The Game and the Nation--Act Second

“That is the only step I have had to take this whole trip,” said the Virginian. He holstered his pistol with a jerk. “I have been fearing he would force it on me.” And he looked at empty, receding Dakota with disgust. “So nyeh back home!” he muttered.

“Known your friend long?” whispered Scipio to me.

“Fairly,” I answered.

Scipio’s bleached eyes brightened with admiration as he considered the Southerner’s back. “Well,” he stated judicially, “start awful early when yu’ go to fool with him, or he’ll make you feel unpunctual.” “I expaict I’ve had them almost all of three thousand miles,” said the Virginian, tilting his head toward the noise in the caboose. “And I’ve strove to deliver them back as I received them. The whole lot. And I would have. But he has spoiled my hopes.” The deputy foreman looked again at Dakota. “It’s a disappointment,” he added. “You may know what I mean.” I had known a little, but not to the very deep, of the man’s pride and purpose in this trust. Scipio gave him sympathy. “There must be quite a balance of ’em left with yu’ yet,” said Scipio, cheeringly.

“I had the boys plumb contented,” pursued the deputy foreman, hurt into open talk of himself. “Away along as far as Saynt Paul I had them reconciled to my authority. Then this news about gold had to strike us.” “And they’re a-dreamin’ nuggets and Parisian bowleyvards,” suggested Scipio.

The Virginian smiled gratefully at him.

“Fortune is shinin’ bright and blindin’ to their delicate young eyes,” he said, regaining his usual self.

We all listened a moment to the rejoicings within.

“Energetic, ain’t they?” said the Southerner. “But none of ’em was whelped savage enough to sing himself bloodthirsty. And though they’re strainin’ mighty earnest not to be tame, they’re goin’ back to Sunk Creek with me accordin’ to the Judge’s awders. Never a calf of them will desert to Rawhide, for all their dangerousness; nor I ain’t goin’ to have any fuss over it. Only one is left now that don’t sing. Maybe I will have to make some arrangements about him. The man I have parted with,” he said, with another glance at Dakota, “was our cook, and I will ask yu’ to replace him, Colonel.” Scipio gaped wide. “Colonel! Say!” He stared at the Virginian. “Did I meet yu’ at the palace?” “Not exackly meet,” replied the Southerner. “I was present one mawnin’ las’ month when this gentleman awdehed frawgs’ laigs.” “Sakes and saints, but that was a mean position!” burst out Scipio. “I had to tell all comers anything all day. Stand up and jump language hot off my brain at ’em. And the pay don’t near compensate for the drain on the system. I don’t care how good a man is, you let him keep a-tappin’ his presence of mind right along, without takin’ a lay- off, and you’ll have him sick. Yes, sir. You’ll hit his nerves. So I told them they could hire some fresh man, for I was goin’ back to punch cattle or fight Indians, or take a rest somehow, for I didn’t propose to get jaded, and me only twenty-five years old. There ain’t no regular Colonel Cyrus Jones any more, yu’ know. He met a Cheyenne telegraph pole in seventy-four, and was buried. But his palace was doin’ big business, and he had been a kind of attraction, and so they always keep a live bear outside, and some poor fello’, fixed up like the Colonel used to be, inside. And it’s a turruble mean position. Course I’ll cook for yu’. Yu’ve a dandy memory for faces!” “I wasn’t right convinced till I kicked him off and you gave that shut to your eyes again,” said the Virginian.

Once more the door opened. A man with slim black eyebrows, slim black mustache, and a black shirt tied with a white handkerchief was looking steadily from one to the other of us.

“Good day!” he remarked generally and without enthusiasm; and to the Virginian, “Where’s Schoffner?” “I expaict he’ll have got his bottle by now, Trampas.” Trampas looked from one to the other of us again. “Didn’t he say he was coming back?” “He reminded me he was going for a bottle, and afteh that he didn’t wait to say a thing.” Trampas looked at the platform and the railing and the steps. “He told me he was coming back,” he insisted.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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