On the way back, his trail crossed that of a breed wolfer on his way into the Bad Lands. Billy immediately asked for tobacco, and the breed somewhat reluctantly opened his pack and exchanged two small sacks for a two-bit piece. Billy, rolling a cigarette with eager fingers, felt for the moment a deep satisfaction with life. He even felt some compunction about killing the Pilgrim’s dog, when he passed the body stiffening on the snow. “Poor devil! Yuh hadn’t ought to expect much from a dawg—and he was a heap more white-acting than what his owner was,” was his tribute to the dead.
It seemed as though, when he closed the cabin door behind him, he somehow shut out his newborn satisfaction. “A shack with one window is sure unpleasant when the sun is shining outside,” he said fretfully to himself. “This joint looks a heap like a cellar. I wonder what the girl thought of it; I reckon it looked pretty sousy, to her—and them with everything shining. Oh, hell!” He took off his chaps and his spurs, rolled another cigarette and smoked it meditatively. When it had burned down so that it came near scorching his lips, he lighted a fire, carried water from the creek, filled the dishpan and set it on the stove to heat. “Darn a dirty shack!” he muttered, half apologetically, while he was taking the accumulation of ashes out of the hearth.
For the rest of that day he was exceedingly busy, and he did not attempt further explanations to himself. He overhauled the bunk and spread the blankets out on the wild rose bushes to sun while he cleaned the floor. Billy’s way of cleaning the floor was characteristic of the man, and calculated to be effectual in the main without descending to petty details. All superfluous objects that were small enough, he merely pushed as far as possible under the bunk. Boxes and benches he piled on top; then he brought buckets of water and sloshed it upon the worst places, sweeping and spreading it with a broom. When the water grew quite black, he opened the door, swept it outside and sloshed fresh water upon the grimy boards. While he worked, his mind swung slowly back to normal, so that he sang crooningly in an undertone; and the song was what he had sung for months and years, until it was a part of him and had earned him his nickname.
“Oh, where have
you been, Billy boy, Billy boy?
Oh, where have you been, charming Billy?
I’ve been to see my wife,
She’s the joy of my life,
She’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother.”
Certainly it was neither musical nor inspiring, but Billy had somehow adopted the ditty and made it his own, so far as eternally singing it could do so, and his comrades had found it not unpleasant; for the voice of Billy was youthful, and had a melodious smoothness that atoned for much in the way of imbecile words and monotonous tune.
He had washed all the dishes and had repeated the ditty fifteen times, and was for the sixteenth time tunefully inquiring: