Max Brand: 13 Western Novels
Max Brand: 13 Western Novels
FROM THE HIP
Shorty rode for the bunkhouse instead of the corrals and tumbling out of the saddle he staggered through the door. Inside, the cowpunchers sat about enjoying a before-dinner smoke and the coolness which the evening wash had brought to their wind-parched skins. Shorty reeled through the midst of them to his bunk and collapsed upon it.
Not a man stirred. Not an eye followed him. No matter what curiosity was burning in their vitals, etiquette demanded that they ask no questions. If in no other wise, the Indian has left his stamp on the country in the manners of the Western riders.
In the meantime, Shorty lay on his back with his arms flung out crosswise, his eyes closed, his breath expelled with a moan and drawn in with a rattle.
"Slim!" he called at length.
Slim raised his little freckled face which was supported by a neck of uncanny length, and he blinked unconcernedly at his bunkie. He and Shorty were inseparable companions.
"Take the saddle off my horse and put 'er up," groaned Shorty. "I'm dead beat!"
"Maybe you been chasing Perris on foot," observed Lew Hervey. Direct questions were still not in order, but often a man could be taunted into speech.
"Damn Perris and damn him black," retorted Shorty, opening his eyes with a snap and letting a glance blaze into space. "Of all the leather-skinned, mule-muscled, wrong-headed gents I ever seen he's the outlastingest."
"You sure got your vocabulary all warmed up," observed Little Joe, so-called because of two hundred pounds of iron-hard sinew and muscle. Slim was wandering towards the door to execute his mission, but he kept his head cocked towards his prostrated friend to learn as much as possible before he left. "Which I disremember," went on Little Joe thoughtfully, "of you ever putting so many words together without cussing. Perris must of give you some Bible study down to Glosterville."
It brought Shorty up on one bulging elbow and he glared at Little Joe.
"Bible?" snorted Shorty. "His idea of a Bible is fifty-two cards and a joker. He does his praying with one foot on a footrail."
"He'll sure fit in fine here," drawled Little Joe. "What with a girl for our boss and a hired hoss-catcher, none of us being good enough to take the job, we-all will get a mighty fine rep around these parts. You done yourself proud bringing him up here, Shorty."
"Laugh, damn you," said Shorty, heated to such a point that he half-forgot his exhaustion. "You ain't been through what I been through. You ain't man enough to of lasted." The imputation sobered Little Joe and he shrugged his massive shoulders significantly. Shorty's laugh was shrill with contempt. "Oh, you're big enough," he sneered. "But what does beef count agin a lightning flash?" He grew reminiscent. "I seen him bluff down the Wyoming Kid, yesterday."
A religious silence spread in the bunkhouse. The cowpunchers sat as stiff as though in Sunday store-clothes. Shorty took advantage of this favoring hush.
"I find him sitting in at a game of poker and I give him the girl's letter. He shakes it open saying: 'See that ten and raise you ten more.' I look over his shoulder as he flips up his cards. He's got a measly pair of deuces! Then he reads the letter and hands it back to me. 'Is it as bad as all that?' he says. 'See that other five and raise you twenty.' 'You're too strong for me Red,' says the gent that was bucking him--and lays down to that pair of deuces! I read the letter:
"'Dear Mr. Perris,
"'I know you don't like to hire out. But this is a job where you won't have a boss. The chestnut horse that nearly killed Manuel Cordov