to travel at all.

"I can't be in two places at once, Marthy, so if you don't mind, I'll bring him down here where I can look after the two of you at the same time. You'll let me, won't you? Or else," she added hopefully, "I'll take you both down home. Would you rather--"

"I'd ruther stay here where I b'long," said Marthy dully. "But I don't want you should go t' any trouble about me, Billy Louise. I've rustled fer m'self all my life, and I guess I kin yit. If it wa'n't fer my rheumatiz, I'd ask no odds of anybody. I ain't goin' t' leave, anyway. Charlie might come back, er--"

"Well, you needn't leave." Billy Louise told herself that she was not disappointed, because she had not hoped to persuade Marthy to leave the Cove. "You don't mind if I bring Ward down here, do you, Marthy?"

"No, I don't mind nothin' you kin do," said Marthy in the same dull tone, pouring her saucer full of coffee and spilling some on her pillow, because her hands were not as steady as they used to be. "He kin sleep in Charlie's room, if yuh want he should." She took two big swallows that emptied the saucer, handed the dish to Billy Louise, and lay down again. "I don't seem to care about nothin'," she remarked tonelessly. "I'd jest as soon die as live. I wisht you'd send word to Seabeck I want t' see him, Billy Louise. Oh, it ain't about Charlie," she added harshly. "He's shet uh me, and I'm shet uh him. I--got some other business with Seabeck. Tell him to bring a couple uh men along with him."

"Is there any hurry, Marthy?" Billy Louise stood holding the cup and saucer in her two hands, and stared down anxiously at the lined old face on the pillow. A faint, red glow was in the sky, and the lamp-light dimmed with the coming of day. "You don't feel--badly, do you, Marthy?"

"Me? No, Why should I feel bad? But I want t' see Seabeck and a couple of his men, jest as quick as you kin git word to 'em."

"Which ones?" Billy Louise was plainly puzzled. Was Marthy going to make him take those cattle back? It was like her. Billy Louise did not blame her for feeling that way, either. If she had had the money, she would have paid him herself for the cattle.

"It don't matter which ones. You send 'im word, Billy Louise, like the good girl yuh always have been. You've always kinda took the place of my Minervy to me, Billy Louise; and I won't bother yuh much longer."

"Oh, of course I will! The stage will go up this forenoon. I'll send a note to Seabeck. It won't be any bother at all. What shall I say? Just that you want to see him?"

"I kin write it m'self, I guess, if you'll bring me a pencil and paper. I can't seem t' git used to a pen. I kin write all I want t' say."

Billy Louise let it go at that. She brought the paper and pencil and went after Blue, while Marthy, sitting up in bed, wrote her note. Billy Louise was eager to start; and I don't think anyone should blame her if she hurried Marthy a little, and if her parting words were few, and her manner slightly abstracted. She knew just how Marthy was feeling--or thought she did; and she was simply wild with anxiety over Ward.

Blue discovered before she was out of the gorge that his lady was wild over something. Never had she come so near to being a merciless rider as on that nippy morning. There were drifts: Blue went through them in great lunges. There were steep hills: but there was no stopping at the top to breathe awhile and admire the view. Billy Louise rode with an eye upon the climbing sun, and with her mind busy adding up miles and minutes.

She rode up the creek trail at a long lope, and she pulled up at the stable and slid off Blue, who was wet to his ears and moving every rib when he breathed. (Blue was a good horse, with plenty of speed and stamina, but Billy Louise had given him all he wanted, that morning.) She went straight to a corner of the hay corral and stopped with her hands clutching the top wire.

"Ward Warren, for heaven's sake, what are you doing?" You couldn't have told from her tone that she had been crying, a mile back, from sheer anxiety, or that she "loved him to pieces." She sounded as if she did not love him at all and was merely disgusted with his actions.

"I'm trying to sink my loop on this damned buzzard-head of a horse," Ward retorted glumly. "I've been trying for about an hour," he added, grinning a little at his own plight.

"Well, it's a lucky thing for you he won't let you," Billy Louise informed him sternly, stooping to crawl under the bottom wire. "You've got about as much sense as--" She did not say what. "Give me that rope, and you take yourself and your crutches out of the corral, Mr. Smarty. I just had a hunch you couldn't be trusted to behave yourself."

"Brave Buckaroo got lonesome," Ward said, looking at her with eyes alight, as he hobbled slowly toward her. "You'll have to open the gate for me, William. Rattler'll make a break for the open if he sees a crack as wide as your little finger."

By then he was near enough to reach out an arm and pull her close to him. "Oh, William girl, I'm sure glad to see you once more. I got scared. I thought maybe I just dreamed you were here; so I tackled--"

"You tackled more than you could handle," Billy Louise finished with her lips close to his. "You haven't got any sense at all. You might have known I'd come the very first minute I could."

"I know--I know."

"And you ought to know you mustn't try to ride Rattler, Ward. What if he'd pitch with you?"

"In that case, I'd pile up, I reckon. Say, William, a broken leg does take a hell of a time to get well. But all the same, I'll top old Rattler, all right. I'd top anything rather than spend another night in that jail."

"You'll ride Blue," Billy Louise told him calmly "I'm going to ride Rattler myself."

"Yes, you are--not!"

"Do you mean to say I can't? Do you think--"

"Oh, I guess you can, all right, but--"

"Well, if I can, I'm going to. If you think I can't handle a measly old skate like that--"

"He's been running out for nearly two months, Wilhemina--"

"And look at his ribs! If you'll just kindly go in the house while I saddle--"

"I'll kindly stay right here, lady-girl. You don't know Rattler--"

"And you don't know Billy Louise MacDonald." She wrinkled her nose at him and turned back to unsaddle Blue. "I really didn't intend to go back right now," she said, "but seeing you've got your heart set on it, I suppose we might as well." Then she added: "We're only going as far as the Cove, anyway; and I really ought to hurry back to look after Marthy. Charlie Fox and Peter pulled out and left her there all solitary alone. I've been staying with her since I left here. I told her we'd be down there, and stay till--further notice."

Billy Louise did not give Ward much opportunity for argument. He was too awkward with his crutches to keep up with her, and she managed to be on the move most of the time.

I may as well admit that she was horribly afraid of Rattler, and horribly afraid that he and Ward would find it out. She did not hurry much. She took plenty of time to put Ward's saddle on Blue, and when she finally took her rope and went in after Rattler, who was regarding her from the corner of the stack where he might run either way, she wished that Ward was elsewhere--and she did not much care where.

But Ward was anxious, and he stayed where he was by the corner of the stable and swore in violent undertones because he was condemned to look on while his Wilhemina took long chances on getting hurt. Not a move of hers escaped his fear-sharpened eyes, while she went carelessly close to Rattler, and then, with a quick flip, landed the loop neatly over his head. Ward would have felt less pleased if he had known how her heart was thumping. He saw only the whimsical twist of her lips and thought that she was enjoying a distinctly feminine sense of triumph at her success.

Billy Louise led Rattler boldly up to where lay her saddle and Ward's bridle. She hoped she did not look scared, but she was wondering all the time what Rattler would do when she "piled on"; pile her off, probably, her pessimism told her, for Billy Louise was no lady broncho-fighter, for all she rode so well on horses that she knew. There is a difference.

"Sure you want to tackle him, lady-girl?" Ward asked her, after he had himself attended to the bridling--since Rattler was touchy about the head. "Of course, he isn't bad, when you know him; but he's liable to be pretty snuffy after running out so long. And he never had a woman on him. You better let me ride him."

"Don't be silly. You couldn't even mount him, with that game leg. And besides, don't you see I've been wanting an excuse to ride Rattler ever since I knew you? You must have a very poor opinion of my riding."

"Oh, if you put it that way--" Ward yielded, just as she knew he would. "I haven't a doubt but what you can handle him if you take a notion. Only--if you got hurt--"

"But I won't." Billy Louise braced her courage with a smile and picked up the saddle blanket. But Ward took it from her and hobbled close enough to adjust it.

"He knows me," he explained meaningly. "Better let me saddle up. He don't know but what I can cave a rib or two in, if he don't behave. Just hand me the saddle, William, please."

"You're only trying to scare me out," Billy Louise accused him, with a vast relief well hidden. "I'm not a bit afraid of him."

"All right; that'll help some." He steadied himself by the horse's twitching shoulder while he reached carefully for the cinch. "I guess I'm more scared than you are."

"I know you are. I've taken too many tumbles to let the prospect of another one worry me, anyway. Why, Blue ditched me himself, three different times when I first began to ride him. And even yet the old devil would like to, once in a while." Billy Louise was actually talking herself rapidly into a feeling of confidence.

She needed it. When she had helped Ward upon Blue--and that was not easy, either, considering that he only had one leg fit to stand on--and had gone to the cabin for her bag of nuggets and Ward's roll of money which he had forgotten, and had exhausted every other excuse for delay, she picked up Rattler's reins and wound her fingers in his mane, and took hold of the stirrup as nonchalantly as if she were mounting Blue.

She went up at the instant when Rattler jumped sidewise from her. She got partly into the saddle, clung there for a few harrowing seconds, and then went over his head and plump into a snowdrift beside the stable.

"Good God!" groaned Ward and went white and weak as he watched.

"Good gracious!" grumbled Billy Louise, righting herself and digging snow out of her collar and sleeves. "Stop your laughing, Ward Warren!" (Ward was not laughing, and she knew it.) "I'll ride that ornery cayuse, just to show him I can. You Rattler, I'll fix you for that!" She turned to Ward and twisted her lips at him. "I see now why you named him that," she said. "Because he rattles your teeth loose."

"You keep off him!" Ward shouted sternly.

"You keep still!" Billy Louise shouted back at him. "We're going to find out right now who's boss."

Whether she referred to Rattler or to his master she did not stipulate; perhaps she meant both of them. At any rate, she caught the horse again and mounted, a great deal more cautiously than she had at first, in spite of Ward's threats and entreaties. She got fairly into the saddle and stayed there--with the help of the horn and the luck that had thus far carried her through almost anything she undertook. She was not a bit ashamed of "pulling leather."

"Now we're all right and comfy," she announced breathlessly, when the first fight was over and Rattler, like his master, had yielded to the inevitable. "And we know who's boss, and we're all of us squindiciously happy, because we're headed for home. Aren't we, buckaroo?"

"I suppose so," Ward mumbled doubtingly, for a moment eyeing her sidelong. He was not quite over his scare yet.

"And say, buckaroo!" Billy Louise reined close, so that she could reach out and pinch his arm a little bit. "Soon as your leg is all well, and you're every speck over the hookin'-cough, why--you can be the boss!"

"Can I?"

"Honest, you can. I've"--Billy Louise had the grace to blush a little--"I've always thought I'd love to have somebody bully me and boss me and 'buse me. And I--" Her lips twitched a little. "I think you can qualify. What was that you said just as I was getting on the second time? I was too busy to listen, but--"

"But what? I don't remember that I said anything." Ward got hold of her free hand and held it tight.

"Oh, yes, you did! It was sweary, too."

"Was it?"

"Yes, it was. You sweared at Flower of the Ranch-oh."

Billy Louise stopped at that, since Ward refused to be baited. She sensed that there were bigger things than a "sweary" sentence in the forefront of her buckaroo's mind. She waited.

They came to the gate, and Billy Louise freed her hand from his clasp and dismounted, since it was a wire gate and could not be opened on horseback. She closed it after him, looked to her cinch, tightened it a little, patted Rattler forgivingly on the neck, caught the horn with one hand and the stirrup with the other, and went up quite like a man, while Ward watched her intently.

"'In sooth, I know not why you are so sa-ad,'" murmured Billy Louise, when she swung alongside in the trail.

Ward caught her hand again and did not let go; so they rode hand in hand down the narrow valley.

"I was wondering--" he hesitated, drawing in a corner of his lip, biting it, and letting it go. "Wilhemina, if old Lady Fortune takes a notion to give me another kick or two, just when life looks so good to me--"

"Why, we'll kick back just as hard as she does," threatened Billy Louise courageously. "Don't let happiness get on your nerves, Ward."

"If I wasn't crippled, it wouldn't. But when a man's down and out, he--thinks a lot. The last three days, I've lived a whole lifetime, lady-girl. Everything seems to be coming my way, all at once. And I'm afraid; what if I can't make good? If I can't make you happy"--he squeezed her fingers so that Billy Louise had to grit her teeth to keep from interrupting him--"or if anything should happen to you--Lord! I--I never knew what it was to be crazy scared till I saw you fall off Rattler. I--"

"You've got nerves, buckaroo. You've been shut up there alone so long you see things all distorted. We're going to be happy, because we'll be together, and we've so much to do and so much to think of. You must realize, Ward, that we've got three places to take care of, and you and me and poor old Marthy. She hasn't anybody, Ward, but us. And she's changed so--got so old--just in the last few days. I never knew a person could change so much in such a little while. She's just let go all holds and kind of sagged down, mentally and physically. We'll have to take care of her, Ward, as long as she lives. That's why I'm taking you there--so we can look after her. She won't leave the Cove. I--I was hoping," she added shyly, "that we could sit in front of our own fireplace, Ward, and have nice cozy evenings; but---well, there always seems to be something for me to do for somebody, Ward."

"Oh, you Wilhemina!" Ward slipped his arm around her, to the disgust of Rattler and Blue, and made shift to kiss her twice. "Long as you live, you'll always be doing something for somebody; that's the way you're made. And nobody's been doing things for you; but if the Lord lets me live, that's going to be my job from now on."

He said a great deal more, of course. They had nearly fifteen miles to go, and they rode at a walk; and a man and a maid can say a good deal at such a time. But I don't think they would like to have it all repeated. Their thoughts ranged far: back over the past and far into the future, and clung close to the miracle of love that had brought them together. There is one thing which Billy Louise, even in her most self-revealing mood, did not tell Ward, and that is her doubts of him. Never once did he dream that she had suspected him and wrung her heart because of her suspicions--and in that I think she was wise and kind.

They found Seabeck and Floyd Carson and another cowboy at the Cove, just preparing to leave. Marthy, it transpired, had wanted to make her will, so that Billy Louise would have the Cove when Marthy was done with it. Billy Louise cried a little and argued a good deal, but Marthy had not lost all her stubbornness, and the will stood unchanged.

When Ward understood all of the circumstances, he hobbled into the kitchen and signaled Seabeck to follow him; and there he counted out five hundred dollars from his last gold-harvest and with a few crisp sentences compelled Seabeck to accept the money. (At that, Seabeck stood a loser by Charlie's thievery, but no one knew it save himself, since he never mentioned the matter.)

Billy Louise and Ward were married just as soon as Ward was able to make the trip to the county-seat, which was just as soon as he could walk comfortably with a cane.

They stayed the winter in the Cove, and a part of the spring. Then they buried grim, gray old Marthy up on the side hill near Jase, where she had asked them to lay her work-worn body when she was gone.

They were very busy and very happy and pretty prosperous with their three ranches and what gold Ward washed out of the gravel-bank while they were living up on Mill Creek, so that he could prove up on his claim. They never heard of Charlie Fox again, or of Buck Olney--and they never wanted to.

If you should some time ride through a certain portion of Idaho, you may find the tiny valley of the Wolverine and the decaying cabins which prove how impossible it is for a couple to live in three places at once. If you should be so fortunate as to meet Billy Louise, she might take you through the canyon and point out to you her cave and Minervy's. It is possible that she might also show you the washout which always made her and Ward laugh when they passed it. And if you ride up over the hill and along the upland and down another hill, you cannot fail to find the entrance to the Cove; and perhaps you will like to ride down the gorge and see the little Eden hidden away there. You may even ride as far as Mill Creek; but you will be told, very likely, that no one ever found any gold there. And if you should meet them, give my regards to Billy Louise and Ward--who never calls himself a football these days.

B. M. Bower's Novel: Ranch at the Wolverine

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