THE JIMMYJOHN BOSS AND OTHER STORIES
By Owen Wister
To Messrs. Harper & Bothers and Henry Mills Alden whose friendliness and fair dealing I am glad of this chance to record
It's very plain that if a thing's the fashion— Too much the fashion—if the people leap To do it, or to be it, in a passion Of haste and crowding, like a herd of sheep,
Why then that thing becomes through imitation Vulgar, excessive, obvious, and cheap.
No gentleman desires to be pursuing
What every Tom and Dick and Harry's doing.
Stranger, do you write books? I ask the question, Because I'm told that everybody writes That what with scribbling, eating, and digestion, And proper slumber, all our days and nights
Are wholly filled. It seems an odd suggestion— But if you do write, stop it, leave the masses, Read me, and join the small selected classes.
The Jimmyjohn Boss
One day at Nampa, which is in Idaho, a ruddy old massive jovial man stood by the Silver City stage, patting his beard with his left hand, and with his right the shoulder of a boy who stood beside him. He had come with the boy on the branch train from Boise, because he was a careful German and liked to say everything twice—twice at least when it was a matter of business. This was a matter of very particular business, and the German had repeated himself for nineteen miles. Presently the east-bound on the main line would arrive from Portland; then the Silver City stage would take the boy south on his new mission, and the man would journey by the branch train back to Boise. From Boise no one could say where he might not go, west or east. He was a great and pervasive cattle man in Oregon, California, and other places. Vogel and Lex—even to-day you may hear the two ranch partners spoken of. So the veteran Vogel was now once more going over his notions and commands to his youthful deputy during the last precious minutes until the east-bound should arrive.
"Und if only you haf someding like dis," said the old man, as he tapped his beard and patted the boy, "it would be five hoondert more dollars salary in your liddle pants."
The boy winked up at his employer. He had a gray, humorous eye; he was slim and alert, like a sparrow-hawk—the sort of boy his father openly rejoices in and his mother is secretly in prayer over. Only, this boy had neither father nor mother. Since the age of twelve he had looked out for himself, never quite without bread, sometimes attaining champagne, getting along in his American way variously, on horse or afoot, across regions of wide plains and mountains, through towns where not a soul knew his name. He closed one of his gray eyes at his employer, and beyond this made no remark.
"Vat you mean by dat vink, anyhow?" demanded the elder.
"Say," said the boy, confidentially—"honest now. How about you and me? Five hundred dollars if I had your beard. You've got a record and I've got a future. And my bloom's on me rich, without a scratch. How many dollars you gif me for dat bloom?" The sparrow-hawk sailed into a freakish imitation of his master.
"You are a liddle rascal!" cried the master, shaking with entertainment. "Und if der peoples vas to hear you sass old Max Vogel in dis style they would say, 'Poor old Max, he lose his gr-rip.' But I don't lose it." His great hand closed suddenly on the boy's shoulder, his voice cut clean and heavy as an axe, and then no more joking about him. "Haf you understand that?" he said.
"How old are you, son?"
"Oh my, that is offle young for the job I gif you. Some of dose man you go to boss might be your father. Und how much do you weigh?"
"About a hundred and thirty."
"Too light, too light. Und I haf keep my eye on you in Boise. You are not so goot a boy as you might be."
"Well, sir, I guess not."
"But you was not so bad a boy as you might be, neider. You don't lie about it. Now it must be farewell to all that foolishness. Haf you understand? You go to set an example where one is needed very bad. If those men see you drink a liddle, they drink a big lot. You forbid them, they laugh at you. You must not allow one drop of whiskey at the whole place. Haf you well understand?"
"Yes, sir. Me and whiskey are not necessary to each other's happiness."
"It is not you, it is them. How are you mit your gun?"
Vogel took the boy's pistol from its holster and aimed at an empty bottle which was sticking in the thin Deceiver snow. "Can you do this?" he said, carelessly, and fired. The snow struck the bottle, but the unharming bullet was buried half an inch to the left.
The boy took his pistol with solemnity. "No," he said. "Guess I can't do that." He fired, and the glass splintered into shapelessness. "Told you I couldn't miss as close as you did," said he.
"You are a darling," said Mr. Vogel. "Gif me dat lofely weapon."
A fortunate store of bottles lay, leaned, or stood about in the white snow of Nampa, and Mr. Vogel began at them.
"May I ask if anything is the matter?" inquired a mild voice from the stage.
"Stick that lily head in-doors," shouted Vogel; and the face and eye-glasses withdrew again into the stage. "The school-teacher he will be beautifool virtuous company for you at Malheur Agency," continued Vogel, shooting again; and presently the large old German destroyed a bottle with a crashing smack. "Ah!" said he, in unison with the smack. "Ah-ha! No von shall say der old Max lose his gr-rip. I shoot it efry time now, but the train she whistle. I hear her."
The boy affected to listen earnestly.
"Bah! I tell you I hear de whistle coming."
"Did you say there was a whistle?" ventured the occupant of the stage. The snow shone white on his glasses as he peered out.
"Nobody whistle for you," returned the robust Vogel. "You listen to me," he continued to the boy. "You are offle yoong. But I watch you plenty this long time. I see you work mit my stock on the Owyhee and the Malheur; I see you mit my oder men. My men they say always more and more, 'Yoong Drake he is a goot one,' und I think you are a goot one mine own self. I am the biggest cattle man on the Pacific slope, und I am also an old devil. I have think a lot, und I like you."
"I'm obliged to you, sir."
"Shut oop. I like you, und therefore I make you my new sooperintendent at my Malheur Agency r-ranch, mit a bigger salary as you don't get before. If you are a sookcess, I r-raise you some more."
"I am satisfied now, sir."
"Bah! Never do you tell any goot business man you are satisfied mit vat he gif you, for eider he don't believe you or else he think you are a fool. Und eider ways you go down in his estimation. You make those men at Malheur Agency behave themselves und I r-raise you. Only I do vish, I do certainly vish you had some beard on that yoong chin."
The boy glanced at his pistol.
"No, no, no, my son," said the sharp old German. "I don't want gunpowder in dis affair. You must act kviet und decisif und keep your liddle shirt on. What you accomplish shootin'? You kill somebody, und then, pop! somebody kills you. What goot is all that nonsense to me?"
"It would annoy me some, too," retorted the boy, eyeing the capitalist. "Don't leave me out of the proposition."
"Broposition! Broposition! Now you get hot mit old Max for nothing."
"If you didn't contemplate trouble," pursued the boy, "what was your point just now in sampling my marksmanship?" He kicked some snow in the direction of the shattered bottle. "It's understood no whiskey comes on that ranch. But if no gunpowder goes along with me, either, let's call the deal off. Buy some other fool."
"You haf not understand, my boy. Und you get very hot because I happen to make that liddle joke about somebody killing you. Was you thinking maybe old Max not care what happen to you?"
A moment of silence passed before the answer came: "Suppose we talk business?"
"Very well, very well. Only notice this thing. When oder peoples talk oop to me like you haf done many times, it is not they who does the getting hot. It is me—old Max. Und when old Max gets hot he slings them out of his road anywheres. Some haf been very sorry they get so slung. You invite me to buy some oder fool? Oh, my boy, I will buy no oder fool except you, for that was just like me when I was yoong Max!" Again the ruddy and grizzled magnate put his hand on the shoulder of the boy, who stood looking away at the bottles, at the railroad track, at anything save his employer.
The employer proceeded: "I was afraid of nobody und noding in those days. You are afraid of nobody and noding. But those days was different. No Pullman sleepers, no railroad at all. We come oop the Columbia in the steamboat, we travel hoonderts of miles by team, we sleep, we eat nowheres in particular mit many unexpected interooptions. There was Indians, there was offle bad white men, und if you was not offle yourself you vanished quickly. Therefore in those days was Max Vogel hell und repeat."
The magnate smiled a broad fond smile over the past which he had kicked, driven, shot, bled, and battled through to present power; and the boy winked up at him again now.
"I don't propose to vanish, myself," said he.
"Ah-ha! you was no longer mad mit der old Max! Of coorse I care what happens to you. I was alone in the world myself in those lofely wicked days."
Reserve again made flinty the boy's face.
"Neider did I talk about my feelings," continued Max Vogel, "but I nefer show them too quick. If I was injured I wait, and I strike to kill. We all paddles our own dugout, eh? We ask no favors from nobody; we must win our spurs! Not so? Now I talk business with you where you interroopt me. If cow-boys was not so offle scarce in the country, I would long ago haf bounce the lot of those drunken fellows. But they cannot be spared; we must get along so. I cannot send Brock, he is needed at Harper's. The dumb fellow at Alvord Lake is too dumb; he is not quickly courageous. They would play high jinks mit him. Therefore I send you. Brock he say to me you haf joodgement. I watch, and I say to myself also, this boy haf goot joodgement. And when you look at your pistol so quick, I tell you quick I don't send you to kill men when they are so scarce already! My boy, it is ever the moral, the say-noding strength what gets there—mit always the liddle pistol behind, in case—joost in case. Haf you understand? I ask you to shoot. I see you know how, as Brock told me. I recommend you to let them see that aggomplishment in a friendly way. Maybe a shooting-match mit prizes—I pay for them—pretty soon after you come. Und joodgement—und joodgement. Here comes that train. Haf you well understand?"
Upon this the two shook hands, looking square friendship in each other's eyes. The east-bound, long quiet and dark beneath its flowing clots of smoke, slowed to a halt. A few valises and legs descended, ascended, herding and hurrying; a few trunks were thrown resoundingly in and out of the train; a woolly, crooked old man came with a box and a bandanna bundle from the second-class car; the travellers of a thousand miles looked torpidly at him through the dim, dusty windows of their Pullman, and settled again for a thousand miles more. Then the east-bound, shooting heavier clots of smoke laboriously into the air, drew its slow length out of Nampa, and away.
"Where's that stage?" shrilled the woolly old man. "That's what I'm after."
"Why, hello!" shouted Vogel. "Hello, Uncle Pasco! I heard you was dead."
Uncle Pasco blinked his small eyes to see who hailed him. "Oh!" said he, in his light, crusty voice. "Dutchy Vogel. No, I ain't dead. You guessed wrong. Not dead. Help me up, Dutchy."
A tolerant smile broadened Vogel's face. "It was ten years since I see you," said he, carrying the old man's box.
"Shouldn't wonder. Maybe it'll be another ten till you see me next." He stopped by the stage step, and wheeling nimbly, surveyed his old-time acquaintance, noting the good hat, the prosperous watch-chain, the big, well-blacked boots. "Not seen me for ten years. Hee-hee! No. Usen't to have a cent more than me. Twins in poverty. That's how Dutchy and me started. If we was buried to-morrow they'd mark him 'Pecunious' and me 'Impecunious.' That's what. Twins in poverty."
"I stick to von business at a time, Uncle," said good-natured, successful Max.
A flicker of aberration lighted in the old man's eye. "H'm, yes," said he, pondering. "Stuck to one business. So you did. H'm." Then, suddenly sly, he chirped: "But I've struck it rich now." He tapped his box. "Jewelry," he half-whispered. "Miners and cow-boys."
"Yes," said Vogel. "Those poor, deluded fellows, they buy such stuff." And he laughed at the seedy visionary who had begun frontier life with him on the bottom rung and would end it there. "Do you play that concertina yet, Uncle?" he inquired.
"Yes, yes. I always play. It's in here with my tooth-brush and socks." Uncle Pasco held up the bandanna. "Well, he's getting ready to start. I guess I'll be climbing inside. Holy Gertrude!"
This shrill comment was at sight of the school-master, patient within the stage. "What business are you in?" demanded Uncle Pasco.
"I am in the spelling business," replied the teacher, and smiled, faintly.
"Hell!" piped Uncle Pasco. "Take this."
He handed in his bandanna to the traveller, who received it politely. Max Vogel lifted the box of cheap jewelry; and both he and the boy came behind to boost the old man up on the stage step. But with a nettled look he leaped up to evade them, tottered half-way, and then, light as a husk of grain, got himself to his seat and scowled at the schoolmaster.
After a brief inspection of that pale, spectacled face, "Dutchy," he called out of the door, "this country is not what it was."
But old Max Vogel was inattentive. He was speaking to the boy, Dean Drake, and held a flask in his hand. He reached the flask to his new superintendent. "Drink hearty," said he. "There, son! Don't be shy. Haf you forgot it is forbidden fruit after now?"
"Kid sworn off?" inquired Uncle Pasco of the school-master.
"I understand," replied this person, "that Mr. Vogel will not allow his cow-boys at the Malheur Agency to have any whiskey brought there. Personally, I feel gratified." And Mr. Bolles, the new school-master, gave his faint smile.
"Oh," muttered Uncle Pasco. "Forbidden to bring whiskey on the ranch? H'm." His eyes wandered to the jewelry-box. "H'm," said he again; and becoming thoughtful, he laid back his moth-eaten sly head, and spoke no further with Mr. Bolles.
Dean Drake climbed into the stage and the vehicle started.
"Goot luck, goot luck, my son!" shouted the hearty Max, and opened and waved both his big arms at the departing boy: He stood looking after the stage. "I hope he come back," said he. "I think he come back. If he come I r-raise him fifty dollars without any beard."
The stage had not trundled so far on its Silver City road but that a whistle from Nampa station reached its three occupants. This was the branch train starting back to Boise with Max Vogel aboard; and the boy looked out at the locomotive with a sigh.
"Only five days of town," he murmured. "Six months more wilderness now."
"My life has been too much town," said the new school-master. "I am looking forward to a little wilderness for a change."
Old Uncle Pasco, leaning back, said nothing; he kept his eyes shut and his ears open.
"Change is what I don't get," sighed Dean Drake. In a few miles, however, before they had come to the ferry over Snake River, the recent leave-taking and his employer's kind but dominating repression lifted from the boy's spirit. His gray eye wakened keen again, and he began to whistle light opera tunes, looking about him alertly, like the sparrow-hawk that he was. "Ever see Jeannie Winston in 'Fatinitza'?" he inquired of Mr. Bolles.
The school-master, with a startled, thankful countenance, stated that he had never.
"Ought to," said Drake.
"You a man? that can't be true! Men have never eyes like you."
"That's what the girls in the harem sing in the second act. Golly whiz!" The boy gleamed over the memory of that evening.
"You have a hard job before you," said the school-master, changing the subject.
"Yep. Hard." The wary Drake shook his head warningly at Mr. Bolles to keep off that subject, and he glanced in the direction of slumbering Uncle Pasco. Uncle Pasco was quite aware of all this. "I wouldn't take another lonesome job so soon," pursued Drake, "but I want the money. I've been working eleven months along the Owyhee as a sort of junior boss, and I'd earned my vacation. Just got it started hot in Portland, when biff! old Vogel telegraphs me. Well, I'll be saving instead of squandering. But it feels so good to squander!"
"I have never had anything to squander," said Bolles, rather sadly.
"You don't say! Well, old man, I hope you will. It gives a man a lot he'll never get out of spelling-books. Are you cold? Here." And despite the school-master's protest, Dean Drake tucked his buffalo coat round and over him. "Some day, when I'm old," he went on, "I mean to live respectable under my own cabin and vine. Wife and everything. But not, anyway, till I'm thirty-five."
He dropped into his opera tunes for a while; but evidently it was not "Fatinitza" and his vanished holiday over which he was chiefly meditating, for presently he exclaimed: "I'll give them a shooting-match in the morning. You shoot?"
Bolles hoped he was going to learn in this country, and exhibited a Smith & Wesson revolver.
Drake grieved over it. "Wrap it up warm," said he. "I'll lend you a real one when we get to the Malheur Agency. But you can eat, anyhow. Christmas being next week, you see, my programme is, shoot all A.M. and eat all P.M. I wish you could light on a notion what prizes to give my buccaroos."
"Buccaroos?" said Bolles.
"Yep. Cow-punchers. Vaqueros. Buccaroos in Oregon. Bastard Spanish word, you see, drifted up from Mexico. Vogel would not care to have me give 'em money as prizes."
At this Uncle Pasco opened an eye.
"How many buccaroos will there be?" Bolles inquired.
"At the Malheur Agency? It's the headquarters of five of our ranches. There ought to be quite a crowd. A dozen, probably, at this time of year."
Uncle Pasco opened his other eye. "Here, you!" he said, dragging at his box under the seat. "Pull it, can't you? There. Just what you're after. There's your prizes." Querulous and watchful, like some aged, rickety ape, the old man drew out his trinkets in shallow shelves.
"Sooner give 'em nothing," said Dean Drake.
"What's that? What's the matter with them?"
"Guess the boys have had all the brass rings and glass diamonds they want."
"That's all you know, then. I sold that box clean empty through the Palouse country last week, 'cept the bottom drawer, and an outfit on Meacham's hill took that. Shows all you know. I'm going clean through your country after I've quit Silver City. I'll start in by Baker City again, and I'll strike Harney, and maybe I'll go to Linkville. I know what buccaroos want. I'll go to Fort Rinehart, and I'll go to the Island Ranch, and first thing you'll be seeing your boys wearing my stuff all over their fingers and Sunday shirts, and giving their girls my stuff right in Harney City. That's what."
"All right, Uncle. It's a free country."
"Shaw! Guess it is. I was in it before you was, too. You were wet behind the ears when I was jammin' all around here. How many are they up at your place, did you say?"
"I said about twelve. If you're coming our way, stop and eat with us."
"Maybe I will and maybe I won't." Uncle Pasco crossly shoved his box back.
"All right, Uncle. It's a free country," repeated Drake.
Not much was said after this. Uncle Pasco unwrapped his concertina from the red handkerchief and played nimbly for his own benefit. At Silver City he disappeared, and, finding he had stolen nothing from them, they did not regret him. Dean Drake had some affairs to see to here before starting for Harper's ranch, and it was pleasant to Bolles to find how Drake was esteemed through this country. The school-master was to board at the Malheur Agency, and had come this way round because the new superintendent must so travel. They were scarcely birds of a feather, Drake and Bolles, yet since one remote roof was to cover them, the in-door man was glad this boy-host had won so much good-will from high and low. That the shrewd old Vogel should trust so much in a nineteen-year-old was proof enough at least of his character; but when Brock, the foreman from Harper's, came for them at Silver City, Bolles witnessed the affection that the rougher man held for Drake. Brock shook the boy's hand with that serious quietness and absence of words which shows the Western heart is speaking. After a look at Bolles and a silent bestowing of the baggage aboard the team, he cracked his long whip and the three rattled happily away through the dips of an open country where clear streams ran blue beneath the winter air. They followed the Jordan (that Idaho Jordan) west towards Oregon and the Owyhee, Brock often turning in his driver's seat so as to speak with Drake. He had a long, gradual chapter of confidences and events; through miles he unburdened these to his favorite:
The California mare was coring well in harness. The eagle over at Whitehorse ranch had fought the cat most terrible. Gilbert had got a mule-kick in the stomach, but was eating his three meals. They had a new boy who played the guitar. He used maple-syrup an his meat, and claimed he was from Alabama. Brock guessed things were about as usual in most ways. The new well had caved in again. Then, in the midst of his gossip, the thing he had wanted to say all along came out: "We're pleased about your promotion," said he; and, blushing, shook Drake's hand again.
Warmth kindled the boy's face, and next, with a sudden severity, he said: "You're keeping back something."
The honest Brock looked blank, then labored in his memory.
"Has the sorrel girl in Harney married you yet?" said Drake. Brock slapped his leg, and the horses jumped at his mirth. He was mostly grave-mannered, but when his boy superintendent joked, he rejoiced with the same pride that he took in all of Drake's excellences.
"The boys in this country will back you up," said he, next day; and Drake inquired: "What news from the Malheur Agency?"
"Since the new Chinaman has been cooking for them," said Brock, "they have been peaceful as a man could wish."
"They'll approve of me, then," Drake answered. "I'm feeding 'em hyas Christmas muck-a-muck."
"And what may that be?" asked the schoolmaster.
"You no kumtux Chinook?" inquired Drake. "Travel with me and you'll learn all sorts of languages. It means just a big feed. All whiskey is barred," he added to Brock.
"It's the only way," said the foreman. "They've got those Pennsylvania men up there."
Drake had not encountered these.
"The three brothers Drinker," said Brock. "Full, Half-past Full, and Drunk are what they call them. Them's the names; they've brought them from Klamath and Rogue River."
"I should not think a Chinaman would enjoy such comrades," ventured Mr. Bolles.
"Chinamen don't have comrades in this country," said Brock, briefly. "They like his cooking. It's a lonesome section up there, and a Chinaman could hardly quit it, not if he was expected to stay. Suppose they kick about the whiskey rule?" he suggested to Drake.
"Can't help what they do. Oh, I'll give each boy his turn in Harney City when he gets anxious. It's the whole united lot I don't propose to have cut up on me."
A look of concern for the boy came over the face of foreman Brock. Several times again before their parting did he thus look at his favorite. They paused at Harper's for a day to attend to some matters, and when Drake was leaving this place one of the men said to him: "We'll stand by you." But from his blithe appearance and talk as the slim boy journeyed to the Malheur River and Headquarter ranch, nothing seemed to be on his mind. Oregon twinkled with sun and fine white snow. They crossed through a world of pines and creviced streams and exhilarating silence. The little waters fell tinkling through icicles in the loneliness of the woods, and snowshoe rabbits dived into the brush. East Oregon, the Owyhee and the Malheur country, the old trails of General Crook, the willows by the streams, the open swales, the high woods where once Buffalo Horn and Chief E-egante and O-its the medicine-man prospered, through this domain of war and memories went Bolles the school-master with Dean Drake and Brock. The third noon from Harper's they came leisurely down to the old Malheur Agency, where once the hostile Indians had drawn pictures on the door, and where Castle Rock frowned down unchanged.
"I wish I was going to stay here with you," said Brock to Drake. "By Indian Creek you can send word to me quicker than we've come."
"Why, you're an old bat!" said the boy to his foreman, and clapped him farewell on the shoulder.
Brock drove away, thoughtful. He was not a large man. His face was clean-cut, almost delicate. He had a well-trimmed, yellow mustache, and it was chiefly in his blue eye and lean cheek-bone that the frontiersman showed. He loved Dean Drake more than he would ever tell, even to himself.
The young superintendent set at work to ranch-work this afternoon of Brock's leaving, and the buccaroos made his acquaintance one by one and stared at him. Villany did not sit outwardly upon their faces; they were not villains; but they stared at the boy sent to control them, and they spoke together, laughing. Drake took the head of the table at supper, with Bolles on his right. Down the table some silence, some staring, much laughing went on—the rich brute laugh of the belly untroubled by the brain. Sam, the Chinaman, rapid and noiseless, served the dishes.
"What is it?" said a buccaroo.
"Can it bite?" said another.
"If you guess what it is, you can have it," said a third.
"It's meat," remarked Drake, incisively, helping himself; "and tougher than it looks."
The brute laugh rose from the crowd and fell into surprised silence; but no rejoinder came, and they ate their supper somewhat thoughtfully. The Chinaman's quick, soft eye had glanced at Dean Drake when they laughed. He served his dinner solicitously. In his kitchen that evening he and Bolles unpacked the good things—the olives, the dried fruits, the cigars—brought by the new superintendent for Christmas; and finding Bolles harmless, like his gentle Asiatic self, Sam looked cautiously about and spoke:
"You not know why they laugh," said he. "They not talk about my meat then. They mean new boss, Misser Dlake. He velly young boss."
"I think," said Bolles, "Mr. Drake understood their meaning, Sam. I have noticed that at times he expresses himself peculiarly. I also think they understood his meaning."
The Oriental pondered. "Me like Misser Dlake," said he. And drawing quite close, he observed, "They not nice man velly much."
Next day and every day "Misser Dlake" went gayly about his business, at his desk or on his horse, vigilant, near and far, with no sign save a steadier keenness in his eye. For the Christmas dinner he provided still further sending to the Grande Ronde country for turkeys and other things. He won the heart of Bolles by lending him a good horse; but the buccaroos, though they were boisterous over the coming Christmas joy, did not seem especially grateful. Drake, however, kept his worries to himself.
"This thing happens anywhere," he said one night in the office to Bolles, puffing a cigar. "I've seen a troop of cavalry demoralize itself by a sort of contagion from two or three men."
"I think it was wicked to send you here by yourself," blurted Bolles.
"Poppycock! It's the chance of my life, and I'll jam her through or bust."
"I think they have decided you are getting turkeys because you are afraid of them," said Bolles.
"Why, of course! But d' you figure I'm the man to abandon my Christmas turkey because my motives for eating it are misconstrued?"
Dean Drake smoked for a while; then a knock came at the door. Five buccaroos entered and stood close, as is the way with the guilty who feel uncertain.
"We were thinking as maybe you'd let us go over to town," said Half-past Full, the spokesman.
"Oh, any day along this week."
"Can't spare you till after Christmas."
"Maybe you'll not object to one of us goin'?"
"You'll each have your turn after this week."
A slight pause followed. Then Half-past Full said: "What would you do if I went, anyway?"
"Can't imagine," Drake answered, easily. "Go, and I'll be in a position to inform you."
The buccaroo dropped his stolid bull eyes, but raised them again and grinned. "Well, I'm not particular about goin' this week, boss."
"That's not my name," said Drake, "but it's what I am."
They stood a moment. Then they shuffled out. It was an orderly retreat—almost.
Drake winked over to Bolles. "That was a graze," said he, and smoked for a while. "They'll not go this time. Question is, will they go next?"
Drake took a fresh cigar, and threw his legs over the chair arm.
"I think you smoke too much," said Bolles, whom three days had made familiar and friendly.
"Yep. Have to just now. That's what! as Uncle Pasco would say. They are a half-breed lot, though," the boy continued, returning to the buccaroos and their recent visit. "Weaken in the face of a straight bluff, you see, unless they get whiskey-courageous. And I've called 'em down on that."
"Oh!" said Bolles, comprehending.
"Didn't you see that was their game? But he will not go after it."
"The flesh is all they seem to understand," murmured Bolles.
Half-past Full did not go to Harney City for the tabooed whiskey, nor did any one. Drake read his buccaroos like the children that they were. After the late encounter of grit, the atmosphere was relieved of storm. The children, the primitive, pagan, dangerous children, forgot all about whiskey, and lusted joyously for Christmas. Christmas was coming! No work! A shooting-match! A big feed! Cheerfulness bubbled at the Malheur Agency. The weather itself was in tune. Castle Rock seemed no longer to frown, but rose into the shining air, a mass of friendly strength. Except when a rare sledge or horseman passed, Mr. Bolles's journeys to the school were all to show it was not some pioneer colony in a new, white, silent world that heard only the playful shouts and songs of the buccaroos. The sun overhead and the hard-crushing snow underfoot filled every one with a crisp, tingling hilarity.
Before the sun first touched Castle Rock on the morning of the feast they were up and in high feather over at the bunk-house. They raced across to see what Sam was cooking; they begged and joyfully swallowed lumps of his raw plum-pudding. "Merry Christmas!" they wished him, and "Melly Clismas!" said he to them. They played leap-frog over by the stable, they put snow down each other's backs. Their shouts rang round corners; it was like boys let out of school. When Drake gathered them for the shooting-match, they cheered him; when he told them there were no prizes, what did they care for prizes? When he beat them all the first round, they cheered him again. Pity he hadn't offered prizes! He wasn't a good business man, after all!
The rounds at the target proceeded through the forenoon, Drake the acclaimed leader; and the Christmas sun drew to mid-sky. But as its splendor in the heavens increased, the happy shoutings on earth began to wane. The body was all that the buccaroos knew; well, the flesh comes pretty natural to all of us—and who had ever taught these men about the spirit? The further they were from breakfast the nearer they were to dinner; yet the happy shootings waned! The spirit is a strange thing. Often it dwells dumb in human clay, then unexpectedly speaks out of the clay's darkness.
It was no longer a crowd Drake had at the target. He became aware that quietness had been gradually coming over the buccaroos. He looked, and saw a man wandering by himself in the lane. Another leaned by the stable corner, with a vacant face. Through the windows of the bunk-house he could see two or three on their beds. The children were tired of shouting. Drake went in-doors and threw a great log on the fire. It blazed up high with sparks, and he watched it, although the sun shown bright on the window-sill. Presently he noticed that a man had come in and taken a chair. It was Half-past Full, and with his boots stretched to the warmth, he sat gazing into the fire. The door opened and another buckaroo entered and sat off in a corner. He had a bundle of old letters, smeared sheets tied trite a twisted old ribbon. While his large, top-toughened fingers softly loosened the ribbon, he sat with his back to the room and presently began to read the letters over, one by one. Most of the men came in before long, and silently joined the watchers round the treat fireplace. Drake threw another log on, and in a short time this, too, broke into ample flame. The silence was long; a slice of shadow had fallen across the window-sill, when a young man spoke, addressing the logs:
"I skinned a coon in San Saba, Texas, this day a year."
At the sound of a voice, some of their eyes turned on the speaker, but turned back to the fire again. The spirit had spoken from the clay, aloud; and the clay was uncomfortable at hearing it.
After some more minutes a neighbor whispered to a neighbor, "Play you a game of crib."
The man nodded, stole over to where the board was, and brought it across the floor on creaking tip-toe. They set it between them, and now and then the cards made a light sound in the room.
"I treed that coon on Honey," said the young man, after a while—"Honey Creek, San Saba. Kind o' dry creek. Used to flow into Big Brady when it rained."
The flames crackled on, the neighbors still played their cribbage. Still was the day bright, but the shrinking wedge of sun had gone entirely from the window-sill. Half-past Full had drawn from his pocket a mouthorgan, breathing half-tunes upon it; in the middle of "Suwanee River" the man who sat in the corner laid the letter he was beginning upon the heap on his knees and read no more. The great genial logs lay glowing, burning; from the fresher one the flames flowed and forked; along the embered surface of the others ran red and blue shivers of iridescence. With legs and arms crooked and sprawled, the buccaroos brooded, staring into the glow with seldom-winking eyes, while deep inside the clay the spirit spoke quietly. Christmas Day was passing, but the sun shone still two good hours high. Outside, over the snow and pines, it was only in the deeper folds of the hills that the blue shadows had come; the rest of the world was gold and silver; and from far across that silence into this silence by the fire came a tinkling stir of sound. Sleighbells it was, steadily coming, too early for Bolles to be back from his school festival.
The toy-thrill of the jingling grew clear and sweet, a spirit of enchantment that did not wake the stillness, but cast it into a deeper dream. The bells came near the door and stopped, and then Drake opened it.
"Hello, Uncle Pasco!" said he. "Thought you were Santa Claus."
"Santa Claus! H'm. Yes. That's what. Told you maybe I'd come."
"So you did. Turkey is due in—let's see—ninety minutes. Here, boys! some of you take Uncle Pasco's horse."
"No, no, I won't. You leave me alone. I ain't stoppin' here. I ain't hungry. I just grubbed at the school. Sleepin' at Missouri Pete's to-night. Got to make the railroad tomorrow." The old man stopped his precipitate statements. He sat in his sledge deeply muffled, blinking at Drake and the buccaroos, who had strolled out to look at him, "Done a big business this trip," said he. "Told you I would. Now if you was only givin' your children a Christmas-tree like that I seen that feller yer schoolmarm doin' just now—hee-hee!" From his blankets he revealed the well-known case. "Them things would shine on a tree," concluded Uncle Pasco.
"Hang 'em in the woods, then," said Drake.
"Jewelry, is it?" inquired the young Texas man.
Uncle Pasco whipped open his case. "There you are," said he. "All what's left. That ring'll cost you a dollar."
"I've a dollar somewheres," said the young man, fumbling.
Half-past Full, on the other side of the sleigh, stood visibly fascinated by the wares he was given a skilful glimpse of down among the blankets. He peered and he pondered while Uncle Pasco glibly spoke to him.
"Scatter your truck out plain!" the buccaroo exclaimed, suddenly. "I'm not buying in the dark. Come over to the bunk-house and scatter."
"Brass will look just the same anywhere," said Drake.
"Brass!" screamed Uncle. "Brass your eye!"
But the buccaroos, plainly glad for distraction, took the woolly old scolding man with them. Drake shouted that if getting cheated cheered them, by all means to invest heavily, and he returned alone to his fire, where Bolles soon joined him. They waited, accordingly, and by-and-by the sleigh-bells jingled again. As they had come out of the silence, so did they go into it, their little silvery tinkle dancing away in the distance, faint and fainter, then, like a breath, gone.
Uncle Pasco's trinkets had audibly raised the men's spirits. They remained in the bunkhouse, their laughter reaching Drake and Bolles more and more. Sometimes they would scuffle and laugh loudly.
"Do you imagine it's more leap-frog?" inquired the school-master.
"Gambling," said Drake. "They'll keep at it now till one of them wins everything the rest have bought."
"Have they been lively ever since morning?"
"Had a reaction about noon," said Drake. "Regular home-sick spell. I felt sorry for 'em."
"They seem full of reaction," said Bolles. "Listen to that!"
It was now near four o'clock, and Sam came in, announcing dinner.
"All ready," said the smiling Chinaman.
"Pass the good word to the bunk-house," said Drake, "if they can hear you."
Sam went across, and the shouting stopped. Then arose a thick volley of screams and cheers.
"That don't sound right," said Drake, leaping to his feet. In the next instant the Chinaman, terrified, returned through the open door. Behind him lurched Half-past Full, and stumbled into the room. His boot caught, and he pitched, but saved himself and stood swaying, heavily looking at Drake. The hair curled dense over his bull head, his mustache was spread with his grin, the light of cloddish humor and destruction burned in his big eye. The clay had buried the spirit like a caving pit.
"Twas false jewelry all right!" he roared, at the top of his voice. "A good old jimmyjohn full, boss. Say, boss, goin' to run our jimmyjohn off the ranch? Try it on, kid. Come over and try it on!" The bull beat on the table.
Dean Drake had sat quickly down in his chair, his gray eye upon the hulking buccaroo. Small and dauntless he sat, a sparrow-hawk caught in a trap, and game to the end—whatever end.
"It's a trifle tardy to outline any policy about your demijohn," said he, seriously. "You folks had better come in and eat before you're beyond appreciating."
"Ho, we'll eat your grub, boss. Sam's cooking goes." The buccaroo lurched out and away to the bunk-house, where new bellowing was set up.
"I've got to carve this turkey, friend," said the boy to Bolles.
"I'll do my best to help eat it," returned the school-master, smiling.
"Misser Dlake," said poor Sam, "I solly you. I velly solly you."
"Reserve your sorrow, Sam," said Dean Drake. "Give us your soup for a starter. Come," he said to Bolles. "Quick."
He went into the dining-room, prompt in his seat at the head of the table, with the school-master next to him.
"Nice man, Uncle Pasco," he continued. "But his time is not now. We have nothing to do for the present but sit like every day and act perfectly natural."
"I have known simpler tasks," said Mr. Bolles, "but I'll begin by spreading this excellently clean napkin."
"You're no schoolmarm!" exclaimed Drake; "you please me."
"The worst of a bad thing," said the mild Bolles, "is having time to think about it, and we have been spared that."
"Here they come," said Drake.
They did come. But Drake's alert strategy served the end he had tried for. The drunken buccaroos swarmed disorderly to the door and halted. Once more the new superintendent's ways took them aback. Here was the decent table with lights serenely burning, with unwonted good things arranged upon it—the olives, the oranges, the preserves. Neat as parade drill were the men's places, all the cups and forks symmetrical along the white cloth. There, waiting his guests at the far end, sat the slim young boss talking with his boarder, Mr. Bolles, the parts in their smooth hair going with all the rest of this propriety. Even the daily tin dishes were banished in favor of crockery.
"Bashful of Sam's napkins, boys?" said the boss. "Or is it the bald-headed china?"
At this bidding they came in uncertainly. Their whiskey was ashamed inside. They took their seats, glancing across at each other in a transient silence, drawing their chairs gingerly beneath them. Thus ceremony fell unexpected upon the gathering, and for a while they swallowed in awkwardness what the swift, noiseless Sam brought them. He in a long white apron passed and re-passed with his things from his kitchen, doubly efficient and civil under stress of anxiety for his young master. In the pauses of his serving he watched from the background, with a face that presently caught the notice of one of them.
"Smile, you almond-eyed highbinder," said the buccaroo. And the Chinaman smiled his best.
"I've forgot something," said Half-past Full, rising. "Don't let 'em skip a course on me." Half-past left the room.
"That's what I have been hoping for," said Drake to Bolles.
Half-past returned presently and caught Drake's look of expectancy. "Oh no, boss," said the buccaroo, instantly, from the door. "You're on to me, but I'm on to you." He slammed the door with ostentation and dropped with a loud laugh into his seat.
"First smart thing I've known him do," said Drake to Bolles. "I am disappointed."
Two buccaroos next left the room together.
"They may get lost in the snow," said the humorous Half-past. "I'll just show 'em the trail." Once more he rose from the dinner and went out.
"Yes, he knew too much to bring it in here," said Drake to Bolles. "He knew none but two or three would dare drink, with me looking on."
"Don't you think he is afraid to bring it in the same room with you at all?" Bolles suggested.
"And me temperance this season? Now, Bolles, that's unkind."
"Oh, dear, that is not at all what—"
"I know what you meant, Bolles. I was only just making a little merry over this casualty. No, he don't mind me to that extent, except when he's sober. Look at him!"
Half-past was returning with his friends. Quite evidently they had all found the trail.
"Uncle Pasco is a nice old man!" pursued Drake. "I haven't got my gun on. Have you?"
"Yes," said Bolles, but with a sheepish swerve of the eye.
Drake guessed at once. "Not Baby Bunting? Oh, Lord! and I promised to give you an adult weapon!—the kind they're wearing now by way of full-dress."
"Talkin' secrets, boss?" said Half-past Full.
The well-meaning Sam filled his cup, and this proceeding shifted the buccaroo's truculent attention.
"What's that mud?" he demanded.
"Coffee," said Sam, politely.
The buccaroo swept his cup to the ground, and the next man howled dismay.
"Burn your poor legs?" said Half-past. He poured his glass over the victim. They wrestled, the company pounded the table, betting hoarsely, until Half-past went to the floor, and his plate with him.
"Go easy," said Drake. "You're smashing the company's property."
"Bald-headed china for sure, boss!" said a second of the brothers Drinker, and dropped a dish.
"I'll merely tell you," said Drake, "that the company don't pay for this china twice."
"Not twice?" said Half-past Full, smashing some more. "How about thrice?"
"Want your money now?" another inquired.
A riot of banter seized upon all of them, and they began to laugh and destroy.
"How much did this cost?" said one, prying askew his three-tined fork.
"How much did you cost yourself?" said another to Drake.
"What, our kid boss? Two bits, I guess."
"Hyas markook. Too dear!"
They bawled at their own jokes, loud and ominous; threat sounded beneath their lightest word, the new crashes of china that they threw on the floor struck sharply through the foreboding din of their mirth. The spirit that Drake since his arrival had kept under in them day by day, but not quelled, rose visibly each few succeeding minutes, swelling upward as the tide does. Buoyed up on the whiskey, it glittered in their eyes and yelled mutinously in their voices.
"I'm waiting all orders," said Bolles to Drake.
"I haven't any," said Drake. "New ones, that is. We've sat down to see this meal out. Got to keep sitting."
He leaned back, eating deliberately, saying no more to the buccaroos; thus they saw he would never leave the room till they did. As he had taken his chair the first, so was the boy bound to quit it the last. The game of prying fork-tines staled on them one by one, and they took to songs, mostly of love and parting. With the red whiskey in their eyes they shouted plaintively of sweethearts, and vows, and lips, and meeting in the wild wood. From these they went to ballads of the cattle-trail and the Yuba River, and so inevitably worked to the old coast song, made of three languages, with its verses rhymed on each year since the first beginning. Tradition laid it heavy upon each singer in his turn to keep the pot a-boiling by memory or by new invention, and the chant went forward with hypnotic cadence to a tune of larkish, ripping gayety. He who had read over his old stained letters in the homesick afternoon had waked from such dreaming and now sang:
"Once jes' onced in the year o' 49, I met a fancy thing by the name o' Keroline; I never could persuade her for to leave me be; She went and she took and she married me."
His neighbor was ready with an original contribution:
"Once, once again in the year o' '64, By the city of Whatcom down along the shore— I never could persuade them for to leave me be— A Siwash squaw went and took and married me."
"What was you doin' between all them years?" called Half-past Full.
"Shut yer mouth," said the next singer:
"Once, once again in the year o' 71 ('Twas the suddenest deed that I ever done)— I never could persuade them for to leave me be— A rich banker's daughter she took and married me."
"This is looking better," said Bolles to Drake.
"Don't you believe it," said the boy.
Ten or a dozen years were thus sung.
"I never could persuade them for to leave me be" tempestuously brought down the chorus and the fists, until the drunkards could sit no more, but stood up to sing, tramping the tune heavily together. Then, just as the turn came round to Drake himself, they dashed their chairs down and herded out of the room behind Half-past Full, slamming the door.
Drake sat a moment at the head of his Christmas dinner, the fallen chairs, the lumpy wreck. Blood charged his face from his hair to his collar. "Let's smoke," said he. They went from the dinner through the room of the great fireplace to his office beyond.
"Have a mild one?" he said to the schoolmaster.
"No, a strong one to-night, if you please." And Bolles gave his mild smile.
"You do me good now and then," said Drake.
"Dear me," said the teacher, "I have found it the other way."
All the rooms fronted on the road with doors—the old-time agency doors, where the hostiles had drawn their pictures in the days before peace had come to reign over this country. Drake looked out, because the singing had stopped and they were very quiet in the bunk-house. He saw the Chinaman steal from his kitchen.
"Sam is tired of us," he said to Bolles.
"Running away, I guess. I'd prefer a new situation myself. That's where you're deficient, Bolles. Only got sense enough to stay where you happen to be. Hello. What is he up to?"
Sam had gone beside a window of the bunkhouse and was listening there, flat like a shadow. Suddenly he crouched, and was gone among the sheds. Out of the bunk-house immediately came a procession, the buccaroos still quiet, a careful, gradual body.
Drake closed his door and sat in the chair again. "They're escorting that jug over here," said he. "A new move, and a big one."
He and Bolles heard them enter the next room, always without much noise or talk—the loudest sound was the jug when they set it on the floor. Then they seemed to sit, talking little.
"Bolles," said Drake, "the sun has set. If you want to take after Sam—"
But the door of the sitting-room opened and the Chinaman himself came in. He left the door a-swing and spoke clearly. "Misser Dlake," said he, "slove bloke" (stove broke).
The superintendent came out of his office, following Sam to the kitchen. He gave no look or word to the buccaroos with their demijohn; he merely held his cigar sidewise in his teeth and walked with no hurry through the sitting-room. Sam took him through to the kitchen and round to a hind corner of the stove, pointing.
"Misser Dlake," said he, "slove no bloke. I hear them inside. They going kill you."
"That's about the way I was figuring it," mused Dean Drake.
"Misser Dlake," said the Chinaman, with appealing eyes, "I velly solly you. They no hurtee me. Me cook."
"Sam, there is much meat in your words. Condensed beef don't class with you. But reserve your sorrows yet a while. Now what's my policy?" he debated, tapping the stove here and there for appearances; somebody might look in. "Shall I go back to my office and get my guns?"
"You not goin' run now?" said the Chinaman, anxiously.
"Oh yes, Sam. But I like my gun travelling. Keeps me kind of warm. Now if they should get a sight of me arming—no, she's got to stay here till I come back for her. So long, Sam! See you later. And I'll have time to thank you then."
Drake went to the corral in a strolling manner. There he roped the strongest of the horses, and also the school-master's. In the midst of his saddling, Bolles came down.
"Can I help you in any way?" said Bolles.
"You've done it. Saved me a bothering touch-and-go play to get you out here and seem innocent. I'm going to drift."
"There are times to stay and times to leave, Bolles; and this is a case of the latter. Have you a real gun on now?"
Poor Bolles brought out guiltily his.22 Smith & Wesson. "I don't seem to think of things," said he.
"Cheer up," said Drake. "How could you thought-read me? Hide Baby Bunting, though. Now we're off. Quietly, at the start. As if we were merely jogging to pasture."
Sam stood at his kitchen door, mutely wishing them well. The horses were walking without noise, but Half-past Full looked out of the window.
"We're by, anyhow," said Drake. "Quick now. Burn the earth." The horse sprang at his spurs. "Dust, you son of a gun! Rattle your hocks! Brindle! Vamoose!" Each shouted word was a lash with his quirt. "Duck!" he called to Bolles.
Bolles ducked, and bullets grooved the spraying snow. They rounded a corner and saw the crowd jumping into the corral, and Sam's door empty of that prudent Celestial.
"He's a very wise Chinaman!" shouted Drake, as they rushed.
"What?" screamed Bolles.
"Very wise Chinaman. He'll break that stove now to prove his innocence."
"Who did you say was innocent?" screamed Bolles.
"Oh, I said you were," yelled Drake, disgusted; and he gave over this effort at conversation as their horses rushed along.
It was a dim, wide stretch of winter into which Drake and Bolles galloped from the howling pursuit. Twilight already veiled the base of Castle Rock, and as they forged heavily up a ridge through the caking snow, and the yells came after them, Bolles looked seriously at Dean Drake; but that youth wore an expression of rising merriment. Bolles looked back at the dusk from which the yells were sounding, then forward to the spreading skein of night where the trail was taking him and the boy, and in neither direction could he discern cause for gayety.
"May I ask where we are going?" said he.
"Away," Drake answered. "Just away, Bolles. It's a healthy resort."
Ten miles were travelled before either spoke again. The drunken buccaroos yelled hot on their heels at first, holding more obstinately to this chase than sober ruffians would have attempted. Ten cold, dark miles across the hills it took to cure them; but when their shootings, that had followed over heights where the pines grew and down through the open swales between, dropped off, and died finally away among the willows along the south fork of the Malheur, Drake reined in his horse with a jerk.
"Now isn't that too bad!" he exclaimed.
"It is all very bad," said Bolles, sorry to hear the boy's tone of disappointment.
"I didn't think they'd fool me again," continued Drake, jumping down.
"Again?" inquired the interested Bolles.
"Why, they've gone home!" said the boy, in disgust.
"I was hoping so," said the school-master.
"Hoping? Why, it's sad, Bolles. Four miles farther and I'd have had them lost."
"Oh!" said Bolles.
"I wanted them to keep after us," complained Drake. "Soon as we had a good lead I coaxed them. Coaxed them along on purpose by a trail they knew, and four miles from here I'd have swung south into the mountains they don't know. There they'd have been good and far from home in the snow without supper, like you and me, Bolles. But after all my trouble they've gone back snug to that fireside. Well, let us be as cosey as we can."
He built a bright fire, and he whistled as he kicked the snow from his boots, busying over the horses and the blankets. "Take a rest," he said to Bolles. "One man's enough to do the work. Be with you soon to share our little cottage." Presently Bolles heard him reciting confidentially to his horse, "Twas the night after Christmas, and all in the house—only we are not all in the house!" He slapped the belly of his horse Tyee, who gambolled away to the limit of his picket-rope.
"Appreciating the moon, Bolles?" said he, returning at length to the fire. "What are you so gazeful about, father?"
"This is all my own doing," lamented the school-master.
"What, the moon is?"
"It has just come over me," Bolles continued. "It was before you got in the stage at Nampa. I was talking. I told Uncle Pasco that I was glad no whiskey was to be allowed on the ranch. It all comes from my folly!"
"Why, you hungry old New England conscience!" cried the boy, clapping him on the shoulder. "How in the world could you foresee the crookedness of that hoary Beelzebub?"
"That's all very well," said Bolles, miserably. "You would never have mentioned it yourself to him."
"You and I, Bolles, are different. I was raised on miscellaneous wickedness. A look at my insides would be liable to make you say your prayers."
The school-master smiled. "If I said any prayers," he replied, "you would be in them."
Drake looked moodily at the fire. "The Lord helps those who help themselves," said he. "I've prospered. For a nineteen-year-old I've hooked my claw fairly deep here and there. As for to-day—why, that's in the game too. It was their deal. Could they have won it on their own play? A joker dropped into their hand. It's my deal now, and I have some jokers myself. Go to sleep, Bolles. We've a ride ahead of us."
The boy rolled himself in his blanket skillfully. Bolles heard him say once or twice in a sort of judicial conversation with the blanket—"and all in the house—but we were not all in the house. Not all. Not a full house—" His tones drowsed comfortably into murmur, and then to quiet breathing. Bolles fed the fire, thatched the unneeded wind-break (for the calm, dry night was breathless), and for a long while watched the moon and a tuft of the sleeping boy's hair.
"If he is blamed," said the school-master, "I'll never forgive myself. I'll never forgive myself anyhow."
A paternal, or rather maternal, expression came over Bolles's face, and he removed his large, serious glasses. He did not sleep very well.
The boy did. "I'm feeling like a bird," said he, as they crossed through the mountains next morning on a short cut to the Owybee. "Breakfast will brace you up, Bolles. There'll be a cabin pretty soon after we strike the other road. Keep thinking hard about coffee."
"I wish I could," said poor Bolles. He was forgiving himself less and less.
Their start had been very early; as Drake bid the school-master observe, to have nothing to detain you, nothing to eat and nothing to pack, is a great help in journeys of haste. The warming day, and Indian Creek well behind them, brought Drake to whistling again, but depression sat upon the self-accusing Bolles. Even when they sighted the Owyhee road below them, no cheerfulness waked in him; not at the nearing coffee, nor yet at the companionable tinkle of sleigh-bells dancing faintly upward through the bright, silent air.
"Why, if it ain't Uncle Pasco!" said Drake, peering down through a gap in the foot-hill. "We'll get breakfast sooner than I expected. Quick! Give me Baby Bunting!"
"Are you going to kill him?" whispered the school-master, with a beaming countenance. And he scuffled with his pocket to hand over his hitherto belittled weapon.
Drake considered him. "Bolles, Bolles," said he, "you have got the New England conscience rank. Plymouth Rock is a pudding to your heart. Remind me to pray for you first spare minute I get. Now follow me close. He'll be much more useful to us alive."
They slipped from their horses, stole swiftly down a shoulder of the hill, and waited among some brush. The bells jingled unsuspectingly onward to this ambush.
"Only hear 'em!" said Drake. "All full of silver and Merry Christmas. Don't gaze at me like that, Bolles, or I'll laugh and give the whole snap away. See him come! The old man's breath streams out so calm. He's not worried with New England conscience. One, two, three" Just before the sleigh came opposite, Dean Drake stepped out. "Morning, Uncle!" said he. "Throw up your hands!"
Uncle Pasco stopped dead, his eyes blinking. Then he stood up in the sleigh among his blankets. "H'm," said he, "the kid."
"Throw up your hands! Quit fooling with that blanket!" Drake spoke dangerously now. "Bolles," he continued, "pitch everything out of the sleigh while I cover him. He's got a shot-gun under that blanket. Sling it out."
It was slung. The wraps followed. Uncle Pasco stepped obediently down, and soon the chattels of the emptied sleigh littered the snow. The old gentleman was invited to undress until they reached the six-shooter that Drake suspected. Then they ate his lunch, drank some whiskey that he had not sold to the buccaroos, told him to repack the sleigh, allowed him to wrap up again, bade him take the reins, and they would use his six-shooter and shot-gun to point out the road to him.
He had said very little, had Uncle Pasco, but stood blinking, obedient and malignant. "H'm," said he now, "goin' to ride with me, are you?"
He was told yes, that for the present he was their coachman. Their horses were tired and would follow, tied behind. "We're weary, too," said Drake, getting in. "Take your legs out of my way or I'll kick off your shins. Bolles, are you fixed warm and comfortable? Now start her up for Harper ranch, Uncle."
"What are you proposing to do with me?" inquired Uncle Pasco.
"Not going to wring your neck, and that's enough for the present. Faster, Uncle. Get a gait on. Bolles, here's Baby Bunting. Much obliged to you for the loan of it, old man."
Uncle Pasco's eye fell on the 22-caliber pistol. "Did you hold me up with that lemonade straw?" he asked, huskily.
"Yep," said Drake. "That's what."
"Oh, hell!" murmured Uncle Pasco. And for the first time he seemed dispirited.
"Uncle, you're not making time," said Drake after a few miles. "I'll thank you for the reins. Open your bandanna and get your concertina. Jerk the bellows for us."
"That I'll not!" screamed Uncle Pasco.
"It's music or walk home," said the boy. "Take your choice."
Uncle Pasco took his choice, opening with the melody of "The Last Rose of Summer." The sleigh whirled up the Owyhee by the winter willows, and the levels, and the meadow pools, bright frozen under the blue sky. Late in this day the amazed Brock by his corrals at Harper's beheld arrive his favorite, his boy superintendent, driving in with the schoolmaster staring through his glasses, and Uncle Pasco throwing out active strains upon his concertina. The old man had been bidden to bellows away for his neck.
Drake was not long in explaining his need to the men. "This thing must be worked quick," said he. "Who'll stand by me?"
All of them would, and he took ten, with the faithful Brock. Brock would not allow Gilbert to go, because he had received another mule-kick in the stomach. Nor was Bolles permitted to be of the expedition. To all his protests, Drake had but the single word: "This is not your fight, old man. You've done your share with Baby Bunting."
Thus was the school-master in sorrow compelled to see them start back to Indian Creek and the Malheur without him. With him Uncle Pasco would have joyfully exchanged. He was taken along with the avengers. They would not wring his neck, but they would play cat and mouse with him and his concertina; and they did. But the conscience of Bolles still toiled. When Drake and the men were safe away, he got on the wagon going for the mail, thus making his way next morning to the railroad and Boise, where Max Vogel listened to him; and together this couple hastily took train and team for the Malheur Agency.
The avengers reached Indian Creek duly, and the fourth day after his Christmas dinner Drake came once more in sight of Castle Rock.
"I am doing this thing myself, understand," he said to Brock. "I am responsible."
"We're here to take your orders," returned the foreman. But as the agency buildings grew plain and the time for action was coming, Brock's anxious heart spoke out of its fulness. "If they start in to—to—they might—I wish you'd let me get in front," he begged, all at once.
"I thought you thought better of me," said Drake.
"Excuse me," said the man. Then presently: "I don't see how anybody could 'a' told he'd smuggle whiskey that way. If the old man [Brock meant Max Vogel] goes to blame you, I'll give him my opinion straight."
"The old man's got no use for opinions," said Drake. "He goes on results. He trusted me with this job, and we're going to have results now."
The drunkards were sitting round outside the ranch house. It was evening. They cast a sullen inspection on the new-comers, who returned them no inspection whatever. Drake had his men together and took them to the stable first, a shed with mangers. Here he had them unsaddle. "Because," he mentioned to Brock, "in case of trouble we'll be sure of their all staying. I'm taking no chances now."
Soon the drunkards strolled over, saying good-day, hazarding a few comments on the weather and like topics, and meeting sufficient answers.
"Goin' to stay?"
"That's a good horse you've got."
But Sam was the blithest spirit at the Malheur Agency. "Hiyah!" he exclaimed. "Misser Dlake! How fashion you come quick so?" And the excellent Chinaman took pride in the meal of welcome that he prepared.
"Supper's now," said Drake to his men. "Sit anywhere you feel like. Don't mind whose chair you're taking—and we'll keep our guns on."
Thus they followed him, and sat. The boy took his customary perch at the head of the table, with Brock at his right. "I miss old Bolles," he told his foreman. "You don't appreciate Bolles."
"From what you tell of him," said Brock, "I'll examine him more careful."
Seeing their boss, the sparrow-hawk, back in his place, flanked with supporters, and his gray eye indifferently upon them, the buccaroos grew polite to oppressiveness. While Sam handed his dishes to Drake and the new-comers, and the new-comers eat what was good before the old inhabitants got a taste, these latter grew more and more solicitous. They offered sugar to the strangers, they offered their beds; Half-past Full urged them to sit companionably in the room where the fire was burning. But when the meal was over, the visitors went to another room with their arms, and lighted their own fire. They brought blankets from their saddles, and after a little concertina they permitted the nearly perished Uncle Pasco to slumber. Soon they slumbered themselves, with the door left open, and Drake watching. He would not even share vigil with Brock, and all night he heard the voices of the buccaroos, holding grand, unending council.
When the relentless morning came, and breakfast with the visitors again in their seats unapproachable, the drunkards felt the crisis to be a strain upon their sobered nerves. They glanced up from their plates, and down; along to Dean Drake eating his hearty porridge, and back at one another, and at the hungry, well-occupied strangers.
"Say, we don't want trouble," they began to the strangers.
"Course you don't. Breakfast's what you're after."
"Oh, well, you'd have got gay. A man gets gay."
"Mr. Drake," said Half-past Full, sweating with his effort, "we were sorry while we was a-fogging you up."
"Yes," said Drake. "You must have been just overcome by contrition."
A large laugh went up from the visitors, and the meal was finished without further diplomacy.
"One matter, Mr. Drake," stammered Half-past Full, as the party rose. "Our jobs. We're glad to pay for any things what got sort of broke."
"Sort of broke," repeated the boy, eyeing him. "So you want to hold your jobs?"
"If—" began the buccaroo, and halted.
"Fact is, you're a set of cowards," said Drake, briefly. "I notice you've forgot to remove that whiskey jug." The demijohn still stood by the great fireplace. Drake entered and laid hold of it, the crowd standing back and watching. He took it out, with what remained in its capacious bottom, set it on a stump, stepped back, levelled his gun, and shattered the vessel to pieces. The whiskey drained down, wetting the stump, creeping to the ground.
Much potency lies in the object-lesson, and a grin was on the faces of all present, save Uncle Pasco's. It had been his demijohn, and when the shot struck it he blinked nervously.
"You ornery old mink!" said Drake, looking at him. "You keep to the jewelry business hereafter."
The buccaroos grinned again. It was reassuring to witness wrath turn upon another.
"You want to hold your jobs?" Drake resumed to them. "You can trust yourselves?"
"Yes, sir," said Half-past Full.
"But I don't trust you," stated Drake, genially; and the buccaroos' hopeful eyes dropped. "I'm going to divide you," pursued the new superintendent. "Split you far and wide among the company's ranches. Stir you in with decenter blood. You'll go to White-horse ranch, just across the line of Nevada," he said to Half-past Full. "I'm tired of the brothers Drinker. You'll go—let's see—"
Drake paused in his apportionment, and a sleigh came swiftly round the turn, the horse loping and lathery.
"What vas dat shooting I hear joost now?" shouted Max Vogel, before he could arrive. He did not wait for any answer. "Thank the good God!" he exclaimed, at seeing the boy Dean Drake unharmed, standing with a gun. And to their amazement he sped past them, never slacking his horse's lope until he reached the corral. There he tossed the reins to the placid Bolles, and springing out like a surefooted elephant, counted his saddle-horses; for he was a general. Satisfied, he strode back to the crowd by the demijohn. "When dem men get restless," he explained to Drake at once, "always look out. Somebody might steal a horse."
The boy closed one gray, confidential eye at his employer. "Just my idea," said he, "when I counted 'em before breakfast."
"You liddle r-rascal," said Max, fondly, "What you shoot at?"
Drake pointed at the demijohn. "It was bigger than those bottles at Nampa," said he. "Guess you could have hit it yourself."
Max's great belly shook. He took in the situation. It had a flavor that he liked. He paused to relish it a little more in silence.
"Und you have killed noding else?" said he, looking at Uncle Pasco, who blinked copiously. "Mine old friend, you never get rich if you change your business so frequent. I tell you that thirty years now." Max's hand found Drake's shoulder, but he addressed Brock. "He is all what you tell me," said he to the foreman. "He have joodgement."
Thus the huge, jovial Teuton took command, but found Drake had left little for him to do. The buccaroos were dispersed at Harper's, at Fort Rinehart, at Alvord Lake, towards Stein's peak, and at the Island Ranch by Harney Lake. And if you know east Oregon, or the land where Chief E-egante helped out Specimen Jones, his white soldier friend, when the hostile Bannocks were planning his immediate death as a spy, you will know what wide regions separated the buccaroos. Bolles was taken into Max Vogel's esteem; also was Chinese Sam. But Max sat smoking in the office with his boy superintendent, in particular satisfaction.
"You are a liddle r-rascal," said he. "Und I r-raise you fifty dollars."
A Kinsman of Red Cloud
It was thirty minutes before a June sundown at the post, and the first call had sounded for parade. Over in the barracks the two companies and the single troop lounged a moment longer, then laid their police literature down, and lifted their stocking feet from the beds to get ready. In the officers' quarters the captain rose regretfully from after-dinner digestion, and the three lieutenants sought their helmets with a sigh. Lieutenant Balwin had been dining an unconventional and impressive guest at the mess, and he now interrupted the anecdote which the guest was achieving with frontier deliberation.
"Make yourself comfortable," he said. "I'll have to hear the rest about the half-breed when I get back."
"There ain't no more—yet. He got my cash with his private poker deck that onced, and I'm fixing for to get his'n."
Second call sounded; the lines filed out and formed, the sergeant of the guard and two privates took their station by the flag, and when battalion was formed the commanding officer, towering steeple-stiff beneath his plumes, received the adjutant's salute, ordered him to his post, and began drill. At all this the unconventional guest looked on comfortably from Lieutenant Balwin's porch.
"I doubt if I could put up with that there discipline all the week," he mused. "Carry—arms! Present—Arms! I guess that's all I know of it." The winking white line of gloves stirred his approval. "Pretty good that. Gosh, see the sun on them bayonets!"
The last note of retreat merged in the sonorous gun, and the flag shining in the light of evening slid down and rested upon the earth. The blue ranks marched to a single bugle—the post was short of men and officers—and the captain, with the released lieutenants, again sought digestion and cigars. Balwin returned to his guest, and together they watched the day forsake the plain. Presently the guest rose to take his leave. He looked old enough to be the father of the young officer, but he was a civilian, and the military man proceeded to give him excellent advice.
"Now don't get into trouble, Cutler."
The slouch-shouldered scout rolled his quid gently, and smiled at his superior with indulgent regard.
"See here, Cutler, you have a highly unoccupied look about you this evening. I've been studying the customs of this population, and I've noted a fact or two."
"Let 'em loose on me, sir."
"Fact one: When any male inhabitant of Fort Laramie has a few spare moments, he hunts up a game of cards."
"Well, sir, you've called the turn on me."
"Fact two: At Fort Laramie a game of cards frequently ends in discussion."
"Fact three: Mr. Calvin, in them discussions Jarvis Cutler has the last word. You put that in your census report alongside the other two."
"Well, Cutler, if somebody's gun should happen to beat yours in an argument, I should have to hunt another wagon-master."
"I'll not forget that. When was you expecting to pull out north?"
"Whenever the other companies get here. May be three days—may be three weeks."
"Then I will have plenty time for a game to-night."
With this slight dig of his civilian independence into the lieutenant's military ribs, the scout walked away, his long, lugubrious frockcoat (worn in honor of the mess) occasionally flapping open in the breeze, and giving a view of a belt richly fluted with cartridges, and the ivory handle of a pistol looking out of its holster. He got on his horse, crossed the flat, and struck out for the cabin of his sociable friends, Loomis and Kelley, on the hill. The open door and a light inside showed the company, and Cutler gave a grunt, for sitting on the table was the half-breed, the winner of his unavenged dollars. He rode slower, in order to think, and arriving at the corral below the cabin, tied his horse to the stump of a cottonwood. A few steps towards the door, and he wheeled on a sudden thought, and under cover of the night did a crafty something which to the pony was altogether unaccountable. He unloosed both front and rear cinch of his saddle, so they hung entirely free in wide bands beneath the pony's belly. He tested their slackness with his hand several times, stopping instantly when the more and more surprised pony turned his head to see what new thing in his experience might be going on, and, seeing, gave a delicate bounce with his hind-quarters.
"Never you mind, Duster," muttered the scout. "Did you ever see a skunk-trap? Oughts is for mush-rats, and number ones is mostly used for 'coons and 'possums, and I guess they'd do for a skunk. But you and we'll call this here trap a number two, Duster, for the skunk I'm after is a big one. All you've to do is to act natural."
Cutler took the rope off the stump by which Duster had been tied securely, wound and strapped it to the tilted saddle, and instead of this former tether, made a weak knot in the reins, and tossed them over the stump. He entered the cabin with a countenance sweeter than honey.
"Good-evening, boys," he said. "Why, Toussaint, how do you do?"
The hand of Toussaint had made a slight, a very slight, movement towards his hip, but at sight of Cutler's mellow smile resumed its clasp upon his knee.
"Golly, but you're gay-like this evening," said Kelley.
"Blamed if I knowed he could look so frisky," added Loomis.
"Sporting his onced-a-year coat," Kelley pursued. "That ain't for our benefit, Joole."
"No, we're not that high in society." Both these cheerful waifs had drifted from the Atlantic coast westward.
Cutler looked from them to his costume, and then amiably surveyed the half-breed.
"Well, boys, I'm in big luck, I am. How's yourn nowadays, Toussaint?"
"Pretty good sometime. Sometime heap hell." The voice of the half-breed came as near heartiness as its singularly false quality would allow, and as he smiled he watched Cutler with the inside of his eyes.
The scout watched nobody and nothing with great care, looked about him pleasantly, inquired for the whiskey, threw aside hat and gloves, sat down, leaning the chair back against the wall, and talked with artful candor. "Them sprigs of lieutenants down there," said he, "they're a surprising lot for learning virtue to a man. You take Balwin. Why, he ain't been out of the Academy only two years, and he's been telling me how card-playing ain't good for you. And what do you suppose he's been and offered Jarvis Cutler for a job? I'm to be wagon-master." He paused, and the half-breed's attention to his next words increased. "Wagon-master, and good pay, too. Clean up to the Black Hills; and the troops'll move soon as ever them reinforcements come. Drinks on it, boys! Set 'em up, Joole Loomis. My contract's sealed with some of Uncle Sam's cash, and I'm going to play it right here. Hello! Somebody coming to join us? He's in a hurry."
There was a sound of lashing straps and hoofs beating the ground, and Cutler looked out of the door. As he had calculated, the saddle had gradually turned with Duster's movements and set the pony bucking.
"Stampeded!" said the scout, and swore the proper amount called for by such circumstances. "Some o' you boys help me stop the durned fool."
Loomis and Kelley ran. Duster had jerked the prepared reins from the cottonwood, and was lurching down a small dry gulch, with the saddle bouncing between his belly and the stones.
Cutler cast a backward eye at the cabin where Toussaint had stayed behind alone. "Head him off below, boys, and I'll head him off above," the scout sang out. He left his companions, and quickly circled round behind the cabin, stumbling once heavily, and hurrying on, anxious lest the noise had reached the lurking half-breed. But the ivory-handled pistol, jostled from its holster, lay unheeded among the stones where he had stumbled. He advanced over the rough ground, came close to the logs, and craftily peered in at the small window in the back of the cabin. It was evident that he had not been heard. The sinister figure within still sat on the table, but was crouched, listening like an animal to the shouts that were coming from a safe distance down in the gulch. Cutler, outside of the window, could not see the face of Toussaint, but he saw one long brown hand sliding up and down the man's leg, and its movement put him in mind of the tail of a cat. The hand stopped to pull out a pistol, into which fresh cartridges were slipped. Cutler had already done this same thing after dismounting, and he now felt confident that his weapon needed no further examination. He did not put his hand to his holster. The figure rose from the table, and crossed the room to a set of shelves in front of which hung a little yellow curtain. Behind it were cups, cans, bottles, a pistol, counters, red, white, and blue, and two fresh packs of cards, blue and pink, side by side. Seeing these, Toussaint drew a handkerchief from his pocket, and unwrapped two further packs, both blue; and at this Cutler's intent face grew into plain shape close to the window, but receded again into uncertain dimness. From down in the gulch came shouts that the runaway horse was captured. Toussaint listened, ran to the door, and quickly returning, put the blue pack from the shelf into his pocket, leaving in exchange one of his own. He hesitated about altering the position of the cards on the shelf, but Kelley and Loomis were unobservant young men, and the half-breed placed the pink cards on top of his blue ones. The little yellow curtain again hung innocently over the shelves, and Toussaint, pouring himself a drink of whiskey, faced round, and for the first time saw the window that had been behind his back. He was at it in an instant, wrenching its rusty pin, that did not give, but stuck motionless in the wood. Cursing, he turned and hurried out of the door and round the cabin. No one was there. Some hundred yards away the noiseless Cutler crawled farther among the thickets that filled the head of the gulch. Toussaint whipped out a match, and had it against his trousers to strike and look if there were footprints, when second thoughts warned him this might be seen, and was not worth risking suspicion over, since so many feet came and went by this cabin. He told himself no one could have been there to see him, and slowly returned inside, with a mind that fell a hair's breadth short of conviction.
The boys, coming up with the horse, met Cutler, who listened to how Duster had stood still as soon as he had kicked free of his saddle, making no objection to being caught. They suggested that he would not have broken loose had he been tied with a rope; and hearing this, Cutler bit off a piece of tobacco, and told them they were quite right: a horse should never be tied by his bridle. For a savory moment the scout cuddled his secret, and turned it over like the tobacco lump under his tongue. Then he explained, and received serenely the amazement of Loomis and Kelley.
"When you kids have travelled this Western country awhile you'll keep your cards locked," said he. "He's going to let us win first. You'll see, he'll play a poor game with the pink deck. Then, if we don't call for fresh cards, why, he'll call for 'em himself. But, just for the fun of the thing, if any of us loses steady, why, we'll call. Then, when he gets hold of his strippers, watch out. When he makes his big play, and is stretchin' for to rake the counters in, you grab 'em, Joole; for by then I'll have my gun on him, and if he makes any trouble we'll feed him to the coyotes. I expect that must have been it, boys," he continued, in a new tone, as they came within possible ear-shot of the half-breed in the cabin. "A coyote come around him where he was tied. The fool horse has seen enough of 'em to git used to 'em, you'd think, but he don't. There; that'll hold him. I guess he'll have to pull the world along with him if he starts to run again."
The lamp was placed on the window-shelf, and the four took seats, Cutler to the left of Toussaint, with Kelley opposite. The pink cards fell harmless, and for a while the game was a dull one to see. Holding a pair of kings, Cutler won a little from Toussaint, who remarked that luck must go with the money of Uncle Sam. After a few hands, the half-breed began to bet with ostentatious folly, and, losing to one man and another, was joked upon the falling off of his game. In an hour's time his blue chips had been twice reinforced, and twice melted from the neat often-counted pile in which he arranged them; moreover, he had lost a horse from his string down on Chug Water.
"Lend me ten dollar," he said to Cutler. "You rich man now."
In the next few deals Kelley became poor. "I'm sick of this luck," said he.
"Then change it, why don't you? Let's have a new deck." And Loomis rose.
"Joole, you always are for something new," said Cutler. "Now I'm doing pretty well with these pink cards. But I'm no hog. Fetch on your fresh ones."
The eyes of the half-breed swerved to the yellow curtain. He was by a French trapper from Canada out of a Sioux squaw, one of Red Cloud's sisters, and his heart beat hot with the evil of two races, and none of their good. He was at this moment irrationally angry with the men who had won from him through his own devices, and malice undisguised shone in his lean flat face. At sight of the blue cards falling in the first deal, silence came over the company, and from the distant parade-ground the bugle sounded the melancholy strain of taps. Faint, far, solemn, melodious, the music travelled unhindered across the empty night.
"Them men are being checked off in their bunks now," said Cutler.
"What you bet this game?" demanded Toussaint.
"I've heard 'em play that same music over a soldier's grave," said Kelley.
"You goin' to bet?" Toussaint repeated.
Cutler pushed forward the two necessary white chips. No one's hand was high, and Loomis made a slight winning. The deal went its round several times, and once, when it was Toussaint's, Cutler suspected that special cards had been thrown to him by the half-breed as an experiment. He therefore played the gull to a nicety, betting gently upon his three kings; but when he stepped out boldly and bet the limit, it was not Toussaint but Kelley who held the higher hand, winning with three aces. Why the coup should be held off longer puzzled the scout, unless it was that Toussaint was carefully testing the edges of his marked cards to see if he controlled them to a certainty. So Cutler played on calmly. Presently two aces came to him in Toussaint's deal, and he wondered how many more would be in his three-card draw. Very pretty! One only, and he lost to Loomis, who had drawn three, and held four kings. The hands were getting higher, they said. The game had "something to it now." But Toussaint grumbled, for his luck was bad all this year, he said. Cutler had now made sure that the aces and kings went where the half-breed wished, and could be slid undetected from the top or the middle or the bottom of the pack; but he had no test yet how far down the scale the marking went. At Toussaint's next deal Cutler judged the time had come, and at the second round of betting he knew it. The three white men played their parts, raising each other without pause, and again there was total silence in the cabin. Every face bent to the table, watching the turn repeat its circle with obstinate increase, until new chips and more new chips had been brought to keep on with, and the heap in the middle had mounted high in the hundreds, while in front of Toussaint lay his knife and a match-box—pledges of two more horses which he had staked. He had drawn three cards, while the others took two, except Cutler, who had a pair of kings again, and drawing three, picked up two more. Kelley dropped out, remarking he had bet more than his hand was worth, which was true, and Loomis followed him. Their persistence had surprised Toussaint a little. He had not given every one suspicious hands: Cutler's four kings were enough. He bet once more, was raised by the scout, called, and threw down his four aces.
"That beats me," said Cutler, quietly, and his hand moved under his frock-coat, as the half-breed, eyeing the central pile of counters in triumph, closed his fingers over it. They were dashed off by Kelley, who looked expectantly across at Cutler, and seeing the scout's face wither into sudden old age, cried out, "For God's sake, Jarvis, where's your gun?" Kelley sprang for the yellow curtain, and reeled backward at the shot of Toussaint. His arm thrashed along the window-sill as he fell, sweeping over the lamp, and flaring channels of oil ran over his body and spread on the ground. But these could no longer hurt him. The half-breed had leaped outside the cabin, enraged that Cutler should have got out during the moment he had been dealing with Kelley. The scout was groping for his ivory-handled pistol off in the darkness. He found it, and hurried to the little window at a second shot he heard inside. Loomis, beating the rising flame away, had seized the pistol from the shelf, and aimlessly fired into the night at Toussaint. He fired again, running to the door from the scorching heat. Cutler got round the house to save him if he could, and saw the half-breed's weapon flash, and the body pitch out across the threshold. Toussaint, gaining his horse, shot three times and missed Cutler, whom he could not clearly see; and he heard the scout's bullets sing past him as his horse bore him rushing away.
Jarvis Cutler lifted the dead Loomis out of the cabin. He made a try for Kelley's body, but the room had become a cave of flame, and he was driven from the door. He wrung his hands, giving himself bitter blame aloud, as he covered Loomis with his saddle-blanket, and jumped bareback upon Duster to go to the post. He had not been riding a minute when several men met him. They had seen the fire from below, and on their way up the half-breed had passed them at a run.
"Here's our point," said Cutler. "Will he hide with the Sioux, or will he take to the railroad? Well, that's my business more than being wagon-master. I'll get a warrant. You tell Lieutenant Balwin—and somebody give me a fresh horse."
A short while later, as Cutler, with the warrant in his pocket, rode out of Fort Laramie, the call of the sentinels came across the night: "Number One. Twelve o'clock, and all's well." A moment, and the refrain sounded more distant, given by Number Two. When the fourth took it up, far away along the line, the words were lost, leaving something like the faint echo of a song. The half-breed had crossed the Platte, as if he were making for his kindred tribe, but the scout did not believe in this too plain trail.
"There's Chug Water lying right the other way from where he went, and I guess it's there Mr. Toussaint is aiming for." With this idea Cutler swung from north to southwest along the Laramie. He went slowly over his shortcut, not to leave the widely circling Toussaint too much in his rear. The fugitive would keep himself carefully far on the other side of the Laramie, and very likely not cross it until the forks of Chug Water. Dawn had ceased to be gray, and the doves were cooing incessantly among the river thickets, when Cutler, reaching the forks, found a bottom where the sage-brush grew seven and eight feet high, and buried himself and his horse in its cover. Here was comfort; here both rivers could be safely watched. It seemed a good leisure-time for a little fire and some breakfast. He eased his horse of the saddle, sliced some bacon, and put a match to his pile of small sticks. As the flame caught, he stood up to enjoy the cool of a breeze that was passing through the stillness, and he suddenly stamped his fire out. The smell of another fire had come across Chug Water on the wind. It was incredible that Toussaint should be there already. There was no seeing from this bottom, and if Cutler walked up out of it the other man would see too. If it were Toussaint, he would not stay long in the vast exposed plain across Chug Water, but would go on after his meal. In twenty minutes it would be the thing to swim or wade the stream, and crawl up the mud bank to take a look. Meanwhile, Cutler dipped in water some old bread that he had and sucked it down, while the little breeze from opposite hook the cottonwood leaves and brought over the smell of cooking meat. The sun grew warmer, and the doves ceased. Cutler opened his big watch, and clapped it shut as the sound of mud heavily slopping into the other river reached him. He crawled to where he could look at the Laramie from among his sagebrush, and there was Toussaint leading his horse down to the water. The half-breed gave a shrill call, and waved his hat. His call was answered, and as he crossed the Laramie, three Sioux appeared, riding to the bank. They waited till he gained their level, when all four rode up the Chug Water, and went out of sight opposite the watching Cutler. The scout threw off some of his clothes, for the water was still high, and when he had crossed, and drawn himself to a level with the plain, there were the four squatted among the sage-brush beside a fire. They sat talking and eating for some time. One of them rose at last, pointed south, and mounting his horse, dwindled to a dot, blurred, and evaporated in the heated, trembling distance. Cutler at the edge of the bank still watched the other three, who sat on the ground. A faint shot came, and they rose at once, mounted, and vanished southward. There was no following them now in this exposed country, and Cutler, feeling sure that the signal had meant something about Toussaint's horses, made his fire, watered his own horse, and letting him drag a rope where the feed was green, ate his breakfast in ease. Toussaint would get a fresh mount, and proceed to the railroad. With the comfort of certainty and tobacco, the scout lolled by the river under the cottonwood, and even slept. In the cool of the afternoon he reached the cabin of an acquaintance twenty miles south, and changed his horse. A man had passed by, he was told. Looked as if bound for Cheyenne. "No," Cutler said, "he's known there"; and he went on, watching Toussaint's tracks. Within ten miles they veered away from Cheyenne to the southeast, and Cutler struck out on a trail of his own more freely. By midnight he was on Lodge-Pole Creek, sleeping sound among the last trees that he would pass. He slept twelve hours, having gone to bed knowing he must not come into town by daylight. About nine o'clock he arrived, and went to the railroad station; there the operator knew him. The lowest haunt in the town had a tent south of the Union Pacific tracks; and Cutler, getting his irons, and a man from the saloon, went there, and stepped in, covering the room with his pistol. The fiddle stopped, the shrieking women scattered, and Toussaint, who had a glass in his hand, let it fly at Cutler's head, for he was drunk. There were two customers besides himself.
"Nobody shall get hurt here," said Cutler, above the bedlam that was now set up. "Only that man's wanted. The quieter I get him, the quieter it'll be for others."
Toussaint had dived for his pistol, but the proprietor of the dance-hall, scenting law, struck the half-breed with the butt of another, and he rolled over, and was harmless for some minutes. Then he got on his legs, and was led out of the entertainment, which resumed more gayly than ever. Feet shuffled, the fiddle whined, and truculent treble laughter sounded through the canvas walls as Toussaint walked between Cutler and the saloon-man to jail. He was duly indicted, and upon the scout's deposition committed to trial for the murder of Loomis and Kelley. Cutler, hoping still to be wagon-master, wrote to Lieutenant Balwin, hearing in reply that the reinforcements would not arrive for two months. The session of the court came in one, and Cutler was the Territory's only witness. He gave his name and age, and hesitated over his occupation.