[Frontispiece: He was a lovely pet (missing from book)]
Red Saunders' Pets
And Other Critters
Henry Wallace Phillips
Red Saunders and Mr. Scraggs
McClure, Phillips & Co.
Copyright, 1906, by
McCLURE, PHILLIPS & CO.
Published, May, 1906
Copyright, 1902, 1903, 1904, 1905, by The S. S. McClure Company
Copyright, 1902, by The Success Company
Copyright, 1905, by P. F. Collier & Son
OSCAR'S CHANCE, PER CHARLEY
BILLY THE BUCK
THE DEMON IN THE CANON
THE LITTLE BEAR WHO GREW
IN THE ABSENCE OF RULES
FOR SALE, THE GOLDEN QUEEN
WHERE THE HORSE IS FATE
AGAMEMNON AND THE FALL OF TROY
A TOUCH OF NATURE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
HE WAS A LOVELY PET . . . . . . Frontispiece (missing from book)
WE NEAR LOST TWO PETS
"I WISHT SOMEBODY'D TELEGRAPH THAT SON-OF-A-GUN FOR ME"
BOB 'UD HOP HIM
HIS STYLE OF RIDING ATTRACTED ATTENTION
SEARCHING HIS SOUL FOR SOUNDS TO TELL HOW SCART HE WAS
GET OFF'N ME!
THE AFFAIR WAS AT PRESENT IN THE FORMAL STATE
"A WISE AND SUBTLE PIECE OF STRATEGY"
"AN ACCOUNT OF MY ADVENTURES"
"'HERE'S—YOUR—DEER—KID,' HE GASPED."
THE PUNCHERS TO THE RESCUE
HE'D COME AROUND WITH HIS PLANS AND SPECIFICATIONS TWICE A DAY
MIGUEL COULD RUN WHEN HE PUT HIS MIND TO IT
"CLEAN WAS NO NAME FOR HIS PERSONAL APPEARANCE"
"UP GETS FOXY WITH A SHRIEK AND GALLOPS AROUND THE HOUSE"
"OLD WINDY USED TO TALK TO THE PIG AS THOUGH THEY'D BEEN RAISED TOGETHER"
"HE'D HUMP UP HIS BACK . . . AND RUB AGAINST YOUR LEGS"
"NO. DIDN'T WANT FOOD. HEART WAS BROKE"
"'HUNGH!' SAYS HE, AND BLINKED HIS EYES SHUT"
"THE DOCTOR GOES SAILING INTO THE DRINK"
"A HA HA! CUT IN TWO IN THE MIDDLE"
"THAT WOOLLY, BLAATIN' FOOL OF A SHEEP"
"CHASES HIMSELF OFF TO THE SKY-LINE FOR ANOTHER TRY"
"THE DURNED RAM WAS PRANCIN' AWAY"
"HE WAS KNOCKED GALLEY-WEST"
"THAT PIG LOOKED UP AND SMILED"
"AND HOLLER! I WISHT YOU COULD HAVE HEARD THAT PIG"
"DONE. EVERLASTINGLY DONE"
THROUGH THE GLASS I GOT A BETTER VIEW OF THE POOR DEVIL ABOUT TO BE STRUNG
WE CALLED TO HIM TO HALT, AND HE STOPPED, KIND OF GRINNED AT US AND SAYS: "HELLO!"
YES, SIR; THERE HE SAT, AND HE WAS KNITTIN' A PAIR OF SOCKS!
TWENTY-FIVE FOOT OF A DROP, CLEAR, TO ICE-WATER—WOW!
"WHOOP HER UP, COLIN!" I HOLLERS
Red Saunders' Pets And Other Critters
"Of all the worlds I ever broke into, this one's the most curious," said Red. "And one of the curiousest things in it is that I think it's queer. Why should I, now? What put it into our heads that affairs ought to go so and so and so, when they never do anything of the sort? Take any book you read, or any story a man tells you: it runs along about how Mr. Smith made up his mind to do this or that, and proceeded to do it. And that never happened. What Mr. Smith calls making up his mind is nothing more nor less than Mr. Smith's dodging to cover under pressure of circumstances. That's straight. Old Lady Luck comes for Mr. Smith's mind, swinging both hands; she gives it a stem-winder on the ear; lams it for keeps on the smeller; chugs it one in the short ribs, drives right and left into its stummick, and Mr. Smith's mind breaks for cover; then Mr. Smith tells his wife that—he's made up his mind—He, mind you. Wouldn't that stun you?
"Some people would say, 'Mr. Sett and Mr. Burton made up their minds to start the Big Bend Ranch.' All right; perhaps they did, but let me give you an inside view of the factory.
"First off, Billy Quinn, Wind-River Smith, and me were putting up hay at the lake beds. It was a God-forsaken, lonesome job, to say the best of it, and we took to collecting pets, to make it seem a little more like home.
"Billy shot a hawk, breaking its wing. That was the first in the collection. He was a lovely pet. When you gave him a piece of meat he said 'Cree,' and clawed chunks out of you, but most of the time he sat in the corner with his chin on his chest, like a broken-down lawyer. We didn't get the affection we needed out of him. Well, then Wind-River found a bull-snake asleep and lugged him home, hanging over his shoulder. We sewed a flannel collar on the snake and picketed him out until he got used to the place. And around and around and around squirmed that snake until we near got sick at our stummicks watching him. All day long, turning and turning and turning.
"'Darn it,' says I, 'I like more variety.' So that day, when I was cutting close to a timbered slew, out pops an old bob-cat and starts to open my shirt to see if I am her long-lost brother. By the time I got her strangled I had parted with most of my complexion. Served me right for being without a gun. The team run away as soon as I fell off the seat and I was booked to walk home. I heard a squeal from the bushes, and here comes a funny little cuss. I liked the look of him from the jump-off, even if his mother did claw delirious delight out of me. He balanced himself on his stubby legs and looked me square in the eye, and he spit and fought as though he weighed a ton when I picked him up—never had any notion of running away. Well, that was Robert—long for Bob.
"The style that cat spread on in the matter of growing was simply astonishing; he grew so's you could notice it overnight. At the end of two months he was that big he couldn't stand up under our sheet-iron cook-stove, and this was about the beginning of our family troubles. Tommy, the snake, was a good deal of a nuisance from the time he settled down. You'd have a horrible dream in the night—be way down under something or other, gasping for wind, and, waking up, find Tommy nicely coiled on your chest. Then you'd slap Tommy on the floor like a section of large rubber hose. But he bore no malice. Soon's you got asleep he'd be right back again. When the weather got cool he was always under foot. He'd roll beneath you and land you on your scalp-lock, or you'd ketch your toe on him and get a dirty drop. I don't think I ever laughed more in my life than one day when Billy come in with an armful of wood, tripped on Tommy, and come down with a clatter right where Judge Jenkins, the hawk, could reach him. The Judge fastened one claw in Billy's hair and scratched his whiskers with the other. Gee! The hair and feathers flew! Bill had a hot temper and he went for the hawk like it was a man. The first thing he laid his hand on was Tommy, so he used the poor snake for a club. Wind-River and me were so weak from laughing that we near lost two pets before we got strength to interfere."
"But, as I was saying, the cold nights played Keno with our happy home. Neither Tommy nor Bob dared monkey with the Judge—he was the only thing on top of the earth the cat was afraid of. Bob used to be very anxious to sneak a hunk of meat from His Honour at times, yet, when the Judge stood on one foot, cocked his head sideways, snapped his bill and said 'Cree,' Robert reconsidered. On the other hand, Tommy and Bob were forever scrapping. Lively set-tos, I want to tell you. The snake butted with his head like a young streak of lightning. I've seen him knock the cat ten foot. And while a cat doesn't grow mouldy in the process of making a move, yet the snake is there about one seventeen-hundredth-millionth part of a second sooner. And that's a good deal where those parties are concerned. Now, on cold nights, they both liked to get under the stove, where it was warm, and there wasn't room for more'n one. Hence, trouble; serious trouble. Bob hunted coyotes on moonlight nights. We threw scraps around the corner of the house to bait 'em, and Bob would watch there hour on end until one got within range. It was a dead coyote in ten seconds by the watch, if the jump landed. If it didn't, Bob had learned there was no use wasting his young strength trying to ketch him. He used to sit still and gaze after them flying streaks of hair and bones as though he was thinking 'I wisht somebody'd telegraph that son-of-a-gun for me.'"
"Well, then he'd be chilly and reckon he'd climb under the stove. But Thomas 'ud be there.
"'H-h-h-h-hhhh!' says Tom, in a whisper.
"'Er-raow-pht!" says Robert. 'Mmmmm-mm—errrrr—pht!' And so on for some time, the talk growing louder, then, with a yell that would stand up every hair on your head, Bob 'ud hop him. Over goes the cook-stove. Away rolls the hot coals on the floor. Down comes the stove-pipe and the frying-pans and the rest of the truck, whilst the old Judge in the corner hollered decisions, heart-broke because he was tied by the leg and could not get a claw into the dispute.
"By the time we had 'em separated—Bob headed up in his barrel and Tom tied up in his sack—put the fire out, and fixed things generally, there wasn't a great deal left of that night's rest.
"But children will be children. We swore awful, still we wouldn't have missed their company for a fair-sized farm.
"And now comes in the first little twist of the Big Bend Ranch, proper—all these things I'm telling you were the eggs. Here's where the critter pipped.
"'Twas November, and such a November as you don't get outside of Old Dakota, a regular mint-julep of a month, with a dash of summer, a sprig of spring, a touch of fall, and a sniff or two of winter to liven you up. If you'd formed a committee to furnish weather for a month, and they'd turned out a month like that, not even their best friends would have kicked. And here we'd been makin' hay, and makin' hay, the ranch people thanking Providence that prairie grass cures on the stem, while we cussed, for we were sick of the sight of hay. I got so the rattle of a mower give me hysterics. We were picked because we were steady and reliable, but one day we bunched the job. Says I, 'Here; we've cut grass for four solid months, includin' Sundays and legal holidays, although the Lord knows where they come in, for I haven't the least suspicion what day of the month it may be, but anyhow, let's knock off one round.'
"So we did. I sat outside in the afternoon, while the other two boys and the rest of the family took a snooze. Here comes a man across the south flat a-horseback.
"I watched him, much interested: first place, he was the first strange human animal we'd laid eye on for six weeks; next place, his style of riding attracted attention. I thought at the time he must have invented it, him being the kind of man that hated horses, and wanted to keep as far away from them as possible, yet forced by circumstances to climb upon their backs."
"His mount was a big American horse, full sixteen hand high, trotting in twenty-foot jumps. If I had anything against a person, just short of killing, I'd tie him on the back of a horse trotting like that. It's a great gait to sit out. Howsomever, this man didn't sit it out; what he wanted of a saddle beyond the stirrups was a mystery, for he never touched it. He stood up on his stirrups, bent forward like he was going to bite the horse in the ear, soon's the strain got unendurable.
"Well, here he come, straight for us. I'd a mind to wake the other boys up, to let 'em see something new in the way of mishandling a horse, but they snored so peaceful. I refrained.
"'How-de-do?' says he.
"I said I was worrying along, and sized him up, on the quiet. He was a queer pet. Not a bad set-up man, and rather good looking in the face. Light yellow hair, little yellow moustache, light blue eyes. And clean! Say, I never saw anybody that looked so aggravating clean in all my life. It seemed kind of wrong for him to be outdoors; all the prairie and the cabin and everything looked mussed up beside him.
"As soon as he opened up, I noticed he had a little habit of speaking in streaks, that bothered me. I missed the sense of his remarks.
"'Would you mind walking over that trail again?' I asked him. 'I do most of my thinking at a foot-step and your ideas is over the hill and far away before I can recognise the cut of their scalp-lock.'
"'Haw!' says he and stared at me. I was just on the point of askin' him if red hair was a new thing to him, when all of a sudden he begun to laugh, 'Haw-haw-haw!' says he; 'not bad at all, ye know.'
"'Of course not,' says I. 'Why should it be?'
"This got him going. I saw him figuring away to himself, and then I had to smile so you could hear it.
"'Well,' says I, better humoured, 'tell us it again—I caught the word sheep in the hurricane.'
"So he went over it, talking slow. I listened with one ear, for he had a white bulldog with him; a husky, bandy-legged brute with a black eye, and he was sniffing, dog fashion, around the door, while I blocked him out with my legs. Doggy was in a frame of mind, puzzling out bull-snake trail, and hawk trail, and bob-cat trail. He foresaw much that was entertaining the other side of the door, and wanted it, powerful.
"'Here,' says I, 'call your dog. I can't pay attention to both of you.'
"'He won't hurt anything, you know,' says the man.
"'Well, we've got a cat in there that'll hurt him,' I says. 'You'd better whistle him off before old Bob wakes up and scatters him around the front yard.'
"Gee! That man sat up straight on his horse! Cat hurt that dog? Nonsense! Of course, he wouldn't let the dog hurt the cat, and as long as I was afraid——
"I looked into that peaceful cabin. Billy was lying on his back, his fine manly nose vibrating with melody; Wind-River was cooing in a gentle, choked-to-death sort of fashion, on the second bunk; Tom was coiled in the corner, the size of half a barrel; the Judge slept on his perch; Robert reposed under the cook-stove with just a front paw sticking out. It was one of them restful scenes our friends the poets sing about. It did appear wicked to disturb it but——
"'Will you risk your dog?' I asked that man very softly and politely.
"'Certainly!' says he.
"Says I, 'His blood be on your shirtfront,' and I moved my leg.
"Well, sir, Billy landed on the grocery shelf. Wind-River grabbed his gun and sat up paralysed. It really was a most surprising noise. I've had hard luck in my life, but all the things that ever happened to me would seem like a recess to that bulldog. Our domestic difficulties was forgotten. 'United We Stand,' waved the motto of the lake-bed cabin. Jerusalem! That dog was snake-bit, and hawk-scratched-and-bit-and-clawed, and bobcat-scratched-and-bit-and-clawed, till you could not see a cussed thing in that cabin but blur. And of all the hissing and squawking and screeching and yelling and snapping and roaring and growling you or any other man ever heard, that was the darndest. I took a look at the visitor. He'd got off his horse and was standing in the doorway with his hands spread out. His face expressed nothing at all, very forcible. Meanwhile, things were boilin' for fair; cook-stove, frying-pans, stools, boxes, saddles, tin cans, bull-snakes, hawks, bob-cats, and bulldogs simply floated in the air.
"'I wish you'd tell me what has busted loose, Red Saunders!' howls old Wind-River in an injured tone of voice; 'and whether I shell shoot or sha'n't I?'
"There come a second's lull. I see Judge Jenkins on the dog's back, his talents sunk to the hock, whilst he had hold of an ear with his bill, pullin' manfully. Tommy had swallered the dog's stumpy tail, and Bob was dragging hair out of the enemy like an Injun dressing hides.
"A bulldog is like an Irishman; he's brave because he don't know any better, and you can't get any braver than that, but there's a limit, even to lunk-headedness. It bored through that dog's thick skull that he had butted into a little bit the darndest hardest streak of petrified luck that anything on legs could meet with.
"'By-by,' says he to himself. 'Out doors will do for me!' And here he come! Neither the visitor nor me was expecting him. He blocked the feet out from under us and sat his master on top. We got up in time to see a winged bulldog, with a tail ten foot long, bounding merrily over the turf, searching his soul for sounds to tell how scart he was, whilst a desperate bob-cat, spitting fire and brimstone, threw dirt fifty foot in the air trying to lay claws on him."
"As they disappeared over the first rise I rolls me a cigarette and lights it slowly.
"'Just by way of curiosity,' says I; 'how much will you take for your dog?'
"'My Heavens!' says he, recovering the power of speech. 'What kind of animal was that?'
"'Come in,' says I, 'and take a drink—you need it.'
"So we gathered up the ruins and tidied things some, while the new man sipped his whiskey.
"'My!' says he, of a sudden. 'I must go after my poor dog.'
"I sort of warmed to him at that. 'Dog's all right,' says I. 'He'll shake 'em loose and be home in no time. Now you tell me about them sheep.'
"'Sheep?' says he, putting his hand to his head. 'What was it about sheep?'
"'Hello in the house!' sings out Billy. 'The children's comin' home!'
"We tumbled out. Sure enough, the warriors was returning. First come the Judge, tougher than rawhide, half walking and half flying, his wings spread out, 'cree-ing' to himself about bulldogs and their ways; next come Bobby, still sputtering and swearing, and behind ambled Thomas at a lively wriggle, a coy, large smile upon his face.
"'Ur-r-roup! Roup!' sounds from the top of the rise. The family halted and turned around, expectin' more pleasure, for there on the top of the hill stood the terrible scart but still faithful bulldog calling for his master to come away from that place quick, before he got killed. But he had one eye open for safety, and when the family stopped, he ducked down behind the hill surprisin'.
"'Well, I must be going,' says the visitor. 'My name's Sett—Algernon Alfred Sett—and I shall be over next week to talk to you about those sheep.'
"'Any time,' says I. 'We'll be here till we have to shovel snow to get at the hay, from the look of things.'
"'Well, I'm very anxious to have a good long talk with you about sheep,' says he. 'I've been informed that you had a long experience in that line in—er—Nevverdah——'
"'Nevverdah?' says I. 'Oh!—Nevada. I beg your pardon—I've got in the habit of pronouncing in that way. It wasn't Nevada, by the way—it was Texas—but that's only a matter of a Europe or so. Yes, I met a sheep or two in that country, I'm sorry to say.'
"'I—er—think of engaging in the business, dontcher know,' says he, relaxing into his first method of speech; 'and should like to consult you professionally.'
"'All right, sir!' says I. 'I'm one of the easiest men to consult west of any place east. Can't you stay now and get the load off your mind?'
"'Well—no,' he says to me very confidentially. 'You see, that dog is a great pet of my wife's, and I'm also afraid she will be a little worried by my long absence, so——'
"'I see, sir—I see,' I answered him. 'Well, come around again and we'll talk sheep.'
"'Thank you—thank you so much,' says he, and pops up on his horse. Then again, without any warning, he broke into a haw-haw-haw! as he threw a glance at the family, who sat around eyeing him. 'You were quite right about that cat, you know,' says he. 'Capital! Capital! But a little rough on the dog.' And off he goes, bobbity-bob, bobbity-bob.
"'Where'd you tag that critter, Red?' says Wind-River. 'My mind's wanderin'.'
"'He comes down the draw much the graceful way he's going up it,' says I. 'From where, and why how, I dunno. But I kind of like him against my better instincts, Windy.'
"Windy spit thoughtfully at a fly fifteen foot away. 'I shouldn't have time to hate him much myself,' says he.
"And there you are. That's how I met Brother Sett, and the Big Bend Ranch stuck her head out of the shell."
Oscar's Chance, per Charley
"Bhooooooorrr! Bhooooooooooooooorrrrr!" It was the hollow, melancholy, wild beast-howl of a fog-horn. We were drifting upon a tragic coast, where the great waves slipped up the cliffs noiselessly, to disappear upon the other side. At the time, I was talking to a person who had just been a sort of composite of several of my friends, but was now a gaunt bay mule. "Isn't it co-o-ld?" I said to him, and shivered. He looked me sternly in the eye. "Get up!" said he. The vessel struck a rock and trembled violently. "Get up!" repeated the mule, and there was a menace in his voice now. "Bhooooooooooorrrrr!" moaned the fog-horn. This was dreadful. But worse followed. The waters gathered themselves and rose into a peak, the mule sliding swiftly to the apex, still holding me with his uncanny eyes. There came a shock, and Oscar said, "For the Lord's sake, kid! They've been braying away on that breakfast horn for the last five minutes. Hustle!"
I found myself upon my hands and knees; in a cabin, all right, but the cabin was on the prairie. I looked around, stupid with sleep. The familiar sights met my eye—Oscar tiptoeing about, bow-legged, arms spread like wings, drawing his breath through his teeth, after the fashion of half-frozen people. Old Charley sat humped up in the corner, sucking his cob pipe. The stove was giving forth a smell of hot iron, and no heat, as usual. On it rested a wash-basin, wherein some snow was melting for the morning ablutions. A candle projected a sort of palpable yellow gloom into the grey icy morning air. I dressed rapidly. As I slept in overcoat and cap, this was no great matter. A pair of German socks and arctics completed my attire. Evidently I had been put upon the floor by the hand of Oscar. For this, when Oscar stretched his nether garment tight, in the act of washing his face, I smote him upon the fulness thereof with a long plug of chewing tobacco. "Aow!" he yelled, recurving like a bow and putting his hands to his wound. Promptly we clinched and fell upon old Charley. To the floor the three went, amid a shower of sparks from the cob pipe. "You dam pesky kids!" said the angry voice of Charles (the timbre of that voice, after travelling through four inches of nose, is beyond imitation). "Get off'n me! Quit now! Stop yer blame foolin'!"
Oscar and I swallowed our giggles and rolled all over Charley. "Well, by Jeeroosha!" came from the bottom of the heap in the tone of one who has reached the breaking point of astonished fury. "I'm goin' to do some shootin' when this is over—yes, sir, I won't hold back no more—ef you boys don't git off'n me this minit, so help me Bob! I'll bite yer!"
This was a real danger, and we skipped off him briskly. "Why, Charley," explained Oscar, "you see, we got so excited that we didn't notice——"
"There's Steve now," interrupted Charley, pointing with a long crooked forefinger to the doorway. "Well, Steve! I'm glad you come. I just want you to see the kind of goin's on there is here." Charles cleared his throat and stuck his thumb in his vest. "F'r instance, this mornin', I sittin' right there in that corner, not troublin' nobody, when up gets that splay-footed, sprawlin', lumberin' bull-calf of an Oscar, an' that mischievious, sawed-off little monkey of a Harry, and they goes to pullin' and tusslin', and they jes' walks up and down on me, same's if I was a flight of steps. Now, you know, Steve, I'm a man of sagassity an' experiunce, an' I ain't goin' to stand fur no such dograsslin'. I felt like doin' them boys ser'us damage, but they're young, and life spreads green and promisin' befo' 'em, like a banana tree; consequently I prefer jus' to tell you my time is handed in."
Charley was proudly erect. His arms stretched aloft. His one yellow tooth rested on his lower lip; his face, the thickness and texture of a much-worn leather pocketbook, showed a tinge of colour as the words went to his head like wine.
Steve looked at the floor. "Too bad, Charley; too bad," he said in grave sympathy. "But probably we can fix it up. Now, as we have company, would you mind hitting the breakfast trail?"
"After I've made a few remarks," returned Charles haughtily.
Steve dropped on a stool. "Sick your pup on," he said. Charley leaped at the opportunity.
"There are some things I sh'd like to mention," said he. We noted with pleasure that he wore his sarcastic manner. "F'r instance, you doubtless behold them small piles of snow on the floo', which has come in through certain an' sundry holes in the wall that orter been chinked last fall. Is it my place to chink them holes? The oldes' an' mose experiunced man in the hull cat-hop? I reckon otherwise. Then why didn't they git chinked? Why is it that the snows and winds of an outraged and jus'ly indignant Providence is allowed to introdoose theirselves into this company unrebuked?
"I have heard a' great deal, su', about the deadenin' effeck produced upon man's vigger by a steady, reliable, so'thern climate. As a citizen of the State of Texas fo' twenty years I repel the expersion with scorn and hoomiliation. Nevertheless and notwithstanding, 'lowing' that to be the truth, did you encounter anything in this here country to produce such an effeck? For Gawd's sake, su', if there's anything in variety, a man livin' here orter lay holt of the grass roots, fur fear he'd git so durn strong he couldn't stay on the face of the yearth. Ef it ain't so sinful cold that yer ears'll drap off at a touch, it's so hell-fire hot that a man's features melt all over his face, and ef it ain't so solemn still that you're scart to death, the wind'll blow the buttonholes outer yer clo's'. I have seen it do a hull yearful of stunts in twenty-four hours, encludin' hot an' cold weather, thunderstorms, drought, high water, and a blizzard. That settles the climate question. Then what is it that has let them holes go unchinked? I'll tell you, su'; it's nothin' more nor less than the tinkerin', triflin', pettifoggin' dispersition of them two boys. That's what makes it that there's mo' out-doors inside this bull-pen than there is on the top of Chunkey Smith's butte; that's what makes it I can't get up in the mornin' without having myself turned inter a three-ringed circus. But I ain't the man to complain. Ef there's anything that gums up the cards of life, it's a kicker; so jes' as one man to another, I tells you what's wrong here and leaves you to figger it out fer yerself."
He glanced around on three grave faces with obvious satisfaction. His wrath had dissipated in the vapour of words. "Nor they ain't such bad boys, as boys, nuther," he concluded.
"I will examine this matter carefully, Charles," said Steve.
"I thank you, su'," responded Charley, with a courtly sweep of his hand.
"Not at all," insisted Steve, with a duplicate wave. "I beg that you won't mention it. And now, if you would travel toward the house——"
And out we went into North Dakota's congealed envelope, with the smoke from the main-house chimney rising three hundred feet into the air, a snow-white column straight as a mast, Charley stalking majestically ahead, while we three floundered weakly behind him.
"Ain't he the corker?" gasped Oscar. "When he gets to jumping sideways among those four-legged words he separates me from my good intentions."
"'With scorn and hoomiliation,'" quoted Steve, and stopped, overcome.
"'I tells you what's the matter and leaves you to figger it out for yourself,'" I added. Then Charley heard us. He turned and approached, an awful frown upon his brow.
"May I inquire what is the reason of this yere merriment?" he asked. The manner was that of a man who proposed to find out. It sat on Charley with so ludicrous a parody that we were further undone. Steve raised his hands in deprecation, and spoke in a muffled voice that broke at intervals.
"Can't I laugh in my own backyard, Charley?" he said. "By the Lord Harry, I will laugh inside my stakes! No man shall prevent me. The Constitution of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and the Continental Congress give me the right. Now what have you got to say?"
"I dunno but what you have me whipsawed there, Steve," replied Charley, scratching his head. "Ef it's your right by the Constitootion, o' course I ain't goin' to object."
"Do either of you object?" demanded Steve of Oscar and me in his deepest bass. No, we didn't object; we fell down in the snow and crowed like chanticleer.
"Hunh!" snorted Charley. "Hunh! Them boys hain't got brains in their heads at all—nothin' but doodle-bugs!"
"Well, Charley," continued Steve, "as you don't object, and they don't object, and I don't object, for God's sake let's have breakfast!"
"I'll go you, Steve," replied Charles seriously, and we entered the house uproarious.
There in the kitchen was Mrs. Steve and the "company," a pretty little bright-eyed thing, whose colour went and came at a word—more particularly if Oscar said the word. The affair was at present in the formal state—the dawn of realisation that two such wonderful and magnificent creatures as Oscar and Sally existed. But they were not Oscar and Sally except in the dear privacy of their souls. Yet how much that is not obvious to the careless ear can be put into "Will you have a buckwheat cake, Mr. Kendall?" or "May I give you a helping of the syrup, Miss Brown?" It took some preparation for each to get out so simple a remark, and invariably the one addressed started guiltily, and got crimson. It was the most uncomfortable rapture I ever saw, However, they received very little plaguing. I can remember but one hard hit. Oscar was pouring syrup upon Sally's cakes, his eyes fixed upon a dainty hand, that shook under his gaze like a leaf. He forgot his business. Steve looked at the inverted, empty syrup-cup for some moments in silence. Then he said to his wife, "Emma, go and get Sally a nice cupful of fresh air to put on her cakes; that that Oscar has in the pitcher is stale by this time."
Oh, those cakes! And the ham! And the fried eggs and potatoes. We lived like fighting cocks at Steve's, as happens on most of the small ranches. The extreme glory of the prairie was not ours. We were wood-choppers, hay-cutters, and farmers, as well as punchers; but what we lost in romance, we made up in sustenance. No one ever saw a biscuit suffering from soda-jaundice on Steve's table. And how, after a night's sleep in a temperature of forty below zero, I would champ my teeth on the path to breakfast! Eating was not an appetite in those days—it was a passion.
Charley and I went forth after breakfast, Oscar lingering a moment, according to his use, to pass a painful five minutes in making excuses for staying that time, where no one needed any explanation.
"I wish to gracious Sally and Oscar would just act like people," said Mrs. Steve once in exasperation. "They get me so nervous stammering at each other that I drop everything I lay my hands on, and I feel as if I'd robbed somebody for the rest of the day."
The interview over, Oscar came out, burning with his own embarrassment, and made a sore mess of everything he did for the next hour. A man must have his mind about him on a ranch.
Once upon a time Steve came to Charley and me, literally prancing. We had heard oaths and yells and sounds of a battle royal previously, and wondered what was going on. When he neared us he moved slowly, his hands working like machinery. "I would like to know," he began, and stopped to glare at us and grind his teeth. "I should like to know," he continued, in a voice so weak with rage we could hardly hear it, "who turned the red bull into number three corral."
Charley and I went right on cleaning out the shed. We weren't going to tell on Oscar.
"So it's him again, heh?" shrieked Steve. "Well, now I propose to show him something. I'll show him everything!" He was entirely beyond the influence of reason and grammar. Charley had an ill-advised notion to play the paternal.
"Now, I'd cool down if I was you, Steve," he admonished.
"You would, would you!" foamed Steve. "Well, who the devil cares what you'd do, anyhow? And if you tell me to cool down just once more, I'll drive you into the ground like a tent-pin."
I jumped through the window, and then laughed, while Charley administered his reproof with appropriate gestures. His long arms flew in the air as he delivered the inspired address, Steve looking at him, a bit of shamefacedness and fun showing through his heat.
"An' mo' I tell you, Steven P. Hendricks!" rolled out Charley in conclusion. "That this citizen of Texas, jus'ly and rightjus'ly called the Lone Star State, has never yet experienced the feeling of bein' daunted by face of man. No, su'! By God, su'!" He held the shovel aloft like a sword. "Let 'em come as they will, male and female after their kind, from a ninety poun' Jew peddler to Sittin' Bull himself, and from a pigeon-toed Digger-Injun squaw to a fo'-hundred-weight Dutch lady, I turn my back on none!"
"You win, Charley," said Steve, and walked off. All Oscar caught out of it was the request that when he felt like reducing the stock on the ranch he'd take a rifle.
Poor Oscar! All noble and heroic sentiments struggling within him, with no outlet but a hesitating advancing of the theory that "if we didn't get rain before long, the country'd be awful dry." Small wonder that he burst out in the bull-pen one night with "I wish the Injuns would jump this ranch!"
"You do?" said Charley. "Well, durn your hide for that wish! What's got into you to make you wish that?"
"Aw!" said Oscar, twitching around on his stool, "I'm sick and tired of not being able to say anything. If the Sioux got up, I could do something."
"Oh, that's it," retorted Charles. "Well, Oscar, far's I can see, if it's necessary to have a war-party of Injuns whoopin' an' yellin' an' crow-hoppin' an' makin' fancywork out of people to give you the proper start afore your gal, it'd be jes' as well for you to stay single the res' of your days. The results wouldn't justify the trouble."
Afterward Oscar told me in private that Charley was an old stiff, and he didn't believe he'd make a chest at a grasshopper if the latter spunked up any. That wronged old Charley. But Oscar must be excused—he was a singularly unhappy man.
To come back to what happened. Oscar that morning had the care of Geronimo, a coal-black, man-eating stallion, a brute as utterly devoid of fear as of docility. A tiger kills to eat, and occasionally for the fun of it; that horse killed out of ferocity, and hate of every living thing.
A fearful beast is a bad horse. One really has more chance against a tiger. Geronimo stood seventeen hands high, and weighed over sixteen hundred pounds. When he reared on his hind legs and came for you, screaming, his teeth snapping like bear-traps, his black mane flying, a man seemed a pigmy. One blow from those front hoofs and your troubles were over. Once down, he'd trample, bite, and kick until your own mother would hesitate to claim the pile of rags and jelly left. He had served two men so; nothing but his matchless beauty saved his life.
Nowhere could one find a better example of hell-beautiful than when he tore around his corral in a tantrum, as lithe and graceful as a black panther. His mane stood on end; his eyes and nostrils were of a colour; the muscles looked to be bursting through the silken gloom of his coat. His swiftness was something incredible. He caught and most horribly killed Jim Baxter's hound before the latter could get out of the corral—and a bear-hound is a pretty agile animal. We had to tie Jim, or he'd made an end of Geronimo. He left the ranch right after that. The loss of his dog broke him all up.
We fed and watered Geronimo with a pitchfork, and in terror then, for his slyness and cunning were on a par with his other pleasant peculiarities. One of the poor devils he killed entered the stable all unsuspecting. Geronimo had broken his chains, and stood close against the wall of his stall in the darkness, waiting. The man came within reach. Suddenly a black mass of flesh flashed in the air above him, coming down with all four hoofs—and that's enough of that story.
A nice pet was Geronimo. An excellent decoration for a gentleman's stable—stuffed.
Well, Oscar turned him out this morning, and then he, Steve, and I went for hay. As it was toward the last of winter, all the near stacks had been used up, and we had to haul from Kennedy's bottom, eight miles away. When we started, the air was still and frozen, with a deep, biting cold unusual to Dakota; the sort that searches you and steals all the heat you own. We were numb by the time we reached the stack, and glad enough to have warm work to do. We fell to it with a rush for that reason, and because a dull grey blink upon the western skyline seemed to promise a blizzard. We were tying down the last load, when I heard the hum of wind coming, and looked up, expecting to see a wall of flying snow, and continued looking, seeing nothing of the kind. There I stood, in the air of an ice-house, when a gust of that wind struck me. A miracle! In a snap of your fingers I was bathed in genial warmth. All about me rode the scent of spring and flowers! It was as if the doors of a giant conservatory were thrown open.
"Chinook, boys! Chinook!" I called, casting down my fork. They ran from the lee of the stack, throwing their coats open, drinking it in and laughing, for, man! we were weary of winter! First it came in puffs, at length settling down to a steady breeze, as of the sea. The sun, that in the early morning was no more than a pale effigy, poured on us a heart-warming fire. We hustled for home, knowing that the Chinook would make short work of the snow. In fact, we had not covered more than half the distance before the prairie began to show brown here and there, where it lay thin between mountainous drifts. We sang and howled all the way to the sheds, feeling fine.
Here Steve left us, to go to the house, while Oscar and I unloaded the sleighs.
Suddenly I felt uncomfortable, for no reason in this world. The land about us was rejoicing with the booming of that kind, warm wind, yet a sharp uneasiness stopped me and forced me to raise my head. For three-quarters of a circle nothing met my eyes but the vanishing snow-drifts. I reached the house; nothing wrong there. Steve was walking briskly out toward us, smoking his pipe. Then the corrals—all right, number one, two, three, four—Lord have mercy!
"Oscar!" I shrieked, and snatched him to his feet. He rose, bewildered and half angry, then looked to where I pointed.
Through the centre of number four corral tripped Sally, dear little timid Sally, glad to be out in this lovely air, her eyes and mind on Oscar doubtless, and in the same corral, shut off from her sight by a projection of the sheds, stood Geronimo. And he saw her, too, for as she waved a hand to us, he bared his great teeth and clashed them together. The earth seemed to rock and sink from me. Every soul on the ranch was told to keep away from the corral with the two buffalo skulls over the gates, a warning sufficiently big and gruesome to stop anyone. What fatal lapse of memory had struck the girl?
She was beyond help. We were all of two hundred yards away, and Steve still farther; she was not a quarter of that from the brute. If we shouted, if we moved, we might bring her end upon her—and such an end! When I thought of that dainty, pretty little woman beneath those hoofs, I felt a hideous sickness. The man beside me said, "My God! My mistake!" A corral opened on each side of the box stall in which Geronimo was confined. One of these was usually empty, a reserve. It was into this that Oscar had turned the horse. The other was the corral of the skulls.
Geronimo leaped out. The girl halted, stark, open-mouthed, every sign of life stricken from her at a blow. Geronimo sprang high and snapped at nothing, in evil play before the earnest. It was horrible. We could do neither harm nor good now, so we ran for the spot. It was down hill from us to them. I doubt that anything on two legs ever covered distance as we did, for all the despair. Geronimo reared and stood upon his hind feet, as straight as a man. He advanced, striking, looming above his victim. "All over," I thought, and tried to take my eyes away. I could not.
At that instant a white-hatted, gaunt, tall figure rushed from the stable door, a shovel in its hand, straight between the girl and her destruction. There he stood, with his partly weapon raised, unflinching. An oath came to my lips and a hot spot to my throat at the sight. No eye ever saw a braver thing.
At this, a dip in the ground and the eight-foot fence of the corral shut out all within. God knows how we got over that fence. I swear I think we leaped it. I have no memory of climbing, but I do recall landing on the other side in a swoop.
Geronimo had old Charley in his teeth, shaking him like a rat.
"Steve!" I called, "Steve!" And then Oscar and I charged at the wicked brute with our pitchforks. All that followed is a tangled, bad dream of hurry, fear, yells, oaths, and myself stabbing, stabbing, stabbing with the pitchfork. Then a gun cracked somewhere, a black mass toppled toward me that knocked me sprawling—and all was still. I sat for a moment, smiling foolishly and fumbling for my hat. Steve raised me by the arm. He still had his revolver in his hand, and his glance on the dead stallion. He asked me if I was hurt, and I said yes. He asked me where, and I said that made no difference. Then, as I came to a little more, I said I guessed I wasn't hurt, and looked around. Oscar had Sally in his arms. The tears were running down his cheeks, and he moved his head from side to side, like a man in agony. Her head was buried in his breast, her hands locked around his neck. It was well with them, evidently. But limp upon the ground, his forehead varnished red, lay old Charley.
We turned him over tenderly, wiping the blood away. Steve's lips quivered as he put his hand on the old man's heart. He kept it there a long time. Then he said huskily, "He's gone!" At the words the sound eye of the victim popped open with a suddenness that made my heart throw a somersault. It was as sane, calm, and undisturbed an optic as ever regarded the world.
"G-a-w-n H—l!" said Charley.
We laughed and wiped our eyes with our coat sleeves, and got the old boy to his feet.
"Same old Texas," said he, feeling of his head (the hoof had scraped, instead of smashing), "slightly disfiggered, but still in the ring."
He caught sight of the lovers. "Hello!" he said. "Oscar's made his ante good at last—bad hawse works as well as Injuns." We started to lead him by the pair.
"Naw, boys," he commanded. "Take me 'round 't'uther way. That gal don't want to see me now, all bloody and mussed up like this."
It was useless to attempt making a hero of Charley.
Billy the Buck
I fancy I assume an impregnable position in saying that real poetry is truth, presented in its most vivid and concise form. If the statement stands, I request that every line of English verse containing the words "Timid deer," or referring in any way to a presumed gentle, trusting, philanthropic disposition in the beast, be at once revised or expurgated. I shall not except the works of William Shakespeare. When the melancholy Jaques speaks of one of these ferocious animals, saying, "The big round tears coursed one another down his innocent nose in piteous chase," I believe Jaques lied; or, if he lied not, and the phenomenon occurred as reported, that the tears were tears of rage because the deer could not get at Jaques, and as an extension, if he had gotten at Jaques, he would have given said Jaques some cold facts to be contemplative about. After my experience, if I should see any misguided person making friendly advances to one of these horned demons, I should cry, "Whoa!" as Cassandra did to the wood horse of the Greeks, and probably with the same result. They would not falter until they had gathered bitter experience with their own hands.
Why? This is why. One day, when I was working on a Dakota ranch, the boss, a person by the name of Steve, urged me to take an axe, go forth, and chop a little wood, which I did.
The weather was ideal. A Dakota fall. Air vital with the mingled pleasant touch of frost and sun, like ice-cream in hot coffee, and still as silence itself. I had a good breakfast, was in excellent health and spirits; the boss could by no means approach within a mile unperceived, and everything pointed to a pleasant day. But, alas! as the Copper-lined Killelu-bird of the Rockies sings, "Man's hopes rise with the celerity and vigour of the hind leg of the mule, only to descend with the velocity of a stout gentleman on a banana peel."
On reaching the grove of cottonwoods I sat down for a smoke and a speculative view of things in general, having learned at my then early age that philosophy is never of more value than when one should be doing something else.
I heard a noise behind me, a peculiar noise, between a snort and a violent bleat. Turning, I saw a buck deer, and, from the cord and bell around his neck, recognised him as one Billy, the property of Steve's eldest boy. He was spoken of as a pet.
This was the touch needed to complete my Arcadia; the injection of what, at the time, I considered to be poetry into the excellent prose of open air life. Who could see that graceful, pretty creature, and remain unmoved? Not I, at all events. I fancied myself as a knight of old in the royal forest, which gave a touch of the archaic to my speech. "Come here, thou sweet-eyed forest child!" I cried, and here he came! At an estimate I should say that he was four axe-handles, or about twelve feet high, as he upended himself, brandished his antlers, and jumped me. My axe was at a distance. I moved. I played knight to king's bishop's eighth, in this case represented by a fork of the nearest tree. A wise and subtle piece of strategy, as it resulted in a drawn game.
My friend stood erect for a while, making warlike passes with his front feet (which, by the way, are as formidable weapons as a man would care to have opposed to him); then, seeing that there was no sporting blood in me, he devoured my lunch and went away—a course I promptly imitated as far as I could; I departed.
Hitherto, I had both liked and admired Steve. His enormous strength, coupled with an unexpected agility and an agreeable way he had of treating you as if you were quite his own age, endeared him to me. When I poured out my troubles to him, however, rebuking him for allowing such a savage beast to be at large, he caused my feelings to undergo a change. For, instead of sympathising, he fell to uproarious laughter, slapped his leg, and swore that it was the best thing he'd ever heard of, and wished he'd been there to see it.
I concluded, judicially, that Steve had virtues, but that he was at the last merely a very big man of coarse fibre. Perhaps I had been a little boastful previously concerning my behaviour under trying circumstances. If so, I was well paid out for it. That night I had the pleasure of listening to an account of my adventures, spiced with facetious novelties of Steve's invention, such as that my cries for help were audible to the house, and only the fact that he couldn't tell from which direction they came prevented Steve from rushing to my rescue, and that all the deer wanted was my lunch, anyhow. I wished I had kept the lunch episode to myself.
There are probably no worse teases on earth than the big boys who chase the cow on the Western prairies. They had "a horse on the kid," and the poor kid felt nightmare ridden indeed. If I were out with them, someone would assume an anxious look and carefully scout around a bunch of grass in the distance, explaining to the rest that there might be a deer concealed there, and one could not be too careful when there were wild beasts like that around. Then the giggling rascals would pass the suspected spot with infinite caution, perhaps breaking into a gallop, with frightened shrieks of "The deer! The deer!" while I tried to look as if I liked it, and strove manfully to keep the brine of mortification from rolling down my cheeks.
I didn't let my emotions take the form of words, because I had wit enough to know that I could not put a better barrier between myself and a real danger than those husky lads of the leather breeches and white hats. For all that, I had a yearning to see one of them encounter the deer at his worst. I did not wish anyone hurt, and was so confident of their physical ability that I did not think anyone would be; but I felt that such an incident would strengthen their understanding.
This thing came to pass, and, of all people, on my arch-enemy, Steve. If I had had the arrangement of details, I could not have planned it better. Because of my tender years, the light chores of the ranch fell to my share. One day everyone was off, leaving me to chink up the "bull-pen," or men's quarters, with mud, against the cold of approaching winter. Steve had taken his eldest boy on a trip to pick out some good wood.
Presently arrived the boy, hatless, running as fast as he could tear, the breath whistling in his lungs. "Come quick!" was the message. It seems the deer had followed the couple, and when the boy fooled with his old playmate, the deer knocked him down and would have hurt him badly, but that his father instantly jumped into the fray and grabbed the animal by the horns, with the intention of twisting his head off. The head was fastened on more firmly than Steve supposed. What he did not take at all into account was that the buck was both larger and stronger than he. Though raised on a bottle, Billy was by long odds the largest deer I ever saw.
Steve got the surprise of his life. The battle was all against him. The best he could hope to do was to hold his own until help arrived; so he sent the boy off hotfoot. Although his power for a short exertion was great, Steve was in no kind of training, having allowed himself to fatten up, and being an inordinate user of tobacco. Per contra, the deer felt freshened and invigorated by exertion. That's the deuce of it with an animal—he doesn't tire.
I knew that Steve was in plenty trouble, or he wouldn't have sent for help. The boy's distress denied the joke I suspected; I grabbed a rope and made for the grove, the boy trailing me. I should have gotten a gun, but I didn't think of it.
Those were the days when I could run; when it was exhilaration to sail over the prairie. The importance of my position as rescuer—which anyone who has been a boy will understand—lent springs to my feet.
It was well for Steve that mine were speedy legs. When I got there his face was grey and mottled, like an old man's, and his mouth had a weak droop, very unlike devil-may-care Steve. The two had pawed up the ground for rods around in the fight; the deer's horns, beneath where the man gripped them, were wet with the blood of his torn palms. Steve's knees, arms, and head were trembling as if in an ague fit. He was all in—physically; but the inner man arose strong above defeat. "Here's—your—deer—Kid!" he gasped. "I—kept—him—for you!"
I yelled to him to hold hard for one second, took a running jump, and landed on Mr. Buck's flank with both feet. It was something of a shock. Over went deer, man, and boy. I was on my pins in a jiffy, snapped the noose over the deer's hind legs, tangled him up anyhow in the rest of the riata, and snubbed him to the nearest tree. Then Steve got up and walked away to where he could be ill with comfort. And he was good and sick.
When he felt better, he arose and opened his knife, swearing that he would slit that critter's throat from ear to ear; but Steve, junior, plead so hard for the life of his pet that Big Steve relented, and Mr. Billy Buck was saved for further mischief.
That afternoon two of us rode out and roped him, "spreading" him between us as we dragged him home. He fought every step of the way. My companion, a hot-headed Montana boy, was for killing him a half-dozen times. However, feeling that the deer had vindicated me, I had a pride in him, and kept him from a timely end. We turned him loose in a corral with a blooded bull-calf, some milch cows, work-steers, and other tame animals. "And I bet you he has 'em all chewing the rag inside of twenty-four hours," said my companion.
That night Steve made ample amend for his former mirth. Indeed, he praised my fleetness and promptness of action so highly that I was seized by an access of modesty as unexpected as it was disorganising.
The next day Steve stood on the roof of the shed at the end of Billy Buck's corral. Suddenly he straightened up and waved his hat. "Deer and bull fight!" he called. "Come a-running everybody!" We dropped our labours and sprinted for the corral, there to sit upon the shed and watch the combat. Steve didn't know what began the trouble, but when I got there the young bull was facing the deer, his head down, blowing the dust in twin clouds before him, hooking the dirt over his back in regular righting bull fashion, and anon saying, "Bh-ur-ur-ooor!" in an adolescent basso-profundo, most ridiculously broken by streaks of soprano. When these shrill notes occurred the little bull rolled his eyes around, as much as to say "Who did that?" and we, swinging our legs on the shed roof, laughed gleefully and encouraged him to sail in.
His opponent watched this performance with a carriage of the head which, for superciliousness, I never have seen equaled in man, woman, or beast. His war-cry was a tinny bleat: the cry of a soul bursting with sardonic merriment. It was like the Falstaffian laughter of the duck, without its ring of honesty.
The bull, having gone through the preliminaries of his code, cocked his tail straight in the air and charged. The buck waited until he was within three feet; then he shot sideways, and shot back again, his antlers beating with a drum-stick sound on the bull's ribs. "Baw-aw!" said the bull. Probably that hurt. Again bull faced buck. This time the bovine eye wore a look of troubled wonderment, while one could mark an evil grin beneath the twitching nose of his antagonist; and his bleat had changed to a tone which recalled the pointing finger and unwritable "H'nh-ha!" that greets misfortune in childhood. "I told you so!" it said. The bull, however, is an animal not easily discouraged. Once more he lowered his foolish head and braved forth like a locomotive.
But it would take too long to tell all the things Billy Buck did to that bull. He simply walked all over him and jabbed and raked and poked. Away went the bull, his erstwhile proudly erect tail slewed sideways, in token of struck colours—a sign of surrender disregarded by his enemy, who thought the giving of signals to cease fighting a prerogative of his office. Away went the old cows and the work-steers and the horses, in a thundering circuit of the corral, the horned stock bawling in terror, and Billy Buck "boosting" every one of them impartially. We cheered him.
"Gad! I'm glad I didn't slit his windpipe!" said Steve. "He's a corker!"
Billy drove his circus parade around about six times before his proud soul was satisfied. Then he took the centre of the ring, and bellowed a chant of victory in a fuller voice than he had given before, while the other brutes, gathered by the fence, looked at him in stupefaction.
Only once more did Billy Buck figure in history before he left us for a larger field in town, and on this occasion, for the first and last time in his career, he got the worst of it.
A lone Injun came to the ranch—a very tall, grave man, clad in comic-picture clothes. A battered high hat surmounted his block of midnight hair, and a cutaway coat, built for a man much smaller around the chest, held his torso in bondage. As it was warm on the day he arrived, he had discarded his trousers—a breech-clout was plenty leg-gear, he thought. He bore a letter of recommendation from a white friend.
"Plenty good letter—leela ouashtay ota," said he, as he handed the missive over. I read it aloud for the benefit of the assembled ranch. It ran:
"This is Jimmy-hit-the-bottle, the worst specimen of a bad tribe. He will steal anything he can lift. If he knew there was such a thing as a cemetery, he'd walk fifty miles to rob it. Any citizen wishing to do his country a service will kindly hit him on the head with an axe.
"Plenty good letter—ota!" cried the Injun, his face beaming with pride.
I coughed, and said it was indeed vigorous; Steve and the boys fled the scene. Now, we knew that Jimmy was a good Injun, or he wouldn't have had any letter at all; that great, grave face, coupling the seriousness of childhood and of philosophy, simply offered an irresistible temptation to the writer of the letter. There was something pathetic in the way the gigantic savage folded up his treasure and replaced it in his coat. I think Forsythe would have weakened had he seen it. Still, after we laughed, we felt all the better disposed toward Jimmy, so I don't know but it was a good form of introduction after all. Jimmy was looking for work, a subject of research not general to the Injun, but by no means so rare as his detractors would make out. He got it. The job was to clean out Billy Buck's corral. Steve found employment for the hands close to home for the day, that no one should miss the result. It is always business first on the ranch, and a practical joke takes precedence over other labours. Steve hung around the corral, where he could peek through the chinks. Hoarse whispers inquiring "Anything up yet?" were for so long answered in the negative, that it seemed the day had been in vain. At last the welcome shout rang out, "Injun and deer fight! Everybody run!" We flew, breathless with anticipatory chuckles. We landed on top of the shed, to witness an inspiring scene—one long-legged, six-foot-and-a-half Injun, suitably attired in a plug hat, cutaway coat, breech-clout, and mocassins, grappling in mortal combat a large and very angry deer. The arena and the surrounding prairie were dreaming in a flood of mellow autumn light. It was a day on which the sun scarce cast a shadow, yet everything sent back his rays clearly, softened and sweetened, like the answer of an echo. It was a day for great deeds, such as were enacted before us; steel-strung frame pitted against steel-strung frame; bottomless endurance against its equal. And never were such jumpings, such prancings, such wild wavings of legs beheld by human eyes before. You cannot beat it into people's heads that the horned critters are the lords of brute creation; yet it is the fact. A bull chased a lion all around the ring in the arena in Mexico, finally killing him with one blow. In Italy they shut a buck deer and a tiger in a cage. There was a brief skirmish, and the tiger slunk to the corner of the cage, howling.
Splendid was the exhibition of strength and agility we looked upon, but, alas! its poetry was ripped up the back by the cutaway coat, the plug hat, and the unrelated effect of those long, bare red legs twinkling beneath.
Indirectly it was the plug hat that ended the battle. At first, if Jimmy-hit-the-bottle felt any emotion, whether joy, resentment, terror, or anything man can feel, his face did not show it. One of the strangest features of the show was that immaculately calm face suddenly appearing through the dust-clouds, unconscious of storm and stress. At last, however, a yank of the deer's head—Jimmy had him by the horns—caused the plug hat to snap off, and the next second the deer's sharp foot went through it. You will remember Achilles did not get excited until his helmet touched the dust. Well, from what the cold, pale light of fact shows of the size and prowess of those ancient swaggerers, Jimmy-hit-the-bottle could have picked Achilles up by his vulnerable heel and bumped his brains out against a tree, and this without strain; so when the pride of his life, his precious plug hat, was thus maltreated, his rage was vast in proportion. His eyes shot streaks of black lightning; he twisted the deer's head sideways, and with a leap landed on his back. Once there, he seized an ear between his strong teeth and shut down. We rose to our feet and yelled. It was wonderful, but chaotic. I would defy a moving-picture camera to resolve that tornado into its elements of deer and Injun. We were conscious of curious illusions, such as a deer with a dozen heads growing out of all parts of a body as spherical as this, our earth, and an Injun with legs that vetoed all laws of gravitation and anatomy.
Poor Billy Buck! He outdid the wildest of our pitching horses for a half minute; but the two hundred and odd pounds he had on his back told—he couldn't hold the gait. Jimmy wrapped those long legs around him—the deer's tail in one hand, the horn in the other, and the ear between his teeth—and waited in grim determination. "Me-ah-a-aaaa!" said the deer, dropping to his knees.
Jimmy got off him. Billy picked himself up and scampered to the other end of the corral, shaking his head.
The Injun straightened himself up, making an effort to draw a veil of modesty over the pride that shone in his eyes.
"H-nh!" he said. "Fool deer tackle Tatonka Sutah!" ("Tatonka-Sutah," or Strong Bull, was the more poetic title of Jimmy-hit-the-bottle among his own kind.)
He then gravely punched his plug hat into some kind of shape and resumed his work.
We pitched in and bought Jimmy a shiny new plug hat which—which will lead me far afield if I don't drop the subject.
Well, he was master of Mr. Billy Buck. When he entered the corral, the deer stepped rapidly up to the farther corner and stayed there.
Now came the broadening of Billy's career. A certain man in our nearest town kept a hotel near the railroad depot. For the benefit of the passengers who had to stop there a half-hour for meals and recreation, this man had a sort of menagerie of the animals natural to the country. There was a bear, a mountain lion, several coyotes, swifts, antelope, deer, and a big timber wolf, all in a wire net-enclosed park.
It so happened that Steve met Mr. D——, the hotel proprietor, on one of his trips to town, and told him what a splendid deer he had out at the ranch. Mr. D—— became instantly possessed of a desire to own the marvel, and a bargain was concluded on the spot. Billy by this time had shed his horns, and was all that could be wished for in the way of amiability. We tied his legs together, and shipped him to town in a waggon.
Steve did not trick Mr. D——. He told him plainly that the deer was a dangerous customer, and that to be careful was to retain a whole skin; but the hotel proprietor, a little, fat, pompous man with a big bass voice—the kind of a man who could have made the world in three days and rested from the fourth to the seventh, inclusive, had it been necessary—thought he knew something of the deer character. "That beautiful creature, with its mild eyes and humble mien, hurt anyone? Nonsense!" So he had a fine collar made for Billy, with his name on a silver plate, and then led him around town at the end of a chain, being a vain little man, who liked to attract attention by any available means. All worked well until the next fall. Mr. D—— was lulled into false security by the docility of his pet, and allowed him the freedom of the city, regardless of protest. Then came the spectacular end of Billy's easy life. It occurred on another warm autumn day. The passengers of the noon train from the East were assembled in the hotel dining-room, putting away supplies as fast as possible, the train being late. The room was crowded; the darkey waiters rushing; Mr. D—— swelling with importance. Billy entered the room unnoticed in the general hurry. A negro waiter passed him, holding two loaded trays. Perhaps he brushed against Billy; perhaps Billy didn't even need a provocation; at any rate, as the waiter started down the room, Billy smote him from behind, and dinner was served!
When the two tray-loads of hot coffee, potatoes, soup, chicken, and the rest of the bill of fare landed all over the nearest table of guests, there was a commotion. Men leaped to their feet with words that showed they were no gentlemen, making frantic efforts to wipe away the scalding liquids trickling over them. The ladies shrieked and were tearful over the ruin of their pretty gowns. Mr. D——, on the spot instantly, quieted his guests as best he could on the one hand, and berated the waiter for a clumsy, club-footed baboon on the other. Explanation was difficult, if not impossible. Arms flew, hard words flew; the male guests were not backward in adding their say. Then, even as I had been before, the coloured man was vindicated. Suddenly two women and a man sprang on top of the table and yelled for help. Mr. D—— looked upon them open-mouthed. The three on top of the table clutched one another, and howled in unison. Mr. D——'s eye fell on Billy, crest up, war-like in demeanour, and also on a well-dressed man backing rapidly under the table.
A flash of understanding illumined Mr. D——. The deer, evidently, felt a little playful; but it would never do, under the circumstances. "Come here, sir!" he commanded. Billy only lived to obey such a command, as I have shown. But this time Mr. D—— recognised a difference, and went about like a crack yacht. He had intentions of reaching the door. Billy cut off retreat. Mr. D—— thought of the well-dressed man, and dived under the table. Those who had stood uncertain, seeing this line of action taken by one who knew the customs of the country, promptly imitated him. The passengers of the Eastern express were ensconced under the tables, with the exception of a handful who had preferred getting on top of them.
Outside, three cow punchers, who chanced to be riding by, were perfectly astonished by the noises that came from that hotel. They dismounted and investigated. When they saw the feet projecting from beneath the cloths, and the groups in statuesque poses above, they concluded not to interfere, although strongly urged by the victims. "You are cowards!" cried the man with the two women. The punchers joyfully acquiesced, and said, "Sick 'em, boy!" to the deer.
Meanwhile, the express and the United States mail were waiting. The conductor, watch in hand, strode up and down the platform.
"What do you suppose they're doing over there?" he asked his brakeman.
The brakeman shrugged his shoulders. "Ask them punchers," he replied.
The conductor lifted his voice. "What's the matter?" he called.
"Oh, come and see! Come and see!" said the punchers. "It's too good to tell.'"
The conductor shut his watch with a snap.
"Five minutes late," he said. "Pete, go and hustle them people over here. I start in three minutes by the watch."
"Sure," said Pete, and slouched across. Pete was surprised at the sight that met his gaze, but orders were orders. He walked up and kicked Billy, at the same time shouting "All aboard for the West! Git a wiggle on yer!"
The man owed his life to the fact that the deer could get no foothold on the slippery hardwood floor. As it was, Billy tried to push, and his feet shot out; man and deer came to the floor together, the brakeman holding hard. The passengers boiled out of the hotel like a mountain torrent. The punchers, thinking the brakeman in danger, sprang through the window and tied the deer. Pete gasped his thanks and hustled out. No one was left but Billy, the punchers, the darkey waiters, and Mr. D——.
"This your deer?" inquired the punchers of the latter.
"It is," said Mr. D——. "Take him out and hang him—don't shoot him—hang him!"
"All right," replied the punchers. They took Billy out and turned him loose in the deer-pen.
"Reckon the old man'll feel better about it to-morrow," they said.
And it came to pass that the old man did feel better; so Billy was spared. Perhaps if you have travelled to the West you have seen him—a noble representative of his kind. Well, this is his private history which his looks belie.
The Demon in the Canon
"I know not where the truth may be; I tell the tale as 'twas told to me." (Probable misquotation of old couplet.)
There was once an earnest missionary who went to the trouble of learning the Sioux language, in order to be of more use in his chosen field. He spoke it with a strong Boston accent. One day he laboured with a big Uncapapa brave long and eagerly. The Injun listened to all he had to say. When at great length silence fell, the Redman spoke.
"Have you any tobacco?" said he.
"Why, no!" returned the missionary.
"Hungh! So long!" said the Injun, and rode away on a trot.
Now, there may be those who will object that the plain, unvarnished tale of my friend "Hy" Smith, which follows, is lacking in the robust qualities that truth alone can bring; to them I recommend the attitude of the Injun. But I must add this: Heaven forbid that I should have to stand good for any of Hy's stories! Still, some of what I considered his most outrageous lies afterward received strong and unexpected confirmation. For instance, the manner in which he earned his sobriquet of "Hydraulic" Smith I thought was pure fable, but no less a man than his former employer said that it was fact in every essential. Smith got his front name while working in a big hydraulic camp in Idaho. He was nozzleman. One day in an unusually merry mood he turned the monitor loose on a crowd of Chinamen who were working over tailings.
"And if ever you saw felt shoes and pigtails flying in the air 'twas then," said Hy. "It looked for all the world like Old Faithful had spouted in a poll-parrot cage. I don't know why I done it, no more than the man in the moon—it was one of them idees that takes hold of you, and gets put through before you can more'n realise you're thinking of it—but it was the greatest success of its kind I ever see. We had a two-hundred-foot head of water and a six-inch stream, and I might say that there was a yaller haze of Chinamen in the atmosphere for the next ten seconds. I piped one Charley-boy right over the top of a tool-shed. Well, our boss was a mighty kind-hearted man, and when that crowd of spitting, foaming, gargling, gobbling Chinamen went to him, and begun to pour out their troubles like several packs of fire-crackers going off to oncet, waving all the arms and legs I hadn't knocked out of commission, he was het up considerable. He never waited to hear my side of the story, but just rolled up his pants and waded into me up to the hocks; he read me my pedigree from Adam's wife's sister down to now, and there wasn't a respectable person in it, according to him.
"I didn't like it, and I made a swipe for him with a shovel, but he was too soople for me, and of all the lickings I ever got, that is the one I don't want to remember the most: he did a sort of double-shuffle fandango on my back, while he brought my legs into the argument with a sluice rake.
"When he asked me if I had had enough, I told him I thought it would do for the present, because, as a matter of fact, if all I had more than enough was money in the bank, I wouldn't have done no more work for the rest of my days.
"So then he calls me up and gives me my time, and I must say he treated me square when he said good-bye.
"'You're the best darn man on a monitor lever that I ever did see,' says he, 'but anywheres else you're the foolest combine of small boy and dare-devil, and some other queer thing that I don't seem to be able to find a name for, that ever cumbered this earth. Now, get the —— out of this, and good luck to you.'
"I didn't feel a bit sorry for them Chinamen—they're only hairless monkeys that don't even know enough to wear their tails in the right place. Their arithmetic proves that. It's regular monkey figgering. They haven't any numbers that look like numbers at all. Suppose you want to multipy twenty-five by thirty-six, Chinee system? First you put down a rooster's foot-track; that's twenty-five. Underneath that goes the ground-plan of a small house; that's thirty-six. Then you take an hour off, and work out the sum with a lot of little balls on wires; then you put down the answer, and what do you think it is? Why, it's a map of Chicago after the fire! Shucks! And they call themselves men. I'd go old Job three boils to his one rather than have any Chinks around me.
"Well, the boys labelled me Hydraulic Smith from that on, and I went prospecting. Took up with a feller named Agamemnon G. Jones. Aggy was a big, fine-looking man, with a chest like a dry-goods box, and a set of whiskers that would start him in business anywhere. They were the upstandingest, noblest, straightforwardest outfit of whiskers I most ever saw, and how they come to grow on Ag is a mystery; but they stood him in many a dollar, now, I tell you that!
"He was a man of pretty considerable education, in some ways, and he could make you believe that to-day was last Thursday a week ago, if you weren't on to him. At this time he was kind of under a cloud like myself, and the way it come about was this:
"He started an assay office when he first struck the gulch, and he used to bring in results according to the looks of the customer. If the man looked tender around the feet, Aggy'd knock it to him, and probably the shave-tail would be so pleased that he would fork out an extra ten; but if he was plainly vented as one of the boys, there would be just enough pay in the return to encourage him. Now, Jones did everything shipshape and in style. Here's the paper that made him trouble."
Hy fished a slip out of the bundle in his old pocket-book and handed it to me.
AGAMEMNON G. JONES, Assayer, Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis.
Sample left by Mr. Idaho Kid No. 36,943.
Value per ton. Gold ...................................... $362.13 Silver .................................... 186.90 Platinum .................................. 14.77 Lead ...................................... 2.06 Iridium ................................... .02 Osmium .................................... .00003+ Copper .................................... 18.54
10:36 A.M. 3/16/81
Signed, AGAMEMNON G. JONES, Assayer.
"Now, that was the worst that Aggy had ever sprung on anybody, because this Idaho Kid looked as if he hadn't been three weeks away from his mother; instead of which he was a hootin', tootin' son-of-a-gun in reality, and you might say he'd cut his teeth on a miner's candlestick.
"When the Kid saw that miraculous result, his eyes bunged out; then he took a long breath and wrecked the place. Aggy left at one that morning for fear that worse might follow. He fetched this paper with him to remind him that 'genius has its limitations,' he said. But he didn't seem to learn anything by it. Next he took up engineering. He hit a blame good job on Castle Creek. The people wanted to turn the creek through a tunnel, so that they could work the bed, and at this point it was rather an easy business. The stream made a 'U' about three-quarters of a mile long, the bottom prong being at least a hundred and fifty feet below the water-level on the top one—a smashing good fall—so Aggy started in on the down side to bore the hole up. Well, everything went lovely. He'd come around with his plans and specifications twice a day, and draw his hundred once a week regular for his great labours. At last, however, the shift-boss said they must be getting pretty near water; he could hear it roar through the face of the tunnel, he said. But Aggy told him not to be alarmed; he had it all worked out, and they weren't within forty foot of breaking through."
"So at it they went again, as cheerful as could be, and the next news they got, down comes the face, and they were being piped through four hundred foot of black-dark tunnel, trying to guess what was up, bumping and banging against the walls, and the whole of Castle Creek on top of them. My, Chinamen weren't a circumstance. Aggy said they boiled out of the lower end of the tunnel where he was standing so fast he couldn't recognise them, and, as a matter of fact, three or four of 'em were washed a mile down creek before they could make land. Aggy gathered that it was time to move again, so he pulled back for Idaho. There wasn't anybody really drowned, except old Tom Olley, a cousin-Jack whose only amusement in life was to wear out his pants laying low for cinches in the stud-poker game, and you couldn't rightly say he was any loss to the community. So Aggy used to regret sometimes that he hadn't stayed to face the music. They might have played horse with him for a while, but 'twould soon have blown over—miners not being revengeful by nature—and he was to have had an eighth interest, besides his salary, if the thing was a success.
"But there was no good of crying over spilt milk, and us two went prospecting.
"We located for a permanent stand down on Frenchman's Creek, near where three of Cap' Ally's greaser sheep herders had their camp. They did our hunting for us, and as there was nobody but them around, and they were the peacefullest people in the world, we didn't feel the need of any gun except Ag's old six-shooter. That was the cussedest machine that ever got invented by man. When you pulled her off she'd spit fire in all directions, filling the crotch of your hand with powder burns, and sometimes two or three of the loads would go off at once, when she'd kick like a Texas steer. There was much talk of bear around, and we were always going to buy a real gun, some day, but we never got at it.
"Well, we prospered pretty well, considering how little we worked. A large part of the time was taken up with playing monte with the herders, and still more in arguing questions about religion and things like that; but we had a decent cabin built—with the kind assistance of the herders—and as we struck a rich little streak that run out ten dollars per man a day with no trouble at all, we were in clover.
"At last our stock of grub ran low, and Jones slid up to Salmon City to load up again. It was quite a trip, and as I didn't think it was square to work while Aggy was away, I took up with the herders. They were the decentest folks I ever struck. Play a little music on the guitar, sing songs that always wound up just where a white man's songs would begin, and tell stories and smoke cigarettes—that was the layout for them. Old Cap' Allys was a Christian, and he wouldn't let a man herd sheep all by himself—surest way to get crazy that ever was invented—so he sent the boys out three in a bunch.
"Those fellers had the darndest lot of fairy tales I ever did hear. And superstitious! Great Jupiter! Any little blame thing that happened meant something: this thing was good luck; that meant bad, and if you tried to josh them out of it, they'd shake their heads and look at you as if they thought you weren't truly religious. One of their yarns was about El Diablo de Fuego, 'The Devil of Fire,' which Miguel said ran in his family. Seems that when anything wrong was about to happen, this blazing, ripping monster showed up as a warning. I told Mee that I thought the monster was misfortune enough, without anything else, but he was scandalised.
"'Psst!' says he. 'Do not spik sooch t'eeng as dthat! Ay, di mi! Je-Maria-mi Cristo! Jesu, muy dolce y poquito! Dhat mek heem arrrrrrive dthat eenstant, eef djoo spik weez dees-rrreespeck!'
"'All right, Mee,' says I. 'We'll let her go at that—todo el mismo por mi, sabe? But how's the bear crop?'
"'Ay, cara! Is plenty goddam ba-are!' says Pepe. 'Keel three—four ship las' nigh'! That mek that two mus' seet oop for watch, an' alll ship mus' be in close-corrrrallll! I speet on the soul of that ba-are!'
"Gad! that wasn't cheerful news a little bit. If there's anything in this world I more than don't like, it's a bear—he's so darn big and strong and unreasonable, and unless you catch him sitting, you can pump lead into him until you're black in the face, and it's all one to him. Well, I thought I might as well camp with the herders until Aggy came back.
"When he did show up he was rather under the influence of strong drink, and from the looks of the waggon he'd brought with him, I should say he'd bought about everything that was movable in Salmon City. I ain't easily astonished, but I must admit that some of the truck got the best of me. I kept asking, 'What in —— is this, Ag?' and he always answered, 'Ask the driver.' Well, now, if there was any choice between the two, the driver was drunker than Aggy, so you can imagine what a lot of satisfaction I got. There was one thing that I simply couldn't make head nor tail of, and I stayed with him until I got an answer on that.
"'Why, it's an alcohol cooking-stove,' said he, 'great medicine—no trouble to cook now at all. Just light her,' says he, waving his hand, 'and whoop! away she goes! Where's that can of alcohol? Here she is! Have a drink, Hy?'
"I took a small swig of it in a little water to please him, but there weren't stimmilants enough in the country to raise my spirits that night. I put all the plunder that I could lift up in the cock-loft, and the rest I left sitting around.
"I don't exactly know where you fellers are going to sleep,' says I, trying to be sourcastic. 'Pity you didn't order a folding-bed, Ag.'
"'I did,' says he.
"'A folding-bed?' I repeats, not believing my ears.
"'And a piano,' says he. 'What is home without a piano? Answer: It's a place that can't hold the forte—dam good joke—keno—go up to the head, Jones.'
"'Well,' says I, after some other things, 'who's going to pay for all this?'
"'God knows!' says he, waving his hand again. 'Good-night!' and with that he fell down between a new bureau and a patent portable blacksmith's forge, and putting his head on a concertina, went sound asleep.
"I couldn't follow suit for some time; it's one thing to come home full of budge and animal spirits yourself, and it's quite different to have your pardner work it on you. At last, however, I concluded it would be all the same the next century, and turned in, but I was so rattled that I forgot the bears, and didn't lock up with the usual care.
"It must have been about two in the morning when I woke all in a tremble. I had the feeling that things were away off, but I couldn't place what was the matter, until I looked at the square of moonlight on the floor that came through the window, and I was near to screech like a tomcat, for there was a monstrous black shadow bobbing back and forth in the patch of light. I drew on my bank for all the sand I had and raised my eyes. My heart fairly knocked my ribs loose. Nicely framed in the window was the head of a grizzly, and I'll take my oath it wasn't over a size smaller than a beer-barrel!
"'Now,' thinks I, 'if I can only get that gun before he sees me, and if the cussed thing will only do the right thing by me this once!'
"So out I steps, and the first rattle out of the box I stumbled on a few dozen of the purchases Ag had brought home, and down them and me came like an earthquake. It scart the bear so he drew back; no use trying to work a sneak now. I jumped for the holster, unlimbered, and turned the gun loose for general results. I guess every load went off, from the noise, and she flew out of my hand and vanished behind me. The place was full of smoke and the plunder that was scattered around; you could neither see nor walk, and that bear was swatting the door in a fashion that showed he was going to give us a call any old how, and I was plumb distracted—for the life of me I didn't know what to do.
"'Don't make such a damn noise!' growls Aggy.
"'You'd better get out of that!' I yells. 'You'll get noise enough in a minute!' But he didn't pay the least attention.
"Just before the door went down I broke for the cock-loft; it was the only spot that seemed to hold the teeniest bit of safety. I clim up the wall like a hopper-grass, but I had no more than made it when my friend was in the house. 'Twas me he wanted to see, too, apparently; for he never noted anything else, but headed straight for the loft. I had kind of hoped the other two would amuse him for a while, but it wasn't to be. With the door down, the moonlight streamed in so it was 'most as light as day.
"'Keep your big feet off me!' says Ag, very indignant, as the bear walked on him. It's a great thing not to know who you're talking to sometimes.
"Well, brother bear upends himself, and reaches for the loft. He could just nicely hook his front toe-nails on the board, and when I saw that, I would have sold myself out hide and hair and good-will of the business extremely reasonable. 'Here's where my esteemed friend Hydraulic Smith gets piped out,' I thought, and I tried to meet my finish like a man, but there was something about winding up as filler for a dirty, smelly bear wrapper that took all the poetry out of the situation.
"I saw that Aggy had got on to the state of affairs at last; he was crawling backward very cautious, and he had a look of pained surprise on his face that beat anything I'd ever seen on the phiz of man or beast before. For all I was so scart that I was sweating icicles, I couldn't help but snicker. Howsomever, at that moment brother bear threw his weight on the board, and she snapped like a toothpick, and my merry smile took a walk. I was in a desperate fix! He had only to keep on pulling down boards to the last one, and then, of course, I'd come down with it. Something had to be done. I grabbed a sack of flour and heaved it at him; the sack caught on a splinter and ripped, so beyond covering him with powder it had no particular result. He did stop and taste the flour; he had lots of time! There wasn't any good in that. But as I reached around for another weapon my hand struck the can of alcohol, and right then I had a genuine three-X inspiration. I pulled the plug from the can and poured the spirits down. The bear howled murder as the stuff ran into his eyes, and plunking himself on his hunkies, he began to paw and scrape it out. There was my chance! I fumbled through all my pockets as fast as my hand could travel—no matches! Then cussing and praying like a steam-engine, I tried it again; found a handful in the first pocket; dropped most of 'em, being so nervous, but scratched what was left and chucked 'em on Mr. Bear.
"Great Moses in the bulrushes! Events began on that instant. I've seen a cyclone, and an earthquake, and a cloudburst, and an Injun outbreak, and a Democratic convention, but roll 'em into one and that bear would give 'em cards, spades, big and little casino, a stuffed deck, and the tally-board too, and then beat 'em without looking at his hand.
"I simply can't begin to tell you all the different kinds of pure, unadulterated hell he raised with the stock of curiosities Aggy had bought in town. And the looks of him! White with flour half-way, spouting flames and smoke, and apparently three times as big as he was when he started! He was something before the people now, I tell you! And the burning hair smelt scandalous, and the way he ripped and roared made the ground tremble.
"When he finally broke through the door, I was so interested that I forgot to be afraid, and hopped down to watch him go, and then I saw the last act of the tragedy.
"Miguel heard the shot, and knowing we were in trouble, he started up the trail on his old buckskin, fairly burning the earth.
"He rounded a little clump of trees, and came plump on my bear, roaring, foaming, blazing, smoking, ripping, and flying! Well, sir, you can believe me or not, but I want to tell you that that cayuse of Mee's jumped right out from under him, and was half-way up Wilkin's Hill before the Mexican touched the ground. He was headed due west, and he must have reached the coast the next day, the gait he was travelling. Anyhow, he vanished from the sight of man forever, as far as we know.
"Mee sat froze just as he had landed, scart so there wasn't no more expression on his face, and the bear hopped right over the top of his head. Then I reckon Mee thought his family friend had come for him, for he jumped ten foot in the air, and when he touched ground he was in full motion. It's only fair to say that Miguel could run when he put his mind to it. 'El Infierno esta suelto!' he yells. 'Santiago! Santiago! Ten quidado conmigo! Madre mia! Salvame! Salvame pronto!' Lord, I can see him now, scuttling over the fair face of the Territory of Idaho in the bright moonlight like a little bird—chest out; hands up; head back; black hair snapping in the breeze; long legs waving like the spokes of a flywheel, and yelling for Santiago to keep an eye on him, and for his mother to save him quick, as long as he was in sight. And when he passed, he passed out. He took a different direction from his horse, so it ain't likely they met, but neither one of 'em was seen no more around our part of the country."