“He’s mine, I reckon,” Skinny retorted, “an’ I figure it’s nobody’s darn’ business how I ride him—anyhow I brought Old Heck a telegram!” he added triumphantly.
“Blamed if he didn’t!” Charley Saunders, with a trifle of awe, pretended or real, in his tone, said. “It sure is!”
“My Gawd!” Old Heck repeated, slowly turning the envelope over in his hand, “it’s a telegram! Wonder what it’s about?”
“Why don’t you open it and see?” Parker suggested.
“Yes, open th’ blamed thing and find out,” Skinny encouraged.
“I—I’ve a notion to,” Old Heck whispered.
“Go on and do it, it won’t take but a minute,” Charley Saunders entreated.
“Maybe he’s one of these mind-readers and can read it through the envelope,” Bert Lilly volunteered.
“Aw, shut up and give him a chance!”
Trembling, Old Heck tore open the envelope and silently read the message.
“My Gawd!” he groaned again. “The worst has come to the worst!”
“That ought to make it middlin’ bad,” Charley remarked soberly.
“Ought to,” Bert added sententiously.
Parker crowded forward on sympathy bent.
“Tell us what’s in it,” he said; “if it’s sorrowful we’ll be plumb glad to condole!”
“It’s worse than sorrowful—”
“Melancholical?” Skinny inquired.
“My Gawd!” Old Heck said again, his weatherworn features working convulsively, “it’s more than a mortal man can endure and stand!”
“Bet somebody’s dead!” Bert whispered to the Ramblin’ Kid.
“Probably. Most everybody gets to be sooner or later,” was the answer without emotion.
Sing Pete, Chinese cook for the outfit, dish-rag over his shoulder, edged out of the kitchen door and shuffled around to the group. Glimpsing the yellow slip of paper held in the shaking hand of Old Heck and the awed interest of the cowboys gathered about the boss, he queried:
“Teleglam? Maybe alle samee somebody sickee?” he continued, cheerfully confident that questions enough would ultimately bring a reply. He was rewarded:
“What do you know about ‘teleglams’? You slant-eyed burner of beef-steaks!”
“Who’s it from?” Charley asked. “Anybody we know—”
“My Gawd,” Old Heck mourned once more, “she’s comin’!”
“Who’s she?” Parker coaxed.
“A female,” Old Heck replied, “she’s a female!”
“The darned old cuss has had a wife sometime and run off from her and deserted her and she’s pursuing him and trailing him down to earth!” Chuck Slithers, doubting Thomas of the outfit and student of Sherlock Holmes, cunningly suggested. “I always imagined he was a varmint with a past—a’ ex-heart breaker of innocent women or a train-robber or—”
“Aw, hell,” the Ramblin’ Kid rebuked, “him have a wife? Don’t insult th’ female population!”