The Uphill Climb - B.M. Bower - ebook

The Uphill Climb ebook

B.M. Bower



Beloved Western author B. M. Bower is back with another classic yarn of the Old West. Much like her best-known works, „The Uphill Climb” showcases the inner lives of the cowhands and ranchers who made the region livable – and whose rough-and-tumble lifestyles all too often exacted a harsh toll. Also this story deals with one man’s fight to overcome alcohol addiction. Still very relevant to today. But it also has romance and a good bit of humor from supporting characters. Bower knows the West of the cowboys, as do few writers... the writing is realistic, and strongly suffused with local color. One of many recommended Westerns by this prolific author.

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FORD lifted his arms above his head to yawn as does a man who has slept too heavily, found his biceps stiffened and sore, and massaged them gingerly with his finger-tips. His eyes took on the vacancy of memory straining at the leash of forgetfulness. He sighed largely, swung his head slowly from left to right in mute admission of failure to grasp what lay just behind his slumber, and thereby discovered other muscles that protested against sudden movement. He felt his neck with a careful, rubbing gesture. One hand strayed to his left cheekbone, hovered there tentatively, wandered to the bridge of his nose, and from there dropped inertly to the bed.

“Lordy me! I must have been drunk last night,” he said aloud, mechanically taking the straight line of logic from effect to cause, as much experience had taught him to do.

“You was–and then some,” replied an unemotional voice from somewhere behind him.

“Oh! That you, Sandy?” Ford lay quiet, trying to remember. His finger-tips explored the right side of his face; now and then he winced under their touch, light as it was.

“I must have carried an awful load,” he decided, again unerringly taking the backward trail from effect to cause. Later, logic carried him farther. “Who’d I lick, Sandy?”

“Several.” The unseen Sandy gave one the impression of a man smoking and speaking between puffs. “Can’t say just who–you did start in on. You wound up on–the preacher.”

“Preacher?” Ford’s tone matched the flicker of interest in his eyes.


Ford meditated a moment. “I don’t recollect ever licking a preacher before,” he observed curiously.

Life, stale and drab since his eyes opened, gathered to itself the pale glow of awakening interest. Ford rose painfully, inch by inch, until he was sitting upon the side of the bed, got from there to his feet, looked down and saw that he was clothed to his boots, and crossed slowly to where a cheap, flyspecked looking-glass hung awry upon the wall. His self-inspection was grave and minute. His eyes held the philosophic calm of accustomedness.

“Who put this head on me, Sandy?” he inquired apathetically. “The preacher?”

“I d’ know. You had it when you come up outa the heap. You licked the preacher afterwards, I think.”

Sandy was reading a ragged-backed novel while he smoked; his interest in Ford and Ford’s battered countenance was plainly perfunctory.

Outside, the rain fell aslant in the wind and drummed dismally upon the little window beside Sandy. It beat upon the door and trickled underneath in a thin rivulet to a shallow puddle, formed where the floor was sunken. A dank warmth and the smell of wet wood heating to the blazing point pervaded the room and mingled with the coarse aroma of cheap, warmed-over coffee.



“Did anybody get married last night?” The leash of forgetfulness was snapping, strand by strand. Troubled remembrance peered out from behind the philosophic calm in Ford’s eyes.

“Unh-hunh.” Sandy turned a leaf and at the same time flicked the ashes from his cigarette with a mechanical finger movement. “You did.” He looked briefly up from the page. “That’s why you licked the preacher,” he assisted, and went back to his reading.

A subdued rumble of mid-autumn thunder jarred sullenly overhead. Ford ceased caressing the purple half-moon which inclosed his left eye and began moodily straightening his tie.

“Now what’n hell did I do that for?” he inquired complainingly.

“Search me,” mumbled Sandy over his book. He read half a page farther. “Do what for?” he asked, with belated attention.

Ford swore and went over and lifted the coffeepot from the stove, shook it, looked in, and made a grimace of disgust as the steam smote him in the face. “Paugh!” He set down the pot and turned upon Sandy.

“Get your nose out of that book a minute and talk!” he commanded in a tone beseeching for all its surly growl. “You say I got married. I kinda recollect something of the kind. What I want to know is who’s the lady? And what did I do it for?” He sat down, leaned his bruised head upon his palms, and spat morosely into the stove-hearth. “Lordy me,” he grumbled. “I don’t know any lady well enough to marry her–and I sure can’t think of any female lady that would marry me–not even by proxy!”

Sandy closed the book upon a forefinger and regarded Ford with that blend of pity, amusement, and tolerance which is so absolutely unbearable to one who has behaved foolishly and knows it. Ford would not have borne the look if he had seen it; but he was caressing a bruise on the point of his jaw and staring dejectedly into the meager blaze which rimmed the lower edge of the stove’s front door, and so remained unconscious of his companion’s impertinence.

“Who was the lady, Sandy?” he begged dispiritedly, after a silence.

“Search me„ Sandy replied again succinctly. “Some stranger that blew in here with a license and the preacher and said you was her fee-ancy.” (Sandy read romances, mostly, and permitted his vocabulary to profit thereby.) “You never denied it, even when she said your name was a nomdy gair; and you let her marry you, all right.”

“Are you sure of that?” Ford looked up from under lowering eyebrows.

“Unh-hunh–that’s what you done, all right.” Sandy’s voice was dishearteningly positive.

“Lordy me!” gasped Ford under his breath.

There was a silence which slid Sandy’s interest back into his book. He turned a leaf and was half-way down the page before he was interrupted by more questions.

“Say! Where’s she at now?” Ford spoke with a certain furtive lowering of his voice.

“I d’ know.” Sandy read a line with greedy interest. “She took the ‘leven-twenty,” he added then. Another mental lapse. “You seen her to the train yourself.”

“The hell I did!” Ford’s good eye glared incredulity, but Sandy was again following hungrily the love-tangle of an unpronounceable count in the depths of the Black Forest, and he remained perfectly unconscious of the look and the mental distress which caused it. Ford went back to studying the meager blaze and trying to remember. He might be able to extract the whole truth from Sandy, but that would involve taking his novel away from him–by force, probably; and the loss of the book would be very likely to turn Sandy so sullen that he would refuse to answer, or to tell the truth, at any rate; and Ford’s muscles were very, very sore. He did not feel equal to a scuffle with Sandy, just then. He repeated something which sounded like an impromptu litany and had to do with the ultimate disposal of his own soul.

“Hunh?” asked Sandy.

Whereupon Ford, being harassed mentally and in great physical discomfort as well, specifically disposed of Sandy’s immortal soul also.

Sandy merely grinned at him. “You don’t want to take it to heart like that,” he remonstrated cheerfully.

Ford, by way of reply, painstakingly analyzed the chief deficiencies of Sandy’s immediate relatives, and was beginning upon his grandparents when Sandy reached barren ground in the shape of three long paragraphs of snow, cold, and sunrise artistically blended with prismatic adjectives. He waded through the first paragraph and well into the second before he mired in a hopeless jumble of unfamiliar polysyllables. Sandy was not the skipping kind; he threw the book upon a bench and gave his attention wholly to his companion in time to save his great-grandfather from utter condemnation.

“What’s eating you, Ford?” he began pacifically–for Sandy was a weakling. “You might be a lot worse off. You’re married, all right enough, from all I c’n hear–but she’s left town. It ain’t as if you had to live with her.”

Ford looked at him a minute and groaned dismally.

“Oh, I ain’t meaning anything against the lady herself,” Sandy hastened to assure him. “Far as I know, she’s all right–”

“What I want to know,” Ford broke in, impatient of condolence when he needed facts, “is, who is she? And what did I go and marry her for?”

“Well, you’ll have to ask somebody that knows. I never seen her, myself, except when you was leadin’ her down to the depot, and you and her talked it over private like–the way I heard it. I was gitting a hair-cut and shampoo at the time. First I heard, you was married. I should think you’d remember it yourself.” Sandy looked at Ford curiously.

“I kinda remember standing up and holding hands with some woman and somebody saying: ‘I now pronounce you man and wife,’” Ford confessed miserably, his face in his hands again. “I guess I must have done it, all right.”

Sandy was kind enough when not otherwise engaged. He got up and put a basin of water on the stove to warm, that Ford might bathe his hurts, and he made him a very creditable drink with lemon and whisky and not too much water.

“The way I heard it,” he explained further, “this lady come to town looking for Frank Ford Cameron, and seen you, and said you was him. So–”

“I ain’t,” Ford interrupted indignantly. “My name’s Ford Campbell and I’ll lick any darned son-of-a-gun–”

“Likely she made a mistake,” Sandy soothed. “Frank Ford Cameron, she had you down for, and you went ahead and married her willing enough. Seems like there was some hurry-up reason that she explained to you private. She had the license all made out and brought a preacher down from Garbin. Bill Wright said he overheard you tellin’ her you’d do anything to oblige a lady–”

“That’s the worst of it; I’m always too damned polite when I’m drunk!” grumbled Ford.

Sandy, looking upon his bruised and distorted countenance and recalling, perhaps, the process by which Ford reached that lamentable condition, made a sound like a diplomatically disguised laugh. “Not always,” he qualified mildly.

“Anyway,” he went on, “you sure married her. That’s straight goods. Bill Wright and Rock was the witnesses. And if you don’t know why you done it–” Sandy waved his hands to indicate his inability to enlighten Ford. “Right afterwards you went out to the bar and had another drink–all this takin’ place in the hotel dining-room, and Mother McGrew down with neuralagy and not bein’ present–and one drink leads to another, you know. I come in then, and the bunch was drinkin’ luck to you fast as Sam could push the bottles along. Then you went back to the lady–and if you don’t know what took place you can search me–and pretty soon Bill said you’d took her and her grip to the depot. Anyway, when you come back, you wasn’t troubled with no attack of politeness!

“You went in the air with Bill, first,” continued Sandy, testing with his finger the temperature of the water in the basin, “and bawled him out something fierce for standing by and seeing you make a break like that without doing something. You licked him–and then Rock bought in because some of your remarks kinda included him too. I d’ know,” said Sandy, scratching his unshaven jaw reflectively, “just how the fight did go between you ‘n’ Rock. You was both using the whole room, I know. Near as I could make out, you–or maybe it was Rock–tromped on Big Jim’s bunion. This cold spell’s hard on bunions–and Big Jim went after you both with blood in his eye.

“After that”–Sandy spread his arms largely–“it was go-as-you-please. Sam and me was the only ones that kept out, near as I can recollect, and when it thinned up a bit, you had Aleck down and was pounding the liver outa him, and Big Jim was whanging away at you, and Rock was clawin’ Jim in the back of the neck, and you was all kickin’ like bay steers in brandin’ time. I reached in under the pile and dragged you out by one leg and left the rest of ‘em fighting. They never seemed to miss you none.” He grinned. “Jim commenced to bump Aleck’s head up and down on the floor instead of you–and I knew he didn’t have nothing against Aleck.”


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