Chapter XV. Bill's Partner
 

The next day everyone was talking of Bill's bluffing the church people, and there was much quiet chuckling over the discomfiture of Robbie Muir and his party.

The Pilot was equally distressed and bewildered, for Bill's conduct, so very unusual, had only one explanation--the usual one for any folly in that country.

"I wish he had waited till after the meeting to go to Latour's. He spoiled the last chance I had. There's no use now," he said, sadly.

"But he may do something," I suggested.

"Oh, fiddle!" said The Pilot, contemptuously. "He was only giving Muir 'a song and dance,' as he would say. The whole thing is off."

But when I told Gwen the story of the night's proceedings, she went into raptures over Bill's grave speech and his success in drawing the canny Scotchman.

"Oh, lovely! dear old Bill and his 'cherished opinion.' Isn't he just lovely? Now he'll do something."

"Who, Bill?"

"No, that stupid Scottie." This was her name for the immovable Robbie.

"Not he, I'm afraid. Of course Bill was just bluffing him. But it was good sport."

"Oh, lovely! I knew he'd do something."

"Who? Scottie?" I asked, for her pronouns were perplexing.

"No!" she cried, "Bill! He promised he would, you know," she added.

"So you were at the bottom of it?" I said, amazed.

"Oh, dear! Oh, dear!" she kept crying, shrieking with laughter over Bill's cherishing opinions and desires. "I shall be ill. Dear old Bill. He said he'd 'try to get a move on to him.'"

Before I left that day, Bill himself came to the Old Timer's ranch, inquiring in a casual way "if the 'boss' was in."

"Oh, Bill!" called out Gwen, "come in here at once; I want you."

After some delay and some shuffling with hat and spurs, Bill lounged in and set his lank form upon the extreme end of a bench at the door, trying to look unconcerned as he remarked: "Gittin' cold. Shouldn't wonder if we'd have a little snow."

"Oh, come here," cried Gwen, impatiently, holding out her hand. "Come here and shake hands."

Bill hesitated, spat out into the other room his quid of tobacco, and swayed awkwardly across the room toward the bed, and, taking Gwen's hand, he shook it up and down, and hurriedly said:

"Fine day, ma'am; hope I see you quite well."

"No; you don't," cried Gwen, laughing immoderately, but keeping hold of Bill's hand, to his great confusion. "I'm not well a bit, but I'm a great deal better since hearing of your meeting, Bill."

To this Bill made no reply, being entirely engrossed in getting his hard, bony, brown hand out of the grasp of the white, clinging fingers.

"Oh, Bill," went on Gwen, "it was delightful! How did you do it?"

But Bill, who had by this time got back to his seat at the door, pretended ignorance of any achievement calling for remark. He "hadn't done nothin' more out ov the way than usual."

"Oh, don't talk nonsense!" cried Gwen, impatiently. "Tell me how you got Scottie to lay you two hundred and fifty dollars."

"Oh, that!" said Bill, in great surprise; "that ain't nuthin' much. Scottie riz slick enough."

"But how did you get him?" persisted Gwen. "Tell me, Bill," she added, in her most coaxing voice.

"Well," said Bill, "it was easy as rollin' off a log. I made the remark as how the boys ginerally put up for what they wanted without no fuss, and that if they was sot on havin' a Gospel shack I cherished the opinion"--here Gwen went off into a smothered shriek, which made Bill pause and look at her in alarm.

"Go on," she gasped.

"I cherished the opinion," drawled on Bill, while Gwen stuck her handkerchief into her mouth, "that mebbe they'd put up for it the seven hundred dollars, and, even as it was, seein' as The Pilot appeared to be sot on to it, if them fellers would find two hundred and fifty I cher--" another shriek from Gwen cut him suddenly short.

"It's the rheumaticks, mebbe," said Bill, anxiously. "Terrible bad weather for 'em. I get 'em myself."

"No, no," said Gwen, wiping away her tears and subduing her laughter. "Go on, Bill."

"There ain't no more," said Bill. "He bit, and the master here put it down."

"Yes, it's here right enough," I said, "but I don't suppose you mean to follow it up, do you?"

"You don't, eh? Well, I am not responsible for your supposin', but them that is familiar with Bronco Bill generally expects him to back up his undertakin's."

"But how in the world can you get five hundred dollars from the cowboys for a church?"

"I hain't done the arithmetic yet, but it's safe enough. You see, it ain't the church altogether, it's the reputation of the boys."

"I'll help, Bill," said Gwen.

Bill nodded his head slowly and said: "Proud to have you," trying hard to look enthusiastic.

"You don't think I can," said Gwen. Bill protested against such an imputation. "But I can. I'll get daddy and The Duke, too."

"Good line!" said Bill, slapping his knee.

"And I'll give all my money, too, but it isn't very much," she added, sadly.

"Much!" said Bill, "if the rest of the fellows play up to that lead there won't be any trouble about that five hundred."

Gwen was silent for some time, then said with an air of resolve:

"I'll give my pinto!"

"Nonsense!" I exclaimed, while Bill declared "there warn't no call."

"Yes. I'll give the Pinto!" said Gwen, decidedly. "I'll not need him any more," her lips quivered, and Bill coughed and spat into the next room, "and besides, I want to give something I like. And Bill will sell him for me!"

"Well," said Bill, slowly, "now come to think, it'll be purty hard to sell that there pinto." Gwen began to exclaim indignantly, and Bill hurried on to say, "Not but what he ain't a good leetle horse for his weight, good leetle horse, but for cattle--"

"Why, Bill, there isn't a better cattle horse anywhere!"

"Yes, that's so," assented Bill. "That's so, if you've got the rider, but put one of them rangers on to him and it wouldn't be no fair show." Bill was growing more convinced every moment that the pinto wouldn't sell to any advantage. "Ye see," he explained carefully and cunningly, "he ain't a horse you could yank round and slam into a bunch of steers regardless."

Gwen shuddered. "Oh, I wouldn't think of selling him to any of those cowboys." Bill crossed his legs and hitched round uncomfortably on his bench. "I mean one of those rough fellows that don't know how to treat a horse." Bill nodded, looking relieved. "I thought that some one like you, Bill, who knew how to handle a horse--"

Gwen paused, and then added: "I'll ask The Duke."

"No call for that," said Bill, hastily, "not but what The Dook ain't all right as a jedge of a horse, but The Dook ain't got the connection, it ain't his line." Bill hesitated. "But, if you are real sot on to sellin' that pinto, come to think I guess I could find a sale for him, though, of course, I think perhaps the figger won't be high."

And so it was arranged that the pinto should be sold and that Bill should have the selling of it.

It was characteristic of Gwen that she would not take farewell of the pony on whose back she had spent so many hours of freedom and delight. When once she gave him up she refused to allow her heart to cling to him any more.

It was characteristic, too, of Bill that he led off the pinto after night had fallen, so that "his pardner" might be saved the pain of the parting.

"This here's rather a new game for me, but when my pardner," here he jerked his head towards Gwen's window, "calls for trumps, I'm blanked if I don't throw my highest, if it costs a leg."