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Columbia and the Cowboy by Alice MacGowan

The following is the complete text of Alice MacGowan's Columbia and the Cowboy. The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

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Columbia and the Cowboy by Alice MacGowan


by Alice MacGowan

"When the circus come to town,
Mighty me! Mighty me!
Jest one wink from that ol' clown,
When he's struttin' up an' down
To the music Bim--bam--bee!
Oh, sich sights, sich sights to see,
When the circus come to town!"

Blowout was on a boom.

The railroad from above was coming through, and Blowout was to be a city with that mysterious and rather disconcerting abruptness with which tiny Western villages do become cities in these circumstances.

It had been hoped that the railroad would be through by the Fourth of July, when the less important celebration of the nation's birthday might be combined with the proper marking of that event. But though tales came down to Blowout of how the contractors were working night and day shifts, and shipping men from the East in order to have the road through in time, though the Wagon-Tire House had entertained many squads of engineers and even occasional parties of the contractors' men, the railroad was not through on the Fourth.

Something much more important was arranged by Providence, however--at least, more important in the eyes of the children of the Wagon-Tire House. Frosty La Rue's grand aggregation of talent was to be in Blowout for a week, and the human performers were stopping at Huldah Sarvice's hotel.

If one can go far enough back to remember the awe and mystery surrounding a circus, and then imagine a circus coming bodily to lodge in one's own dwelling, to eat with the knives and forks at one's table--a circus which could swallow fire and swords, and things of that sort, just eating off plates in the ordinary manner, with Sissy waiting on the table behind its chairs--if one can get back to this happy time, it will be possible to comprehend some of the rapture the twins, Gess and Tell, experienced while Frosty La Rue's show abode at the Wagon-Tire House.

They lorded it over every other child in Blowout, shining with reflected splendor. They were the most sought after of any of the boys in school, for Romey was too young to afford information. La Rue himself looked upon them and said that they were "likely little fellers," and that he "wouldn't mind having them to train." Think of that! To train!

Aunt Huldah, with bat-like blindness to their best advantages, had stated to Mr. La Rue that their father was in--well--in Kansas, and had only left them with her, as it were, "on demand."

For one dreadful moment the twins envied Aunt Huldah's real orphans. Then, realizing that Aunt Huldah would no more give up Sissy or Ally than she would give up them, they reflected that the ambition of boys is apt, in this cold, unsympathetic world, to be thwarted by their elders, and settled down to the more active and thorough enjoyment of what they might have.

The company consisted of old La Rue; his second wife, who figured upon the bill as Signorina Ippolita di Castelli, an ex-circus rider of very mature years; Frosty's factotum, a Mexican by the name of Jose Romero; little Roy, the Aerial Wonder, son of Frosty and the Signorina; and last and most important of all, Minnie La Rue.

The show was well known in the Texas cattle country, and well loved. Frosty's daughter--she was only sixteen when he was last at Blowout, more than a year ago--was a pretty little thing, and her father had trained her to be a graceful tight-rope performer. He himself did some shooting from horseback, which most of the cowboys who applauded it could have beaten.

Frosty La Rue drank hard, and he was very surly when he was drinking. Even Aunt Huldah's boundless charity found it difficult to speak well of his treatment of Minnie. The Signorina could take care of herself--and of the Aerial Wonder as well. But the heft of her father's temper, and sometimes the weight of his hand also, fell on the young girl when things went amiss.

And things had gone amiss, more particularly in regard to her, during the last six months. Up to that time she had looked like a child, small for her age, silent, with big, wistful eyes, deft, clever fingers, and a voice and manner that charmed every audience--in short, the most valuable piece of property in La Rue's outfit.

The girl had bloomed into sudden and lovely girlhood when Kid Barringer saw her at Abilene, in April, patiently performing the tricks that had been taught her, obediently risking her young life that there might be plenty of money for her father to lose at the monte table, and that they might all be clothed and fed.

Kid had known the La Rue family and the girl for years, and when he promptly lost his heart to this surprising development of its daughter, he went frankly to the head of the clan and asked for her like a man.

There was no fault to find with Kid Barringer. He was good-looking, more intelligent than most of his mates, an honest, industrious and kind-hearted fellow, of whom his employers spoke well. If the girl cared for him--and Kid asserted that he had asked her and found out that she did care--she could not hope to do better.

But, of course, for La Rue to give up this most valuable chattel was out of the question. What he did, therefore, was to fly into a rage, refuse the Kid's offer in language which would have precipitated a brawl had the young man been less earnest in his wooing, and consign Minnie to the watchful vigilance of her stepmother.

And the cowboy had been vainly following the show during the whole two months that had passed since this episode, anxiously watching his poor little hard-worked sweetheart, hoping to get a word from her, meaning in any case to reassure her, and show her that he had not given up.

Matters were in this state when the "aggregation" settled down at the Wagon-Tire House for the week during which the Fourth of July was to occur. For this occasion La Rue promised a display of fireworks "superior to anything ever shown in West Texas."

The fame of this spectacle had preceded the show. It had been given in Emerald the year before, and all the cowboys who had seen it there brought back word that it was "the finest ever." The particular feature was in the closing act which La Rue had christened "Columbia Enlightening the World."

For this performance a wire was stretched across the street from the top of one building to another. La Rue intended this year to have it stretched from the Roundup to the Wagon-Tire House. Across this wire Minnie was to walk, dressed as Columbia, with a high-spiked diadem upon her head, her whole form outlined with colored fires, and bearing certain rockets which were set off when she reached the center of the street.

Everybody in the Wagon-Tire House liked the girl; Frosty was offensively polite or aggressively insulting; Mrs. La Rue was, as Troy Gilbert said, "a pretty tough specimen"; or, if one would rather follow Aunt Huldah's cheerful and charitable lead, "She looked a heap nicer, and appeared a heap better, in the show than out of it"; the Aerial Wonder was something of a terrestrial terror; but there was no question that Minnie La Rue was one of the sweetest and best little girls ever brought up in an inappropriate circus.

Therefore, when Kid Barringer appeared, a day after the La Rue family, and told the boys freely what the situation of his affairs was, he received unlimited sympathy and offers of assistance.

"I wish I could help you, Kid," Troy Gilbert said. "There isn't a soul in town that doesn't feel as though that little girl ought to be taken out of that man's keeping. But you see he's her own father, I reckon--says he is--and the law can't go behind that."

"If you boys would fix up a scheme to get me a chance to speak to Minnie--" Kid began. "At first I thought I could steal her just as easy as anything. She'd be glad to go; I had a little note from her--Say, Gib," he broke off suddenly, with a catch in his voice, "he's liable to strike her--to hurt her--when he's drinking."

"Well, if it went as far as that, here in Blowout, I would arrest him, you know," Gilbert suggested.

"It won't," Kid returned, dejectedly; "not at the Wagon-Tire House. Aunt Huldy has a good effect on him--or rather, bad effect, for that purpose. He's jest behavin' himself so straight, that Aunt Huldy won't hear a word about him bein' the meanest that ever was."

Troy was thinking intently.

"Say, Kid, I've got an idea. Do you reckon Aunt Huldy thinks too well of Frosty to help us out a little? If she doesn't, I believe the thing's as good as done. I saw that there 'Columbia Enlightening the World' at Emerald last year, and I know exactly how I could fix it so as to let you--well, you wait a minute, and I'll give you all the details. It's the only thing on the program that separates your girl from the Signorina for five minutes."

It must have been that Aunt Huldah saw more harm in Frosty La Rue than she was willing to mention; for an hour later Gilbert had made his arrangements.

"Now, Kid," he counseled, "I want you to make yourself scarce around here from now on. Don't let Frosty know you're in the diggin's at all. We boys are going to give it out that you've gone to Fort Worth, so that he and Mrs. La Rue won't watch Miss Minnie quite so close."

The Kid obediently withdrew from public life, spending most of his days in the back room of the big store, where a few sympathizing friends were always ready to bear him company; and the word went out that he had, in despair, given up camping on Miss Minnie's trail and gone off to Fort Worth.

This intelligence reaching old man La Rue--Gilbert wondered a little if it were possible any of it came to him through Aunt Huldah--had the desired effect of relaxing the watch upon the girl.

The first move in Gilbert's game was to waylay Frosty's Mexican, and bribe him to feign sickness. To this Jose promptly consented; and he counterfeited with such vigor, and so to the life, that the proprietor of the show was beside himself; for it was too late to teach a new man the management of the fireworks.

And now came Gilbert's second move. He approached the old man with the inquiry, "Why, what's the racket, Frosty? Something the matter with some of your outfit?"

La Rue sweepingly condemned the whole republic of Mexico in general, and Jose Romero in particular, winding up with the statement that the no-account greaser had gone and got sick, here at the last minute--Frosty would seem to imply, out of sheer perversity--and when it was too late to teach another his duties.

Upon this, Gilbert unfolded his scheme with a careful carelessness.

"Fireworks? Why, do you know, Frosty, I believe I could do your fireworks for you all right. I know fireworks pretty well, and I saw your 'Columbia' at Emerald last year."

"And would you do it, Gilbert?" asked La Rue. "It wouldn't pay," added the tight-fisted old fellow. "It wouldn't pay you--a man like you; but--"

"Oh, I just don't want to see the boys disappointed and the show spoiled," rejoined Gilbert. "I don't want any money."

La Rue was almost ready to embrace the sheriff of Wild Horse County. His burdens had not been light, even before the despised Jose's defection. There was a multitude of things, big and little, which could not well be carried with a show of the sort, but had always to be picked up locally, at the last moment; and a crude little cow-town like Blowout not only failed to supply many of these, but stood, as one might say, with dropped jaw at the very suggestion of them--at the mere mention of their unfamiliar names.

And so the company--otherwise the La Rue family--had to produce much of the paraphernalia out of its inner consciousness, which meant that the old man's temper was continually rasped, that the Signorina's nerves and her ingenuity were on a strain, and that Minnie was hard at work from dawn till dark, practising between whiles.

Troy Gilbert had put it most hopefully when he said that he knew fireworks pretty well--or one might say that the statement was susceptible of two different interpretations. As a matter of fact, Troy knew fireworks only from the spectator's side of the question.

He now had Jose Romero moved over into the back room of his place, where he might mitigate the rigors of that alien's confinement, and at the same time receive from the Mexican very necessary instruction.

Mercifully, there was an ample supply of fireworks, for the show was to be repeated at Antelope, over in Lone Jack County, and again at Cinche.

Moreover, drawing heavily, as he had been instructed, upon Kid Barringer's bank account, Gilbert wrote to Fort Worth and ordered a duplicate set of these fireworks sent on to Cinche. And in the darkness of night, when Blowout was wrapped in slumber, Gilbert and Romero rode silently out, down the flank of the divide, across the plain and into a little canyon six or seven miles distant in the breaks of Wild Horse Creek.

All day, in the intervals of his business duties, Gilbert had been receiving theoretical instructions; now with the set of fireworks which was to have dazzled and delighted the residents of Antelope, he made practical experiment of the knowledge so gained. The little show, witnessed only by the naked walls of the canyon and such prairie-dogs and jack-rabbits as had been untimely aroused from their slumbers, went off fairly well--which is to say that most of Gilbert's fingers and nearly all of his features went back to Blowout sound and entire.

"Oh, I got the hang of the business," he declared again and again, as they rode along through the soft Texas night; "I got the hang of it. I can make the whole first part go all right. The thing now is to get that Columbia act fixed so as to give the boys a run for their money, and leave a chance for Minnie and Kid."

The two rode home, and later Jose went to bed in Gilbert's back room, where work was going forward upon a mysterious-looking structure.


"In our village hall a Justice stands:
A neater form was never made of board."

Frosty La Rue's grand aggregation of talent had given two shows in a tent on the third of July.

On the Fourth there would again be two tent-shows, one in the afternoon and one at night; and at the close of the night performance, when the "concert" of an ordinary circus takes place, there was to be "a grand open-air spectacle," as Frosty himself put it.

For this purpose a platform had been erected, upon which Frosty and the Signorina could do a knife-throwing turn; and where the Aerial Wonder could give an infantile exhibition with a small bicycle.

A wire had been stretched across Comanche Street from the top of the Roundup to the top of the Wagon-Tire House, and upon this was to be given the most ambitious performance of the evening, "Columbia Enlightening the World."

All day long on the Fourth, the town was full of rejoicing young Texas masculinity, mounted upon Texas ponies, careering about the streets in conspicuously full enjoyment of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And all day long Frosty La Rue's tent-show did a land-office business.

Poor old Frosty! Many of the cowboys could shoot better than he; but they didn't shoot at colored glass balls. The bareback riding also came under some contempt; but the spangles and pink fleshings carried much weight, the Signorina painted most artistically, and, as Aunt Huldah said, "When she was a-goin' right fast on that fat white hoss, with the little platform on his back, an' a-smilin' an' kissin' her hand, she did really look right nice."

Minnie's trapeze acts were truly fine, and were appreciated at their full value; and the beautiful little figure walking the wire twenty feet above the ground was greeted with unlimited enthusiasm.

When the evening came, old Frosty, inclined to be as nervous and irritable with Gilbert as he dared, came running into the latter's place worrying about the fireworks.

"Now you chase yourself along," advised the sheriff, good-naturedly. "Just get right along, an' 'tend to your little old illuminated knife-throwin' trick. 'Tain't ten minutes till that's due, an' you've got a crowd that's good for five hundred dollars if it's good for a cent, when you pass the hat. And," he added, delight in the scheme he was working getting the better of his natural instinct for literal truth, "and luck--just fool luck--has sent you the finest fireworks operator in West Texas. Shoo out of here now, an' 'tend to your own job, an' let me 'tend to mine!"

As for the children of the Wagon-Tire House, they were perhaps more glorious on that warm, dark July night than anything in their after lives could make them. This is not to say that the six were not destined for happy or distinguished careers; but, after all, the magnificence of an occasion depends greatly upon the point of view; and the small hill is a high mountain to the little child.

They had been permitted to extend invitations to the more favored of their young friends. Bunt Tarver and Roach Porterman's two small girls, with Eddie Beach, who lived on a ranch outside of Blowout and stayed all night at the Wagon-Tire House (in a state of bliss that was almost cataleptic), were among the little bunch that presented themselves to go upon the roof of the kitchen, from which a magnificent view of the fireworks was to be had.

"I can't have it," Troy announced. "I can't have you children up here."

"Oh, yes, Gib--oh, yes, you can. They won't--" Aunt Huldah's voice sank to a murmur, which Troy Gilbert answered with a shake of the head.

"Well, ef they do see anything, they'll keep still--my chil'en are trained to mind; and these others are all good people;" and Aunt Huldah beamed upon the palpitating, expectant, alarmed little band.

"Keep still!"--what an awful phrase for such a connection! Gilbert turned and asked them kindly, "Will you, kids? Will you keep right still, whatever you see?"

Only Gess and Tell were bold enough to put the horror into words.

"'Tain't no use fer us to promise," Gess said huskily. "We're jest bound to holler when the fireworks begins to go off, even if we had promised cross-yer-heart."

And Tell piped in, after him, as usual:

"W'y, a circus is jest hollerin'--or some hollerin' is the best part of a circus." And he added, with a suspicious tremble in his voice, "I'd rather go downstairs an' set in the kitchen, if we can't holler."

Troy burst out laughing at sight of the dejected faces.

"Oh, holler all you want to--holler as much as you can--I don't mean hollerin'. I expect to do some pretty considerable hollerin' myself, and I've got a lot of the boys promised to holler at the right time. But there's to be a little--a little extra performance up here on the roof, and if you see anything queer about it, you mustn't let on--you mustn't tell."

"That's all right," assured Aunt Huldah, turning to descend the narrow little stairway. "They'll do jest as you tell 'em, Gib. Mind you don't tip them soap boxes over an' fall off'n the roof, chil'en. Sissy, you keep tight hold of Ally's hand--she's apt to fly when the big performance comes;" and Aunt Huldah's rich, mellow, chuckling laugh came back to them up the stairs.

One would have said that nothing on earth could make matters more glorious to the children of the Wagon-Tire House on this Fourth of July evening; but after Troy Gilbert's words, they trod not upon the earthen roof of the hotel, but on air; they sat not upon soap boxes, but on thrones.

Nay, kings were small people compared to them. There was to be a mysterious extra performance, in which the sheriff was implicated; it would take place under their very noses, and they were asked to assist, to keep still about it!

Gilbert had said truly: the crowd was a big one, and most enthusiastic. As a matter of fact, there were nearly a hundred cowboys on hand who had been let into Gilbert's scheme. The fireworks were equally successful whether they blazed splendidly or fizzled ingloriously. It was enough for the boys that Troy Gilbert was doing the act; they whooped at every figure, and whooped again at Troy's unaccustomed drollery.

There was a strain of intense expectancy in the audience, communicated, though without their knowledge, to those not in the secret from those who were; so that the crowd was wildly eager, without altogether knowing why.

After the display of pin-wheels, fiery serpents, bouquets, Roman candles and rockets, old Frosty and Mrs. Frosty (otherwise the Signorina Ippolita di Castelli) came on the small platform to do their knife-throwing-act, the knives trailing fiery tails. This kept the audience entertained during the time necessary to prepare the Columbia act.

"Bet you'd be scared to do that," whispered Eddie Beach.

"Bet I wouldn't," Gess made answer. "I'd jest as soon sling them old knives--Mr. La Rue said me an' Tell was likely boys to train. I bet Ally'd hold as still as the Signorina 'f I was to throw them knives at her."

For the Columbia performance Gilbert had, during the day, stretched another wire about five feet and three inches above the big wire on which Minnie was to walk. Indeed, it was this secondary wire which had caused the eruption of old Frosty demanding to "know."

When the knife-throwing act was finished, there was a short pause followed by a little murmur of applause; and this grew louder and louder, until it was a medley of whoops, yells, stamping, and calls in every tone and key for the next act--the grand stroke of the performance. Frosty and the Signorina forbore to go upon the roof of the Roundup to receive Minnie, until they should see her start from the roof of the hotel.

Figures were seen upon the top of the Wagon-Tire House (both roofs were flat) and Frosty strained his eyes eagerly toward that end of the big wire. The wondering children drew back and refrained even from whispering among themselves--Troy's caution was not needed. Strange doings, indeed, were going forward about the end of the wire. Troy Gilbert was apparently pushing a reluctant figure toward it--it looked as though the person were tied, and he laughed and struck her when she seemed unwilling.

Finally, Columbia began to move out slowly along the wire. She was everything that audience or proprietor could desire. The spiked tiara was on her head, blazing with violet light. Down her back hung her fair curling hair; in her hands was the long balancing pole--Columbia's scepter of power; and her white draperies were illuminated with fires of blue and crimson and violet.

The children stared, silent, motionless, expectant. They were nearer than those in the street and had had opportunity to observe the irregularity of Columbia's launching.

There was a little outburst of applause when she first appeared. But as she moved out over the wire, the silence was so complete that the coughing of one of the patient ponies on the outskirts of the crowd was plainly audible.

Those in the secret were silent, in ecstasies of admiration. The children kept still because they had been told to--whatever they saw. Those not instructed were mute with amazement--a sort of creeping awe.

Most of the audience had seen Minnie that afternoon in the tent-show, her slender girlish form clad in spangled gauze, her delicate blonde prettiness enhanced by the attire, doing her trapeze act. She had then moved with the lithe grace of a young deer; her face had been all eager animation. What sort of thing was this, that seemed to advance along the wire as though it were on casters--that was never seen to take a step? What face was this, strange, staring, immobile as a face carved in wood?

"Gee!" murmured one of the X Q K boys, who had come in late and was uninformed. "Gee, I ain't been a-drinkin' a thing--what in the name o' pity ails that gal!"

"Great Scott; she gives me the mauley-grubs! Ugh!" and his companion shivered. But save for these murmured comments, the crowd was intensely still.

Suddenly, about the middle of the street, Columbia's forward movement slackened, checked altogether. This was not unexpected, for midway the rockets fastened about her waist, and upon her crown were to be discharged. The manner in which these latter went off brought shrieks and groans from the crowd below. They fizzed up into Columbia's face, they burned against her bodice, they struck her arms. "Oh! oh! Poor soul! she'll have her eyes put out! She'll be killed!" cried a woman's voice from the street.

"I might 'a' known better than to trust that fool Gilbert with them fireworks," groaned old Frosty. "That there girl is worth more'n a hundred dollars a month to me. If I was to take her East I could hire her out for two hundred, easy, an' here she's likely to get all crippled up, so's't she won't never be no account."

Columbia was the only personage unmoved by all the fiery demonstrations; she stood rigid, looking strangely massive and tall, till the last rocket had spent itself. Then her progress began again with a sort of jerk. A shudder went over her frame, the pole wavered in her hands--those hands that seemed so limp and lifeless--she tottered, made a violent movement with her head, then swayed out sidewise and fell--holding the pole tight in her hands!

And the strangest sound went up from that big assembly, a mingled sound of groans and smothered outcries, and also what one might have sworn--had it not seemed impossible--was wild hysteric laughter.

Gess and Tell and Eddie Beach, luxuriating in Troy's permission to "holler as much as they pleased," emitted shrieks that would have chilled the blood of any whom this strange spectacle had not already terrified.

For, instead of falling to the ground twenty feet below, as would have been natural, and lying there, a mangled body, Columbia hung to the wire, a mad, fantastic, incredible spectacle, head downward, in a blaze of inverted patriotic splendor!

The wildest confusion ensued. Frosty was beside himself. He simply danced and yelled where he stood. Those who were in the secret shouted themselves hoarse with rapture, capering like dervishes, embracing one another; those who were not, screamed with horror and dismay.

As all gazed fascinated, something drifted down from the hanging figure. A cowboy plunged forward, caught it up, and there broke upon the sudden stillness which had followed this incident, a roar of hearty laughter, as he held high in the blaze of light that came from the pendent figure, Columbia's wooden-seeming countenance--a false face!

Instantly, the shouting and confusion broke out again. The figure began to sway; and the light draperies were ignited by some bit of fire which had been brought into contact with them, by the inversion of Columbia's proper position.

The figure showed that, beyond the streaming golden hair--the beautiful fair hair which Aunt Huldah had cut from Daisy's head, and which Daisy had given with loving generosity--and the stuffed-out waist of Columbia's classic robe, the only anatomy Columbia possessed was an upright post with a wheel at the bottom--a caster indeed!--which had run upon the big wire.

At the top of Columbia's head there had been another wheel, which ran, trolley-like, upon the upper wire; and a slender wire traveling along the lower, or footway wire, had drawn the figure forward.

Some obstacle had been met in the overhead wire; and when the figure was jerked forward, harder and harder, to overcome this, the upper attachment finally gave way entirely and allowed the figure to fall. Only Gilbert's precaution of looping a heavy wire from axle to axle of the lower wheel around the footway wire, had prevented Columbia from falling to the ground.

As the explanation began to spread over the crowd--not in whispers, but in shouts, mingled with roars of laughter--those who had been instructed beforehand pressed round old Frosty and the Signorina in a dense mass.

Threats, complaints, demands, all sorts of outcries filled the air.

"You old fakir!"

"What do you mean by it, Frosty?"

"Do you think you're a-goin' to run a blazer like this on us, and we'll swaller hit like hit was catnip tea?"

"What fer did ye want to fool us thataway?"

"We ain't a-goin' to stand it--we'll----"

"Gentlemen, jest be quiet. Let me out--let me git across the street to the Wagon-Tire--where my daughter is--and I can explain things."

"Explain nothin'!" was the cry; "you'll explain right here! Do you think Blowout is a-goin' to stand this kind o' thing?"

"Who put you up to run this blazer on us? Them fellers at Plain View? Er them scrubs at Cinche? This town ain't a-goin' to stand it!"

"Gentlemen," came Frosty's pipe again, "gentlemen, let me out--jest let me git to my daughter--let me git out o' here before it's too late! This is some o' that scoundrel Kid Barringer's doin's. Let me out, gentlemen!"

But the old man had gone the wrong way about it. Kid was one of them, a good fellow, and much liked. Even those who knew nothing now scented a romance. The big crowd hemmed old Frosty in and held him there with pretended wrath and resentment.

At the back door of the Wagon-Tire House, just before the wooden Columbia appeared to the eyes of Blowout, a meeting had taken place. From that door Aunt Huldah had stepped with Minnie clinging to her arm. In the dense shadow Kid Barringer was waiting with two of the best ponies in Wild Horse County. He came eagerly forward.

"Kid," said Aunt Huldah's heartsome voice, "here's Minnie--I've brung her to you. I b'lieve we're doin' right. You're a good boy, Kid. An' I know you love her an' will take keer o' her. Ef you wasn't to, you'd shore have me to fight!" and she chuckled genially.

"Good-by, honey. Ye needn't to look skeered. We-all have got ye now, an' we'll take keer of ye--the hull kit an' bilin' o' us. Good-by, bless your sweet little heart!"

With the word Minnie was in her saddle, swung there by her lover's strong arms, and away across the levels beside him.

And while, back in Blowout, the Signorina fairly clawed, cat-like, to get through that wall of cowboys and across the street to where (believing Kid Barringer to be as far away as Fort Worth) she had left Minnie scarce half an hour before--while the old man shouted and swore and protested and fairly wept with rage and apprehension; Kid Barringer reached his left hand out to his companion, saying:

"Slack him down a little, honey; we're safe now. Mr. Ferguson, the Presbyterian preacher--he's promised me--I told him--an' he's a-goin' to marry us. His place ain't half a mile further on, an' he's lookin' fer us. We're safe now, my poor little girl."

The cowboys, with roars of delight, fished down the remains of the dangling Columbia, while the original performer, to whom Columbia's figure was understudy, stood in Mr. Ferguson's little parlor, waiting for that gentleman to bring in a second witness. Her little fair head was resting on Kid's broad shoulder; Kid's arm was around her slender figure; and she was saying, between laughter and tears:

"Kid, how do you reckon that old machine Columbia is getting along with my turn, back there at Blowout?"

And the happy bridegroom made blissful answer: "I don't know--or keer--honey. She can go it on her head for all of us, can't she? She give us our chance to get away, and that was all we wanted. Aunt Huldy is the Lord's own people. I'll never forget her. You wouldn't hardly 'a' thought I was good enough, if Aunt Huldy hadn't a-recommended me, I don't believe. My little girl ain't never a-goin' to get to walk no more wires."

~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~

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