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Authors: Caroline Lockhart

The Dude Wrangler

BOOK: The Dude Wrangler
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The Dude Wrangler

Caroline Lockhart

*

Conscious That Something Had Disturbed Him, Wallie Macpherson Raised Himself On His Elbow In Bed To Listen. For A Full Minute He
heard nothing unusual: the Atlantic breaking against the sea-wall at the foot of the sloping lawn of The Colonial, the clock striking the hour in the tower of the Court House, and the ripping, tearing, slashing noises like those of a sash-and-blind factory, produced through the long, thin nose of old Mr. Penrose, two doors down the hotel corridor, all sounds to which he was too accustomed to be awakened by them.

While Wallie remained in this posture conjecturing, the door between the room next to him and that of Mr. Penrose was struck smartly several times, and with a vigour to denote that there was temper behind the blows which fell upon it. He had not known that the room was occupied; being considered undesirable on account of the audible slumbers of the old gentleman it was often vacant.

The raps finally awakened even Mr. Penrose, who demanded sharply:

"What are you doing?"

"Hammering with the heel of my slipper," a feminine voice answered.

"What do you want?"

"A chance to sleep."

"Who's stopping you?" crabbedly.

"You're snoring." Indignation gave an edge to the accusation.

"You're impertinent!"

"You're a nuisance!" the voice retorted. Wallie covered his mouth with his hand and hunched his shoulders.

There was a moment's silence while Mr. Penrose seemed to be thinking of a suitable answer. Then:

"It's my privilege to snore if I want to. This is my room-I pay for it!"

"Then this side of the door is mine and I can pound on it, for the same reason."

Mr. Penrose sneered in the darkness: "I suppose you're some sour old maid-you sound like it."

"And no doubt you're a Methuselah with dyspepsia!"

Wallie smote the pillow gleefully-old Mr. Penrose's collection of bottles and boxes and tablets for indigestion were a byword.

"We will see about this in the morning," said Mr. Penrose, significantly. "I have been coming to this hotel for twenty-eight years--"

"It's nothing to boast of," the voice interrupted. "I shouldn't, if I had so little originality."

Mr. Penrose, seeming to realize that the woman would have the last word if the dialogue lasted until morning, ended it with a loud snort of derision.

He was so wrought up by the controversy that he was unable to compose himself immediately, but lay awake for an hour framing a speech for Mr. Cone, the proprietor, which was in the nature of an ultimatum. Either the woman must move, or he would-but the latter he considered a remote possibility, since he realized fully that a multi-millionaire, socially well connected, is an asset which no hotel will dispense with lightly.

The frequency with which Mr. Penrose had presumed upon this knowledge had much to do with Wallie's delight as he had listened to the encounter.

Dropping back upon his pillow, the young man mildly wondered about the woman next door to him. She must have come in on the evening train while he was at the moving pictures, and retired immediately. Very likely she was, as Mr. Penrose asserted, some acrimonious spinster, but, at any rate, she had temporarily silenced the rich old tyrant of whom all the hotel stood in awe.

A second time the ripping sound of yard after yard of calico being viciously torn broke the night's stillness and, grinning, Wallie waited to hear what the woman next door was going to do about it. But only a stranger would have hoped to do anything about it, since to prevent Mr. Penrose from snoring was a task only a little less hopeless than that of stopping the roar of the ocean. Guests whom it annoyed had either to move or get used to it. Sometimes they did the one and sometimes the other, but always Mr. Penrose, who was the subject of a hundred complaints a summer, snored on victoriously. The woman next door, of course, could not know this, so no doubt she had a mistaken notion that she might either break the old gentleman of his habit or have him banished to an isolated quarter.

Wallie had not long to wait, for shortly after Mr. Penrose started again the tattoo on the door was repeated.

In response to a snarl that might have come from a menagerie, she advised him curtly:

"You're at it again!"

Another angry colloquy followed, and once more Mr. Penrose was forced to subside for the want of an adequate answer.

All the rest of the night the battle continued at intervals, and by morning not only Wallie but the entire corridor was interested in the occupant of the room adjoining his.

Wallie was in the office when the door of the elevator opened with a clang and Mr. Penrose sprang out of it like a starved lion about to hurl himself upon a Christian martyr. While his jaws did not drip saliva, the thin nostrils of his bothersome nose quivered with eagerness and anger.

"I've been coming here for twenty-eight years, haven't I?" he demanded.

"Twenty-eight this summer," Mr. Cone replied, soothingly.

"In that time I never have put in such a night as last night!"

"Dear me!" The proprietor seemed genuinely disturbed by the information.

"I could not sleep-I have not closed my eyes-for the battering on my door of the female in the room adjoining!"

"You astonish me! Let me see--" Mr. Cone whirled the register around and looked at it. He read aloud:

"Helene Spenceley-Prouty, Wyoming."

Mr. Cone lowered his voice discreetly:

"What was her explanation?"

"She accused me of snoring!" declared Mr. Penrose, furiously. "I heard the clock strike every hour until morning! Not a wink have I slept-not awink , Mr. Cone!"

"We can arrange this satisfactorily, Mr. Penrose," Mr. Cone smiled conciliatingly. "I have no doubt that Miss-er-Spenceley will gladly change her room if I ask her. I shall place one equally good at her disposal--Ah, I presume this is she-let me introduce you."

Although he would not admit it, Mr. Penrose was quite as astonished as Wallie at the appearance of the person who stepped from the elevator and walked to the desk briskly. She was young and good looking and wore suitable clothes that fitted her; also, while not aggressive, she had a self-reliant manner which proclaimed the fact that she was accustomed to looking after her own interests. While she was as far removed as possible from the person Mr. Penrose had expected to see, still she was the "female" who had "sassed" him as he had not been "sassed" since he could remember, and he eyed her belligerently as he curtly acknowledged the introduction.

"Mr. Penrose, one of our oldest guests in point of residence, tells me that you have had some little-er-difference--" began Mr. Cone, affably.

"I had a hellish night!" Mr. Penrose interrupted, savagely. "I hope never to put in such another."

"I join you in that," replied Miss Spenceley, calmly. "I've never heard any one snore so horribly-I'd know your snore among a thousand."

"Never mind-we can adjust this matter amicably, I will change your room to-day, Miss Spenceley," Mr. Cone interposed, hastily. "It hasn'tquite the view, but the furnishings are more luxurious."

"But I don't want to change," Miss Spenceley coolly replied. "It suits me perfectly."

"I came for quiet and I can't stand that hammering," declared Mr. Penrose, glaring at her.

"So did I-my nerves-and your snoring bothers me. But perhaps," with aggravating sweetness, "I can break you of the habit."

"I wouldn't lose another night's sleep for a thousand dollars!"

"It will be cheaper to change your room, for I don't mean to changemine ."

The millionaire turned to the proprietor. "Either this person goes or I do-that's my ultimatum!"

"I will not be bullied in any such fashion, and I can't very well be put out forcibly, can I?" and Miss Spenceley smiled at both of them. Mr. Cone looked from one to the other, helplessly.

"Then," Mr. Penrose retorted, "I shall leaveimmediately! Mr. Cone," dramatically, "the room I have occupied for twenty-eight summers is at your disposal." His voice rose in a crescendo movement so that even in the furthermost corner of the dining room they heard it: "I have a peach orchard down in Delaware, and I shall go there, where I can snore as much as I damn please; and don't you forget it!"

Mr. Cone, his mouth open and hands hanging, looked after him as he stamped away, too astonished to protest.

* * *

There never was a nose so completely out of joint as Wallie's nor an owner more thoroughly humiliated and embittered by the fickleness and ingratitude of human nature. The sacrifices he had made in escorting dull ladies to duller movies were wasted. The unfailing courtesy with which he had retrieved their yarn and handkerchiefs, the sympathy and attention with which he had listened to their symptoms, his solicitude when they were ailing-all were forgotten now that Pinkey was in the vicinity.

The ladies swarmed around that person, quoted his sayings delightedly, and declared a million times in Wallie's hearing that "he was a character!" And the worst of it was that Helene Spenceley did not seem sufficiently aware of Wallie's existence even to laugh at him.

As the displaced cynosure sat brooding in his room the third morning after Pinkey's arrival he wished that he could think of some perfectly well-bred way to attract attention.

He believed in the psychology of clothes. Perhaps if he appeared on the veranda in something to emphasize his personality, something suggesting strength and virility, like tennis flannels, he could regain his hold on his audience.

With this thought in mind Wallie opened his capacious closet filled with wearing apparel, and the moment his eyes fell upon his riding breeches he had his inspiration. If "the girl from Wyoming" thought her friend Pinkey was the only person who could ride a horse, he would show her!

It took Wallie only so long to order a horse as it required to get the Riding Academy on the telephone.

"I want a good-looking mount-something spirited," he instructed the person who answered.

"We've just bought some new horses," the voice replied. "I'll send you the pick of them."

Wallie hung up the receiver, fairly trembling with eagerness to dress himself and get down on the veranda. He looked well in riding togs-everyone mentioned it-and if he could walk out swinging his crop nonchalantly, well, they would at least
notice him! And when he would spring lightly into the saddle and gallop away-he saw it as plainly as if it were happening.

Although Wallie actually broke his record he seemed to himself an unconscionable time in dressing, but when he gave himself a final survey in the mirror, he had every reason to feel satisfied with the result. He was correct in every detail and he thought complacently that he could not but contrast favourably with the appearance of that "roughneck" from Montana-or was it Wyoming?

"What you taking such a hot day to ride for?" Mrs. Appel called when she caught sight of Wallie.

The question jarred on him and he replied coolly:

"I had not observed that it was warmer than usual, Mrs. Appel."

"It's ninety, with the humidity goodness knows how much!" she retorted.

Without seeming to look, Wallie could see that both Miss Spenceley and Pinkey were on the veranda and regarding him with interest. His pose became a little theatrical while he waited for his mount, striking his riding boot smartly with his crop as he stood in full view of them.

Everyone was interested when they saw the horse coming, and a few sauntered over to have a look at him, Miss Spenceley and Pinkey among the others.

"Is that the horse you always ride, Wallie?" inquired Miss Gaskett.

"No; it's a new one I'm going to try out for them," Wallie replied, indifferently.

"Wallie,do be careful!" his aunt admonished him. "I don't like you to ride strange horses."

Wallie laughed lightly, and as he went down to meet the groom who was now at the foot of the steps with the horses he assured her that there was not the least cause for anxiety.

"Why, that's a Western horse!" Miss Spenceley exclaimed. "Isn't that a brand on the shoulder?"

"It looks like it," Pinkey answered, ruffing the hair then smoothing it. "Shore it's a brand." He stepped off a pace to look at it.

"Pardon me, but I think you're mistaken," Wallie said, politely but positively. "The Academy buys only thoroughbreds."

"If that ain't a bronc, I'll eat it," Pinkey declared, bluntly.

"Can you make out the brand?" asked Miss Spenceley.

Pinkey ruffed the hair again and stepped back and squinted. Then his cracked lips stretched in a grin that threatened to start them bleeding: "'88' is the way I read it."

She nodded: "The brand of Cain."

Then they both laughed immoderately.

Wallie could see no occasion for merriment and it nettled him.

"Nevertheless, I maintain that you are in error," he declared, obstinately.

"I doubt if I could set one of them hen-skin saddles," observed Pinkey, changing the subject.

Wallie replied airily:

"Oh, it's very easy if you've been taught properly."

BOOK: The Dude Wrangler
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