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Just a Day-dream.
Charming Billy rode humped over the saddle-horn, as rides one whose mind feels the weight of unpleasant thoughts. Twice he had glanced uncertainly at his companion, opening his lips for speech; twice he had closed them silently and turned again to the uneven trail.
Mr. Dill also was humped forward in the saddle, but if one might judge from his face it was because he was cold. The wind blew chill from out the north and they were facing it; the trail they followed was frozen hard and the gray clouds above promised snow. The cheek-bones of Dill were purple and the point of his long nose was very red. Tears stood in his eyes, whipped there by the biting wind.
"How far are we now from town?" he asked dispiritedly.
"Only about five miles," Billy cheered. Then, as if trivial speech had made easier what he had in mind to say, he turned resolutely toward the other. "Yuh expect to meet old man Robinson there, don't yuh?"
"That was the arrangement, as I understood it"
"And you're thinking strong of buying him out?"
"His place appeals to me more than any of the others, and--yes, it seems to me that I can't do better." Mr. Dill turned the collar of his coat up a bit farther--or fancied he did so--and looked questioningly at Billy.
"Yuh gave me leave to advise yuh where yuh needed it," Billy said almost challengingly, "and I'm going to call yuh, right here and now. If yuh take my advice yuh won't go making medicine with old Robinson any more. He'll do yuh, sure. He's asking yuh double what the outfit's worth. They all are. It looks to me like they think you're just out here to get rid of your pile and the bigger chunk they can pry loose from yuh the better. I was going to put yuh next before this, only yuh didn't seem to take to any uh the places real serious, so it wasn't necessary."
"I realize that one cannot buy land and cattle for nothing," Dill chuckled. "It seemed to me that, compared with the prices others have asked, Mr. Robinson's offer was very reasonable."
"It may be lower than Jacobs and Wilter, but that don't make it right."
"Well, there were the Two Sevens"--he meant the Seventy-Seven, but that was a mere detail--"I didn't get to see the owner, you know. I have written East, however, and should hear from him in a few days."
"Yuh ain't likely to do business with that layout, because I don't believe they'd sell at any price. Old Robinson is the washout yuh want to ride around at present; I ain't worrying about the rest, right now. He's a smooth old devil, and he'll do yuh sure."
To this Mr. Dill made no reply whatever. He fumbled the fastenings on his coon-skin coat, tried to pull his cap lower and looked altogether unhappy. And Charming Billy, not at ail sure that his advice would be taken or his warning heeded, stuck the spurs into his horse and set a faster pace reflecting gloomily upon the trials of being confidential adviser to one who, in a perfectly mild and good-mannered fashion, goes right along doing pretty much as he pleases.
It made him think, somehow, of Miss Bridger and the way she had forced him to take his gun with him when he had meant to leave it. She was like Dill in that respect: nice and good-natured and smiling--only Dill smiled but seldom--and yet always managing to make you give up your own wishes. He wished vaguely that the wanderings of Dill would bring them back to the Double-Crank country, instead of leading them always farther afield. He did not, however, admit openly to himself that he wanted to see Miss Bridger again; yet he did permit himself to wonder if she ever played coon-can with any one else, or if she had already forgotten the game. Probably she had, and--well, a good many other things that he remembered quite distinctly.
Later, when they had reached town, were warmed and fed and when even Billy was thinking seriously of sleep, Dill came over and sat down beside him solemnly, folded his bony hands upon knees quite as bony, regarded pensively the generously formed foot dangling some distance before him and smiled his puckered smile.
"I have been wondering, William, if you had not some plan of your own concerning this cattle-raising business, which you think is better than mine but which you hesitate to express. If you have, I hope you will feel quite free to--er--lay it before the head of the firm. It may interest you to know that I have, as you would put it, 'failed to connect' with Mr. Robinson. So, if you have any ideas--"
"Oh, I'm burning up with 'em," Charming Billy retorted in a way he meant to be sarcastic, but which Mr. Dill took quite seriously.
"Then I hope you won't hesitate--"
"Now look here, Dilly," expostulated he, between puffs. "Recollect, it's your money that's going to feed the birds--and it's your privilege to throw it out to suit yourself. Uh course, I might day-dream about the way I'd start into the cow-business if I was a millionaire--"
"I'm not a millionaire," Mr. Dill hastened to correct. "A couple of hundred thousand or so, is about all--"
"Well, a fellow don't have to pin himself down to just so many dollars and cents--not when he's building himself a pet dream. And if a fellow dreams about starting up an outfit of his own, it don't prove he'd make it stick in reality." The tone of Billy, however, did not express any doubt.
Mr. Dill untangled his legs, crossed them the other way and regarded the other dangling foot. "I should like very much," he hinted mildly, "to have you tell me this--er--day-dream, as you call it."
So Charming Billy, tilted back in his chair and watching with half-shut eyes the intangible smoke-wreath from his cigarette, found words for his own particular air-castle which he had builded on sunny days when the Double-Crank herds grazed peacefully around him; or on stormy nights when he sat alone in the line-camp and played solitaire with the mourning wind crooning accompaniment; or on long rides alone, when the trail was plain before him and the grassland stretched away and away to a far sky-line, and the white clouds sailed sleepily over his head and about him the meadowlarks sang. And while he found the words, he somehow forgot Dill, long and lean and lank, listening beside him, and spoke more freely than he had meant to do when Dill first opened the subject a few minutes before.
"Recollect, this is just a day-dream," he began. "But, if I was a millionaire, or if I had two hundred thousand dollars--and to me they don't sound much different--I'd sure start a cow-outfit right away immediately at once. But I wouldn't buy out nobody; I'd go right back and start like they did--if they're real old-timers. I'd go down south into Texas and I'd buy me a bunch uh two-year-olds and bring 'em up here, and turn 'em loose on the best piece of open range I know--and I know a peach. In a year or so I'd go back and do the same again, and I'd keep it up whilst my money held out I'd build me a home ranch back somewheres in a draw in the hills, where there's lots uh water and lots uh shelter, and I'd get a bunch uh men that savvied cow-brutes, put 'em on horses that wouldn't trim down their self-respect every time they straddled 'em, and then I'd just ride around and watch myself get rich. And--" He stopped and dreamed silently over his cigarette.
"And then?" urged Mr. Dill, after a moment.
"And then--I'd likely get married, and raise a bunch uh boys to carry on the business when I got old and fat, and too damn' lazy to ride off a walk."
Mr. Dill took three minutes to weigh the matter. Then, musingly: "I'm not sure about the boys. I'm not a marrying man, myself--but just giving a snap judgment on the other part of it, I will say it sounds--well, feasible."
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