Where Men Are Men
Two western Romeos receive a series of bumps on the course of calf love
R. E. BREACH
THE bright entrance to the cool grotto of Pryce’s butcher shop was darkened by a hairy figure enveloped almost to the armpits in an enormous pair of Angora chaps. A magenta colored bandanna fell in colorful folds upon the goatskin. From this ensemble, protruded two thin blue shirted arms, and upon the whole rested a tower of gray felt hat. Metallic clinkings of spurs accompanied it.
Willie Pryce, idly making pothooks in the open ledger of his father’s meat shop, recognized an acquaintance, Lysander Potts, in spite of the fact that what little of his face could be seen was marred by the circle of blackness spreading from a smitten eye.
“How come, Lysander?” he queried, laying aside a languid pen.
“Never mind how come,” retorted the sufferer. “Gimme a slice of beefsteak.”
Willie scanned the bare racks of the shop. “We’re out of steak this morning.”
“Isn’t that steak there, in the case, or is the sight of both my eyes spoiled?”
“That’s a T-bone, Ly,” admitted Willie, “but Mrs. Gray has ordered that for dinner. Can’t your folks eat beef stew for once?”
“I can eat anything in a good cause. But I want a poultice for this damaged optic of mine.”
“You and Bud been rowin’ again?” said Willie, with enlightenment. “Well, for old pals, you are certainly hitting it up pretty lively. I’d have given a whole steer to have seen it.”
“You wouldn’t have seen much, boy. I drew a blackeye and Bud looks as if he had poked his nose into a hornet’s nest. I’m through with fighting.”
“It’s time you were learning.”
“Yes, what does a man gain by it, I ask you. He gets himself into a messy state and is told to stay out of sight until he is fit to be seen. I’m through!”
“Haven’t I told you? A man ought to use his head and not his fists when he goes girlin’. Here’s your steak, Lysander.”
He carefully cut the choice tenderloin tidbit out of the steak and handed it to his friend.
“That’ll be two bits,” said Willie.
“What d’you mean, two bits? That’s a nice way to treat a friend. Y ou like your money, Pryce.”
“I’ve got to explain two bits’ worth to my old man, as to what happened that steak, haven’t I? Come across, cowboy!”
“See here, Lysander,” continued Willie, when the currency had been exchanged, “for this two bits i’ll throw in some good advice with the steak. Y ou and Bud have got the wrong idea altogether. What does a lady care about rough stuff? Show her some class.”
“What would you do that I haven’t done, or can’t do?” “First thing, I’d get my ma to take a reef in them pants. They’re wearing ’em wide, boy, but not high.” “A man’s gotta please a lady.”
“Is that why you’re going about dolled up in goatskin in July? See here, Lysander. If cowboys is what she craves, I don’t know any man around Richvale who has any better action than you. You’ve got that classy outfit and you’ve got the Prairie Belle, the best cow pony in Alberta. And if she wants to live on a ranch, doesn’t your dad own Fairview Acres, six hundred and forty of ’em? If a girl isn’t going to be satisfied with that, you’re better off without her.”
“I’ll admit you’re right, Bill. Say, here’s this Sports Day and Stampede coming off next week. Haven’t I got a chance to pull some genuine Western stuff then? If she can watch my speed and still think that Bud Peters and that lop eared giraffe he calls a thoroughbred is anything that you might call real Western, I’m a Chinaman. So long, Bill; thanks for the steak and the good word.”
He stuffed the meat in his pocket and strutted out of the shop with the swaggering insouciance of seventeen years. The Prairie Belle opened soft dark eyes at his approach. He stroked her dun nose, caught the trailing reins and raised himself vertically by some invisible means from the ground to the high horned saddle of the wheeling horse. His shrill young voice trailed after him through the dust:
“Bury me out on the lone per-air ie,
Let the wild ki-otee how-ow-owl over me-e-e
WILLIE PRYCE, lounging, hands in pockets under his white apron, was next addressed by a second young gentleman who rode up on a fretting, slenderlegged horse.
“ ’Lo, Bill. Was that Ly Potts on that crowbait of his? Say, everytime I meet that would-be cowboy I see red. Lookit my nose.”
“I couldn’t miss it. What’s eatin’ you guys?”
“I don’t allow anyone, not even my best friend, to walk out with my girl. That’s what’s eating me.”
“The proper spirit,” agreed Mr. Pryce, “but why not show it in some other way? Do you think a lady wants to be fought over in a back lane?”
“That’s all right, but isn’t she going about asking for Western stuff, and talking about a good horseman being the ideal type of manhood, and wanting to see the wide open spaces?”
“Then why don’t you supply the scenery? Ain’t you got the only thoroughbred horse in the district, and a swell pair of doeskin riding breeches? Don’t you look like a gentleman when you go ridin? Then why not act like one? Show her which is the better man, Ly Potts dolled up in them old goatskins of his, like a movie cowboy, or you,' with that there thoroughbred of yours and your proper riding breeches.”
Bud grasped Willie’s hand. “Bill, you’ve given me an idea. I’m going to enter Redwing in every event in the Stampede. Blood will tell. Miss B— we won’t mention a lady’s name in a case like this—will see who is the better man.”
“Good idea, Bud. But if I was you I’d keep out of her way until that nose gets back to its proper place.”
“She won’t see me until Sports Day,” and he cantered off.
Young Mr. Pryce watched his departure with the same expression of smug complacency that the cat wears when the cream is left on a low shelf. Then his expression changed swiftly. He glanced down at his apron to see if it was passably clean, smoothed his hair and straightened! his vivid necktie.
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A girlish figure had floated into view. Blue skirts scarcely touched Tounded, silk-encased knees, cropped, golden hair shone above brown eyes, a scarlet bow of mouth in chalk-white face. Mr. Pryce’s face became absorbed to the point of vacancy.
Miss Ethelinda Browne, who had come from the East to visit her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Merlin T. Gray, in the West —to quote the Richvale Record—crossed the dusty street toward the butcher shop and the staring Mr. Pryce. If his acquaintance with her did not include the knowledge that her long-suffering parents had sent her to the care of her aunt for the cure of that neurasthenia of modern youth known as a movie complex, with Hoot Gibson as the most disturbing symptom ; if his marvelling gaze overlooked the fact that the red on her lip might be artificial, that the large brown eye carried a hint of dullness in it; forgive him. Discernment and wisdom belong to eighty, not eighteen.
This enchanting vision advanced upon Willie, dimming his sight until he blindly took refuge behind the glass meat case. His divinity leaned one white elbow on the heavy glass and stared about her.
“How delightfully cool it is in here,” she remarked. “Aunt Lucy sent me for the steak she ordered.”
“Doggone it,” he apologized. “I was to deliver that. But, I’ve been real busy this morning. And how are you enjoying the West, Miss Browne?”
The beauty shrugged her thin shoulders. “Really, Mr. Pryce, I am quite disappointed. I thought things happened out here. When I came to the West, I thought at last I shall see life, red pulsating life, meet men who are men, wander through the wide open spaces.”
“Maybe you haven’t looked in the right spot yet, Miss Ethelinda. Reckon you need some one to show you around. Now here’s Ly Potts, he’s a genuine cowboy, why can’t we get him to take you about?”
“Really, his face is in such a condition that I couldn’t think of being with him.” “You mustn’t be too hard on Lysander. These cowboys are rough fellows at times, regular he-men. Then why not try Bud Peters? His dad has got a dozen horses in his livery-barn that a lady could ride.” “Indeed! He has just ’phoned me that
none of their horses are available. 1 think they are both too mean for anything.”
“Well, we western men are pretty busy. I’m just a plain business man and no rider or I’d take you myself. Sorry the West isn’t treating you right, Miss Ethelinda.”
“I can’t convince myself that this is the real West. I know it so well. Why, there isn’t a Western feature comes to the Rex Theatorium at home, but I see it. Tell me, Mr. Pryce, did you ever hear of a Western gentleman refusing to come when a lady sends for him? He always comes at full gallop down the most thrilling steep banks. And Mr. Potts promised to show me his father’s ranch, and it was just a farm! And all the cows in the barn, being milked. And barb-wire fences! I tore my best silk stockings.”
“You just wait until next week for the Stampede. You’ll see some genuine western stuff then, ridin,’ ropin’ and racin’. Just like the old days.”
“I’m afraid it will be rather tame after what I’ve seen in the pictures, but I’ll go if you recommend it. Well, Aunt Lucy will be waiting. It’s so hot to-day,” she added languidly. “I hate to go out of this cool place.”
Willie searched frantically for an excuse to delay her, to keep this ravishing presence before him for a little longer. His fumbling fingers touched the coin in his pocket, the two-bits he had profiteered from the unfortunate Mr. Potts.
“If you would care to eat a dish of icecream this hot day, Miss Ethelinda,” he stammered, “I’d be delighted to stand treat. I gotta quarter I don’t know what to do with.”
AN OVAL of sun-browned prairie turf, T*corrals at one end, tennis-courts at the other, within a railing of silvery-green poplar poles. Between this inner circus and the race-track, automobiles stood wheel to wheel, except behind the judges’ stand, where a space had been roped off for the refreshment booth. Here, were dispensed soft drinks, ice-cream, chocolate bars and tobaccos, while, King of the Feast, the savory hot dog swam in a pan of hot fat beside a mountain of buns and a quart pot of mustard.
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So much for the inner man. The spiritual side might be satisfied by visiting among the automobiles of friends, by dividing the powers of vision between a baseball game, a basketball contest, and the annual Richvale Ursula tennis championship matches. Or you might visit the corrals where bronchos slept in the sun to waken to kicking, squealing life at the first touch of leather. A few nervous cows with their bawling offspring and several wild-eyed range steers waited their turn to provide a Roman holiday.
Willie Pryce, carrying a rush order of frankfurters to the hot-dog stand, saw Lysander Potts and Bud Peters saddling their horses for the stampede events. Here, in the shade of the poplar trees, lolled the riders, indifferent to the games, local farm-boys and riders like Lysander and his erstwhile friend Bud, willing to try their luck against the professionals, lean brown men who followed the stampedes from Wyoming to Alberta. The games are done and Pat Mahoney, the town constable and master of ceremonies for the day, bellowed the call to action through a megaphone. Riders rose, tightened belts and cinches, and rode slowly round the track between rows of applauding spectators. Each competitor paused before the judges’ stand while his name, his horse’s name and the antecedents of both were recited. Each rider wheeled his horse, reared and cavorted, and loped off toward the stampede field. Neither Lysander nor Bud were deficient in the equestrian art. Each executed an extra gambol, nor was it kindly chance alone that chose the spot for their display of horsehmanship close to the Gray limousine.
Sweating men bulldozed steers in clouds of dust, roped the bawling calves, performed miracles with spinning ropes, were hurled more or less speedily from the backs of outlaw horses. Round them, the circle of spectators turned thumbs up or down as heartlessly as any toga clad crowd in ancient amphitheatre. Cars, paid for by the rich output of fenced wheat fields, from which the herd and rider have long vanished, honked their applause at the stirring rites of the round-up.
The two rivals held an even pace. Light in weight, lacking the iron experience of the older men, they fell behind in many of the more strenuous contests. But each cared not who else outdid him, save his enemy. They roped their calves to an even watch-tick, Lysander stayed on an indignant broncho perhaps five seconds longer than Bud. They rode and tugged and panted and tumbled until only the two final events, the crown of the days’ contests, remained—the obstacle race, and the race for the Richvale Cup.
Hot and sweating, the horses lined up for the first of these events. It was a real test for horse and rider; its course twisted and turned and doubled between stakes that must not be disturbed under pain of disqualification, and finally over a series of three hurdles. Agility and horsemanship counted more than speed. Lysander was sure of this race. Couldn’t the Prairie Belle turn on a dime? Wasn’t she unexcelled in a round-up? In and out the contestants dashed, the dun mare in the lead, twisting, turning, bounding like a horse of rubber. The crowd shrieked the autos squalled, and the Prairie Belle took the straight towards the three hurdles, a dozen lengths to the good. ,
She quickened to a swinging gallop, her soft brown eyes alert to discern this elusive cow she had been chasing. Irstead there rose before her the bars of the first hurdle. Did she jump it? Not she. Hadn’t her mother warned her from earliest foalhood against the slashing barb-wire? Hasn’t she had rocks heaved at her for jumping into the green oats, and caught a rending colic by jumping out of her corral and eating largely of ripe wheat, carelessly left in a grain wagon? Head, feet and tail grew together to a dime’s spot,
and she slid to first base. Lysander flew over her lowered head and rolled over and over.
When he got himself right side up again there was a ringing in his ears louder even than the derisive yells of th crowd. Stinging moisture blinded his eyes. His hand closed round a convenient poplar gad. But he recovered himself with a gulp. A cowboy takes a tumble with a grin. A man does not beat a good pony for a mistake. He limped to the rear to watch Bud on Redwing lead the race over the hurdles like a bird.
Never mind! Wait until the Cup Race. | He WÍS sure now that he could pass every horse except Redwing, and he saw, gloat ingly, that Pud had not spared his willing steed. Belle was an all-day horse, but the more delicate thoroughbred would come to the starting post excited and tired. He had a good chance. There would be a whirlwind finish.
SIX horses faced the starter, Prairie Belle, Redwing, and a team of the usual farm horses whose owners fondly j believed possessed a burst of speed. An Indian rode bareback on a vicious speedylooking animal, and one of the traveling riders had entered his horse. But, the real contest lay between Bud and Lysander, with the favor of the crowd on Redwing; on speed rather than endurance.
Once round the half-mile track. Lysander trailed the red horse, the other four contestants bunched behind him. Half the round again, and he saw Bud stir in the saddle. The six horses sprang forward in their last effort. The wind yelled past their ears, hoofs drummed; cries and whip-crackings.
The little red horse was slowly falling back to him. He would catch him, would pass him, just at the turn toward the judges’ stand. Brown eyes would see him flash by. Western stuff! He snatched off his hat, waved it and brought it down again and again on Belle’s straining sides. The mare knew that signal, no punishment but a call for her best. Lysander felt her flatten under him. Good old Belle!
The thoroughbred hugged the rail. Lysander edged the duna shade toward the outside to clear the leader’s flashing heels. The purple haze of the track curved toward him like water between swaying, bright-colored banks. The straight—and Belle’s nose came even with the red horse’s flanks.
Into the dusty path waddled a little, fat ridiculous figure, wavering on blueclad legs and turned its round, sunreddened face towards the line of rushirg horses. Lysander heard the sudden breath-snatched second of silence, into which came the hollow beating of hoofs and the convulsive breathing of the straining horses. The little wondering face was looking up into his, puckered for tears, under the feet of Bud’s horse. Behind them came the four horses blinded in the dust.
A second—and he saw the sudden ingathering of the red horse’s quarters ÍS Bud lifted him on spur and rein. He rose, trained to the sudden leap, clear of the child, but his even stride had been broken, he bumped the rail, stumbled and fell. Lysander saw horse and rider rolling as he bent from his saddle, caught the child and lifted him clear. He hardly knew that he had pulled hard on his loose reins. Four shadowy forms boomed past him through the Tlust.
The crowd surged across the course. The baby was snatched from him by parental hands, but Lysander scarcely noticed. A rough voice shouted at him: “Young fool! Why did you pull her? You had that race cinched.”
He heard it a long way off. He did not even look for the glitter of the golden head in the limousine. Bud was down! Bud, his old pal, the best chum a fellow ever had. Redwing, the best horse in the country, with a broken leg, a broken back. He shoved the reeking mare through the crowd.
He saw Redwing’s drooping head where the sympathetic veterinary examined a strained tendon. Bud was on his feet, and Lysander’s held breath burst from him in a moan of relief. He threw himself from the saddle, bent his young shoulder against the injured shambling horse as they urged him off the track. The crowd thinned about them and was gone. Under the cool poplars they were alone, the two mortal enemies and their rival steeds.
Bud did not look up. He pulled with his wounded hands at the bandage about his horse’s leg. Perhaps he did not see Lysander until that rumpled head came level with his own beside the restive hoofs.
“Lemme do that, Bud. He knows me. Your hands are skinned bad.”
Bud muttered: “Fell on my thick nut Darn that kid! Why can’t his folks look after him?”
They worked in silence, and when their ministrations were ended looked up, staring eye to eye with red embarrassed faces. Over their rumpled heads two velvet noses, red and dun, kissed in friendly sympathy and snuggled against damp shining shoulders in refuge from the flies.
Lysander muttered: “I guess they know better’n we do, Bud.”
Under those wise, drooping eyes two hands met and clasped hard.
“You might ’a been killed, Bud.”
“I saw you, Ly. Caught up that kid at full gallop. I—I’m all-fired glad you won that race.”
“But I didn’t win it, old man. I—I guess I forgot about it. I don’t care a hang about your neck,” he blustered, “but I sure did hate to see Redwing go down.”
They glared at each other for a moment, then grinned through the dust and sweat.
“Look here. We’re a pair of idiots. We can’t both have the honor of her company.” Bud was speaking. “Let’s go and ask her straight which one she prefers. That’s western style, isn’t it?”
“A man,” agreed Lysander, “could ask no fairer. She’s seen us do our best. Let her be the judge. Come on, Bud, we’ll end this tomfoolery here and now. The crowd’s leaving.”
Leading their weary steeds, with torn and dusty finery, the two heroes limped across to the parking space. Nobody noticed them. The day was over. The tumult and the shouting had changed to the agonized sounds of racing motors, and captains and kings might depart unnoticed amid the haze of burned gasoline. With determined air they drew close to the spot where careful Mr. Gray, with an eye to his new fenders, waited for the traffic to thin. They dared not turn their eyes to the deep cool recess of the limousine where that golden head might gleam.
“Great riding, boys,” said Mr. Gray. “I never saw a better stunt even in the movies.”
Their aching shoulders straightened. “If you please, Mrs. Gray,” they pleaded, “we would like to speak to Miss Browne, privately.”
Mrs. Gray’s wise, motherly eyes smiled at them through her thick spectacles.
“My dear lads,” she apologized, “Ethelinda tired of the heat and noise and left an hour ago. Master Willie Pryce came by in his father’s new car, and she went riding with him.”
“ /\N HOUR ago,” said Lysander GA bitterly, “and you might have broken your neck, Bud.”
“And you did a better stunt than Hoot Gibson ever did, Ly.”
“With Willie Pryce!”
“In a flivver!”
Love goes, but friendship stays. Honor must be satisfied. Understanding eye to understanding eye, their unspoken purpose clear to each, the two champions mounted their weary steeds and rode slowly after the retreating crowd in search of Master Willie Pryce.