Cow-Country by B.M. Bower
Chapter Six: The Young Eagle Must Fly
"You're of age," said Bob Birnie, sucking hard at his pipe. "You've had your schooling as your mother wished that you should have it. You've got the music in your head and your fingers and your toes, and that's as your mother wished that you should have.
"Your mother would have you be all for music, and make tunes out of your own head. She tells me that you have made tunes and written them down on paper, and that there are those who would buy them and print copies to sell, with your name at the top of the page. I'll not say what I think of that--your mother is an angel among women, and she has taught you the things she loves herself.
"But my business is with the cattle, and I've had you out with me since you could climb on the back of a horse. I've watched you, with the rope and the irons and in the saddle and all. You've been in tight places that would try the mettle of a man grown--I mind the time ye escaped Colorou's band, and we thought ye dead 'til ye came to us in Laramie. You've showed that you're able to hold your own on the range, lad. Your mother's all for the music--but I leave it to you.
"Ten thousand dollars I'll give ye, if that's your wish, and you can go to Europe as she wishes and study and make tunes for others to play. Or if ye prefer it, I'll brand you a herd of she stock and let ye go your ways. No son of mine can take orders from his father after he's a man grown, and I'm not to the age where I can sit with the pipe from morning to night and let another run my outfit. I've talked it over with your mother, and she'll bide by your decision, as I shall do.
"So I put it in a nutshell, Robert. You're twenty-one to-day; a man grown, and husky as they're made. 'Tis time you faced the world and lived your life. You've been a good lad--as lads go." He stopped there to rub his jaw thoughtfully, perhaps remembering certain incidents in Buddy's full-flavored past. Buddy--grown to plain Bud among his fellows--turned red without losing the line of hardness that had come to his lips.
"You're of legal age to be called a man, and the future's before ye. I'll give ye five hundred cows with their calves beside them--you can choose them yourself, for you've a sharp eye for stock--and you can go where ye will. Or I'll give ye ten thousand dollars and ye can go to Europe and make tunes if you're a mind to. And whatever ye choose it'll be make or break with ye. Ye can sleep on the decision, for I've no wish that ye should choose hastily and be sorry after."
Buddy--grown to Bud--lifted a booted foot and laid it across his other knee and with his forefinger absently whirled the long-pointed rower on his spur. The hardness at his lips somehow spread to his eyes, that were bent on the whirring rower. It was the look that had come into the face of the baby down on the Staked Plains when Ezra called and called after he had been answered twice; the look that had held firm the lips of the boy who had lain very flat on his stomach in the roof of the dugout and had watched the Utes burning the cabin.
"There's no need to sleep on it," he said after a minute. "You've raised me, and spent some money on me--but I've saved you a man's wages ever since I was ten. If you think I've evened things up, all right. If you don't, make out your bill and I'll pay it when I can. There's no reason why you should give me anything I haven't earned, just because you're my father. You earned all you've got, and I guess I can do the same. As you say, I'm a man. I'll go at the future man fashion. And," he added with a slight flare of the nostrils, "I'll start in the morning."
"And is it to make tunes for other folks to play?"Bob Birnie asked after a silence, covertly eyeing him.
"No, sir. There's more money in cattle. I'll make my stake in the cow-country, same as you've done." He looked up and grinned a little. "To the devil with your money and your she-stock! I'll get out all right--but I'll make my own way."
"You're a stubborn fool, Robert. The Scotch now and then shows itself like that in a man. I got my start from my father and I'm not ashamed of it. A thousand pounds--and I brought it to America and to Texas, and got cattle."
Bud laughed and got up, hiding how the talk had struck deep into the soul of him. "Then I'll go you one better, dad. I'll get my own start."
"You'll be back home in six months, lad, saying you've changed your mind," Bob Birnie predicted sharply, stung by the tone of young Bud. "That," he added grimly, "or for a full belly and a clean bed to crawl into."
Bud stood licking the cigarette he had rolled to hide an unaccountable trembling of his fingers. "When I come back I'll be in a position to buy you out! I'll borrow Skate and Maverick, if you don't mind, till I get located somewhere." He paused while he lighted the cigarette. "It's the custom," He reminded his father unnecessarily, "to furnish a man a horse to ride and one to pack his bed, when he's fired."
"Ye've horses of yer own," Bob Birnie retorted, "and you've no need to borrow."
Bud stood looking down at his father, plainly undecided. "I don't know whether they're mine or not," he said after a minute. "I don't know what it cost you to raise me. Figure it up, if you haven't already, and count the time I've worked for you. Since you've put me on a business basis, like raising a calf to shipping age, let's be businesslike about it. You are good at figuring your profits--I'll leave it to you. And if you find I've anything coming to me besides my riding outfit and the clothes I've got, all right; I'll take horses for the balance."
He walked off with the swing to his shoulders that had always betrayed him when he was angry, and Bob Birnie gathered his beard into a handful and held it while he stared after him. It had been no part of his plan to set his son adrift on the range without a dollar, but since Bud's temper was up, it might be a good thing to let him go.
So Bob Birnie went away to confer with his wife, and Bud was left alone to nurse his hurt while he packed his few belongings. It did hurt him to be told in that calm, cold- blooded manner that, now he was of legal age, he would not be expected to stay on at the Tomahawk. Until his father had spoken to him about it, Bud had not thought much about what he would do when his school days were over. He had taken life as it was presented to him week by week, month by month. He had fulfilled his mother's hopes and had learned to make music. He had lived up to his father's unspoken standards of a cowman. He had made a "Hand" ever since his legs were long enough to reach the stirrups of a saddle. There was not a better rider, not a better roper on the range than Bud Birnie. Morally he was cleaner than most young fellows of his age. He hated trickery, he reverenced all good women; the bad ones he pitied because he believed that they sorrowed secretly because they were not good, because they had missed somehow their real purpose in life, which was to be wife and mother. He had, in fact grown up clean and true to type. He was Buddy, grown to be Bud.
And Buddy, now that he was a man, had been told that he was not expected to stay at home and help his father, and be a comfort to his mother. He was like a young eagle which, having grown wing-feathers that will bear the strain of high air currents, has been pecked out of the nest. No doubt the young eagle resents his unexpected banishment, although in time he would have felt within himself the urge to go. Leave Bud alone, and soon or late he would have gone--perhaps with compunctions against leaving home, and the feeling that he was somehow a disappointment to his parents. He would have explained to his father, apologized to his mother. As it was, he resented the alacrity with which his father was pushing him out.
So he packed his clothes that night, and pushed his guitar into its case and buckled the strap with a vicious yank, and went off to the bunkhouse to eat supper with the boys instead of sitting down to the table where his mother had placed certain dishes which Buddy loved best--wanting to show in true woman fashion her love and sympathy for him.
Later--it was after Bud had gone to bed--mother came and had a long talk with him. She was very sweet and sensible, and Bud was very tender with her. But she could not budge him from his determination to go and make his way without a Birnie dollar to ease the beginning. Other men had started with nothing and had made a stake, and there was no reason why he could not do so.
"Dad put it straight enough, and it's no good arguing. I'd starve before I'd take anything from him. I'm entitled to my clothes, and maybe a horse or two for the work I've done for him while I was growing up. I've figured out pretty close what it cost to put me through the University, and what I was worth to him during the summers. Father's Scotch--but he isn't a darned bit more Scotch than I am, mother. Putting it all in dollars and cents, I think I've earned more than I cost him. In the winters, I know I earned my board doing chores and riding line. Many a little bunch of stock I've saved for him by getting out in the foothills and driving them down below heavy snowline before a storm. You remember the bunch of horses I found by watching the magpies--the time we tied hay in canvas and took it up to them 'til they got strength enough to follow the trail I trampled in the snow? I earned my board and more, every winter since I was ten. So I don't believe I owe dad a cent, when it's all figured out.
"But you've done for me what money can't repay, mother. I'll always be in debt to you--and I'll square it by being the kind of a man you've tried to teach me to be. I will, mother. Dad and the dollars are a different matter. The debt I owe you will never be paid, but I'm going to make you glad I know there's a debt. I believe there's a God, because I know there must have been one to make you! And no matter how far away I may drift in miles, your Buddy is going to be here with you always, mother, learning from you all there is of goodness and sweetness." He held her two hands against his face, and she felt his cheeks wet beneath her palms. Then he took them away and kissed them many times, like a lover.
"If I ever have a wife, she's going to have her work cut out for her," He laughed unsteadily. "She'll have to live up to you, mother, if she wants me to love her."
"If you have a wife she'll be well-spoiled, young man! Perhaps it is wise that you should go--but don't you forget your music, Buddy--and be a good boy, and remember, mother's going to follow you with her love and her faith in you, and her prayers."
It may have been that Buddy's baby memory of going north whenever the trail herd started remained to send Bud instinctively northward when he left the Tomahawk next morning. It had been a case of stubborn father and stubborn son dickering politely over the net earnings of the son from the time when he was old enough to leave his mother's lap and climb into a saddle to ride with his father. Three horses and his personal belongings had been agreed upon between them as the balance in Bud's favor; and at that, Bob Birnie dryly remarked, he had been a better investment as a son than most young fellows, who cost more than they were worth to raise.
Bud did not answer the implied praise, but roped the Tomahawk's best three horses out of the remuda corralled for him by his father's riders. You should have seen the sidelong glances among the boys when they learned that Bud, just home from the University, was going somewhere with all his earthly possessions and a look in his face that meant trouble!
Two big valises and his blankets he packed on Sunfish, a deceptively raw-boned young buckskin with much white showing in his eyes--an ornery looking brute if ever there was one. Bud's guitar and a mandolin in their cases he tied securely on top of the pack. Smoky, the second horse, a deep-chested "mouse" with a face almost human in its expression, he saddled, and put a lead rope on the third, a bay four-year- old called Stopper, which was the Tomahawk's best rope-horse and one that would be missed when fast work was wanted in branding.
"He sure as hell picked himself three top hawses," a tall puncher murmured to another. "Wonder where he's headed for? Not repping--this late in the season."
Bud overheard them, and gave no sign. Had they asked him directly he could not have told them, for he did not know, except that somehow he felt that he was going to head north. Why north, he could not have explained, since cow-country lay all around him; nor how far north,--for cow-country extended to the upper boundary of the States, and beyond into Canada.
He left his horses standing by the corral while he went to the house to tell his mother good-by, and to send a farewell message to Dulcie, who had been married a year and lived in Laramie. He did not expect to strike Laramie, he told his mother when she asked him.
"I'm going till I stop," He explained, with a squeeze of her shoulders to reassure her. "I guess it's the way you felt, mother, when you left Texas behind. You couldn't tell where you folks would wind up. Neither can I. My trail herd is kinda small, right now; a lot smaller than it will be later on. But such as it is, it's going to hit the right range before it stops for good. And I'll write."
He took a doughnut in his hand and a package of lunch to slip in his pocket, kissed her with much cheerfulness in his manner and hurried out, his big-rowelled spurs burring on the porch just twice before he stepped off on the gravel. Telling mother good-by had been the one ordeal he dreaded, and he was glad to have it over with.
Old Step-and-a-Half hailed him as he went past the chuck- house, and came limping out, wiping his hands on his apron before he shook hands and wished him good luck. Ezra, pottering around the tool shed, ambled up with the eyes of a dog that has been sent back home by his master. "Ah shoah do wish yo' all good fawtune an' health, Marse Buddy," Ezra quavered. "Ah shoah do. It ain' goin' seem lak de same place-- and Ah shoah do hopes yo' all writes frequent lettahs to yo' mothah, boy!"
Bud promised that he would, and managed to break away from Ezra without betraying himself. How, he wondered, did everyone seem to know that he was going for good, this time? He had believed that no one knew of it save himself, his father and his mother; yet everyone else behaved as if they never expected to see him again. It was disconcerting, and Bud hastily untied the two led horses and mounted Smoky, the mouse-colored horse he himself had broken two years before.
His father came slowly up to him, straight-backed and with the gait of the man who has ridden astride a horse more than he has walked on his own feet. He put up his hand, gloved for riding, and Bud changed the lead-ropes from his right hand to his left, and shook hands rather formally.
"Ye've good weather for travelling," said Bob Birnie tentatively. "I have not said it before, lad, but when ye own yourself a fool to take this way of making your fortune, ten thousand dollars will still be ready to start ye right. I've no wish to shirk a duty to my family."
Bud pressed his lips together while he listened. "If you keep your ten thousand till it's called for, you'll be drawing interest a long time on it," He said. "It's going to be hot to-day. I'll be getting along."
He lifted the reins, glanced back to see that the two horses were showing the proper disposition to follow, and rode off down the deep-rutted road that followed up the creek to the pass where he had watched the Utes dancing the war dance one night that he remembered well. If he winced a little at the familiar landmarks he passed, he still held fast to the determination to go, and to find fortune somewhere along the trail of his own making; and to ask help from no man, least of all his father who had told him to go.