FICTION

One Sweet Job

P. W. LUCE December 1 1933
FICTION

One Sweet Job

P. W. LUCE December 1 1933

One Sweet Job

P. W. LUCE

BARON BOUBINOFF, the Madcap Cossack, with the sub-title "The Only Cowboy Who Ever lassoed a Queen Bee,” is the name and style under which I’m to be advertised next season when I star with Smith’s Stupendous Stampede and Exhibition of Bucking Bronchos.

That part about the queen bee is founded on fact. But the title of baron is spurious. Only gullible strangers use it. All my friends call me Boob.

No matter what Burton Smith's publicity man may say, here is the true story of my bee exploit.

Before 1 became a professional rodeo artist I had eked out an inadequate existence as a respectable Cariboo rancher with more land than money. On the side I had hired as a hay hand, worked on the roads, done a bit of electioneering with a bottle, sheared sheep, sawed wood, trapped, mostly in season, and run a [Jack train.

There are few good packers in these days of automobiles, though there are still many places without roads. Fireweed Valley is one of these. That’s where Mr. Wakefield has established the Nectar Apiaries, where he manufactures such good honey that it once won third prize at the Vancouver Exhibition.

Personally, I like to work with something bigger than a bee. I find it more comfortable to sit on a horse or a steer. But I quarrel with no man over his choice of stock. I will even lend him a helping hand, if the mercenary inducement is sufficient.

So when I got word, on reaching home, that Mr. Wakefield wanted to hire me and my pack train to carry his honey to Lone Butte for shipment to the coast, I took the contract. “1 think you will find this a sweet job,” Mr. Wakefield had postscripted. so as to make the letter appear less frigidly businesslike between friends. "Please come immediately.”

Thus exhorted, I did not remove the red whiskers that are such an asset at the rodeos. I figured that shaving could wait on business; and as things turned out it was nothing less than a merciful dispensation of Providence that 1 had this bushy protection when 1 got into that jackpot at Kelligoon Hill.

I GOT TOGETHER my packing ictus and nominated I Trotzky to be my saddle horse, just to have a mildmannered animal under me for once by way of a change. He hadn’t been ridden all summer.

For my pack ponies I chose Lenin, Serginoff, Ivan the Terrible. Nitchi-Nitchi, Pavlova and Alexis—part of the string I had brought back from the stampede circuit. They are all seasoned buckers and have achieved fame at tossing riders forward, backward and sideways, but they were all in a somewhat chastened mood after the season’s grind and the long journey back home. Moreover, with the exception of Nitchi-Nitchi, all had done some packing in the past and knew the business. It doesn’t follow that because a horse is an outlaw in the arena he won’t do honest work when he can't help it.

Vodka came along as a volunteer. He’s the ranch dog, and if he has a fault it’s his voracious appetite. Nobody has ever offered him too much to eat, and there are those who pretend to see some definite resemblance between Vodka and me in this respect, and they may be right for all I care. I got to the Nectar Apiaries at dusk, and we bedded dowi early so as to get a start in good season in the morning. Th journey to Lone Butte, we figured, would take about thre days if all went well.

“I hopje you have no trouble, Boob,” Mr. Wakefield sai« when he saw I was alone. “All the same, I wish you’« brought a wrangler along to help you over the rough spots.’ "That’s all right,” I said. “If any emergency should aris I can call on Vodka for assistance. He’s good at roundin; up horses.”

“Ye—es.” Mr. Wakefield did not seem convinced. “Bu won’t you get frightfully tired?”

“Maybe, but I can rest later at no cost,” I explained “Three days is no great trick for me. I am not easil fatigable, owing to my large content of vitamin PDÇ So I have been told by Joe Wise, who is a constant reader c that invaluable work. Every Man His Own Doctor.”

Mr. Wakefield left the room abruptly and did not refí to the subject again. So he was probably satisfied that m native ingenuity would pull me through, no matter wh£ happened. It always has and always will.

AMONG MY OTHER accomplishments, it is generali k conceded that I can build a pack on a horse in a wa that would wring applause from the hands of a Siwash wh has followed the business from infancy. I build high an wide, tie tight, work fast, and keep the pony under absolul control without a single wasted motion.

All the same, I confess I scratched my head with bot hands when I found out what I was up against in the mon ing. The honey had been poured into small casks, and there were eighteen of these—three to a horse.

As far as weight was concerned the loads were negligible, but a barrel is a lamentably bad fit on an aparejo, no matter if you put it lengthwise or upwise. Its contours and lack of pliability defy all efforts to make a satisfactory job. But with a plentiful padding of swamp hay, some fluttering help from Mr. Wakefield and lots of rope, I finally managed to get my pack train loaded. I had good reason to be ashamed of the appearance of the consignment, and I was slightly dubious as to its security. However, I managed to conceal my pessimism and we finally got on our way after a remarkably hearty breakfast. I had made it clear to Mr. Wakefield that I did not propose bothering about further meals that day so as to save precious time.

In any case, I always travel as light as possible on such occasions. A few strips of pemmican provide all the sustenance I need, and I never bother making tea on the trail.

I like tea well enough, but it is my boast that I can take it or leave it alone without my disposition being in the slightest degree affected.

Vodka and I kept the horses moving briskly all day, and we reached Peavine Flats that evening without incident except that Serginoff insisted on rolling to cool off while crossing a small muddy creek, and I had to rebuild his three-barrel pack while standing in the water. Serginoff has sustained his bad reputation on the stampede circuit for four seasons and has more than once helped me win the championship by bucking off strong competitors, so I bear him no permanent malice for his lapse that morning. At the same time, I will not stretch my truthful imagination so far as to say that I found any pleasure in his society in the middle of that small creek. Emotional persons have summoned poetry from their inner consciousness for much less. Others, coarser and cruder, have used seafaring language in copious streams.

I did neither. I contented myself with letting Serginoff know in the only way a pack-horse understands that he had

annoyed me.

Except for an abundance of ants, Peavine Flats is a dandy place for a night camp. There is plenty of feed so that the horses will not stray; good water and firewood and shelter for those who like a bit of comfort when roughing it.

For my part, I find the earth a good mattress, and I am always able to generate sufficient body heat to make blankets unnecessary. This is due, I am told, to my ancestry being half Russian and half Spartan, though it is not clear to me how this affects individual temperatures. In this, as in many other things, I have to take the word of those who have studied algebra, physics and the classics. My own education was deliberately interrupted by father’s distaste for scholarship before I could qualify for high school. But it has not been altogether in a state of suspended animation, since he was sent to the penitentiary for sheep stealing a few years later. Occasionally 1 have read newspapers, and even found matter for rumination in the editorial pages.

However, whatever else I may ignore. I do know horses. At least, I know them well enough to know that you never know what deviltry some of them will be up to w'hen they get the chance. And it is not often I give mine any chance.

At Peavine Flats, unfortunately,

I committed the reprehensible error of leaving one of the barrels of honey unprotected by a brush barricade. I have

At that, they were quite bad enough.

never been able to think up an adequate excuse for this lamentable oversight, and it is cold comfort to realize that matters might have been worse.

My roan mare Pavlova, who is named after a Russian dancer because of what she can do with her feet, suffers from a perverted sense of humor which frequently leaves hoof marks on her companions. Whether her usual targets were too elusive at Peavine Flats I do not profess to know, but

I was just awakening myself for the day’s work when this happened, and I promptly retaliated with a handy rock half as big as my head and twice as hard. My aim is good. Pavlova moved away in a great burst of speed.

The barrel had been lying on its side and the roan marc had made a shd wreck of the bottom, or it may have been the top for all I know. The two ends of a closed barrel are confusingly alike, but when the contents are honey the doleful results are much the same, no matter which end has been caved in.

A rich quantity of honey had already emptied itself on the grass when I reached the spot on the run and began salvage operations. I was filled with dire forebodings that I might be held responsible for the loss, and I had a yery vague idea of what this might mean in currency. I have never bought honey in my life, though occasionally I have enjoyed the delicacy when wild bees have been imprudent enough to hive where I could raid their stores.

Scooping honey with bare hands into an up-ended barrel

Pavlova misdirected her energies at the honey barrel instead. and scored a direct hit with what authors describe as a dull, sickening thud. is a slow job, but what made it worse for me was that Pavlova had been malignant enough to do her work of destruction close to an ants’ nest, and ants, as all scientists know, have a great liking for sweet things.

I made no estimate of the number of insects that rushed to the mess to enjoy themselves, but I realized at once there were far too many. I did my test to discard them with a stick before I poured the honey back in the barrel, for I did not want the high reputation of the Nectar Apiaries to suffer through a colony of ants being discovered drowned in the shipment. But I found it to be too tedious a job even for a man of my placid disposition. Besides, it slowed up the recovery so seriously that w-hat was gained in purity was more than lost in bulk.

So with great reluctance I let the ants remain incorporated in the honey as a temporary measure. I hoped I might evolve some process of refinement to be applied after we reached Lone Butte, where 1 would have the benefit of ample advice, some of which might be good.

Pavlova had knocked in the top of the barrel so thoroughly that major repairs were necessary before the journey could be continued. It is quite imi^ossible to fabricate a barrel top without tools or wood at Peavine Flats, so I had to make shift by spreading my shirt over the hole and tying it securely all round with rawhide. It was perhaps a trifle porous, but it served.

Though this arrangement safeguarded the honey, it made me somewhat of a nudist and practically ruined the shirt. It was one of the expensive red silk shirts I wear at the stampedes, somewhat faded, and a bit patched at the elbows and neck, but still good for long service on the ranch. I felt its loss keenly.

While I was coopering the damaged barrel as best I could,

I cordially invited Vodka to help himself to what was left of the honey on the ground, it being a cardinal principle with me that nothing good should ever be wasted.

Vodka enjoyed breakfast with tremendous gusto. He may conceivably have absorbed a few dozen ants and some wis|>s of grass, but such trilles have no effect on a ranch dog’s constitution.

We nooned at Mantle Forks that day. I had unloaded the horses and figured on giving them two hours to feed before pushing on again, but things didn't work out quite that way.

I was having a little snooze with one ear open when I heard Serginoff snort . Then he threw back his head and bolted, followed by the other pack-horses, all cat-hopping wildly in their hobbles.

Fortunately for me Trotzky, was close enough so that I managed to grab his trailing bridle lines before he could break away. But he was so keen to go that long before I had mastered him I guessed the horses must have smelled a bear.

I was only half right.

It wasn't a bear.

It was two bears two large brown bears, and they were ambling along gleefully in a beeline for the honey casks.

No wise man willingly steps in between a bear and its dinner unless he is equipped with a lethal weapon. I wasn't.

And yet those bears had to te' disappointed. The honey must be saved, even though this emergency had not been foreseen in the contract I had made with Mr. Wakefield. “Sic ’em. Vodka!’’

Continued on page 47

One Sweet Job

Continued from page 28

I shouted. “Don't let them get past you!”

Vodka got busy. I don’t know where he learned to worry

bears. He yapped and snarled, dashed in and out. nipped at one and bit the other, circled around and feinted, and so com-

ported himself that very soon he had them completely confused and altogether an-

noyed. Temporarily, he must have driven all desire of honey from their thoughts.

Meanwhile I had cinched the saddle tight on Trotzky, grabbed a second lariat I had been using as a lash rope on Alexis, swung aboard my horse, and was urging him toward the fray.

Trotzky was somewhat recalcitrant, but I am so used to a bucking horse that it didn't make much difference to me. I managed to steer him where I wanted, and with my first cast I roped the bigger bear and toppled him over on his companion in as pretty a fall as ever was seen under the circumstances.

By snubbing the end of my rope to a convenient cottonwood tree. I had one bear tethered before he had disentangled himself from his fellow. I shook out my other lariat and got the second bear as he was making a wild swipe at Vodka, whose valor had got somewhat the better of his discretion and who had dared come within range of those tremendous paws.

Speaking subject to correction, I think I can claim to be the only cowboy who ever roped two bears off a bucking horse within one minute, and I must remember to tell Burton Smith about this next year. It will give him something more to brag about in his advertising matter, and my reputation may be somewhat enhanced as a result.

One bear at the end of a lariat is a problem fraught with dire possibilities, but two bears on two lariats are a cinch if you have powerful muscles, a dog to lend a hand, and scattered cottonwood trees to serve as snubbing posts.

The bears, in a way of speaking, can be made to cancel each other out.

By yanking the bears together and manhandling them somewhat severely from a safe distance, I succeeded in arousing iheir bad temper to such a pitch that they took to biting and clawing each other under the impression that they had their aggressor within their clutches. It was a clear case of mistaken identity, but both bears died unconvinced.

I attended to the killing with my clasp knife when the bears had exhausted themselves sufficiently to render them indifferent to my approach from behind. Perhaps it was not exactly the sporting thing to do, but I am not one to let politeness stand in

ropes well twisted around two hefty bears.

A good bear hide is always worth having, and so 1 extracted the carcasses from the pelts, made a compact bundle of the skins, and left the meat for the coyotes.

WHAT WITH THE visit of the bears, the rounding up of the pack ponies, and the difficulty of making them benave because of the heavy reek of bear in the atmosphere, it was after five o’clock before we could make a start from Mantle Forks.

I elected to put the hides on Lenin, first relieving him of his three casks and adding these to other packs.

I knew Lenin would buck and cut up, and probably run away for a while, but that did not worry me. I fixed his pack so that it could not possibly be dislodged, and 1 was well aware that so long as Ivan the Terrible was with the outfit Lenin would eventually trail along. Those two horses are bosom friends.

There were no untoward circumstances it the night campa poor place where the .ïorses had mean fare and muddy water— and quite early next morning we left it without regrets.

By humping along at a smart clip we made Kelligoon Hill for a late noon. I stripped and hobbled the cayuses, chewed a couple of strips of pemmican, and was peacefully reclining against a tree m a semi-comatose state when a yelp from Vodka stirred me to action.

I saw the dog streaking away from the honey casks with his tail between his legs and a sort of cloud buzzing around him.

He emitting unhappy sounds.

He was emitting unhappy sounds.

Prompt investigation revealed that Vodka, who had made it his business to save any honey that seeped through my red silk shirt over the broken barrel, had gone there as usual for his lunch. On this occasion, however, he had run into serious competition.

A large swarm of wild bees had descended on the casks and put poor Vodka to rout with their stings !

As I have previously hinted, the bee is not my favorite insect. He may be industrious and thrifty, but his mean disposition puts him beyond the pale of polite society. Apart from his skill in producing honey, there is only one redeeming feature about the bee and that is the benefits he confers on rheumatic persons when he stings them. The treatment, however, has never become popular and is nearly always accidental.

For myself, as I have not yet acquired rheumatism, I have no use whatever for bee stings.

Small wonder, then, that I approached my unexpected task with some measure of distaste. My cayuses place bees in the same category as horseflies, bots, midges and other pests, and I could see futility ahead if I tried to build up my pack train with a large swarm of wild bees disputing possession of the casks both before and after I had them on the horses, assuming I did manage to get them on.

A bee is very tenacious of what he considers his rights and privileges. Short of wholesale slaughter, there is only one way of inducing a swarm to quit a spot where it has settled. I happened to know by listening casually to Mr. Wakefield’s conversation that the bee is a Royalist to the core, will follow the queen bee wherever she goes and stay with her no matter what happens.

I had never seen a queen hee, but I knew she was of monstrous size compared to the workers, and I felt competent to identify her at a glance. The problem, however, was what to do about it after I had recognized her. I had no hive in which to put her, and I did not clearly see how I could improvise one without sacrificing the contents of one of the honey casks, which was unthinkable.

TOR FULLY FIFTEEN minutes I sat and

mv way when I have to recover two good I pondered vigorously; and then an idea He’s a Christian ’

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slowly developed itself. All I needed to put it into execution was a long stick, a few hairs from Nitchi-Nitchi’s flowing tail, some patience, and enough stoicism to endure bee stings by the score.

I got the stick and the horsehair, and then cautiously approached my freight. The bees were buzzing vigorously all over the barrels, but they permitted me to survey their operations in peace for a while. My theory is that they were reassured by the slowness of my movements, but Jack Pickley insists they mistook me for a bear and preferred not to aggravate me for fear of reprisals. True, I had no shirt, the hair on my broad chest is plentiful, and my professional whiskers conceal most of my face. But it is an exaggeration to compare me to a bear.

Fortunately for my comfort, my belt was tight around the top of my pants, and the number of bees that got past this barricade was negligible. The back of my neck and my hands and arms bore the brunt of suffering, which commenced as soon as I began poking about with my long stick in search of the queen bee and continued long after I had discovered her.

She was well hidden, that queen. I had to shift the whole pile of barrels before I found her clinging to the bung hole of a cask at the bottom, where she was practically buried under a squirming mass of insects that made it very hard for me to proceed according to plans. What with | sprainsandoccasional j breaks and number-

less rope burns, my fingers are less nimble than I might wish, and I found it a very ; tedious indeed tolasso that bee. j

For that’s what I did with the long hair ! from Nitchi-Nitchi’s tail. I made a loop in the middle and after many eff orts succeeded in slipping this over the queen’s head and drawing it tight across her middle so that • I had her under absolute control.

The position, of course, was somewhat new to her. She protested audibly, and so did all her retinue. She struggled all she could, but what is the might of a bee when pitted against the sinews of a cowpuncher who holds the world’s record for bulldogging a 1,200-pound steer?

My great fear was that the queen might split herself in two. Had that happened I would have been nonplussed, for I have no idea what procedure is followed by a swarm of wild bees suddenly deprived of its queen, and at the moment I did not care to experiment.

Fortunately the question did not arise. The queen remained in one piece, and even quieted down after I had tethered her securely to my long stick and carried her a quarter of a mile away to a dead tree that looked to me a much better place for a permanent hive than my freight from the Nectar Apiaries.

Most of the bees followed me and the queen, and probably I was stung many times during the short journey. But I was long past noticing stings.

I smeared a generous gift of honey on the bark of the dead tree so as to keep the bees occupied for a while, and left the queen there in discomfort while I rounded up my horses and made a quick getaway from Kelligoon Hill without any further untoward incidents.

An hour later I halted at Pennico Lake long enough to give my upix*r half a thorough mud bath. It did me lots of good, and I could see fairly well out of my left eye after the swelling had gone down.

Jack Pickley, who had the responsibility of shipping Mr. Wakefield’s honey from Lone Butte to Vancouver, gave me a sympathetic hearing when I reached my destination, He squeezed out such bee stings as were near enough to the surface, and he gave my exposed hide a vigorous anointing with a salve.

“I can let you have a small brandy barrel to replace that broken cask,” offered Mr. Pickley, "but 1 don’t know what the consignee will say when he finds all those ants.

It does complicate matters,” I admitted. “And then there’s the shortage,” continued the agent. "How do you projjose getting around that, Boob?”

“I can make that good,” I told him. "There must be a deposit of wild honey at Kelligoon Hill, and 1 think I’m entitled to it after the annoyance the bees caused me.

1 could raid their hoard and bring it back here to make up the deficit. The flavor would not vary much from the Fireweed Valley brand when the two were mixed.” And that’s what I did promptly and efficiently.

The removal of the ants’ remains from the broached cask was a slower job. I accomplished it by sitting in the back room of Jack Pickley’s general store all through a hot afternoon and straining the honey through wire mosquito netting.

Possibly a few of the smaller bodies got through, but the Vancouver wholesaler must have been satisfied with the consignment. He paid for it at usual rates, and informed Mr. Wakefield that the shipment was well up to standard.

I have that from Mr. Wakefield himself, who still remains in blissful ignorance of what happened to me on that sweet job. He wants me to pack out the product of the Nectar Apiaries again next year, and I’ve told him I’ll think it over.

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