Fresh View from Grizzly Hill
WHEN NORA FITZPATRICK turned up with the rest of her family for the celebration guzzle at our place, there was no doubt she was almighty glad to see Lome home from the Army. She’s about the prettiest girl in West Alberta, small and dark, with curly hair, blue eyes and a fine complexion. I’d go for her quite a bit myself if she wasn’t so goldarned old. She must be at least 24.
That day she was all on wires, and her eyes were shiny. Every chance she got I saw her watching Lome, and I can’t say I blame her. He’s a grand guy even if he is my brother. What he’d been through the last three years had raised his looks a bit, and they were good before. His face was finer-drawn and stronger, but he still had his grin. And the scar across his eyebrow looked romantic, kind of.
But I got the notion that besides being real glad to see him, Nora had something extra-special on her mind about him. She seemed to be measuring him, as though she had some real important question wanted answering.
She had, too, and it seems now she’s got her answer, though she didn’t till a clear month after they met again. That first day, when they all came for dinner and Lome had the bucking fuss with Walleye, she thought she had it. But Nora was wrong.
Maw had her usual slap-up spread that day. I was on my third hunk of her special orange pie when Mr. Fitzpatrick said to Lome: “Well, son, can you still fan a bronco and stay on him?”
Lome’s the best broncobuster in Alberta—or Montana or Wyoming or anyplace else for that matter. Or maybe I should say he used to be. After what this led up to, I don’t know what to count on.
But he was tops before, and I always thought the thing that did it was the way he had his heart in it. What he loved more than anything was giving the business to those tough cayuses, showing ’em who was boss.
He said: “Well, I don’t know, Mr. Fitzpatrick. Six years layoff with a thing like that is quite a time. As soon as I get my riding muscles stretched again I’ll find out.”
Mr. Fitzpatrick said: “Fine, son. I’ve got a proper hellion waiting for you. I bought him with a bunch at a bank sale down in Billings. He’s a grand horse, but wilder than a deer, and is he quick and strong! When I got him he dusted every man who tried him, broke Johnny Kovack’s leg and nearly killed Joe Gaskell, so I turned him loose to wait for you. Let me know when you’re ready and I’ll have them run him in. I want to make a high-class saddle horse of him.”
As I said, there’s nothing in the world Lome used to like more than breaking in a really wild one, and his eyes lit up. He said: “Okay, sir. When I get my legs tuned up I’ll educate him.”
Well, we sat around on the porch and let Maw’s fancy vittles settle while the girls washed the dishes, then everyone strolled out to see the steers Dad’s feeding for the Fat Stock Fair, a real sweet lot of beef,
let me tell you. By the bull pen, Keith Small, our barn hand, came over and said to Lome: “I got Walleye rounded up this morning.”
Walleye’s a black, white-nosed rope horse, with one china eye, that Lome’s won all his contests on. He’s pretty near the perfect cow pony, but he can buck like crazy if he takes the notion. And he’d been loose on the range ever since Lome joined up.
Lome said: “Old Walleye! Good! Let’s see if I can still throw a rope.” I ran to get his pet prize lariat that he’d left with me to take care of.
Well, as I said, Walleye had been running loose ever since ’39. He was dead quiet to catch and saddle and stood to be mounted as gentle as a kitten. But when Lome’s heels touched him he shot up off all four feet and came down stiff-legged like to split your teeth. He went straight up again, and in mid-air snapped his back and pitched Lome off.
Lome hit the ground on his ear and neck and rolled over on all fours, shaking his head to clear it of the sparks. Then he jumped up and lit out straight for Walleye, and I don’t mean maybe.
He went past us as though we didn’t exist, and he had that look, the dead-pan look he gets from Maw that there’s no dealing with. Now don’t anybody get me wrong. Maw’s as nice and kind and generous as she can be, but she likes things her way. That’s mostly a pretty decent way but it’s her way, and she sure does hate being crossed. Of course Dad can take her any time he cares to, and she knows it. But she knows, too, he’s a real swell guy and hates to use his strength on her.
She banks on that, and so mostly things get done the way she wants ’em. I’ve seen Dad pretty hurt, times when he’s known he had to throw his hand in or else stage a knockdown fight, because to reason with her was no use. • Folks think a lot of Dad, and I know some of ’em see it and feel sorry for him. Nora especially, I’ve thought. She’s one who thinks a heap of Dad, I know.
Come to think of it, in their natures they’re a lot alike.
Well, as he lit out after Walleye it was Maw’s look Lome had. By hook or by crook, he was going to have his way. As he charged past I happened to glance at Nora, and I never saw a person look quite as she did. It seemed like her face had understanding, disappointment and determination in it all at once. And you could tell whatever this question about Lome was that she’d been worrying on since he got back, she figured she had the answer and didn’t like it.
And I got another notion—a hunch her mind had shifted to something else. It was a man, an Englishman, an ace RAF Spitfire
pilot with two decorations from the Battle of Britain, who was instructing at the new airfield 10 miles east of us in ’43. Before he went back home to combat duty they had got mighty intimate, and plenty of folks thought something would come of it.
It was because I’d had this hunch that I wasn’t surprised one night next week when I came in and found the family all gone sour. I’d been riding all day, checking up on our whiteface yearlings, and I moseyed in for supper feeling mighty good. It was mean to find the family looking like the war had started again.
“Well,” I said, to make ’em crack their faces, “where’s the funeral?”
Nary a laugh out of ’em. Dad turned on me real tough. “You talk too much, Corky.”
“Oh!” I said. “So that’s it!”
I’d seen that stubborn look on Lome before and I knew Nora Fitzpatrick had turned him down again. The last time had been right after he enlisted.
Maw flared up. “After five years away and all he’s been through! What does the chit want, anyway? Didn’t she write and send him parcels every single week, and refuse half a dozen men? You’d think she’d know her mind at her age!”
There’s times Dad can say more in a sentence than Maw can in 15 minutes, and this was one of ’em. He looked at her with one eyebrow cocked kind of quizzical. “Mightn’t it be she does know, Gertrude? She’s a real smart girl. She’s seen a lot of you and me, and Lome’s mighty like his mother.”
Maw jumped and glared at him, and he gave her that laughing look, but kind of warning, too, that tells how he can take her any time he likes, but he’s too nice a guy to do it if he doesn’t have to.
Well, the fall work went along, and this business kind of spoiled things. Maw was simmering all the time and making cracks about Nora, and Lome was mighty quiet. I heard Maw one day giving out to old Mrs. Holst about it. The way she had it, Nora still went for Lome okay, the way she always had, but, Maw said—and I guess she wormed it out of Lome—she told him marriage isn’t just being stuck on one another. It’s being able to team up steady, day in, day out, for years and years. That means a lot of give and take, and she can’t see Lome as that kind of a critter.
I figured she was dead right there. Lome liked things his way.
When we’d finished the big windbreak for the winter feed yard and were ready for the roundup to pick the fatteners, Mr. Fitzpatrick sent word he’d got this outlaw horse corralled, and Lome said he’d go and scratch him off before we began drifting in the stock.
More than love is needed to make a marriage. Nora already knew it, but Lome had to learn
BY NOW Mrs. Fitzpatrick had got her comeback for Maw’s last feed organized, and she asked us all for dinner and to see Lome do his stuff.
Come the day, the rest of them took the car, while Lome and I rode across. The trail goes over Grizzly Hill, close by the place we call the Indian Lookout. It’s a clearing among the spruce where the hill drops sheer and you can see a real long ways. In the old days, when the Bloods and Blackfeet fought the Sioux, Dad says the Indians always had pickets there. When we hunt bear in the spring we camp there, and at night you can almost see the Indians hunkered among the boulders, watching and waiting.
Ever since he’s been back the Lookout has seemed to fascinate Lome. Whenever he’s been near he’s ridden up and just sat there, taking the view in with a queer, hungry sort of look. Sure ’nough, when we topped the hill this time he pulled in off the trail and stopped.
It was a lovely day, sunny, with the shadows of a few clouds chasing across the land spread out below. East toward Lethbridge, it gets flatter as the prairies start with the Continued on page 31
Continued from page 17
Saskatchewan River winding like a bright steel tape among the bluffs. To the south are the foothills, where we range our stock, and off west the mountains start. It always makes me feel kind of solemn, like in church.
Lome sat there on old Walleye, leaning forward on his saddle horn, letting his eyes go back and forth as though he’d never get enough of it.
I said: “What is it gets you when you’re up here, Lome? Every time you come you act like you’d never seen the country before.”
For a bit he didn’t answer but just kept on looking. Then he turned round and said a funny thing. “I hadn’t, Cork, not really. Not till Dieppe.”
Lome had landed a tank there in the big raid that was such a flop in ’42. He’d never talked about it.
“Up till then I’d seen it, yes,” he went on. “But after Dieppe I found out what it means. That’s something else again.”
It didn’t mean anything to me, but he never was a talker and didn’t say any more, and by and by we moseyed on and reached the Circle F. Soon as we got there we were set down to the next round in the nonstop, ThackerFitzpatriek cookery contest. It’s a hot one, too, I’ll say. The main dish was venison—the season was just open. Mr. Fitzpatrick knows a secret valley in the hills where, he tells, come fall the deer stand belly-deep in pea vine and eat themselves fat as steers. We had saddle, slit down at every rib, tied up with fried onion and a slice of bacon in each cut, and roasted. And what came before and after was as good.
When we’d eaten 1 judged the round had gone to Mrs. Fitzpatrick, and I’ve a hunch Maw thought so too. She’s got no answer to that pea vine venison and it always puts her down till spring when she can do her cold glazed ducklings. But, like all the Thackers, Maw can take it, and she kept on smiling. Maw’s quite some gal, even fhough she is pretty bossy.
What did nearly wreck the party was the red currant jelly that came with the venison. We hadn’t had such stuff that way before, and it sure built it up.
Dad told Mrs. Fitzpatrick: “This deermeat fair melts in your mouth, Emily.” Maw said: “And this jelly is delicious with it.”
“Yes,” Mrs. Fitzpatrick came hack. “Jerry sent it all the way from England.”
First off, none of us Thackers got i . Then young Jinny Fitzpatrick piped up: “That’s Jerry Lutyens. You know, Nora’s RAF boy friend from the airfield He’s a Wing Commander now and got more decorations. And just fancy he’s a lord really, and he’s bound he’s going to marry her. He’s always writing and sending her presents, and soon as he’s demobilized he’s coming back here and buy a ranch!”
Well, you could have heard a pin drop. I was scared Maw’ud have a fit.
This Lutyens was a lot of man. He’d been a plunb fightin’ fool, and he’d ridden twice in this English Grand National Steeplechase where most years a couple or so guys break their necks. But you’d never have thought it. He was so kind to everyone, and had such gentle ways. He didn’t like our style of handling broncos, and when someone argued you simply have to rough ’em, for a bet he got a hot one off the range and gentled down and rode him on a little English saddle without a single buck. We’d known he wrote to Nora, but the rest was news.
Mrs. Fitzpatrick said: “He’s such a nice boy. Look. Here’s the note he sent with the jelly.” She passed the thing to Maw, and Maw read it out. “Dear Mrs. Fitzpatrick—I hope soon I may be able to call you mother. One does not gild the lily, but if there is anything that could improve the venison you fed me it will be this. I told our old butler about your cooking and Mr. Fitzpatrick’s special deer pasture, and he sends it with his compliments.”
Well, there were some kidney punches there for Maw okay, but, as I’ve said, Maw can take it. You couldn’t have beat the real nice way she said: “He was a dear boy and we all loved him.”
Lome, of course, has never met Lutyens. I took a look at him and he was staring at his plate, the least bit tight about the mouth. He hadn’t been eating much, but then you don’t fill up on fancy vittles when you’re going to bust an outlaw right after dinner. 1 looked at Nora. Her face didn’t show a thing, and I thought about the crack Dad makes about there’s no way of telling what a woman will do or why she’ll do it.
WE SATaround on the stoopawhile, then we all went out to see Lome take this horse. Word had got ’round what was coming off, and quite a crowd had trick led in from other ranches to see the fireworks. You could tell that what he’d heard just now had griped Lome. His chin was set again the way Maw’s does, and 1 figured this tough plug was in for some surprises. It’s not for nothing people in our country say: “When Lome Thacker busts ’em, they stay busted!”
He put on his thin old chaps, all soft inside the knees for sticking on with, his short spurs and his elbow pads in case he got bucked off. Out our way we don’t use chutes for saddling broncos for the first time, we use the old rope and snub post. Rope ’em and choke ’em down till you can hobble ’em, saddle ’em, get on top, pull the hobble slip knot and go to it. I was with Lome, putting his bucking saddle ready on the rail, when Mr. Fitzpatrick came over. Nora was with him.
He said: “Look, Lome, this horse isn’t mean. He’s just plain wild. He’s bred ’way better than a bronco—half Morgan from a runaway mating with an Arab polo pony, so they told me. He’s 10 years old, he’s smart and quick, he thinks like a man, and he don’t fall for the same trick twice.” Lome said: “Okay, Mr. Fitzpatrick. Continued on, page 33
Continued from page 31 I’ll tend to him,” and his eyes gleamed. That far, I’ll swear, he was the same old Lome.
As he dropped into the corral the horse stood in the centre with his head up, watching him with his grand, bold eyes. He was a big upstanding stallion colored bright mahogany with black joints, all silk and rubber and put -.ogether like a dream.
The corral was small and it was no :rick to flip a noose on him. Lome left :he rope slack, so it wouldn’t press him, while he passed the coils to me. I took a couple of turns round the post and started hauling in.
I’d drawn in most all the slack when ihe horse got wise and tried to bolt. In two jumps the lariat stopped him with a crash and almost threw him. When he recovered he stood straight up and struck at it with his forefeet, left, right, left, right, till 1 thought he’d rever stop. Then he came down and f.ung back on his haunches, trying to break the rope by smashing his whole weight frantically from side to side. With his muscles swelling underneath his satin skin, his eyes wild and his big red nostrils flared, he fought like he was crazy. But it was no use.
Lome stood waiting with the hobbles t.11 he’d be gone enough to slip them on.
Slowly the rope cut off the stallion’s strength. His grand frame sagged— and then Lome stepped up close.
1 never saw anything like the look trat horse had then. You could tell he understood, and as he dropped and the fire died from his eyes an awful panic and despair came in. I couldn’t describe it properly, but it made you know captivity for him meant curtains.
I looked at Lome. He was studying the horse, and right there as I watched I saw the thought hit him. One minute he was the old Lome, laughing in a sort of fierce way and having a big time breaking in a real tough horse, and then he was the way he’d been when he looked across the land from Grizzly Hill.
You could have knocked me over with a feather at what happened next. He was using his special lariat that he won as first prize at the Cheyenne rodeo. It’s eight-weave, pure hair, worth more’n $100, and he was crazy about it. Now he took out his knife and cut the noose.
When it snapped, the horse slumped on his haunches with his head between his spreadout forelegs. He stayed that way, pulling in great drags of air, while Lome stood coiling up his ruined rope and watching until, by and by, the stallion plunged up on his feet and stood there with his head down and his sides heaving. As his strength came back he raised his head and looked at Lome. They were quite close and I saw them eye each other. This may sound silly but it was as plain as could be. Something had happened to them both: the horse wasn’t frightened any more and Lome—well, you tell me what’s happened to Lome. It’s over my head.
The stallion’s crest was ’way up now, his tail too. He stood switching it and eying Lome with his head cocked and his ears right forward. Lome said something to him I didn’t catch, and raised his hand like a salute, and he whipped around and trotted off, springy and grand and free again. Lome breathed in deep and kind of smiled. Then he shut his knife and walked away, not heeding anyone and sort of happy-looking.
RIDING home, we were pretty well up Grizzly before either of us spoke. Then Lome said: “Cut your fist, I see, Corks.”
And I said: ‘‘Kurt Toll said the Nazis have washed you up and you can’t take it any more. I shut his
sloppy yap for him, I can tell you.” He said: “Thanks, Corks. You’re okay.” But he shut right up again, so presently I said: “You weren’t scared, were you, Lome?”
He didn’t answer for a bit, and then he said: “Look, Corks. A man’s a queer thing. You’ll find out. There’s things he never sees till something breaks to show ’em to him, like I’d never have known what freedom means if the Germans hadn’t been tipped off that we were landing at Dieppe. And with this horse —”
He stopped and stared up the hill at a car parked in the timber. It was the Fitzpatrick’s roadster, and as we rode up we saw Nora sitting on a boulder in the Lookout.
She said: “Hullo, Lome,” and stood stroking Walleye’s nose. Lome sat dead pan, easy in the saddle, looking out past her at the view with sort of distant eyes. You'll never see a finerlooking man than he was then. His head was high and kind of dignified, and I felt mighty proud to be his brother. And suddenly I thought he looked exactly like the stallion had before he roped him. He said, quiet and even: “Hullo, Nora.”
And she said: “You in a hurry?”
He said: “Nope,” swung his leg forward and slid down beside ber. I got off too, and we stood looking at our country, spread out below as far as you could see, all peaceful in the evening light. The sun was almost down and the shadows were dark and long. ’Way off, the haze was rich and blue. There was mist in the draws, and the air had a nip and smelled of fall.
Then Lome said, but not like he was sore: “All right, you’ve a right to what you think. Might as well say it.”
She said: “You say it. Why didn’t you break him, Lome?”
For a bit he didn’t answer. Then his jaw stiffened, and he blushed right to his hair. “You couldn't know unless you’ve lived the way I have these last three years. I couldn’t do it to him, that’s all.”
Nora said, sort of breathless: “You
mean you didn’t want to?”
“When I saw how he looked I couldn’t take it. I’ve seen 5,000 men look just that way, and I was one of ’em. Maybe it isn’t so smart to break the spirit of a thing like that. Anyway, call it yellow if you like, but he can run free till he dies for all me. Now you know, and you can tell the whole damn country.”
You could see he thought it meant the end of anything she thought of him, but 1 never saw the like of how she looked when he said that. Her face was all soft and shining, like there was a light behind it, and I thought she’d bust out crying.
She got out: “Ohhh! I’ve wanted
all these years to hear you say a thing like that.”
As he came round, popeyed with surprise, she started to say more, but stopped and turned to me. “Look, Corks. Iiide on, will you, there’s a dear. Lome will catch up.”
Well, I know the old brush-off when I get it, so I stepped up on my cow pony, Rattler, and moseyed off down the hill, trying to dope this business out.
And now came the finish of a crazy day. Part way down Grizzly the trail goes round a spur and you can look back up and see the Lookout. When I got there I fairly rubbernecked. A week ago she’d turned him down and let ’em think she’d marry Lord whathave-you Lutyens. Now they were clinched and kissing like a movie fadeout, only hotter. I didn’t get it, and I still don’t. All I can figure is that three years as a prisoner in Germany taught Lome something Nora felt he had to know before he’d make her a husband.