Man to man, p.14

Man to Man, page 14

 

Man to Man
 


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  CHAPTER XIV

  THE MAN-BREAKER AT HOME

  In a short time the cattle country had come to know a good deal ofSteve Packard, son of the late Philip Packard, grandson of Old ManPackard, variously known. Red Creek gossiped within its limits andsent forth word of a quarrel of some sort with Blenham, a winning gameof seven-and-a-half, a fight with big Joe Woods. Red Creek wasinclined to set the seal of approval on this new Packard, for RedCreek, on both sides of its quarrelsome street, stood ready to say thata man was a man even when it might go gunning for him.

  As the days went by Packard's fame grew. There were tales that in asavage melee with Blenham he had eliminated that capable individual'sright eye; and though there were those who had had it from some of theRanch Number Ten boys that Blenham's loss was the result of anaccident, still it remained unquestioned that Blenham had sufferedinjury at Packard's ranch and had been driven forth from it.

  Then, Packard had followed Blenham to the logging-camp; he had tackledthe crowd headed by Joe Woods; he had come remarkably close to killingWoods; he had broken up the camp and sent the timberjacks on their way.He had had a horse killed under him; he had quarrelled with hisgrandfather; he was standing on his own feet. In brief--

  "He's a sure enough, out an' out Packard!" they said of him.

  To be sure, while there were men who spoke well of him there wereothers, perhaps as many, who spoke ill. There were the barkeeper ofthe Ace of Diamonds, Joe Woods, Blenham; they had their friends andhangers-on. On the other hand, offsetting these, there were oldfriends whom Steve had not seen for twelve or more years.

  Such was Brocky Lane whose cowboy had loaned Steve a horse which hadbeen killed on the Red Creek road. Young Packard promptly paid for theanimal and resumed auld lang syne with the hearty, generous Brocky Lane.

  What men had to say of him came last of all to Steve. But some fiftymiles to the north of Ranch Number Ten, on the far-flung acres of thebiggest stock-ranch in the State, there was another Packard to whomrumors came swiftly. And this was because the old grandfather went farout of his way upon every opportunity to learn of his grandson'sactivities.

  "What for a man is he growed up to be, anyhow?" was what Hell-FirePackard was interested in ascertaining.

  When the old man wanted to get anywhere he ordered out his car and GuyLittle. When he wanted information he sent for Guy Little. Theundersized mechanician was gifted with eyes which could see, ears whichcould hear, and a tongue which could set matters clear; he must havebeen unusually keen to have retained his position in the old man'shousehold for the matter of five or six years.

  To his employer he had come once upon a time, half-starved and weary, alook of dread in his eyes which had the way of turning swiftly over hisshoulder; the old man had had from the beginning the more thansuspicion that the little fellow was a fugitive from the law and in ahurry at that.

  He had immediately taken him in and given him succor and comfort. Thepoor devil fumbled for a name and was so obviously making himself a newone that Packard dubbed him Guy Little on the spot, simply because, heexplained, he was such a little guy. And thereafter the two grew infriendship.

  Guy Little's first coming had been opportune. The old man had onlyrecently bought his first touring-car; in haste to be gone somewherehis motor failed to respond to his first coaxing and subsequent burstsof violent rage. While he was cursing it, reviling it, shaking hisfist at it, and vowing he'd set a keg of giant powder under the thingand blow it clean to blue blazes, Guy Little ran a loving hand over it,stroked its mane, so to speak, whispered in its ear, and set the enginepurring. Old Man Packard nodded; they two, big-bodied millionaire anddwarfed waif, needed each other.

  "Climb on the runnin'-board, Guy Little," he said right then. "You gowherever I go." And later he came to say of his mechanician, "Him?Why, man, he can take four ol' wagon wheels an' a can of gasoline an'make the damn' thing go. He's all automobile brains, that's what GuyLittle is!"

  On the Big Bend ranch, the old man's largest and favorite of severalkindred holdings, an outfit which flung its twenty thousand acres thisway and that among the Little Hills and on either side of the upperwaters of the stream which eventually gave its name to Red Creek, theoldest of the name of Packard had summoned Guy Little.

  It was some ten days after the stopping of all activity in the RanchNumber Ten lumbercamp. He had been sitting alone in his library,smoking a pipe, and staring out of his window and across his fields.Suddenly he sprang to his feet, went to his door, and shouted down thelong hall:

  "Ho, there! Guy Little!"

  The house was big; rooms had been added now and then at intervalsduring the last thirty or forty years; the master's library was ofgenerous dimensions and could have stabled a herd of fifty horses.This chamber was in the southwest corner of the rambling edifice; GuyLittle's quarters were diagonally across the building. But Packardasked no tinkling electric bell; as usual he was content to stick hishead out into the hall and yell in that big, booming voice of his:

  "Ho, there! Guy Little, come here!"

  Having voiced his command he went back to his deep leather chair andrefilled his pipe. It was the time of early dusk; not yet were thecoal-oil lamps lighted; shadows were lengthening and merging out in therolling fields. Packard's eyes, withdrawn from the outdoors, wanderedalong his tall and seldom-used book-shelves, fell to the one wornvolume on the table beside him, went hastily to the door. Down thehall came the sound of quick boot-heels. He took up the single volumeand thrust it out of sight under the leather cushion of his chair. Themechanician was in the room before he could get his pipe lighted.

  "You called, m'lord?"

  Guy Little stood drawn up to make the most of his very inconsiderableheight, eyes straight ahead, hands at sides, chin elevated andstationary. Nothing was plainer than that he aped the burlesquedEnglish butler--unless it be that it was even more obvious that in hischosen role he was a ridiculous failure. There never was the man lessdesigned by nature for the part than Guy Little.

  And yet he insisted; in the beginning of his relationship with hisemployer, his soul swelling with gratitude, his imagination touched bythe splendors into which his fate had led him, awed by the dominantPackard, he had wanted always upon an occasion like this to demandstiffly:

  "You rang, your majesty?"

  Packard had cursed and threatened and brow-beaten him down to----

  "You called, m'lord?"

  But not even old Hell-Fire Packard could get him any further.

  "Yes, I called," grunted the old man. "I hollered my head off at you.I want to know what you foun' out. Let's have it."

  Guy Little made his little butler-bow.

  "Your word is law, m'lord," he said, once more rigid and unbending.

  Although Packard knew this very well without being told and had knownit a good many years before Guy Little had been born, and although GuyLittle had repeated the phrase time without number, the old manaccepted it peacefully as a necessary though utterly damnableintroduction.

  "It's like this," continued the mechanician. "Not knowin' what youthought an' not even knowin' what you wanted to think, an' figgerin' toplay safe, I've picked up the dope all over. Which is sayin' I boughtdrinks on both sides the street, whiskey at Whitey Wimble's joint an'more of the same at Dan Hodges's. An' I foun' out several things,m'lord. If it is your wish----"

  "Spit 'em out, Guy Little! What for a man is he?"

  "Firs'," said Guy Little, shifting his feet the fraction of an inch sothat his chin bore directly upon Packard, "he's a scrapper. He beat upJoe Woods, a bigger man than him; later he took part in some sort of aparty durin' which, like is beknown to you, somebody gouged Blenham'seye out; after that, single-handed, he cleaned out your lumber-camp,fifteen men countin' Blenham. Tally one, he's a scrapper."

  For an instant it seemed that all of the light there was in the swiftlydarkening room had centred in the blue eyes under the old man's bushywhite brows. He drew deeply upon his
pipe.

  "Go on, Guy Little," he ordered. "What more? Spit it out, man."

  "Nex'," reported the little man, "he's a born gambler. If he wasn't hewouldn't of tied into a game of buckin' you; he wouldn't of playedseven-an'-a-half like he did in at the Ace of Diamonds; he wouldn't oftook them long chances tacklin' Woodsy's timberjacks before breakfas'.Scrapper an' gambler. That's tally one an' two."

  The old man frowned heavily, his teeth remaining tight clamped on hispipestem as he cried sharply:

  "That's it! You've said it: gambler! Drat the boy, I knowed he had itin his blood. An' it'll ruin him, ruin him. Guy Little, as it wouldruin any man. We got to get that fool gamblin' spirit out'n him. Aman that's always takin' chances never gets anywhere; take a chance an'you ain't got a chance! That's the way of it, Guy Little! Go on,though. What else about him?"

  "He's a good sport," went on the news-gatherer, "an' he don't ask nohelp from nobody. He stan's on his two feet like a man, m'lord. Whenhe sees a row ahead he don't go to the law with it; no, m'lord; noindeed, m'lord. He says 'Hell with the law!' Like a man would, likeme an' you . . . an' he kills his own rats himself."

  "That's the Packard of him! For, by God, Guy Little, he is a Packardeven if he has got a wrong start! Rich man's son--silver-spoonstuff--why, it would spoil a better man than you ever saw! Didn't Ispoil my son Phil that-a-way? Didn't Phil start out spoilin' his sonStephen that same way? But he's a Packard--an'--an'----"

  "An' what, m'lord?"

  The old man's fist fell heavily on the arm of his chair.

  "An' I'm still hopin' he's goin' to be a damn' good Packard at that!But you go on, Guy Little. What else?"

  "Sorta reckless, he is," resumed Guy Little. "But that's purty nearthe same thing as havin' the gamblin' spirit, ain't it? Nex' an'final, m'lord, he's got what you might call an eye for a good-lookin'girl."

  "The devil you say, Guy Little!" The old man, beginning to settle inhis chair, sat bolt upright. "Is some female woman tryin' to get herhooks in my gran'son already? Name her to me, sir!"

  "Name of Temple," said Little. "Terry Temple as they call her, an' asure good-lookin' party, if you ask me! Classy from eyes to ankles an'when it comes to----"

  "Hold on, Guy Little!" exploded old man Packard, leaping to his feet,towering high above the little man, who looked up at him with anearnest and placid expression. "That wench, that she-devil, thatJezebel! Settin' her traps for my boy Stephen, is she? Why, manalive, she ain't fit to scrape the corral-mud off'n his boots. She's alow-down, deceitful jade, that's what she is, sired by asheep-stealin', throat-cuttin', ornery, no-'count, worthless cuss! Thewhole pack of them Temples, he an' she of 'em, big an' little of 'em,ought to be strung up on the firs' tree! The low-down bunch of littleprairie dawgs, tryin' to trap a Packard with puttin' a putty-faced foolgirl in their snare. I say, Guy Little, I'll make the whole crowd of'em hunt their holes!"

  And he hurled his pipe from him so that on the hearthstone it brokeinto many pieces.

  Now that was a long speech for old man Packard and Guy Little listenedinterestedly. At the end, when the old man went growling back to hischair, the mechanician took up his tale.

  "She's purty, though," he maintained. "Like a picture!"

  "Doll-faced," snorted the old man, who had not the least idea whatTerry Temple looked like, not having laid his eyes on her for thematter of years. "Dumpy, pudgy, squidge-nosed little fool. I'll runboth her and her thief of a father out of the country."

  "An'," continued Guy Little, "I didn't exac'ly' say, m'lord, as howthis Terry Temple party was after him. I said as how he was after her!That is, as how, roundin' out what I know about him, he's got a eye fora fine-lookin' lady. Which, against argyment, I maintain that TerryTemple girl is."

  "Guy Little," cried Packard sharply, "you're a fool! Maybe you knowall there is about motor-cars an' gasoline. When it comes to femalesyou're a fool."

  "Ah, m'lord, not so!" protested Guy Little, a gleam in his eye like afaint flicker from a dead fire. "There was a time--before I set thesehoofs of mine into the wanderin' trail--when----"

  The rest might best be left entirely to the imagination and there heleft it. But the old man was all untouched by his henchman's utteranceand innuendoed boast for the simple reason that he had heard nothing ofit.

  "Those Temple hounds," he muttered, staring at Guy Little who staredbutlerishly back, "are leeches, parasites, cursed bloodsuckers andhangers-on. They think I'm goin' to take this boy in an' give him allI got; they think they see a chance to marry him into their rottencrowd an' slip one over on me this way! That simperin', gigglin' foolof a girl try an' hook my gran'son! I'll show 'em, Guy Little; I'llshow the whole cussed pack of 'em! I'll exterminate 'em, root an'branch an' withered leaf! By the Lord, but I'll go get 'em!"

  "He'll do it," nodded Guy Little, addressing the invisible third partyin order not to directly interrupt his patron's flow of words.

  But for a little the old man was silent, running his calloused fingersnervously through his beard, frowning into the dusk thickening over theworld outside. When he spoke again it was softly, thoughtfully, almosttenderly. And the words were these:

  "Break a fool an' make a man, Guy Little! That's what we're goin' todo for Stephen Packard. He's always had too much money, had life tooeasy. We'll jus' nacherally bust him all to pieces; we'll learn himthe big lesson of life; we'll make a man out'n him yet. An' whenthat's done, Guy Little, when that time comes-- Go send Blenham here,"he broke off with sharp abruptness.

  Guy Little achieved his stage bow and departed. The door only halfclosed behind him, he was shouting at the top of his voice:

  "Hey, Blenham! Oh, Blenham! On the jump. Packard wants you!"

  The door slammed behind him. His back once turned on "m'lord," GuyLittle did not wait to get out of earshot to become less butler thanhuman sparrow.

  Blenham needed but the one summons and that might almost have beenwhispered. He was fidgeting in his own room, waiting for this moment,knowing that he was to receive definite instructions concerning StephenPackard. Over his right eye was a patch; his face was still a sicklypallor; his one good eye burned with a sullen flame which never wentout.

  Guy Little was the one human being in the world with whom the old mantalked freely, to whom he unburdened himself. With his chieflieutenant Blenham he was, as with other men, short, crisp-worded,curt. Now, seeming to take no stock of Blenham's disfigurement, in adozen snapping sentences he issued his orders.

  Their gist was plain. Blenham was to go the limit to accomplish twopurposes: the minor one of making the world a dreary place for certainscoundrels, name of Temple; the major one of utterly breaking StevePackard. When Blenham went out and to his own room again the sullenfire in his good eye burned more brightly, as though with fresh fuel.

  A little later Guy Little returned, lighted the lamps, made a smallfire in the big fireplace, and ignoring the presence of his master,went to stand in front of the high book-shelves. After a long time hegot the step-ladder and placed it, climbed to the top, and squattedthere in front of his favorite section. Ultimately he drew down avolume with many colored illustrations; it was a tale of love, its_mise en scene_ the mansions of the lords and ladies whose adventuresoccurred in that atmosphere of romance which had captivated the soul ofGuy Little.

  When he climbed down and sought the big chair in which he would curl upto read and chew countless sticks of gum, chewing fast when the actionhurried, slowly when there was the dramatic pause, stopping often withmouth wide open when tense and breathless interest held him, hediscovered that the old man had gone out.

  Guy Little pursed his lips. Then he went to the recently vacatedleather chair. Not to sit in it; merely to draw out the little volumefrom under the cushion.

  "'Lyrics from Tennyson,'" he read aloud. "What the devil are themthings?"

  He turned the pages.

  "Pomes!" he grunted in disgust.

  Whereupon he
carried his own book to his own chair. But, beginning toturn the pages, he stopped and looked up wonderingly.

  "Funny ol' duck," he mused. "Here I've knowed him all these years an'I never guessed he read pomes!"

  He shook his head, admitted to himself that the "ol' duck" was a keenol' cuss, returned to his book, began stripping the paper from thefirst stick of gum, and knew no more of what went on about him.

 
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