Deep into Cattle Land

Morning had been for some while astir in Medicine Bow before I left my quilts. The new day and its doings began around me in the store, chiefly at the grocery counter. Dry-goods were not in great request. The early rising cow-boys were off again to their work; and those to whom their night’s holiday had left any dollars were spending these for tobacco, or cartridges, or canned provisions for the journey to their distant camps. Sardines were called for, and potted chicken, and devilled ham: a sophisticated nourishment, at first sight, for these sons of the sage-brush. But portable ready-made food plays of necessity a great part in the opening of a new country. These picnic pots and cans were the first of her trophies that Civilization dropped upon Wyoming’s virgin soil. The cow-boy is now gone to worlds invisible; the wind has blown away the white ashes of his camp-fires; but the empty sardine box lies rusting over the face of the Western earth.

So through my eyes half closed I watched the sale of these tins, and grew familiar with the ham’s inevitable trade-mark--that label with the devil and his horns and hoofs and tail very pronounced, all colored a sultry prodigious scarlet. And when each horseman had made his purchase, he would trail his spurs over the floor, and presently the sound of his horse’s hoofs would be the last of him. Through my dozing attention came various fragments of talk, and sometimes useful bits of knowledge. For instance, I learned the true value of tomatoes in this country. One fellow was buying two cans of them.

“Meadow Creek dry already?” commented the proprietor.

“Been dry ten days,” the young cow-boy informed him. And it appeared that along the road he was going, water would not be reached much before sundown, because this Meadow Creek had ceased to run. His tomatoes were for drink. And thus they have refreshed me many times since.

“No beer?” suggested the proprietor.

The boy made a shuddering face. “Don’t say its name to me!” he exclaimed. “I couldn’t hold my breakfast down.” He rang his silver money upon the counter. “I’ve swore off for three months,” he stated. “I’m going to be as pure as the snow!” And away he went jingling out of the door, to ride seventy-five miles. Three more months of hard, unsheltered work, and he would ride into town again, with his adolescent blood crying aloud for its own.

“I’m obliged,” said a new voice, rousing me from a new doze. “She’s easier this morning, since the medicine.” This was the engineer, whose sick wife had brought a hush over Medicine Bow’s rioting. “I’ll give her them flowers soon as she wakes,” he added.

“Flowers?” repeated the proprietor.

“You didn’t leave that bunch at our door?” “Wish I’d thought to do it.” “She likes to see flowers,” said the engineer. And he walked out slowly, with his thanks unachieved. He returned at once with the Virginian; for in the band of the Virginian’s hat were two or three blossoms.

“It don’t need mentioning,” the Southerner was saying, embarrassed by any expression of thanks. “If we had knowed last night--”

“You didn’t disturb her any,” broke in the engineer. “She’s easier this morning. I’ll tell her about them flowers.” “Why, it don’t need mentioning,” the Virginian again protested, almost crossly. “The little things looked kind o’ fresh, and I just picked them.” His eye now fell upon me, where I lay upon the counter. “I reckon breakfast will be getting through,” he remarked.

I was soon at the wash trough. It was only half-past six, but many had been before me,--one glance at the roller-towel told me that. I was afraid to ask the landlady for a clean one, and so I found a fresh handkerchief, and accomplished a sparing toilet. In the midst of this the drummers joined me, one by one, and they used the degraded towel without hesitation. In a way they had the best of me; filth was nothing to them.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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