First Aid to Cupid by B.M. Bower
The floor manager had just called out that it was "ladies' choice," and Happy Jack, his eyes glued in rapturous apprehension upon the thin, expressionless face of Annie Pilgreen, backed diffidently into a corner. He hoped and he feared that she would discover him and lead him out to dance; she had done that once, at the Labor Day ball, and he had not slept soundly for several nights after.
Someone laid proprietary hand upon his cinnamon-brown coat sleeve, and he jumped and blushed; it was only the schoolma'am, however, smiling up at him ingratiatingly in a manner wholly bewildering to a simple minded fellow like Happy Jack. She led him into another corner, plumped gracefully and with much decision down upon a bench, drew her skirts aside to make room for him and announced that she was tired and wanted a nice long talk with him. Happy Jack, sending a troubled glance after Annie, who was leading Joe Meeker out to dance, sighed a bit and sat down obediently--and thereby walked straight into the loop which the schoolma'am had spread for his unwary feet.
The schoolma'am was sitting out an astonishing number of dances--for a girl who could dance from dark to dawn and never turn a hair--and the women were wondering why. If she had sat them out with Weary Davidson they would have smiled knowingly and thought no more of it; but she did not. For every dance she had a different companion, and in every case it ended in that particular young man looking rather scared and unhappy. After five minutes of low-toned monologue on the part of the schoolma'am, Happy Jack went the way of his predecessors and also became scared and unhappy.
"Aw, say! Miss Satterly, I can't act," he protested in a panic.
"Oh, yes, you could," declared the schoolma'am, with sweet assurance, "if you only thought so."
"Aw, I couldn't get up before a crowd and say a piece, not if--"
"I'm not sure I want you to. There are other things to an entertainment besides reciting things. I only want you to promise that you will help me out. You will, won't you?" The schoolma'am's eyes, besides being pretty, were often disconcertingly direct in their gaze.
Happy Jack wriggled and looked toward the door, which suddenly seemed a very long way off. "I--I've got to go up to the Falls, along about Christmas," he stuttered feebly, avoiding her eyes. "I--I can't get off any other time, and I've--I've got a tooth--"
"You're the fifth Flying-U man who has 'a tooth,'" the schoolma'am interrupted impatiently. "A dentist ought to locate in Dry Lake; from what I have heard confidentially to-night, there's a fortune to be made off the teeth of the Happy Family alone."
Every drop of blood in Happy's body seemed to stand then in his face. "I--I'll pull the curtain for yuh," he volunteered, meekly.
"You're the seventh applicant for that place." The schoolma'am was crushingly calm. "Every fellow I've spoken to has evinced a morbid craving for curtain-pulling."
Happy Jack crumpled under her sarcasm and perspired, and tried to think of something, with his brain quite paralyzed and useless.
The schoolma'am continued inexorably; plainly, her brain was not paralyzed. "I've promised the neighborhood that I would give a Christmas tree and entertainment--and when a school-teacher promises anything to a neighborhood, nothing short of death or smallpox will be accepted as an excuse for failing to keep the promise; and I've seven tongue-tied kids to work with!" (The schoolma'am was only spasmodically given to irreproachable English.) "Of course, I relied upon my friends to help me out. But when I come to calling the roll, I--I don't seem to have any friends." The schoolma'am was twirling the Montana sapphire ring which Weary had given her last spring, and her voice was trembly and made Happy Jack feel vaguely that he was a low-down cur and ought to be killed.
He swallowed twice. "Aw, yuh don't want to go and feel bad about it; I never meant--I'll do anything yuh ask me to."
"Thank you. I knew I could count upon you, Jack."
The schoolma'am recovered her spirits with a promptness that was suspicious; patted his arm and called him an awfully good fellow, which reduced Happy Jack to a state just this side imbecility. Also, she drew a little memorandum book from somewhere, and wrote Happy Jack's name in clear, convincing characters that made him shiver. He saw other names above his own on the page; quite a lot of them; seven in fact. Miss Satterly, evidently, was not quite as destitute of friends as her voice, awhile back, would lead one to believe. Happy Jack wondered.
"I haven't quite decided what we will have," she remarked briskly. "When I do, we'll all meet some evening in the school-house and talk it over. There's lots of fun getting up an entertainment; you'll like it, once you get started."
Happy did not agree with her, but he did not tell her so; he managed to contort his face into something resembling a grin, and retreated to the hotel, where he swallowed two glasses of whiskey to start his blood moving again, and then sat down and played poker disasterously until daylight made the lamps grow a sickly yellow and the air of the room seem suddenly stale and dead. But Happy never thought of blaming the schoolma'am for the eighteen dollars he lost.
Neither did he blame her for the nightmares which tormented his sleep during the week that followed or the vague uneasiness that filled his waking hour, even when he was not thinking directly of the ghost that dogged him. For wherever he went, or whatever he did, Happy Jack was conscious of the fact that his name was down on the schoolma'am's list and he was definitely committed to do anything she asked him to do, even to "speaking a piece"--which was in his eyes the acme of mental torture.
When Cal Emmett, probably thinking of Miss Satterly's little book, pensively warbled in his ear:
Is your name written there, On the page white and fair?
Happy Jack made no reply, though he suddenly felt chilly along the spinal column. It was.
"Schoolma'am wants us all to go over to the schoolhouse tonight--seven-thirty, sharp--to help make medicine over this Santa Claus round-up. Slim, she says you've got to be Santy and come down the stovepipe and give the kids fits and popcorn strung on a string. She says you've got the figure." Weary splashed into the wash basin like a startled muskrat.
The Happy Family looked at one another distressfully.
"By golly," Slim gulped, "you can just tell the schoolma'am to go plumb--" (Weary faced him suddenly, his brown hair running rivulets) "and ask the Old Man," finished Slim hurriedly. "He's fifteen pounds fatter'n I be."
"Go tell her yourself," said Weary, appeased. "I promised her you'd all be there on time, if I had to hog-tie the whole bunch and haul yuh over in the hayrack." He dried his face and hands leisurely and regarded the solemn group. "Oh, mamma! you're sure a nervy-looking bunch uh dogies. Yuh look like--"
"Maybe you'll hog-tie the whole bunch," Jack Bates observed irritably, "but if yuh do, you'll sure be late to meeting, sonny!"
The Happy Family laughed feeble acquiescence.
"I won't need to," Weary told them blandly. "You all gave the schoolma'am leave to put down your names, and its up to you to make good. If yuh haven't got nerve enough to stay in the game till the deck's shuffled yuh hadn't any right to buy a stack uh chips."
"Yeah--that's right," Cal Emmett admitted frankly, because shyness and Cal were strangers. "The Happy Family sure ought to put this thing through a-whirling. We'll give 'em vaudeville till their eyes water and their hands are plumb blistered applauding the show. Happy, you're it. You've got to do a toe dance."
Happy Jack grinned in sickly fashion and sought out his red necktie.
"Say, Weary," spoke up Jack Bates, "ain't there going to be any female girls in this opera troupe?"
"Sure. The Little Doctor's going to help run the thing, and Rena Jackson and Lea Adams are in it--and Annie Pilgreen. Her and Happy are down on the program for 'Under the Mistletoe', a tableau--the red fire, kiss-me-quick brand."
"Aw gwan!" cried Happy Jack, much distressed and not observing Weary's lowered eyelid.
His perturbed face and manner gave the Happy Family an idea. An idea, when entertained by the Happy Family, was a synonym for great mental agony on the part of the object of the thought, and great enjoyment on the part of the Family.
"That's right," Weary assured him sweetly, urged to further deceit by the manifest approval of his friends. "Annie's ready and willing to do her part, but she's afraid you haven't got the nerve to go through with it; but the schoolma'am says you'll have to anyhow, because your name's down and you told her distinct you'd do anything she asked yuh to. Annie likes yuh a heap, Happy; she said so. Only she don't like the way yuh hang back on the halter. She told me, private, that she wished yuh wasn't so bashful."
"Aw, gwan!" adjured Happy Jack again, because that was his only form of repartee.
"If I had a girl like Annie--"
"Aw, I never said I had a girl!"
"It wouldn't take me more than two minutes to convince her I wasn't as scared as I looked. You can gamble I'd go through with that living picture, and I'd sure kiss--"
"Aw, gwan! I ain't stampeding clear to salt water 'cause she said 'Boo!' at me--and I don't need no cayuse t' show me the trail to a girl's house--"
At this point, Weary succeeded in getting a strangle-hold and the discussion ended rather abruptly--as they had a way of doing in the Flying U bunk-house.
Over at the school-house that night, when Miss Satterly's little, gold watch told her it was seven-thirty, she came out of the corner where she had been whispering with the Little Doctor and faced a select, anxious-eyed audience. Even Weary was not as much at ease as he would have one believe, and for the others--they were limp and miserable.
She went straight at her subject. They all knew what they were there for, she told them, and her audience looked her unwinkingly in the eye. They did not know what they were there for, but they felt that they were prepared for the worst. Cal Emmett went mentally over the only "piece" he knew, which he thought he might be called upon to speak. It was the one beginning, according to Cal's version:
Twinkle, Twinkle little star, What in thunder are you at?
There were thirteen verses, and it was not particularly adapted to a Christmas entertainment.
The schoolma'am went on explaining. There would be tableaux, she said (whereat Happy Jack came near swallowing his tongue) and the Jarley Wax-works.
"What're them?" Slim, leaning awkwardly forward and blinking up at her, interrupted stolidly. Everyone took advantage of the break and breathed deeply.
The schoolma'am told them what were the Jarley Wax-works, and even reverted to Dickens and gave a vivid sketch of the original Mrs. Jarley. The audience finally understood that they would represent wax figures of noted characters, would stand still and let Mrs. Jarley talk about them--without the satisfaction of talking back--and that they would be wound up at the psychological moment, when they would be expected to go through a certain set of motions alleged to portray the last conscious acts of the characters they represented.
The schoolma'am sat down sidewise upon a desk, swung a neat little foot unconventionally and grew confidential, and the Happy Family knew they were in for it.
"Will Davidson" (which was Weary) "is the tallest fellow in the lot, so he must be the Japanese Dwarf and eat poisoned rice out of a chopping bowl, with a wooden spoon--the biggest we can find," she announced authoritatively, and they grinned at Weary.
"Mr. Bennett," (which was Chip) "you can assume a most murderous expression, so we'll allow you to be Captain Kidd and threaten to slay your Little Doctor with a wooden sword--if we can't get hold of a real one."
"Thanks," said Chip, with doubtful gratitude.
"Mr. Emmett, we'll ask you to be Mrs. Jarley and deliver the lectures."
When they heard that the Happy Family howled derision at Cal, who got red in the face in spite of himself. The worst was over. The victims scented fun in the thing and perked up, and the schoolma'am breathed relief, for she knew the crowd. Things would go with a swing, after this, and success was, barring accidents, a foregone conclusion.
Through all the clatter and cross-fire of jibes Happy Jack sat, nervous and distrait, in the seat nearest the door and farthest from Annie Pilgreen. The pot-bellied stove yawned red-mouthed at him, a scant three feet away. Someone coming in chilled with the nipping night air had shoveled in coal with lavish hand, so that the stove door had to be thrown open as the readiest method of keeping the stove from melting where it stood. Its body, swelling out corpulently below the iron belt, glowed red; and Happy Jack's wolf-skin overcoat was beginning to exhale a rank, animal odor. It never occurred to him that he might change his seat; he unbuttoned the coat absently and perspired.
He was waiting to see if the schoolma'am said anything about "Under the Mistletoe" with red fire--and Annie Pilgreen. If she did, Happy Jack meant to get out of the house with the least possible delay, for he knew well that no man might face the schoolma'am's direct gaze and refuse to do her bidding,
So far the Jarley Wax-works held the undivided attention of all save Happy Jack; to him there were other things more important. Even when he was informed that he must be the Chinese Giant and stand upon a coal-oil box for added height, arrayed in one of the big-flowered calico curtains which Annie Pilgreen said she could bring, he was apathetic. He would be required to swing his head slowly from side to side when wound up--very well, it looked easy enough. He would not have to say a word, and he supposed he might shut his eyes if he felt like it.
"As for the tableaux"--Happy Jack felt a prickling of the scalp and measured mentally the distance to the door--"We can arrange them later, for they will not require any rehearsing. The Wax-works we must get to work on as soon as possible. How often can you come and rehearse?"
"Every night and all day Sundays," Weary drawled.
Miss Satterly frowned him into good behavior and said twice a week would do.
Happy Jack slipped out and went home feeling like a reprieved criminal; he even tried to argue himself into the belief that Weary was only loading him and didn't mean a word he said. Still, the schoolma'am had said there would be tableaux, and it was a cinch she would tell Weary all about it--seeing they were engaged. Weary was the kind that found out things, anyway.
What worried Happy Jack most was trying to discover how the dickens Weary found out he liked Annie Pilgreen; that was a secret which Happy Jack had almost succeeded in keeping from himself, even. He would have bet money no one else suspected it--and yet here was Weary grinning and telling him he and Annie were cut out for a tableau together. Happy Jack pondered till he got a headache, and he did not come to any satisfactory conclusion with himself, even then.
The rest of the Happy Family stayed late at the school-house, and Weary and Chip discussed something enthusiastically in a corner with the Little Doctor and the schoolma'am. The Little Doctor said that something was a shame, and that it was mean, to tease a fellow as bashful as Happy Jack.
Weary urged that sometimes Cupid needed a helping hand, and that it would really be doing Happy a big favor, even if he didn't appreciate it at the time. So in the end the girls agreed and the thing was settled.
The Happy Family rode home in the crisp starlight gurgling and leaning over their saddle-horns in spasmodic fits of laughter. But when they trooped into the bunk-house they might have been deacons returning from prayer meeting so far as their decorous behavior was concerned. Happy Jack was in bed, covered to his ears and he had his face to the wall. They cast covert glances at his carroty top-knot and went silently to bed--which was contrary to habit.
At the third rehearsal, just as the Chinese Giant stepped off the coal-oil box--thereby robbing himself miraculously of two feet of stature--the schoolma'am approached him with a look in her big eyes that set him shivering. When she laid a finger mysteriously upon his arm and drew him into the corner sacred to secret consultations, the forehead of Happy Jack resembled the outside of a stone water-jar in hot weather. He knew beforehand just about what she would say. It was the tableau that had tormented his sleep and made his days a misery for the last ten days--the tableau with red fire and Annie Pilgreen.
Miss Satterly told him that she had already spoken to Annie, and that Annie was willing if Happy Jack had no objections. Happy Jack had, but he could not bring himself to mention the fact.
The schoolma'am had not quoted Annie's reply verbatim, but that was mere detail. When she had asked Annie if she would take part in a tableau with Happy Jack, Annie had dropped her pale eyelids and said: "Yes, ma'am." Still it was as much as the schoolma'am, knowing Annie, could justly expect.
Annie Pilgreen was an anaemic sort of creature with pale eyes, ash-colored hair that clung damply to her head, and a colorless complexion; her conversational powers were limited to "Yes, sir" and "No, sir" (or Ma'am if sex demanded and Annie remembered in time). But Happy Jack loved her; and when a woman loves and is loved, her existence surely is justified for all time.
Happy Jack sent a despairing glance of appeal at the Happy Family; but the Family was very much engaged, down by the stove. Cal Emmett was fanning himself with Mrs. Jarley's poppy-loaded bonnet and refreshing his halting memory of the lecture with sundry promptings from Len Adams who held the book. Chip Bennett was whittling his sword into shape and Weary was drumming a tattoo in the great wooden bowl with the spoon he used to devour poisoned rice upon the stage. The others were variously engaged; not one of them appeared conscious of the fact that Happy Jack was facing the tragedy of his bashful life.
Before he realized it, Miss Satterly had somehow managed to worm from him a promise, and after that nothing mattered. The Wax-works, the tree, the whole entertainment dissolved into a blurred background, against which he was to stand with Annie Pilgreen, for the amusement of his neighbors, who would stamp their feet and shout derisive things at him. Very likely he would be subjected to the agony of an encore, and he knew, beyond all doubt, that he would never be permitted to forget the figure he should cut; for Happy Jack knew he was as unbeautiful as a hippopotamus and as awkward. He wondered why he, of all the fellows who were to take part, should be chosen for that tableau; it seemed to him they ought to pick out someone who was at least passably good-looking and hadn't such big, red hands and such immense feet. His plodding brain revolved the mystery slowly and persistently.
When he remounted his wooden pedestal, thereby transforming himself into a Chinese Giant of wax, he looked the part. Where the other statues broke into giggles, to the detriment of their mechanical perfection, or squirmed visibly when the broken alarm clock whirred its signal against the small of their backs, Happy Jack stood immovably upright, a gigantic figure with features inhumanly stolid. The schoolma'am pointed him out as an example to the others, and pronounced him enthusiastically the best actor in the lot.
"Happy's swallowed his medicine--that's what ails him," the Japanese Dwarf whispered to Captain Kidd, and grinned.
The Captain turned his head and studied the brooding features of the giant. "He's doing some thinking," he decided. "When he gets the thing figured out, in six months or a year, and savvies it was a put-up job from the start, somebody'll have it coming."
"He can't pulverize the whole bunch, and he'll never wise up to who's the real sinner," Weary comforted himself.
"Don't you believe it. Happy doesn't think very often; when he does though, he can ring the bell--give him time enough."
"Here, you statues over there want to let up on the chin-whacking or I'll hand yuh a few with this," commanded Mrs. Jarley, and shook the stove-poker threateningly.
The Japanese Dwarf returned to his poisoned rice and Captain Kidd apologized to his victim, who was frowning reproof at him, and the rehearsal proceeded haltingly.
That night, Weary rode home beside Happy Jack and tried to lift him out of the slough of despond. But Happy refused to budge, mentally, an inch. He rode humped in the saddle like a calf in its first blizzard, and he was discouragingly unresponsive; except once, when Weary reminded him that the tableau would need no rehearsing and that it would only last a minute, anyway, and wouldn't hurt. Whereupon Happy Jack straightened and eyed him meditatively and finally growled, "Aw gwan; I betche you put her up to it, yuh darned chump."
After that Weary galloped ahead and overtook the others and told them Happy Jack was thinking and mustn't be disturbed, and that he thought it would not be fatal to anyone, though it was kinda hard on Happy.
From that night till Christmas eve, Happy Jack continued to think. It was not, however, till the night of the entertainment, when he was riding gloomily alone on his way to the school-house, that Happy Jack really felt that his brain had struck pay dirt. He took off his hat, slapped his horse affectionately over the ears with it and grinned for the first time since the Thanksgiving dance. "Yes sir," he said emphatically aloud, "I betche that's how it is, all right and I betche--"
The schoolma'am, her cheeks becomingly pink from excitement, fluttered behind the curtain for a last, flurried survey of stage properties and actors. "Isn't Johnny here, yet?" she asked of Annie Pilgreen who had just come and still bore about her a whiff of frosty, night air. Johnny was first upon the program, with a ready-made address beginning, "Kind friends, we bid you welcome on this gladsome day," and the time for its delivery was overdue.
Out beyond the curtain the Kind Friends were waxing impatient and the juvenile contingent was showing violent symptoms of descending prematurely upon the glittering little fir tree which stood in a corner next the stage. Back near the door, feet were scuffling audibly upon the bare floor and a suppressed whistle occasionally cut into the hum of subdued voices. Miss Satterly was growing nervous at the delay, and she repeated her question impatiently to Annie, who was staring at nothing very intently, as she had a fashion of doing.
"Yes, ma'am," she answered absently. Then, as an afterthought, "He's outside, talking to Happy Jack."
Annie was mistaken; Happy Jack was talking to Johnny. The schoolma'am tried to look through a frosted window.
"I do wish they'd hurry in; it's getting late, and everybody's here and waiting." She looked at her watch. The suppressed whistle back near the door was gaining volume and insistence.
"Can't we turn her loose, Girlie?" Weary came up and laid a hand caressingly upon her shoulder.
"Johnny isn't here, yet, and he's to give the address of welcome. Why must people whistle and make a fuss like that, Will?"
"They're just mad because they aren't in the show," said Weary. "Say, can't we cut out the welcome and sail in anyway? I'm getting kinda shaky, dreading it."
The schoolma'am shook her head. It would not do to leave out Johnny--and besides, country entertainments demanded the usual Address of Welcome. It is never pleasant to trifle with an unwritten law like that. She looked again at her watch and waited; the audience, being perfectly helpless, waited also.
Weary, listening to the whistling and the shuffling of feet, felt a queer, qualmy feeling in the region of his diaphragm, and he yielded to a hunger for consolation and company in his misery. He edged over to where Chip and Cal were amusing themselves by peeping at the audience from behind the tree.
"Say, how do yuh stack up, Cal?" he whispered, forlornly.
"Pretty lucky," Cal told him inattentively, and the cheerfulness of his whole aspect grieved Weary sorely. But then, he explained to himself, Cal always did have the nerve of a mule.
Weary sighed and wondered what in thunder ailed him, anyway; he was uncertain whether he was sick, or just plain scared. "Feel all right, Chip?" he pursued; anxiously.
"Sure," said Chip, with characteristic brevity. "I wonder who those silver-mounted spurs are for, there on the tree? They've been put on since this afternoon--can't yuh stretch your neck enough to read the name, Cal? They're the real thing, all right."
Weary's dejection became more pronounced. "Oh, mamma! am I the only knock-kneed son-of-a-gun in this crowd?" he murmured, and turned disconsolately away. His spine was creepy cold with stage fright; he listened to the sounds beyond the shielding curtain and shivered.
Just then Johnny and Happy Jack appeared looking rather red and guilty, and Johnny was thrust unceremoniously forward to welcome his kind friends and still the rising clamor.
Things went smoothly after that. It is true that Weary, as the Japanese Dwarf, halted the Wax-works and glared glassily at the faces staring back at him while the alarm clock buzzed unheeded against his spine. Mrs. Jarley, however, was equal to the emergency. She proceeded calmly to wind him up the second time, gave Weary an admonitory kick and whispered, "Come alive, yuh chump," and turned to the audience.
"This here Japanese Dwarf I got second-handed at a bargain sale for three-forty-nine, marked down for one week only," she explained blandly. "I got cheated like h--like I always do at them bargain sales, for it's about wore out. I guess I can make the thing work well enough to show yuh what it's meant to represent, though." She gave Weary another kick, commanded him again to "Come out of it and get busy," and the Dwarf obediently ate its allotted portion of poison. And every one applauded Weary more enthusiastically than they had the others, for they thought it was all his part. So much for justice.
"Our last selection will be a tableau entitled, 'Under the Mistletoe,'" announced the schoolma'am's clear tones. Then she took up her guitar and went down from the stage to where the Little Doctor waited with her mandolin. While the tableau was being arranged they meant to play together in lieu of a regular orchestra. The schoolma'am's brow was smooth, for the entertainment had been a success so far; and the tableau would be all right, she was sure--for Weary had charge of that. She hoped that Happy Jack would not hate it so very much, and that it would help to break the ice between him and Annie Pilgreen. So she plucked the guitar strings tentatively and began to play.
Behind the curtain, Annie Pilgreen stood simpering in her place and Happy Jack went reluctantly forward, resigned and deplorably inefficient. Weary, himself again now that his torment was over, posed him cheerfully. But Happy Jack did not get the idea. He stood, as Weary told him disgustedly, looking like a hitching-post. Weary labored with him desperately, his ear strained to keep in touch with the music which would, at the proper time, die to a murmur which would be a signal for the red fire and the tableau. Already the lamps were being turned low, out there beyond the curtain.
Though it was primarily a scheme of torture for Happy Jack, Weary was anxious that it should be technically perfect. He became impatient. "Say, don't stand there like a kink-necked horse, Happy!" he implored under his breath. "Ain't there any joints in your arms?"
"I ain't never practised it," Happy Jack protested in a hoarse whisper. "I never even seen a tableau in my life, even. If somebody'd show me once, so's I could get the hang of it--"
"Oh, mamma! you're a peach, all right. Here, give me that sage brush! Now, watch. We haven't got all night to make medicine over it. See? Yuh want to hold it over her head and kinda bend down, like yuh were daring yourself to kiss--"
Happy Jack backed off to get the effect; incidentally, he took the curtain back with him; also incidentally--, Johnny dropped a match into the red fire, which glowed beautifully. Weary caught his breath, but he was game and never moved any eyelash.
The red glow faded and left an abominable smell behind it, and some merciful hand drew the curtain--but it was not the hand of Happy Jack. He had gone out through the window and was crouching beneath it drinking in greedily the hand-clapping and the stamping of feet and the whistling, with occasional shouts of mirth which he recognized as coming from the rest of the Happy Family. It all sounded very sweet to the great, red ears of Happy Jack.
When the clatter showed signs of abatement he stole away to where his horse was tied, his sorrel coat gleaming with frost sparkles in the moonlight. "It's you and me to hit the trail, Spider," he croaked to the horse, and with his bare hand scraped the frost from the saddle.
A tall figure crept up from behind and grappled with him. Spider danced away as far as the rope would permit and snorted, and two struggling forms squirmed away from his untrustworthy heels.
"Aw, leggo!" cried Happy Jack when he could breathe again.
"I won't. You've got to come back and square yourself with Annie. How do yuh reckon she's feeling at the trick yuh played on her, yuh lop-eared--"
Happy Jack jerked loose and stood grinning in the moonlight. "Aw, gwan. Annie knowed I was goin' to do it," he retorted, loftily. "Annie and me's engaged." He got into the saddle and rode off, shouting back taunts.
Weary stood bareheaded in the cold and stared after him blankly.