THE VIRGINIAN

 

A Horseman Of The Plains

 

By Owen Wister

 

 

 

 

To THEODORE ROOSEVELT

 

Some of these pages you have seen, some you have praised, one stands

new-written because you blamed it; and all, my dear critic, beg leave to

remind you of their author's changeless admiration.

 

 

 

 

TO THE READER

 

 

Certain of the newspapers, when this book was first announced, made a

mistake most natural upon seeing the sub-title as it then stood, A TALE

OF SUNDRY ADVENTURES. "This sounds like a historical novel," said one

of them, meaning (I take it) a colonial romance. As it now stands, the

title will scarce lead to such interpretation; yet none the less is this

book historical--quite as much so as any colonial romance. Indeed,

when you look at the root of the matter, it is a colonial romance. For

Wyoming between 1874 and 1890 was a colony as wild as was Virginia one

hundred years earlier. As wild, with a scantier population, and the

same primitive joys and dangers. There were, to be sure, not so many

Chippendale settees.

 

We know quite well the common understanding of the term "historical

novel." HUGH WYNNE exactly fits it. But SILAS LAPHAM is a novel as

perfectly historical as is Hugh Wynne, for it pictures an era and

personifies a type. It matters not that in the one we find George

Washington and in the other none save imaginary figures; else THE

SCARLET LETTER were not historical. Nor does it matter that Dr. Mitchell

did not live in the time of which he wrote, while Mr. Howells saw

many Silas Laphams with his own eyes; else UNCLE TOM'S CABIN were

not historical. Any narrative which presents faithfully a day and a

generation is of necessity historical; and this one presents Wyoming

between 1874 and 1890. Had you left New York or San Francisco at ten

o'clock this morning, by noon the day after to-morrow you could step out

at Cheyenne. There you would stand at the heart of the world that is

the subject of my picture, yet you would look around you in vain for the

reality. It is a vanished world. No journeys, save those which memory

can take, will bring you to it now. The mountains are there, far and

shining, and the sunlight, and the infinite earth, and the air that

seems forever the true fountain of youth, but where is the buffalo, and

the wild antelope, and where the horseman with his pasturing thousands?

So like its old self does the sage-brush seem when revisited, that you

wait for the horseman to appear.

 

But he will never come again. He rides in his historic yesterday. You

will no more see him gallop out of the unchanging silence than you will

see Columbus on the unchanging sea come sailing from Palos with his

caravels.

 

And yet the horseman is still so near our day that in some chapters of

this book, which were published separate at the close of the nineteenth

century, the present tense was used. It is true no longer. In those

chapters it has been changed, and verbs like "is" and "have" now read

"was" and "had." Time has flowed faster than my ink.

 

What is become of the horseman, the cowpuncher, the last romantic figure

upon our soil? For he was romantic. Whatever he did, he did with his

might. The bread that he earned was earned hard, the wages that he

squandered were squandered hard,--half a year's pay sometimes gone in a

night,--"blown in," as he expressed it, or "blowed in," to be perfectly

accurate. Well, he will be here among us always, invisible, waiting his

chance to live and play as he would like. His wild kind has been among

us always, since the beginning: a young man with his temptations, a hero

without wings.

 

The cow-puncher's ungoverned hours did not unman him. If he gave his

word, he kept it; Wall Street would have found him behind the times.

Nor did he talk lewdly to women; Newport would have thought him

old-fashioned. He and his brief epoch make a complete picture, for in

themselves they were as complete as the pioneers of the land or the

explorers of the sea. A transition has followed the horseman of the

plains; a shapeless state, a condition of men and manners as unlovely as

is that moment in the year when winter is gone and spring not come, and

the face of Nature is ugly. I shall not dwell upon it here. Those who

have seen it know well what I mean. Such transition was inevitable. Let

us give thanks that it is but a transition, and not a finality.

 

Sometimes readers inquire, Did I know the Virginian? As well, I hope,

as a father should know his son. And sometimes it is asked, Was such and

such a thing true? Now to this I have the best answer in the world.

Once a cowpuncher listened patiently while I read him a manuscript.

It concerned an event upon an Indian reservation. "Was that the Crow

reservation?" he inquired at the finish. I told him that it was no

real reservation and no real event; and his face expressed displeasure.

"Why," he demanded, "do you waste your time writing what never happened,

when you know so many things that did happen?"

 

And I could no more help telling him that this was the highest

compliment ever paid me than I have been able to help telling you about

it here!

 

CHARLESTON, S.C., March 31st, 1902

 

 

 

 

THE VIRGINIAN

 

 

 

 

I. ENTER THE MAN

 

 

Some notable sight was drawing the passengers, both men and women, to

the window; and therefore I rose and crossed the car to see what it was.

I saw near the track an enclosure, and round it some laughing men, and

inside it some whirling dust, and amid the dust some horses, plunging,

huddling, and dodging. They were cow ponies in a corral, and one of them

would not be caught, no matter who threw the rope. We had plenty of time

to watch this sport, for our train had stopped that the engine might

take water at the tank before it pulled us up beside the station

platform of Medicine Bow. We were also six hours late, and starving for

entertainment. The pony in the corral was wise, and rapid of limb. Have

you seen a skilful boxer watch his antagonist with a quiet, incessant

eye? Such an eye as this did the pony keep upon whatever man took the

rope. The man might pretend to look at the weather, which was fine; or

he might affect earnest conversation with a bystander: it was bootless.

The pony saw through it. No feint hoodwinked him. This animal was

thoroughly a man of the world. His undistracted eye stayed fixed upon

the dissembling foe, and the gravity of his horse-expression made the

matter one of high comedy. Then the rope would sail out at him, but he

was already elsewhere; and if horses laugh, gayety must have abounded in

that corral. Sometimes the pony took a turn alone; next he had slid in a

flash among his brothers, and the whole of them like a school of playful

fish whipped round the corral, kicking up the fine dust, and (I take it)

roaring with laughter. Through the window-glass of our Pullman the thud

of their mischievous hoofs reached us, and the strong, humorous curses

of the cow-boys. Then for the first time I noticed a man who sat on the

high gate of the corral, looking on. For he now climbed down with

the undulations of a tiger, smooth and easy, as if his muscles flowed

beneath his skin. The others had all visibly whirled the rope, some of

them even shoulder high. I did not see his arm lift or move. He appeared

to hold the rope down low, by his leg. But like a sudden snake I saw the

noose go out its length and fall true; and the thing was done. As the

captured pony walked in with a sweet, church-door expression, our train

moved slowly on to the station, and a passenger remarked, "That man

knows his business."

 

But the passenger's dissertation upon roping I was obliged to lose, for

Medicine Bow was my station. I bade my fellow-travellers good-by, and

descended, a stranger, into the great cattle land. And here in less than

ten minutes I learned news which made me feel a stranger indeed.

 

My baggage was lost; it had not come on my train; it was adrift

somewhere back in the two thousand miles that lay behind me. And by way

of comfort, the baggage-man remarked that passengers often got astray

from their trunks, but the trunks mostly found them after a while.

Having offered me this encouragement, he turned whistling to his

affairs and left me planted in the baggage-room at Medicine Bow. I stood

deserted among crates and boxes, blankly holding my check, hungry and

forlorn. I stared out through the door at the sky and the plains; but

I did not see the antelope shining among the sage-brush, nor the great

sunset light of Wyoming. Annoyance blinded my eyes to all things save

my grievance: I saw only a lost trunk. And I was muttering half-aloud,

"What a forsaken hole this is!" when suddenly from outside on the

platform came a slow voice: "Off to get married AGAIN? Oh, don't!"

 

The voice was Southern and gentle and drawling; and a second voice came

in immediate answer, cracked and querulous. "It ain't again. Who says

it's again? Who told you, anyway?"

 

And the first voice responded caressingly: "Why, your Sunday clothes

told me, Uncle Hughey. They are speakin' mighty loud o' nuptials."

 

"You don't worry me!" snapped Uncle Hughey, with shrill heat.

 

And the other gently continued, "Ain't them gloves the same yu' wore to

your last weddin'?"

 

"You don't worry me! You don't worry me!" now screamed Uncle Hughey.

 

Already I had forgotten my trunk; care had left me; I was aware of the

sunset, and had no desire but for more of this conversation. For it

resembled none that I had heard in my life so far. I stepped to the door

and looked out upon the station platform.

 

Lounging there at ease against the wall was a slim young giant,

more beautiful than pictures. His broad, soft hat was pushed back; a

loose-knotted, dull-scarlet handkerchief sagged from his throat; and one

casual thumb was hooked in the cartridge-belt that slanted across his

hips. He had plainly come many miles from somewhere across the vast

horizon, as the dust upon him showed. His boots were white with it. His

overalls were gray with it. The weather-beaten bloom of his face shone

through it duskily, as the ripe peaches look upon their trees in a dry

season. But no dinginess of travel or shabbiness of attire could tarnish

the splendor that radiated from his youth and strength. The old man

upon whose temper his remarks were doing such deadly work was combed and

curried to a finish, a bridegroom swept and garnished; but alas for age!

Had I been the bride, I should have taken the giant, dust and all. He

had by no means done with the old man.

 

"Why, yu've hung weddin' gyarments on every limb!" he now drawled, with

admiration. "Who is the lucky lady this trip?"

 

The old man seemed to vibrate. "Tell you there ain't been no other! Call

me a Mormon, would you?"

 

"Why, that--"

 

"Call me a Mormon? Then name some of my wives. Name two. Name one. Dare

you!"

 

"--that Laramie wido' promised you--'

 

"Shucks!"

 

"--only her doctor suddenly ordered Southern climate and--"

 

"Shucks! You're a false alarm."

 

"--so nothing but her lungs came between you. And next you'd most got

united with Cattle Kate, only--"

 

"Tell you you're a false alarm!"

 

"--only she got hung."

 

"Where's the wives in all this? Show the wives! Come now!"

 

"That corn-fed biscuit-shooter at Rawlins yu' gave the canary--"

 

"Never married her. Never did marry--"

 

"But yu' come so near, uncle! She was the one left yu' that letter

explaining how she'd got married to a young cyard-player the very day

before her ceremony with you was due, and--"

 

"Oh, you're nothing; you're a kid; you don't amount to--"

 

"--and how she'd never, never forgot to feed the canary."

 

"This country's getting full of kids," stated the old man, witheringly.

"It's doomed." This crushing assertion plainly satisfied him. And he

blinked his eyes with renewed anticipation. His tall tormentor continued

with a face of unchanging gravity, and a voice of gentle solicitude:

"How is the health of that unfortunate--"

 

"That's right! Pour your insults! Pour 'em on a sick, afflicted woman!"

The eyes blinked with combative relish.

 

"Insults? Oh, no, Uncle Hughey!"

 

"That's all right! Insults goes!"

 

"Why, I was mighty relieved when she began to recover her mem'ry. Las'

time I heard, they told me she'd got it pretty near all back. Remembered

her father, and her mother, and her sisters and brothers, and her

friends, and her happy childhood, and all her doin's except only your

face. The boys was bettin' she'd get that far too, give her time. But

I reckon afteh such a turrable sickness as she had, that would be

expectin' most too much."

 

At this Uncle Hughey jerked out a small parcel. "Shows how much you

know!" he cackled. "There! See that! That's my ring she sent me back,

being too unstrung for marriage. So she don't remember me, don't she?

Ha-ha! Always said you were a false alarm."

 

The Southerner put more anxiety into his tone. "And so you're a-takin'

the ring right on to the next one!" he exclaimed. "Oh, don't go to get

married again, Uncle Hughey! What's the use o' being married?"

 

"What's the use?" echoed the bridegroom, with scorn. "Hm! When you grow

up you'll think different."

 

"Course I expect to think different when my age is different. I'm havin'

the thoughts proper to twenty-four, and you're havin' the thoughts

proper to sixty."

 

"Fifty!" shrieked Uncle Hughey, jumping in the air.

 

The Southerner took a tone of self-reproach. "Now, how could I forget

you was fifty," he murmured, "when you have been telling it to the boys

so careful for the last ten years!"

 

Have you ever seen a cockatoo--the white kind with the top-knot--enraged

by insult? The bird erects every available feather upon its person.

So did Uncle Hughey seem to swell, clothes, mustache, and woolly white

beard; and without further speech he took himself on board the Eastbound

train, which now arrived from its siding in time to deliver him.

 

Yet this was not why he had not gone away before. At any time he could

have escaped into the baggage-room or withdrawn to a dignified distance

until his train should come up. But the old man had evidently got a sort

of joy from this teasing. He had reached that inevitable age when we are

tickled to be linked with affairs of gallantry, no matter how.

 

With him now the Eastbound departed slowly into that distance whence

I had come. I stared after it as it went its way to the far shores of

civilization. It grew small in the unending gulf of space, until all

sign of its presence was gone save a faint skein of smoke against the

evening sky. And now my lost trunk came back into my thoughts, and

Medicine Bow seemed a lonely spot. A sort of ship had left me marooned

in a foreign ocean; the Pullman was comfortably steaming home to port,

while I--how was I to find Judge Henry's ranch? Where in this unfeatured

wilderness was Sunk Creek? No creek or any water at all flowed here that

I could perceive. My host had written he should meet me at the station

and drive me to his ranch. This was all that I knew. He was not here.

The baggage-man had not seen him lately. The ranch was almost certain

to be too far to walk to, to-night. My trunk--I discovered myself still

staring dolefully after the vanished East-bound; and at the same instant

I became aware that the tall man was looking gravely at me,--as

gravely as he had looked at Uncle Hughey throughout their remarkable

conversation.

 

To see his eye thus fixing me and his thumb still hooked in his

cartridge-belt, certain tales of travellers from these parts forced

themselves disquietingly into my recollection. Now that Uncle Hughey was

gone, was I to take his place and be, for instance, invited to dance on

the platform to the music of shots nicely aimed?

 

"I reckon I am looking for you, seh," the tall man now observed.

 

 

 

 

II. "WHEN YOU CALL ME THAT, SMILE!"

 

 

We cannot see ourselves as other see us, or I should know what

appearance I cut at hearing this from the tall man. I said nothing,

feeling uncertain.

 

"I reckon I am looking for you, seh," he repeated politely.

 

"I am looking for Judge Henry," I now replied.

 

He walked toward me, and I saw that in inches he was not a giant. He was

not more than six feet. It was Uncle Hughey that had made him seem to

tower. But in his eye, in his face, in his step, in the whole man,

there dominated a something potent to be felt, I should think, by man or

woman.

 

"The Judge sent me afteh you, seh," he now explained, in his civil

Southern voice; and he handed me a letter from my host. Had I not

witnessed his facetious performances with Uncle Hughey, I should have

judged him wholly ungifted with such powers. There was nothing external

about him but what seemed the signs of a nature as grave as you could

meet. But I had witnessed; and therefore supposing that I knew him in

spite of his appearance, that I was, so to speak, in his secret and

could give him a sort of wink, I adopted at once a method of easiness.

It was so pleasant to be easy with a large stranger, who instead of

shooting at your heels had very civilly handed you a letter.

 

"You're from old Virginia, I take it?" I began.

 

He answered slowly, "Then you have taken it correct, seh."

 

A slight chill passed over my easiness, but I went cheerily on with a

further inquiry. "Find many oddities out here like Uncle Hughey?"

 

"Yes, seh, there is a right smart of oddities around. They come in on

every train."

 

At this point I dropped my method of easiness.

 

"I wish that trunks came on the train," said I. And I told him my

predicament.

 

It was not to be expected that he would be greatly moved at my loss; but

he took it with no comment whatever. "We'll wait in town for it," said

he, always perfectly civil.

 

Now, what I had seen of "town" was, to my newly arrived eyes, altogether

horrible. If I could possibly sleep at the Judge's ranch, I preferred to

do so.

 

"Is it too far to drive there to-night?" I inquired.

 

He looked at me in a puzzled manner.

 

"For this valise," I explained, "contains all that I immediately need;

in fact, I could do without my trunk for a day or two, if it is not

convenient to send. So if we could arrive there not too late by starting

at once--" I paused.

 

"It's two hundred and sixty-three miles," said the Virginian.

 

To my loud ejaculation he made no answer, but surveyed me a moment

longer, and then said, "Supper will be about ready now." He took my

valise, and I followed his steps toward the eating-house in silence. I

was dazed.

 

As we went, I read my host's letter--a brief hospitable message. He was

very sorry not to meet me himself. He had been getting ready to drive

over, when the surveyor appeared and detained him. Therefore in his

stead he was sending a trustworthy man to town, who would look after

me and drive me over. They were looking forward to my visit with much

pleasure. This was all.

 

Yes, I was dazed. How did they count distance in this country? You spoke

in a neighborly fashion about driving over to town, and it meant--I

did not know yet how many days. And what would be meant by the term

"dropping in," I wondered. And how many miles would be considered really

far? I abstained from further questioning the "trustworthy man." My

questions had not fared excessively well. He did not propose making me

dance, to be sure: that would scarcely be trustworthy. But neither did

he propose to have me familiar with him. Why was this? What had I done

to elicit that veiled and skilful sarcasm about oddities coming in on

every train? Having been sent to look after me, he would do so,

would even carry my valise; but I could not be jocular with him. This

handsome, ungrammatical son of the soil had set between us the bar of

his cold and perfect civility. No polished person could have done it

better. What was the matter? I looked at him, and suddenly it came to

me. If he had tried familiarity with me the first two minutes of our

acquaintance, I should have resented it; by what right, then, had I

tried it with him? It smacked of patronizing: on this occasion he had

come off the better gentleman of the two. Here in flesh and blood was

a truth which I had long believed in words, but never met before. The

creature we call a GENTLEMAN lies deep in the hearts of thousands that

are born without chance to master the outward graces of the type.

 

Between the station and the eating-house I did a deal of straight

thinking. But my thoughts were destined presently to be drowned in

amazement at the rare personage into whose society fate had thrown me.

 

Town, as they called it, pleased me the less, the longer I saw it. But

until our language stretches itself and takes in a new word of closer

fit, town will have to do for the name of such a place as was Medicine

Bow. I have seen and slept in many like it since. Scattered wide, they

littered the frontier from the Columbia to the Rio Grande, from the

Missouri to the Sierras. They lay stark, dotted over a planet of

treeless dust, like soiled packs of cards. Each was similar to the next,

as one old five-spot of clubs resembles another. Houses, empty bottles,

and garbage, they were forever of the same shapeless pattern. More

forlorn they were than stale bones. They seemed to have been strewn

there by the wind and to be waiting till the wind should come again and

blow them away. Yet serene above their foulness swam a pure and quiet

light, such as the East never sees; they might be bathing in the air of

creation's first morning. Beneath sun and stars their days and nights

were immaculate and wonderful.

 

Medicine Bow was my first, and I took its dimensions, twenty-nine

buildings in all,--one coal shute, one water tank, the station, one

store, two eating-houses, one billiard hall, two tool-houses, one feed

stable, and twelve others that for one reason and another I shall not

name. Yet this wretched husk of squalor spent thought upon appearances;

many houses in it wore a false front to seem as if they were two stories

high. There they stood, rearing their pitiful masquerade amid a fringe

of old tin cans, while at their very doors began a world of crystal

light, a land without end, a space across which Noah and Adam might come

straight from Genesis. Into that space went wandering a road, over a

hill and down out of sight, and up again smaller in the distance, and

down once more, and up once more, straining the eyes, and so away.

 

Then I heard a fellow greet my Virginian. He came rollicking out of

a door, and made a pass with his hand at the Virginian's hat. The

Southerner dodged it, and I saw once more the tiger undulation of body,

and knew my escort was he of the rope and the corral.

 

"How are yu' Steve?" he said to the rollicking man. And in his tone I

heard instantly old friendship speaking. With Steve he would take and

give familiarity.

 

Steve looked at me, and looked away--and that was all. But it was

enough. In no company had I ever felt so much an outsider. Yet I liked

the company, and wished that it would like me.

 

"Just come to town?" inquired Steve of the Virginian.

 

"Been here since noon. Been waiting for the train."

 

"Going out to-night?"

 

"I reckon I'll pull out to-morro'."

 

"Beds are all took," said Steve. This was for my benefit.

 

"Dear me," said I.

 

"But I guess one of them drummers will let yu' double up with him."

Steve was enjoying himself, I think. He had his saddle and blankets, and

beds were nothing to him.

 

"Drummers, are they?" asked the Virginian.

 

"Two Jews handling cigars, one American with consumption killer, and a

Dutchman with jew'lry."

 

The Virginian set down my valise, and seemed to meditate. "I did want a

bed to-night," he murmured gently.

 

"Well," Steve suggested, "the American looks like he washed the

oftenest."

 

"That's of no consequence to me," observed the Southerner.

 

"Guess it'll be when yu' see 'em."

 

"Oh, I'm meaning something different. I wanted a bed to myself."

 

"Then you'll have to build one."

 

"Bet yu' I have the Dutchman's."

 

"Take a man that won't scare. Bet yu' drinks yu' can't have the

American's."

 

"Go yu'" said the Virginian. "I'll have his bed without any fuss. Drinks

for the crowd."

 

"I suppose you have me beat," said Steve, grinning at him

affectionately. "You're such a son-of-a---- when you get down to work.

Well, so long! I got to fix my horse's hoofs."

 

I had expected that the man would be struck down. He had used to the

Virginian a term of heaviest insult, I thought. I had marvelled to hear

it come so unheralded from Steve's friendly lips. And now I marvelled

still more. Evidently he had meant no harm by it, and evidently

no offence had been taken. Used thus, this language was plainly

complimentary. I had stepped into a world new to me indeed, and

novelties were occurring with scarce any time to get breath between

them. As to where I should sleep, I had forgotten that problem

altogether in my curiosity. What was the Virginian going to do now? I

began to know that the quiet of this man was volcanic.

 

"Will you wash first, sir?"

 

We were at the door of the eating-house, and he set my valise inside.

In my tenderfoot innocence I was looking indoors for the washing

arrangements.

 

"It's out hyeh, seh," he informed me gravely, but with strong Southern

accent. Internal mirth seemed often to heighten the local flavor of his

speech. There were other times when it had scarce any special accent or

fault in grammar.

 

A trough was to my right, slippery with soapy water; and hanging from

a roller above one end of it was a rag of discouraging appearance. The

Virginian caught it, and it performed one whirling revolution on its

roller. Not a dry or clean inch could be found on it. He took off his

hat, and put his head in the door.

 

"Your towel, ma'am," said he, "has been too popular."

 

She came out, a pretty woman. Her eyes rested upon him for a moment,

then upon me with disfavor; then they returned to his black hair.

 

"The allowance is one a day," said she, very quietly. "But when folks

are particular--" She completed her sentence by removing the old towel

and giving a clean one to us.

 

"Thank you, ma'am," said the cow-puncher.

 

She looked once more at his black hair, and without any word returned to

her guests at supper.

 

A pail stood in the trough, almost empty; and this he filled for me from

a well. There was some soap sliding at large in the trough, but I got my

own. And then in a tin basin I removed as many of the stains of travel

as I was able. It was not much of a toilet that I made in this first

wash-trough of my experience, but it had to suffice, and I took my seat

at supper.

 

Canned stuff it was,--corned beef. And one of my table companions said

the truth about it. "When I slung my teeth over that," he remarked, "I

thought I was chewing a hammock." We had strange coffee, and condensed

milk; and I have never seen more flies. I made no attempt to talk,

for no one in this country seemed favorable to me. By reason of

something,--my clothes, my hat, my pronunciation, whatever it might be,

I possessed the secret of estranging people at sight. Yet I was doing

better than I knew; my strict silence and attention to the corned beef

made me in the eyes of the cow-boys at table compare well with the

over-talkative commercial travellers.

 

The Virginian's entrance produced a slight silence. He had done wonders

with the wash-trough, and he had somehow brushed his clothes. With all

the roughness of his dress, he was now the neatest of us. He nodded to

some of the other cow-boys, and began his meal in quiet.

 

But silence is not the native element of the drummer. An average fish

can go a longer time out of water than this breed can live without

talking. One of them now looked across the table at the grave,

flannel-shirted Virginian; he inspected, and came to the imprudent

conclusion that he understood his man.

 

"Good evening," he said briskly.

 

"Good evening," said the Virginian.

 

"Just come to town?" pursued the drummer.

 

"Just come to town," the Virginian suavely assented.

 

"Cattle business jumping along?" inquired the drummer.

 

"Oh, fair." And the Virginian took some more corned beef.

 

"Gets a move on your appetite, anyway," suggested the drummer.

 

The Virginian drank some coffee. Presently the pretty woman refilled his

cup without his asking her.

 

"Guess I've met you before," the drummer stated next.

 

The Virginian glanced at him for a brief moment.

 

"Haven't I, now? Ain't I seen you somewhere? Look at me. You been in

Chicago, ain't you? You look at me well. Remember Ikey's, don't you?"

 

"I don't reckon I do."

 

"See, now! I knowed you'd been in Chicago. Four or five years ago. Or

maybe it's two years. Time's nothing to me. But I never forget a face.

Yes, sir. Him and me's met at Ikey's, all right." This important point

the drummer stated to all of us. We were called to witness how well he

had proved old acquaintanceship. "Ain't the world small, though!" he

exclaimed complacently. "Meet a man once and you're sure to run on to

him again. That's straight. That's no bar-room josh." And the drummer's

eye included us all in his confidence. I wondered if he had attained

that high perfection when a man believes his own lies.

 

The Virginian did not seem interested. He placidly attended to his

food, while our landlady moved between dining room and kitchen, and the

drummer expanded.

 

"Yes, sir! Ikey's over by the stock-yards, patronized by all cattle-men

that know what's what. That's where. Maybe it's three years. Time never

was nothing to me. But faces! Why, I can't quit 'em. Adults or children,

male and female; onced I seen 'em I couldn't lose one off my memory, not

if you were to pay me bounty, five dollars a face. White men, that is.

Can't do nothing with niggers or Chinese. But you're white, all

right." The drummer suddenly returned to the Virginian with this high

compliment. The cow-puncher had taken out a pipe, and was slowly rubbing

it. The compliment seemed to escape his attention, and the drummer went

on.

 

"I can tell a man when he's white, put him at Ikey's or out loose here

in the sage-brush." And he rolled a cigar across to the Virginian's

plate.

 

"Selling them?" inquired the Virginian.

 

"Solid goods, my friend. Havana wrappers, the biggest tobacco

proposition for five cents got out yet. Take it, try it, light it, watch

it burn. Here." And he held out a bunch of matches.

 

The Virginian tossed a five-cent piece over to him.

 

"Oh, no, my friend! Not from you! Not after Ikey's. I don't forget you.

See? I knowed your face right away. See? That's straight. I seen you at

Chicago all right."

 

"Maybe you did," said the Virginian. "Sometimes I'm mighty careless what

I look at."

 

"Well, py damn!" now exclaimed the Dutch drummer, hilariously. "I am

ploom disappointed. I vas hoping to sell him somedings myself."

 

"Not the same here," stated the American. "He's too healthy for me. I

gave him up on sight."

 

Now it was the American drummer whose bed the Virginian had in his eye.

This was a sensible man, and had talked less than his brothers in the

trade. I had little doubt who would end by sleeping in his bed; but how

the thing would be done interested me more deeply than ever.

 

The Virginian looked amiably at his intended victim, and made one or two

remarks regarding patent medicines. There must be a good deal of money

in them, he supposed, with a live man to manage them. The victim was

flattered. No other person at the table had been favored with so much

of the tall cow-puncher's notice. He responded, and they had a pleasant

talk. I did not divine that the Virginian's genius was even then at

work, and that all this was part of his satanic strategy. But Steve must

have divined it. For while a few of us still sat finishing our supper,

that facetious horseman returned from doctoring his horse's hoofs, put

his head into the dining room, took in the way in which the Virginian

was engaging his victim in conversation, remarked aloud, "I've lost!"

and closed the door again.

 

"What's he lost?" inquired the American drummer.

 

"Oh, you mustn't mind him," drawled the Virginian. "He's one of those

box-head jokers goes around openin' and shuttin' doors that-a-way. We

call him harmless. Well," he broke off, "I reckon I'll go smoke. Not

allowed in hyeh?" This last he addressed to the landlady, with especial

gentleness. She shook her head, and her eyes followed him as he went

out.

 

Left to myself I meditated for some time upon my lodging for the night,

and smoked a cigar for consolation as I walked about. It was not a hotel

that we had supped in. Hotel at Medicine Bow there appeared to be none.

But connected with the eating-house was that place where, according

to Steve, the beds were all taken, and there I went to see for myself.

Steve had spoken the truth. It was a single apartment containing four or

five beds, and nothing else whatever. And when I looked at these beds,

my sorrow that I could sleep in none of them grew less. To be alone in

one offered no temptation, and as for this courtesy of the country, this

doubling up--!

 

"Well, they have got ahead of us." This was the Virginian standing at my

elbow.

 

I assented.

 

"They have staked out their claims," he added.

 

In this public sleeping room they had done what one does to secure a

seat in a railroad train. Upon each bed, as notice of occupancy, lay

some article of travel or of dress. As we stood there, the two Jews came

in and opened and arranged their valises, and folded and refolded their

linen dusters. Then a railroad employee entered and began to go to bed

at this hour, before dusk had wholly darkened into night. For him, going

to bed meant removing his boots and placing his overalls and waistcoat

beneath his pillow. He had no coat. His work began at three in the

morning; and even as we still talked he began to snore.

 

"The man that keeps the store is a friend of mine," said the Virginian;

"and you can be pretty near comfortable on his counter. Got any

Blankets?"

 

I had no blankets.

 

"Looking for a bed?" inquired the American drummer, now arriving.

 

"Yes, he's looking for a bed," answered the voice of Steve behind him.

 

"Seems a waste of time," observed the Virginian. He looked thoughtfully

from one bed to another. "I didn't know I'd have to lay over here. Well,

I have sat up before."

 

"This one's mine," said the drummer, sitting down on it. "Half's plenty

enough room for me."

 

"You're cert'nly mighty kind," said the cowpuncher. "But I'd not think

o' disconveniencing yu'."

 

"That's nothing. The other half is yours. Turn in right now if you feel

like it."

 

"No. I don't reckon I'll turn in right now. Better keep your bed to

yourself."

 

"See here," urged the drummer, "if I take you I'm safe from drawing some

party I might not care so much about. This here sleeping proposition is

a lottery."

 

"Well," said the Virginian (and his hesitation was truly masterly), "if

you put it that way--"

 

"I do put it that way. Why, you're clean! You've had a shave right now.

You turn in when you feel inclined, old man! I ain't retiring just yet."

 

The drummer had struck a slightly false note in these last remarks. He

should not have said "old man." Until this I had thought him merely an

amiable person who wished to do a favor. But "old man" came in wrong.

It had a hateful taint of his profession; the being too soon with

everybody, the celluloid good-fellowship that passes for ivory with nine

in ten of the city crowd. But not so with the sons of the sagebrush.

They live nearer nature, and they know better.

 

But the Virginian blandly accepted "old man" from his victim: he had a

game to play. "Well, I cert'nly thank yu'," he said. "After a while I'll

take advantage of your kind offer."

 

I was surprised. Possession being nine points of the law, it seemed

his very chance to intrench himself in the bed. But the cow-puncher

had planned a campaign needing no intrenchments. Moreover, going to bed

before nine o'clock upon the first evening in many weeks that a town's

resources were open to you, would be a dull proceeding. Our entire

company, drummer and all, now walked over to the store, and here my

sleeping arrangements were made easily. This store was the cleanest

place and the best in Medicine Bow, and would have been a good store

anywhere, offering a multitude of things for sale, and kept by a very

civil proprietor. He bade me make myself at home, and placed both of his

counters at my disposal. Upon the grocery side there stood a cheese too

large and strong to sleep near comfortably, and I therefore chose the

dry-goods side. Here thick quilts were unrolled for me, to make it soft;

and no condition was placed upon me, further than that I should remove

my boots, because the quilts were new, and clean, and for sale. So

now my rest was assured. Not an anxiety remained in my thoughts. These

therefore turned themselves wholly to the other man's bed, and how he

was going to lose it.

 

I think that Steve was more curious even than myself. Time was on the

wing. His bet must be decided, and the drinks enjoyed. He stood against

the grocery counter, contemplating the Virginian. But it was to me that

he spoke. The Virginian, however, listened to every word.

 

"Your first visit to this country?"

 

I told him yes.

 

"How do you like it?"

 

I expected to like it very much.

 

"How does the climate strike you?"

 

I thought the climate was fine.

 

"Makes a man thirsty though."

 

This was the sub-current which the Virginian plainly looked for. But he,

like Steve, addressed himself to me.

 

"Yes," he put in, "thirsty while a man's soft yet. You'll harden."

 

"I guess you'll find it a drier country than you were given to expect,"

said Steve.

 

"If your habits have been frequent that way," said the Virginian.

 

"There's parts of Wyoming," pursued Steve, "where you'll go hours and

hours before you'll see a drop of wetness."

 

"And if yu' keep a-thinkin' about it," said the Virginian, "it'll seem

like days and days."

 

Steve, at this stroke, gave up, and clapped him on the shoulder with a

joyous chuckle. "You old son-of-a!" he cried affectionately.

 

"Drinks are due now," said the Virginian. "My treat, Steve. But I reckon

your suspense will have to linger a while yet."

 

Thus they dropped into direct talk from that speech of the fourth

dimension where they had been using me for their telephone.

 

"Any cyards going to-night?" inquired the Virginian.

 

"Stud and draw," Steve told him. "Strangers playing."

 

"I think I'd like to get into a game for a while," said the Southerner.

"Strangers, yu' say?"

 

And then, before quitting the store, he made his toilet for this little

hand at poker. It was a simple preparation. He took his pistol from its

holster, examined it, then shoved it between his overalls and his shirt

in front, and pulled his waistcoat over it. He might have been combing

his hair for all the attention any one paid to this, except myself. Then

the two friends went out, and I bethought me of that epithet which

Steve again had used to the Virginian as he clapped him on the shoulder.

Clearly this wild country spoke a language other than mine--the word

here was a term of endearment. Such was my conclusion.

 

The drummers had finished their dealings with the proprietor, and they

were gossiping together in a knot by the door as the Virginian passed

out.

 

"See you later, old man!" This was the American drummer accosting his

prospective bed-fellow.

 

"Oh, yes," returned the bed-fellow, and was gone.

 

The American drummer winked triumphantly at his brethren. "He's all

right," he observed, jerking a thumb after the Virginian. "He's easy.

You got to know him to work him. That's all."

 

"Und vat is your point?" inquired the German drummer.

 

"Point is--he'll not take any goods off you or me; but he's going to

talk up the killer to any consumptive he runs across. I ain't done with

him yet. Say," (he now addressed the proprietor), "what's her name?"

 

"Whose name?"

 

"Woman runs the eating-house."

 

"Glen. Mrs. Glen."

 

"Ain't she new?"

 

"Been settled here about a month. Husband's a freight conductor."

 

"Thought I'd not seen her before. She's a good-looker."

 

"Hm! Yes. The kind of good looks I'd sooner see in another man's wife

than mine."

 

"So that's the gait, is it?"

 

"Hm! well, it don't seem to be. She come here with that reputation. But

there's been general disappointment."

 

"Then she ain't lacked suitors any?"

 

"Lacked! Are you acquainted with cow-boys?"

 

"And she disappointed 'em? Maybe she likes her husband?"

 

"Hm! well, how are you to tell about them silent kind?"

 

"Talking of conductors," began the drummer. And we listened to his

anecdote. It was successful with his audience; but when he launched

fluently upon a second I strolled out. There was not enough wit in

this narrator to relieve his indecency, and I felt shame at having been

surprised into laughing with him.

 

I left that company growing confidential over their leering stories,

and I sought the saloon. It was very quiet and orderly. Beer in quart

bottles at a dollar I had never met before; but saving its price, I

found no complaint to make of it. Through folding doors I passed from

the bar proper with its bottles and elk head back to the hall with its

various tables. I saw a man sliding cards from a case, and across the

table from him another man laying counters down. Near by was a second

dealer pulling cards from the bottom of a pack, and opposite him a

solemn old rustic piling and changing coins upon the cards which lay

already exposed.

 

But now I heard a voice that drew my eyes to the far corner of the room.

 

"Why didn't you stay in Arizona?"

 

Harmless looking words as I write them down here. Yet at the sound of

them I noticed the eyes of the others directed to that corner. What

answer was given to them I did not hear, nor did I see who spoke. Then

came another remark.

 

"Well, Arizona's no place for amatures."

 

This time the two card dealers that I stood near began to give a part of

their attention to the group that sat in the corner. There was in me a

desire to leave this room. So far my hours at Medicine Bow had seemed

to glide beneath a sunshine of merriment, of easy-going jocularity. This

was suddenly gone, like the wind changing to north in the middle of a

warm day. But I stayed, being ashamed to go.

 

Five or six players sat over in the corner at a round table where

counters were piled. Their eyes were close upon their cards, and one

seemed to be dealing a card at a time to each, with pauses and betting

between. Steve was there and the Virginian; the others were new faces.

 

"No place for amatures," repeated the voice; and now I saw that it was

the dealer's. There was in his countenance the same ugliness that his

words conveyed.

 

"Who's that talkin'?" said one of the men near me, in a low voice.

 

"Trampas."

 

"What's he?"

 

"Cow-puncher, bronco-buster, tin-horn, most anything."

 

"Who's he talkin' at?"

 

"Think it's the black-headed guy he's talking at."

 

"That ain't supposed to be safe, is it?"

 

"Guess we're all goin' to find out in a few minutes."

 

"Been trouble between 'em?"

 

"They've not met before. Trampas don't enjoy losin' to a stranger."

 

"Fello's from Arizona, yu' say?"

 

"No. Virginia. He's recently back from havin' a look at Arizona. Went

down there last year for a change. Works for the Sunk Creek outfit." And

then the dealer lowered his voice still further and said something

in the other man's ear, causing him to grin. After which both of them

looked at me.

 

There had been silence over in the corner; but now the man Trampas spoke

again.

 

"AND ten," said he, sliding out some chips from before him. Very strange

it was to hear him, how he contrived to make those words a personal

taunt. The Virginian was looking at his cards. He might have been deaf.

 

"AND twenty," said the next player, easily.

 

The next threw his cards down.

 

It was now the Virginian's turn to bet, or leave the game, and he did

not speak at once.

 

Therefore Trampas spoke. "Your bet, you son-of-a--."

 

The Virginian's pistol came out, and his hand lay on the table, holding

it unaimed. And with a voice as gentle as ever, the voice that sounded

almost like a caress, but drawling a very little more than usual, so

that there was almost a space between each word, he issued his orders

to the man Trampas: "When you call me that, SMILE." And he looked at

Trampas across the table.

 

Yes, the voice was gentle. But in my ears it seemed as if somewhere the

bell of death was ringing; and silence, like a stroke, fell on the large

room. All men present, as if by some magnetic current, had become aware

of this crisis. In my ignorance, and the total stoppage of my thoughts,

I stood stock-still, and noticed various people crouching, or shifting

their positions.

 

"Sit quiet," said the dealer, scornfully to the man near me. "Can't you

see he don't want to push trouble? He has handed Trampas the choice to

back down or draw his steel."

 

Then, with equal suddenness and ease, the room came out of its

strangeness. Voices and cards, the click of chips, the puff of tobacco,

glasses lifted to drink,--this level of smooth relaxation hinted no more

plainly of what lay beneath than does the surface tell the depth of the

sea.

 

For Trampas had made his choice. And that choice was not to "draw his

steel." If it was knowledge that he sought, he had found it, and no

mistake! We heard no further reference to what he had been pleased

to style "amatures." In no company would the black-headed man who had

visited Arizona be rated a novice at the cool art of self-preservation.

 

One doubt remained: what kind of a man was Trampas? A public back-down

is an unfinished thing,--for some natures at least. I looked at his

face, and thought it sullen, but tricky rather than courageous.

 

Something had been added to my knowledge also. Once again I had heard

applied to the Virginian that epithet which Steve so freely used. The

same words, identical to the letter. But this time they had produced a

pistol. "When you call me that, SMILE!" So I perceived a new example of

the old truth, that the letter means nothing until the spirit gives it

life.

 

 

 

 

III. STEVE TREATS

 

 

It was for several minutes, I suppose, that I stood drawing these silent

morals. No man occupied himself with me. Quiet voices, and games of

chance, and glasses lifted to drink, continued to be the peaceful order

of the night. And into my thoughts broke the voice of that card-dealer

who had already spoken so sagely. He also took his turn at moralizing.

 

"What did I tell you?" he remarked to the man for whom he continued to

deal, and who continued to lose money to him.

 

"Tell me when?"

 

"Didn't I tell you he'd not shoot?" the dealer pursued with complacence.

"You got ready to dodge. You had no call to be concerned. He's not the

kind a man need feel anxious about."

 

The player looked over at the Virginian, doubtfully. "Well," he said, "I

don't know what you folks call a dangerous man."

 

"Not him!" exclaimed the dealer with admiration. "He's a brave man.

That's different."

 

The player seemed to follow this reasoning no better than I did.

 

"It's not a brave man that's dangerous," continued the dealer. "It's the

cowards that scare me." He paused that this might sink home.

 

"Fello' came in here las' Toosday," he went on. "He got into some

misunderstanding about the drinks. Well, sir, before we could put him

out of business, he'd hurt two perfectly innocent onlookers. They'd no

more to do with it than you have," the dealer explained to me.

 

"Were they badly hurt?" I asked.

 

"One of 'em was. He's died since."

 

"What became of the man?"

 

"Why, we put him out of business, I told you. He died that night. But

there was no occasion for any of it; and that's why I never like to

be around where there's a coward. You can't tell. He'll always go to

shooting before it's necessary, and there's no security who he'll

hit. But a man like that black-headed guy is (the dealer indicated the

Virginian) need never worry you. And there's another point why there's

no need to worry about him: IT'D BE TOO LATE."

 

These good words ended the moralizing of the dealer. He had given us

a piece of his mind. He now gave the whole of it to dealing cards.

I loitered here and there, neither welcome nor unwelcome at present,

watching the cow-boys at their play. Saving Trampas, there was scarce

a face among them that had not in it something very likable. Here were

lusty horsemen ridden from the heat of the sun, and the wet of the

storm, to divert themselves awhile. Youth untamed sat here for an idle

moment, spending easily its hard-earned wages. City saloons rose into

my vision, and I instantly preferred this Rocky Mountain place. More

of death it undoubtedly saw, but less of vice, than did its New York

equivalents.

 

And death is a thing much cleaner than vice. Moreover, it was by no

means vice that was written upon these wild and manly faces. Even where

baseness was visible, baseness was not uppermost. Daring, laughter,

endurance--these were what I saw upon the countenances of the cow-boys.

And this very first day of my knowledge of them marks a date with me.

For something about them, and the idea of them, smote my American heart,

and I have never forgotten it, nor ever shall, as long as I live. In

their flesh our natural passions ran tumultuous; but often in their

spirit sat hidden a true nobility, and often beneath its unexpected

shining their figures took on heroic stature.

 

The dealer had styled the Virginian "a black-headed guy." This did well

enough as an unflattered portrait. Judge Henry's trustworthy man, with

whom I was to drive two hundred and sixty-three miles, certainly had a

very black head of hair. It was the first thing to notice now, if one

glanced generally at the table where he sat at cards. But the eye came

back to him--drawn by that inexpressible something which had led the

dealer to speak so much at length about him.

 

Still, "black-headed guy" justly fits him and his next performance. He

had made his plan for this like a true and (I must say) inspired devil.

And now the highly appreciative town of Medicine Bow was to be treated

to a manifestation of genius.

 

He sat playing his stud-poker. After a decent period of losing and

winning, which gave Trampas all proper time for a change of luck and

a repairing of his fortunes, he looked at Steve and said amiably: "How

does bed strike you?"

 

I was beside their table, learning gradually that stud-poker has in

it more of what I will call red pepper than has our Eastern game. The

Virginian followed his own question: "Bed strikes me," he stated.

 

Steve feigned indifference. He was far more deeply absorbed in his bet

and the American drummer than he was in this game; but he chose to take

out a fat, florid gold watch, consult it elaborately, and remark, "It's

only eleven."

 

"Yu' forget I'm from the country," said the black-headed guy. "The

chickens have been roostin' a right smart while."

 

His sunny Southern accent was again strong. In that brief passage with

Trampas it had been almost wholly absent. But different moods of the

spirit bring different qualities of utterance--where a man comes by

these naturally. The Virginian cashed in his checks.

 

"Awhile ago," said Steve, "you had won three months' salary."

 

"I'm still twenty dollars to the good," said the Virginian. "That's

better than breaking a laig."

 

Again, in some voiceless, masonic way, most people in that saloon had

become aware that something was in process of happening. Several left

their games and came to the front by the bar.

 

"If he ain't in bed yet--" mused the Virginian.

 

"I'll find out," said I. And I hurried across to the dim sleeping room,

happy to have a part in this.

 

They were all in bed; and in some beds two were sleeping. How they could

do it--but in those days I was fastidious. The American had come in

recently and was still awake.

 

"Thought you were to sleep at the store?" said he.

 

So then I invented a little lie, and explained that I was in search of

the Virginian.

 

"Better search the dives," said he. "These cow-boys don't get to town

often."

 

At this point I stumbled sharply over something.

 

"It's my box of Consumption Killer," explained the drummer; "Well, I

hope that man will stay out all night."

 

"Bed narrow?" I inquired.

 

"For two it is. And the pillows are mean. Takes both before you feel

anything's under your head."

 

He yawned, and I wished him pleasant dreams.

 

At my news the Virginian left the bar at once; and crossed to the

sleeping room. Steve and I followed softly, and behind us several

more strung out in an expectant line. "What is this going to be?" they

inquired curiously of each other. And upon learning the great novelty

of the event, they clustered with silence intense outside the door where

the Virginian had gone in.

 

We heard the voice of the drummer, cautioning his bed-fellow. "Don't

trip over the Killer," he was saying. "The Prince of Wales barked his

shin just now." It seemed my English clothes had earned me this title.

 

The boots of the Virginian were next heard to drop.

 

"Can yu' make out what he's at?" whispered Steve.

 

He was plainly undressing. The rip of swift unbuttoning told us that the

black-headed guy must now be removing his overalls.

 

"Why, thank yu', no," he was replying to a question of the drummer.

"Outside or in's all one to me."

 

"Then, if you'd just as soon take the wall--"

 

"Why, cert'nly." There was a sound of bedclothes, and creaking.

"This hyeh pillo' needs a Southern climate," was the Virginian's next

observation.

 

Many listeners had now gathered at the door. The dealer and the player

were both here. The storekeeper was present, and I recognized the agent

of the Union Pacific Railroad among the crowd. We made a large company,

and I felt that trembling sensation which is common when the cap of a

camera is about to be removed upon a group.

 

"I should think," said the drummer's voice, "that you'd feel your knife

and gun clean through that pillow."

 

"I do," responded the Virginian.

 

"I should think you'd put them on a chair and be comfortable."

 

"I'd be uncomfortable, then."

 

"Used to the feel of them, I suppose?"

 

"That's it. Used to the feel of them. I would miss them, and that would

make me wakeful."

 

"Well, good night."

 

"Good night. If I get to talkin' and tossin', or what not, you'll

understand you're to--"

 

"Yes, I'll wake you."

 

"No, don't yu', for God's sake!"

 

"Not?"

 

"Don't yu' touch me."

 

"What'll I do?"

 

"Roll away quick to your side. It don't last but a minute." The

Virginian spoke with a reassuring drawl.

 

Upon this there fell a brief silence, and I heard the drummer clear his

throat once or twice.

 

"It's merely the nightmare, I suppose?" he said after a throat clearing.

 

"Lord, yes. That's all. And don't happen twice a year. Was you thinkin'

it was fits?"

 

"Oh, no! I just wanted to know. I've been told before that it was not

safe for a person to be waked suddenly that way out of a nightmare."

 

"Yes, I have heard that too. But it never harms me any. I didn't want

you to run risks."

 

"Me?"

 

"Oh, it'll be all right now that yu' know how it is." The Virginian's

drawl was full of assurance.

 

There was a second pause, after which the drummer said.

 

"Tell me again how it is."

 

The Virginian answered very drowsily: "Oh, just don't let your arm or

your laig touch me if I go to jumpin' around. I'm dreamin' of Indians

when I do that. And if anything touches me then, I'm liable to grab my

knife right in my sleep."

 

"Oh, I understand," said the drummer, clearing his throat. "Yes."

 

Steve was whispering delighted oaths to himself, and in his joy applying

to the Virginian one unprintable name after another.

 

We listened again, but now no further words came. Listening very hard,

I could half make out the progress of a heavy breathing, and a restless

turning I could clearly detect. This was the wretched drummer. He was

waiting. But he did not wait long. Again there was a light creak, and

after it a light step. He was not even going to put his boots on in

the fatal neighborhood of the dreamer. By a happy thought Medicine Bow

formed into two lines, making an avenue from the door. And then the

commercial traveller forgot his Consumption Killer. He fell heavily over

it.

 

Immediately from the bed the Virginian gave forth a dreadful howl.

 

And then everything happened at once; and how shall mere words narrate

it? The door burst open, and out flew the commercial traveller in his

stockings. One hand held a lump of coat and trousers with suspenders

dangling, his boots were clutched in the other. The sight of us stopped

his flight short. He gazed, the boots fell from his hand; and at his

profane explosion, Medicine Bow set up a united, unearthly noise and

began to play Virginia reel with him. The other occupants of the beds

had already sprung out of them, clothed chiefly with their pistols, and

ready for war. "What is it?" they demanded. "What is it?"

 

"Why, I reckon it's drinks on Steve," said the Virginian from his bed.

And he gave the first broad grin that I had seen from him.

 

"I'll set 'em up all night!" Steve shouted, as the reel went on

regardless. The drummer was bawling to be allowed to put at least his

boots on. "This way, Pard," was the answer; and another man whirled him

round. "This way, Beau!" they called to him; "This way, Budd!" and

he was passed like a shuttle-cock down the line. Suddenly the leaders

bounded into the sleeping-room. "Feed the machine!" they said. "Feed

her!" And seizing the German drummer who sold jewellery, they flung him

into the trough of the reel. I saw him go bouncing like an ear of corn

to be shelled, and the dance ingulfed him. I saw a Jew sent rattling

after him; and next they threw in the railroad employee, and the other

Jew; and while I stood mesmerized, my own feet left the earth. I shot

from the room and sped like a bobbing cork into this mill race, whirling

my turn in the wake of the others amid cries of, "Here comes the Prince

of Wales!" There was soon not much English left about my raiment.

 

They were now shouting for music. Medicine Bow swept in like a cloud of

dust to where a fiddler sat playing in a hall; and gathering up fiddler

and dancers, swept out again, a larger Medicine Bow, growing all

the while. Steve offered us the freedom of the house, everywhere. He

implored us to call for whatever pleased us, and as many times as we

should please. He ordered the town to be searched for more citizens to

come and help him pay his bet. But changing his mind, kegs and bottles

were now carried along with us. We had found three fiddlers, and these

played busily for us; and thus we set out to visit all cabins and houses

where people might still by some miracle be asleep. The first man put

out his head to decline. But such a possibility had been foreseen by

the proprietor of the store. This seemingly respectable man now came

dragging some sort of apparatus from his place, helped by the Virginian.

The cow-boys cheered, for they knew what this was. The man in his window

likewise recognized it, and uttering a groan, came immediately out and

joined us. What it was, I also learned in a few minutes. For we found

a house where the people made no sign at either our fiddlers or our

knocking. And then the infernal machine was set to work. Its parts

seemed to be no more than an empty keg and a plank. Some citizen

informed me that I should soon have a new idea of noise; and I nerved

myself for something severe in the way of gunpowder. But the Virginian

and the proprietor now sat on the ground holding the keg braced, and two

others got down apparently to play see-saw over the top of it with the

plank. But the keg and plank had been rubbed with rosin, and they drew

the plank back and forth over the keg. Do you know the sound made in

a narrow street by a dray loaded with strips of iron? That noise is a

lullaby compared with the staggering, blinding bellow which rose from

the keg. If you were to try it in your native town, you would not merely

be arrested, you would be hanged, and everybody would be glad, and the

clergyman would not bury you. My head, my teeth, the whole system of my

bones leaped and chattered at the din, and out of the house like drops

squirted from a lemon came a man and his wife. No time was given them.

They were swept along with the rest; and having been routed from their

own bed, they now became most furious in assailing the remaining homes

of Medicine Bow. Everybody was to come out. Many were now riding horses

at top speed out into the plains and back, while the procession of the

plank and keg continued its work, and the fiddlers played incessantly.

 

Suddenly there was a quiet. I did not see who brought the message; but

the word ran among us that there was a woman--the engineer's woman

down by the water-tank--very sick. The doctor had been to see her from

Laramie. Everybody liked the engineer. Plank and keg were heard no more.

The horsemen found it out and restrained their gambols. Medicine Bow

went gradually home. I saw doors shutting, and lights go out; I saw

a late few reassemble at the card tables, and the drummers gathered

themselves together for sleep; the proprietor of the store (you could

not see a more respectable-looking person) hoped that I would be

comfortable on the quilts; and I heard Steve urging the Virginian to

take one more glass.

 

"We've not met for so long," he said.

 

But the Virginian, the black-headed guy who had set all this nonsense

going, said No to Steve. "I have got to stay responsible," was his

excuse to his friend. And the friend looked at me. Therefore I surmised

that the Judge's trustworthy man found me an embarrassment to his

holiday. But if he did, he never showed it to me. He had been sent to

meet a stranger and drive him to Sunk Creek in safety, and this charge

he would allow no temptation to imperil. He nodded good night to me. "If

there's anything I can do for yu', you'll tell me."

 

I thanked him. "What a pleasant evening!" I added.

 

"I'm glad yu' found it so."

 

Again his manner put a bar to my approaches. Even though I had seen

him wildly disporting himself, those were matters which he chose not to

discuss with me.

 

Medicine Bow was quiet as I went my way to my quilts. So still, that

through the air the deep whistles of the freight trains came from below

the horizon across great miles of silence. I passed cow-boys, whom half

an hour before I had seen prancing and roaring, now rolled in their

blankets beneath the open and shining night.

 

"What world am I in?" I said aloud. "Does this same planet hold Fifth

Avenue?"

 

And I went to sleep, pondering over my native land.

 

 

 

 

IV. DEEP INTO CATTLE LAND

 

 

Morning had been for some while astir in Medicine Bow before I left my

quilts. The new day and its doings began around me in the store, chiefly

at the grocery counter. Dry-goods were not in great request. The early

rising cow-boys were off again to their work; and those to whom their

night's holiday had left any dollars were spending these for tobacco, or

cartridges, or canned provisions for the journey to their distant

camps. Sardines were called for, and potted chicken, and devilled ham:

a sophisticated nourishment, at first sight, for these sons of the

sage-brush. But portable ready-made food plays of necessity a great part

in the opening of a new country. These picnic pots and cans were the

first of her trophies that Civilization dropped upon Wyoming's virgin

soil. The cow-boy is now gone to worlds invisible; the wind has blown

away the white ashes of his camp-fires; but the empty sardine box lies

rusting over the face of the Western earth.

 

So through my eyes half closed I watched the sale of these tins, and

grew familiar with the ham's inevitable trademark--that label with the

devil and his horns and hoofs and tail very pronounced, all colored a

sultry prodigious scarlet. And when each horseman had made his purchase,

he would trail his spurs over the floor, and presently the sound of his

horse's hoofs would be the last of him. Through my dozing attention came

various fragments of talk, and sometimes useful bits of knowledge. For

instance, I learned the true value of tomatoes in this country. One

fellow was buying two cans of them.

 

"Meadow Creek dry already?" commented the proprietor.

 

"Been dry ten days," the young cow-boy informed him. And it appeared

that along the road he was going, water would not be reached much before

sundown, because this Meadow Creek had ceased to run. His tomatoes were

for drink. And thus they have refreshed me many times since.

 

"No beer?" suggested the proprietor.

 

The boy made a shuddering face. "Don't say its name to me!" he

exclaimed. "I couldn't hold my breakfast down." He rang his silver money

upon the counter. "I've swore off for three months," he stated. "I'm

going to be as pure as the snow!" And away he went jingling out of the

door, to ride seventy-five miles. Three more months of hard, unsheltered

work, and he would ride into town again, with his adolescent blood

crying aloud for its own.

 

"I'm obliged," said a new voice, rousing me from a new doze. "She's

easier this morning, since the medicine." This was the engineer, whose

sick wife had brought a hush over Medicine Bow's rioting. "I'll give her

them flowers soon as she wakes," he added.

 

"Flowers?" repeated the proprietor.

 

"You didn't leave that bunch at our door?"

 

"Wish I'd thought to do it."

 

"She likes to see flowers," said the engineer. And he walked out slowly,

with his thanks unachieved. He returned at once with the Virginian; for

in the band of the Virginian's hat were two or three blossoms.

 

"It don't need mentioning," the Southerner was saying, embarrassed by

any expression of thanks. "If we had knowed last night--"

 

"You didn't disturb her any," broke in the engineer. "She's easier this

morning. I'll tell her about them flowers."

 

"Why, it don't need mentioning," the Virginian again protested, almost

crossly. "The little things looked kind o' fresh, and I just picked

them." His eye now fell upon me, where I lay upon the counter. "I reckon

breakfast will be getting through," he remarked.

 

I was soon at the wash trough. It was only half-past six, but many had

been before me,--one glance at the roller-towel told me that. I was

afraid to ask the landlady for a clean one, and so I found a fresh

handkerchief, and accomplished a sparing toilet. In the midst of this

the drummers joined me, one by one, and they used the degraded towel

without hesitation. In a way they had the best of me; filth was nothing

to them.

 

The latest risers in Medicine Bow, we sat at breakfast together; and

they essayed some light familiarities with the landlady. But these

experiments were failures. Her eyes did not see, nor did her ears

hear them. She brought the coffee and the bacon with a sedateness that

propriety itself could scarce have surpassed. Yet impropriety lurked

noiselessly all over her. You could not have specified how; it was

interblended with her sum total. Silence was her apparent habit and her

weapon; but the American drummer found that she could speak to the point

when need came for this. During the meal he had praised her golden

hair. It was golden indeed, and worth a high compliment; but his kind

displeased her. She had let it pass, however, with no more than a cool

stare. But on taking his leave, when he came to pay for the meal, he

pushed it too far.

 

"Pity this must be our last," he said; and as it brought no answer,

"Ever travel?" he inquired. "Where I go, there's room for a pair of us."

 

"Then you'd better find another jackass," she replied quietly.

 

I was glad that I had not asked for a clean towel.

 

From the commercial travellers I now separated myself, and wandered

alone in pleasurable aimlessness. It was seven o'clock. Medicine

Bow stood voiceless and unpeopled. The cow-boys had melted away. The

inhabitants were indoors, pursuing the business or the idleness of the

forenoon. Visible motion there was none. No shell upon the dry sands

could lie more lifeless than Medicine Bow. Looking in at the store,

I saw the proprietor sitting with his pipe extinct. Looking in at the

saloon, I saw the dealer dealing dumbly to himself. Up in the sky there

was not a cloud nor a bird, and on the earth the lightest straw

lay becalmed. Once I saw the Virginian at an open door, where the

golden-haired landlady stood talking with him. Sometimes I strolled in

the town, and sometimes out on the plain I lay down with my day dreams

in the sagebrush. Pale herds of antelope were in the distance, and near

by the demure prairie-dogs sat up and scrutinized me. Steve, Trampas,

the riot of horsemen, my lost trunk, Uncle Hughey, with his abortive

brides--all things merged in my thoughts in a huge, delicious

indifference. It was like swimming slowly at random in an ocean that was

smooth, and neither too cool nor too warm. And before I knew it, five

lazy imperceptible hours had gone thus. There was the Union Pacific

train, coming as if from shores forgotten.

 

Its approach was silent and long drawn out. I easily reached town and

the platform before it had finished watering at the tank. It moved up,

made a short halt, I saw my trunk come out of it, and then it moved away

silently as it had come, smoking and dwindling into distance unknown.

 

Beside my trunk was one other, tied extravagantly with white ribbon. The

fluttering bows caught my attention, and now I suddenly saw a perfectly

new sight. The Virginian was further down the platform, doubled up with

laughing. It was good to know that with sufficient cause he could laugh

like this; a smile had thus far been his limit of external mirth.

Rice now flew against my hat, and hissing gusts of rice spouted on the

platform. All the men left in Medicine Bow appeared like magic, and more

rice choked the atmosphere. Through the general clamor a cracked voice

said, "Don't hit her in the eye, boys!" and Uncle Hughey rushed proudly

by me with an actual wife on his arm. She could easily have been his

granddaughter. They got at once into a vehicle. The trunk was lifted in

behind. And amid cheers, rice, shoes, and broad felicitations, the pair

drove out of town, Uncle Hughey shrieking to the horses and the bride

waving unabashed adieus.

 

The word had come over the wires from Laramie: "Uncle Hughey has made

it this time. Expect him on to-day's number two." And Medicine Bow had

expected him.

 

Many words arose on the departure of the new-married couple.

 

"Who's she?"

 

"What's he got for her?"

 

"Got a gold mine up Bear Creek."

 

And after comment and prophecy, Medicine Bow returned to its dinner.

 

This meal was my last here for a long while. The Virginian's

responsibility now returned; duty drove the Judge's trustworthy man

to take care of me again. He had not once sought my society of his own

accord; his distaste for what he supposed me to be (I don't exactly know

what this was) remained unshaken. I have thought that matters of dress

and speech should not carry with them so much mistrust in our democracy;

thieves are presumed innocent until proved guilty, but a starched collar

is condemned at once. Perfect civility and obligingness I certainly did

receive from the Virginian, only not a word of fellowship. He harnessed

the horses, got my trunk, and gave me some advice about taking

provisions for our journey, something more palatable than what food we

should find along the road. It was well thought of, and I bought quite a

parcel of dainties, feeling that he would despise both them and me. And

thus I took my seat beside him, wondering what we should manage to talk

about for two hundred and sixty-three miles.

 

Farewell in those days was not said in Cattle Land. Acquaintances

watched our departure with a nod or with nothing, and the nearest

approach to "Good-by" was the proprietor's "So-long." But I caught sight

of one farewell given without words.

 

As we drove by the eating-house, the shade of a side window was raised,

and the landlady looked her last upon the Virginian. Her lips were

faintly parted, and no woman's eyes ever said more plainly, "I am one of

your possessions." She had forgotten that it might be seen. Her glance

caught mine, and she backed into the dimness of the room. What look

she may have received from him, if he gave her any at this too public

moment, I could not tell. His eyes seemed to be upon the horses, and

he drove with the same mastering ease that had roped the wild pony

yesterday. We passed the ramparts of Medicine Bow,--thick heaps and

fringes of tin cans, and shelving mounds of bottles cast out of the

saloons. The sun struck these at a hundred glittering points. And in a

moment we were in the clean plains, with the prairie-dogs and the pale

herds of antelope. The great, still air bathed us, pure as water and

strong as wine; the sunlight flooded the world; and shining upon the

breast of the Virginian's flannel shirt lay a long gold thread of hair!

The noisy American drummer had met defeat, but this silent free lance

had been easily victorious.

 

It must have been five miles that we travelled in silence, losing and

seeing the horizon among the ceaseless waves of the earth. Then I looked

back, and there was Medicine Bow, seemingly a stone's throw behind

us. It was a full half-hour before I looked back again, and there sure

enough was always Medicine Bow. A size or two smaller, I will admit, but

visible in every feature, like something seen through the wrong end of

a field glass. The East-bound express was approaching the town, and I

noticed the white steam from its whistle; but when the sound reached us,

the train had almost stopped. And in reply to my comment upon this, the

Virginian deigned to remark that it was more so in Arizona.

 

"A man come to Arizona," he said, "with one of them telescopes to study

the heavenly bodies. He was a Yankee, seh, and a right smart one, too.

And one night we was watchin' for some little old fallin' stars that he

said was due, and I saw some lights movin' along across the mesa pretty

lively, an' I sang out. But he told me it was just the train. And I told

him I didn't know yu' could see the cyars that plain from his place,

'Yu' can see them,' he said to me, 'but it is las' night's cyars you're

lookin' at.'" At this point the Virginian spoke severely to one of the

horses. "Of course," he then resumed to me, "that Yankee man did not

mean quite all he said.--You, Buck!" he again broke off suddenly to

the horse. "But Arizona, seh," he continued, "it cert'nly has a mos'

deceivin' atmospheah. Another man told me he had seen a lady close one

eye at him when he was two minutes hard run from her." This time the

Virginian gave Buck the whip.

 

"What effect," I inquired with a gravity equal to his own, "does this

extraordinary foreshortening have upon a quart of whiskey?"

 

"When it's outside yu', seh, no distance looks too far to go to it."

 

He glanced at me with an eye that held more confidence than hitherto he

had been able to feel in me. I had made one step in his approval. But

I had many yet to go. This day he preferred his own thoughts to my

conversation, and so he did all the days of this first journey; while

I should have greatly preferred his conversation to my thoughts. He

dismissed some attempts that I made upon the subject of Uncle Hughey so

that I had not the courage to touch upon Trampas, and that chill brief

collision which might have struck the spark of death. Trampas! I had

forgotten him till this silent drive I was beginning. I wondered if I

should ever see him, or Steve, or any of those people again. And this

wonder I expressed aloud.

 

"There's no tellin' in this country," said the Virginian. "Folks come

easy, and they go easy. In settled places, like back in the States, even

a poor man mostly has a home. Don't care if it's only a barrel on a lot,

the fello' will keep frequentin' that lot, and if yu' want him yu' can

find him. But out hyeh in the sage-brush, a man's home is apt to be his

saddle blanket. First thing yu' know, he has moved it to Texas."

 

"You have done some moving yourself," I suggested.

 

But this word closed his mouth. "I have had a look at the country," he

said, and we were silent again. Let me, however, tell you here that he

had set out for a "look at the country" at the age of fourteen; and

that by his present age of twenty-four he had seen Arkansas, Texas,

New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming.

Everywhere he had taken care of himself, and survived; nor had his

strong heart yet waked up to any hunger for a home. Let me also tell you

that he was one of thousands drifting and living thus, but (as you shall

learn) one in a thousand.

 

Medicine Bow did not forever remain in sight. When next I thought of it

and looked behind, nothing was there but the road we had come; it lay

like a ship's wake across the huge ground swell of the earth. We were

swallowed in a vast solitude. A little while before sunset, a cabin came

in view; and here we passed our first night. Two young men lived here,

tending their cattle. They were fond of animals. By the stable a chained

coyote rushed nervously in a circle, or sat on its haunches and snapped

at gifts of food ungraciously. A tame young elk walked in and out of

the cabin door, and during supper it tried to push me off my chair. A

half-tame mountain sheep practised jumping from the ground to the roof.

The cabin was papered with posters of a circus, and skins of bear and

silver fox lay upon the floor. Until nine o'clock one man talked to the

Virginian, and one played gayly upon a concertina; and then we all went

to bed. The air was like December, but in my blankets and a buffalo robe

I kept warm, and luxuriated in the Rocky Mountain silence. Going to wash

before breakfast at sunrise, I found needles of ice in a pail. Yet it

was hard to remember that this quiet, open, splendid wilderness (with

not a peak in sight just here) was six thousand feet high. And when

breakfast was over there was no December left; and by the time the

Virginian and I were ten miles upon our way, it was June. But always

every breath that I breathed was pure as water and strong as wine.

 

We never passed a human being this day. Some wild cattle rushed up to

us and away from us; antelope stared at us from a hundred yards; coyotes

ran skulking through the sage-brush to watch us from a hill; at our noon

meal we killed a rattlesnake and shot some young sage chickens, which

were good at supper, roasted at our camp-fire.

 

By half-past eight we were asleep beneath the stars, and by half-past

four I was drinking coffee and shivering. The horse, Buck, was hard to

catch this second morning. Whether some hills that we were now in

had excited him, or whether the better water up here had caused an

effervescence in his spirits, I cannot say. But I was as hot as July by

the time we had him safe in harness, or, rather, unsafe in harness. For

Buck, in the mysterious language of horses, now taught wickedness to

his side partner, and about eleven o'clock they laid their evil heads

together and decided to break our necks.

 

We were passing, I have said, through a range of demi-mountains. It was

a little country where trees grew, water ran, and the plains were shut

out for a while. The road had steep places in it, and places here and

there where you could fall off and go bounding to the bottom among

stones. But Buck, for some reason, did not think these opportunities

good enough for him. He selected a more theatrical moment. We emerged

from a narrow canyon suddenly upon five hundred cattle and some cow-boys

branding calves by a fire in a corral. It was a sight that Buck knew by

heart. He instantly treated it like an appalling phenomenon. I saw

him kick seven ways; I saw Muggins kick five ways; our furious motion

snapped my spine like a whip. I grasped the seat. Something gave a

forlorn jingle. It was the brake.

 

"Don't jump!" commanded the trustworthy man.

 

"No," I said, as my hat flew off.

 

Help was too far away to do anything for us. We passed scathless through

a part of the cattle, I saw their horns and backs go by. Some earth

crumbled, and we plunged downward into water rocking among stones, and

upward again through some more crumbling earth. I heard a crash, and saw

my trunk landing in the stream.

 

"She's safer there," said the trustworthy man.

 

"True," I said.

 

"We'll go back for her," said he, with his eye on the horses and his

foot on the crippled brake. A dry gully was coming, and no room to turn.

The farther side of it was terraced with rock. We should simply fall

backward, if we did not fall forward first. He steered the horses

straight over, and just at the bottom swung them, with astonishing

skill, to the right along the hard-baked mud. They took us along the bed

up to the head of the gully, and through a thicket of quaking asps. The

light trees bent beneath our charge and bastinadoed the wagon as it went

over them. But their branches enmeshed the horses' legs, and we came to

a harmless standstill among a bower of leaves.

 

I looked at the trustworthy man, and smiled vaguely. He considered me

for a moment.

 

"I reckon," said he, "you're feelin' about halfway between 'Oh, Lord!'

and 'Thank God!'"

 

"That's quite it," said I, as he got down on the ground.

 

"Nothing's broke," said he, after a searching examination. And he

indulged in a true Virginian expletive. "Gentlemen, hush!" he murmured

gently, looking at me with his grave eyes; "one time I got pretty near

scared. You, Buck," he continued, "some folks would beat you now till

yu'd be uncertain whether yu' was a hawss or a railroad accident. I'd do

it myself, only it wouldn't cure yu'."

 

I now told him that I supposed he had saved both our lives. But he

detested words of direct praise. He made some grumbling rejoinder, and

led the horses out of the thicket. Buck, he explained to me, was a good

horse, and so was Muggins. Both of them generally meant well, and that

was the Judge's reason for sending them to meet me. But these broncos

had their off days. Off days might not come very often; but when the

humor seized a bronco, he had to have his spree. Buck would now behave

himself as a horse should for probably two months. "They are just like

humans," the Virginian concluded.

 

Several cow-boys arrived on a gallop to find how many pieces of us were

left. We returned down the hill; and when we reached my trunk, it was

surprising to see the distance that our runaway had covered. My hat was

also found, and we continued on our way.

 

Buck and Muggins were patterns of discretion through the rest of the

mountains. I thought when we camped this night that it was strange Buck

should be again allowed to graze at large, instead of being tied to a

rope while we slept. But this was my ignorance. With the hard work that

he was gallantly doing, the horse needed more pasture than a rope's

length would permit him to find. Therefore he went free, and in the

morning gave us but little trouble in catching him.

 

We crossed a river in the forenoon, and far to the north of us we saw

the Bow Leg Mountains, pale in the bright sun. Sunk Creek flowed from

their western side, and our two hundred and sixty-three miles began to

grow a small thing in my eyes. Buck and Muggins, I think, knew perfectly

that to-morrow would see them home. They recognized this region; and

once they turned off at a fork in the road. The Virginian pulled them

back rather sharply.

 

"Want to go back to Balaam's?" he inquired of them. "I thought you had

more sense."

 

I asked, "Who was Balaam?"

 

"A maltreater of hawsses," replied the cowpuncher. "His ranch is on

Butte Creek oveh yondeh." And he pointed to where the diverging road

melted into space. "The Judge bought Buck and Muggins from him in the

spring."

 

"So he maltreats horses?" I repeated.

 

"That's the word all through this country. A man that will do what

they claim Balaam does to a hawss when he's mad, ain't fit to be called

human." The Virginian told me some particulars.

 

"Oh!" I almost screamed at the horror of it, and again, "Oh!"

 

"He'd have prob'ly done that to Buck as soon as he stopped runnin' away.

If I caught a man doin' that--"

 

We were interrupted by a sedate-looking traveller riding upon an equally

sober horse.

 

"Mawnin', Taylor," said the Virginian, pulling up for gossip. "Ain't you

strayed off your range pretty far?"

 

"You're a nice one!" replied Mr. Taylor, stopping his horse and smiling

amiably.

 

"Tell me something I don't know," retorted the Virginian.

 

"Hold up a man at cards and rob him," pursued Mr. Taylor. "Oh, the news

has got ahead of you!"

 

"Trampas has been hyeh explainin', has he?" said the Virginian with a

grin.

 

"Was that your victim's name?" said Mr. Taylor, facetiously. "No, it

wasn't him that brought the news. Say, what did you do, anyway?"

 

"So that thing has got around," murmured the Virginian. "Well, it wasn't

worth such wide repawtin'." And he gave the simple facts to Taylor,

while I sat wondering at the contagious powers of Rumor. Here, through

this voiceless land, this desert, this vacuum, it had spread like a

change of weather. "Any news up your way?" the Virginian concluded.

 

Importance came into Mr. Taylor's countenance. "Bear Creek is going to

build a schoolhouse," said he.

 

"Goodness gracious!" drawled the Virginian. "What's that for?"

 

Now Mr. Taylor had been married for some years. "To educate the

offspring of Bear Creek," he answered with pride.

 

"Offspring of Bear Creek," the Virginian meditatively repeated. "I don't

remember noticin' much offspring. There was some white tail deer, and a

right smart o' jack rabbits."

 

"The Swintons have moved up from Drybone," said Mr. Taylor, always

seriously. "They found it no place for young children. And there's Uncle

Carmody with six, and Ben Dow. And Westfall has become a family man,

and--"

 

"Jim Westfall!" exclaimed the Virginian. "Him a fam'ly man! Well, if

this hyeh Territory is goin' to get full o' fam'ly men and empty o'

game, I believe I'll--"

 

"Get married yourself," suggested Mr. Taylor.

 

"Me! I ain't near reached the marriageable age. No, seh! But Uncle

Hughey has got there at last, yu' know."

 

"Uncle Hughey!" shouted Mr. Taylor. He had not heard this. Rumor is very

capricious. Therefore the Virginian told him, and the family man rocked

in his saddle.

 

"Build your schoolhouse," said the Virginian. "Uncle Hughey has

qualified himself to subscribe to all such propositions. Got your eye on

a schoolmarm?"

 

 

 

 

V. ENTER THE WOMAN

 

 

"We are taking steps," said Mr. Taylor. "Bear Creek ain't going to be

hasty about a schoolmarm."

 

"Sure," assented the Virginian. "The children wouldn't want yu' to

hurry."

 

But Mr. Taylor was, as I have indicated, a serious family man. The

problem of educating his children could appear to him in no light except

a sober one. "Bear Creek," he said, "don't want the experience they had

over at Calef. We must not hire an ignoramus."

 

"Sure!" assented the Virginian again.

 

"Nor we don't want no gad-a-way flirt," said Mr. Taylor.

 

"She must keep her eyes on the blackboa'd," said the Virginian, gently.

 

"Well, we can wait till we get a guaranteed article," said Mr. Taylor.

"And that's what we're going to do. It can't be this year, and it

needn't to be. None of the kids is very old, and the schoolhouse has got

to be built." He now drew a letter from his pocket, and looked at me.

"Are you acquainted with Miss Mary Stark Wood of Bennington, Vermont?"

he inquired.

 

I was not acquainted with her at this time.

 

"She's one we are thinking of. She's a correspondent with Mrs. Balaam."

Taylor handed me the letter. "She wrote that to Mrs. Balaam, and Mrs.

Balaam said the best thing was for to let me see it and judge for

myself. I'm taking it back to Mrs. Balaam. Maybe you can give me your

opinion how it sizes up with the letters they write back East?"

 

The communication was mainly of a business kind, but also personal,

and freely written. I do not think that its writer expected it to be

exhibited as a document. The writer wished very much that she could see

the West. But she could not gratify this desire merely for pleasure,

or she would long ago have accepted the kind invitation to visit Mrs.

Balaam's ranch. Teaching school was something she would like to do, if

she were fitted for it. "Since the mills failed" (the writer said) "we

have all gone to work and done a lot of things so that mother might keep

on living in the old house. Yes, the salary would be a temptation. But,

my dear, isn't Wyoming bad for the complexion? And could I sue them if

mine got damaged? It is still admired. I could bring one male witness AT

LEAST to prove that!" Then the writer became businesslike again. Even if

she came to feel that she could leave home, she did not at all know that

she could teach school. Nor did she think it right to accept a

position in which one had had no experience. "I do love children, boys

especially," she went on. "My small nephew and I get on famously. But

imagine if a whole benchful of boys began asking me questions that I

couldn't answer! What should I do? For one could not spank them all,

you know! And mother says that I ought not to teach anybody spelling,

because I leave the U out of HONOR."

 

Altogether it was a letter which I could assure Mr. Taylor "sized up"

very well with the letters written in my part of the United States. And

it was signed, "Your very sincere spinster, Molly Stark Wood."

 

"I never seen HONOR spelled with a U," said Mr. Taylor, over whose not

highly civilized head certain portions of the letter had lightly passed.

 

I told him that some old-fashioned people still wrote the word so.

 

"Either way would satisfy Bear Creek," said Mr. Taylor, "if she's

otherwise up to requirements."

 

The Virginian was now looking over the letter musingly, and with

awakened attention.

 

"'Your very sincere spinster,'" he read aloud slowly.

 

"I guess that means she's forty," said Taylor.

 

"I reckon she is about twenty," said the Virginian. And again he fell to

musing over the paper that he held.

 

"Her handwriting ain't like any I've saw," pursued Mr. Taylor. "But Bear

Creek would not object to that, provided she knows 'rithmetic and George

Washington, and them kind of things."

 

"I expect she is not an awful sincere spinster," surmised the Virginian,

still looking at the letter, still holding it as if it were some token.

 

Has any botanist set down what the seed of love is? Has it anywhere been

set down in how many ways this seed may be sown? In what various vessels

of gossamer it can float across wide spaces? Or upon what different

soils it can fall, and live unknown, and bide its time for blooming?

 

The Virginian handed back to Taylor the sheet of note paper where a girl

had talked as the women he had known did not talk. If his eyes had

ever seen such maidens, there had been no meeting of eyes; and if such

maidens had ever spoken to him, the speech was from an established

distance. But here was a free language, altogether new to him. It

proved, however, not alien to his understanding, as it was alien to Mr.

Taylor's.

 

We drove onward, a mile perhaps, and then two. He had lately been full

of words, but now he barely answered me, so that a silence fell upon

both of us. It must have been all of ten miles that we had driven when

he spoke of his own accord.

 

"Your real spinster don't speak of her lot that easy," he remarked. And

presently he quoted a phrase about the complexion, "Could I sue them

if mine got damaged?"' and he smiled over this to himself, shaking

his head. "What would she be doing on Bear Creek?" he next said. And

finally: "I reckon that witness will detain her in Vermont. And her

mother'll keep livin' at the old house."

 

Thus did the cow-puncher deliver himself, not knowing at all that the

seed had floated across wide spaces, and was biding its time in his

heart.

 

On the morrow we reached Sunk Creek. Judge Henry's welcome and his

wife's would have obliterated any hardships that I had endured, and I

had endured none at all.

 

For a while I saw little of the Virginian. He lapsed into his native way

of addressing me occasionally as "seh"--a habit entirely repudiated by

this land of equality. I was sorry. Our common peril during the runaway

of Buck and Muggins had brought us to a familiarity that I hoped was

destined to last. But I think that it would not have gone farther,

save for a certain personage--I must call her a personage. And as I am

indebted to her for gaining me a friend whose prejudice against me might

never have been otherwise overcome, I shall tell you her little story,

and how her misadventures and her fate came to bring the Virginian and

me to an appreciation of one another. Without her, it is likely I should

also not have heard so much of the story of the schoolmarm, and how that

lady at last came to Bear Creek.

 

 

 

 

VI. EM'LY

 

 

My personage was a hen, and she lived at the Sunk Creek Ranch.

 

Judge Henry's ranch was notable for several luxuries. He had milk, for

example. In those days his brother ranchmen had thousands of cattle very

often, but not a drop of milk, save the condensed variety. Therefore

they had no butter. The Judge had plenty. Next rarest to butter and milk

in the cattle country were eggs. But my host had chickens. Whether this

was because he had followed cock-fighting in his early days, or whether

it was due to Mrs. Henry, I cannot say. I only know that when I took a

meal elsewhere, I was likely to find nothing but the eternal "sowbelly,"

beans, and coffee; while at Sunk Creek the omelet and the custard were

frequent. The passing traveller was glad to tie his horse to the fence

here, and sit down to the Judge's table. For its fame was as wide as

Wyoming. It was an oasis in the Territory's desolate bill-of-fare.

 

The long fences of Judge Henry's home ranch began upon Sunk Creek soon

after that stream emerged from its canyon through the Bow Leg. It was

a place always well cared for by the owner, even in the days of his

bachelorhood. The placid regiments of cattle lay in the cool of the

cottonwoods by the water, or slowly moved among the sage-brush, feeding

upon the grass that in those forever departed years was plentiful and

tall. The steers came fat off his unenclosed range and fattened still

more in his large pasture; while his small pasture, a field some eight

miles square, was for several seasons given to the Judge's horses, and

over this ample space there played and prospered the good colts which

he raised from Paladin, his imported stallion. After he married, I have

been assured that his wife's influence became visible in and about the

house at once. Shade trees were planted, flowers attempted, and to the

chickens was added the much more troublesome turkey. I, the visitor, was

pressed into service when I arrived, green from the East. I took hold of

the farmyard and began building a better chicken house, while the Judge

was off creating meadow land in his gray and yellow wilderness. When

any cow-boy was unoccupied, he would lounge over to my neighborhood, and

silently regard my carpentering.

 

Those cow-punchers bore names of various denominations. There was Honey

Wiggin; there was Nebrasky, and Dollar Bill, and Chalkeye. And they came

from farms and cities, from Maine and from California. But the romance

of American adventure had drawn them all alike to this great playground

of young men, and in their courage, their generosity, and their

amusement at me they bore a close resemblance to each other. Each one

would silently observe my achievements with the hammer and the chisel.

Then he would retire to the bunk-house, and presently I would over hear

laughter. But this was only in the morning. In the afternoon on many

days of the summer which I spent at the Sunk Creek Ranch I would go

shooting, or ride up toward the entrance of the canyon and watch the men

working on the irrigation ditches. Pleasant systems of water running

in channels were being led through the soil, and there was a sound of

rippling here and there among the yellow grain; the green thick alfalfa

grass waved almost, it seemed, of its own accord, for the wind never

blew; and when at evening the sun lay against the plain, the rift of the

canyon was filled with a violet light, and the Bow Leg Mountains became

transfigured with hues of floating and unimaginable color. The sun shone

in a sky where never a cloud came, and noon was not too warm nor the

dark too cool. And so for two months I went through these pleasant

uneventful days, improving the chickens, an object of mirth, living in

the open air, and basking in the perfection of content.

 

I was justly styled a tenderfoot. Mrs. Henry had in the beginning

endeavored to shield me from this humiliation; but when she found that I

was inveterate in laying my inexperience of Western matters bare to all

the world, begging to be enlightened upon rattlesnakes, prairie-dogs,

owls, blue and willow grouse, sage-hens, how to rope a horse or tighten

the front cinch of my saddle, and that my spirit soared into enthusiasm

at the mere sight of so ordinary an animal as a white-tailed deer, she

let me rush about with my firearms and made no further effort to stave

off the ridicule that my blunders perpetually earned from the ranch

hands, her own humorous husband, and any chance visitor who stopped for

a meal or stayed the night.

 

I was not called by my name after the first feeble etiquette due to a

stranger in his first few hours had died away. I was known simply as

"the tenderfoot." I was introduced to the neighborhood (a circle

of eighty miles) as "the tenderfoot." It was thus that Balaam, the

maltreater of horses, learned to address me when he came a two

days' journey to pay a visit. And it was this name and my notorious

helplessness that bid fair to end what relations I had with the

Virginian. For when Judge Henry ascertained that nothing could prevent

me from losing myself, that it was not uncommon for me to saunter out

after breakfast with a gun and in thirty minutes cease to know north

from south, he arranged for my protection. He detailed an escort for me;

and the escort was once more the trustworthy man! The poor Virginian was

taken from his work and his comrades and set to playing nurse for me.

And for a while this humiliation ate into his untamed soul. It was his

lugubrious lot to accompany me in my rambles, preside over my blunders,

and save me from calamitously passing into the next world. He bore it in

courteous silence, except when speaking was necessary. He would show me

the lower ford, which I could never find for myself, generally mistaking

a quicksand for it. He would tie my horse properly. He would recommend

me not to shoot my rifle at a white-tailed deer in the particular moment

that the outfit wagon was passing behind the animal on the further side

of the brush. There was seldom a day that he was not obliged to hasten

and save me from sudden death or from ridicule, which is worse. Yet

never once did he lose his patience and his gentle, slow voice, and

apparently lazy manner remained the same, whether we were sitting at

lunch together, or up in the mountain during a hunt, or whether he

was bringing me back my horse, which had run away because I had again

forgotten to throw the reins over his head and let them trail.

 

"He'll always stand if yu' do that," the Virginian would say. "See how

my hawss stays right quiet yondeh."

 

After such admonition he would say no more to me. But this tame

nursery business was assuredly gall to him. For though utterly a man

in countenance and in his self-possession and incapacity to be put at

a loss, he was still boyishly proud of his wild calling, and wore his

leather straps and jingled his spurs with obvious pleasure. His tiger

limberness and his beauty were rich with unabated youth; and that force

which lurked beneath his surface must often have curbed his intolerance

of me. In spite of what I knew must be his opinion of me, the

tenderfoot, my liking for him grew, and I found his silent company more

and more agreeable. That he had spells of talking, I had already learned

at Medicine Bow. But his present taciturnity might almost have effaced

this impression, had I not happened to pass by the bunk-house one

evening after dark, when Honey Wiggin and the rest of the cow-boys were

gathered inside it.

 

That afternoon the Virginian and I had gone duck shooting. We had

found several in a beaver dam, and I had killed two as they sat close

together; but they floated against the breastwork of sticks out in the

water some four feet deep, where the escaping current might carry them

down the stream. The Judge's red setter had not accompanied us, because

she was expecting a family.

 

"We don't want her along anyways," the cowpuncher had explained to me.

"She runs around mighty irresponsible, and she'll stand a prairie-dog

'bout as often as she'll stand a bird. She's a triflin' animal."

 

My anxiety to own the ducks caused me to pitch into the water with

all my clothes on, and subsequently crawl out a slippery, triumphant,

weltering heap. The Virginian's serious eyes had rested upon this

spectacle of mud; but he expressed nothing, as usual.

 

"They ain't overly good eatin'," he observed, tying the birds to his

saddle. "They're divers."

 

"Divers!" I exclaimed. "Why didn't they dive?"

 

"I reckon they was young ones and hadn't experience."

 

"Well," I said, crestfallen, but attempting to be humorous, "I did the

diving myself."

 

But the Virginian made no comment. He handed me my double-barrelled

English gun, which I was about to leave deserted on the ground

behind me, and we rode home in our usual silence, the mean little

white-breasted, sharp-billed divers dangling from his saddle.

 

It was in the bunk-house that he took his revenge. As I passed I heard

his gentle voice silently achieving some narrative to an attentive

audience, and just as I came by the open window where he sat on his bed

in shirt and drawers, his back to me, I heard his concluding words,

"And the hat on his haid was the one mark showed yu' he weren't a

snappin'-turtle."

 

The anecdote met with instantaneous success, and I hurried away into the

dark. The next morning I was occupied with the chickens. Two hens were

fighting to sit on some eggs that a third was daily laying, and which

I did not want hatched, and for the third time I had kicked Em'ly off

seven potatoes she had rolled together and was determined to raise I

know not what sort of family from. She was shrieking about the hen-house

as the Virginian came in to observe (I suspect) what I might be doing

now that could be useful for him to mention in the bunk-house.

 

He stood awhile, and at length said, "We lost our best rooster when Mrs.

Henry came to live hyeh."

 

I paid no attention.

 

"He was a right elegant Dominicker," he continued.

 

I felt a little riled about the snapping-turtle, and showed no interest

in what he was saying, but continued my functions among the hens. This

unusual silence of mine seemed to elicit unusual speech from him.

 

"Yu' see, that rooster he'd always lived round hyeh when the Judge was

a bachelor, and he never seen no ladies or any persons wearing female

gyarments. You ain't got rheumatism, seh?"

 

"Me? No."

 

"I reckoned maybe them little odd divers yu' got damp goin' afteh--" He

paused.

 

"Oh, no, not in the least, thank you."

 

"Yu' seemed sort o' grave this mawnin', and I'm cert'nly glad it ain't

them divers."

 

"Well, the rooster?" I inquired finally.

 

"Oh, him! He weren't raised where he could see petticoats. Mrs. Henry

she come hyeh from the railroad with the Judge afteh dark. Next mawnin'

early she walked out to view her new home, and the rooster was a-feedin'

by the door, and he seen her. Well, seh, he screeched that awful I run

out of the bunk-house; and he jus' went over the fence and took down

Sunk Creek shoutin' fire, right along. He has never come back."

 

"There's a hen over there now that has no judgment," I said, indicating

Em'ly. She had got herself outside the house, and was on the bars of a

corral, her vociferations reduced to an occasional squawk. I told him

about the potatoes.

 

"I never knowed her name before," said he. "That runaway rooster, he

hated her. And she hated him same as she hates 'em all."

 

"I named her myself," said I, "after I came to notice her particularly.

There's an old maid at home who's charitable, and belongs to the Cruelty

to Animals, and she never knows whether she had better cross in front

of a street car or wait. I named the hen after her. Does she ever lay

eggs?"

 

The Virginian had not "troubled his haid" over the poultry.

 

"Well, I don't believe she knows how. I think she came near being a

rooster."

 

"She's sure manly-lookin'," said the Virginian. We had walked toward the

corral, and he was now scrutinizing Em'ly with interest.

 

She was an egregious fowl. She was huge and gaunt, with great yellow

beak, and she stood straight and alert in the manner of responsible

people. There was something wrong with her tail. It slanted far to

one side, one feather in it twice as long as the rest. Feathers on her

breast there were none. These had been worn entirely off by her habit of

sitting upon potatoes and other rough abnormal objects. And this lent

to her appearance an air of being decollete, singularly at variance

with her otherwise prudish ensemble. Her eye was remarkably bright, but

somehow it had an outraged expression. It was as if she went about the

world perpetually scandalized over the doings that fell beneath her

notice. Her legs were blue, long, and remarkably stout.

 

"She'd ought to wear knickerbockers," murmured the Virginian. "She'd

look a heap better 'n some o' them college students. And she'll set on

potatoes, yu' say?"

 

"She thinks she can hatch out anything. I've found her with onions, and

last Tuesday I caught her on two balls of soap."

 

In the afternoon the tall cow-puncher and I rode out to get an antelope.

 

After an hour, during which he was completely taciturn, he said: "I

reckon maybe this hyeh lonesome country ain't been healthy for Em'ly to

live in. It ain't for some humans. Them old trappers in the mountains

gets skewed in the haid mighty often, an' talks out loud when nobody's

nigher 'n a hundred miles."

 

"Em'ly has not been solitary," I replied. "There are forty chickens

here."

 

"That's so," said he. "It don't explain her."

 

He fell silent again, riding beside me, easy and indolent in the saddle.

His long figure looked so loose and inert that the swift, light spring

he made to the ground seemed an impossible feat. He had seen an antelope

where I saw none.

 

"Take a shot yourself," I urged him, as he motioned me to be quick. "You

never shoot when I'm with you."

 

"I ain't hyeh for that," he answered. "Now you've let him get away on

yu'!"

 

The antelope had in truth departed.

 

"Why," he said to my protest, "I can hit them things any day. What's

your notion as to Em'ly?"

 

"I can't account for her," I replied.

 

"Well," he said musingly, and then his mind took one of those particular

turns that made me love him, "Taylor ought to see her. She'd be just the

schoolmarm for Bear Creek!"

 

"She's not much like the eating-house lady at Medicine Bow," I said.

 

He gave a hilarious chuckle. "No, Em'ly knows nothing o' them joys. So

yu' have no notion about her? Well, I've got one. I reckon maybe she was

hatched after a big thunderstorm."

 

"In a big thunderstorm!" I exclaimed.

 

"Yes. Don't yu' know about them, and what they'll do to aiggs? A

big case o' lightnin' and thunder will addle aiggs and keep 'em from

hatchin'. And I expect one came along, and all the other aiggs of

Em'ly's set didn't hatch out, but got plumb addled, and she happened not

to get addled that far, and so she just managed to make it through. But

she cert'nly ain't got a strong haid."

 

"I fear she has not," said I.

 

"Mighty hon'ble intentions," he observed. "If she can't make out to lay

anything, she wants to hatch somethin', and be a mother anyways."

 

"I wonder what relation the law considers that a hen is to the chicken

she hatched but did not lay?" I inquired.

 

The Virginian made no reply to this frivolous suggestion. He was gazing

over the wide landscape gravely and with apparent inattention. He

invariably saw game before I did, and was off his horse and crouched

among the sage while I was still getting my left foot clear of the

stirrup. I succeeded in killing an antelope, and we rode home with the

head and hind quarters.

 

"No," said he. "It's sure the thunder, and not the lonesomeness. How do

yu' like the lonesomeness yourself?"

 

I told him that I liked it.

 

"I could not live without it now," he said. "This has got into my

system." He swept his hand out at the vast space of world. "I went back

home to see my folks onced. Mother was dyin' slow, and she wanted me.

I stayed a year. But them Virginia mountains could please me no more.

Afteh she was gone, I told my brothers and sisters good-by. We like each

other well enough, but I reckon I'll not go back."

 

We found Em'ly seated upon a collection of green California peaches,

which the Judge had brought from the railroad.

 

"I don't mind her any more," I said; "I'm sorry for her."

 

"I've been sorry for her right along," said the Virginian. "She does

hate the roosters so." And he said that he was making a collection of

every class of object which he found her treating as eggs.

 

But Em'ly's egg-industry was terminated abruptly one morning, and her

unquestioned energies diverted to a new channel. A turkey which had been

sitting in the root-house appeared with twelve children, and a family of

bantams occurred almost simultaneously. Em'ly was importantly scratching

the soil inside Paladin's corral when the bantam tribe of newly born

came by down the lane, and she caught sight of them through the bars.

She crossed the corral at a run, and intercepted two of the chicks that

were trailing somewhat behind their real mamma. These she undertook

to appropriate, and assumed a high tone with the bantam, who was the

smaller, and hence obliged to retreat with her still numerous family.

I interfered, and put matters straight; but the adjustment was only

temporary. In an hour I saw Em'ly immensely busy with two more bantams,

leading them about and taking a care of them which I must admit seemed

perfectly efficient.

 

And now came the first incident that made me suspect her to be demented.

 

She had proceeded with her changelings behind the kitchen, where one of

the irrigation ditches ran under the fence from the hay-field to supply

the house with water. Some distance along this ditch inside the field

were the twelve turkeys in the short, recently cut stubble. Again Em'ly

set off instantly like a deer. She left the dismayed bantams behind her.

She crossed the ditch with one jump of her stout blue legs, flew over

the grass, and was at once among the turkeys, where, with an instinct

of maternity as undiscriminating as it was reckless, she attempted to

huddle some of them away. But this other mamma was not a bantam, and in

a few moments Em'ly was entirely routed in her attempt to acquire a new

variety of family.

 

This spectacle was witnessed by the Virginian and myself, and it

overcame him. He went speechless across to the bunk-house, by himself,

and sat on his bed, while I took the abandoned bantams back to their own

circle.

 

I have often wondered what the other fowls thought of all this. Some

impression it certainly did make upon them. The notion may seem out of

reason to those who have never closely attended to other animals than

man; but I am convinced that any community which shares some of our

instincts will share some of the resulting feelings, and that birds and

beasts have conventions, the breach of which startles them. If there be

anything in evolution, this would seem inevitable; At all events,

the chicken-house was upset during the following several days. Em'ly

disturbed now the bantams and now the turkeys, and several of these

latter had died, though I will not go so far as to say that this was

the result of her misplaced attentions. Nevertheless, I was seriously

thinking of locking her up till the broods should be a little older,

when another event happened, and all was suddenly at peace.

 

The Judge's setter came in one morning, wagging her tail. She had had

her puppies, and she now took us to where they were housed, in between

the floor of a building and the hollow ground. Em'ly was seated on the

whole litter.

 

"No," I said to the Judge, "I am not surprised. She is capable of

anything."

 

In her new choice of offspring, this hen had at length encountered an

unworthy parent. The setter was bored by her own puppies. She found the

hole under the house an obscure and monotonous residence compared with

the dining room, and our company more stimulating and sympathetic than

that of her children. A much-petted contact with our superior race had

developed her dog intelligence above its natural level, and turned her

into an unnatural, neglectful mother, who was constantly forgetting her

nursery for worldly pleasures.

 

At certain periods of the day she repaired to the puppies and fed them,

but came away when this perfunctory ceremony was accomplished; and she

was glad enough to have a governess bring them up. She made no quarrel

with Em'ly, and the two understood each other perfectly. I have never

seen among animals any arrangement so civilized and so perverted.

It made Em'ly perfectly happy. To see her sitting all day jealously

spreading her wings over some blind puppies was sufficiently curious;

but when they became large enough to come out from under the house and

toddle about in the proud hen's wake, I longed for some distinguished

naturalist. I felt that our ignorance made us inappropriate spectators

of such a phenomenon. Em'ly scratched and clucked, and the puppies ran

to her, pawed her with their fat limp little legs, and retreated beneath

her feathers in their games of hide and seek. Conceive, if you can, what

confusion must have reigned in their infant minds as to who the setter

was!

 

"I reckon they think she's the wet-nurse," said the Virginian.

 

When the puppies grew to be boisterous, I perceived that Em'ly's

mission was approaching its end. They were too heavy for her, and their

increasing scope of playfulness was not in her line. Once or twice they

knocked her over, upon which she arose and pecked them severely, and

they retired to a safe distance, and sitting in a circle, yapped at

her. I think they began to suspect that she was only a hen after all.

So Em'ly resigned with an indifference which surprised me, until I

remembered that if it had been chickens, she would have ceased to look

after them by this time.

 

But here she was again "out of a job," as the Virginian said.

 

"She's raised them puppies for that triflin' setter, and now she'll

be huntin' around for something else useful to do that ain't in her

business."

 

Now there were other broods of chickens to arrive in the hen-house, and

I did not desire any more bantam and turkey performances. So, to avoid

confusion, I played a trick upon Em'ly. I went down to Sunk Creek and

fetched some smooth, oval stones. She was quite satisfied with these,

and passed a quiet day with them in a box. This was not fair, the

Virginian asserted.

 

"You ain't going to jus' leave her fooled that a-way?"

 

I did not see why not.

 

"Why, she raised them puppies all right. Ain't she showed she knows how

to be a mother anyways? Em'ly ain't going to get her time took up for

nothing while I'm round hyeh," said the cowpuncher.

 

He laid a gentle hold of Em'ly and tossed her to the ground. She, of

course, rushed out among the corrals in a great state of nerves.

 

"I don't see what good you do meddling," I protested.

 

To this he deigned no reply, but removed the unresponsive stones from

the straw.

 

"Why, if they ain't right warm!" he exclaimed plaintively. "The poor,

deluded son-of-a-gun!" And with this unusual description of a lady, he

sent the stones sailing like a line of birds. "I'm regular getting stuck

on Em'ly," continued the Virginian. "Yu' needn't to laugh. Don't yu' see

she's got sort o' human feelin's and desires? I always knowed hawsses

was like people, and my collie, of course. It is kind of foolish, I

expect, but that hen's goin' to have a real aigg di-rectly, right now,

to set on." With this he removed one from beneath another hen. "We'll

have Em'ly raise this hyeh," said he, "so she can put in her time

profitable."

 

It was not accomplished at once; for Em'ly, singularly enough, would

not consent to stay in the box whence she had been routed. At length we

found another retreat for her, and in these new surroundings, with a

new piece of work for her to do, Em'ly sat on the one egg which the

Virginian had so carefully provided for her.

 

Thus, as in all genuine tragedies, was the stroke of Fate wrought by

chance and the best intentions.

 

Em'ly began sitting on Friday afternoon near sundown. Early next morning

my sleep was gradually dispersed by a sound unearthly and continuous.

Now it dwindled, receding to a distance; again it came near, took a

turn, drifted to the other side of the house; then, evidently, whatever

it was, passed my door close, and I jumped upright in my bed. The high,

tense strain of vibration, nearly, but not quite, a musical note, was

like the threatening scream of machinery, though weaker, and I bounded

out of the house in my pajamas.

 

There was Em'ly, dishevelled, walking wildly about, her one egg

miraculously hatched within ten hours. The little lonely yellow ball of

down went cheeping along behind, following its mother as best it could.

What, then, had happened to the established period of incubation? For

an instant the thing was like a portent, and I was near joining Em'ly in

her horrid surprise, when I saw how it all was. The Virginian had taken

an egg from a hen which had already been sitting for three weeks.

 

I dressed in haste, hearing Em'ly's distracted outcry. It steadily

sounded, without perceptible pause for breath, and marked her erratic

journey back and forth through stables, lanes, and corrals. The shrill

disturbance brought all of us out to see her, and in the hen-house I

discovered the new brood making its appearance punctually.

 

But this natural explanation could not be made to the crazed hen. She

continued to scour the premises, her slant tail and its one preposterous

feather waving as she aimlessly went, her stout legs stepping high with

an unnatural motion, her head lifted nearly off her neck, and in

her brilliant yellow eye an expression of more than outrage at

this overturning of a natural law. Behind her, entirely ignored and

neglected, trailed the little progeny. She never looked at it. We went

about our various affairs, and all through the clear, sunny day that

unending metallic scream pervaded the premises. The Virginian put out

food and water for her, but she tasted nothing. I am glad to say that

the little chicken did. I do not think that the hen's eyes could see,

except in the way that sleep-walkers' do.

 

The heat went out of the air, and in the canyon the violet light began

to show. Many hours had gone, but Em'ly never ceased. Now she suddenly

flew up in a tree and sat there with her noise still going; but it had

risen lately several notes into a slim, acute level of terror, and was

not like machinery any more, nor like any sound I ever heard before or

since. Below the tree stood the bewildered little chicken, cheeping, and

making tiny jumps to reach its mother.

 

"Yes," said the Virginian, "it's comical. Even her aigg acted different

from anybody else's." He paused, and looked across the wide, mellowing

plain with the expression of easy-going gravity so common with him. Then

he looked at Em'ly in the tree and the yellow chicken.

 

"It ain't so damned funny," said he.

 

We went in to supper, and I came out to find the hen lying on the

ground, dead. I took the chicken to the family in the hen-house.

 

No, it was not altogether funny any more. And I did not think less of

the Virginian when I came upon him surreptitiously digging a little hole

in the field for her.

 

"I have buried some citizens here and there," said he, "that I have

respected less."

 

And when the time came for me to leave Sunk Creek, my last word to the

Virginian was, "Don't forget Em'ly."

 

"I ain't likely to," responded the cow-puncher. "She is just one o' them

parables."

 

Save when he fell into his native idioms (which, they told me, his

wanderings had well-nigh obliterated until that year's visit to his home

again revived them in his speech), he had now for a long while dropped

the "seh," and all other barriers between us. We were thorough friends,

and had exchanged many confidences both of the flesh and of the spirit.

He even went the length of saying that he would write me the Sunk Creek

news if I would send him a line now and then. I have many letters from

him now. Their spelling came to be faultless, and in the beginning was

little worse than George Washington's.

 

The Judge himself drove me to the railroad by another way--across the

Bow Leg Mountains, and south through Balaam's Ranch and Drybone to Rock

Creek.

 

"I'll be very homesick," I told him.

 

"Come and pull the latch-string whenever you please," he bade me. I

wished that I might! No lotus land ever cast its spell upon man's heart

more than Wyoming had enchanted mine.

 

 

 

 

VII. THROUGH TWO SNOWS

 

 

"Dear Friend [thus in the spring the Virginian wrote me], Yours

received. It must be a poor thing to be sick. That time I was shot at

Canada de Oro would have made me sick if it had been a littel lower or

if I was much of a drinking man. You will be well if you give over city

life and take a hunt with me about August or say September for then the

elk will be out of the velvett.

 

"Things do not please me here just now and I am going to settel it

by vamosing. But I would be glad to see you. It would be pleasure not

business for me to show you plenty elk and get you strong. I am not

crybabying to the Judge or making any kick about things. He will want

me back after he has swallowed a litter tincture of time. It is the best

dose I know.

 

"Now to answer your questions. Yes the Emmily hen might have ate loco

weed if hens do. I never saw anything but stock and horses get poisoned

with loco weed. No the school is not built yet. They are always big

talkers on Bear Creek. No I have not seen Steve. He is around but I

am sorry for him. Yes I have been to Medicine Bow. I had the welcom I

wanted. Do you remember a man I played poker and he did not like it? He

is working on the upper ranch near Ten Sleep. He does not amount to a

thing except with weaklings. Uncle Hewie has twins. The boys got him

vexed some about it, but I think they are his. Now that is all I know

to-day and I would like to see you poco presently as they say at Los

Cruces. There's no sense in you being sick."

 

The rest of this letter discussed the best meeting point for us should I

decide to join him for a hunt.

 

That hunt was made, and during the weeks of its duration something was

said to explain a little more fully the Virginian's difficulty at the

Sunk Creek Ranch, and his reason for leaving his excellent employer the

Judge. Not much was said, to be sure; the Virginian seldom spent many

words upon his own troubles. But it appeared that owing to some jealousy

of him on the part of the foreman, or the assistant foreman, he found

himself continually doing another man's work, but under circumstances so

skilfully arranged that he got neither credit nor pay for it. He would

not stoop to telling tales out of school. Therefore his ready and

prophetic mind devised the simple expedient of going away altogether.

He calculated that Judge Henry would gradually perceive there was a

connection between his departure and the cessation of the satisfactory

work. After a judicious interval it was his plan to appear again in the

neighborhood of Sunk Creek and await results.

 

Concerning Steve he would say no more than he had written. But it was

plain that for some cause this friendship had ceased.

 

Money for his services during the hunt he positively declined to accept,

asserting that he had not worked enough to earn his board. And the

expedition ended in an untravelled corner of the Yellowstone Park,

near Pitchstone Canyon, where he and young Lin McLean and others

were witnesses of a sad and terrible drama that has been elsewhere

chronicled.

 

His prophetic mind had foreseen correctly the shape of events at Sunk

Creek. The only thing that it had not foreseen was the impression to be

made upon the Judge's mind by his conduct.

 

Toward the close of that winter, Judge and Mrs. Henry visited the East.

Through them a number of things became revealed. The Virginian was back

at Sunk Creek.

 

"And," said Mrs. Henry, "he would never have left you if I had had my

way, Judge H.!"

 

"No, Madam Judge," retorted her husband; "I am aware of that. For you

have always appreciated a fine appearance in a man."

 

"I certainly have," confessed the lady, mirthfully. "And the way he

used to come bringing my horse, with the ridges of his black hair so

carefully brushed and that blue spotted handkerchief tied so effectively

round his throat, was something that I missed a great deal after he went

away."

 

"Thank you, my dear, for this warning. I have plans that will keep him

absent quite constantly for the future."

 

And then they spoke less flightily. "I always knew," said the lady,

"that you had found a treasure when that man came."

 

The Judge laughed. "When it dawned on me," he said, "how cleverly he

caused me to learn the value of his services by depriving me of them, I

doubted whether it was safe to take him back."

 

"Safe!" cried Mrs. Henry.

 

"Safe, my dear. Because I'm afraid he is pretty nearly as shrewd as I

am. And that's rather dangerous in a subordinate." The Judge laughed

again. "But his action regarding the man they call Steve has made me

feel easy."

 

And then it came out that the Virginian was supposed to have discovered

in some way that Steve had fallen from the grace of that particular

honesty which respects another man's cattle. It was not known for

certain. But calves had begun to disappear in Cattle Land, and cows had

been found killed. And calves with one brand upon them had been found

with mothers that bore the brand of another owner. This industry was

taking root in Cattle Land, and of those who practised it, some were

beginning to be suspected. Steve was not quite fully suspected yet. But

that the Virginian had parted company with him was definitely known. And

neither man would talk about it.

 

There was the further news that the Bear Creek schoolhouse at length

stood complete, floor, walls, and roof; and that a lady from Bennington,

Vermont, a friend of Mrs. Balaam's, had quite suddenly decided that she

would try her hand at instructing the new generation.

 

The Judge and Mrs. Henry knew this because Mrs. Balaam had told them

of her disappointment that she would be absent from the ranch on Butte

Creek when her friend arrived, and therefore unable to entertain her.

The friend's decision had been quite suddenly made, and must form the

subject of the next chapter.

 

 

 

 

VIII. THE SINCERE SPINSTER

 

 

I do not know with which of the two estimates--Mr. Taylor's or the

Virginian's--you agreed. Did you think that Miss Mary Stark Wood of

Bennington, Vermont, was forty years of age? That would have been an

error. At the time she wrote the letter to Mrs. Balaam, of which

letter certain portions have been quoted in these pages, she was in

her twenty-first year; or, to be more precise, she had been twenty some

eight months previous.

 

Now, it is not usual for young ladies of twenty to contemplate a journey

of nearly two thousand miles to a country where Indians and wild animals

live unchained, unless they are to make such journey in company with a

protector, or are going to a protector's arms at the other end. Nor is

school teaching on Bear Creek a usual ambition for such young ladies.

 

But Miss Mary Stark Wood was not a usual young lady for two reasons.

 

First, there was her descent. Had she so wished, she could have belonged

to any number of those patriotic societies of which our American ears

have grown accustomed to hear so much. She could have been enrolled in

the Boston Tea Party, the Ethan Allen Ticonderogas, the Green Mountain

Daughters, the Saratoga Sacred Circle, and the Confederated Colonial

Chatelaines. She traced direct descent from the historic lady whose name

she bore, that Molly Stark who was not a widow after the battle where

her lord, her Captain John, battled so bravely as to send his name

thrilling down through the blood of generations of schoolboys. This

ancestress was her chief claim to be a member of those shining societies

which I have enumerated. But she had been willing to join none of them,

although invitations to do so were by no means lacking. I cannot tell

you her reason. Still, I can tell you this. When these societies were

much spoken of in her presence, her very sprightly countenance became

more sprightly, and she added her words of praise or respect to the

general chorus. But when she received an invitation to join one of

these bodies, her countenance, as she read the missive, would assume an

expression which was known to her friends as "sticking her nose in the

air." I do not think that Molly's reason for refusing to join could have

been a truly good one. I should add that her most precious possession--a

treasure which accompanied her even if she went away for only one

night's absence--was an heirloom, a little miniature portrait of the old

Molly Stark, painted when that far-off dame must have been scarce more

than twenty. And when each summer the young Molly went to Dunbarton, New

Hampshire, to pay her established family visit to the last survivors of

her connection who bore the name of Stark, no word that she heard in the

Dunbarton houses pleased her so much as when a certain great-aunt would

take her by the hand, and, after looking with fond intentness at her,

pronounce: "My dear, you're getting more like the General's wife every

year you live."

 

"I suppose you mean my nose," Molly would then reply.

 

"Nonsense, child. You have the family length of nose, and I've never

heard that it has disgraced us."

 

"But I don't think I'm tall enough for it."

 

"There now, run to your room, and dress for tea. The Starks have always

been punctual."

 

And after this annual conversation, Molly would run to her room, and

there in its privacy, even at the risk of falling below the punctuality

of the Starks, she would consult two objects for quite a minute before

she began to dress. These objects, as you have already correctly

guessed, were the miniature of the General's wife and the looking glass.

 

So much for Miss Molly Stark Wood's descent.

 

The second reason why she was not a usual girl was her character. This

character was the result of pride and family pluck battling with family

hardship.

 

Just one year before she was to be presented to the world--not the great

metropolitan world, but a world that would have made her welcome and

done her homage at its little dances and little dinners in Troy and

Rutland and Burlington--fortune had turned her back upon the Woods.

Their possessions had never been great ones; but they had sufficed. From

generation to generation the family had gone to school like gentlefolk,

dressed like gentlefolk, used the speech and ways of gentlefolk, and as

gentlefolk lived and died. And now the mills failed.

 

Instead of thinking about her first evening dress, Molly found pupils

to whom she could give music lessons. She found handkerchiefs that she

could embroider with initials. And she found fruit that she could

make into preserves. That machine called the typewriter was then in

existence, but the day of women typewriters had as yet scarcely begun

to dawn, else I think Molly would have preferred this occupation to the

handkerchiefs and the preserves.

 

There were people in Bennington who "wondered how Miss Wood could go

about from house to house teaching the piano, and she a lady." There

always have been such people, I suppose, because the world must always

have a rubbish heap. But we need not dwell upon them further than to

mention one other remark of theirs regarding Molly. They all with one

voice declared that Sam Bannett was good enough for anybody who did

fancy embroidery at five cents a letter.

 

"I dare say he had a great-grandmother quite as good as hers," remarked

Mrs. Flynt, the wife of the Baptist minister.

 

"That's entirely possible," returned the Episcopal rector of Hoosic,

"only we don't happen to know who she was." The rector was a friend of

Molly's. After this little observation, Mrs. Flynt said no more, but

continued her purchases in the store where she and the rector had

happened to find themselves together. Later she stated to a friend that

she had always thought the Episcopal Church a snobbish one, and now she

knew it.

 

So public opinion went on being indignant over Molly's conduct. She

could stoop to work for money, and yet she pretended to hold herself

above the most rising young man in Hoosic Falls, and all just because

there was a difference in their grandmothers!

 

Was this the reason at the bottom of it? The very bottom? I cannot be

certain, because I have never been a girl myself. Perhaps she thought

that work is not a stooping, and that marriage may be. Perhaps--But all

I really know is that Molly Wood continued cheerfully to embroider

the handkerchiefs, make the preserves, teach the pupils--and firmly to

reject Sam Bannett.

 

Thus it went on until she was twenty. There certain members of her

family began to tell her how rich Sam was going to be--was, indeed,

already. It was at this time that she wrote Mrs. Balaam her doubts and

her desires as to migrating to Bear Creek. It was at this time also

that her face grew a little paler, and her friends thought that she was

overworked, and Mrs. Flynt feared she was losing her looks. It was at

this time, too, that she grew very intimate with that great-aunt over at

Dunbarton, and from her received much comfort and strengthening.

 

"Never!" said the old lady, "especially if you can't love him."

 

"I do like him," said Molly; "and he is very kind."

 

"Never!" said the old lady again. "When I die, you'll have

something--and that will not be long now."

 

Molly flung her arms around her aunt, and stopped her words with a kiss.

And then one winter afternoon, two years later, came the last straw.

 

The front door of the old house had shut. Out of it had stepped the

persistent suitor. Mrs. Flynt watched him drive away in his smart

sleigh.

 

"That girl is a fool!" she said furiously; and she came away from her

bedroom window where she had posted herself for observation.

 

Inside the old house a door had also shut. This was the door of Molly's

own room. And there she sat, in floods of tears. For she could not bear

to hurt a man who loved her with all the power of love that was in him.

 

It was about twilight when her door opened, and an elderly lady came

softly in.

 

"My dear," she ventured, "and you were not able--"

 

"Oh, mother!" cried the girl, "have you come to say that too?"

 

The next day Miss Wood had become very hard. In three weeks she

had accepted the position on Bear Creek. In two months she started,

heart-heavy, but with a spirit craving the unknown.

 

 

 

 

IX. THE SPINSTER MEETS THE UNKNOWN

 

 

On a Monday noon a small company of horsemen strung out along the trail

from Sunk Creek to gather cattle over their allotted sweep of range.

Spring was backward, and they, as they rode galloping and gathering

upon the cold week's work, cursed cheerily and occasionally sang. The

Virginian was grave in bearing and of infrequent speech; but he kept

a song going--a matter of some seventy-nine verses. Seventy-eight were

quite unprintable, and rejoiced his brother cowpunchers monstrously.

They, knowing him to be a singular man, forebore ever to press him, and

awaited his own humor, lest he should weary of the lyric; and when after

a day of silence apparently saturnine, he would lift his gentle voice

and begin:

 

     "If you go to monkey with my Looloo girl,

      I'll tell you what I'll do:

      I'll cyarve your heart with my razor, AND

      I'll shoot you with my pistol, too--"

 

then they would stridently take up each last line, and keep it going

three, four, ten times, and kick holes in the ground to the swing of it.

 

By the levels of Bear Creek that reach like inlets among the

promontories of the lonely hills, they came upon the schoolhouse, roofed

and ready for the first native Wyoming crop. It symbolized the dawn of a

neighborhood, and it brought a change into the wilderness air. The feel

of it struck cold upon the free spirits of the cow-punchers, and they

told each other that, what with women and children and wire fences, this

country would not long be a country for men. They stopped for a meal at

an old comrade's. They looked over his gate, and there he was pattering

among garden furrows.

 

"Pickin' nosegays?" inquired the Virginian and the old comrade asked

if they could not recognize potatoes except in the dish. But he grinned

sheepishly at them, too, because they knew that he had not always lived

in a garden. Then he took them into his house, where they saw an object

crawling on the floor with a handful of sulphur matches. He began to

remove the matches, but stopped in alarm at the vociferous result; and

his wife looked in from the kitchen to caution him about humoring little

Christopher.

 

When she beheld the matches she was aghast but when she saw her baby

grow quiet in the arms of the Virginian, she smiled at that cowpuncher

and returned to her kitchen.

 

Then the Virginian slowly spoke again: "How many little strangers have

yu' got, James?"

 

"Only two."

 

"My! Ain't it most three years since yu' maried? Yu' mustn't let time

creep ahaid o' yu', James."

 

The father once more grinned at his guests, who themselves turned

sheepish and polite; for Mrs. Westfall came in, brisk and hearty, and

set the meat upon the table. After that, it was she who talked. The

guests ate scrupulously, muttering, "Yes, ma'am," and "No, ma'am," in

their plates, while their hostess told them of increasing families upon

Bear Creek, and the expected school-teacher, and little Alfred's early

teething, and how it was time for all of them to become husbands like

James. The bachelors of the saddle listened, always diffident,

but eating heartily to the end; and soon after they rode away in a

thoughtful clump. The wives of Bear Creek were few as yet, and the homes

scattered; the schoolhouse was only a sprig on the vast face of a world

of elk and bear and uncertain Indians; but that night, when the earth

near the fire was littered with the cow-punchers' beds, the Virginian

was heard drawling to himself: "Alfred and Christopher. Oh, sugar!"

 

They found pleasure in the delicately chosen shade of this oath. He also

recited to them a new verse about how he took his Looloo girl to the

schoolhouse for to learn her A B C; and as it was quite original and

unprintable, the camp laughed and swore joyfully, and rolled in its

blankets to sleep under the stars.

 

Upon a Monday noon likewise (for things will happen so) some tearful

people in petticoats waved handkerchiefs at a train that was just

leaving Bennington, Vermont. A girl's face smiled back at them once, and

withdrew quickly, for they must not see the smile die away.

 

She had with her a little money, a few clothes, and in her mind a rigid

determination neither to be a burden to her mother nor to give in to

that mother's desires. Absence alone would enable her to carry out

this determination. Beyond these things, she possessed not much except

spelling-books, a colonial miniature, and that craving for the unknown

which has been mentioned. If the ancestors that we carry shut up inside

us take turns in dictating to us our actions and our state of mind,

undoubtedly Grandmother Stark was empress of Molly's spirit upon this

Monday.

 

At Hoosic Junction, which came soon, she passed the up-train bound back

to her home, and seeing the engineer and the conductor,--faces that she

knew well,--her courage nearly failed her, and she shut her eyes against

this glimpse of the familiar things that she was leaving. To keep

herself steady she gripped tightly a little bunch of flowers in her

hand.

 

But something caused her eyes to open; and there before her stood Sam

Bannett, asking if he might accompany her so far as Rotterdam Junction.

 

"No!" she told him with a severity born from the struggle she was making

with her grief. "Not a mile with me. Not to Eagle Bridge. Good-by."

 

And Sam--what did he do? He obeyed her, I should like to be sorry for

him. But obedience was not a lover's part here. He hesitated, the golden

moment hung hovering, the conductor cried "All aboard!" the train went,

and there on the platform stood obedient Sam, with his golden moment

gone like a butterfly.

 

After Rotterdam Junction, which was some forty minutes farther, Molly

Wood sat bravely up in the through car, dwelling upon the unknown. She

thought that she had attained it in Ohio, on Tuesday morning, and wrote

a letter about it to Bennington. On Wednesday afternoon she felt sure,

and wrote a letter much more picturesque. But on the following day,

after breakfast at North Platte, Nebraska, she wrote a very long letter

indeed, and told them that she had seen a black pig on a white pile of

buffalo bones, catching drops of water in the air as they fell from the

railroad tank. She also wrote that trees were extraordinarily scarce.

Each hour westward from the pig confirmed this opinion, and when she

left the train at Rock Creek, late upon that fourth night,--in those

days the trains were slower,--she knew that she had really attained the

unknown, and sent an expensive telegram to say that she was quite well.

 

At six in the morning the stage drove away into the sage-brush, with her

as its only passenger; and by sundown she had passed through some of the

primitive perils of the world. The second team, virgin to harness, and

displeased with this novelty, tried to take it off, and went down to the

bottom of a gully on its eight hind legs, while Miss Wood sat mute and

unflinching beside the driver. Therefore he, when it was over, and they

on the proper road again, invited her earnestly to be his wife during

many of the next fifteen miles, and told her of his snug cabin and his

horses and his mine. Then she got down and rode inside, Independence and

Grandmother Stark shining in her eye. At Point of Rocks, where they had

supper and his drive ended, her face distracted his heart, and he told

her once more about his cabin, and lamentably hoped she would remember

him. She answered sweetly that she would try, and gave him her hand.

After all, he was a frank-looking boy, who had paid her the highest

compliment that a boy (or a man for that matter) knows; and it is said

that Molly Stark, in her day, was not a New Woman.

 

The new driver banished the first one from the maiden's mind. He was not

a frank-looking boy, and he had been taking whiskey. All night long he

took it, while his passenger, helpless and sleepless inside the lurching

stage, sat as upright as she possibly could; nor did the voices that she

heard at Drybone reassure her. Sunrise found the white stage lurching

eternally on across the alkali, with a driver and a bottle on the

box, and a pale girl staring out at the plain, and knotting in her

handkerchief some utterly dead flowers. They came to a river where the

man bungled over the ford. Two wheels sank down over an edge, and the

canvas toppled like a descending kite. The ripple came sucking through

the upper spokes, and as she felt the seat careen, she put out her

head and tremulously asked if anything was wrong. But the driver was

addressing his team with much language, and also with the lash.

 

Then a tall rider appeared close against the buried axles, and took her

out of the stage on his horse so suddenly that she screamed. She felt

splashes, saw a swimming flood, and found herself lifted down upon the

shore. The rider said something to her about cheering up, and its being

all right, but her wits were stock-still, so she did not speak and thank

him. After four days of train and thirty hours of stage, she was having

a little too much of the unknown at once. Then the tall man gently

withdrew leaving her to become herself again. She limply regarded the

river pouring round the slanted stage, and a number of horsemen with

ropes, who righted the vehicle, and got it quickly to dry land, and

disappeared at once with a herd of cattle, uttering lusty yells.

 

She saw the tall one delaying beside the driver, and speaking. He spoke

so quietly that not a word reached her, until of a sudden the driver

protested loudly. The man had thrown something, which turned out to be

a bottle. This twisted loftily and dived into the stream. He said

something more to the driver, then put his hand on the saddle-horn,

looked half-lingeringly at the passenger on the bank, dropped his

grave eyes from hers, and swinging upon his horse, was gone just as the

passenger opened her mouth and with inefficient voice murmured, "Oh,

thank you!" at his departing back.

 

The driver drove up now, a chastened creature. He helped Miss Wood in,

and inquired after her welfare with a hanging head; then meek as his own

drenched horses, he climbed back to his reins, and nursed the stage on

toward the Bow Leg Mountains much as if it had been a perambulator.

 

As for Miss Wood, she sat recovering, and she wondered what the man on

the horse must think of her. She knew that she was not ungrateful, and

that if he had given her an opportunity she would have explained to him.

If he supposed that she did not appreciate his act--Here into the midst

of these meditations came an abrupt memory that she had screamed--she

could not be sure when. She rehearsed the adventure from the beginning,

and found one or two further uncertainties--how it had all been while

she was on the horse, for instance. It was confusing to determine

precisely what she had done with her arms. She knew where one of his

arms had been. And the handkerchief with the flowers was gone. She made

a few rapid dives in search of it. Had she, or had she not, seen him

putting something in his pocket? And why had she behaved so unlike

herself? In a few miles Miss Wood entertained sentiments of maidenly

resentment toward her rescuer, and of maidenly hope to see him again.

 

To that river crossing he came again, alone, when the days were growing

short. The ford was dry sand, and the stream a winding lane of

shingle. He found a pool,--pools always survive the year round in this

stream,--and having watered his pony, he lunched near the spot to

which he had borne the frightened passenger that day. Where the flowing

current had been he sat, regarding the now extremely safe channel.

 

"She cert'nly wouldn't need to grip me so close this mawnin'," he said,

as he pondered over his meal. "I reckon it will mightily astonish her

when I tell her how harmless the torrent is lookin'." He held out to

his pony a slice of bread matted with sardines, which the pony expertly

accepted. "You're a plumb pie-biter you Monte," he continued. Monte

rubbed his nose on his master's shoulder. "I wouldn't trust you with

berries and cream. No, seh; not though yu' did rescue a drownin' lady."

 

Presently he tightened the forward cinch, got in the saddle, and the

pony fell into his wise mechanical jog; for he had come a long way, and

was going a long way, and he knew this as well as the man did.

 

To use the language of Cattle Land, steers had "jumped to seventy-five."

This was a great and prosperous leap in their value. To have flourished

in that golden time you need not be dead now, nor even middle-aged; but

it is Wyoming mythology already--quite as fabulous as the high-jumping

cow. Indeed, people gathered together and behaved themselves much in

the same pleasant and improbable way. Johnson County, and Natrona, and

Converse, and others, to say nothing of the Cheyenne Club, had been

jumping over the moon for some weeks, all on account of steers; and

on the strength of this vigorous price of seventy-five, the Stanton

Brothers were giving a barbecue at the Goose Egg outfit, their ranch on

Bear Creek. Of course the whole neighborhood was bidden, and would come

forty miles to a man; some would come further--the Virginian was coming

a hundred and eighteen. It had struck him--rather suddenly, as shall be

made plain--that he should like to see how they were getting along up

there on Bear Creek. "They," was how he put it to his acquaintances. His

acquaintances did not know that he had bought himself a pair of trousers

and a scarf, unnecessarily excellent for such a general visit. They

did not know that in the spring, two days after the adventure with the

stage, he had learned accidentally who the lady in the stage was. This

he had kept to himself; nor did the camp ever notice that he had ceased

to sing that eightieth stanza he had made about the A B C--the stanza

which was not printable. He effaced it imperceptibly, giving the boys

the other seventy-nine at judicious intervals. They dreamed of no guile,

but merely saw in him, whether frequenting camp or town, the same not

over-angelic comrade whom they valued and could not wholly understand.

 

All spring he had ridden trail, worked at ditches during summer, and

now he had just finished with the beef round-up. Yesterday, while he was

spending a little comfortable money at the Drybone hog-ranch, a casual

traveller from the north gossiped of Bear Creek, and the fences up

there, and the farm crops, the Westfalls, and the young schoolmarm from

Vermont, for whom the Taylors had built a cabin next door to theirs. The

traveller had not seen her, but Mrs. Taylor and all the ladies thought

the world of her, and Lin McLean had told him she was "away up in G."

She would have plenty of partners at this Swinton barbecue. Great boon

for the country, wasn't it, steers jumping that way?

 

The Virginian heard, asking no questions; and left town in an hour,

with the scarf and trousers tied in his slicker behind his saddle. After

looking upon the ford again, even though it was dry and not at all the

same place, he journeyed in attentively. When you have been hard at

work for months with no time to think, of course you think a great deal

during your first empty days. "Step along, you Monte hawss!" he said,

rousing after some while. He disciplined Monte, who flattened his ears

affectedly and snorted. "Why, you surely ain' thinkin' of you'-self as

a hero? She wasn't really a-drowndin', you pie-biter." He rested his

serious glance upon the alkali. "She's not likely to have forgot that

mix-up, though. I guess I'll not remind her about grippin' me, and all

that. She wasn't the kind a man ought to josh about such things. She had

a right clear eye." Thus, tall and loose in the saddle, did he jog along

the sixty miles which still lay between him and the dance.

 

 

 

 

X. WHERE FANCY WAS BRED

 

 

Two camps in the open, and the Virginian's Monte horse, untired, brought

him to the Swintons' in good time for the barbecue. The horse received

good food at length, while his rider was welcomed with good whiskey.

GOOD whiskey--for had not steers jumped to seventy-five?

 

Inside the Goose Egg kitchen many small delicacies were preparing, and

a steer was roasting whole outside. The bed of flame under it showed

steadily brighter against the dusk that was beginning to veil the

lowlands. The busy hosts went and came, while men stood and men lay near

the fire-glow. Chalkeye was there, and Nebrasky, and Trampas, and

Honey Wiggin, with others, enjoying the occasion; but Honey Wiggin was

enjoying himself: he had an audience; he was sitting up discoursing to

it.

 

"Hello!" he said, perceiving the Virginian. "So you've dropped in for

your turn! Number--six, ain't he, boys?"

 

"Depends who's a-runnin' the countin'," said the Virginian, and

stretched himself down among the audience.

 

"I've saw him number one when nobody else was around," said Trampas.

 

"How far away was you standin' when you beheld that?" inquired the

lounging Southerner.

 

"Well, boys," said Wiggin, "I expect it will be Miss Schoolmarm says

who's number one to-night."

 

"So she's arrived in this hyeh country?" observed the Virginian, very

casually.

 

"Arrived!" said Trampas again. "Where have you been grazing lately?"

 

"A right smart way from the mules."

 

"Nebrasky and the boys was tellin' me they'd missed yu' off the range,"

again interposed Wiggin. "Say, Nebrasky, who have yu' offered your

canary to the schoolmarm said you mustn't give her?"

 

Nebrasky grinned wretchedly.

 

"Well, she's a lady, and she's square, not takin' a man's gift when she

don't take the man. But you'd ought to get back all them letters yu'

wrote her. Yu' sure ought to ask her for them tell-tales."

 

"Ah, pshaw, Honey!" protested the youth. It was well known that he could

not write his name.

 

"Why, if here ain't Bokay Baldy!" cried the agile Wiggin, stooping to

fresh prey. "Found them slippers yet, Baldy? Tell yu' boys, that was

turruble sad luck Baldy had. Did yu' hear about that? Baldy, yu' know,

he can stay on a tame horse most as well as the schoolmarm. But just you

give him a pair of young knittin'-needles and see him make 'em sweat!

He worked an elegant pair of slippers with pink cabbages on 'em for Miss

Wood."

 

"I bought 'em at Medicine Bow," blundered Baldy.

 

"So yu' did!" assented the skilful comedian. "Baldy he bought 'em. And

on the road to her cabin there at the Taylors' he got thinkin' they

might be too big, and he got studyin' what to do. And he fixed up to

tell her about his not bein' sure of the size, and how she was to let

him know if they dropped off her, and he'd exchange' 'em, and when he

got right near her door, why, he couldn't find his courage. And so he

slips the parcel under the fence and starts serenadin' her. But she

ain't inside her cabin at all. She's at supper next door with the

Taylors, and Baldy singin' 'Love has conqwered pride and angwer' to a

lone house. Lin McLean was comin' up by Taylor's corral, where Taylor's

Texas bull was. Well, it was turruble sad. Baldy's pants got tore, but

he fell inside the fence, and Lin druv the bull back and somebody stole

them Medicine Bow galoshes. Are you goin' to knit her some more, Bokay?"

 

"About half that ain't straight," Baldy commented, with mildness.

 

"The half that was tore off yer pants? Well, never mind, Baldy; Lin will

get left too, same as all of yu'."

 

"Is there many?" inquired the Virginian. He was still stretched on his

back, looking up at the sky.

 

"I don't know how many she's been used to where she was raised," Wiggin

answered. "A kid stage-driver come from Point of Rocks one day and went

back the next. Then the foreman of the 76 outfit, and the horse-wrangler

from the Bar-Circle-L, and two deputy marshals, with punchers, stringin'

right along,--all got their tumble. Old Judge Burrage from Cheyenne come

up in August for a hunt and stayed round here and never hunted at all.

There was that horse thief--awful good-lookin'. Taylor wanted to warn

her about him, but Mrs. Taylor said she'd look after her if it was

needed. Mr. Horse-thief gave it up quicker than most; but the schoolmarm

couldn't have knowed he had a Mrs. Horse-thief camped on Poison Spider

till afterwards. She wouldn't go ridin' with him. She'll go with some,

takin' a kid along."

 

"Bah!" said Trampas.

 

The Virginian stopped looking at the sky, and watched Trampas from where

he lay.

 

"I think she encourages a man some," said poor Nebrasky.

 

"Encourages? Because she lets yu' teach her how to shoot," said Wiggin.

"Well--I don't guess I'm a judge. I've always kind o' kep' away from

them good women. Don't seem to think of anything to chat about to 'em.

The only folks I'd say she encourages is the school kids. She kisses

them."

 

"Riding and shooting and kissing the kids," sneered Trampas. "That's a

heap too pussy-kitten for me."

 

They laughed. The sage-brush audience is readily cynical.

 

"Look for the man, I say," Trampas pursued. "And ain't he there? She

leaves Baldy sit on the fence while she and Lin McLean--"

 

They laughed loudly at the blackguard picture which he drew; and the

laugh stopped short, for the Virginian stood over Trampas.

 

"You can rise up now, and tell them you lie," he said.

 

The man was still for a moment in the dead silence. "I thought you

claimed you and her wasn't acquainted," said he then.

 

"Stand on your laigs, you polecat, and say you're a liar!"

 

Trampas's hand moved behind him.

 

"Quit that," said the Southerner, "or I'll break your neck!"

 

The eye of a man is the prince of deadly weapons. Trampas looked in the

Virginian's, and slowly rose. "I didn't mean--" he began, and paused,

his face poisonously bloated.

 

"Well, I'll call that sufficient. Keep a-standin' still. I ain' going

to trouble yu' long. In admittin' yourself to be a liar you have spoke

God's truth for onced. Honey Wiggin, you and me and the boys have hit

town too frequent for any of us to play Sunday on the balance of

the gang." He stopped and surveyed Public Opinion, seated around in

carefully inexpressive attention. "We ain't a Christian outfit a little

bit, and maybe we have most forgotten what decency feels like. But I

reckon we haven't forgot what it means. You can sit down now, if you

want."

 

The liar stood and sneered experimentally, looking at Public Opinion.

But this changeful deity was no longer with him, and he heard it

variously assenting, "That's so," and "She's a lady," and otherwise

excellently moralizing. So he held his peace. When, however, the

Virginian had departed to the roasting steer, and Public Opinion relaxed

into that comfort which we all experience when the sermon ends, Trampas

sat down amid the reviving cheerfulness, and ventured again to be

facetious.

 

"Shut your rank mouth," said Wiggin to him, amiably. "I don't care

whether he knows her or if he done it on principle. I'll accept the

roundin' up he gave us--and say! You'll swallo' your dose, too! Us

boys'll stand in with him in this."

 

So Trampas swallowed. And what of the Virginian?

 

He had championed the feeble, and spoken honorably in meeting, and

according to all the constitutions and by-laws of morality, he should

have been walking in virtue's especial calm. But there it was! he had

spoken; he had given them a peep through the key-hole at his inner

man; and as he prowled away from the assemblage before whom he stood

convicted of decency, it was vicious rather than virtuous that he felt.

Other matters also disquieted him--so Lin McLean was hanging round that

schoolmarm! Yet he joined Ben Swinton in a seemingly Christian spirit.

He took some whiskey and praised the size of the barrel, speaking with

his host like this: "There cert'nly ain' goin' to be trouble about a

second helpin'."

 

"Hope not. We'd ought to have more trimmings, though. We're shy on

ducks."

 

"Yu' have the barrel. Has Lin McLean seen that?"

 

"No. We tried for ducks away down as far as the Laparel outfit. A real

barbecue--"

 

"There's large thirsts on Bear Creek. Lin McLean will pass on ducks."

 

"Lin's not thirsty this month."

 

"Signed for one month, has he?"

 

"Signed! He's spooning our schoolmarm!"

 

"They claim she's a right sweet-faced girl."

 

"Yes; yes; awful agreeable. And next thing you're fooled clean through."

 

"Yu' don't say!"

 

"She keeps a-teaching the darned kids, and it seems like a good

growed-up man can't interest her."

 

"YU' DON'T SAY!"

 

"There used to be all the ducks you wanted at the Laparel, but their

fool cook's dead stuck on raising turkeys this year."

 

"That must have been mighty close to a drowndin' the schoolmarm got at

South Fork."

 

"Why, I guess not. When? She's never spoken of any such thing--that I've

heard."

 

"Mos' likely the stage-driver got it wrong, then."

 

"Yes. Must have drownded somebody else. Here they come! That's her

ridin' the horse. There's the Westfalls. Where are you running to?"

 

"To fix up. Got any soap around hyeh?"

 

"Yes," shouted Swinton, for the Virginian was now some distance away;

"towels and everything in the dugout." And he went to welcome his first

formal guests.

 

The Virginian reached his saddle under a shed. "So she's never mentioned

it," said he, untying his slicker for the trousers and scarf. "I

didn't notice Lin anywheres around her." He was over in the dugout now,

whipping off his overalls; and soon he was excellently clean and ready,

except for the tie in his scarf and the part in his hair. "I'd have

knowed her in Greenland," he remarked. He held the candle up and down at

the looking-glass, and the looking-glass up and down at his head. "It's

mighty strange why she ain't mentioned that." He worried the scarf a

fold or two further, and at length, a trifle more than satisfied with

his appearance, he proceeded most serenely toward the sound of the

tuning fiddles. He passed through the store-room behind the kitchen,

stepping lightly lest he should rouse the ten or twelve babies that lay

on the table or beneath it. On Bear Creek babies and children always

went with their parents to a dance, because nurses were unknown. So

little Alfred and Christopher lay there among the wraps, parallel and

crosswise with little Taylors, and little Carmodys, and Lees, and all

the Bear Creek offspring that was not yet able to skip at large and

hamper its indulgent elders in the ball-room.

 

"Why, Lin ain't hyeh yet!" said the Virginian, looking in upon the

people. There was Miss Wood, standing up for the quadrille. "I didn't

remember her hair was that pretty," said he. "But ain't she a little,

little girl!"

 

Now she was in truth five feet three; but then he could look away down

on the top of her head.

 

"Salute your honey!" called the first fiddler. All partners bowed to

each other, and as she turned, Miss Wood saw the man in the doorway.

Again, as it had been at South Fork that day, his eyes dropped from

hers, and she divining instantly why he had come after half a year,

thought of the handkerchief and of that scream of hers in the river, and

became filled with tyranny and anticipation; for indeed he was fine to

look upon. So she danced away, carefully unaware of his existence.

 

"First lady, centre!" said her partner, reminding her of her turn. "Have

you forgotten how it goes since last time?"

 

Molly Wood did not forget again, but quadrilled with the most sprightly

devotion.

 

"I see some new faces to-night," said she, presently.

 

"Yu' always do forget our poor faces," said her partner.

 

"Oh, no! There's a stranger now. Who is that black man?"

 

"Well--he's from Virginia, and he ain't allowin' he's black."

 

"He's a tenderfoot, I suppose?"

 

"Ha, ha, ha! That's rich, too!" and so the simple partner explained a

great deal about the Virginian to Molly Wood. At the end of the set she

saw the man by the door take a step in her direction.

 

"Oh," said she, quickly, to the partner, "how warm it is! I must see

how those babies are doing." And she passed the Virginian in a breeze of

unconcern.

 

His eyes gravely lingered where she had gone. "She knowed me right

away," said he. He looked for a moment, then leaned against the door.

"'How warm it is!' said she. Well, it ain't so screechin' hot hyeh; and

as for rushin' after Alfred and Christopher, when their natural motheh

is bumpin' around handy--she cert'nly can't be offended?" he broke

off, and looked again where she had gone. And then Miss Wood passed him

brightly again, and was dancing the schottische almost immediately.

"Oh, yes, she knows me," the swarthy cow-puncher mused. "She has to

take trouble not to see me. And what she's a-fussin' at is mighty

interestin'. Hello!"

 

"Hello!" returned Lin McLean, sourly. He had just looked into the

kitchen.

 

"Not dancin'?" the Southerner inquired.

 

"Don't know how."

 

"Had scyarlet fever and forgot your past life?"

 

Len grinned.

 

"Better persuade the schoolmarm to learn it. She's goin' to give me

instruction."

 

"Huh!" went Mr. McLean, and skulked out to the barrel.

 

"Why, they claimed you weren't drinkin' this month!" said his friend,

following.

 

"Well, I am. Here's luck!" The two pledged in tin cups. "But I'm not

waltzin' with her," blurted Mr. McLean grievously. "She called me an

exception."

 

"Waltzin'," repeated the Virginian quickly, and hearing the fiddles he

hastened away.

 

Few in the Bear Creek Country could waltz, and with these few it

was mostly an unsteered and ponderous exhibition; therefore was the

Southerner bent upon profiting by his skill. He entered the room,

and his lady saw him come where she sat alone for the moment, and her

thoughts grew a little hurried.

 

"Will you try a turn, ma'am?"

 

"I beg your pardon?" It was a remote, well-schooled eye that she lifted

now upon him.

 

"If you like a waltz, ma'am, will you waltz with me?"

 

"You're from Virginia, I understand?" said Molly Wood, regarding him

politely, but not rising. One gains authority immensely by keeping one's

seat. All good teachers know this.

 

"Yes, ma'am, from Virginia."

 

"I've heard that Southerners have such good manners."

 

"That's correct." The cow-puncher flushed, but he spoke in his

unvaryingly gentle voice.

 

"For in New England, you know," pursued Miss Molly, noting his scarf and

clean-shaven chin, and then again steadily meeting his eye, "gentlemen

ask to be presented to ladies before they ask them to waltz."

 

He stood a moment before her, deeper and deeper scarlet; and the more

she saw his handsome face, the keener rose her excitement. She waited

for him to speak of the river; for then she was going to be surprised,

and gradually to remember, and finally to be very nice to him. But he

did not wait. "I ask your pardon, lady," said he, and bowing, walked

off, leaving her at once afraid that he might not come back. But she had

altogether mistaken her man. Back he came serenely with Mr. Taylor, and

was duly presented to her. Thus were the conventions vindicated.

 

It can never be known what the cow-puncher was going to say next; for

Uncle Hughey stepped up with a glass of water which he had left Wood to

bring, and asking for a turn, most graciously received it. She danced

away from a situation where she began to feel herself getting the

worst of it. One moment the Virginian stared at his lady as she lightly

circulated, and then he went out to the barrel.

 

Leave him for Uncle Hershey! Jealousy is a deep and delicate thing, and

works its spite in many ways. The Virginian had been ready to look at

Lin McLean with a hostile eye; but finding him now beside the barrel, he

felt a brotherhood between himself and Lin, and his hostility had taken

a new and whimsical direction.

 

"Here's how!" said he to McLean. And they pledged each other in the tin

cups.

 

"Been gettin' them instructions?" said Mr. McLean, grinning. "I thought

I saw yu' learning your steps through the window."

 

"Here's your good health," said the Southerner. Once more they pledged

each other handsomely.

 

"Did she call you an exception, or anything?" said Lin.

 

"Well, it would cipher out right close in that neighborhood."

 

"Here's how, then!" cried the delighted Lin, over his cup.

 

"Jest because yu' happen to come from Vermont," continued Mr. McLean,

"is no cause for extra pride. Shoo! I was raised in Massachusetts

myself, and big men have been raised there, too,--Daniel Webster and

Israel Putnam: and a lot of them politicians."

 

"Virginia is a good little old state," observed the Southerner.

 

"Both of 'em's a sight ahead of Vermont. She told me I was the first

exception she'd struck."

 

"What rule were you provin' at the time, Lin?"

 

"Well yu' see, I started to kiss her."

 

"Yu' didn't!"

 

"Shucks! I didn't mean nothin'."

 

"I reckon yu' stopped mighty sudden?"

 

"Why, I'd been ridin' out with her--ridin' to school, ridin' from

school, and a-comin' and a-goin', and she chattin' cheerful and askin'

me a heap o' questions all about myself every day, and I not lyin' much

neither. And so I figured she wouldn't mind. Lots of 'em like it. But

she didn't, you bet!"

 

"No," said the Virginian, deeply proud of his lady who had slighted him.

He had pulled her out of the water once, and he had been her unrewarded

knight even to-day, and he felt his grievance; but he spoke not of it

to Lin; for he felt also, in memory, her arms clinging round him as he

carried her ashore upon his horse. But he muttered, "Plumb ridiculous!"

as her injustice struck him afresh, while the outraged McLean told his

tale.

 

"Trample is what she has done on me to-night, and without notice. We was

startin' to come here; Taylor and Mrs. were ahead in the buggy, and I

was holdin' her horse, and helpin' her up in the saddle, like I done for

days and days. Who was there to see us? And I figured she'd not mind,

and she calls me an exception! Yu'd ought to've just heard her about

Western men respectin' women. So that's the last word we've spoke.

We come twenty-five miles then, she scootin' in front, and her horse

kickin' the sand in my face. Mrs. Taylor, she guessed something was up,

but she didn't tell."

 

"Miss Wood did not tell?"

 

"Not she! She'll never open her head. She can take care of herself, you

bet!" The fiddles sounded hilariously in the house, and the feet also.

They had warmed up altogether, and their dancing figures crossed the

windows back and forth. The two cow-punchers drew near to a window and

looked in gloomily.

 

"There she goes," said Lin.

 

"With Uncle Hughey again," said the Virginian, sourly. "Yu' might

suppose he didn't have a wife and twins, to see the way he goes

gambollin' around."

 

"Westfall is takin' a turn with her now," said McLean.

 

"James!" exclaimed the Virginian. "He's another with a wife and fam'ly,

and he gets the dancin', too."

 

"There she goes with Taylor," said Lin, presently.

 

"Another married man!" the Southerner commented. They prowled round to

the store-room, and passed through the kitchen to where the dancers were

robustly tramping. Miss Wood was still the partner of Mr. Taylor. "Let's

have some whiskey," said the Virginian. They had it, and returned, and

the Virginian's disgust and sense of injury grew deeper. "Old Carmody

has got her now," he drawled. "He polkas like a landslide. She learns

his monkey-faced kid to spell dog and cow all the mawnin'. He'd ought to

be tucked up cosey in his bed right now, old Carmody ought."

 

They were standing in that place set apart for the sleeping children;

and just at this moment one of two babies that were stowed beneath

a chair uttered a drowsy note. A much louder cry, indeed a chorus of

lament, would have been needed to reach the ears of the parents in the

room beyond, such was the noisy volume of the dance. But in this quiet

place the light sound caught Mr. McLean's attention, and he turned to

see if anything were wrong. But both babies were sleeping peacefully.

 

"Them's Uncle Hughey's twins," he said.

 

"How do you happen to know that?" inquired the Virginian, suddenly

interested.

 

"Saw his wife put 'em under the chair so she could find 'em right off

when she come to go home."

 

"Oh," said the Virginian, thoughtfully. "Oh, find 'em right off. Yes.

Uncle Hughey's twins." He walked to a spot from which he could view the

dance. "Well," he continued, returning, "the schoolmarm must have taken

quite a notion to Uncle Hughey. He has got her for this quadrille." The

Virginian was now speaking without rancor; but his words came with a

slightly augmented drawl, and this with him was often a bad omen. He

now turned his eyes upon the collected babies wrapped in various

colored shawls and knitted work. "Nine, ten, eleven, beautiful sleepin'

strangers," he counted, in a sweet voice. "Any of 'em your'n, Lin?"

 

"Not that I know of," grinned Mr. McLean.

 

"Eleven, twelve. This hyeh is little Christopher in the blue-stripe

quilt--or maybe that other yello'-head is him. The angels have commenced

to drop in on us right smart along Bear Creek, Lin."

 

"What trash are yu' talkin' anyway?"

 

"If they look so awful alike in the heavenly gyarden," the gentle

Southerner continued, "I'd just hate to be the folks that has the

cuttin' of 'em out o' the general herd. And that's a right quaint notion

too," he added softly. "Them under the chair are Uncle Hughey's, didn't

you tell me?" And stooping, he lifted the torpid babies and placed them

beneath a table. "No, that ain't thorough," he murmured. With wonderful

dexterity and solicitude for their wellfare, he removed the loose wrap

which was around them, and this soon led to an intricate process of

exchange. For a moment Mr. McLean had been staring at the Virginian,

puzzled. Then, with a joyful yelp of enlightenment, he sprang to abet

him.

 

And while both busied themselves with the shawls and quilts, the

unconscious parents went dancing vigorously on, and the small,

occasional cries of their progeny did not reach them.

 

 

 

 

XI. "YOU RE GOING TO LOVE ME BEFORE WE GET THROUGH"

 

 

The Swinton barbecue was over. The fiddles were silent, the steer was

eaten, the barrel emptied, or largely so, and the tapers extinguished;

round the house and sunken fire all movement of guests was quiet;

the families were long departed homeward, and after their hospitable

turbulence, the Swintons slept.

 

Mr. and Mrs. Westfall drove through the night, and as they neared their

cabin there came from among the bundled wraps a still, small voice.

 

"Jim," said his wife, "I said Alfred would catch cold."

 

"Bosh! Lizzie, don't you fret. He's a little more than a yearlin', and

of course he'll snuffle." And young James took a kiss from his love.

 

"Well, how you can speak of Alfred that way, calling him a yearling, as

if he was a calf, and he just as much your child as mine, I don't see,

James Westfall!"

 

"Why, what under the sun do you mean?"

 

"There he goes again! Do hurry up home, Jim. He's got a real strange

cough."

 

So they hurried home. Soon the nine miles were finished, and good

James was unhitching by his stable lantern, while his wife in the house

hastened to commit their offspring to bed. The traces had dropped, and

each horse marched forward for further unbuckling, when James heard

himself called. Indeed, there was that in his wife's voice which made

him jerk out his pistol as he ran. But it was no bear or Indian--only

two strange children on the bed. His wife was glaring at them.

 

He sighed with relief and laid down the pistol.

 

"Put that on again, James Westfall. You'll need it. Look here!"

 

"Well, they won't bite. Whose are they? Where have you stowed ourn?"

 

"Where have I--" Utterance forsook this mother for a moment. "And you

ask me!" she continued. "Ask Lin McLean. Ask him that sets bulls on

folks and steals slippers, what he's done with our innocent lambs,

mixing them up with other people's coughing, unhealthy brats. That's

Charlie Taylor in Alfred's clothes, and I know Alfred didn't cough like

that, and I said to you it was strange; and the other one that's been

put in Christopher's new quilts is not even a bub--bub--boy!"

 

As this crime against society loomed clear to James Westfall's

understanding, he sat down on the nearest piece of furniture, and

heedless of his wife's tears and his exchanged children, broke into

unregenerate laughter. Doubtless after his sharp alarm about the bear,

he was unstrung. His lady, however, promptly restrung him; and by the

time they had repacked the now clamorous changelings, and were rattling

on their way to the Taylors', he began to share her outraged feelings

properly, as a husband and a father should; but when he reached the

Taylors' and learned from Miss Wood that at this house a child had

been unwrapped whom nobody could at all identify, and that Mr. and Mrs.

Taylor were already far on the road to the Swintons', James Westfall

whipped up his horses and grew almost as thirsty for revenge as was his

wife.

 

Where the steer had been roasted, the powdered ashes were now cold

white, and Mr. McLean, feeling through his dreams the change of dawn

come over the air, sat up cautiously among the outdoor slumberers and

waked his neighbor.

 

"Day will be soon," he whispered, "and we must light out of this. I

never suspicioned yu' had that much of the devil in you before."

 

"I reckon some of the fellows will act haidstrong," the Virginian

murmured luxuriously, among the warmth of his blankets.

 

"I tell yu' we must skip," said Lin, for the second time; and he rubbed

the Virginian's black head, which alone was visible.

 

"Skip, then, you," came muffled from within, "and keep you'self mighty

sca'ce till they can appreciate our frolic."

 

The Southerner withdrew deeper into his bed, and Mr. McLean, informing

him that he was a fool, arose and saddled his horse. From the

saddle-bag, he brought a parcel, and lightly laying this beside Bokay

Baldy, he mounted and was gone. When Baldy awoke later, he found the

parcel to be a pair of flowery slippers.

 

In selecting the inert Virginian as the fool, Mr. McLean was scarcely

wise; it is the absent who are always guilty.

 

Before ever Lin could have been a mile in retreat, the rattle of

the wheels roused all of them, and here came the Taylors. Before the

Taylors' knocking had brought the Swintons to their door, other wheels

sounded, and here were Mr. and Mrs. Carmody, and Uncle Hughey with his

wife, and close after them Mr. Dow, alone, who told how his wife had

gone into one of her fits--she upon whom Dr. Barker at Drybone had

enjoined total abstinence from all excitement. Voices of women and

children began to be up lifted; the Westfalls arrived in a lather,

and the Thomases; and by sunrise, what with fathers and mothers and

spectators and loud offspring, there was gathered such a meeting as has

seldom been before among the generations of speaking men. To-day you can

hear legends of it from Texas to Montana; but I am giving you the full

particulars.

 

Of course they pitched upon poor Lin. Here was the Virginian doing

his best, holding horses and helping ladies descend, while the name of

McLean began to be muttered with threats. Soon a party led by Mr. Dow

set forth in search of him, and the Southerner debated a moment if he

had better not put them on a wrong track. But he concluded that they

might safely go on searching.

 

Mrs. Westfall found Christopher at once in the green shawl of Anna

Maria Dow, but all was not achieved thus in the twinkling of an eye. Mr.

McLean had, it appeared, as James Westfall lugubriously pointed out, not

merely "swapped the duds; he had shuffled the whole doggone deck;" and

they cursed this Satanic invention. The fathers were but of moderate

assistance; it was the mothers who did the heavy work; and by ten

o'clock some unsolved problems grew so delicate that a ladies' caucus

was organized in a private room,--no admittance for men,--and what was

done there I can only surmise.

 

During its progress the search party returned. It had not found Mr.

McLean. It had found a tree with a notice pegged upon it, reading, "God

bless our home!" This was captured.

 

But success attended the caucus; each mother emerged, satisfied that

she had received her own, and each sire, now that his family was itself

again, began to look at his neighbor sideways. After a man has been

angry enough to kill another man, after the fire of righteous slaughter

has raged in his heart as it had certainly raged for several hours in

the hearts of these fathers, the flame will usually burn itself out.

This will be so in a generous nature, unless the cause of the anger is

still unchanged. But the children had been identified; none had taken

hurt. All had been humanely given their nourishment. The thing was over.

The day was beautiful. A tempting feast remained from the barbecue.

These Bear Creek fathers could not keep their ire at red heat. Most

of them, being as yet more their wives' lovers than their children's

parents, began to see the mirthful side of the adventure; and they

ceased to feel very severely toward Lin McLean.

 

Not so the women. They cried for vengeance; but they cried in vain, and

were met with smiles.

 

Mrs. Westfall argued long that punishment should be dealt the offender.

"Anyway," she persisted, "it was real defiant of him putting that up on

the tree. I might forgive him but for that."

 

"Yes," spoke the Virginian in their midst, "that wasn't sort o' right.

Especially as I am the man you're huntin'."

 

They sat dumb at his assurance.

 

"Come and kill me," he continued, round upon the party. "I'll not

resist."

 

But they could not resist the way in which he had looked round upon

them. He had chosen the right moment for his confession, as a captain

of a horse awaits the proper time for a charge. Some rebukes he did

receive; the worst came from the mothers. And all that he could say for

himself was, "I am getting off too easy."

 

"But what was your point?" said Westfall.

 

"Blamed if I know any more. I expect it must have been the whiskey."

 

"I would mind it less," said Mrs. Westfall, "if you looked a bit sorry

or ashamed."

 

The Virginian shook his head at her penitently. "I'm tryin' to," he

said.

 

And thus he sat disarming his accusers until they began to lunch upon

the copious remnants of the barbecue. He did not join them at this meal.

In telling you that Mrs. Dow was the only lady absent upon this historic

morning, I was guilty of an inadvertence. There was one other.

 

The Virginian rode away sedately through the autumn sunshine; and as

he went he asked his Monte horse a question. "Do yu' reckon she'll have

forgotten you too, you pie-biter?" said he. Instead of the new trousers,

the cow-puncher's leathern chaps were on his legs. But he had the new

scarf knotted at his neck. Most men would gladly have equalled him in

appearance. "You Monte," said he, "will she be at home?"

 

It was Sunday, and no school day, and he found her in her cabin that

stood next the Taylors' house. Her eyes were very bright.

 

"I'd thought I'd just call," said he.

 

"Why, that's such a pity! Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are away."

 

"Yes; they've been right busy. That's why I thought I'd call. Will yu'

come for a ride, ma'am?"

 

"Dear me! I--"

 

"You can ride my hawss. He's gentle."

 

"What! And you walk?"

 

"No, ma'am. Nor the two of us ride him THIS time, either." At this she

turned entirely pink, and he, noticing, went on quietly: "I'll catch up

one of Taylor's hawsses. Taylor knows me."

 

"No. I don't really think I could do that. But thank you. Thank you very

much. I must go now and see how Mrs. Taylor's fire is."

 

"I'll look after that, ma'am. I'd like for yu' to go ridin' mighty well.

Yu' have no babies this mawnin' to be anxious after."

 

At this shaft, Grandmother Stark flashed awake deep within the spirit of

her descendant, and she made a haughty declaration of war. "I don't know

what you mean, sir," she said.

 

Now was his danger; for it was easy to fall into mere crude impertinence

and ask her why, then, did she speak thus abruptly? There were various

easy things of this kind for him to say. And any rudeness would have

lost him the battle. But the Virginian was not the man to lose such

a battle in such a way. His shaft had hit. She thought he referred

to those babies about whom last night she had shown such superfluous

solicitude. Her conscience was guilty. This was all that he had wished

to make sure of before he began operations.

 

"Why, I mean," said he, easily, sitting down near the door, "that it's

Sunday. School don't hinder yu' from enjoyin' a ride to-day. You'll

teach the kids all the better for it to-morro', ma'am. Maybe it's your

duty." And he smiled at her.

 

"My duty! It's quite novel to have strangers--"

 

"Am I a stranger?" he cut in, firing his first broadside. "I was

introduced, ma'am," he continued, noting how she had flushed again. "And

I would not be oversteppin' for the world. I'll go away if yu' want."

And hereupon he quietly rose, and stood, hat in hand.

 

Molly was flustered. She did not at all want him to go. No one of

her admirers had ever been like this creature. The fringed leathern

chaparreros, the cartridge belt, the flannel shirt, the knotted scarf at

the neck, these things were now an old story to her. Since her arrival

she had seen young men and old in plenty dressed thus. But worn by this

man now standing by her door, they seemed to radiate romance. She did

not want him to go--and she wished to win her battle. And now in

her agitation she became suddenly severe, as she had done at Hoosic

Junction. He should have a punishment to remember!

 

"You call yourself a man, I suppose," she said.

 

But he did not tremble in the least. Her fierceness filled him with

delight, and the tender desire of ownership flooded through him.

 

"A grown-up, responsible man," she repeated.

 

"Yes, ma'am. I think so." He now sat down again.

 

"And you let them think that--that Mr. McLean--You dare not look me in

the face and say that Mr. McLean did that last night!"

 

"I reckon I dassent."

 

"There! I knew it! I said so from the first!"

 

"And me a stranger to you!" he murmured.

 

It was his second broadside. It left her badly crippled. She was silent.

 

"Who did yu' mention it to, ma'am?"

 

She hoped she had him. "Why, are you afraid?" And she laughed lightly.

 

"I told 'em myself. And their astonishment seemed so genu-wine I'd just

hate to think they had fooled me that thorough when they knowed it all

along from you seeing me."

 

"I did not see you. I knew it must--of course I did not tell any one.

When I said I said so from the first, I meant--you can understand

perfectly what I meant."

 

"Yes, ma'am."

 

Poor Molly was near stamping her foot. "And what sort of a trick," she

rushed on, "was that to play? Do you call it a manly thing to frighten

and distress women because you--for no reason at all? I should never

have imagined it could be the act of a person who wears a big pistol and

rides a big horse. I should be afraid to go riding with such an immature

protector."

 

"Yes; that was awful childish. Your words do cut a little; for maybe

there's been times when I have acted pretty near like a man. But I

cert'nly forgot to be introduced before I spoke to yu' last night.

Because why? You've found me out dead in one thing. Won't you take a

guess at this too?"

 

"I cannot sit guessing why people do not behave themselves--who seem to

know better."

 

"Well, ma'am, I've played square and owned up to yu'. And that's not

what you're doin' by me. I ask your pardon if I say what I have a right

to say in language not as good as I'd like to talk to yu' with. But at

South Fork Crossin' who did any introducin'? Did yu' complain I was a

stranger then?"

 

"I--no!" she flashed out; then, quite sweetly, "The driver told me it

wasn't REALLY so dangerous there, you know."

 

"That's not the point I'm makin'. You are a grown-up woman, a

responsible woman. You've come ever so far, and all alone, to a

rough country to instruct young children that play games,--tag, and

hide-and-seek, and fooleries they'll have to quit when they get old.

Don't you think pretendin' yu' don't know a man,--his name's nothin',

but him,--a man whom you were glad enough to let assist yu' when

somebody was needed,--don't you think that's mighty close to

hide-and-seek them children plays? I ain't so sure but what there's a

pair of us children in this hyeh room."

 

Molly Wood was regarding him saucily. "I don't think I like you," said

she.

 

"That's all square enough. You're goin' to love me before we get

through. I wish yu'd come a-ridin, ma'am."

 

"Dear, dear, dear! So I'm going to love you? How will you do it? I know

men think that they only need to sit and look strong and make chests at

a girl--"

 

"Goodness gracious! I ain't makin' any chests at yu'!" Laughter overcame

him for a moment, and Miss Wood liked his laugh very much. "Please come

a-ridin'," he urged. "It's the prettiest kind of a day."

 

She looked at him frankly, and there was a pause. "I will take back two

things that I said to you," she then answered him. "I believe that I do

like you. And I know that if I went riding with you, I should not

have an immature protector." And then, with a final gesture of

acknowledgment, she held out her hand to him. "And I have always

wanted," she said, "to thank you for what you did at the river."

 

He took her hand, and his heart bounded. "You're a gentleman!" he

exclaimed.

 

It was now her turn to be overcome with merriment. "I've always wanted

to be a man," she said.

 

"I am mighty glad you ain't," said he, looking at her.

 

But Molly had already received enough broadsides for one day. She could

allow no more of them, and she took herself capably in hand. "Where did

you learn to make such pretty speeches?" she asked. "Well, never mind

that. One sees that you have had plenty of practice for one so young."

 

"I am twenty-seven," blurted the Virginian, and knew instantly that he

had spoken like a fool.

 

"Who would have dreamed it!" said Molly, with well-measured mockery. She

knew that she had scored at last, and that this day was hers. "Don't

be too sure you are glad I'm not a man," she now told him. There was

something like a challenge in her voice.

 

"I risk it," he remarked.

 

"For I am almost twenty-three myself," she concluded. And she gave him a

look on her own account.

 

"And you'll not come a-ridin'?" he persisted.

 

"No," she answered him; "no." And he knew that he could not make her.

 

"Then I will tell yu' good-by," said he. "But I am comin' again. And

next time I'll have along a gentle hawss for yu'."

 

"Next time! Next time! Well, perhaps I will go with you. Do you live

far?"

 

"I live on Judge Henry's ranch, over yondeh." He pointed across the

mountains. "It's on Sunk Creek. A pretty rough trail; but I can come

hyeh to see you in a day, I reckon. Well, I hope you'll cert'nly enjoy

good health, ma'am."

 

"Oh, there's one thing!" said Molly Wood, calling after him rather

quickly. "I--I'm not at all afraid of horses. You needn't bring such

a gentle one. I--was very tired that day, and--and I don't scream as a

rule."

 

He turned and looked at her so that she could not meet his glance.

"Bless your heart!" said he. "Will yu' give me one o' those flowers?"

 

"Oh, certainly! I'm always so glad when people like them."

 

"They're pretty near the color of your eyes."

 

"Never mind my eyes."

 

"Can't help it, ma'am. Not since South Fork."

 

He put the flower in the leather band of his hat, and rode away on his

Monte horse. Miss Wood lingered a moment, then made some steps toward

her gate, from which he could still be seen; and then, with something

like a toss of the head, she went in and shut her door.

 

Later in the day the Virginian met Mr. McLean, who looked at his hat and

innocently quoted. "'My Looloo picked a daisy.'"

 

"Don't yu', Lin," said the Southerner.

 

"Then I won't," said Lin.

 

Thus, for this occasion, did the Virginian part from his lady--and

nothing said one way or another about the handkerchief that had

disappeared during the South Fork incident.

 

As we fall asleep at night, our thoughts will often ramble back and

forth between the two worlds.

 

"What color were his eyes?" wondered Molly on her pillow. "His mustache

is not bristly like so many of them. Sam never gave me such a look

at Hoosic Junction. No.... You can't come with me.... Get off your

horse.... The passengers are all staring...."

 

And while Molly was thus dreaming that the Virginian had ridden his

horse into the railroad car, and sat down beside her, the fire in the

great stone chimney of her cabin flickered quietly, its gleams now and

again touching the miniature of Grandmother Stark upon the wall.

 

Camped on the Sunk Creek trail, the Virginian was telling himself in his

blankets: "I ain't too old for education. Maybe she will lend me books.

And I'll watch her ways and learn...stand still, Monte. I can learn a

lot more than the kids on that. There's Monte...you pie-biter, stop....

He has ate up your book, ma'am, but I'll get yu'..."

 

And then the Virginian was fast asleep.

 

 

 

 

XII. QUALITY AND EQUALITY

 

 

To the circle at Bennington, a letter from Bear Creek was always a

welcome summons to gather and hear of doings very strange to Vermont.

And when the tale of the changed babies arrived duly by the post, it

created a more than usual sensation, and was read to a large number of

pleased and scandalized neighbors. "I hate her to be where such things

can happen," said Mrs. Wood.

 

"I wish I could have been there," said her son-in-law, Andrew Bell.

 

"She does not mention who played the trick," said Mrs. Andrew Bell.

 

"We shouldn't be any wiser if she did," said Mrs. Wood.

 

"I'd like to meet the perpetrator," said Andrew.

 

"Oh, no!" said Mrs. Wood. "They're all horrible."

 

And she wrote at once, begging her daughter to take good care of

herself, and to see as much of Mrs. Balaam as possible. "And of any

other ladies that are near you. For you seem to me to be in a community

of roughs. I wish you would give it all up. Did you expect me to laugh

about the babies?"

 

Mrs. Flynt, when this story was repeated to her (she had not been

invited in to hear the letter), remarked that she had always felt that

Molly Wood must be a little vulgar, ever since she began to go about

giving music lessons like any ordinary German.

 

But Mrs. Wood was considerably relieved when the next letter arrived. It

contained nothing horrible about barbecues or babies. It mentioned the

great beauty of the weather, and how well and strong the fine air was

making the writer feel. And it asked that books might be sent, many

books of all sorts, novels, poetry, all the good old books and any good

new ones that could be spared. Cheap editions, of course.

 

"Indeed she shall have them!" said Mrs. Wood. "How her mind must be

starving in that dreadful place!" The letter was not a long one, and,

besides the books, spoke of little else except the fine weather and

the chances for outdoor exercise that this gave. "You have no idea,"

it said, "how delightful it is to ride, especially on a spirited horse,

which I can do now quite well."

 

"How nice that is!" said Mrs. Wood, putting down the letter. "I hope the

horse is not too spirited."

 

"Who does she go riding with?" asked Mrs. Bell.

 

"She doesn't say, Sarah. Why?"

 

"Nothing. She has a queer way of not mentioning things, now and then."

 

"Sarah!" exclaimed Mrs. Wood, reproachfully. "Oh, well, mother, you

know just as well as I do that she can be very independent and

unconventional."

 

"Yes; but not in that way. She wouldn't ride with poor Sam Bannett, and

after all he is a suitable person."

 

Nevertheless, in her next letter, Mrs. Wood cautioned her daughter about

trusting herself with any one of whom Mrs. Balaam did not thoroughly

approve. The good lady could never grasp that Mrs. Balaam lived a long

day's journey from Bear Creek, and that Molly saw her about once every

three months. "We have sent your books," the mother wrote; "everybody

has contributed from their store,--Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browning,

Longfellow; and a number of novels by Scott, Thackeray, George Eliot,

Hawthorne, and lesser writers; some volumes of Emerson; and Jane Austen

complete, because you admire her so particularly."

 

This consignment of literature reached Bear Creek about a week before

Christmas time.

 

By New Year's Day, the Virginian had begun his education.

 

"Well, I have managed to get through 'em," he said, as he entered

Molly's cabin in February. And he laid two volumes upon her table.

 

"And what do you think of them?" she inquired.

 

"I think that I've cert'nly earned a good long ride to-day."

 

"Georgie Taylor has sprained his ankle."

 

"No, I don't mean that kind of a ride. I've earned a ride with just us

two alone. I've read every word of both of 'em, yu' know."

 

"I'll think about it. Did you like them?"

 

"No. Not much. If I'd knowed that one was a detective story, I'd have

got yu' to try something else on me. Can you guess the murderer, or is

the author too smart for yu'? That's all they amount to. Well, he was

too smart for me this time, but that didn't distress me any. That other

book talks too much."

 

Molly was scandalized, and she told him it was a great work.

 

"Oh, yes, yes. A fine book. But it will keep up its talkin'. Don't let

you alone."

 

"Didn't you feel sorry for poor Maggie Tulliver?"

 

"Hmp. Yes. Sorry for her, and for Tawmmy, too. But the man did right to

drownd 'em both."

 

"It wasn't a man. A woman wrote that."

 

"A woman did! Well, then, o' course she talks too much."

 

"I'll not go riding with you!" shrieked Molly.

 

But she did. And he returned to Sunk Creek, not with a detective story,

but this time with a Russian novel.

 

It was almost April when he brought it back to her--and a heavy sleet

storm lost them their ride. So he spent his time indoors with her, not

speaking a syllable of love. When he came to take his departure, he

asked her for some other book by this same Russian. But she had no more.

 

"I wish you had," he said. "I've never saw a book could tell the truth

like that one does."

 

"Why, what do you like about it?" she exclaimed. To her it had been

distasteful.

 

"Everything," he answered. "That young come-outer, and his fam'ly that

can't understand him--for he is broad gauge, yu' see, and they are

narro' gauge." The Virginian looked at Molly a moment almost shyly. "Do

you know," he said, and a blush spread over his face, "I pretty near

cried when that young come-outer was dyin', and said about himself,

'I was a giant.' Life made him broad gauge, yu' see, and then took his

chance away."

 

Molly liked the Virginian for his blush. It made him very handsome. But

she thought that it came from his confession about "pretty near crying."

The deeper cause she failed to divine,--that he, like the dying hero in

the novel, felt himself to be a giant whom life had made "broad gauge,"

and denied opportunity. Fecund nature begets and squanders thousands of

these rich seeds in the wilderness of life.

 

He took away with him a volume of Shakespeare. "I've saw good plays of

his," he remarked.

 

Kind Mrs. Taylor in her cabin next door watched him ride off in the

sleet, bound for the lonely mountain trail.

 

"If that girl don't get ready to take him pretty soon," she observed to

her husband, "I'll give her a piece of my mind."

 

Taylor was astonished. "Is he thinking of her?" he inquired.

 

"Lord, Mr. Taylor, and why shouldn't he?"

 

Mr. Taylor scratched his head and returned to his newspaper.

 

It was warm--warm and beautiful upon Bear Creek. Snow shone upon

the peaks of the Bow Leg range; lower on their slopes the pines were

stirring with a gentle song; and flowers bloomed across the wide plains

at their feet.

 

Molly and her Virginian sat at a certain spring where he had often

ridden with her. On this day he was bidding her farewell before

undertaking the most important trust which Judge Henry had as yet given

him. For this journey she had provided him with Sir Walter Scott's

Kenilworth. Shakespeare he had returned to her. He had bought

Shakespeare for himself. "As soon as I got used to readin' it," he had

told her, "I knowed for certain that I liked readin' for enjoyment."

 

But it was not of books that he had spoken much to-day. He had not

spoken at all. He had bade her listen to the meadow-lark, when its song

fell upon the silence like beaded drops of music. He had showed her

where a covey of young willow-grouse were hiding as their horses passed.

And then, without warning, as they sat by the spring, he had spoken

potently of his love.

 

She did not interrupt him. She waited until he was wholly finished.

 

"I am not the sort of wife you want," she said, with an attempt of

airiness.

 

He answered roughly, "I am the judge of that." And his roughness was a

pleasure to her, yet it made her afraid of herself. When he was absent

from her, and she could sit in her cabin and look at Grandmother Stark,

and read home letters, then in imagination she found it easy to play

the part which she had arranged to play regarding him--the part of the

guide, and superior, and indulgent companion. But when he was by her

side, that part became a difficult one. Her woman's fortress was shaken

by a force unknown to her before. Sam Bannett did not have it in him to

look as this man could look, when the cold lustre of his eyes grew hot

with internal fire. What color they were baffled her still. "Can it

possibly change?" she wondered. It seemed to her that sometimes when she

had been looking from a rock straight down into clear sea water, this

same color had lurked in its depths. "Is it green, or is it gray?"

she asked herself, but did not turn just now to see. She kept her face

toward the landscape.

 

"All men are born equal," he now remarked slowly.

 

"Yes," she quickly answered, with a combative flash. "Well?"

 

"Maybe that don't include women?" he suggested.

 

"I think it does."

 

"Do yu' tell the kids so?"

 

"Of course I teach them what I believe!"

 

He pondered. "I used to have to learn about the Declaration of

Independence. I hated books and truck when I was a kid."

 

"But you don't any more."

 

"No. I cert'nly don't. But I used to get kep' in at recess for bein' so

dumb. I was most always at the tail end of the class. My brother, he'd

be head sometimes."

 

"Little George Taylor is my prize scholar," said Molly.

 

"Knows his tasks, does he?"

 

"Always. And Henry Dow comes next."

 

"Who's last?"

 

"Poor Bob Carmody. I spend more time on him than on all the rest put

together."

 

"My!" said the Virginian. "Ain't that strange!"

 

She looked at him, puzzled by his tone. "It's not strange when you know

Bob," she said.

 

"It's very strange," drawled the Virginian. "Knowin' Bob don't help it

any."

 

"I don't think that I understand you," said Molly, sticky.

 

"Well, it is mighty confusin'. George Taylor, he's your best scholar,

and poor Bob, he's your worst, and there's a lot in the middle--and you

tell me we're all born equal!"

 

Molly could only sit giggling in this trap he had so ingeniously laid

for her.

 

"I'll tell you what," pursued the cow-puncher, with slow and growing

intensity, "equality is a great big bluff. It's easy called."

 

"I didn't mean--" began Molly.

 

"Wait, and let me say what I mean." He had made an imperious gesture

with his hand. "I know a man that mostly wins at cyards. I know a man

that mostly loses. He says it is his luck. All right. Call it his luck.

I know a man that works hard and he's gettin' rich, and I know another

that works hard and is gettin' poor. He says it is his luck. All right.

Call it his luck. I look around and I see folks movin' up or movin'

down, winners or losers everywhere. All luck, of course. But since folks

can be born that different in their luck, where's your equality? No,

seh! call your failure luck, or call it laziness, wander around the

words, prospect all yu' mind to, and yu'll come out the same old trail

of inequality." He paused a moment and looked at her. "Some holds four

aces," he went on, "and some holds nothin', and some poor fello' gets

the aces and no show to play 'em; but a man has got to prove himself my

equal before I'll believe him."

 

Molly sat gazing at him, silent.

 

"I know what yu' meant," he told her now, "by sayin' you're not the wife

I'd want. But I am the kind that moves up. I am goin' to be your best

scholar." He turned toward her, and that fortress within her began to

shake.

 

"Don't," she murmured. "Don't, please."

 

"Don't what?"

 

"Why--spoil this."

 

"Spoil it?"

 

"These rides--I don't love you--I can't--but these rides are--"

 

"What are they?"

 

"My greatest pleasure. There! And, please, I want them to go on so."

 

"Go on so! I don't reckon yu' know what you're sayin'. Yu' might as well

ask fruit to stay green. If the way we are now can keep bein' enough

for you, it can't for me. A pleasure to you, is it? Well, to me it is--I

don't know what to call it. I come to yu' and I hate it, and I come

again and I hate it, and I ache and grieve all over when I go. No!

You will have to think of some other way than just invitin' me to keep

green."

 

"If I am to see you--" began the girl.

 

"You're not to see me. Not like this. I can stay away easier than what I

am doin'."

 

"Will you do me a favor, a great one?" said she, now.

 

"Make it as impossible as you please!" he cried. He thought it was to be

some action.

 

"Go on coming. But don't talk to me about--don't talk in that way--if

you can help it."

 

He laughed out, not permitting himself to swear.

 

"But," she continued, "if you can't help talking that way--sometimes--I

promise I will listen. That is the only promise I make."

 

"That is a bargain," he said.

 

Then he helped her mount her horse, restraining himself like a Spartan,

and they rode home to her cabin.

 

"You have made it pretty near impossible," he said, as he took his

leave. "But you've been square to-day, and I'll show you I can be square

when I come back. I'll not do more than ask you if your mind's the same.

And now I'll not see you for quite a while. I am going a long way. But

I'll be very busy. And bein' busy always keeps me from grievin' too much

about you."

 

Strange is woman! She would rather have heard some other last remark

than this.

 

"Oh, very well!" she said. "I'll not miss you either."

 

He smiled at her. "I doubt if yu' can help missin' me," he remarked. And

he was gone at once, galloping on his Monte horse.

 

Which of the two won a victory this day?

 

 

 

 

XIII. THE GAME AND THE NATION--ACT FIRST

 

 

There can be no doubt of this: All America is divided into two

classes,--the quality and the equality.

 

The latter will always recognize the former when mistaken for it. Both

will be with us until our women bear nothing but hangs.

 

It was through the Declaration of Independence that we Americans

acknowledged the ETERNAL INEQUALITY of man. For by it we abolished a

cut-and-dried aristocracy. We had seen little mere artificially held up

in high places, and great men artificially held down in low places, and

our own justice-loving hearts abhorred this violence to human nature.

Therefore, we decreed that every man should thenceforth have equal

liberty to find his own level. By this very decree we acknowledged and

gave freedom to true aristocracy, saying, "Let the best man win, whoever

he is." Let the best man win! That is America's word. That is true

democracy. And true democracy and true aristocracy are one and the same

thing. If anybody cannot see this, so much the worse for his eyesight.

 

The above reflections occurred to me before reaching Billings, Montana,

some three weeks after I had unexpectedly met the Virginian at Omaha,

Nebraska. I had not known of that trust given to him by Judge Henry,

which was taking him East. I was looking to ride with him before long

among the clean hills of Sunk Creek. I supposed he was there. But I came

upon him one morning in Colonel Cyrus Jones's eating palace.

 

Did you know the palace? It stood in Omaha, near the trains, and it was

ten years old (which is middle-aged in Omaha) when I first saw it. It

was a shell of wood, painted with golden emblems,--the steamboat, the

eagle, the Yosemite,--and a live bear ate gratuities at its entrance.

Weather permitting, it opened upon the world as a stage upon the

audience. You sat in Omaha's whole sight and dined, while Omaha's dust

came and settled upon the refreshments. It is gone the way of the Indian

and the buffalo, for the West is growing old. You should have seen the

palace and sat there. In front of you passed rainbows of men,--Chinese,

Indian chiefs, Africans, General Miles, younger sons, Austrian nobility,

wide females in pink. Our continent drained prismatically through Omaha

once.

 

So I was passing that way also, walking for the sake of ventilation from

a sleeping-car toward a bath, when the language of Colonel Cyrus Jones

came out to me. The actual colonel I had never seen before. He stood

at the rear of his palace in gray flowery mustaches and a Confederate

uniform, telling the wishes of his guests to the cook through a hole.

You always bought meal tickets at once, else you became unwelcome.

Guests here had foibles at times, and a rapid exit was too easy.

Therefore I bought a ticket. It was spring and summer since I had heard

anything like the colonel. The Missouri had not yet flowed into New York

dialect freely, and his vocabulary met me like the breeze of the plains.

So I went in to be fanned by it, and there sat the Virginian at a table,

alone.

 

His greeting was up to the code of indifference proper on the plains;

but he presently remarked, "I'm right glad to see somebody," which was a

good deal to say. "Them that comes hyeh," he observed next, "don't eat.

They feed." And he considered the guests with a sombre attention.

"D' yu' reckon they find joyful digestion in this swallo'-an'-get-out

trough?"

 

"What are you doing here, then?" said I.

 

"Oh, pshaw! When yu' can't have what you choose, yu' just choose what

you have." And he took the bill-of-fare. I began to know that he had

something on his mind, so I did not trouble him further.

 

Meanwhile he sat studying the bill-of-fare.

 

"Ever heard o' them?" he inquired, shoving me the spotted document.

 

Most improbable dishes were there,--salmis, canapes, supremes,--all

perfectly spelt and absolutely transparent. It was the old trick of

copying some metropolitan menu to catch travellers of the third and last

dimension of innocence; and whenever this is done the food is of the

third and last dimension of awfulness, which the cow-puncher knew as

well as anybody.

 

"So they keep that up here still," I said.

 

"But what about them?" he repeated. His finger was at a special item,

FROGS' LEGS A LA DELMONICO. "Are they true anywheres?" he asked And I

told him, certainly. I also explained to him about Delmonico of New York

and about Augustin of Philadelphia.

 

"There's not a little bit o' use in lyin' to me this mawnin'," he said,

with his engaging smile. "I ain't goin' to awdeh anything's laigs."

 

"Well, I'll see how he gets out of it," I said, remembering the odd

Texas legend. (The traveller read the bill-of-fare, you know, and called

for a vol-au-vent. And the proprietor looked at the traveller, and

running a pistol into his ear, observed, "You'll take hash.") I was

thinking of this and wondering what would happen to me. So I took the

step.

 

"Wants frogs' legs, does he?" shouted Colonel Cyrus Jones. He fixed

his eye upon me, and it narrowed to a slit. "Too many brain workers

breakfasting before yu' came in, professor," said he. "Missionary ate

the last leg off me just now. Brown the wheat!" he commanded, through

the hole to the cook, for some one had ordered hot cakes.

 

"I'll have fried aiggs," said the Virginian. "Cooked both sides."

 

"White wings!" sang the colonel through the hole. "Let 'em fly up and

down."

 

"Coffee an' no milk," said the Virginian.

 

"Draw one in the dark!" the colonel roared.

 

"And beefsteak, rare."

 

"One slaughter in the pan, and let the blood drip!"

 

"I should like a glass of water, please," said I. The colonel threw me a

look of pity.

 

"One Missouri and ice for the professor!" he said.

 

"That fello's a right live man," commented the Virginian. But he seemed

thoughtful. Presently he inquired, "Yu' say he was a foreigner, an'

learned fancy cookin' to New Yawk?"

 

That was this cow-puncher's way. Scarcely ever would he let drop a thing

new to him until he had got from you your whole information about it.

So I told him the history of Lorenzo Delmonico and his pioneer work, as

much as I knew, and the Southerner listened intently.

 

"Mighty inter-estin'," he said--"mighty. He could just take little

old o'rn'ry frawgs, and dandy 'em up to suit the bloods. Mighty

inter-estin'. I expaict, though, his cookin' would give an outraiged

stomach to a plain-raised man."

 

"If you want to follow it up," said I, by way of a sudden experiment,

"Miss Molly Wood might have some book about French dishes."

 

But the Virginian did not turn a hair. "I reckon she wouldn't," he

answered. "She was raised in Vermont. They don't bother overly about

their eatin' up in Vermont. Hyeh's what Miss Wood recommended the las'

time I was seein' her," the cow-puncher added, bringing Kenilworth from

his pocket. "Right fine story. That Queen Elizabeth must have cert'nly

been a competent woman."

 

"She was," said I. But talk came to an end here. A dusty crew, most

evidently from the plains, now entered and drifted to a table; and each

man of them gave the Virginian about a quarter of a slouchy nod. His

greeting to them was very serene. Only, Kenilworth went back into his

pocket, and he breakfasted in silence. Among those who had greeted him I

now recognized a face.

 

"Why, that's the man you played cards with at Medicine Bow!" I said.

 

"Yes. Trampas. He's got a job at the ranch now." The Virginian said no

more, but went on with his breakfast.

 

His appearance was changed. Aged I would scarcely say, for this

would seem as if he did not look young. But I think that the boy was

altogether gone from his face--the boy whose freak with Steve had turned

Medicine Bow upside down, whose other freak with the babies had outraged

Bear Creek, the boy who had loved to jingle his spurs. But manhood had

only trained, not broken, his youth. It was all there, only obedient to

the rein and curb.

 

Presently we went together to the railway yard.

 

"The Judge is doing a right smart o' business this year," he began, very

casually indeed, so that I knew this was important. Besides bells and

coal smoke, the smell and crowded sounds of cattle rose in the air

around us. "Hyeh's our first gather o' beeves on the ranch," continued

the Virginian. "The whole lot's shipped through to Chicago in two

sections over the Burlington. The Judge is fighting the Elkhorn road."

We passed slowly along the two trains,--twenty cars, each car packed

with huddled, round-eyed, gazing steers. He examined to see if any