by Owen Wister
HOW LIN McLEAN
THE WINNING OF
A JOURNEY IN
MY DEAR HARRY MERCER: When Lin McLean was only a hero in manuscript, he
received his first welcome and chastening beneath your patient roof. By
none so much as by you has he in private been helped and affectionately
disciplined, an now you must stand godfather to him upon this public
HOW LIN McLEAN WENT EAST
In the old days, the happy days, when Wyoming was a Territory with
a future instead of a State with a past, and the unfenced cattle
grazed upon her ranges by prosperous thousands, young Lin McLean
awaked early one morning in cow camp, and lay staring out of his
blankets upon the world. He would be twenty-two this week. He was the
youngest cow-puncher in camp. But because he could break wild horses,
he was earning more dollars a month than any man there, except one.
The cook was a more indispensable person. None save the cook was up,
so far, this morning. Lin's brother punchers slept about him on the
ground, some motionless, some shifting their prone heads to burrow
deeper from the increasing day. The busy work of spring was over, that
of the fall, or beef round-up, not yet come. It was mid-July, a lull
for these hard-riding bachelors of the saddle, and many unspent
dollars stood to Mr. McLean's credit on the ranch books.
"What's the matter with some variety?" muttered the boy in his
The long range of the mountains lifted clear in the air. They
slanted from the purple folds and furrows of the pines that richly
cloaked them, upward into rock and grassy bareness until they broke
remotely into bright peaks, and filmed into the distant lavender of
the north and the south. On their western side the streams ran into
Snake or into Green River, and so at length met the Pacific. On this
side, Wind River flowed forth from them, descending out of the Lake of
the Painted Meadows. A mere trout-brook it was up there at the top of
the divide, with easy riffles and stepping-stones in many places; but
down here, outside the mountains, it was become a streaming avenue, a
broadening course, impetuous between its two tall green walls of
cottonwood-trees. And so it wound away like a vast green ribbon across
the lilac-gray sage-brush and the yellow, vanishing plains.
"Variety, you bet!" young Lin repeated, aloud.
He unrolled himself from his bed, and brought from the garments
that made his pillow a few toilet articles. He got on his long boy
legs and limped blithely to the margin. In the mornings his slight
lameness was always more visible. The camp was at Bull Lake Crossing,
where the fork from Bull Lake joins Wind River. Here Lin found some
convenient shingle-stones, with dark, deepish water against them,
where he plunged his face and energetically washed, and came up with
the short curly hair shining upon his round head. After enough looks
at himself in the dark water, and having knotted a clean, jaunty
handkerchief at his throat, he returned with his slight limp to camp,
where they were just sitting at breakfast to the rear of the
cook-shelf of the wagon.
"Bugged up to kill!" exclaimed one, perceiving Lin's careful dress.
"He sure has not shaved again?" another inquired, with concern.
"I ain't got my opera-glasses on," answered a third.
"He has spared that pansy-blossom mustache," said a fourth.
"My spring crop," remarked young Lin, rounding on this last one,
"has juicier prospects than that rat-eaten catastrophe of last year's
hay which wanders out of your face."
"Why, you'll soon be talking yourself into a regular man," said the
But the camp laugh remained on the side of young Lin till breakfast
was ended, when the ranch foreman rode into camp.
Him Lin McLean at once addressed. "I was wantin' to speak to you,"
The experienced foreman noticed the boy's holiday appearance. "I
understand you're tired of work," he remarked.
"Who told you?" asked the bewildered Lin.
The foreman touched the boy's pretty handkerchief. "Well, I have a
way of taking things in at a glance," said he. "That's why I'm
foreman, I expect. So you've had enough work?"
"My system's full of it," replied Lin, grinning. As the foreman
stood thinking, he added, "And I'd like my time."
Time, in the cattle idiom, meant back-pay up to date.
"It's good we're not busy," said the foreman.
"Meanin' I'd quit all the same?" inquired Lin, rapidly, flushing.
"No--not meaning any offence. Catch up your horse. I want to make
the post before it gets hot."
The foreman had come down the river from the ranch at Meadow Creek,
and the post, his goal, was Fort Washakie. All this part of the
country formed the Shoshone Indian Reservation, where, by permission,
pastured the herds whose owner would pay Lin his time at Washakie. So
the young cow-puncher flung on his saddle and mounted.
"So-long!" he remarked to the camp, by way of farewell. He might
never be going to see any of them again; but the cow-punchers were not
demonstrative by habit.
"Going to stop long at Washakie?" asked one.
"Alma is not waiter-girl at the hotel now," another mentioned.
"If there's a new girl," said a third, "kiss her one for me, and
tell her I'm handsomer than you."
"I ain't a deceiver of women," said Lin.
"That's why you'll tell her," replied his friend.
"Say, Lin, why are you quittin' us so sudden, anyway?" asked the
cook, grieved to lose him.
"I'm after some variety," said the boy.
"If you pick up more than you can use, just can a little of it for
me!" shouted the cook at the departing McLean.
This was the last of camp by Bull Lake Crossing, and in the
foreman's company young Lin now took the road for his accumulated
"So you're leaving your bedding and stuff with the outfit?" said
"Brought my tooth-brush," said Lin, showing it in the breast-pocket
of his flannel shirt.
"Going to Denver?"
"Take in San Francisco?"
"Made any plans?"
"Don't want anything on your brain?"
"Nothin' except my hat, I guess," said Lin, and broke into cheerful
"'Twas a nasty baby anyhow, And it only died to spite us; 'Twas
afflicted with the cerebrow Spinal meningitis!'"
They wound up out of the magic valley of Wind River, through the
bastioned gullies and the gnome-like mystery of dry water-courses,
upward and up to the level of the huge sage-brush plain above. Behind
lay the deep valley they had climbed from, mighty, expanding, its
trees like bushes, its cattle like pebbles, its opposite side towering
also to the edge of this upper plain. There it lay, another world. One
step farther away from its rim, and the two edges of the plain had
flowed together over it like a closing sea, covering without a sign or
ripple the great country which lay sunk beneath.
"A man might think he'd dreamed he'd saw that place," said Lin to
the foreman, and wheeled his horse to the edge again. "She's sure
there, though," he added, gazing down. For a moment his boy face grew
thoughtful. "Shucks!" said he then, abruptly, "where's any joy in
money that's comin' till it arrives? I have most forgot the feel o'
He turned his horse away from the far-winding vision of the river,
and took a sharp jog after the foreman, who had not been waiting for
him. Thus they crossed the eighteen miles of high plain, and came down
to Fort Washakie, in the valley of Little Wind, before the day was
His roll of wages once jammed in his pocket like an old
handkerchief, young Lin precipitated himself out of the post-trader's
store and away on his horse up the stream among the Shoshone tepees to
an unexpected entertainment--a wolf-dance. He had meant to go and see
what the new waiter-girl at the hotel looked like, but put this off
promptly to attend the dance. This hospitality the Shoshone Indians
were extending to some visiting Ute friends, and the neighborhood was
assembled to watch the ring of painted naked savages.
The post-trader looked after the galloping Lin. "What's he quitting
his job for?" he asked the foreman.
"Same as most of 'em quit."
"Never had a boy more so. Good-hearted, willing, a plumb dare-devil
with a horse."
"And worthless," suggested the post-trader.
"Well--not yet. He's headed that way."
"Been punching cattle long?"
"Came in the country about seventy-eight, I believe, and rode for
the Bordeaux Outfit most a year, and quit. Blew in at Cheyenne till he
went broke, and worked over on to the Platte. Rode for the C. Y.
Outfit most a year, and quit. Blew in at Buffalo. Rode for Balaam
awhile on Butte Creek. Broke his leg. Went to the Drybone Hospital,
and when the fracture was commencing to knit pretty good he broke it
again at the hog-ranch across the bridge. Next time you're in Cheyenne
get Dr. Barker to tell you about that. McLean drifted to Green River
last year and went up over on to Snake, and up Snake, and was around
with a prospecting outfit on Galena Creek by Pitchstone Canyon. Seems
he got interested in some Dutchwoman up there, but she had
trouble--died, I think they said--and he came down by Meteetsee to
Wind River. He's liable to go to Mexico or Africa next."
"If you need him," said the post-trader, closing his ledger, "you
can offer him five more a month."
"That'll not hold him."
"Well, let him go. Have a cigar. The bishop is expected for Sunday,
and I've got to see his room is fixed up for him."
"The bishop!" said the foreman. "I've heard him highly spoken of."
"You can hear him preach to-morrow. The bishop is a good man."
"He's better than that; he's a man," stated the foreman--"at least
so they tell me."
Now, saving an Indian dance, scarce any possible event at the
Shoshone agency could assemble in one spot so many sorts of
inhabitants as a visit from this bishop. Inhabitants of four colors
gathered to view the wolf-dance this afternoon-- red men, white men,
black men, yellow men. Next day, three sorts came to church at the
agency. The Chinese laundry was absent. But because, indeed (as the
foreman said), the bishop was not only a good man but a man, Wyoming
held him in respect and went to look at him. He stood in the agency
church and held the Episcopal service this Sunday morning for some
brightly glittering army officers and their families, some white
cavalry, and some black infantry; the agency doctor, the post-trader,
his foreman, the government scout, three gamblers, the waiter-girl
from the hotel, the stage-driver, who was there because she was; old
Chief Washakie, white-haired and royal in blankets, with two royal
Utes splendid beside him; one benchful of squatting Indian children,
silent and marvelling; and, on the back bench, the commanding
officer's new hired-girl, and, beside her, Lin McLean.
Mr. McLean's hours were already various and successful. Even at the
wolf-dance, before he had wearied of its monotonous drumming and
pageant, his roving eye had rested upon a girl whose eyes he caught
resting upon him. A look, an approach, a word, and each was soon
content with the other. Then, when her duties called her to the post
from him and the stream's border, with a promise for next day he
sought the hotel and found the three gamblers anxious to make his
acquaintance; for when a cow-puncher has his pay many people will take
an interest in him. The three gamblers did not know that Mr. McLean
could play cards. He left them late in the evening fat with their
money, and sought the tepees of the Arapahoes. They lived across the
road from the Shoshones, and among their tents the boy remained until
morning. He was here in church now, keeping his promise to see the
bishop with the girl of yesterday; and while he gravely looked at the
bishop, Miss Sabina Stone allowed his arm to encircle her waist. No
soldier had achieved this yet, but Lin was the first cow-puncher she
had seen, and he had given her the handkerchief from round his neck.
The quiet air blew in through the windows and door, the pure, light
breath from the mountains; only, passing over their foot-hills it had
caught and carried the clear aroma of the sage-brush. This it brought
into church, and with this seemed also to float the peace and great
silence of the plains. The little melodeon in the corner, played by
one of the ladies at the post, had finished accompanying the hymn, and
now it prolonged a few closing chords while the bishop paused before
his address, resting his keen eyes on the people. He was dressed in a
plain suit of black with a narrow black tie. This was because the
Union Pacific Railroad, while it had delivered him correctly at Green
River, had despatched his robes towards Cheyenne.
Without citing chapter and verse the bishop began:
"And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great
way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on
his neck and kissed him."
The bishop told the story of that surpassing parable, and then
proceeded to draw from it a discourse fitted to the drifting destinies
in whose presence he found himself for one solitary morning. He spoke
unlike many clergymen. His words were chiefly those which the people
round him used, and his voice was more like earnest talking than
Miss Sabina Stone felt the arm of her cow-puncher loosen slightly,
and she looked at him. But he was looking at the bishop, no longer
gravely but with wide-open eyes, alert. When the narrative reached the
elder brother in the field, and how he came to the house and heard
sounds of music and dancing, Miss Stone drew away from her companion
and let him watch the bishop, since he seemed to prefer that. She took
to reading hymns vindictively. The bishop himself noted the
sun-browned boy face and the wide-open eyes. He was too far away to
see anything but the alert, listening position of the young
cow-puncher. He could not discern how that, after he had left the
music and dancing and begun to draw morals, attention faded from those
eyes that seemed to watch him, and they filled with dreaminess. It was
very hot in church. Chief Washakie went to sleep, and so did a
corporal; but Lin McLean sat in the same alert position till Miss
Stone pulled him and asked if he intended to sit down through the
hymn. Then church was out. Officers, Indians, and all the people
dispersed through the great sunshine to their dwellings, and the
cow-puncher rode beside Sabina in silence.
"What are you studying over, Mr. McLean?" inquired the lady, after
a hundred yards.
"Did you ever taste steamed Duxbury clams?" asked Lin, absently.
"No, indeed. What's them?"
"Oh, just clams. Yu' have drawn butter, too." Mr. McLean fell
"I guess I'll be late for settin' the colonel's table. Good-bye,"
said Sabina, quickly, and swished her whip across the pony, who
scampered away with her along the straight road across the plain to
Lin caught up with her at once and made his peace.
"Only," protested Sabina, "I ain't used to gentlemen taking me out
and-- well, same as if I was a collie-dog. Maybe it's Wind River
But she went riding with him up Trout Creek in the cool of the
afternoon. Out of the Indian tepees, scattered wide among the flat
levels of sage-brush, smoke rose thin and gentle, and vanished. They
splashed across the many little running channels which lead water
through that thirsty soil, and though the range of mountains came no
nearer, behind them the post, with its white, flat buildings and green
trees, dwindled to a toy village.
"My! but it's far to everywheres here," exclaimed Sabina, "and it's
little you're sayin' for yourself to-day, Mr. McLean. I'll have to do
the talking. What's that thing now, where the rocks are?"
"That's Little Wind River Canyon," said the young man. "Feel like
goin' there, Miss Stone?"
"Why, yes. It looks real nice and shady like, don't it? Let's."
So Miss Stone turned her pony in that direction.
"When do your folks eat supper?" inquired Lin.
"Half-past six. Oh, we've lots of time! Come on."
"How many miles per hour do you figure that cayuse of yourn can
travel?" Lin asked.
"What are you a-talking about, anyway? You're that strange to-day,"
said the lady.
"Only if we try to make that canyon, I guess you'll be late settin'
the colonel's table," Lin remarked, his hazel eyes smiling upon her.
"That is, if your horse ain't good for twenty miles an hour. Mine
ain't, I know. But I'll do my best to stay with yu'."
"You're the teasingest man--" said Miss Stone, pouting. "I might
have knowed it was ever so much further nor it looked."
"Well, I ain't sayin' I don't want to go, if yu' was desirous of
campin' out to-night."
"Mr. McLean! Indeed, and I'd do no such thing!" and Sabina giggled.
A sage-hen rose under their horses' feet, and hurtled away heavily
over the next rise of ground, taking a final wide sail out of sight.
"Something like them partridges used to," said Lin, musingly.
"Partridges?" inquired Sabina.
"Used to be in the woods between Lynn and Salem. Maybe the woods
are gone by this time. Yes, they must be gone, I guess."
Presently they dismounted and sought the stream bank.
"We had music and dancing at Thanksgiving and such times," said
Lin, his wiry length stretched on the grass beside the seated Sabina.
He was not looking at her, but she took a pleasure in watching him,
his curly head and bronze face, against which the young mustache
showed to its full advantage.
"I expect you used to dance a lot," remarked Sabina, for a subject.
"Yes. Do yu' know the Portland Fancy?"
Sabina did not, and her subject died away.
"Did anybody ever tell you you had good eyes?" she inquired next.
"Why, sure," said Lin, waking for a moment; "but I like your color
best. A girl's eyes will mostly beat a man's."
"Indeed, I don't think so!" exclaimed poor Sabina, too much
expectant to perceive the fatal note of routine with which her
transient admirer pronounced this gallantry. He informed her that hers
were like the sea, and she told him she had not yet looked upon the
"Never?" said he. "It's a turruble pity you've never saw salt
water. It's different from fresh. All around home it's blue--awful
blue in July-- around Swampscott and Marblehead and Nahant, and around
the islands. I've swam there lots. Then our home bruck up and we went
to board in Boston." He snapped off a flower in reach of his long arm.
Suddenly all dreaminess left him.
"I wonder if you'll be settin' the colonel's table when I come
back?" he said.
Miss Stone was at a loss.
"I'm goin' East to-morrow--East, to Boston."
Yesterday he had told her that sixteen miles to Lander was the
farthest journey from the post that he intended to make--the farthest
from the post and her.
"I hope nothing ain't happened to your folks?" said she.
"I ain't got no folks," replied Lin, "barring a brother. I expect
he is taking good care of himself."
"Don't you correspond?"
"Well, I guess he would if there was anything to say. There ain't
Sabina thought they must have quarrelled, but learned that they had
not. It was time for her now to return and set the colonel's table, so
Lin rose and went to bring her horse. When he had put her in her
saddle she noticed him step to his own.
"Why, I didn't know you were lame!" cried she.
"Shucks!" said Lin. "It don't cramp my style any." He had sprung on
his horse, ridden beside her, leaned and kissed her before she got any
measure of his activity.
"That's how," said he; and they took their homeward way galloping.
"No," Lin continued, "Frank and me never quarrelled. I just thought
I'd have a look at this Western country. Frank, he thought dry-goods
was good enough for him, and so we're both satisfied, I expect. And
that's a lot of years now. Whoop ye!" he suddenly sang out, and fired
his six-shooter at a jack-rabbit, who strung himself out flat and flew
over the earth.
Both dismounted at the parade-ground gate, and he kissed her again
when she was not looking, upon which she very properly slapped him;
and he took the horses to the stable. He sat down to tea at the hotel,
and found the meal consisted of black potatoes, gray tea, and a
guttering dish of fat pork. But his appetite was good, and he remarked
to himself that inside the first hour he was in Boston he would have
steamed Duxbury clams. Of Sabina he never thought again, and it is
likely that she found others to take his place. Fort Washakie was one
hundred and fifty miles from the railway, and men there were many and
girls were few.
The next morning the other passengers entered the stage with
resignation, knowing the thirty-six hours of evil that lay before
them. Lin climbed up beside the driver. He had a new trunk now.
"Don't get full, Lin," said the clerk, putting the mail-sacks in at
"My plans ain't settled that far yet," replied Mr. McLean.
"Leave it out of them," said the voice of the bishop, laughing,
inside the stage.
It was a cool, fine air. Gazing over the huge plain down in which
lies Fort Washakie, Lin heard the faint notes of the trumpet on the
parade ground, and took a good-bye look at all things. He watched the
American flag grow small, saw the circle of steam rising away down by
the hot springs, looked at the bad lands beyond, chemically pink and
rose amid the vast, natural, quiet-colored plain. Across the spreading
distance Indians trotted at wide spaces, generally two large bucks on
one small pony, or a squaw and pappoose--a bundle of parti-colored
rags. Presiding over the whole rose the mountains to the west, serene,
lifting into the clearest light. Then once again came the now tiny
music of the trumpet.
"When do yu' figure on comin' back?" inquired the driver.
"Oh, I'll just look around back there for a spell," said Lin.
"About a month, I guess."
He had seven hundred dollars. At Lander the horses are changed; and
during this operation Lin's friends gathered and said, where was any
sense in going to Boston when you could have a good time where you
were? But Lin remained sitting safe on the stage. Toward evening, at
the bottom of a little dry gulch some eight feet deep, the horses
decided it was a suitable place to stay. It was the bishop who
persuaded them to change their minds. He told the driver to give up
beating, and unharness. Then they were led up the bank, quivering, and
a broken trace was spliced with rope. Then the stage was forced on to
the level ground, the bishop proving a strong man, familiar with the
gear of vehicles. They crossed through the pass among the quaking asps
and the pines, and, reaching Pacific Springs, came down again into
open country. That afternoon the stage put its passengers down on the
railroad platform at Green River; this was the route in those days
before the mid-winter catastrophes of frozen passengers led to its
abandonment. The bishop was going west. His robes had passed him on
the up stage during the night. When the reverend gentleman heard this
he was silent for a very short moment, and then laughed vigorously in
"I can understand how you swear sometimes," he said to Lin McLean;
"but I can't, you see. Not even at this."
The cow-puncher was checking his own trunk to Omaha.
"Good-bye and good luck to you," continued the bishop, giving his
hand to Lin. "And look here--don't you think you might leave that
'getting full' out of your plans?"
Lin gave a slightly shamefaced grin. "I don't guess I can, sir," he
said. "I'm givin' yu' straight goods, yu' see," he added
"That's right. But you look like a man who could stop when he'd had
enough. Try that. You're man enough--and come and see me whenever
we're in the same place."
He went to the hotel. There were several hours for Lin to wait. He
walked up and down the platform till the stars came out and the bright
lights of the town shone in the saloon windows. Over across the way
piano-music sounded through one of the many open doors.
"Wonder if the professor's there yet?" said Lin, and he went across
the railroad tracks. The bartender nodded to him as he passed through
into the back room. In that place were many tables, and the flat
clicking and rattle of ivory counters sounded pleasantly through the
music. Lin did not join the stud-poker game. He stood over a table at
which sat a dealer and a player, very silent, opposite each other, and
whereon were painted sundry cards, numerals, and the colors red and
black in squares. The legend "Jacks pay" was also clearly painted. The
player placed chips on whichever insignia of fortune he chose, and the
dealer slid cards (quite fairly) from the top of a pack that lay held
within a skeleton case made with some clamped bands of tin. Sometimes
the player's pile of chips rose high, and sometimes his sumptuous
pillar of gold pieces was lessened by one. It was very interesting and
pretty to see; Lin had much better have joined the game of stud-poker.
Presently the eye of the dealer met the eye of the player. After that
slight incident the player's chip pile began to rise, and rose
steadily, till the dealer made admiring comments on such a run of
luck. Then the player stopped, cashed in, and said good-night, having
nearly doubled the number of his gold pieces.
"Five dollars' worth," said Lin, sitting down in the vacant seat.
The chips were counted out to him. He played with unimportant
shiftings of fortune until a short while before his train was due, and
then, singularly enough, he discovered he was one hundred and fifty
dollars behind the game.
"I guess I'll leave the train go without me," said Lin, buying five
dollars" worth more of ivory counters. So that train came and went,
removing eastward Mr. McLean's trunk.
During the hour that followed his voice grew dogged and his remarks
briefer, as he continually purchased more chips from the now surprised
and sympathetic dealer. It was really wonderful how steadily Lin
lost-- just as steadily as his predecessor had won after that meeting
of eyes early in the evening.
When Lin was three hundred dollars out, his voice began to clear of
its huskiness and a slight humor revolved and sparkled in his eye.
When his seven hundred dollars had gone to safer hands and he had
nothing left at all but some silver fractions of a dollar, his robust
cheerfulness was all back again. He walked out and stood among the
railroad tracks with his hands in his pockets, and laughed at himself
in the dark. Then his fingers came on the check for Omaha, and he
laughed loudly. The trunk by this hour must be nearing Rawlins; it was
going east anyhow.
"I'm following it, you bet," he declared, kicking the rail. "Not
yet though. Nor I'll not go to Washakie to have 'em josh me. And
yonder lays Boston." He stretched his arm and pointed eastward. Had he
seen another man going on in this fashion alone in the dark, among
side-tracked freight cars, he would have pitied the poor fool. "And I
guess Boston'll have to get along without me for a spell, too,"
continued Lin. "A man don't want to show up plumb broke like that
younger son did after eatin' with the hogs the bishop told about. His
father was a Jim-dandy, that hog chap's. Hustled around and set 'em up
when he come back home. Frank, he'd say to me 'How do you do,
brother?' and he'd be wearin' a good suit o' clothes and--no, sir, you
Lin now watched the great headlight of a freight train bearing
slowly down into Green River from the wilderness. Green River is the
end of a division, an epoch in every train's journey. Lanterns swung
signals, the great dim thing slowed to its standstill by the coal
chute, its locomotive moved away for a turn of repose, the successor
backed steaming to its place to tackle a night's work. Cars were
shifted, heavily bumping and parting.
"Hello, Lin!" A face was looking from the window of the caboose.
"Hello!" responded Mr. McLean, perceiving above his head Honey
Wiggin, a good friend of his. They had not met for three years.
"They claimed you got killed somewheres. I was sorry to hear it."
Honey offered his condolence quite sincerely.
"Bruck my leg," corrected Lin, "if that's what they meant."
"I expect that's it," said Honey. "You've had no other trouble?"
"Been boomin'," said Lin.
From the mere undertone in their voices it was plain they were good
friends, carefully hiding their pleasure at meeting.
"Wher're yu' bound?" inquired Honey.
"East," said Lin.
"Better jump in here, then. We're goin' west."
"That just suits me," said Lin.
The busy lanterns wagged among the switches, the steady lights of
the saloons shone along the town's wooden facade. From the bluffs that
wall Green River the sweet, clean sage-brush wind blew down in
currents freshly through the coal-smoke. A wrench passed through the
train from locomotive to caboose, each fettered car in turn strained
into motion and slowly rolled over the bridge and into silence from
the steam and the bells of the railroad yard. Through the open windows
of the caboose great dull-red cinders rattled in, and the whistles of
distant Union Pacific locomotives sounded over the open plains ominous
and long, like ships at sea.
Honey and Lin sat for a while, making few observations and far
between, as their way is between whom flows a stream of old-time
understanding. Mutual whiskey and silence can express much friendship,
"What are yu' doing at present?" Lin inquired.
Now prospecting means hunting gold, except to such spirits as the
boy Lin. To these it means finding gold. So Lin McLean listened to the
talk of his friend Honey Wiggin as the caboose trundled through the
night. He saw himself in a vision of the near future enter a bank and
thump down a bag of gold-dust. Then he saw the new, clean money the
man would hand him in exchange, bills with round zeroes half covered
by being folded over, and heavy, satisfactory gold pieces. And then he
saw the blue water that twinkles beneath Boston. His fingers came
again on his trunk check. He had his ticket, too. And as dawn now
revealed the gray country to him, his eye fell casually upon a
mile-post: "Omaha, 876." He began to watch for them:--877, 878. But
the trunk would really get to Omaha.
"What are yu' laughin' about?" asked Honey.
"Oh, the wheels."
"Don't yu' hear 'em?" said Lin. "'Variety,' they keep a-sayin'.
'Variety, variety.' "
"Huh!" said Honey, with scorn. "'Ker-chunka-chunk' 's all I make
"You're no poet," observed Mr. McLean.
As the train moved into Evanston in the sunlight, a gleam of dismay
shot over Lin's face, and he ducked his head out of sight of the
window, but immediately raised it again. Then he leaned out, waving
his arm with a certain defiant vigor. But the bishop on the platform
failed to notice this performance, though it was done for his sole
benefit, nor would Lin explain to the inquisitive Wiggin what the
matter was. Therefore, very naturally, Honey drew a conclusion for
himself, looked quickly out of the window, and, being disappointed in
what he expected to see remarked, sulkily, "Do yu' figure I care what
sort of a lookin' girl is stuck on yu' in Evanston?" And upon this
young Lin laughed so loudly that his friend told him he had never seen
a man get so foolish in three years.
By-and-by they were in Utah, and, in the company of Ogden friends,
forgot prospecting. Later they resumed freight trains and journeyed
north In Idaho they said good-bye to the train hands in the caboose,
and came to Little Camas, and so among the mountains near Feather
Creek. Here the berries were of several sorts, and growing riper each
day, and the bears in the timber above knew this, and came down
punctually with the season, making variety in the otherwise even life
of the prospectors. It was now August, and Lin sat on a wet hill
making mud-pies for sixty days. But the philosopher's stone was not in
the wash at that placer, nor did Lin gather gold-dust sufficient to
cover the nail of his thumb. Then they heard of an excitement at Obo,
Nevada, and, hurrying to Obo, they made some more mud-pies.
Now and then, eating their fat bacon at noon, Honey would say,
"Lin, wher're yu' goin'?"
And Lin always replied, "East." This became a signal for drinks.
For beauty and promise, Nevada is a name among names. Nevada!
Pronounce the word aloud. Does it not evoke mountains and clear air,
heights of untrodden snow and valleys aromatic with the pine and
musical with falling waters? Nevada! But the name is all. Abomination
of desolation presides over nine-tenths of the place. The sun beats
down as on a roof of zinc, fierce and dull. Not a drop of water to a
mile of sand. The mean ash-dump landscape stretches on from nowhere to
nowhere, a spot of mange. No portion of the earth is more lacquered
with paltry, unimportant ugliness.
There is gold in Nevada, but Lin and Honey did not find it.
Prospecting of the sort they did, besides proving unfruitful, is not
comfortable. Now and again, losing patience, Lin would leave his work
and stalk about and gaze down at the scattered men who stooped or
knelt in the water. Passing each busy prospector, Lin would read on
every broad, upturned pair of overalls the same label, "Levi Strauss,
No. 2," with a picture of two lusty horses hitched to one of these
garments and vainly struggling to split them asunder. Lin remembered
he was wearing a label just like that too, and when he considered all
things he laughed to himself. Then, having stretched the ache out of
his long legs, he would return to his ditch. As autumn wore on, his
feet grew cold in the mushy gravel they were sunk in. He beat off the
sand that had stiffened on his boots, and hated Obo, Nevada. But he
held himself ready to say "East" whenever he saw Honey coming along
with the bottle. The cold weather put an end to this adventure. The
ditches froze and filled with snow, through which the sordid gravel
heaps showed in a dreary fashion; so the two friends drifted
Near the small new town of Mesa, Arizona, they sat down again in
the dirt. It was milder here, and, when the sun shone, never quite
froze. But this part of Arizona is scarcely more grateful to the eye
than Nevada. Moreover, Lin and Honey found no gold at all. Some men
near them found a little. Then in January, even though the sun shone,
it quite froze one day.
"We're seein' the country, anyway," said Honey.
"Seein' hell," said Lin, "and there's more of it above ground than
"What'll we do?" Honey inquired.
"Have to walk for a job--a good-payin' job," responded the hopeful
cow-puncher. And he and Honey went to town.
Lin found a job in twenty-five minutes, becoming assistant to the
apothecary in Mesa. Established at the drug-store, he made up the
simpler prescriptions. He had studied practical pharmacy in Boston
between the ages of thirteen and fifteen, and, besides this
qualification, the apothecary had seen him when he first came into
Mesa, and liked him. Lin made no mistakes that he or any one ever knew
of; and, as the mild weather began, he materially increased the
apothecary's business by persuading him to send East for a soda-water
fountain. The ladies of the town clustered around this entertaining
novelty, and while sipping vanilla and lemon bought knickknacks. And
the gentlemen of the town discovered that whiskey with soda and
strawberry syrup was delicious, and produced just as competent
effects. A group of them were generally standing in the shop and
shaking dice to decide who should pay for the next, while Lin
administered to each glass the necessary ingredients. Thus money began
to come to him a little more steadily than had been its wont, and he
divided with the penniless Honey.
But Honey found fortune quickly, too. Through excellent
card-playing he won a pinto from a small Mexican horse-thief who came
into town from the South, and who cried bitterly when he delivered up
his pet pony to the new owner. The new owner, being a man of the world
and agile on his feet, was only slightly stabbed that evening as he
walked to the dance-hall at the edge of the town. The Mexican was
buried on the next day but one.
The pony stood thirteen two, and was as long as a steamboat. He had
white eyelashes, pink nostrils, and one eye was bright blue. If you
spoke pleasantly to him, he rose instantly on his hind-legs and tried
to beat your face. He did not look as if he could run, and that was
what made him so valuable. Honey travelled through the country with
him, and every gentleman who saw the pinto and heard Honey became
anxious to get up a race. Lin always sent money for Wiggin to place,
and he soon opened a bank account, while Honey, besides his
racing-bridle, bought a silver-inlaid one, a pair of forty-dollar
spurs, and a beautiful saddle richly stamped. Every day (when in Mesa)
Honey would step into the drug-store and inquire, "Lin, wher're yu'
But Lin never answered any more. He merely came to the soda-water
fountain with the whiskey. The passing of days brought a choked season
of fine sand and hard blazing sky. Heat rose up from the ground and
hung heavily over man and beast. Many insects sat out in the sun
rattling with joy; the little tearing river grew clear from the
swollen mud, and shrank to a succession of standing pools; and the
fat, squatting cactus bloomed everywhere into butter-colored flowers
big as tulips in the sand. There were artesian wells in Mesa, and the
water did not taste very good; but if you drank from the standing
pools where the river had been, you repaired to the drug-store almost
immediately. A troop of wandering players came dotting along the
railroad, and, reaching Mesa, played a brass-band up and down the
street, and announced the powerful drama of "East Lynne." Then Mr.
McLean thought of the Lynn marshes that lie between there and Chelsea,
and of the sea that must look so cool. He forgot them while following
the painful fortunes of the Lady Isabel; but, going to bed in the back
part of the drug-store, he remembered how he used to beat everybody
swimming in the salt water.
"I'm goin'," he said. Then he got up, and, striking the light, he
inspected his bank account. "I'm sure goin'," he repeated, blowing the
light out, "and I can buy the fatted calf myself, you bet!" for he had
often thought of the bishop's story. "You bet!" he remarked once more
in a muffled voice, and was asleep in a minute. The apothecary was
sorry to have him go, and Honey was deeply grieved.
"I'd pull out with yer," he said, "only I can do business round
Yuma and westward with the pinto."
For three farewell days Lin and Honey roved together in all sorts
of places, where they were welcome, and once more Lin rode a horse and
was in his native element. Then he travelled to Deming, and so through
Denver to Omaha, where he was told that his trunk had been sold for
some months. Besides a suit of clothes for town wear, it had contained
a buffalo coat for his brother--something scarce to see in these days.
"Frank'll have to get along without it," he observed,
philosophically, and took the next eastbound train.
If you journey in a Pullman from Mesa to Omaha without a waistcoat,
and with a silk handkerchief knotted over the collar of your flannel
shirt instead of a tie, wearing, besides, tall, high-heeled boots, a
soft, gray hat with a splendid brim, a few people will notice you, but
not the majority. New Mexico and Colorado are used to these things. As
Iowa, with its immense rolling grain, encompasses you, people will
stare a little more, for you're getting near the East, where
cow-punchers are not understood. But in those days the line of
cleavage came sharp-drawn at Chicago. West of there was still
tolerably west, but east of there was east indeed, and the Atlantic
Ocean was the next important stopping-place. In Lin's new train, good
gloves, patent-leathers, and silence prevailed throughout the
sleeping-car, which was for Boston without change. Had not home
memories begun impetuously to flood his mind, he would have felt
himself conspicuous. Town clothes and conventions had their due value
with him. But just now the boy's single- hearted thoughts were far
from any surroundings, and he was murmuring to himself, "To-morrow!
There were ladies in that blue plush car for Boston who looked at
Lin for thirty miles at a stretch; and by the time Albany was reached
the next day one or two of them commented that he was the most
attractive-looking man they had ever seen! Whereas, beyond his
tallness, and wide-open, jocular eyes, eyes that seemed those of a not
highly conscientious wild animal, there was nothing remarkable about
young Lin except stage effect. The conductor had been annoyed to have
such a passenger; but the cow-puncher troubled no one, and was
extremely silent. So evidently was he a piece of the true frontier
that curious and hopeful fellow-passengers, after watching him with
diversion, more than once took a seat next to him. He met their chatty
inquiries with monosyllables so few and so unprofitable in their quiet
politeness that the passengers soon gave him up. At Springfield he
sent a telegram to his brother at the great dry-goods establishment
that employed him.
The train began its homestretch after Worcester, and whirled and
swung by hills and ponds he began to watch for, and through stations
with old wayside names. These flashed on Lin's eye as he sat with his
hat off and his forehead against the window, looking: Wellesley. Then,
not long after, Riverside. That was the Charles River, and did the
picnic woods used to be above the bridge or below? West Newton;
Newtonville; Newton. "Faneuil's next," he said aloud in the car, as
the long-forgotten home-knowledge shone forth in his recollection. The
traveller seated near said, "Beg pardon?" but, turning, wondered at
the all-unconscious Lin, with his forehead pressed against the glass.
The blue water flashed into sight, and soon after they were running in
the darkness between high walls; but the cow-puncher never moved,
though nothing could be seen. When the porter announced "Boston," he
started up and followed like a sheep in the general exodus. Down on
the platform he moved along with the slow crowd till some one touched
him, and, wheeling round, he seized both his brother's hands and swore
a good oath of joy.
There they stood--the long, brown fellow with the silk handkerchief
knotted over his flannel shirt, greeting tremendously the spruce
civilian, who had a rope-colored mustache and bore a fainthearted
resemblance to him. The story was plain on its face to the passers-by;
and one of the ladies who had come in the car with Lin turned twice,
and smiled gently to herself.
But Frank McLean's heart did not warm. He felt that what he had
been afraid of was true; and he saw he was being made conspicuous. He
saw men and women stare in the station, and he saw them staring as he
and his Western brother went through the streets. Lin strode along,
sniffing the air of Boston, looking at all things, and making it a
stretch for his sleek companion to keep step with him. Frank thought
of the refined friends he should have to introduce his brother to; for
he had risen with his salary, and now belonged to a small club where
the paying-tellers of banks played cards every night, and the head
clerk at the Parker House was president. Perhaps he should not have to
reveal the cow-puncher to these shining ones. Perhaps the cow-puncher
would not stay very long. Of course he was glad to see him again, and
he would take him to dine at some obscure place this first evening.
But this was not Lin's plan. Frank must dine with him, at the Parker
House. Frank demurred, saying it was he that should be host.
"And," he added, "they charge up high for wines at Parker's." Then
for the twentieth time he shifted a sidelong eye over his brother's
"You're goin' to take your grub with me," said Lin. "That's all
right, I guess. And there ain't any 'no' about it. Things is not the
same like as if father was livin'--(his voice softened)--and here to
see me come home. Now I'm good for several dinners with wines charged
up high, I expect, nor it ain't nobody in this world, barrin' just Lin
McLean, that I've any need to ask for anything. 'Mr. McLean,' says I
to Lin, 'can yu' spare me some cash?' 'Why, to be sure, you bet!' And
we'll start off with steamed Duxbury clams." The cow-puncher slapped
his pocket, where the coin made a muffled chinking. Then he said,
gruffly, "I suppose Swampscott's there yet?"
"Yes," said Frank. "It's a dead little town, is Swampscott."
"I guess I'll take a look at the old house tomorrow," Lin pursued.
"Oh, that's been pulled down since-- I forget the year they
improved that block."
Lin regarded in silence his brother, who was speaking so jauntily
of the first and last home they had ever had.
"Seventy-nine is when it was," continued Frank. "So you can save
the trouble of travelling away down to Swampscott."
"I guess I'll go to the graveyard, anyway," said the cow-puncher in
his offish voice, and looking fixedly in front of him.
They came into Washington Street, and again the elder McLean
uneasily surveyed the younger's appearance.
But the momentary chill had melted from the heart of the genial
Lin. "After to-morrow," said he, laying a hand on his brother's
shoulder, "yu' can start any lead yu' please, and I guess I can stay
with yu' pretty close, Frank."
Frank said nothing. He saw one of the members of his club on the
other side of the way, and the member saw him, and Frank caught
diverted amazement on the member's face. Lin's hand weighed on his
shoulder, and the stress became too great. "Lin," said he, "while
you're running with our crowd, you don't want to wear that style of
hat, you know."
It may be that such words can in some way be spoken at such a time,
but not in the way that these were said. The frozen fact was
irrevocably revealed in the tone of Frank's voice.
The cow-puncher stopped dead short, and his hand slid off his
brother's shoulder. "You've made it plain," he said, evenly, slanting
his steady eyes down into Frank's. "You've explained yourself fairly
well. Run along with your crowd, and I'll not bother yu' more with
comin' round and causin' yu' to feel ashamed. It's a heap better to
understand these things at once, and save making a fool of yourself
any longer 'n yu' need to. I guess there ain't no more to be said,
only one thing. If yu' see me around on the street, don't yu' try any
talk, for I'd be liable to close your jaw up, and maybe yu'd have more
of a job explainin' that to your crowd than you've had makin' me see
what kind of a man I've got for a brother."
Frank found himself standing alone before any reply to these
sentences had occurred to him. He walked slowly to his club, where a
friend joked him on his glumness.
Lin made a sore failure of amusing himself that night; and in the
bright, hot morning he got into the train for Swampscott. At the
graveyard he saw a woman lay a bunch of flowers on a mound and kneel,
"There ain't nobody to do that for this one," thought the
cow-puncher, and looked down at the grave he had come to see, then
absently gazed at the woman.
She had stolen away from her daily life to come here where her
grief was shrined, and now her heart found it hard to bid the lonely
place goodbye. So she lingered long, her thoughts sunk deep in the
motionless past. When she at last looked up, she saw the tall, strange
man re-enter from the street among the tombs, and deposit on one of
them an ungainly lump of flowers. They were what Lin had been able
hastily to buy in Swampscott. He spread them gently as he had noticed
the woman do, but her act of kneeling he did not imitate. He went away
quickly. For some hours he hung about the little town, aimlessly
loitering, watching the salt water where he used to swim.
"Yu' don't belong any more, Lin," he miserably said at length, and
took his way to Boston.
The next morning, determined to see the sights, he was in New York,
and drifted about to all places night and day, till his money was
mostly gone, and nothing to show for it but a somewhat pleasure-beaten
face and a deep hatred of the crowded, scrambling East. So he suddenly
bought a ticket for Green River, Wyoming, and escaped from the city
that seemed to numb his good humor.
When, after three days, the Missouri lay behind him and his
holiday, he stretched his legs and took heart to see out of the window
the signs of approaching desolation. And when on the fourth day
civilization was utterly emptied out of the world, he saw a bunch of
cattle, and, galloping among them, his spurred and booted kindred. And
his manner took on that alertness a horse shows on turning into the
home road. As the stage took him toward Washakie, old friends turned
up every fifty miles or so, shambling out of a cabin or a stable, and
saying, in casual tones, "Hello, Lin, where've you been at?"
At Lander, there got into the stage another old acquaintance, the
Bishop of Wyoming. He knew Lin at once, and held out his hand, and his
greeting was hearty.
"It took a week for my robes to catch up with me," he said,
laughing. Then, in a little while, "How was the East?"
"First-rate," said Lin, not looking at him. He was shy of the
conversation's taking a moral turn. But the bishop had no intention of
reverting--at any rate, just now--to their last talk at Green River,
and the advice he had then given.
"I trust your friends were all well?" he said.
"I guess they was healthy enough," said Lin.
"I suppose you found Boston much changed? It's a beautiful city."
"Good enough town for them that likes it, I expect," Lin replied.
The bishop was forming a notion of what the matter must be, but he
had no notion whatever of what now revealed itself.
"Mr. Bishop," the cow-puncher said, "how was that about that fellow
you told about that's in the Bible somewheres?--he come home to his
folks, and they--well there was his father saw him comin'"--He
Then the bishop remembered the wide-open eyes, and how he had
noticed them in the church at the agency intently watching him. And,
just now, what were best to say he did not know. He looked at the
young man gravely.
"Have yu' got a Bible?" pursued Lin. "For, excuse me, but I'd like
yu' to read that onced."
So the bishop read, and Lin listened. And all the while this good
clergyman was perplexed how to speak--or if indeed to speak at this
time at all--to the heart of the man beside him for whom the parable
had gone so sorely wrong. When the reading was done, Lin had not taken
his eyes from the bishop's face.
"How long has that there been wrote?" he asked.
He was told about how long.
"Mr. Bishop," said Lin, "I ain't got good knowledge of the Bible,
and I never figured it to be a book much on to facts. And I tell you
I'm more plumb beat about it's having that elder brother, and him
being angry, down in black and white two thousand years ago,
than--than if I'd seen a man turn water into wine, for I'd have knowed
that ain't so. But the elder brother is facts--dead-sure facts. And
they knowed about that, and put it down just the same as life two
thousand years ago!"
"Well," said the bishop, wisely ignoring the challenge as to
miracles, "I am a good twenty years older than you, and all that time
I've been finding more facts in the Bible every day I have lived."
Lin meditated. "I guess that could be," he said. "Yes; after that
yu've been a-readin', and what I know for myself that I didn't know
till lately, I guess that could be."
Then the bishop talked with exceeding care, nor did he ask
uncomfortable things, or moralize visibly. Thus he came to hear how it
had fared with Lin his friend, and Lin forgot altogether about its
being a parson he was delivering the fulness of his heart to. "And
come to think," he concluded, "it weren't home I had went to back
East, layin' round them big cities, where a man can't help but feel
strange all the week. No, sir! Yu' can blow in a thousand dollars like
I did in New York, and it'll not give yu' any more home feelin' than
what cattle has put in a stock-yard. Nor it wouldn't have in Boston
neither. Now this country here" (he waved his hand towards the endless
sage-brush), "seein' it onced more, I know where my home is, and I
wouldn't live nowheres else. Only I ain't got no father watching for
me to come up Wind River."
The cow-puncher stated this merely as a fact, and without any note
of self-pity. But the bishops face grew very tender, and he looked
away from Lin. Knowing his man--for had he not seen many of this kind
in his desert diocese?--he forbore to make any text from that last
sentence the cow-puncher had spoken. Lin talked cheerfully on about
what he should now do. The round-up must be somewhere near Du Noir
Creek. He would join it this season, but next he should work over to
the Powder River country. More business was over there, and better
chances for a man to take up some land and have a ranch of his own. As
they got out at Fort Washakie, the bishop handed him a small book, in
which he had turned several leaves down, carefully avoiding any page
that related of miracles.
"You need not read it through, you know," he said, smiling; "just
read where I have marked, and see if you don't find some more facts.
Goodbye-- and always come and see me."
The next morning he watched Lin riding slowly out of the post
towards Wind River, leading a single pack-horse. By-and-by the little
moving dot went over the ridge. And as the bishop walked back into the
parade-ground, thinking over the possibilities in that untrained manly
soul, he shook his head sorrowfully.
THE WINNING OF THE BISCUIT-SHOOTER
It was quite clear to me that Mr. McLean could not know the news.
Meeting him to-day had been unforeseen--unforeseen and so pleasant
that the thing had never come into my head until just now, after both
of us had talked and dined our fill, and were torpid with
I had found Lin here at Riverside in the morning. At my horse's
approach to the cabin, it was he and not the postmaster who had come
precipitately out of the door.
"I'm turruble pleased to see yu'," he had said, immediately.
"What's happened?" said I, in some concern at his appearance.
And he piteously explained: "Why, I've been here all alone since
This was indeed all; and my hasty impressions of shooting and a
corpse gave way to mirth over the child and his innocent grievance
that he had blurted out before I could get off my horse.
Since when, I inquired of him, had his own company become such a
shock to him?
"As to that," replied Mr. McLean, a thought ruffled, "when a man
expects lonesomeness he stands it like he stands anything else, of
course. But when he has figured on finding company--say--" he broke
off (and vindictiveness sparkled in his eye)--"when you're lucky
enough to catch yourself alone, why, I suppose yu' just take a chair
and chat to yourself for hours.--You've not seen anything of Tommy?"
he pursued with interest.
I had not; and forthwith Lin poured out to me the pent-up
complaints and sociability with which he was bursting. The foreman had
sent him over here with a sackful of letters for the post, and to
bring back the week's mail for the ranch. A day was gone now, and
nothing for a man to do but sit and sit. Tommy was overdue fifteen
hours. Well, you could have endured that, but the neighbors had all
locked their cabins and gone to Buffalo. It was circus week in
Buffalo. Had I ever considered the money there must be in the circus
business? Tommy had taken the outgoing letters early yesterday. Nobody
had kept him waiting. By all rules he should have been back again last
night. Maybe the stage was late reaching Powder River, and Tommy had
had to lay over for it. Well, that would justify him. Far more likely
he had gone to the circus himself and taken the mail with him. Tommy
was no type of man for postmaster. Except drawing the allowance his
mother in the East gave him first of every month, he had never shown
punctuality that Lin could remember. Never had any second thoughts,
and awful few first ones. Told bigger lies than a small man ought,
"Has successes, though," said I, wickedly.
"Huh!" went on Mr. McLean. "Successes! One ice-cream-soda success.
And she"--Lin's still wounded male pride made him plaintive--"why,
even that girl quit him, once she got the chance to appreciate how
insignificant he was as compared with the size of his words. No, sir.
Not one of 'em retains interest in Tommy."
Lin was unsaddling and looking after my horse, just because he was
glad to see me. Since our first acquaintance, that memorable summer of
Pitchstone Canyon when he had taken such good care of me and such bad
care of himself, I had learned pretty well about horses and camp craft
in general. He was an entire boy then. But he had been East since,
East by a route of his own discovering--and from his account of that
journey it had proved, I think, a sort of spiritual experience. And
then the years of our friendship were beginning to roll up. Manhood of
the body he had always richly possessed; and now, whenever we met
after a season's absence and spoke those invariable words which all
old friends upon this earth use to each other at meeting--"You haven't
changed, you haven't changed at all!"--I would wonder if manhood had
arrived in Lin's boy soul. And so to-day, while he attended to my
horse and explained the nature of Tommy (a subject he dearly loved
just now), I looked at him and took an intimate, superior pride in
feeling how much more mature I was than he, after all.
There's nothing like a sense of merit for making one feel
aggrieved, and on our return to the cabin Mr. McLean pointed with
disgust to some firewood.
"Look at those sorrowful toothpicks," said he: "Tommy's work."
So Lin, the excellent hearted, had angrily busied himself, and
chopped a pile of real logs that would last a week. He had also
cleaned the stove, and nailed up the bed, the pillow-end of which was
on the floor. It appeared the master of the house had been sleeping in
it the reverse way on account of the slant. Thus had Lin cooked and
dined alone, supped alone, and sat over some old newspapers until
bed-time alone with his sense of virtue. And now here it was long
after breakfast, and no Tommy yet.
"It's good yu' come this forenoon," Lin said to me. "I'd not have
had the heart to get up another dinner just for myself. Let's eat
Accordingly, we had richly eaten, Lin and I. He had gone out among
the sheds and caught some eggs (that is how he spoke of it), we had
opened a number of things in cans, and I had made my famous dish of
evaporated apricots, in which I managed to fling a suspicion of
caramel throughout the stew.
"Tommy'll be hot about these," said Lin, joyfully, as we ate the
eggs. "He don't mind what yu' use of his canned goods--pickled salmon
and truck. He is hospitable all right enough till it comes to an egg.
Then he'll tell any lie. But shucks! Yu' can read Tommy right through
his clothing. 'Make yourself at home, Lin,' says he, yesterday. And he
showed me his fresh milk and his stuff. 'Here's a new ham,' says he;
'too bad my damned hens ain't been layin'. The sons-o'guns have quit
on me ever since Christmas.' And away he goes to Powder River for the
mail. 'You swore too heavy about them hens,' thinks I. Well, I expect
he may have travelled half a mile by the time I'd found four nests."
I am fond of eggs, and eat them constantly--and in Wyoming they
were always a luxury. But I never forget those that day, and how Lin
and I enjoyed them thinking of Tommy. Perhaps manhood was not quite
established in my own soul at that time--and perhaps that is the
reason why it is the only time I have ever known which I would live
over again, those years when people said, "You are old enough to know
better"--and one didn't care!
Salmon, apricots, eggs, we dealt with them all properly, and I had
some cigars. It was now that the news came back into my head.
"What do you think of--" I began, and stopped.
I spoke out of a long silence, the slack, luxurious silence of
digestion. I got no answer, naturally, from the torpid Lin, and then
it occurred to me that he would have asked me what I thought, long
before this, had he known. So, observing how comfortable he was, I
"What is the most important event that can happen in this country?"
Mr. McLean heard me where he lay along the floor of the cabin on
his back, dozing by the fire; but his eyes remained closed. He waggled
one limp, open hand slightly at me, and torpor resumed her dominion
"I want to know what you consider the most important event that can
happen in this country," said I, again, enunciating each word with
The throat and lips of Mr. McLean moved, and a sulky sound came
forth that I recognized to be meant for the word "War." Then he rolled
over so that his face was away from me, and put an arm over his eyes.
"I don't mean country in the sense of United States," said I. "I
mean this country here, and Bear Creek, and--well, the ranches
southward for fifty miles, say. Important to this section."
"Mosquitoes'll be due in about three weeks," said Lin. "Yu' might
leave a man rest till then."
"I want your opinion," said I.
"Oh, misery! Well, a raise in the price of steers."
"Yu' said yu' wanted my opinion," said Lin. "Seems like yu' merely
figure on givin' me yours."
"Very well," said I. "Very well, then."
I took up a copy of the Cheyenne Sun. It was five weeks old, and I
soon perceived that I had read it three weeks ago; but I read it again
for some minutes now.
"I expect a railroad would be more important," said Mr. McLean,
persuasively, from the floor.
"Than a rise in steers?" said I, occupied with the Cheyenne Sun.
"Oh yes. Yes, a railroad certainly would."
"It's got to be money, anyhow," stated Lin, thoroughly wakened.
"Money in some shape."
"How little you understand the real wants of the country!" said I,
coming to the point. "It's a girl."
Mr. McLean lay quite still on the floor.
"A girl," I repeated. "A new girl coming to this starved country."
The cow-puncher took a long, gradual stretch and began to smile.
"Well," said he, "yu' caught me--if that's much to do when a man is
half-witted with dinner and sleep." He closed his eyes again and lay
with a specious expression of indifference. But that sort of thing is
a solitary entertainment, and palls. "Starved," he presently muttered.
"We are kind o' starved that way I'll admit. More dollars than girls
to the square mile. And to think of all of us nice, healthy,
young--bet yu' I know who she is!" he triumphantly cried. He had sat
up and levelled a finger at me with the throw-down jerk of a marksman.
I nodded. This was not the lady's name--he could not recall her
name--but his geography of her was accurate.
One day in February my friend, Mrs. Taylor over on Bear Creek, had
received a letter--no common event for her. Therefore, during several
days she had all callers read it just as naturally as she had them all
see the new baby, and baby and letter had both been brought out for
me. The letter was signed,
"Ever your afectionite frend. "Katie Peck,
and was not easy to read, here and there. But you could piece out
the drift of it, and there was Mrs. Taylor by your side, eager to help
you when you stumbled. Miss Peck wrote that she was overworked in
Sidney, Nebraska, and needed a holiday. When the weather grew warm she
should like to come to Bear Creek and be like old times. "Like to come
and be like old times" filled Mrs. Taylor with sentiment and the
cow-punchers with expectation. But it is a long way from February to
warm weather on Bear Creek, and even cow-punchers will forget about a
new girl if she does not come. For several weeks I had not heard Miss
Peck mentioned, and old girls had to do. Yesterday, however, when I
paid a visit to Miss Molly Wood (the Bear Creek schoolmistress), I
found her keeping in order the cabin and the children of the Taylors,
while they were gone forty-five miles to the stage station to meet
"Well," said Lin, judicially, "Miss Wood is a lady."
"Yes," said I, with deep gravity. For I was thinking of an occasion
when Mr. McLean had discovered that truth somewhat abruptly.
Lin thoughtfully continued. "She is--she's--she's--what are you
"Oh, nothing. You don't see quite so much of Miss Wood as you used
to, do you?"
"Huh! So that's got around. Well, o' course I'd ought t've knowed
better, I suppose. All the same, there's lots and lots of girls do
like gettin' kissed against their wishes--and you know it."
"But the point would rather seem to be that she--"
"Would rather seem! Don't yu' start that professor style o' yours,
or I'll--I'll talk more wickedness in worse language than ever yu've
heard me do yet."
"Impossible!" I murmured, sweetly, and Master Lin went on.
"As to point--that don't need to be explained to me. She's a lady
all right." He ruminated for a moment. "She has about scared all the
boys off, though," he continued. "And that's what you get by being
refined," he concluded, as if Providence had at length spoken in this
"She has not scared off a boy from Virginia, I notice," said I. "He
was there yesterday afternoon again. Ridden all the way over from Sunk
Creek. Didn't seem particularly frightened."
"Oh, well, nothin' alarms him--not even refinement," said Mr.
McLean, with his grin. "And she'll fool your Virginian like she done
the balance of us. You wait. Shucks! If all the girls were that
chilly, why, what would us poor punchers do?"
"You have me cornered," said I, and we sat in a philosophical
silence, Lin on the floor still, and I at the window. There I looked
out upon a scene my eyes never tired of then, nor can my memory now.
Spring had passed over it with its first, lightest steps. The pastured
levels undulated in emerald. Through the many-changing sage, that just
this moment of to-day was lilac, shone greens scarce a week old in the
dimples of the foot-hills; and greens new-born beneath today's sun
melted among them. Around the doubling of the creek in the willow
thickets glimmered skeined veils of yellow and delicate crimson. The
stream poured turbulently away from the snows of the mountains behind
us. It went winding in many folds across the meadows into distance and
smallness, and so vanished round the great red battlement of wall
beyond. Upon this were falling the deep hues of afternoon--violet,
rose, and saffron, swimming and meeting as if some prism had dissolved
and flowed over the turrets and crevices of the sandstone. Far over
there I saw a dot move.
"At last!" said I.
Lin looked out of the window. "It's more than Tommy," said he, at
once; and his eyes made it out before mine could. "It's a wagon.
That's Tommy's bald-faced horse alongside. He's fooling to the
finish," Lin severely commented, as if, after all this delay, there
should at least be a homestretch.
Presently, however, a homestretch seemed likely to occur. The
bald-faced horse executed some lively manoeuvres, and Tommy's voice
reached us faintly through the light spring air. He was evidently
howling the remarkable strain of yells that the cow-punchers invented
as the speech best understood by cows--Oi-ee, yah, whoop-yahye-ee,
oooo-oop, oop, oop-oop-oop-oop-yah-hee!" But that gives you no idea of
it. Alphabets are worse than photographs. It is not the lungs of every
man that can produce these effects, nor even from armies, eagles, or
mules were such sounds ever heard on earth. The cow-puncher invented
them. And when the last cow-puncher is laid to rest (if that, alas!
have not already befallen) the yells will be forever gone. Singularly
enough, the cattle appeared to appreciate them. Tommy always did them
very badly, and that was plain even at this distance. Nor did he give
us a homestretch, after all. The bald-faced horse made a number of
evolutions and returned beside the wagon.
"Showin' off," remarked Lin. "Tommy's showin' off." Suspicion
crossed his face, and then certainty. "Why, we might have knowed
that!" he exclaimed, in dudgeon. "It's her." He hastened outside for a
better look, and I came to the door myself. "That's what it is," said
he. "It's the girl. Oh yes. That's Taylor's buckskin pair he traded
Balaam for. She come by the stage all right yesterday, yu' see, but
she has been too tired to travel, yu' see, or else, maybe, Taylor
wanted to rest his buckskins--they're four-year-olds. Or else--anyway,
they laid over last night at Powder River, and Tommy he has just laid
over too, yu' see, holdin' the mail back on us twenty-four hours--and
that's your postmaster!"
It was our postmaster, and this he had done, quite as the
virtuously indignant McLean surmised. Had I taken the same interest in
the new girl, I suppose that I too should have felt virtuously
Lin and I stood outside to receive the travellers. As their
cavalcade drew near, Mr. McLean grew silent and watchful, his whole
attention focused upon the Taylors' vehicle. Its approach was joyous.
Its gear made a cheerful clanking, Taylor cracked his whip and
encouragingly chirruped to his buckskins, and Tommy's apparatus
jingled musically. For Tommy wore upon himself and his saddle all the
things you can wear in the Wild West. Except that his hair was not
long, our postmaster might have conducted a show and minted gold by
exhibiting his romantic person before the eyes of princes. He began
with a black-and-yellow rattlesnake skin for a hat-band, he continued
with a fringed and beaded shirt of buckskin, and concluded with large,
tinkling spurs. Of course, there were things between his shirt and his
heels, but all leather and deadly weapons. He had also a riata, a
cuerta, and tapaderos, and frequently employed these Spanish names for
the objects. I wish that I had not lost Tommy's photograph in Rocky
Mountain costume. You must understand that he was really pretty, with
blue eyes, ruddy cheeks, and a graceful figure; and, besides, he had
twenty-four hours' start of poor dusty Lin, whose best clothes were
You might have supposed that it would be Mrs. Taylor who should
present us to her friend from Sidney, Nebraska; but Tommy on his horse
undertook the office before the wagon had well come to a standstill.
"Good friends of mine, and gentlemen, both," said he to Miss Peck; and
to us, "A lady whose acquaintance will prove a treat to our section."
We all bowed at each other beneath the florid expanse of these
recommendations, and I was proceeding to murmur something about its
being a long journey and a fine day when Miss Peck cut me short,
"Well," she exclaimed to Tommy, "I guess I'm pretty near ready for
them eggs you've spoke so much about."
I have not often seen Mr. McLean lose his presence of mind. He
needed merely to exclaim, "Why, Tommy, you told me your hens had not
been laying since Christmas!" and we could have sat quiet and let
Tommy try to find all the eggs that he could. But the new girl was a
sore embarrassment to the cow-puncher's wits. Poor Lin stood by the
wheels of the wagon. He looked up at Miss Peck, he looked over at
Tommy, his features assumed a rueful expression, and he wretchedly
"Why, Tommy, I've been and eat 'em."
"Well, if that ain't!" cried Miss Peck. She stared with interest at
Lin as he now assisted her to descend.
"All?" faltered Tommy. "Not the four nests?"
"I've had three meals, yu' know," Lin reminded him, deprecatingly.
"I helped him," said I. "Ten innocent, fresh eggs. But we have left
some ham. Forgive us, please."
"I declare!" said Miss Peck, abruptly, and rolled her sluggish,
inviting eyes upon me. "You're a case, too, I expect."
But she took only brief note of me, although it was from head to
foot. In her stare the dull shine of familiarity grew vacant, and she
turned back to Lin McLean. "You carry that," said she, and gave the
pleased cow-puncher a hand valise.
"I'll look after your things, Miss Peck," called Tommy, now
springing down from his horse. The egg tragedy had momentarily stunned
"You'll attend to the mail first, Mr. Postmaster!" said the lady,
but favoring him with a look from her large eyes. "There's plenty of
gentlemen here." With that her glance favored Lin. She went into the
cabin, he following her close, with the Taylors and myself in the
rear. "Well, I guess I'm about collapsed!" said she, vigorously, and
sank upon one of Tommy's chairs.
The fragile article fell into sticks beneath her, and Lin leaped to
her assistance. He placed her upon a firmer foundation. Mrs. Taylor
brought a basin and towel to bathe the dust from her face, Mr. Taylor
produced whiskey, and I found sugar and hot water. Tommy would
doubtless have done something in the way of assistance or
restoratives, but he was gone to the stable with the horses.
"Shall I get your medicine from the valise, deary?" inquired Mrs.
"Not now," her visitor answered; and I wondered why she should take
such a quick look at me.
"We'll soon have yu' independent of medicine," said Lin, gallantly.
"Our climate and scenery here has frequently raised the dead."
"You're a case, anyway!" exclaimed the sick lady with rich
The cow-puncher now sat himself on the edge of Tommy's bed, and,
throwing one leg across the other, began to raise her spirits with
cheerful talk. She steadily watched him--his face sometimes, sometimes
his lounging, masculine figure. While he thus devoted his attentions
to her, Taylor departed to help Tommy at the stable, and good Mrs.
Taylor, busy with supper for all of us in the kitchen, expressed her
joy at having her old friend of childhood for a visit after so many
"Sickness has changed poor Katie some," said she. "But I'm hoping
she'll get back her looks on Bear Creek."
"She seems less feeble than I had understood," I remarked.
"Yes, indeed! I do believe she's feeling stronger. She was that
tired and down yesterday with the long stage-ride, and it is so
lonesome! But Taylor and I heartened her up, and Tommy came with the
mail, and to-day she's real spruced-up like, feeling she's among
"How long will she stay?" I inquired.
"Just as long as ever she wants! Me and Katie hasn't met since we
was young girls in Dubuque, for I left home when I married Taylor, and
he brought me to this country right soon; and it ain't been like
Dubuque much, though if I had it to do over again I'd do just the
same, as Taylor knows. Katie and me hasn't wrote even, not till this
February, for you always mean to and you don't. Well, it'll be like
old times. Katie'll be most thirty-four, I expect. Yes. I was
seventeen and she was sixteen the very month I was married. Poor
thing! She ought to have got some good man for a husband, but I expect
she didn't have any chance, for there was a big fam'ly o' them girls,
and old Peck used to act real scandalous, getting drunk so folks
didn't visit there evenings scarcely at all. And so she quit home, it
seems, and got a position in the railroad eating-house at Sidney, and
now she has poor health with feeding them big trains day and night."
"A biscuit-shooter!" said I.
Loyal Mrs. Taylor stirred some batter in silence. "Well," said she
then, "I'm told that's what the yard-hands of the railroad call them
poor waiter-girls. You might hear it around the switches at them
I had heard it in higher places also, but meekly accepted the
If you have made your trans-Missouri journeys only since the new
era of dining-cars, there is a quantity of things you have come too
late for, and will never know. Three times a day in the brave days of
old you sprang from your scarce-halted car at the summons of a gong.
You discerned by instinct the right direction, and, passing steadily
through doorways, had taken, before you knew it, one of some sixty
chairs in a room of tables and catsup bottles. Behind the chairs,
standing attention, a platoon of Amazons, thick-wristed,
pink-and-blue, began immediately a swift chant. It hymned the total
bill-of-fare at a blow. In this inexpressible ceremony the name of
every dish went hurtling into the next, telescoped to shapelessness.
Moreover, if you stopped your Amazon in the middle, it dislocated her,
and she merely went back and took a fresh start. The chant was always
the same, but you never learned it. As soon as it began, your mind
snapped shut like the upper berth in a Pullman. You must have uttered
appropriate words--even a parrot will--for next you were eating
things--pie, ham, hot cakes--as fast as you could. Twenty minutes of
swallowing, and all aboard for Ogden, with your pile-driven stomach
dumb with amazement. The Strasburg goose is not dieted with greater
velocity, and "biscuit-shooter" is a grand word. Very likely some
Homer of the railroad yards first said it--for what men upon the
present earth so speak with imagination's tongue as we Americans?
If Miss Peck had been a biscuit-shooter, I could account readily
for her conversation, her equipped deportment, the maturity in her
round, blue, marble eye. Her abrupt laugh, something beyond gay, was
now sounding in response to Mr. McLean's lively sallies, and I found
him fanning her into convalescence with his hat. She herself made but
few remarks, but allowed the cow-puncher to entertain her, merely
exclaiming briefly now and then, "I declare!" and "If you ain't!" Lin
was most certainly engaging, if that was the lady's meaning. His
wide-open eyes sparkled upon her, and he half closed them now and then
to look at her more effectively. I suppose she was worth it to him. I
have forgotten to say that she was handsome in a large
California-fruit style. They made a good-looking pair of animals. But
it was in the presence of Tommy that Master Lin shone more
energetically than ever, and under such shining Tommy was
transparently restless. He tried, and failed, to bring the
conversation his way, and took to rearranging the mail and the
"Supper's ready," he said, at length. "Come right in, Miss Peck;
right in here. This is your seat--this one, please. Now you can see my
fields out of the window."
"You sit here," said the biscuit-shooter to Lin; and thus she was
between them. "Them's elegant!" she presently exclaimed to Tommy. "Did
you cook 'em?"
I explained that the apricots were of my preparation.
"Indeed!" said she, and returned to Tommy, who had been telling her
of his ranch, his potatoes, his horses. "And do you punch cattle,
too?" she inquired of him.
"Me?" said Tommy, slightingly; "gave it up years ago; too empty a
life for me. I leave that to such as like it. When a man owns his own
property"--Tommy swept his hand at the whole landscape--" he takes to
more intellectual work."
"Lickin' postage-stamps," Mr. McLean suggested, sourly.
"You lick them and I cancel them," answered the postmaster; and it
does not seem a powerful rejoinder. But Miss Peck uttered her laugh.
"That's one on you," she told Lin. And throughout this meal it was
Tommy who had her favor. She partook of his generous supplies; she
listened to his romantic inventions, the trails he had discovered, the
bears he had slain; and after supper it was with Tommy, and not with
Lin, that she went for a little walk.
"Katie was ever a tease," said Mrs. Taylor of her childhood friend,
and Mr. Taylor observed that there was always safety in numbers.
"She'll get used to the ways of this country quicker than our little
school-marm," said he.
Mr. McLean said very little, but read the new-arrived papers. It
was only when bedtime dispersed us, the ladies in the cabin and the
men choosing various spots outside, that he became talkative again for
a while. We lay in the blank--we had spread on some soft, dry sand in
preference to the stable, where Taylor and Tommy had gone. Under the
contemplative influence of the stars, Lin fell into generalization.
"Ever notice," said he, "how whiskey and lyin' act the same on a
I did not feel sure that I had.
"Just the same way. You keep either of 'em up long enough, and yu'
get to require it. If Tommy didn't lie some every day, he'd get sick."
I was sleepy, but I murmured assent to this, and trusted he would
not go on.
"Ever notice," said he, "how the victims of the whiskey and lyin'
habit get to increasing the dose?"
"Yes," said I.
"Him roping six bears!" pursued Mr. McLean, after further
contemplation. "Or any bear. Ever notice how the worser a man's lyin'
the silenter other men'll get? Why's that, now?"
I believe that I made a faint sound to imply that I was following
"Men don't get took in. But ladies now, they--"
Here he paused again, and during the next interval of contemplation
I sank beyond his reach.
In the morning I left Riverside for Buffalo, and there or
thereabouts I remained for a number of weeks. Miss Peck did not enter
my thoughts, nor did I meet any one to remind me of her, until one day
I stopped at the drug-store. It was not for drugs, but gossip, that I
went. In the daytime there was no place like the apothecary's for
meeting men and hearing the news. There I heard how things were going
everywhere, including Bear Creek.
All the cow-punchers liked the new girl up there, said gossip. She
was a great addition to society. Reported to be more companionable
than the school-marm, Miss Molly Wood, who had been raised too far
east, and showed it. Vermont, or some such dude place. Several had
been in town buying presents for Miss Katie Peck. Tommy Postmaster had
paid high for a necklace of elk-tushes the government scout at
McKinney sold him. Too bad Miss Peck did not enjoy good health. Shorty
had been in only yesterday to get her medicine again. Third bottle.
Had I heard the big joke on Lin McLean? He had promised her the skin
of a big bear he knew the location of, and Tommy got the bear.
Two days after this I joined one of the roundup camps at sunset.
They had been working from Salt Creek to Bear Creek, and the Taylor
ranch was in visiting distance from them again, after an interval of
gathering and branding far across the country. The Virginian, the
gentle-voiced Southerner, whom I had last seen lingering with Miss
Wood, was in camp. Silent three-quarters of the time, as was his way,
he sat gravely watching Lin McLean. That person seemed silent also, as
was not his way quite so much.
"Lin," said the Southerner, "I reckon you're failin'."
Mr. McLean raised a sombre eye, but did not trouble to answer
"A healthy man's laigs ought to fill his pants," pursued the
Virginian. The challenged puncher stretched out a limb and showed his
muscles with young pride.
"And yu' cert'nly take no comfort in your food," his ingenious
friend continued, slowly and gently.
"I'll eat you a match any day and place yu' name," said Lin.
"It ain't sca'cely hon'able," went on the Virginian, "to waste away
durin' the round-up. A man owes his strength to them that hires it. If
he is paid to rope stock he ought to rope stock, and not leave it
dodge or pull away."
"It's not many dodge my rope," boasted Lin, imprudently.
"Why, they tell me as how that heifer of the Sidney-Nebraska brand
got plumb away from yu', and little Tommy had to chase afteh her."
Lin sat up angrily amid the laughter, but reclined again. "I'll
improve," said he, "if yu' learn me how yu' rope that Vermont stock so
handy. Has she promised to be your sister yet?" he added.
"Is that what they do?" inquired the Virginian, serenely. "I have
never got related that way. Why, that'll make Tommy your
And now, indeed, the camp laughed a loud, merciless laugh.
But Lin was silent. Where everybody lives in a glass-house the
victory is to him who throws the adroitest stone. Mr. McLean was
readier witted than most, but the gentle, slow Virginian could be a
master when he chose.
"Tommy has been recountin' his wars up at the Taylors'," he now
told the camp. "He has frequently campaigned with General Crook,
General Miles, and General Ruger, all at onced. He's an exciting
fighter, in conversation, and kep' us all scared for mighty nigh an
hour. Miss Peck appeared interested in his statements."
"What was you doing at the Taylors' yourself?" demanded Lin.
"Visitin' Miss Wood," answered the Virginian, with entire ease. For
he also knew when to employ the plain truth as a bluff. "You'd ought
to write to Tommy's mother, Lin, and tell her what a dare-devil her
son is gettin' to be. She would cut off his allowance and bring him
home, and you would have the runnin' all to yourself."
"I'll fix him yet," muttered Mr. McLean. "Him and his wars."
With that he rose and left us.
The next afternoon he informed me that if I was riding up the creek
to spend the night he would go for company. In that direction we
started, therefore, without any mention of the Taylors or Miss Peck. I
was puzzled. Never had I seen him thus disconcerted by woman. With him
woman had been a transient disturbance. I had witnessed a series of
flighty romances, where the cow-puncher had come, seen, often
conquered, and moved on. Nor had his affairs been of the sort to teach
a young man respect. I am putting it rather mildly.
For the first part of our way this afternoon he was moody, and
after that began to speak with appalling wisdom about life. Life, he
said, was a serious matter. Did I realize that? A man was liable to
forget it. A man was liable to go sporting and helling around till he
waked up some day and found all his best pleasures had become just a
business. No interest, no surprise, no novelty left, and no cash in
the bank. Shorty owed him fifty dollars. Shorty would be able to pay
that after the round-up, and he, Lin, would get his time and rustle
altogether some five hundred dollars. Then there was his homestead
claim on Box Elder, and the surveyors were coming in this fall. No
better location for a home in this country than Box Elder. Wood,
water, fine land. All it needed was a house and ditches and buildings
and fences, and to be planted with crops. Such chances and
considerations should sober a man and make him careful what he did.
"I'd take in Cheyenne on our wedding-trip, and after that I'd settle
right down to improving Box Elder," concluded Mr. McLean, suddenly.
His real intentions flashed upon me for the first time. I had not
remotely imagined such a step.
"Marry her!" I screeched in dismay. "Marry her!"
I don't know which word was the worse to emphasize at such a
moment, but I emphasized both thoroughly.
"I didn't expect yu'd act that way," said the lover. He dropped
behind me fifty yards and spoke no more.
Not at once did I beg his pardon for the brutality I had been
surprised into. It is one of those speeches that, once said, is said
But it was not that which withheld me. As I thought of the tone in
which my friend had replied, it seemed to me sullen, rather than
deeply angry or wounded--resentment at my opinion not of her character
so much as of his choice! Then I began to be sorry for the fool, and
schemed for a while how to intervene. But have you ever tried
intervention? I soon abandoned the idea, and took a way to be
forgiven, and to learn more.
"Lin," I began, slowing my horse, "you must not think about what I
"I'm thinkin' of pleasanter subjects," said he, and slowed his own
"Oh, look here!" I exclaimed.
"Well?" said he. He allowed his horse to come within about ten
"Astonishment makes a man say anything," I proceeded. "And I'll say
again you're too good for her--and I'll say I don't generally believe
in the wife being older than the husband."
"What's two years?" said Lin.
I was near screeching out again, but saved myself. He was not quite
twenty-five, and I remembered Mrs. Taylor's unprejudiced computation
of the biscuit-shooter's years. It is a lady's prerogative, however,
to estimate her own age.
"She had her twenty-seventh birthday last month," said Lin, with
sentiment, bringing his horse entirely abreast of mine. "I promised
her a bear-skin."
"Yes," said I, "I heard about that in Buffalo."
Lin's face grew dusky with anger. "No doubt yu' heard about it,"
said he. "I don't guess yu' heard much about anything else. I ain't
told the truth to any of 'em--but her." He looked at me with a certain
hesitation. "I think I will," he continued. "I don't mind tellin'
He began to speak in a strictly business tone, while he evened the
coils of rope that hung on his saddle.
"She had spoke to me about her birthday, and I had spoke to her
about something to give her. I had offered to buy her in town whatever
she named, and I was figuring to borrow from Taylor. But she fancied
the notion of a bear-skin. I had mentioned about some cubs. I had
found the cubs where the she-bear had them cached by the foot of a big
boulder in the range over Ten Sleep, and I put back the leaves and
stuff on top o' them little things as near as I could the way I found
them, so that the bear would not suspicion me. For I was aiming to get
her. And Miss Peck, she sure wanted the hide for her birthday. So I
went back. The she-bear was off, and I crumb up inside the rock, and I
waited a turruble long spell till the sun travelled clean around the
canyon. Mrs. Bear come home though, a big cinnamon; and I raised my
gun, but laid it down to see what she'd do. She scrapes around and
snuffs, and the cubs start whining, and she talks back to 'em. Next
she sits up awful big, and lifts up a cub and holds it to her close
with both her paws, same as a person. And she rubbed her ear agin the
cub, and the cub sort o' nipped her, and she cuffed the cub, and the
other cub came toddlin', and away they starts rolling all three of
'em! I watched that for a long while. That big thing just nursed and
played with them little cubs, beatin' em for a change onced in a
while, and talkin', and onced in a while she'd sit up solemn and look
all around so life-like that I near busted. Why, how was I goin' to
spoil that? So I come away, very quiet, you bet! for I'd have hated to
have Mrs. Bear notice me. Miss Peck, she laughed. She claimed I was
scared to shoot."
"After you had told her why it was?" said I.
"Before and after. I didn't tell her first, because I felt kind of
foolish. Then Tommy went and he killed the bear all right, and she has
the skin now. Of course the boys joshed me a heap about gettin' beat
"But since she has taken you?" said I.
"She ain't said it. But she will when she understands Tommy."
I fancied that the lady understood. The once I had seen her she
appeared to me as what might be termed an expert in men, and one to
understand also the reality of Tommy's ranch and allowance, and how
greatly these differed from Box Elder. Probably the one thing she
could not understand was why Lin spared the mother and her cubs. A
deserted home in Dubuque, a career in a railroad eating-house, a
somewhat vague past, and a present lacking context--indeed, I hoped
with all my heart that Tommy would win!
"Lin," said I, "I'm backing him."
"Back away!" said he. "Tommy can please a woman--him and his blue
eyes-- but he don't savvy how to make a woman want him, not any better
than he knows about killin' Injuns."
"Did you hear about the Crows?" said I.
"About young bucks going on the war-path? Shucks! That's put up by
the papers of this section. They're aimin' to get Uncle Sam to order
his troops out, and then folks can sell hay and stuff to 'em. If Tommy
believed any Crows--" he stopped, and suddenly slapped his leg.
"What's the matter now?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing." He took to singing, and his face grew roguish to its
full extent. "What made yu' say that to me?" he asked, presently.
"About marrying. Yu' don't think I'd better."
"Onced in a while yu' tell me I'm flighty. Well, I am. Whoop-ya!"
"Colts ought not to marry," said I.
"Sure!" said he. And it was not until we came in sight of the
Virginian's black horse tied in front of Miss Wood's cabin next the
Taylors' that Lin changed the lively course of thought that was
evidently filling his mind.
"Tell yu'," said he, touching my arm confidentially and pointing to
the black horse, "for all her Vermont refinement she's a woman just
the same. She likes him dangling round her so earnest--him that no
body ever saw dangle before. And he has quit spreein' with the boys.
And what does he get by it? I am glad I was not raised good enough to
appreciate the Miss Woods of this world," he added, defiantly--"except
at long range."
At the Taylors' cabin we found Miss Wood sitting with her admirer,
and Tommy from Riverside come to admire Miss Peck. The biscuit-shooter
might pass for twenty-seven, certainly. Something had agreed with
her--whether the medicine, or the mountain air, or so much masculine
company; whatever had done it, she had bloomed into brutal comeliness.
Her hair looked curlier, her figure was shapelier, her teeth shone
whiter, and her cheeks were a lusty, overbearing red. And there sat
Molly Wood talking sweetly to her big, grave Virginian; to look at
them, there was no doubt that he had been "raised good enough" to
appreciate her, no matter what had been his raising!
Lin greeted every one jauntily. "How are yu', Miss Peck? How are
yu', Tommy?" said he. "Hear the news, Tommy? Crow Injuns on the
"I declare!" said the biscuit-shooter.
The Virginian was about to say something, but his eye met Lin's,
and then he looked at Tommy. Then what he did say was, "I hadn't been
goin' to mention it to the ladies until it was right sure."
"You needn't to be afraid, Miss Peck," said Tommy. "There's lots of
"Who's afraid?" said the biscuit-shooter.
"Oh," said Lin, "maybe it's like most news we get in this country.
Two weeks stale and a lie when it was fresh."
"Of course," said Tommy.
"Hello, Tommy!" called Taylor from the lane. "Your horse has broke
his rein and run down the field."
Tommy rose in disgust and sped after the animal.
"I must be cooking supper now," said Katie, shortly.
"I'll stir for yu'," said Lin, grinning at her.
"Come along then," said she; and they departed to the adjacent
Miss Wood's gray eyes brightened with mischief. She looked at her
Virginian, and she looked at me.
"Do you know," she said, "I used to be so afraid that when Bear
Creek wasn't new any more it might become dull!"
"Miss Peck doesn't find it dull either," said I.
Molly Wood immediately assumed a look of doubt. "But mightn't it
become just--just a little trying to have two gentlemen so
very--determined, you know?"
"Only one is determined," said the Virginian
Molly looked inquiring.
"Lin is determined Tommy shall not beat him. That's all it amounts
"Dear me, what a notion!"
"No, ma'am, no notion. Tommy--well, Tommy is considered harmless,
ma'am. A cow-puncher of reputation in this country would cert'nly
never let Tommy get ahaid of him that way."
"It's pleasant to know sometimes how much we count!" exclaimed
"Why, ma'am," said the Virginian, surprised at her flash of
indignation, "where is any countin' without some love?"
"Do you mean to say that Mr. McLean does not care for Miss Peck?"
"I reckon he thinks he does. But there is a mighty wide difference
between thinkin' and feelin', ma'am."
I saw Molly's eyes drop from his, and I saw the rose deepen in her
cheeks. But just then a loud voice came from the kitchen.
"You, Lin, if you try any of your foolin' with me, I'll histe yu's
over the jiste!"
"All cow-punchers--" I attempted to resume.
"Quit now, Lin McLean," shouted the voice, "or I'll put yus through
that window, and it shut."
"Well, Miss Peck, I'm gettin' most a full dose o' this treatment.
Ever since yu' come I've been doing my best. And yu' just cough in my
face. And now I'm going to quit and cough back."
"Would you enjoy walkin' out till supper, ma'am?" inquired the
Virginian as Molly rose. "You was speaking of gathering some flowers
"Why, yes," said Molly, blithely. "And you'll come?" she added to
But I was on the Virginian's side. "I must look after my horse,"
said I, and went down to the corral.
Day was slowly going as I took my pony to the water. Corncliff
Mesa, Crowheart Butte, these shone in the rays that came through the
canyon. The canyon's sides lifted like tawny castles in the same
light. Where I walked the odor of thousands of wild roses hung over
the margin where the thickets grew. High in the upper air, magpies
were sailing across the silent blue. Somewhere I could hear Tommy
explaining loudly how he and General Crook had pumped lead into
hundreds of Indians; and when supper- time brought us all back to the
door he was finishing the account to Mrs. Taylor. Molly and the
Virginian arrived bearing flowers, and he was saying that few
cow-punchers had any reason for saving their money.
"But when you get old?" said she.
"We mostly don't live long enough to get old, ma'am," said he,
simply. "But I have a reason, and I am saving."
"Give me the flowers," said Molly. And she left him to arrange them
on the table as Lin came hurrying out.
"I've told her," said he to the Southerner and me, "that I've asked
her twiced, and I'm going to let her have one more chance. And I've
told her that if it's a log cabin she's marryin', why Tommy is a sure
good wooden piece of furniture to put inside it. And I guess she knows
there's not much wooden furniture about me. I want to speak to you."
He took the Virginian round the corner. But though he would not
confide in me, I began to discern something quite definite at supper.
"Cattle men will lose stock if the Crows get down as far as this,"
he said, casually, and Mrs. Taylor suppressed a titter.
"Ain't it hawses the're repawted as running off?" said the
"Chap come into the round-up this afternoon," said Lin. "But he was
rattled, and told a heap o' facts that wouldn't square."
"Of course they wouldn't," said Tommy, haughtily.
"Oh, there's nothing in it," said Lin, dismissing the subject.
"Have yu' been to the opera since we went to Cheyenne, Mrs.
Mrs. Taylor had not.
"Lin," said the Virginian, "did yu ever see that opera Cyarmen?"
"You bet. Fellow's girl quits him for a bullfighter. Gets him up in
the mountains, and quits him. He wasn't much good--not in her class o'
sports, smugglin' and such."
"I reckon she was doubtful of him from the start. Took him to the
mount'ins to experiment, where they'd not have interruption," said the
"Talking of mountains," said Tommy, "this range here used to be a
great place for Indians till we ran 'em out with Terry. Pumped lead
into the red sons-of-guns."
"You bet," said Lin. "Do yu' figure that girl tired of her
bull-fighter and quit him, too?"
"I reckon," replied the Virginian, "that the bull-fighter wore
"Fans and taverns and gypsies and sportin'," said Lin. "My! but I'd
like to see them countries with oranges and bull-fights! Only I expect
Spain, maybe, ain't keepin' it up so gay as when 'Carmen' happened."
The table-talk soon left romance and turned upon steers and
alfalfa, a grass but lately introduced in the country. No further
mention was made of the hostile Crows, and from this I drew the false
conclusion that Tommy had not come up to their hopes in the matter of
reciting his campaigns. But when the hour came for those visitors who
were not spending the night to take their leave, Taylor drew Tommy
aside with me, and I noticed the Virginian speaking with Molly Wood,
whose face showed diversion.
"Don't seem to make anything of it," whispered Taylor to Tommy,
"but the ladies have got their minds on this Indian truck."
"Why, I'll just explain--" began Tommy.
"Don't," whispered Lin, joining us. "Yu' know how women are. Once
they take a notion, why, the more yu' deny the surer they get. Now,
yu' see, him and me" (he jerked his elbow towards the Virginian) "must
go back to camp, for we're on second relief."
"And the ladies would sleep better knowing there was another man in
the house," said Taylor.
"In that case," said Tommy, "I--"
"Yu' see," said Lin, "they've been told about Ten Sleep being
burned two nights ago."
"It ain't!" cried Tommy.
"Why, of course it ain't," drawled the ingenious Lin. "But that's
what I say. You and I know Ten Sleep's all right, but we can't report
from our own knowledge seeing it all right, and there it is. They get
these nervous notions."
"Just don't appear to make anything special of not going back to
Riverside," repeated Taylor, "but--"
"But just kind of stay here," said Lin.
"I will!" exclaimed Tommy. "Of course, I'm glad to oblige."
I suppose I was slow-sighted. All this pains seemed to me larger
than its results. They had imposed upon Tommy, yes. But what of that?
He was to be kept from going back to Riverside until morning. Unless
they proposed to visit his empty cabin and play tricks--but that would
be too childish, even for Lin McLean, to say nothing of the Virginian,
his occasional partner in mischief.
"In spite of the Crows," I satirically told the ladies, "I shall
sleep outside, as I intended. I've no use for houses at this season."
The cinches of the horses were tightened, Lin and the Virginian
laid a hand on their saddle-horns, swung up, and soon all sound of the
galloping horses had ceased. Molly Wood declined to be nervous and
crossed to her little neighbor cabin; we all parted, and (as always in
that blessed country) deep sleep quickly came to me.
I don't know how long after it was that I sprang from my blankets
in half-doubting fright. But I had dreamed nothing. A second long,
wild yell now gave me (I must own to it) a horrible chill. I had no
pistol-- nothing. In the hateful brightness of the moon my single
thought was "House! House!" and I fled across the lane in my
underclothes to the cabin, when round the corner whirled the two
cow-punchers, and I understood. I saw the Virginian catch sight of me
in my shirt, and saw his teeth as he smiled. I hastened to my
blankets, and returned more decent to stand and watch the two go
shooting and yelling round the cabin, crazy with their youth. The door
was opened, and Taylor courageously emerged, bearing a Winchester. He
fired at the sky immediately.
"B' gosh!" he roared. "That's one." He fired again. "Out and at
'em. They're running."
At this, duly came Mrs. Taylor in white with a pistol, and Miss
Peck in white, staring and stolid. But no Tommy. Noise prevailed
without, shots by the stable and shots by the creek. The two
cow-punchers dismounted and joined Taylor. Maniac delight seized me,
and I, too, rushed about with them, helping the din.
"Oh, Mr. Taylor!" said a voice. "I didn't think it of you." It was
Molly Wood, come from her cabin, very pretty in a hood-and-cloak
arrangement. She stood by the fence, laughing, but more at us than
"Stop, friends!" said Taylor, gasping. "She teaches my Bobbie his A
B C. I'd hate to have Bobbie--"
"Speak to your papa," said Molly, and held her scholar up on the
"Well, I'll be gol-darned," said Taylor, surveying his costume, "if
Lin McLean hasn't made a fool of me to-night!"
"Where has Tommy got?" said Mrs. Taylor.
"Didn't yus see him?" said the biscuit-shooter speaking her first
word in all this.
We followed her into the kitchen. The table was covered with tin
plates. Beneath it, wedged knelt Tommy with a pistol firm in his hand;
but the plates were rattling up and down like castanets.
There was a silence among us, and I wondered what we were going to
"Well," murmured the Virginian to himself, "if I could have
foresaw, I'd not--it makes yu' feel humiliated yu'self."
He marched out, got on his horse, and rode away. Lin followed him,
but perhaps less penitently. We all dispersed without saying anything,
and presently from my blankets I saw poor Tommy come out of the silent
cabin, mount, and slowly, very slowly, ride away. He would spend the
night at Riverside, after all.
Of course we recovered from our unexpected shame, and the tale of
the table and the dancing plates was not told as a sad one. But it is
a sad one when you think of it.
I was not there to see Lin get his bride. I learned from the
Virginian how the victorious puncher had ridden away across the sunny
sagebrush, bearing the biscuit-shooter with him to the nearest justice
of the peace. She was astride the horse he had brought for her.
"Yes, he beat Tommy," said the Virginian. "Some folks, anyway, get
what they want in this hyeh world."
From which I inferred that Miss Molly Wood was harder to beat than
LIN McLEAN'S HONEY-MOON
Rain had not fallen for some sixty days, and for some sixty more
there was no necessity that it should fall. It is spells of weather
like this that set the Western editor writing praise and prophecy of
the boundless fertility of the soil--when irrigated, and of what an
Eden it can be made--with irrigation; but the spells annoy the people
who are trying to raise the Eden. We always told the transient Eastern
visitor, when he arrived at Cheyenne and criticised the desert, that
anything would grow here--with irrigation; and sometimes he replied,
unsympathetically, that anything could fly--with wings. Then we would
lead such a man out and show him six, eight, ten square miles of green
crops; and he, if he was thoroughly nasty, would mention that Wyoming
contained ninety-five thousand square miles, all waiting for
irrigation and Eden. One of these Eastern supercivilized hostiles from
New York was breakfasting with the Governor and me at the Cheyenne
Club, and we were explaining to him the glorious future, the coming
empire, of the Western country. Now the Governor was about thirty-two,
and until twenty-five had never gone West far enough to see over the
top of the Alleghany Mountains. I was not a pioneer myself; and why
both of us should have pitied the New-Yorker's narrowness so hard I
cannot see. But we did. We spoke to him of the size of the country. We
told him that his State could rattle round inside Wyoming's stomach
without any inconvenience to Wyoming, and he told us that this was
because Wyoming's stomach was empty. Altogether I began to feel almost
sorry that I had asked him to come out for a hunt, and had travelled
in haste all the way from Bear Creek to Cheyenne expressly to meet
"For purposes of amusement," he said, "I'll admit anything you
claim for this place. Ranches, cowboys, elk; it's all splendid. Only,
as an investment I prefer the East. Am I to see any cowboys?"
"You shall," I said; and I distinctly hoped some of them might do
something to him "for purposes of amusement."
"You fellows come up with me to my office," said the Governor.
"I'll look at my mail, and show you round." So we went with him
through the heat and sun.
"What's that?" inquired the New-Yorker, whom I shall call James
"That is our park," said I. "Of course it's merely in embryo. It's
wonderful how quickly any shade tree will grow here wi--" I checked
But Ogden said "with irrigation" for me, and I was entirely sorry
he had come.
We reached the Governor's office, and sat down while he looked his
"Here you are, Ogden," said he. "Here's the way we hump ahead out
here." And he read us the following:
"MAGAW, KANSAS, July 5, 188--
"Hon. Amory W. Baker:
"Sir,--Understanding that your district is suffering from a
prolonged drought, I write to say that for necessary expenses paid I
will be glad to furnish you with a reasonably shower. I have operated
successfully in Australia, Mexico, and several States of the Union,
and am anxious to exhibit my system. If your Legislature will
appropriate a sum to cover, as I said, merely my necessary
expenses--say $350 (three hundred and fifty dollars)--for half an inch
I will guarantee you that quantity of rain or forfeit the money. If I
fail to give you the smallest fraction of the amount contracted for,
there is to be no pay. Kindly advise me of what date will be most
convenient for you to have the shower. I require twenty-four hours'
preparation. Hoping a favorable reply,
"I am, respectfully yours, "Robert Hilbrun"
"Will the Legislature do it?" inquired Ogden in good faith.
The Governor laughed boisterously. "I guess it wouldn't be
constitutional," said he.
"Oh, bother!" said Ogden.
"My dear man," the Governor protested, "I know we're new, and our
women vote, and we're a good deal of a joke, but we're not so
progressively funny as all that. The people wouldn't stand it. Senator
Warren would fly right into my back hair." Barker was also new as
"Do you have Senators here too?" said Ogden, raising his eyebrows.
"What do they look like? Are they females?" And the Governor grew more
boisterous than ever, slapping his knee and declaring that these
Eastern men were certainly out of sight." Ogden, however, was
"I'd have been willing to chip in for that rain myself," he said.
"That's an idea!" cried the Governor. "Nothing unconstitutional
about that. Let's see. Three hundred and fifty dollars--"
"I'll put up a hundred," said Ogden, promptly. "I'm out for a
Western vacation, and I'll pay for a good specimen."
The Governor and I subscribed more modestly, and by noon, with the
help of some lively minded gentlemen of Cheyenne, we had the purse
raised. "He won't care," said the Governor, "whether it's a private
enterprise or a municipal step, so long as he gets his money."
"He won't get it, I'm afraid," said Ogden. "But if he succeeds in
tempting Providence to that extent, I consider it cheap. Now what do
you call those people there on the horses?"
We were walking along the track of the Cheyenne and Northern, and
looking out over the plain toward Fort Russell. "That is a cow-puncher
and his bride," I answered, recognizing the couple.
"Quite. The puncher's name is Lin McLean."
"I'm afraid so."
"She's riding straddle!" exclaimed the delighted Ogden, adjusting
his glasses. "Why do you object to their union being holy?"
I explained that my friend Lin had lately married an eating-house
lady precipitately and against my advice.
"I suppose he knew his business," observed Ogden.
"That's what he said to me at the time. But you ought to see
her--and know him."
Ogden was going to. Husband and wife were coming our way. Husband
nodded to me his familiar offish nod, which concealed his satisfaction
at meeting with an old friend. Wife did not look at me at all. But I
looked at her, and I instantly knew that Lin--the fool!--had confided
to her my disapproval of their marriage. The most delicate specialty
upon earth is your standing with your old friend's new wife.
"Good-day, Mr. McLean," said the Governor to the cow-puncher on his
"How're are yu', doctor," said Lin. During his early days in
Wyoming the Governor, when as yet a private citizen, had set Mr.
McLean's broken leg at Drybone. "Let me make yu' known to Mrs.
McLean," pursued the husband.
The lady, at a loss how convention prescribes the greeting of a
bride to a Governor, gave a waddle on the pony's back, then sat up
stiff, gazed haughtily at the air, and did not speak or show any more
sign than a cow would under like circumstances. So the Governor
marched cheerfully at her, extending his hand, and when she slightly
moved out toward him her big, dumb, red fist, he took it and shook it,
and made her a series of compliments, she maintaining always the
scrupulous reserve of the cow.
"I say," Ogden whispered to me while Barker was pumping the hand of
the flesh image, "I'm glad I came." The appearance of the
puncher-bridegroom also interested Ogden, and he looked hard at Lin's
leather chaps and cartridge-belt and so forth. Lin stared at the
New-Yorker, and his high white collar and good scarf. He had seen such
things quite often, of course, but they always filled him with the
same distrust of the man that wore them.
"Well," said he, "I guess we'll be pulling for a hotel. Any show in
town? Circus come yet?"
"No," said I. "Are you going to make a long stay?"
The cow-puncher glanced at the image, his bride of three weeks.
"Till we're tired of it, I guess," said he, with hesitation. It was
the first time that I had ever seen my gay friend look timidly at any
one, and I felt a rising hate for the ruby-checked, large-eyed
eating-house lady, the biscuit-shooter whose influence was dimming
this jaunty, irrepressible spirit. I looked at her. Her bulky bloom
had ensnared him, and now she was going to tame and spoil him. The
Governor was looking at her too, thoughtfully.
"Say, Lin," I said, "if you stay here long enough you'll see a big
show." And his eye livened into something of its native jocularity as
I told him of the rain-maker.
"Shucks!" said he, springing from his horse impetuously, and hugely
entertained at our venture. "Three hundred and fifty dollars? Let me
come in"; and before I could tell him that we had all the money
raised, he was hauling out a wadded lump of bills.
"Well, I ain't going to starve here in the road, I guess," spoke
the image, with the suddenness of a miracle. I think we all jumped,
and I know that Lin did. The image continued: "Some folks and their
money are soon parted"--she meant me; her searching tones came
straight at me; I was sure from the first that she knew all about me
and my unfavorable opinion of her--"but it ain't going to be you this
time, Lin McLean. Ged ap!" This last was to the horse, I maintain,
though the Governor says the husband immediately started off on a run.
At any rate, they were gone to their hotel, and Ogden was seated on
some railroad ties, exclaiming: "Oh, I like Wyoming! I am certainly
glad I came."
"That's who she is!" said the Governor, remembering Mrs. McLean all
at once. "I know her. She used to be at Sidney. She's got another
husband somewhere. She's one of the boys. Oh, that's nothing in this
country!" he continued to the amazed Ogden, who had ejaculated
"Bigamy!" "Lots of them marry, live together awhile, get tired and
quit, travel, catch on to a new man, marry him, get tired and quit,
travel, catch on--"
"One moment, I beg," said Ogden, adjusting his glasses. "What does
"Law?" said the Governor. "Look at that place!" He swept his hand
towards the vast plains and the mountains. "Ninety-five thousand
square miles of that, and sixty thousand people in it. We haven't got
policemen yet on top of the Rocky Mountains."
"I see," said the New-Yorker. "But--but--well let A and B represent
first and second husbands, and X represent the woman. Now, does A know
about B? or does B know about A? And what do they do about it?"
"Can't say," the Governor answered, jovially. "Can't generalize.
Depends on heaps of things-- love--money-- Did you go to college?
Well, let A minus X equal B plus X, then if A and B get squared--"
"Oh, come to lunch," I said. "Barker, do you really know the first
husband is alive?"
"Wasn't dead last winter." And Barker gave us the particulars. Miss
Katie Peck had not served long in the restaurant before she was wooed
and won by a man who had been a ranch cook, a sheep-herder, a
bar-tender, a freight hand, and was then hauling poles for the
government. During his necessary absences from home she, too, went
out-of-doors. This he often discovered, and would beat her, and she
would then also beat him. After the beatings one of them would always
leave the other forever. Thus was Sidney kept in small-talk until Mrs.
Lusk one day really did not come back. "Lusk," said the Governor,
finishing his story, "cried around the saloons for a couple of days,
and then went on hauling poles for the government, till at last he
said he'd heard of a better job south, and next we knew of him he was
round Leavenworth. Lusk was a pretty poor bird. Owes me ten dollars."
"Well," I said, "none of us ever knew about him when she came to
stay with Mrs. Taylor on Bear Creek. She was Miss Peck when Lin made
her Mrs. McLean."
"You'll notice," said the Governor, "how she has got him under in
three weeks. Old hand, you see."
"Poor Lin!" I said.
"Lucky, I call him," said the Governor. "He can quit her."
"Supposing McLean does not want to quit her?"
"She's educating him to want to right now, and I think he'll learn
pretty quick. I guess Mr. Lin's romance wasn't very ideal this trip.
Hello! here comes Jode. Jode, won't you lunch with us? Mr. Ogden, of
New York, Mr. Jode. Mr. Jode is our signal-service officer, Mr.
Ogden." The Governor's eyes were sparkling hilariously, and he winked
"Gentlemen, good-morning. Mr. Ogden, I am honored to make your
acquaintance," said the signal-service officer.
"Jode, when is it going to rain?" said the Governor, anxiously.
Now Jode is the most extraordinarily solemn man I have ever known.
He has the solemnity of all science, added to the unspeakable weight
of representing five of the oldest families in South Carolina. The
Jodes themselves were not old in South Carolina, but immensely so
in--I think he told me it was Long Island. His name is Poinsett
Middleton Manigault Jode. He used to weigh a hundred and twenty-eight
pounds then, but his health has strengthened in that climate. His
clothes were black; his face was white, with black eyes sharp as a
pin; he had the shape of a spout-- the same narrow size all the way
down--and his voice was as dry and light as an egg-shell. In his first
days at Cheyenne he had constantly challenged large cowboys for taking
familiarities with his dignity, and they, after one moment's
bewilderment, had concocted apologies that entirely met his exactions,
and gave them much satisfaction also. Nobody would have hurt Jode for
the world. In time he came to see that Wyoming was a game invented
after his book of rules was published, and he looked on, but could not
play the game. He had fallen, along with other incongruities, into the
roaring Western hotch-pot, and he passed his careful, precise days
with barometers and weather-charts.
He answered the Governor with official and South Carolina
impressiveness. "There is no indication of diminution of the
prevailing pressure," he said.
"Well, that's what I thought," said the joyous Governor, "so I'm
going to whoop her up."
"What do you expect to whoop up, sir?"
"Atmosphere, and all that," said the Governor. "Whole business has
got to get a move on. I've sent for a rain-maker."
"Governor, you are certainly a wag, sir," said Jode, who enjoyed
Barker as some people enjoy a symphony, without understanding it. But
after we had reached the club and were lunching, and Jode realized
that a letter had actually been written telling Hilbrun to come and
bring his showers with him, the punctilious signal-service officer
stated his position. "Have your joke, sir," he said, waving a thin,
clean hand, "but I decline to meet him."
"Hilbrun?" said the Governor, staring.
"If that's his name--yes, sir. As a member of the Weather Bureau
and the Meteorological Society I can have nothing to do with the
"Glory!" said the Governor. "Well, I suppose not. I see your point,
Jode. I'll be careful to keep you apart. As a member of the College of
Physicians I've felt that way about homeopathy and the faith-cure. All
very well if patients will call 'em in, but can't meet 'em in
consultation. But three months' drought annually, Jode! It's slow--too
slow. The Western people feel that this conservative method the Zodiac
does its business by is out of date."
"I am quite serious, sir," said Jode. "And let me express my
gratification that you do see my point." So we changed the subject.
Our weather scheme did not at first greatly move the public. Beyond
those who made up the purse, few of our acquaintances expressed
curiosity about Hilbrun, and next afternoon Lin McLean told me in the
street that he was disgusted with Cheyenne's coldness toward the
enterprise. "But the boys would fly right at it and stay with it if
the round-up was near town, you bet," said he.
He was walking alone. "How's Mrs. McLean to-day?" I inquired.
"She's well," said Lin, turning his eye from mine. "Who's your
friend all bugged up in English clothes?"
"About as good a man as you," said I, "and more cautious."
"Him and his eye-glasses!" said the sceptical puncher, still
looking away from me and surveying Ogden, who was approaching with the
Governor. That excellent man, still at long range, broke out smiling
till his teeth shone, and he waved a yellow paper at us.
"Telegram from Hilbrun," he shouted; "be here to-morrow"; and he
"Says he wants a cart at the depot, and a small building where he
can be private," added Ogden. "Great, isn't it?"
"You bet!" said Lin, brightening. The New Yorker's urbane but
obvious excitement mollified Mr. McLean. "Ever seen rain made, Mr.
Ogden?" said he.
"Never. Have you?"
Lin had not. Ogden offered him a cigar, which the puncher
pronounced excellent, and we all agreed to see Hilbrun arrive.
"We're going to show the telegram to Jode," said the Governor; and
he and Ogden departed on this mission to the signal service.
"Well, I must be getting along myself," said Lin; but he continued
walking slowly with me. "Where're yu' bound?" he said.
"Nowhere in particular," said I. And we paced the board sidewalks a
"You're going to meet the train to-morrow?" said he.
"The train? Oh yes. Hilbrun's. To-morrow. You'll be there?"
"Yes, I'll be there. It's sure been a dry spell, ain't it?"
"Yes. Just like last year. In fact, like all the years."
"Yes. I've never saw it rain any to speak of in summer. I expect
it's the rule. Don't you?"
"I shouldn't wonder."
"I don't guess any man knows enough to break such a rule. Do you?"
"No. But it'll be fun to see him try."
"Sure fun! Well, I must be getting along. See yu' to-morrow."
"See you to-morrow, Lin."
He left me at a corner, and I stood watching his tall, depressed
figure. A hundred yards down the street he turned, and seeing me
looking after him, pretended he had not turned; and then I took my
steps toward the club, telling myself that I had been something of a
skunk; for I had inquired for Mrs. McLean in a certain tone, and I had
hinted to Lin that he had lacked caution; and this was nothing but a
way of saying "I told you so" to the man that is down. Down Lin
certainly was, although it had not come so home to me until our little
walk together just now along the boards.
At the club I found the Governor teaching Ogden a Cheyenne
specialty--a particular drink, the Allston cocktail. "It's the bitters
that does the trick," he was saying, but saw me and called out: "You
ought to have been with us and seen Jode. I showed him the telegram,
you know. He read it through, and just handed it back to me, and went
on monkeying with his anemometer. Ever seen his instruments? Every
fresh jigger they get out he sends for. Well, he monkeyed away, and
wouldn't say a word, so I said, 'You understand, Jode, this telegram
comes from Hilbrun.' And Jode, he quit his anemometer and said, 'I
make no doubt, sir, that your despatch is genuwine.' Oh, South
Carolina's indignant at me!" And the Governor slapped his knee. "Why,
he's so set against Hilbrun," he continued, "I guess if he knew of
something he could explode to stop rain he'd let her fly!"
"No, he wouldn't," said I. "He'd not consider that honorable."
"That's so," the Governor assented. "Jode'll play fair."
It was thus we had come to look at our enterprise--a game between a
well-established, respectable weather bureau and an upstart charlatan.
And it was the charlatan had our sympathy--as all charlatans, whether
religious, military, medical, political, or what not, have with the
average American. We met him at the station. That is, Ogden, McLean,
and I; and the Governor, being engaged, sent (unofficially) his
secretary and the requested cart. Lin was anxious to see what would be
put in the cart, and I was curious about how a rain-maker would look.
But he turned out an unassuming, quiet man in blue serge, with a face
you could not remember afterwards, and a few civil, ordinary remarks.
He even said it was a hot day, as if he had no relations with the
weather; and what he put into the cart were only two packing-boxes of
no special significance to the eye. He desired no lodging at the
hotel, but to sleep with his apparatus in the building provided for
him; and we set out for it at once. It was an untenanted barn, and he
asked that he and his assistant might cut a hole in the roof, upon
which we noticed the assistant for the first time--a tallish,
good-looking young man, but with a weak mouth. "This is Mr. Lusk,"
said the rain-maker; and we shook hands, Ogden and I exchanging a
glance. Ourselves and the cart marched up Hill Street--or Capitol
Avenue, as it has become named since Cheyenne has grown fuller of pomp
and emptier of prosperity--and I thought we made an unusual
procession: the Governor's secretary, unofficially leading the way to
the barn; the cart, and the rain-maker beside it, guarding his
packed-up mysteries; McLean and Lusk, walking together in unconscious
bigamy; and in the rear, Odgen nudging me in the ribs. That it was the
correct Lusk we had with us I felt sure from his incompetent, healthy,
vacant appearance, strong-bodied and shiftless--the sort of man to
weary of one trade and another, and make a failure of wife beating
between whiles. In Twenty-fourth Street-- the town's uttermost
rim--the Governor met us, and stared at Lusk. "Christopher!" was his
single observation; but he never forgets a face-- cannot afford to,
now that he is in politics; and, besides, Lusk remembered him. You
seldom really forget a man to whom you owe ten dollars.
"So you've quit hauling poles?" said the Governor.
"Nothing in it, sir," said Lusk.
"Is there any objection to my having a hole in the roof?" asked the
rain-maker; for this the secretary had been unable to tell him.
"What! going to throw your bombs through it?" said the Governor,
But the rain-maker explained at once that his was not the bomb
system, but a method attended by more rain and less disturbance. "Not
that the bomb don't produce first-class results at times and under
circumstances," he said, "but it's uncertain and costly."
The Governor hesitated about the hole in the roof, which Hilbrun
told us was for a metal pipe to conduct his generated gases into the
air. The owner of the barn had gone to Laramie. However, we found a
stove-pipe hole, which saved delay. "And what day would you prefer the
shower?" said Hilbrun, after we had gone over our contract with him.
"Any day would do," the Governor said.
This was Thursday; and Sunday was chosen, as a day when no one had
business to detain him from witnessing the shower--though it seemed to
me that on week-days, too, business in Cheyenne was not so inexorable
as this. We gave the strangers some information about the town, and
left them. The sun went away in a cloudless sky, and came so again
when the stars had finished their untarnished shining. Friday was
clear and dry and hot, like the dynasty of blazing days that had gone
I saw a sorry spectacle in the street--the bridegroom and the bride
shopping together; or, rather, he with his wad of bills was obediently
paying for what she bought; and when I met them he was carrying a
scarlet parasol and a bonnet-box. His biscuit-shooter, with the lust
of purchase on her, was brilliantly dressed, and pervaded the street
with splendor, like an escaped parrot. Lin walked beside her, but it
might as well have been behind, and his bearing was so different from
his wonted happy-go-luckiness that I had a mind to take off my hat and
say, "Good-morning, Mrs. Lusk." But it was "Mrs. McLean "I said, of
course. She gave me a remote, imperious nod, and said, "Come on, Lin,"
something like a cross nurse, while he, out of sheer decency, made her
a good-humored, jocular answer, and said to me, "It takes a woman to
know what to buy for house-keepin,"; which poor piece of hypocrisy
endeared him to me more than ever. The puncher was not of the fibre to
succeed in keeping appearances, but he deserved success, which the
angels consider to be enough. I wondered if disenchantment had set in,
or if this were only the preliminary stage of surprise and wounding,
and I felt that but one test could show, namely, a coming face to face
of Mr. and Mrs. Lusk, perhaps not to be desired. Neither was it
likely. The assistant rain-maker kept himself steadfastly inside or
near the barn, at the north corner of Cheyenne, while the bride, when
she was in the street at all, haunted the shops clear across town
On this Friday noon the appearance of the metal tube above the
blind building spread some excitement. It moved several of the
citizens to pay the place a visit and ask to see the machine. These
callers, of course, sustained a polite refusal, and returned among
their friends with a contempt for such quackery, and a greatly
heightened curiosity; so that pretty soon you could hear discussions
at the street corners, and by Saturday morning Cheyenne was talking of
little else. The town prowled about the barn and its oracular metal
tube, and heard and saw nothing. The Governor and I (let it be
confessed) went there ourselves, since the twenty-four hours of
required preparation were now begun. We smelled for chemicals, and he
thought there was a something, but having been bred a doctor,
distrusted his imagination. I could not be sure myself whether there
was anything or not, although I walked three times round the barn,
snuffing as dispassionately as I knew how. It might possibly be
chlorine, the Governor said, or some gas for which ammonia was in part
responsible; and this was all he could say, and we left the place. The
world was as still and the hard, sharp hills as clear and near as
ever; and the sky over Sahara is not more dry and enduring than was
ours. This tenacity in the elements plainly gave Jode a malicious
official pleasure. We could tell it by his talk at lunch; and when the
Governor reminded him that no rain was contracted for until the next
day, he mentioned that the approach of a storm is something that
modern science is able to ascertain long in advance; and he bade us
come to his office whenever we pleased, and see for ourselves what
science said. This was, at any rate, something to fill the afternoon
with, and we went to him about five. Lin McLean joined us on the way.
I came upon him lingering alone in the street, and he told me that
Mrs. McLean was calling on friends. I saw that he did not know how to
spend the short recess or holiday he was having. He seemed to cling to
the society of others, and with them for the time regain his gayer
mind. He had become converted to Ogden, and the New-Yorker, on his
side, found pleasant and refreshing this democracy of Governors and
cow-punchers. Jode received us at the signal-service office, and began
to show us his instruments with the careful pride of an
"A hair hygrometer," he said to me, waving his wax-like hand over
it. "The indications are obtained from the expansion and contraction
of a prepared human hair, transferred to an index needle traversing
the divided arc of--"
"What oil do you put on the human hair Jode?" called out the
Governor, who had left our group, and was gamboling about by himself
among the tubes and dials. "What will this one do?" he asked, and
poked at a wet paper disc. But before the courteous Jode could explain
that it had to do with evaporation and the dew-point, the Governor's
attention wandered, and he was blowing at a little fan-wheel. This
instantly revolved and set a number of dial hands going different
ways. "Hi!" said the Governor, delighted. "Seen 'em like that down
mines. Register air velocity in feet. Put it away, Jode. You don't
want that to-morrow. What you'll need, Hilbrun says, is a big old
rain-gauge and rubber shoes."
"I shall require nothing of the sort, Governor," Jode retorted at
once. "And you can go to church without your umbrella in safety, sir.
See there." He pointed to a storm-glass, which was certainly as clear
as crystal. "An old-fashioned test, you will doubtless say,
gentlemen," Jode continued--though none of us would have said anything
like that--"but unjustly discredited; and, furthermore, its testimony
is well corroborated, as you will find you must admit." Jode's voice
was almost threatening, and he fetched one corroborator after another.
I looked passively at wet and dry bulbs, at self-recording, dotted
registers; I caught the fleeting sound of words like "meniscus "and
"terrestrial minimum thermometer," and I nodded punctually when Jode
went through some calculation. At last I heard something that I could
understand--a series of telegraphic replies to Jode from brother
signal-service officers all over the United States. He read each one
through from date of signature, and they all made any rain to-morrow
entirely impossible. "And I tell you," Jode concluded, in his high,
egg-shell voice, "there's no chance of precipitation now, sir. I tell
you, sir,"--he was shrieking jubilantly-- "there's not a damn' thing
We left him in his triumph among his glass and mercury. "Gee whiz!"
said the Governor. "I guess we'd better go and tell Hilbrun it's no
We went, and Hilbrun smiled with a certain compassion for the
antiquated scientist. "That's what they all say," he said. "I'll do my
"If any of you gentlemen, or your friends," said Assistant Lusk,
stepping up, "feel like doing a little business on this, I am ready to
"What do yu' want this evenin'?" said Lin McLean, promptly.
"Five to one," said Lusk.
"Go yu' in twenties," said the impetuous puncher; and I now
perceived this was to be a sporting event. Lin had his wad of bills
out--or what of it still survived his bride's shopping. "Will you hold
stakes, doctor?" he said to the Governor.
But that official looked at the clear sky, and thought he would do
five to one in twenties himself. Lusk accommodated him, and then
Ogden, and then me. None of us could very well be stake-holder, but we
registered our bets, and promised to procure an uninterested man by
eight next morning. I have seldom had so much trouble, and I never saw
such a universal search for ready money. Every man we asked to hold
stakes instantly whipped out his own pocketbook, went in search of
Lusk, and disqualified himself. It was Jode helped us out. He would
not bet, but was anxious to serve, and thus punish the bragging Lusk.
Sunday was, as usual, chronically fine, with no cloud or breeze
anywhere, and by the time the church-bells were ringing, ten to one
was freely offered. The biscuit-shooter went to church with her
friends, so she might wear her fine clothes in a worthy place, while
her furloughed husband rushed about Cheyenne, entirely his own old
self again, his wad of money staked and in Jode's keeping. Many
citizens bitterly lamented their lack of ready money. But it was a
good thing for these people that it was Sunday, and the banks closed.
The church-bells ceased; the congregations sat inside, but outside
the hot town showed no Sunday emptiness or quiet. The metal tube, the
possible smell, Jode's sustained and haughty indignation, the
extraordinary assurance of Lusk, all this had ended by turning every
one restless and eccentric. A citizen came down the street with an
umbrella. In a moment the by-standers had reduced it to a sordid
tangle of ribs. Old Judge Burrage attempted to address us at the
corner about the vast progress of science. The postmaster pinned a
card on his back with the well-known legend, "I am somewhat of a liar
myself." And all the while the sun shone high and hot, while Jode grew
quieter and colder under the certainty of victory. It was after twelve
o'clock when the people came from church, and no change or sign was to
be seen. Jode told us, with a chill smile, that he had visited his
instruments and found no new indications. Fifteen minutes after that
the sky was brown. Sudden, padded, dropsical clouds were born in the
blue above our heads. They blackened, and a smart shower, the first in
two months, wet us all, and ceased. The sun blazed out, and the sky
came blue again, like those rapid, unconvincing weather changes of the
Amazement at what I saw happening in the heavens took me from
things on earth, and I was unaware of the universal fit that now
seized upon Cheyenne until I heard the high cry of Jode at my ear. His
usual punctilious bearing had forsaken him, and he shouted alike to
stranger and acquaintance: "It is no half-inch, sir! Don't you tell
me"' And the crowd would swallow him, but you could mark his
vociferous course as he went proclaiming to the world. "A failure,
sir! The fellow's an impostor, as I well knew. It's no half-inch!"
Which was true.
"What have you got to say to that?" we asked Hilbrun, swarming
"If you'll just keep cool," said he--"it's only the first
instalment. In about two hours and a half I'll give you the rest."
Soon after four the dropsical clouds materialized once again above
open-mouthed Cheyenne. No school let out for an unexpected holiday, no
herd of stampeded range cattle, conducts itself more miscellaneously.
Gray, respectable men, with daughters married, leaped over fences and
sprang back, prominent legislators hopped howling up and down
door-steps, women waved handkerchiefs from windows and porches, the
chattering Jode flew from anemometer to rain-gauge, and old Judge
Burrage apostrophized Providence in his front yard, with the
postmaster's label still pinned to his back. Nobody minded the
sluicing downpour--this second instalment was much more of a thing
than the first--and Hilbrun alone kept a calm exterior--the face of
the man who lifts a heavy dumb-bell and throws an impressive glance at
the audience. Assistant Lusk was by no means thus proof against
success I saw him put a bottle back in his pocket, his face already
disintegrated with a tipsy leer. Judge Burrage, perceiving the
rain-maker, came out of his gate and proceeded toward him, extending
the hand of congratulation. "Mr. Hilbrun," said he, "I am Judge
Burrage--the Honorable T. Coleman Burrage--and I will say that I am
most favorably impressed with your shower."
"His shower!" yelped Jode, flourishing measurements.
"Why, yu' don't claim it's yourn, do yu'?" said Lin McLean,
"I tell you it's no half-inch yet, gentlemen," said Jode, ignoring
the facetious puncher.
"You're mistaken," said Hilbrun, sharply.
"It's a plumb big show, half-inch or no half-inch," said Lin.
"If he's short he don't get his money," said some ignoble
"Yes, he will," said the Governor,"or I'm a short. He's earned it."
"You bet "' said Lin. "Fair and square. If they're goin' back on
yu', doctor, I'll chip--Shucks!" Lin's hand fell from the empty
pocket; he remembered his wad in the stake-holder's hands, and that he
now possessed possibly two dollars in silver, all told. "I can't chip
in, doctor," he said. "That hobo over there has won my cash, an' he's
filling up on the prospect right now. I don't care! It's the biggest
show I've ever saw. You're a dandy, Mr. Hilbrun! Whoop!" And Lin
clapped the rain-maker on the shoulder, exulting. He had been too well
entertained to care what he had in his pocket, and his wife had not
yet occurred to him.
They were disputing about the rainfall, which had been slightly
under half an inch in a few spots, but over it in many others; and
while we stood talking in the renewed sunlight, more telegrams were
brought to Jode, saying that there was no moisture anywhere, and
simultaneously with these, riders dashed into town with the news that
twelve miles out the rain had flattened the grain crop. We had more of
such reports from as far as thirty miles, and beyond that there had
not been a drop or a cloud. It staggered one's reason; the brain was
numb with surprise.
"Well, gentlemen," said the rain-maker, "I'm packed up, and my
train'll be along soon--would have been along by this, only it's late.
What's the word as to my three hundred and fifty dollars?"
Even still there were objections expressed. He had not entirely
performed his side of the contract.
"I think different, gentlemen," said he. "But I'll unpack and let
that train go. I can't have the law on you, I suppose. But if you
don't pay me" (the rain-maker put his hands in his pockets and leaned
against the fence) "I'll flood your town."
In earthquakes and eruptions people end by expecting anything; and
in the total eclipse that was now over all Cheyenne's ordinary
standards and precedents the bewildered community saw in this threat
nothing more unusual than if he had said twice two made four. The
purse was handed over.
"I'm obliged," said Hilbrun, simply.
"If I had foreseen, gentlemen," said Jode, too deeply grieved now
to feel anger, "that I would even be indirectly associated with your
losing your money through this--this absurd occurrence, I would have
declined to help you. It becomes my duty," he continued, turning
coldly to the inebriated Lusk, "to hand this to you, sir." And the
assistant lurchingly stuffed his stakes away.
"It's worth it," said Lin. "He's welcome to my cash."
"What's that you say, Lin McLean?" It was the biscuit-shooter, and
she surged to the front.
"I'm broke. He's got it. That's all," said Lin, briefly.
"Broke! You!" She glared at her athletic young lord, and she
uttered a preliminary howl.
At that long-lost cry Lusk turned his silly face. "It's my darling
Kate," he said. "Why, Kate!"
The next thing that I knew Ogden and I were grappling with Lin
McLean; for everything had happened at once. The bride had swooped
upon her first wedded love and burst into tears on the man's neck,
which Lin was trying to break in consequence. We do not always
recognize our benefactors at sight. They all came to the ground, and
we hauled the second husband off. The lady and Lusk remained in a
heap, he foolish, tearful, and affectionate; she turned furiously at
bay, his guardian angel, indifferent to the onlooking crowd, and
hurling righteous defiance at Lin. "Don't yus dare lay yer finger on
my husband, you sage-brush bigamist!" is what the marvelous female
"Bigamist?" repeated Lin, dazed at this charge. "I ain't," he said
to Ogden and me. "I never did. I've never married any of 'em before
"Little good that'll do yus, Lin McLean! Me and him was man and
wife before ever I come acrosst yus."
"You and him?" murmured the puncher.
"Her and me," whimpered Lusk. "Sidney." He sat up with a limp,
confiding stare at everybody.
"Sidney who?" said Lin.
"No, no," corrected Lusk, crossly--"Sidney, Nebraska."
The stakes at this point fell from his pocket which he did not
notice. But the bride had them in safe-keeping at once.
"Who are yu', anyway--when yu' ain't drunk?" demanded Lin.
"He's as good a man as you, and better," snorted the guardian
angel. "Give him a pistol, and he'll make you hard to find."
"Well, you listen to me, Sidney Nebraska--" Lin began.
"No, no," corrected Lusk once more, as a distant whistle
"Good-bye, gentlemen," said the rain-maker. "That's the west-bound.
I'm perfectly satisfied with my experiment here, and I'm off to repeat
it at Salt Lake City."
"You are?" shouted Lin McLean. "Him and Jim's going to work it
again! For goodness' sake, somebody lend me twenty-five dollars!"
At this there was an instantaneous rush. Ten minutes later, in
front of the ticket-windows there was a line of citizens buying
tickets for Salt Lake as if it had been Madame Bernhardt. Some rock
had been smitten, and ready money had flowed forth. The Governor saw
us off, sad that his duties should detain him. But Jode went!
"Betting is the fool's argument, gentlemen," said he to Ogden,
McLean, and me, "and it's a weary time since I have had the pleasure."
"Which way are yu' bettin'?" Lin asked.
"With my principles, sir," answered the little signal-service
"I expect I ain't got any," said the puncher. "It's Jim I'm backin'
"See here," said I; "I want to talk to you." We went into another
car, and I did.
"And so yu' knowed about Lusk when we was on them board walks?" the
"Do you mean I ought to have--"
"Shucks! no. Yu' couldn't. Nobody couldn't. It's a queer world, all
the same. Yu' have good friends, and all that." He looked out of the
window." Laramie already!" he commented, and got out and walked by
himself on the platform until we had started again. "Yu' have good
friends," he pursued, settling himself so his long legs were stretched
and comfortable, "and they tell yu' things, and you tell them things.
And when it don't make no particular matter one way or the other, yu'
give 'em your honest opinion and talk straight to 'em, and they'll
come to you the same way. So that when yu're ridin' the range alone
sometimes, and thinkin' a lot o' things over on top maybe of some
dog-goned hill, you'll say to yourself about some fellow yu' know
mighty well, 'There's a man is a good friend of mine.' And yu' mean
it. And it's so. Yet when matters is serious, as onced in a while
they're bound to get, and yu're in a plumb hole, where is the man
then--your good friend? Why, he's where yu' want him to be. Standin'
off, keepin' his mouth shut, and lettin' yu' find your own trail out.
If he tried to show it to yu', yu'd likely hit him. But shucks!
Circumstances have showed me the trail this time, you bet!" And the
puncher's face, which had been sombre, grew lively, and he laid a
friendly hand on my knee.
"The trail's pretty simple," said I.
"You bet! But it's sure a queer world. Tell yu'," said Lin, with
the air of having made a discovery, "when a man gets down to bed-rock
affairs in this life he's got to do his travellin' alone, same as he
does his dyin'. I expect even married men has thoughts and hopes they
don't tell their wives."
"Never was married," said I.
"Well--no more was I. Let's go to bed." And Lin shook my hand, and
gave me a singular, rather melancholy smile.
At Salt Lake City, which Ogden was glad to include in his Western
holiday, we found both Mormon and Gentile ready to give us odds
against rain--only I noticed that those of the true faith were less
free. Indeed; the Mormon, the Quaker, and most sects of an isolated
doctrine have a nice prudence in money. During our brief stay we
visited the sights: floating in the lake, listening to pins drop in
the gallery of the Tabernacle, seeing frescos of saints in robes
speaking from heaven to Joseph Smith in the Sunday clothes of a modern
farm-hand, and in the street we heard at a distance a strenuous
domestic talk between the new-- or perhaps I should say the original--
husband and wife.
"She's corralled Sidney's cash!" said the delighted Lin. "He can't
bet nothing on this shower "
And then, after all, this time--it didn't rain!
Stripped of money both ways, Cheyenne, having most fortunately
purchased a return ticket, sought its home. The perplexed rain-maker
went somewhere else, without his assistant. Lusk's exulting wife,
having the money, retained him with her.
"Good luck to yu', Sidney!" said Lin, speaking to him for the first
time since Cheyenne. "I feel a heap better since I've saw yu'
married." He paid no attention to the biscuit-shooter, or the horrible
language that she threw after him.
Jode also felt "a heap better." Legitimate science had triumphed.
To-day, most of Cheyenne believes with Jode that it was all a
coincidence. South Carolina had bet on her principles, and won from
Lin the few dollars that I had lent the puncher.
"And what will you do now?" I said to Lin.
"Join the beef round-up. Balaam's payin' forty dollars. I guess
that'll keep a single man."
A JOURNEY IN SEARCH OF CHRISTMAS
The Governor descended the steps of the Capitol slowly and with
pauses, lifting a list frequently to his eye. He had intermittently
pencilled it between stages of the forenoon's public business, and his
gait grew absent as he recurred now to his jottings in their
accumulation, with a slight pain at their number, and the definite
fear that they would be more in seasons to come. They were the names
of his friends' children to whom his excellent heart moved him to give
Christmas presents. He had put off this regenerating evil until the
latest day, as was his custom, and now he was setting forth to do the
whole thing at a blow, entirely planless among the guns and
rocking-horses that would presently surround him. As he reached the
highway he heard himself familiarly addressed from a distance, and,
turning, saw four sons of the alkali jogging into town from the plain.
One who had shouted to him galloped out from the others, rounded the
Capitol's enclosure, and, approaching with radiant countenance leaned
to reach the hand of the Governor, and once again greeted him with a
hilarious "Hello, Doc!"
Governor Barker, M.D., seeing Mr. McLean unexpectedly after several
years, hailed the horseman with frank and lively pleasure, and,
inquiring who might be the other riders behind, was told that they
were Shorty, Chalkeye, and Dollar Bill, come for Christmas. "And
dandies to hit town with," Mr. McLean added. "Red-hot."
"I am acquainted with them," assented his Excellency.
"We've been ridin' trail for twelve weeks," the cow-puncher
continued, "makin' our beds down anywheres, and eatin' the same old
chuck every day. So we've shook fried beef and heifer's delight, and
we're goin' to feed high."
Then Mr. McLean overflowed with talk and pungent confidences, for
the holidays already rioted in his spirit, and his tongue was loosed
over their coming rites.
"We've soured on scenery," he finished, in his drastic idiom.
"We're sick of moonlight and cow-dung, and we're heeled for a big
"Call on me," remarked the Governor, cheerily, "when you're ready
for bromides and sulphates."
"I ain't box-headed no more," protested Mr. McLean; "I've got
maturity, Doc, since I seen yu' at the rain-making, and I'm a heap
older than them hospital days when I bust my leg on yu'. Three or four
glasses and quit. That's my rule."
"That your rule, too?" inquired the Governor of Shorty, Chalkeye,
and Dollar Bill. These gentlemen of the saddle were sitting quite
expressionless upon their horses.
"We ain't talkin', we're waitin'," observed Chalkeye; and the three
cynics smiled amiably.
"Well, Doc, see yu' again," said Mr. McLean. He turned to accompany
his brother cow-punchers, but in that particular moment Fate descended
or came up from whatever place she dwells in and entered the body of
the unsuspecting Governor.
"What's your hurry?" said Fate, speaking in the official's hearty
manner. "Come along with me."
"Can't do it. Where are yu' goin'?"
"Christmasing," replied Fate.
"Well, I've got to feed my horse. Christmasing, yu' say?"
"Yes; I'm buying toys."
"Toys! You? What for?"
"Oh, some kids."
"Yourn?" screeched Lin, precipitately.
His Excellency the jovial Governor opened his teeth in pleasure at
this, for he was a bachelor, and there were fifteen upon his list,
which he held up for the edification of the hasty McLean. "Not mine,
I'm happy to say. My friends keep marrying and settling, and their
kids call me uncle, and climb around and bother, and I forget their
names, and think it's a girl, and the mother gets mad. Why, if I
didn't remember these little folks at Christmas they'd be
wondering--not the kids, they just break your toys and don't notice;
but the mother would wonder--'What's the matter with Dr. Barker? Has
Governor Barker gone back on us?'--that's where the strain comes!" he
broke off, facing Mr. McLean with another spacious laugh.
But the cow-puncher had ceased to smile, and now, while Barker ran
on exuberantly, McLean's wide-open eyes rested upon him, singular and
intent, and in their hazel depths the last gleam of jocularity went
"That's where the strain comes, you see. Two sets of acquaintances.
Grateful patients and loyal voters, and I've got to keep solid with
both outfits, especially the wives and mothers. They're the people. So
it's drums, and dolls, and sheep on wheels, and games, and monkeys on
a stick, and the saleslady shows you a mechanical bear, and it costs
too much, and you forget whether the Judge's second girl is Nellie or
Susie, and--well, I'm just in for my annual circus this afternoon!
You're in luck. Christmas don't trouble a chap fixed like you."
Lin McLean prolonged the sentence like a distant echo.
"A chap fixed like you!" The cow-puncher said it slowly to himself.
"No, sure." He seemed to be watching Shorty, and Chalkeye, and Dollar
Bill going down the road. "That's a new idea--Christmas," he murmured,
for it was one of his oldest, and he was recalling the Christmas when
he wore his first long trousers.
"Comes once a year pretty regular," remarked the prosperous
Governor. "Seems often when you pay the bill."
"I haven't made a Christmas gift," pursued the cow-puncher,
dreamily, "not for--for--Lord! it's a hundred years, I guess. I don't
know anybody that has any right to look for such a thing from me."
This was indeed a new idea, and it did not stop the chill that was
spreading in his heart.
"Gee whiz!" said Barker, briskly, "there goes twelve o'clock. I've
got to make a start. Sorry you can't come and help me. Good-bye!"
His Excellency left the rider sitting motionless, and forgot him at
once in his own preoccupation. He hastened upon his journey to the
shops with the list, not in his pocket, but held firmly, like a plank
in the imminence of shipwreck. The Nellies and Susies pervaded his
mind, and he struggled with the presentiment that in a day or two he
would recall some omitted and wretchedly important child. Quick
hoof-beats made him look up, and Mr. McLean passed like a wind. The
Governor absently watched him go, and saw the pony hunch and stiffen
in the check of his speed when Lin overtook his companions. Down there
in the distance they took a side street, and Barker rejoicingly
remembered one more name and wrote it as he walked. In a few minutes
he had come to the shops, and met face to face with Mr. McLean.
"The boys are seein' after my horse," Lin rapidly began, "and I've
got to meet 'em sharp at one. We're twelve weeks shy on a square meal,
yu' see, and this first has been a date from 'way back. I'd like to--"
Here Mr. McLean cleared his throat, and his speech went less smoothly.
"Doc, I'd like just for a while to watch yu' gettin'--them monkeys,
The Governor expressed his agreeable surprise at this change of
mind, and was glad of McLean's company and judgment during the
impending selections. A picture of a cow-puncher and himself
discussing a couple of dolls rose nimbly in Barker's mental eye, and
it was with an imperfect honesty that he said, "You'll help me a
And Lin, quite sincere, replied, "Thank yu'."
So together these two went Christmasing in the throng. Wyoming's
Chief Executive knocked elbows with the spurred and jingling waif, one
man as good as another in that raw, hopeful, full-blooded cattle era,
which now the sobered West remembers as the days of its fond youth.
For one man has been as good as another in three places--Paradise
before the Fall; the Rocky Mountains before the wire fence; and the
Declaration of Independence. And then this Governor, beside being
young, almost as young as Lin McLean or the Chief Justice (who lately
had celebrated his thirty-second birthday), had in his doctoring days
at Drybone known the cow-puncher with that familiarity which lasts a
lifetime without breeding contempt; accordingly he now laid a hand on
Lin's tall shoulder and drew him among the petticoats and toys.
Christmas filled the windows and Christmas stirred in mankind.
Cheyenne, not over-zealous in doctrine or litanies, and with the
opinion that a world in the hand is worth two in the bush,
nevertheless was flocking together, neighbor to think of neighbor, and
every one to remember the children; a sacred assembly, after all,
gathered to rehearse unwittingly the articles of its belief, the Creed
and Doctrine of the Child. Lin saw them hurry and smile among the
paper fairies; they questioned and hesitated, crowded and made
decisions, failed utterly to find the right thing, forgot and hastened
back, suffered all the various desperations of the eleventh hour, and
turned homeward, dropping their parcels with that undimmed good-will
that once a year makes gracious the universal human face. This
brotherhood swam and beamed before the cow-puncher's brooding eyes,
and in his ears the greeting of the season sang. Children escaped from
their mothers and ran chirping behind the counters to touch and meddle
in places forbidden. Friends dashed against each other with rabbits
and magic lanterns, greeted in haste, and were gone, amid the sound of
Through this tinkle and bleating of little machinery the murmur of
the human heart drifted in and out of McLean's hearing; fragments of
home talk, tendernesses, economies, intimate first names, and dinner
hours, and whether it was joy or sadness, it was in common; the world
seemed knit in a single skein of home ties. Two or three came by whose
purses must have been slender, and whose purchases were humble and
chosen after much nice adjustment; and when one plain man dropped a
word about both ends meeting, and the woman with him laid a hand on
his arm, saying that his children must not feel this year was
different, Lin made a step toward them. There were hours and spots
where he could readily have descended upon them at that, played the
role of clinking affluence, waved thanks aside with competent
blasphemy, and tossing off some infamous whiskey, cantered away in the
full self-conscious strut of the frontier. But here was not the
moment; the abashed cow-puncher could make no such parade in this
place. The people brushed by him back and forth, busy upon their
errands, and aware of him scarcely more than if he had been a spirit
looking on from the helpless dead; and so, while these weaving needs
and kindnesses of man were within arm's touch of him, he was locked
outside with his impulses. Barker had, in the natural press of
customers, long parted from him, to become immersed in choosing and
rejecting; and now, with a fair part of his mission accomplished, he
was ready to go on to the next place, and turned to beckon McLean. He
found him obliterated in a corner beside a life-sized image of Santa
Claus, standing as still as the frosty saint.
"He looks livelier than you do," said the hearty Governor. "'Fraid
it's been slow waiting."
"No," replied the cow-puncher, thoughtfully. "No, I guess not."
This uncertainty was expressed with such gentleness that Barker
roared. "You never did lie to me," he said, "long as I've known you.
Well, never mind. I've got some real advice to ask you now."
At this Mr. McLean's face grew more alert. "Say Doc," said he,
"what do yu' want for Christmas that nobody's likely to give yu'?"
"A big practice--big enough to interfere with my politics."
"What else? Things and truck, I mean."
"Oh--nothing I'll get. People don't give things much to fellows
"Don't they? Don't they?"
"Why, you and Santa Claus weren't putting up any scheme on my
"I believe you're in earnest!" cried his Excellency. "That's simply
rich!" Here was a thing to relish! The Frontier comes to town "heeled
for a big time," finds that presents are all the rage, and must
immediately give somebody something. Oh, childlike, miscellaneous
Frontier! So thought the good-hearted Governor; and it seems a venial
misconception. "My dear fellow," he added, meaning as well as
possible, "I don't want you to spend your money on me."
"I've got plenty all right," said Lin, shortly.
"Plenty's not the point. I'll take as many drinks as you please
with you. You didn't expect anything from me?"
"That ain't--that don't--"
"There! Of course you didn't. Then, what are you getting proud
about? Here's our shop." They stepped in from the street to new crowds
and counters. "Now," pursued the Governor, "this is for a very
particular friend of mine. Here they are. Now, which of those do you
They were sets of Tennyson in cases holding little volumes equal in
number, but the binding various, and Mr. McLean reached his decision
after one look. "That," said he, and laid a large muscular hand upon
the Laureate. The young lady behind the counter spoke out acidly, and
Lin pulled the abject hand away. His taste, however, happened to be
sound, or, at least, it was at one with the Governor's; but now they
learned that there was a distressing variance in the matter of price.
The Governor stared at the delicate article of his choice. "I know
that Tennyson is what she--is what's wanted," he muttered; and,
feeling himself nudged, looked around and saw Lin's extended fist.
This gesture he took for a facetious sympathy, and, dolorously
grasping the hand, found himself holding a lump of bills. Sheer
amazement relaxed him, and the cow-puncher's matted wealth tumbled on
the floor in sight of all people. Barker picked it up and gave it
back. "No, no, no!" he said, mirthful over his own inclination to be
annoyed; "you can't do that. I'm just as much obliged, Lin," he added.
"Just as a loan, Doc--some of it. I'm grass-bellied with
A giggle behind the counter disturbed them both, but the sharp
young lady was only dusting. The Governor at once paid haughtily for
Tennyson's expensive works, and the cow-puncher pushed his
discountenanced savings back into his clothes. Making haste to leave
the book department of this shop, they regained a mutual ease, and the
Governor became waggish over Lin's concern at being too rich. He
suggested to him the list of delinquent taxpayers and the latest
census from which to select indigent persons. He had patients, too,
whose inveterate pennilessness he could swear cheerfully to--"since
you want to bolt from your own money," he remarked.
"Yes, I'm a green horse," assented Mr. McLean, gallantly; "ain't
used to the looks of a twenty-dollar bill, and I shy at 'em."
From his face--that jocular mask--one might have counted him the
most serene and careless of vagrants, and in his words only the
ordinary voice of banter spoke to the Governor. A good woman, it may
well be, would have guessed before this the sensitive soul in the
blundering body, but Barker saw just the familiar, whimsical,
happy-go-lucky McLean of old days, and so he went gayly and innocently
on, treading upon holy ground. "I've got it!" he exclaimed; "give your
The ruddy cow-puncher grinned. He had passed through the world of
woman with but few delays, rejoicing in informal and transient
entanglements, and he welcomed the turn which the conversation seemed
now to be taking. "If you'll give me her name and address," said he,
with the future entirely in his mind.
"Why, Laramie!" and the Governor feigned surprise.
"Say, Doc," said Lin, uneasily, "none of 'em ain't married me since
I saw yu' last."
"Then she hasn't written from Laramie," said the hilarious
Governor, and Mr. McLean understood and winced in his spirit deep
down. "Gee whiz!" went on Barker, "I'll never forget you and Lusk that
But the mask fell now. "You're talking of his wife, not mine," said
the cow-puncher very quietly, and smiling no more; "and, Doc, I'm
going to say a word to yu', for I know yu've always been my good
friend. I'll never forget that day myself--but I don't want to be
reminded of it."
"I'm a fool, Lin," said the Governor, generous instantly. "I never
"I know yu' didn't, Doc. It ain't you that's the fool. And in a
way--in a way--" Lin's speech ended among his crowding memories, and
Barker, seeing how wistful his face had turned, waited. "But I ain't
quite the same fool I was before that happened to me," the cow-puncher
resumed, "though maybe my actions don't show to be wiser. I know that
there was better luck than a man like me had any call to look for."
The sobered Barker said, simply, "Yes, Lin." He was put to thinking
by these words from the unsuspected inner man.
Out in the Bow Leg country Lin McLean had met a woman with thick,
red cheeks, calling herself by a maiden name; and this was his whole
knowledge of her when he put her one morning astride a Mexican saddle
and took her fifty miles to a magistrate and made her his lawful wife
to the best of his ability and belief. His sage-brush intimates were
confident he would never have done it but for a rival. Racing the
rival and beating him had swept Mr. McLean past his own intentions,
and the marriage was an inadvertence. "He jest bumped into it before
he could pull up," they explained; and this casualty, resulting from
Mr. McLean's sporting blood, had entertained several hundred square
miles of alkali. For the new-made husband the joke soon died. In the
immediate weeks that came upon him he tasted a bitterness worse than
in all his life before, and learned also how deep the woman, when once
she begins, can sink beneath the man in baseness. That was a knowledge
of which he had lived innocent until this time. But he carried his
outward self serenely, so that citizens in Cheyenne who saw the
cow-puncher with his bride argued shrewdly that men of that sort liked
women of that sort; and before the strain had broken his endurance an
unexpected first husband, named Lusk, had appeared one Sunday in the
street, prosperous, forgiving, and exceedingly drunk. To the arms of
Lusk she went back in the public street, deserting McLean in the
presence of Cheyenne; and when Cheyenne saw this, and learned how she
had been Mrs. Lusk for eight long, if intermittent, years, Cheyenne
laughed loudly. Lin McLean laughed, too, and went about his business,
ready to swagger at the necessary moment, and with the necessary kind
of joke always ready to shield his hurt spirit. And soon, of course,
the matter grew stale, seldom raked up in the Bow Leg country where
Lin had been at work; so lately he had begun to remember other things
beside the smouldering humiliation.
"Is she with him?" he asked Barker, and musingly listened while
Barker told him. The Governor had thought to make it a racy story,
with the moral that the joke was now on Lusk; but that inner man had
spoken and revealed the cow-puncher to him in a new and complicated
light; hence he quieted the proposed lively cadence and vocabulary of
his anecdote about the house of Lusk, but instead of narrating how
Mrs. beat Mr. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and Mr. took his
turn the odd days, thus getting one ahead of his lady, while the kid
Lusk had outlined his opinion of the family by recently skipping to
parts unknown, Barker detailed these incidents more gravely, adding
that Laramie believed Mrs. Lusk addicted to opium.
"I don't guess I'll leave my card on 'em," said McLean, grimly, "if
I strike Laramie."
"You don't mind my saying I think you're well out of that scrape?"
"Shucks, no! That's all right, Doc. Only--yu' see now. A man gets
tired pretending--onced in a while."
Time had gone while they were in talk, and it was now half after
one and Mr. McLean late for that long-plotted first square meal. So
the friends shook hands, wishing each other Merry Christmas, and the
cow-puncher hastened toward his chosen companions through the stirring
cheerfulness of the season. His play-hour had made a dull beginning
among the toys. He had come upon people engaged in a pleasant game,
and waited, shy and well disposed, for some bidding to join, but they
had gone on playing with each other and left him out. And now he went
along in a sort of hurry to escape from that loneliness where his
human promptings had been lodged with him useless. Here was Cheyenne,
full of holiday for sale, and he with his pockets full of money to
buy; and when he thought of Shorty, and Chalkeye, and Dollar Bill,
those dandies to hit a town with, he stepped out with a brisk, false
hope. It was with a mental hurrah and a foretaste of a good time
coming that he put on his town clothes, after shaving and admiring
himself, and sat down to the square meal. He ate away and drank with a
robust imitation of enjoyment that took in even himself at first. But
the sorrowful process of his spirit went on, for all he could do. As
he groped for the contentment which he saw around him he began to
receive the jokes with counterfeit mirth. Memories took the place of
anticipation, and through their moody shiftings he began to feel a
distaste for the company of his friends and a shrinking from their
lively voices. He blamed them for this at once. He was surprised to
think he had never recognized before how light a weight was Shorty;
and here was Chalkeye, who knew better, talking religion after two
glasses. Presently this attack of noticing his friends' shortcomings
mastered him, and his mind, according to its wont, changed at a
stroke. "I'm celebrating no Christmas with this crowd," said the inner
man; and when they had next remembered Lin McLean in their hilarity he
Governor Barker, finishing his purchases at half-past three, went
to meet a friend come from Evanston. Mr. McLean was at the railway
station, buying a ticket for Denver.
"Denver!" exclaimed the amazed Governor.
"That's what I said," stated Mr. McLean, doggedly.
"Gee whiz!" went his Excellency. "What are you going to do there?"
"Get good and drunk."
"Can't you find enough whiskey in Cheyenne?"
"I'm drinking champagne this trip."
The cow-puncher went out on the platform and got aboard, and the
train moved off. Barker had walked out too in his surprise, and as he
stared after the last car, Mr. McLean waved his wide hat defiantly and
went inside the door.
"And he says he's got maturity," Barker muttered. "I've known him
since seventy-nine, and he's kept about eight years old right along."
The Governor was cross, and sorry, and presently crosser. His jokes
about Lin's marriage came back to him and put him in a rage with the
departed fool. "Yes, about eight. Or six," said his Excellency,
justifying himself by the past. For he had first known Lin, the boy of
nineteen, supreme in length of limb and recklessness, breaking horses
and feeling for an early mustache. Next, when the mustache was nearly
accomplished, he had mended the boy's badly broken thigh at Drybone.
His skill (and Lin's utter health) had wrought so swift a healing that
the surgeon overflowed with the pride of science, and over the
bandages would explain the human body technically to his wild-eyed and
flattered patient. Thus young Lin heard all about tibia, and
comminuted, and other glorious new words, and when sleepless would
rehearse them. Then, with the bone so nearly knit that the patient
might leave the ward on crutches to sit each morning in Barker's room
as a privilege, the disobedient child of twenty-one had slipped out of
the hospital and hobbled hastily to the hog ranch, where whiskey and
variety waited for a languishing convalescent. Here he grew gay, and
was soon carried back with the leg refractured. Yet Barker's surgical
rage was disarmed, the patient was so forlorn over his doctor's
"I suppose it ain't no better this morning, Doc?" he had said,
humbly, after a new week of bed and weights.
"Your right leg's going to be shorter. That's all."
"Oh, gosh! I've been and spoiled your comminuted fee-mur! Ain't I a
You could not chide such a boy as this; and in time's due course he
had walked jauntily out into the world with legs of equal length after
all and in his stride the slightest halt possible. And Doctor Barker
had missed the child's conversation. To-day his mustache was a
perfected thing, and he in the late end of his twenties.
"He'll wake up about noon to-morrow in a dive, without a cent,"
said Barker. "Then he'll come back on a freight and begin over again."
At the Denver station Lin McLean passed through the shoutings and
omnibuses, and came to the beginning of Seventeenth Street, where is
the first saloon. A customer was ordering Hot Scotch; and because he
liked the smell and had not thought of the mixture for a number of
years, Lin took Hot Scotch. Coming out upon the pavement, he looked
across and saw a saloon opposite with brighter globes and windows more
prosperous. That should have been his choice; lemon peel would
undoubtedly be fresher over there; and over he went at once, to begin
the whole thing properly. In such frozen weather no drink could be
more timely, and he sat, to enjoy without haste its mellow fitness.
Once again on the pavement, he looked along the street toward up-town
beneath the crisp, cold electric lights, and three little bootblacks
gathered where he stood and cried "Shine? Shine?" at him. Remembering
that you took the third turn to the right to get the best dinner in
Denver, Lin hit on the skilful plan of stopping at all Hot Scotches
between; but the next occurred within a few yards, and it was across
the street. This one being attained and appreciated, he found that he
must cross back again or skip number four. At this rate he would not
be dining in time to see much of the theatre, and he stopped to
consider. It was a German place he had just quitted, and a huge light
poured out on him from its window, which the proprietor's father-land
sentiment had made into a show. Lights shone among a well-set pine
forest, where beery, jovial gnomes sat on roots and reached upward to
Santa Claus; he, grinning, fat, and Teutonic, held in his right hand
forever a foaming glass, and forever in his left a string of sausages
that dangled down among the gnomes. With his American back to this,
the cow-puncher, wearing the same serious, absent face he had not
changed since he ran away from himself at Cheyenne, considered
carefully the Hot Scotch question, and which side of the road to take
and stick to, while the little bootblacks found him once more and
cried, "Shine? Shine?" monotonous as snow-birds. He settled to stay
over here with the south-side Scotches, and the little one-note song
reaching his attention, he suddenly shoved his foot at the nearest
boy, who lightly sprang away.
"Dare you to touch him!" piped a snow-bird, dangerously. They were
in short trousers, and the eldest enemy, it may be, was ten.
"Don't hit me," said Mr. McLean "I'm innocent."
"Well, you leave him be," said one.
"What's he layin' to kick you for, Billy? 'Tain't yer pop, is it?"
"New!" said Billy, in scorn. "Father never kicked me. Don't know
who he is."
"He's a special!" shrilled the leading bird, sensationally. "He's
got a badge, and he's goin' to arrest yer."
Two of them hopped instantly to the safe middle of the street, and
scattered with practiced strategy; but Billy stood his ground. "Dare
you to arrest me!" said he.
"What'll you give me not to?" inquired Lin, and he put his hands in
his pockets, arms akimbo.
"Nothing; I've done nothing," announced Billy, firmly. But even in
the last syllable his voice suddenly failed, a terror filled his eyes,
and he, too, sped into the middle of the street.
"What's he claim you lifted?" inquired the leader, with eagerness.
"Tell him you haven't been inside a store to-day. We can prove it!"
they screamed to the special officer.
"Say," said the slow-spoken Lin from the pavement, "you're poor
judges of a badge, you fellows."
His tone pleased them where they stood, wide apart from each other.
Mr. McLean also remained stationary in the bluish illumination of
the window. "Why, if any policeman was caught wearin' this here," said
he, following his sprightly invention, "he'd get arrested himself."
This struck them extremely. They began to draw together, Billy
lingering the last.
"If it's your idea," pursued Mr. McLean, alluringly, as the three
took cautious steps nearer the curb, "that blue, clasped hands in a
circle of red stars gives the bearer the right to put folks in the
jug--why, I'll get somebody else to black my boots for a dollar."
The three made a swift rush, fell on simultaneous knees, and
clattering their boxes down, began to spit in an industrious circle.
"Easy!" wheedled Mr. McLean, and they looked up at him, staring and
fascinated. "Not having three feet," said the cow-puncher, always
grave and slow, "I can only give two this here job."
"He's got a big pistol and a belt!" exulted the leader, who had
precociously felt beneath Lin's coat.
"You're a smart boy," said Lin, considering him, "and yu' find a
man out right away. Now you stand off and tell me all about myself
while they fix the boots--and a dollar goes to the quickest through."
Young Billy and his tow-headed competitor flattened down, each to a
boot, with all their might, while the leader ruefully contemplated Mr.
"That's a Colt .45 you've got," ventured he.
"Right again. Some day, maybe, you'll be wearing one of your own,
if the angels don't pull yu' before you're ripe."
"I'm through!" sang out Towhead, rising in haste.
Small Billy was struggling still, but leaped at that, the two heads
bobbing to a level together; and Mr. McLean, looking down, saw that
the arrangement had not been a good one for the boots.
"Will you kindly referee," said he, forgivingly, to the leader,
"and decide which of them smears is the awfulest?"
But the leader looked the other way and played upon a mouth-organ.
"Well, that saves me money," said Mr. McLean, jingling his pocket.
"I guess you've both won." He handed each of them a dollar. "Now," he
continued, "I just dassent show these boots uptown; so this time it's
a dollar for the best shine."
The two went palpitating at their brushes again, and the leader
played his mouth-organ with brilliant unconcern. Lin, tall and
brooding leaned against the jutting sill of the window, a figure
somehow plainly strange in town, while through the bright plate-glass
Santa Claus, holding out his beer and sausages, perpetually beamed.
Billy was laboring gallantly, but it was labor, the cow-puncher
perceived, and Billy no seasoned expert." See here," said Lin,
stooping, "I'll show yu' how it's done. He's playin' that toon
cross-eyed enough to steer anybody crooked. There. Keep your blacking
soft, and work with a dry brush."
"Lemme," said Billy. "I've got to learn." So he finished the boot
his own way with wiry determination, breathing and repolishing; and
this event was also adjudged a dead heat, with results gratifying to
both parties. So here was their work done, and more money in their
pockets than from all the other boots and shoes of this day; and
Towhead and Billy did not wish for further trade, but to spend this
handsome fortune as soon as might be. Yet they delayed in the
brightness of the window, drawn by curiosity near this new kind of man
whose voice held them and whose remarks dropped them into constant
uncertainty. Even the omitted leader had been unable to go away and
nurse his pride alone.
"Is that a secret society?" inquired Towhead, lifting a finger at
Mr. McLean nodded. "Turruble," said he.
"You're a Wells Fargo detective," asserted the leader.
"Play your harp," said Lin.
"Are you a--a desperaydo?" whispered Towhead.
"Oh, my!" observed Mr. McLean, sadly; "what has our Jack been
"He's a cattle-man!" cried Billy. "I seen his heels."
"That's you!" said the discovered puncher, with approval. "You'll
do. But I bet you can't tell me what we wearers of this badge have
sworn to do this night."
At this they craned their necks and glared at him.
"We--are--sworn--don't yu' jump, now, and give me
away--sworn--to--blow off three bootblacks to a dinner."
"Ah, pshaw!" They backed away, bristling with distrust.
"That's the oath, fellows. Yu' may as well make your minds up--for
I have it to do!"
"Dare you to! Ah!"
"And after dinner it's the Opera-house, to see "The Children of
They screamed shrilly at him, keeping off beyond the curb.
"I can't waste my time on such smart boys," said Mr. McLean, rising
lazily to his full height from the window-sill. "I am goin' somewhere
to find boys that ain't so turruble quick stampeded by a roast
He began to lounge slowly away, serious as he had been throughout,
and they, stopping their noise short, swiftly picked up their boxes,
and followed him. Some change in the current of electricity that fed
the window disturbed its sparkling light, so that Santa Claus, with
his arms stretched out behind the departing cow-puncher seemed to be
smiling more broadly from the midst of his flickering brilliance.
On their way to turkey, the host and his guests exchanged but few
remarks. He was full of good-will, and threw off a comment or two that
would have led to conversation under almost any circumstances save
these; but the minds of the guests were too distracted by this whole
state of things for them to be capable of more than keeping after Mr.
McLean in silence, at a wary interval, and with their mouths, during
most of the journey, open. The badge, the pistol, their patron's talk,
and the unusual dollars, wakened wide their bent for the unexpected,
their street affinity for the spur of the moment; they believed slimly
in the turkey part of it, but what this man might do next, to be there
when he did it, and not to be trapped, kept their wits jumping
deliciously; so when they saw him stop, they stopped instantly too,
ten feet out of reach. This was Denver's most civilized
restaurant--that one which Mr. McLean had remembered, with foreign
dishes and private rooms, where he had promised himself, among other
things, champagne. Mr. McLean had never been inside it, but heard a
tale from a friend; and now he caught a sudden sight of people among
geraniums, with plumes and white shirt-fronts, very elegant. It must
have been several minutes that he stood contemplating the entrance and
the luxurious couples who went in.
"Plumb French!" he observed at length; and then, "Shucks!" in a key
less confident, while his guests ten feet away watched him narrowly.
"They're eatin' patty de parley-voo in there," he muttered, and the
three bootblacks came beside him. "Say, fellows," said Lin,
confidingly, "I wasn't raised good enough for them dude dishes. What
do yu' say! I'm after a place where yu' can mention oyster stoo
without givin' anybody a fit. What do yu' say, boys?"
That lighted the divine spark of brotherhood!
"Ah, you come along with us--we'll take yer! You don't want to go
in there. We'll show yer the boss place in Market Street. We won't
lose yer." So, shouting together in their shrill little city trebles,
they clustered about him, and one pulled at his coat to start him. He
started obediently, and walked in their charge, they leading the way.
"Christmas is comin' now, sure," said Lin, grinning to himself. "It
ain't exactly what I figured on." It was the first time he had laughed
since Cheyenne, and he brushed a hand over his eyes, that were dim
with the new warmth in his heart.
Believing at length in him and his turkey, the alert street faces,
so suspicious of the unknown, looked at him with ready intimacy as
they went along; and soon, in the friendly desire to make him
acquainted with Denver, the three were patronizing him. Only Billy,
perhaps, now and then stole at him a doubtful look.
The large Country Mouse listened solemnly to his three Town Mice,
who presently introduced him to the place in Market Street. It was not
boss, precisely, and Denver knows better neighborhoods; but the turkey
and the oyster stew were there, with catsup and vegetables in season,
and several choices of pie. Here the Country Mouse became again
efficient; and to witness his liberal mastery of ordering and imagine
his pocket and its wealth, which they had heard and partly seen,
renewed in the guests a transient awe. As they dined, however, and
found the host as frankly ravenous as themselves, this reticence
evaporated, and they all grew fluent with oaths and opinions. At one
or two words, indeed, Mr. McLean stared and had a slight sense of
"Have a cigarette?" said the leader, over his pie.
"Thank yu'," said Lin. "I won't smoke, if yu'll excuse me." He had
devised a wholesome meal, with water to drink.
"Chewin's no good at meals," continued the boy. "Don't you use
"Onced in a while."
The leader spat brightly. "He ain't learned yet," said he, slanting
his elbows at Billy and sliding a match over his rump. "But beer,
now--I never seen anything in it." He and Towhead soon left Billy and
his callow profanities behind, and engaged in a town conversation that
silenced him, and set him listening with all his admiring young might.
Nor did Mr. McLean join in the talk, but sat embarrassed by this
knowledge, which seemed about as much as he knew himself.
"I'll be goshed," he thought, "if I'd caught on to half that when I
was streakin' around in short pants! Maybe they grow up quicker now."
But now the Country Mouse perceived Billy's eager and attentive
apprenticeship. "Hello, boys!" he said, "that theatre's got a big
start on us."
They had all forgotten he had said anything about theatre, and
other topics left their impatient minds, while the Country Mouse paid
the bill and asked to be guided to the Opera-house. "This man here
will look out for your blackin' and truck, and let yu' have it in the
They were very late. The spectacle had advanced far into passages
of the highest thrill, and Denver's eyes were riveted upon a ship and
some icebergs. The party found its seats during several beautiful
lime-light effects, and that remarkable fly-buzzing of violins which
is proounced so helpful in times of peril and sentiment. The children
of Captain Grant had been tracking their father all over the equator
and other scenic spots, and now the north pole was about to impale
them. The Captain's youngest child, perceiving a hummock rushing at
them with a sudden motion, loudly shouted, "Sister, the ice is closing
in!" and she replied, chastely, "Then let us pray." It was a superb
tableau: the ice split, and the sun rose and joggled at once to the
zenith. The act-drop fell, and male Denver, wrung to its religious
deeps, went out to the rum-shop.
Of course Mr. McLean and his party did not do this. The party had
applauded exceedingly the defeat of the elements, and the leader, with
Towhead, discussed the probable chances of the ship's getting farther
south in the next act. Until lately Billy's doubt of the cow-puncher
had lingered; but during this intermission whatever had been holding
out in him seemed won, and in his eyes, that he turned stealthily upon
his unconscious, quiet neighbor, shone the beginnings of hero-worship.
"Don't you think this is splendid?" said he.
"Splendid," Lin replied, a trifle remotely.
"Don't you like it when they all get balled up and get out that
"Humming," said Lin.
"Don't you guess it's just girls, though, that do that?"
"What, young fellow?"
"Why, all that prayer-saying an' stuff."
"I guess it must be."
"She said to do it when the ice scared her, an' of course a man had
to do what she wanted him."
"Well, do you believe they'd 'a' done it if she hadn't been on that
boat, and clung around an' cried an' everything, an' made her friends
"I hardly expect they would," replied the honest Lin, and then,
suddenly mindful of Billy, "except there wasn't nothin' else they
could think of," he added, wishing to speak favorably of the custom.
"Why, that chunk of ice weren't so awful big anyhow. I'd 'a' shoved
her off with a pole. Wouldn't you?"
"Butted her like a ram," exclaimed Mr. McLean.
"Well, I don't say my prayers any more. I told Mr. Perkins I wasn't
a-going to, an' he--I think he is a flubdub anyway."
"I'll bet he is!" said Lin, sympathetically. He was scarcely a
"I told him straight, an' he looked at me an' down he flops on his
knees. An' he made 'em all flop, but I told him I didn't care for them
putting up any camp-meeting over me; an' he says, 'I'll lick you,' an'
I says, 'Dare you to!' I told him mother kep' a-licking me for
nothing, an' I'd not pray for her, not in Sunday-school or anywheres
else. Do you pray much?"
"No," replied Lin, uneasily.
"There! I told him a man didn't, an' he said then a man went to
hell. 'You lie; father ain't going to hell,' I says, and you'd ought
to heard the first class laugh right out loud, girls an' boys. An' he
was that mad! But I didn't care. I came here with fifty cents."
"Yu' must have felt like a millionaire."
"Ah, I felt all right! I bought papers an' sold 'em, an' got more
an' saved, ant got my box an' blacking outfit. I weren't going to be
licked by her just because she felt like it, an' she feeling like it
most any time. Lemme see your pistol."
"You wait," said Lin. "After this show is through I'll put it on
"Will you, honest? Belt an' everything? Did you ever shoot a bear?"
"Silver-tips, cinnamon, black; and I roped a cub onced."
"O-h! I never shot a bear."
"You'd ought to try it."
"I'm a-going to. I'm a-going to camp out in the mountains. I'd like
to see you when you camp. I'd like to camp with you. Mightn't I some
time?" Billy had drawn nearer to Lin, and was looking up at him
"You bet!" said Lin; and though he did not, perhaps, entirely mean
this, it was with a curiously softened face that he began to look at
Billy. As with dogs and his horse, so always he played with what
children he met-- the few in his sage-brush world; but this was
ceasing to be quite play for him, and his hand went to the boy's
"Father took me camping with him once, the time mother was off.
Father gets awful drunk, too. I've quit Laramie for good."
Lin sat up, and his hand gripped the boy. "Laramie!" said he,
almost shouting it. "Yu'--yu'--is your name Lusk?"
But the boy had shrunk from him instantly. "You're not going to
take me home?" he piteously wailed.
"Heaven and heavens!" murmured Lin McLean. "So you're her kid!"
He relaxed again, down in his chair, his legs stretched their
straight length below the chair in front. He was waked from his
bewilderment by a brushing under him, and there was young Billy diving
for escape to the aisle, like the cornered city mouse that he was. Lin
nipped that poor little attempt and had the limp Billy seated inside
again before the two in discussion beyond had seen anything. He had
said not a word to the boy, and now watched his unhappy eyes seizing
upon the various exits and dispositions of the theatre; nor could he
imagine anything to tell him that should restore the perished
confidence. "Why did yu' lead him off?" he asked himself unexpectedly,
and found that he did not seem to know; but as he watched the restless
and estranged runaway he grew more and more sorrowful. "I just hate
him to think that of me," he reflected. The curtain rose, and he saw
Billy make up his mind to wait until they should all be going out in
the crowd. While the children of Captain Grant grew hotter and hotter
upon their father's geographic trail, Lin sat saying to himself a
number of contradictions. "He's nothing to me; what's any of them to
me?" Driven to bay by his bewilderment, he restated the facts of the
past. "Why, she'd deserted him and Lusk before she'd ever laid eyes on
me. I needn't to bother myself. He wasn't never even my step-kid." The
past, however, brought no guidance. "Lord, what's the thing to do
about this? If I had any home-- This is a stinkin' world in some
respects," said Mr. McLean, aloud, unknowingly. The lady in the chair
beneath which the cow-puncher had his legs nudged her husband. They
took it for emotion over the sad fortune of Captain Grant, and their
backs shook. Presently each turned, and saw the singular man with
untamed, wide-open eyes glowering at the stage, and both backs shook
Once more his hand was laid on Billy. "Say!" The boy glanced at
him, and quickly away.
"Look at me, and listen."
Billy swervingly obeyed.
"I ain't after yu', and never was. This here's your business, not
mine. Are yu' listenin' good?"
The boy made a nod, and Lin proceeded, whispering: "You've got no
call to believe what I say to yu'--yu've been lied to, I guess, pretty
often. So I'll not stop yu' runnin' and hidin', and I'll never give it
away I saw yu', but yu' keep doin' what yu' please. I'll just go now.
I've saw all I want, but you and your friends stay with it till it
quits. If yu' happen to wish to speak to me about that pistol or
bears, yu' come around to Smith's Palace--that's the boss hotel here,
ain't it?--and if yu' don't come too late I'll not be gone to bed. But
this time of night I'm liable to get sleepy. Tell your friends
good-bye for me, and be good to yourself. I've appreciated your
Mr. McLean entered Smith's Palace, and, engaging a room with two
beds in it, did a little delicate lying by means of the truth. "It's a
lost boy-- a runaway," he told the clerk. "He'll not be extra clean, I
expect, if he does come. Maybe he'll give me the slip, and I'll have a
job cut out to-morrow. I'll thank yu' to put my money in your safe."
The clerk placed himself at the disposal of the secret service, and
Lin walked up and down, looking at the railroad photographs for some
ten minutes, when Master Billy peered in from the street.
"Hello!" said Mr. McLean, casually, and returned to a fine picture
of Pike's Peak.
Billy observed him for a space, and, receiving no further
attention, came stepping along. "I'm not a-going back to Laramie," he
"I wouldn't," said Lin. "It ain't half the town Denver is. Well,
good-night. Sorry yu' couldn't call sooner--I'm dead sleepy."
"O-h!" Billy stood blank. "I wish I'd shook the darned old show.
Say, lemme black your boots in the morning?"
"Not sure my train don't go too early."
"I'm up! I'm up! I get around to all of 'em."
"Where do yu' sleep?"
"Sleeping with the engine-man now. Why can't you put that on me
"Goin' up-stairs. This gentleman wouldn't let you go up-stairs."
But the earnestly petitioned clerk consented, and Billy was the
first to hasten into the room. He stood rapturous while Lin buckled
the belt round his scanty stomach, and ingeniously buttoned the
suspenders outside the accoutrement to retard its immediate descent to
"Did it ever kill a man?" asked Billy, touching the six-shooter.
"No. It ain't never had to do that, but I expect maybe it's stopped
some killin' me."
"Oh, leave me wear it just a minute! Do you collect arrow-heads? I
think they're bully. There's the finest one you ever seen." He brought
out the relic, tightly wrapped in paper, several pieces. "I foun' it
myself, camping with father. It was sticking in a crack right on top
of a rock, but nobody'd seen it till I came along. Ain't it fine?"
Mr. McLean pronounced it a gem.
"Father an' me found a lot, an' they made mother mad laying around,
an' she throwed 'em out. She takes stuff from Kelley's."
"He keeps the drug-store at Laramie. Mother gets awful funny.
That's how she was when I came home. For I told Mr. Perkins he lied,
an' I ran then. An' I knowed well enough she'd lick me when she got
through her spell-- an' father can't stop her, an' I--ah, I was sick
of it! She's lamed me up twice beating me--an' Perkins wanting me to
say 'God bless my mother!' a-getting up and a-going to bed--he's a
flubdub! An' so I cleared out. But I'd just as leaves said for God to
bless father--an' you. I'll do it now if you say it's any sense."
Mr. McLean sat down in a chair. "Don't yu' do it now," said he.
"You wouldn't like mother," Billy continued. "You can keep that."
He came to Lin and placed the arrow-head in his hands, standing beside
him. "Do you like birds' eggs? I collect them. I got twenty-five
kinds--sage-hen, an' blue grouse, an' willow-grouse, an' lots more
kinds harder--but I couldn't bring all them from Laramie. I brought
the magpie's, though. D' you care to see a magpie egg? Well, you stay
to-morrow an' I'll show you that en' some other things I got the
engine-man lets me keep there, for there's boys that would steal an
egg. An' I could take you where we could fire that pistol. Bet you
don't know what that is!"
He brought out a small tin box shaped like a thimble, in which were
things that rattled.
Mr. McLean gave it up.
"That's kinni-kinnic seed. You can have that, for I got some more
with the engine-man."
Lin received this second token also, and thanked the giver for it.
His first feeling had been to prevent the boy's parting with his
treasures, but something that came not from the polish of manners and
experience made him know that he should take them. Billy talked away,
laying bare his little soul; the street boy that was not quite come
made place for the child that was not quite gone, and unimportant
words and confidences dropped from him disjointed as he climbed to the
knee of Mr. McLean, and inadvertently took that cow-puncher for some
sort of parent he had not hitherto met. It lasted but a short while,
however, for he went to sleep in the middle of a sentence, with his
head upon Lin's breast. The man held him perfectly still, because he
had not the faintest notion that Billy would be impossible to disturb.
At length he spoke to him, suggesting that bed might prove more
comfortable; and, finding how it was, rose and undressed the boy and
laid him between the sheets. The arms and legs seemed aware of the
moves required of them, and stirred conveniently; and directly the
head was upon the pillow the whole small frame burrowed down, without
the opening of an eye or a change in the breathing. Lin stood some
time by the bedside, with his eyes on the long, curling lashes and the
curly hair. Then he glanced craftily at the door of the room, and at
himself in the looking-glass. He stooped and kissed Billy on the
forehead, and, rising from that, gave himself a hangdog stare in the
mirror, and soon in his own bed was sleeping the sound sleep of
He was faintly roused by the church bells, and lay still, lingering
with his sleep, his eyes closed, and his thoughts unshaped. As he
became slowly aware of the morning, the ringing and the light reached
him, and he waked wholly, and, still lying quiet, considered the
strange room filled with the bells and the sun of the winter's day.
"Where have I struck now?" he inquired; and as last night returned
abruptly upon his mind, he raised himself on his arm.
There sat Responsibility in a chair, washed clean and dressed,
"You're awful late," said Responsibility. "But I weren't a-going
without telling you good-bye."
"Go?" exclaimed Lin. "Go where? Yu' surely ain't leavin' me to eat
breakfast alone?" The cow-puncher made his voice very plaintive. Set
Responsibility free after all his trouble to catch him? This was more
than he could do!
"I've got to go. If I'd thought you'd want for me to stay--why, you
said you was a-going by the early train!"
"But the durned thing's got away on me," said Lin, smiling sweetly
from the bed.
"If I hadn't a-promised them--"
"Sidney Ellis and Pete Goode. Why, you know them; you grubbed with
"We're a-going to have fun to-day."
"For it's Christmas, an' we've bought some good cigars, an' Pete
says he'll learn me sure. O' course I've smoked some, you know. But
I'd just as leaves stayed with you if I'd only knowed sooner. I wish
you lived here. Did you smoke whole big cigars when you was
"Do you like flapjacks and maple syrup?" inquired the artful
McLean. "That's what I'm figuring on inside twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes! If they'd wait--"
"See here, Bill. They've quit expecting yu', don't yu' think? I'd
ought to waked, yu' see, but I slep' and slep', and kep' yu' from
meetin' your engagements, yu' see--for you couldn't go, of course. A
man couldn't treat a man that way now, could he?"
"Course he couldn't," said Billy, brightening.
"And they wouldn't wait, yu' see. They wouldn't fool away
Christmas, that only comes onced a year, kickin' their heels and
sayin' 'Where's Billy?' They'd say, 'Bill has sure made other
arrangements, which he'll explain to us at his leesyure.' And they'd
skip with the cigars."
The advocate paused, effectively, and from his bolster regarded
Billy with a convincing eye.
"That's so," said Billy.
"And where would yu' be then, Bill? In the street, out of friends,
out of Christmas, and left both ways, no tobaccer and no flapjacks.
Now, Bill, what do yu' say to us putting up a Christmas deal together?
Just you and me?"
"I'd like that," said Billy. "Is it all day?"
"I was thinkin' of all day," said Lin. "I'll not make yu' do
anything yu'd rather not."
"Ah, they can smoke without me," said Billy, with sudden acrimony.
"I'll see 'em to-morro'."
"That's you!" cried Mr. McLean. "Now, Bill, you hustle down and
tell them to keep a table for us. I'll get my clothes on and follow
The boy went, and Mr. McLean procured hot water and dressed
himself, tying his scarf with great care. "Wished I'd a clean shirt,"
said he. "But I don't look very bad. Shavin' yesterday afternoon was a
good move." He picked up the arrow-head and the kinni-kinnic, and was
particular to store them in his safest pocket. "I ain't sure whether
you're crazy or not," said he to the man in the looking-glass. "I
ain't never been sure." And he slammed the door and went down-stairs.
He found young Bill on guard over a table for four, with all the
chairs tilted against it as warning to strangers. No one sat at any
other table or came into the room, for it was late, and the place
quite emptied of breakfasters, and the several entertained waiters had
gathered behind Billy's important-looking back. Lin provided a
thorough meal, and Billy pronounced the flannel cakes superior to
flapjacks, which were not upon the bill of fare.
"I'd like to see you often," said he. "I'll come and see you if you
don't live too far."
"That's the trouble," said the cow-puncher. "I do. Awful far." He
stared out of the window.
"Well, I might come some time. I wish you'd write me a letter. Can
you write?" "What's that? Can I write? Oh yes."
"I can write, an' I can read too. I've been to school in Sidney,
Nebraska, an' Magaw, Kansas, an' Salt Lake--that's the finest town
Billy fell into that cheerful strain of comment which, unreplied
to, yet goes on contented and self-sustaining, while Mr. McLean gave
amiable signs of assent, but chiefly looked out of the window; and
when the now interested waiter said respectfully that he desired to
close the room, they went out to the office, where the money was got
out of the safe and the bill paid.
The streets were full of the bright sun, and seemingly at Denver's
gates stood the mountains sparkling; an air crisp and pleasant wafted
from their peaks; no smoke hung among the roofs, and the sky spread
wide over the city without a stain; it was holiday up among the
chimneys and tall buildings, and down among the quiet ground-stories
below as well; and presently from their scattered pinnacles through
the town the bells broke out against the jocund silence of the
"Don't you like music?" inquired Billy.
"Yes," said Lin.
Ladies with their husbands and children were passing and meeting,
orderly yet gayer than if it were only Sunday, and the salutations of
Christmas came now and again to the cow-puncher's ears; but to-day,
possessor of his own share in this, Lin looked at every one with a
sort of friendly challenge, and young Billy talked along beside him.
"Don't you think we could go in here?" Billy asked. A church door
was open, and the rich organ sounded through to the pavement. "They've
good music here, an' they keep it up without much talking between.
I've been in lots of times."
They went in and sat to hear the music. Better than the organ, it
seemed to them, were the harmonious voices raised from somewhere
outside, like unexpected visitants; and the pair sat in their back
seat, too deep in listening to the processional hymn to think of
rising in decent imitation of those around them. The crystal melody of
the refrain especially reached their understandings, and when for the
fourth time "Shout the glad tidings, exultingly sing," pealed forth
and ceased, both the delighted faces fell.
"Don't you wish there was more?" Billy whispered.
"Wish there was a hundred verses," answered Lin.
But canticles and responses followed, with so little talking
between them they were held spellbound, seldom thinking to rise or
kneel. Lin's eyes roved over the church, dwelling upon the pillars in
their evergreen, the flowers and leafy wreaths, the texts of white and
gold. "'Peace, good- will towards men,'" he read. "That's so. Peace
and good-will. Yes, that's so. I expect they got that somewheres in
the Bible. It's awful good, and you'd never think of it yourself."
There was a touch on his arm, and a woman handed a book to him.
"This is the hymn we have now," she whispered, gently; and Lin,
blushing scarlet, took it passively without a word. He and Billy stood
up and held the book together, dutifully reading the words:
"It came upon the midnight clear, That glorious song of old, From
angels bending near the earth To touch their harps of gold; Peace on
This tune was more beautiful than all, and Lin lost himself in it,
until he found Billy recalling him with a finger upon the words, the
"And the whole world sent back the song Which now the angels
The music rose and descended to its lovely and simple end; and, for
a second time in Denver, Lin brushed a hand across his eyes. He turned
his face from his neighbor, frowning crossly; and since the heart has
reasons which Reason does not know, he seemed to himself a fool; but
when the service was over and he came out, he repeated again, "'Peace
and good-will.' When I run on to the Bishop of Wyoming I'll tell him
if he'll preach on them words I'll be there."
"Couldn't we shoot your pistol now?" asked Billy.
"Sure, boy. Ain't yu' hungry, though?"
"No. I wish we were away off up there. Don't you?"
"The mountains? They look pretty, so white! A heap better 'n
houses. Why, we'll go there! There's trains to Golden. We'll shoot
around among the foothills."
To Golden they immediately went, and after a meal there, wandered
in the open country until the cartridges were gone, the sun was low,
and Billy was walked off his young heels--a truth he learned complete
in one horrid moment, and battled to conceal.
"Lame!" he echoed, angrily. "I ain't."
"Shucks!" said Lin, after the next ten steps. "You are, and both
"Tell you, there's stones here, an' I'm just a-skipping them."
Lin, briefly, took the boy in his arms and carried him to Golden.
"I'm played out myself," he said, sitting in the hotel and looking
lugubriously at Billy on a bed. "And I ain't fit to have charge of a
hog." He came and put his hand on the boy's head.
"I'm not sick," said the cripple. "I tell you I'm bully. You wait
an' see me eat dinner."
But Lin had hot water and cold water and salt, and was an hour upon
his knees bathing the hot feet. And then Billy could not eat dinner!
There was a doctor in Golden; but in spite of his light
prescription and most reasonable observations, Mr. McLean passed a
foolish night of vigil, while Billy slept, quite well at first, and,
as the hours passed, better and better. In the morning he was entirely
brisk, though stiff.
"I couldn't work quick to-day," he said. "But I guess one day won't
lose me my trade."
"How d' yu' mean?" asked Lin.
"Why, I've got regulars, you know. Sidney Ellis an' Pete Goode has
theirs, an' we don't cut each other. I've got Mr. Daniels an' Mr.
Fisher an' lots, an' if you lived in Denver I'd shine your boots every
day for nothing. I wished you lived in Denver."
"Shine my boots? Yu'll never! And yu' don't black Daniels or
Fisher, or any of the outfit."
"Why, I'm doing first-rate," said Billy, surprised at the swearing
into which Mr. McLean now burst. "An' I ain't big enough to get to
make money at any other job."
"I want to see that engine-man," muttered Lin. "I don't like your
"Pete Goode? Why, he's awful smart. Don't you think he's smart?"
"Smart's nothin'," observed Mr. McLean.
"Pete has learned me and Sidney a lot," pursued Billy, engagingly.
"I'll bet he has!" growled the cow-puncher; and again Billy was
taken aback at his language.
It was not so simple, this case. To the perturbed mind of Mr.
McLean it grew less simple during that day at Golden, while Billy
recovered, and talked, and ate his innocent meals. The cow-puncher was
far too wise to think for a single moment of restoring the runaway to
his debauched and shiftless parents. Possessed of some imagination, he
went through a scene in which he appeared at the Lusk threshold with
Billy and forgiveness, and intruded upon a conjugal assault and
battery. "Shucks!" said he. "The kid would be off again inside a week.
And I don't want him there, anyway."
Denver, upon the following day, saw the little bootblack again at
his corner, with his trade not lost; but near him stood a tall,
singular man, with hazel eyes and a sulky expression. And citizens
during that week noticed, as a new sight in the streets, the tall man
and the little boy walking together. Sometimes they would be in shops.
The boy seemed as happy as possible, talking constantly, while the man
seldom said a word, and his face was serious.
Upon New-year's Eve Governor Barker was overtaken by Mr. McLean
riding a horse up Hill Street, Cheyenne.
"Hello!" said Barker, staring humorously through his glasses. "Have
a good drunk?"
"Changed my mind," said Lin, grinning. "Proves I've got one. Struck
Christmas all right, though."
"Who's your friend?" inquired his Excellency.
"This is Mister Billy Lusk. Him and me have agreed that towns ain't
nice to live in. If Judge Henry's foreman and his wife won't board him
at Sunk Creek--why, I'll fix it somehow."
The cow-puncher and his Responsibility rode on together toward the
"Sufferin Moses!" remarked his Excellency.
We had fallen half asleep, my pony and I, as we went jogging and
jogging through the long sunny afternoon. Our hills of yesterday were
a pale-blue coast sunk almost away behind us, and ahead our goal lay
shining, a little island of houses in this quiet mid-ocean of
sage-brush. For two hours it had looked as clear and near as now,
rising into sight across the huge dead calm and sinking while we
travelled our undulating, imperceptible miles. The train had come and
gone invisibly, except for its slow pillar of smoke I had watched move
westward against Wyoming's stainless sky. Though I was still far off,
the water-tank and other buildings stood out plain and complete to my
eyes, like children's blocks arranged and forgotten on the floor. So I
rode along, hypnotized by the sameness of the lazy, splendid plain,
and almost unaware of the distant rider, till, suddenly, he was close
and hailing me.
"They've caved!" he shouted.
"Who?" I cried, thus awakened.
"Ah, the fool company," said he, quieting his voice as he drew
near. "They've shed their haughtiness," he added, confidingly, as if I
must know all about it.
"Where did they learn that wisdom?" I asked, not knowing in the
"Experience," he called over his shoulder (for already we had met
and passed); "nothing like experience for sweating the fat off the
He yelled me a brotherly good-bye, and I am sorry never to have
known more of him, for I incline to value any stranger so joyous. But
now I waked the pony and trotted briskly, surmising as to the company
and its haughtiness. I had been viewing my destination across the
sagebrush for so spun-out a time that (as constantly in Wyoming
journeys) the emotion of arrival had evaporated long before the event,
and I welcomed employment for my otherwise high-and-dry mind. Probably
he meant the railroad company; certainly something large had happened.
Even as I dismounted at the platform another hilarious cow-puncher
came out of the station, and, at once remarking, "They're going to
leave us alone," sprang on his horse and galloped to the corrals down
the line, where some cattle were being loaded into a train. I went
inside for my mail, and here were four more cow-punchers playing with
the agent. They had got a letter away from him, and he wore his daily
look of anxiety to appreciate the jests of these rollicking people.
"Read it!" they said to me; and I did read the private document, and
learned that the railroad was going to waive its right to enforce law
and order here, and would trust to Separ's good feeling. "Nothing
more," the letter ran, "will be done about the initial outrage or the
subsequent vandalisms. We shall pass over our wasted outlay in the
hope that a policy of friendship will prove our genuine desire to
benefit that section.
"'Initial outrage,'" quoted one of the agent' large playmates.
"Ain't they furgivin'?"
"Well," said I, "you would have some name for it yourself if you
sent a deputy sheriff to look after your rights, and he came back tied
to the cow-catcher!"
The man smiled luxuriously over this memory.
"We didn't hurt him none. Just returned him to his home. Hear about
the label Honey Wiggin pinned on to him? 'Send us along one dozen as
per sample.' Honey's quaint! Yes," he drawled judicially, "I'd be mad
at that. But if you're making peace with a man because it's convenient
why, your words must be pleasanter than if you really felt pleasant."
He took the paper from me, and read, sardonically: "'Subsequent
vandalisms ... wasted outlay.' I suppose they run this station from
charity to the cattle. Saves the poor things walking so far to the
other railroad 'Policy of friendship ... genuine desire'--oh
mouth-wash!" And, shaking his bold, clever head, he daintily flattened
the letter upon the head of the agent. "Tubercle," said he (this was
their name for the agent, who had told all of us about his lungs), "it
ain't your fault we saw their fine letter. They just intended you
should give it out how they wouldn't bother us any more, and then we'd
act square. The boys'll sit up late over this joke."
Then they tramped to their horses and rode away. The spokesman had
hit the vital point unerringly; for cow-punchers are shrewdly alive to
frankness, and it often draws out the best that is in them; but its
opposite affects them unfavorably; and I, needing sleep, sighed to
think of their late sitting up over that joke. I walked to the board
box painted "Hotel Brunswick"-- "hotel" in small italics and
"Brunswick"in enormous capitals, the N and the S wrong side up.
Here sat a girl outside the door, alone. Her face was broad,
wholesome, and strong, and her eyes alert and sweet. As I came she met
me with a challenging glance of good-will. Those women who journeyed
along the line in the wake of payday to traffic with the men employed
a stare well known; but this straight look seemed like the greeting of
some pleasant young cowboy. In surprise I forgot to be civil, and
stepped foolishly by her to see about supper and lodging.
At the threshold I perceived all lodging bespoken. On each of the
four beds lay a coat or pistol or other article of dress, and I must
lodge myself. There were my saddle-blankets--rather wet; or Lin McLean
might ride in to-night on his way to Riverside; or perhaps down at the
corrals I could find some other acquaintance whose habit of washing I
trusted and whose bed I might share. Failing these expedients, several
empties stood idle upon a siding, and the box-like darkness of these
freight-cars was timely. Nights were short now. Camping out, the dawn
by three o'clock would flow like silver through the universe, and,
sinking through my blankets, remorselessly pervade my buried hair and
brain. But with clean straw in the bottom of an empty, I could sleep
my fill until five or six. I decided for the empty, and opened the
supper-room door, where the table was set for more than enough to
include me; but the smell of the butter that awaited us drove me out
of the Hotel Brunswick to spend the remaining minutes in the air.
"I was expecting you," said the girl. "Well, if I haven't
frightened him!" She laughed so delightfully that I recovered and
laughed too. "Why," she explained, "I just knew you'd not stay in
there. Which side are you going to butter your bread this evening?"
"You had smelt it?" said I, still cloudy with surprise. "Yes.
Unquestionably. Very rancid." She glanced oddly at me, and, with less
fellowship in her tone, said, "I was going to warn you--" when
suddenly, down at the corrals, the boys began to shoot at large. "Oh,
dear!" she cried, starting up. "There's trouble."
"Not trouble," I assured her. "Too many are firing at once to be in
earnest. And you would be safe here."
"Me? A lady without escort? Well, I should reckon so! Leastways, we
are respected where I was raised. I was anxious for the gentlemen ovah
yondah. Shawhan, K. C. branch of the Louavull an' Nashvull, is my
home." The words "Louisville and Nashville" spoke creamily of
"Unescorted all that way!" I exclaimed.
"Isn't it awful?" said she, tilting her head with a laugh, and
showing the pistol she carried. "But we've always been awful in
Kentucky. Now I suppose New York would never speak to poor me as it
passed by?" And she eyed me with capable, good-humored satire.
"Why New York?" I demanded. "Guess again."
"Well," she debated, "well, cowboy clothes and city language--he's
English!" she burst out; and then she turned suddenly red, and
whispered to herself, reprovingly, "If I'm not acting rude!"
"Oh!" said I, rather familiarly.
"It was, sir; and please to excuse me. If you had started joking so
free with me, I'd have been insulted. When I saw you--the hat and
everything-- I took you--You see I've always been that used to talking
to--to folks around!" Her bright face saddened, memories evidently
rose before her, and her eyes grew distant.
I wished to say, "Treat me as 'folks around,'" but this tall
country girl had put us on other terms. On discovering I was not
"folks around," she had taken refuge in deriding me, but swiftly
feeling no solid ground there, she drew a firm, clear woman's line
between us. Plainly she was a comrade of men, in her buoyant innocence
secure, yet by no means in the dark as to them.
"Yes, unescorted two thousand miles," she resumed, "and never as
far as twenty from home till last Tuesday. I expect you'll have to be
scandalized, for I'd do it right over again to-morrow."
"You've got me all wrong," said I. "I'm not English; I'm not New
York. I am good American, and not bounded by my own farm either. No
sectional line, or Mason and Dixon, or Missouri River tattoos me. But
you, when you say United States, you mean United Kentucky!"
"Did you ever!" said she, staring at what was Greek to her--as it
is to most Americans. "And so if you had a sister back East, and she
and you were all there was of you any more, and she hadn't seen you
since--not since you first took to staying out nights, and she started
to visit you, you'd not tell her 'Fie for shame'?"
"I'd travel my money's length to meet her!" said I.
A wave of pain crossed her face. "Nate didn't know," she said then,
lightly. "You see, Nate's only a boy, and regular thoughtless about
Ah! So this Nate never wrote, and his sister loved and championed
him! Many such stray Nates and Bobs and Bills galloped over Wyoming,
lost and forgiven.
"I'm starting for him in the Buffalo stage," continued the girl.
"Then I'll have your company on a weary road," said I; for my
journey was now to that part of the cattle country.
"To Buffalo?" she said, quickly. "Then maybe you--maybe--My brother
is Nate Buckner." She paused. "Then you're not acquainted with him?"
"I may have seen him," I answered, slowly. "But faces and names out
here come and go."
I knew him well enough. He was in jail, convicted of forgery last
week, waiting to go to the penitentiary for five years. And even this
wild border community that hated law courts and punishments had not
been sorry, for he had cheated his friends too often, and the wide
charity of the sage-brush does not cover that sin. Beneath his pretty
looks and daring skill with horses they had found vanity and a cold,
false heart; but his sister could not. Here she was, come to find him
after lonely years, and to this one soul that loved him in the world
how was I to tell the desolation and the disgrace? I was glad to hear
her ask me if the stage went soon after supper.
"Now isn't that a bother?" said she, when I answered that it did
not start till morning. She glanced with rueful gayety at the hotel.
"Never mind," she continued, briskly; "I'm used to things. I'll just
sit up somewhere. Maybe the agent will let me stay in the office.
You're sure all that shooting's only jollification?"
"Certain," I said. "But I'll go and see."
"They always will have their fun," said she. "But I hate to have a
poor boy get hurt--even him deserving it!"
"They use pistols instead of fire-crackers," said I. "But you must
never sleep in that office. I'll see what we can do."
"Why, you're real kind!" she exclaimed, heartily. And I departed,
wondering what I ought to do.
Perhaps I should have told you before that Separ was a place
once--a sort of place; but you will relish now, I am convinced, the
pithy fable of its name.
Midway between two sections of this still unfinished line that,
rail after rail and mile upon mile, crawled over the earth's face
visibly during the constructing hours of each new day, lay a camp. To
this point these unjoined pieces were heading, and here at length they
met. Camp Separation it had been fitly called, but how should the
American railway man afford time to say that? Separation was pretty
and apt, but needless; and with the sloughing of two syllables came
the brief, businesslike result--Separ. Chicago, 1137-1/2 miles. It was
labelled on a board large almost as the hut station. A Y-switch, two
sidings, the fat water-tank and steam-pump, and a section-house with
three trees before it composed the north side. South of the track were
no trees. There was one long siding by the corrals and cattle-chute,
there were a hovel where plug tobacco and canned goods were for sale,
a shed where you might get your horse shod, a wire fence that at
shipping times enclosed bales of pressed hay, the hotel, the stage
stable, and the little station--some seven shanties all told. Between
them were spaces of dust, the immediate plains engulfed them, and
through their midst ran the far-vanishing railroad, to which they hung
like beads on a great string from horizon to horizon. A great
east-and-west string, one end in the rosy sun at morning, and one in
the crimson sun at night. Beyond each sky-line lay cities and ports
where the world went on out of sight and hearing. This lone steel
thread had been stretched across the continent because it was the day
of haste and hope, when dollars seemed many and hard times were few;
and from the Yellowstone to the Rio Grande similar threads were
stretching, and little Separs by dispersed hundreds hung on them, as
it were in space eternal. Can you wonder that vigorous young men with
pistols should, when they came to such a place, shoot them off to let
loose their unbounded joy of living?
And yet it was not this merely that began the custom, but an error
of the agent's. The new station was scarce created when one morning
Honey Wiggin with the Virginian had galloped innocently in from the
round-up to telegraph for some additional cars.
"I'm dead on to you!" squealed the official, dropping flat at the
sight of them; and bang went his gun at them. They, most naturally,
thought it was a maniac, and ran for their lives among the supports of
the water-tank, while he remained anchored with his weapon, crouched
behind the railing that fenced him and his apparatus from the laity;
and some fifteen strategic minutes passed before all parties had
crawled forth to an understanding, and the message was written and
paid for and comfortably despatched. The agent was an honest creature,
but of tame habits, sent for the sake of his imperfect lungs to this
otherwise inappropriate air. He had lived chiefly in mid-West towns, a
serious reader of our comic weeklies; hence the apparition of Wiggin
and the Virginian had reminded him sickeningly of bandits. He had
express money in the safe, he explained to them, and this was a hard
old country, wasn't it? and did they like good whiskey?
They drank his whiskey, but it was not well to have mentioned that
about the bandits. Both were aware that when shaved and washed of
their round-up grime they could look very engaging. The two
cow-punchers rode out, not angry, but grieved that a man come here to
dwell among them should be so tactless.
"If we don't get him used to us," observed the Virginian, "he and
his pop-gun will be guttin' some blameless man."
Forthwith the cattle country proceeded to get the agent used to it.
The news went over the sage-brush from Belle Fourche to Sweetwater,
and playful, howling horsemen made it their custom to go rioting with
pistols round the ticket office, educating the agent. His lungs
improved, and he came dimly to smile at this life which he did not
understand. But the company discerned no humor whatever in having its
water-tank perforated, which happened twice; and sheriffs and deputies
and other symptoms of authority began to invest Separ. Now what should
authority do upon these free plains, this wilderness of
do-as-you-please, where mere breathing the air was like inebriation?
The large, headlong children who swept in from the sage-brush and out
again meant nothing that they called harm until they found themselves
resisted. Then presently happened that affair of the cow-catcher; and
later a too-zealous marshal, come about a mail-car they had
side-tracked and held with fiddles, drink, and petticoats, met his
death accidentally, at which they were sincerely sorry for about five
minutes. They valued their own lives as little, and that lifts them
forever from baseness at least. So the company, concluding such things
must be endured for a while yet, wrote their letter, and you have seen
how wrong the letter went. All it would do would be from now on to
fasten upon Separ its code of recklessness; to make shooting the
water-tank (for example) part of a gentleman's deportment when he
showed himself in town.
It was not now the season of heavy shipping; to-night their work
would be early finished, and then they were likely to play after their
manner. To arrive in such a place on her way to her brother, the felon
in jail, made the girl's journey seem doubly forlorn to me as I
wandered down to the corrals.
A small, bold voice hailed me. "Hello, you!" it said; and here was
Billy Lusk, aged nine, in boots and overalls, importantly useless with
a stick, helping the men prod the steers at the chute.
"Thought you were at school," said I.
"Ah, school's quit," returned Billy, and changed the subject. "Say,
Lin's hunting you. He's angling to eat at the hotel. I'm grubbing with
the outfit." And Billy resumed his specious activity.
Mr. McLean was in the ticket-office, where the newspaper had
transiently reminded him of politics. "Wall Street," he was explaining
to the agent, "has been lunched on by them Ross-childs, and they're
moving on. Feeding along to Chicago. We want--" Here he noticed me
and, dragging his gauntlet off, shook my hand with his lusty grasp.
"Your eldest son just said you were in haste to find me," I
"Lose you, he meant. The kid gets his words twisted."
"Didn't know you were a father, Mr. McLean," simpered the agent.
Lin fixed his eye on the man. "And you don't know it now," said he.
Then he removed his eye. "Let's grub," he added to me. My friend did
not walk to the hotel, but slowly round and about, with a face
overcast. "Billy is a good kid," he said at length, and, stopping,
began to kick small mounds in the dust. Politics floated lightly over
him, but here was a matter dwelling with him, heavy and real. "He's
dead stuck on being a cow-puncher," he presently said.
"Some day--" I began.
"He don't want to wait that long," Lin said, and smiled
affectionately. "And, anyhow, what is 'some day'? Some day we punchers
will not be here. The living will be scattered, and the dead--well,
they'll be all right. Have yu' studied the wire fence? It's spreading
to catch us like nets do the salmon in the Columbia River. No more
salmon, no more cow-punchers," stated Mr. McLean, sententiously; and
his words made me sad, though I know that progress cannot spare land
and water for such things. "But Billy," Lin resumed, "has agreed to
school again when it starts up in the fall. He takes his medicine
because I want him to." Affection crept anew over the cow-puncher's
face. "He can learn books with the quickest when he wants, that Bear
Creek school-marm says. But he'd ought to have a regular mother
till--till I can do for him, yu' know. It's onwholesome him seeing and
hearing the boys--and me, and me when I forget!--but shucks! how can I
fix it? Billy was sure enough dropped and deserted. But when I found
him the little calf could run and notice like everything!"
"I should hate your contract, Lin," said I. "Adopting's a
touch-and-go business even when a man has a home."
"I'll fill the contract, you bet! I wish the little son-of-a-gun
was mine. I'm a heap more natural to him than that pair of drunkards
that got him. He likes me: I think he does. I've had to lick him now
and then, but Lord! his badness is all right--not sneaky. I'll take
him hunting next month, and then the foreman's wife at Sunk Creek
boards him till school. Only when they move, Judge Henry'll make his
Virginia man foreman--and he's got no woman to look after Billy, yu'
"He's asking one hard enough," said I, digressing.
"Oh yes; asking! Talk of adopting--" said Mr. McLean, and his
wide-open, hazel eyes looked away as he coughed uneasily. Then
abruptly looking at me again, he said: "Don't you get off any more
truck about eldest son and that, will yu', friend? The boys are
joshing me now--not that I care for what might easy enough be so, but
there's Billy. Maybe he'd not mind, but maybe he would after a while;
and I am kind o' set on--well--he didn't have a good time till he
shook that home of his, and I'm going to make this old bitch of a
world pay him what she owes him, if I can. Now you'll drop joshing,
won't yu'?" His forehead was moist over getting the thing said and
laying bare so much of his soul.
"And so the world owes us a good time, Lin?" said I.
He laughed shortly. "She must have been dead broke, then, quite a
while, you bet! Oh no. Maybe I used to travel on that basis. But see
here" (Lin laid his hand on my shoulder), "if you can't expect a good
time for yourself in reason, you can sure make the kids happy out o'
reason, can't yu'?"
I fairly opened my mouth at him.
"Oh yes," he said, laughing in that short way again (and he took
his hand off my shoulder); "I've been thinking a wonderful lot since
we met last. I guess I know some things yu' haven't got to yet
yourself-- Why, there's a girl!"
"That there is!" said I. "And certainly the world owes her a
"She's a fine-looker," interrupted Mr. McLean, paying me no further
attention. Here the decrepit, straw-hatted proprietor of the Hotel
Brunswick stuck his beard out of the door and uttered "Supper!" with a
shrill croak, at which the girl rose.
"Come!" said Lin, "let's hurry!"
But I hooked my fingers in his belt, and in spite of his plaintive
oaths at my losing him the best seat at the table, told him in three
words the sister's devoted journey.
"Nate Buckner!" he exclaimed. "Him with a decent sister!"
"It's the other way round," said I. "Her with him for a brother!"
"He goes to the penitentiary this week," said Lin. "He had no more
cash to stake his lawyer with, and the lawyer lost interest in him. So
his sister could have waited for her convict away back at Joliet, and
saved time and money. How did she act when yu' told her?"
"I've not told her."
"Not? Too kind o' not your business? Well, well! You'd ought to
know better 'n me. Only it don't seem right to let her--no, sir; it's
not right, either. Put it her brother was dead (and Miss. Fligg's
husband would like dearly to make him dead), you'd not let her come
slap up against the news unwarned. You would tell her he was sick, and
start her gently."
"Death's different," said I.
"Shucks! And she's to find him caged, and waiting for stripes and a
shaved head? How d' yu' know she mightn't hate that worse 'n if he'd
been just shot like a man in a husband scrape, instead of jailed like
a skunk for thieving? No, sir, she mustn't. Think of how it'll be.
Quick as the stage pulls up front o' the Buffalo post-office, plump
she'll be down ahead of the mail-sacks, inquiring after her brother,
and all that crowd around staring. Why, we can't let her do that; she
can't do that. If you don't feel so interfering, I'm good for this job
myself." And Mr. McLean took the lead and marched jingling in to
The seat he had coveted was vacant. On either side the girl were
empty chairs, two or three; for with that clean, shy respect of the
frontier that divines and evades a good woman, the dusty company had
sat itself at a distance, and Mr. McLean's best seat was open to him.
Yet he had veered away to the other side of the table, and his usually
roving eye attempted no gallantry. He ate sedately, and it was not
until after long weeks and many happenings that Miss Buckner told Lin
she had known he was looking at her through the whole of this meal.
The straw-hatted proprietor came and went, bearing beefsteak hammered
flat to make it tender. The girl seemed the one happy person among us;
for supper was going forward with the invariable alkali etiquette, all
faces brooding and feeding amid a disheartening silence as of guilt or
bereavement that springs from I have never been quite sure
what--perhaps reversion to the native animal absorbed in his meat,
perhaps a little from every guest's uneasiness lest he drink his
coffee wrong or stumble in the accepted uses of the fork. Indeed, a
diffident, uncleansed youth nearest Miss Buckner presently wiped his
mouth upon the cloth; and Mr. McLean, knowing better than that, eyed
him for this conduct in the presence of a lady. The lively strength of
the butter must, I think, have reached all in the room; at any rate,
the table-cloth lad, troubled by Mr. McLean's eye, now relieved the
general silence by observing, chattily:
"Say, friends, that butter ain't in no trance."
"If it's too rich for you," croaked the enraged proprietor, "use
The company continued gravely feeding, while I struggled to
preserve the decorum of sadness, and Miss Buckner's face was also
unsteady. But sternness mantled in the countenance of Mr. McLean,
until the harmless boy, embarrassed to pieces, offered the untasted
smelling-dish to Lin, to me, helped himself, and finally thrust the
plate at the girl, saying, in his Texas idiom,
He spoke in the shell voice of adolescence, and on "butter" cracked
an octave up into the treble. Miss Buckner was speechless, and could
only shake her head at the plate.
Mr. McLean, however, thought she was offended. "She wouldn't choose
for none," he said to the youth, with appalling calm. "Thank yu' most
"I guess," fluted poor Texas, in a dove falsetto, "it would go
slicker rubbed outside than swallered."
At this Miss Buckner broke from the table and fled out of the
"You don't seem to know anything," observed Mr. McLean. "What
toy-shop did you escape from?"
"Wind him up! Wind him up!" said the proprietor, sticking his head
in from the kitchen.
"Ah, what's the matter with this outfit?" screamed the boy,
furiously. "Can't yu' leave a man eat? Can't yu' leave him be? You
make me sick!" And he flounced out with his young boots.
All the while the company fed on unmoved. Presently one remarked,
"Who's hiring him?"
"The C. Y. outfit," said another.
"Half-circle L.," a third corrected.
"I seen one like him onced," said the first, taking his hat from
beneath his chair. "Up in the Black Hills he was. Eighteen
seventy-nine. Gosh!" And he wandered out upon his business. One by one
the others also silently dispersed.
Upon going out, Lin and I found the boy pacing up and down, eagerly
in talk with Miss Buckner. She had made friends with him, and he was
now smoothed down and deeply absorbed, being led by her to tell her
about himself. But on Lin's approach his face clouded, and he made off
for the corrals, displaying a sullen back, while I was presenting Mr.
McLean to the lady.
Overtaken by his cow-puncher shyness, Lin was greeting her with
ungainly ceremony, when she began at once, "You'll excuse me, but I
just had to have my laugh."
"That's all right, m'm," said he; "don't mention it."
"For that boy, you know--"
"I'll fix him, m'm. He'll not insult yu' no more. I'll speak to
"Now, please don't! Why--why--you were every bit as bad!" Miss
Buckner pealed out, joyously. "It was the two of you. Oh dear!"
Mr. McLean looked crestfallen. "I had no--I didn't go to--"
"Why, there was no harm! To see him mean so well and you mean so
well, and--I know I ought to behave better!"
"No, yu' oughtn't!" said Lin, with sudden ardor; and then, in a
voice of deprecation, "You'll think us plumb ignorant."
"You know enough to be kind to folks," said she.
"We'd like to."
"It's the only thing makes the world go round!" she declared, with
an emotion that I had heard in her tone once or twice already. But she
caught herself up, and said gayly to me, "And where's that house you
were going to build for a lone girl to sleep in?"
"I'm afraid the foundations aren't laid yet," said I.
"Now you gentlemen needn't bother about me."
"We'll have to, m'm. You ain't used to Separ."
"Oh, I am no--tenderfoot, don't you call them?" She whipped out her
pistol, and held it at the cow-puncher, laughing.
This would have given no pleasure to me; but over Lin's features
went a glow of delight, and he stood gazing at the pointed weapon and
the girl behind it. "My!" he said, at length, almost in a whisper,
"she's got the drop on me!"
"I reckon I'd be afraid to shoot that one of yours," said Miss
Buckner. "But this hits a target real good and straight at fifteen
yards." And she handed it to him for inspection.
He received it, hugely grinning, and turned it over and over. "My!"
he murmured again. "Why, shucks!" He looked at Miss Buckner with stark
rapture, caressing the polished revolver at the same time with a fond,
unconscious thumb. "You hold it just as steady as I could," he said
with pride, and added, insinuatingly, "I could learn yu' the
professional drop in a morning. This here is a little dandy gun."
"You'd not trade, though," said she, "for all your flattery."
"Will yu' trade?" pounced Lin. "Won't yu'?"
"Now, Mr. McLean, I am afraid you're thoughtless. How could a girl
like me ever hold that awful .45 Colt steady?"
"She knows the brands, too!" cried Lin, in ecstasy. "See here," he
remarked to me with a manner that smacked of command, "we're losing
time right now. You go and tell the agent to hustle and fix his room
up for a lady, and I'll bring her along."
I found the agent willing, of course, to sleep on the floor of the
office. The toy station was also his home. The front compartment held
the ticket and telegraph and mail and express chattels, and the
railing, and room for the public to stand; through a door you then
passed to the sitting, dining, and sleeping box; and through another
to a cooking-stove in a pigeon-hole. Here flourished the agent and his
lungs, and here the company's strict orders bade him sleep in charge;
so I helped him put his room to rights. But we need not have hurried
ourselves. Mr. McLean was so long in bringing the lady that I went out
and found him walking and talking with her, while fifty yards away
skulked poor Texas, alone. This boy's name was, like himself, of the
somewhat unexpected order, being Manassas Donohoe.
As I came towards the new friends they did not appear to be joking,
and on seeing me Miss Buckner said to Lin, "Did he know?"
"You did know!" she exclaimed, but lost her resentment at once, and
continued, very quietly and with a friendly tone, "I reckon you don't
like to have to tell folks bad news."
It was I that now hesitated.
"Not to a strange girl, anyway!" said she. "Well, now I have good
news to tell you. You would not have given me any shock if you had
said you knew about poor Nate, for that's the reason--Of course those
things can't be secrets! Why, he's only twenty, sir! How should he
know about this world? He hadn't learned the first little thing when
he left home five years ago. And I am twenty-three--old enough to be
Nate's grandmother, he's that young and thoughtless. He couldn't ever
realize bad companions when they came around. See that!" She showed me
a paper, taking it out like a precious thing, as indeed it was; for it
was a pardon signed by Governor Barker. "And the Governor has let me
carry it to Nate myself. He won't know a thing about it till I tell
him. The Governor was real kind, and we will never forget him. I
reckon Nate must have a mustache by now?" said she to Lin.
"Yes," Lin answered, gruffly, looking away from her, "he has got a
mustache all right."
"He'll be glad to see you," said I, for something to say.
"Of course he will! How many hours did you say we will be?" she
asked Lin, turning from me again, for Mr. McLean had not been losing
time. It was plain that between these two had arisen a freemasonry
from which I was already shut out. Her woman's heart had answered his
right impulse to tell her about her brother, and I had been found
So now she listened over again to the hours of stage jolting that
"we" had before us, and that lay between her and Nate. "We would be
four-- herself, Lin, myself, and the boy Billy. Was Billy the one at
supper? Oh no; just Billy Lusk, of Laramie. "He's a kid I'm taking up
the country," Lin explained. "Ain't you most tuckered out?"
"Oh, me!" she confessed, with a laugh and a sigh.
There again! She had put aside my solicitude lightly, but was
willing Lin should know her fatigue. Yet, fatigue and all, she would
not sleep in the agent's room. At sight of it and the close quarters
she drew back into the outer office, so prompted by that inner,
unsuspected strictness she had shown me before.
"Come out!" she cried, laughing. "Indeed, I thank you. But I can't
have you sleep on this hard floor out here. No politeness, now! Thank
you ever so much. I'm used to roughing it pretty near as well as if I
was--a cowboy!" And she glanced at Lin. "They're calling forty-seven,"
she added to the agent.
"That's me," he said, coming out to the telegraph instrument. "So
you're one of us?"
"I didn't know forty-seven meant Separ," said I. "How in the world
do you know that?"
"I didn't. I heard forty-seven, forty-seven, forty-seven, start and
go right along, so I guessed they wanted him, and he couldn't hear
them from his room."
"Can yu' do astronomy and Spanish too?" inquired the proud and
"Why, it's nothing! I've been day operator back home. Why is a
deputy coming through on a special engine?"
"Please don't say it out loud!" quavered the agent, as the machine
clicked its news.
"Yu' needn't be scared of a girl," said Lin. "Another sheriff! So
they're not quit bothering us yet."
However, this meddling was not the company's, but the county's; a
sheriff sent to arrest, on a charge of murder, a man named Trampas,
said to be at the Sand Hill Ranch. That was near Rawhide, two stations
beyond, and the engine might not stop at Separ, even to water. So here
was no molesting of Separ's liberties.
"All the same," Lin said, for pistols now and then still sounded at
the corrals, "the boys'll not understand that till it's explained, and
they may act wayward first. I'd feel easier if you slept here," he
urged to the girl. But she would not. "Well, then, we must rustle some
other private place for you. How's the section-house?"
"Rank," said the agent, "since those Italians used it. The pump
engineer has been scouring, but he's scared to bunk there yet
"Too bad you couldn't try my plan of a freight-car!" said I.
"An empty?" she cried. "Is there a clean one?"
"You've sure never done that?" Lin burst out.
"So you're scandalized," said she, punishing him instantly. "I
reckon it does take a decent girl to shock you." And while she stood
laughing at him with robust irony, poor Lin began to stammer that he
meant no offence. "Why, to be sure you didn't!" said she. "But I do
enjoy you real thoroughly."
"Well, m'm," protested the wincing cow-puncher, driven back to
addressing her as "ma'am," "we ain't used--"
"Don't tangle yourself up worse, Mr. McLean. No more am I 'used.' I
have never slept in an empty in my life. And why is that? Just because
I've never had to. And there's the difference between you boys and us.
You do lots of things you don't like, and tell us. And we put up with
lots of things we don't like, but we never let you find out. I know
you meant no offense," she continued, heartily, softening towards her
crushed protector, "because you're a gentleman. And lands! I'm not
complaining about an empty. That will be rich--if I can have the door
Upon this she went out to view the cars, Mr. McLean hovering behind
her with a devoted, uneasy countenance, and frequently muttering
"Shucks!" while the agent and I followed with a lamp, for the dark was
come. With our help she mounted into the first car, and then into the
next, taking the lamp. And while she scanned the floor and corners,
and slid the door back and forth, Lin whispered in my ear: "Her name's
Jessamine. She told me. Don't yu' like that name?" So I answered him,
"Yes, very much," thinking that some larger flower--but still a
flower--might have been more apt.
"Nobody seems to have slept in these," said she, stepping down; and
on learning that even the tramp avoided Separ when he could, she
exclaimed, "What lodging could be handier than this! Only it would be
so cute if you had a Louavull an' Nashvull car," said she. "Twould
seem like my old Kentucky home!" And laughing rather sweetly at her
joke, she held the lamp up to read the car's lettering. "'D. and R.
G.' Oh, that's a way-off stranger! I reckon they're all strange." She
went along the train with her lamp. "Yes, 'B. and M.' and 'S. C. and
P.' Oh, this is rich! Nate will laugh when he hears. I'll choose 'C.,
B. and Q.' That's a little nearer my country. What time does the stage
start? Porter, please wake 'C., B. and Q.' at six, sharp," said she to
From this point of the evening on, I think of our doings--their
doings-- with a sort of unchanging homesickness. Nothing like them can
ever happen again, I know; for it's all gone--settled, sobered, and
gone. And whatever wholesomer prose of good fortune waits in our cup,
how I thank my luck for this swallow of frontier poetry which I came
in time for!
To arrange some sort of bed for her was the next thing, and we made
a good shake-down--clean straw and blankets and a pillow, and the
agent would have brought sheets; but though she would not have these,
she did not resist--what do you suppose?--a looking-glass for next
morning! And we got a bucket of water and her valise. It was all one
to her, she said, in what car Lin and I put up; and let it be next
door, by all means, if it pleased him to think he could watch over her
safety better so; and she shut herself in, bidding us good-night. We
began spreading straw and blankets for ourselves, when a whistle
sounded far and long, and its tone rose in pitch as it came.
"I'll get him to run right to the corrals," said the agent, "so the
sheriff can tell the boys he's not after them."
"That'll convince 'em he is," said Lin. "Stop him here, or let him
But we were not to steer the course that events took now. The rails
of the main line beside us brightened in wavering parallels as the
headlight grew down upon us, and in this same moment the shootings at
the corrals chorused in a wild, hilarious threat. The burden of the
coming engine heavily throbbed in the air and along the steel, and met
and mixed with the hard, light beating of hoofs. The sounds approached
together like a sort of charge, and I stepped between the
freight-cars, where I heard Lin ordering the girl inside to lie down
flat, and could see the agent running about in the dust, flapping his
arms to signal with as much coherence as a chicken with its head off.
I had very short space for wonder or alarm. The edge of one of my
freight-cars glowed suddenly with the imminent headlight, and
galloping shots invaded the place. The horsemen flew by, overreaching,
and leaning back and lugging against their impetus. They passed in a
tangled swirl, and their dust coiled up thick from the dark ground and
luminously unfolded across the glare of the sharp-halted locomotive.
Then they wheeled, and clustered around it where it stood by our cars,
its air-brake pumping deep breaths, and the internal steam humming
through its bowels; and I came out in time to see Billy Lusk climb its
front with callow, enterprising shouts. That was child's play; and the
universal yell now raised by the horsemen was their child's play too;
but the whole thing could so precipitately reel into the fatal that my
thoughts stopped. I could only look when I saw that they had somehow
recognized the man on the engine for a sheriff. Two had sprung from
their horses and were making boisterously toward the cab, while Lin
McLean, neither boisterous nor joking, was going to the cab from my
side, with his pistol drawn, to keep the peace. The engineer sat with
a neutral hand on the lever, the fireman had run along the top of the
coal in the tender and descended and crouched somewhere, and the
sheriff, cool, and with a good-natured eye upon all parties, was just
beginning to explain his errand, when some rider from the crowd cut
him short with an invitation to get down and have a drink. At the word
of ribald endearment by which he named the sheriff, a passing
fierceness hardened the officer's face, and the new yell they gave was
less playful. Waiting no more explanations, they swarmed against the
locomotive, and McLean pulled himself up on the step. The loud talking
fell at a stroke to let business go on, and in this silence came the
noise of a sliding-door. At that I looked, and they all looked, and
stood harmless, like children surprised. For there on the threshold of
the freight-car, with the interior darkness behind her, and touched by
the headlight's diverging rays, stood Jessamine Buckner.
"Will you gentlemen do me a favor?" said she. "Strangers, maybe,
have no right to ask favors, but I reckon you'll let that pass this
time. For I'm real sleepy!" She smiled as she brought this out. "I've
been four days and nights on the cars, and to-morrow I've got to stage
to Buffalo. You see I'll not be here to spoil your fun to-morrow
night, and I want boys to be boys just as much as ever they can. Won't
you put it off till to-morrow night?"
In their amazement they found no spokesman; but I saw Lin busy
among them, and that some word was passing through their groups. After
the brief interval of stand-still they began silently to get on their
horses, while the looming engine glowed and pumped its breath, and the
sheriff and engineer remained as they were.
"Good-night, lady," said a voice among the moving horsemen, but the
others kept their abashed native silence; and thus they slowly filed
away to the corrals. The figures, in their loose shirts and leathern
chaps, passed from the dimness for a moment through the cone of light
in front of the locomotive, so that the metal about them made here and
there a faint, vanishing glint; and here and there in the departing
column a bold, half-laughing face turned for a look at the girl in the
doorway, and then was gone again into the dimness.
The sheriff in the cab took off his hat to Miss Buckner, remarking
that she should belong to the force; and as the bell rang and the
engine moved, off popped young Billy Lusk from his cow-catcher. With
an exclamation of horror she sprang down, and Mr. McLean appeared,
and, with all a parent's fright and rage, held the boy by the arm
grotesquely as the sheriff steamed by.
"I ain't a-going to chase it," said young Billy, struggling.
"I've a mind to cowhide you," said Lin.
But Miss Buckner interposed. "Oh, well," said she, "next time; if
he does it next time. It's so late to-night! You'll not frighten us
that way again if he lets you off?" she asked Billy.
"No," said Billy, looking at her with interest. "Father 'd have
cowhided me anyway, I guess," he added, meditatively.
"Do you call him father?"
"Ah, father's at Laramie," said Billy, with disgust. "He'd not stop
for your asking. Lin don't bother me much."
"You quit talking and step up there!" ordered his guardian. "Well,
m'm, I guess yu' can sleep good now in there."
"If it was only an 'L. and N.' I'd not have a thing against it!
Good-night, Mr. McLean; good-night, young Mr.--"
"I'm Billy Lusk. I can ride Chalkeye's pinto that bucked Honey
"I am sure you can ride finely, Mr. Lusk. Maybe you and I can take
a ride together. Pleasant dreams!"
She nodded and smiled to him, and slid her door to; and Billy
considered it, remarking: "I like her. What makes her live in a car?"
But he was drowsing while I told him; and I lifted him up to Lin,
who took him in his own blankets, where he fell immediately asleep.
One distant whistle showed how far the late engine had gone from us.
We left our car open, and I lay enjoying the cool air. Thus was I
drifting off, when I grew aware of a figure in the door. It was Lin,
standing in his stockings and not much else, with his pistol. He
listened, and then leaped down, light as a cat. I heard some repressed
talking, and lay in expectancy; but back he came, noiseless in his
stockings, and as he slid into bed I asked what the matter was. He had
found the Texas boy, Manassas Donohoe, by the girl's car, with no
worse intention than keeping a watch on it. "So I gave him to
understand," said Lin, "that I had no objection to him amusing himself
playing picket-line, but that I guessed I was enough guard, and he
would find sleep healthier for his system." After this I went to sleep
wholly; but, waking once in the night, thought I heard some one
outside, and learned in the morning from Lin that the boy had not gone
until the time came for him to join his outfit at the corrals. And I
was surprised that Lin, the usually good-hearted, should find nothing
but mirth in the idea of this unknown, unthanked young sentinel.
"Sleeping's a heap better for them kind till they get their growth,"
was his single observation.
But when Separ had dwindled to toys behind us in the journeying
stage I told Miss Jessamine, and although she laughed too, it was with
a note that young Texas would have liked to hear; and she hoped she
might see him upon her return, to thank him.
"Any Jack can walk around all night," said Mr. McLean,
"Well, then, and I know a Jack who didn't," observed the young
This speech caused her admirer to be full of explanations; so that
when she saw how readily she could perplex him, and yet how capable
and untiring he was about her comfort, helping her out or tucking her
in at the stations where we had a meal or changed horses, she enjoyed
the hours very much, in spite of their growing awkwardness.
But oh, the sparkling, unbashful Lin! Sometimes he sat himself
beside her to be close, and then he would move opposite, the better to
Never, except once long after (when sorrow manfully borne had still
further refined his clay), have I heard Lin's voice or seen his look
so winning. No doubt many a male bird cares nothing what neighbor bird
overhears his spring song from the top of the open tree, but I
extremely doubt if his lady-love, even if she be a frank, bouncing
robin, does not prefer to listen from some thicket, and not upon the
public lawn. Jessamine grew silent and almost peevish; and from
discourse upon man and woman she hopped, she skipped, she flew. When
Lin looked at his watch and counted the diminished hours between her
and Buffalo, she smiled to herself; but from mention of her brother
she shrank, glancing swiftly at me and my well-assumed slumber.
And it was with indignation and self-pity that I climbed out in the
hot sun at last beside the driver and small Billy.
"I know this road," piped Billy, on the box
"'I camped here with father when mother was off that time. You can
take a left-hand trail by those cottonwoods and strike the mountains."
So I inquired what game he had then shot.
"Ah, just a sage-hen. Lin's a-going to let me shoot a bear, you
know. What made Lin marry mother when father was around?"
The driver gave me a look over Billy's head, and I gave him one;
and I instructed Billy that people supposed his father was dead. I
withheld that his mother gave herself out as Miss Peck in the days
when Lin met her on Bear Creek.
The formidable nine-year-old pondered. "The geography says they
used to have a lot of wives at Salt Lake City. Is there a place where
a woman can have a lot of husbands?"
"It don't especially depend on the place," remarked the driver to
"Because," Billy went on, "Bert Taylor told me in recess that
mother'd had a lot, and I told him he lied, and the other boys they
laughed and I blacked Bert's eye on him, and I'd have blacked the
others too, only Miss Wood came out. I wouldn't tell her what Bert
said, and Bert wouldn't, and Sophy Armstrong told her. Bert's father
found out, and he come round, and I thought he was a-going to lick me
about the eye, and he licked Bert! Say, am I Lin's, honest?"
"No, Billy, you're not," I said.
"Wish I was. They couldn't get me back to Laramie then; but, oh,
bother! I'd not go for 'em! I'd like to see 'em try! Lin wouldn't
leave me go. You ain't married, are you? No more is Lin now, I guess.
A good many are, but I wouldn't want to. I don't think anything of
'em. I've seen mother take 'pothecary stuff on the sly. She's whaled
me worse than Lin ever does. I guess he wouldn't want to be mother's
husband again, and if he does," said Billy, his voice suddenly
vindictive, "I'll quit him and skip."
"No danger, Bill," said I.
"How would the nice lady inside please you?" inquired the driver.
"Ah, pshaw! she ain't after Lin!" sang out Billy, loud and
scornful. "She's after her brother. She's all right, though," he
At this all talk stopped short inside, reviving in a casual, scanty
manner; while unconscious Billy Lusk, tired of the one subject, now
spoke cheerfully of birds' eggs.
Who knows the child-soul, young in days, yet old as Adam and the
hills? That school-yard slur about his mother was as dim to his
understanding as to the offender's, yet mysterious nature had bid him
go to instant war! How foreseeing in Lin to choke the unfounded jest
about his relation to Billy Lusk, in hopes to save the boy's ever
awakening to the facts of his mother's life! "Though," said the
driver, an easygoing cynic, "folks with lots of fathers will find
heaps of brothers in this country!" But presently he let Billy hold
the reins, and at the next station carefully lifted him down and up.
"I've knowed that woman, too," he whispered to me. "Sidney, Nebraska.
Lusk was off half the time. We laughed when she fooled Lin into
marryin' her. Come to think," he mused, as twilight deepened around
our clanking stage, and small Billy slept sound between us, "there's
scarcely a thing in life you get a laugh out of that don't make
soberness for somebody."
Soberness had now visited the pair behind us; even Lin's lively
talk had quieted, and his tones were low and few. But though Miss
Jessamine at our next change of horses "hoped" I would come inside, I
knew she did not hope very earnestly, and outside I remained until
Journeying done, her face revealed the strain beneath her brave
brightness, and the haunting care she could no longer keep from her
eyes. The imminence of the jail and the meeting had made her cheeks
white and her countenance seem actually smaller; and when, reminding
me that we should meet again soon, she gave me her hand, it was
ice-cold. I think she was afraid Lin might offer to go with her. But
his heart understood the lonely sacredness of her next half-hour, and
the cow puncher, standing aside for her to pass, lifted his hat
wistfully and spoke never a word. For a moment he looked after her
with sombre emotion; but the court-house and prison stood near and in
sight, and, as plain as if he had said so, I saw him suddenly feel she
should not be stared at going up those steps; it must be all alone,
the pain and the joy of that reprieve! He turned away with me, and
after a few silent steps said, "Wasted! all wasted!"
"Let us hope--" I began.
"You're not a fool," he broke in, roughly. "You don't hope
"He'll start life elsewhere," said I.
"Elsewhere! Yes, keep starting till all the elsewheres know him
like Powder River knows him. But she! I have had to sit and hear her
tell and tell about him; all about back in Kentucky playin' around the
farm, and how she raised him after the old folks died. Then he got
bigger and made her sell their farm, and she told how it was right he
should turn it into money and get his half. I did not dare say a word,
for she'd have just bit my head off, and--and that would sure hurt me
now!" Lin brought up with a comical chuckle. "And she went to work,
and he cleared out, and no more seen or heard of him. That's for five
years, and she'd given up tracing him, when one morning she reads in
the paper about how her long-lost brother is convicted for forgery.
That's the way she knows he's not dead, and she takes her savings off
her railroad salary and starts for him. She was that hasty she thought
it was Buffalo, New York, till she got in the cars and read the paper
over again. But she had to go as far as Cincinnati, either way. She
has paid every cent of the money he stole." We had come to the bridge,
and Lin jerked a stone into the quick little river. "She's awful
strict in some ways. Thought Buffalo must be a wicked place because of
the shops bein' open Sunday. Now if that was all Buffalo's wickedness!
And she thinks divorce is mostly sin. But her heart is a shield for
"Her face is as beautiful as her actions," he added.
"Well," said I, "and would you make such a villain your
He whirled round and took both my shoulders. "Come walking!" he
urged. "I must talk some." So we followed the stream out of town
towards the mountains. "I came awful near asking her in the stage,"
"Goodness, Lin! give yourself time!"
"Time can't increase my feelings."
"Hers, man, hers! How many hours have you known her?"
"Hours and hours! You're talking foolishness! What have they got to
do with it? And she will listen to me. I can tell she will. I know I
can be so she'll listen, and it will go all right, for I'll ask so
hard. And everything'll come out straight. Yu' see, I've not been
spending to speak of since Billy's on my hands, and now I'll fix up my
cabin and finish my fencing and my ditch--and she's going to like Box
Elder Creek better than Shawhan. She's the first I've ever loved."
"Then I'd like to ask--" I cried out.
"Ask away!" he exclaimed, inattentively, in his enthusiasm.
"When you--" but I stopped, perceiving it impossible. It was, of
course, not the many transient passions on which he had squandered his
substance, but the one where faith also had seemed to unite. Had he
not married once, innocent of the woman's being already a wife? But I
stopped, for to trench here was not for me or any one.
And my pause strangely flashed on him something of that I had in my
"No," he said, his eyes steady and serious upon me, "don't you ask
about the things you're meaning." Then his face grew radiant and
rather stern. "Do you suppose I don't know she's too good for me? And
that some bygones can't ever be bygones? But if you," he said, "never
come to look away up to a woman from away down, and mean to win her
just the same as if you did deserve her, why, you'll make a turruble
mess of the whole business!"
When we walked in silence for a long while, he lighted again with
the blossoming dawn of his sentiment. I thought of the coarse yet
taking vagabond of twenty I had once chanced upon, and hunted and
camped with since through the years. Decidedly he was not that boy
to-day! It is not true that all of us rise through adversity, any more
than that all plants need shadow. Some starve out of the sunshine; and
I have seen misery deaden once kind people to everything but
self--almost the saddest sight in the world! But Lin's character had
not stood well the ordeal of happiness, and for him certainly harsh
days and responsibility had been needed to ripen the spirit. Yes,
Jessamine Buckner would have been much too good for him before that
humiliation of his marriage, and this care of young Billy with which
he had loaded himself. "Lin," said I, "I will drink your health and
"I'm healthy enough," said he; and we came back to the main street
and into the main saloon.
"How d'ye, boys?" said some one, and there was Nate Buckner. "It's
on me to-day," he continued, shoving whiskey along the bar; and I saw
he was a little drunk. "I'm setting 'em up," he continued. "Why? Why,
because"--he looked around for appreciation--"because it's not every
son-of-a-gun in Wyoming gets pardoned by Governor Barker. I'm
important, I want you to understand," he pursued to the cold
bystanders. "They'll have a picture of me in the Cheyenne paper. 'The
Bronco-buster of Powder River!' They can't do without me! If any
son-of-a-gun here thinks he knows how to break a colt," he shouted,
looking around with the irrelevant fierceness of drink--and then his
challenge ebbed vacantly in laughter as the subject blurred in his
mind. "You're not drinking, Lin," said he.
"No," said McLean, "I'm not."
"Sworn off again? Well, water never did agree with me."
"Yu' never gave water the chance," retorted the cow-puncher, and we
left the place without my having drunk his health.
It was a grim beginning, this brag attempt to laugh his reputation
down, with the jail door scarce closed behind him. "Folks are not
going to like that," said Lin, as we walked across the bridge again to
the hotel. Yet the sister, left alone here after an hour at most of
her brother's company, would pretend it was a matter of course. Nate
was not in, she told us at once. He had business to attend to and
friends to see he must get back to Riverside and down in that country
where colts were waiting for him. He was the only one the E. K. outfit
would allow to handle their young stock. Did we know that? And she was
going to stay with a Mrs. Pierce down there for a while, near where
Nate would be working. All this she told us; but when he did not
return to dine with her on this first day, I think she found it hard
to sustain her wilful cheeriness. Lin offered to take her driving to
see the military post and dress parade at retreat, and Cloud's Peak,
and Buffalo's various sights; but she made excuses and retired to her
room. Nate, however, was at tea, shaven clean, with good clothes, and
well conducted. His tone and manner to Jessamine were confidential and
caressing, and offended Mr. McLean, so that I observed to him that it
was scarcely reasonable to be jealous.
"Oh, no jealousy!" said he. "But he comes in and kisses her, and he
kisses her good-night, and us strangers looking on! It's such
oncontrollable affection, yu' see, after never writing for five years.
I expect she must have some of her savings left."
It is true that the sister gave the brother money more than once;
and as our ways lay together, I had chances to see them both, and to
wonder if her joy at being with him once again was going to last. On
the road to Riverside I certainly heard Jessamine beg him to return
home with her; and he ridiculed such a notion. What proper life for a
live man was that dead place back East? he asked her. I thought he
might have expressed some regret that they must dwell so far apart, or
some intention to visit her now and then; but he said nothing of the
sort, though he spoke volubly of himself and his prospects. I suppose
this spectacle of brother and sister had rubbed Lin the wrong way too
much, for he held himself and Billy aloof, joining me on the road but
once, and then merely to give me the news that people here wanted no
more of Nate Buckner; he would be run out of the country, and respect
for the sister was all that meanwhile saved him. But Buckner, like so
many spared criminals, seemed brazenly unaware he was disgraced, and
went hailing loudly any riders or drivers we met, while beside him his
sister sat close and straight, her stanch affection and support for
the world to see. For all she let appear, she might have been bringing
him back from some gallant heroism achieved; and as I rode along the
travesty seemed more and more pitiful, the outcome darker and darker.
At all times is Riverside beautiful, but most beautiful when the
sun draws down through the openings of the hills. From each one a
stream comes flowing clearly out into the plain, and fields spread
green along the margins. It was beneath the long-slanted radiance of
evening that we saw Blue Creek and felt its coolness rise among the
shifting veils of light. The red bluff eastward, the tall natural
fortress, lost its stern masonry of shapes, and loomed a soft towering
enchantment of violet and amber and saffron in the changing rays. The
cattle stood quiet about the levels, and horses were moving among the
restless colts. These the brother bade his sister look at, for with
them was his glory; and I heard him boasting of his skill--truthful
boasting, to be sure. Had he been honest in his dealings, the
good-will that man's courage and dashing appearance beget in men would
have brought him more employment than he could have undertaken. He
told Jessamine his way of breaking a horse that few would dare, and
she listened eagerly. "Do you remember when I used to hold the pony
for you to get on?" she said. "You always would scare me, Nate!" And
he replied, fluently, Yes, yes; did she see that horse there, near the
fence? He was a four-year-old, an outlaw, and she would find no one
had tried getting on his back since he had been absent. This was the
first question he asked on reaching the cabin, where various neighbors
were waiting the mail-rider; and, finding he was right, he turned in
pride to Jessamine
"They don't know how to handle that horse," said he. "I told you
so. Give me a rope."
Did she notice the cold greeting Nate received? I think not. Not
only was their welcome to her the kinder, but any one is glad to
witness bold riding, and this chance made a stir which the sister may
have taken for cordiality. But Lin gave me a look; for it was the same
here as it had been in the Buffalo saloon.
"The trick is easy enough," said Nate, arriving with his outlaw,
and liking an audience. "You don't want a bridle, but a rope hackamore
like this--Spanish style. Then let them run as hard as they want, and
on a sudden reach down your arm and catch the hackamore short, close
up by the mouth, and jerk them round quick and heavy at full speed.
They quit their fooling after one or two doses. Now watch your
He went into the saddle so swift and secure that the animal,
amazed, trembled stock-still, then sprang headlong. It stopped,
vicious and knowing, and plunged in a rage, but could do nothing with
the man, and bolted again, and away in a straight blind line over the
meadow, when the rider leaned forward to his trick. The horse veered
in a jagged swerve, rolled over and over with its twisted impetus, and
up on its feet and on without a stop, the man still seated and upright
in the saddle. How we cheered to see it! But the figure now tilted
strangely, and something awful and nameless came over us and chilled
our noise to silence. The horse, dazed and tamed by the fall, brought
its burden towards us, a wobbling thing, falling by small shakes
backward, until the head sank on the horse's rump.
"Come away," said Lin McLean to Jessamine and at his voice she
obeyed and went, leaning on his arm.
Jessamine sat by her brother until he died, twelve hours
afterwards, having spoken and known nothing. The whole weight of the
horse had crushed him internally. He must have become almost instantly
unconscious, being held in the saddle by his spurs, which had caught
in the hair cinch; it may be that our loud cheer was the last thing of
this world that he knew. The injuries to his body made impossible any
taking him home, which his sister at first wished to do. "Why, I came
here to bring him home," she said, with a smile and tone like
cheerfulness in wax. Her calm, the unearthly ease with which she spoke
to any comer (and she was surrounded with rough kindness), embarrassed
the listeners; she saw her calamity clear as they did, but was
sleep-walking in it. It was Lin gave her what she needed--the repose
of his strong, silent presence. He spoke no sympathy and no advice,
nor even did he argue with her about the burial; he perceived somehow
that she did not really hear what was said to her, and that these
first griefless, sensible words came from some mechanism of the
nerves; so he kept himself near her, and let her tell her story as she
would. Once I heard him say to her, with the same authority of that
first "come away"; "Now you've had enough of the talking. Come for a
walk." Enough of the talking--as if it were a treatment! How did he
think of that? Jessamine, at any rate, again obeyed him, and I saw the
two going quietly about in the meadows and along the curving brook;
and that night she slept well. On one only point did the cow-puncher
"They figured to put Nate on top of that bald mound," said he. "But
she has talked about the flowers and shade where the old folks lie,
and where she wants him to be alongside of them. I've not let her look
at him to-day, for--well, she might get the way he looks now on her
memory. But I'd like to show you my idea before going further."
Lin had indeed chosen a beautiful place, and so I told him at the
first sight of it.
"That's all I wanted to know," said he. "I'll fix the rest."
I believe he never once told Jessamine the body could not travel so
far as Kentucky. I think he let her live and talk and grieve from hour
to hour, and then led her that afternoon to the nook of sunlight and
sheltering trees, and won her consent to it thus; for there was Nate
laid, and there she went to sit, alone. Lin did not go with her on
But now something new was on the fellow's mind. He was plainly
occupied with it, whatever else he was doing, and he had some active
cattle-work. On my asking him if Jessamine Buckner had decided when to
return east, he inquired of me, angrily, what was there in Kentucky
she could not have in Wyoming? Consequently, though I surmised what he
must be debating, I felt myself invited to keep out of his confidence,
and I did so. My advice to him would have been ill received, and--as
was soon to be made plain-- would have done his delicacy injustice.
Next, one morning he and Billy were gone. My first thought was that he
had rejoined Jessamine at Mrs. Pierce's, where she was, and left me
away over here on Bear Creek, where we had come for part of a week.
But stuck in my hat-band I found a pencilled farewell.
Now Mr. McLean constructed perhaps three letters in the
year--painful, serious events--like an interview with some important
person with whom your speech must decorously flow. No matter to whom
he was writing, it froze all nature stiff in each word he achieved;
and his bald business diction and wild archaic penmanship made
documents that I value among my choicest correspondence; this one,
"Wensday four a. m.
"DEAR SIR this is to Inform you that i have gone to Separ on important
bisness where i expect to meet you on your arrival at same point. You
will confer a favor and oblidge undersigned by Informing Miss J. Buckner
of date (if soon) you fix for returning per stage to Separ as Miss J.
Buckner may prefer company for the trip being long and poor
Yours L. McLEAN."
This seemed to point but one way; and (uncharitable though it
sound) that this girl, so close upon bereavement, should be able to
give herself to a lover was distasteful to me.
But, most extraordinary, Lin had gone away without a word to her,
and she was left as plainly in the dark as myself. After her first
frank surprise at learning of his departure, his name did not come
again from her lips, at any rate to me. Good Mrs. Pierce dropped a
word one day as to her opinion of men who deceive women into expecting
something from them.
"Let us talk straight," said I. "Do you mean that Miss Buckner says
that, or that you say it?"
"Why, the poor thing says nothing!" exclaimed the lady. "It's like
a man to think she would. And I'll not say anything, either, for
you're all just the same, except when you're worse; and that Lin
McLean is going to know what I think of him next time we meet."
He did. On that occasion the kind old dame told him he was the best
boy in the country, and stood on her toes and kissed him. But
meanwhile we did not know why he had gone, and Jessamine (though he
was never subtle or cruel enough to plan such a thing) missed him, and
thus in her loneliness had the chance to learn how much he had been to
Though pressed to stay indefinitely beneath Mrs. Pierce's
hospitable roof, the girl, after lingering awhile, and going often to
that nook in the hill by Riverside, took her departure. She was
restless, yet clung to the neighborhood. It was with a wrench that she
fixed her going when I told her of my own journey back to the
railroad. In Buffalo she walked to the court-house and stood a moment
as if bidding this site of one life-memory farewell, and from the
stage she watched and watched the receding town and mountains. "It's
awful to be leaving him!" she said. "Excuse me for acting so in front
of you." With the poignant emptiness overcoming her in new guise, she
blamed herself for not waiting in Illinois until he had been sent to
Joliet, for then, so near home, he must have gone with her.
How could I tell her that Nate's death was the best end that could
have come to him? But I said: "You know you don't think it was your
fault. You know you would do the same again." She listened to me, but
her eyes had no interest in them. "He never knew pain," I pursued,
"and he died doing the thing he liked best in the world. He was happy
and enjoying himself, and you gave him that. It's bad only for you.
Some would talk religion, but I can't."
"Yes," she answered, "I can think of him so glad to be free. Thank
you for saying that about religion. Do you think it's wicked not to
want it-- to hate it sometimes? I hope it's not. Thank you, truly."
During our journey she summoned her cheerfulness, and all that she
said was wholesome. In the robust, coarse soundness of her fibre, the
wounds of grief would heal and leave no sickness--perhaps no higher
sensitiveness to human sufferings than her broad native kindness
already held. We touched upon religion again, and my views shocked her
Kentucky notions, for I told her Kentucky locked its religion in an
iron cage called Sunday, which made it very savage and fond of biting
strangers. Now and again I would run upon that vein of deep-seated
prejudice that was in her character like some fine wire. In short, our
disagreements brought us to terms more familiar than we had reached
hitherto. But when at last Separ came, where was I? There stood Mr.
McLean waiting, and at the suddenness of him she had no time to
remember herself, but stepped out of the stage with such a smile that
the ardent cow-puncher flushed and beamed.
"So I went away without telling you goodbye!" he began, not wisely.
"Mrs. Pierce has been circulating war talk about me, you bet!"
The maiden in Jessamine spoke instantly. "Indeed? There was no
special obligation for you to call on me, or her to notice if you
"Oh!" said Lin, crestfallen. "Yu' sure don't mean that?"
She looked at him, and was compelled to melt. "No, neighbor, I
don't mean it."
"Neighbor!" he exclaimed; and again, "Neighbor," much pleased. "Now
it would sound kind o' pleasant if you'd call me that for a steady
"It would sound kind of odd, Mr. McLean, thank you."
"Blamed if I understand her," cried Lin. "Blamed if I do. But
you're going to understand me sure quick!" He rushed inside the
station, spoke sharply to the agent, and returned in the same tremor
of elation that had pushed him to forwardness with his girl, and with
which he seemed near bursting. "I've been here three days to meet you.
There's a letter, and I expect I know what's in it. Tubercle has got
it here." He took it from the less hasty agent and thrust it in
Jessamine's hand. "You needn't to fear. Please open it; it's good news
this time, you bet!" He watched it in her hand as the boy of eight
watches the string of a Christmas parcel he wishes his father would
cut instead of so carefully untie. "Open it," he urged again. "Keeping
me waiting this way!"
"What in the world does all this mean?" cried Jessamine, stopping
short at the first sentence.
"Read," said Lin.
"You've done this!" she exclaimed.
So she read, with big eyes. It was an official letter of the
railroad, written by the division superintendent at Edgeford. It hoped
Miss Buckner might feel like taking the position of agent at Separ. If
she was willing to consider this, would she stop over at Edgeford, on
her way east, and talk with the superintendent? In case the duties
were more than she had been accustomed to on the Louisville and
Nashville, she could continue east with the loss of only a day. The
superintendent believed the salary could be arranged satisfactorily.
Enclosed please to find an order for a free ride to Edgeford.
Jessamine turned her wondering eyes on Lin. "You did do this," she
repeated, but this time with extraordinary quietness.
"Yes," said he. "And I am plumb proud of it."
She gave a rich laugh of pleasure and amusement; a long laugh, and
stopped. "Did anybody ever!" she said.
"We can call each other neighbors now, yu' see," said the
"Oh no! oh no!" Jessamine declared. "Though how am I ever to thank
"By not argufying," Lin answered.
"Oh no, no! I can do no such thing. Don't you see I can't? I
believe you are crazy."
"I've been waiting to hear yu' say that," said the complacent
McLean. "I'm not argufying. We'll eat supper now. The east-bound is
due in an hour, and I expect you'll be wanting to go on it."
"And I expect I'll go, too," said the girl.
"I'll be plumb proud to have yu'," the cow-puncher assented.
"I'm going to get my ticket to Chicago right now," said Jessamine,
again laughing, sunny and defiant.
"You bet you are!" said the incorrigible McLean. He let her go into
the station serenely. "You can't get used to new ideas in a minute,"
he remarked to me. "I've figured on all that, of course. But that's
why," he broke out, impetuously, "I quit you on Bear Creek so sudden.
'When she goes back away home,' I'd been saying to myself every day,
'what'll you do then, Lin McLean?' Well, I knew I'd go to Kentucky
too. Just knew I'd have to, yu' see, and it was inconvenient, turruble
inconvenient--Billy here and my ranch, and the beef round-up
comin'--but how could I let her go and forget me? Take up, maybe, with
some Blue-grass son-of-a-gun back there? And I hated the fix I was in
till that morning, getting up, I was joshin' the Virginia man that's
after Miss Wood. I'd been sayin' no educated lady would think of a man
who talked with an African accent. 'It's repotted you have a Southern
rival yourself,' says he, joshin' back. So I said I guessed the rival
would find life uneasy. 'He does,' says he. 'Any man with his voice
broke in two halves, and one down in his stomach and one up among the
angels, is goin' to feel uneasy. But Texas talks a heap about his lady
vigilante in the freight-car.' 'Vigilante!' I said; and I must have
jumped, for they all asked where the lightning had struck. And in
fifteen minutes after writing you I'd hit the trail for Separ. Oh, I
figured things out on that ride!" (Mr. McLean here clapped me on the
back.) "Got to Separ. Got the sheriff's address --the sheriff that saw
her that night they held up the locomotive. Got him to meet me at
Edgeford and make a big talk to the superintendent. Made a big talk
myself. I said, 'Put that girl in charge of Separ, and the boys'll
quit shooting your water-tank. But Tubercle can't influence 'em.'
'Tubercle?' says the superintendent. 'What's that?' And when I told
him it was the agent, he flapped his two hands down on the chair arms
each side of him and went to rockin' up and down. I said the agent was
just a temptation to the boys to be gay right along, and they'd keep
a-shooting. 'You can choose between Tubercle and your tank,' I said;
'but you've got to move one of 'em from Separ if yu' went peace.' The
sheriff backed me up good, too. He said a man couldn't do much with
Separ the way it was now; but a decent woman would be respected there,
and the only question was if she could conduct the business. So I
spoke up about Shawhan, and when the whole idea began to soak into
that superintendent his eyeballs jingled and he looked as wise as a
work-ox. 'I'll see her,' says he. And he's going to see her."
"Well," said I, "you deserve success after thinking of a thing like
that! You're wholly wasted punching cattle. But she's going to
Chicago. By eleven o'clock she will have passed by your
"Why, so she will!" said Lin, affecting surprise.
He baffled me, and he baffled Jessamine. Indeed, his eagerness with
her parcels, his assistance in checking her trunk, his cheerful
examination of check and ticket to be sure they read over the same
route, plainly failed to gratify her.
Her firmness about going was sincere, but she had looked for more
dissuasion; and this sprightly abettal of her departure seemed to
leave something vacant in the ceremonies She fell singularly taciturn
during supper at the Hotel Brunswick, and presently observed, "I hope
I shall see Mr. Donohoe."
"Texas?" said Lin. "I expect they'll have tucked him in bed by now
up at the ranch. The little fellow is growing yet."
"He can walk round a freight-car all night," said Miss Buckner,
stoutly. "I've always wanted to thank him for looking after me."
Mr. McLean smiled elaborately at his plate
"Well, if he's not actually thinking he'll tease me!" cried out
Jessamine "Though he claims not to be foolish like Mr. Donohoe. Why,
Mr. McLean, you surely must have been young once! See if you can't
"Shucks!" began Lin.
But her laughter routed him. "Maybe you didn't notice you were
young," she said. "But don't you reckon perhaps the men around did?
Why, maybe even the girls kind o' did!"
"She's hard to beat, ain't she?" inquired Lin, admiringly, of me.
In my opinion she was. She had her wish, too about Texas; for we
found him waiting on the railroad platform, dressed in his best, to
say good-bye. The friendly things she told him left him shuffling and
repeating that it was a mistake to go, a big mistake; but when she
said the butter was not good enough, his laugh cracked joyously up
into the treble. The train's arrival brought quick sadness to her
face, but she made herself bright again with a special farewell for
"Don't you ride any more cow-catchers," she warned Billy Lusk, "or
I'll have to come back and look after you."
"You said you and me were going for a ride, and we ain't," shouted
the long-memoried nine-year-old. "You will," murmured Mr. McLean,
As the train's pace quickened he did not step off, and Miss Buckner
"Too late," said he, placidly. Then he called to me, "I'm hard to
beat, too!" So the train took them both away, as I might have guessed
was his intention all along.
"Is that marriage again?" said Billy, anxiously. "He wouldn't tell
"He's just seeing Miss Buckner as far as Edgeford," said the agent.
"Be back to-morrow."
"Then I don't see why he wouldn't take me along," Billy complained.
And Separ laughed.
But the lover was not back to-morrow. He was capable of anything,
gossip remarked, and took up new themes. The sun rose and set, the two
trains made their daily slight event and gathering; the water-tank,
glaring bulkily in the sun beaconed unmolested; and the agent's
natural sleep was unbroken by pistols, for the cow-boys did not happen
to be in town. Separ lay a clot of torpor that I was glad to leave
behind me for a while. But news is a strange, permeating substance,
and it began to be sifted through the air that Tubercle was going to
That is how they phrased it in cow-camp, meaning not the next
world, but the Eastern States.
"It's certainly a shame him leaving after we've got him so good and
used to us," said the Virginian.
"We can't tell him good-bye," said Honey Wiggin. "Separ'll be
"We can give his successor a right hearty welcome," the Virginian
"That's you!" said Honey. "Schemin' mischief away ahead. You're the
leadin' devil in this country, and just because yu' wear a
faithful-looking face you're tryin' to fool a poor school-marm."
"Yes," drawled the Southerner, "that's what I'm aiming to do."
So now they were curious about the successor, planning their hearty
welcome for that official, and were encouraged in this by Mr. McLean.
He reappeared in the neighborhood with a manner and conversation
"Bring your new wife?" they inquired.
"No; she preferred Kentucky," Lin said.
"Bring the old one?"
"No; she preferred Laramie."
"Kentucky's a right smart way to chase after a girl," said the
"Sure!" said Mr. McLean. "I quit at Edgeford."
He met their few remarks so smoothly that they got no joy from him;
and being asked had he seen the new agent, he answered yes, that
Tubercle had gone Wednesday, and his successor did not seem to be much
of a man.
But to me Lin had nothing to say until noon camp was scattering
from its lunch to work, when he passed close, and whispered, "You'll
see her to-morrow if you go in with the outfit." Then, looking round
to make sure we were alone in the sage-brush, he drew from his pocket,
cherishingly, a little shining pistol. "Hers," said he, simply.
I looked at him.
"We've exchanged," he said.
He turned the token in his hand, caressing it as on that first
night when Jessamine had taken his heart captive.
"My idea," he added, unable to lift his eyes from the treasure.
"See this, too."
I looked, and there was the word "Neighbor" engraved on it.
"Her idea," said he.
"A good one!" I murmured.
"It's on both, yu' know. We had it put on the day she settled to
accept the superintendent's proposition." Here Lin fired his small
exchanged weapon at a cotton-wood, striking low. "She can beat that
with mine!" he exclaimed, proud and tender. "She took four days
deciding at Edgeford, and I learned her to hit the ace of clubs." He
showed me the cards they had practiced upon during those four days of
indecision; he had them in a book as if they were pressed flowers.
"They won't get crumpled that way," said he; and he further showed me
a tintype. "She's got the other at Separ," he finished.
I shook his hand with all my might. Yes, he was worthy of her! Yes,
he deserved this smooth course his love was running! And I shook his
hand again. To tonic her grief Jessamine had longed for some activity,
some work, and he had shown her Wyoming might hold this for her as
well as Kentucky. "But how in the world," I asked him, "did you
persuade her to stop over at Edgeford at all?"
"Yu' mustn't forget," said the lover (and he blushed), "that I had
her four hours alone on the train."
But his face that evening round the fire, when they talked of their
next day's welcome to the new agent, became comedy of the highest, and
he was so desperately canny in the moments he chose for silence or for
comment! He had not been sure of their ignorance until he arrived, and
it was a joke with him too deep for laughter. He had a special eye
upon the Virginian, his mate in such a tale of mischiefs, and now he
led him on. He suggested to the Southerner that caution might be wise;
this change at Separ was perhaps some new trick of the company's.
"We mostly take their tricks," observed the Virginian.
"Yes," said Lin, nodding sagely at the fire, "that's so, too."
Yet not he, not any one, could have foreseen the mortifying
harmlessness of the outcome. They swept down upon Separ like all the
hordes of legend- -more egregiously, perhaps, because they were
play-acting and no serious horde would go on so. Our final hundred
yards of speed and copious howling brought all dwellers in Separ out
to gaze and disappear like rabbits--all save the new agent in the
station. Nobody ran out or in there, and the horde whirled up to the
tiny, defenceless building and leaped to earth--except Lin and me; we
sat watching. The innocent door stood open wide to any cool breeze or
invasion, and Honey Wiggin tramped in foremost, hat lowering over eyes
and pistol prominent. He stopped rooted, staring, and his mouth came
open slowly; his hand went feeling up for his hat, and came down with
it by degrees as by degrees his grin spread. Then in a milky voice, he
said: "Why, excuse me, ma'am! Good-morning."
There answered a clear, long, rippling, ample laugh. It came out of
the open door into the heat; it made the sun-baked air merry; it
seemed to welcome and mock; it genially hovered about us in the dusty
quiet of Separ; for there was no other sound anywhere at all in the
place, and the great plain stretched away silent all round it. The
bulging water-tank shone overhead in bland, ironic safety.
The horde stood blank; then it shifted its legs, looked sideways at
itself, and in a hesitating clump reached the door, shambled in, and
removed its foolish hat.
"Good-morning, gentlemen," said Jessamine Buckner, seated behind
her railing; and various voices endeavored to reply conventionally.
"If you have any letters, ma'am," said the Virginian, more
inventive, "I'll take them. Letters for Judge Henry's." He knew the
judge's office was seventy miles from here.
"Any for the C. Y.?" muttered another, likewise knowing better.
It was a happy, if simple, thought, and most of them inquired for
the mail. Jessamine sought carefully, making them repeat their names,
which some did guiltily: they foresaw how soon the lady would find out
no letters ever came for these names!
There was no letter for any one present.
"I'm sorry, truly," said Jessamine behind the railing. "For you
seemed real anxious to get news. Better luck next time! And if I make
mistakes, please everybody set me straight, for of course I don't
understand things yet."
"Thank yu', m'm.'
They got themselves out of the station and into their saddles.
"No, she don't understand things yet," soliloquized the Virginian.
"Oh dear, no." He turned his slow, dark eyes upon us. "You Lin
McLean," said he, in his gentle voice, "you have cert'nly fooled me
plumb through this mawnin'."
Then the horde rode out of town, chastened and orderly till it was
quite small across the sagebrush, when reaction seized it. It sped
suddenly and vanished in dust with far, hilarious cries and here were
Lin and I, and here towered the water-tank, shining and shining.
Thus did Separ's vigilante take possession and vindicate Lin's
knowledge of his kind. It was not three days until the Virginian, that
lynx observer, fixed his grave eyes upon McLean "'Neighbor' is as cute
a name for a six-shooter as ever I heard," said he. "But she'll never
have need of your gun in Separ--only to shoot up peaceful
playin'-cyards while she hearkens to your courtin'."
That was his way of congratulation to a brother lover. "Plumb
strange," he said to me one morning after an hour of riding in
silence, "how a man will win two women while another man gets aged
waitin' for one."
"Your hair seems black as ever," said I.
"My hopes ain't so glossy any more," he answered. "Lin has done
better this second trip."
"Mrs. Lusk don't count," said I.
"I reckon she counted mighty plentiful when he thought he'd got her
clamped to him by lawful marriage. But Lin's lucky." And the Virginian
fell silent again.
Lucky Lin bestirred him over his work, his plans, his ranch on Box
Elder that was one day to be a home for his lady. He came and went,
seeing his idea triumph and his girl respected. Not only was she a
girl, but a good shot too. And as if she and her small, neat home were
a sort of possession, the cow-punchers would boast of her to
strangers. They would have dealt heavily now with the wretch who
should trifle with the water-tank. When camp came within visiting
distance, you would see one or another shaving and parting his hair.
They wrote unnecessary letters, and brought them to mail as excuses
for an afternoon call. Honey Wiggin, more original, would look in the
door with his grin, and hold up an ace of clubs. "I thought maybe yu'
could spare a minute for a shootin'-match," he would insinuate; and
Separ now heard no more objectionable shooting than this. Texas
brought her presents of game--antelope, sage-chickens-- but, shyness
intervening, he left them outside the door, and entering, dressed in
all the "Sunday" that he had, would sit dumbly in the lady's presence.
I remember his emerging from one of these placid interviews straight
into the hands of his tormentors.
"If she don't notice your clothes, Texas," said the Virginian,
"just mention them to her."
"Now yer've done offended her," shrilled Manassas Donohoe. "She
"She'll hear you singin' sooprano," said Honey Wiggin. "It's good
this country has reformed, or they'd have you warblin' in some
dance-hall and corrupt your morals."
"You sca'cely can corrupt the morals of a soprano man," observed
the Virginian. "Go and play with Billy till you can talk bass."
But it was the boldest adults that Billy chose for playmates. Texas
he found immature. Moreover, when next he came, he desired play with
no one. Summer was done. September's full moon was several nights ago;
he had gone on his hunt with Lin, and now spelling-books were at hand.
But more than this clouded his mind, he had been brought to say
good-bye to Jessamine Buckner, who had scarcely seen him, and to give
her a wolverene-skin, a hunting trophy. "She can have it," he told me.
"I like her." Then he stole a look at his guardian. "If they get
married and send me back to mother," said he, "I'll run away sure." So
school and this old dread haunted the child, while for the man, Lin
the lucky, who suspected nothing of it, time was ever bringing love
nearer to his hearth. His Jessamine had visited Box Elder, and even
said she wanted chickens there; since when Mr. McLean might
occasionally have been seen at his cabin, worrying over barn-yard
fowls, feeding and cursing them with equal care. Spring would see him
married, he told me.
"This time right!" he exclaimed. "And I want her to know Billy some
more before he goes to Bear Creek."
"Ah, Bear Creek!" said Billy, acidly. "Why can't I stay home?"
"Home sounds kind o' slick," said Lin to me. "Don't it, now? 'Home'
is closer than 'neighbor,' you bet! Billy, put the horses in the
corral, and ask Miss Buckner if we can come and see her after supper.
If you're good, maybe she'll take yu' for a ride to-morrow. And, kid,
ask her about Laramie."
Again suspicion quivered over Billy's face, and he dragged his
horses angrily to the corral.
Lin nudged me, laughing. "I can rile him every time about Laramie,"
said he, affectionately. "I wouldn't have believed the kid set so much
store by me. Nor I didn't need to ask Jessamine to love him for my
sake. What do yu' suppose? Before I'd got far as thinking of Billy at
all-- right after Edgeford, when my head was just a whirl of
joy--Jessamine says to me one day, 'Read that.' It was Governor Barker
writin' to her about her brother and her sorrow." Lin paused. "And
about me. I can't never tell you--but he said a heap I didn't deserve.
And he told her about me picking up Billy in Denver streets that time,
and doing for him because his own home was not a good one. Governor
Barker wrote Jessamine all that; and she said, 'Why did you never tell
me?' And I said it wasn't anything to tell. And she just said to me,
'It shall be as if he was your son and I was his mother.' And that's
the first regular kiss she ever gave me I didn't have to take myself.
God bless her! God bless her!"
As we ate our supper, young Billy burst out of brooding silence: "I
didn't ask her about Laramie. So there!"
"Well, well, kid," said the cow-puncher, patting his head, "yu'
needn't to, I guess."
But Billy's eye remained sullen and jealous. He paid slight
attention to the picture-book of soldiers and war that Jessamine gave
him when we went over to the station. She had her own books, some
flowers in pots, a rocking-chair, and a cosey lamp that shone on her
bright face and dark dress. We drew stools from the office desks, and
Billy perched silently on one.
"Scanty room for company!" Jessamine said. "But we must make out
this way--till we have another way." She smiled on Lin, and Billy's
face darkened. "Do you know," she pursued to me, "with all those
chickens Mr. McLean tells me about, never a one has he thought to
"Livin' or dead do you want 'em?" inquired Lin.
"Oh, I'll not bother you. Mr. Donohoe says he will--"
"Texas? Chickens? Him? Then he'll have to steal 'em!" And we all
"You won't make me go back to Laramie, will you?" spoke Billy,
suddenly, from his stool.
"I'd like to see anybody try to make you?" exclaimed Jessamine.
"Who says any such thing?"
"Lin did," said Billy.
Jessamine looked at her lover reproachfully. "What a way to tease
him!" she said. "And you so kind. Why, you've hurt his feelings!"
"I never thought," said Lin the boisterous. "I wouldn't have."
"Come sit here, Billy," said Jessamine. "Whenever he teases, you
tell me, and we'll make him behave."
"Honest?" persisted Billy.
"Shake hands on it," said Jessamine.
"Cause I'll go to school. But I won't go back to Laramie for no
one. And you're a-going to be Lin's wife, honest?"
"Honest! Honest!" And Jessamine, laughing, grew red beside her
"Then I guess mother can't never come back to Lin, either," stated
Jessamine let fall the child's hand.
"Cause she liked him onced, and he liked her."
Jessamine gazed at Lin.
"It's simple," said the cow-puncher. "It's all right."
But Jessamine sat by her lamp, very pale.
"It's all right," repeated Lin in the silence, shifting his foot
and looking down. "Once I made a fool of myself. Worse than usual."
"Billy?" whispered Jessamine. "Then you--But his name is Lusk!"
"Course it is," said Billy. "Father and mother are living in
"It's all straight," said the cow-puncher. "I never saw her till
three years ago. I haven't anything to hide, only--only--only it don't
come easy to tell."
I rose. "Miss Buckner," said I, "he will tell you. But he will not
tell you he paid dearly for what was no fault of his. It has been no
secret. It is only something his friends and his enemies have
But all the while I was speaking this, Jessamine's eyes were fixed
on Lin, and her face remained white.
I left the girl and the man and the little boy together, and
crossed to the hotel. But its air was foul, and I got my roll of camp
blankets to sleep in the clean night, if sleeping-time should come;
meanwhile I walked about in the silence To have taken a wife once in
good faith, ignorant she was another's, left no stain, raised no
barrier. I could have told Jessamine the same old story myself--or
almost; but what had it to do with her at all? Why need she know?
Reasoning thus, yet with something left uncleared by reason that I
could not state, I watched the moon edge into sight, heavy and
rich-hued, a melon-slice of glow, seemingly near, like a great lantern
tilted over the plain. The smell of the sage-brush flavored the air;
the hush of Wyoming folded distant and near things, and all Separ but
those three inside the lighted window were in bed. Dark windows were
everywhere else, and looming above rose the water-tank, a dull mass in
the night, and forever somehow to me a Sphinx emblem, the vision I
instantly see when I think of Separ. Soon I heard a door creaking. It
was Billy, coming alone, and on seeing me he walked up and spoke in a
"She's a-crying," said he.
I withheld from questions, and as he kept along by my side he said:
"I'm sorry. Do you think she's mad with Lin for what he's told her?
She just sat, and when she started crying he made me go away."
"I don't believe she's mad," I told Billy; and I sat down on my
blanket, he beside me, talking while the moon grew small as it rose
over the plain, and the light steadily shone in Jessamine's window.
Soon young Billy fell asleep, and I looked at him, thinking how in a
way it was he who had brought this trouble on the man who had saved
him and loved him. But that man had no such untender thoughts. Once
more the door opened, and it was he who came this time, alone also.
She did not follow him and stand to watch him from the threshold,
though he forgot to close the door, and, coming over to me, stood
"What?" I said at length.
I don't know that he heard me. He stooped over Billy and shook him
gently. "Wake, son," said he. "You and I must get to our camp now."
"Now?" said Billy. "Can't we wait till morning?"
"No, son. We can't wait here any more. Go and get the horses and
put the saddles on." As Billy obeyed, Lin looked at the lighted
window. "She is in there," he said. "She's in there. So near." He
looked, and turned to the hotel, from which he brought his chaps and
spurs and put them on. "I understand her words," he continued. "Her
words, the meaning of them. But not what she means, I guess. It will
take studyin' over. Why, she don't blame me!" he suddenly said,
speaking to me instead of to himself.
"Lin," I answered, "she has only just heard this, you see. Wait
"That's not the trouble. She knows what kind of man I have been,
and she forgives that just the way she did her brother. And she knows
how I didn't intentionally conceal anything. Billy hasn't been around,
and she never realized about his mother and me. We've talked awful
open, but that was not pleasant to speak of, and the whole country
knew it so long--and I never thought! She don't blame me. She says she
understands; but she says I have a wife livin'."
"That is nonsense," I declared.
"Yu' mustn't say that," said he. "She don't claim she's a wife,
either. She just shakes her head when I asked her why she feels so. It
must be different to you and me from the way it seems to her. I don't
see her view; maybe I never can see it; but she's made me feel she has
it, and that she's honest, and loves me true--" His voice broke for a
moment. "She said she'd wait."
"You can't have a marriage broken that was never tied," I said.
"But perhaps Governor Barker or Judge Henry--"
"No," said the cow-puncher. "Law couldn't fool her. She's thinking
of something back of law. She said she'd wait--always. And when I took
it in that this was all over and done, and when I thought of my ranch
and the chickens--well, I couldn't think of things at all, and I came
and waked Billy to clear out and quit."
"What did you tell her?" I asked.
"Tell her? Nothin', I guess. I don't remember getting out of the
room. Why, here's actually her pistol, and she's got mine!"
"Man, man!" said I, "go back and tell her to keep it, and that
you'll wait too--always!"
"Look!" I pointed to Jessamine standing in the door.
I saw his face as he turned to her, and I walked toward Billy and
the horses. Presently I heard steps on the wooden station, and from
its black, brief shadow the two came walking, Lin and his sweetheart,
into the moonlight. They were not speaking, but merely walked together
in the clear radiance, hand in hand, like two children. I saw that she
was weeping, and that beneath the tyranny of her resolution her whole
loving, ample nature was wrung. But the strange, narrow fibre in her
would not yield! I saw them go to the horses, and Jessamine stood
while Billy and Lin mounted. Then quickly the cow-puncher sprang down
again and folded her in his arms.
"Lin, dear Lin! dear neighbor!" she sobbed. She could not withhold
this last good-bye.
I do not think he spoke. In a moment thehorses started and were
gone, flying, rushing away into the great plain, until sight and sound
of them were lost, and only the sage-brush was there, bathed in the
high, bright moon. The last thing I remember as I lay in my blankets
was Jessamine's window still lighted, and the water-tank, clear-lined
and black, standing over Separ.
DESTINY AT DRYBONE
Children have many special endowments, and of these the chiefest is
to ask questions that their elders must skirmish to evade. Married
people and aunts and uncles commonly discover this, but mere instinct
does not guide one to it. A maiden of twenty-three will not
necessarily divine it. Now except in one unhappy hour of stress and
surprise, Miss Jessamine Buckner had been more than equal to life thus
far. But never yet had she been shut up a whole day in one room with a
boy of nine. Had this experience been hers, perhaps she would not have
written to Mr. McLean the friendly and singular letter in which she
hoped he was well, and said that she was very well, and how was dear
little Billy? She was glad Mr. McLean had stayed away. That was just
like his honorable nature, and what she expected of him. And she was
perfectly happy at Separ, and "yours sincerely and always, 'Neighbor.'
"Postscript. Talking of Billy Lusk--if Lin was busy with gathering the
cattle, why not send Billy down to stop quietly with her. She would
make him a bed in the ticket-office, and there she would be to see
after him all the time. She knew Lin did not like his adopted child to
be too much in cow-camp with the men. She would adopt him, too, for
just as long as convenient to Lin--until the school opened on Bear
Creek, if Lin so wished. Jessamine wrote a good deal about how much
better care any woman can take of a boy of Billy's age than any man
knows. The stage-coach brought the answer to this remarkably soon--
young Billy with a trunk and a letter of twelve pages in pencil and
ink-- the only writing of this length ever done by Mr. McLean.
"I can write a lot quicker than Lin," said Billy, upon arriving.
"He was fussing at that away late by the fire in camp, an' waked me up
crawling in our bed. An' then he had to finish it next night when he
went over to the cabin for my clothes."
"You don't say!" said Jessamine. And Billy suffered her to kiss him
When not otherwise occupied Jessamine took the letter out of its
locked box and read it, or looked at it. Thus the first days had gone
finely at Separ, the weather being beautiful and Billy much
out-of-doors. But sometimes the weather changes in Wyoming; and now it
was that Miss Jessamine learned the talents of childhood.
Soon after breakfast this stormy morning Billy observed the twelve
pages being taken out of their box, and spoke from his sudden brain.
"Honey Wiggin says Lin's losing his grip about girls," he remarked.
"He says you couldn't 'a' downed him onced. You'd 'a' had to marry
him. Honey says Lin ain't worked it like he done in old times."
"Now I shouldn't wonder if he was right," said Jessamine,
buoyantly. "And that being the case, I'm going to set to work at your
things till it clears, and then we'll go for our ride."
"Yes," said Billy. When does a man get too old to marry?"
"I'm only a girl, you see. I don't know."
"Yes. Honey said he wouldn't 'a' thought Lin was that old. But I
guess he must be thirty."
"Old!" exclaimed Jessamine. And she looked at a photograph upon her
"But Lin ain't been married very much," pursued Billy. "Mother's
the only one they speak of. You don't have to stay married always, do
"It's better to," said Jessamine.
"Ah, I don't think so," said Billy, with disparagement. "You ought
to see mother and father. I wish you would leave Lin marry you,
though," said the boy, coming to her with an impulse of affection.
"Why won't you if he don't mind?"
She continued to parry him, but this was not a very smooth start
for eight in the morning. Moments of lull there were, when the
telegraph called her to the front room, and Billy's young mind shifted
to inquiries about the cipher alphabet. And she gained at least an
hour teaching him to read various words by the sound. At dinner, too,
he was refreshingly silent. But such silences are unsafe, and the
weather was still bad. Four o'clock found them much where they had
been at eight.
"Please tell me why you won't leave Lin marry you." He was at the
window, kicking the wall.
"That's nine times since dinner," she replied, with tireless good
humor. "Now if you ask me twelve--"
"You'll tell?" said the boy, swiftly.
She broke into a laugh. "No. I'll go riding and you'll stay at
home. When I was little and would ask things beyond me, they only gave
me three times."
"I've got two more, anyway. Ha-ha!"
"Better save 'em up, though."
"What did they do to you? Ah, I don't want to go a-riding. It's
nasty all over." He stared out at the day against which Separ's doors
had been tight closed since morning. Eight hours of furious wind had
raised the dust like a sea. "I wish the old train would come,"
observed Billy, continuing to kick the wall. "I wish I was going
somewheres." Smoky, level, and hot, the south wind leapt into Separ
across five hundred unbroken miles. The plain was blanketed in a tawny
eclipse. Each minute the near buildings became invisible in a
turbulent herd of clouds. Above this travelling blur of the soil the
top of the water-tank alone rose bulging into the clear sun. The sand
spirals would lick like flames along the bulk of the lofty tub, and
soar skyward. It was not shipping season. The freight-cars stood idle
in a long line. No cattle huddled in the corrals. No strangers moved
in town. No cow-ponies dozed in front of the saloon. Their riders were
distant in ranch and camp. Human noise was extinct in Separ. Beneath
the thunder of the sultry blasts the place lay dead in its flapping
shroud of dust. "Why won't you tell me?" droned Billy. For some time
he had been returning, like a mosquito brushed away.
"That's ten times," said Jessamine, promptly.
"Oh, goodness! Pretty soon I'll not be glad I came. I'm about
twiced as less glad now."
"Well," said Jessamine, "there's a man coming to-day to mend the
government telegraph-line between Drybone and McKinney. Maybe he would
take you back as far as Box Elder, if you want to go very much. Shall
I ask him?"
Billy was disappointed at this cordial seconding of his mood. He
did not make a direct rejoinder. "I guess I'll go outside now," said
he, with a threat in his tone.
She continued mending his stockings. Finished ones lay rolled at
one side of her chair, and upon the other were more waiting her
"And I'm going to turn back hand-springs on top of all the
freight-cars," he stated, more loudly.
She indulged again in merriment, laughing sweetly at him, and
"And I'm sick of what you all keep a-saying to me!" he shouted.
"Just as if I was a baby."
"Why, Billy, who ever said you were a baby?"
"All of you do. Honey, and Lin, and you, now, and everybody. What
makes you say 'that's nine times, Billy; oh, Billy, that's ten times,'
if you don't mean I'm a baby? And you laugh me off, just like they do,
and just like I was a regular baby. You won't tell me--"
"Billy, listen. Did nobody ever ask you something you did not want
to tell them?"
"That's not a bit the same, because--because--because I treat 'em
square and because it's not their business. But every time I ask
anybody 'most anything, they say I'm not old enough to understand; and
I'll be ten soon. And it is my business when it's about the kind of a
mother I'm agoing to have. Suppose I quit acting square, an' told 'em,
when they bothered me, they weren't young enough to understand! Wish I
had. Guess I will, too, and watch 'em step around." For a moment his
mind dwelt upon this, and he whistled a revengeful strain.
"Goodness, Billy!" said Jessamine, at the sight of the next
stocking. "The whole heel is scorched off."
He eyed the ruin with indifference. "Ah, that was last month when I
and Lin shot the bear in the swamp willows. He made me dry off my
legs. Chuck it away."
"And spoil the pair? No, indeed!"
"Mother always chucked 'em, an' father'd buy new ones till I
skipped from home. Lin kind o' mends 'em."
"Does he?" said Jessamine, softly. And she looked at the
"Yes. What made you write him for to let me come and bring my
stockin's and things?"
"Don't you see, Billy, there is so little work at this station that
I'd be looking out of the window all day just the pitiful way you do?"
"Oh!" Billy pondered. "And so I said to Lin," he continued, "why
didn't he send down his own clothes, too, an' let you fix 'em all. And
Honey Wiggin laughed right in his coffee-cup so it all sploshed out.
And the cook he asked me if mother used to mend Lin's clothes. But I
guess she chucked 'em like she always did father's and mine. I was
with father, you know, when mother was married to Lin that time." He
paused again, while his thoughts and fears struggled. "But Lin says I
needn't ever go back," he went on, reasoning and confiding to her.
"Lin don't like mother any more, I guess." His pondering grew still
deeper, and he looked at Jessamine for some while. Then his face
wakened with a new theory. "Don't Lin like you any more?" he inquired.
"Oh," cried Jessamine, crimsoning, "yes! Why, he sent you to me!"
"Well, he got hot in camp when I said that about sending his
clothes to you. He quit supper pretty soon, and went away off a
walking. And that's another time they said I was too young. But Lin
don't come to see you any more."
"Why, I hope he loves me," murmured Jessamine. "Always."
"Well, I hope so too," said Billy, earnestly. "For I like you. When
I seen him show you our cabin on Box Elder, and the room he had fixed
for you, I was glad you were coming to be my mother. Mother used to be
awful. I wouldn't 'a' minded her licking me if she'd done other
things. Ah, pshaw! I wasn't going to stand that." Billy now came close
to Jessamine. "I do wish you would come and live with me and Lin,"
said he. "Lin's awful nice."
"Don't I know it?" said Jessamine, tenderly.
"Cause I heard you say you were going to marry him," went on Billy.
"And I seen him kiss you and you let him that time we went away when
you found out about mother. And you're not mad, and he's not, and
nothing happens at all, all the same! Won't you tell me, please?"
Jessamine's eyes were glistening, and she took him in her lap. She
was not going to tell him that he was too young this time. But
whatever things she had shaped to say to the boy were never said.
Through the noise of the gale came the steadier sound of the train,
and the girl rose quickly to preside over her ticket-office and duties
behind the railing in the front room of the station. The boy ran to
the window to watch the great event of Separ's day. The locomotive
loomed out from the yellow clots of drift, paused at the water-tank,
and then with steam and humming came slowly on by the platform. Slowly
its long dust-choked train emerged trundling behind it, and
ponderously halted. There was no one to go. No one came to buy a
ticket of Jessamine. The conductor looked in on business, but she had
no telegraphic orders for him. The express agent jumped off and looked
in for pleasure. He received his daily smile and nod of friendly
discouragement. Then the light bundle of mail was flung inside the
door. Separ had no mail to go out. As she was picking up the letters
young Billy passed her like a shadow, and fled out. Two passengers had
descended from the train, a man and a large woman. His clothes were
loose and careless upon him. He held valises, and stood uncertainly
looking about him in the storm. Her firm, heavy body was closely
dressed. In her hat was a large, handsome feather. Along between the
several cars brakemen leaned out, watched her, and grinned to each
other. But her big, hard-shining blue eyes were fixed curiously upon
the station where Jessamine was.
"It's all night we may be here, is it?" she said to the man,
"How am I to help that?" he retorted.
"I'll help it. If this hotel's the sty it used to be, I'll walk to
Tommy's. I've not saw him since I left Bear Creek."
She stalked into the hotel, while the man went slowly to the
station. He entered, and found Jessamine behind her railing, sorting
the slim mail.
"Good-evening," he said. "Excuse me. There was to be a wagon sent
"For the telegraph-mender? Yes, sir. It came Tuesday. You're to
find the pole-wagon at Drybone."
This news was good, and all that he wished to know. He could drive
out and escape a night at the Hotel Brunswick. But he lingered,
because Jessamine spoke so pleasantly to him. He had heard of her
"Governor Barker has not been around here?" he said.
"Not yet, sir. We understand he is expected through on a
"I suppose there is room for two and a trunk on that wagon?"
"I reckon so, sir." Jessamine glanced at the man, and he took
himself out. Most men took themselves out if Jessamine so willed; and
it was mostly achieved thus, in amity.
On the platform the man found his wife again.
"Then I needn't to walk to Tommy's," she said. "And we'll eat as we
travel. But you'll wait till I'm through with her." She made a gesture
toward the station.
"Why--why--what do you want with her. Don't you know who she is?"
"It was me told you who she was, James Lusk. You'll wait till I've
been and asked her after Lin McLean's health, and till I've saw how
the likes of her talks to the likes of me."
He made a feeble protest that this would do no one any good.
"Sew yourself up, James Lusk. If it has been your idea I come with
yus clear from Laramie to watch yus plant telegraph-poles in the
sage-brush, why you're off. I ain't heard much 'o Lin since the day he
learned it was you and not him that was my husband. And I've come back
in this country to have a look at my old friends--and" (she laughed
loudly and nodded at the station) "my old friends' new friends!"
Thus ordered, the husband wandered away to find his wagon and the
Jessamine, in the office, had finished her station duties and
returned to her needle. She sat contemplating the scorched sock of
Billy's, and heard a heavy step at the threshold. She turned, and
there was the large woman with the feather quietly surveying her. The
words which the stranger spoke then were usual enough for a beginning.
But there was something of threat in the strong animal countenance,
something of laughter ready to break out. Much beauty of its kind had
evidently been in the face, and now, as substitute for what was gone,
was the brag look of assertion that it was still all there. Many
stranded travellers knocked at Jessamine's door, and now, as always,
she offered the hospitalities of her neat abode, the only room in
Separ fit for a woman. As she spoke, and the guest surveyed and
listened, the door blew shut with a crash.
Outside, in a shed, Billy had placed the wagon between himself and
"How you have grown!" the man was saying; and he smiled. "Come,
shake hands. I did not think to see you here."
"Dare you to touch me!" Billy screamed. "No, I'll never come with
you. Lin says I needn't to."
The man passed his hand across his forehead, and leaned against the
wheel. "Lord, Lord!" he muttered.
His son warily slid out of the shed and left him leaning there.
Lin McLean, bachelor, sat out in front of his cabin, looking at a
small bright pistol that lay in his hand. He held it tenderly,
cherishing it, and did not cease slowly to polish it. Revery filled
his eyes, and in his whole face was sadness unmasked, because only the
animals were there to perceive his true feelings. Sunlight and waving
shadows moved together upon the green of his pasture, cattle and
horses loitered in the opens by the stream. Down Box Elder's course,
its valley and golden-chimneyed bluffs widened away into the level and
the blue of the greater valley. Upstream the branches and shining,
quiet leaves entered the mountains where the rock chimneys narrowed to
a gateway, a citadel of shafts and turrets, crimson and gold above the
filmy emerald of the trees. Through there the road went up from the
cotton-woods into the cool quaking asps and pines, and so across the
range and away to Separ. Along the ridge-pole of the new stable, two
hundred yards down-stream, sat McLean's turkeys, and cocks and hens
walked in front of him here by his cabin and fenced garden. Slow smoke
rose from the cabin's chimney into the air, in which were no sounds
but the running water and the afternoon chirp of birds. Amid this
framework of a home the cow-puncher sat, lonely, inattentive,
polishing the treasured weapon as if it were not already long clean.
His target stood some twenty steps in front of him--a small
cottonwood-tree, its trunk chipped and honeycombed with bullets which
he had fired into it each day for memory's sake. Presently he lifted
the pistol and looked at its name--the word "Neighbor" engraved upon
"I wonder," said he, aloud, "if she keeps the rust off mine?" Then
he lifted it slowly to his lips and kissed the word "Neighbor."
The clank of wheels sounded on the road, and he put the pistol
quickly down. Dreaminess vanished from his face. He looked around
alertly, but no one had seen him. The clanking was still among the
trees a little distance up Box Elder. It approached deliberately,
while he watched for the vehicle to emerge upon the open where his
cabin stood; and then they came, a man and a woman. At sight of her
Mr. McLean half rose, but sat down again. Neither of them had noticed
him, sitting as they were in silence and the drowsiness of a long
drive. The man was weak-faced, with good looks sallowed by
dissipation, and a vanquished glance of the eye. As the woman had
stood on the platform at Separ, so she sat now, upright, bold, and
massive. The brag of past beauty was a habit settled upon her stolid
features. Both sat inattentive to each other and to everything around
them. The wheels turned slowly and with a dry, dead noise, the reins
bellied loosely to the shafts, the horse's head hung low. So they drew
close. Then the man saw McLean, and color came into his face and went
"Good-evening," said he, clearing his throat. "We heard you was in
The cow-puncher noted how he tried to smile, and a freakish change
crossed his own countenance. He nodded slightly, and stretched his
legs out as he sat.
"You look natural," said the woman, familiarly.
"Seem to be fixed nice here," continued the man. "Hadn't heard of
it. Well, we'll be going along. Glad to have seen you."
"Your wheel wants greasing," said McLean, briefly, his eye upon the
"Can't stop. I expect she'll last to Drybone. Good-evening."
"Stay to supper," said McLean, always seated on his chair.
"Can't stop, thank you. I expect we can last to Drybone." He
twitched the reins.
McLean levelled a pistol at a chicken, and knocked off its head.
"Better stay to supper," he suggested, very distinctly.
"It's business, I tell you. I've got to catch Governor Barker
The pistol cracked, and a second chicken shuffled in the dust.
"Better stay to supper," drawled McLean.
The man looked up at his wife.
"So yus need me!" she broke out. "Ain't got heart enough in yer
played-out body to stand up to a man. We'll eat here. Get down."
The husband stepped to the ground. "I didn't suppose you'd want--"
"Ho! want? What's Lin, or you, or anything to me? Help me out."
Both men came forward. She descended, leaning heavily upon each,
her blue staring eyes fixed upon the cow-puncher.
"No, yus ain't changed," she said. "Same in your looks and same in
your actions. Was you expecting you could scare me, you, Lin McLean?"
"I just wanted chickens for supper," said he.
Mrs. Lusk gave a hard high laugh. "I'll eat 'em. It's not I that
cares. As for--" She stopped. Her eye had fallen upon the pistol and
the name "Neighbor." "As for you," she continued to Mr. Lusk, "don't
you be standing dumb same as the horse."
"Better take him to the stable, Lusk," said McLean.
He picked the chickens up, showed the woman to the best chair in
his room, and went into his kitchen to cook supper for three. He gave
his guests no further attention, nor did either of them come in where
he was, nor did the husband rejoin the wife. He walked slowly up and
down in the air, and she sat by herself in the room. Lin's steps as he
made ready round the stove and table, and Lusk's slow tread out in the
setting sunlight, were the only sounds about the cabin. When the host
looked into the door of the next room to announce that his meal was
served, the woman sat in her chair no longer, but stood with her back
to him by a shelf. She gave a slight start at his summons, and
replaced something. He saw that she had been examining "Neighbor," and
his face hardened suddenly to fierceness as he looked at her; but he
repeated quietly that she had better come in. Thus did the three sit
down to their meal. Occasionally a word about handing some dish fell
from one or other of them, but nothing more, until Lusk took out his
watch and mentioned the hour.
"Yu've not ate especially hearty," said Lin, resting his arms upon
"I'm going," asserted Lusk. "Governor Barker may start out. I've
got my interests to look after."
"Why, sure," said Lin. "I can't hope you'll waste all your time on
Lusk rose and looked at his wife. "It'll be ten now before we get
to Drybone," said he. And he went down to the stable.
The woman sat still, pressing the crumbs of her bread. "I know you
seen me," she said, without looking at him.
"Saw you when?"
"I knowed it. And I seen how you looked at me." She sat twisting
and pressing the crumb. Sometimes it was round, sometimes it was a
cube, now and then she flattened it to a disk. Mr. McLean seemed to
have nothing that he wished to reply.
"If you claim that pistol is yourn," she said next, "I'll tell you
I know better. If you ask me whose should it be if not yourn, I would
not have to guess the name. She has talked to me, and me to her."
She was still looking away from him at the bread-crumb, or she
could have seen that McLean's hand was trembling as he watched her
leaning on his arms.
"Oh yes, she was willing to talk to me!" The woman uttered another
sudden laugh. "I knowed about her--all. Things get heard of in this
world. Did not all about you and me come to her knowledge in its own
good time, and it done and gone how many years? My, my, my!" Her voice
grew slow and absent. She stopped for a moment, and then more rapidly
resumed: "It had travelled around about you and her like it always
will travel. It was known how you had asked her, and how she had told
you she would have you, and then told you she would not when she
learned about you and me. Folks that knowed yus and folks that never
seen yus in their lives had to have their word about her facing you
down you had another wife, though she knowed the truth about me being
married to Lusk and him livin' the day you married me, and ten and
twenty marriages could not have tied you and me up, no matter how
honest you swore to no hinderance. Folks said it was plain she did not
want yus. It give me a queer feelin' to see that girl. It give me a
wish to tell her to her face that she did not love yus and did not
know love. Wait--wait, Lin! Yu' never hit me yet."
"No," said the cow-puncher. "Nor now. I'm not Lusk."
"Yu' looked so--so bad, Lin. I never seen yu' look so bad in old
days. Wait, now, and I must tell it. I wished to laugh in her face and
say, 'What do you know about love?' So I walked in. Lin, she does love
"Yes," breathed McLean.
"She was sittin' back in her room at Separ. Not the ticket-office,
"I know," the cow-puncher said. His eyes were burning.
"It's snug, the way she has it. 'Good-afternoon,' I says. 'Is this
Miss Jessamine Buckner?'"
At his sweetheart's name the glow in Lin's eyes seemed to quiver to
"And she spoke pleasant to me--pleasant and gay-like. But a woman
can tell sorrow in a woman's eyes. And she asked me would I rest in
her room there, and what was my name. 'They tell me you claim to know
it better than I do,' I says. 'They tell me you say it is Mrs.
McLean.' She put her hand on her breast, and she keeps lookin' at me
without never speaking. 'Maybe I am not so welcome now,' I says. 'One
minute,' says she. 'Let me get used to it.' And she sat down.
"Lin, she is a square-lookin' girl. I'll say that for her.
"I never thought to sit down onced myself; I don't know why, but I
kep' a-standing, and I took in that room of hers. She had flowers and
things around there, and I seen your picture standing on the table,
and I seen your six-shooter right by it--and, oh, Lin, hadn't I knowed
your face before ever she did, and that gun you used to let me shoot
on Bear Creek? It took me that sudden! Why, it rushed over me so I
spoke right out different from what I'd meant and what I had ready
fixed up to say.
"'Why did you do it?' I says to her, while she was a-sitting. 'How
could you act so, and you a woman?' She just sat, and her sad eyes
made me madder at the idea of her. 'You have had real sorrow,' says I,
'if they report correct. You have knowed your share of death, and
misery, and hard work, and all. Great God! ain't there things enough
that come to yus uncalled for and natural, but you must run around
huntin' up more that was leavin' yus alone and givin' yus a chance? I
knowed him onced. I knowed your Lin McLean. And when that was over, I
knowed for the first time how men can be different.' I'm started, Lin,
I'm started. Leave me go on, and when I'm through I'll quit. 'Some of
'em, anyway,' I says to her, 'has hearts and self-respect, and ain't
hogs clean through.'
"'I know," she says, thoughtful-like.
"And at her whispering that way I gets madder.
"'You know!' I says then. 'What is it that you know? Do you know
that you have hurt a good man's heart? For onced I hurt it myself,
though different. And hurts in them kind of hearts stays. Some hearts
is that luscious and pasty you can stab 'em and it closes up so yu'd
never suspicion the place--but Lin McLean! Nor yet don't yus believe
his is the kind that breaks--if any kind does that. You may sit till
the gray hairs, and you may wall up your womanhood, but if a man has
got manhood like him, he will never sit till the gray hairs. Grief
over losin' the best will not stop him from searchin' for a second
best after a while. He wants a home, and he has got a right to one,'
says I to Miss Jessamine. 'You have not walled up Lin McLean,' I says
to her. Wait, Lin, wait. Yus needn't to tell me that's a lie. I know a
man thinks he's walled up for a while."
"She could have told you it was a lie," said the cow-puncher.
"She did not. 'Let him get a home,' says she. 'I want him to be
happy.' 'That flash in your eyes talks different,' says I. 'Sure
enough yus wants him to be happy. Sure enough. But not happy along
with Miss Second Best.'
"Lin, she looked at me that piercin'!
"And I goes on, for I was wound away up. 'And he will be happy,
too,' I says. 'Miss Second Best will have a talk with him about your
picture and little "Neighbor," which he'll not send back to yus,
because the hurt in his heart is there. And he will keep 'em out of
sight somewheres after his talk with Miss Second Best.' Lin, Lin, I
laughed at them words of mine, but I was that wound up I was strange
to myself. And she watchin' me that way! And I says to her: 'Miss
Second Best will not be the crazy thing to think I am any wife of his
standing in her way. He will tell her about me. He will tell how onced
he thought he was solid married to me till Lusk came back; and she
will drop me out of sight along with the rest that went nameless. They
was not uncomprehensible to you, was they? You have learned something
by livin', I guess! And Lin--your Lin, not mine, nor never mine in
heart for a day so deep as he's yourn right now-- he has been gay--gay
as any I've knowed. Why, look at that face of his! Could a boy with a
face like that help bein' gay? But that don't touch what's the true
Lin deep down. Nor will his deep-down love for you hinder him like it
will hinder you. Don't you know men and us is different when it comes
to passion? We're all one thing then, but they ain't simple. They keep
along with lots of other things. I can't make yus know, and I guess it
takes a woman like I have been to learn their nature. But you did know
he loved you, and you sent him away, and you'll be homeless in yer
house when he has done the right thing by himself and found another
"Lin, all the while I was talkin' all I knowed to her, without
knowin' what I'd be sayin' next, for it come that unexpected, she was
lookin' at me with them steady eyes. And all she says when I quit was,
'If I saw him I would tell him to find a home.'"
"Didn't she tell yu' she'd made me promise to keep away from seeing
her?" asked the cow-puncher
Mrs. Lusk laughed. "Oh, you innocent!" said she.
"She said if I came she would leave Separ," muttered McLean,
Again the large woman laughed out, but more harshly.
"I have kept my promise," Lin continued.
"Keep it some more. Sit here rotting in your chair till she goes
away. Maybe she's gone."
"What's that?" said Lin. But still she only laughed harshly. "I
could be there by to-morrow night," he murmured. Then his face
softened. "She would never do such a thing!" he said, to himself.
He had forgotten the woman at the table. While she had told him
matters that concerned him he had listened eagerly. Now she was of no
more interest than she had been before her story was begun. She looked
at his eyes as he sat thinking and dwelling upon his sweetheart. She
looked at him, and a longing welled up into her face. A certain youth
and heavy beauty relighted the features.
"You are the same, same Lin everyways," she said. "A woman is too
many for you still, Lin!" she whispered.
At her summons he looked up from his revery.
"Lin, I would not have treated you so."
The caress that filled her voice was plain. His look met hers as he
sat quite still, his arms on the table. Then he took his turn at
"You!" he said. "At least I've had plenty of education in you."
"Lin, Lin, don't talk that brutal to me to-day. If yus knowed how
near I come shooting myself with 'Neighbor.' That would have been
"I knowed yus wanted to tear that pistol out of my hand because it
was hern. But yus never did such things to me, fer there's a gentleman
in you somewheres, Lin. And yus didn't never hit me, not even when you
come to know me well. And when I seen you so unexpected again
to-night, and you just the same old Lin, scaring Lusk with shooting
them chickens, so comic and splendid, I could 'a' just killed Lusk
sittin' in the wagon. Say, Lin, what made yus do that, anyway?"
"I can't hardly say," said the cow-puncher. "Only noticing him so
turruble anxious to quit me--well, a man acts without thinking."
"You always did, Lin. You was always a comical genius. Lin, them
were good times."
"You know. You can't tell me you have forgot."
"I have not forgot much. What's the sense in this?"
"Yus never loved me!" she exclaimed.
"Lin, Lin, is it all over? You know yus loved me on Bear Creek. Say
you did. Only say it was once that way." And as he sat, she came and
put her arms round his neck. For a moment he did not move, letting
himself be held; and then she kissed him. The plates crashed as he
beat and struck her down upon the table. He was on his feet, cursing
himself. As he went out of the door, she lay where she had fallen
beneath his fist, looking after him and smiling.
McLean walked down Box Elder Creek through the trees toward the
stable, where Lusk had gone to put the horse in the wagon. Once he
leaned his hand against a big cotton-wood, and stood still with
half-closed eyes. Then he continued on his way. "Lusk!" he called,
presently, and in a few steps more, "Lusk!" Then, as he came slowly
out of the trees to meet the husband he began, with quiet evenness,
"Your wife wants to know--" But he stopped. No husband was there.
Wagon and horse were not there. The door was shut. The bewildered
cow-puncher looked up the stream where the road went, and he looked
down. Out of the sky where daylight and stars were faintly shining
together sounded the long cries of the night hawks as they sped and
swooped to their hunting in the dusk. From among the trees by the
stream floated a cooler air, and distant and close by sounded the
splashing water. About the meadow where Lin stood his horses fed,
quietly crunching. He went to the door, looked in, and shut it again.
He walked to his shed and stood contemplating his own wagon alone
there. Then he lifted away a piece of trailing vine from the gate of
the corral, while the turkeys moved their heads and watched him from
the roof. A rope was hanging from the corral, and seeing it, he
dropped the vine. He opened the corral gate, and walked quickly back
into the middle of the field, where the horses saw him and his rope,
and scattered. But he ran and herded them, whirling the rope, and so
drove them into the corral, and flung his noose over two. He dragged
two saddles--men's saddles-- from the stable, and next he was again at
his cabin door with the horses saddled. She was sitting quite still by
the table where she had sat during the meal, nor did she speak or move
when she saw him look in at the door.
"Lusk has gone," said he. "I don't know what he expected you would
do, or I would do. But we will catch him before he gets to Drybone."
She looked at him with her dumb stare. "Gone?" she said.
"Get up and ride," said McLean. "You are going to Drybone."
"Drybone?" she echoed. Her voice was toneless and dull.
He made no more explanations to her, but went quickly about the
cabin. Soon he had set it in order, the dishes on their shelves, the
table clean, the fire in the stove arranged; and all these movements
she followed with a sort of blank mechanical patience. He made a small
bundle for his own journey, tied it behind his saddle, brought her
horse beside a stump. When at his sharp order she came out, he locked
his cabin and hung the key by a window, where travellers could find it
and be at home.
She stood looking where her husband had slunk off. Then she
laughed. "It's about his size," she murmured.
Her old lover helped her in silence to mount into the man's
saddle--this they had often done together in former years--and so they
took their way down the silent road. They had not many miles to go,
and after the first two lay behind them, when the horses were limbered
and had been put to a canter, they made time quickly. They had soon
passed out of the trees and pastures of Box Elder and came among the
vast low stretches of the greater valley. Not even by day was the
river's course often discernible through the ridges and cheating
sameness of this wilderness; and beneath this half-darkness of stars
and a quarter moon the sage spread shapeless to the looming mountains,
or to nothing.
"I will ask you one thing," said Lin, after ten miles.
The woman made no sign of attention as she rode beside him.
"Did I understand that she--Miss Buckner, I mean--mentioned she
might be going away from Separ?"
"How do I know what you understood?"
"I thought you said--"
"Don't you bother me, Lin McLean." Her laugh rang out, loud and
forlorn-- one brief burst that startled the horses and that must have
sounded far across the sage-brush. "You men are rich," she said.
They rode on, side by side, and saying nothing after that. The
Drybone road was a broad trail, a worn strip of bareness going onward
over the endless shelvings of the plain, visible even in this light;
and presently, moving upon its grayness on a hill in front of them,
they made out the wagon. They hastened and overtook it.
"Put your carbine down," said McLean to Lusk. "It's not robbers.
It's your wife I'm bringing you." He spoke very quietly.
The husband addressed no word to the cow-puncher "Get in, then," he
said to his wife.
"Town's not far now," said Lin. "Maybe you would prefer riding the
balance of the way?"
"I'd--" But the note of pity that she felt in McLean's question
overcame her, and her utterance choked. She nodded her head, and the
three continued slowly climbing the hill together.
From the narrows of the steep, sandy, weather-beaten banks that the
road slanted upward through for a while, they came out again upon the
immensity of the table-land. Here, abruptly like an ambush, was the
whole unsuspected river close below to their right, as if it had
emerged from the earth. With a circling sweep from somewhere out in
the gloom it cut in close to the lofty mesa beneath tall clean-graded
descents of sand, smooth as a railroad embankment. As they paused on
the level to breathe their horses, the wet gulp of its eddies rose to
them through the stillness. Upstream they could make out the light of
the Drybone bridge, but not the bridge itself; and two lights on the
farther bank showed where stood the hog-ranch opposite Drybone. They
went on over the table-land and reached the next herald of the town,
Drybone's chief historian, the graveyard. Beneath its slanting
headboards and wind-shifted sand lay many more people than lived in
Drybone. They passed by the fence of this shelterless acre on the
hill, and shoutings and high music began to reach them. At the foot of
the hill they saw the sparse lights and shapes of the town where ended
the gray strip of road. The many sounds--feet, voices, and music--grew
clearer, unravelling from their muffled confusion, and the fiddling
became a tune that could be known."
"There's a dance to-night," said the wife to the husband. "Hurry."
He drove as he had been driving. Perhaps he had not heard her.
"I'm telling you to hurry," she repeated. "My new dress is in that
wagon. There'll be folks to welcome me here that's older friends than
She put her horse to a gallop down the broad road toward the music
and the older friends. The husband spoke to his horse, cleared his
throat and spoke louder, cleared his throat again and this time his
sullen voice carried, and the animal started. So Lusk went ahead of
Lin McLean, following his wife with the new dress at as good a pace as
he might. If he did not want her company, perhaps to be alone with the
cow-puncher was still less to his mind.
"It ain't only her he's stopped caring for," mused Lin, as he rode
slowly along. "He don't care for himself any more."
To-day, Drybone has altogether returned to the dust. Even in that
day its hour could have been heard beginning to sound, but its
inhabitants were rather deaf. Gamblers, saloon-keepers, murderers,
outlaws male and female, all were so busy with their cards, their
lovers, and their bottles as to make the place seem young and
vigorous; but it was second childhood which had set in.
Drybone had known a wholesome adventurous youth, where manly lives
and deaths were plenty. It had been an army post. It had seen horse
and foot, and heard the trumpet. Brave wives had kept house for their
captains upon its bluffs. Winter and summer they had made the best of
it. When the War Department ordered the captains to catch Indians, the
wives bade them Godspeed. When the Interior Department ordered the
captains to let the Indians go again, still they made the best of it.
You must not waste Indians. Indians were a source of revenue to so
many people in Washington and elsewhere. But the process of catching
Indians, armed with weapons sold them by friends of the Interior
Department, was not entirely harmless. Therefore there came to be
graves in the Drybone graveyard. The pale weather-washed head-boards
told all about it: "Sacred to the memory of Private So-and-So, killed
on the Dry Cheyenne, May 6, 1875." Or it would be, "Mrs. So-and-So,
found scalped on Sage Creek." But even the financiers at Washington
could not wholly preserve the Indian in Drybone's neighborhood. As the
cattle by ten thousands came treading with the next step of
civilization into this huge domain, the soldiers were taken away. Some
of them went West to fight more Indians in Idaho, Oregon, or Arizona.
The battles of the others being done, they went East in better coffins
to sleep where their mothers or their comrades wanted them. Though
wind and rain wrought changes upon the hill, the ready-made graves and
boxes which these soldiers left behind proved heirlooms as serviceable
in their way as were the tenements that the living had bequeathed to
Drybone. Into these empty barracks came to dwell and do business every
joy that made the cow-puncher's holiday, and every hunted person who
was baffling the sheriff. For the sheriff must stop outside the line
of Drybone, as shall presently be made clear. The captain's quarters
were a saloon now; professional cards were going in the adjutant's
office night and day; and the commissary building made a good
dance-hall and hotel. Instead of guard-mounting, you would see a
horse-race on the parade-ground, and there was no provost-sergeant to
gather up the broken bottles and old boots. Heaps of these choked the
rusty fountain. In the tufts of yellow, ragged grass that dotted the
place plentifully were lodged many aces and queens and ten-spots,
which the Drybone wind had blown wide from the doors out of which they
had been thrown when a new pack was called for inside. Among the grass
tufts would lie visitors who had applied for beds too late at the
dance-hall, frankly sleeping their whiskey off in the morning air.
Above, on the hill, the graveyard quietly chronicled this new epoch
of Drybone. So-and-so was seldom killed very far out of town, and of
course scalping had disappeared. "Sacred to the memory of Four-ace
Johnston, accidently shot, Sep. 4, 1885." Perhaps one is still there
unaltered: "Sacred to the memory of Mrs. Ryan's babe. Aged two
months." This unique corpse had succeeded in dying with its boots off.
But a succession of graves was not always needed to read the
changing tale of the place, and how people died there; one grave would
often be enough. The soldiers, of course, had kept treeless Drybone
supplied with wood. But in these latter days wood was very scarce.
None grew nearer than twenty or thirty miles--none, that is, to make
boards of a sufficient width for epitaphs. And twenty miles was
naturally far to go to hew a board for a man of whom you knew perhaps
nothing but what he said his name was, and to whom you owed nothing,
perhaps, but a trifling poker debt. Hence it came to pass that
headboards grew into a sort of directory. They were light to lift from
one place to another. A single coat of white paint would wipe out the
first tenant's name sufficiently to paint over it the next comer's. By
this thrifty habit the original boards belonging to the soldiers could
go round, keeping pace with the new civilian population; and though at
first sight you might be puzzled by the layers of names still visible
beneath the white paint, you could be sure that the clearest and
blackest was the one to which the present tenant had answered.
So there on the hill lay the graveyard, steadily writing Drybone's
history, and making that history lay the town at the bottom--one thin
line of houses framing three sides of the old parade ground. In these
slowly rotting shells people rioted, believing the golden age was
here, the age when everybody should have money and nobody should be
arrested. For Drybone soil, you see, was still government soil, not
yet handed over to Wyoming; and only government could arrest there,
and only for government crimes. But government had gone, and seldom
worried Drybone! The spot was a postage-stamp of sanctuary pasted in
the middle of Wyoming's big map, a paradise for the Four-ace
Johnstons. Only, you must not steal a horse. That was really wicked,
and brought you instantly to the notice of Drybone's one official--the
coroner! For they did keep a coroner--Judge Slaghammer. He was
perfectly illegal, and lived next door in Albany County. But that
county paid fees and mileage to keep tally of Drybone's casualties.
His wife owned the dance-hall, and between their industries they made
out a living. And all the citizens made out a living. The happy
cow-punchers on ranches far and near still earned and instantly spent
the high wages still paid them. With their bodies full of youth and
their pockets full of gold, they rode into town by twenties, by
fifties, and out again next morning, penniless always and happy. And
then the Four-ace Johnstons would sit card-playing with each other
till the innocents should come to town again.
To-night the innocents had certainly come to town, and Drybone was
furnishing to them all its joys. Their many horses stood tied at every
post and corner--patient, experienced cow-ponies, well knowing it was
an all-night affair. The talk and laughter of the riders was in the
saloons; they leaned joking over the bars, they sat behind their cards
at the tables, they strolled to the post-trader's to buy presents for
their easy sweethearts their boots were keeping audible time with the
fiddle at Mrs. Slaghammer's. From the multitude and vigor of the
sounds there, the dance was being done regularly. "Regularly" meant
that upon the conclusion of each set the gentleman led his lady to the
bar and invited her to choose and it was also regular that the lady
should choose. Beer and whiskey were the alternatives.
Lin McLean's horse took him across the square without guiding from
the cow-puncher, who sat absently with his hands folded upon the horn
of his saddle. This horse, too, was patient and experienced, and could
not know what remote thoughts filled his master's mind. He looked
around to see why his master did not get off lightly, as he had done
during so many gallant years, and hasten in to the conviviality. But
the lonely cow-puncher sat mechanically identifying the horses of
"Toothpick Kid is here," said he, "and Limber Jim, and the Doughie.
You'd think he'd stay away after the trouble he--I expect that pinto
is Jerky Bill's."
"Go home!" said a hearty voice.
McLean eagerly turned. For the moment his face lighted from its
sombreness. "I'd forgot you'd be here," said he. And he sprang to the
ground. "It's fine to see you."
"Go home!" repeated the Governor of Wyoming, shaking his ancient
friend's hand. "You in Drybone to-night, and claim you're reformed?
"Yu' seem to be on hand yourself," said the cow-puncher, bracing to
be jocular, if he could.
"Me! I've gone fishing. Don't you read the papers? If we poor
governors can't lock up the State House and take a whirl now and
"Doc," interrupted Lin, "it's plumb fine to see yu'!" Again he
"Why, yes! we've met here before, you and I." His Excellency the
Hon. Amory W. Barker, M.D., stood laughing, familiar and genial, his
sound white teeth shining. But behind his round spectacles he
scrutinized McLean. For in this second hand-shaking was a fervor that
seemed a grasp, a reaching out, for comfort. Barker had passed through
Separ. Though an older acquaintance than Billy, he had asked Jessamine
fewer and different questions. But he knew what he knew. "Well,
Drybone's the same old Drybone," said he. "Sweet-scented hole of
iniquity! Let's see how you walk nowadays."
Lin took a few steps.
"Pooh! I said you'd never get over it." And his Excellency beamed
with professional pride. In his doctor days Barker had set the boy
McLean's leg; and before it was properly knit the boy had escaped from
the hospital to revel loose in Drybone on such another night as this.
Soon he had been carried back, with the fracture split open again.
"It shows, does it?" said Lin. "Well, it don't usually. Not except
when I'm--when I'm--"
"Down?" suggested his Excellency.
"Yes, Doc. Down," the cow-puncher confessed.
Barker looked into his friend's clear hazel eyes.
Beneath their dauntless sparkle was something that touched the
Governor's good heart. "I've got some whiskey along on the
trip--Eastern whiskey," said he. "Come over to my room awhile."
"I used to sleep all night onced," said McLean, as they went. "Then
I come to know different. But I'd never have believed just mere
thoughts could make yu'--make yu' feel like the steam was only half
on. I eat, yu' know!" he stated, suddenly. "And I expect one or two in
camp lately have not found my muscle lacking. Feel me, Doc."
Barker dutifully obeyed, and praised the excellent sinews.
Across from the dance-hall the whining of the fiddle came, high and
gay; feet blurred the talk of voices, and voices rose above the
trampling of feet. Here and there some lurking form stumbled through
the dark among the rubbish; and clearest sound of all, the light crack
of billiard balls reached dry and far into the night Barker
contemplated the stars and calm splendid dimness of the plain.
"'Though every prospect pleases, and only man is vile,'" he quoted.
"But don't tell the Republican party I said so."
"It's awful true, though, Doc. I'm vile myself. Yu' don't know.
Why, I didn't know!"
And then they sat down to confidences and whiskey; for so long as
the world goes round a man must talk to a man sometimes, and both must
drink over it. The cow-puncher unburdened himself to the Governor; and
the Governor filled up his friend's glass with the Eastern whiskey,
and nodded his spectacles, and listened, and advised, and said he
should have done the same, and like the good Governor that he was,
never remembered he was Governor at all with political friends here
who had begged a word or two. He became just Dr. Barker again, the
young hospital surgeon (the hospital that now stood a ruin), and Lin
was again his patient----Lin, the sun-burnt free-lance of nineteen,
reckless, engaging, disobedient, his leg broken and his heart light,
with no Jessamine or conscience to rob his salt of its savor. While he
now told his troubles, the quadrilles fiddled away careless as ever,
and the crack of the billiard balls sounded as of old.
"Nobody has told you about this, I expect," said the lover. He
brought forth the little pistol, "Neighbor." He did not hand it across
to Barker, but walked over to Barker's chair, and stood holding it for
the doctor to see. When Barker reached for it to see better, since it
was half hidden in the cow-puncher's big hand, Lin yielded it to him,
but still stood and soon drew it back. "I take it around," he said,
"and when one of those stories comes along, like there's plenty of,
that she wants to get rid of me, I just kind o' take a look at
'Neighbor' when I'm off where it's handy, and it busts the story right
out of my mind. I have to tell you what a fool I am."
"The whiskey's your side," said Barker. "Go on."
"But, Doc, my courage has quit me. They see what I'm thinking about
just like I was a tenderfoot trying his first bluff. I can't stick it
out no more, and I'm going to see her, come what will.
I've got to. I'm going to ride right up to her window and shoot off
'Neighbor,' and if she don't come out I'll know--"
A knocking came at the Governor's room, and Judge Slaghammer
entered. "Not been to our dance, Governor?" said he.
The Governor thought that perhaps he was tired, that perhaps this
evening he must forego the pleasure.
"It may be wiser. In your position it may be advisable," said the
coroner. "They're getting on rollers over there. We do not like
trouble in Drybone, but trouble comes to us--as everywhere."
"Shooting," suggested his Excellency, recalling his hospital
"Well, Governor, you know how it is. Our boys are as big-hearted as
any in this big-hearted Western country. You know, Governor. Those
generous, warm-blooded spirits are ever ready for anything."
"Especially after Mrs. Slaghammer's whiskey," remarked the
The coroner shot a shrewd eye at Wyoming's chief executive. It was
not politically harmonious to be reminded that but for his wife's
liquor a number of fine young men, with nothing save youth untrained
and health the matter with them, would to-day be riding their horses
instead of sleeping on the hill. But the coroner wanted support in the
next campaign. "Boys will be boys," said he. "They ain't pulled any
guns to-night. But I come away, though. Some of 'em's making up pretty
free to Mrs. Lusk. It ain't suitable for me to see too much. Lusk says
he's after you," he mentioned incidentally to Lin. "He's fillin' up,
and says he's after you." McLean nodded placidly, and with scant
politeness. He wished this visitor would go. But Judge Slaghammer had
noticed the whiskey. He filled himself a glass. "Governor, it has my
compliments," said he. "Ambrosier. Honey-doo."
"Mrs. Slaghammer seems to have a large gathering," said Barker.
"Good boys, good boys!" The judge blew importantly, and waved his
arm. "Bull-whackers, cow-punchers, mule-skinners, tin-horns. All
spending generous. Governor, once more! Ambrosier. Honey-doo." He
settled himself deep in a chair, and closed his eyes.
McLean rose abruptly. "Good-night," said he. "I'm going to Separ."
"Separ!" exclaimed Slaghammer, rousing slightly. "Oh, stay with us,
stay with us." He closed his eyes again, but sustained his smile of
"You know how well I wish you," said Barker to Lin. "I'll just see
Forthwith the friends left the coroner quiet beside his glass, and
walked toward the horses through Drybone's gaping quadrangle. The dead
ruins loomed among the lights of the card-halls, and always the keen
jockey cadences of the fiddle sang across the night. But a calling and
confusion were set up, and the tune broke off.
"Just like old times!" said his Excellency. "Where's the
dump-pile!" It was where it should be, close by, and the two stepped
behind it to be screened from wandering bullets. "A man don't forget
his habits," declared the Governor. "Makes me feel young again."
"Makes me feel old," said McLean. "Hark!"
"Sounds like my name," said Barker. They listened. "Oh yes. Of
course. That's it. They're shouting for the doctor. But we'll just
spare them a minute or so to finish their excitement."
"I didn't hear any shooting," said McLean. "It's something,
As they waited, no shots came; but still the fiddle was silent, and
the murmur of many voices grew in the dance-hall, while single voices
wandered outside, calling the doctor's name.
"I'm the Governor on a fishing-trip," said he. "But it's to be
done, I suppose."
They left their dump-hill and proceeded over to the dance. The
musician sat high and solitary upon two starch-boxes, fiddle on knee,
staring and waiting. Half the floor was bare; on the other half the
revellers were densely clotted. At the crowd's outer rim the young
horsemen, flushed and swaying, retained their gaudy dance partners
strongly by the waist, to be ready when the music should resume. "What
is it?" they asked. "Who is it?" And they looked in across heads and
shoulders, inattentive to the caresses which the partners gave them.
Mrs. Lusk was who it was, and she had taken poison here in their
midst, after many dances and drinks.
"Here's Doc!" cried an older one.
"Here's Doc!" chorused the young blood that had come into this
country since his day. And the throng caught up the words: "Here's
Doc! here's Doc!"
In a moment McLean and Barker were sundered from each other in this
flood. Barker, sucked in toward the centre but often eddied back by
those who meant to help him, heard the mixed explanations pass his ear
unfinished--versions, contradictions, a score of facts. It had been
wolf-poison. It had been "Rough on Rats." It had been something in a
bottle. There was little steering in this clamorous sea; but Barker
reached his patient, where she sat in her new dress, hailing him with
wild inebriate gayety.
"I must get her to her room, friends," said he.
"He must get her to her room," went the word. "Leave Doc get her to
her room." And they tangled in their eagerness around him and his
"Give us 'Buffalo Girls!'" shouted Mrs. Lusk.... "'Buffalo Girls,'
"We'll come back," said Barker to her.
"'Buffalo Girls,' I tell yus. Ho! There's no sense looking at that
bottle, Doc. Take yer dance while there's time!" She was holding the
"Help him!" said the crowd. "Help Doc."
They took her from her chair, and she fought, a big pink mass of
ribbons, fluttering and wrenching itself among them.
"She has six ounces of laudanum in her," Barker told them at the
top of his voice. "It won't wait all night."
"I'm a whirlwind!" said Mrs. Lusk. "That's my game! And you done
your share," she cried to the fiddler. "Here's my regards, old man!
'Buffalo Girls' once more!"
She flung out her hand, and from it fell notes and coins, rolling
and ringing around the starch boxes. Some dragged her on, while some
fiercely forbade the musician to touch the money, because it was hers,
and she would want it when she came to. Thus they gathered it up for
her. But now she had sunk down, asking in a new voice where was Lin
McLean. And when one grinning intimate reminded her that Lusk had gone
to shoot him, she laughed out richly, and the crowd joined her mirth.
But even in the midst of the joke she asked again in the same voice
where was Lin McLean. He came beside her among more jokes. He had kept
himself near, and now at sight of him she reached out and held him.
"Tell them to leave me go to sleep, Lin," said she.
Barker saw a chance. "Persuade her to come along," said he to
McLean. "Minutes are counting now."
"Oh, I'll come," she said, with a laugh, overhearing him, and
holding still to Lin.
The rest of the old friends nudged each other. "Back seats for us,"
they said. "But we've had our turn in front ones." Then, thinking they
would be useful in encouraging her to walk, they clustered again,
rendering Barker and McLean once more well-nigh helpless. Clumsily the
escort made its slow way across the quadrangle, cautioning itself
about stones and holes. Thus, presently, she was brought into the
room. The escort set her down, crowding the little place as thick as
it would hold; the rest gathered thick at the door, and all of them
had no thought of departing. The notion to stay was plain on their
Barker surveyed them. "Give the doctor a show now, boys," said he.
"You've done it all so far. Don't crowd my elbows. I'll want you," he
whispered to McLean.
At the argument of fair-play, obedience swept over them like a
veering of wind. "Don't crowd his elbows," they began to say at once,
and told each other to come away. "We'll sure give the Doc room. You
don't want to be shovin' your auger in, Chalkeye. You want to get
yourself pretty near absent." The room thinned of them forthwith. "Fix
her up good, Doc," they said, over their shoulders. They shuffled
across the threshold and porch with roundabout schemes to tread
quietly. When one or other stumbled on the steps and fell, he was
jerked to his feet. "You want to tame yourself," was the word. Then,
suddenly, Chalkeye and Toothpick Kid came precipitately back. "Her
cash," they said. And leaving the notes and coins, they hastened to
catch their comrades on the way back to the dance
"I want you," repeated Barker to McLean.
"Him!" cried Mrs. Lusk, flashing alert again. "Jessamine wants him
about now, I guess. Don't keep him from his girl!" And she laughed her
hard, rich laugh, looking from one to the other. "Not the two of yus
can't save me," she stated, defiantly. But even in these last words a
sort of thickness sounded.
"Walk her up and down," said Barker. "Keep her moving. I'll look
what I can find. Keep her moving brisk." At once he was out of the
door; and before his running steps had died away, the fiddle had taken
up its tune across the quadrangle.
"'Buffalo Girls!'" exclaimed the woman. "Old times! Old times!"
"Come," said McLean. "Walk." And he took her.
Her head was full of the music. Forgetting all but that, she went
with him easily, and the two made their first turns around the room.
Whenever he brought her near the entrance, she leaned away from him
toward the open door, where the old fiddle tune was coming in from the
dark. But presently she noticed that she was being led, and her face
"Walk," said McLean.
"Do you think so?" said she, laughing. But she found that she must
go with him. Thus they took a few more turns.
"You're hurting me," she said next. Then a look of drowsy cunning
filled her eyes, and she fixed them upon McLean's dogged face. "He's
gone, Lin," she murmured, raising her hand where Barker had
She knew McLean had heard her, and she held back on the quickened
pace that he had set.
"Leave me down. You hurt," she pleaded, hanging on him.
The cow-puncher put forth more strength.
"Just the floor," she pleaded again. "Just one minute on the floor.
He'll think you could not keep me lifted."
Still McLean made no answer, but steadily led her round and round,
as he had undertaken.
"He's playing out!" she exclaimed. "You'll be played out soon." She
laughed herself half-awake. The man drew a breath, and she laughed
more to feel his hand and arm strain to surmount her increasing
resistance. "Jessamine!" she whispered to him. "Jessamine! Doc'll
never suspicion you, Lin."
"Talk sense," said he.
"It's sense I'm talking. Leave me go to sleep. Ah, ah, I'm going!
I'll go; you can't--"
"Walk, walk!" he repeated. He looked at the door. An ache was
numbing his arms.
"Oh yes, walk! What can you and all your muscle--Ah, walk me to
glory, then, craziness! I'm going; I'll go. I'm quitting this outfit
for keeps. Lin, you're awful handsome to-night! I'll bet--I'll bet she
has never seen you look so. Let me--let me watch yus. Anyway, she
knows I came first!"
He grasped her savagely. "First! You and twenty of yu' don't--God!!
what do I talk to her for?"
"Because--because--I'm going; I'll go. He slung me off--but he had
to sling--you can't-- stop--
Her head was rolling, while the lips smiled. Her words came through
deeper and deeper veils, fearless, defiant, a challenge inarticulate,
a continuous mutter. Again he looked at the door as he struggled to
move with her dragging weight. The drops rolled on his forehead and
neck, his shirt was wet, his hands slipped upon her ribbons. Suddenly
the drugged body folded and sank with him, pulling him to his knees.
While he took breath so, the mutter went on, and through the door came
the jigging fiddle. A fire of desperation lighted in his eyes.
"Buffalo Girls!" he shouted, hoarsely, in her ear, and got once more
on his feet with her as though they were two partners in a quadrille.
Still shouting her to wake, he struck a tottering sort of step, and
so, with the bending load in his grip, strove feebly to dance the
Feet stumbled across the porch, and Lusk was in the room. "So I've
got you!" he said. He had no weapon, but made a dive under the bed and
came up with a carbine. The two men locked, wrenching impotently, and
fell together. The carbine's loud shot rang in the room, but did no
harm; and McLean lay sick and panting upon Lusk as Barker rushed in.
"Thank God!" said he, and flung Lusk's pistol down. The man,
deranged and encouraged by drink, had come across the doctor, delayed
him, threatened him with his pistol, and when he had torn it away, had
left him suddenly and vanished. But Barker had feared, and come after
him here. He glanced at the woman slumbering motionless beside the two
men. The husband's brief courage had gone, and he lay beneath McLean,
who himself could not rise. Barker pulled them apart.
"Lin, boy, you're not hurt?" he asked, affectionately, and lifted
McLean sat passive, with dazed eyes, letting himself be supported.
"You're not hurt?" repeated Barker.
"No," answered the cow-puncher, slowly. "I guess not." He looked
about the room and at the door. "I got interrupted," he said.
"You'll be all right soon," said Barker.
"Nobody cares for me!" cried Lusk, suddenly, and took to querulous
"Get up," ordered Barker, sternly.
"Don't accuse me, Governor," screamed Lusk. "I'm innocent." And he
Barker looked at the woman and then at the husband. "I'll not say
there was much chance for her," he said. "But any she had is gone
through you. She'll die."
"Nobody cares for me!" repeated the man. "He has learned my boy to
scorn me." He ran out aimlessly, and away into the night, leaving
peace in the room.
"Stay sitting," said Barker to McLean, and went to Mrs. Lusk.
But the cow-puncher, seeing him begin to lift her toward the bed
without help, tried to rise. His strength was not sufficiently come
back, and he sank as he had been. "I guess I don't amount to much,"
said he. "I feel like I was nothing."
"Well, I'm something," said Barker, coming back to his friend, out
of breath. "And I know what she weighs." He stared admiringly through
his spectacles at the seated man.
The cow-puncher's eyes slowly travelled over his body, and then
sought Barker's face. "Doc," said he, "ain't I young to have my nerve
quit me this way?"
His Excellency broke into his broad smile.
"I know I've racketed some, but ain't it ruther early?" pursued
"You six-foot infant!" said Barker. "Look at your hand."
Lin stared at it--the fingers quivering and bloody, and the skin
grooved raw between them. That was the buckle of her belt, which in
the struggle had worked round and been held by him unknowingly. Both
his wrists and his shirt were ribbed with the pink of her sashes. He
looked over at the bed where lay the woman heavily breathing. It was a
something, a sound, not like the breath of life; and Barker saw the
"She is strong," he said. "Her system will fight to the end. Two
hours yet, maybe. Queer world!" he moralized. "People half killing
themselves to keep one in it who wanted to go--and one that nobody
wanted to stay!"
McLean did not hear. He was musing, his eyes fixed absently in
front of him. "I would not want," he said, with hesitating
utterance--"I'd not wish for even my enemy to have a thing like what
I've had to do to-night."
Barker touched him on the arm. "If there had been another man I
"Trust!" broke in the cow-puncher. "Why, Doc, it is the best turn
yu' ever done me. I know I am a man now--if my nerve ain't gone."
I've known you were a man since I knew you!" said the hearty
Governor. And he helped the still unsteady six-foot to a chair. "As
for your nerve, I'll bring you some whiskey now. And after"--he
glanced at the bed--" and tomorrow you'll go try if Miss Jessamine
won't put the nerve--"
"Yes, Doc, I'll go there, I know. But don't yu'--don't let's while
she's-- I'm going to be glad about this, Doc, after awhile, but--"
At the sight of a new-comer in the door, he stopped in what his
soul was stammering to say. "What do you want, Judge?" he inquired,
"I understand," began Slaghammer to Barker--"I am informed--"
"Speak quieter, Judge," said the cow-puncher.
"I understand," repeated Slaghammer, more official than ever, "that
there was a case for the coroner."
"You'll be notified," put in McLean again. "Meanwhile you'll talk
quiet in this room."
Slaghammer turned, and saw the breathing mass on the bed.
"You are a little early, Judge," said Barker, "but--"
"But your ten dollars are safe," said McLean.
The coroner shot one of his shrewd glances at the cow-puncher, and
sat down with an amiable countenance. His fee was, indeed, ten
dollars; and he was desirous of a second term.
"Under the apprehension that it had already occurred--the
misapprehension--I took steps to impanel a jury," said he, addressing
both Barker and McLean. "They are--ah--waiting outside. Responsible
men, Governor, and have sat before. Drybone has few responsible men
to-night, but I procured these at a little game where they
were--ah--losing. You may go back, gentlemen," said he, going to the
door. "I will summon you in proper time." He looked in the room again.
"Is the husband not intending--"
"That's enough, Judge," said McLean. "There's too many here without
"Judge," spoke a voice at the door, "ain't she ready yet?"
"She is still passing away," observed Slaghammer, piously.
"Because I was thinking," said the man-- "I was just--You see, us
jury is dry and dead broke. Doggonedest cards I've held this year,
and--Judge, would there be anything out of the way in me touching my
fee in advance, if it's a sure thing?"
"I see none, my friend," said Slaghammer, benevolently, "since it
must be." He shook his head and nodded it by turns. Then, with
full-blown importance, he sat again, and wrote a paper, his coroner's
certificate. Next door, in Albany County, these vouchers brought their
face value of five dollars to the holder; but on Drybone's neutral
soil the saloons would always pay four for them, and it was rare that
any jury-man could withstand the temptation of four immediate dollars.
This one gratefully received his paper, and, cherishing it like a bird
in the hand, he with his colleagues bore it where they might wait for
duty and slake their thirst.
In the silent room sat Lin McLean, his body coming to life more
readily than his shaken spirit. Barker, seeing that the cow-puncher
meant to watch until the end, brought the whiskey to him. Slaghammer
drew documents from his pocket to fill the time, but was soon in
slumber over them. In all precincts of the quadrangle Drybone was
keeping it up late. The fiddle, the occasional shouts, and the crack
of the billiard-balls travelled clear and far through the vast
darkness outside. Presently steps unsteadily drew near, and round the
corner of the door a voice, plaintive and diffident, said, "Judge,
ain't she most pretty near ready?"
"Wake up, Judge!" said Barker. "Your jury has gone dry again."
The man appeared round the door--a handsome, dishevelled
fellow--with hat in hand, balancing himself with respectful anxiety.
Thus was a second voucher made out, and the messenger strayed back
happy to his friends. Barker and McLean sat wakeful, and Slaghammer
fell at once to napping. From time to time he was roused by new
messengers, each arriving more unsteady than the last, until every
juryman had got his fee and no more messengers came. The coroner slept
undisturbed in his chair. McLean and Barker sat. On the bed the mass,
with its pink ribbons, breathed and breathed, while moths flew round
the lamp, tapping and falling with light sounds. So did the heart of
the darkness wear itself away, and through the stone-cold air the dawn
began to filter and expand.
Barker rose, bent over the bed, and then stood. Seeing him, McLean
"Judge," said Barker, quietly, "you may call them now." And with
careful steps the judge got himself out of the room to summon his
For a short while the cow-puncher stood looking down upon the
woman. She lay lumped inher gaudiness, the ribbons darkly stained by
the laudanum; but into the stolid, bold features death had called up
the faint-colored ghost of youth, and McLean remembered all his Bear
Creek days. "Hind sight is a turruble clear way o' seein' things,"
said he. "I think I'll take a walk."
"Go," said Barker. "The jury only need me, and I'll join you."
But the jury needed no witness. Their long waiting and the advance
pay had been too much for these responsible men. Like brothers they
had shared each others' vouchers until responsibility had melted from
their brains and the whiskey was finished. Then, no longer entertained
and growing weary of Drybone, they had remembered nothing but their
distant beds. Each had mounted his pony, holding trustingly to the
saddle, and thus, unguided, the experienced ponies had taken them
right. Across the wide sagebrush and up and down the river they were
now asleep or riding, dispersed irrevocably. But the coroner was here.
He duly received Barker's testimony, brought his verdict in, and
signed it, and even while he was issuing to himself his own proper
voucher for ten dollars came Chalkeye and Toothpick Kid on their
ponies, galloping, eager in their hopes and good wishes for Mrs. Lusk.
Life ran strong in them both. The night had gone well with them. Here
was the new day going to be fine. It must be well with everybody.
"You don't say!" they exclaimed, taken aback. "Too bad."
They sat still in their saddles, and upon their reckless, kindly
faces thought paused for a moment. "Her gone!" they murmured. "Hard to
get used to the idea. What's anybody doing about the coffin?"
"Mr. Lusk," answered Slaghammer, "doubtless--"
"Lusk! He'll not know anything this forenoon. He's out there in the
grass. She didn't think nothing of him. Tell Bill--not Dollar Bill,
Jerky Bill, yu' know; he's over the bridge--to fix up a hearse, and
we'll be back." The two drove their spurs in with vigorous heels, and
instantly were gone rushing up the road to the graveyard.
The fiddle had lately ceased, and no dancers stayed any longer in
the hall. Eastward the rose and gold began to flow down upon the plain
over the tops of the distant hills. Of the revellers, many had never
gone to bed, and many now were already risen from their excesses to
revive in the cool glory of the morning. Some were drinking to stay
their hunger until breakfast; some splashed and sported in the river,
calling and joking; and across the river some were holding horse-races
upon the level beyond the hog-ranch. Drybone air rang with them. Their
lusty, wandering shouts broke out in gusts of hilarity. Their pistols,
aimed at cans or prairie dogs or anything, cracked as they galloped at
large. Their speeding, clear-cut forms would shine upon the bluffs,
and, descending, merge in the dust their horses had raised. Yet all
this was nothing in the vastness of the growing day.
Beyond their voices the rim of the sun moved above the violet
hills, and Drybone, amid the quiet, long, new fields of radiance,
stood august and strange.
Down along the tall, bare slant from the graveyard the two horsemen
were riding back. They could be seen across the river, and the
horse-racers grew curious. As more and more watched, the crowd began
to speak. It was a calf the two were bringing. It was too small for a
calf. It was dead. It was a coyote they had roped. See it swing! See
it fall on the road!
"It's a coffin, boys!" said one, shrewd at guessing.
At that the event of last night drifted across their memories, and
they wheeled and spurred their ponies. Their crowding hoofs on the
bridge brought the swimmers from the waters below and, dressing, they
climbed quickly to the plain and followed the gathering. By the door
already were Jerky Bill and Limber Jim and the Doughie and always
more, dashing up with their ponies; halting with a sharp scatter of
gravel to hear and comment. Barker was gone, but the important coroner
told his news. And it amazed each comer, and set him speaking and
remembering past things with the others. "Dead!" each one began. "Her,
does he say?"
"Why, Frenchy said Doc had her cured!"
Jack Saunders claimed she had rode to Box Elder with Lin McLean.
"Dead? Why, pshaw!"
"Seems Doc couldn't swim her out."
"Couldn't swim her out?"
"That's it. Doc couldn't swim her out."
"Well--there's one less of us."
"Sure! She was one of the boys."
"She grub-staked me when I went broke in '84."
"She gave me fifty dollars onced at Lander, to buy a saddle."
"I run agin her when she was a biscuit-shooter."
"Sidney, Nebraska. I run again her there, too."
"I knowed her at Laramie."
"Where's Lin? He knowed her all the way from Bear Creek to
They laughed loudly at this.
"That's a lonesome coffin," said the Doughie. "That the best you
"You'd say so!" said Toothpick Kid.
"Choices are getting scarce up there," said Chalkeye. "We looked
the lot over."
They were arriving from their search among the old dug-up graves on
the hill. Now they descended from their ponies, with the box roped and
rattling between them. "Where's your hearse, Jerky?" asked Chalkeye.
"Have her round in a minute," said the cowboy, and galloped away
with three or four others
"Turruble lonesome coffin, all the same," repeated the Doughie. And
they surveyed the box that had once held some soldier.
"She did like fixin's," said Limber Jim.
"Fixin's!" said Toothpick Kid. "That's easy."
While some six of them, with Chalkeye, bore the light, half-rotted
coffin into the room, many followed Toothpick Kid to the post-trader's
store. Breaking in here, they found men sleeping on the counters.
These had been able to find no other beds in Drybone, and lay as they
had stretched themselves on entering. They sprawled in heavy slumber,
some with not even their hats taken off and some with their boots
against the rough hair of the next one. They were quickly pushed
together, few waking, and so there was space for spreading cloth and
chintz. Stuffs were unrolled and flung aside till many folds and
colors draped the motionless sleepers, and at length a choice was
made. Unmeasured yards of this drab chintz were ripped off, money
treble its worth was thumped upon the counter, and they returned,
bearing it like a streamer to the coffin. While the noise of their
hammers filled the room, the hearse came tottering to the door, pulled
and pushed by twenty men. It was an ambulance left behind by the
soldiers, and of the old-fashioned shape, concave in body, its top
blown away in winds of long ago; and as they revolved, its wheels
dished in and out like hoops about to fall. While some made a harness
from ropes, and throwing the saddles off two ponies backed them to the
vehicle, the body was put in the coffin, now covered by the chintz.
But the laudanum upon the front of her dress revolted those who
remembered their holidays with her, and turning the woman upon her
face, they looked their last upon her flashing, colored ribbons, and
nailed the lid down. So they carried her out, but the concave body of
the hearse was too short for the coffin; the end reached out, and it
might have fallen. But Limber Jim, taking the reins, sat upon the
other end, waiting and smoking. For all Drybone was making ready to
follow in some way. They had sought the husband, the chief mourner.
He, however, still lay in the grass of the quadrangle, and despising
him as she had done, they left him to wake when he should choose.
Those men who could sit in their saddles rode escort, the old friends
nearest, and four held the heads of the frightened cow-ponies who were
to draw the hearse. They had never known harness before, and they
plunged with the men who held them. Behind the hearse the women
followed in a large ranch-wagon, this moment arrived in town. Two
mares drew this, and their foals gambolled around them. The great
flat-topped dray for hauling poles came last, with its four government
mules. The cow-boys had caught sight of it and captured it. Rushing to
the post-trader's, they carried the sleeping men from the counter and
laid them on the dray. Then, searching Drybone outside and in for any
more incapable of following, they brought them, and the dray was
Limber Jim called for another drink and, with his cigar between his
teeth, cracked his long bull-whacker whip. The ponies, terrified,
sprang away, scattering the men that held them, and the swaying hearse
leaped past the husband, over the stones and the many playing-cards in
the grass. Masterfully steered, it came safe to an open level, while
the throng cheered the unmoved driver on his coffin, his cigar between
"Stay with it, Jim!" they shouted. "You're a king!"
A steep ditch lay across the flat where he was veering, abrupt and
nearly hidden; but his eye caught the danger in time, and swinging
from it leftward so that two wheels of the leaning coach were in the
air, he faced the open again, safe, as the rescue swooped down upon
him. The horsemen came at the ditch, a body of daring, a sultry blast
of youth. Wheeling at the brink, they turned, whirling their long
ropes. The skilful nooses flew, and the ponies, caught by the neck and
foot, were dragged back to the quadrangle and held in line. So the
pageant started the wild ponies quivering but subdued by the tightened
ropes, and the coffin steady in the ambulance beneath the driver. The
escort, in their fringed leather and broad hats, moved slowly beside
and behind it, many of them swaying, their faces full of health, and
the sun and the strong drink. The women followed, whispering a little;
and behind them the slow dray jolted, with its heaps of men waking
from the depths of their whiskey and asking what this was. So they
went up the hill. When the riders reached the tilted gate of the
graveyard, they sprang off and scattered among the hillocks, stumbling
and eager. They nodded to Barker and McLean, quietly waiting there,
and began choosing among the open, weather-drifted graves from which
the soldiers had been taken. Their figures went up and down the uneven
ridges, calling and comparing.
"Here," said the Doughie, "here's a good hole."
"Here's a deep one," said another.
"We've struck a well here," said some more. "Put her in here."
The sand-hills became clamorous with voices until they arrived at a
choice, when some one with a spade quickly squared the rain-washed
opening. With lariats looping the coffin round, they brought it and
were about to lower it, when Chalkeye, too near the edge, fell in, and
one end of the box rested upon him. He could not rise by himself, and
they pulled the ropes helplessly above.
McLean spoke to Barker. "I'd like to stop this," said he, "but a
man might as well--"
"Might as well stop a cloud-burst," said Barker.
"Yes, Doc. But it feels--it feels like I was looking at ten dozen
Lin McLeans." And seeing them still helpless with Chalkeye, he joined
them and lifted the cow-boy out.
"I think," said Slaghammer, stepping forward, "this should proceed
no further without some--perhaps some friend would recite 'Now I lay
"They don't use that on funerals," said the Doughie.
"Will some gentleman give the Lord's Prayer?" inquired the coroner.
Foreheads were knotted; triad mutterings ran among them; but some
one remembered a prayer book in one of the rooms in Drybone, and the
notion was hailed. Four mounted, and raced to bring it. They went down
the hill in a flowing knot, shirts ballooning and elbows flapping, and
so returned. But the book was beyond them. "Take it, you; you take
it," each one said. False beginnings were made, big thumbs pushed the
pages back and forth, until impatience conquered them. They left the
book and lowered the coffin, helped again by McLean. The weight sank
slowly, decently, steadily, down between the banks. The sound that it
struck the bottom with was a slight sound, the grating of the load
upon the solid sand; and a little sand strewed from the edge and fell
on the box at the same moment. The rattle came up from below, compact
and brief, a single jar, quietly smiting through the crowd, smiting it
to silence. One removed his hat, and then another, and then all. They
stood eying each his neighbor, and shifting their eyes, looked away at
the great valley. Then they filled in the grave, brought a head-board
from a grave near by, and wrote the name and date upon it by
scratching with a stone.
"She was sure one of us," said Chalkeye. "Let's give her the
And they followed his lead:
"Once in the saddle, I used to go dashing,
Once in the saddle, I used to go gay;
First took to drinking, and then to card-playing;
Got shot in the body, and now here I lay.
"Beat the drum slowly, Play the fife lowly,
Sound the dead march as you bear me along.
Take me to Boot-hill, and throw the sod over me--
I'm but a poor cow-boy, I know I done wrong."
When the song was ended, they left the graveyard quietly and went
down the hill. The morning was growing warm. Their work waited them
across many sunny miles of range and plain. Soon their voices and
themselves had emptied away into the splendid vastness and silence,
and they were gone-- ready with all their might to live or to die, to
be animals or heroes, as the hours might bring them opportunity. In
Drybone's deserted quadrangle the sun shone down upon Lusk still
sleeping, and the wind shook the aces and kings in the grass.
Over at Separ, Jessamine Buckner had no more stockings of Billy's
to mend, and much time for thinking and a change of mind. The day
after that strange visit, when she had been told that she had hurt a
good man's heart without reason, she took up her work; and while her
hands despatched it her thoughts already accused her. Could she have
seen that visitor now, she would have thanked her. She looked at the
photograph on her table. "Why did he go away so quickly?" she sighed.
But when young Billy returned to his questions she was buoyant again,
and more than a match for him. He reached the forbidden twelfth time
of asking why Lin McLean did not come back and marry her. Nor did she
punish him as she had threatened. She looked at him confidentially,
and he drew near, full of hope.
"Billy, I'll tell you just why it is," said she. "Lin thinks I'm
not a real girl."
"A--ah," drawled Billy, backing from her with suspicion.
"Indeed that's what it is, Billy. If he knew I was a real girl--"
"A--ah," went the boy, entirely angry. "Anybody can tell you're a
girl." And he marched out, mystified, and nursing a sense of wrong.
Nor did his dignity allow him to reopen the subject.
To-day, two miles out in the sage-brush by himself, he was shooting
jack-rabbits, but began suddenly to run in toward Separ. A horseman
had passed him, and he had loudly called; but the rider rode on,
intent upon the little distant station. Man and horse were soon far
ahead of the boy, and the man came into town galloping.
No need to fire the little pistol by her window, as he had once
thought to do! She was outside before he could leap to the ground. And
as he held her, she could only laugh, and cry, and say "Forgive me!
Oh, why have you been so long?" She took him back to the room where
his picture was, and made him sit, and sat herself close. "What is
it?" she asked him. For through the love she read something else in
his serious face. So then he told her how nothing was wrong; and as
she listened to all that he had to tell, she, too, grew serious, and
held very close to him. "Dear, dear neighbor!" she said.
As they sat so, happy with deepening happiness, but not gay yet,
young Billy burst open the door. "There!" he cried. "I knowed Lin
knowed you were a girl!"
Thus did Billy also have his wish. For had he not told Jessamine
that he liked her, and urged her to come and live with him and Lin?
That cabin on Box Elder became a home in truth, with a woman inside
taking the only care of Mr. McLean that he had known since his
childhood: though singularly enough he has an impression that it is he
who takes care of Jessamine!
IN THE AFTER-DAYS
The black pines stand high up the hills,
The white snow sifts their columns deep,
While through the canyon's riven cleft
From there, beyond, the rose clouds sweep.
Serene above their paling shapes
One star hath wakened in the sky.
And here in the gray world below
Over the sage the wind blows by;
Rides through the cotton-woods' ghost-ranks,
And hums aloft a sturdy tune
Among the river's tawny bluffs,
Untenanted as is the moon.
Far 'neath the huge invading dusk
Comes Silence awful through the plain;
But yonder horseman's heart is gay,
And he goes singing might and main.