“Venison improves with age,” loftily observed Manly.
“That’s a poor excuse. At best, antelope venison is dry meat. We located a band or two to-day, and if Dell don’t care for the shot, I’ll go out in the morning and bring in a fat yearling.”
“Is that your prospect for a Christmas roast?” inquired Manly with refined sarcasm. “Dell, better air your Sunday shirt to-morrow and come down to headquarters for your Christmas dinner. We’re going to have quite a spread.”
Dell threw a glance at Sargent. “Come on,” said the latter with polished contempt, reining his horse homeward. “Just as if we lived on beans at The Wagon! Just as if our porcelain-lined graniteware wasn’t as good as their tin plates! Catch us accepting! Come on!”
Sargent was equal to his boast. He returned the next day before noon, a young doe lashed to his saddle cantle, and preparations were made for an extensive dinner. The practical range man is usually a competent cook, and from the stores of the winter camp a number of extra dishes were planned. In the way of a roast, on the plains, a saddle of venison was the possible extreme, and the occupants of the line-camp possessed a ruddy health which promised appetites to grace the occasion.
Christmas day dawned under ideal conditions. Soft winds swayed the dead weeds and leafless shrubs, the water trickled down the creek from pool to pool, reminding one of a lazy, spring day, with droning bees and flights of birds afield. Sargent rode the morning patrol alone, meeting Joel at the halfway point, when the two dismounted, whiling away several hours in considering future plans of the ranch.
It was high noon when the two returned to their respective quarters. Dell had volunteered to supervise the roasting of the venison, and on his crony’s return, the two sat down to their Christmas dinner. What the repast lacked in linen and garnishment, it made up in stability, graced by a cheerfulness and contentment which made its partakers at peace with the world. Sargent was almost as resourceful in travel and story as Quince Forrest, and never at a loss for the fitting incident to grace any occasion.
Dell was a good listener. Any story, even at his own expense, was enjoyed. “Whether we had corn beef or venison,” said he to Sargent, “you promised to tell a story at dinner to-day.”
“The one that you reminded me of when you shot the rifle into the ground at your feet and scared the antelope away? No offense if I have to laugh; you looked like a simpleton.”
“Tell your story; I’m young, I’ll learn,” urged Dell.
“You may learn to handle a gun, and make the same mistake again, but in a new way. It’s live and learn. This man was old enough to be your father, but he looked just as witless as you did.”
“Let’s have the story,” impatiently urged the boy.
“It happened on a camp hunt. Wild turkeys are very plentiful in certain sections of Texas, and one winter a number of us planned a week’s shooting. In the party was a big, raw-boned ex-sheriff, known as one of the most fearless officers in the state. In size he simply towered above the rest of us.