I was top-hand once for the
In the days of long ago,
But I took to seein’ the scenery
Where the barbed-wire fence don’t grow.
I was top-hand once—but
the trail for mine,
And plenty of room to roam;
So now I’m ridin’ the old chuck line,
And any old place is home ... for me ...
And any old place is home.
Bartley grinned. Whoever he was, drifting in from the northern spaces, he had evidently lost the pack-horse that bore his troubles. Suddenly, out of the wall of dusk that edged the strip of road loomed a horse’s head, and then another. The lead horse bore a pack. The second horse was ridden by an individual who leaned slightly forward, his hands clasped comfortably over the saddle horn. The horses stopped in the light of the doorway.
“Well, I reckon we’re here,” said a voice. “But hotels and us ain’t in the same class. I stop at the Antelope House, take a look at her, and then spread my roll in the brush, same as always. Nobody to home? They don’t know what they’re missin’.”
Bartley struck a match and lighted his cigar. The pack-horse jerked its head up.
“Hello, stranger! Now I didn’t see you settin’ there.”
“Good-evening! But why ‘stranger’ when you say you can’t see me?”
“Why? ’Cause everybody knows me, and you didn’t whoop when I rode up. Me, I’m Cheyenne, from no place, and likewise that’s where I’m goin’. This here town of Antelope got in the way—towns is always gittin’ in my way—but nobody can help that. Is Wishful bedded down for the night or is he over to the Blue Front shootin’ craps?”
“I couldn’t say. I seem to be the only one around here, just now.”
“That sure excuses me and the hosses. Wishful is down to the Blue Front, all right. It’s the only exercise he gets, regular.” Cheyenne pushed back the brim of his faded black Stetson and sighed heavily. Bartley caught a glimpse of a face as care-free as that of a happy child—the twinkle of humorous eyes and a flash of white teeth as the other grinned. “Reckon you never heard tell of me,” said the rider, hooking his leg over the horn.
I just arrived yesterday. I have not heard of you—but I heard you down the road, singing. I like that song.”
“One of my own. Yes, I come into town singin’ and I go out singin’. ‘Course, we eat, when it’s handy. Singin’ sure keeps a fellow’s appetite from goin’ to sleep. Guess I’ll turn the hosses into Wishful’s corral and go find him. Reckon you had your dinner.”
“Several hours ago.”
“Well, I had mine this mornin’. The dinner I had this mornin’ was the one I ought to had day before yesterday. But I aim to catch up—and mebby get ahead a couple of eats, some day. But the hosses get theirs, regular. Come on, Filaree, we’ll go prospect the sleepin’-quarters.”
Bartley sat back and smiled to himself as Cheyenne departed for the corral. This wayfarer, breezing in from the spaces, suggested possibilities as a character for a story No doubt the song was more or less autobiographical. “A top-hand once, but the trail for mine,” seemed to explain the singer’s somewhat erratic dinner schedule. Bartley thought that he would like to see more of this strange itinerant, who sang both coming into and going out of town.