Chapter 4. Pink as "Chappyrone."
 

Rowdy was sprawled ungracefully upon somebody's bunk--he neither knew nor cared whose--and he was snoring unmelodiously, and not dreaming a thing; for when a cow-puncher has nothing in particular to do, he sleeps to atone for the weary hours when he must be very wide-awake. An avalanche descended upon his unwarned middle, and checked the rhythmic ebb and flow of sound. He squawked and came to life clawing viciously.

"I'd like t' know where the devil yuh come from," a voice remarked plaintively in a soft treble.

Rowdy opened his eyes with a snap. "Pink! by all that's good and bad! Get up off my diaphragm, you little fiend."

Pink absent-mindedly kneaded Rowdy's stomach with his knuckles, and immediately found himself in a far corner. He came back, dimpling mischievously. He looked much more an angel than a fiend, for all his Angora chaps and flame-colored scarf.

"Your bed and war-bag's on my bunk; you're on Smoky's; and Dixie's makin' himself to home in the corral. By all them signs and tokens, I give a reckless guess you're here t' stay a while. That right?" He prodded again at Rowdy's ribs.

"It sure is, Pink. And if I'd known you was holding out here, I'd 'a' come sooner, maybe. You sure look good to me, you darned little cuss!" Rowdy sat up and took a lightning inventory of the four or five other fellows lounging about. He must have slept pretty sound, he thought, not to hear them come in.

Pink read the look, and bethought him of the necessary introductions. "This is my side-kicker over the line that--you've heard about till you're plumb weary, boys," he announced musically. "His name is Rowdy Vaughan--bronco-peeler, crap fiend, and all-round bad man. He ain't a safe companion, and yuh want t' sleep with your six-guns cuddled under your right ear, and never, on no account, show him your backs. He's a real wolf, he is, and the only reason I live t' tell the tale is because he respects m' size. Boys, I'm afraid for yuh--but I wish yuh well."

"Pink, you need killing, and I'm tempted to live up to my rep," grinned Rowdy indulgently. "Read me the pedigree of your friends."

"Oh, they ain't no worse--when yuh git used to 'em. That long-legged jasper with the far-away look in his eyes is the Silent One--if he takes a notion t' you, he'll maybe tell yuh the name his mother calls him. He may have seen better days; but here's hoping he won't see no worse! He once was a tenderfoot; but he's convalescing."

The Silent One nodded carelessly, but with a quick, measuring glance that Rowdy liked.

"This unshaved savage is Smoky. He's harmless, if yuh don't mention socialism in his presence; and if yuh do, he'll down-with-the-trust-and-long-live-the-sons-uh-toil, all hours uh the night, and keep folks awake. Then him and the fellow that started him off 'll likely get chapped good and plenty. Over there's Jim Ellis and Bob Nevin; they've both turned a cow or two, and I've seen worse specimens running around loose--plenty of 'em. That man hidin' behind the grin--you can see him if yuh look close--is Sunny Sam. Yuh needn't take no notice of him, unless you're a mind to. He won't care--he's dead gentle.

"Say," he broke off, "how'd you happen t' stray onto this range, anyhow? Yuh used t' belong t the Horseshoe Bar so solid the assessor always t' yuh down on the personal-property list."

"They won't pay taxes on me no more, son." Rowdy's eyes dwelt fondly upon Pink's cupid-bow mouth and dimples. He had never dreamed of finding Pink here; though, when he came to think of it there was no reason why he shouldn't.

Pink was not like any one else. He was slight and girlish to look at. But you mustn't trust appearances; for Pink was all muscle strung on steel wire, according to the belief of those who tried to handle him. He had little white hands, and feet that looked quite comfortable in a number four boot, and his hair was a tawny gold and curled in distracting, damp rings on his forehead. His eyes were blue and long-lashed and beautiful, and they looked at the world with baby innocence--whereas a more sophisticated little devil never jangled spurs at his heels. He was everything but insipid, and men liked him--unless he chose to dislike them, when they thought of him with grating teeth. To find him bullying the Cross L boys brought a warmth to Rowdy's heart.

Pink made a cigarette, and then offered Rowdy his tobacco-sack, and asked questions about the Cypress Hills country. How was this girl?--and was that one married yet?--and did the other still grieve for him? As a matter of fact, he had yet to see the girl who could quicken his pulse a single beat, and for that reason it sometimes pleased him to affect susceptibility beyond that of other men.

It was after dinner when he and Rowdy went humming down to the stables, gossiping like a couple of old women over a back fence.

"I see you've got Conroy's Chub yet," Pink observed carelessly.

"Oh, for Heaven's sake let up on that cayuse!" Rowdy cried petulantly. "I wish I'd never got sight of the little buzzard-head; I've had him crammed down my throat the last day or two till it's getting plumb monotonous. Pink, that cayuse never saw Oregon. He was raised right on this flat, and he belongs to old Rodway. I've got to lead him back there and turn him over to-day."

Pink took three puffs at his cigarette, and lifted his long lashes to Rowdy's gloom-filled face. "Stole?" he asked briefly.

"Stole," Rowdy repeated disgustedly. "So was the whole blame' bunch, as near as I can make out."

"We might 'a' knowed it. We might 'a' guessed Harry Conroy wouldn't have a straight title to anything if he could make it crooked. I bet he never finished paying back that money yuh lent him--out uh the kindness uh your heart. Did he?" Pink leaned against the corral fence and kicked meditatively at a snow-covered rock.

"He did not, m' son. Chub's all I ever got out uh the deal--and I haven't even got him. I borrowed him from Rodway to pack my bed over--borrowed the blame' little runty cayuse that cost me sixty-four hard-earned dollars; that's what Harry borrowed of me. And every blame' gazabo on the flat wanted to know what I was doing with him!"

"I can tell yuh where t' find Conroy, Rowdy. He's working for an outfit down on the river. I'd sure fix him for this! Yuh got plenty of evidence; you can send him up like a charm. It was different when he cut your latigo strap in that rough-riding contest; yuh couldn't prove it on him. But this--why, man, it's a cinch!"

"I haven't lost Harry Conroy, so I ain't looking for him just now," growled Rowdy. "So long as he keeps out uh reach, I won't ask no more of him.

And, Pink, I wish you'd keep this quiet--about him having Chub. I told Rodway I couldn't put him next to the fellow that brought that bunch across the line. I told him the fellow went north and got killed. He did go north--fifty miles or so; and he'd ought to been killed, if he wasn't. Let it go that way, Pink."

Pink looked like a cherub-faced child when he has been told there's no Santa Claus. "Sure, if yuh say so," he stammered dubiously. He eyed Rowdy reproachfully, and then looked away to the horizon. He kicked the rock out of place, and then poked it painstakingly back with his toe--and from the look of him, he did not know there was a rock there at all.

"How'd yuh happen to run across Rodway?" he asked guilelessly.

"I stopped there last night. I got to milling around in that storm, and ran across the schoolma'am that boards at Rodway's, She was plumb lost, too, so we dubbed around together for a while, and finally got inside Rodway's field. Then Chub come alive and piloted us to the house. This morning Rodway claimed him--says the brand has been worked from a Roman four. Oh, it's all straight goods," he added hastily. "Old Eagle Creek here knew him, too."

But Pink was not thinking of Chub. He hunched his chap-belt higher and spat viciously into the snow. "I knowed it," he declared, with melancholy triumph. "It's school-ma'amitis that's gave yuh softening uh the vitals, and not no Christian charity play. How comes it you're took that way, all unbeknown t' your friends? Yuh never used t' bother about no female girls. It's a cinch you're wise that she's Harry's sister; and I admit she's a swell looker. But so's he; and I should think, Rowdy, you'd had about enough uh that brand uh snake."

"There's nothing so snaky about her that I could see," defended Rowdy. He did not particularly relish having his own mental argument against Miss Conroy thrown back at him from another. "She seemed to be all right; and if you'd seen how plucky she was in that blizzard--"

"Well, I never heard anybody stand up and call Harry white-livered, when yuh come t' that," Pink cut in tartly. "Anyway, you're a blame fool. If she was a little white-winged angel, yuh wouldn't stand no kind uh show; and I tell yuh why. She's got a little tin god that she says prayers to regular.

That's Harry. And wouldn't he be the fine brother-in-law? He could borrow all your wages off'n yuh, and when yuh went t' make a pretty ride, he'd up and cut your latigo, and give yuh a fall. And he could work stolen horses off onto yuh--and yuh wouldn't give a damn, 'cause Jessie wears a number two shoe--"

"You must have done some rimrock riding after her yourself!" jeered Rowdy.

"And has got shiny brown eyes, just like Harry's--"

"They're not!" laughed Rowdy, half-angrily. "If you say that again, Pink, I'll stick your head in a snow-bank. Her eyes are all right. They sure look good to me."

"You've sure got 'em," mourned Pink. "Yuh need t' be close-herded by your friends, and that's no dream. You wait till toward evening before yuh take that horse back. I'm going along t' chappyrone yuh, Rowdy. Yuh ain't safe running loose any more."

Rowdy cursed him companionably and told him to go along, if he wanted to, and to look out he didn't throw up his own hands; and Pink grumbled and swore and did go along. But when they got there, Miss Conroy greeted him like a very good friend; which sent Rowdy sulky, and kept him so all the evening. It seemed to him that Pink was playing a double game, and when they started home he told him so.

But Pink turned in his saddle and smiled so that his dimples showed plainly in the moonlight. "Chappyrones that set in a corner and look wise are the rankest kind uh fakes," he explained. "When she was talking to me, she was letting you alone--see?"

Rowdy accepted the explanation silently, and stored it away in his memory. After that, by riding craftily, and by threats, and by much vituperation, he managed to reach Rodway's unchapperoned at least three times out of five--which was doing remarkably well, when one considers Pink.