OLD TOM McKelvey, rigid with rancorous hate, sat his weary mare and stared through the September darkness at two squares of light and one bobbing gleam. A barbed wire fence had stopped the two riders. Jabe Neary, the younger, got off his horse to open the gate. The twang of the taut wire echoed through Tom McKelvey's chest, which was dry and empty uf all but bitterness; he burst out, “But, by heaven, we won’t shut it.”
The two lights were in the white-painted house of Ernest Someone-with-a-German-name. Wasn't that just like a fool Dutch farmer to come out here on the plains and put up a house and paint it white so that it stuck out like a
A story of the Old West and the New, and a girl who loved them both
LENORA MATTINGLY WEBER
bandaged thumb? The bobbing light would be a lantern carried by this same Ernest. Wasn’t that just like a Dutch farmer, to go coddling around his cattle at night—bedding them down, no doubt!
Tom McKelvey was a cattleman. Twenty years ago he’d trailed up from Montana his first herd of cattle—yes, over twenty years ago in the summer of ’80; and this was 1902. Gaunt, long-legged range cattle, skittish as jack rabbits. They needed range and they had it—a good twenty-five miles between his place and the mountains in the west . . .
And it was still a range country for range cattle, in spite of these piddling farmers and their fences,
chopping the range up into potato patches and pig pens. Old Tom McKelvey bore this young, industrious Ernest person the rancorous hate anyone bears the person who picks up a lightly-discarded something and makes a good thing out of it right under one’s nose. Tom McKelvey hadn’t grieved any when the bank foreclosed on that bare half-section of land. There was no creek on it. no windbreak of cottonwoods for cattle in a driving blizzard,
or to act as a protection for the land, no strips of wild hay.
But now there were a house and barns and a windmill on it; a handful of hens, and plowed fields, and cows—those damned muley cows that looked at you out of serene eyes. And a penny-pinching, egg-peddling farmer who made money—while he, Tom McKelvey, lost it.
He buttoned his hate and fury tight about him; there was warmth in it. Without it, he would have only the cold, wan nakedness of defeat, of humiliation—-of helplessness.
A dog barked, horses whinnied, and he and Jabe were at the carelessly-sprawled McKelvey ranch. House, barns and corrals were all of solid log.
Dora was there at the watering trough waiting for them, her brown hair and brown skirts whipping in the night wind. Dora was seventeen. Even with long skirts and snugly-buttoned basques she never looked grown-up. There was about her an eager wanting to have a part in everything. Her eyes were so blue, they seemed hardly to belong in such a brown face. Milton, the cook and roustabout, felt that such tanned brownedness was not womanly, and often on his visits to town, he brought back queer-smelling bleaches, recommended perhaps by some of the ladies he met on Main Street.
YOUNG JABE NEARY had brought Dora a box of chocolates. He untied it from the back of his saddle and gave it to her before he unbridled his thirsty horse to let it drink. On the box were pictured three doves holding looped ribbons between their beaks.
Dora helped Milton put out their supper. Ham and beans and potatoes and dried-apple pie. No frills, no fanciness either in food or serving. The house always held a thin haze of coal oil lamps, pipe-smoke and frying ham.
Like the ranch, the house was man-run, and Dora, brought up in a man’s atmosphere, had never learned to grow geraniums in cans, or embroider cushions. Once, following instructions in a magazine, she had tried to crochet antimacassars for the backs of their chairs. But
they came out all lumps and loops, and the men’s laughter ended any further attempts.
Jabe Neary lounged gracefully in the doorway and expertly rolled a cigarette with one hand. He was of the old school, as was Tom McKelvey. They never coddled their land, their cattle, their horses, or themselves. Jabe drifted about the country, breaking range bronchos to ride.
He lingered overly long, trying to get a confidential word with Dora. He was trying to tell her about a dresser set —mirror, brush and comb—he’d seen in a store window. The set came in a satin-lined box and the handles were of silver in a flower design.
But Dora’s concern was all for her grandfather and the weariness in his face under the thin gauze of his fuming. When finally Jabe was gone, Dora stood across the table and, bit by bit, prodded from the old man what had happened in town. She knew already what Clennan, an old buyer friend, had said when he’d ridden out and looked over their herd. “I can’t give you any kind of a price for them. In our day, Tom, we took beef as it came—stringy or not. But now, if you please, the ones who cook it and the ones who eat it must have their juicy rumps, their layer of meat alongside the ribs, and enough fat in the steaks to fry them.”
So her grandfather, his cowhands, and Jabe Neary had shagged the cattle to the stockyards, though it meant a loss in poundage from the eighty-five-mile drive. There the price quotations from the East had told the same story ... “A fine thing,” Tom McKelvey flared now, “when you have to get down on your knees to buyers to take your critters.” . . . Through Dora’s mind pranced a few figures—each one sharp-pronged—for they told of the heavy loss on McKelvey cattle.
SHE POURED into his oversize cup the dribble of coffee left in the pot, and said, “Grandfather, the change was bound to come. There’s no money now in long-legged range stuff. The buyers want meatier beef. But if you’d sell that other half-section of land that Ernest Wintermeyer said his sister’s husband wanted, you could get polled Durham bulls like his—and breed into heavier stock.”
Tom McKelvey stood up, straightened his sagging body to its full six-foot-two. Dora couldn’t know that her words were like the chafing of a flannel shirt across the raw wound of his humiliation. He spoke with cold contempt, “I need neither you nor this Ernest whatever-his-Dutch-name-is to tell me how to run my cattle business. Tomorrow morning, you saddle your horse and ride over and tell him, once and for all, that I’ll sell no land of mine to the Dutch husband of his Dutch sister.”
He went on bitterly, “Jabe Neary’s father and I brought cattle in here when we had to hide in gullies at night lest Indians lift our scalps from us, when there wasn’t any railway. And now when the country’s all safe and neat and civilized for them, they come in with their fences and their pot-bellied cows and sneer at us and our ways.”
Dora argued, “But he made money on that veal stock he sold.”
Neither Dora nor Tom McKelvey realized that it was his own hurt lashing out at her—“I’ve been told often I made a mistake in never keeping you in a woman’s place, instead of letting you grow up with your nose in a man’s business. I can see now ’tis true. Maybe ’twas expecting too much to think your loyalty would be for our kind rather than the butter-churning Dutch yonder. I never doubted but that you’d see for yourself that such penny-pinching, hog-swillers were not our kind.”
Dora stood as though struck. It was not like her to stand still under a tongue-lashing. She and her grandfather often flung back and forth heated words. Dora still upbraided him for riding the treacherous mare he’d bought from an old skinflint named Durkin—-“She’s got snaky eyes, that mare, and she’ll take a piece out of you some day,” she’d predicted over and over. And Tom McKelvey, always uneasy for fear others would criticize Dora, scolded her for her unseemly ways in sometimes straddling a horse instead of riding sidesaddle; yet, inconsistently enough, he laughed her to shame for putting on her face the cornstarch which Milton sifted carefully for her.
But now Dora stood there, defenseless, wordless. The blow was somehow closer the heart than either knew.
NEXT MORNING Tom McKelvey mounted the Durkin mare and rode westerly over his range. In a wide gully sloping gently to Black Squirrel Creek he came across something that made him rein in his mare and stare in unbelief, while all about him prairie dog families squeaked and barked.
It was a huge and magnificent old buffalo bull. He rode closer. The beast’s head hung and a long red gash showed upon his scarred side.
One solitary old buffalo here on land long deserted by buffalo herds—even their old migratory trail was grassgrown now! Tom McKelvey had never been a buffalo hunter. There had seemed little sport to him in shooting down a huge creature for only its hide, its tongue, and that rich chunk of meat in the hump, leaving the rest for wolves and buzzards to feed on. But he knew their ways. He knew intuitively why this old, old fellow was here and such an ache of sympathy, of kinship, probed through his diaphragm that it was physical pain.
For this old beast had once been king of the herd. He had reigned as monarch over the young bulls, the cows, the yearly crop of calves. Then had come age and a day when his kingship was challenged by a younger bull—
probably one of his own sons. Not in one day—nor in one battle—had he been dethroned. No there had been days of conflict, long hours when turf was torn under their feet, while two bulls thrust and pushed and horned each other.
Slowly, but surely, in conflict after conflict, this old fellow had lost ground. At first he couldn’t believe it—at first, probably, indignation and hate had kept his old blood hot . . . But finally the knowledge that he was done for had seeped into his tired old heart, and sore old body. And he had slunk off alone. “Yes, and I’ll bet every buffalo cow and heifer went trotting after the new leader with never a backward glance for you—with never a remembrance of the times you fought off the wolves or led them out of hunting territory,” Tom McKelvey muttered aloud.
A long way the old buffalo had travelled to come back to these haunts where he had been calved, but he had remembered the grainy taste of the buffalo grass, the clear trickle of water in Squirrel Creek.
Then, down in a strip of his own wild hay, the old man saw three slinking wolves, and, on a rise of ground, the leader of the pack keeping watch. Oh, they weren’t ones to rush in when they could get their prey easier by biding their time! They’d wait till the old fellow got a little weaker, a little unsteadier on legs that were already a bit wabbly under his great hulk. The crafty cowards! Then some would bay him from the front, keeping a safe distance from his horns, and finally when he was slowed-down and bewildered, a sharp-toothed one would hamstring him from the rear. He’d go down and they’d pounce on him, disembowel him, and glut themselves while he was still alive.
Tom McKelvey manoeuvred his mare about until he was between the old beast and the skulking wolves. He sent a bullet into their midst and knew a great surge of satisfaction to see them scurry off like ugly shadows. The fidgety Durkin mare snorted and reared when he shot from her back; that didn’t help his aim any and he slapped her soundly across her ears. He took a second shot at the leader of the pack. It was a whitish wolf, almost an albino. His bullet missed widely because of the mare’s skittering under him. Part of his curses were for the wolf’s supercilious reluctance to clear out, part for the mare’s efforts to boit with him. He checked her by savagely yanking her head high; her eyes flashed back molten hate at him.
He looked across to the old buffalo; every prairie dog had dropped into its hole at sound of the gun. “Eat your fill, old-timer, so strength will creep back under your battered hide.”
DORA TOOK the low road to the Wintermeyer place.
She rode slowly, troubled in mind and heart about the message she must deliver to Ernest Wintermeyer.
She met him before she reached the house. He had walked up to repair a mower in a square of alfalfa. Jabe Neary always chuckled, “These fool settlers hoof it all over
the plains so as to save their horses.” Jabe Nearv never walked to save a horse.
kirnest Wintermeyer put his tools down, hurried over to her. Life on the plains gave to its men a certain dry laconism which Ernest hadn’t. Dora, brought up in a man’s world, was not “talky,” yet his very eagerness and receptiveness acted as the prying-open warmth of sun. He said, “I am so happy that you have come. Our horses are busy in the field and very tired or I would have ridden over. I have something for you—our Aunt Rhoda sent it to you.”
It was a yellow rose bush he gave her. She wouldn’t have known what it was if he hadn’t told her, because it was only a stubby thing of clipped back stems and well-wrapped roots. “This family of roses prefers fall setting out. When Aunt Rhoda likes anyone she gives them a root of this fragrant rose bush.”
“But she doesn’t know me,” Dora said.
His eyes looked away from her. “It is because I—I make mention of you often in my letters home. Always my sister uses these roses for her rose jar.”
“A rose jar.” Dora mused. “I never saw one.”
“Didn’t you? Emil, how does one fill a rose jar?”
His brother, Emil, was in the shade back of the house, churning. “So very simple it is. You put in a layer of rose petals, then a layer of cloves, fhen another layer of roses—” his hands indicated that you kept up the process until the jar was full.
Emil was younger and slimmer and paler than his brother. He had lung trouble. But Ernest had built a raised floor in a tent for him to sleep in; Ernest was sure that milk and eggs and prairie sun would cure him so that next term he could return and get his degree at college. “I have him take care of the milk and butter and hens,” Ernest confided to Dora, “so he’ll have interests away from his books and his music. In our family some of us love books, and others of us love the land.”
“You love the land,” Dora said softly. Yet she— even her grandfather who had lived on it so long— had always taken the wide sweeps of land for granted ; they had never been one with it.
“We are storing away vegetables for the winter.
We were able to water the garden from the windmill.
Next year we will have a beautiful garden.” He was so full of plans. He’d met a man who had some alfalfa seed and they had talked long about alfalfa crops and irrigating schemes. Ernest Wintermeyer picked up a bit of the earth and rubbed it between his hands.
“This soil will grow potatoes.”
Dora thought, “He’s far closer to the land than we are.”
He looked down at her. One seldom noticed his height, for he was broad through the body. “Does it not warm something deep within you—this gather-
ing of crops and garden and storing it away and saving seeds and roots for the coming year?” he asked.
Dora didn’t answer. The McKelvey ranch had no dugout for storing milk products and vegetables. They bought condensed milk, some vegetables in cans; other things they did without. Yet because women aren’t natural wasters, her woman’s soul responded to this nice conserving of things.
“. . . Penny-pinching hog-swillers,”
Tom McKelvey had called them.
She must tell him that her grandfather refused to sell that half-section Ernest’s sister and her husband wanted. Dora would like to know this young sister who made rose jars, and sent to her brothers knitted gloves and hand-painted bookmarks. She left the message still undelivered.
Emil dipped them up mugs full of fresh buttermilk and they sat on the back step and drank it. Ernest opened the door to let out a grey mother cat and Dora glimpsed books close to easy chairs, a violin on a table. About the house and fields was a feel of permanence, of deep rootings, of home.
Then it was as though Tom McKelvey’s very rancorous antagonism shattered the serenity of the hour. For, looking up. they saw a herd of some twenty or thirty range cattle heading toward Ernest Wintermeyer’s field of corn—
“white Australian com,” he’d told Dora.
. . . Tom McKelvey always said, “I’ve never shut a barb wire gate yet and, so help me. I never will.”. . .
Ernest leaped to his feet. “If they get a taste of corn there’ll be no keeping them out.”
“I’ll head them off.” Dora said. She mounted swiftly, galloped across and turned the cattle back. Ernest’s long strides took him over the plains so swiftly that he was there at the gate when the hostile-eyed bunch came on ahead of Dora. Though he held the gate wide and stood back, the herd went into wild panic at sight of him. Some, crowding over each other, bolted through the gate, but others plunged blindly through the fourstrand barbed wire fence.
Wires twanged and snapped on hoofs, a post gave way, as they went through. Cut and scratched, the cattle galloped morosely on. Ernest looked at the dangling wires, the loose and broken posts. “Another day of fence mending this means. The gate could so easily have been shut.” He appealed to her: “Dora, why do people fight us and treat us like interlopers?”
“I’ll tell you,” Dora defended her grandfather, though she wouldn’t admit it was he who had left the gate open. “It’s because these old-timers came in here when this was Continued on page 28
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wild country and they suffered hardships and dangers. Then after they cleared the way, you settlers come in and fence off the range they need for cattle. They’re fighters, because they always had to fight.” “I know all that,” he admitted with such disarming sincerity that a lump pushed up without warning in her chest, “and we newcomers are not fighters. I’m no hand with a gun even. It’s all I can do to get a jack rabbit . . . But, Dora, can you not see that this had to come, this settling of the land? There is a cycle which moves and we can only move with it. But we are not takers. What we take from the soil we put back. What we have learned of stock and planting we would be glad to share with these older men who can never more find wide range for their cattle.”
Oh, it’s true, Dora thought, but grandfather, grandfather, will your stubbornness ever see it? . . .
“Our family,” he said soberly, “has handed down a saying, ‘Three things are worth striving for -knowledge, grain, friendship!’ ” He touched her arm. “With all my heart, Dora, I desire to be neighborly in this my new home.” . . . Like a rush of fragrant wind touching her, was this sudden knowing that here was a man who didn’t think hardness, and few words, and stifling of feeling a part of manhood; the girl he married would know sweet inti-
macies of talk, satisfying silences as well . . . She muttered good-by, rode on. She had forgotten to deliver the message she had been commanded.
Old Tom McKelvey was there in the corral when she rode in and, noting the rose bush tied on her saddle, gave her a glance of withering scorn but no word of greeting.
Half defiantly, half furtively Dora planted the rose bush. It was the first thing she had ever planted. “Roses drink heavily, so plant it near the watering trough, yet because they dislike wet feet put gravel at the roots,” Ernest had told her. She didn’t plant it near the watering trough. Tom McKelvey would delight in letting the Durkin mare trample it. She planted it, after consideration, at the south corner of the house.
JABE NEARY had been at Diamond Bar breaking bronchos. He lounged about the McKelvey ranch for three days. Tom McKelvey’s old swaggering dominance was bolstered up as he and Jabe sneered at the settlers and their small-hoofed, paunchy cows. “The last two winters have been open winters. Wait till we have a white
one and they have to fork every bite of fodder down their throats” ... “A sweet chance one of those sad-eyed bovines would have fighting off a wolf, with only a nubbin where a horn ought to be” . . . “Let a stiff, long-lasting blizzard hole them in for a winter and there’ll be a lot of railroad tickets sold to parts east.” . . . Yes, Jabe Neary was their kind. Dora rode nineteen miles to a dance with him, danced all the quadrilles with him, feeling the hardness of his chest and arms as he swung her giddily.
Every morning old Tom McKelvey rode up in the direction of Squirrel Creek and sighted the moving hump-backed blotch of buffalo. Every morning his far-sighted grey eyes combed the plains for the wolves, and then, angling in between the buffalo ranger and them, he’d take aim and fire. “One of these days I’ll get you, you blackhearted, white-skinned brute, you!” he always threatened. Once he was sure he had wounded one of the laggards.
And every time he shot there was a battle between himself and the mare Durkin had sold him, representing her as a well-trained range mare. Each time she bolted in revolt against the gunfire and
each time he cuffed her vigorously for the locoed, addle-pated fool she was.
Ordinarily he would have told Dora about the lone old monarch he was protecting. Dora’s eyes would have flashed with warm sympathy . . . that was one nice thing about bringing up a girl the same as he had her father—they needed few words for understanding. Dora would have planned, “—and we can ease the old fellow down in the trees for shelter before snow flies.”
But now, since barbed wire had come between them, he said nothing to her, nothing to Jabe Neary, nor to Milton, the cook, nor to his two line riders, who were spending most of their time playing rummy because he hadn’t enough cattle left to keep them busy. And not a whey-faced banker but had put thumbs down on lending any money to go into range cattle.
This ride toward Squirrel Creek every morning was a tryst he kept—a sacred, secret tryst with the half-blind, half-donefor old beast; a tryst with something which the cycle of time tried to say was finished. But he’d fight it . . . and fight it—“By heaven, we’re not down yet,” he’d mutter across the prairie stubble to the buffalo.
Sometimes it seemed that the old beast moved with firmer step and he exulted with him. Or again as this morning, when he
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watched, the buffalo seemed to move with a twitching motion as though the raw cut on his side might be festering.
He must get a telling shot at the wolf leader, for winter was close with its snow and wolves pushing in from the foothills. He manoeuvred the stubborn mare about and dismounted for careful aim, keeping the knotted reins over his arms. He squeezed the trigger. The mare yanked back on his arm, not only sending the bullet wild, but sprawling him onto his knees. He angrily struck at her with his fortyfour. She reared on her hind legs, striking out with her front.
A hoof caught him on the thigh. She was unshod and it would probably have left only an ugly bruise, but that was scarred flesh. Years ago he’d been caught in a loading chute with a sharp-horned steer who’d ripped the flesh open.
He rode the mare back but he called her no names, for his teeth were clenched against pain. He limped into the house. Ordinarily Dora would have scolded solicitously, “I always told you that snaky mare would get you.” But she only looked at his ashen face, said, “You’re hurt!”
“Just a kick. Where’s that brown salve the doctor left us for cuts?”
But Dora followed him into his room, the salve bulging the pocket in her long alpaca skirt. She carried a pan of warm water and strong soap. “There’s bound to be dirt in it,” she said.
NEXT MORNING Tom McKelvey got only his shirt on when he had to crawl ■ back into bed. The next day his eyes were j unduly bright and he made no effort to I get up. Dora saddled her horse and rode ; the twenty-three miles to town for the doctor.
She returned that night with a white powder for her grandfather to take, a wash for the wound, and more of the brown salve.
Two visitors had been to see Tom McKelvey that day. Jabe Neary was still there, tipped far back in a leather chair. Dora saw a round pat of butter on the table and questioned Milton with an uneasy catch of breath.
Milton, the placatory, nodded in the direction of the white house and fields ruled off with barbed wire, and whispered hoarsely: “Yeh, he was here. He sat in there with Tom for quite a spell and Tom was just rambling on about everything from sow-belly to buffaloes. Then Tom kind of come to his senses and started ranting about them as smelled of swill—But I got him out, that young fellow, before he caught on it was him Tom meant.”
Tom McKelvey’s gashed leg grew better. He could hobble out to the living room with Milton’s and Dora’s help but he couldn’t get as far as the door alone. He’d look bewilderedly, impatiently at them. “It’s not pain,” he’d deny, “it’s just a pulling and a drawing—” but he’d drop back into his chair.
“Takes time,” Milton would soothe, “you ought to know, Tom, that an old horse is longer healing than a young one.” Dora would ask, “Is there something that you want me to do?” For there was something—something that had taken her grandfather up Squirrel Creek morning after morning.
I-Ie’d evade, “I’ll give the leg another day, and then—”
Until there came a night of high October wind, worrying and wailing through cottonwoods, sighing at windows. Its wild mournfulness brought in its wake that feeling of loneliness, smallness, helplessness. And mingled with the wail of wind came the shriek and sob of wolves— broken by high-pitched yelps. Dora, lying long awake, had heard the bed in her grandfather’s room creak with his restlessness. Twice a slat dropped.
She went to the door of his room. “Grandfather, is the leg pestering you?” “No more than usual,” he answered tensely.
“Then what is troubling you?”
The wind died down to a tired whine. “Listen, Dora, do you hear those devils of wolves? What do you make of their damned yelping—is it hunger, do you think?”
Dora listened, shivered. “No, it isn’t hunger.”
Old Tom pulled himself up in bed. “It isn’t—is it now—the call to kill?”
She listened again to it over the sob of wind. “No, it isn’t that either.” The call to kill was different from any other. It started out high-pitched, bloodthirsty, and then slid into a rumbling bellow that was chopped up by short, broken yaps. She was about to say that it sounded like the call of fresh meat, the call to bring pup and yearling wolves out, but the old man touched her, said: “In case I’m not able to ride in the morning, there is a little something I’d like you to do.”
Briefly, a little sharnedly, he told her about the spent old buffalo and the stalking wolves he’d been holding off . . . Soundless sobs ached through Dora as she stood there. Poor, dear, scrappy Tom McKelvey and his trying to hold on. Small, tender little pictures jumbled through her mind. Once he’d rocked her the night through because in a feverish delirium she was afraid alone. He’d brought her red slippers for her first dance. Her reproachful heart sobbed out, “I will never forsake you. Your kind will be my kind.” . . . She said shakily, “Why ever didn’t you tell me before? I—I—bet I’ll plug that chalky-white dog wolf—
“The first thing in the morning, Dora, will you ride out there?”
“Yes, the first thing in the morning.”
AT DAWN, when the wind was dying,
Dora reached Squirrel Creek. Back and forth across its wide sandy bottom and trickle of water, and through cottonwoods bordering it, she rode. She hunted out all the grazing spots. Up one draw and then another she rode the whole day but saw nothing, neither of a huge beast with a hump on its back, nor of stalking wolves. But at dusk she saw two lean, furtive coyotes. They were waiting, anticipatory. She said aloud, “You white-livered devils! Either you’re waiting till wolves bring down a prey too much for you to tackle, or until the wolf pack is glutted.”
She lied to Tom McKelvey when she reached home. “I didn’t find him. But I found his tracks when it was too dark to follow them. I’ll trail them down tomorrow.”
Early the next morning she set out again. Mile after mile she rode until the crossed leg on her sidesaddle became cramped. It was late afternoon when again she saw some coyotes. These were full, satisfied, and she rode in the direction from which they came, her heart heavy with misgiving, for now her pony kept sniffing the air, fidgeting his distaste.
Then topping a prairie hill, she saw it— a huge, dark blotch on the plains. A bitch wolf and two gangly pups scuttled away from it ... So this was the end. And how could she tell Tom McKelvey?
Her pony would go only so close. But it was close enough for her to realize that the wolves had not done this work—not alone. Man had had a hand in it, for the buffalo’s hide was gone.
She didn’t check her pony when he whirled and started homeward.
The lamps were lighted when she stepped into the ranch house. Through the smoky haze of Milton’s frying ham and the yellow lamplight she saw Jabe Neary. On one end of the oilcloth-covered table was a large open box. It was lined with puffy satin and in it were silver-handled mirror, brush and comb.
But it was the sight of Tom McKelvey slumped there—so old, and tired, and beaten, and betrayed—that caught at Dora’s heart. “Something in him has died,” she thought sickly.
He said heavily: “Jabe Neary brought you a present, Dora. Tell her about it, jabe.”
“Oh, it’s nothing to tell about,” Jabe shrugged with studied casualness. “I killed a buffalo, a big, old buffalo bull that somehow strayed from the herd and was over east here. I guess you’d seen him a time or two, Tom. The hardware dealer in town has always been wanting a buffalo robe. Well, that’s all. I took him the hide and got the money and bought you the dresser set, Dora. I didn’t want someone else to beat me to it—the dresser set, I mean.”
“Ah, but that’s not all,” Tom McKelvev said, and Dora wondered that Jabe couldn’t feel the contempt dripping from his words. “Show her what they wrote about you in the Gazette—how you risked your life fighting this untamable and monstrous king of the herd. How it took you hours to best him. Here it is, Dora. ‘Son of brave pioneer has father’s blood in his veins—battles two thousand pounds of fury—his ribs nearly driven in by strong, sharp horns set in a head of adamant!’ Here,” his voice cracked and he flung the column of newspaper at Jabe Neary, “put this away where nothing will happen to it—”
Jabe Neary picked up the clipping with a puzzled glance at the old man. But he shoved the satin-padded box toward Dora. “How do you like it?”
She picked up the brush. A little shudder ran through her. The box was almost as large as a baby’s coffin and somewhat resembled it, with its tiny edging of rosebuds around it. She closed the box, fastened the small silver hasp on it and pushed it into Jabe’s arms. “Oh, take it—take it away, Jabe—I don’t like it—I—I hate it—she was sobbing. “Go away, Jabe, and take it with you.”
Dumfounded and injured, Jabe Neary went. Dora busied herself about the table and Milton clattered dishes about, but the old man sat with that same look of bewilderment, betrayal. Milton wanted to move him up to the supper table but he shook his head. “I want nothing to eat. My craw is full.” Once he looked at Dora, said, “Any kid with a cap pistol could have shot him down . . . ‘His father’s blood in his veins,’ ” he quoted. “His father was never one to bray like an ass.”
“I know,” Dora said . . . while within her every fibre was crying out, “I’m sorry—sorry—that you have no one to call your own kind now.”
Later MTton came in and said, “Come on, Tom, and I’ll steer you into bed.” Tom’s very meek acquiescence was hurting to see.
Milton and Dora had just got him to his feet when a knock sounded. Dora opened the door. Ernest Wintermeyer was standing on the step, carefully wiping his feet
. . . Even through Dora’s unhappiness pushed the nostalgic memory of rose jars, and his standing beside her sharing his planting plans with her . . .
HE TOOK a step into the room, shook out what he was carrying in a roll. It was a chalky-white wolf pelt. He said apologetically, “I should not have hurried so to bring it over. One should take longer at curing it. Our old Uncle Rude taught us how to do it thus—to use the animal’s brain mixed with water and rubbed well into the skin.”
“It’s the wolf leader’s pelt.” TonrMcIvelvey said in wonder. “How did you get it?”
“A long time it took me to get it. My aim is poor. You see how hard I tried to cover these bullet holes in the side. That day when I was over and you were sick, sir, your mind wandered and you let us know—that other young man who visited here also and myself—that an old buffalo had strayed over this way. I felt that you were sorely troubled about it. So every morning, before I started mowing and raking, I rode up, and took many shots at the wolves.”
“You did that every morning while I’ve been home here, helpless as a bag of meal?” “I came to be fond of that old buffalo.
I came to hate the wolf pack and to desire to get the leader. At home with tin cans on a post I practiced long. And then I shot him. I thought our buffalo would be safe.
I am sorry that someone got the'old fellow.” “That wasn’t your fault,” Tom McKelvey said, his voice gruffly thick.
No one spoke for a long minute and then Dora said thinly, catchily, “Sit down, Ernest—we were just—”
“Yes, sit down,” Tom McKelvev boomed. “Milton, pull over that big chair for him.”
Tom McKelvev took a limping step to the wolf pelt on the table, ran his hand over it thoughtfully. Milton came and took his arm again but he shook him off with his old high impatience: “I’m not
going to bed,” he said. “I’ve many things to talk over with you, Ernest—I never was one for remembering German names . . . Aye, the range cattle must go. I’ve always liked the damned wild things. I’ve always hated barb wire.” His roguish smile seemed to encompass Ernest and Dora and somehow wrap them together. “But I guess I can learn to shut a neighbor’s gates.” Ernest took a minute to answer—“My brother Emil works on a patent gate that can be opened and closed without even getting off a horse.”
Dora said nothing—content in her full happiness to let her men folks talk of cows and gates and neighbors.