MA PETTENGILL AND THE ANIMAL KINGDOM
From the Arrowhead corrals I strolled up the poplar-bordered lane that leads past the bunk house to the castle of the ranch’s chatelaine. It was a still Sunday afternoon—the placid interlude, on a day of rest, between the chores of the morning and those of evening. But the calm was for the ear alone. To the eye certain activities, silent but swift, were under way. On the shaded side piazza of the ranch house I could discern my hostess, Mrs. Lysander John Pettengill; she sat erect, even in a rocking-chair, and knitted. On the kitchen steps, full in the westering sun, sat the Chinese chef of the Arrowhead, and knitted—a yellow, smoothly running automaton. On a shaded bench by the spring house, a plaid golfing cap pushed back from one-half the amazing area of his bare pate, sat the aged chore-boy, Boogles, and knitted. The ranch was on a war basis.
And more: As I came abreast of the bunk house the Sabbath calm was punctured by the tart and careless speech of Sandy Sawtelle, a top rider of the Arrowhead, for he, too, was knitting, or had been. On a stool outside the doorway he held up an unfinished thing before his grieved eyes and devoutly wished it in the place of punishment of the wicked dead. The sincere passion of his tones not only arrested my steps but lured through the open doorway the languorous and yawning Buck Devine, who hung over the worker with disrespectful attention. I joined the pair. To Buck’s query, voiced in a key of feigned mirth, Sandy said with simple dignity that it was going to be a darned good sweater for the boys in the trenches. Mr. Devine offered to bet his head that it wasn’t going to be anything at all—at least nothing any one would want round a trench. Mr. Sawtelle ignored the wager and asked me if I knew how to do this here, now, casting off. I did not.
“I better sneak round and ask the Chink,” said Sandy. “He’s the star knitter on the place.”
We walked on together, seemingly deaf to certain laboured pleasantries of Mr. Devine concerning a red-headed cow-puncher that had got rejected for fighting because his feet was flat and would now most likely get rejected for knitting because his head was flat. By way of covering the hearty laughter of Mr. Devine at his own wit I asked why Sandy should not consult his employer rather than her cook.
With his ball of brown wool, his needles and his work carried tenderly before him Sandy explained, with some embarrassment as it seemed, that the madam was a good knitter, all right, all right, but she was an awful bitter-spoken lady when any little thing about the place didn’t go just right, making a mountain out of a mole hill, and crying over spilt milk, and always coming back to the same old subject, and so forth, till you’d think she couldn’t talk about anything else, and had one foot in the poorhouse, and couldn’t take a joke, and all like that. I could believe it or not, but that was the simple facts of the matter when all was said and done. And the Chink was only too glad to show off how smart he was with a pair of needles.