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"Till Hell's a Skating-rink."
Charming Billy opened his eyes slowly, but with every sense at the normal degree of alertness; which was a way he had, born of light sleeping and night-watching. He had slept heavily, from the feel of his head, and he remembered the unwisdom of drinking four glasses of whisky and then changing irresponsibly to beer. He had not undressed, it would seem, and he was lying across the middle of a bed with his spurred boots hanging over the edge. A red comforter had been thrown across him, and he wondered why. He looked around the room and discovered Mr. Dill seated in a large, cane rocker--which was unquestionably not big enough for his huge person--his feet upon another chair and his hands folded inertly on his drawn-up knees. He was asleep, with his head lying against the chair-back and his face more melancholy than ever and more wistful. His eyes, Billy observed, were deep-sunk and dark-ringed. He sat up suddenly--did Billy, and threw off the cover with some vehemence. "Darn me for a drunken chump!" he exclaimed, and clanked over to the chair.
"Here, Dilly"--to save the life of him he could not refrain from addressing him so--"why in thunder didn't yuh kick me awake, and make me get off your bed? What did yuh let me do it for--and you setting up all night--oh, this is sure a hell of a note!"
Mr. Dill opened his eyes, stared blankly and came back from his dreaming. "You were so--so impatient when I tried to get you up," he explained in a tired voice. "And you had a way of laying your hands on your revolver when I insisted. It seems you took me for a shepherd and were very unfriendly; so I thought it best to let you stay as you were, but I'm afraid you were not very comfortable. One can rest so much better between sheets. You would not," he added plaintively, "even permit me to take your boots off for you."
Charming Billy sat down upon the edge of the bed, all tousled as he was, and stared abstractedly at Mr. Dill. Perhaps he had never before felt so utterly disgusted with himself, or realized so keenly his shortcomings. Not even the girl had humbled him so completely as had this long, lank, sinfully grammatical man from Michigan.
"You've sure got me where I live, Dilly," he said slowly and haltingly, feeling mechanically for the makings of a smoke. "Charming Billy Boyle ain't got a word to say for himself. But if yuh ain't plumb sick and disgusted with the spectacle I've made uh myself, yuh can count on me till hell's a skating-rink. I ain't always thisaway. I do have spells when I'm some lucid."
It was not much, but such as it was it stood for his oath of allegiance.
Alexander P. Dill sat up straight, his long, bony fingers--which Billy could still mentally see gripping the necks of those two in the saloon--lying loosely upon the chair-arms. "I hope you will not mention the matter again," he said. "I realize that this is not Michigan, and that the temptations are--But we will not discuss it. I shall be very grateful for your friendship, and--"
"Grateful!" snorted Billy, spilling tobacco on the strip of faded ingrain carpet before the bed. "Grateful--hell!"
Mr. Dill looked at him a moment and there was a certain keen man-measuring behind the wistfulness. But he said no more about the friendship of Charming Billy Boyle, which was as well.
That is why the two of them later sat apart on the sunny side of the hotel "office"--which was also a saloon--and talked of many things, but chiefly of the cattle industry as Montana knows it and of the hopes and the aims of Alexander P. Dill. Perhaps, also, that is why Billy breathed clean of whisky and had the bulk of his winter wages still unspent in his pocket.
"Looks to me," he was saying between puffs, "like you'd uh stayed back where yuh knew the lay uh the land, instead uh drifting out here where it's all plumb strange to yuh."
"Well, several incidents influenced my actions," Mr. Dill explained quietly. "I had always lived within twenty miles of my birthplace. I owned a general store in a little place near the old farm, and did well. The farm paid well, also. Then mother died and the place did not seem quite the same. A railroad was built through the town and the land I owned there rose enormously in value. I had a splendid location for a modern store but I could not seem to make up my mind to change. So I sold out everything--store, land, the home farm and all, and received a good figure--a very good figure. I was very fortunate in owning practically the whole townsite--the new townsite, that is. I do not like these so-called booms, however, and so I left to begin somewhere else. I did not care to enter the mercantile business again, and our doctor advised me to live as much as possible in the open air. Mother died of consumption. So I decided to come West and buy a cattle ranch. I believed I should like it. I always liked animals."
"Uh-huh--so do I." It was not just what Charming Billy most wanted to say, but that much was perfectly safe, and noncommittal to say.
Mr. Dill was silent a minute, looking speculatively across to the Hardup Saloon which was practically empty and therefore quite peaceful. Billy, because long living on the range made silence easy, smoked and said nothing.
"Mr. Boyle," began Dill at last, in the hesitating way that he had used when Billy first met him, "you say you know this country, and have worked at cattle-raising for a good many years--"
"Twelve," supplemented Charming Billy. "Turned my first cow when I was sixteen."
"So you must be perfectly familiar with the business. I frankly admit that I am not familiar with it. You say you are at present out of employment and so I am thinking seriously of offering you a position myself, as confidential adviser if you like. I really need some one who can accompany me about the country and keep me from such deplorable blunders as was yesterday's experience. After I have bought a place, I shall need some one who is familiar with the business and will honestly work for my interests and assist me in the details until I have myself gained a practical working-knowledge of it. I think I can make such an arrangement to your advantage as well as my own. From the start the salary would be what is usually paid to a foreman. What do you say?"
For an appreciable space Charming Billy Boyle did not say a word. He was not stupid and he saw in a flash all the possibilities that lay in the offer. To be next the very top--to have his say in the running of a model cow-outfit--and it should be a model outfit if he took charge, for he had ideas of his own about how these things should be done--to be foreman, with the right to "hire and fire" at his own discretion--He turned, flushed and bright-eyed, to Dill.
"God knows why yuh cut me out for the job," he said in a rather astonished voice. "What you've seen uh me, so far, ain't been what I'd call a gilt-edge recommend. But if you're fool enough to mean it serious, it's as I told yuh a while back: Yuh can count on me till they're cutting figure-eights all over hell."
"That, according to the scientists who are willing to concede the existence of such a place, will be quite as long as I shall be likely to have need of your loyalty," observed Mr. Dill, puckering his long face into the first smile Billy had seen him attempt.
He did not intimate the fact that he had inquired very closely into the record and the general range qualifications of Charming Billy Boyle, sounding, for that purpose, every responsible man in Hardup. With the new-born respect for him bred by his peculiarly efficacious way of handling those who annoyed him beyond the limit, he was told the truth and recognized it as such. So he was not really as rash and as given over to his impulses as Billy, in his ignorance of the man, fancied.
The modesty of Billy would probably have been shocked if he had heard the testimony of his fellows concerning him. As it was, he was rather dazed and a good deal inclined to wonder how Alexander P. Dill had ever managed to accumulate enough capital to start anything--let alone a cow-outfit--if he took on trust every man he met. He privately believed that Dill had taken a long chance, and that he should consider himself very lucky because he had accidentally picked a man who would not "steal him blind."
* * * * * * *
After that there were many days of riding to and fro, canvassing all northern Montana in search of a location and an outfit that suited them and that could be bought. And in the riding, Mr. Dill became under the earnest tutelage of Charming Billy a shade less ignorant of range ways and of the business of "raising wild cattle for the Eastern markets."
He even came to speak quite easily of "outfits" in all the nice shades of meaning which are attached to that hard-worked term. He could lay the saddle-blanket smooth and unwrinkled, slap the saddle on and cinch it without fixing it either upon the withers or upon the rump of his long-suffering mount. He could swing his quirt without damaging his own person, and he rode with his stirrups where they should be to accommodate the length of him--all of which speaks eloquently of the honest intentions of Dill's confidential adviser.
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