We men-folks got accumulated up into a dark corner where we shook hands and swore soft and insincere, and let our throats hurt, for all the world like it was Christmas or we’d got mail from home.
Billings rode in from the Junction about dusk, and ate his supper in silence. He’d been East for sixty days, and, although there lurked about him the hint of unwonted ventures, etiquette forbade its mention. You see, in our country, that which a man gives voluntarily is ofttimes later dissected in smoky bunk-houses, or roughly handled round flickering camp fires, but the privacies he guards are inviolate. Curiosity isn’t exactly a lost art, but its practice isn’t popular nor hygenic.
Later, I found him meditatively whittling out on the porch, and, as the moment seemed propitious, I inquired adroitly:—“Did you have a good time in Chicago, ’Bitter Root’?”
“Bully,” said he, relapsing into weighty absorption.
“What’d you do?” I inquired with almost the certainty of appearing insistent.
“Don’t you never read the papers?” he inquired, with such evident compassion that Kink Martin and the other boys snickered. This from “Bitter Root,” who scorns literature outside of the “Arkansas Printing,” as he terms the illustrations!
“Guess I’ll have to show you my press notices,” and from a hip pocket he produced a fat bundle of clippings in a rubber band. These he displayed jealously, and I stared agape, for they were front pages of great metropolitan dailies, marred with red and black scare heads, in which I glimpsed the words, “Billings, of Montana,” “‘Bitter Root’ on Arbitration,” “A Lochinvar Out of the West,” and other things as puzzling.
“Press Notices!” echoed Kink scornfully. “Wouldn’t that rope ye? He talks like Big Ike that went with the Wild West Show. When a puncher gets so lazy he can’t earn a livin’ by the sweat of his pony, he grows his hair, goes on the stage bustin’ glass balls with shot ca’tridges and talks about ‘press notices.’ Let’s see ’em, Billings. You pinch ’em as close to your stummick as though you held cards in a strange poker game.”
“Well, I have set in a strange game, amongst aliens,” said Billings, disregarding the request, “and I’ve held the high cards, also I’ve drawed out with honours. I’ve sailed the medium high seas with mutiny in the stoke-hold; I’ve changed the laws of labour, politics and municipal economies. I went out of God’s country right into the heart of the decayin’ East, and by the application of a runnin’ noose in a hemp rope I strangled oppression and put eight thousand men to work.” He paused ponderously. “I’m an Arbitrator!”
“The deuce you are,” indignantly cried “Reddy” the cook. “Who says so?”
“Reddy” isn’t up in syntax, and his unreasoning loyalty to Billings is an established fact of such standing that his remarks afford no conjecture.