"Letter from your girls?"
"What'd they say?"
"Hmm, what?" Favor finally responded to Rowdy's questions, looking up from the paper in front of him.
"What'd your kids say?" Rowdy laughed at the boss as he repeated the question.
"Oh, just the usual."
"And what's that?"
"Oh, you know," Favor subtly turned away from the ramrod, but Rowdy was having none of it.
"No, I don't know, Mr. Favor. What'd they say?"
"Are you going to keep bugging me about this?"
He shrugged. "Only until you show me the letter."
"Here." Favor sighed.
"'Dear Daddy, we miss you,'" Rowdy read aloud. "'Thanks for the birthday present.' Whose birthday was it?"
"What'd you get her?" At Mr. Favor's tired glance, Rowdy looked down at the letter. "Oh," he said with a sheepish grin; Gillian had written on and on about it. He finished reading the adorable little letter, and handed it back.
"Say, boss, when's your birthday?"
Favor stood up quickly. "I better go check on the herd."
"Did you hear me, Mr. Favor?" Rowdy asked, puzzled.
"I heard you. Now let's get these cattle moving."
"How can he not tell me when his birthday is?" Rowdy later vented his irritation to Pete. "It was just a question, it's not like I wanted to do anything about it. I tell you, that man's more guarded than—"
"If Mr. Favor wants his privacy, then you should stand back and let him be," Wishbone reprimanded.
"Aww, don't be a sour puss, Wishbone," Pete replied. "Rowdy just asked a simple question, and it's a good one. I've known him before all of y'all, and I don't know when his birthday is."
"So that should tell you that Mr. Favor doesn't want you to know," Wish retorted.
"There's got to be a way we can find out when his birthday is," Rowdy muttered.
"Boy, have you been listening? And what are you going to do when you find out? Throw him a surprise party and embarrass him more than he's ever been in his entire life?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right Wishbone," Pete admitted, "Mr. Favor's not the kind of man that likes to be the center of attention."
"Oh come on guys," Rowdy did not like this shift in tone, "I know he doesn't like to be the center of attention, but come on, when are we ever going to get a chance like this?"
"What chance?" Wish asked. "You don't even know if his birthday is on the drive."
"Well, there's one way to find out," Pete mulled, drifting back over to the ramrod's side, which was more fun and entertaining than the old man's sensible and dull side.
"What way?" Rowdy asked, intrigued. But at that moment, Favor came into camp, and the three of them broke up their little powwow, so Nolan had to go it alone.
Scouting out the next town, Pete went to the telegraph office and dispatched a telegram. He waited, but when the reply hadn't come quickly, he had to return to the herd. But that night, he had Rowdy come and take his night shift and he galloped back into town. He had to wake the telegraph operator up, but the reply had arrived.
"August 17th," Pete relayed to Rowdy as they pushed the herd along.
"She didn't tell me. Wise woman," Pete smiled.
"So," Rowdy glanced around to double check that Favor wasn't close by, "what are we going to do about it?"
The two exchanged ideas, deciding early on that they actually wanted to get Favor something good, not just a fun old gag gift to embarrass him. He was their trail boss and he had done a lot for them over the years. They wracked their brains for a gift that was nice, but that was also practical (it was Favor), yet still showed their appreciation for their trail boss. Finally, they decided.
At the next town, Pete and Rowdy nagged and nagged until finally Favor allowed the men to go into town, while he rested from their badgering back at camp. Once there, Pete sent another telegram. Rowdy had also attended business other than in the saloons, and soon had an estimate of what the cost would be. Quickly he returned to the bar, and started begging money off of the other drovers before they could spend most of it on the whiskey or the girls. They would need a lot more money than what they had right then, but they also had time on their side.
As time passed, the drovers quietly saved their money. Everyone, even Jim Quince, would take a little out from their wages. Finally, they arrived at what they thought would be the right amount. The next watering hole for the drovers came with great but quiet anticipation. It was a bigger than average town, and was sure to have what they wanted. Everything was coming together perfectly. The only problem they hadn't foreseen was
"Boy, am I ready to relax and have me a couple of drinks," Favor declared as he splashed some invigorating water on his face.
"You, Mr. Favor?" Rowdy could barely keep the surprise and nervousness out of his voice.
None of the drovers had wanted to be left out of the buying and choosing, and so a plan had to be made to keep Favor from the saloons, where his drovers were expected, but not going, to be. The plan had been for Wish to complain that he never got to go to town (when Wish had heard that it was going to be a tasteful gift he had agreed to help), and since Wish was a reliable man who could deal with whatever problem arose, and since Mr. Favor was no barfly, the boss would grant the cook's request, and he would stay in camp instead. But now Favor actually wanted to go to town?
"Mr. Favor, I've been meaning to talk to you," Wish jumped in. "Now, I don't complain much," Favor snorted at that, "but I'm sick and tired of always being left in camp when y'all go off and have a good time in town."
"What are you saying, Wish?" Mr. Favor asked tiredly.
"I'm saying I'm going into town."
"You know I count on you to take care of things here. I trust you, you're responsible."
"Well, this time I'm not staying."
"And who I am I going to get to stay here and take your place? Pete? Rowdy?"
"Well, you don't have to get nasty," Wish snapped back.
"Now, Mr. Favor, Wish just wants—what do you mean you don't have to get nasty?" Rowdy broke off his assistance as the cook's words sunk in. Favor shook his head at his ramrod.
"Easy, Rowdy, Wish is just doing his job," Pete consoled in a whisper to his friend. Rowdy nodded and eased off, though he still had a frown on his face.
Wishbone continued. "Now, Mr. Favor, I think since this is your drive, you might take some responsibility once in a while and stay here while I go into town just this once."
The boss just stared at him.
"Well, I don't see as how you get any fun out of these town trips, you—"
"Oh you don't do you?"
When even Wish couldn't summon the courage to talk back to the boss after that, every drover knew it was time to back off.
"Uh, Wish, why don't you just stay here?" Pete jumped in quickly with false cheerfulness.
"Yeah, I think I will."
Favor studied his men for a second, feeling like something was going on, but he couldn't figure out what. He led the tense-but-trying-not-to-be-tense drovers over to saddle up.
"Any more ideas?" Pete whispered to the ramrod.
Rowdy started to shake his head no then stopped. "Yeah…"
"What?" Pete inquired, puzzled.
"Mushy," Rowdy turned to find the louse, "you and I need to have a talk."
The men whooped and hollered as they galloped through the main street of town. The whoahhed up at the saloon, and everyone quickly dismounted and headed into the bar. The boss was about to join them when a timid hand tapped him on the shoulder.
"Uh, Mr. Favor, sir?"
"What is it Mushy?"
"Uh, can I talk to you?"
"Can it wait until tomorrow?"
"Well, it's kinda important."
"Okay. Let's go inside."
"Uh no Mr. Favor. I don't really want to talk about this inside, too many people. Could-could we just talk out here?"
Any other person he would have brushed off until he had gotten the drink he had been anticipating three days ago. But it was sweet ol' Mushy (figure of speech), who would never have had the nerve to ask something like this unless it was important. "All right, Mushy." Favor sat down, his back leaning against a post. "What's on your mind?"
"Well, Mr. Favor, it's like this…see,"
Rowdy glanced out the doors and saw Mushy was occupying Favor's attention. He nodded to the men and they all quietly slipped out the back entrance. They found their way to a jeweler's shop, and all twenty some odd of them managed to squeeze their way in, and then they all started to look for the perfect watch and chain to give their boss. It took a little bit, and some minor arguments ensued, but finally a watch was decided upon, and as Rowdy counted out the precious bills, Pete produced the envelope that he had received the week before.
"Look, Mushy, we've been out here for a while and you still haven't told me what's bothering you."
"Yeah, well, see…"
"Maybe you need some more time. Tell you what, I'll just go in and get a drink," his throat was burning, yearning for a drink, "and when you're ready to talk, just tell me and I'll come right back out. All right?" Favor stood up to go into the bar.
"Mr. Favor!" Mushy grabbed the boss's arm in desperation. Favor waited expectantly.
"Mr. Favor, uhh,"
"Uhh, where do babies come from?"
"There, all done. Now, what do you want on the back?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, it's customary to write something on the back of it. Best Wishes, With Love,"
"With Love?" One drover asked sarcastically.
"Or just simply From whomever," the jeweler continued heatedly.
"I don't think we should do anything too…much, you know Mr. Favor doesn't like to show emotion, and we might be going over the top already," Pete warned.
"Yeah…" Rowdy sighed, but then he brightened. "I got it."
"Mushy," Mr. Favor stared at the young man in consternation, "you do know where babies come from, don't you?"
"Well, yes sir."
"Then why did you ask about it?"
"Well…'cause you're not supposed to go in there yet."
Favor looked puzzled. "In the saloon? Why not?"
"Because…the men are out buying you a birthday present," he blurted.
"A birthday present? But how"
"Mr. Nolan wrote to your sister-in-law in Philadelphia."
"There you go. All done." The jeweler proudly handed over the watch.
"We better get going. I don't know how long Mushy can hold Mr. Favor off."
"We just wanted to do something nice for you," Mushy explained miserably, "and now I've gone and ruined everything."
"Aww, no you haven't Mushy. Come on, let's go back to camp, and when it's my birthday, I promise I'll be surprised." He gently led Mushy to his horse, and the two of them headed back to the herd, though Favor took a long, pining glance at the bar as they trotted out of town.
August 17th arrived, and Favor tried his utmost to ignore the excitement of his men, though they were pretty pathetic actors. He was, he had to admit, a little touched that they would go to such lengths and spend all that much on him. A watch, not a bad gift at that, he mused. Very practical.
The herd was bedded down, but Favor took a little while longer before he headed to camp, wanting to give the men all the time they needed. Finally, he arrived.
"Happy Birthday, Mr. Favor!" the men chorused as he walked in. Wish held up a dazzling chocolate cake, the men having bought the ingredients in town.
"What? What is all this?" Favor asked, stunned beyond all reason.
"It's your birthday today," Rowdy grinned smugly.
"How-How did you find out?"
"I guess we're just gifted like that," Pete smiled. "And speaking of gifts, here's yours, Boss." He produced a small, obviously man-wrapped package from behind his back and presented it to the birthday boy.
"Aww, you shouldn't have," Favor tried to sound like a surprised person would, but it was starting to leave a sour taste in his mouth, and so he quit and just opened the present.
It was a golden pocket watch and chain, pretty but useful, just like he knew his drovers would get him. He opened it up, and stopped. There, in the left corner: his wife, and his daughters. The two separate photographs had been carefully cut and pasted within the inside cover of the watch. The photograph of his wife was a beautiful, familiar one; her brown hair curled exquisitely, and her eyes, Favor swore he could see their deep blue color even in the faded sepia picture. The photograph of his girls was one he didn't recognize, and he realized suddenly that his girls must have taken their picture specifically for this present from his drovers.
"Thanks guys, this…this is…truly something." The drovers watched as their trail boss struggled to keep his emotions over the pictures in check. After a few moments, Pete nudged Rowdy. Rowdy nodded.
"Boss, there's a, uh, a sentiment on the back."
The men could see Favor physically steel himself from showing any more emotion, though if a person didn't know the trail boss, they wouldn't think he had reacted one way or another. They knew him though, and they saw he was moved by their gift. They all held their breath as the boss turned the watch over, waiting for him to laugh, or at least crack a smile.
Favor stared at it for a second, his lips pursed in disapproval, and then he surveyed his drovers with a critical eye. "Happy 60th." He pushed his hat farther back on his head. "All right, which one of you did this?"
When they saw he wasn't happy, everyone instantly turned to the ramrod. Rowdy showed his dislike of the betrayal, but then he seemed to admit defeat and he threw his hands up in despair.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Favor, but when Mushy gets an idea in his head…"
"What? I didn't do anything, honest," Mushy protested.
"It was Rowdy's idea, Mr. Favor," Wish defended his little assistant.
"Is it wrong?" Rowdy asked innocently.
"You know very well it is," Favor was trying to keep his angry façade up, but Rowdy was making it difficult with that wide-eyed, all pure, innocent-as-a-babe look on his face.
"Oh, I'm sorry Boss," the ramrod apologized sweetly. "Then how old are you?"
Mr. Favor glared at the smart-mouthed kid, and he grunted out a "Never mind. Let's have some cake."
Everyone liked that idea, and for the rest of the evening, the men filled up on chocolate cake and coffee. The jovial mood from the surprise party now loosened the men's tongues, and everyone was jabbering away pleasantly with one another, rehashing and rehashing old stories, but everyone enjoyed hearing them again.
Finally Pete noticed the skies darkening. "Man, it's getting late."
"Yeah, I believe my brand new watch says that it's time for us to turn in." The men grinned at his use of their present.
Pete got up. "It's time for me to relieve the guys out on nighthawk. Happy 60th Mr. Favor," he added as he departed to the remuda.
Favor sighed and made a quick, circular gaze up to the heavens. He didn't respond to Pete; instead he addressed his men. "All right, let's turn in."
"Good night everyone," Quince called as he dug his bedroll out of the wagon. "Happy 60th Mr. Favor."
"Happy 60th Mr. Favor!" Scarlet echoed.
"Happy 60th!" the others called one by one as they passed Mr. Favor on the way back from the supply wagon.
Favor stared back at them unmercifully. "Go on. Go on and get all the enjoyment y'all can out of this today, 'cause I can guarantee y'all are going to get any tomorrow." He let the men digest his threat while he gathered up his own bedroll. After a while, the camp was quiet as each man drifted off to sleep. Mr. Favor stayed awake for a long time, gazing at the pictures of his wife and daughters. He stared at them until he couldn't make them out anymore and then he just imagined their faces.
"Rowdy?" he asked quietly.
"Hmm," Rowdy had almost drifted off to sleep. "Yeah, boss?"
"Thanks for the party."
"Happy 60th, Boss," Rowdy mumbled as he turned over.
"Now this is your grandmother, and these two girls are your mamas," Grandpa Gil told his grandchildren as he showed off his watch.
"What's that on the back?"
"Oh, that was the inscription the boys had put on it. It says Happy 60th," the old man chuckled.
"What's so funny?"
"Well, because I wasn't sixty," he explained. But the children continued to stare at him in puzzlement. "See, I wasn't anywhere near sixty…so the fact that they put it on there…makes it…funny." He trailed off as his grandchildren just stared up at him, wide-eyed and not understanding that their grandfather could have been anything other than an old, old man. And Grandpa Gil realized with a jolt that the joke inscribed on the back was no longer a joke. He couldn't help feeling very depressed, that is until he heard Rowdy's voice murmur, very innocently, in his head, "It's no longer a joke? Then how old are you now, Mr. Favor?"
That's it. Thanks for reading!