Read CHAPTER XXXV. of The Lions of the Lord A Tale of the Old West, free online book, by Harry Leon Wilson, on ReadCentral.com.

Ruel Follett’s Way of Business

By the time the women were stirring that morning, Follett galloped up on his horse.  Prudence saw him from the doorway as he turned in from the main road, sitting his saddle with apparent carelessness, his arms loose from the shoulders, shifting lightly with the horse’s motion, as one who had made the center of gravity his slave.  It was a style of riding that would have made a scandal in any riding-school; but it seemed to be well calculated for the quick halts, sudden swerves, and acute angles affected by the yearling steer in his moments of excitement.

He dismounted, glowing from his bath in the icy water of the creek and from the headlong gallop up from Beil Wardle’s corral.

“Good morning, Miss Prudence.”

“Good morning, Mr. Follett.  Will you take breakfast with us directly?”

“Yes, and it can’t be too directly for me.  I’m wolfish.  Miss Prudence, your pa and me had some talk last night, and I’m going to bunk in with you all for awhile, till I get some business fixed up.”

She smiled with unaffected gladness, and he noticed that her fresh morning colour was like that of the little wild roses he had lately brushed the dew from along the creek.

“We shall be glad to have you.”

“It’s right kind of you; I’m proud to hear you say so.”  He had taken off the saddle with its gay coloured Navajo blanket, and the bridle of plaited rawhide with its conchos and its silver bit.  Now he rubbed the back of his horse where the saddle had been, ending with a slap that sent the beast off with head down and glad heels in the air.

“There now, Dandy! don’t bury your ribs too deep under that new grass.”

“My father will be glad to have you and Dandy stay a long time.”

He looked at her quickly, and then away before he spoke.  It was a look that she thought seemed to say more than the words that followed it.

“Well, the fact is, Miss Prudence, I don’t just know how long I’ll have to be in these parts.  I got some particular kind of business that’s lasting longer than I thought it would.  I reckon it’s one of those jobs where you have to let it work itself out while you sit still and watch.  Sometimes you get business on hand that seems to know more about itself than you do.”

“That’s funny.”

“Yes, it’s like when they first sent me out on the range.  They were cutting out steers from a big bunch, and they put me on a little blue roan to hold the cut.  Well, cattle hate to leave the bunch, so those they cut out would start to run back, and I had to head and turn them.  I did it so well I was surprised at myself.  No sooner did a steer head back than I had the spurs in and was after it, and I’d always get it stopped.  I certainly did think I was doing it high, wide, and handsome, like you might say; only once or twice I noticed that the pony stopped short when the steer did without my pulling him up, as if he’d seen the stop before I did.  And then pretty soon after, a yearling that was just the - excuse me - that was awful spry at dodging, led me a chase, the pony stopped stiff-legged when the steer did, and while I was leaning one way he was off after the steer the other way so quick that I just naturally slid off.  I watched him head and turn that steer all by himself, and then I learned something.  It seemed like he went to sleep when I got on him.  But after that I didn’t pay any attention to the cattle.  I let him keep the whole lookout, and all I did was to set in the saddle.  He was a wise old cow-pony.  He taught me a lot about chasing steers.  He was always after one the minute it left the cut, and he’d know just the second it was going to stop and turn; he’d never go a foot farther than the steer did, and he’d turn back just as quick.  I knew he knew I was green, but I thought the other men didn’t, so I just set quiet and played off like I was doing it all, when I wasn’t really doing a thing but holding on.  He was old, and they didn’t use him much except when they wanted a rope-horse around the corral.  And he’d made a lifelong study of steers.  He knew them from horns to tail, and by saying nothing and looking wise I thought I’d get the credit of being smart myself.  It’s kind of that way now.  I’m holding tight and looking wise about some business that I ain’t what you could call up in.”

He carried the saddle and bridle into the house, and she followed him.  They found Lorena annoyed by the indisposition of her husband.

“Dear me suz!  Here’s your pa bed-fast again.  He’s had a bad night and won’t open the door to let me tell him if he needs anything.  He says he won’t even take spoon victuals, and he won’t get up, and his chest don’t hurt him so that ain’t it, and I never was any hand to be nattering around a body, but he hadn’t ought to go without his food like he does, when the Father himself has a tabernacle of flesh like you or me - though the Holy Ghost has not - and it’s probably mountain fever again, so I’ll make some composition tea and he’s just got to take it.  Of course I never had no revelations from the Lord and never did I claim to have, but you don’t need the Holy Ghost coming upon you to tell you the plain doings of common sense.”

Whatever the nature of Mr. Follett’s business, his confidence in the soundness of his attitude toward it was perfect.  He showed no sign of abstraction or anxiety; no sign of aught but a desire to live agreeably in the present, - a present that included Prudence.  When the early breakfast was over they went out about the place, through the peach-orchard and the vineyard still dewy, lingering in the shade of a plum-tree, finding all matters to be of interest.  For a time they watched and laughed at the two calves through the bars of the corral, cavorting feebly on stiffened legs while the bereaved mothers cast languishing glances at them from outside, conscious that their milk was being basely diverted from the rightful heirs.  They picked many blossoms and talked of many things.  There was no idle moment from early morning until high noon; and yet, though they were very busy, they achieved absolutely nothing.

In the afternoon Prudence donned her own sombrero, and they went to the canon to fish.  From a clump of the yellowish green willows that fringed the stream, Follett cut a slender wand.  To this he fixed a line and a tiny hook that he had carried in his hat, and for the rest of the distance to the canon’s mouth he collected such grasshoppers as lingered too long in his shadow.  Entering the canon, they followed up the stream, clambering over broken rocks, skirting huge boulders, and turning aside to go around a gorge that narrowed the torrent and flung it down in a little cascade.

Here and there Follett would flicker his hook over the surface of a shaded pool, poise it at the foot of a ripple, skim it across an eddy, cast it under a shelf of rock or dangle it in some promising nook by the willow roots, shielding himself meanwhile as best he could; here behind a boulder, there bending a willow in front of him, again lying flat on the bank, taking care to keep even his shadow off the stream and to go silently.

From where she followed, Prudence would see the surface of the water break with a curling gleam of gold, which would give way to a bubbling splash; then she would see the willow rod bend, see it vibrate and thrill and tremble, the point working slowly over the bank.  Then perhaps the rod would suddenly straighten out for a few seconds only to bend again, slowly, gently, but mercilessly.  Or perhaps the point continued to come in until it was well over the bank and the end of the line close by.  Then after a frantic splashing on the margin of the stream the conquered trout would be gasping on the bank, a thing of shivering gleams of blended brown and gold and pink.  At first she pitied the fish and regretted the cruelty of man, but Follett had other views.

“Why,” he said, “a trout is the crudest beast there is.  Look at it trying to swallow this poor little hopper that it thought tumbled into the water by accident.  It just loves to eat its stuff alive.  And it isn’t particular.  It would just as lief eat its own children.  Now you take that one there, and say he was ten thousand times as big as he is, and you were coming along here and your foot slipped and Mr. Trout was lying behind this rock here - hungry.  Say!  What a mouthful you’d make, pink dress and all - he’d have you swallowed in a second, and then he’d sneak back behind the rock there, wiping his mouth, and hoping your little sister or somebody would be along in a minute and fall in too.”

“Ugh! - Why, what horrible little monsters!  Let me catch one.”

And so she fished under his direction.  They lurked together in the shadows of rocks, while he showed her how to flicker the bait in the current, here holding her hand on the rod, again supporting her while she leaned out to cast around a boulder, each feeling the other’s breathless caution and looking deep into each other’s eyes through seconds of tense silence.

Such as they were, these were the only results of the lesson; results that left them in easy friendliness toward each other.  For the fish were not deceived by her.  He would point out some pool where very probably a hungry trout was lying in wait with his head to the current, and she would try to skim the lure over it.  More than once she saw the fish dart toward it, but never did she quite convince them.  Oftener she saw them flit up-stream in fright, like flashes of gray lightning.  Yet at length she felt she had learned all that could be taught of the art, and that further failure would mean merely a lack of appetite or spirit in the fish.  So she went on alone, while Follett stopped to clean the dozen trout he had caught.

While she was in sight he watched her, the figure bending lithe as the rod she held, moving lightly, now a long, now a short step, half kneeling to throw the bait into an eddy; then off again with determined strides to the next likely pool.  When he could no longer see her, he fell to work on his fish, scouring their slime off in the dry sand.

When she returned, she found him on his back, his hat off, his arms flung out above his head, fast asleep.  She sat near by on a smooth rock at the water’s edge and waited - without impatience, for this was the first time she had been free to look at him quite as she wished to.  She studied him closely now.  He seemed to her like some young power of that far strange eastern land.  She thought of something she had heard him say about Dandy:  “He’s game and fearless and almighty prompt, - but he’s kind and gentle too.”  She was pleased to think it described the master as well as the horse.  And she was glad they had been such fine playmates the whole day long.  When the shadow moved off his face and left it in the slanting rays of the sun, she broke off a spruce bough and propped it against the rock to shield him.

And then she sighed, for they could be playmates only in forgetfulness.  He was a Gentile, and by that token wicked and lost; unless - and in that moment she flushed, feeling the warmth of a high purpose.

She would save him.  He was worth saving, from his crown of yellow hair to the high heels of his Mexican boots.  Strong, clean, gentle, and - she hesitated for a word - interesting - he must be brought into the Kingdom, and she would do it.  She looked up again and met his wide-open eyes.

They both laughed.  “I sat up with your pa last night,” he said, ashamed of having slept.  “We had some business to palaver about.”

He had tied the fish into a bundle with aspen leaves and damp moss around them, and now they went back down the stream.  In the flush of her new rôle as missionary she allowed herself to feel a secret motherly tenderness for his immortal soul, letting him help her by hand or arm over places where she knew she could have gone much better alone.

Back at the house they were met by the little bent man, who had tossed upon his bed all day in the fires of his hell.  He looked searchingly at them to be sure that Follett had kept his secret.  Then, relieved by the frank glance of Prudence, he fell to musing on the two, so young, so fresh, so joyous in the world and in each other, seeing them side by side with those little half-felt, timidly implied, or unconsciously expressed confidences of boy and girl; sensing the memory of his own lost youth’s aroma, his youth that had slipped off unrecked in the haze of his dreams of glory.  For this he felt very tenderly toward them, wishing that they were brother and sister and his own.

That evening, while they sat out of doors, she said, very resolutely: 

“I’m going to teach Mr. Follett some truth tomorrow from the Book of Mormon.  He says he has never been baptised in any church.”

Follett looked interested and cordial, but her father failed to display the enthusiasm she had expected, and seemed even a little embarrassed.

“You mean well, daughter, but don’t be discouraged if he is slow to take our truth.  Perhaps he has a kind of his own as good as ours.  A woman I knew once said to me,’ Going to heaven is like going to mill; if your wheat is good the miller will never ask how you came.’”

“But, Father, suppose you get to mill and have only chaff?”

“That is the same answer I made, dear.  I wish I hadn’t.”

Later, when Prudence had gone, the two men made their beds by the fire in the big room.  Follett was awakened twice by the other putting wood on the fire; and twice more by his pitiful pleading with something at his back not to come in front of him.