Meet the Wife

Wherein a gifted cowpuncher discloses the humorous aspects of a Cariboo courtship

PHILIP WINTER LUCE June 1 1929

Meet the Wife

Wherein a gifted cowpuncher discloses the humorous aspects of a Cariboo courtship

PHILIP WINTER LUCE June 1 1929

Meet the Wife

Wherein a gifted cowpuncher discloses the humorous aspects of a Cariboo courtship

PHILIP WINTER LUCE

YOU'VE seen my photograph in the newspapers, of course. They put it in every year before the stampede starts, and then they put it in again when I break my collar-bone or win the world’s broncobusting championship—whichever happens first.

All the same, you might not recognize me if you happened to drop in at my ranch up here in the Cariboo. When I’m at the stampede I’m known as Baron Boubinoff, the Madcap Cossack, and I try to do my duty and live up to the part. I report for my professional duties with my hair full length and my red beard nicely curled, and I am proud to say that I always create a startling sensation even before I show the vast audience what I can do with a bucking horse under me.

I will not deceive you by pretending that I’m really a baron. It’s just a sort of spurious title created for me by Burton Smith, sole owner and manager of “Smith’s Stupendous Stampede and Exhibition of Bareback Bronco Busting,” and I doubt if it would hold in law.

“Booh,” he said—everybody calls me Boob because n.y real name of Stephanik Boubinoff is hard to remember, but they do it without any hard feelings and it’s all right with me—“Boob, what with your wonderful riding and your exquisite appearance and your placid temperament, you’re going to be a priceless asset to this show. How much Russian do you know, if any?”

“Father taught me to count up to twenty before he was sent back to the penitentiary for sheep stealing,” I answered, “but I’ve never found that knowledge of much use in breaking wild horses. Why?”

“No matter why. You’d never grasp the fine points of this,” answered Burton, and I still think he was right. “Whenever any outsider tries to engage you in conversation, count up to twenty in your Russian very loudly indeed for his mystification, and then walk away looking greatly insulted.”

“I’ll try,” I promised, “though it isn’t easy to annoy me.”

“I am going to raise you out of the proletariat right clear into the aristocracy,” continued Burton Smith. “Kneel down.”

Though somewhat surprised, I did as requested, after looking in vain for a dry spot, as I was wearing my new woolly chaps.

Whereupon the stampede manager hit me a right smart swipe across the shoulders with his quirt and delivered himself of the following formula:

“Arise, Baron Boubinoff, first of that line! Henceforth and from now on you’re going to be known and classified as The Madcap Cossack, and we’re going to bill you heavily as such. Keep your hair on! If you so much as snip off a single inch I’ll fine you a hundred dollars. And I’ll give you a bonus of fifty bucks if you can double the length of your red whiskers by the end of the season.”

I’ve always liked Burton Smith. He always takes good care of the boys whenever a horse rolls on them or they go to the hospital for repairs, and he’s never yet fallen down in paying the prize-money. He looks after things so well that I never bother learning the name of the town in which we happen to be showing. Not that it matters, of course; an outlaw horse behaves pretty much the same in Spokane as in Vancouver, and the earth is just as hard in Seattle as in Calgary unless it happens to be freezing.

So when Burton ambled up to my place while he was traveling through the Cariboo trying to buy a carload of real mean horses for the ttext stampede, I gave him a right royal welcome.

“Burton,” I said, as I shook hands with him as heartily as if he had been a politician seeking my vote, “you’re going to tie your bay horse in the barn and feed him oats, hang up your chaps where the rats can’t get at them, and spend the night with us.”

“You’re darned tooting I’ll feed him oats,” he chortled “and I’ll spend the night with us . . . Who’s us?”

Burton Smith knew that I’d always lived alone, except for that short time when father was out of the penitentiary, after he’d reformed from cattle rustling and before he’d taken to sheep stealing.

“Us is me and the wife,” I said simply, knowing it would have to come out now.

Burton congratulated me so vigorously that I was still sore in spots three days later . . .

“Why, Boob, you old horse-thief,” he yelled. “I hadn’t heard you’d got married. I know the boys used to josh you because you were rushing the two Claygorn girls. They swore you couldn’t make up your mind which one to have, and so wanted both. Didn’t they do their durndest to get you a special dispensation so that you could be a bigamist?”

“Nothing came of that,” I pointed out. “Besides, the boys were wrong in thinking that I couldn’t make up my mind, and I told them so, many times. They persisted in imagining that I didn’t understand girls, though they knew quite well that I’d taken Nellie Davidson to three dances when she lived on the old Mason place—“Big Nellie,” the boys called her. That was before I took up riding at the stampedes, and Nellie somehow got the idea that I never would amount to much. It was only after she’d left the country that I began going over to Sam Claygorn’s.”

“You couldn’t possibly pick a worse type for a fatherin-law, Boob,” said Burton. “I’ye seen him several times, including when he was sober. I’ve met his girls, too.”

“Which one would you have married?” I asked, for I have always had great respect for Burton Smith’s judgment.

“Neither!” he grinned.

We had reached the house by this time, so I had no chance of asking him what he meant. I knocked on the door and we entered.

“Meet the wife,” I said, and then added, “My dear, this is Mr. Burton Smith, sole owner and manager of Smith’s Stupendous Stampede and Exhibition of Bareback Bronco Busting. He’s staying overnight.”

“How do you do, Mr. Smith?” said the wife, and Burton was so surprised that he only just managed to blurt out, “Yes, ma’am,” which was hardly according to etiquette.

Burton looked at her up and down, and blinked. I could see a question trembling on his lips and I hurriedly signalled to him to wait for a more convenient season. He nodded his head slightly, and pretty soon we were enjoying one of the heartiest suppers served in the Cariboo that day. To meet the wife is to come face to face with a cook who can rise superior to the handicaps of life on a ranch a hundred miles from the nearest store, and who knows more about substitutes than all the mail-order houses put together.

After supper Burton pushed back his chair, let out a notch in his belt, and dug in his pocket for his pipe.

“Ahem!” I coughed, and glanced toward the window.

Burton lives most of the time where civilization is a little more pronounced than in the Cariboo, and it hadn’t struck him as unusual that we should have curtains. It’s the only place in the district that can boast of such trappings, and the wife is very fond of them. But she is tolerant and broad-minded, and has no objection to me smoking, so long as it isn’t in the house.

“If you care to smoke,

Mr. Smith,” she said, standing up suddenly and looking straight at our guest of honor, “you’ll find the barn an ideal place for that purpose. Steve ...” she jerked her thumb at me so that he would know who was meant “always has his daily smoke there after he’s done the evening chores. It’s warm and cosy there, and the cattle don’t mind— they being cattle.”

So, after she’d handed me my pipe and one filling of tobacco from the box where we keep it locked up, we lit the lantern and went down to the barn. Burton helped me with the chores, and after we were through we sat on two upturned ■'ails, lit up our pipes and conversed.

“Now, then, Boob,” began Burton, “how did this come about?”

“I think you have a right to know,” I said, “because you’ve put me in the way of earning a lot of money through riding at your stampedes. If it had not been for that, I’d still be a bachelor trying to make a living on this ranch by trapping up in the Ootsa Lake district in winter. So, Burton, I’m going to tell you the true history of my courtship and marriage. Only a very few persons know the real facts of the case, for I’ve kept them to myself except when somebody insisted on knowing how it happened. You’ll be the first man to whom I tell the story voluntarily, and I hope you’ll appreciate the honor.”

Burton placed his hand on his heart and bowed gravely, as he does to the grandstand audience when we parade past before the stampede starts.

“Let ’er buck!” he said, and I proceeded:

“Up here in the Cariboo, when a man starts courting a girl it immediately becomes a matter of public concern. He must expect to be joshed by the bachelors and he has to listen to a lot of strange advice from the married men. Even when I was only a private individual I had had some experience of this, for whenever I took Nellie Davidson to a dance I was always singled out for marked attentions. For instance, at the Christmas hop at Ben Talbot’s ...”

“I know,” interrupted Burton. “That was the time Bill Devine borrowed your stick pin and then stuck it in your shank when you were obliging with a solo on your tin whistle, and made you mix up your melodies somewhat.”

“Pardon me,” I resumed, “but that is not strictly accurate. The incident you refer to occurred at the Corrigan dance the following February. At Talbot’s they got me to balance a funnel on my celluloid collar, and then poured a quart of blackstrap syrup inside my shirt. If you have never gone through a long evening’s entertainment in a hot room with a quart of blackstrap interfering with the free perspiration of your body, Burton, you can have only a slight idea of how it reduces one’s capacity for immediate enjoyment. Personally, while I heartily agree with that verse in the Bible which says that the course of true love should not run smoothly, I am now inclined to believe that the use of thick treacle should be regarded as an illegal impediment.”

“I’ll take that up with King George next time I go over to Blighty,” promised Burton. “Now put the spurs to your story and let ’er rip !”

“If Sam Claygorn had had only one daughter it would have been easy enough for me to find a wife, if the girl had been willing,” I proceeded. “But Sam had two, and we couldn’t exactly agree on which one would suit me best. I had a preference for Alice, who was twenty-one, but Sam was very enthusiastic in offering me Sylvia who was three years older. Alice wasn’t particular one way or the other, and Sylvia was keener on it when her father was around than at other times. I hope, Burton, that I’m not making this too complicated for you.”

“Not at all, not at all,” said Burton Smith, kindly. “You tell a wonderfully clear and limpid narrative except when you come down to important details. I understand everything perfectly . . . except how you got your wife.”

“We decided I’d better get married before winter,” I resumed. “Sam invited me to go out with him to Beanville for supplies. There was a parson there who could tie the knot in the style to which one should get accustomed, though I never had hankered for a splashy wedding, especially if Sylvia was to be the party of the second part.

“Sam drove the wagon and took both girls along, so that the four of us were fairly crowded on one seat. It had been my intention to sit next to Alice, and hold her hand, but Sam arranged us differently. He drove, and I sat next to him. Then came Sylvia, with Alice on the outside. I did my best to carry on a conversation with Alice, but I had to give up in the end. I can talk and listen at once as well as any other cowpuncher in the Cariboo, but what with Sam speaking loudly into my right ear, and Sylvia chattering away in my left, and Alice not paying much attention to what I was trying to tell her, the strain got too heavy for me.

“There were moments when I was almost tempted to give up all idea of matrimony. Had I been a weaker man I would have got out of the wagon and walked back to the ranch. But I’d made up my mind ...”

“Your what?” broke in Burton Smith, though I’d been speaking slowly and distinctly.

“I’d made up my mind that a wife—almost any wife— would be a bigger asset on the ranch than the hired men I’d been afflicted with ever since I’d had enough money to pay some one to look after the place when I’m at the stampedes. I trust you will not doubt my word, Burton, but, actually, I had to do more work than ever when I had hired men who were supposed to help me get things in shape. I tried several of them, and the best of the lot wasn’t any good at all. At their request I volunteered to get up first and go to bed last, and I did all the cooking and wood chopping, and I always accepted the heavy end of the stick and did practically all the chores; but even with this encouragement and noble example they never displayed any gusto except at meal times. They even went so far as to organize on me. The ‘Boob Hired Help Union,’ they called themselves, and they were forever agitating for more pay and less work.”

“How many did you have, for Pete’s sake?” Burton Smith wanted to know. “Why didn’t you fire the lot?”

“I had only one at first,” I explained. “That was Jerry McNulty. It was at his suggestion that I engaged Clyde Parsons, but I made a mistake there. The two together did less work than Jerry had done alone, and that wasn’t much. So I gave the matter serious consideration and then wrote them a joint letter dispensing with their services.

“I had underestimated their stubborn nature, however. It seems that their motto was the same as that of the King of England: ‘What We Have We Hold.’ They were fired, but they wouldn't quit. I could not quite follow their line of reasoning, but I must say it sounded plausible enough when both were talking at once. So we compromised. I let them stay on as guests, and got another hired man to help me do the extra work.

“Eventually I had five hired men, and still had to do all the milking myself. The house was so crowded that I slept in the barn for two weeks, and then we ran out of food and I took a firm stand and refused to buy more. Perhaps that was stubborn of me, but I can be that way when sufficiently provoked. Even their threat of going on a hunger strike didn’t move me; I guessed I could stand it as long as any of them, even if I hadn’t tasted an egg since the first day Jerry McNulty came on the place.

“When they left me I was feeling very

unpopular, but fully realizing that my immediate need was a wife. That was why I was reluctantly willing to consider Sylvia Claygorn as a second choice if I couldn’t have Alice, but I wisely refrained from encouraging Sam in his efforts to press her upon me.

“Sam did a lot of heavy boosting on behalf of Sylvia when he and I were easing the horses a bit by walking behind the wagon while climbing Cottonwood Hill. I did not memorize the conversation at the time, but it was something like this:

“ ‘Why don’t you listen to ieason, Boob?’ demanded Sam. ‘You know I’m positive that Sylvia is the girl for you.’

“ ‘I’m not convinced,’ I retorted. ‘It’s Alice I want.’

“ ‘Sylvia’ll be able to look after your money.’

“ T can look after my money myself,’ I pointed out, though Sam must have known that. There had almost been friction between us already because I absolutely refused to tell him how much I had in the bank, or how much I would be prepared to loan him without interest after I became his son-in-law.

“ ‘Sylvia’s your intellectual affinity,’ he came back. He had picked up that phrase in a magazine, but neither of us knew what it meant. I had an idea, however, that it was not exactly complimentary. “ ‘Alice is younger,’ I countered.

“ ‘Sylvia is older,’ he came back, and that was so true that it nullified my argument entirely. ‘Besides, Sylvia is a prettier name than Alice.’

“ ‘She could change her name when we get married,’ I said. ‘Lots of people do that. In any case, she would probably be called “Ma” in a year or two, so what does it matter?’

“ ‘Boob, you make me blush!’

“ ‘Well, why not?’ I was feeling pretty red in the face myself, especially when Sam Claygorn kept on guffawing loud enough to be heard a mile away, and both girls hollered out that they wanted to know what the joke was. I was afraid Sam would tell them, as indeed he did!

“After a while Sam noticed what I had been saying over and over again.

“ ‘What does it matter if Alice is prettier?’ he snapped. ‘Looks don’t last long up here in the Cariboo. You can buy Sylvia one of these here lipsticks and some rouge powder, and she can decorate herself in any style that pleases you.’

“ ‘Sylvia can't cook,’ I threw out, and I saw that I had scored a clean hit there.

“ ‘Maybe she isn’t much of a cook as yet,’ admitted Sam, ‘but nobody expects a young bride to be able to turn out bannocks like an old bachelor. Look up all the jokes in the comic papers if you don’t believe that. And anyway, Boob, you’re such a splendid cook yourself that you don’t need to waste a wife on that kind of work. Two good cooks in one family would be out of all reason.’

“Before I could think of a good answer to this we had reached the top of Cottonwood Hill. We climbed back into the wagon with the matrimonial issue just as undecided as ever.

“Matters had not changed by the time we reached Beanville, though Sam Claygorn chose to pretend otherwise. He even insisted that I stand treat to a wedding dinner at the hotel, but I only agreed to this when it was clearly understood that Alice should sit at my left. I hadn’t figured on Sylvia sitting at my right, but that is what she did.

“Sam was all for having me married off that same evening, but I fought against that and finally won my point. I realized by now that my chances of winning Alice were getting slimmer and slimmer, but I was not going to give up until the last possible moment. I declared point-blank that I would not get married until I had transacted my business in Beanville; I had to buy some supplies, get measured for a new breaking saddle, and go and swear at old Andy Marshall.”

“ ‘When did you start swearing, Boob?’ demanded Burton Smith, accusingly.

“It wasn’t that kind of swearing,” I explained. “Mr. Marshall is a justice of the peace, and I had to swear before him that I’d completed the necessary duties and residence on my second homestead. Sam Claygorn stayed right with me while I was buying my groceries and things that afternoon, but he let me go in to the J.P. by myself. It seems that Sam and old Andy had a bit of a row the previous spring, when Sam tried to palm off a week-old litter of collies as coyote pups so that he could collect the bounty. The justice of the peace was fooled that way before, and the way he lit into Sam was a revelation of what these old-timers can do in the way of fancy cussing when properly roused. So he waited outside.

■K/TR. ANDREW MARSHALL has yV-L always been a bachelor, so you may judge of my surprise when my rap on the door was answered by a young woman. I said: ‘Oh!’

“ ‘Did you want to see the J.P.?’ she asked, quite self-possessed.

“ ‘If you don’t mind,’ I managed to say, though I have since thought that perhaps I might have phrased it otherwise.

“ ‘Come in,’ she smiled. ‘Mr. Marshall’s busy right now, but he won’t be long. Is it for a trapping license or for some homestead papers?’

“We went into the parlor to wait until the J.P. should be at liberty, and I told her about my new homestead, for I believe in making myself agreeable and companionable whenever I have the chance. She got quite interested when I enlightened her about how well I was doing at the stampedes, for though she had heard about this in a general way, she had been inclined to discount the stories to some extent. Nearly everybody else in the Cariboo feels the same way about me.

“Though such had not been my intention when I went in, I soon found myself telling her about the predicament I was in with Sam Claygorn and Alice and Sylvia. She sympathized deeply with me, and strongly advised me not to marry any girl unless I was reasonably certain that I was willing to have her for a wife. Time alone would tell if I had been right in my choice, she pointed out, but I was certainly offering hostages to misfortune if I started in with the handicap of a Sylvia instead of an Alice.

“We had discussed this matter at some length and with considerable attention to particulars, when Andrew Marshall suddenly entered the parlor. He was considerably surprised to see me there, for he had not yet been informed of my presence.

“ ‘Oh, it’s you, Boob, is it?’ he grinned. T heard you were in town and I’ve sort of been expecting you to call around. You’re a fast worker, all right!’

“ ‘Judge Marshall,’ I said, as soon as we were alone, which was within a few seconds of his entering the room, T am here to fulfil my obligations with regards to my new homestead, and to pay you fifty cents or a dollar for your seal of approval on the various documents. I may, however, also seize advantage of the opportunity to ask you a few leading questions concerning a matrimonial affray in which I seem to have got involved.’

“ ‘I’ll charge you a dollar for the notarial seal, Boob,’ he said, ‘and I’ll throw in the matrimonial advice free of charge.’

“ ‘Thank you very much,’ I said, and I bowed.

“ ‘You’re quite welcome,’ he replied, and he bowed, too. ‘You’re not likely to follow my advice anyway, so neither of us will be out anything much . . . Did you ever hear of Punch?’

“ ‘Frank Gordon’s gray stallion?’ I asked. ‘The one that wouldn’t come out of the chute in Edmonton. Or was it in Tacoma?’

“ ‘This Punch isn’t a horse. It's a magazine,’ laughed the justice of the peace. ‘It is usually full of serious jokes, but once, under the heading, “Advice to a Young Man About to get Married,” it printed the single word “Don’t!” ’

“ ‘That wasn’t advice; that was just a caution,’ I said. ‘Anyway, that’s not the kind of advice I want from you, Judge. I’ve been troubled with too many hired men . . . ’ And with that I launched into the difficulties of my position.

“I must say that Mr. Marshall gave me a most sympathetic hearing, especially after I mentioned that Sam Claygorn was my prospective father-in-law. The affair of the collie puppies masquerading as coyotes had made a deep impression on the J.P., and he was willing to put himself to considerable inconvenience to help me out if necessary. Besides, he had known me for a long time and was fully aware of my various ambitions.

“When I finally emerged from the house I found Sam Claygorn waiting for me in the street, but somewhat annoyed at the delay. He quizzed me pretty closely as to why it had taken so long to sign a few papers, but I resolutely refused to enlighten him with the real truth. I did not actually tell him any falsehoods, of course, but on certain points I maintained one of the most discreet silences of my career.

“I was almost annoyed when Sam informed me that during my interview with the J.P. he had voluntarily gone to the residence of the Reverend John Pinkley and made the necessary arrangements for my marriage to Sylvia at eight o’clock that evening. The Reverend Pinkley had only arrived in Beanville a few weeks earlier, and I did not even have the honor of his acquaintance. The prospect of being thus married by a stranger to the wrong girl didn’t appeal very forcibly to me, but Sam Claygorn was cheerful enough to make up for any slight feeling of melancholy on my part.

“Sam rode hard on me pretty closely for the rest of the day, and when evening came he had me comb my whiskers and put on a clean celluloid collar and a new tie, insisting that as a man’s marriage was somewhat out of the ordinary routine of life, the occasion should be marked by some distinction of dress and appearance.

“So as to guard against any sudden display of obstinacy on my part at the last moment, Sam locked up Alice in the hotel bedroom and personally escorted Sylvia and myself to the parson’s.

“The Reverend Pinkley invited us to be seated while he collected his Bible, his hymn book, and his prayer book. He talked casually enough about the weather and this and that,'but though his conversation was directed at me, it was Sam Claygorn who answered. I was too busy with my thoughts to be concerned about the weather.

“After a while the parson came over to me and placed his hand on my shoulder.

“ T trust, my young friend,’ he said, ‘that you have duly considered the importance of the step you are about to take. The holy sacrament of marriage

“At this I jumped up.

“ ‘Is this part of the ceremony,’ I asked, ‘or are we still engaging in pleasant conversation? If it is either way, I may as well confess that I feel a bit nervous, and before we go any further, I would like to crave the boon of a glass of cold water to moisten my lips so that the responses may be made in an audible voice.’

“ ‘Perhaps three fingers of Scotch whisky would be more in keeping with the occasion; eh, parson?’ suggested Sam Claygorn. ‘I could do with a good shot of hootch myself.'

“ ‘There will be nó alcoholic liquors served in this house,’ declared the Reverend Pinkley, eyeing Sam somewhat severely. ‘Mr. Boubinoff shows commendable judgment in his choice of a beverage. If you will kindly come this way, sir!’

“ ‘I’ll come, too,’ volunteered Sam Claygorn, but the parson waved him back and all but practically shut the door in his face.

“There was a tall pitcher of cold water in the kitchen, and one glass of this braced me up so much that I took a second, and this gave me the necessary courage to go ahead with my prearranged plans.

“ ‘I’m feeling lots better,’ I told the parson, ‘but I think it would steady my nerves still more if I could have just a few whiffs of a cigarette.’

“The Reverend Pinkley frowned.

“ T object to smoking on general principles,’ he said, ‘but I am broadminded enough to recognize that at times of great mental excitement the sedative influence of tobacco is not without its merits. You would not take umbrage if I suggested that you do your smoking outside?’

“ ‘Not at all!’ I answered, very truthfully indeed. T was just about to request that very thing.’

“Reverend Pinkley opened the backdoor. I had already rolled my cigarette, and as I stepped outside I struck a match and lit up. I inhaled deeply, and then stepped out of the beam of kitchen light and into the darkness.

“I have since learned on good authority that it was fully ten minutes before Reverend Pinkley gave up hope that I would come back, and reluctantly closed the door. I believe there was quite a scene in the front room when he returned without me, but such details as I have gleaned are far too fantastic to believe.

“So you see now, Burton, how a display of intelligence on my part at the right moment resulted in an absence of marriage with Sylvia Claygorn, a circumstance which I have never had occasion to regret.”

“Every man to his taste!” observed Burton Smith, getting up from the pail and stretching himself. “Now tell me what happened after you slipped away into the darkness, Boob.”

“I made my way back to Mr. Andrew Marshall’s with becoming haste, and there proceeded to carry out a programme arranged earlier in the day,’ I answered. ‘Possibly I neglected to mention to you, Burton, that the woman who surprised me by opening the door that morning was Nellie Davidson, with whom I had had my first experience of taking girls to dances. She had come back to the Cariboo and was working for Andy Marshall, but when she learned of the fix I was in, and after I had convinced her with my bankbook that there was big money for a cowpuncher with long hair and a curly beard riding at the stampedes, she generously volunteered to straighten out the situation by marrying me herself that same evening and with Judge Marshall officiating. He had once been a minister and, though now reformed, still had the needed authority.

“I was to have informed Sam Claygorn and Sylvia of the change in our plans, but somehow the day slipped away before I seemed to have a chance to explain with any degree of comfort. I was in a terrible state of trepidation in the Reverend John Pinkley’s front room when that good man was getting all set to tie the knot, but I rather fancy I got out of it with credit and dignity, don’t you?”

“Considering that you were the party at stake, Boob, I look upon your escape as nothing short of a miracle,” declared Burton Smith, speaking in a solemn voice. “But, tell me, why didn’t you get the J.P. to marry you right off the bat when you were there earlier in the day? Why take such desperate chances with your amazing luck?”

“I was willing, and so was Mr. Marshall,” I explained, “but Nellie Davidson insisted on having a bridesmaid, and a new dress, and a neck shave, and I don’t know what all else. She positively refused to be rushed into matrimony, she said, and flatly declined to consider any time earlier than nine o’clock that evening.”

“What did Sam Claygorn say when he found out about it?” asked Burton Smith.

“He didn’t say anything, but he almost choked,” I answered. “Nellie and I ran plump into him and the two girls on the street next morning and I didn’t hesitate a moment.

“ ‘Meet the wife!’ I said, proudly, and shoved her toward him.

“Now, know, Burton, Nellie is

bigger and broader and heavier than I am, and also somewhat older, and she is not one to be overawed by any man, much less Sam Claygorn. She just looked at him in that stern way of here, and it made Sam so uncomfortable that he swallowed his quid. That was what started him choking, and he had to go away in a hurry to recover. The girls went with him. Sylvia looked kind of mad at me, but Alice didn’t seem to mind. She was giggling. But then, she often does that without cause.

“So now, Burton,” I concluded, “I’ve told you the true story of how I came to be possessed of a wife, and I must thank you for your close attention. I trust that I have explained everything to your satisfaction, but if there is any little detail that I have overlooked, I shall be only too happy to make it clear.”

“I have heard everything I wanted to, and more,” said Burton Smith, “with the exception of a mere trifle. I believe it is customary for a groom to give his bride a wedding present, Boob, and I am rather curious to know what you gave Nellie on that eventful evening.”

“No man has a better right to that information,” I said, “and I am not betraying any secret when I let you know, Burton, because you would find it out for yourself in any case. For a wedding present I gave the wife my power-ofattorney . . . You’ll have to make my next stampede contract with her, Burton —and I rather think you’ll find my value has gone up since I met the wife!”