Hearts and Crosses
Baldy Woods reached for the bottle, and got it. Whenever Baldy went for anything he usuallybut this is not Baldys story. He poured out a third drink that was larger by a finger than the first and second. Baldy was in consultation; and the consultee is worthy of his hire.
Id be king if I was you, said Baldy, so positively that his holster creaked and his spurs rattled.
Webb Yeager pushed back his flat-brimmed Stetson, and made further disorder in his straw-coloured hair. The tonsorial recourse being without avail, he followed the liquid example of the more resourceful Baldy.
If a man marries a queen, it oughtnt to make him a two-spot, declared Webb, epitomizing his grievances.
Sure not, said Baldy, sympathetic, still thirsty, and genuinely solicitous concerning the relative value of the cards. By right youre a king. If I was you, Id call for a new deal. The cards have been stacked on you. Ill tell you what you are, Webb Yeager.
What? asked Webb, with a hopeful look in his pale blue eyes.
Youre a prince consort.
Go easy, said Webb, I never blackguarded you none.
Its a title, explained Baldy, up among the picture cards; but it dont take no tricks Ill tell you, Webb. Its a brand theyve got for certain animals in Europe. Say that you or me or one of them Dutch dukes marries in a royal family. Well, by and by our wife gets to be queen. Are we king? Not in a million years. At the coronation ceremonies we march between little casino and the Ninth Grand Custodian of the Royal Hall Bedchamber. The only use we are is to appear in photographs, and accept the responsibility for the heir-apparent. That aint any square deal. Yes, sir, Webb, youre a prince consort; and if I was you, Id start a interregnum or a habeas corpus or somethin; and Id be king if I had to turn from the bottom of the deck.
Baldy emptied his glass to the ratification of his Warwick pose.
Baldy, said Webb solemnly, me and you punched cows in the same outfit for years. We been runnin on the same range, and ridin the same trails since we was boys. I wouldnt talk about my family affairs to nobody but you. You was line-rider on the Nopalito Ranch when I married Santa McAllister. I was foreman then; but what am I now? I dont amount to a knot in a stake rope.
When old McAllister was the cattle king of West Texas, continued Baldy with Satanic sweetness, you was some tallow. You had as much to say on the ranch as he did.
I did, admitted Webb, up to the time he found out I was tryin to get my rope over Santas head. Then he kept me out on the range as far from the ranch-house as he could. When the old man died they commenced to call Santa the cattle queen. Im boss of the cattlethats all. She tends to all the business; she handles all the money; I cant sell even a beef-steer to a party of campers, myself. Santas the queen; and Im Mr. Nobody.
Id be king if I was you, repeated Baldy Woods, the royalist. When a man marries a queen he ought to grade up with heron the hoofdresseddriedcornedany old way from the chaparral to the packing-house. Lots of folks thinks its funny, Webb, that you dont have the say-so on the Nopalito. I aint reflection none on Mix Yeagershes the finest little lady between the Rio Grande and next Christmasbut a man ought to be boss of his own camp.
The smooth, brown face of Yeager lengthened to a mask of wounded melancholy. With that expression, and his rumpled yellow hair and guileless blue eyes, he might have been likened to a schoolboy whose
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