Some of the cowboys came running. There were greetings to the driver, who appeared well known to them. Jack Belllounds did not look at them. He threw a bag out of the buckboard and then clambered down slowly, to go toward the porch. His voice was deep and full, singularly rich. But that was the only sign of feeling he showed. Jack Belllounds's form was tall, with a promise of his father's bulk. But he did not walk erect; he slouched a little. His face was pale, showing he had not of late been used to sun and wind. Any stranger would have seen the resemblance of boy to man would have granted the handsome boldness, but denied the strength.
The lower part of Jack Belllounds's face was weak. The constraint of this meeting was manifest mostly in the manner of the son. He looked ashamed, almost sullen. But if he had been under the influence of liquor at Kremmling, as reported the day before, he had entirely recovered.
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When they got into the big living-room, and Belllounds had closed the doors, the son threw down his baggage and faced his father aggressively. Broken pride and shame flamed in his face. Amaze and relief transformed the young man. We'll never speak of where you've been these three years. Never again!
It's done me harm. But now, if nobody knows--why, I'll try to forget it. You sure were--But thet's enough palaver You'll go to work as foreman of White Slides. An' if you make a success of it I'll be only too glad to have you boss the ranch.
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I'm gettin' along in years, son. An' the last year has made me poorer. Hyar's a fine range, but I've less stock this year than last. There's been some rustlin' of cattle, an a big loss from wolves an' lions an' poison-weed What d'you say, son? But it's due me. Who's in the outfit I know? An' say, son, this outfit is bad. You savvy--it's bad. You can't run that bunch. The only way you can handle them is to get up early an' come back late. Sayin' little, but sawin' wood. Hard work.
Oh, I'm aching to get into boots and ride and tear around. Belllounds stroked his grizzled beard and regarded his son with mingled pride and doubt. Not at this moment, most assuredly, could he get away from the wonderful fact that his only son was home. But you've been off the range fer three years.
You'll need advice. Now listen. Be gentle with hosses. You used to be mean with a hoss.
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Some cowboys jam their hosses around an' make 'em pitch an' bite. But it ain't the best way. A hoss has got sense. I've some fine stock, an' don't want it spoiled. An' be easy an' quiet with the boys. It's hard to get help these days. I'm short on hands now You'd do best, son, to stick to your dad's ways with hosses an' men. But them was particular bad cases.
I'm not advisin' thet way Son, it's close to my heart--this hope I have thet you'll--". The full voice quavered and broke. It would indeed have been a hardened youth who could not have felt something of the deep and unutterable affection in the old man. Jack Belllounds put an arm around his father's shoulder. Give me a chance.
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And don't be sore if I can't do wonders right at first. You're my son an' she's my adopted daughter. I won't split my property. An' it's right she had a share. A fine, strong, quiet, pretty lass, Jack, an' she'll make a good wife. I've set my heart on the idee. Now she's a woman, an' willin' to please me. Jack, you'll not buck ag'in' this deal? But if Columbine were to flout me as she used to--why, I'd buck sure enough Dad, are you sure she knows nothing, suspects nothing of where you--you sent me? Jack, she's shy an' strange, an' deep, too.
If you ever win her heart you'll be richer than if you owned all the gold in the Rockies. I'd say go slow. But contrariwise, it'd mebbe be surer to steady you, keep you home, if you married right off. At that very moment Columbine was sitting on the topmost log of a high corral, deeply interested in the scene before her. Two cowboys were in the corral with a saddled mustang.
One of them carried a canvas sack containing tools and horseshoes. As he dropped it with a metallic clink the mustang snorted and jumped and rolled the whites of his eyes.
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He knew what that clink meant. Jim scratched his sandy head and looked at his comrade, a little gnarled fellow, like the bleached root of a tree. He seemed all legs.