The Big Sky

The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr.

Book: The Big Sky by A. B. Guthrie Jr. Read Free Book Online
Authors: A. B. Guthrie Jr.
Tags: Fiction, Westerns
    "It is the bellyache, no more," said Jourdonnais, and gave his gaze back to the fire. "Tomorrow, all right. Better, at the least."
    The men around the fire looked at one another and at the hunter again. "Zephyr got down a dose of honey and whisky."
    "Good. With the calomel he be all right."
    The bosseman got up, moving with a sort of heavy care, as if he still held in his hands the pole he plied from the bow of the Mandan . To Boone, his chest looked as deep as a horse's. "Holy Jesus," he said, "how they die sometimes!"
    With one hand the patron pushed his black mustaches up from his mouth, as if to clear the way for his words. His voice was sharp. "Must you see death always, Romaine? It is the bellyache, for women to worry of."
    Romaine muttered, "Brain fever, black tongue, lung fever, bellyache, it is sickness."
    Like a hand on him, Boone felt the silence. Against it there was only the busy lipping of the water and the whisper of the wind in the walnuts. A half-moon, clear and bold, mounted the eastern sky. A raw chill was in the air that crept through the clothes and drew up the skin.
    The cook fed the fire, fixing food against tomorrow. It crackled and sent a flame at the black underbulge of the pot. The cook said, "In sickness whisky is good. Much whisky."
    Jourdonnais didn't answer. Summers lighted his pipe with a brand. His voice was light and joking. "You'll get plenty of whisky, all the Injuns can't drink."
    "If there are any to swallow it."
    "Tres bien," conceded Jourdonnais. "Morning and night, whisky for all, until the bellyache is gone."
    The hunter sat down at Boone's side. He and Deakins and Boone made a little group by themselves. "How long since you seed Uncle Zeb?" Boone asked.
    "Well, now, it's a spell. Five or six year, I'm thinking. Me and him been on many a spree, like I told you. Could be we'll run into him. That hoss is somewhere's around, if he ain't gone under."
    Boone studied the hunter's face. It was a face that a body took to, a lined, lean, humorous face with a long chin. Boone felt good, deep down in him, that Summers acted so friendly to Jim and him. Like as not, that was because of Uncle Zeb.
    Summers was looking around at the men. "When the French don't sing they ain't right."
    "Sure enough?"
    "They're skeered of the boat now, and the sick. Time we get up river where the Injuns are bad they'll be wantin' to sleep on board, I'm thinking, and to anchor out from shore to boot."
    Boone hitched himself closer. "It's fair country up there, I reckon."
    Summers looked at him, and his mouth made a small smile. "Wild. Wild and purty, like a virgin woman. Whatever a man does he feels like he's the first one done it." He halted and was silent for a long time, his gaze on the fire.
    Boone wondered whether he was thinking of the upcountry or of a woman. It wouldn't be a woman like the one he had bedded with on the night before they put out, a smelly woman in a crib who demanded a dollar first and answered to it like a man setting out to do a job of work.
    He could feel her squirm under him. Her breath blew against his ear. "Not so damn rough, honey. Christ, you kids are just like mountaineers the first night back!" It was a tired and whiny voice, and his ears told him, better than his eyes could, that she was old. Her perfume made a sick fog around him. Beneath it he smelled the animal of her. He rolled from the bunk when he had done and put on his boots. Her voice followed him into the street. "Don't forget me, honey." Forget? He'd remember a sight too well to come back. Jim had stood outside, licking his mouth like a dog after a feed. "God, you're poky!" he said. "Yours good, too?"
    The hunter's voice picked up the thread of his thought. "I seen most of it. Colter's Hell and the Seeds-kee-dee and the Tetons standin' higher'n clouds, and north and south from Nez Perce to Comanche, but God Almighty, there's nothin' richer'n the upper Missouri. Or purtier. I seen the Great Falls and traveled Maria's

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