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 page.
HOW LIN McLEAN WENT EAST
THE WINNING OF THE BISCUIT-SHOOTER
LIN McLEAN'S HONEY-MOON
DESTINY AT DRYBONE
IN THE AFTER-DAYS
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 blankets.
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
"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 other.
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," said
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 dollars.
"So you're leaving your bedding and stuff with the outfit?" said the
"Brought my tooth-brush," said Lin, showing it in the breast-pocket of his
"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 song:
"'Twas a nasty baby anyhow,
And it only died to spite us;
'Twas afflicted with the cerebrow
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
"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' spot-cash."
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 hot.
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
"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
"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
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 preaching.
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
"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 silent
"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 the post.
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 politeness."
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
"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?"
"What are you a-talking about, anyway? You're that strange to-day," said
"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'
"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
"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 sea.
"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
"I wonder if you'll be settin' the colonel's table when I come back?" he
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 been
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 the
"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
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 the baggage-room.
"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
"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
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 bet!"
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
"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, and eloquently.
"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,
"Huh!" said Honey, with scorn. "'Ker-chunka-chunk' 's all I make it."
"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
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
"We're seein' the country, anyway," said Honey.
"Seein' hell," said Lin, "and there's more of it above ground than I
"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
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' goin'?"
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! tomorrow
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
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 clothes.
"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
"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
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
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
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, weeping.
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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 satisfaction.
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
"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
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, also.
"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,
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
"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
"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 rich!"
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
"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
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 began differently.
"What is the most important event that can happen in this country?" said
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 over him.
"I want to know what you consider the most important event that can happen
in this country," said I, again, enunciating each word with slow
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
"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
"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. "Sidney, Nebraska."
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.
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 their guest.
"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 laughin' at?"
"Oh, nothing. You don't see quite so much of Miss Wood as you used to, do
"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 matter.
"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
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
"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 indignant.
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 elsewhere.
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, gaily:
"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 blurted,
"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 him.
"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
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. Taylor.
"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 conviction.
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 years.
"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 friends."
"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
"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 division
I had heard it in higher places also, but meekly accepted the reproof.
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 furniture.
"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
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
"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,"
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 man?"
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
"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 him.
"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
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
"Lin," said the Southerner, "I reckon you're failin'."
Mr. McLean raised a sombre eye, but did not trouble to answer further.
"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
"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
"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 brother-in-law, Lin!"
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
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 forever.
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 said."
"I'm thinkin' of pleasanter subjects," said he, and slowed his own horse.
"Oh, look here!" I exclaimed.
"Well?" said he. He allowed his horse to come within about ten yards.
"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
"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' you."
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
"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 by
"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
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
Lin greeted every one jauntily. "How are yu', Miss Peck? How are yu',
Tommy?" said he. "Hear the news, Tommy? Crow Injuns on the war-path."
"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 men
"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 kitchen.
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,
"Only one is determined," said the Virginian
Molly looked inquiring.
"Lin is determined Tommy shall not beat him. That's all it amounts to."
"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 Molly.
"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
"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 yondeh."
"Why, yes," said Molly, blithely. "And you'll come?" she added to me.
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 Virginian.
"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. Taylor?"
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
"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 better."
"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
"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
"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.
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 with us.
"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 fence.
"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
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 do.
"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 Tommy.
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
"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
"What's that?" inquired the New-Yorker, whom I shall call James Ogden.
"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
We reached the Governor's office, and sat down while he looked his letters
"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,
"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 Governor.
"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 thoughtful.
"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
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 horse.
"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
"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,
"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
"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 the law—"
"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
"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.
"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 at me.
"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
"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
"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 fellow."
"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 hastened
"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
"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 little
"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, smiling
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 before.
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 diagonally.
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 orchid-collector.
"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 to precipitate!"
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 use."
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 talking
"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 accommodate
"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
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 around him.
"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."
"Why, yu' don't claim it's yourn, do yu'?" said Lin McLean, grinning.
"I tell you it's no half-inch yet, gentlemen," said Jode, ignoring the
"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 subscriber
"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
"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
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 said.
"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 her."
"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.
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 blew—"Jim."
"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 officer.
"I expect I ain't got any," said the puncher. "It's Jim I'm backin' this
"See here," said I; "I want to talk to you." We went into another car, and
"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
"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,
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
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 time."
"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
"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
"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
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 out.
"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
"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, yu'
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 heap."
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 like
"Don't they? Don't they?"
"Why, you and Santa Claus weren't putting up any scheme on my stocking?"
"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 like best?"
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 spot-cash."
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
"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 wife something."
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
"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 day!"
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
"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
"I don't guess I'll leave my card on 'em," said McLean, grimly, "if I
"You don't mind my saying I think you're well out of that scrape?" Barker
"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 was gone.
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 professional
"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
"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
"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. McLean.
"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
"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 the
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 readin'?"
"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
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 Captain
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 turkey."
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 blushing.
"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 tobaccer?"
"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 morning."
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 pronounced 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 way?"
"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 feel bad?"
"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 prudent
"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 you."
"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 adoringly.
"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 shoulder.
"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 again.
Once more his hand was laid on Billy. "Say!" The boy glanced at him, and
"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 company."
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
Billy observed him for a space, and, receiving no further attention, came
stepping along. "I'm not a-going back to Laramie," he stated, warningly.
"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 to-night?"
"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 earth.
"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
"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
Mr. McLean gave it up.
"That's kinni-kinnic seed. You can have that, for I got some more with the
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 health.
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, watching
"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
"If I hadn't a-promised them—"
"Sidney Ellis and Pete Goode. Why, you know them; you grubbed with them."
"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 beginning?"
"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
"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
"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 yu'."
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 except
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 morning.
"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
"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 the earth—"
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 concluding
"And the whole world sent back the song
Which now the angels sing."
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
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 feet."
"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 smokin'
"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
"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 open
"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 least.
"Experience," he called over his shoulder (for already we had met and
passed); "nothing like experience for sweating the fat off the brain."
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
"'Initial outrage,'" quoted one of the agent' large playmates. "Ain't they
"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
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 Blue-grass.
"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
"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
"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
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
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
"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
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 remarked.
"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' see."
"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
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 better—"
"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
"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 supper.
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 to
"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 house.
"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
"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
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
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 him."
"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
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 wanting!
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
"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
"Can yu' do astronomy and Spanish too?" inquired the proud and smiling
"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
"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
"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 himself."
"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
"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 shut."
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 Lin.
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
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 go
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
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
"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 Wiggin."
"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, disparagingly.
"Well, then, and I know a Jack who didn't," observed the young lady.
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 behold her.
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
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 me.
"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 added, approvingly.
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 Buffalo.
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 anything."
"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 Nate."
"Her face is as beautiful as her actions," he added.
"Well," said I, "and would you make such a villain your brother-in-law?"
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," said he.
"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 mind.
"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 luck."
"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
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 outlaw!"
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 consult me.
"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 those walks.
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, especially:
"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 accommodations.
"Yours &c. 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 her.
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
"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
"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 didn't."
"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
"Neighbor!" he exclaimed; and again, "Neighbor," much pleased. "Now it
would sound kind o' pleasant if you'd call me that for a steady thing."
"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 cow-puncher.
"Oh no! oh no!" Jessamine declared. "Though how am I ever to thank you?"
"By not argufying," Lin answered.
"Oh no, no! I can do no such thing. Don't you see I can't? I believe you
"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 superintendent."
"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
"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 remember!"
"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 each acquaintance.
"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, oracularly.
As the train's pace quickened he did not step off, and Miss Buckner cried
"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 me
"He's just seeing Miss Buckner as far as Edgeford," said the agent. "Be
"Then I don't see why he wouldn't take me along," Billy complained. And
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 God's country.
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 slow."
"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 highly
"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 Virginian.
"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,
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
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
"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
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."
"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
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
"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 bring here."
"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 laughed
"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 lamp.
"Then I guess mother can't never come back to Lin, either," stated Billy,
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 Laramie."
"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 forgotten."
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 half-awed voice.
"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 looking down.
"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 awhile."
"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
"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
I do not think he spoke. In a moment the horses 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
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 again.
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 table.
"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 you?"
"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
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
"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
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 attention.
"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 without
"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
"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
"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 photograph.
"Yes. What made you write him for to let me come and bring my stockin's
"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
"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
"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
"It's all night we may be here, is it?" she said to the man, harshly.
"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 here."
"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 also.
"Governor Barker has not been around here?" he said.
"Not yet, sir. We understand he is expected through on a hunting-trip."
"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
"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 horse.
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 his
"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 it.
"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
"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 man.
"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
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 before he—"
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 the
"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 just
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
"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, but—"
"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
At his sweetheart's name the glow in Lin's eyes seemed to quiver to a
"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
"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 girl.'
"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, brooding.
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 laughing.
"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 funny!
"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
"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 you."
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 acquaintances.
"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
"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 then—"
"Doc," interrupted Lin, "it's plumb fine to see yu'!" Again he shook
"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
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
"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
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
"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 practice.
"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 Governor.
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 office.
"You know how well I wish you," said Barker to Lin. "I'll just see you
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, though."
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
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
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 patient.
"Give us 'Buffalo Girls!'" shouted Mrs. Lusk.... "'Buffalo Girls,' you
"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 chair.
"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 faces.
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
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
"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 turned sullen.
"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 disappeared.
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
"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,
"Talk sense," said he.
"It's sense I'm talking. Leave me go to sleep. Ah, ah, I'm going! I'll go;
"Walk, walk!" he repeated. He looked at the door. An ache was numbing his
"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 laudanum away.
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 the
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 rose.
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.
"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
"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
His Excellency broke into his broad smile.
"I know I've racketed some, but ain't it ruther early?" pursued McLean,
"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 cow-puncher
"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 could
"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, coldly.
"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
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 adding
"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
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 stood
"Judge," said Barker, quietly, "you may call them now." And with careful
steps the judge got himself out of the room to summon his jury.
For a short while the cow-puncher stood looking down upon the woman. She
lay lumped in her 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
"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
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
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?
"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 Cheyenne."
They laughed loudly at this.
"That's a lonesome coffin," said the Doughie. "That the best you could
"You'd say so!" said Toothpick Kid.
"Choices are getting scarce up there," said Chalkeye. "We looked the lot
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 piled.
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 his teeth.
"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
"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 Lament."
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
"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.