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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_47" id="Page_47">[Pg 47]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER IV</h2> <h3>"AND SPEAK IN PASSING"</h3> <br /> <p>The events of that Sunday introduced Lambert into the Bad Lands and established his name and fame. Within three months after going to work for the Syndicate ranch he was known for a hundred miles around as the man who had broken Jim Wilder's outlaw and won the horse by that unparalleled feat.</p> <p>That was the prop to his fame&mdash;that he had broken Jim Wilder's outlaw. Certainly he was admired and commended for the unhesitating action he had taken in avenging the death of his friend, but in that he had done only what was expected of any man worthy the name. Breaking the outlaw was a different matter entirely. In doing that he had accomplished what was believed to be beyond the power of any living man.</p> <p>According to his own belief, his own conscience, Lambert had made a bad start. A <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_48" id="Page_48">[Pg 48]</SPAN></span>career that had its beginning in contentions and violence, enough of it crowded into one day to make more than the allotment of an ordinary life, could not terminate with any degree of felicity and honor. They thought little of killing a man in that country, it seemed; no more than a perfunctory inquiry, to fulfill the letter of the law, had been made by the authorities into Jim Wilder's death.</p> <p>While it relieved him to know that the law held his justification to be ample, there was a shadow following him which he could not evade in any of the hilarious diversions common to those wild souls of the range.</p> <p>It troubled him that he had killed a man, even in a fair fight in the open field with the justification of society at his back. In his sleep it harried him with visions; awake, it oppressed him like a sorrow, or the memory of a shame. He became solemn and silent as a chastened man, seldom smiling, laughing never.</p> <p>When he drank with his companions in the little saloon at Misery, the loading station on the railroad, he took his liquor as gravely as the sacrament; when he raced them he rode with <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_49" id="Page_49">[Pg 49]</SPAN></span>face grim as an Indian, never whooping in victory, never swearing in defeat.</p> <p>He had left even his own lawful and proper name behind him with his past. Far and near he was known as the Duke of Chimney Butte, shortened in cases of direct address to "Duke." He didn't resent it, rather took a sort of grim pride in it, although he felt at times that it was one more mark of his surrender to circumstances whose current he might have avoided at the beginning by the exercise of a proper man's sense.</p> <p>A man was expected to drink a good deal of the overardent spirits which were sold at Misery. If he could drink without becoming noisy, so much the more to his credit, so much higher he stood in the estimation of his fellows as a copper-bottomed sport of the true blood. The Duke could put more of that notorious whisky under cover, and still contain himself, than any man they ever had seen in Misery. The more he drank the glummer he became, but he never had been known either to weep or curse.</p> <p>Older men spoke to him with respect, younger <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_50" id="Page_50">[Pg 50]</SPAN></span>ones approached him with admiration, unable to understand what kind of a safety-valve a man had on his mouth that would keep his steam in when that Misery booze began to sizzle in his pipes. His horse was a subject of interest almost equal to himself.</p> <p>Under his hand old Whetstone&mdash;although not more than seven&mdash;had developed unexpected qualities. When the animal's persecution ceased, his perversity fled. He grew into a well-conditioned creature, sleek of coat, beautiful of tail as an Arab barb, bright of eye, handsome to behold. His speed and endurance were matters of as much note as his outlawry had been but a little while before, and his intelligence was something almost beyond belief.</p> <p>Lambert had grown exceedingly fond of him, holding him more in the estimation of a companion than the valuation of a dumb creature of burden. When they rode the long watches at night he talked to him, and Whetstone would put back his sensitive ear and listen, and toss his head in joyful appreciation of his master's confidence and praise.</p> <p>Few horses had beaten Whetstone in a race <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_51" id="Page_51">[Pg 51]</SPAN></span>since he became the Duke's property. It was believed that none on that range could do it if the Duke wanted to put him to his limit. It was said that the Duke lost only such races as he felt necessary to the continuance of his prosperity.</p> <p>Racing was one of the main diversions when the cowboys from the surrounding ranches met at Misery on a Sunday afternoon, or when loading cattle there. Few trains stopped at Misery, a circumstance resented by the cowboys, who believed the place should be as important to all the world as it was to them. To show their contempt for this aloof behavior they usually raced the trains, frequently outrunning those westward bound as they labored up the long grade.</p> <p>Freight trains especially they took delight in beating, seeing how it nettled the train crews. There was nothing more delightful in any program of amusement that a cowboy could conceive than riding abreast of a laboring freight engine, the sulky engineer crowding every pound of power into the cylinders, the sooty fireman humping his back throwing in coal. Only one triumph would have been <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_52" id="Page_52">[Pg 52]</SPAN></span>sweeter&mdash;to outrun the big passenger train from Chicago with the brass-fenced car at the end.</p> <p>No man ever had done that yet, although many had tried. The engineers all knew what to expect on a Sunday afternoon when they approached Misery, where the cowboys came through the fence and raced the trains on the right-of-way. A long, level stretch of soft gray earth, set with bunches of grass here and there, began a mile beyond the station, unmarred by steam-shovel or grader's scraper. A man could ride it with his eyes shut; a horse could cover it at its best.</p> <p>That was the racing ground over which they had contended with the Chicago-Puget Sound flier for many years, and a place which engineers and firemen prepared to pass quickly while yet a considerable distance away. It was a sight to see the big engine round the curve below, its plume of smoke rising straight for twenty feet, streaming back like a running girl's hair, the cowboys all set in their saddles, waiting to go.</p> <p>Engineers on the flier were not so sulky about it, knowing that the race was theirs before it <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_53" id="Page_53">[Pg 53]</SPAN></span>was run. Usually they leaned out of the window and urged the riders on with beckoning, derisive hand, while the fireman stood by grinning, confident of the head of steam he had begun storing for this emergency far down the road.</p> <p>Porters told passengers about these wild horsemen in advance, and eager faces lined the windows on that side of the cars as they approached Misery, and all who could pack on the end of the observation car assembled there. In spite of its name, Misery was quite a comfortable break in the day's monotony for travelers on a Sunday afternoon.</p> <p>Amid the hardships and scant diversions of this life, Lambert spent his first winter in the Bad Lands, drinking in the noisy revels at Misery, riding the long, bitter miles back to the ranch, despising himself for being so mean and low. It was a life in which a man's soul would either shrink to nothing or expand until it became too large to find contentment within the horizon of such an existence.</p> <p>Some of them expanded up to the size for ranch owners, superintendents, bosses; stopped <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_54" id="Page_54">[Pg 54]</SPAN></span>there, set in their mold. Lambert never had heard of one stretching so wide that he was drawn out of himself entirely, his eyes fixed on the far light of a nobler life. He liked to imagine a man so inspired out of the lonely watches, the stormy rides, the battle against blizzard and night.</p> <p>This train of thought had carried him away that gentle spring day as he rode to Misery. He resented the thought that he might have to spend his youth as a hired servant in this rough occupation, unremunerative below the hope of ever gaining enough to make a start in business for himself. There was no romance in it, for all that had been written, no beautiful daughter of the ranch owner to be married, and a fortune gained with her.</p> <p>Daughters there must be, indeed, among the many stockholders in that big business, but they were not available in the Bad Lands. The superintendent of the ranch had three or four, born to that estate, full of loud laughter, ordinary as baled hay. A man would be a loser in marrying such as they, even with a fortune ready made.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_55" id="Page_55">[Pg 55]</SPAN></span>What better could that rough country offer? People are no gentler than their pursuits, no finer than the requirements of their lives. Daughters of the Bad Lands, such as he had seen of them in the wives to whom he once had tried to sell the All-in-One, and the superintendent's girls were not intended for any other life. As for him, if he had to live it out there, with the shadow of a dead man at his heels, he would live it alone. So he thought, going on his way to Misery, where there was to be racing that afternoon, and a grand effort to keep up with the Chicago flier.</p> <p>Lambert never had taken part in that longstanding competition. It appeared to him a senseless expenditure of horseflesh, a childish pursuit of the wind. Yet, foolish as it was, he liked to watch them. There was a thrill in the sweeping start of twenty or thirty horsemen that warmed a man, making him feel as if he must whoop and wave his hat. There was a belief alive among them that some day a man would come who would run the train neck and neck to the depot platform.</p> <p>Not much distinction in it, even so, said he. <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_56" id="Page_56">[Pg 56]</SPAN></span>But it set him musing and considering as he rode, his face quickening out of its somber cloud. A little while after his arrival at Misery the news went round that the Duke was willing at last to enter the race against the flier.</p> <p>True to his peculiarities, the Duke had made conditions. He was willing to race, but only if everybody else would keep out of it and give him a clear and open field. Taterleg Wilson, the bow-legged camp cook of the Syndicate, circulated himself like a petition to gain consent to this unusual proposal.</p> <p>It was asking a great deal of those men to give up their established diversion, no matter how distinguished the man in whose favor they were requested to stand aside. That Sunday afternoon race had become as much a fixed institution in the Bad Lands as the railroad itself. With some argument, some bucking and snorting, a considerable cost to Taterleg for liquor and cigars, they agreed to it. Taterleg said he could state, authoritatively, that this would be the Duke's first, last, and only ride against the flier. It would be worth money to stand off and watch it, he said, and worth putting money <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_57" id="Page_57">[Pg 57]</SPAN></span>on the result. When, where, would a man ever have a chance to see such a race again? Perhaps never in his life.</p> <p>On time, to a dot, the station agent told the committee headed by Taterleg, which had gone to inquire in the grave and important manner of men conducting a ceremony. The committee went back to the saloon, and pressed the Duke to have a drink. He refused, as he had refused politely and consistently all day. A man could fight on booze, he said, but it was a mighty poor foundation for business.</p> <p>There was a larger crowd in Misery that day than usual for the time of year, it being the first general holiday after the winter's hard exactions. In addition to visitors, all Misery turned out to see the race, lining up at the right-of-way fence as far as they would go, which was not a great distance along. The saloon-keeper could see the finish from his door. On the start of it he was not concerned, but he had money up on the end.</p> <p>Lambert hadn't as much flesh, by a good many pounds, as he had carried into the Bad Lands on his bicycle. One who had known him previously <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_58" id="Page_58">[Pg 58]</SPAN></span>would have thought that seven years had passed him, making him over completely, indeed, since then. His face was thin, browned and weathered, his body sinewy, its leanness aggravated by its length. He was as light in the saddle as a leaf on the wind.</p> <p>He was quite a barbaric figure as he waited to mount and ride against the train, which could be heard whistling far down the road. Coatless, in flannel shirt, a bright silk handkerchief round his neck; calfskin vest, tanned with the hair on, its color red and white; dressed leather chaps, a pair of boots that had cost him two-thirds of a month's pay. His hat was like forty others in the crowd, doe-colored, worn with the high crown full-standing, a leather thong at the back of the head, the brim drooping a bit from the weather, so broad that his face looked narrower and sharper in its shadow.</p> <p>Nothing like the full-blooded young aggie who had come into the Bad Lands to found his fortune a little less than a year before, and about as different from him in thought and outlook upon life as in physical appearance. The psychology of environment is a powerful force.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_59" id="Page_59">[Pg 59]</SPAN></span>A score or more of horsemen were strung out along the course, where they had stationed themselves to watch the race at its successive stages, and cheer their champion on his way. At the starting-point the Duke waited alone; at the station a crowd of cowboys lolled in their saddles, not caring to make a run to see the finish.</p> <p>It was customary for the horsemen who raced the flier to wait on the ground until the engine rounded the curve, then mount and settle to the race. It was counted fair, also, owing to the headway the train already had, to start a hundred yards or so before the engine came abreast, in order to limber up to the horses' best speed.</p> <p>For two miles or more the track ran straight after that curve, Misery about the middle of the stretch. In that long, straight reach the builders of the road had begun the easement of the stiff grade through the hills beyond. It was the beginning of a hard climb, a stretch in which west-bound trains gathered headway to carry them over the top. Engines came panting round that curve, laboring with the strain of <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_60" id="Page_60">[Pg 60]</SPAN></span>their load, speed reduced half, and dropping a bit lower as they proceeded up the grade.</p> <p>This Sunday, as usual, train crew and passengers were on the lookout for the game sportsmen of Misery. Already the engineer was leaning out of his window, arm extended, ready to give the derisive challenge to come on as he swept by.</p> <p>The Duke was in the saddle, holding in Whetstone with stiff rein, for the animal was trembling with eagerness to spring away, knowing very well from the preparations which had been going forward that some big event in the lives of his master and himself was pending. The Duke held him, looking back over his shoulder, measuring the distance as the train came sweeping grandly round the curve. He waited until the engine was within a hundred feet of him before he loosed rein and let old Whetstone go.</p> <p>A yell ran up the line of spectators as the pale yellow horse reached out his long neck, chin level against the wind like a swimmer, and ran as no horse ever had run on that race-course before. Every horseman there knew that the Duke was still holding him in, allowing the train <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_61" id="Page_61">[Pg 61]</SPAN></span>to creep up on him as if he scorned to take advantage of the handicap.</p> <p>The engineer saw that this was going to be a different kind of race from the yelling, chattering troop of wild riders which he had been outrunning with unbroken regularity. In that yellow streak of horse, that low-bending, bony rider, he saw a possibility of defeat and disgrace. His head disappeared out of the window, his derisive hand vanished. He was turning valves and pulling levers, trying to coax a little more power into his piston strokes.</p> <p>The Duke held Whetstone back until his wind had set to the labor, his muscles flexed, his sinews stretched to the race. A third of the race was covered when the engine came neck and neck with the horse, and the engineer, confident now, leaned far out, swinging his hand like the oar of a boat, and shouted:</p> <p>"Come on! Come on!"</p> <p>Just a moment too soon this confidence, a moment too soon this defiance. It was the Duke's program to run this thing neck and neck, force to force, with no advantage asked or taken. Then if he could gather speed and beat the <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_62" id="Page_62">[Pg 62]</SPAN></span>engine on the home stretch no man, on the train or off, could say that he had done it with the advantage of a handicap.</p> <p>There was a great whooping, a great thumping of hoofs, a monstrous swirl of dust, as the riders at the side of the race-course saw the Duke's maneuver and read his intention. Away they swept, a noisy troop, like a flight of blackbirds, hats off, guns popping, in a scramble to get up as close to the finishing line as possible.</p> <p>Never before in the long history of that unique contest had there been so much excitement. Porters opened the vestibule doors, allowing passengers to crowd the steps; windows were opened, heads thrust out, every tongue urging the horseman on with cheers.</p> <p>The Duke was riding beside the engineer, not ten feet between them. More than half the course was run, and there the Duke hung, the engine not gaining an inch. The engineer was on his feet now, hand on the throttle lever, although it was open as wide as it could be pulled. The fireman was throwing coal into the furnace, looking round over his shoulder now and then at the persistent horseman who would <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_63" id="Page_63">[Pg 63]</SPAN></span>not be outrun, his eyes white in his grimy face.</p> <p>On the observation car women hung over the rail at the side, waving handkerchiefs at the rider's back; along the fence the inhabitants of Misery broke away like leaves before a wind and went running toward the depot; ahead of the racing horse and engine the mounted men who had taken a big start rode on toward the station in a wild, delirious charge.</p> <p>Neck and neck with the engine old Whetstone ran, throwing his long legs like a wolf-hound, his long neck stretched, his ears flat, not leaving a hair that he could control outstanding to catch the wind. The engineer was peering ahead with fixed eyes now, as if he feared to look again on this puny combination of horse and man that was holding its own in this unequal trial of strength.</p> <p>Within three hundred yards of the station platform, which sloped down at the end like a continuation of the course, the Duke touched old Whetstone's neck with the tips of his fingers. As if he had given a signal upon which they had agreed, the horse gathered power, grunting as he used to grunt in the days of his <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_64" id="Page_64">[Pg 64]</SPAN></span>outlawry, and bounded away from the cab window, where the greasy engineer stood with white face and set jaw.</p> <p>Yard by yard the horse gained, his long mane flying, his long tail astream, foam on his lips, forging past the great driving wheels which ground against the rails; past the swinging piston; past the powerful black cylinders; past the stubby pilot, advancing like a shadow over the track. When Whetstone's hoofs struck the planks of the platform, marking the end of the course, he was more than the length of the engine in the lead.</p> <p>The Duke sat there waving his hand solemnly to those who cheered him as the train swept past, the punchers around him lifting up a joyful chorus of shots and shouts, showing off on their own account to a considerable extent, but sincere over all because of the victory that the Duke had won.</p> <p>Old Whetstone was standing where he had stopped, within a few feet of the track, front hoofs on the boards of the platform, not more than nicely warmed up for another race, it appeared. As the observation car passed, a young <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_65" id="Page_65">[Pg 65]</SPAN></span>woman leaned over the rail, handkerchief reached out to the Duke as if trying to give it to him.</p> <p>He saw her only a second before she passed, too late to make even a futile attempt to possess the favor of her appreciation. She laughed, waving it to him, holding it out as if in challenge for him to come and take it. Without wasting a precious fragment of a second in hesitation the Duke sent Whetstone thundering along the platform in pursuit of the train.</p> <p>It seemed a foolish thing to do, and a risky venture, for the platform was old, its planks were weak in places. It was not above a hundred feet long, and beyond it only a short stretch of right-of-way until the public road crossed the track, the fence running down to the cattle guard, blocking his hope of overtaking the train.</p> <p>More than that, the train was picking up speed, as if the engineer wanted to get out of sight and hearing of that demonstrative crowd, and put his humiliation behind him as quickly as possible. No man's horse could make a start with planks under his feet, run two hundred <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_66" id="Page_66">[Pg 66]</SPAN></span>yards and overtake that train, no matter what the inducement. That was the thought of every man who sat a saddle there and stretched his neck to witness this unparalleled streak of folly.</p> <p>If Whetstone had run swiftly in the first race, he fairly whistled through the air like a wild duck in the second. Before he had run the length of the platform he had gained on the train, his nose almost even with the brass railing over which the girl leaned, the handkerchief in her hand. Midway between the platform and the cattle guard they saw the Duke lean in his saddle and snatch the white favor from her hand.</p> <p>The people on the train end cheered this feat of quick resolution, quicker action. But the girl whose handkerchief the Duke had won only leaned on the railing, holding fast with both hands, as if she offered her lips to be kissed, and looked at him with a pleasure in her face that he could read as the train bore her onward into the West.</p> <p>The Duke sat there with his hat in his hand, gazing after her, only her straining face in his vision, centered out of the dust and widening <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_67" id="Page_67">[Pg 67]</SPAN></span>distance like a star that a man gazes on to fix his course before it is overwhelmed by clouds.</p> <p>The Duke sat watching after her, the train reducing the distance like a vision that melts out of the heart with a sigh. She raised her hand as the dust closed in the wake of the train. He thought she beckoned him.</p> <p>So she came, and went, crossing his way in the Bad Lands in that hour of his small triumph, and left her perfumed token of appreciation in his hand. The Duke put it away in the pocket of his shirt beneath the calfskin vest, the faint delicacy of its perfume rising to his nostrils like the elusive scent of a violet for which one searches the woodland and cannot find.</p> <p>The dusty hills had gulped the train that carried her before the Duke rode round the station and joined his noisy comrades. Everybody shook hands with him, everybody invited him to have a drink. He put them off&mdash;friend, acquaintance, stranger, on their pressing invitation to drink&mdash;with the declaration that his horse came first in his consideration. After he had put Whetstone in the livery barn and fed <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_68" id="Page_68">[Pg 68]</SPAN></span>him, he would join them for a round, he said.</p> <p>They trooped into the saloon to square their bets, the Duke going his way to the barn. There they drank and grew noisier than before, to come out from time to time, mount their horses, gallop up and down the road that answered Misery for a street, and shoot good ammunition into the harmless air.</p> <p>Somebody remarked after a while that the Duke was a long time feeding that horse. Taterleg and others went to investigate. He had not been there, the keeper of the livery barn said. A further look around exhausted all the possible hiding-places of Misery. The Duke was not there.</p> <p>"Well," said Taterleg, puzzled, "I guess he's went."</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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