Chapter XVI. Bill's Financing
 

Bill's method of conducting the sale of the pinto was eminently successful as a financial operation, but there are those in the Swan Creek country who have never been able to fathom the mystery attaching to the affair. It was at the fall round-up, the beef round-up, as it is called, which this year ended at the Ashley Ranch. There were representatives from all the ranches and some cattle-men from across the line. The hospitality of the Ashley Ranch was up to its own lofty standard, and, after supper, the men were in a state of high exhilaration. The Hon. Fred and his wife, Lady Charlotte, gave themselves to the duties of their position as hosts for the day with a heartiness and grace beyond praise. After supper the men gathered round the big fire, which was piled up before the long, low shed, which stood open in front. It was a scene of such wild and picturesque interest as can only be witnessed in the western ranching country. About the fire, most of them wearing "shaps" and all of them wide, hard-brimmed cowboy hats, the men grouped themselves, some reclining upon skins thrown upon the ground, some standing, some sitting, smoking, laughing, chatting, all in highest spirits and humor. They had just got through with their season of arduous and, at times, dangerous toil. Their minds were full of their long, hard rides, their wild and varying experiences with mad cattle and bucking broncos, their anxious watchings through hot nights, when a breath of wind or a coyote's howl might set the herd off in a frantic stampede, their wolf hunts and badger fights and all the marvellous adventures that fill up a cowboy's summer. Now these were all behind them. To-night they were free men and of independent means, for their season's pay was in their pockets. The day's excitement, too, was still in their blood, and they were ready for anything.

Bill, as king of the bronco-busters, moved about with the slow, careless indifference of a man sure of his position and sure of his ability to maintain it.

He spoke seldom and slowly, was not as ready-witted as his partner, Hi Kendal, but in act he was swift and sure, and "in trouble" he could be counted on. He was, as they said, "a white man; white to the back," which was understood to sum up the true cattle man's virtues.

"Hello, Bill," said a friend, "where's Hi? Hain't seen him around!"

"Well, don't jest know. He was going to bring up my pinto."

"Your pinto? What pinto's that? You hain't got no pinto!"

"Mebbe not," said Bill, slowly, "but I had the idee before you spoke that I had."

"That so? Whar'd ye git him? Good for cattle?" The crowd began to gather.

Bill grew mysterious, and even more than usually reserved.

"Good fer cattle! Well, I ain't much on gamblin', but I've got a leetle in my pants that says that there pinto kin outwork any blanked bronco in this outfit, givin' him a fair show after the cattle."

The men became interested.

"Whar was he raised?"

"Dunno."

"Whar'd ye git him? Across the line?"

"No," said Bill stoutly, "right in this here country. The Dook there knows him."

This at once raised the pinto several points. To be known, and, as Bill's tone indicated, favorably known by The Duke, was a testimonial to which any horse might aspire.

"Whar'd ye git him, Bill? Don't be so blanked oncommunicatin'!" said an impatient voice.

Bill hesitated; then, with an apparent burst of confidence, he assumed his frankest manner and voice, and told his tale.

"Well," he said, taking a fresh chew and offering his plug to his neighbor, who passed it on after helping himself, "ye see, it was like this. Ye know that little Meredith gel?"

Chorus of answers: "Yes! The red-headed one. I know! She's a daisy!--reg'lar blizzard!--lightnin' conductor!"

Bill paused, stiffened himself a little, dropped his frank air and drawled out in cool, hard tones: "I might remark that that young lady is, I might persoom to say, a friend of mine, which I'm prepared to back up in my best style, and if any blanked blanked son of a street sweeper has any remark to make, here's his time now!"

In the pause that followed murmurs were heard extolling the many excellences of the young lady in question, and Bill, appeased, yielded to the requests for the continuance of his story, and, as he described Gwen and her pinto and her work on the ranch, the men, many of whom had had glimpses of her, gave emphatic approval in their own way. But as he told of her rescue of Joe and of the sudden calamity that had befallen her a great stillness fell upon the simple, tender-hearted fellows, and they listened with their eyes shining in the firelight with growing intentness. Then Bill spoke of The Pilot and how he stood by her and helped her and cheered her till they began to swear he was "all right"; "and now," concluded Bill, "when The Pilot is in a hole she wants to help him out."

"O' course," said one. "Right enough. How's she going to work it?" said another.

"Well, he's dead set on to buildin' a meetin'-house, and them fellows down at the Creek that does the prayin' and such don't seem to back him up!"

"Whar's the kick, Bill?"

"Oh, they don't want to go down into their clothes and put up for it."

"How much?"

"Why, he only asked 'em for seven hundred the hull outfit, and would give 'em two years, but they bucked--wouldn't look at it."

[Chorus of expletives descriptive of the characters and personal appearance and belongings of the congregation of Swan Creek.]

"Were you there, Bill? What did you do?"

"Oh," said Bill, modestly, "I didn't do much. Gave 'em a little bluff."

"No! How? What? Go on, Bill."

But Bill remained silent, till under strong pressure, and, as if making a clean breast of everything, he said:

"Well, I jest told 'em that if you boys made such a fuss about anythin' like they did about their Gospel outfit, an' I ain't sayin' anythin' agin it, you'd put up seven hundred without turnin' a hair."

"You're the stuff, Bill! Good man! You're talkin' now! What did they say to that, eh, Bill?"

"Well," said Bill, slowly, "they called me!"

"No! That so? An' what did you do, Bill?"

"Gave 'em a dead straight bluff!"

[Yells of enthusiastic approval.]

"Did they take you, Bill?"

"Well, I reckon they did. The master, here, put it down."

Whereupon I read the terms of Bill's bluff.

There was a chorus of very hearty approvals of Bill's course in "not taking any water" from that variously characterized "outfit." But the responsibility of the situation began to dawn upon them when some one asked:

"How are you going about it, Bill?"

"Well," drawled Bill, with a touch of sarcasm in his voice, "there's that pinto."

"Pinto be blanked!" said young Hill. "Say, boys, is that little girl going to lose that one pony of hers to help out her friend The Pilot? Good fellow, too, he is! We know he's the right sort."

[Chorus of, "Not by a long sight; not much; we'll put up the stuff! Pinto!"]

"Then," went on Bill, even more slowly, "there's The Pilot; he's going for to ante up a month's pay; 'taint much, o' course--twenty- eight a month and grub himself. He might make it two," he added, thoughtfully. But Bill's proposal was scorned with contemptuous groans. "Twenty-eight a month and grub himself o' course ain't much for a man to save money out ov to eddicate himself." Bill continued, as if thinking aloud, "O' course he's got his mother at home, but she can't make much more than her own livin', but she might help him some."

This was altogether too much for the crowd. They consigned Bill and his plans to unutterable depths of woe.

"O' course," Bill explained, "it's jest as you boys feel about it. Mebbe I was, bein' hot, a little swift in givin' 'em the bluff."

"Not much, you wasn't! We'll see you out! That's the talk! There's between twenty and thirty of us here."

"I should be glad to contribute thirty or forty if need be," said The Duke, who was standing not far off, "to assist in the building of a church. It would be a good thing, and I think the parson should be encouraged. He's the right sort."

"I'll cover your thirty," said young Hill; and so it went from one to another in tens and fifteens and twenties, till within half an hour I had entered three hundred and fifty dollars in my book, with Ashley yet to hear from, which meant fifty more. It was Bill's hour of triumph.

"Boys," he said, with solemn emphasis, "ye're all white. But that leetle pale-faced gel, that's what I'm thinkin' on. Won't she open them big eyes ov hers! I cherish the opinion that this'll tickle her some."

The men were greatly pleased with Bill and even more pleased with themselves. Bill's picture of the "leetle gel" and her pathetically tragic lot had gone right to their hearts and, with men of that stamp, it was one of their few luxuries to yield to their generous impulses. The most of them had few opportunities of lavishing love and sympathy upon worthy objects and, when the opportunity came, all that was best in them clamored for expression.