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Science at Heart's Desire

probably from Heart's Desire : the story of a contented town,
certain peculiar citizens, and two fortunate lovers

by Emerson Hough


"THAT OLD RAILROAD'LL shore bust me up a heap if it ever does git in here," remarked Tom Osby one morning in the forum of Whiteman's corral, where the accustomed group was sitting in the sun, waiting for some one to volunteer as Homer for the day.

   There was little to do but listen to story telling, for Tom Osby dwelt in the tents of Kedar, delaying departure on his accustomed trip to Vegas.

   "A feller down there to Sky Top," he went on, arousing only the most indolent interest, "one of them spy-glass ingineers — tenderfoot, with his six-shooter belt buckled so tight he couldn't get his feet to the ground — he says to me I might as well trade my old grays for a nice new checkerboard, or a deck of author cards, for I won't have nothing to do but just amuse myself when the railroad cars gets here."

   No one spoke. All present were trying to imagine how Heart's Desire would seem with a railroad train each day.

   "Things'll be some different in them days, mebbe so." Tom recrossed his legs with well-considered deliberation.

   "There's a heap of things different already from what they used to be when I first hit the cow range," said Curly. "The whole country's changed, and it ain't changed for the better, either. Grass is longer, and horns is shorter, and men is triflin'er. Since the Yankees has got west of the Missouri River, a ranch foreman ain't allowed to run his own brandin' iron any more, and that takes more'n half the poetry out of the cow business, don't it, Mac?" This to McKinney, who was nearly asleep.

   "Everything else is changin', too," Curly continued, gathering fluency as memories began to crowd upon him. "Look at the lawyers and doctors there is in the Territory now — and this country used to be respectable. Why, when I first come here, there wasn't a doctor within a thousand miles, and no need for one. If one of the boys got shot up much, we always found some way to laundry him and sew him together again without no need of a diplomy. No one ever got sick; and, of course, no one ever did die of his own accord, the way they do back in the States."

   "What's it all about, Curly?" drawled Dan Anderson. "You can't tell a story worth a cent." Curly paid no attention to him.

   "The first doctor that ever come out here for to alleviate us fellers," he went on, "why, he settled over on the Sweetwater. He was a allopath from Bitter Creek. What medicine that feller did give! He gradual drifted into the vet'inary line.

   "Then there come a homeopath — that was after a good many womenfolk had settled in along the railroad over west. Still, there wasn't much sickness, and I don't reckon the homeopath ever did winter through. I was livin' with the Bar-T outfit on the Oscura range, at that time.

   "Next doctor that come along was a ostypath." Curly took a chew of tobacco, and paused a moment reflectively.

   "I said the first feller drifted into vet'inary lines, didn't I?" he resumed. "Well, the ostypath did, too. Didn't you never hear about that? Why, he ostypathed a horse!"

   "Did what?" asked Tom Osby, sitting up; for hitherto there had seemed no need to listen attentively.

   "Yes, sir," he went on, "he ostypathed a horse for us. The boys they gambled about two thousand dollars on that horse over at Socorro. It was a cross-eyed horse, too."

   "What's that?" Doc Tomlinson objected. "There never was such a thing as a cross-eyed horse."

   "Oh, there wasn't, wasn't there?" said Curly. "Well, now, my friend, when you talk that-a-way, you simply show me how much you don't know about horses. This here Bar-T horse was as cross-eyed as a sawhorse, until we got him ostypathed. But, of course, if you don't believe what I say, there's no use tellin' you this story at all."

   "Oh, go on, go on," McKinney spoke up, "don't pay no attention to doc."

   "Well," Curly resumed, "that there horse was knowed constant on this range for over three years. He was a outlaw, with cream mane and tail, and a pinto map of Europe, Asia and Africa wrote all over his ribs. Run? Why, that horse could run down a coyote as a moral pastime. We used him to catch jackrabbits with, between meals. It wasn't no trouble for him to run. The trouble was to tell when he was goin' to stop runnin'. Sometimes it was a good while before the feller ridin' him could get him around to where he begun to run. He run in curves natural, and he handed out a right curve or a left one, just as he happened to feel, same as the feller dealin' faro, and just as easy.

   "Tom Redmond, on the Bar T, he got this horse from a feller by the name of Hasenberg, that brought in a bunch of a has-beens and outlaws, and allowed to distribute 'em in this country. Hasenberg was a foreign gent that looked a good deal like Whiteman, our distinguished feller citizen here. He was cross-eyed hisself, body and soul. There wasn't a straight thing about him. We allowed that maybe this pinto caballo got cross-eyed from associatin' with old Hasenberg, who was strictly on the bias, any way you figured."

   "You ain't so bad, after all, Curly," said Dan Anderson, sitting up. "You're beginning now to hit the human interest part. You ought to be a reg'lar contributor."

   "Shut up!" said Curly. "Now Tom Redmond, he took to this here pinto horse from havin' seen him jump the corral fence several times, and start floatin' off across the country for a eight or ten mile sashay without no special encouragement. He hired three Castilian busters to operate on pinto, and he got so he could be rode occasional, but every one allowed they never did see any horse just like him. He was the most aggravatinest thing we ever did have on this range. He had a sort of odd-lookin' white eye, but a heap of them pintos has got glass eyes, and so no one thought to examine his lookers very close, though it was noticed early in the game that pinto might be lookin' one way and goin' the other, at the same time. He'd be goin' on a keen lope, and then something or other might get on his mind, and he'd stop and untangle hisself from all kinds of rid-in'. Sometimes he'd jump and snort like he was seein' ghosts. A feller on that horse could have roped antelopes as easy as yearlin' calves, if he could just have told which way Mr. Pinto was goin'; but he was a shore hard one to estermate.

   "At last Tom, why, he suspected somethin' wasn't right with pinto's lamps. If you stuck out a bunch of hay at him, he couldn't bite it by about five feet. When you led him down to water, you had to go sideways; and if you wanted to get him in through the corral gate, you had to push him in backward. We discovered right soon that he was born with his parallax or something out of gear. His graduated scale of seein' things was different from our'n. I don't reckon anybody ever will know what all pinto saw with them glass lamps of his, but all the time we knowed that if we could ever onct get his lookin' outfit turned up proper, we had the whole country skinned in a horse race; for he could shore run copious.

   "That was why he had the whole Bar-T outfit guessin' all the time. We all wanted to bet on him, and we was all scared to. Sometimes we'd make up a purse among us, and we'd go over to some social gatherin' or other and win a thousand dollars. Old pinto could run all day; he can yet, for that matter. Didn't make no difference to him how often we raced him; and natural, after we'd won one hatful of money with him, we'd want to win another. That was where our judgment was weak.

   "You never could tell whether pinto was goin' to finish under the wire, or out in the landscape. His eyes seemed to be sort of moverable, but like enough they'd get sot when he went to runnin'. Then he'd run whichever way he was lookin' at the time, or happened to think he was lookin'; and dependin' additional on what he thought he saw. And law! A whole board of supervisors and school commissioners couldn't have looked that horse in the face, and guessed on their sacred honor whether he was goin' to jump the fence to the left or take to the high sage on the outside of the track.

   "Oncet in a while we'd git pinto's left eye set at a angle, and he'd come around the track and under the wire before she wobbled out of place. On them occasions we made money a heap easier than I ever did a-gettin' it from home. But, owin' to the looseness of them eyes, I don't reckon there never was no horse racin' as uncertain as this here; and like enough you may have observed it's uncertain enough even when things is fixed in the most comf'terble way possible."

   A deep sigh greeted this, which showed that Curly's audience was in full sympathy.

   "You always felt like puttin' the saddle on to pinto hind end to, he was so cross-eyed," he resumed ruminatingly, "but still you couldn't help feelin' sorry for him, neither. Now, he had a right pained and grieved look in his face all the time. I reckon he thought this was a hard sort of a world to get along in. It is. A cross-eyed man has a hard enough time, but a cross-eyed horse — well, you don't know how much trouble he can be for hisself and every one else around him.

   "Now, here we was, fixed up like I told you. Mr. Allopath is over on Sweetwater creek, Mr. Homeopath is maybe in the last stages of starvation. Old pinto looks plumb hopeless, and all us fellers is mostly hopeless too, owin' to his uncertain habits in a horse race, yet knowin' that it ain't perfessional for us not to back a Bar-T horse that can run as fast as this one can.

   "About then along come Mr. Ostypath. This was just about thirty days before the county fair at Socorro, and there was money hung up for horse races over there that made us feel sick to think of. We knew we could go out of the cowpunchin' business for good if we could just only onct get pinto over there, and get him to run the right way for a few brief moments.

   "Was he game? I don't know. There never was no horse ever got clost enough to him in a horse race to tell whether he was game or not. He might not get back home in time for supper, but he would shore run industrious. Say, I talked in a telyphome onct. The book hung on the box said the telyphome was instantaneous. It ain't. But now this pinto, he was a heap more instantaneous than a telyphome.

   "As I was sayin', it was long about now Mr. Ostypath comes in. He talks with the boss about locatin' around in here. Boss studies him over a while, and as there ain't been anybody sick for over ten years, he tries to break it to Mr. Ostypath gentle that the Bar T ain't a good place for a doctor. They have some conversation along in there, that-a-way, and Mr. Ostypath before long gets the boss interested deep and plenty. He says there ain't no such a thing as gettin' sick. We all knew that before; but he certainly floors the lot when he allows that the reason a feller don't feel good, so as he can eat tenpenny nails, and make a million dollars a year, is always because there is something wrong with his osshus structure.

   "He says the only thing that makes a feller have rheumatism, or dyspepsia, or headache, or nosebleed, or red hair, or any other sickness, is that something is wrong with his nervous system. Now, it's this-a-way. He allows them nerves is like a bunch of garden hose. If you put your foot on the hose, the water can't run right free. If you take it off, everything's lovely. 'Now,' says Mr. Ostypath, 'if, owin' to some luxation, some leeshun, some temporary mechanical disarrangement of your osshus structure, due to a oversight of a All-wise Providence, or maybe a fall off'n a buckin' horse, one of them bones of yours gets to pressin' on a nerve, why, it ain't natural you ought to feel good. Now, is it?' says he.

   "He goes on and shows how all up and down a feller's backbone there is plenty of soft spots, and he shows likewise that there is scattered around in different parts of a feller's territory something like two hundred and four and a half bones, any one of which is likely any minute to jar loose and go to pressin' on a soft spot; 'In which case,' says he, 'there is need of a ostypath immediate.'

   "'For instance,' he says to me, 'I could make quite a man out of you in a couple of years if I had the chanct.' I ast him what his price would be for that, and he said he was willin' to tackle it for about fifty dollars a month. That bein' just five dollars a month more than the boss was allowin' me at the time, and me seein' I'd have to go about two years without anything to wear or eat — let alone anything to drink — I had to let this chanct go by. I been strugglin' along, as you know, ever since, just like this, some shopworn, but so's to set up. There was one while, I admit, when the doc made me some nervous, when I thought of all them soft spots in my spine, and all them bones liable to get loose any minute and go to pressin' on them. But I had to take my chances, like any other cow puncher at forty-five a month."

   "You ought to raise his wages, Mac," said Doc Tomlinson to McKinney, the ranch foreman, but the latter only grunted.

   "Mr. Ostypath, he stayed around the Bar T quite a while," began Curly again, "and we got to talkin' to him a heap about modern science. Says he, one evenin', this-a-way to us fellers, says he, 'Why, a great many things goes wrong because the nervous system is interfered with, along of your osshus structure. You think your stomach is out of whack,' says he. 'It ain't. All it needs is more nerve supply. I git that by loosenin' up the bones in your back. Why, I've cured a heap of rheumatism, and paralysis, and cross-eyes, and ——'

   "'What's that?' says Tom Redmond, right sudden.

   "'You heard me, sir,' says the doc, severe.

   "Tom, he couldn't hardly wait, he was so bad struck with the idea he had. 'Come here, doc,' says he. And then him and doc walked off a little ways and begun to talk. When they come up toward us again, we heard the doc sayin': 'Of course I could cure him. Straybismus is dead easy. I never did operate on no horse, but I've got to eat, and if this here is the only patient in this whole blamed country, why I'll have to go you, if it's only for the sake of science,' says he. Then we all bunched in together and drifted off toward the corral, where old pinto was standin', lookin' hopeless and thoughtful. 'Is this the patient?' says the doc, sort of sighin'.

   "'It are,' says Tom Redmond.

   "Doc he walks up to old pinto, and has a look at him, frontways, sideways and all around. Pinto raises his head up, snorts, and looks doc full in the face; leastwise, if he'd 'a' been any other horse, he'd 'a' been lookin' him full in the face. Doc he stands thoughtful for quite a while, and then he goes and kind of runs his hand up and down along pinto's spine. He growed plumb enthusiastic then. 'Beautiful subject,' says he. 'Be-yoo-tiful ostypathic subject! Whole osshus structure exposed!' And pinto shore was a dream if bones was needful in the game."

   Curly paused for another chew of tobacco, then went on again.

   "Well, it's like this, you see; the backbone of a man or a horse is full of little humps — you can see that easy in the springtime. Now old pinto's back, it looked liked a topygraphical survey of the whole Rocky Mountain range.

   "Doc he runs his hand up and down along this high divide, and says he, 'Just like I thought,' says he. 'The patient has suffered a distinct leeshun in the immediate vicinity of his vaseline motor centers.'"

   "You mean the vasomotor centers," suggested Dan Anderson.

   "That's what I said," said Curly, aggressively.

   "Now, when we all heard doc say them words, we knowed he was shore scientific, and we come up clost while the examination was progressin'.

   "'Most extraordinary,' says doc, feelin' some more. 'Now, here is a distant luxation in the lumber regions.' He talked like pinto had a wooden leg.

   "'I should diagnose great cerebral excitation, along with pernounced ocular hesitation,' says doc at last.

   "'Now look here, doc,' says Tom Redmond to him then. 'You go careful. We all know there's something strange about this here horse; but now, if he's got any bone pressin' on him anywhere that makes him run the way he does, why, you be blamed careful not to monkey with that there particular bone. Don't you touch his runnin' bone, because that's all right the way it is.'

   "'Don't you worry any,' says the doc. 'All I should do would only increase his nerve supply. In time I could remedy his ocular defecks, too,' says he. He allows that if we will give him time, he can make pinto's eyes straighten out so's he'll look like a new rockin' horse Christmas mornin' at a church festerval. Incidentally he suggests that we get a tall leather blinder and run it down pinto's nose, right between his eyes.

   "This last was what caught us most of all. 'This here blinder idea,' says Tom Redmond, 'is plumb scientific. The trouble with us cowpunchers is we ain't got no brains — or we wouldn't be cowpunchers! Now look here, pinto's right eye looks off to the left, and his left eye looks off to the right. Like enough he sees all sorts of things on both sides of him, and gets 'em mixed. Now, you put this here harness leather between his eyes, and his right eye looks plumb into it on one side, and his left eye looks into it on the other. Result is, he can't see nothing at all! Now, if he'll only run when he's blind, why, we can skin them Socorro people till it seems like a shame.'

   "Well, right then we all felt money in our pockets. We seemed most too good to be out ridin' sign, or pullin' old cows out of mudholes. 'You leave all that to me,' says doc. 'By the time I've worked on this patient's nerve centers for a while, I'll make a new horse out of him. You watch me,' says he. That made us all feel cheerful. We thought this wasn't such a bad world, after all.

   "We passed the hat in the interest of modern science, and we fenced off a place in the corral and set up a school of ostypathy in our midst. Doc, he done some things that seemed to us right strange at first. He gets pinto up in one corner and takes him by the ear, and tries to break his neck, with his foot in the middle of his back. Then he goes around on the other side and does the same thing. He hammers him up one side and down the other, and works him and wiggles him till us cowpunchers thought he was goin' to scatter him around worse than Cassybianca on the burnin' deck after the exploshun. My experience, though, is that it's right hard to shake a horse to pieces. Pinto, he stood it all right. And say, he got so gentle, with that tall blinder between his eyes, that he'd 'a' followed off a sheepherder.

   "All this time we was throwin' oats a-plenty into pinto, rubbin' his legs down, and gettin' him used to a saddle a little bit lighter than a regular cow saddle. Doc, he allows he can see his eyes straightenin' out every day. 'I ought to have a year on this job,' says he; 'but these here is urgent times.'

   "I should say they was urgent. The time for the county fair at Socorro was comin' right clost.

   "At last we takes the old Hasenberg pinto over to Socorro to the fair, and there we enters him in everything from the front to the back of the racin' book. My friends, you would 'a' shed tears of pity to see them folks fall down over theirselves tryin' to hand us their money against old pinto. There was horses there from Montanny to Arizony, all kinds of fancy riders, and money — oh, law! Us Bar-T fellers, we took everything offered — put up everything we had, down to our spurs. Then we'd go off by ourselves and look at each other solemn. We was gettin' rich so quick we felt almost scared.

   "There come nigh to bein' a little shootin' just before the horses was gettin' ready for the first race, which was for a mile and a half. We led old pinto out, and some feller standin' by, he says sarcastic like, "What's that I see comin'; a snowplow?' Him alludin' to the single blinder on pinto's nose.

   "'I reckon you'll think it's been snowin' when we get through,' says Tom Redmond to him, scornful. 'The best thing you can do is to shut up, unless you've got a little money you want to contribute to the Bar-T festerval.' But about then they hollered for the horses to go to the post, and there wasn't no more talk.

   "Pinto, he acted meek and humble, just like a glass-eyed angel, and the starter didn't have no trouble with him at all. At last he got them all off, so clost together one saddle blanket would have done for the whole bunch. Say, man, that was a fine start.

   "Along with oats and ostypathy, old pinto he'd come out on the track that day just standin' on the edges of his feet, he was feelin' that fine. We put José Santa Maria Trujillo, one of our lightest boys, up on pinto for to ride him. Now a greaser ain't got no sense. It was that fool boy José that busted up modern science on the Bar T.

   "I was tellin' you that there horse was ostypathed, so to speak, plumb to a razor edge, and I was sayin' that he went off on a even start. Then what did he do? Run? No, he didn't run. He just sort of passed away from the place where he started at. Our greaser, he sees the race is all over, and like any fool cowpuncher, he must get frisky. Comin' down the homestretch, only needin' about one more jump — for it ain't above a quarter of a mile — José, he stands up in his stirrups and pulls off his hat, and just whangs old pinto over the head with it, friendlylike, to show him there ain't no coldness.

   "We never did rightly know what happened at that time. The greaser admits he may have busted off the fastenin' of that single blinder down pinto's nose. Anyhow, pinto runs a few short jumps, and then stops, lookin' troubled. The next minute he hides his face on the greaser and there is a glimpse of bright, glad sunlight on the bottom of José's moccasins. Next minute after that pinto is up in the grandstand among the ladies, and there he sits down in the lap of the governor's wife, which was among them present.

   "There was time, even then, to lead him down and over the line, but before we could think of that he falls to buckin' sincere and conscientious, up there among the benches, and if he didn't jar his osshus structure a heap then, it wasn't no fault of his'n. We all run up in front of the grandstand, and stood lookin' up at pinto, and him the maddest, scaredest, cross-eyedest horse I ever did see in all my life. His single blinder was swingin' loose under his neck. His eyes were right mean and white, and the Mexican saints only knows which way he was a-lookin'.

   "So there we was," went on Curly, with another sigh, "all Socorro sayin' bright and cheerful things to the Bar T, and us plumb broke, and far, far from home.

   "We roped pinto, and led him home behind the wagon, forty miles over the sand, by the soft, silver light of the moon. There wasn't a horse or saddle left in our rodeo, and we had to ride on the grub wagon, which you know is a disgrace to any gentleman that wears spurs. Pinto, he was the gayest one in the lot. I reckon he allowed he'd been Queen of the May. Every time he saw a jackrabbit or a bunch of sage brush, he'd snort and take a pasear sideways as far as the rope would let him go.

   "'The patient seems to be still laborin' under great cerebral excitation,' says the doc, which was likewise on the wagon. 'I ought to have had a year on him,' says he, despondentlike.

   "'Shut up,' says Tom Redmond to the doe. 'I'd shoot up your own osshus structure plenty,' he says, 'if I hadn't bet my gun on that horse race.'

   "Well, we got home, the wagonload of us, in the mornin' sometime, every one of us ashamed to look the cook in the face, and hopin' the boss was away from home. But he wasn't. He looks at us, and says he, "Is this a sheep outfit I see before me, or is it the remnants of the former cow camp on the Bar T?' He was right sarcastic. 'Doc,' says he, 'explain this here to me.' But the doc, he couldn't. Says the boss to him at last, 'The right time to do the explainin' is before the hoss race is over, and not after,' says he. 'That's the only kind of science that goes hereafter on the Bar T,' says he.

   "I reckon the boss was feelin' a little riled, because he had two hundred on pinto hisself. A cross-eyed horse shore can make a sight of trouble," Curly sighed in conclusion, "yet I bought pinto for four dollars, and — sometimes, anyway — he's the best horse in my string down at Carrizosy, ain't he, Mac?"

   In the thoughtful silence following this tale, Tom Osby knocked his pipe reflectively against a cedar log. "That's the way with the railroad," he said. "It's goin' to come in here with one eye on the gold mines and the other on the town — and there won't be no blind-bridle up in front of Mr. Ingine, neither. If we got as much sense as the Bar-T feller, we'll do our explainin' before, and not after, the hoss race is over. Before I leave for Vegas, I want to see one of you ostypothetic lawyers about that there railroad outfit."