The Virginian, A Horseman Of The Plainsr
Part 2 out of 8
Stark Wood of Bennington, Vermont?" he inquired.
I was not acquainted with her at this time.
"She's one we are thinking of. She's a correspondent with Mrs.
Balaam." Taylor handed me the letter. "She wrote that to Mrs.
Balaam, and Mrs. Balaam said the best thing was for to let me see
it and judge for myself. I'm taking it back to Mrs. Balaam. Maybe
you can give me your opinion how it sizes up with the letters
they write back East?"
The communication was mainly of a business kind, but also
personal, and freely written. I do not think that its writer
expected it to be exhibited as a document. The writer wished very
much that she could see the West. But she could not gratify this
desire merely for pleasure, or she would long ago have accepted
the kind invitation to visit Mrs. Balaam's ranch. Teaching school
was something she would like to do, if she were fitted for it.
"Since the mills failed" (the writer said) "we have all gone to
work and done a lot of things so that mother might keep on living
in the old house. Yes, the salary would be a temptation. But, my
dear, isn't Wyoming bad for the complexion? And could I sue them
if mine got damaged? It is still admired. I could bring one male
witness AT LEAST to prove that!" Then the writer became
businesslike again. Even if she came to feel that she could leave
home, she did not at all know that she could teach school. Nor
did she think it right to accept a position in which one had had
no experience. "I do love children, boys especially," she went
on. "My small nephew and I get on famously. But imagine if a
whole benchful of boys began asking me questions that I couldn't
answer! What should I do? For one could not spank them all, you
know! And mother says that I ought not to teach anybody spelling,
because I leave the U out of HONOR."
Altogether it was a letter which I could assure Mr. Taylor "sized
up" very well with the letters written in my part of the United
States. And it was signed, "Your very sincere spinster, Molly
"I never seen HONOR spelled with a U," said Mr. Taylor, over
whose not highly civilized head certain portions of the letter
had lightly passed.
I told him that some old-fashioned people still wrote the word
"Either way would satisfy Bear Creek," said Mr. Taylor, "if she's
otherwise up to requirements."
The Virginian was now looking over the letter musingly, and with
"'Your very sincere spinster,'" he read aloud slowly.
"I guess that means she's forty," said Taylor.
"I reckon she is about twenty," said the Virginian. And again he
fell to musing over the paper that he held.
"Her handwriting ain't like any I've saw," pursued Mr. Taylor.
"But Bear Creek would not object to that, provided she knows
'rithmetic and George Washington, and them kind of things."
"I expect she is not an awful sincere spinster," surmised the
Virginian, still looking at the letter, still holding it as if it
were some token.
Has any botanist set down what the seed of love is? Has it
anywhere been set down in how many ways this seed may be sown? In
what various vessels of gossamer it can float across wide spaces?
Or upon what different soils it can fall, and live unknown, and
bide its time for blooming?
The Virginian handed back to Taylor the sheet of note paper where
a girl had talked as the women he had known did not talk. If his
eyes had ever seen such maidens, there had been no meeting of
eyes; and if such maidens had ever spoken to him, the speech was
from an established distance. But here was a free language,
altogether new to him. It proved, however, not alien to his
understanding, as it was alien to Mr. Taylor's.
We drove onward, a mile perhaps, and then two. He had lately been
full of words, but now he barely answered me, so that a silence
fell upon both of us. It must have been all of ten miles that we
had driven when he spoke of his own accord.
"Your real spinster don't speak of her lot that easy," he
remarked. And presently he quoted a phrase about the complexion,
"Could I sue them if mine got damaged?"' and he smiled over this
to himself, shaking his head. "What would she be doing on Bear
Creek?" he next said. And finally: "I reckon that witness will
detain her in Vermont. And her mother'll keep livin' at the old
Thus did the cow-puncher deliver himself, not knowing at all that
the seed had floated across wide spaces, and was biding its time
in his heart.
On the morrow we reached Sunk Creek. Judge Henry's welcome and
his wife's would have obliterated any hardships that I had
endured, and I had endured none at all.
For a while I saw little of the Virginian. He lapsed into his
native way of addressing me occasionally as "seh"--a habit
entirely repudiated by this land of equality. I was sorry. Our
common peril during the runaway of Buck and Muggins had brought
us to a familiarity that I hoped was destined to last. But I
think that it would not have gone farther, save for a certain
personage--I must call her a personage. And as I am indebted to
her for gaining me a friend whose prejudice against me might
never have been otherwise overcome, I shall tell you her little
story, and how her misadventures and her fate came to bring the
Virginian and me to an appreciation of one another. Without her,
it is likely I should also not have heard so much of the story of
the schoolmarm, and how that lady at last came to Bear Creek.
My personage was a hen, and she lived at the Sunk Creek Ranch.
Judge Henry's ranch was notable for several luxuries. He had
milk, for example. In those days his brother ranchmen had
thousands of cattle very often, but not a drop of milk, save the
condensed variety. Therefore they had no butter. The Judge had
plenty. Next rarest to butter and milk in the cattle country were
eggs. But my host had chickens. Whether this was because he had
followed cock-fighting in his early days, or whether it was due
to Mrs. Henry, I cannot say. I only know that when I took a meal
elsewhere, I was likely to find nothing but the eternal
"sowbelly," beans, and coffee; while at Sunk Creek the omelet and
the custard were frequent. The passing traveller was glad to tie
his horse to the fence here, and sit down to the Judge's table.
For its fame was as wide as Wyoming. It was an oasis in the
Territory's desolate bill-of-fare.
The long fences of Judge Henry's home ranch began upon Sunk Creek
soon after that stream emerged from its canyon through the Bow
Leg. It was a place always well cared for by the owner, even in
the days of his bachelorhood. The placid regiments of cattle lay
in the cool of the cottonwoods by the water, or slowly moved
among the sage-brush, feeding upon the grass that in those
forever departed years was plentiful and tall. The steers came
fat off his unenclosed range and fattened still more in his large
pasture; while his small pasture, a field some eight miles
square, was for several seasons given to the Judge's horses, and
over this ample space there played and prospered the good colts
which he raised from Paladin, his imported stallion. After he
married, I have been assured that his wife's influence became
visible in and about the house at once. Shade trees were planted,
flowers attempted, and to the chickens was added the much more
troublesome turkey. I, the visitor, was pressed into service when
I arrived, green from the East. I took hold of the farmyard and
began building a better chicken house, while the Judge was off
creating meadow land in his gray and yellow wilderness. When any
cow-boy was unoccupied, he would lounge over to my neighborhood,
and silently regard my carpentering.
Those cow-punchers bore names of various denominations. There was
Honey Wiggin; there was Nebrasky, and Dollar Bill, and Chalkeye.
And they came from farms and cities, from Maine and from
California. But the romance of American adventure had drawn them
all alike to this great playground of young men, and in their
courage, their generosity, and their amusement at me they bore a
close resemblance to each other. Each one would silently observe
my achievements with the hammer and the chisel. Then he would
retire to the bunk-house, and presently I would over hear
laughter. But this was only in the morning. In the afternoon on
many days of the summer which I spent at the Sunk Creek Ranch I
would go shooting, or ride up toward the entrance of the canyon
and watch the men working on the irrigation ditches. Pleasant
systems of water running in channels were being led through the
soil, and there was a sound of rippling here and there among the
yellow grain; the green thick alfalfa grass waved almost, it
seemed, of its own accord, for the wind never blew; and when at
evening the sun lay against the plain, the rift of the canyon was
filled with a violet light, and the Bow Leg Mountains became
transfigured with hues of floating and unimaginable color. The
sun shone in a sky where never a cloud came, and noon was not too
warm nor the dark too cool. And so for two months I went through
these pleasant uneventful days, improving the chickens, an object
of mirth, living in the open air, and basking in the perfection
I was justly styled a tenderfoot. Mrs. Henry had in the beginning
endeavored to shield me from this humiliation; but when she found
that I was inveterate in laying my inexperience of Western
matters bare to all the world, begging to be enlightened upon
rattlesnakes, prairie-dogs, owls, blue and willow grouse,
sage-hens, how to rope a horse or tighten the front cinch of my
saddle, and that my spirit soared into enthusiasm at the mere
sight of so ordinary an animal as a white-tailed deer, she let me
rush about with my firearms and made no further effort to stave
off the ridicule that my blunders perpetually earned from the
ranch hands, her own humorous husband, and any chance visitor who
stopped for a meal or stayed the night.
I was not called by my name after the first feeble etiquette due
to a stranger in his first few hours had died away. I was known
simply as "the tenderfoot." I was introduced to the neighborhood
(a circle of eighty miles) as "the tenderfoot." It was thus that
Balaam, the maltreater of horses, learned to address me when he
came a two days' journey to pay a visit. And it was this name and
my notorious helplessness that bid fair to end what relations I
had with the Virginian. For when Judge Henry ascertained that
nothing could prevent me from losing myself, that it was not
uncommon for me to saunter out after breakfast with a gun and in
thirty minutes cease to know north from south, he arranged for my
protection. He detailed an escort for me; and the escort was once
more the trustworthy man! The poor Virginian was taken from his
work and his comrades and set to playing nurse for me. And for a
while this humiliation ate into his untamed soul. It was his
lugubrious lot to accompany me in my rambles, preside over my
blunders, and save me from calamitously passing into the next
world. He bore it in courteous silence, except when speaking was
necessary. He would show me the lower ford, which I could never
find for myself, generally mistaking a quicksand for it. He would
tie my horse properly. He would recommend me not to shoot my
rifle at a white-tailed deer in the particular moment that the
outfit wagon was passing behind the animal on the further side of
the brush. There was seldom a day that he was not obliged to
hasten and save me from sudden death or from ridicule, which is
worse. Yet never once did he lose his patience and his gentle,
slow voice, and apparently lazy manner remained the same, whether
we were sitting at lunch together, or up in the mountain during a
hunt, or whether he was bringing me back my horse, which had run
away because I had again forgotten to throw the reins over his
head and let them trail.
"He'll always stand if yu' do that," the Virginian would say.
"See how my hawss stays right quiet yondeh."
After such admonition he would say no more to me. But this tame
nursery business was assuredly gall to him. For though utterly a
man in countenance and in his self-possession and incapacity to
be put at a loss, he was still boyishly proud of his wild
calling, and wore his leather straps and jingled his spurs with
obvious pleasure. His tiger limberness and his beauty were rich
with unabated youth; and that force which lurked beneath his
surface must often have curbed his intolerance of me. In spite of
what I knew must be his opinion of me, the tenderfoot, my liking
for him grew, and I found his silent company more and more
agreeable. That he had spells of talking, I had already learned
at Medicine Bow. But his present taciturnity might almost have
effaced this impression, had I not happened to pass by the
bunk-house one evening after dark, when Honey Wiggin and the rest
of the cow-boys were gathered inside it.
That afternoon the Virginian and I had gone duck shooting. We had
found several in a beaver dam, and I had killed two as they sat
close together; but they floated against the breastwork of sticks
out in the water some four feet deep, where the escaping current
might carry them down the stream. The Judge's red setter had not
accompanied us, because she was expecting a family.
"We don't want her along anyways," the cowpuncher had explained
to me. "She runs around mighty irresponsible, and she'll stand a
prairie-dog 'bout as often as she'll stand a bird. She's a
My anxiety to own the ducks caused me to pitch into the water
with all my clothes on, and subsequently crawl out a slippery,
triumphant, weltering heap. The Virginian's serious eyes had
rested upon this spectacle of mud; but he expressed nothing, as
"They ain't overly good eatin'," he observed, tying the birds to
his saddle. "They're divers."
"Divers!" I exclaimed. "Why didn't they dive?"
"I reckon they was young ones and hadn't experience."
"Well," I said, crestfallen, but attempting to be humorous, "I
did the diving myself."
But the Virginian made no comment. He handed me my
double-barrelled English gun, which I was about to leave deserted
on the ground behind me, and we rode home in our usual silence,
the mean little white-breasted, sharp-billed divers dangling from
It was in the bunk-house that he took his revenge. As I passed I
heard his gentle voice silently achieving some narrative to an
attentive audience, and just as I came by the open window where
he sat on his bed in shirt and drawers, his back to me, I heard
his concluding words, "And the hat on his haid was the one mark
showed yu' he weren't a snappin'-turtle."
The anecdote met with instantaneous success, and I hurried away
into the dark. The next morning I was occupied with the chickens.
Two hens were fighting to sit on some eggs that a third was daily
laying, and which I did not want hatched, and for the third time
I had kicked Em'ly off seven potatoes she had rolled together and
was determined to raise I know not what sort of family from. She
was shrieking about the hen-house as the Virginian came in to
observe (I suspect) what I might be doing now that could be
useful for him to mention in the bunk-house.
He stood awhile, and at length said, "We lost our best rooster
when Mrs. Henry came to live hyeh."
I paid no attention.
"He was a right elegant Dominicker," he continued.
I felt a little riled about the snapping-turtle, and showed no
interest in what he was saying, but continued my functions among
the hens. This unusual silence of mine seemed to elicit unusual
speech from him.
"Yu' see, that rooster he'd always lived round hyeh when the
Judge was a bachelor, and he never seen no ladies or any persons
wearing female gyarments. You ain't got rheumatism, seh?"
"I reckoned maybe them little odd divers yu' got damp goin'
afteh--" He paused.
"Oh, no, not in the least, thank you."
"Yu' seemed sort o' grave this mawnin', and I'm cert'nly glad it
ain't them divers."
"Well, the rooster?" I inquired finally.
"Oh, him! He weren't raised where he could see petticoats. Mrs.
Henry she come hyeh from the railroad with the Judge afteh dark.
Next mawnin' early she walked out to view her new home, and the
rooster was a-feedin' by the door, and he seen her. Well, seh, he
screeched that awful I run out of the bunk-house; and he jus'
went over the fence and took down Sunk Creek shoutin' fire, right
along. He has never come back."
"There's a hen over there now that has no judgment," I said,
indicating Em'ly. She had got herself outside the house, and was
on the bars of a corral, her vociferations reduced to an
occasional squawk. I told him about the potatoes.
"I never knowed her name before," said he. "That runaway rooster,
he hated her. And she hated him same as she hates 'em all."
"I named her myself," said I, "after I came to notice her
particularly. There's an old maid at home who's charitable, and
belongs to the Cruelty to Animals, and she never knows whether
she had better cross in front of a street car or wait. I named
the hen after her. Does she ever lay eggs?"
The Virginian had not "troubled his haid" over the poultry.
"Well, I don't believe she knows how. I think she came near being
"She's sure manly-lookin'," said the Virginian. We had walked
toward the corral, and he was now scrutinizing Em'ly with
She was an egregious fowl. She was huge and gaunt, with great
yellow beak, and she stood straight and alert in the manner of
responsible people. There was something wrong with her tail. It
slanted far to one side, one feather in it twice as long as the
rest. Feathers on her breast there were none. These had been worn
entirely off by her habit of sitting upon potatoes and other
rough abnormal objects. And this lent to her appearance an air of
being decollete, singularly at variance with her otherwise
prudish ensemble. Her eye was remarkably bright, but somehow it
had an outraged expression. It was as if she went about the world
perpetually scandalized over the doings that fell beneath her
notice. Her legs were blue, long, and remarkably stout.
"She'd ought to wear knickerbockers," murmured the Virginian.
"She'd look a heap better 'n some o' them college students. And
she'll set on potatoes, yu' say?"
"She thinks she can hatch out anything. I've found her with
onions, and last Tuesday I caught her on two balls of soap."
In the afternoon the tall cow-puncher and I rode out to get an
After an hour, during which he was completely taciturn, he said:
"I reckon maybe this hyeh lonesome country ain't been healthy for
Em'ly to live in. It ain't for some humans. Them old trappers in
the mountains gets skewed in the haid mighty often, an' talks out
loud when nobody's nigher 'n a hundred miles."
"Em'ly has not been solitary," I replied. "There are forty
"That's so," said he. "It don't explain her."
He fell silent again, riding beside me, easy and indolent in the
saddle. His long figure looked so loose and inert that the swift,
light spring he made to the ground seemed an impossible feat. He
had seen an antelope where I saw none.
"Take a shot yourself," I urged him, as he motioned me to be
quick. "You never shoot when I'm with you."
"I ain't hyeh for that," he answered. "Now you've let him get
away on yu'!"
The antelope had in truth departed.
"Why," he said to my protest, "I can hit them things any day.
What's your notion as to Em'ly?"
"I can't account for her," I replied.
"Well," he said musingly, and then his mind took one of those
particular turns that made me love him, "Taylor ought to see her.
She'd be just the schoolmarm for Bear Creek!"
"She's not much like the eating-house lady at Medicine Bow," I
He gave a hilarious chuckle. "No, Em'ly knows nothing o' them
joys. So yu' have no notion about her? Well, I've got one. I
reckon maybe she was hatched after a big thunderstorm."
"In a big thunderstorm!" I exclaimed.
"Yes. Don't yu' know about them, and what they'll do to aiggs? A
big case o' lightnin' and thunder will addle aiggs and keep 'em
from hatchin'. And I expect one came along, and all the other
aiggs of Em'ly's set didn't hatch out, but got plumb addled, and
she happened not to get addled that far, and so she just managed
to make it through. But she cert'nly ain't got a strong haid."
"I fear she has not," said I.
"Mighty hon'ble intentions," he observed. "If she can't make out
to lay anything, she wants to hatch somethin', and be a mother
"I wonder what relation the law considers that a hen is to the
chicken she hatched but did not lay?" I inquired.
The Virginian made no reply to this frivolous suggestion. He was
gazing over the wide landscape gravely and with apparent
inattention. He invariably saw game before I did, and was off his
horse and crouched among the sage while I was still getting my
left foot clear of the stirrup. I succeeded in killing an
antelope, and we rode home with the head and hind quarters.
"No." said he. "It's sure the thunder, and not the lonesomeness.
How do yu' like the lonesomeness yourself?"
I told him that I liked it.
"I could not live without it now," he said. "This has got into my
system." He swept his hand out at the vast space of world. "I
went back home to see my folks onced. Mother was dyin' slow, and
she wanted me. I stayed a year. But them Virginia mountains could
please me no more. Afteh she was gone, I told my brothers and
sisters good-by. We like each other well enough, but I reckon
I'll not go back."
We found Em'ly seated upon a collection of green California
peaches, which the Judge had brought from the railroad.
"I don't mind her any more," I said; "I'm sorry for her."
"I've been sorry for her right along," said the Virginian. "She
does hate the roosters so." And he said that he was making a
collection of every class of object which he found her treating
But Em'ly's egg-industry was terminated abruptly one morning, and
her unquestioned energies diverted to a new channel. A turkey
which had been sitting in the root-house appeared with twelve
children, and a family of bantams occurred almost simultaneously.
Em'ly was importantly scratching the soil inside Paladin's corral
when the bantam tribe of newly born came by down the lane, and
she caught sight of them through the bars. She crossed the corral
at a run, and intercepted two of the chicks that were trailing
somewhat behind their real mamma. These she undertook to
appropriate, and assumed a high tone with the bantam, who was the
smaller, and hence obliged to retreat with her still numerous
family. I interfered, and put matters straight; but the
adjustment was only temporary. In an hour I saw Em'ly immensely
busy with two more bantams, leading them about and taking a care
of them which I must admit seemed perfectly efficient.
And now came the first incident that made me suspect her to be
She had proceeded with her changelings behind the kitchen, where
one of the irrigation ditches ran under the fence from the
hay-field to supply the house with water. Some distance along
this ditch inside the field were the twelve turkeys in the short,
recently cut stubble. Again Em'ly set off instantly like a deer.
She left the dismayed bantams behind her. She crossed the ditch
with one jump of her stout blue legs, flew over the grass, and
was at once among the turkeys, where, with an instinct of
maternity as undiscriminating as it was reckless, she attempted
to huddle some of them away. But this other mamma was not a
bantam, and in a few moments Em'ly was entirely routed in her
attempt to acquire a new variety of family.
This spectacle was witnessed by the Virginian and myself, and it
overcame him. He went speechless across to the bunk-house, by
himself, and sat on his bed, while I took the abandoned bantams
back to their own circle.
I have often wondered what the other fowls thought of all this.
Some impression it certainly did make upon them. The notion may
seem out of reason to those who have never closely attended to
other animals than man; but I am convinced that any community
which shares some of our instincts will share some of the
resulting feelings, and that birds and beasts have conventions,
the breach of which startles them. If there be anything in
evolution, this would seem inevitable; At all events, the
chicken-house was upset during the following several days. Em'ly
disturbed now the bantams and now the turkeys, and several of
these latter had died, though I will not go so far as to say that
this was the result of her misplaced attentions. Nevertheless, I
was seriously thinking of locking her up till the broods should
be a little older, when another event happened, and all was
suddenly at peace.
The Judge's setter came in one morning, wagging her tail. She had
had her puppies, and she now took us to where they were housed,
in between the floor of a building and the hollow ground. Em'ly
was seated on the whole litter.
"No," I said to the Judge, "I am not surprised. She is capable of
In her new choice of offspring, this hen had at length
encountered an unworthy parent. The setter was bored by her own
puppies. She found the hole under the house an obscure and
monotonous residence compared with the dining room, and our
company more stimulating and sympathetic than that of her
children. A much-petted contact with our superior race had
developed her dog intelligence above its natural level, and
turned her into an unnatural, neglectful mother, who was
constantly forgetting her nursery for worldly pleasures.
At certain periods of the day she repaired to the puppies and fed
them, but came away when this perfunctory ceremony was
accomplished; and she was glad enough to have a governess bring
them up. She made no quarrel with Em'ly, and the two understood
each other perfectly. I have never seen among animals any
arrangement so civilized and so perverted. It made Em'ly
perfectly happy. To see her sitting all day jealously spreading
her wings over some blind puppies was sufficiently curious; but
when they became large enough to come out from under the house
and toddle about in the proud hen's wake, I longed for some
distinguished naturalist. I felt that our ignorance made us
inappropriate spectators of such a phenomenon. Em'ly scratched
and clucked, and the puppies ran to her, pawed her with their fat
limp little legs, and retreated beneath her feathers in their
games of hide and seek. Conceive, if you can, what confusion must
have reigned in their infant minds as to who the setter was!
"I reckon they think she's the wet-nurse," said the Virginian.
When the puppies grew to be boisterous, I perceived that Em'ly's
mission was approaching its end. They were too heavy for her, and
their increasing scope of playfulness was not in her line. Once
or twice they knocked her over, upon which she arose and pecked
them severely, and they retired to a safe distance, and sitting
in a circle, yapped at her. I think they began to suspect that
she was only a hen after all. So Em'ly resigned with an
indifference which surprised me, until I remembered that if it
had been chickens, she would have ceased to look after them by
But here she was again "out of a job," as the Virginian said.
"She's raised them puppies for that triflin' setter, and now
she'll be huntin' around for something else useful to do that
ain't in her business."
Now there were other broods of chickens to arrive in the
hen-house, and I did not desire any more bantam and turkey
performances. So, to avoid confusion, I played a trick upon
Em'ly. I went down to Sunk Creek and fetched some smooth, oval
stones. She was quite satisfied with these, and passed a quiet
day with them in a box. This was not fair, the Virginian
"You ain't going to jus' leave her fooled that a-way?"
I did not see why not.
"Why, she raised them puppies all right. Ain't she showed she
knows how to be a mother anyways? Em'ly ain't going to get her
time took up for nothing while I'm round hyeh," said the
He laid a gentle hold of Em'ly and tossed her to the ground. She,
of course, rushed out among the corrals in a great state of
"I don't see what good you do meddling," I protested.
To this he deigned no reply, but removed the unresponsive stones
from the straw.
"Why, if they ain't right warm!" he exclaimed plaintively. "The
poor, deluded son-of-a-gun!" And with this unusual description of
a lady, he sent the stones sailing like a line of birds. "I'm
regular getting stuck on Em'ly," continued the Virginian. "Yu'
needn't to laugh. Don't yu' see she's got sort o' human feelin's
and desires? I always knowed hawsses was like people, and my
collie, of course. It is kind of foolish, I expect, but that
hen's goin' to have a real aigg di-rectly, right now, to set on."
With this he removed one from beneath another hen. "We'll have
Em'ly raise this hyeh," said he, "so she can put in her time
It was not accomplished at once; for Em'ly, singularly enough,
would not consent to stay in the box whence she had been routed.
At length we found another retreat for her, and in these new
surroundings, with a new piece of work for her to do, Em'ly sat
on the one egg which the Virginian had so carefully provided for
Thus, as in all genuine tragedies, was the stroke of Fate wrought
by chance and the best intentions.
Em'ly began sitting on Friday afternoon near sundown. Early next
morning my sleep was gradually dispersed by a sound unearthly and
continuous. Now it dwindled, receding to a distance; again it
came near, took a turn, drifted to the other side of the house;
then, evidently, whatever it was, passed my door close, and I
jumped upright in my bed. The high, tense strain of vibration,
nearly, but not quite, a musical note, was like the threatening
scream of machinery, though weaker, and I bounded out of the
house in my pajamas.
There was Em'ly, dishevelled, walking wildly about, her one egg
miraculously hatched within ten hours. The little lonely yellow
ball of down went cheeping along behind, following its mother as
best it could. What, then, had happened to the established period
of incubation? For an instant the thing was like a portent, and I
was near joining Em'ly in her horrid surprise, when I saw how it
all was. The Virginian had taken an egg from a hen which had
already been sitting for three weeks.
I dressed in haste, hearing Em'ly's distracted outcry. It
steadily sounded, without perceptible pause for breath, and
marked her erratic journey back and forth through stables, lanes,
and corrals. The shrill disturbance brought all of us out to see
her, and in the hen-house I discovered the new brood making its
But this natural explanation could not be made to the crazed hen.
She continued to scour the premises, her slant tail and its one
preposterous feather waving as she aimlessly went, her stout legs
stepping high with an unnatural motion, her head lifted nearly
off her neck, and in her brilliant yellow eye an expression of
more than outrage at this overturning of a natural law. Behind
her, entirely ignored and neglected, trailed the little progeny.
She never looked at it. We went about our various affairs, and
all through the clear, sunny day that unending metallic scream
pervaded the premises. The Virginian put out food and water for
her, but she tasted nothing. I am glad to say that the little
chicken did. I do not think that the hen's eyes could see, except
in the way that sleep-walkers' do.
The heat went out of the air, and in the canyon the violet light
began to show. Many hours had gone, but Em'ly never ceased. Now
she suddenly flew up in a tree and sat there with her noise still
going; but it had risen lately several notes into a slim, acute
level of terror, and was not like machinery any more, nor like
any sound I ever heard before or since. Below the tree stood the
bewildered little chicken, cheeping, and making tiny jumps to
reach its mother.
"Yes," said the Virginian, "it's comical. Even her aigg acted
different from anybody else's." He paused, and looked across the
wide, mellowing plain with the expression of easy-going gravity
so common with him. Then he looked at Em'ly in the tree and the
"It ain't so damned funny," said he.
We went in to supper, and I came out to find the hen lying on the
ground, dead. I took the chicken to the family in the hen-house.
No, it was not altogether funny any more. And I did not think
less of the Virginian when I came upon him surreptitiously
digging a little hole in the field for her.
"I have buried some citizens here and there," said he, "that I
have respected less."
And when the time came for me to leave Sunk Creek, my last word
to the Virginian was, "Don't forget Em'ly."
"I ain't likely to," responded the cow-puncher. "She is just one
o' them parables."
Save when he fell into his native idioms (which, they told me,
his wanderings had well-nigh obliterated until that year's visit
to his home again revived them in his speech), he had now for a
long while dropped the "seh," and all other barriers between us.
We were thorough friends, and had exchanged many confidences both
of the flesh and of the spirit. He even went the length of saying
that he would write me the Sunk Creek news if I would send him a
line now and then. I have many letters from him now. Their
spelling came to be faultless, and in the beginning was little
worse than George Washington's.
The Judge himself drove me to the railroad by another way--across
the Bow Leg Mountains, and south through Balaam's Ranch and
Drybone to Rock Creek.
"I'll be very homesick," I told him.
"Come and pull the latch-string whenever you please," he bade me.
I wished that I might! No lotus land ever cast its spell upon
man's heart more than Wyoming had enchanted mine.
VII. THROUGH TWO SNOWS
"Dear Friend [thus in the spring the Virginian wrote me], Yours
received. It must be a poor thing to be sick. That time I was
shot at Canada de Oro would have made me sick if it had been a
littel lower or if I was much of a drinking man. You will be well
if you give over city life and take a hunt with me about August
or say September for then the elk will be out of the velvett.
"Things do not please me here just now and I am going to settel
it by vamosing. But I would be glad to see you. It would be
pleasure not business for me to show you plenty elk and get you
strong. I am not crybabying to the Judge or making any kick about
things. He will want me back after he has swallowed a litter
tincture of time. It is the best dose I know.
"Now to answer your questions. Yes the Emmily hen might have ate
loco weed if hens do. I never saw anything but stock and horses
get poisoned with loco weed. No the school is not built yet. They
are always big talkers on Bear Creek. No I have not seen Steve.
He is around but I am sorry for him. Yes I have been to Medicine
Bow. I had the welcom I wanted. Do you remember a man I played
poker and he did not like it? He is working on the upper ranch
near Ten Sleep. He does not amount to a thing except with
weaklings. Uncle Hewie has twins. The boys got him vexed some
about it, but I think they are his. Now that is all I know to-day
and I would like to see you poco presently as they say at Los
Cruces. There's no sense in you being sick."
The rest of this letter discussed the best meeting point for us
should I decide to join him for a hunt.
That hunt was made, and during the weeks of its duration
something was said to explain a little more fully the Virginian's
difficulty at the Sunk Creek Ranch, and his reason for leaving
his excellent employer the Judge. Not much was said, to be sure;
the Virginian seldom spent many words upon his own troubles. But
it appeared that owing to some jealousy of him on the part of the
foreman, or the assistant foreman, he found himself continually
doing another man's work, but under circumstances so skilfully
arranged that he got neither credit nor pay for it. He would not
stoop to telling tales out of school. Therefore his ready and
prophetic mind devised the simple expedient of going away
altogether. He calculated that Judge Henry would gradually
perceive there was a connection between his departure and the
cessation of the satisfactory work. After a judicious interval it
was his plan to appear again in the neighborhood of Sunk Creek
and await results.
Concerning Steve he would say no more than he had written. But it
was plain that for some cause this friendship had ceased.
Money for his services during the hunt he positively declined to
accept, asserting that he had not worked enough to earn his
board. And the expedition ended in an untravelled corner of the
Yellowstone Park, near Pitchstone Canyon, where he and young Lin
McLean and others were witnesses of a sad and terrible drama that
has been elsewhere chronicled.
His prophetic mind had foreseen correctly the shape of events at
Sunk Creek. The only thing that it had not foreseen was the
impression to be made upon the Judge's mind by his conduct.
Toward the close of that winter, Judge and Mrs. Henry visited the
East. Through them a number of things became revealed. The
Virginian was back at Sunk Creek.
"And," said Mrs. Henry, "he would never have left you if I had
had my way, Judge H.!"
"No, Madam Judge," retorted her husband; "I am aware of that. For
you have always appreciated a fine appearance in a man."
"I certainly have," confessed the lady, mirthfully. "And the way
he used to come bringing my horse, with the ridges of his black
hair so carefully brushed and that blue spotted handkerchief tied
so effectively round his throat, was something that I missed a
great deal after he went away."
"Thank you, my dear, for this warning. I have plans that will
keep him absent quite constantly for the future."
And then they spoke less flightily. "I always knew," said the
lady, "that you had found a treasure when that man came."
The Judge laughed. "When it dawned on me," he said, "how cleverly
he caused me to learn the value of his services by depriving me
of them, I doubted whether it was safe to take him back."
"Safe!" cried Mrs. Henry.
"Safe, my dear. Because I'm afraid he is pretty nearly as shrewd
as I am. And that's rather dangerous in a subordinate." The Judge
laughed again. "But his action regarding the man they call Steve
has made me feel easy."
And then it came out that the Virginian was supposed to have
discovered in some way that Steve had fallen from the grace of
that particular honesty which respects another man's cattle. It
was not known for certain. But calves had begun to disappear in
Cattle Land, and cows had been found killed. And calves with one
brand upon them had been found with mothers that bore the brand
of another owner. This industry was taking root in Cattle Land,
and of those who practised it, some were beginning to be
suspected. Steve was not quite fully suspected yet. But that the
Virginian had parted company with him was definitely known. And
neither man would talk about it.
There was the further news that the Bear Creek schoolhouse at
length stood complete, floor, walls, and roof; and that a lady
from Bennington, Vermont, a friend of Mrs. Balaam's, had quite
suddenly decided that she would try her hand at instructing the
The Judge and Mrs. Henry knew this because Mrs. Balaam had told
them of her disappointment that she would be absent from the
ranch on Butte Creek when her friend arrived, and therefore
unable to entertain her. The friend's decision had been quite
suddenly made, and must form the subject of the next chapter.
VIII. THE SINCERE SPINSTER
I do not know with which of the two estimates--Mr. Taylor's or
the Virginian's--you agreed. Did you think that Miss Mary Stark
Wood of Bennington, Vermont, was forty years of age? That would
have been an error. At the time she wrote the letter to Mrs.
Balaam, of which letter certain portions have been quoted in
these pages, she was in her twenty-first year; or, to be more
precise, she had been twenty some eight months previous.
Now, it is not usual for young ladies of twenty to contemplate a
journey of nearly two thousand miles to a country where Indians
and wild animals live unchained, unless they are to make such
journey in company with a protector, or are going to a
protector's arms at the other end. Nor is school teaching on Bear
Creek a usual ambition for such young ladies.
But Miss Mary Stark Wood was not a usual young lady for two
First, there was her descent. Had she so wished, she could have
belonged to any number of those patriotic societies of which our
American ears have grown accustomed to hear so much. She could
have been enrolled in the Boston Tea Party, the Ethan Allen
Ticonderogas, the Green Mountain Daughters, the Saratoga Sacred
Circle, and the Confederated Colonial Chatelaines. She traced
direct descent from the historic lady whose name she bore, that
Molly Stark who was not a widow after the battle where her lord,
her Captain John, battled so bravely as to send his name
thrilling down through the blood of generations of schoolboys.
This ancestress was her chief claim to be a member of those
shining societies which I have enumerated. But she had been
willing to join none of them, although invitations to do so were
by no means lacking. I cannot tell you her reason. Still, I can
tell you this. When these societies were much spoken of in her
presence, her very sprightly countenance became more sprightly,
and she added her words of praise or respect to the general
chorus. But when she received an invitation to join one of these
bodies, her countenance, as she read the missive, would assume an
expression which was known to her friends as "sticking her nose
in the air." I do not think that Molly's reason for refusing to
join could have been a truly good one. I should add that her most
precious possession--a treasure which accompanied her even if she
went away for only one night's absence--was an heirloom, a little
miniature portrait of the old Molly Stark, painted when that
far-off dame must have been scarce more than twenty. And when
each summer the young Molly went to Dunbarton, New Hampshire, to
pay her established family visit to the last survivors of her
connection who bore the name of Stark, no word that she heard in
the Dunbarton houses pleased her so much as when a certain
great-aunt would take her by the hand, and, after looking with
fond intentness at her, pronounce: "My dear, you're getting more
like the General's wife every year you live."
"I suppose you mean my nose," Molly would then reply.
"Nonsense, child. You have the family length of nose, and I've
never heard that it has disgraced us."
"But I don't think I'm tall enough for it."
"There now, run to your room, and dress for tea. The Starks have
always been punctual."
And after this annual conversation, Molly would run to her room,
and there in its privacy, even at the risk of falling below the
punctuality of the Starks, she would consult two objects for
quite a minute before she began to dress. These objects, as you
have already correctly guessed, were the miniature of the
General's wife and the looking glass.
So much for Miss Molly Stark Wood's descent.
The second reason why she was not a usual girl was her character.
This character was the result of pride and family pluck battling
with family hardship.
Just one year before she was to be presented to the world--not
the great metropolitan world, but a world that would have made
her welcome and done her homage at its little dances and little
dinners in Troy and Rutland and Burlington--fortune had turned
her back upon the Woods. Their possessions had never been great
ones; but they had sufficed. From generation to generation the
family had gone to school like gentlefolk, dressed like
gentlefolk, used the speech and ways of gentlefolk, and as
gentlefolk lived and died. And now the mills failed.
Instead of thinking about her first evening dress, Molly found
pupils to whom she could give music lessons. She found
handkerchiefs that she could embroider with initials. And she
found fruit that she could make into preserves. That machine
called the typewriter was then in existence, but the day of women
typewriters had as yet scarcely begun to dawn, else I think Molly
would have preferred this occupation to the handkerchiefs and the
There were people in Bennington who "wondered how Miss Wood could
go about from house to house teaching the piano, and she a lady."
There always have been such people, I suppose, because the world
must always have a rubbish heap. But we need not dwell upon them
further than to mention one other remark of theirs regarding
Molly. They all with one voice declared that Sam Bannett was good
enough for anybody who did fancy embroidery at five cents a
"I dare say he had a great-grandmother quite as good as hers,"
remarked Mrs. Flynt, the wife of the Baptist minister.
"That's entirely possible," returned the Episcopal rector of
Hoosic, "only we don't happen to know who she was." The rector
was a friend of Molly's. After this little observation, Mrs.
Flynt said no more, but continued her purchases in the store
where she and the rector had happened to find themselves
together. Later she stated to a friend that she had always
thought the Episcopal Church a snobbish one, and now she knew it.
So public opinion went on being indignant over Molly's conduct.
She could stoop to work for money, and yet she pretended to hold
herself above the most rising young man in Hoosic Falls, and all
just because there was a difference in their grandmothers!
Was this the reason at the bottom of it? The very bottom? I
cannot be certain, because I have never been a girl myself.
Perhaps she thought that work is not a stooping, and that
marriage may be. Perhaps-- But all I really know is that Molly
Wood continued cheerfully to embroider the handkerchiefs, make
the preserves, teach the pupils--and firmly to reject Sam
Thus it went on until she was twenty. There certain members of
her family began to tell her how rich Sam was going to be--was,
indeed, already. It was at this time that she wrote Mrs. Balaam
her doubts and her desires as to migrating to Bear Creek. It was
at this time also that her face grew a little paler, and her
friends thought that she was overworked, and Mrs. Flynt feared
she was losing her looks. It was at this time, too, that she grew
very intimate with that great-aunt over at Dunbarton, and from
her received much comfort and strengthening.
"Never!" said the old lady, "especially if you can't love him."
"I do like him," said Molly; "and he is very kind."
"Never!" said the old lady again. "When I die, you'll have
something--and that will not be long now."
Molly flung her arms around her aunt, and stopped her words with
a kiss. And then one winter afternoon, two years later, came the
The front door of the old house had shut. Out of it had stepped
the persistent suitor. Mrs. Flynt watched him drive away in his
"That girl is a fool!" she said furiously; and she came away from
her bedroom window where she had posted herself for observation.
Inside the old house a door had also shut. This was the door of
Molly's own room. And there she sat, in floods of tears. For she
could not bear to hurt a man who loved her with all the power of
love that was in him.
It was about twilight when her door opened, and an elderly lady
came softly in.
"My dear," she ventured, "and you were not able--"
"Oh, mother!" cried the girl, "have you come to say that too?"
The next day Miss Wood had become very hard. In three weeks she
had accepted the position on Bear Creek. In two months she
started, heart-heavy, but with a spirit craving the unknown.
IX. THE SPINSTER MEETS THE UNKNOWN
On a Monday noon a small company of horsemen strung out along the
trail from Sunk Creek to gather cattle over their allotted sweep
of range. Spring was backward, and they, as they rode galloping
and gathering upon the cold week's work, cursed cheerily and
occasionally sang. The Virginian was grave in bearing and of
infrequent speech; but he kept a song going--a matter of some
seventy-nine verses. Seventy-eight were quite unprintable, and
rejoiced his brother cowpunchers monstrously. They, knowing him
to be a singular man, forebore ever to press him, and awaited his
own humor, lest he should weary of the lyric; and when after a
day of silence apparently saturnine, he would lift his gentle
voice and begin:
"If you go to monkey with my Looloo girl,
I'll tell you what I'll do:
I'll cyarve your heart with my razor, AND
I'll shoot you with my pistol, too--"
then they would stridently take up each last line, and keep it
going three, four, ten times, and kick holes in the ground to the
swing of it.
By the levels of Bear Creek that reach like inlets among the
promontories of the lonely hills, they came upon the schoolhouse,
roofed and ready for the first native Wyoming crop. It symbolized
the dawn of a neighborhood, and it brought a change into the
wilderness air. The feel of it struck cold upon the free spirits
of the cow-punchers, and they told each other that, what with
women and children and wire fences, this country would not long
be a country for men. They stopped for a meal at an old
comrade's. They looked over his gate, and there he was pattering
among garden furrows.
"Pickin' nosegays?" inquired the Virginian and the old comrade
asked if they could not recognize potatoes except in the dish.
But he grinned sheepishly at them, too, because they knew that he
had not always lived in a garden. Then he took them into his
house, where they saw an object crawling on the floor with a
handful of sulphur matches. He began to remove the matches, but
stopped in alarm at the vociferous result; and his wife looked in
from the kitchen to caution him about humoring little
When she beheld the matches she was aghast but when she saw her
baby grow quiet in the arms of the Virginian, she smiled at that
cowpuncher and returned to her kitchen.
Then the Virginian slowly spoke again: "How many little strangers
have yu' got, James?"
"My! Ain't it most three years since yu' maried? Yu' mustn't let
time creep ahaid o' yu', James."
The father once more grinned at his guests, who themselves turned
sheepish and polite; for Mrs. Westfall came in, brisk and hearty,
and set the meat upon the table. After that, it was she who
talked. The guests ate scrupulously, muttering, "Yes, ma'am," and
"No, ma'am," in their plates, while their hostess told them of
increasing families upon Bear Creek, and the expected
school-teacher, and little Alfred's early teething, and how it
was time for all of them to become husbands like James. The
bachelors of the saddle listened, always diffident, but eating
heartily to the end; and soon after they rode away in a
thoughtful clump. The wives of Bear Creek were few as yet, and
the homes scattered; the schoolhouse was only a sprig on the vast
face of a world of elk and bear and uncertain Indians; but that
night, when the earth near the fire was littered with the
cow-punchers' beds, the Virginian was heard drawling to himself:
"Alfred and Christopher. Oh, sugar!"
They found pleasure in the delicately chosen shade of this oath.
He also recited to them a new verse about how he took his Looloo
girl to the schoolhouse for to learn her A B C; and as it was
quite original and unprintable, the camp laughed and swore
joyfully, and rolled in its blankets to sleep under the stars.
Upon a Monday noon likewise (for things will happen so) some
tearful people in petticoats waved handkerchiefs at a train that
was just leaving Bennington, Vermont. A girl's face smiled back
at them once, and withdrew quickly, for they must not see the
smile die away.
She had with her a little money, a few clothes, and in her mind a
rigid determination neither to be a burden to her mother nor to
give in to that mother's desires. Absence alone would enable her
to carry out this determination. Beyond these things, she
possessed not much except spelling-books, a colonial miniature,
and that craving for the unknown which has been mentioned. If the
ancestors that we carry shut up inside us take turns in dictating
to us our actions and our state of mind, undoubtedly Grandmother
Stark was empress of Molly's spirit upon this Monday.
At Hoosic Junction, which came soon, she passed the up-train
bound back to her home, and seeing the engineer and the
conductor,--faces that she knew well,--her courage nearly failed
her, and she shut her eyes against this glimpse of the familiar
things that she was leaving. To keep herself steady she gripped
tightly a little bunch of flowers in her hand.
But something caused her eyes to open; and there before her stood
Sam Bannett, asking if he might accompany her so far as Rotterdam
"No!" she told him with a severity born from the struggle she was
making with her grief. "Not a mile with me. Not to Eagle Bridge.
And Sam--what did he do? He obeyed her, I should like to be sorry
for him. But obedience was not a lover's part here. He hesitated,
the golden moment hung hovering, the conductor cried "All
aboard!" the train went, and there on the platform stood obedient
Sam, with his golden moment gone like a butterfly.
After Rotterdam Junction, which was some forty minutes farther,
Molly Wood sat bravely up in the through car, dwelling upon the
unknown. She thought that she had attained it in Ohio, on Tuesday
morning, and wrote a letter about it to Bennington. On Wednesday
afternoon she felt sure, and wrote a letter much more
picturesque. But on the following day, after breakfast at North
Platte, Nebraska, she wrote a very long letter indeed, and told
them that she had seen a black pig on a white pile of buffalo
bones, catching drops of water in the air as they fell from the
railroad tank. She also wrote that trees were extraordinarily
scarce. Each hour westward from the pig confirmed this opinion,
and when she left the train at Rock Creek, late upon that fourth
night,--in those days the trains were slower,--she knew that she
had really attained the unknown, and sent an expensive telegram
to say that she was quite well.
At six in the morning the stage drove away into the sage-brush,
with her as its only passenger; and by sundown she had passed
through some of the primitive perils of the world. The second
team, virgin to harness, and displeased with this novelty, tried
to take it off, and went down to the bottom of a gully on its
eight hind legs, while Miss Wood sat mute and unflinching beside
the driver. Therefore he, when it was over, and they on the
proper road again, invited her earnestly to be his wife during
many of the next fifteen miles, and told her of his snug cabin
and his horses and his mine. Then she got down and rode inside,
Independence and Grandmother Stark shining in her eye. At Point
of Rocks, where they had supper and his drive ended, her face
distracted his heart, and he told her once more about his cabin,
and lamentably hoped she would remember him. She answered sweetly
that she would try, and gave him her hand. After all, he was a
franklooking boy, who had paid her the highest compliment that a
boy (or a man for that matter) knows; and it is said that Molly
Stark, in her day, was not a New Woman.
The new driver banished the first one from the maiden's mind. He
was not a frank-looking boy, and he had been taking whiskey. All
night long he took it, while his passenger, helpless and
sleepless inside the lurching stage, sat as upright as she
possibly could; nor did the voices that she heard at Drybone
reassure her. Sunrise found the white stage lurching eternally on
across the alkali, with a driver and a bottle on the box, and a
pale girl staring out at the plain, and knotting in her
handkerchief some utterly dead flowers. They came to a river
where the man bungled over the ford. Two wheels sank down over an
edge, and the canvas toppled like a descending kite. The ripple
came sucking through the upper spokes, and as she felt the seat
careen, she put out her head and tremulously asked if anything
was wrong. But the driver was addressing his team with much
language, and also with the lash.
Then a tall rider appeared close against the buried axles, and
took her out of the stage on his horse so suddenly that she
screamed. She felt splashes, saw a swimming flood, and found
herself lifted down upon the shore. The rider said something to
her about cheering up, and its being all right, but her wits were
stock-still, so she did not speak and thank him. After four days
of train and thirty hours of stage, she was having a little too
much of the unknown at once. Then the tall man gently withdrew
leaving her to become herself again. She limply regarded the
river pouring round the slanted stage, and a number of horsemen
with ropes, who righted the vehicle, and got it quickly to dry
land, and disappeared at once with a herd of cattle, uttering
She saw the tall one delaying beside the driver, and speaking. He
spoke so quietly that not a word reached her, until of a sudden
the driver protested loudly. The man had thrown something, which
turned out to be a bottle. This twisted loftily and dived into
the stream. He said something more to the driver, then put his
hand on the saddle-horn, looked half-lingeringly at the passenger
on the bank, dropped his grave eyes from hers, and swinging upon
his horse, was gone just as the passenger opened her mouth and
with inefficient voice murmured, "Oh, thank you!" at his
The driver drove up now, a chastened creature. He helped Miss
Wood in, and inquired after her welfare with a hanging head; then
meek as his own drenched horses, he climbed back to his reins,
and nursed the stage on toward the Bow Leg Mountains much as if
it had been a perambulator.
As for Miss Wood, she sat recovering, and she wondered what the
man on the horse must think of her. She knew that she was not
ungrateful, and that if he had given her an opportunity she would
have explained to him. If he supposed that she did not appreciate
his act--Here into the midst of these meditations came an abrupt
memory that she had screamed--she could not be sure when. She
rehearsed the adventure from the beginning, and found one or two
further uncertainties--how it had all been while she was on the
horse, for instance. It was confusing to determine precisely what
she had done with her arms. She knew where one of his arms had
been. And the handkerchief with the flowers was gone. She made a
few rapid dives in search of it. Had she, or had she not, seen
him putting something in his pocket? And why had she behaved so
unlike herself? In a few miles Miss Wood entertained sentiments
of maidenly resentment toward her rescuer, and of maidenly hope
to see him again.
To that river crossing he came again, alone, when the days were
growing short. The ford was dry sand, and the stream a winding
lane of shingle. He found a pool,--pools always survive the year
round in this stream,--and having watered his pony, he lunched
near the spot to which he had borne the frightened passenger that
day. Where the flowing current had been he sat, regarding the now
extremely safe channel.
"She cert'nly wouldn't need to grip me so close this mawnin'," he
said, as he pondered over his meal. "I reckon it will mightily
astonish her when I tell her how harmless the torrent is
lookin'." He held out to his pony a slice of bread matted with
sardines, which the pony expertly accepted. "You're a plumb
pie-biter you Monte," he continued. Monte rubbed his nose on his
master's shoulder. "I wouldn't trust you with berries and cream.
No, seh; not though yu' did rescue a drownin' lady."
Presently he tightened the forward cinch, got in the saddle, and
the pony fell into his wise mechanical jog; for he had come a
long way, and was going a long way, and he knew this as well as
the man did.
To use the language of Cattle Land, steers had "jumped to
seventy-five." This was a great and prosperous leap in their
value. To have flourished in that golden time you need not be
dead now, nor even middle-aged; but it is Wyoming mythology
already--quite as fabulous as the high-jumping cow. Indeed,
people gathered together and behaved themselves much in the same
pleasant and improbable way. Johnson County, and Natrona, and
Converse, and others, to say nothing of the Cheyenne Club, had
been jumping over the moon for some weeks, all on account of
steers; and on the strength of this vigorous price of
seventy-five, the Stanton Brothers were giving a barbecue at the
Goose Egg outfit, their ranch on Bear Creek. Of course the whole
neighborhood was bidden, and would come forty miles to a man;
some would come further--the Virginian was coming a hundred and
eighteen. It had struck him--rather suddenly, as shall be made
plain--that he should like to see how they were getting along up
there on Bear Creek. "They," was how he put it to his
acquaintances. His acquaintances did not know that he had bought
himself a pair of trousers and a scarf, unnecessarily excellent
for such a general visit. They did not know that in the spring,
two days after the adventure with the stage, he had learned
accidentally who the lady in the stage was. This he had kept to
himself; nor did the camp ever notice that he had ceased to sing
that eightieth stanza he had made about the A B C--the stanza
which was not printable. He effaced it imperceptibly, giving the
boys the other seventy-nine at judicious intervals. They dreamed
of no guile, but merely saw in him, whether frequenting camp or
town, the same not over-angelic comrade whom they valued and
could not wholly understand.
All spring he had ridden trail, worked at ditches during, summer,
and now he had just finished with the beef round-up. Yesterday,
while he was spending a little comfortable money at the Drybone
hog-ranch, a casual traveller from the north gossiped of Bear
Creek, and the fences up there, and the farm crops, the
Westfalls, and the young schoolmarm from Vermont, for whom the
Taylors had built a cabin next door to theirs. The traveller had
not seen her, but Mrs. Taylor and all the ladies thought the
world of her, and Lin McLean had told him she was "away up in G."
She would have plenty of partners at this Swinton barbecue. Great
boon for the country, wasn't it, steers jumping that way?
The Virginian heard, asking no questions; and left town in an
hour, with the scarf and trousers tied in his slicker behind his
saddle. After looking upon the ford again, even though it was dry
and not at all the same place, he journeyed in attentively. When
you have been hard at work for months with no time to think, of
course you think a great deal during your first empty days. "Step
along, you Monte hawss!" he said, rousing after some while. He
disciplined Monte, who flattened his ears affectedly and snorted.
"Why, you surely ain' thinkin' of you'-self as a hero? She wasn't
really a-drowndin', you pie-biter." He rested his serious glance
upon the alkali. "She's not likely to have forgot that mix-up,
though. I guess I'll not remind her about grippin' me, and all
that. She wasn't the kind a man ought to josh about such things.
She had a right clear eye." Thus, tall and loose in the saddle,
did he jog along the sixty miles which still lay between him and
X. WHERE FANCY WAS BRED
Two camps in the open, and the Virginian's Monte horse, untired,
brought him to the Swintons' in good time for the barbecue. The
horse received good food at length, while his rider was welcomed
with good whiskey. GOOD whiskey--for had not steers jumped to
Inside the Goose Egg kitchen many small delicacies were
preparing, and a steer was roasting whole outside. The bed of
flame under it showed steadily brighter against the dusk that was
beginning to veil the lowlands. The busy hosts went and came,
while men stood and men lay near the fire-glow. Chalkeye was
there, and Nebrasky, and Trampas, and Honey Wiggin, with others,
enjoying the occasion; but Honey Wiggin was enjoying himself: he
had an audience; he was sitting up discoursing to it.
"Hello!" he said, perceiving the Virginian. "So you've dropped in
for your turn! Number--six, ain't he, boys?"
"Depends who's a-runnin' the countin'," said the Virginian, and
stretched himself down among the audience.
"I've saw him number one when nobody else was around," said
"How far away was you standin' when you beheld that?" inquired
the lounging Southerner.
"Well, boys," said Wiggin, "I expect it will be Miss Schoolmarm
says who's number one tonight."
"So she's arrived in this hyeh country?" observed the Virginian,
"Arrived!" said Trampas again. "Where have you been grazing
"A right smart way from the mules."
"Nebrasky and the boys was tellin' me they'd missed yu' off the
range," again interposed Wiggin. "Say, Nebrasky, who have yu'
offered your canary to the schoolmarm said you mustn't give her?"
Nebrasky grinned wretchedly.
"Well, she's a lady, and she's square, not takin' a man's gift
when she don't take the man. But you'd ought to get back all them
letters yu' wrote her. Yu' sure ought to ask her for them
"Ah, pshaw, Honey!" protested the youth. It was well known that
he could not write his name.
"Why, if here ain't Bokay Baldy!" cried the agile Wiggin,
stooping to fresh prey. "Found them slippers yet, Baldy? Tell yu'
boys, that was turruble sad luck Baldy had. Did yu' hear about
that? Baldy, yu' know, he can stay on a tame horse most as well
as the schoolmarm. But just you give him a pair of young
knittin'-needles and see him make 'em sweat! He worked an elegant
pair of slippers with pink cabbages on 'em for Miss Wood."
"I bought 'em at Medicine Bow," blundered Baldy.
"So yu' did!" assented the skilful comedian. "Baldy he bought
'em. And on the road to her cabin there at the Taylors' he got
thinkin' they might be too big, and he got studyin' what to do.
And he fixed up to tell her about his not bein' sure of the size,
and how she was to let him know if they dropped off her, and he'd
exchange' 'em, and when he got right near her door, why, he
couldn't find his courage. And so he slips the parcel under the
fence and starts serenadin' her. But she ain't inside her cabin
at all. She's at supper next door with the Taylors, and Baldy
singin' 'Love has conqwered pride and angwer' to a lone house.
Lin McLean was comin' up by Taylor's corral, where Taylor's Texas
bull was. Well, it was turruble sad. Baldy's pants got tore, but
he fell inside the fence, and Lin druv the bull back and somebody
stole them Medicine Bow galoshes. Are you goin' to knit her some
"About half that ain't straight," Baldy commented, with mildness.
"The half that was tore off yer pants? Well, never mind, Baldy;
Lin will get left too, same as all of yu'."
"Is there many?" inquired the Virginian. He was still stretched
on his back, looking up at the sky.
"I don't know how many she's been used to where she was raised,"
Wiggin answered. "A kid stage-driver come from Point of Rocks one
day and went back the next. Then the foreman of the 76 outfit,
and the horse-wrangler from the Bar-Circle-L, and two deputy
marshals, with punchers, stringin' right along,--all got their
tumble. Old Judge Burrage from Cheyenne come up in August for a
hunt and stayed round here and never hunted at all. There was
that horse thief--awful good-lookin'. Taylor wanted to warn her
about him, but Mrs. Taylor said she'd look after her if it was
needed. Mr. Horse-thief gave it up quicker than most; but the
schoolmarm couldn't have knowed he had a Mrs. Horse-thief camped
on Poison Spider till afterwards. She wouldn't go ridin' with
him. She'll go with some, takin' a kid along."
"Bah!" said Trampas.
The Virginian stopped looking at the sky, and watched Trampas
from where he lay.
"I think she encourages a man some," said poor Nebrasky.
"Encourages? Because she lets yu' teach her how to shoot," said
Wiggin. "Well--I don't guess I'm a judge. I've always kind o'
kep' away from them good women. Don't seem to think of anything
to chat about to 'em. The only folks I'd say she encourages is
the school kids. She kisses them."
"Riding and shooting and kissing the kids," sneered Trampas.
"That's a heap too pussy-kitten for me."
They laughed. The sage-brush audience is readily cynical.
"Look for the man, I say," Trampas pursued. "And ain't he there?
She leaves Baldy sit on the fence while she and Lin McLean--"
They laughed loudly at the blackguard picture which he drew; and
the laugh stopped short, for the Virginian stood over Trampas.
"You can rise up now, and tell them you lie," he said.
The man was still for a moment in the dead silence. "I thought
you claimed you and her wasn't acquainted," said he then.
"Stand on your laigs, you polecat, and say you're a liar!"
Trampas's hand moved behind him.
"Quit that," said the Southerner, "or I'll break your neck!"
The eye of a man is the prince of deadly weapons. Trampas looked
in the Virginian's, and slowly rose. "I didn't mean--" he began,
and paused, his face poisonously bloated.
"Well, I'll call that sufficient. Keep a-standin' still. I ain'
going to trouble yu' long. In admittin' yourself to be a liar you
have spoke God's truth for onced. Honey Wiggin, you and me and
the boys have hit town too frequent for any of us to play Sunday
on the balance of the gang." He stopped and surveyed Public
Opinion, seated around in carefully inexpressive attention. "We
ain't a Christian outfit a little bit, and maybe we have most
forgotten what decency feels like. But I reckon we haven't forgot
what it means. You can sit down now, if you want."
The liar stood and sneered experimentally, looking at Public
Opinion. But this changeful deity was no longer with him, and he
heard it variously assenting, "That's so," and "She's a lady,"
and otherwise excellently moralizing. So he held his peace. When,
however, the Virginian had departed to the roasting steer, and
Public Opinion relaxed into that comfort which we all experience
when the sermon ends, Trampas sat down amid the reviving
cheerfulness, and ventured again to be facetious.
"Shut your rank mouth," said Wiggin to him, amiably. "I don't
care whether he knows her or if he done it on principle. I'll
accept the roundin' up he gave us--and say! You'll swallo' your
dose, too! Us boys'll stand in with him in this."
So Trampas swallowed. And what of the Virginian?
He had championed the feeble, and spoken honorably in meeting,
and according to all the constitutions and by-laws of morality,
he should have been walking in virtue's especial calm. But there
it was! he had spoken; he had given them a peep through the
key-hole at his inner man; and as he prowled away from the
assemblage before whom he stood convicted of decency, it was
vicious rather than virtuous that he felt. Other matters also
disquieted him--so Lin McLean was hanging round that schoolmarm!
Yet he joined Ben Swinton in a seemingly Christian spirit. He
took some whiskey and praised the size of the barrel, speaking
with his host like this: "There cert'nly ain' goin' to be trouble
about a second helpin'."
"Hope not. We'd ought to have more trimmings, though. We're shy
"Yu' have the barrel. Has Lin McLean seen that?"
"No. We tried for ducks away down as far as the Laparel outfit. A
"There's large thirsts on Bear Creek. Lin McLean will pass on
"Lin's not thirsty this month."
"Signed for one month, has he?"
"Signed! He's spooning our schoolmarm!"
"They claim she's a right sweet-faced girl."
"Yes; yes; awful agreeable. And next thing you're fooled clean
"Yu' don't say!"
"She keeps a-teaching the darned kids, and it seems like a good
growed-up man can't interest her."
"YU' DON'T SAY!"
"There used to be all the ducks you wanted at the Laparel, but
their fool cook's dead stuck on raising turkeys this year."
"That must have been mighty close to a drowndin' the schoolmarm
got at South Fork."
"Why, I guess not. When? She's never spoken of any such
thing--that I've heard."
"Mos' likely the stage-driver got it wrong, then."
"Yes. Must have drownded somebody else. Here they come! That's
her ridin' the horse. There's the Westfalls. Where are you
"To fix up. Got any soap around hyeh?"
"Yes," shouted Swinton, for the Virginian was now some distance
away; "towels and everything in the dugout." And he went to
welcome his first formal guests.
The Virginian reached his saddle under a shed. "So she's never
mentioned it," said he, untying his slicker for the trousers and
scarf. "I didn't notice Lin anywheres around her." He was over in
the dugout now, whipping off his overalls; and soon he was
excellently clean and ready, except for the tie in his scarf and
the part in his hair. "I'd have knowed her in Greenland," he
remarked. He held the candle up and down at the looking-glass,
and the looking-glass up and down at his head. "It's mighty
strange why she ain't mentioned that." He worried the scarf a
fold or two further, and at length, a trifle more than satisfied
with his appearance, he proceeded most serenely toward the sound
of the tuning fiddles. He passed through the store-room behind
the kitchen, stepping lightly lest he should rouse the ten or
twelve babies that lay on the table or beneath it. On Bear Creek
babies and children always went with their parents to a dance,
because nurses were unknown. So little Alfred and Christopher lay
there among the wraps, parallel and crosswise with little
Taylors, and little Carmodys, and Lees, and all the Bear Creek
offspring that was not yet able to skip at large and hamper its
indulgent elders in the ball-room.
"Why, Lin ain't hyeh yet!" said the Virginian, looking in upon
the people. There was Miss Wood, standing up for the quadrille.
"I didn't remember her hair was that pretty," said he. "But ain't
she a little, little girl!"
Now she was in truth five feet three; but then he could look away
down on the top of her head.
"Salute your honey!" called the first fiddler. All partners bowed
to each other, and as she turned, Miss Wood saw the man in the
doorway. Again, as it had been at South Fork that day, his eyes
dropped from hers, and she divining instantly why he had come
after half a year, thought of the handkerchief and of that scream
of hers in the river, and became filled with tyranny and
anticipation; for indeed he was fine to look upon. So she danced
away, carefully unaware of his existence.
"First lady, centre!" said her partner, reminding her of her
turn. "Have you forgotten how it goes since last time?"
Molly Wood did not forget again, but quadrilled with the most
"I see some new faces to-night," said she, presently.
"Yu' always do forget our poor faces," said her partner.
"Oh, no! There's a stranger now. Who is that black man?"
"Well--he's from Virginia, and he ain't allowin' he's black."
"He's a tenderfoot, I suppose?"
"Ha, ha, ha! That's rich, too!" and so the simple partner
explained a great deal about the Virginian to Molly Wood. At the
end of the set she saw the man by the door take a step in her
"Oh," said she, quickly, to the partner, "how warm it is! I must
see how those babies are doing." And she passed the Virginian in
a breeze of unconcern.
His eyes gravely lingered where she had gone. "She knowed me
right away," said he. He looked for a moment, then leaned against
the door. 'How warm it is!' said she. Well, it ain't so
screechin' hot hyeh; and as for rushin' after Alfred and
Christopher, when their natural motheh is bumpin' around
handy--she cert'nly can't be offended?" he broke off, and looked
again where she had gone. And then Miss Wood passed him brightly
again, and was dancing the schottische almost immediately. "Oh,
yes, she knows me," the swarthy cow-puncher mused. "She has to
take trouble not to see me. And what she's a-fussin' at is mighty
"Hello!" returned Lin McLean, sourly. He had just looked into the
"Not dancin'?" the Southerner inquired.
"Don't know how."
"Had scyarlet fever and forgot your past life?"
"Better persuade the schoolmarm to learn it. She's goin' to give
"Huh!" went Mr. McLean, and skulked out to the barrel.
"Why, they claimed you weren't drinkin' this month!" said his
"Well, I am. Here's luck!" The two pledged in tin cups. "But I'm
not waltzin' with her," blurted Mr. McLean grievously. "She
called me an exception."
"Waltzin'," repeated the Virginian quickly, and hearing the
fiddles he hastened away.
Few in the Bear Creek Country could waltz, and with these few it
was mostly an unsteered and ponderous exhibition; therefore was
the Southerner bent upon profiting by his skill. He entered the
room, and his lady saw him come where she sat alone for the
moment, and her thoughts grew a little hurried.
"Will you try a turn, ma'am?"
"I beg your pardon?" It was a remote, well-schooled eye that she
lifted now upon him.
"If you like a waltz, ma'am, will you waltz with me?"
"You're from Virginia, I understand?" said Molly Wood, regarding
him politely, but not rising. One gains authority immensely by
keeping one's seat. All good teachers know this.
"Yes, ma'am, from Virginia."
"I've heard that Southerners have such good manners."
"That's correct." The cow-puncher flushed, but he spoke in his
unvaryingly gentle voice.
"For in New England, you know," pursued Miss Molly, noting his
scarf and clean-shaven chin, and then again steadily meeting his
eye, "gentlemen ask to be presented to ladies before they ask
them to waltz."
He stood a moment before her, deeper and deeper scarlet; and the
more she saw his handsome face, the keener rose her excitement.
She waited for him to speak of the river; for then she was going
to be surprised, and gradually to remember, and finally to be
very nice to him. But he did not wait. "I ask your pardon, lady,"
said he, and bowing, walked off, leaving her at once afraid that
he might not come back. But she had altogether mistaken her man.
Back he came serenely with Mr. Taylor, and was duly presented to
her. Thus were the conventions vindicated.
It can never be known what the cow-puncher was going to say next;
for Uncle Hughey stepped up with a glass of water which he had
left Wood to bring, and asking for a turn, most graciously
received it. She danced away from a situation where she began to
feel herself getting the worst of it. One moment the Virginian
stared at his lady as she lightly circulated, and then he went
out to the barrel.
Leave him for Uncle Hershey! Jealousy is a deep and delicate
thing, and works its spite in many ways. The Virginian had been
ready to look at Lin McLean with a hostile eye; but finding him
now beside the barrel, he felt a brotherhood between himself and
Lin, and his hostility had taken a new and whimsical direction.
"Here's how!" said he to McLean. And they pledged each other in
the tin cups.
"Been gettin' them instructions?" said Mr. McLean, grinning. "I
thought I saw yu' learning your steps through the window."
"Here's your good health," said the Southerner. Once more they
pledged each other handsomely.
"Did she call you an exception, or anything?" said Lin.
"Well, it would cipher out right close in that neighborhood."
"Here's how, then!" cried the delighted Lin, over his cup.
"Jest because yu' happen to come from Vermont," continued Mr.
McLean, "is no cause for extra pride. Shoo! I was raised in
Massachusetts myself, and big men have been raised there,
too,--Daniel Webster and Israel Putnam: and a lot of them
"Virginia is a good little old state," observed the Southerner.
"Both of 'em's a sight ahead of Vermont. She told me I was the
first exception she'd struck."
"What rule were you provin' at the time, Lin?"
"Well yu' see, I started to kiss her."
"Shucks! I didn't mean nothin'."
"I reckon yu' stopped mighty sudden?"
"Why, I'd been ridin' out with her--ridin' to school, ridin' from
school, and a-comin' and a-goin', and she chattin' cheerful and
askin' me a heap o' questions all about myself every day, and I
not lyin' much neither. And so I figured she wouldn't mind. Lots
of 'em like it. But she didn't, you bet!"
"No," said the Virginian, deeply proud of his lady who had
slighted him. He had pulled her out of the water once, and he had
been her unrewarded knight even to-day, and he felt his
grievance; but he spoke not of it to Lin; for he felt also, in
memory, her arms clinging round him as he carried her ashore upon
his horse. But he muttered, "Plumb ridiculous!" as her injustice
struck him afresh, while the outraged McLean told his tale.
"Trample is what she has done on me to-night, and without notice.
We was startin' to come here; Taylor and Mrs. were ahead in the
buggy, and I was holdin' her horse, and helpin' her up in the
saddle, like I done for days and days. Who was there to see us?
And I figured she'd not mind, and she calls me an exception! Yu'd
ought to've just heard her about Western men respectin' women. So
that's the last word we've spoke. We come twenty-five miles then,
she scootin' in front, and her horse kickin' the sand in my face.
Mrs. Taylor, she guessed something was up, but she didn't tell."
"Miss Wood did not tell?"
"Not she! She'll never open her head. She can take care of
herself, you bet!" The fiddles sounded hilariously in the house,
and the feet also. They had warmed up altogether, and their
dancing figures crossed the windows back and forth. The two
cow-punchers drew near to a window and looked in gloomily.
"There she goes," said Lin.
"With Uncle Hughey again," said the Virginian, sourly. "Yu' might
suppose he didn't have a wife and twins, to see the way he goes
"Westfall is takin' a turn with her now," said McLean.
"James!" exclaimed the Virginian. "He's another with a wife and
fam'ly, and he gets the dancin', too."
"There she goes with Taylor," said Lin, presently.
"Another married man!" the Southerner commented. They prowled
round to the store-room, and passed through the kitchen to where
the dancers were robustly tramping. Miss Wood was still the
partner of Mr. Taylor. "Let's have some whiskey," said the
Virginian. They had it, and returned, and the Virginian's disgust
and sense of injury grew deeper. "Old Carmody has got her now,"
he drawled. "He polkas like a landslide. She learns his
monkey-faced kid to spell dog and cow all the mawnin'. He'd ought
to be tucked up cosey in his bed right now, old Carmody ought."
They were standing in that place set apart for the sleeping
children; and just at this moment one of two babies that were
stowed beneath a chair uttered a drowsy note. A much louder cry,
indeed a chorus of lament, would have been needed to reach the
ears of the parents in the room beyond, such was the noisy volume
of the dance. But in this quiet place the light sound caught Mr.
McLean's attention, and he turned to see if anything were wrong.
But both babies were sleeping peacefully.
"Them's Uncle Hughey's twins," he said.
"How do you happen to know that?" inquired the Virginian,
"Saw his wife put 'em under the chair so she could find 'em right
off when she come to go home."
"Oh," said the Virginian, thoughtfully. "Oh, find 'em right off.
Yes. Uncle Hughey's twins." He walked to a spot from which he
could view the dance. "Well," he continued, returning, "the
schoolmarm must have taken quite a notion to Uncle Hughey. He has
got her for this quadrille." The Virginian was now speaking
without rancor; but his words came with a slightly augmented
drawl, and this with him was often a bad omen. He now turned his
eyes upon the collected babies wrapped in various colored shawls
and knitted work. "Nine, ten, eleven, beautiful sleepin'
strangers," he counted, in a sweet voice. "Any of 'em your'n,
"Not that I know of," grinned Mr. McLean.
"Eleven, twelve. This hyeh is little Christopher in the
blue-stripe quilt--or maybe that other yello'-head is him. The
angels have commenced to drop in on us right smart along Bear
"What trash are yu' talkin' anyway?"
"If they look so awful alike in the heavenly gyarden," the gentle
Southerner continued, "I'd just hate to be the folks that has the
cuttin' of 'em out o' the general herd. And that's a right quaint
notion too," he added softly. "Them under the chair are Uncle
Hughey's, didn't you tell me?" And stooping, he lifted the torpid
babies and placed them beneath a table. "No, that ain't
thorough," he murmured. With wonderful dexterity and solicitude
for their wellfare, he removed the loose wrap which was around
them, and this soon led to an intricate process of exchange. For
a moment Mr. McLean had been staring at the Virginian, puzzled.
Then, with a joyful yelp of enlightenment, he sprang to abet him.
And while both busied themselves with the shawls and quilts, the
unconscious parents went dancing vigorously on, and the small,
occasional cries of their progeny did not reach them.
XI. "YOU RE GOING TO LOVE ME BEFORE WE GET THROUGH"
The Swinton barbecue was over. The fiddles were silent, the steer
was eaten, the barrel emptied, or largely so, and the tapers
extinguished; round the house and sunken fire all movement of
guests was quiet; the families were long departed homeward, and
after their hospitable turbulence, the Swintons slept.
Mr. and Mrs. Westfall drove through the night, and as they neared
their cabin there came from among the bundled wraps a still,
"Jim," said his wife, "I said Alfred would catch cold."
"Bosh! Lizzie, don't you fret. He's a little more than a
yearlin', and of course he'll snuffle." And young James took a
kiss from his love.
"Well, how you can speak of Alfred that way, calling him a
yearling, as if he was a calf, and he just as much your child as
mine, I don't see, James Westfall!"
"Why, what under the sun do you mean?"
"There he goes again! Do hurry up home, Jim. He's got a real
So they hurried home. Soon the nine miles were finished, and good
James was unhitching by his stable lantern, while his wife in the
house hastened to commit their offspring to bed. The traces had
dropped, and each horse marched forward for further unbuckling,
when James heard himself called. Indeed, there was that in his
wife's voice which made him jerk out his pistol as he ran. But it
was no bear or Indian--only two strange children on the bed. His
wife was glaring at them.
He sighed with relief and laid down the pistol.
"Put that on again, James Westfall. You'll need it. Look here!"
"Well, they won't bite. Whose are they? Where have you stowed
"Where have I--" Utterance forsook this mother for a moment. "And
you ask me!" she continued. "Ask Lin McLean. Ask him that sets
bulls on folks and steals slippers, what he's done with our
innocent lambs, mixing them up with other people's coughing,
unhealthy brats. That's Charlie Taylor in Alfred's clothes, and I
know Alfred didn't cough like that, and I said to you it was
strange; and the other one that's been put in Christopher's new
quilts is not even a bub--bub--boy!"
As this crime against society loomed clear to James Westfall's
understanding, he sat down on the nearest piece of furniture, and
heedless of his wife's tears and his exchanged children, broke
into unregenerate laughter. Doubtless after his sharp alarm about
the bear, he was unstrung. His lady, however, promptly restrung
him; and by the time they had repacked the now clamorous
changelings, and were rattling on their way to the Taylors', he
began to share her outraged feelings properly, as a husband and a
father should; but when he reached the Taylors' and learned from
Miss Wood that at this house a child had been unwrapped whom
nobody could at all identify, and that Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were
already far on the road to the Swintons', James Westfall whipped
up his horses and grew almost as thirsty for revenge as was his
Where the steer had been roasted, the powdered ashes were now
cold white, and Mr. McLean, feeling through his dreams the change
of dawn come over the air, sat up cautiously among the outdoor
slumberers and waked his neighbor.
"Day will be soon," he whispered, "and we must light out of this.
I never suspicioned yu' had that much of the devil in you
"I reckon some of the fellows will act haidstrong," the Virginian
murmured luxuriously, among the warmth of his blankets.
"I tell yu' we must skip," said Lin, for the second time; and he
rubbed the Virginian's black head, which alone was visible.
"Skip, then, you," came muffled from within, "and keep you'self
mighty sca'ce till they can appreciate our frolic."
The Southerner withdrew deeper into his bed, and Mr. McLean,
informing him that he was a fool, arose and saddled his horse.
>From the saddle-bag, he brought a parcel, and lightly laying this
beside Bokay Baldy, he mounted and was gone. When Baldy awoke
later, he found the parcel to be a pair of flowery slippers.
In selecting the inert Virginian as the fool, Mr. McLean was
scarcely wise; it is the absent who are always guilty.
Before ever Lin could have been a mile in retreat, the rattle of
the wheels roused all of them, and here came the Taylors. Before
the Taylors' knocking had brought the Swintons to their door,
other wheels sounded, and here were Mr. and Mrs. Carmody, and
Uncle Hughey with his wife, and close after them Mr. Dow, alone,
who told how his wife had gone into one of her fits--she upon
whom Dr. Barker at Drybone had enjoined total abstinence from all
excitement. Voices of women and children began to be up lifted;
the Westfalls arrived in a lather, and the Thomases; and by
sunrise, what with fathers and mothers and spectators and loud
offspring, there was gathered such a meeting as has seldom been
before among the generations of speaking men. To-day you can hear
legends of it from Texas to Montana; but I am giving you the full
Of course they pitched upon poor Lin. Here was the Virginian
doing his best, holding horses and helping ladies descend, while
the name of McLean began to be muttered with threats. Soon a
party led by Mr. Dow set forth in search of him, and the
Southerner debated a moment if he had better not put them on a
wrong track. But he concluded that they might safely go on
Mrs. Westfall found Christopher at once in the green shawl of
Anna Maria Dow, but all was not achieved thus in the twinkling of
an eye. Mr. McLean had, it appeared, as James Westfall
lugubriously pointed out, not merely "swapped the duds; he had
shuffled the whole doggone deck;" and they cursed this Satanic
invention. The fathers were but of moderate assistance; it was
the mothers who did the heavy work; and by ten o'clock some
unsolved problems grew so delicate that a ladies' caucus was
organized in a private room,--no admittance for men,--and what
was done there I can only surmise.
During its progress the search party returned. It had not found
Mr. McLean. It had found a tree with a notice pegged upon it,
reading, "God bless our home!" This was captured.
But success attended the caucus; each mother emerged, satisfied
that she had received her own, and each sire, now that his family
was itself again, began to look at his neighbor sideways. After a
man has been angry enough to kill another man, after the fire of
righteous slaughter has raged in his heart as it had certainly
raged for several hours in the hearts of these fathers, the flame
will usually burn itself out. This will be so in a generous
nature, unless the cause of the anger is still unchanged. But the
children had been identified; none had taken hurt. All had been
humanely given their nourishment. The thing was over. The day was
beautiful. A tempting feast remained from the barbecue. These
Bear Creek fathers could not keep their ire at red heat. Most of
them, being as yet more their wives' lovers than their children's
parents, began to see the mirthful side of the adventure; and
they ceased to feel very severely toward Lin McLean.
Not so the women. They cried for vengeance; but they cried in
vain, and were met with smiles.
Mrs. Westfall argued long that punishment should be dealt the
offender. "Anyway," she persisted, "it was real defiant of him
putting that up on the tree. I might forgive him but for that."
"Yes," spoke the Virginian in their midst, "that wasn't sort o'
right. Especially as I am the man you're huntin'."
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