Roads of Destiny
Part 2 out of 6
There was something on Judson Tate's mind, and, such as it was, he
tried to convey it to me. Already he had accepted me as his friend;
and when I looked at his great, snuff-brown first-mate's hand, with
which he brought emphasis to his periods, within six inches of my
nose, I wondered if, by any chance, he was as sudden in conceiving
enmity against strangers.
When this man began to talk I perceived in him a certain power. His
voice was a persuasive instrument, upon which he played with a
somewhat specious but effective art. He did not try to make you forget
his ugliness; he flaunted it in your face and made it part of the
charm of his speech. Shutting your eyes, you would have trailed after
this rat-catcher's pipes at least to the walls of Hamelin. Beyond that
you would have had to be more childish to follow. But let him play his
own tune to the words set down, so that if all is too dull, the art of
music may bear the blame.
"Women," said Judson Tate, "are mysterious creatures."
My spirits sank. I was not there to listen to such a world-old
hypothesis--to such a time-worn, long-ago-refuted, bald, feeble,
illogical, vicious, patent sophistry--to an ancient, baseless,
wearisome, ragged, unfounded, insidious, falsehood originated by women
themselves, and by them insinuated, foisted, thrust, spread, and
ingeniously promulgated into the ears of mankind by underhanded,
secret and deceptive methods, for the purpose of augmenting,
furthering, and reinforcing their own charms and designs.
"Oh, I don't know!" said I, vernacularly.
"Have you ever heard of Oratama?" he asked.
"Possibly," I answered. "I seem to recall a toe dancer--or a suburban
addition--or was it a perfume?--of some such name."
"It is a town," said Judson Tate, "on the coast of a foreign country
of which you know nothing and could understand less. It is a country
governed by a dictator and controlled by revolutions and
insubordination. It was there that a great life-drama was played, with
Judson Tate, the homeliest man in America, and Fergus McMahan, the
handsomest adventurer in history or fiction, and Senorita Anabela
Zamora, the beautiful daughter of the alcalde of Oratama, as chief
actors. And, another thing--nowhere else on the globe except in the
department of Trienta y tres in Uruguay does the /chuchula/ plant
grow. The products of the country I speak of are valuable woods,
dyestuffs, gold, rubber, ivory, and cocoa."
"I was not aware," said I, "that South America produced any ivory."
"There you are twice mistaken," said Judson Tate, distributing the
words over at least an octave of his wonderful voice. "I did not say
that the country I spoke of was in South America--I must be careful,
my dear man; I have been in politics there, you know. But, even so--I
have played chess against its president with a set carved from the
nasal bones of the tapir--one of our native specimens of the order of
/perissodactyle ungulates/ inhabiting the Cordilleras--which was as
pretty ivory as you would care to see.
"But is was of romance and adventure and the ways of women that was I
going to tell you, and not of zoological animals.
"For fifteen years I was the ruling power behind old Sancho Benavides,
the Royal High Thumbscrew of the republic. You've seen his picture in
the papers--a mushy black man with whiskers like the notes on a Swiss
music-box cylinder, and a scroll in his right hand like the ones they
write births on in the family Bible. Well, that chocolate potentate
used to be the biggest item of interest anywhere between the colour
line and the parallels of latitude. It was three throws, horses,
whether he was to wind up in the Hall of Fame or the Bureau of
Combustibles. He'd have been sure called the Roosevelt of the Southern
Continent if it hadn't been that Grover Cleveland was President at the
time. He'd hold office a couple of terms, then he'd sit out for a hand
--always after appointing his own successor for the interims.
"But it was not Benavides, the Liberator, who was making all this fame
for himself. Not him. It was Judson Tate. Benavides was only the chip
over the bug. I gave him the tip when to declare war and increase
import duties and wear his state trousers. But that wasn't what I
wanted to tell you. How did I get to be It? I'll tell you. Because I'm
the most gifted talker that ever made vocal sounds since Adam first
opened his eyes, pushed aside the smelling-salts, and asked: 'Where am
"As you observe, I am about the ugliest man you ever saw outside the
gallery of photographs of the New England early Christian Scientists.
So, at an early age, I perceived that what I lacked in looks I must
make up in eloquence. That I've done. I get what I go after. As the
back-stop and still small voice of old Benavides I made all the great
historical powers-behind-the-throne, such as Talleyrand, Mrs. de
Pompadour, and Loeb, look as small as the minority report of a Duma. I
could talk nations into or out of debt, harangue armies to sleep on
the battlefield, reduce insurrections, inflammations, taxes,
appropriations or surpluses with a few words, and call up the dogs of
war or the dove of peace with the same bird-like whistle. Beauty and
epaulettes and curly moustaches and Grecian profiles in other men were
never in my way. When people first look at me they shudder. Unless
they are in the last stages of /angina pectoris/ they are mine in ten
minutes after I begin to talk. Women and men--I win 'em as they come.
Now, you wouldn't think women would fancy a man with a face like mine,
"Oh, yes, Mr. Tate," said I. "History is bright and fiction dull with
homely men who have charmed women. There seems--"
"Pardon me," interrupted Judson Tate, "but you don't quite understand.
You have yet to hear my story.
"Fergus McMahan was a friend of mine in the capital. For a handsome
man I'll admit he was the duty-free merchandise. He had blond curls
and laughing blue eyes and was featured regular. They said he was a
ringer for the statue they call Herr Mees, the god of speech and
eloquence resting in some museum at Rome. Some German anarchist, I
suppose. They are always resting and talking.
"But Fergus was no talker. He was brought up with the idea that to be
beautiful was to make good. His conversation was about as edifying as
listening to a leak dropping in a tin dish-pan at the head of the bed
when you want to go to sleep. But he and me got to be friends--maybe
because we was so opposite, don't you think? Looking at the Hallowe'en
mask that I call my face when I'm shaving seemed to give Fergus
pleasure; and I'm sure that whenever I heard the feeble output of
throat noises that he called conversation I felt contented to be a
gargoyle with a silver tongue.
"One time I found it necessary to go down to this coast town of
Oratama to straighten out a lot of political unrest and chop off a few
heads in the customs and military departments. Fergus, who owned the
ice and sulphur-match concessions of the republic, says he'll keep me
"So, in a jangle of mule-train bells, we gallops into Oratama, and the
town belonged to us as much as Long Island Sound doesn't belong to
Japan when T. R. is at Oyster Bay. I say us; but I mean me. Everybody
for four nations, two oceans, one bay and isthmus, and five
archipelagoes around had heard of Judson Tate. Gentleman adventurer,
they called me. I had been written up in five columns of the yellow
journals, 40,000 words (with marginal decorations) in a monthly
magazine, and a stickful on the twelfth page of the New York /Times/.
If the beauty of Fergus McMahan gained any part of our reception in
Oratama, I'll eat the price-tag in my Panama. It was me that they hung
out paper flowers and palm branches for. I am not a jealous man; I am
stating facts. The people were Nebuchadnezzars; they bit the grass
before me; there was no dust in the town for them to bite. They bowed
down to Judson Tate. They knew that I was the power behind Sancho
Benavides. A word from me was more to them than a whole deckle-edged
library from East Aurora in sectional bookcases was from anybody else.
And yet there are people who spend hours fixing their faces--rubbing
in cold cream and massaging the muscles (always toward the eyes) and
taking in the slack with tincture of benzoin and electrolyzing moles--
to what end? Looking handsome. Oh, what a mistake! It's the larynx
that the beauty doctors ought to work on. It's words more than warts,
talk more than talcum, palaver more than powder, blarney more than
bloom that counts--the phonograph instead of the photograph. But I was
going to tell you.
"The local Astors put me and Fergus up at the Centipede Club, a frame
building built on posts sunk in the surf. The tide's only nine inches.
The Little Big High Low Jack-in-the-game of the town came around and
kowtowed. Oh, it wasn't to Herr Mees. They had heard about Judson
"One afternoon me and Fergus McMahan was sitting on the seaward
gallery of the Centipede, drinking iced rum and talking.
"'Judson,' says Fergus, 'there's an angel in Oratama.'
"'So long,' says I, 'as it ain't Gabriel, why talk as if you had heard
a trump blow?'
"'It's the Senorita Anabela Zamora,' says Fergus. 'She's--she's--she's
as lovely as--as hell!'
"'Bravo!' says I, laughing heartily. 'You have a true lover's
eloquence to paint the beauties of your inamorata. You remind me,'
says I, 'of Faust's wooing of Marguerite--that is, if he wooed her
after he went down the trap-door of the stage.'
"'Judson,' says Fergus, 'you know you are as beautiless as a
rhinoceros. You can't have any interest in women. I'm awfully gone in
Miss Anabela. And that's why I'm telling you.'
"'Oh, /seguramente/,' says I. 'I know I have a front elevation like an
Aztec god that guards a buried treasure that never did exist in
Jefferson County, Yucatan. But there are compensations. For instance,
I am It in this country as far as the eye can reach, and then a few
perches and poles. And again,' says I, 'when I engage people in a set-
to of oral, vocal, and laryngeal utterances, I do not usually confine
my side of the argument to what may be likened to a cheap phonographic
reproduction of the ravings of a jellyfish.'
"'Oh, I know,' says Fergus, amiable, 'that I'm not handy at small
talk. Or large, either. That's why I'm telling you. I want you to help
"'How can I do it?' I asked.
"'I have subsidized,' says Fergus, 'the services of Senorita Anabela's
duenna, whose name is Francesca. You have a reputation in this
country, Judson,' says Fergus, 'of being a great man and a hero.'
"'I have,' says I. 'And I deserve it.'
"'And I,' says Fergus, 'am the best-looking man between the arctic
circle and antarctic ice pack.'
"'With limitations,' says I, 'as to physiognomy and geography, I
freely concede you to be.'
"'Between the two of us,' says Fergus, 'we ought to land the Senorita
Anabela Zamora. The lady, as you know, is of an old Spanish family,
and further than looking at her driving in the family /carruaje/ of
afternoons around the plaza, or catching a glimpse of her through a
barred window of evenings, she is as unapproachable as a star.'
"'Land her for which one of us?' says I.
"'For me of course,' says Fergus. 'You've never seen her. Now, I've
had Francesca point me out to her as being you on several occasions.
When she sees me on the plaza, she thinks she's looking at Don Judson
Tate, the greatest hero, statesman, and romantic figure in the
country. With your reputation and my looks combined in one man, how
can she resist him? She's heard all about your thrilling history, of
course. And she's seen me. Can any woman want more?' asks Fergus
"'Can she do with less?' I ask. 'How can we separate our mutual
attractions, and how shall we apportion the proceeds?'
"Then Fergus tells me his scheme.
"The house of the alcalde, Don Luis Zamora, he says, has a /patio/, of
course--a kind of inner courtyard opening from the street. In an angle
of it is his daughter's window--as dark a place as you could find. And
what do you think he wants me to do? Why, knowing my freedom, charm,
and skilfulness of tongue, he proposes that I go into the /patio/ at
midnight, when the hobgoblin face of me cannot be seen, and make love
to her for him--for the pretty man that she has seen on the plaza,
thinking him to be Don Judson Tate.
"Why shouldn't I do it for him--for my friend, Fergus McMahan? For him
to ask me was a compliment--an acknowledgment of his own shortcomings.
"'You little, lily white, fine-haired, highly polished piece of dumb
sculpture,' says I, 'I'll help you. Make your arrangements and get me
in the dark outside her window and my stream of conversation opened up
with the moonlight tremolo stop turned on, and she's yours.'
"'Keep your face hid, Jud,' says Fergus. 'For heaven's sake, keep your
face hid. I'm a friend of yours in all kinds of sentiment, but this is
a business deal. If I could talk I wouldn't ask you. But seeing me and
listening to you I don't see why she can't be landed.'
"'By you?' says I.
"'By me,' says Fergus.
Well, Fergus and the duenna, Francesca, attended to the details. And
one night they fetched me a long black cloak with a high collar, and
led me to the house at midnight. I stood by the window in the /patio/
until I heard a voice as soft and sweet as an angel's whisper on the
other side of the bars. I could see only a faint, white clad shape
inside; and, true to Fergus, I pulled the collar of my cloak high up,
for it was July in the wet seasons, and the nights were chilly. And,
smothering a laugh as I thought of the tongue-tied Fergus, I began to
"Well, sir, I talked an hour at the Senorita Anabela. I say 'at'
because it was not 'with.' Now and then she would say: 'Oh, Senor,' or
'Now, ain't you foolin'?' or 'I know you don't mean that,' and such
things as women will when they are being rightly courted. Both of us
knew English and Spanish; so in two languages I tried to win the heart
of the lady for my friend Fergus. But for the bars to the window I
could have done it in one. At the end of the hour she dismissed me and
gave me a big, red rose. I handed it over to Fergus when I got home.
"For three weeks every third or fourth night I impersonated my friend
in the /patio/ at the window of Senorita Anabela. At last she admitted
that her heart was mine, and spoke of having seen me every afternoon
when she drove in the plaza. It was Fergus she had seen, of course.
But it was my talk that won her. Suppose Fergus had gone there, and
tried to make a hit in the dark with his beauty all invisible, and not
a word to say for himself!
"On the last night she promised to be mine--that is, Fergus's. And she
put her hand between the bars for me to kiss. I bestowed the kiss and
took the news to Fergus.
"'You might have left that for me to do,' says he.
"'That'll be your job hereafter,' says I. 'Keep on doing that and
don't try to talk. Maybe after she thinks she's in love she won't
notice the difference between real conversation and the inarticulate
sort of droning that you give forth.'
"Now, I had never seen Senorita Anabela. So, the next day Fergus asks
me to walk with him through the plaza and view the daily promenade and
exhibition of Oratama society, a sight that had no interest for me.
But I went; and children and dogs took to the banana groves and
mangrove swamps as soon as they had a look at my face.
"'Here she comes,' said Fergus, twirling his moustache--'the one in
white, in the open carriage with the black horse.'
"I looked and felt the ground rock under my feet. For Senorita Anabela
Zamora was the most beautiful woman in the world, and the only one
from that moment on, so far as Judson Tate was concerned. I saw at a
glance that I must be hers and she mine forever. I thought of my face
and nearly fainted; and then I thought of my other talents and stood
upright again. And I had been wooing her for three weeks for another
"As Senorita Anabela's carriage rolled slowly past, she gave Fergus a
long, soft glance from the corners of her night-black eyes, a glance
that would have sent Judson Tate up into heaven in a rubber-tired
chariot. But she never looked at me. And that handsome man only
ruffles his curls and smirks and prances like a lady-killer at my
"'What do you think of her, Judson?' asks Fergus, with an air.
"'This much,' says I. 'She is to me Mrs. Judson Tate. I am no man to
play tricks on a friend. So take your warning.'
"I thought Fergus would die laughing.
"'Well, well, well,' said he, 'you old doughface! Struck too, are you?
That's great! But you're too late. Francesca tells me that Anabela
talks of nothing but me, day and night. Of course, I'm awfully obliged
to you for making that chin-music to her of evenings. But, do you
know, I've an idea that I could have done it as well myself.'
"'Mrs. Judson Tate,' says I. 'Don't forget the name. You've had the
use of my tongue to go with your good looks, my boy. You can't lend me
your looks; but hereafter my tongue is my own. Keep your mind on the
name that's to be on the visiting cards two inches by three and a half
--"Mrs. Judson Tate." That's all.'
"'All right,' says Fergus, laughing again. 'I've talked with her
father, the alcalde, and he's willing. He's to give a /baile/
to-morrow evening in his new warehouse. If you were a dancing man,
Jud, I'd expect you around to meet the future Mrs. McMahan.'
"But on the next evening, when the music was playing loudest at the
Alcade Zamora's /baile/, into the room steps Judson Tate in a new
white linen clothes as if he were the biggest man in the whole nation,
which he was.
"Some of the musicians jumped off the key when they saw my face, and
one or two of the timidest senoritas let out a screech or two. But up
prances the alcalde and almost wipes the dust off my shoes with his
forehead. No mere good looks could have won me that sensational
"'I hear much, Senor Zamora,' says I, 'of the charm of your daughter.
It would give me great pleasure to be presented to her.'
"There were about six dozen willow rocking-chairs, with pink tidies
tied on to them, arranged against the walls. In one of them sat
Senorita Anabela in white Swiss and red slippers, with pearls and
fireflies in her hair. Fergus was at the other end of the room trying
to break away from two maroons and a claybank girl.
"The alcalde leads me up to Anabela and presents me. When she took the
first look at my face she dropped her fan and nearly turned her chair
over from the shock. But I'm used to that.
"I sat down by her, and began to talk. When she heard me speak she
jumped, and her eyes got as big as alligator pears. She couldn't
strike a balance between the tones of my voice and face I carried. But
I kept on talking in the key of C, which is the ladies' key; and
presently she sat still in her chair and a dreamy look came into her
eyes. She was coming my way. She knew of Judson Tate, and what a big
man he was, and the big things he had done; and that was in my favour.
But, of course, it was some shock to her to find out that I was not
the pretty man that had been pointed out to her as the great Judson.
And then I took the Spanish language, which is better than English for
certain purposes, and played on it like a harp of a thousand strings.
I ranged from the second G below the staff up to F-sharp above it. I
set my voice to poetry, art, romance, flowers, and moonlight. I
repeated some of the verses that I had murmured to her in the dark at
her window; and I knew from a sudden soft sparkle in her eye that she
recognized in my voice the tones of her midnight mysterious wooer.
"Anyhow, I had Fergus McMahan going. Oh, the vocal is the true art--no
doubt about that. Handsome is as handsome palavers. That's the
"I took Senorita Anabela for a walk in the lemon grove while Fergus,
disfiguring himself with an ugly frown, was waltzing with the claybank
girl. Before we returned I had permission to come to her window in the
/patio/ the next evening at midnight and talk some more.
"Oh, it was easy enough. In two weeks Anabela was engaged to me, and
Fergus was out. He took it calm, for a handsome man, and told me he
wasn't going to give in.
"'Talk may be all right in its place, Judson,' he says to me,
'although I've never thought it worth cultivating. But,' says he, 'to
expect mere words to back up successfully a face like yours in a
lady's good graces is like expecting a man to make a square meal on
the ringing of a dinner-bell.'
"But I haven't begun on the story I was going to tell you yet.
"One day I took a long ride in the hot sunshine, and then took a bath
in the cold waters of a lagoon on the edge of the town before I'd
"That evening after dark I called at the alcalde's to see Anabela. I
was calling regular every evening then, and we were to be married in a
month. She was looking like a bulbul, a gazelle, and a tea-rose, and
her eyes were as soft and bright as two quarts of cream skimmed off
from the Milky Way. She looked at my rugged features without any
expression of fear or repugnance. Indeed, I fancied that I saw a look
of deep admiration and affection, such as she had cast at Fergus on
"I sat down, and opened my mouth to tell Anabela what she loved to
hear--that she was a trust, monopolizing all the loveliness of earth.
I opened my mouth, and instead of the usual vibrating words of love
and compliment, there came forth a faint wheeze such as a baby with
croup might emit. Not a word--not a syllable--not an intelligible
sound. I had caught cold in my laryngeal regions when I took my
"For two hours I sat trying to entertain Anabela. She talked a certain
amount, but it was perfunctory and diluted. The nearest approach I
made to speech was to formulate a sound like a clam trying to sing 'A
Life on the Ocean Wave' at low tide. It seemed that Anabela's eyes did
not rest upon me as often as usual. I had nothing with which to charm
her ears. We looked at pictures and she played the guitar
occasionally, very badly. When I left, her parting manner seemed cool
--or at least thoughtful.
"This happened for five evenings consecutively.
"On the sixth day she ran away with Fergus McMahan.
"It was known that they fled in a sailing yacht bound for Belize. I
was only eight hours behind them in a small steam launch belonging to
the Revenue Department.
"Before I sailed, I rushed into the /botica/ of old Manuel Iquito, a
half-breed Indian druggist. I could not speak, but I pointed to my
throat and made a sound like escaping steam. He began to yawn. In an
hour, according to the customs of the country, I would have been
waited on. I reached across the counter, seized him by the throat, and
pointed again to my own. He yawned once more, and thrust into my hand
a small bottle containing a black liquid.
"'Take one small spoonful every two hours,' says he.
"I threw him a dollar and skinned for the steamer.
"I steamed into the harbour at Belize thirteen seconds behind the
yacht that Anabela and Fergus were on. They started for the shore in a
dory just as my skiff was lowered over the side. I tried to order my
sailormen to row faster, but the sounds died in my larynx before they
came to the light. Then I thought of old Iquito's medicine, and I got
out his bottle and took a swallow of it.
"The two boats landed at the same moment. I walked straight up to
Anabela and Fergus. Her eyes rested upon me for an instant; then she
turned them, full of feeling and confidence, upon Fergus. I knew I
could not speak, but I was desperate. In speech lay my only hope. I
could not stand beside Fergus and challenge comparison in the way of
beauty. Purely involuntarily, my larynx and epiglottis attempted to
reproduce the sounds that my mind was calling upon my vocal organs to
"To my intense surprise and delight the words rolled forth beautifully
clear, resonant, exquisitely modulated, full of power, expression, and
"'Senorita Anabela,' says I, 'may I speak with you aside for a
"You don't want details about that, do you? Thanks. The old eloquence
had come back all right. I led her under a cocoanut palm and put my
old verbal spell on her again.
"'Judson,' says she, 'when you are talking to me I can hear nothing
else--I can see nothing else--there is nothing and nobody else in the
world for me.'
"Well, that's about all of the story. Anabela went back to Oratama in
the steamer with me. I never heard what became of Fergus. I never saw
him any more. Anabela is now Mrs. Judson Tate. Has my story bored you
"No," said I. "I am always interested in psychological studies. A
human heart--and especially a woman's--is a wonderful thing to
"It is," said Judson Tate. "And so are the trachea and bronchial tubes
of man. And the larynx too. Did you ever make a study of the
"Never," said I. "But I have taken much pleasure in your story. May I
ask after Mrs. Tate, and inquire of her present health and
"Oh, sure," said Judson Tate. "We are living in Bergen Avenue, Jersey
City. The climate down in Oratama didn't suit Mrs. T. I don't suppose
you ever dissected the arytenoid cartilages of the epiglottis, did
"Why, no," said I, "I am no surgeon."
"Pardon me," said Judson Tate, "but every man should know enough of
anatomy and therapeutics to safeguard his own health. A sudden cold
may set up capillary bronchitis or inflammation of the pulmonary
vesicles, which may result in a serious affection of the vocal
"Perhaps so," said I, with some impatience; "but that is neither here
nor there. Speaking of the strange manifestations of the affection of
"Yes, yes," interrupted Judson Tate; "they have peculiar ways. But, as
I was going to tell you: when I went back to Oratama I found out from
Manuel Iquito what was in that mixture he gave me for my lost voice. I
told you how quick it cured me. He made that stuff from the /chuchula/
plant. Now, look here."
Judson Tate drew an oblong, white pasteboard box from his pocket.
"For any cough," he said, "or cold, or hoarseness, or bronchial
affection whatsoever, I have here the greatest remedy in the world.
You see the formula, printed on the box. Each tablet contains
licorice, 2 grains; balsam tolu, 1/10 grain; oil of anise, 1/20 minim;
oil of tar, 1/60 minim; oleo-resin of cubebs, 1/100 minim; fluid
extract of /chuchula/, 1/10 minim.
"I am in New York," went on Judson Tate, "for the purpose of
organizing a company to market the greatest remedy for throat
affections ever discovered. At present I am introducing the lozenges
in a small way. I have here a box containing four dozen, which I am
selling for the small sum of fifty cents. If you are suffering--"
* * * * *
I got up and went away without a word. I walked slowly up to the
little park near my hotel, leaving Judson Tate alone with his
conscience. My feelings were lacerated. He had poured gently upon me a
story that I might have used. There was a little of the breath of life
in it, and some of the synthetic atmosphere that passes, when
cunningly tinkered, in the marts. And, at the last it had proven to be
a commercial pill, deftly coated with the sugar of fiction. The worst
of it was that I could not offer it for sale. Advertising departments
and counting-rooms look down upon me. And it would never do for the
literary. Therefore I sat upon a bench with other disappointed ones
until my eyelids drooped.
I went to my room, and, as my custom is, read for an hour stories in
my favourite magazines. This was to get my mind back to art again.
And as I read each story, I threw the magazines sadly and hopelessly,
one by one, upon the floor. Each author, without one exception to
bring balm to my heart, wrote liltingly and sprightly a story of some
particular make of motor-car that seemed to control the sparking plug
of his genius.
And when the last one was hurled from me I took heart.
"If readers can swallow so many proprietary automobiles," I said to
myself, "they ought not to strain at one of Tate's Compound Magic
Chuchula Bronchial Lozenges."
And so if you see this story in print you will understand that
business is business, and that if Art gets very far ahead of Commerce,
she will have to get up and hustle.
I may as well add, to make a clean job of it, that you can't buy the
/chuchula/ plant in the drug stores.
ART AND THE BRONCO
Out of the wilderness had come a painter. Genius, whose coronations
alone are democratic, had woven a chaplet of chaparral for the brow of
Lonny Briscoe. Art, whose divine expression flows impartially from the
fingertips of a cowboy or a dilettante emperor, had chosen for a
medium the Boy Artist of the San Saba. The outcome, seven feet by
twelve of besmeared canvas, stood, gilt-framed, in the lobby of the
The legislature was in session; the capital city of that great Western
state was enjoying the season of activity and profit that the
congregation of the solons bestowed. The boarding-houses were
corralling the easy dollars of the gamesome law-makers. The greatest
state in the West, an empire in area and resources, had arisen and
repudiated the old libel or barbarism, lawbreaking, and bloodshed.
Order reigned within her borders. Life and property were as safe
there, sir, as anywhere among the corrupt cities of the effete East.
Pillow-shams, churches, strawberry feasts and /habeas corpus/
flourished. With impunity might the tenderfoot ventilate his
"stovepipe" or his theories of culture. The arts and sciences received
nurture and subsidy. And, therefore, it behooved the legislature of
this great state to make appropriation for the purchase of Lonny
Briscoe's immortal painting.
Rarely has the San Saba country contributed to the spread of the fine
arts. Its sons have excelled in the solider graces, in the throw of
the lariat, the manipulation of the esteemed .45, the intrepidity of
the one-card draw, and the nocturnal stimulation of towns from undue
lethargy; but, hitherto, it had not been famed as a stronghold of
aesthetics. Lonny Briscoe's brush had removed that disability. Here,
among the limestone rocks, the succulent cactus, and the drought-
parched grass of that arid valley, had been born the Boy Artist. Why
he came to woo art is beyond postulation. Beyond doubt, some spore of
the afflatus must have sprung up within him in spite of the desert
soil of San Saba. The tricksy spirit of creation must have incited him
to attempted expression and then have sat hilarious among the white-
hot sands of the valley, watching its mischievous work. For Lonny's
picture, viewed as a thing of art, was something to have driven away
dull care from the bosoms of the critics.
The painting--one might almost say panorama--was designed to portray a
typical Western scene, interest culminating in a central animal
figure, that of a stampeding steer, life-size, wild-eyed, fiery,
breaking away in a mad rush from the herd that, close-ridden by a
typical cowpuncher, occupied a position somewhat in the right
background of the picture. The landscape presented fitting and
faithful accessories. Chaparral, mesquit, and pear were distributed in
just proportions. A Spanish dagger-plant, with its waxen blossoms in a
creamy aggregation as large as a water-bucket, contributed floral
beauty and variety. The distance was undulating prairie, bisected by
stretches of the intermittent streams peculiar to the region lined
with the rich green of live-oak and water-elm. A richly mottled
rattlesnake lay coiled beneath a pale green clump of prickly pear in
the foreground. A third of the canvas was ultramarine and lake white--
the typical Western sky and the flying clouds, rainless and feathery.
Between two plastered pillars in the commodious hallway near the door
of the chamber of representatives stood the painting. Citizens and
lawmakers passed there by twos and groups and sometimes crowds to gaze
upon it. Many--perhaps a majority of them--had lived the prairie life
and recalled easily the familiar scene. Old cattlemen stood,
reminiscent and candidly pleased, chatting with brothers of former
camps and trails of the days it brought back to mind. Art critics were
few in the town, and there was heard none of that jargon of colour,
perspective, and feeling such as the East loves to use as a curb and a
rod to the pretensions of the artist. 'Twas a great picture, most of
them agreed, admiring the gilt frame--larger than any they had ever
Senator Kinney was the picture's champion and sponsor. It was he who
so often stepped forward and asserted, with the voice of a bronco-
buster, that it would be a lasting blot, sir, upon the name of this
great state if it should decline to recognize in a proper manner the
genius that had so brilliantly transferred to imperishable canvas a
scene so typical of the great sources of our state's wealth and
Senator Kinney represented a section of the state in the extreme West
--400 miles from the San Saba country--but the true lover of art is
not limited by metes and bounds. Nor was Senator Mullens, representing
the San Saba country, lukewarm in his belief that the state should
purchase the painting of his constituent. He was advised that the San
Saba country was unanimous in its admiration of the great painting by
one of its own denizens. Hundreds of connoisseurs had straddled their
broncos and ridden miles to view it before its removal to the capital.
Senator Mullens desired reelection, and he knew the importance of the
San Saba vote. He also knew that with the help of Senator Kinney--who
was a power in the legislature--the thing could be put through. Now,
Senator Kinney had an irrigation bill that he wanted passed for the
benefit of his own section, and he knew Senator Mullens could render
him valuable aid and information, the San Saba country already
enjoying the benefits of similar legislation. With these interests
happily dovetailed, wonder at the sudden interest in art at the state
capital must, necessarily, be small. Few artists have uncovered their
first picture to the world under happier auspices than did Lonny
Senators Kinney and Mullens came to an understanding in the matter of
irrigation and art while partaking of long drinks in the cafe of the
"H'm!" said Senator Kinney, "I don't know. I'm no art critic, but it
seems to me the thing won't work. It looks like the worst kind of a
chromo to me. I don't want to cast any reflections upon the artistic
talent of your constituent, Senator, but I, myself, wouldn't give six
bits for the picture--without the frame. How are you going to cram a
thing like that down the throat of a legislature that kicks about a
little item in the expense bill of six hundred and eighty-one dollars
for rubber erasers for only one term? It's wasting time. I'd like to
help you, Mullens, but they'd laugh us out of the Senate chamber if we
were to try it."
"But you don't get the point," said Senator Mullens, in his deliberate
tones, tapping Kinney's glass with his long forefinger. "I have my own
doubts as to what the picture is intended to represent, a bullfight or
a Japanese allegory, but I want this legislature to make an
appropriation to purchase. Of course, the subject of the picture
should have been in the state historical line, but it's too late to
have the paint scraped off and changed. The state won't miss the money
and the picture can be stowed away in a lumber-room where it won't
annoy any one. Now, here's the point to work on, leaving art to look
after itself--the chap that painted the picture is the grandson of
"Say it again," said Kinney, leaning his head thoughtfully. "Of the
old, original Lucien Briscoe?"
"Of him. 'The man who,' you know. The man who carved the state out of
the wilderness. The man who settled the Indians. The man who cleaned
out the horse thieves. The man who refused the crown. The state's
favourite son. Do you see the point now?"
"Wrap up the picture," said Kinney. "It's as good as sold. Why didn't
you say that at first, instead of philandering along about art. I'll
resign my seat in the Senate and go back to chain-carrying for the
county surveyor the day I can't make this state buy a picture
calcimined by a grandson of Lucien Briscoe. Did you ever hear of a
special appropriation for the purchase of a home for the daughter of
One-Eyed Smothers? Well, that went through like a motion to adjourn,
and old One-Eyed never killed half as many Indians as Briscoe did.
About what figure had you and the calciminer agreed upon to sandbag
the treasury for?"
"I thought," said Mullens, "that maybe five hundred--"
"Five hundred!" interrupted Kinney, as he hammered on his glass for a
lead pencil and looked around for a waiter. "Only five hundred for a
red steer on the hoof delivered by a grandson of Lucien Briscoe!
Where's your state pride, man? Two thousand is what it'll be. You'll
introduce the bill and I'll get up on the floor of the Senate and wave
the scalp of every Indian old Lucien ever murdered. Let's see, there
was something else proud and foolish he did, wasn't there? Oh, yes; he
declined all emoluments and benefits he was entitled to. Refused his
head-right and veteran donation certificates. Could have been
governor, but wouldn't. Declined a pension. Now's the state's chance
to pay up. It'll have to take the picture, but then it deserves some
punishment for keeping the Briscoe family waiting so long. We'll bring
this thing up about the middle of the month, after the tax bill is
settled. Now, Mullens, you send over, as soon as you can, and get me
the figures on the cost of those irrigation ditches and the statistics
about the increased production per acre. I'm going to need you when
that bill of mine comes up. I reckon we'll be able to pull along
pretty well together this session and maybe others to come, eh,
Thus did fortune elect to smile upon the Boy Artist of the San Saba.
Fate had already done her share when she arranged his atoms in the
cosmogony of creation as the grandson of Lucien Briscoe.
The original Briscoe had been a pioneer both as to territorial
occupation and in certain acts prompted by a great and simple heart.
He had been one of the first settlers and crusaders against the wild
forces of nature, the savage and the shallow politician. His name and
memory were revered, equally with any upon the list comprising
Houston, Boone, Crockett, Clark, and Green. He had lived simply,
independently, and unvexed by ambition. Even a less shrewd man than
Senator Kinney could have prophesied that his state would hasten to
honour and reward his grandson, come out of the chaparral at even so
late a day.
And so, before the great picture by the door of the chamber of
representatives at frequent times for many days could be found the
breezy, robust form of Senator Kinney and be heard his clarion voice
reciting the past deeds of Lucien Briscoe in connection with the
handiwork of his grandson. Senator Mullens's work was more subdued in
sight and sound, but directed along identical lines.
Then, as the day for the introduction of the bill for appropriation
draws nigh, up from the San Saba country rides Lonny Briscoe and a
loyal lobby of cowpunchers, bronco-back, to boost the cause of art and
glorify the name of friendship, for Lonny is one of them, a knight of
stirrup and chaparreras, as handy with the lariat and .45 as he is
with brush and palette.
On a March afternoon the lobby dashed, with a whoop, into town. The
cowpunchers had adjusted their garb suitably from that prescribed for
the range to the more conventional requirements of town. They had
conceded their leather chaparreras and transferred their six-shooters
and belts from their persons to the horns of their saddles. Among them
rode Lonny, a youth of twenty-three, brown, solemn-faced, ingenuous,
bowlegged, reticent, bestriding Hot Tamales, the most sagacious cow
pony west of the Mississippi. Senator Mullens had informed him of the
bright prospects of the situation; had even mentioned--so great was
his confidence in the capable Kinney--the price that the state would,
in all likelihood, pay. It seemed to Lonny that fame and fortune were
in his hands. Certainly, a spark of the divine fire was in the little
brown centaur's breast, for he was counting the two thousand dollars
as but a means to future development of his talent. Some day he would
paint a picture even greater than this--one, say, twelve feet by
twenty, full of scope and atmosphere and action.
During the three days that yet intervened before the coming of the
date fixed for the introduction of the bill, the centaur lobby did
valiant service. Coatless, spurred, weather-tanned, full of enthusiasm
expressed in bizarre terms, they loafed in front of the painting with
tireless zeal. Reasoning not unshrewdly, they estimated that their
comments upon its fidelity to nature would be received as expert
evidence. Loudly they praised the skill of the painter whenever there
were ears near to which such evidence might be profitably addressed.
Lem Perry, the leader of the claque, had a somewhat set speech, being
uninventive in the construction of new phrases.
"Look at that two-year-old, now," he would say, waving a cinnamon-
brown hand toward the salient point of the picture. "Why, dang my
hide, the critter's alive. I can jest hear him, 'lumpety-lump,'
a-cuttin' away from the herd, pretendin' he's skeered. He's a mean
scamp, that there steer. Look at his eyes a-wailin' and his tail
a-wavin'. He's true and nat'ral to life. He's jest hankerin' fur a cow
pony to round him up and send him scootin' back to the bunch. Dang my
hide! jest look at that tail of his'n a-wavin'. Never knowed a steer
to wave his tail any other way, dang my hide ef I did."
Jud Shelby, while admitting the excellence of the steer, resolutely
confined himself to open admiration of the landscape, to the end that
the entire picture receive its meed of praise.
"That piece of range," he declared, "is a dead ringer for Dead Hoss
Valley. Same grass, same lay of land, same old Whipperwill Creek
skallyhootin' in and out of them motts of timber. Them buzzards on the
left is circlin' 'round over Sam Kildrake's old paint hoss that killed
hisself over-drinkin' on a hot day. You can't see the hoss for that
mott of ellums on the creek, but he's thar. Anybody that was goin' to
look for Dead Hoss Valley and come across this picture, why, he'd just
light off'n his bronco and hunt a place to camp."
Skinny Rogers, wedded to comedy, conceived a complimentary little
piece of acting that never failed to make an impression. Edging quite
near to the picture, he would suddenly, at favourable moments emit a
piercing and awful "Yi-yi!" leap high and away, coming down with a
great stamp of heels and whirring of rowels upon the stone-flagged
"Jeeming Cristopher!"--so ran his lines--"thought that rattler was a
gin-u-ine one. Ding baste my skin if I didn't. Seemed to me I heard
him rattle. Look at the blamed, unconverted insect a-layin' under that
pear. Little more, and somebody would a-been snake-bit."
With these artful dodges, contributed by Lonney's faithful coterie,
with the sonorous Kinney perpetually sounding the picture's merits,
and with the solvent prestige of the pioneer Briscoe covering it like
a precious varnish, it seemed that the San Saba country could not fail
to add a reputation as an art centre to its well-known superiority in
steer-roping contests and achievements with the precarious busted
flush. Thus was created for the picture an atmosphere, due rather to
externals than to the artist's brush, but through it the people seemed
to gaze with more of admiration. There was a magic in the name of
Briscoe that counted high against faulty technique and crude
colouring. The old Indian fighter and wolf slayer would have smiled
grimly in his happy hunting grounds had he known that his dilettante
ghost was thus figuring as an art patron two generations after his
Came the day when the Senate was expected to pass the bill of Senator
Mullens appropriating two thousand dollars for the purchase of the
picture. The gallery of the Senate chamber was early preempted by
Lonny and the San Saba lobby. In the front row of chairs they sat,
wild-haired, self-conscious, jingling, creaking, and rattling, subdued
by the majesty of the council hall.
The bill was introduced, went to the second reading, and then Senator
Mullens spoke for it dryly, tediously, and at length. Senator Kinney
then arose, and the welkin seized the bellrope preparatory to ringing.
Oratory was at that time a living thing; the world had not quite time
to measure its questions by geometry and the multiplication table. It
was the day of the silver tongue, the sweeping gesture, the decorative
apostrophe, the moving peroration.
The Senator spoke. The San Saba contingent sat, breathing hard, in the
gallery, its disordered hair hanging down to its eyes, its sixteen-
ounce hats shifted restlessly from knee to knee. Below, the
distinguished Senators either lounged at their desks with the abandon
of proven statesmanship or maintained correct attitudes indicative of
a first term.
Senator Kinney spoke for an hour. History was his theme--history
mitigated by patriotism and sentiment. He referred casually to the
picture in the outer hall--it was unnecessary, he said, to dilate upon
its merits--the Senators had seen for themselves. The painter of the
picture was the grandson of Lucien Briscoe. Then came the word-
pictures of Briscoe's life set forth in thrilling colours. His rude
and venturesome life, his simple-minded love for the commonwealth he
helped to upbuild, his contempt for rewards and praise, his extreme
and sturdy independence, and the great services he had rendered the
state. The subject of the oration was Lucien Briscoe; the painting
stood in the background serving simply as a means, now happily brought
forward, through which the state might bestow a tardy recompense upon
the descendent of its favourite son. Frequent enthusiastic applause
from the Senators testified to the well reception of the sentiment.
The bill passed without an opening vote. To-morrow it would be taken
up by the House. Already was it fixed to glide through that body on
rubber tires. Blandford, Grayson, and Plummer, all wheel-horses and
orators, and provided with plentiful memoranda concerning the deeds of
pioneer Briscoe, had agreed to furnish the motive power.
The San Saba lobby and its /protege/ stumbled awkwardly down the
stairs and out into the Capitol yard. Then they herded closely and
gave one yell of triumph. But one of them--Buck-Kneed Simmers it was--
hit the key with the thoughtful remark:
"She cut the mustard," he said, "all right. I reckon they're goin' to
buy Lon's steer. I ain't right much on the parlyment'ry, but I gather
that's what the signs added up. But she seems to me, Lonny, the
argyment ran principal to grandfather, instead of paint. It's
reasonable calculatin' that you want to be glad you got the Briscoe
brand on you, my son."
That remarked clinched in Lonny's mind an unpleasant, vague suspicion
to the same effect. His reticence increased, and he gathered grass
from the ground, chewing it pensively. The picture as a picture had
been humiliatingly absent from the Senator's arguments. The painter
had been held up as a grandson, pure and simple. While this was
gratifying on certain lines, it made art look little and slab-sided.
The Boy Artist was thinking.
The hotel Lonny stopped at was near the Capitol. It was near to the
one o'clock dinner hour when the appropriation had been passed by the
Senate. The hotel clerk told Lonny that a famous artist from New York
had arrived in town that day and was in the hotel. He was on his way
westward to New Mexico to study the effect of sunlight upon the
ancient walls of the Zunis. Modern stones reflect light. Those ancient
building materials absorb it. The artist wanted this effect in a
picture he was painting, and was traveling two thousand miles to get
Lonny sought this man out after dinner and told his story. The artist
was an unhealthy man, kept alive by genius and indifference to life.
He went with Lonny to the Capitol and stood there before the picture.
The artist pulled his beard and looked unhappy.
"Should like to have your sentiments," said Lonny, "just as they run
out of the pen."
"It's the way they'll come," said the painter man. "I took three
different kinds of medicine before dinner--by the tablespoonful. The
taste still lingers. I am primed for telling the truth. You want to
know if the picture is, or if it isn't?"
"Right," said Lonny. "Is it wool or cotton? Should I paint some more
or cut it out and ride herd a-plenty?"
"I heard a rumour during pie," said the artist, "that the state is
about to pay you two thousand dollars for this picture."
"It's passed the Senate," said Lonny, "and the House rounds it up
"That's lucky," said the pale man. "Do you carry a rabbit's foot?"
"No," said Lonny, "but it seems I had a grandfather. He's considerable
mixed up in the colour scheme. It took me a year to paint that
picture. Is she entirely awful or not? Some says, now, that the
steer's tail ain't badly drawed. They think it's proportioned nice.
The artist glanced at Lonny's wiry figure and nut-brown skin.
Something stirred him to a passing irritation.
"For Art's sake, son," he said, fractiously, "don't spend any more
money for paint. It isn't a picture at all. It's a gun. You hold up
the state with it, if you like, and get your two thousand, but don't
get in front of any more canvas. Live under it. Buy a couple of
hundred ponies with the money--I'm told they're that cheap--and ride,
ride, ride. Fill your lungs and eat and sleep and be happy. No more
pictures. You look healthy. That's genius. Cultivate it." He looked at
his watch. "Twenty minutes to three. Four capsules and one tablet at
three. That's all you wanted to know, isn't it?"
At three o'clock the cowpunchers rode up for Lonny, bringing Hot
Tamales, saddled. Traditions must be observed. To celebrate the
passage of the bill by the Senate the gang must ride wildly through
the town, creating uproar and excitement. Liquor must be partaken of,
the suburbs shot up, and the glory of the San Saba country
vociferously proclaimed. A part of the programme had been carried out
in the saloons on the way up.
Lonny mounted Hot Tamales, the accomplished little beast prancing with
fire and intelligence. He was glad to feel Lonny's bowlegged grip
against his ribs again. Lonny was his friend, and he was willing to do
things for him.
"Come on, boys," said Lonny, urging Hot Tomales into a gallop with his
knees. With a whoop, the inspired lobby tore after him through the
dust. Lonny led his cohorts straight for the Capitol. With a wild
yell, the gang endorsed his now evident intention of riding into it.
Hooray for San Saba!
Up the six broad, limestone steps clattered the broncos of the
cowpunchers. Into the resounding hallway they pattered, scattering in
dismay those passing on foot. Lonny, in the lead, shoved Hot Tamales
direct for the great picture. At that hour a downpouring, soft light
from the second-story windows bathed the big canvas. Against the
darker background of the hall the painting stood out with valuable
effect. In spite of the defects of the art you could almost fancy that
you gazed out upon a landscape. You might well flinch a step from the
convincing figure of the life-size steer stampeding across the grass.
Perhaps it seemed thus to Hot Tamales. The scene was in his line.
Perhaps he only obeyed the will of his rider. His ears pricked up; he
snorted. Lonny leaned forward in the saddle and elevated his elbows,
wing-like. Thus signals the cowpuncher to his steed to launch himself
full speed ahead. Did Hot Tamales fancy he saw a steer, red and
cavorting, that should be headed off and driven back to the herd?
There was a fierce clatter of hoofs, a rush, a gathering of steely
flank muscles, a leap to the jerk of the bridle rein, and Hot Tamales,
with Lonny bending low in the saddle to dodge the top of the frame,
ripped through the great canvas like a shell from a mortar, leaving
the cloth hanging in ragged sheds about a monstrous hole.
Quickly Lonny pulled up his pony, and rounded the pillars. Spectators
came running, too astounded to add speech to the commotion. The
sergeant-at-arms of the House came forth, frowned, looked ominous, and
then grinned. Many of the legislators crowded out to observe the
tumult. Lonny's cowpunchers were stricken to silent horror by his mad
Senator Kinney happened to be among the earliest to emerge. Before he
could speak Lonny leaned in his saddle as Hot Tamales pranced, pointed
his quirt at the Senator, and said, calmly:
"That was a fine speech you made to-day, mister, but you might as well
let up on that 'propriation business. I ain't askin' the state to give
me nothin'. I thought I had a picture to sell to it, but it wasn't
one. You said a heap of things about Grandfather Briscoe that makes me
kind of proud I'm his grandson. Well, the Briscoes ain't takin'
presents from the state yet. Anybody can have the frame that wants it.
Hit her up, boys."
Away scuttled the San Saba delegation out of the hall, down the steps,
along the dusty street.
Halfway to the San Saba country they camped that night. At bedtime
Lonny stole away from the campfire and sought Hot Tamales, placidly
eating grass at the end of his stake rope. Lonny hung upon his neck,
and his art aspirations went forth forever in one long, regretful
sigh. But as he thus made renunciation his breath formed a word or
"You was the only one, Tamales, what seen anything in it. It /did/
look like a steer, didn't it, old hoss?"
"You are a man of many novel adventures and varied enterprises," I
said to Captain Patricio Malone. "Do you believe that the possible
element of good luck or bad luck--if there is such a thing as luck--
has influenced your career or persisted for or against you to such an
extent that you were forced to attribute results to the operation of
the aforesaid good luck or bad luck?"
This question (of almost the dull insolence of legal phraseology) was
put while we sat in Rousselin's little red-tiled cafe near Congo
Square in New Orleans.
Brown-faced, white-hatted, finger-ringed captains of adventure came
often to Rousselin's for the cognac. They came from sea and land, and
were chary of relating the things they had seen--not because they were
more wonderful than the fantasies of the Ananiases of print, but
because they were so different. And I was a perpetual wedding-guest,
always striving to cast my buttonhole over the finger of one of these
mariners of fortune. This Captain Malone was a Hiberno-Iberian creole
who had gone to and fro in the earth and walked up and down in it. He
looked like any other well-dressed man of thirty-five whom you might
meet, except that he was hopelessly weather-tanned, and wore on his
chain an ancient ivory-and-gold Peruvian charm against evil, which has
nothing at all to do with this story.
"My answer to your question," said the captain, smiling, "will be to
tell you the story of Bad-Luck Kearny. That is, if you don't mind
My reply was to pound on the table for Rousselin.
* * * * *
"Strolling along Tchoupitoulas Street one night," began Captain
Malone, "I noticed, without especially taxing my interest, a small man
walking rapidly toward me. He stepped upon a wooden cellar door,
crashed through it, and disappeared. I rescued him from a heap of soft
coal below. He dusted himself briskly, swearing fluently in a
mechanical tone, as an underpaid actor recites the gypsy's curse.
Gratitude and the dust in his throat seemed to call for fluids to
clear them away. His desire for liquidation was expressed so heartily
that I went with him to a cafe down the street where we had some vile
vermouth and bitters.
"Looking across that little table I had my first clear sight of
Francis Kearny. He was about five feet seven, but as tough as a
cypress knee. His hair was darkest red, his mouth such a mere slit
that you wondered how the flood of his words came rushing from it. His
eyes were the brightest and lightest blue and the hopefulest that I
ever saw. He gave the double impression that he was at bay and that
you had better not crowd him further.
"'Just in from a gold-hunting expedition on the coast of Costa Rica,'
he explained. 'Second mate of a banana steamer told me the natives
were panning out enough from the beach sands to buy all the rum, red
calico, and parlour melodeons in the world. The day I got there a
syndicate named Incorporated Jones gets a government concession to all
minerals from a given point. For a next choice I take coast fever and
count green and blue lizards for six weeks in a grass hut. I had to be
notified when I was well, for the reptiles were actually there. Then I
shipped back as third cook on a Norwegian tramp that blew up her
boiler two miles below Quarantine. I was due to bust through that
cellar door here to-night, so I hurried the rest of the way up the
river, roustabouting on a lower coast packet that made up a landing
for every fisherman that wanted a plug of tobacco. And now I'm here
for what comes next. And it'll be along, it'll be along,' said this
queer Mr. Kearny; 'it'll be along on the beams of my bright but not
very particular star.'
"From the first the personality of Kearny charmed me. I saw in him the
bold heart, the restless nature, and the valiant front against the
buffets of fate that make his countrymen such valuable comrades in
risk and adventure. And just then I was wanting such men. Moored at a
fruit company's pier I had a 500-ton steamer ready to sail the next
day with a cargo of sugar, lumber, and corrugated iron for a port
in--well, let us call the country Esperando--it has not been long ago,
and the name of Patricio Malone is still spoken there when its
unsettled politics are discussed. Beneath the sugar and iron were
packed a thousand Winchester rifles. In Aguas Frias, the capital, Don
Rafael Valdevia, Minister of War, Esperando's greatest-hearted and
most able patriot, awaited my coming. No doubt you have heard, with a
smile, of the insignificant wars and uprisings in those little tropic
republics. They make but a faint clamour against the din of great
nations' battles; but down there, under all the ridiculous uniforms
and petty diplomacy and senseless countermarching and intrigue, are to
be found statesmen and patriots. Don Rafael Valdevia was one. His
great ambition was to raise Esperando into peace and honest prosperity
and the respect of the serious nations. So he waited for my rifles in
Aguas Frias. But one would think I am trying to win a recruit in you!
No; it was Francis Kearny I wanted. And so I told him, speaking long
over our execrable vermouth, breathing the stifling odour from garlic
and tarpaulins, which, as you know, is the distinctive flavour of
cafes in the lower slant of our city. I spoke of the tyrant President
Cruz and the burdens that his green and insolent cruelty laid upon the
people. And at that Kearny's tears flowed. And then I dried them with
a picture of the fat rewards that would be ours when the oppressor
should be overthrown and the wise and generous Valdevia in his seat.
Then Kearny leaped to his feet and wrung my hand with the strength of
a roustabout. He was mine, he said, till the last minion of the hated
despot was hurled from the highest peaks of the Cordilleras into the
"I paid the score, and we went out. Near the door Kearny's elbow
overturned an upright glass showcase, smashing it into little bits. I
paid the storekeeper the price he asked.
"'Come to my hotel for the night,' I said to Kearny. 'We sail
to-morrow at noon.'
"He agreed; but on the sidewalk he fell to cursing again in the dull
monotonous way that he had done when I pulled him out of the coal
"'Captain,' said he, 'before we go any further, it's no more than fair
to tell you that I'm known from Baffin's Bay to Terra del Fuego as
"Bad-Luck" Kearny. And I'm It. Everything I get into goes up in the
air except a balloon. Every bet I ever made I lost except when I
coppered it. Every boat I ever sailed on sank except the submarines.
Everything I was ever interested in went to pieces except a patent
bombshell that I invented. Everything I ever took hold of and tried to
run I ran into the ground except when I tried to plough. And that's
why they call me Bad-Luck Kearny. I thought I'd tell you.'
"'Bad luck,' said I, 'or what goes by that name, may now and then
tangle the affairs of any man. But if it persists beyond the estimate
of what we may call the "averages" there must be a cause for it.'
"'There is,' said Kearny emphatically, 'and when we walk another
square I will show it to you.'
"Surprised, I kept by his side until we came to Canal Street and out
into the middle of its great width.
"Kearny seized me by an arm and pointed a tragic forefinger at a
rather brilliant star that shone steadily about thirty degrees above
"'That's Saturn,' said he, 'the star that presides over bad luck and
evil and disappointment and nothing doing and trouble. I was born
under that star. Every move I make, up bobs Saturn and blocks it. He's
the hoodoo planet of the heavens. They say he's 73,000 miles in
diameter and no solider of body than split-pea soup, and he's got as
many disreputable and malignant rings as Chicago. Now, what kind of a
star is that to be born under?'
"I asked Kearny where he had obtained all this astonishing knowledge.
"'From Azrath, the great astrologer of Cleveland, Ohio,' said he.
'That man looked at a glass ball and told me my name before I'd taken
a chair. He prophesied the date of my birth and death before I'd said
a word. And then he cast my horoscope, and the sidereal system socked
me in the solar plexus. It was bad luck for Francis Kearny from A to
Izard and for his friends that were implicated with him. For that I
gave up ten dollars. This Azrath was sorry, but he respected his
profession too much to read the heavens wrong for any man. It was
night time, and he took me out on a balcony and gave me a free view of
the sky. And he showed me which Saturn was, and how to find it in
different balconies and longitudes.
"'But Saturn wasn't all. He was only the man higher up. He furnishes
so much bad luck that they allow him a gang of deputy sparklers to
help hand it out. They're circulating and revolving and hanging around
the main supply all the time, each one throwing the hoodoo on his own
"'You see that ugly little red star about eight inches above and to
the right of Saturn?' Kearny asked me. 'Well, that's her. That's
Phoebe. She's got me in charge. "By the day of your birth," says
Azrath to me, "your life is subjected to the influence of Saturn. By
the hour and minute of it you must dwell under the sway and direct
authority of Phoebe, the ninth satellite." So said this Azrath.'
Kearny shook his fist violently skyward. 'Curse her, she's done her
work well,' said he. 'Ever since I was astrologized, bad luck has
followed me like my shadow, as I told you. And for many years before.
Now, Captain, I've told you my handicap as a man should. If you're
afraid this evil star of mine might cripple your scheme, leave me out
"I reassured Kearny as well as I could. I told him that for the time
we would banish both astrology and astronomy from our heads. The
manifest valour and enthusiasm of the man drew me. 'Let us see what a
little courage and diligence will do against bad luck,' I said. 'We
will sail to-morrow for Esperando.'
"Fifty miles down the Mississippi our steamer broke her rudder. We
sent for a tug to tow us back and lost three days. When we struck the
blue waters of the Gulf, all the storm clouds of the Atlantic seemed
to have concentrated above us. We thought surely to sweeten those
leaping waves with our sugar, and to stack our arms and lumber on the
floor of the Mexican Gulf.
"Kearny did not seek to cast off one iota of the burden of our danger
from the shoulders of his fatal horoscope. He weathered every storm on
deck, smoking a black pipe, to keep which alight rain and sea-water
seemed but as oil. And he shook his fist at the black clouds behind
which his baleful star winked its unseen eye. When the skies cleared
one evening, he reviled his malignant guardian with grim humour.
"'On watch, aren't you, you red-headed vixen? Out making it hot for
little Francis Kearny and his friends, according to Hoyle. Twinkle,
twinkle, little devil! You're a lady, aren't you?--dogging a man with
your bad luck just because he happened to be born while your boss was
floorwalker. Get busy and sink the ship, you one-eyed banshee. Phoebe!
H'm! Sounds as mild as a milkmaid. You can't judge a woman by her
name. Why couldn't I have had a man star? I can't make the remarks to
Phoebe that I could to a man. Oh, Phoebe, you be--blasted!'
"For eight days gales and squalls and waterspouts beat us from our
course. Five days only should have landed us in Esperando. Our Jonah
swallowed the bad credit of it with appealing frankness; but that
scarcely lessened the hardships our cause was made to suffer.
"At last one afternoon we steamed into the calm estuary of the little
Rio Escondido. Three miles up this we crept, feeling for the shallow
channel between the low banks that were crowded to the edge with
gigantic trees and riotous vegetation. Then our whistle gave a little
toot, and in five minutes we heard a shout, and Carlos--my brave
Carlos Quintana--crashed through the tangled vines waving his cap
madly for joy.
"A hundred yards away was his camp, where three hundred chosen
patriots of Esperando were awaiting our coming. For a month Carlos had
been drilling them there in the tactics of war, and filling them with
the spirit of revolution and liberty.
"'My Captain--/compadre mio/!' shouted Carlos, while yet my boat was
being lowered. 'You should see them in the drill by /companies/--in
the column wheel--in the march by fours--they are superb! Also in the
manual of arms--but, alas! performed only with sticks of bamboo. The
guns, /capitan/--say that you have brought the guns!'
"'A thousand Winchesters, Carlos,' I called to him. 'And two
"'/Valgame Dios/!' he cried, throwing his cap in the air. 'We shall
sweep the world!'
"At that moment Kearny tumbled from the steamer's side into the river.
He could not swim, so the crew threw him a rope and drew him back
aboard. I caught his eye and his look of pathetic but still bright and
undaunted consciousness of his guilty luck. I told myself that
although he might be a man to shun, he was also one to be admired.
"I gave orders to the sailing-master that the arms, ammunition, and
provisions were to be landed at once. That was easy in the steamer's
boats, except for the two Gatling guns. For their transportation
ashore we carried a stout flatboat, brought for the purpose in the
"In the meantime I walked with Carlos to the camp and made the
soldiers a little speech in Spanish, which they received with
enthusiasm; and then I had some wine and a cigarette in Carlos's tent.
Later we walked back to the river to see how the unloading was being
"The small arms and provisions were already ashore, and the petty
officers and squads of men conveying them to camp. One Gatling had
been safely landed; the other was just being hoisted over the side of
the vessel as we arrived. I noticed Kearny darting about on board,
seeming to have the ambition of ten men, and doing the work of five. I
think his zeal bubbled over when he saw Carlos and me. A rope's end
was swinging loose from some part of the tackle. Kearny leaped
impetuously and caught it. There was a crackle and a hiss and a smoke
of scorching hemp, and the Gatling dropped straight as a plummet
through the bottom of the flatboat and buried itself in twenty feet of
water and five feet of river mud.
"I turned my back on the scene. I heard Carlos's loud cries as if from
some extreme grief too poignant for words. I heard the complaining
murmur of the crew and the maledictions of Torres, the sailing master
--I could not bear to look.
"By night some degree of order had been restored in camp. Military
rules were not drawn strictly, and the men were grouped about the
fires of their several messes, playing games of chance, singing their
native songs, or discussing with voluble animation the contingencies
of our march upon the capital.
"To my tent, which had been pitched for me close to that of my chief
lieutenant, came Kearny, indomitable, smiling, bright-eyed, bearing no
traces of the buffets of his evil star. Rather was his aspect that of
a heroic martyr whose tribulations were so high-sourced and glorious
that he even took a splendour and a prestige from them.
"'Well, Captain,' said he, 'I guess you realize that Bad-Luck Kearny
is still on deck. It was a shame, now, about that gun. She only needed
to be slewed two inches to clear the rail; and that's why I grabbed
that rope's end. Who'd have thought that a sailor--even a Sicilian
lubber on a banana coaster--would have fastened a line in a bow-knot?
Don't think I'm trying to dodge the responsibility, Captain. It's my
"'There are men, Kearny,' said I gravely, 'who pass through life
blaming upon luck and chance the mistakes that result from their own
faults and incompetency. I do not say that you are such a man. But if
all your mishaps are traceable to that tiny star, the sooner we endow
our colleges with chairs of moral astronomy, the better.'
"'It isn't the size of the star that counts,' said Kearny; 'it's the
quality. Just the way it is with women. That's why they give the
biggest planets masculine names, and the little stars feminine ones--
to even things up when it comes to getting their work in. Suppose they
had called my star Agamemnon or Bill McCarty or something like that
instead of Phoebe. Every time one of those old boys touched their
calamity button and sent me down one of their wireless pieces of bad
luck, I could talk back and tell 'em what I thought of 'em in suitable
terms. But you can't address such remarks to a Phoebe.'
"'It pleases you to make a joke of it, Kearny,' said I, without
smiling. 'But it is no joke to me to think of my Gatling mired in the
"'As to that,' said Kearny, abandoning his light mood at once, 'I have
already done what I could. I have had some experience in hoisting
stone in quarries. Torres and I have already spliced three hawsers and
stretched them from the steamer's stern to a tree on shore. We will
rig a tackle and have the gun on terra firma before noon to-morrow.'
"One could not remain long at outs with Bad-Luck Kearny.
"'Once more,' said I to him, 'we will waive this question of luck.
Have you ever had experience in drilling raw troops?'
"'I was first sergeant and drill-master,' said Kearny, 'in the Chilean
army for one year. And captain of artillery for another.'
"'What became of your command?' I asked.
"'Shot down to a man,' said Kearny, 'during the revolutions against
"Somehow the misfortunes of the evil-starred one seemed to turn to me
their comedy side. I lay back upon my goat's-hide cot and laughed
until the woods echoed. Kearny grinned. 'I told you how it was,' he
"'To-morrow,' I said, 'I shall detail one hundred men under your
command for manual-of-arms drill and company evolutions. You rank as
lieutenant. Now, for God's sake, Kearny,' I urged him, 'try to combat
this superstition if it is one. Bad luck may be like any other visitor
--preferring to stop where it is expected. Get your mind off stars.
Look upon Esperando as your planet of good fortune.'
"'I thank you, Captain,' said Kearny quietly. 'I will try to make it
the best handicap I ever ran.'
"By noon the next day the submerged Gatling was rescued, as Kearny had
promised. Then Carlos and Manuel Ortiz and Kearny (my lieutenants)
distributed Winchesters among the troops and put them through an
incessant rifle drill. We fired no shots, blank or solid, for of all
coasts Esperando is the stillest; and we had no desire to sound any
warnings in the ear of that corrupt government until they should carry
with them the message of Liberty and the downfall of Oppression.
"In the afternoon came a mule-rider bearing a written message to me
from Don Rafael Valdevia in the capital, Aguas Frias.
"Whenever that man's name comes to my lips, words of tribute to his
greatness, his noble simplicity, and his conspicuous genius follow
irrepressibly. He was a traveller, a student of peoples and
governments, a master of sciences, a poet, an orator, a leader, a
soldier, a critic of the world's campaigns and the idol of the people
in Esperando. I had been honoured by his friendship for years. It was
I who first turned his mind to the thought that he should leave for
his monument a new Esperando--a country freed from the rule of
unscrupulous tyrants, and a people made happy and prosperous by wise
and impartial legislation. When he had consented he threw himself into
the cause with the undivided zeal with which he endowed all of his
acts. The coffers of his great fortune were opened to those of us to
whom were entrusted the secret moves of the game. His popularity was
already so great that he had practically forced President Cruz to
offer him the portfolio of Minister of War.
"The time, Don Rafael said in his letter, was ripe. Success, he
prophesied, was certain. The people were beginning to clamour publicly
against Cruz's misrule. Bands of citizens in the capital were even
going about of nights hurling stones at public buildings and
expressing their dissatisfaction. A bronze statue of President Cruz in
the Botanical Gardens had been lassoed about the neck and overthrown.
It only remained for me to arrive with my force and my thousand
rifles, and for himself to come forward and proclaim himself the
people's saviour, to overthrow Cruz in a single day. There would be
but a half-hearted resistance from the six hundred government troops
stationed in the capital. Th country was ours. He presumed that by
this time my steamer had arrived at Quintana's camp. He proposed the
eighteenth of July for the attack. That would give us six days in
which to strike camp and march to Aguas Frias. In the meantime Don
Rafael remained my good friend and /compadre en la cause de la
"On the morning of the 14th we began our march toward the sea-
following range of mountains, over the sixty-mile trail to the
capital. Our small arms and provisions were laden on pack mules.
Twenty men harnessed to each Gatling gun rolled them smoothly along
the flat, alluvial lowlands. Our troops, well-shod and well-fed, moved
with alacrity and heartiness. I and my three lieutenants were mounted
on the tough mountain ponies of the country.
"A mile out of camp one of the pack mules, becoming stubborn, broke
away from the train and plunged from the path into the thicket. The
alert Kearny spurred quickly after it and intercepted its flight.
Rising in his stirrups, he released one foot and bestowed upon the
mutinous animal a hearty kick. The mule tottered and fell with a crash
broadside upon the ground. As we gathered around it, it walled its
great eyes almost humanly towards Kearny and expired. That was bad;
but worse, to our minds, was the concomitant disaster. Part of the
mule's burden had been one hundred pounds of the finest coffee to be
had in the tropics. The bag burst and spilled the priceless brown mass
of the ground berries among the dense vines and weeds of the swampy
land. /Mala suerte/! When you take away from an Esperandan his coffee,
you abstract his patriotism and 50 per cent. of his value as a
soldier. The men began to rake up the precious stuff; but I beckoned
Kearny back along the trail where they would not hear. The limit had
"I took from my pocket a wallet of money and drew out some bills.
"'Mr. Kearny,' said I, 'here are some funds belonging to Don Rafael
Valdevia, which I am expending in his cause. I know of no better
service it can buy for him that this. Here is one hundred dollars.
Luck or no luck, we part company here. Star or no star, calamity seems
to travel by your side. You will return to the steamer. She touches at
Amotapa to discharge her lumber and iron, and then puts back to New
Orleans. Hand this note to the sailing-master, who will give you
passage.' I wrote on a leaf torn from my book, and placed it and the
money in Kearny's hand.
"'Good-bye,' I said, extending my own. 'It is not that I am displeased
with you; but there is no place in this expedition for--let us say,
the Senorita Phoebe.' I said this with a smile, trying to smooth the
thing for him. 'May you have better luck, /companero/.'
"Kearny took the money and the paper.
"'It was just a little touch,' said he, 'just a little lift with the
toe of my boot--but what's the odds?--that blamed mule would have died
if I had only dusted his ribs with a powder puff. It was my luck.
Well, Captain, I would have liked to be in that little fight with you
over in Aguas Frias. Success to the cause. /Adios/!'
"He turned around and set off down the trail without looking back. The
unfortunate mule's pack-saddle was transferred to Kearny's pony, and
we again took up the march.
"Four days we journeyed over the foot-hills and mountains, fording icy
torrents, winding around the crumbling brows of ragged peaks, creeping
along rocky flanges that overlooked awful precipices, crawling
breathlessly over tottering bridges that crossed bottomless chasms.
"On the evening of the seventeenth we camped by a little stream on the
bare hills five miles from Aguas Frias. At daybreak we were to take up
the march again.
"At midnight I was standing outside my tent inhaling the fresh cold
air. The stars were shining bright in the cloudless sky, giving the
heavens their proper aspect of illimitable depth and distance when
viewed from the vague darkness of the blotted earth. Almost at its
zenith was the planet Saturn; and with a half-smile I observed the
sinister red sparkle of his malignant attendant--the demon star of
Kearny's ill luck. And then my thoughts strayed across the hills to
the scene of our coming triumph where the heroic and noble Don Rafael
awaited our coming to set a new and shining star in the firmament of
"I heard a slight rustling in the deep grass to my right. I turned and
saw Kearny coming toward me. He was ragged and dew-drenched and
limping. His hat and one boot were gone. About one foot he had tied
some makeshift of cloth and grass. But his manner as he approached was
that of a man who knows his own virtues well enough to be superior to
"'Well, sir,' I said, staring at him coldly, 'if there is anything in
persistence, I see no reason why you should not succeed in wrecking
and ruining us yet.'
"'I kept half a day's journey behind,' said Kearny, fishing out a
stone from the covering of his lame foot, 'so the bad luck wouldn't
touch you. I couldn't help it, Captain; I wanted to be in on this
game. It was a pretty tough trip, especially in the department of the
commissary. In the low grounds there were always bananas and oranges.
Higher up it was worse; but your men left a good deal of goat meat
hanging on the bushes in the camps. Here's your hundred dollars.
You're nearly there now, captain. Let me in on the scrapping
"'Not for a hundred times a hundred would I have the tiniest thing go
wrong with my plans now,' I said, "whether caused by evil planets or
the blunders of mere man. But yonder is Aguas Frias, five miles away,
and a clear road. I am of the mind to defy Saturn and all his
satellites to spoil our success now. At any rate, I will not turn away
to-night as weary a traveller and as good a soldier as you are,
Lieutenant Kearny. Manuel Ortiz's tent is there by the brightest fire.
Rout him out and tell him to supply you with food and blankets and
clothes. We march again at daybreak.'
"Kearny thanked me briefly but feelingly and moved away.
"He had gone scarcely a dozen steps when a sudden flash of bright
light illumined the surrounding hills; a sinister, growing, hissing
sound like escaping steam filled my ears. Then followed a roar as of
distant thunder, which grew louder every instant. This terrifying
noise culminated in a tremendous explosion, which seemed to rock the
hills as an earthquake would; the illumination waxed to a glare so
fierce that I clapped my hands over my eyes to save them. I thought
the end of the world had come. I could think of no natural phenomenon
that would explain it. My wits were staggering. The deafening
explosion trailed off into the rumbling roar that had preceded it; and
through this I heard the frightened shouts of my troops as they
stumbled from their resting-places and rushed wildly about. Also I
heard the harsh tones of Kearny's voice crying: 'They'll blame it on
me, of course, and what the devil it is, it's not Francis Kearny that
can give you an answer.'
"'I opened my eyes. The hills were still there, dark and solid. It had
not been, then, a volcano or an earthquake. I looked up at the sky and
saw a comet-like trail crossing the zenith and extending westward--a
fiery trail waning fainter and narrower each moment.
"'A meteor!' I called aloud. 'A meteor has fallen. There is no
"And then all other sounds were drowned by a great shout from Kearny's
throat. He had raised both hands above his head and was standing
"'PHOEBE'S GONE!' he cried, with all his lungs. 'She's busted and gone
to hell. Look, Captain, the little red-headed hoodoo has blown herself
to smithereens. She found Kearny too tough to handle, and she puffed
up with spite and meanness till her boiler blew up. It's be Bad-Luck
Kearny no more. Oh, let us be joyful!
"'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall;
Humpty busted, and that'll be all!'
"I looked up, wondering, and picked out Saturn in his place. But the
small red twinkling luminary in his vicinity, which Kearny had pointed
out to me as his evil star, had vanished. I had seen it there but half
an hour before; there was no doubt that one of those awful and
mysterious spasms of nature had hurled it from the heavens.
"I clapped Kearny on the shoulder.
"'Little man,' said I, 'let this clear the way for you. It appears
that astrology has failed to subdue you. Your horoscope must be cast
anew with pluck and loyalty for controlling stars. I play you to win.
Now, get to your tent, and sleep. Daybreak is the word.'
"At nine o'clock on the morning of the eighteenth of July I rode into
Aguas Frias with Kearny at my side. In his clean linen suit and with
his military poise and keen eye he was a model of a fighting
adventurer. I had visions of him riding as commander of President
Valdevia's body-guard when the plums of the new republic should begin
"Carlos followed with the troops and supplies. He was to halt in a
wood outside the town and remain concealed there until he received the
word to advance.
"Kearny and I rode down the Calle Ancha toward the /residencia/ of Don
Rafael at the other side of the town. As we passed the superb white
buildings of the University of Esperando, I saw at an open window the
gleaming spectacles and bald head of Herr Bergowitz, professor of the
natural sciences and friend of Don Rafael and of me and of the cause.
He waved his hand to me, with his broad, bland smile.
"There was no excitement apparent in Aguas Frias. The people went
about leisurely as at all times; the market was thronged with bare-
headed women buying fruit and /carne/; we heard the twang and tinkle
of string bands in the patios of the /cantinas/. We could see that it
was a waiting game that Don Rafael was playing.
"His /residencia/ as a large but low building around a great courtyard
in grounds crowed with ornamental trees and tropic shrubs. At his door
an old woman who came informed us that Don Rafael had not yet arisen.
"'Tell him,' said I, 'that Captain Malone and a friend wish to see him
at once. Perhaps he has overslept.'
"She came back looking frightened.
"'I have called,' she said, 'and rung his bell many times, but he does
"I knew where his sleeping-room was. Kearny and I pushed by her and
went to it. I put my shoulder against the thin door and forced it
"In an armchair by a great table covered with maps and books sat Don
Rafael with his eyes closed. I touched his hand. He had been dead many
hours. On his head above one ear was a wound caused by a heavy blow.
It had ceased to bleed long before.
"I made the old woman call a /mozo/, and dispatched him in haste to
fetch Herr Bergowitz.
"He came, and we stood about as if we were half stunned by the awful
shock. Thus can the letting of a few drops of blood from one man's
veins drain the life of a nation.
"Presently Herr Bergowitz stooped and picked up a darkish stone the
size of an orange which he saw under the table. He examined it closely
through his great glasses with the eye of science.
"'A fragment,' said he, 'of a detonating meteor. The most remarkable
one in twenty years exploded above this city a little after midnight
"The professor looked quickly up at the ceiling. We saw the blue sky
through a hole the size of an orange nearly above Don Rafael's chair.
"I heard a familiar sound, and turned. Kearny had thrown himself on
the floor and was babbling his compendium of bitter, blood-freezing
curses against the star of his evil luck.
"Undoubtedly Phoebe had been feminine. Even when hurtling on her way
to fiery dissolution and everlasting doom, the last word had been
* * * * *
Captain Malone was not unskilled in narrative. He knew the point where
a story should end. I sat reveling in his effective conclusion when he
aroused me by continuing:
"Of course," said he, "our schemes were at an end. There was no one to
take Don Rafael's place. Our little army melted away like dew before
"One day after I had returned to New Orleans I related this story to a
friend who holds a professorship in Tulane University.
"When I had finished he laughed and asked whether I had any knowledge
of Kearny's luck afterward. I told him no, that I had seen him no
more; but that when he left me, he had expressed confidence that his
future would be successful now that his unlucky star had been
"'No doubt,' said the professor, 'he is happier not to know one fact.
If he derives his bad luck from Phoebe, the ninth satellite of Saturn,
that malicious lady is still engaged in overlooking his career. The
star close to Saturn that he imagined to be her was near that planet
simply by the chance of its orbit--probably at different times he has
regarded many other stars that happened to be in Saturn's
neighbourhood as his evil one. The real Phoebe is visible only through
a very good telescope.'
"About a year afterward," continued Captain Malone, "I was walking
down a street that crossed the Poydras Market. An immensely stout,
pink-faced lacy in black satin crowded me from the narrow sidewalk
with a frown. Behind her trailed a little man laden to the gunwales
with bundles and bags of goods and vegetables.
"It was Kearny--but changed. I stopped and shook one of his hands,
which still clung to a bag of garlic and red peppers.
"'How is the luck, old /companero/?' I asked him. I had not the heart
to tell him the truth about his star.
"'Well,' said he, 'I am married, as you may guess.'
"'Francis!' called the big lady, in deep tones, 'are you going to stop
in the street talking all day?'
"'I am coming, Phoebe dear,' said Kearny, hastening after her."
Captain Malone ceased again.
"After all, do you believe in luck?" I asked.
"Do you?" answered the captain, with his ambiguous smile shaded by the
brim of his soft straw hat.
A DOUBLE-DYED DECEIVER
The trouble began in Laredo. It was the Llano Kid's fault, for he
should have confined his habit of manslaughter to Mexicans. But the
Kid was past twenty; and to have only Mexicans to one's credit at
twenty is to blush unseen on the Rio Grande border.
It happened in old Justo Valdos's gambling house. There was a poker
game at which sat players who were not all friends, as happens often
where men ride in from afar to shoot Folly as she gallops. There was a
row over so small a matter as a pair of queens; and when the smoke had
cleared away it was found that the Kid had committed an indiscretion,
and his adversary had been guilty of a blunder. For, the unfortunate
combatant, instead of being a Greaser, was a high-blooded youth from
the cow ranches, of about the Kid's own age and possessed of friends
and champions. His blunder in missing the Kid's right ear only a
sixteenth of an inch when he pulled his gun did not lessen the
indiscretion of the better marksman.
The Kid, not being equipped with a retinue, nor bountifully supplied
with personal admirers and supporters--on account of a rather
umbrageous reputation, even for the border--considered it not
incompatible with his indispensable gameness to perform that judicious
tractional act known as "pulling his freight."
Quickly the avengers gathered and sought him. Three of them overtook
him within a rod of the station. The Kid turned and showed his teeth
in that brilliant but mirthless smile that usually preceded his deeds
of insolence and violence, and his pursuers fell back without making
it necessary for him even to reach for his weapon.
But in this affair the Kid had not felt the grim thirst for encounter
that usually urged him on to battle. It had been a purely chance row,
born of the cards and certain epithets impossible for a gentleman to
brook that had passed between the two. The Kid had rather liked the
slim, haughty, brown-faced young chap whom his bullet had cut off in
the first pride of manhood. And now he wanted no more blood. He wanted
to get away and have a good long sleep somewhere in the sun on the
mesquit grass with his handkerchief over his face. Even a Mexican
might have crossed his path in safety while he was in this mood.
The Kid openly boarded the north-bound passenger train that departed
five minutes later. But at Webb, a few miles out, where it was flagged
to take on a traveller, he abandoned that manner of escape. There were
telegraph stations ahead; and the Kid looked askance at electricity
and steam. Saddle and spur were his rocks of safety.
The man whom he had shot was a stranger to him. But the Kid knew that
he was of the Coralitos outfit from Hidalgo; and that the punchers
from that ranch were more relentless and vengeful than Kentucky
feudists when wrong or harm was done to one of them. So, with the
wisdom that has characterized many great farmers, the Kid decided to
pile up as many leagues as possible of chaparral and pear between
himself and the retaliation of the Coralitos bunch.
Near the station was a store; and near the store, scattered among the
mesquits and elms, stood the saddled horses of the customers. Most of
them waited, half asleep, with sagging limbs and drooping heads. But
one, a long-legged roan with a curved neck, snorted and pawed the
turf. Him the Kid mounted, gripped with his knees, and slapped gently
with the owner's own quirt.
If the slaying of the temerarious card-player had cast a cloud over
the Kid's standing as a good and true citizen, this last act of his
veiled his figure in the darkest shadows of disrepute. On the Rio
Grande border if you take a man's life you sometimes take trash; but
if you take his horse, you take a thing the loss of which renders him
poor, indeed, and which enriches you not--if you are caught. For the
Kid there was no turning back now.
With the springing roan under him he felt little care or uneasiness.
After a five-mile gallop he drew it in to the plainsman's jogging
trot, and rode northeastward toward the Nueces River bottoms. He knew
the country well--its most tortuous and obscure trails through the
great wilderness of brush and pear, and its camps and lonesome ranches
where one might find safe entertainment. Always he bore to the east;
for the Kid had never seen the ocean, and he had a fancy to lay his
hand upon the mane of the great Gulf, the gamesome colt of the greater
So after three days he stood on the shore at Corpus Christi, and
looked out across the gentle ripples of a quiet sea.
Captain Boone, of the schooner /Flyaway/, stood near his skiff, which
one of his crew was guarding in the surf. When ready to sail he had
discovered that one of the necessaries of life, in the
parallelogrammatic shape of plug tobacco, had been forgotten. A sailor
had been dispatched for the missing cargo. Meanwhile the captain paced
the sands, chewing profanely at his pocket store.
A slim, wiry youth in high-heeled boots came down to the water's edge.
His face was boyish, but with a premature severity that hinted at a
man's experience. His complexion was naturally dark; and the sun and
wind of an outdoor life had burned it to a coffee brown. His hair was
as black and straight as an Indian's; his face had not yet upturned to
the humiliation of a razor; his eyes were a cold and steady blue. He
carried his left arm somewhat away from his body, for pearl-handled
.45s are frowned upon by town marshals, and are a little bulky when
placed in the left armhole of one's vest. He looked beyond Captain
Boone at the gulf with the impersonal and expressionless dignity of a
"Thinkin' of buyin' that'ar gulf, buddy?" asked the captain, made
sarcastic by his narrow escape from a tobaccoless voyage.
"Why, no," said the Kid gently, "I reckon not. I never saw it before.
I was just looking at it. Not thinking of selling it, are you?"
"Not this trip," said the captain. "I'll send it to you C.O.D. when I
get back to Buenas Tierras. Here comes that capstanfooted lubber with
the chewin'. I ought to've weighed anchor an hour ago."
"Is that your ship out there?" asked the Kid.
"Why, yes," answered the captain, "if you want to call a schooner a
ship, and I don't mind lyin'. But you better say Miller and Gonzales,
owners, and ordinary plain, Billy-be-damned old Samuel K. Boone,
"Where are you going to?" asked the refugee.
"Buenas Tierras, coast of South America--I forgot what they called the
country the last time I was there. Cargo--lumber, corrugated iron, and
"What kind of a country is it?" asked the Kid--"hot or cold?"
"Warmish, buddy," said the captain. "But a regular Paradise Lost for
elegance of scenery and be-yooty of geography. Ye're wakened every
morning by the sweet singin' of red birds with seven purple tails, and
the sighin' of breezes in the posies and roses. And the inhabitants
never work, for they can reach out and pick steamer baskets of the
choicest hothouse fruit without gettin' out of bed. And there's no
Sunday and no ice and no rent and no troubles and no use and no
nothin'. It's a great country for a man to go to sleep with, and wait
for somethin' to turn up. The bananys and oranges and hurricanes and
pineapples that ye eat comes from there."
"That sounds to me!" said the Kid, at last betraying interest.
"What'll the expressage be to take me out there with you?"
"Twenty-four dollars," said Captain Boone; "grub and transportation.
Second cabin. I haven't got a first cabin."
"You've got my company," said the Kid, pulling out a buckskin bag.
With three hundred dollars he had gone to Laredo for his regular
"blowout." The duel in Valdos's had cut short his season of hilarity,
but it had left him with nearly $200 for aid in the flight that it had
"All right, buddy," said the captain. "I hope your ma won't blame me
for this little childish escapade of yours." He beckoned to one of the
boat's crew. "Let Sanchez lift you out to the skiff so you won't get
your feet wet."
* * * * *
Thacker, the United States consul at Buenas Tierras, was not yet
drunk. It was only eleven o'clock; and he never arrived at his desired
state of beatitude--a state wherein he sang ancient maudlin vaudeville
songs and pelted his screaming parrot with banana peels--until the
middle of the afternoon. So, when he looked up from his hammock at the
sound of a slight cough, and saw the Kid standing in the door of the
consulate, he was still in a condition to extend the hospitality and
courtesy due from the representative of a great nation. "Don't disturb
yourself," said the Kid, easily. "I just dropped in. They told me it
was customary to light at your camp before starting in to round up the
town. I just came in on a ship from Texas."
"Glad to see you, Mr.--" said the consul.
The Kid laughed.
"Sprague Dalton," he said. "It sounds funny to me to hear it. I'm
called the Llano Kid in the Rio Grande country."
"I'm Thacker," said the consul. "Take that cane-bottom chair. Now if
you've come to invest, you want somebody to advise you. These dingies
will cheat you out of the gold in your teeth if you don't understand
their ways. Try a cigar?"
"Much obliged," said the Kid, "but if it wasn't for my corn shucks and
the little bag in my back pocket I couldn't live a minute." He took
out his "makings," and rolled a cigarette.
"They speak Spanish here," said the consul. "You'll need an
interpreter. If there's anything I can do, why, I'd be delighted. If
you're buying fruit lands or looking for a concession of any sort,
you'll want somebody who knows the ropes to look out for you."
"I speak Spanish," said the Kid, "about nine times better than I do
English. Everybody speaks it on the range where I come from. And I'm
not in the market for anything."
"You speak Spanish?" said Thacker thoughtfully. He regarded the kid
"You look like a Spaniard, too," he continued. "And you're from Texas.
And you can't be more than twenty or twenty-one. I wonder if you've
got any nerve."
"You got a deal of some kind to put through?" asked the Texan, with
"Are you open to a proposition?" said Thacker.
"What's the use to deny it?" said the Kid. "I got into a little gun
frolic down in Laredo and plugged a white man. There wasn't any
Mexican handy. And I come down to your parrot-and-monkey range just
for to smell the morning-glories and marigolds. Now, do you /sabe/?"
Thacker got up and closed the door.
"Let me see your hand," he said.
He took the Kid's left hand, and examined the back of it closely.
"I can do it," he said excitedly. "Your flesh is as hard as wood and
as healthy as a baby's. It will heal in a week."
"If it's a fist fight you want to back me for," said the Kid, "don't
put your money up yet. Make it gun work, and I'll keep you company.
But no barehanded scrapping, like ladies at a tea-party, for me."
"It's easier than that," said Thacker. "Just step here, will you?"
Through the window he pointed to a two-story white-stuccoed house with
wide galleries rising amid the deep-green tropical foliage on a wooded
hill that sloped gently from the sea.
"In that house," said Thacker, "a fine old Castilian gentleman and his
wife are yearning to gather you into their arms and fill your pockets
with money. Old Santos Urique lives there. He owns half the gold-mines
in the country."
"You haven't been eating loco weed, have you?" asked the Kid.
"Sit down again," said Thacker, "and I'll tell you. Twelve years ago
they lost a kid. No, he didn't die--although most of 'em here do from
drinking the surface water. He was a wild little devil, even if he
wasn't but eight years old. Everybody knows about it. Some Americans
who were through here prospecting for gold had letters to Senor
Urique, and the boy was a favorite with them. They filled his head
with big stories about the States; and about a month after they left,
the kid disappeared, too. He was supposed to have stowed himself away
among the banana bunches on a fruit steamer, and gone to New Orleans.
He was seen once afterward in Texas, it was thought, but they never
heard anything more of him. Old Urique has spent thousands of dollars
having him looked for. The madam was broken up worst of all. The kid
was her life. She wears mourning yet. But they say she believes he'll
come back to her some day, and never gives up hope. On the back of the
boy's left hand was tattooed a flying eagle carrying a spear in his
claws. That's old Urique's coat of arms or something that he inherited
The Kid raised his left hand slowly and gazed at it curiously.
"That's it," said Thacker, reaching behind the official desk for his
bottle of smuggled brandy. "You're not so slow. I can do it. What was
I consul at Sandakan for? I never knew till now. In a week I'll have
the eagle bird with the frog-sticker blended in so you'd think you
were born with it. I brought a set of the needles and ink just because
I was sure you'd drop in some day, Mr. Dalton."
"Oh, hell," said the Kid. "I thought I told you my name!"
"All right, 'Kid,' then. It won't be that long. How does Senorito
Urique sound, for a change?"
"I never played son any that I remember of," said the Kid. "If I had
any parents to mention they went over the divide about the time I gave
my first bleat. What is the plan of your round-up?"
Thacker leaned back against the wall and held his glass up to the
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