Law and Order

I found myself in Texas recently, revisiting old places and vistas. At a sheep ranch where I had sojourned many years ago, I stopped for a week. And, as all visitors do, I heartily plunged into the business at hand, which happened to be that of dipping the sheep.

Now, this process is so different from ordinary human baptism that it deserves a word of itself. A vast iron cauldron with half the fires of Avernus beneath it is partly filled with water that soon boils furiously. Into that is cast concentrated lye, lime, and sulphur, which is allowed to stew and fume until the witches’ broth is strong enough to scorch the third arm of Palladino herself.

Then this concentrated brew is mixed in a long, deep vat with cubic gallons of hot water, and the sheep are caught by their hind legs and flung into the compound. After being thoroughly ducked by means of a forked pole in the hands of a gentleman detailed for that purpose, they are allowed to clamber up an incline into a corral and dry or die, as the state of their constitutions may decree. If you ever caught an able-bodied, two-year-old mutton by the hind legs and felt the 750 volts of kicking that he can send through your arm seventeen times before you can hurl him into the vat, you will, of course, hope that he may die instead of dry.

But this is merely to explain why Bud Oakley and I gladly stretched ourselves on the bank of the near- by charco after the dipping, glad for the welcome inanition and pure contact with the earth after our muscle-racking labours. The flock was a small one, and we finished at three in the afternoon; so Bud brought from the morral on his saddle-horn, coffee and a coffee-pot and a big hunk of bread and some side bacon. Mr. Mills, the ranch owner and my old friend, rode away to the ranch with his force of Mexican trabajadores.

While the bacon was frizzling nicely, there was the sound of horses’ hoofs behind us. Bud’s six-shooter lay in its scabbard ten feet away from his hand. He paid not the slightest heed to the approaching horseman. This attitude of a Texas ranchman was so different from the old-time custom that I marvelled. Instinctively I turned to inspect the possible foe that menaced us in the rear. I saw a horseman dressed in black, who might have been a lawyer or a parson or an undertaker trotting peaceably along the road by the arroyo.

Bud noticed my precautionary movement and smiled sarcastically and sorrowfully.

“You’ve been away too long,” said he. “You don’t need to look around any more when anybody gallops up behind you in this state, unless something hits you in the back; and even then it’s liable to be only a bunch of tracts or a petition to sign against the trusts. I never looked at that hombre that rode by; but I’ll bet a quart of sheep dip that he’s some double-dyed son of a popgun out rounding up prohibition votes.”

“Times have changed, Bud,” said I oracularly. “Law and order is the rule now in the South and the South- west.”

I caught a cold gleam from Bud’s pale blue eyes.

“Not that I—” I began hastily.

“Of course you don’t,” said Bud warmly. “You know better. You’ve lived here before. Law and order, you say? Twenty years ago we had ’em here. We only had two or three laws, such as against murder before witnesses, and being caught stealing horses, and voting the Republican ticket. But how is it now? All we get is orders; and the laws go out of the state. Them legislators set up there at Austin and don’t do nothing but makes laws against kerosene oil and schoolbooks being brought into the state. I reckon they was afraid some man would go home some evening after work and light up and get an education and go to work and make laws to repeal aforesaid laws. Me, I’m for the old days when law and order meant what they said. A law was a law, and a order was a order.”

“But—” I began.

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