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Winner Take All

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By easy stages Blue Jeans had arrived at the water tanks.

That had not pleased him much, though the water which fell in a musical drip from the stack nearest the rails into what impressed one as a sensible, frugal tub, until it, too, filled and overflowed and betrayed its trivial nature, was sweet on his tongue and grateful to his mare.

Arriving anywhere by easy stages had never appealed to him. Swift and sudden, that was the better way. Rather would he have whirled into Reservoir with zest and some commotion. But Girl o' Mine was in no shape for that. She drooped. Events which had jostled him roughly in the last few weeks had dealt with her unkindly as well. There had been many weary miles and not much grain.

And yet his poverty had not been a thing of easy stages. It had seemed both swift and sudden, and he liked it none the better for that. But he would not enter Reservoir with ostentation. He'd ride in without enthusiasm, and thus call no attention to the pass to which he'd come.

Nor was he in a hurry to get there, either. The town, a quarter of a mile across the track, squat and squalid in the dust, held nothing for his mood.

Reservoir was a poor town, anyway.

And Life was a poor thing, too.

He'd tried for hours and hours to think of one fair promise which it still held for him—just one!—tried hard! And couldn't!

Blue Jeans was twenty-two.

And Luck had trifled with him over-long.

One brief month earlier he had been a man of ambition, a man of promise. He'd even found his Dream. An Easterner had helped him to that foolishness; an -ologist from a university who expected to find prehistoric bones and relics entombed under the hills.

Cornered by that Easterner, who liked his face, and not having been handy enough as a liar to get out of it neatly, Blue Jeans had admitted under cross-examination that he was familiar with the country.

Was he doing anything at present?

No-o-o. But he was looking around.

Could he pack?


Was he accustomed to horses?

He hoped so.

Could he cook?

Ye-s-s, some. Not good for delicate folks.

Well, then, he was the very man for the position.

And Blue Jeans hadn't been able to think offhand of an objection; not one which he wanted to voice. He couldn't admit outright that the prospect was dismaying to his young pride. That he was afraid of the ridicule which certainly it would bring down upon him.

"I'm a cowpuncher, not a grave-robber," was the way it rose to his mind. But that wouldn't serve. It sounded neither dignified nor convincing.

Then if that was settled, what remuneration would he expect per month?

He had been of astonishing though dense persistence, that professor. Blue Jeans had pounced upon the query with sensations of deliverance.

"Wel-l-l," and he named a figure which struck him as outrageous.

But it hadn't staggered the professor; it hadn't even made him hesitate. The professor's expenses in the field were already guaranteed, back home, by men who could afford it.

"Then it's settled," he had said....