Say, I Coulda Wept
In which Comedy takes to skates, cowpunchers endure massacre and Cupid squares a debt
W. D. STOVEL
THE bunch is sittin’ in the bunkhouse one day, I think it was about December First as the crow flies, and all engaged in wonderin’ if the weather is goin’ to get much colder. If signs is to be believed we’re about to enter one of the hardest winters Wyoming has ever seen. Cupid Hays, who, like me, comes from Canada where men is bold and winds is supposed to be cold, is sittin’ on the edge of his bunk preparin’ for a hard campaign by sewin’ up a hole in his pants. Leather Jones, whose job it is to take the chill off our beans and bacon, is peelin’ spuds in the next room with his back to the stove. Leather is not a fur-bearin’ animal, havin’ immigrated from Texas.
Now I’m not feelin’ so hilarious myself, but old Pop Weather ain’t got nothin’ to do with it. Eloise, my bill-and-coo, ain’t wrote even a small blot for a month, and it’s beginnin’ to tell on my fragile disposition.
Just when the air is at its coldest and thinnest, in busts our manager, Dan Greer, all slicked up in a financial-section hat and a bearskin coat. It makes us shiver just to look at him. It seems Dan has just got back from a trip to the city for the Gallopin’ E, which, meanin’ the Enterprise Cattle Co., is our outfit.
After passin’ the time of day and remarkin’ how well we ain’t lookin’, he drags me into a corner and speaks to me in a low whisper.
“Have you heard from your lady friend lately?” “Well,” I admits, “her letters to me haven’t been makin’ slaves out of the poor postal clerks to any noticeable extent.”
“I thought so. Y’see, when I was in the city I heard on good authority that some guy’s been cuttin’ you out of her herd, and not only that, but this coyote what’s doin’ it has been fillin’ her ear with a lot of lies about you. I dropped around to Pine Avenue School to see her personal.”
“Itlike your nerve, you dirty—”
“Now wait, don’t misjudge me, Tod. I went for your sake, honest. I talked' to her about old times when she was wieldin’ a pointer over at the Gap schoolhouse, and told her all about how you was gettin’ along. She changed the subject. In fact she don’t seem to be interested in the way she should, Tod. Not cold, y’ understand, but—”
“But what?” I asks, with a sinkin’ feelin’ like I’d just lost control of the gears while makin’ an altitude record.
“Well, I dunno. . . . Anyway, why don’t you write to keep yourself in solid there?”
“Write?” I snorts. “Say, what you think I been doin’ these last three months? Do you figger I got this writer’s cramp from milkin’ range cows? When I get one answer to thirteen letters, and that one confined to discussion of the weather and the crops, I say it’s time to change the weddin’ scenery to somethin’ more suitable for a brother-and-sister act.” And in con-
elusion I expressed with quite consid’able force my opinion of the guy what invented that sayin’ about absinthe makin’ the heart grow fonder.
“Well, why don’t you take a trip up there at Christmas time to fix it all up?” suggests Dan.
When I get to thinkin’ it over I begin to see the idea ain’t such a bad one. The worst of it is, though, I got only one thin dime and half a plug of Ambassador in my pocket. However, I cheer up when I think of the fifty pesos cornin’ to me at the end of the month, out of which I don’t owe a bent buffalo. The more I think of it, the more I’m sure my fifty will be safe for that trip to the city. It’s a great feelin’.
"DUT I’d forgot entire about the annual sports feast and jamboree we have at Christmas. Y’ see, every year for the past six or seven, the Gallopin’ E, consistin’ of five good men and one darn poor cook, has been hookin’ up with the Bar H—that’s the Howe River Ranch—to hold a rodeo. Points is given for each event like in a reg’lar field meet, and the losin’ ranch has to spread a big Christmas feed for all concerned, not fergettin’ the folks in the village.
Now when it comes to ridin’, ropin’ and shootin’, the Gallopin’ E has got it all over the universe like a tarp, and so there was only one year when we had to hand over our hard-earned shekels for the feed. It was a howlin’ good thing it happened like that, because this was no ordinary celebration. The rules state specific that the cost of it shall be not less than three hundred plunks. This, divided among the fifteen riders of the Bar H, ain’t so bad; but as for us, we got unpleasant
memories of our turn at bat when we had to fumble in our belts for forty dollars apiece, even though the management did very kindly put up the shortage. You’ll agree that’s consid’able steep goin’, but then, the Bar H was stuck every year but one, and it still looked like we got a stranglehold on the events.
However, there is always that off-chance, so it cheers me up a heap when the weather changes for the worse and it begins to look like the doin’s would have to be postponed. On the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth it snowed, then froze harder than the heart of a sergeantmajor. I breathe easier when my fifty looks like it’s branded for The Cause.
Dan says he ain’t seen that much snow in ten years, and none of the boys appear to have a passionate cravin’ to be strewed around in it. We didn’t ask the beasts themselves, but I don’t figger they’d a liked it any better, what with slippin’ and slidin’ they’d a busted their fool necks. And as for ropin’! Say, it’s tough enough to do it in connection with your work these days without doin’ it for fun. Lariats stiff with ice, numb hands, cayuses a-shiverin’ all night from the melted frost on their hides—brrh!
The sight of the snow cheered Cupid up heaps, too, but for another reason. Havin’ been brought up in Canada, he feels quite at home in this snowshoe background.
One mornin’ he was whistlin’ particlar loud.
“What’s them?” I asks as he hauls two shinin’ objects from his battered old trunk.
“Skates,” says he. “They’re sharp, too.”
Leather Jones gazes at them a long time with a coal-
bucket poised in mid-air. “Can you use ’em?” he asks.
“Use ’em!” laughs Cupid. “Man, I was raised on ’em. I used to prefer skatin’ to eatin’. Come and watch me.”
Well, we followed him out to a slough behind the corral, and cleaned off a big patch of ice while he was puttin’ on his rig. Sure enough, he could ride them to a finish, in fact, he made it look so easy we all had to try. Some of us didn’t do too bad, but for a couple of days he had no more competition. There’s a reason, as they say on the packages. Dan never did know where that extra bottle of horse liniment went to.
One day we was just ridin’ in from fixin’ a fence on the east lease when McCarthy, boss of the Bar H, rides into the yard and starts talkin’ to Dan. Knowin’ the pow wow would be about the rodeo, the rest of us horned in.
“Well,” says McCarthy, “I figger our rodeo is due to languish some this year.”
“You said it,” admits Dan.
“We was talkin’ the matter over at the Bar H, and the boys said why not have winter sports of some kind instead?”
“I never was good on skis,” says our boss without showin’ any more emotion than usual.
“You’re just prejudiced. There’s some mighty fine winter sports, let me tell you. There’s one game especially that’s gettin’ very popular just now—hockey they call it.”
Well, if some of the boys had of known then what they do now, somebody would of started Mac on the road home by givin’ his fiery nag a vicious kick in the
ribs, but as it was we just stared at him.
“Which?” I says at last, gettin’
Cupid’s eye and a-feelin’ of a large bruise on my left thigh.
‘‘Hockey — played with a stick, skates, and a chunk of rubber, y’ know. We decided to challenge you to a game of it over on Blind Lake, Tuesday afternoon at three o’clock.”
“And this is to be for—for the banquet?” asks Dan Greer in a weak voice.
Dan spat copiously, and I knew he figgered to come down heavy on the idea right there. But meanwhile I’m doin’ some heavy thinkin’, and I guess Coot Weller and Herb Walsh is, too, because when our eyes meet we all look at Cupid. Hockey would be soft for us with a strong skater like Cupid Hays.
“Your challenge,” says I, “is accepted, if you supply the weapons.”
Dan started to r’ar around some, but slowed down to a trot when he got our winks. “How many men to a team?” he says at last after thinking over the situation.
‘‘Six, not counting substi-
McCarthy. “That’s why we picked on hockey; because you have just enough men. . . . Well, all right, I’ll send a man to the city to-morrow to rustle sticks and skates, so you’ll have plenty of time for practice.” Halfway to the gate he turns back. “And say, just one rule we should agree on at the start. There’s to be no importing of players. We won’t use any substitutes, and anyone not on our payroll at this minute can’t play in the game, and the same goes for the Gallopin’ E. Is that agreed?” “Sure thing!” we shouted.
pOR a few days Cupid Hays was the most popular guy on the outfit. Our skates come two days before the big battle, and so he ain’t long in puttin’ us through our
paces, so that by dints, as they
say, we get so we can stand on our feet without doin’ a double back-flip or a double concussion of the brain. When we ain’t leanin’ on our sticks, we can even use ’em to push the puck around.
Then we get bad news. McCarthy has played us dirt. Instead of treatin’ his son’s allowances as a gift while the young buck is at college, old Mac has been keepin’ him on the payroll. Just another of Mac’s queer kinks. The kid, of course, is home on the ranch for Christmas and is eligible to play against us. Seein’ as how he’s been playin’ on his college team in the East, this is nothin’ for us to partic’larly weep with joy over.
And another worry crops up. In our excitement we forgot about Dupré, one of the new Bar H hands, who must have been born with a hockey stick in his hands.
If somethin’ isn’t done pronto those five ten-dollar bills I got cornin’ to me are goin’ to have my own picture printed on ’em. Apart from Cupid Hays I’m the only hombre on the Gallopin’ E that knows anything about the game. Dan says he seen a game in Winnipeg once, but that don’t make him a bit more valuable to us. What’s more, though I been brought up on an Alberta ranch and have seen the game played lots, I’m bothered with somethin’—I never been on skates in my life.
Naturally, my secret ambition is to keep out of the heavy engagements as much as possible, so I hooks a job as manager. I put Leather Jones in the goal. He’s used to catchin’ rubber pancakes and should do well. Herb Walsh promises to stand up at one wing and Coot Weller at the other. Dan and Cupid announces their intention of holdin’ down the ice at defence.
What we want now is some hombre who can stand up without the aid of scaffoldin’ long enough to get the puck at centre when it’s throwed in by the referee. Much as I hate the idea, it looks like I’m the man.
But one night Dan busts into the bunk-house with a bright and scintillatin’ idea.
“I’m goin’ to call Joe on the long distance phone. I think he said he once played hockey at school.”
Well, he phones, and the result is that we got a new player, Joe High Horse, a Blackfoot and the best veterinary we ever had on the place. How he got this side of the line is a mystery, but here he is. Dan keeps him on the pay roll at ten dollars a month just to be sure of him, but Joe spends most of his time on his farm near Butte.
Anyway, fate, as they say, continued to event, and just when the game is about to start, he slips into the scene bearin’ his skates and a long parcel.
“What you got wrapped up?” asks Dan.
“My stick,” answers Joe. Bein’ a very retirin’ fellow, he’s afraid he’d attract too much attention with a hockey stick in this country, so he wrapped it up in brown paper. That’s just like Joe. He was always tryin’ to disguise himself as one of the trees in the background of the picture. I think at home he pulls down all the shades and double-locks the doors when he sits down to eat dinner.
“A stick? Oh, never mind it, we’ve got plenty. . . . You’ve played, haven’t you?” asks Dan, just to make sure.
“Oh, you bet. Sure thing, but—”
“Never mind the buts. The game’s waitin’ on you,” I cuts in. “Climb into your skates, you’re goin’ on in Herb’s place at right wing.”
Joe looked like he wanted to say something, but he run true to form, shuttin’ up tighter than a Scotsman at Monte Carlo, and doin’ as he’s told. The Bar H boys is some surprised to see him on the ice, but Dan shows
them that he’s followin’ the rules of the game all right.
“By the way, Dan,” says Mac, “we had a tough time finding a referee. We combed the country pretty thorough, but the only one we can scare up is Bill Taylor, our bookkeeper. If it’s all right with you—”
Say, the howl Dan let loose coulda been heard in Butte. “Have him as referee when he’s practically got twenty dollars up on the result? . . . Snow again.”
McCarthy shrugs. “Well, suggest someone else, then.”
“I nominate Tod Davis,” says the manager lookin’ at me. One night he caught me with an ace of spades in my boot, and I guess he figgered—well, you can follow his train of thought easy enough.
It is Mac’s turn to howl and he sure makes the most of it.
“Well, then, Mac, let’s toss for it.”
The result of the whole vile business is that I’m shoved out on the ice to do a Locarno act when I can hardly stand up on my skates, let alone follow the play. Knowin’ I got forty dollars up on the game, Mac gives me one long, searchin’ look as if to probe my family police record right back to the days when my ancestors was slidin’ along in the slime of the first dawn, as the lecturers say. I know if I want to keep a watertight hide I got to make Solomon look like a four-flusher.
“All right, then,” he growls when I’m duly installed with the official powers; “but remember, Tod, no coachin’ or advice to the players from the referee.”
“Of course,” I says, weakly.
Dan’s face falls a foot. He ain’t been countin’ on that, but at last he consents, none too pleased on account of losin’ a good player in the deal,
(which is me.) I formally appoints Cupid as manager in my place and the little squirt is all puffed up about it.
A space about four times the size we need is cleaned off and pairs of boulders is set about a hundred feet apart for the goals. I have consid’able hunt for a referee’s whistle, but at last someone trots out the old bugle which Leather Jones uses to call us to chow.
Then I know my career with the Fighting Tenth ain’t been wasted.
This stuff is easy for me.
I blow reveille and they mill around me to hear about the rules.
“Now listen, you hombres,” I says.
“I want all shootin’ irons left in the dressin’ rooms. Anyone wishin’ to stage a private fight can do so only by retirin’ from the cleared ice. You can have all the snow to yourselves.
Seein’ you are inexperienced players, I won’t call any forward passes, but remember, no trippin’, body-checkin’, or hittin’ in the clinches. Play the puck, not the man. All right, centre off!”
A FTER blowin’ the charge I throws -*■ in the puck and dashes for safety.
In spite of all coachin’, neither side attempts to play its positions; it goes wherever fancy leads, and even the goalie has to be led back to his position now and again when he gets to wanderin’ in his excitement. At times no one is in the cleared ice at all, owin’ to the number of private differences which is bein’ settled out in the snow, but usually there’s a couple men left to battle over the puck.
Apart from that, the play is awkward but clean, so I gets little work to do, for which I ain’t in the least sorry.
As no subs is allowed, it’s a case of the survival of the fightest, as they say, and frequent revivals of the unfightest.
I happen to think of the end of the first period in time to blow the retreat, but the second is so doggone interestin’ that I let ’em go about five minutes over, much to their disgust. I soon give up tryin’ to keep the score, and hand that part of it over to the Bar H bookkeeper. About the end of the second spasm I begin to get nervous on account of the way the score is standin’, and on account of me already beginnin’ to feel my share of the banquet expenses slippin’ out of my jeans. If them forty clankers go, it means no trip to the city and good-by schoolma’m for good.
No foolin’, it begins to look like the Bar H has even now got that Christmas feed in a half-hitch. McCarthy Jr. and Dupré, is makin’ fools of our fellows, skatin’ all around them, and even sittin’ down to rest in the middle of the play. Honest, it’s a massacre worse then
Custard’s. When the score gets to be 17-1 and it becomes painful clear that Leather Jones can’t stop a herd of toy balloons with tails of fishhooks draggin’ from them, we jerk him out and substitute Weller as bein’ next most likely. He lets in five in succession, so we rush Herb Walsh in to bar the gate. He lets seven ooze past him before we can get him out.
“Well, it looks like I’ll have to go in,” sighs Dan at the beginnin’ of the third period and starts to put on the pads. Accordin’ to the time-keeper the score climbed from 29 to 43 in the ten minutes that followed, and durin’ that time there was four intermissions for private Armageddons, there bein’ no one on the ice to attend to the puck.
Durin’ this time I got plenty leisure to wonder about a lot of things, among ’em bein’ Joe High Horse. Of all the punk players on the ice he seems to be the worst. If he has ever played for a Indian school, the effort of the institution certainly ain’t been along athletic lines. He skates all right, but he can’t do it fast enough to get the puck, and if he does get it, accidental-like, he can’t keep it. And him carryin’ a hockey stick around like it was part of his reg’lar baggage! I’m plumb disgusted.
One disturbin’ thing I note is the fact that the man in the Bar H goal has got a regulation goal stick which gives him a chance to stop somethin’ besides a rush of
wind. At the beginnin’ of the game McCarthy apologized for not bein’ able to get us a goal stick in the city, and he even offered to let us use theirs. But Dan, he gives a loud guffaw and tells him to keep his old goal stick, that we could beat them even if we had to use golf clubs. I see now that Dan knows even less about hockey than I thought he did.
Then I get a suspicion the size of the Prince of Wales’ bull. That parcel of Joe’s is shaped decided like a goalstick which is a lot wider at the blade than a forward’s. Say, I bet this brave is a goal-tender! Just like the bonehead to say nothin’.
I think of my forty bucks and decide there is still time to save this game. I want—migosh, how I want—
to tell Dan to yank off those pads and give them to that son of Crowfoot! But no, just in time I happen to think of my promise to McCarthy that I wouldn’t try to coach or give advice in the game. Now commonly, I ain’t troubled with a conscience so much that I need potions to get to sleep, but that promise seems to make things different. Also the look of Dan as if he expected me to cheat for him made me sore. I’d show the yahoo.
Cold as it is, I perspire freely, hoping Dan will think of it himself, but no, there he stands in goal with the bland-lookin’ pan of a well-fed cow, lettin’ fifty cents worth of rubber slip past him every minute. At last I see him takin’ off his pads and I feel like cheerin’, thinkin’ it was Joe’s turn now. But Dan merely called Leather Jones again. I was so plumb disgusted I nearly dropped my bugle. I suppose he figgered Leather’s record of only seventeen goals in the first period and a half entitled him to the place.
And there I stand with my bugle in my hand, a martyr to my conscience. I catch myself wishin’ that a high-speed puck would catch Leather on the point of the chin and put him horses de combat, or whatever they call it. But he couldn’t of stopped that biscuit with one of these here police dragnets and a antiaircraft gun. The shots pass him so fast I’m all wore out blowin’ the bugle for the face-offs.
member of the Gallopin’ E waves a flag and we go in and score fifty goals in the dyin’ moments of the game to win. I couldn’t be so deceitful, Mr. Mack!
W ELL, I suppose you kinda expect me to tell about how some
As I was takin’ off my skates McCarthy slaps me on the back.
“Thanks, Tod,” he says. “Sorry I mistrusted you. You’re white, all right.”
Well, I just glare at him, and Dan is lookin’ at me like he’d hit me over the head with Pike’s Peak and cast my carcass to the bow-wows if he got a good chance.
Of all that sad crowd which return to the home corral of the Gallopin’ E that night, I’m the saddest by three townships. I got a right to be.
We invite Joe to stay for the big feed, assurin’ him that he won’t have to cough up any share of the expenses like the rest of us, but he just shakes his head, and thanks us. Says he’s got to be going back home to his Herefords. So we kiss him a sad and touchin’ farewell—but not so tearful as it might of been if he’d turned out to be a good player. Several times he looks like he wants to say something, but when he sees Dan’s disgusted face he clamps his jaws tight.
As he swings into the saddle after chow, and heads his cayuse toward home, I put a hand on his arm.
“Tell me, Joe, what position did you all play on your school team back home?”
He gives me a most exasperatin’ grin. “Me? Oh, I always play goal. Never anything else but. Also I played in the finals of the Abbott Cup, junior world’s champion series. Goal? Sure thing, Mike. In five games I only let in two scores. This to-day’s game—bah!—if I let in one goal in such game I think mebbe I cut my throat, sure thing Mike. Good-by.”
“I hope you cut it anyway,” I growled as I watched him disappear in the distance.
AT THE banquet that follows in the village hotel, I don’t enjoy myself any more than at a wake, from thinkin’ of my lost schoolma’m and how she is probably engaged to the scissor-bill in the city by this time.
Well, the shindy is about half over when there is certain happenin’s occur which I have a hard time to understand. First Dan, who is rammin’ around as master of ceremonies, comes in and whispers to Cupid. Then some of the other boys go out and they all come back with ear-reachin’ smiles. If I hadn’t of felt so miserable I’d a gone out to see what all the hilarity was about. It might a been a—
Anyways, the meal finished, but I don’t eat much. In fact I’m just goin’ to leave when Dan says: “Don’t go yet, Tod, we got a surprise for you.” Well, I stay, but my heart ain’t in it, doubtin’ whether anythin’ can
Continued on page 30
Where Are Ljhose Snaps Tou Too\ Last Summer?
PERHAPS you discovered a fresh beauty spot and “took” it. Or you may have an unusual “shot” of a more familiar scene. For its annual Canadian Travel Number, to be published June 1, MacLean s wants photographs of Canadian scenery taken by its readers. Amateur and professional photographers are invited to submit photographs, especially those of beauty spots less generally known. Those selected will be paid for at MacLean s usual rates.
Prints must be sharp and clear. Grey pictures will not reproduce. To be considered, photographs must reach us before April 1. Write your name and address and fhe title of the picture on the back of each print. Address them to The Editor, MacLean s Magazine, University Avenue, Toronto. And mail them flat between sheets of cardboard.
Continued from page 20
surprise me durin’ the rest of my life on this dreary old terror firmer.
Dan holds up his glass of apple cider and proposes a toast to the winners, which leaves me cold, to say the least. Then McCarthy springs the hot one.
“Here’s to the future Mrs. Tod Davis,” says he, and everybody cheers.
“The dirty skunks,” thinks I. “This is sure kickin’ a fellow when he’s down.” Say, I coulda wept. Well, I’m sittin’ there starin’ at the table with a consid’able red face, when another bust-out of cheerin’ and a stampede near the door makes me look up. Howlin’ coyotes! There’s my schoolma’m prettier than ever standin’ in the doorway and smilin’ at me clear across the room. My heart skips about six bucks and a jump as she come straight toward me, holdin’ out her hand.
“Forgive me, Tod,” she whispers. “I was staying—had rooms at the home of that—that fellow. I just found out how he has been lying about you and holding back your mail. You will forgive me, won’t you, Tod?”
And all I can do is squeeze her hand. My tongue couldn’t be more useless if my mouth had been full o’ hot glue. Mebbe it’s a good thing, for I suddenly remember something in time. She looks sad when she sees my expression.
“Thanks, Eloise,” I says at last, with a heart which feels like it will fall out the bottom of my chaps. “I’d sure ask you to marry me, only I know that can’t be for a good many years yet—and I ain’t got any right to ask you to wait. I’m just a no-good wrangler gettin’ fifty a month which wouldn’t keep you in slippers. I been a fool to let it go on, might a knowed it couldn’t be—”
At this'minute the noise in the room stops, and someone near us does a very loud “Ssh!” for us to keep quiet. McCarthy has the floor, but I wasn’t goin’ to listen to him if he hadn’t caught my eye and held it.
“Gents,” he says, “cattle-raising ain’t what it used to be in this country. The mild winters have been the only reasons why I’ve held on. But this hard month has changed a lot of my ideas. There’s a lease up in the Alberta foothills I’ve had my eye on for a long time. Yesterday I took up my option on it. However, I’m not going up there myself. This ranch country has been pretty good to me and I—well, it would break my heart to leave it. I’ll have to put someone else in charge of the new range.”
He cleared his throat. “Alberta is a long way off. I can’t leave my interests there in charge of any Tom, Dick and Harry. The man must be already proved trustworthy and steady in the face of temptations to be dishonest, because I’ll only see him about once a year.
“Gents, the one I’ve chosen for this responsible position is not only a good cattle-puncher, but he proved last week that he places honesty above all else that he holds dear. He was not put on his honor. His word, given carelessly, was his bond . . . Gents, here’s to my new Alberta manager, Mr. Tod Davis!”
I don’t like Dan’s grin while all this is goin’ on—I know he’s thinkin’ about that time he caught me with án ace in my boot.
Is there anythin’ else to say about this? I don’t think so. Did I refuse the position? Did I ask the little lady to become Mrs. Tod Davis?
Be yourselves, folks, be yourselves!