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Duke of Chimney Butte, The

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<SPAN name="Page_69" id="Page_69">[Pg 69]</SPAN></span> <br /> <hr /> <br /> <h2>CHAPTER V</h2> <h3>FEET UPON THE ROAD</h3> <br /> <p>"I always thought I'd go out West, but somehow I never got around to it," Taterleg said. "How far do you aim to go, Duke?"</p> <p>"As far as the notion takes me, I guess."</p> <p>It was about a month after the race that this talk between Taterleg and the Duke took place, on a calm afternoon in a camp far from the site of that one into which the peddler of cutlery had trundled his disabled bicycle a year before. The Duke had put off his calfskin vest, the weather being too hot for it. Even Taterleg had made sacrifices to appearance in favor of comfort, his piratical corduroys being replaced by overalls.</p> <p>The Duke had quit his job, moved by the desire to travel on and see the world, he said. He said no word to any man about the motive behind that desire, very naturally, for he was not the kind of a man who opened the door of <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_70" id="Page_70">[Pg 70]</SPAN></span>his heart. But to himself he confessed the hunger for an unknown face, for the lure of an onward-beckoning hand which he was no longer able to ignore.</p> <p>Since that day she had strained over the brass railing of the car to hold him in her sight until the curtain of dust intervened, he had felt her call urging him into the West, the strength of her beckoning hand drawing him the way she had gone, to search the world for her and find her on some full and glorious day.</p> <p>"Was you aimin' to sell Whetstone and go on the train, Duke?"</p> <p>"No, I'm not goin' to sell him yet a while."</p> <p>The Duke was not a talkative man on any occasion, and now he sat in silence watching the cook kneading out a batch of bread, his thoughts a thousand miles away.</p> <p>Where, indeed, would the journey that he was shaping in his intention that minute carry him? Somewhere along the railroad between there and Puget Sound the beckoning lady had left the train; somewhere on that long road between mountain and sea she was waiting for him to come.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_71" id="Page_71">[Pg 71]</SPAN></span>Taterleg stood his loaves in the sun to rise for the oven, making a considerable rattling about the stove as he put in the fire. A silence fell.</p> <p>Lambert was waiting for his horse to rest a few hours, and, waiting, he sent his dreams ahead of him where his feet could not follow save by weary roads and slow.</p> <p>Between Misery and the end of that railroad at the western sea there were many villages, a few cities. A passenger might alight from the Chicago flier at any of them, and be absorbed in the vastness like a drop of water in the desert plain. How was he to know where she had left the train, or whither she had turned afterward, or journeyed, or where she lodged now? It seemed beyond finding out. Assuredly it was a task too great for the life of youth, so evanescent in the score of time, even though so long and heavy to those impatient dreamers who draw themselves onward by its golden chain to the cold, harsh facts of age.</p> <p>It was a foolish quest, a hopeless one. So reason said. Romance and youth, and the longing that he could not define, rose to confute this <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_72" id="Page_72">[Pg 72]</SPAN></span>sober argument, flushed and eager, violet scent blowing before.</p> <p>Who could tell? and perhaps; rash speculations, faint promises. The world was not so broad that two might never meet in it whose ways had touched for one heart-throb and sundered again in a sigh. All his life he had been hearing that it was a small place, after all was said. Perhaps, and who can tell? And so, galloping onward in the free leash of his ardent dreams.</p> <p>"When was you aimin' to start, Duke?" Taterleg inquired, after a silence so long that Lambert had forgotten he was there.</p> <p>"In about another hour."</p> <p>"I wasn't tryin' to hurry you off, Duke. My reason for askin' you was because I thought maybe I might be able to go along with you a piece of the way, if you don't object to my kind of company."</p> <p>"Why, you're not goin' to jump the job, are you?"</p> <p>"Yes, I've been thinkin' it over, and I've made up my mind to draw my time tonight. If you'll put off goin' till mornin', I'll start with <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_73" id="Page_73">[Pg 73]</SPAN></span>you. We can travel together till our roads branch, anyhow."</p> <p>"I'll be glad to wait for you, old feller. I didn't know&mdash;which way&mdash;&mdash;"</p> <p>"Wyoming," said Taterleg, sighing. "It's come back on me ag'in."</p> <p>"Well, a feller has to rove and ramble, I guess."</p> <p>Taterleg sighed, looking off westward with dreamy eyes. "Yes, if he's got a girl pullin' on his heart," said he.</p> <p>The Duke started as if he had been accused, his secret read, his soul laid bare; he felt the blood burn in his face, and mount to his eyes like a drift of smoke. But Taterleg was unconscious of this sudden embarrassment, this flash of panic for the thing which the Duke believed lay so deep in his heart no man could ever find it out and laugh at it or make gay over the scented romance. Taterleg was still looking off in a general direction that was westward, a little south of west.</p> <p>"She's in Wyoming," said Taterleg; "a lady I used to rush out in Great Bend, Kansas, a long time ago."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_74" id="Page_74">[Pg 74]</SPAN></span>"Oh," said the Duke, relieved and interested. "How long ago was that?"</p> <p>"Over four years," sighed Taterleg, as if it might have been a quarter of a century.</p> <p>"Not so very long, Taterleg."</p> <p>"Yes, but a lot of fellers can court a girl in four years, Duke."</p> <p>The Duke thought it over a spell. "Yes, I reckon they can," he allowed. "Don't she ever write to you?"</p> <p>"I guess I'm more to blame than she is on that, Duke. She <i>did</i> write, but I was kind of sour and dropped her. It's hard to git away from, though; it's a-comin' over me ag'in. I might 'a' been married and settled down with that girl now, me and her a-runnin' a oyster parlor in some good little railroad town, if it hadn't 'a' been for a Welshman name of Elwood. He was a stonecutter, that Elwood feller was, Duke, workin' on bridge 'butments on the Santa F&eacute;. That feller told her I was married and had four children; he come between us and bust us up."</p> <p>"Wasn't he onery!" said the Duke, feelingly.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_75" id="Page_75">[Pg 75]</SPAN></span>"I was chef in the hotel where that girl worked waitin' table, drawin' down good money, and savin' it, too. But that derned Welshman got around her and she growed cold. When she left Great Bend she went to Wyoming to take a job&mdash;Lander was the town she wrote from, I can put my finger on it in the map with my eyes shut. I met her when she was leavin' for the depot, draggin' along with her grip and no Welshman in a mile of her to give her a hand. I went up and tipped my hat, but I never smiled, Duke, for I was sour over the way that girl she'd treated me. I just took hold of that grip and carried it to the depot for her and tipped my hat to her once more. 'You're a gentleman, whatever they say of you, Mr. Wilson,' she said."</p> <p>"<i>She</i> did?"</p> <p>"She did, Duke. 'You're a gentleman, Mr. Wilson, whatever they say of you,' she said. Them was her words, Duke. 'Farewell to <i>you</i>,' I said, distant and high-mighty, for I was hurt, Duke&mdash;I was hurt right down to the bone."</p> <p>"I bet you was, old feller."</p> <p>"'Farewell to <i>you</i>,' I says, and the tears <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_76" id="Page_76">[Pg 76]</SPAN></span>come in her eyes, and she says to me&mdash;wipin' 'em on a han'kerchief I give her, nothing any Welshman ever done for her, and you can bank on that Duke&mdash;she says to me: 'I'll always think of you as a gentleman, Mr. Wilson.' I wasn't onto what that Welshman told her then; I didn't know the straight of it till she wrote and told me after she got to Wyoming."</p> <p>"It was too bad, old feller."</p> <p>"Wasn't it hell? I was so sore when she wrote, the way she'd believed that little sawed-off snorter with rock dust in his hair, I never answered that letter for a long time. Well, I got another letter from her about a year after that. She was still in the same place, doin' well. Her name was Nettie Morrison."</p> <p>"Maybe it is yet, Taterleg."</p> <p>"Maybe. I've been a-thinkin' I'd go out there and look her up, and if she ain't married, me and her we might let bygones <i>be</i> bygones and hitch. I could open a oyster parlor out there on the dough I've saved up; I'd dish 'em up and she'd wait on the table and take in the money. We'd do well, Duke."</p> <p>"I <i>bet</i> you would."</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_77" id="Page_77">[Pg 77]</SPAN></span>"I got the last letter she wrote&mdash;I'll let you see it, Duke."</p> <p>Taterleg made a rummaging in the chuck wagon, coming out presently with the letter. He stood contemplating it with tender eye.</p> <p>"Some writer, ain't she, Duke?"</p> <p>"She sure is a fine writer, Taterleg&mdash;writes like a schoolma'am."</p> <p>"She can talk like one, too. See&mdash;'Lander, Wyo.' It's a little town about as big as my hat, from the looks of it on the map, standin' away off up there alone. I could go to it with my eyes shut, straight as a bee."</p> <p>"Why don't you write to her, Taterleg?" The Duke could scarcely keep back a smile, so diverting he found this affair of the Welshman, the waitress, and the cook. More comedy than romance, he thought, Taterleg on one side of the fence, that girl on the other.</p> <p>"I've been a-squarin' off to write," Taterleg replied, "but I don't seem to git the time." He opened his vest to put the letter away close to his heart, it seemed, that it might remind him of his intention and square him quite around to the task. But there was no pocket on the side <span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_78" id="Page_78">[Pg 78]</SPAN></span>covering his heart. Taterleg put the letter next his lung as the nearest approach to that sentimental portion of his anatomy, and sighed long and loud as he buttoned his garment.</p> <p>"You said you'd put off goin' till mornin', Duke?"</p> <p>"Sure I will."</p> <p>"I'll throw my things in a sack and be ready to hit the breeze with you after breakfast. I can write back to the boss for my time."</p> <hr style='width: 45%;' /> <p>Morning found them on the road together, the sun at their backs. Taterleg was as brilliant as a humming-bird, even to his belt and scabbard, which had a great many silver tacks driven into them, repeating the letters LW in great characters and small. He said the letters were the initials of his name.</p> <p>"Lawrence?" the Duke ventured to inquire.</p> <p>Taterleg looked round him with great caution before answering, although they were at least fifteen miles from camp, and farther than that from the next human habitation. He lowered his voice, rubbing his hand reflectively along the glittering ornaments of his belt.</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_79" id="Page_79">[Pg 79]</SPAN></span>"Lovelace," he said.</p> <p>"Not a bad name."</p> <p>"It ain't no name for a cook," Taterleg said, almost vindictively. "You're the first man I ever told it to, and I'll ask you not to pass it on. I used to go by the name of Larry before they called me Taterleg. I got that name out here in the Bad Lands; it suits <i>me</i>, all right."</p> <p>"It's a queer kind of a name to call a man by. How did they come to give it to you?"</p> <p>"Well, sir, I give myself that name, you might say, when you come to figger it down to cases. I was breakin' a horse when I first come out here four years ago, headin' at that time for Wyoming. He throwed me. When I didn't hop him ag'in, the boys come over to see if I was busted. When they asked me if I was hurt, I says, 'He snapped my dern old leg like a 'tater.' And from that day on they called me Taterleg. Yes, and I guess I'd 'a' been in Wyoming now, maybe with a oyster parlor and a wife, if it hadn't been for that blame horse." He paused reminiscently; then he said:</p> <p>"Where was you aimin' to camp tonight, Duke?"</p> <p><span class='pagenum'><SPAN name="Page_80" id="Page_80">[Pg 80]</SPAN></span>"Where does the flier stop after it passes Misery, going west?"</p> <p>"It stops for water at Glendora, about fifty or fifty-five miles west, sometimes. I've heard 'em say if a feller buys a ticket for there in Chicago, it'll let him off. But I don't guess it stops there regular. Why, Duke? Was you aimin' to take the flier there?"</p> <p>"No. We'll stop there tonight, then, if your horse can make it."</p> <p>"Make it! If he can't I'll eat him raw. He's made seventy-five many a time before today."</p> <p>So they fared on that first day, in friendly converse. At sunset they drew up on a mesa, high above the treeless, broken country through which they had been riding all day, and saw Glendora in the valley below them.</p> <p>"There she is," said Taterleg. "I wonder what we're goin' to run into down, there?"</p> <br /> <br /> <br /><span class='pagenum'>
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