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At The Foot Of The Trail
by [?]


The slope in front of old Mosey’s cabin was a mass of purple lupine. Behind the house the wild oats were dotted with brodiaea, waving on long, glistening stems. The California lilac was in bloom on the trail, and its clumps of pale blossoms were like breaks in the chaparral, showing the blue sky beyond.

In the corral between the house and the mountain-side stood a dozen or more burros, wearing that air of patient resignation common to very good women and very obstinate beasts. Old Mosey himself was pottering about the corral, feeding his stock. He stooped now and then with the unwillingness of years, and erected himself by slow, rheumatic stages. The donkeys crowded about the fence as he approached with a forkful of alfalfa hay, and he pushed them about with the flat of the prongs, calling them by queer, inappropriate names.

A young man in blue overalls came around the corner of the house, swinging a newly trimmed manzanita stick.

“Hello, Mosey!” he called. “Here I am again, as hungry as a coyote. What’s the lay-out? Cottontail on toast and patty de foy grass?”

The old man grinned, showing his worn, yellow teeth.

“I’ll be there in a minute,” he said. “Just set down on the step.”

The young fellow came toward the corral.

“I’ve got a job on the trail,” he said. “I’m going down-town for my traps. Who named ’em for you?” he questioned, as the old man swore softly at the Democratic candidate for President.

“Oh, the women, mostly. They take a lot of interest in ’em when they start out; they’re afraid I ain’t good to them. They don’t say so much about it when they get back.”

“They’re too tired, I suppose.”

“Yes, I s’pose so.”

“You let out five this morning, didn’t you? I met them on my way down. The girl in bloomers seemed to be scared; she gave a little screech every few minutes. The others didn’t appear to mind.”

“Oh, she wasn’t afraid. Women don’t make a noise when they’re scared; it’s only when they want to scare somebody else.”

The young fellow leaned against the fence and laughed, with a final whoop. A gray donkey investigated his hip pocket, and he reached back and prodded the intruder with his stick.

“You seem to be up on the woman question, Mosey. It’s queer you ain’t married.”

The old man was lifting a boulder to hold down a broken bale of hay, and made no reply. His visitor started toward the cabin. The old man adjusted another boulder and trotted after his guest, brushing the hay from his flannel shirt. A column of blue-white smoke arose from the rusty stovepipe in the cabin roof, and the smell of overdone coffee drifted out upon the spiced air.

“I was just about settin’ down,” said the host, placing another plate and cup and saucer on the blackened redwood table. “I’ll fry you some more bacon and eggs.”

The visitor watched him as he hurried about with the short, uncertain steps of hospitable old age.

“By gum, Mosey, I’d marry a grass-widow with a second-hand family before I’d do my own cooking.”

The young fellow gave a self-conscious laugh that made the old man glance at him from under his weather-beaten straw hat.

“Your mind seems to run on marryin’,” he said; “guess you’re hungry. Set up and have some breakfast.”

The visitor drew up a wooden chair, and the old man poured two cups of black coffee from the smoke-begrimed coffee-pot and returned it to the stove. Then he took off his hat and seated himself opposite his guest. The latter stirred three heaping teaspoonfuls of sugar into his cup, muddied the resulting syrup with condensed milk, and drank it with the relish of abnormal health.

“I tell you what, Mosey,” he said, reaching for a slice of bacon and dripping the grease across the table, “there ain’t any flies on the women when it comes to housekeeping. Now, a woman would turn on the soapsuds and float you clean out of this house; then she’d mop up, and put scalloped noospapers on all the shelves, and little white aprons on the windows, and pillow-shams on your bunk, and she’d work a doily for you to lay your six-shooter on, with ‘God bless our home’ in the corner of it; and she’d make you so comfortable you wouldn’t know what to do with yourself.”