Jimmy Hayes and Muriel
Supper was over, and there had fallen upon the camp the silence that accompanies the rolling of corn- husk cigarettes. The water-hole shone from the dark earth like a patch of fallen sky. Coyotes yelped. Dull thumps indicated the rocking-horse movements of the hobbled ponies as they moved to fresh grass. A half-troop of the Frontier Battalion of Texas Rangers were distributed about the fire.
A well-known soundthe fluttering and scraping of chaparral against wooden stirrupscame from the thick brush above the camp. The rangers listened cautiously. They heard a loud and cheerful voice call out reassuringly:
Brace up, Muriel, old gal, were most there now! Been a long ride for ye, aint it, ye old antediluvian handful of animated carpet-tacks? Hey, now, quit a tryin to kiss me! Dont hold on to my neck so tightthis here paint hoss aint any too shore-footed, let me tell ye. Hes liable to dump us both off if we dont watch out.
Two minutes of waiting brought a tired paint pony single-footing into camp. A gangling youth of twenty lolled in the saddle. Of the Muriel, whom he had been addressing, nothing was to be seen.
Hi, fellows! shouted the rider cheerfully. This heres a letter fer Lieutenant Manning.
He dismounted, unsaddled, dropped the coils of his stake-rope, and got his hobbles from the saddlehorn. While Lieutenant Manning, in command, was reading the letter, the new-comer rubbed solicitously at some dried mud in the loops of the hobbles, showing a consideration for the forelegs of his mount.
Boys, said the lieutenant, waving his hand to the rangers, this is Mr. James Hayes. Hes a new member of the company. Captain McLean sends him down from El Paso. The boys will see that you have some supper, Hayes, as soon as you get your pony hobbled.
The recruit was received cordially by the rangers. Still, they observed him shrewdly and with suspended judgment. Picking a comrade on the border is done with ten times the care and discretion with which a girl chooses a sweetheart. On your side-kickers nerve, loyalty, aim, and coolness your own life may depend many times.
After a hearty supper Hayes joined the smokers about the fire. His appearance did not settle all the questions in the minds of his brother-rangers. They saw simply a loose, lank youth with tow-coloured, sun-burned hair and a berry-brown, ingenuous face that wore a quizzical, good-natured smile.
Fellows, said the new ranger, Im goin to interduce to you a lady friend of mine. Aint ever heard anybody call her a beauty, but youll all admit, shes got some fine points about her. Come along, Muriel!
He held open the front of his blue flannel shirt. Out of it crawled a horned frog. A bright red ribbon was tied jauntily around its spiky neck. It crawled to its owners knee and sat there, motionless.
This here Muriel, says Hayes, with an oratorical wave of his hand, has got qualities. She never talks back, she always stays at home, and shes satisfied with one red dress for every day and Sunday, too.
Look at that blame insect! said one of the rangers with a grin. Ive seen plenty of them horny frogs, but I never knew anybody to have one for a side-partner. Does the blame thing know you from anybody else?
Take it over there and see, said Hayes.
The stumpy little lizard known as the horned frog is harmless. He has the hideousness of the prehistoric monsters whose reduced descendant he is, but he is gentler than the dove.
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