The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Fall
An Amusing Story of Ranching Life in the Canadian West
H. M. Tandy
H’/io wrote ‘‘A Fourth for Bridge,” ”Strawstack Strategy,” etc.
IF YOU, friend reader, care to secrete yourself behind that shaving stick, I will get behind this candle and tell you briefly and concisely the history of the three figures asleep in the iron beds and, in passing, how they come to be here.
The burly one in the pink striped pyjamas is named Archibald McLoud, exbank clerk, strong like an ox. Notice the wrist and fore arm, thick as a piano leg? That is his style of architecture throughout. Archie holds to a strong belief in system and efficiency as applied to agriculture; has a fair ba9s voice; plays the piano by “Hunt System"; favorite tune, “If I had a cow and she gave mUk.” Disposition kind and gentle, will stand without hitching. Is slightly tinged with socialism however, believing that farmers are entitled to bank loans on the same interest and security basis as stockholders, real-estaters, etc. Age rising 30.
Next bed, Samuel F. Featherstone, expolice-and-hotel reporter on Daily Bleat. College graduate but convalescent on this point. -Was able, before becoming slightly touched in the wind, to run a hundred yards in ten seconds. Author of revolutionary but as - yet unpublished MS., “The failure of the Newspapers to Educate and Refine the Masses.” Hobby, Shorthorn Cattle. Temper variable but at base. Age 27 years.
Bed near window; Frederick Creighton Smith, son of the well-known John Smith. Previous to moving to farm F red was hat salesman or drummer, or according to British phraseology, “traveler in hats and caps.” Has traveled extensively in certain districts of North America and Quebec. Persistent raconteur, also critic and cogitatist. Temper average. Hobby: “An egg per hen per day and strafe the mortgage.” Possessor of pleasing but somewhat throaty bathroom tenor voice. Age rising 29 years.
THAT must suffice, friend reader, because that “click” you heard portends that the alarm clock is about to shatter the silence and, chances are, awake at least one of the sleepers.
But first it is desirable to explain, which perhaps can be done without too great elaboration of detail, how^ came these three to be here. The credit goes to Archibald. During his employment in the bank he irked, if one may be permitted the expression. He was a mountainous boy, you will remember, and often blushed with embarrassment at the thought of carving his career in the world with a pen. And further, the ends of his fingers were so large that he found it next to impossible to press the keys of the adding machines, one at a time, in other than a slow and irksome manner.
So the Department of Agriculture at Ottawa came by request to forward to his address highly specialized literature on such subjects as The Eradication of Noxious Weeds, Hog Diseases, Their Causes and Cures, Seasonable Hints on Diversified Farming, and many others dealing with the vexed questions of growing flora and fuma.
Archie found little difficulty in persuading Fred to join the venture. Traveling in hats and caps had few charms for him that farming could not match. He would go—willingly—especially as he would then get an opportunity of pro^ng what he had always maintained, viz, “the domestic hen is misunderstood by nine out of ten farmers and as a result her average per diem yield is low.”
It was different with Sam. He presented a serious obstacle. There was a certain girl, accomplished and beautiful of course, in whose violet eyes Sam had found favor. She occupied one pan of the scale and, though the whole world was in the other, yet did she outweigh itNo, Sam would not go farming. He would buy a little paper one of these days and start out on a journalistic career of such brilliance and power that no girl, be her eyes ever so violet, could resist for long the chance of sharing his fortune and basking in the reflected light of his fame.
But one day Sam arrived at Archie’s quarters and announced his willingness to go farming. The girl, it appears, in addition to her violet eye9 had a soul dyed in the deep purple of inconstancy, for while Sam was busy on the work of carving his career, she had promised herself to another. This breach of faith, Sam averred, convinced him of the soundness of his belief thpt women, all women, went about clothed in the garments of deceit; in consequence of whiçh he from that time had decided to cultivate the germ of hate for the sex.
The following day at lunch the three agreed to resign their respective positions and at the earliest possible moment move West. As a stipulation Sam Exacted from the other two the most solemn declaration that for a period of three years at least neither of them would cast covetous eyes at any girl and stifle in infancy any thoughts of matrimony.
So, in effect, the ringing slogan of Dumas' Three Guardsmen, “One for All and All for One,” as proposed by Sam, was accepted by the others; and under this flaming banner we now behold them recumbent in the upper chamber of the shack at Slough View Farm.
' I ' HE farm had prospered reasonably.
The problems of husbandry and cultivation that arose went down beneath the onslaught of enthusiasm and effort, for skill comes with doing, in farming as in most things.
Socially they made many discoveries. It wa9 just as diverting, they found, to discuss the relative merits of Clyde and Percheron as the state of the hat and cap market or the possible distribution of Christmas bonuses by the bank.
And they discovered Mary.
It came about in this wise: Their immediate neighbor to the north had de-^ eided to invest some of the season’s crop in a new barn—a large, imposing building on a cement foundation, that loomed against the sky-line like a huge red mountain—for it’s treason in the neighborhood to own other than a red barn.
The building completed, Mr. Dawson with hi9 hands thrust deep in his overall Dockets surveyed it, an¿T^inding that it was good, informed “central” in town that on the following Friday night all and sundry were expected to turn up prepared to chase the hours With flying feet to the accompaniment of an orchestra imported at considerable cost from a distant city. And Central, delighted, from the middle of her web spun a blanket invitation that covered the countryside.
MARY was Mr. Dawson’s daughter» and it is only the truth to say that many a good man and true in that particular locality had tied his team in the old man’s stable to the accompaniment of a wildly beating and covetous heart. For Mary had a manner of putting her blond head on one side and flooding a fellow with thoughts that perhaps after allwell, one never can tell—and anything worth having was worth asking for. Mary’s smile, in short, had the Cireean effect of making faint hearts brave, and as the dance progressed Sam, to his utter surprise, found himself thinking that perhaps, after all, there were other attractive shades in eyes than violet.
The dance was over. A pleasant time was had. We have the editor’s printed word for that. On the road home the three from Slough View Farm beguiled the time by a more or less free discussion of those they had met there, but Sam, reluctant to betray the fact that the spell of two fair but faithless violet eyes was dissolving, contributed little to the symposium but grunts.
There was small question of the deepness of Sam’s wound. He railed woman. “Women,” he would say if given an opening, “are a failure. They are going to bring civilization tottering down about our ears. Once, in our mother’s time, they had a place in the scheme of things but they’ve gone wild—wild and irresponsible and undependable, I tell you. And as for me. I’m through with them.”
“We shall see,” Fred would answer on such occasions. “We shall see. I am not one given to many words, but I bet I live to see you strung up on the matrimonial tree. I know YOUR kind. I believe that Fitzsimmons was right—‘the bigger they are the harder they fall.’ ”
AND this was the morning after the dance. The sun was a mere slit of glowing orange on the horizon. Archie was already kicking into his overalls. “Get up fellows, get up ! Do you want to sleep all day? It’s a quarter past five now.”
Sam partly opened one eye. “I was brought up not to consider one either % dullard or a sloth who is found in bed at ft.lft,” he announced from a rift in the pillow. “And I wanta tell you chaps that in the city after a dance. . . .”
“You can tell anything that happens to be on your mind to the cows as you milk ’em,” Archie cut in. “There’s a lot to do to-day. There’s the chores, and that piece of pig fence to build. And By Jove! We’ve got to brand those calves. So get a hump on, you twin mountains of sleep.” . Archie, now fully dressed, started for the stairs. On the way past their beds he deftly flipped the covers off each, thereby releasing all the animal heat they had so assiduously been generating during the night. This is perhaps the le43t tactful, even if the most efficacious, of all ways to induce a fellow man to stand erect and greet the smiling morn, and probably accounts for the sullied dispositions that Sam and Fred brought to the breakfast table.
“That breakfast,” said Archie some time later, pushing aside the dishes and refilling his coffee cup, “meets every dietic necessity—appetizing, sustaining, perfectly balanced. The hen that laid those eggs is an ornament to her sex. The cow that er—er—relinquished that cream is the soul of honor. Now to business. What says the schedule for to-day?” Reaching to a small desk behind him he produced a card index file. “Here we are, ‘June 27th. Brand Calves. Build pig fence. Balance of time clear brush in south field.’ See how simple it is? The entire day’s work already planned—I tell you fellows that thi9 farm is going to glide to success and prosperity on the wings of system.”
“On the wings of your grandmother,” floated in disgusted tones from the kitchen where Fred was noisily attempting to sort the dishes preparatory to washing them. “You up-end and come dry these dishes. System! You make me sick, Archie.”
IT IS not the intention, friend reader, to mislead you as to the difficulty and labor involved in branding half a dozen yearling calves. This undertaking is no harder for an amateur than playing “The Rustle of Spring” on a squiffer; or performing a dental operation on a wild cat; or, say, shelling peas with a pair of boxing gloves. Don’t misunderstand us; these things are ALL more or less difficult.
Branding calves, in theory, is simplicity itself. Corral your cattle. Snub them one at a time to a post or posts with stout ropes or, if preferred, throw and hog-tie them. Heat your irons, and apply. . .
Y'ou are no doubt familiar with that sterling old English recipe for rabbit pie, which starts off with this useful phrase, “First catch your rabbit—” There is reason and logic in that phrase, in fact it contains the germ of a sermon on preparedness applicable in varying forms to many situations that occur in a day’s work.
Our dumb friends possess in great keenness the power of sensing impending trouble which countless generations of domesticity has not been able to deaden, dull or diminish. It’s the chicken you need to round out the menu that sulks under the barn. It’s the one pig you particularly desire to point out to the butcher which refuses to approach the trough. If there is a horse in the pasture you set your heart upon, it is he and he alone, who refuses to fall for the "oat gag.” Even ducks, stupid and dull in most things, know, without benefit of calendar, when the season opens.
The cattle of Slough View Farm did not furnish the exception that proves this rule. They discerned at once that the trio descending upon them had hidden, sinister motives, which motives they determined to oppose at each and every point.
Several times the herd was urged towards the yawning gates of the barnyard. An equal number of times did they refuse to enter. Led by Mrs. Pankhurst, a roan cow of rakish cut, they slewed from the very portals of the gate to the right or left and back once more to the pasture, there deploying in extended order. *
A word regarding Mrs. Pankhurst. Sam named her. It happened in this wise. She was a hard cow on fences. There was no fence made of smooth, barb or woven wire that would keep this bovine in, or out, as the case might be. She was always in the crop. So they arrested her one day and incarcerated her in the barn. But she wouldn’t eat So, to save her life, they released her. The next day she horned the door off the granary, calling to the balance of the herd ( so Sam averred). “Come on girls. Oats for women.” So Sam named her Mrs. Pankhurst
“There is only one thing to do, boys— and that’s to rope Mrs. Pankhurst,” opined Archie.
HP HERE’S another thing that requires -*■ finesse—roping a cow of the temperament of Mrs. Pankhurst It calls for low cunning combined with speed and endurance. Sam, being the auickest on his feet, was elected roper. His time for the ensuing hour was taken up with prowlings, shadow boxing and laborious slow circumnavigations.
In this, as in most things, persistence wins and, with a glad cry of triumph, Sam finally dropped his rope over a bush and about the horns of Mrs. Pankhurst
From this point such action sets in as to raise this simple tale out of the realm of prose, for what transpired was of that stuff of which moving picture scenarios are made. First, from behind a clump of willows, came Mrs. Pankhurst: Followed a long taut length of rope: Then followed Sam.
Such tremendous acceleration did Mrs. Pankhurst possess that before long. Sam was but skimming the bosom of Mother Earth, swaying and yawning like a captive balloon.
As he reached the spot from which Fred and Archie had been issuing tactical advice he traveled in a series of long strides or hops, and from the movement of his lips it was evident he spoke, though the rush of wind carried his words back over his 9houlder too quickly for comprehension. But, knowing that assistance would not come amiss to him, they too fastened themselves to the rope.
At slightly diminished speed, Mrs. Pankhurst held her course for a distance, for the combined opposition of three men was no more to this determined bovine than the opposition of one. But physically she weakened. She tired in limb, and her wind, if we may be permitted the expression, came in short pants.
She towed the group to the centre of a small pool or puddle and stopped, turning upon them a cold and dauntless eye. This eye, the trio observed, was sutfu-ed by the light of a new idea. “Give them the bayonet,” she decided. “The cold horn does it!” And since with her to decide was to act, she sprang to the attack with lung, clean leaps and lowered head.
What did they do? What could they do? They had a rope on her ’tis true but it is not possible to apply push-pressure on a rope. They gave ground.
NOW the retreat of one side is not necessarily a victory for the other. Troops have been lured to defeat in the thought that they were carrying all before them. But Mrs. Pankhurst was no ordinary foe. Observing that the enemy was preparing to carry out a strategic retreat, she charged, horse, foot and artillery as it were. This brought about something in the nature of a rout, with the enemy clearing scrub and silver willow, brier patches and small bodies of water in an effort to maintain their margin of safety, while bayonets, not less to be feared because they were shaped like the handles of a bicycle, sought to engage their rear guard in action.
Mrs. Pankhurst. like a wise and forehanded general, decided not to venture too far from her base. Turning, she made slowly for the pasture, grazing as she went, but not forgetting ever and anon to sweep the horizon with a glance to make sure no further raids were impending.
The herd, deprived of Mrs. Pankhurst’a splendid leadership and courage, was easier to capture. One by one the calves were caught, roped and branded, if not with neatness and dispatch, at least eventually. As the last struggled to its feet the tyros seated themselves on a wagonpole and wiped each his perspiring face.
“Well,” remarked Archie. “That chore’s chored.”
“And rather a neat job of stencil work too, if I do say so who shouldn’t,” added Sam who had applied the branding irons.
“It must sting the little beggars some,” observed Fred. "I remember the time I put my leg up again9t a hot stove in a little station south of—Goderich-!”
* I ' HEN it was that Archie jumped to his feet and gave tongue. He made a strange and unusual sound, recalling the days when Lo The Poor Indian was wont to raise his victim’s hair with fright preparatory to raising his scalp with a knife.
“Wow!” he yelled. “Look. See. See what you’ve done! How do you propose to fix that, you ivory tip.”
“How do you mean? Fix what?” asked Sam in a tone of questioning alarm, allowing his gaze to follow the direction indicated by Archie’s stiffly extended finger until it rested on a red bull calf, slowly and painfully picking his way to the gato.
"See what you’ve done!” Archie continued to yell “You must have got those irons mixed. Our marks are S. A. S., aint’ they? Well then, read that calf. Read him. What does it say on him? A.S.S., don’t it? You've put your own personal signature on him, that’s what 3 you’ve done.”
It was most alarmingly true. Sam had mixed the branding irons and, as he watched the calf disappear, the sickening realization cane to him that there was probably no way known to the science of branding in which the mistake could be rectified.
Continued on page 75
Continued from page 16
“The branding iron writes, and having, writ, moves on, nor all your tears can change a word of it,” mis-quoted Fred.
Archie threw up his hands in despair. Sam lighted a cigarette with an air of complete indifference, but even so, the calf was probably the sorest of all concerned.
As was often the case, the full list of items on the card index for the day could not be accomplished. When the pig fence was finished, so was the daylight.
So passed the day9 and the seasons.
H E typographical error that Sam •*had committed on the calf was not often referred to now. The work and anxiety of harvest had driven frivolity into a corner. Though the fall was well advanced there was still enough warmth in the setting sun to allow them to sit fof a while on the verandah after supper. So on this evening there they sat, each in his respective chair.
From three pipes ascended three peaceful spirals of smoke. It was no architectural masterpiece, this verandah, but it overlooked the slough whereon were learning to swim numerous large families of small ducks. At another angle they could see their oats spraying into head and four good feet above the ground and, owing to a little rise in the pasture beyond, a number of their horses and cattle were almost continually in moving silhouette against the gaudy sky-line.
Continued on page 76
“This is indeed a hard life,” remarked Archie elevating his feét mid-way up a post “How about a little close harmony? When I sing Tf I had a cow,' you, Fred, come in-”
“Just a moment” objected Sam. “I've got some news for you.”
“Tell it brother,” drawled Fred.
“I’m going to quit” said Sam.
Archie’s feet slid down the poet and hit the verandah with a bang: “You’re going to what?”
“I’m going to quit I’m going away from here,” said Sam.
“You are?” asked Fred.
“I are,” echoed Sam. “By and by you fellows are going to grasp my meaning—
I am going away.”
“I saw that you got a letter from The Bleat the other day,” said Archie sadly. “So that’s it eh? Going back to be a reporter. Fifteen a week and chance* at the show passes for yours, eh? I’m very much disappointed in you, Sam. You’ve got no more ability for writing than the most backward dumb brute on the place—why you can’t even stencil three letters on a calf without getting them wrong. I pull you out of the slums, practically, work and pray over you, try to make a farmer and a man of you, and just as you are learning to tell a Berkshire hog from an Indian Runner Duck, you pull out. I swear that henceforth and forever, humanity must get along without my help. If I see a man in the gutter—he stays there. I'm through.”
“Do you mean to say you are going to quit the farm?” enquired Fred.
Sam, who was about to answer Archie in kind, turned on the questioner. “If you should ask me that question once more, Frederick, just once more, I shall probably end by finding a pitch fork and beating you into a state of coma. Yes, Frederick, I am going to quit.”
“Is that so?” murmured Fred.
Archie looked out * across the slough, silently, pulling at his pipe.
“I am sorry to hear that Sam,” he said at last. “Fred and I will have some trouble running the place alone for a couple of years, until we can afford to hire some help anyway. But I guess we will get along O.K.. eh Fred?”
“I am sorry too, boys, really I am,” said Sam. “I’ve thought a great deal about this. I’ve tried to fight down the impulses to take this step for months. I have been happy here, and more interested than I have been in anything before. But it is no use. A fellow has impulses and instincts and a sense of his destiny. These things should be, mu»t be obeyed, or one’s life is not the free flowing experience it was meant to be. At least that’s the way I figure it out.”
Archie turned on him and pointed his pipe, like a pistol, at his head; but, strange behavior, he flashed a wink at Fred, that belied his ferocious mien.
“You feel an urge to report, do you? Your instincts and impulses are to report for posterity what happens to a dockful of drunks and bums. If that is the ‘free flowing experience’ your nature craves, take it from me. you need your head read.” And he commenced to stride up and down the verandah causing it, to say nothing of the house to which it clung, to vibrate with the stress of his indignation.
T THIS point Fred arose, leaned against the house out of range of Sam’s vision. Then another strange thing happened—he caught Archie’s eye for a moment and he winked and grinned after the manner of one who is party to a conspiracy.
But he successfully eliminated the semblance of either wink or grin in his voice as he commenced to speak, moodily.
“I don’t see w:hy you want to quit Sam,” said he. “Just after we’ve got the chicken house planned and everything. Well have four foals next spring and you won’t have a chance to see them or break then« if you quit. And think of the crop well have—30 acres or more on breaking., An' we were going to take a flier in sheep next year—you know what we were saying about getting a few sheep to run on the summer-fallow to keep the weeds down smd one thing and another. An’ the spring calves and everything—how will we orand them without you, Sam’ Ah, stick around. The Daily Bleat can get along without you all right.”
“You fellows are altogether too precipitate—if you know what that means—you jump at conclusions. You particularly, Archie. Did I say anything about going back to the Bleat, although,” puffing out his chest, “I play say in all modesty, me job awaits me there. Did I?”
“No—you didn’t—but-” commenced
“I didn’t say I was. And I’m not.” Then, with much ostentation of manner he added, “I am getting a farm of my own.”
“A farm of your own?” asked Fred. “There you are at it again, Fred. Your brain is dusty to-night. A farm of my own ! A farm of my own ! And for the third and last time—say, I'll drop you in your tracks if you ask me that again.” “Is that so,” murmured Fred. “A farm of your own.” -
"Where at?” asked Archie in a tone of exaggerated amazement.
“Not far away. I’m going in for pure bred cattle — shorthorns mostly. Some horses—Clydes. A few sheep and one thing and another.”
THEN a fresh idea struck Fred and he commenced to laugh most immoderately. “Oh. ho,” said he, “that’s a good one.' He’ll be baching, Archie, and you know what a splendid*housewife he is, so capable and willing. Never breaks a single dish—more than once. Never forgets the salt in the porridge. Oh, no! Loves to cook. Remember the pigs trying to crack the armour on that batch of bread he made and the chickens going round with their beaks all bent on it Ho, ho!”
“That will be a ‘free flowing experience’ all right” said Archie.
AT THIS point Sam jumped to his feet He swallowed nervously once or twice. He extended his hand in a commanding gesture. But what hb would have said will never be known, for Archie turned to Fred and said sternly, “Bring the incriminating papers.”
Continued on page 78
Fred dived iiito the house, to return shortly with an envelope, bearing on the outsidq^these words, “Sealed in the presence of the undersigned, July, 1916,” under which appeared his signature and that of Archie.
“Open and read,” commanded Archie. Fred did so, and this is what he read:
Slough View Farm, July 20, 1916.
‘Having for some months past closely ob served tbe attentions being paid by one Samuel F. Featherstone, to Mary, daughter of Neighbor Dawson, we tbe undersigned, have come to the conclusion that said Samuel Is fast heading towards matrimony. This would he a most desirable condition of affairs except that said Samuel is bound by reason of his plighted word to refrain from any step tending in this direction for a period covering three years after March, 1915. But we, the undersigned, being of charitable and benign disposition, do hereby release Samuel F. Featherstone from such bond and oatb, and this paper is on this date drawn up to serve as evidence that the said Samuel F. Featherstone Is not putting one over ou the undersigned as he Imagines to he the case, but on tbe contrary his numerous buggy rides, hts Journeys to church, his frequent visits to the house where said Mary does reside, are all known and apprehended by the undersigned. This paper shall be produced at the proper time and place, read in the presence of Samuel F. Featherstone, and then presented to him as his token of release from hts oath above referred to, as evidence that the undersigned are fnilv aware of his intentions, and as further proof of the fact that FitxsJmmons was right when he said that "the bigger they are the harder they fall."
Frederick Creighton Smith.
WHEN you are next roughing it in the West, friend reader, ask the Ethiopian Major Domo in charge of the car to let you know when the train approaches the neighborhood of Range 26, Township, 28, Section 12, West of the 4th Meridian. Keep an eye out for a low chocolate-colored house with cream trimmings, with a pasture in front in which graze a bunch of Clyde horses. You will know them by the hair on their legs. If you see a Shetland pony in the lot, a bay with a white face and two front feet, that will be Sam’s place.
The pony is the children’s and frequently he trots them over to Slough View Farm. Sam is a prosperous baron of the plains now, but this doesn’t prevent Fred and Archie from raking up his early exploits with the branding iron — all of which is not a bad way of putting in the time while waiting for the grain to fill and ripen.