“Why, he’s playin’ like he meant it,” thought Lorry. “And folks says Bud Shoop was a regular top-hand stem-winder in his day.”
Shoop labored at the piano with nervous care. When he turned to Lorry his face was beaded with sweat.
“I rode her clean through to the fence,” he said, with a kind of apologetic grin. “How did you like that piece?”
“I always did like them old tunes,” replied Lorry. “Give us another.”
Shoop’s face beamed. “I only got one more that I can get my rope on. But if you can stand it, I can. This here one is ‘Dixie.’”
And Bud straightened his broad shoulders, pushed back his sleeves, and waded across the sandy bottoms of Dixie, hitting the high spots with staccato vehemence, as though Dixie had recently suffered from an inundation and he was in a hurry to get to dry land. Bondsman’s moody baritone reached up and up with sad persistency.
Lorry was both amused and astonished. Shoop’s intensity, his real love for music, was a revelation. Lorry felt like smiling, yet he did not smile. Bud Shoop could not play, but his personality forced its own recognition, even through the absurd medium of an untutored performance on that weird upright piano. Lorry began to realize that there was something more to Bud Shoop than mere bulk.
Bud swung round, puffing. “I got that tune where I can keep her in sight as long as she lopes on the level. But when she takes to jumpin’ stumps and makin’ them quick turns, I sure have to do some hard ridin’ to keep her from losin’ herself. Me and Bondsman’s been worryin’ along behind them two tunes for quite a spell. I reckon I ought to started in younger. But, anyhow, that there piano is right good comp’ny. When I been settin’ here alone, nights, and feelin’ out her paces, I get so het up and interested that I don’t know the fire’s out till Bondsman takes to shiverin’ and whinin’ and tellin’ me he’d like to get some sleep afore mornin’.”
And Bondsman, now that the music had stopped, stalked to Lorry and eyed him with an expression which said plainly: “It’s his weak spot—this music. You will have to overlook it. He’s really a rather decent sort of person.”
“I got a mechanical player in the bedroom,” said Shoop. “And a reg’lar outfit of tunes for dances.”
Lorry was tempted to ask to hear it, but changed his mind. “I’ve heard them players. They’re sure good for a dance, but I like real playin’ better.”
Bud Shoop grinned. “That’s the way with Bondsman here. Now he won’t open his head to one of them paper tunes. I’ve tried ’em all on him. You can’t tell me a dog ain’t got feelin’s.”
John and Demijohn
The grass on the high mesa was heavy with dew when Lorry stepped from the cabin next morning. His pony, Gray Leg, stood close to the corral, where Shoop’s horses were playfully biting at him over the bars. Lorry unhobbled Gray Leg and turned Shoop’s horses out to water. The three ponies trotted to the water-hole, sniffed at the water, and, whirling, raced across the mesa, pitching and kicking in the joy of liberation.