It was four o'clock, and there was consternation in the round-up camp of the Flying U; when one eats breakfast before dawn--July dawn at that--covers thirty miles of rough country before eleven o'clock dinner and as many more after, supper seems, for the time being, the most important thing in the life of a cowboy.
Men stood about in various dejected attitudes, their thumbs tucked inside their chap-belts, blank helplessness writ large upon their perturbed countenances--they were the aliens, hired but to make a full crew during round-up. Long-legged fellows with spurs a-jingle hurried in and out of the cook-tent, colliding often, shouting futile questions, commands and maledictions--they were the Happy Family: loyal, first and last to the Flying U, feeling a certain degree of proprietorship and a good deal of responsibility.
Happy Jack was fanning an incipient blaze in the sheet-iron stove with his hat, his face red and gloomy at the prospect of having to satisfy fifteen outdoor appetites with his amateur attempts at cooking. Behind the stove, writhing bulkily upon a hastily unrolled bed, lay Patsy, groaning most pitiably.
"What the devil's the matter with that hot water?" Cal Emmett yelled at Happy Jack from the bedside, where he was kneeling sympathetically.
Happy Jack removed his somber gaze from the licking tongue of flame which showed in the stove-front. "Fire ain't going good, yet," he said in a matter-of-fact tone which contrasted sharply with Cal's excitement. "Teakettle's dry, too. I sent a man to the crick for a bucket uh water; he'll be back in a minute."
"Well, move! If it was you tied in a knot with cramp, yuh wouldn't take it so serene."
"Aw, gwan. I got troubles enough, cooking chuck for this here layout. I got to have some help--and lots of it. Patsy ain't got enough stuff cooked up to feed a jack-rabbit. Somebody's got to mosey in here and peel the spuds."
"That's your funeral," said Cal, unfeelingly.
Chip stuck his head under the lifted tent-flap. "Say, I can't find that cussed Three-H bottle," he complained. "What went with it, Cal?"
"Ask Slim; he had it last. Ain't Shorty here, yet?" Cal turned again to Patsy, whose outcries were not nice to listen to, "Stay with it, old-timer; we'll have something hot to pour down yuh in a minute."
Patsy replied, but pain made him incoherent. Cal caught the word "poison", and then "corn"; the rest of the sentence was merely a succession of groans.
The face of Cal lengthened perceptibly. He got up and went out to where the others were wrangling with Slim over the missing bottle of liniment.
"I guess the old boy's up against it good and plenty," he announced gravely. "He says he's poisoned; he says it was the corn."
"Well he had it coming to him," declared Jack Pates. "He's stuck that darned canned corn under our noses every meal since round-up started. He--"
"Oh, shut up," snarled Cal. "I guess it won't be so funny if he cashes in on the strength of it. I've known two or three fellows that was laid out cold with tin-can poison. It's sure fierce."
The Happy Family shifted uneasily before the impending tragedy, and their faces paled a little; for nearly every man of the range dreads ptomaine poisoning more than the bite of a rattler. One can kill a rattler, and one is always warned of its presence; but one never can tell what dire suffering may lurk beneath the gay labels of canned goods. But since one must eat, and since canned vegetables are far and away better than no vegetables at all, the Happy Family ate and took their chance--only they did not eat canned corn, and they had discussed the matter profanely and often with Patsy.
Patsy was a slave of precedent. Many seasons had he cooked beneath a round-up tent, and never had he stocked the mess-wagon for a long trip and left canned corn off the list. It was good to his palate and it was easy to prepare, and no argument could wean him from imperturbably opening can after can, eating plentifully of it himself and throwing the rest to feed the gophers.
"Ain't there anything to give him?" asked Jack, relenting. "That Three-H would fix him up all right--"
"Dig it up, then," snapped Cal. "There's sure something got to be done, or we'll have a dead cook on our hands."
"Not even a drop uh whisky in camp!" mourned Weary. "Slim, you ought to be killed for getting away with that liniment."
Slim was too downhearted to resent the tone. "By golly, I can't think what I done with it after I used it on Banjo. Seems like I stood it on that rock--"
"Oh, hell!" snorted Cal. "That's forty miles back."
"Say, it's sure a fright!" sympathized Jack Bates as a muffled shriek came through the cloth wall of the tent. "What's good for tincaneetis, I wonder?"
"A rattling good doctor," retorted Chip, throwing things recklessly about, still searching. "There goes the damn butter--pick it up, Cal."
"If old Dock was sober, he could do something," suggested Weary. "I guess I'd better go after him; what do yuh think?"
"He could send out some stuff--if he was sober enough; he's sure wise on medicine."
Weary made him a cigarette. "Well, it's me for Dry Lake," he said, crisply. "I reckon Patsy can hang on till I get back; can poison doesn't do the business inside several hours, and he hasn't been sick long. He was all right when Happy Jack hit camp about two o'clock. I'll be back by dark--I'll ride Glory." He swung up on the nearest horse, which happened to be Chip's and raced out to the saddle bunch a quarter of a mile away. The Happy Family watched him go and called after him, urging him unnecessarily to speed.
Weary did not waste time having the bunch corralled but rode in among the horses, his rope down and ready for business. Glory stared curiously, tossed his crimpled, silver mane, dodged a second too late and found himself caught.
It was unusual, this interruption just when he was busy cropping sweet grasses and taking his ease, but he supposed there was some good reason for it; at any rate he submitted quietly to being saddled and merely nipped Weary's shoulder once and struck out twice with an ivory-white, daintily rounded hoof--and Weary was grateful for the docile mood he showed.
He mounted hurriedly without a word of praise or condemnation, and his silence was to Glory more unusual than being roped and saddled on the range. He seemed to understand that the stress was great, and fairly bolted up the long, western slope of the creek bottom straight toward the slant of the sun.
For two miles he kept the pace unbroken, though the way was not of the smoothest and there was no trail to follow. Straight away to the west, with fifteen miles of hills and coulees between, lay Dry Lake; and in Dry Lake lived the one man in the country who might save Patsy.
"Old Dock" was a land-mark among old-timers. The oldest pioneer found Dock before him among the Indians and buffalo that ran riot over the wind-brushed prairie where now the nation's beef feeds quietly. Why he was there no man could tell; he was a fresh-faced young Frenchman with much knowledge of medicine and many theories, and a reticence un-French. From the Indians he learned to use strange herbs that healed almost magically the ills of man; from the rough out-croppings of civilization he learned to swallow vile whiskey in great gulps, and to thirst always for more.
So he grew old while the West was yet young, until Dry Lake, which grew up around him, could not remember him as any but a white-bearded, stooped, shuffling old man who spoke a queer jargon and was always just getting drunk or sober. When he was sober his medicines never failed to cure; when he was drunk he could not be induced to prescribe, so that men trusted his wisdom at all times and tolerated his infirmities, and looked upon him with amused proprietorship.
When Weary galloped up the trail which, because a few habitations are strewn with fine contempt of regularity upon either side, is called by courtesy a street, his eyes sought impatiently for the familiar, patriarchal figure of Old Dock. He felt that minutes were worth much and that if he would save Patsy he must cut out all superfluities, so he resolutely declined to remember that cold, foamy beer refreshes one amazingly after a long, hot ride in the dust and the wind.
Upon the porch of Rusty Brown's place men were gathered, and it was evident even at a distance that they were mightily amused. Weary headed for the spot and stopped beside the hitching pole. Old Dock stood in the center of the group and his bent old figure was trembling with rage. With both hands he waved aloft his coat, on which was plastered a sheet of "tangle-foot" fly-paper.
"Das wass de mean treeck!" he was shouting. "I don'd do de harm wis no mans. I tend mine business, I buy me mine clothes. De mans wass do dees treeck, he buy me new clothes--you bet you! Dass wass de mean--"
"Say, Dock," broke in Weary, towering over him, "you dig up some dope for tin-can poison, and do it quick. Patsy's took bad."
Old Dock looked up at him and shook his shaggy, white beard. "Das wass de mean treeck," he repeated, waving the coat at Weary. "You see dass? Mine coat, she ruint; dass was new coat!"
"All right--I'll take your word for it, Dock. Tell me what's good for tin--"
"Aw, I knows you fellers. You t'inke Ole Dock, she Dock, she don'd know nothings! You t'ink--"
Weary sighed and turned to the crowd. "Which end of a jag is this?" he wanted to know. "I've got to get some uh that dope-wisdom out uh him, somehow. Patsy's a goner, sure, if I don't connect with some medicine."
The men crowded close and asked questions which Weary felt bound to answer; everyone knew Patsy, who was almost as much a part of Dry Lake scenery as was Old Dock, and it was gratifying to a Flying-U man to see the sympathy in their faces. But Patsy needed something more potent than sympathy, and the minutes were passing.
Old Dock still discoursed whimperingly upon the subject of his ruined coat and the meanness of mankind, and there was no weaning his interest for a moment, try as Weary would. And fifteen miles away in a picturesque creek-bottom a man lay dying in great pain for want of one little part of the wisdom stored uselessly away in the brain of this drunken, doddering old man.
Weary's gloved hand dropped in despair from Old Dock's bent shoulder. "Damn a drunkard!" he said bitterly, and got into the saddle. "Rusty, I'll want to borrow that calico cayuse uh yours. Have him saddled up right away, will yuh? I'll be back in a little bit."
He jerked his hat down to his eyebrows and struck Glory with the quirt; but the trail he took was strange to Glory and he felt impelled to stop and argue--as only Glory could argue--with his master. Minutes passed tumultuously, with nothing accomplished save some weird hoof-prints in the sod. Eventually, however, Glory gave over trying to stand upon his head and his hind feet at one and the same instant, and permitted himself to be guided toward a certain tiny, low-eaved cabin in a meadow just over the hill from the town.
Weary was not by nature given to burglary, but he wrenched open the door of the cabin and went in with not a whisper of conscience to say him nay. It was close and ill-smelling and very dirty inside, but after the first whiff Weary did not notice it. He went over and stopped before a little, old-fashioned chest; it was padlocked, so he left that as a last resort and searched elsewhere for what he wanted--medicine. Under the bed he found a flat, black case, such as old-fashioned doctors carried. He drew it out and examined if critically. This, also, was locked, but he shook it tentatively and heard the faintest possible jingle inside.
"Bottles," he said briefly, and grinned satisfaction. Something brushed against his hat and he looked up into a very dusty bunch of herbs. "You too," he told them, breaking the string with one yank. "For all I know, yuh might stand ace-high in this game. Lord! if I could trade brains with the old devil, just for to-night!"
He took a last look around, decided that he had found all he wanted, and went out and pulled the door shut. Then he tied the black medicine case to the saddle in a way that would give it the least jar, stuffed the bunch of dried herbs into his pocket and mounted for the homeward race. As he did so the sun threw a red beam into his eyes as though reminding him of the passing hours, and ducked behind the ridge which bounds Lonesome Prairie on the east.
The afterglow filled sky and earth with a soft, departing radiance when he stopped again in front of the saloon. Old Doc was still gesticulating wildly, and the sheet of fly-paper still clung to the back of his coat. The crowd had thinned somewhat and displayed less interest; otherwise the situation had not changed, except that a pinto pony stood meekly, with head drooping, at the hitching-pole.
"There's your horse," Rusty Brown called to Weary. "Yours played out?"
"Not on your life," Weary denied proudly. "When yuh see Glory played out, you'll see him with four feet in the air."
"I seen him that way half an hour ago, all right," bantered Bert Rogers.
Weary passed over the joke. "Mamma! Has it been that long?" he cried uneasily. "I've got to be moving some. Here, Dock, you put on that coat--and never mind the label; it's got to go--and so have you."
"Aw, he's no good to yuh, Weary," they protested. "He's too drunk to tell chloroform from dried apricots."
"That'll be all right," Weary assured them confidently. "I guess he'll be some sober by the time we hit camp. I went and dug up his dope-box, so he can get right to work when he arrives. Send him out here."
"Say, he can't never top off Powderface, Weary. I thought yuh was going to ride him yourself. It's plumb wicked to put that old centurion on him. He wouldn't be able to stay with him a mile."
"That's a heap farther than he could get with Glory," said Weary, unmoved. "Yuh don't seem to realize that Patsy's just next thing to a dead man, and Dock has got the name of what'll cure him sloshing around amongst all that whiskey in his head. I can't wait for him to sober up--I'm just plumb obliged to take him along, jag and all. Come on, Dock; this is a lovely evening for a ride."
Dock objected emphatically with head, arms, legs and much mixed dialect. But Weary climbed down and, with the help of Bert Rogers, carried him bodily and lifted him into the saddle. When the pinto began to offer some objections, strong hands seized his bridle and held him angrily submissive.
"He'll tumble off, sure as yuh live," predicted Bert; but Weary never did things by halves; he shook his head and untied his coiled rope.
"By the Lord! I hate to see a man ride into town and pack off the only heirloom we got," complained Rusty Brown. "Dock's been handed down from generation to Genesis, and there ain't hardly a scratch on him. If yuh don't bring him back in good order Weary Davidson, there'll be things doing."
Weary looked up from taking the last half-hitch around the saddle horn. "Yuh needn't worry," he said. "This medical monstrosity is more valuable to me than he is to you, right now. I'll handle him careful."
"Das wass de mean treeck!" cried Dock, for all the world like a parrot.
"It sure is, old boy," assented Weary cheerfully, and tied the pinto's bridle-reins into a hard knot at the end. With the reins in his hand he mounted Glory. "Your pinto'll lead, won't he?" he asked Rusty then. It was like Weary to take a thing for granted first, and ask questions about it afterward.
"Maybe he will--he never did, so far," grinned Rusty. "It's plumb insulting to a self-respecting cow-pony to make a pack-horse out uh him. I wouldn't be none surprised if yuh heard his views on the subjects before yuh git there."
"It's an honor to pack heirlooms," retorted Weary. "So-long, boys."
Old Dock made a last, futile effort to free himself and then settled down in the saddle and eyed the world sullenly from under frost-white eyebrows heavy as a military mustache. He did not at that time look particularly patriarchal; more nearly he resembled a humbled, entrapped Santa Claus.
They started off quite tamely. The pinto leaned far back upon the bridle-reins and trotted with stiff, reluctant legs that did not promise speed; but still h went, and Weary drew a relieved breath. His arm was like to ache frightfully before they covered a quarter of the fifteen miles, but he did not mind that much; besides, he guessed shrewdly that the pinto would travel better once they were well out of town.
The soft, warm dusk of a July evening crept over the land and a few stars winked at them facetiously. Over by the reedy creek, frogs cr-ek-ek-ekked in a tuneless medley and night-hawks flapped silently through the still air, swooping suddenly with a queer, whooing rush like wind blowing through a cavern. Familiar sounds they were to Weary--so familiar that he scarce heard them; though he would have felt a vague, uneasy sense of something lost had they stilled unexpectedly. Out in the lane which leads to the open range-land between wide reaches of rank, blue-joint meadows, a new sound met them--the faint, insistent humming of millions of mosquitoes. Weary dug Glory with his spurs and came near having his arm jerked from its socket before he could pull him in again. He swore a little and swung round in the saddle.
"Can't yuh dig a little speed into that cayuse with your heels, Dock?" he cried to the resentful heirloom. "We're going to be naturally chewed up if we don't fan the breeze along here."
"Ah don'd care--das wass de mean treeck!" growled Dock into his beard.
Weary opened his mouth, came near swallowing a dozen mosquitoes alive, and closed it again. What would it profit him to argue with a drunken man? He slowed till the pinto, still moving with stiff, reluctant knees, came alongside, and struck him sharply with his quirt; the pinto sidled and Dock lurched over as far as Weary's rope would permit.
"Come along, then!" admonished Weary, under his breath.
The pinto snorted and ran backward until Weary wished he had been content with the pace of a snail. Then the mosquitoes swooped down upon them in a cloud and Glory struck out, fighting and kicking viciously. Presently Weary found himself with part of the pinto's bridle-rein in his hand, and the memory of a pale object disappearing into the darkness ahead.
For the time being he was wholly occupied with his own horse; but when Glory was minded to go straight ahead instead of in a circle, he gave thought to his mission and thanked the Lord that Dock was headed in the right direction. He gave chase joyfully; for every mile covered in that fleet fashion meant an added chance for Patsy's life. Even the mosquitoes found themselves hopelessly out of the race and beat up harmlessly in the rear. So he galloped steadily upon the homeward trail; and a new discomfort forced itself upon his consciousness--the discomfort of swift riding while a sharp-cornered medicine-case of generous proportions thumped regularly against his leg. At first he did not mind it so much, but after ten minutes of riding so, the thing grew monotonously painful and disquieting to the nerves.
Five miles from the town he sighted the pinto; it was just disappearing up a coulee which led nowhere--much less to camp. Weary's self-congratulatory mood changed to impatience; he followed after. Two miles, and he reached the unclimbable head of the coulee--and no pinto. He pulled up and gazed incredulously at the blank, sandstone walls; searched long for some hidden pathway to the top and gave it up.
He rode back slowly under the stars, a much disheartened Weary. He thought of Patsy's agony and gritted his teeth at his own impotence. After awhile he thought of Old Dock lashed to the pinto's saddle, and his conscience awoke and badgered him unmercifully for the thing he had done and the risk he had taken with one man's life that he might save the life of another.
Down near the mouth of the coulee he came upon a cattle trail winding up toward the stars. For the lack of a better clue he turned into it and urged Glory faster than was wise if he would save the strength of his horse; but Glory was game as long as he could stand, and took the hill at a lope with never a protest against the pace.
Up on the top the prairie stretched mysteriously away to the sky-line, with no sound to mar the broody silence, and with never a movement to disturb the deep sleep of the grass-land. All day had the hills been buffeted by a sweeping West wind; but the breeze had dropped with the sun, as though tired with roistering and slept without so much as a dream-puff to shake the dew from the grasses.
Weary stopped to wind his horse and to listen, but not a hoof-beat came to guide him in his search. He leaned and shifted the medicine case a bit to ease his bruised leg, and wished he might unlock the healing mysteries and the magic stored within. It seemed to him a cruel world and unjust that knowledge must be gleaned slowly, laboriously, while men died miserably for want of it. Worse, that men who had gleaned should be permitted to smother such precious knowledge in the stupefying fumes of whiskey.
If he could only have appropriated Dock's brain along with his medicines, he might have been in camp by now, ministering to Patsy before it was too late to do anything. Without a doubt the boys were scanning anxiously the ridge, confident that he would not fail them though impatient for his coming. And here he sat helplessly upon a hilltop under the stars, many miles from camp, with much medicine just under his knee and a pocket crammed with an unknown, healing herb, as useless after all his effort as he had been in camp when they could not find the Three-H liniment.
Glory turned his head and regarded him gravely out of eyes near human in their questioning, and Weary laid caressing hand upon his silvery mane, grateful for the sense of companionship which it gave.
"You're sure a wise little nag." he said wistfully, and his voice sounded strange in the great silence. "Maybe you can find 'em--and it you can, I'll sure be grateful; you can paw the stars out uh high heaven and I won't take my quirt off my saddle-horn; hope I may die if I do!"
Glory stamped one white hoof and pointed both ears straight forward, threw up his head and whinnied a shrill question into the night. Weary hopefully urged him with his knees. Glory challenged once again and struck out eagerly, galloping lightly in spite of the miles he had covered. Far back on the bench-land came faint answer to his call, and Weary laughed from sheer relief. By the stars the night was yet young, and he grew hopeful--almost complacent.
Glory planted both forefeet deep in the prairie sod and skidded on the brink of a deep cut-bank. It was a close shave, such as comes often to those who ride the range by night. Weary looked down into blackness and then across into gloom. The place was too deep and sheer to ride into, and too wide to jump; clearly, they must go around it.
Going around a gulley is not always the simple thing it sounds, especially when one is not sure as to the direction it takes. To find the head under such conditions requires time.
Weary thought he knew the place and turned north secure in the belief that the gulley ran south into the coulee he had that evening fruitlessly explored. As a matter of fact it opened into a coulee north of them, and in that direction it grew always deeper and more impassable even by daylight.
On a dark night, with only the stars to guide one and to accentuate the darkness, such a discovery brings with it confusion of locality. Weary drew up when he could go no farther without plunging headlong into blackness, and mentally sketched a map of that particular portion of the globe and tried to find in it a place where the gulch might consistently lie. After a minute he gave over the attempt and admitted to himself that, according to his mental map, it could not consistently lie anywhere at all. Even Glory seemed to have lost interest in the quest and stood listlessly with his head down. His attitude irritated Weary very much.
"Yuh damn', taffy colored cayuse!" he said fretfully. "This is as much your funeral as mine--seeing yuh started out all so brisk to find that pinto. Do yah suppose yuh could find a horse if he was staked ten feet in front of your nose? Chances are, yuh couldn't. I reckon you'd have trouble finding your way around the little pasture at the ranch--unless the sun shone real bright and yuh had somebody to lead yuh!"
This was manifestly unjust and it was not like Weary; but this night's mission was getting on his nerves. He leaned and shifted the medicine-case again, and felt ruefully of his bruised leg. That also was getting upon his nerves.
"Oh, Mamma!" he muttered disgustedly. "This is sure a sarcastic layout; dope enough here to cure all the sickness in Montana--if a fellow knew enough to use it--battering a hole in my leg you could throw a yearling calf into, and me wandering wild over the hills like a locoed sheepherder! Glory, you get a move on yuh, you knock-kneed, buzzard-headed--" He subsided into incoherent grumbling and rode back whence he came, up the gully's brim.
When the night was far gone and the slant of the Great Dipper told him that day-dawn was near, he heard a horse nicker wistfully, away to the right. Wheeling sharply, his spurs raking the roughened sides of Glory, he rode recklessly toward the sound, not daring to hope that it might be the pinto and yet holding his mind back from despair.
When he was near the place--so near that he could see a dim, formless shape outlined against the sky-line,--Glory stumbled over a sunken rock and fell heavily upon his knees. When he picked himself up he hobbled and Weary cursed him unpityingly.
When, limping painfully, Glory came up with the object, the heart of Weary rose up and stuck in his throat; for the object was a pinto horse and above it bulked the squat figure of an irate old man.
"Hello, Dock," greeted Weary. "How do yuh stack up?"
"Mon Dieu, Weary Davitson, I feex yous plandy. What for do you dees t'ing? I not do de harrm wis you. I not got de mooney wort' all dees troubles what you makes. Dees horse, she lak for keel me also. She buck, en keeck, en roon--mon Dieu, I not like dees t'ing."
"Sober, by thunder!" ejaculated Weary in an ecstatic half-whisper. "Dock, you've got a chance to make a record for yourself to-night--if we ain't too late," he added bodefully. "Do yuh know where we're headed for?"
"I t'ink for de devil," retorted Old Dock peevishly.
"No sir, we aren't. We're going straight to camp, and you're going to save old Patsy--you like Patsy, you know; many's the time you've tanked up together and then fell on each other's necks and wept because the good old times won't come again. He got poisoned on canned corn; the Lord send he ain't too dead for you to cure him. Come on--we better hit the breeze. We've lost a heap uh time."
"I not like dees rope; she not comforte. I have ride de bad horse when you wass in cradle."
Weary got down and went over to him. "All right, I'll unwind yuh. When we started, yuh know, yuh couldn't uh rode a rocking chair. I was plumb obliged to tie yuh on. Think we'll be in time to help Patsy? He was taken sick about four o'clock."
Old Dock waited till he was untied and the remnant of bridle-rein was placed in his hand, before he answered ironically: "I not do de mageec, mon cher Weary. I mos' have de medicine or I can do nottings, I not wave de fingaire an' say de vord."
"That's all right--I've got the whole works. I broke into your shack and made a clean haul uh dope. And I want to tell yuh that for a doctor you've got blame poor ventilation to your house. But I found the medicine."
"Mon Dieu!" was the astonished comment, and after that they rode in silence and such haste as Glory's lameness would permit.
The first beams of the sun were touching redly the hilltops and the birds were singing from swaying weeds when they rode down the last slope into the valley where camped the Flying-U.
The night-hawk had driven the horses into the rope-corral and men were inside watching, with spread loop, for a chance to throw. Happy Jack, with the cook's apron tied tightly around his lank middle, stood despondently in the doorway of the mess-tent and said no word as they approached. In his silence--in his very presence there--Weary read disaster.
"I guess we're too late," he told Dock, in hushed tones; for the minute he hated the white-bearded old man whose drunkenness had cost the Flying-U so dear. He slipped wearily from the saddle and let the reins drop to the ground. Happy Jack still eyed them silently.
"Well?" asked Weary, when his nerves would bear no more.
"When I git sick," said Happy Jack, his voice heavy with reproach, "I'll send you for help--if I want to die."
"Is he dead?" questioned Weary, in hopeless fashion.
"Well," said Happy Jack deliberately, "no, he ain't dead yet--but it's no thanks to you. Was it poker, or billiards? and who won?"
Weary looked at him dully a moment before he comprehended. He had not had any supper or any deep, and he had ridden many miles in the long hours he had been away. He walked, with a pronounced limp on the leg which had been next the medicine-case, to where Dock stood leaning shakily against the pinto.
"Maybe we're in time, after all," he said slowly. "Here's some kind uh dried stuff I got off the ceiling; I thought maybe yuh might need it--you're great on Indian weeds." He pulled a crumpled, faintly aromatic bundle of herbs from his pocket.
Dock took it and sniffed disgustedly, and dropped the herbs contemptuously to the ground. "Dat not wort' notting--she what you call--de--catneep." He smiled sourly.
Weary cast a furtive glance at Happy Jack, and hoped he had not overheard. Catnip! Still, how could he be expected to know what the blamed stuff was? He untied the black medicine-case and brought it and put it at the feet of Old Dock. "Well, here's the joker, anyhow," he said. "It like to wore a hole clear through my leg, but I was careful and I don't believe any uh the bottles are busted."
Dock looked at it and sat heavily down upon a box. He looked at the case queerly, then lifted his shaggy head to gaze up at Weary. And behind the bleared gravity of his eyes was something very like a twinkle. "Dis, she not cure seek mans, neider. She--" He pressed a tiny spring which Weary had not discovered and laid the case open upon the ground. "You see?" he said plaintively. "She not good for Patsy--she tree-dossen can-openaire."
Weary stared blankly. Happy Jack came up, looked and doubled convulsively. Can-openers! Three dozen of them. Old Dock was explaining in his best English, and he was courteously refraining from the faintest smile.
"Dey de new, bettaire kind. I send for dem, I t'ink maybe I sell. I put her in de grip--so--I carry dem all togedder. My mediceen, she in de beeg ches'."
Weary had sat down and his head was dropped dejectedly into his hands. He had bungled the whole thing, after all. "Well," he said apathetically. "The chest was locked; I never opened it."
Old Dock nodded his head gravely. "She lock," he assented, gently. "She mooch mediceen--she wort' mooch mooney. De key, she in mine pocket--" "Oh, I don't give a damn where the key is--now," flared Weary. "I guess Patsy'll have to cash in; that's all."
"Aw, gwan!" cried Happy Jack. "A sheepman come along just after you left, and he had a quart uh whisky. We begged it off him and give Patsy a good bit jolt. That eased him up some, and we give him another--and he got to hollerin' so loud for more uh the same, so we just set the bottle in easy reach and let him alone. He's in there now, drunk as a biled owl--the lazy old devil. I had to get supper and breakfast too--and looks like I'd have to cook dinner. Poison--hell! I betche he never had nothing but a plain old belly-ache!"
Weary got up and went to the mess-tent, lifted the flap and looked in upon Patsy lying on the flat of his back, snoring comfortably. He regarded him silently a moment, then looked over his shoulder to where Old Dock huddled over the three dozen can-openers.
"Oh, mamma!" he whispered, and poured himself a cup of coffee.