The Virginian, A Horseman Of The Plainsr
Part 3 out of 8
They sat dumb at his assurance.
"Come and kill me," he continued, round upon the party. "I'll not
But they could not resist the way in which he had looked round
upon them. He had chosen the right moment for his confession, as
a captain of a horse awaits the proper time for a charge. Some
rebukes he did receive; the worst came from the mothers. And all
that he could say for himself was, "I am getting off too easy."
"But what was your point?" said Westfall.
"Blamed if I know any more. I expect it must have been the
"I would mind it less," said Mrs. Westfall, "if you looked a bit
sorry or ashamed."
The Virginian shook his head at her penitently. "I'm tryin' to,"
And thus he sat disarming his accusers until they began to lunch
upon the copious remnants of the barbecue. He did not join them
at this meal. In telling you that Mrs. Dow was the only lady
absent upon this historic morning, I was guilty of an
inadvertence. There was one other.
The Virginian rode away sedately through the autumn sunshine; and
as he went he asked his Monte horse a question. "Do yu' reckon
she'll have forgotten you too, you pie-biter?" said he. Instead
of the new trousers, the cow-puncher's leathern chaps were on his
legs. But he had the new scarf knotted at his neck. Most men
would gladly have equalled him in appearance. "You Monte," said
he, "will she be at home?"
It was Sunday, and no school day, and he found her in her cabin
that stood next the Taylors' house. Her eyes were very bright.
"I'd thought I'd just call," said he.
"Why, that's such a pity! Mr. and Mrs. Taylor are away."
"Yes; they've been right busy. That's why I thought I'd call.
Will yu' come for a ride, ma'am?"
"Dear me! I--"
"You can ride my hawss. He's gentle."
"What! And you walk?"
"No, ma'am. Nor the two of us ride him THIS time, either." At
this she turned entirely pink, and he, noticing, went on quietly:
"I'll catch up one of Taylor's hawsses. Taylor knows me."
"No. I don't really think I could do that. But thank you. Thank
you very much. I must go now and see how Mrs. Taylor's fire is."
"I'll look after that, ma'am. I'd like for yu' to go ridin'
mighty well. Yu' have no babies this mawnin' to be anxious
At this shaft, Grandmother Stark flashed awake deep within the
spirit of her descendant, and she made a haughty declaration of
war. "I don't know what you mean, sir," she said.
Now was his danger; for it was easy to fall into mere crude
impertinence and ask her why, then, did she speak thus abruptly?
There were various easy things of this kind for him to say. And
any rudeness would have lost him the battle. But the Virginian
was not the man to lose such a battle in such a way. His shaft
had hit. She thought he referred to those babies about whom last
night she had shown such superfluous solicitude. Her conscience
was guilty. This was all that he had wished to make sure of
before he began operations.
"Why, I mean," said he, easily, sitting down near the door, "that
it's Sunday. School don't hinder yu' from enjoyin' a ride to-day.
You'll teach the kids all the better for it to-morro', ma'am.
Maybe it's your duty." And he smiled at her.
"My duty! It's quite novel to have strangers--"
"Am I a stranger?" he cut in, firing his first broadside. "I was
introduced, ma'am," he continued, noting how she had flushed
again. "And I would not be oversteppin' for the world. I'll go
away if yu' want." And hereupon he quietly rose, and stood, hat
Molly was flustered. She did not at all want him to go. No one of
her admirers had ever been like this creature. The fringed
leathern chaparreros, the cartridge belt, the flannel shirt, the
knotted scarf at the neck, these things were now an old story to
her. Since her arrival she had seen young men and old in plenty
dressed thus. But worn by this man now standing by her door, they
seemed to radiate romance. She did not want him to go--and she
wished to win her battle. And now in her agitation she became
suddenly severe, as she had done at Hoosic Junction. He should
have a punishment to remember!
"You call yourself a man, I suppose," she said.
But he did not tremble in the least. Her fierceness filled him
with delight, and the tender desire of ownership flooded through
"A grown-up, responsible man," she repeated.
"Yes, ma'am. I think so." He now sat down again.
"And you let them think that--that Mr. McLean--You dare not look
me in the face and say that Mr. McLean did that last night!"
"I reckon I dassent."
"There! I knew it! I said so from the first!"
"And me a stranger to you!" he murmured.
It was his second broadside. It left her badly crippled. She was
"Who did yu' mention it to, ma'am?"
She hoped she had him. "Why, are you afraid?" And she laughed
"I told 'em myself. And their astonishment seemed so genu-wine
I'd just hate to think they had fooled me that thorough when they
knowed it all along from you seeing me."
"I did not see you. I knew it must--of course I did not tell any
one. When I said I said so from the first, I meant--you can
understand perfectly what I meant."
Poor Molly was near stamping her foot. "And what sort of a
trick," she rushed on, "was that to play? Do you call it a manly
thing to frighten and distress women because you--for no reason
at all? I should never have imagined it could be the act of a
person who wears a big pistol and rides a big horse. I should be
afraid to go riding with such an immature protector."
"Yes; that was awful childish. Your words do cut a little; for
maybe there's been times when I have acted pretty near like a
man. But I cert'nly forgot to be introduced before I spoke to yu'
last night. Because why? You've found me out dead in one thing.
Won't you take a guess at this too?"
"I cannot sit guessing why people do not behave themselves--who
seem to know better."
"Well, ma'am, I've played square and owned up to yu'. And that's
not what you're doin' by me. I ask your pardon if I say what I
have a right to say in language not as good as I'd like to talk
to yu' with. But at South Fork Crossin' who did any introducin'?
Did yu' complain I was a stranger then?"
"I--no!" she flashed out; then, quite sweetly, "The driver told
me it wasn't REALLY so dangerous there, you know."
"That's not the point I'm makin'. You are a grown-up woman, a
responsible woman. You've come ever so far, and all alone, to a
rough country to instruct young children that play games,--tag,
and hide-and-seek, and fooleries they'll have to quit when they
get old. Don't you think pretendin' yu' don't know a man,--his
name's nothin', but him,--a man whom you were glad enough to let
assist yu' when somebody was needed,--don't you think that's
mighty close to hide-and-seek them children plays? I ain't so
sure but what there's a pair of us children in this hyeh room."
Molly Wood was regarding him saucily. "I don't think I like you,"
"That's all square enough. You're goin' to love me before we get
through. I wish yu'd come a-ridin, ma'am."
"Dear, dear, dear! So I'm going to love you? How will you do it?
I know men think that they only need to sit and look strong and
make chests at a girl--"
"Goodness gracious! I ain't makin' any chests at yu'!" Laughter
overcame him for a moment, and Miss Wood liked his laugh very
much. "Please come a-ridin'," he urged. "It's the prettiest kind
of a day."
She looked at him frankly, and there was a pause. "I will take
back two things that I said to you," she then answered him. "I
believe that I do like you. And I know that if I went riding with
you, I should not have an immature protector." And then, with a
final gesture of acknowledgment, she held out her hand to him.
"And I have always wanted," she said, "to thank you for what you
did at the river."
He took her hand, and his heart bounded. "You're a gentleman!" he
It was now her turn to be overcome with merriment. "I've always
wanted to be a man," she said.
"I am mighty glad you ain't," said he, looking at her.
But Molly had already received enough broadsides for one day. She
could allow no more of them, and she took herself capably in
hand. "Where did you learn to make such pretty speeches?" she
asked. "Well, never mind that. One sees that you have had plenty
of practice for one so young."
"I am twenty-seven," blurted the Virginian, and knew instantly
that he had spoken like a fool.
"Who would have dreamed it!" said Molly, with well-measured
mockery. She knew that she had scored at last, and that this day
was hers. "Don't be too sure you are glad I'm not a man," she now
told him. There was something like a challenge in her voice.
"I risk it," he remarked.
"For I am almost twenty-three myself," she concluded. And she
gave him a look on her own account.
"And you'll not come a-ridin'?" he persisted.
"No," she answered him; "no." And he knew that he could not make
"Then I will tell yu' good-by," said he. "But I am comin' again.
And next time I'll have along a gentle hawss for yu'."
"Next time! Next time! Well, perhaps I will go with you. Do you
"I live on Judge Henry's ranch, over yondeh." He pointed across
the mountains. "It's on Sunk Creek. A pretty rough trail; but I
can come hyeh to see you in a day, I reckon. Well, I hope you'll
cert'nly enjoy good health, ma'am."
"Oh, there's one thing!" said Molly Wood, calling after him
rather quickly. "I--I'm not at all afraid of horses. You needn't
bring such a gentle one. I--was very tired that day, and--and I
don't scream as a rule."
He turned and looked at her so that she could not meet his
glance. "Bless your heart!" said he. "Will yu' give me one o'
"Oh, certainly! I'm always so glad when people like them."
"They're pretty near the color of your eyes."
"Never mind my eyes."
"Can't help it, ma'am. Not since South Fork."
He put the flower in the leather band of his hat, and rode away
on his Monte horse. Miss Wood lingered a moment, then made some
steps toward her gate, from which he could still be seen; and
then, with something like a toss of the head, she went in and
shut her door.
Later in the day the Virginian met Mr. McLean, who looked at his
hat and innocently quoted. "'My Looloo picked a daisy.'"
"Don't yu', Lin," said the Southerner.
"Then I won't," said Lin.
Thus, for this occasion, did the Virginian part from his
lady--and nothing said one way or another about the handkerchief
that had disappeared during the South Fork incident.
As we fall asleep at night, our thoughts will often ramble back
and forth between the two worlds.
"What color were his eyes?" wondered Molly on her pillow. "His
mustache is not bristly like so many of them. Sam never gave me
such a look at Hoosic Junction. No.... You can't come with me....
Get off your horse.... The passengers are all staring...."
And while Molly was thus dreaming that the Virginian had ridden
his horse into the railroad car, and sat down beside her, the
fire in the great stone chimney of her cabin flickered quietly,
its gleams now and again touching the miniature of Grandmother
Stark upon the wall.
Camped on the Sunk Creek trail, the Virginian was telling himself
in his blankets: "I ain't too old for education. Maybe she will
lend me books. And I'll watch her ways and learn...stand still,
Monte. I can learn a lot more than the kids on that. There's
Monte...you pie-biter, stop.... He has ate up your book, ma'am,
but I'll get yu'..."
And then the Virginian was fast asleep.
XII. QUALITY AND EQUALITY
To the circle at Bennington, a letter from Bear Creek was always
a welcome summons to gather and hear of doings very strange to
Vermont. And when the tale of the changed babies arrived duly by
the post, it created a more than usual sensation, and was read to
a large number of pleased and scandalized neighbors. "I hate her
to be where such things can happen," said Mrs. Wood.
"I wish I
could have been there," said her son-in-law, Andrew Bell.
does not mention who played the trick," said Mrs. Andrew Bell.
"We shouldn't be any wiser if she did," said Mrs. Wood.
to meet the perpetrator," said Andrew.
"Oh, no!" said Mrs. Wood.
"They're all horrible."
And she wrote at once, begging her
daughter to take good care of herself, and to see as much of Mrs.
Balaam as possible. "And of any other ladies that are near you.
For you seem to me to be in a community of roughs. I wish you
would give it all up. Did you expect me to laugh about the
Mrs. Flynt, when this story was repeated to her (she had not been
invited in to hear the letter), remarked that she had always felt
that Molly Wood must be a little vulgar, ever since she began to
go about giving music lessons like any ordinary German.
But Mrs. Wood was considerably relieved when the next letter
arrived. It contained nothing horrible about barbecues or babies.
It mentioned the great beauty of the weather, and how well and
strong the fine air was making the writer feel. And it asked that
books might be sent, many books of all sorts, novels, poetry, all
the good old books and any good new ones that could be spared.
Cheap editions, of course.
"Indeed she shall have them!" said
Mrs. Wood. "How her mind must be starving in that dreadful
place!" The letter was not a long one, and, besides the books,
spoke of little else except the fine weather and the chances for
outdoor exercise that this gave. "You have no idea," it said,
"how delightful it is to ride, especially on a spirited horse,
which I can do now quite well."
"How nice that is!" said Mrs. Wood, putting down the letter. "I
hope the horse is not too spirited."
"Who does she go riding
with?" asked Mrs. Bell.
"She doesn't say, Sarah. Why?"
She has a queer way of not mentioning things, now and
"Sarah!" exclaimed Mrs. Wood, reproachfully. "Oh, well,
mother, you know just as well as I do that she can be very
independent and unconventional."
"Yes; but not in that way. She
wouldn't ride with poor Sam Bannett, and after all he is a
Nevertheless, in her next letter, Mrs. Wood cautioned her
daughter about trusting herself with any one of whom Mrs. Balaam
did not thoroughly approve. The good lady could never grasp that
Mrs. Balaam lived a long day's journey from Bear Creek, and that
Molly saw her about once every three months. "We have sent your
books," the mother wrote; "everybody has contributed from their
store,--Shakespeare, Tennyson, Browning, Longfellow; and a number
of novels by Scott, Thackeray, George Eliot, Hawthorne, and
lesser writers; some volumes of Emerson; and Jane Austen
complete, because you admire her so particularly."
This consignment of literature reached Bear Creek about a week
before Christmas time.
By New Year's Day, the Virginian had begun his education.
"Well, I have managed to get through 'em," he said, as he entered
Molly's cabin in February. And he laid two volumes upon her
"And what do you think of them?" she inquired.
"I think that I've cert'nly earned a good long ride to-day."
"Georgie Taylor has sprained his ankle."
"No, I don't mean that kind of a ride. I've earned a ride with
just us two alone. I've read every word of both of 'em, yu'
"I'll think about it. Did you like them?"
"No. Not much. If I'd knowed that one was a detective story, I'd
have got yu' to try something else on me. Can you guess the
murderer, or is the author too smart for yu'? That's all they
amount to. Well, he was too smart for me this time, but that
didn't distress me any. That other book talks too much."
Molly was scandalized, and she told him it was a great work.
"Oh, yes, yes. A fine book. But it will keep up its talkin'.
Don't let you alone."
"Didn't you feel sorry for poor Maggie Tulliver?"
"Hmp. Yes. Sorry for her, and for Tawmmy, too. But the man did
right to drownd 'em both."
"It wasn't a man. A woman wrote that."
"A woman did! Well, then, o' course she talks too much."
"I'll not go riding with you!" shrieked Molly.
But she did. And he returned to Sunk Creek, not with a detective
story, but this time with a Russian novel.
It was almost April when he brought it back to her--and a heavy
sleet storm lost them their ride. So he spent his time indoors
with her, not speaking a syllable of love. When he came to take
his departure, he asked her for some other book by this same
Russian. But she had no more.
"I wish you had," he said. "I've never saw a book could tell the
truth like that one does."
"Why, what do you like about it?" she exclaimed. To her it had
"Everything," he answered. "That young come-outer, and his fam'ly
that can't understand him--for he is broad gauge, yu' see, and
they are narro' gauge." The Virginian looked at Molly a moment
almost shyly. "Do you know," he said, and a blush spread over his
face, "I pretty near cried when that young come-outer was dyin',
and said about himself, 'I was a giant.' Life made him broad
gauge, yu' see, and then took his chance away."
Molly liked the Virginian for his blush. It made him very
handsome. But she thought that it came from his confession about
"pretty near crying." The deeper cause she failed to
divine,--that he, like the dying hero in the novel, felt himself
to be a giant whom life had made "broad gauge," and denied
opportunity. Fecund nature begets and squanders thousands of
these rich seeds in the wilderness of life.
He took away with him a volume of Shakespeare. "I've saw good
plays of his," he remarked.
Kind Mrs. Taylor in her cabin next door watched him ride off in
the sleet, bound for the lonely mountain trail.
"If that girl don't get ready to take him pretty soon," she
observed to her husband, "I'll give her a piece of my mind."
Taylor was astonished. "Is he thinking of her?" he inquired.
"Lord, Mr. Taylor, and why shouldn't he?"
Mr. Taylor scratched his head and returned to his newspaper.
It was warm--warm and beautiful upon Bear Creek. Snow shone upon
the peaks of the Bow Leg range; lower on their slopes the pines
were stirring with a gentle song; and flowers bloomed across the
wide plains at their feet.
Molly and her Virginian sat at a certain spring where he had
often ridden with her. On this day he was bidding her farewell
before undertaking the most important trust which Judge Henry had
as yet given him. For this journey she had provided him with Sir
Walter Scott's Kenilworth. Shakespeare he had returned to her. He
had bought Shakespeare for himself. "As soon as I got used to
readin' it," he had told her, "I knowed for certain that I liked
readin' for enjoyment."
But it was not of books that he had spoken much to-day. He had
not spoken at all. He had bade her listen to the meadow-lark,
when its song fell upon the silence like beaded drops of music.
He had showed her where a covey of young willow-grouse were
hiding as their horses passed. And then, without warning, as they
sat by the spring, he had spoken potently of his love.
She did not interrupt him. She waited until he was wholly
"I am not the sort of wife you want," she said, with an attempt
He answered roughly, "I am the judge of that." And his roughness
was a pleasure to her, yet it made her afraid of herself. When he
was absent from her, and she could sit in her cabin and look at
Grandmother Stark, and read home letters, then in imagination she
found it easy to play the part which she had arranged to play
regarding him--the part of the guide, and superior, and indulgent
companion. But when he was by her side, that part became a
difficult one. Her woman's fortress was shaken by a force unknown
to her before. Sam Bannett did not have it in him to look as this
man could look, when the cold lustre of his eyes grew hot with
internal fire. What color they were baffled her still. "Can it
possibly change?" she wondered. It seemed to her that sometimes
when she had been looking from a rock straight down into clear
sea water, this same color had lurked in its depths. "Is it
green, or is it gray?" she asked herself, but did not turn just
now to see. She kept her face toward the landscape.
"All men are born equal," he now remarked slowly.
"Yes," she quickly answered, with a combative flash. "Well?"
"Maybe that don't include women?" he suggested.
"I think it does."
"Do yu' tell the kids so?"
"Of course I teach them what I believe!"
He pondered. "I used to have to learn about the Declaration of
Independence. I hated books and truck when I was a kid."
"But you don't any more."
"No. I cert'nly don't. But I used to get kep' in at recess for
bein' so dumb. I was most always at the tail end of the class. My
brother, he'd be head sometimes."
"Little George Taylor is my prize scholar," said Molly.
"Knows his tasks, does he?"
"Always. And Henry Dow comes next."
"Poor Bob Carmody. I spend more time on him than on all the rest
"My!" said the Virginian. "Ain't that strange!"
She looked at him, puzzled by his tone. "It's not strange when
you know Bob," she said.
"It's very strange," drawled the Virginian. "Knowin' Bob don't
help it any."
"I don't think that I understand you," said Molly, sticky.
"Well, it is mighty confusin'. George Taylor, he's your best
scholar, and poor Bob, he's your worst, and there's a lot in the
middle--and you tell me we're all born equal!"
Molly could only sit giggling in this trap he had so ingeniously
laid for her.
"I'll tell you what," pursued the cow-puncher, with slow and
growing intensity, "equality is a great big bluff. It's easy
"I didn't mean--" began Molly.
"Wait, and let me say what I mean." He had made an imperious
gesture with his hand. "I know a man that mostly wins at cyards.
I know a man that mostly loses. He says it is his luck. All
right. Call it his luck. I know a man that works hard and he's
gettin' rich, and I know another that works hard and is gettin'
poor. He says it is his luck. All right. Call it his luck. I look
around and I see folks movin' up or movin' down, winners or
losers everywhere. All luck, of course. But since folks can be
born that different in their luck, where's your equality? No,
seh! call your failure luck, or call it laziness, wander around
the words, prospect all yu' mind to, and yu'll come out the same
old trail of inequality." He paused a moment and looked at her.
"Some holds four aces," he went on, "and some holds nothin', and
some poor fello' gets the aces and no show to play 'em; but a man
has got to prove himself my equal before I'll believe him."
Molly sat gazing at him, silent.
"I know what yu' meant," he told her now, "by sayin' you're not
the wife I'd want. But I am the kind that moves up. I am goin' to
be your best scholar." He turned toward her, and that fortress
within her began to shake.
"Don't," she murmured. "Don't, please."
"These rides--I don't love you--I can't--but these rides are--"
"What are they?"
"My greatest pleasure. There! And, please, I want them to go on
"Go on so! I don't reckon yu' know what you're sayin'. Yu' might
as well ask fruit to stay green. If the way we are now can keep
bein' enough for you, it can't for me. A pleasure to you, is it?
Well, to me it is--I don't know what to call it. I come to yu'
and I hate it, and I come again and I hate it, and I ache and
grieve all over when I go. No! You will have to think of some
other way than just invitin' me to keep green."
"If I am to see you--" began the girl.
"You're not to see me. Not like this. I can stay away easier than
what I am doin'."
"Will you do me a favor, a great one?" said she, now.
"Make it as impossible as you please!" he cried. He thought it
was to be some action.
"Go on coming. But don't talk to me about--don't talk in that
way--if you can help it."
He laughed out, not permitting himself to swear.
"But," she continued, "if you can't help talking that
way--sometimes--I promise I will listen. That is the only promise
"That is a bargain," he said.
Then he helped her mount her horse, restraining himself like a
Spartan, and they rode home to her cabin.
"You have made it pretty near impossible," he said, as he took
his leave. "But you've been square to-day, and I'll show you I
can be square when I come back. I'll not do more than ask you if
your mind's the same. And now I'll not see you for quite a while.
I am going a long way. But I'll be very busy. And bein' busy
always keeps me from grievin' too much about you."
Strange is woman! She would rather have heard some other last
remark than this.
"Oh, very well!" she said. "I'll not miss you either."
He smiled at her. "I doubt if yu' can help missin' me," he
remarked. And he was gone at once, galloping on his Monte horse.
Which of the two won a victory this day?
XIII. THE GAME AND THE NATION--ACT FIRST
There can be no doubt of this: All America is divided into two
classes,--the quality and the equality.
The latter will always recognize the former when mistaken for it.
Both will be with us until our women bear nothing but hangs.
It was through the Declaration of Independence that we Americans
acknowledged the ETERNAL EQUALITY of man. For by it we abolished
a cut-and-dried aristocracy. We had seen little mere artificially
held up in high places, and great men artificially held down in
low places, and our own justice-loving hearts abhorred this
violence to human nature. Therefore, we decreed that every man
should thenceforth have equal liberty to find his own level. By
this very decree we acknowledged and gave freedom to true
aristocracy, saying, "Let the best man win, whoever he is." Let
the best man win! That is America's word. That is true democracy.
And true democracy and true aristocracy are one and the same
thing. If anybody cannot see this, so much the worse for his
The above reflections occurred to me before reaching Billings,
Montana, some three weeks after I had unexpectedly met the
Virginian at Omaha, Nebraska. I had not known of that trust given
to him by Judge Henry, which was taking him East. I was looking
to ride with him before long among the clean hills of Sunk Creek.
I supposed he was there. But I came upon him one morning in
Colonel Cyrus Jones's eating palace.
Did you know the palace? It stood in Omaha, near the trains, and
it was ten years old (which is middle-aged in Omaha) when I first
saw it. It was a shell of wood, painted with golden emblems,--the
steamboat, the eagle, the Yosemite,--and a live bear ate
gratuities at its entrance. Weather permitting, it opened upon
the world as a stage upon the audience. You sat in Omaha's whole
sight and dined, while Omaha's dust came and settled upon the
refreshments. It is gone the way of the Indian and the buffalo,
for the West is growing old. You should have seen the palace and
sat there. In front of you passed rainbows of men,--Chinese,
Indian chiefs, Africans, General Miles, younger sons, Austrian
nobility, wide females in pink. Our continent drained
prismatically through Omaha once.
So I was passing that way also, walking for the sake of
ventilation from a sleeping-car toward a bath, when the language
of Colonel Cyrus Jones came out to me. The actual colonel I had
never seen before. He stood at the rear of his palace in gray
flowery mustaches and a Confederate uniform, telling the wishes
of his guests to the cook through a hole. You always bought meal
tickets at once, else you became unwelcome. Guests here had
foibles at times, and a rapid exit was too easy. Therefore I
bought a ticket. It was spring and summer since I had heard
anything like the colonel. The Missouri had not yet flowed into
New York dialect freely, and his vocabulary met me like the
breeze of the plains. So I went in to be fanned by it, and there
sat the Virginian at a table, alone.
His greeting was up to the code of indifference proper on the
plains; but he presently remarked, "I'm right glad to see
somebody," which was a good deal to say. "Them that comes hyeh,"
he observed next, "don't eat. They feed." And he considered the
guests with a sombre attention. "D' yu' reckon they find joyful
digestion in this swallo'-an'-get-out trough?"
"What are you doing here, then?" said I.
"Oh, pshaw! When yu' can't have what you choose, yu' just choose
what you have." And he took the bill-of-fare. I began to know
that he had something on his mind, so I did not trouble him
Meanwhile he sat studying the bill-of-fare.
"Ever heard o' them?" he inquired, shoving me the spotted
Most improbable dishes were there,--salmis, canapes,
supremes,--all perfectly spelt and absolutely transparent. It was
the old trick of copying some metropolitan menu to catch
travellers of the third and last dimension of innocence; and
whenever this is done the food is of the third and last dimension
of awfulness, which the cow-puncher knew as well as anybody.
"So they keep that up here still," I said.
"But what about them?" he repeated. His finger was at a special
item, FROGS' LEGS A LA DELMONICO. "Are they true anywheres?" he
asked And I told him, certainly. I also explained to him about
Delmonico of New York and about Augustin of Philadelphia.
"There's not a little bit o' use in lyin' to me this mawnin'," he
said, with his engaging smile. "I ain't goin' to awdeh anything's
"Well, I'll see how he gets out of it," I said, remembering the
odd Texas legend. (The traveller read the bill-of-fare, you know,
and called for a vol-au-vent. And the proprietor looked at the
traveller, and running a pistol into his ear, observed, "You'll
take hash.") I was thinking of this and wondering what would
happen to me. So I took the step.
"Wants frogs' legs, does he?" shouted Colonel Cyrus Jones. He
fixed his eye upon me, and it narrowed to a slit. "Too many brain
workers breakfasting before yu' came in, professor," said he.
"Missionary ate the last leg off me just now. Brown the wheat!"
he commanded, through the hole to the cook, for some one had
ordered hot cakes.
"I'll have fried aiggs," said the Virginian. "Cooked both sides."
"White wings!" sang the colonel through the hole. "Let 'em fly up
"Coffee an' no milk," said the Virginian.
"Draw one in the dark!" the colonel roared.
"And beefsteak, rare."
"One slaughter in the pan, and let the blood drip!"
"I should like a glass of water, please," said I. The colonel
threw me a look of pity.
"One Missouri and ice for the professor!" he said.
"That fello's a right live man," commented the Virginian. But he
seemed thoughtful. Presently he inquired, "Yu' say he was a
foreigner, an' learned fancy cookin' to New Yawk?"
That was this cow-puncher's way. Scarcely ever would he let drop
a thing new to him until he had got from you your whole
information about it. So I told him the history of Lorenzo
Delmonico and his pioneer work, as much as I knew, and the
Southerner listened intently.
"Mighty inter-estin'," he said--" mighty. He could just take
little old o'rn'ry frawgs, and dandy 'em up to suit the bloods.
Mighty inter-estin'. I expaict, though, his cookin' would give an
outraiged stomach to a plain-raised man."
"If you want to follow it up," said I, by way of a sudden
experiment, "Miss Molly Wood might have some book about French
But the Virginian did not turn a hair. "I reckon she wouldn't,"
he answered. "She was raised in Vermont. They don't bother overly
about their eatin' up in Vermont. Hyeh's what Miss Wood
recommended the las' time I was seein' her," the cow-puncher
added, bringing Kenilworth from his pocket. "Right fine story.
That Queen Elizabeth must have cert'nly been a competent woman."
"She was," said I. But talk came to an end here. A dusty crew,
most evidently from the plains, now entered and drifted to a
table; and each man of them gave the Virginian about a quarter of
a slouchy nod. His greeting to them was very serene. Only,
Kenilworth went back into his pocket, and he breakfasted in
silence. Among those who had greeted him I now recognized a face.
"Why, that's the man you played cards with at Medicine Bow!" I
"Yes. Trampas. He's got a job at the ranch now." The Virginian
said no more, but went on with his breakfast.
His appearance was changed. Aged I would scarcely say, for this
would seem as if he did not look young. But I think that the boy
was altogether gone from his face--the boy whose freak with Steve
had turned Medicine Bow upside down, whose other freak with the
babies had outraged Bear Creek, the boy who had loved to jingle
his spurs. But manhood had only trained, not broken, his youth.
It was all there, only obedient to the rein and curb.
Presently we went together to the railway yard.
"The Judge is doing a right smart o' business this year," he
began, very casually indeed, so that I knew this was important.
Besides bells and coal smoke, the smell and crowded sounds of
cattle rose in the air around us. "Hyeh's our first gather o'
beeves on the ranch," continued the Virginian. "The whole lot's
shipped through to Chicago in two sections over the Burlington.
The Judge is fighting the Elkhorn road." We passed slowly along
the two trains,--twenty cars, each car packed with huddled,
round-eyed, gazing steers. He examined to see if any animals were
down. "They ain't ate or drank anything to speak of," he said,
while the terrified brutes stared at us through their slats. "Not
since they struck the railroad they've not drank. Yu' might
suppose they know somehow what they're travellin' to Chicago
for." And casually, always casually, he told me the rest. Judge
Henry could not spare his foreman away from the second gather of
beeves. Therefore these two ten-car trains with their double crew
of cow-boys had been given to the Virginian's charge. After
Chicago, he was to return by St. Paul over the Northern Pacific;
for the Judge had wished him to see certain of the road's
directors and explain to them persuasively how good a thing it
would be for them to allow especially cheap rates to the Sunk
Creek outfit henceforth. This was all the Virginian told me; and
it contained the whole matter, to be sure.
"So you're acting foreman," said I.
"Why, somebody has to have the say, I reckon."
"And of course you hated the promotion?"
"I don't know about promotion," he replied. "The boys have been
used to seein' me one of themselves. Why don't you come along
with us far as Plattsmouth?" Thus he shifted the subject from
himself, and called to my notice the locomotives backing up to
his cars, and reminded me that from Plattsmouth I had the choice
of two trains returning. But he could not hide or belittle this
confidence of his employer in him. It was the care of several
thousand perishable dollars and the control of men. It was a
compliment. There were more steers than men to be responsible
for; but none of the steers had been suddenly picked from the
herd and set above his fellows. Moreover, Chicago finished up the
steers; but the new-made deputy foreman had then to lead his six
highly unoccupied brethren away from towns, and back in peace to
the ranch, or disappoint the Judge, who needed their services.
These things sometimes go wrong in a land where they say you are
all born equal; and that quarter of a nod in Colonel Cyrus
Jones's eating palace held more equality than any whole nod you
could see. But the Virginian did not see it, there being a time
for all things.
We trundled down the flopping, heavy-eddied Missouri to
Plattsmouth, and there they backed us on to a siding, the
Christian Endeavor being expected to pass that way. And while the
equality absorbed themselves in a deep but harmless game of poker
by the side of the railway line, the Virginian and I sat on the
top of a car, contemplating the sandy shallows of the Platte.
"I should think you'd take a hand," said I.
"Poker? With them kittens?" One flash of the inner man lightened
in his eyes and died away, and he finished with his gentle drawl,
"When I play, I want it to be interestin'." He took out Sir
Walter's Kenilworth once more, and turned the volume over and
over slowly, without opening it. You cannot tell if in spirit he
wandered on Bear Creek with the girl whose book it was. The
spirit will go one road, and the thought another, and the body
its own way sometimes. "Queen Elizabeth would have played a
mighty pow'ful game," was his next remark.
"Poker?" said I.
"Yes, seh. Do you expaict Europe has got any queen equal to her
I doubted it.
"Victoria'd get pretty nigh slain sliding chips out agaynst
Elizabeth. Only mos' prob'ly Victoria she'd insist on a half-cent
limit. You have read this hyeh Kenilworth? Well, deal Elizabeth
ace high, an' she could scare Robert Dudley with a full house
plumb out o' the bettin'."
I said that I believed she unquestionably could.
"And," said the Virginian, "if Essex's play got next her too
near, I reckon she'd have stacked the cyards. Say, d' yu'
remember Shakespeare's fat man?"
"Falstaff? Oh, yes, indeed."
"Ain't that grand? Why, he makes men talk the way they do in
life. I reckon he couldn't get printed to-day. It's a right down
shame Shakespeare couldn't know about poker. He'd have had
Falstaff playing all day at that Tearsheet outfit. And the Prince
would have beat him."
"The Prince had the brains," said I.
"Well, didn't he?"
"I neveh thought to notice. Like as not he did."
"And Falstaff didn't, I suppose?"
"Oh, yes, seh! Falstaff could have played whist."
"I suppose you know what you're talking about; I don't," said I,
for he was drawling again.
The cow-puncher's eye rested a moment amiably upon me. "You can
play whist with your brains," he mused,--"brains and cyards. Now
cyards are only one o' the manifestations of poker in this hyeh
world. One o' the shapes yu fool with it in when the day's work
is oveh. If a man is built like that Prince boy was built (and
it's away down deep beyond brains), he'll play winnin' poker with
whatever hand he's holdin' when the trouble begins. Maybe it will
be a mean, triflin' army, or an empty six-shooter, or a lame
hawss, or maybe just nothin' but his natural countenance. 'Most
any old thing will do for a fello' like that Prince boy to play
"Then I'd be grateful for your definition of poker," said I.
Again the Virginian looked me over amiably. "You put up a mighty
pretty game o' whist yourself," he remarked. "Don't that give you
the contented spirit?" And before I had any reply to this, the
Christian Endeavor began to come over the bridge. Three
instalments crossed the Missouri from Pacific Junction, bound for
Pike's Peak, every car swathed in bright bunting, and at each
window a Christian with a handkerchief, joyously shrieking. Then
the cattle trains got the open signal, and I jumped off. "Tell
the Judge the steers was all right this far," said the Virginian.
That was the last of the deputy foreman for a while.
XIV. BETWEEN THE ACTS
My road to Sunk Creek lay in no straight line. By rail I diverged
northwest to Fort Meade, and thence, after some stay with the
kind military people, I made my way on a horse. Up here in the
Black Hills it sluiced rain most intolerably. The horse and I
enjoyed the country and ourselves but little; and when finally I
changed from the saddle into a stage-coach, I caught a thankful
expression upon the animal's face, and returned the same.
"Six legs inside this jerky to-night?" said somebody, as I
climbed the wheel. "Well, we'll give thanks for not havin'
eight," he added cheerfully. "Clamp your mind on to that,
Shorty." And he slapped the shoulder of his neighbor. Naturally I
took these two for old companions. But we were all total
strangers. They told me of the new gold excitement at Rawhide,
and supposed it would bring up the Northern Pacific; and when I
explained the millions owed to this road's German bondholders,
they were of opinion that a German would strike it richer at
Rawhide. We spoke of all sorts of things, and in our silence I
gloated on the autumn holiday promised me by Judge Henry. His
last letter had said that an outfit would be starting for his
ranch from Billings on the seventh, and he would have a horse for
me. This was the fifth. So we six legs in the jerky travelled
harmoniously on over the rain-gutted road, getting no deeper
knowledge of each other than what our outsides might imply.
Not that we concealed anything. The man who had slapped Shorty
introduced himself early. "Scipio le Moyne, from Gallipolice,
Ohio," he said. "The eldest of us always gets called Scipio. It's
French. But us folks have been white for a hundred years." He was
limber and light-muscled, and fell skilfully about, evading
bruises when the jerky reeled or rose on end. He had a strange,
long, jocular nose, very wary-looking, and a bleached blue eye.
Cattle was his business, as a rule, but of late he had been
"looking around some," and Rawhide seemed much on his brain.
Shorty struck me as "looking around" also. He was quite short,
indeed, and the jerky hurt him almost every time. He was
light-haired and mild. Think of a yellow dog that is lost, and
fancies each newcomer in sight is going to turn out his master,
and you will have Shorty.
It was the Northern Pacific that surprised us into intimacy. We
were nearing Medora. We had made a last arrangement of our legs.
I lay stretched in silence, placid in the knowledge it was soon
to end. So I drowsed. I felt something sudden, and, waking, saw
Scipio passing through the air. As Shorty next shot from the
jerky, I beheld smoke and the locomotive. The Northern Pacific
had changed its schedule. A valise is a poor companion for
catching a train with. There was rutted sand and lumpy, knee-high
grease wood in our short cut. A piece of stray wire sprang from
some hole and hung caracoling about my ankle. Tin cans spun from
my stride. But we made a conspicuous race. Two of us waved hats,
and there was no moment that some one of us was not screeching.
It meant twenty-four hours to us.
Perhaps we failed to catch the train's attention, though the
theory seems monstrous. As it moved off in our faces, smooth and
easy and insulting, Scipio dropped instantly to a walk, and we
two others outstripped him and came desperately to the empty
track. There went the train. Even still its puffs were the
separated puffs of starting, that bitten-off, snorty kind, and
sweat and our true natures broke freely forth.
I kicked my valise, and then sat on it, dumb.
Shorty yielded himself up aloud. All his humble secrets came out
of him. He walked aimlessly round, lamenting. He had lost his
job, and he mentioned the ranch. He had played cards, and he
mentioned the man. He had sold his horse and saddle to catch a
friend on this train, and he mentioned what the friend had been
going to do for him. He told a string of griefs and names to the
air, as if the air knew.
Meanwhile Scipio arrived with extreme leisure at the rails. He
stuck his hands into his pockets and his head out at the very
small train. His bleached blue eyes shut to slits as he watched
the rear car in its smoke-blur ooze away westward among the
mounded bluffs. "Lucky it's out of range," I thought. But now
Scipio spoke to it.
"Why, you seem to think you've left me behind," he began easily,
in fawning tones. "You're too much of a kid to have such
thoughts. Age some." His next remark grew less wheedling. "I
wouldn't be a bit proud to meet yu'. Why, if I was seen
travellin' with yu', I'd have to explain it to my friends! Think
you've got me left, do yu'? Just because yu' ride through this
country on a rail, do yu' claim yu' can find your way around? I
could take yu' out ten yards in the brush and lose yu' in ten
seconds, you spangle-roofed hobo! Leave ME behind? you recent
blanket-mortgage yearlin'! You plush-lined, nickel-plated,
whistlin' wash room, d' yu' figure I can't go east just as soon
as west? Or I'll stay right here if it suits me, yu'
dude-inhabited hot-box! Why, yu' coon-bossed face-towel--" But
from here he rose in flights of novelty that appalled and held me
spellbound, and which are not for me to say to you. Then he came
down easily again, and finished with expressions of sympathy for
it because it could never have known a mother.
"Do you expaict it could show a male parent offhand?" inquired a
slow voice behind us. I jumped round, and there was the
"Male parent!" scoffed the prompt Scipio. "Ain't you heard about
"Them? Was there two?"
"Two? The blamed thing was sired by a whole doggone Dutch
"Why, the piebald son of a gun!" responded the Virginian,
sweetly. "I got them steers through all right," he added to me.
"Sorry to see yu' get so out o' breath afteh the train. Is your
valise sufferin' any?"
"Who's he?" inquired Scipio, curiously, turning to me.
The Southerner sat with a newspaper on the rear platform of a
caboose. The caboose stood hitched behind a mile or so of freight
train, and the train was headed west. So here was the deputy
foreman, his steers delivered in Chicago, his men (I could hear
them) safe in the caboose, his paper in his lap, and his legs
dangling at ease over the railing. He wore the look of a man for
whom things are going smooth. And for me the way to Billings was
smooth now, also.
"Who's he?" Scipio repeated.
But from inside the caboose loud laughter and noise broke on us.
Some one was reciting "And it's my night to howl."
"We'll all howl when we get to Rawhide," said some other one; and
they howled now.
"These hyeh steam cyars," said the Virginian to Scipio, "make a
man's language mighty nigh as speedy as his travel." Of Shorty he
took no notice whatever--no more than of the manifestations in
"So yu' heard me speakin' to the express," said Scipio. "Well, I
guess, sometimes I--See here," he exclaimed, for the Virginian
was gravely considering him, "I may have talked some, but I
walked a whole lot. You didn't catch ME squandering no speed.
"I noticed," said the Virginian, "thinkin' came quicker to yu'
I was glad I was not Shorty, to have my measure taken merely by
my way of missing a train. And of course I was sorry that I had
kicked my valise.
"Oh, I could tell yu'd been enjoyin' us!" said Scipio. "Observin'
somebody else's scrape always kind o' rests me too. Maybe you're
a philosopher, but maybe there's a pair of us drawd in this
Approval now grew plain upon the face of the Virginian. "By your
laigs," said he, "you are used to the saddle."
"I'd be called used to it, I expect."
"By your hands," said the Southerner, again, "you ain't roped
many steers lately. Been cookin' or something?"
"Say," retorted Scipio, "tell my future some now. Draw a
conclusion from my mouth."
"I'm right distressed," unsevered the gentle Southerner, "we've
not a drop in the outfit."
"Oh, drink with me uptown!" cried Scipio "I'm pleased to death
The Virginian glanced where the saloons stood just behind the
station, and shook his head.
"Why, it ain't a bit far to whiskey from here!" urged the other,
plaintively. "Step down, now. Scipio le Moyne's my name. Yes,
you're lookin' for my brass ear-rings. But there ain't no
earrings on me. I've been white for a hundred years. Step down.
I've a forty-dollar thirst."
"You're certainly white," began the Virginian. "But--"
Here the caboose resumed:
"I'm wild, and woolly, and full of peas;
I'm hard to curry above the knees;
I'm a she-wolf from Bitter Creek, and
It's my night to ho-o-wl--"
And as they howled and stamped, the wheels of the caboose began
to turn gently and to murmur.
The Virginian rose suddenly. "Will yu' save that thirst and take
a forty-dollar job?"
"Missin' trains, profanity, or what?" said Scipio.
"I'll tell yu' soon as I'm sure."
At this Scipio looked hard at the Virginian. "Why, you're talkin'
business!" said he, and leaped on the caboose, where I was
already. "I WAS thinkin' of Rawhide," he added, "but I ain't any
"Well, good luck!" said Shorty, on the track behind us.
"Oh, say!" said Scipio, "he wanted to go on that train, just like
"Get on," called the Virginian. "But as to getting a job, he
ain't just like you." So Shorty came, like a lost dog when you
whistle to him.
Our wheels clucked over the main-line switch. A train-hand threw
it shut after us, jumped aboard, and returned forward over the
roofs. Inside the caboose they had reached the third howling of
"Friends of yourn?" said Scipio.
"My outfit," drawled the Virginian.
"Do yu' always travel outside?" inquired Scipio.
"It's lonesome in there," returned the deputy foreman. And here
one of them came out, slamming the door
"Hell!" he said, at sight of the distant town. Then, truculently,
to the Virginian, "I told you I was going to get a bottle here."
"Have your bottle, then," said the deputy foreman, and kicked him
off into Dakota. (It was not North Dakota yet; they had not
divided it.) The Virginian had aimed his pistol at about the same
time with his boot. Therefore the man sat in Dakota quietly,
watching us go away into Montana, and offering no objections.
Just before he became too small to make out, we saw him rise and
remove himself back toward the saloons.
XV. THE GAME AND THE NATION--ACT SECOND
"That is the only step I have had to take this whole trip," said
the Virginian. He holstered his pistol with a jerk. "I have been
fearing he would force it on me." And he looked at empty,
receding Dakota with disgust. "So nyeh back home!" he muttered.
"Known your friend long?" whispered Scipio to me.
"Fairly," I answered.
Scipio's bleached eyes brightened with admiration as he
considered the Southerner's back. "Well," he stated judicially,
"start awful early when yu' go to fool with him, or he'll make
you feel unpunctual."
"I expaict I've had them almost all of three thousand miles,"
said the Virginian, tilting his head toward the noise in the
caboose. "And I've strove to deliver them back as I received
them. The whole lot. And I would have. But he has spoiled my
hopes." The deputy foreman looked again at Dakota. "It's a
disappointment," he added. "You may know what I mean."
I had known a little, but not to the very deep, of the man's
pride and purpose in this trust. Scipio gave him sympathy. "There
must be quite a balance of 'em left with yu' yet," said Scipio,
"I had the boys plumb contented," pursued the deputy foreman,
hurt into open talk of himself. "Away along as far as Saynt Paul
I had them reconciled to my authority. Then this news about gold
had to strike us."
"And they're a-dreamin' nuggets and Parisian bowleyvards,"
The Virginian smiled gratefully at him.
"Fortune is shinin' bright and blindin' to their delicate young
eyes," he said, regaining his usual self.
We all listened a moment to the rejoicings within.
"Energetic, ain't they?" said the Southerner. "But none of 'em
was whelped savage enough to sing himself bloodthirsty. And
though they're strainin' mighty earnest not to be tame, they're
goin' back to Sunk Creek with me accordin' to the Judge's awders.
Never a calf of them will desert to Rawhide, for all their
dangerousness; nor I ain't goin' to have any fuss over it. Only
one is left now that don't sing. Maybe I will have to make some
arrangements about him. The man I have parted with," he said,
with another glance at Dakota, "was our cook, and I will ask yu'
to replace him, Colonel."
Scipio gaped wide. "Colonel! Say!" He stared at the Virginian.
"Did I meet yu' at the palace?"
"Not exackly meet," replied the Southerner. "I was present one
mawnin' las' month when this gentleman awdehed frawgs' laigs."
"Sakes and saints, but that was a mean position!" burst out
Scipio. "I had to tell all comers anything all day. Stand up and
jump language hot off my brain at 'em. And the pay don't near
compensate for the drain on the system. I don't care how good a
man is, you let him keep a-tappin' his presence of mind right
along, without takin' a lay-off, and you'll have him sick. Yes,
sir. You'll hit his nerves. So I told them they could hire some
fresh man, for I was goin' back to punch cattle or fight Indians,
or take a rest somehow, for I didn't propose to get jaded, and me
only twenty-five years old. There ain't no regular Colonel Cyrus
Jones any more, yu' know. He met a Cheyenne telegraph pole in
seventy-four, and was buried. But his palace was doin' big
business, and he had been a kind of attraction, and so they
always keep a live bear outside, and some poor fello', fixed up
like the Colonel used to be, inside. And it's a turruble mean
position. Course I'll cook for yu'. Yu've a dandy memory for
"I wasn't right convinced till I kicked him off and you gave that
shut to your eyes again," said the Virginian.
Once more the door opened. A man with slim black eyebrows, slim
black mustache, and a black shirt tied with a white handkerchief
was looking steadily from one to the other of us.
"Good day!" he remarked generally and without enthusiasm; and to
the Virginian, "Where's Schoffner?"
"I expaict he'll have got his bottle by now, Trampas."
Trampas looked from one to the other of us again. "Didn't he say
he was coming back?"
"He reminded me he was going for a bottle, and afteh that he
didn't wait to say a thing."
Trampas looked at the platform and the railing and the steps. "He
told me he was coming back," he insisted.
"I don't reckon he has come, not without he clumb up ahaid
somewhere. An' I mus' say, when he got off he didn't look like a
man does when he has the intention o' returnin'."
At this Scipio coughed, and pared his nails attentively. We had
already been avoiding each other's eye. Shorty did not count.
Since he got aboard, his meek seat had been the bottom step.
The thoughts of Trampas seemed to be in difficulty. "How long's
this train been started?" he demanded.
"This hyeh train?" The Virginian consulted his watch. "Why, it's
been fanning it a right smart little while," said he, laying no
stress upon his indolent syllables.
"Huh!" went Trampas. He gave the rest of us a final unlovely
scrutiny. "It seems to have become a passenger train," he said.
And he returned abruptly inside the caboose.
"Is he the member who don't sing?" asked Scipio.
"That's the specimen," replied the Southerner.
"He don't seem musical in the face," said Scipio.
"Pshaw!" returned the Virginian. "Why, you surely ain't the man
to mind ugly mugs when they're hollow!"
The noise inside had dropped quickly to stillness. You could
scarcely catch the sound of talk. Our caboose was clicking
comfortably westward, rail after rail, mile upon mile, while
night was beginning to rise from earth into the clouded sky.
"I wonder if they have sent a search party forward to hunt
Schoffner?" said the Virginian. "I think I'll maybe join their
meeting." He opened the door upon them. "Kind o' dark hyeh, ain't
it?" said he. And lighting the lantern, he shut us out.
"What do yu' think?" said Scipio to me. "Will he take them to
"He evidently thinks he will," said I. "He says he will, and he
has the courage of his convictions."
"That ain't near enough courage to have!" Scipio exclaimed.
"There's times in life when a man has got to have courage WITHOUT
convictions--WITHOUT them--or he is no good. Now your friend is
that deep constitooted that you don't know and I don't know what
he's thinkin' about all this."
"If there's to be any gun-play," put in the excellent Shorty,
"I'll stand in with him."
"Ah, go to bed with your gun-play!" retorted Scipio, entirely
good-humored. "Is the Judge paying for a carload of dead punchers
to gather his beef for him? And this ain't a proposition worth a
man's gettin' hurt for himself, anyway."
"That's so," Shorty assented.
"No," speculated Scipio, as the night drew deeper round us and
the caboose click-clucked and click-clucked over the rail joints;
"he's waitin' for somebody else to open this pot. I'll bet he
don't know but one thing now, and that's that nobody else shall
know he don't know anything."
Scipio had delivered himself. He lighted a cigarette, and no more
wisdom came from him. The night was established. The rolling
bad-lands sank away in it. A train-hand had arrived over the
roof, and hanging the red lights out behind, left us again
without remark or symptom of curiosity. The train-hands seemed
interested in their own society and lived in their own caboose. A
chill wind with wet in it came blowing from the invisible draws,
and brought the feel of the distant mountains.
"That's Montana!" said Scipio, snuffing. "I am glad to have it
inside my lungs again."
"Ain't yu' getting cool out there?" said the Virginian's voice.
"Plenty room inside."
Perhaps he had expected us to follow him; or perhaps he had meant
us to delay long enough not to seem like a reenforcement. "These
gentlemen missed the express at Medora," he observed to his men,
What they took us for upon our entrance I cannot say, or what
they believed. The atmosphere of the caboose was charged with
voiceless currents of thought. By way of a friendly beginning to
the three hundred miles of caboose we were now to share so
intimately, I recalled myself to them. I trusted no more of the
Christian Endeavor had delayed them. "I am so lucky to have
caught you again," I finished. "I was afraid my last chance of
reaching the Judge's had gone."
Thus I said a number of things designed to be agreeable, but they
met my small talk with the smallest talk you can have. "Yes," for
instance, and " Pretty well, I guess," and grave strikings of
matches and thoughtful looks at the floor. I suppose we had made
twenty miles to the imperturbable clicking of the caboose when
one at length asked his neighbor had he ever seen New York.
"No," said the other. "Flooded with dudes, ain't it?"
"Swimmin'," said the first.
"Leakin', too," said a third.
"Well, my gracious!" said a fourth, and beat his knee in private
delight. None of them ever looked at me. For some reason I felt
exceedingly ill at ease.
"Good clothes in New York," said the third.
"Rich food," said the first.
"Fresh eggs, too," said the third.
"Well, my gracious!" said the fourth, beating his knee.
"Why, yes," observed the Virginian, unexpectedly; "they tell me
that aiggs there ain't liable to be so rotten as yu'll strike 'em
in this country."
None of them had a reply for this, and New York was abandoned.
For some reason I felt much better.
It was a new line they adopted next, led off by Trampas.
"Going to the excitement?" he inquired, selecting Shorty.
"Excitement?" said Shorty, looking up.
"Going to Rawhide?" Trampas repeated. And all watched Shorty.
"Why, I'm all adrift missin' that express," said Shorty.
"Maybe I can give you employment," suggested the Virginian. "I am
taking an outfit across the basin."
"You'll find most folks going to Rawhide, if you re looking for
company," pursued Trampas, fishing for a recruit.
"How about Rawhide, anyway?" said Scipio, skillfully deflecting
this missionary work. "Are they taking much mineral out? Have yu'
seen any of the rock?"
"Rock?" broke in the enthusiast who had beaten his knee. "There!"
And he brought some from his pocket.
"You're always showing your rock," said Trampas, sulkily; for
Scipio now held the conversation, and Shorty returned safely to
"H'm!" went Scipio at the rock. He turned it back and forth in
his hand, looking it over; he chucked and caught it slightingly
in the air, and handed it back. "Porphyry, I see." That was his
only word about it. He said it cheerily. He left no room for
discussion. You could not damn a thing worse. "Ever been in Santa
Rita?" pursued Scipio, while the enthusiast slowly pushed his
rock back into his pocket. "That's down in New Mexico. Ever been
to Globe, Arizona?" And Scipio talked away about the mines he had
known. There was no getting at Shorty any more that evening.
Trampas was foiled of his fish, or of learning how the fish's
heart lay. And by morning Shorty had been carefully instructed to
change his mind about once an hour. This is apt to discourage all
but very superior missionaries. And I too escaped for the rest of
this night. At Glendive we had a dim supper, and I bought some
blankets; and after that it was late, and sleep occupied the
attention of us all.
We lay along the shelves of the caboose, a peaceful sight I
should think, in that smoothly trundling cradle. I slept almost
immediately, so tired that not even our stops or anything else
waked me, save once, when the air I was breathing grew suddenly
pure, and I roused. Sitting in the door was the lonely figure of
the Virginian. He leaned in silent contemplation of the
occasional moon, and beneath it the Yellowstone's swift ripples.
On the caboose shelves the others slept sound and still, each
stretched or coiled as he had first put himself. They were not
untrustworthy to look at, it seemed to me--except Trampas. You
would have said the rest of that young humanity was average rough
male blood, merely needing to be told the proper things at the
right time; and one big bunchy stocking of the enthusiast stuck
out of his blanket, solemn and innocent, and I laughed at it.
There was a light sound by the door, and I found the Virginian's
eye on me. Finding who it was, he nodded and motioned with his
hand to go to sleep. And this I did with him in my sight, still
leaning in the open door, through which came the interrupted moon
and the swimming reaches of the Yellowstone.
XVI. THE GAME AND THE NATION--LAST ACT
It has happened to you, has it not, to wake in the morning and
wonder for a while where on earth you are? Thus I came half to
life in the caboose, hearing voices, but not the actual words at
But presently, "Hathaway!" said some one more clearly. "Portland
This made no special stir in my intelligence, and I drowsed off
again to the pleasant rhythm of the wheels. The little shock of
stopping next brought me to, somewhat, with the voices still
round me; and when we were again in motion, I heard: "Rosebud!
Portland 1279!" These figures jarred me awake, and I said, "It
was 1291 before," and sat up in my blankets.
The greeting they vouchsafed and the sight of them clustering
expressionless in the caboose brought last evening's
uncomfortable memory back to me. Our next stop revealed how
things were going to-day.
"Forsythe," one of them read on the station. "Portland 1266."
They were counting the lessening distance westward. This was the
undercurrent of war. It broke on me as I procured fresh water at
Forsythe and made some toilet in their stolid presence. We were
drawing nearer the Rawhide station--the point, I mean, where you
left the railway for the new mines. Now Rawhide station lay this
side of Billings. The broad path of desertion would open ready
for their feet when the narrow path to duty and Sunk Creek was
still some fifty miles more to wait. Here was Trampas's great
strength; he need make no move meanwhile, but lie low for the
immediate temptation to front and waylay them and win his battle
over the deputy foreman. But the Virginian seemed to find nothing
save enjoyment in this sunny September morning, and ate his
breakfast at Forsythe serenely.
That meal done and that station gone, our caboose took up again
its easy trundle by the banks of the Yellowstone. The mutineers
sat for a while digesting in idleness.
"What's your scar?" inquired one at length inspecting casually
the neck of his neighbor.
"Foolishness," the other answered.
"Well, I don't know but I prefer to have myself to thank for a
thing," said the first.
"I was displaying myself," continued the second. "One day last
summer it was. We come on a big snake by Torrey Creek corral. The
boys got betting pretty lively that I dassent make my word good
as to dealing with him, so I loped my cayuse full tilt by Mr.
Snake, and swung down and catched him up by the tail from the
ground, and cracked him same as a whip, and snapped his head off.
You've saw it done?" he said to the audience.
The audience nodded wearily.
"But the loose head flew agin me, and the fangs caught. I was
pretty sick for a while."
"It don't pay to be clumsy," said the first man. "If you'd
snapped the snake away from yu' instead of toward yu', its head
would have whirled off into the brush, same as they do with me."
"How like a knife-cut your scar looks!" said I.
"Don't it?" said the snake-snapper. "There's many that gets
fooled by it."
"An antelope knows a snake is his enemy," said another to me.
"Ever seen a buck circling round and round a rattler?"
"I have always wanted to see that," said I, heartily. For this I
knew to be a respectable piece of truth.
"It's worth seeing," the man went on. "After the buck gets close
in, he gives an almighty jump up in the air, and down comes his
four hoofs in a bunch right on top of Mr. Snake. Cuts him all to
hash. Now you tell me how the buck knows that."
Of course I could not tell him. And again we sat in silence for a
while--friendlier silence, I thought.
"A skunk'll kill yu' worse than a snake bite," said another,
presently. "No, I don't mean that way," he added. For I had
smiled. "There is a brown skunk down in Arkansaw. Kind of
prairie-dog brown. Littler than our variety, he is. And he is mad
the whole year round, same as a dog gets. Only the dog has a
spell and dies but this here Arkansaw skunk is mad right along,
and it don't seem to interfere with his business in other
respects. Well, suppose you're camping out, and suppose it's a
hot night, or you're in a hurry, and you've made camp late, or
anyway you haven't got inside any tent, but you have just bedded
down in the open. Skunk comes travelling along and walks on your
blankets. You're warm. He likes that, same as a cat does. And he
tramps with pleasure and comfort, same as a cat. And you move.
You get bit, that's all. And you die of hydrophobia. Ask
"Most extraordinary!" said I. "But did you ever see a person die
"No, sir. Never happened to. My cousin at Bald Knob did."
"No, sir. Saw a man."
"But how do you know they're not sick skunks?"
"No, sir! They're well skunks. Well as anything. You'll not meet
skunks in any state of the Union more robust than them in
Arkansaw. And thick."
"That's awful true," sighed another. "I have buried hundreds of
dollars' worth of clothes in Arkansaw."
"Why didn't yu' travel in a sponge bag?" inquired Scipio. And
this brought a slight silence.
"Speakin' of bites," spoke up a new man, "how's that?" He held up
"My!" breathed Scipio. "Must have been a lion."
The man wore a wounded look. "I was huntin' owl eggs for a
botanist from Boston," he explained to me.
"Chiropodist, weren't he?" said Scipio. "Or maybe a
"No, honest," protested the man with the thumb; so that I was
sorry for him, and begged him to go on.
"I'll listen to you," I assured him. And I wondered why this
politeness of mine should throw one or two of them into stifled
mirth. Scipio, on the other hand, gave me a disgusted look and
sat back sullenly for a moment, and then took himself out on the
platform, where the Virginian was lounging.
"The young feller wore knee-pants and ever so thick spectacles
with a half-moon cut in 'em," resumed the narrator, "and he
carried a tin box strung to a strap I took for his lunch till it
flew open on him and a horn toad hustled out. Then I was sure he
was a botanist--or whatever yu' say they're called. Well, he
would have owl eggs--them little prairie-owl that some claim can
turn their head clean around and keep a-watchin' yu', only that's
nonsense. We was ridin' through that prairie-dog town, used to be
on the flat just after yu' crossed the south fork of Powder River
on the Buffalo trail, and I said I'd dig an owl nest out for him
if he was willing to camp till I'd dug it. I wanted to know about
them owls some myself--if they did live with the dogs and snakes,
yu' know," he broke off, appealing to me.
"Oh, yes," I told him
"So while the botanist went glarin' around the town with his
glasses to see if he could spot a prairie-dog and an owl usin'
the same hole, I was diggin' in a hole I'd seen an owl run down.
And that's what I got." He held up his thumb again.
"The snake!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, sir. Mr. Rattler was keepin' house that day. Took me right
there. I hauled him out of the hole hangin' to me. Eight
"Eight!" said I. "A big one."
"Yes, sir. Thought I was dead. But the woman--"
"The woman?" said I.
"Yes, woman. Didn't I tell yu' the botanist had his wife along?
Well, he did. And she acted better than the man, for he was
rosin' his head, and shoutin' he had no whiskey, and he didn't
guess his knife was sharp enough to amputate my thumb, and none
of us chewed, and the doctor was twenty miles away, and if he had
only remembered to bring his ammonia--well, he was screeching out
'most everything he knew in the world, and without arranging it
any, neither. But she just clawed his pocket and burrowed and
kep' yelling, 'Give him the stone, Augustus!' And she whipped out
one of them Injun medicine-stones,--first one I ever seen,--and
she clapped it on to my thumb, and it started in right away."
"What did it do?" said I.
"Sucked. Like blotting-paper does. Soft and funny it was, and
gray. They get 'em from elks' stomachs, yu' know. And when it had
sucked the poison out of the wound, off it falls of my thumb by
itself! And I thanked the woman for saving my life that capable
and keeping her head that cool. I never knowed how excited she
had been till afterward. She was awful shocked."
"I suppose she started to talk when the danger was over," said I,
with deep silence around me.
"No; she didn't say nothing to me. But when her next child was
born, it had eight rattles."
Din now rose wild in the caboose. They rocked together. The
enthusiast beat his knee tumultuously. And I joined them. Who
could help it? It had been so well conducted from the
imperceptible beginning. Fact and falsehood blended with such
perfect art. And this last, an effect so new made with such
world-old material! I cared nothing that I was the victim, and I
joined them; but ceased, feeling suddenly somehow estranged or
chilled. It was in their laughter. The loudness was too loud. And
I caught the eyes of Trampas fixed upon the Virginian with
exultant malevolence. Scipio's disgusted glance was upon me from
Dazed by these signs, I went out on the platform to get away from
the noise. There the Virginian said to me: "Cheer up! You'll not
be so easy for 'em that-a-way next season."
He said no more; and with his legs dangled over the railing,
appeared to resume his newspaper.
"What's the matter?" said I to Scipio.
"Oh, I don't mind if he don't," Scipio answered. "Couldn't yu'
see? I tried to head 'em off from yu' all I knew, but yu' just
ran in among 'em yourself. Couldn't yu' see? Kep' hinderin' and
spoilin' me with askin' those urgent questions of yourn--why, I
had to let yu' go your way! Why, that wasn't the ordinary play
with the ordinary tenderfoot they treated you to! You ain't a
common tenderfoot this trip. You're the foreman's friend. They've
hit him through you. That's the way they count it. It's made them
encouraged. Can't yu' see?"
Scipio stated it plainly. And as we ran by the next station,
"Howard!" they harshly yelled. "Portland 1256!"
We had been passing gangs of workmen on the track. And at that
last yell the Virginian rose. "I reckon I'll join the meeting
again," he said. "This filling and repairing looks like the
washout might have been true."
"Washout?" said Scipio.
"Big Horn bridge, they say--four days ago."
"Then I wish it came this side Rawhide station."
"Do yu'?" drawled the Virginian. And smiling at Scipio, he
lounged in through the open door.
"He beats me," said Scipio, shaking his head. "His trail is
turruble hard to anticipate."
"Work bein' done on the road, I see," the Virginian was saying,
very friendly and conversational.
"We see it too," said the voice of Trampas.
"Seem to be easin' their grades some."
"Cheaper to build 'em the way they want 'em at the start, a man
would think," suggested the Virginian, most friendly. "There go
some more I-talians."
"They're Chinese," said Trampas.
"That's so," acknowledged the Virginian, with a laugh.
"What's he monkeyin' at now?" muttered Scipio.
"Without cheap foreigners they couldn't afford all this hyeh new
gradin'," the Southerner continued.
"Grading! Can't you tell when a flood's been eating the banks?"
"Why, yes," said the Virginian, sweet as honey. "But 'ain't yu'
heard of the improvements west of Big Timber, all the way to
Missoula, this season? I'm talkin' about them."
"Oh! Talking about them. Yes, I've heard."
"Good money-savin' scheme, ain't it?" said the Virginian.
"Lettin' a freight run down one hill an' up the next as far as
she'll go without steam, an' shavin' the hill down to that
point." Now this was an honest engineering fact. "Better'n
settin' dudes squintin' through telescopes and cypherin' over one
per cent reductions," the Southerner commented.
"It's common sense," assented Trampas. "Have you heard the new
scheme about the water-tanks?"
"I ain't right certain," said the Southerner.
"I must watch this," said Scipio, "or I shall bust." He went in,
and so did I.
They were all sitting over this discussion of the Northern
Pacific's recent policy as to betterments, as though they were
the board of directors. Pins could have dropped. Only nobody
would have cared to hear a pin.
"They used to put all their tanks at the bottom of their grades,"
"Why, yu' get the water easier at the bottom."
"You can pump it to the top, though," said Trampas, growing
superior. "And it's cheaper."
"That gets me," said the Virginian, interested.
"Trains after watering can start down hill now and get the
benefit of the gravity. It'll cut down operating expenses a
"That's cert'nly common sense!" exclaimed the Virginian,
absorbed. "But ain't it kind o' tardy?"
"Live and learn. So they gained speed, too. High speed on half
the coal this season, until the accident."
"Accident!" said the Virginian, instantly.
"Yellowstone Limited. Man fired at engine driver. Train was
flying past that quick the bullet broke every window and killed a
passenger on the back platform. You've been running too much with
aristocrats," finished Trampas, and turned on his heel.
"Haw, hew!" began the enthusiast, but his neighbor gripped him to
silence. This was a triumph too serious for noise. Not a mutineer
moved; and I felt cold.
"Trampas," said the Virginian, "I thought yu'd be afeared to try
it on me."
Trampas whirled round. His hand was at his belt. "Afraid!" he
"Shorty!" said Scipio, sternly, and leaping upon that youth, took
his half-drawn pistol from him.
"I'm obliged to yu'," said the Virginian to Scipio. Trampas's
hand left his belt. He threw a slight, easy look at his men, and
keeping his back to the Virginian, walked out on the platform and
sat on the chair where the Virginian had sat so much.
"Don't you comprehend," said the Virginian to Shorty, amiably,
"that this hyeh question has been discussed peaceable by
civilized citizens? Now you sit down and be good, and Mr. Le
Moyne will return your gun when we're across that broken bridge,
if they have got it fixed for heavy trains yet."
"This train will be lighter when it gets to that bridge," spoke
Trampas, out on his chair.
"Why, that's true, too!" said the Virginian. "Maybe none of us
are crossin' that Big Horn bridge now, except me. Funny if yu'
should end by persuadin' me to quit and go to Rawhide myself! But
I reckon I'll not. I reckon I'll worry along to Sunk Creek,
"Don't forget I'm cookin' for yu'," said Scipio, gruffy.
"I'm obliged to yu'," said the Southerner.
"You were speaking of a job for me," said Shorty.
"I'm right obliged. But yu' see--I ain't exackly foreman the way
this comes out, and my promises might not bind Judge Henry to pay
A push came through the train from forward. We were slowing for
the Rawhide station, and all began to be busy and to talk. "Going
up to the mines to-day?" "Oh, let's grub first." "Guess it's too
late, anyway." And so forth; while they rolled and roped their
bedding, and put on their coats with a good deal of elbow motion,
and otherwise showed off. It was wasted. The Virginian did not
know what was going on in the caboose. He was leaning and
looking out ahead, and Scipio's puzzled eye never left him. And
as we halted for the water-tank, the Southerner exclaimed, "They
'ain t got away yet!" as if it were good news to him.
He meant the delayed trains. Four stalled expresses were in front
of us, besides several freights. And two hours more at least
before the bridge would be ready.
Travellers stood and sat about forlorn, near the cars, out in the
sage-brush, anywhere. People in hats and spurs watched them, and
Indian chiefs offered them painted bows and arrows and shiny
"I reckon them passengers would prefer a laig o' mutton," said
the Virginian to a man loafing near the caboose.
"Bet your life!" said the man. "First lot has been stuck here
"Plumb starved, ain't they?" inquired the Virginian.
"Bet your life! They've eat up their dining cars and they've eat
up this town."
"Well," said the Virginian, looking at the town, "I expaict the
dining-cyars contained more nourishment."
"Say, you're about right there!" said the man. He walked beside
the caboose as we puffed slowly forward from the water-tank to
our siding. "Fine business here if we'd only been ready," he
continued. "And the Crow agent has let his Indians come over from
the reservation. There has been a little beef brought in, and
game, and fish. And big money in it, bet your life! Them Eastern
passengers has just been robbed. I wisht I had somethin' to
"Anything starting for Rawhide this afternoon?" said Trampas, out
of the caboose door.
"Not until morning," said the man. "You going to the mines?" he
resumed to the Virginian.
"Why," answered the Southerner, slowly and casually, and
addressing himself strictly to the man, while Trampas, on his
side, paid obvious inattention, "this hyeh delay, yu' see, may
unsettle our plans some. But it'll be one of two ways,--we're all
goin' to Rawhide, or we're all goin' to Billings. We're all one
party, yu' see."
Trampas laughed audibly inside the door as he rejoined his men.
"Let him keep up appearances," I heard him tell them. "It don't
hurt us what he says to strangers."
"But I'm goin' to eat hearty either way," continued the
Virginian. "And I ain' goin' to be robbed. I've been kind o'
promisin' myself a treat if we stopped hyeh."
"Town's eat clean out," said the man.
"So yu' tell me. But all you folks has forgot one source of
revenue that yu' have right close by, mighty handy. If you have
got a gunny sack, I'll show you how to make some money."
"Bet your life!" said the man.
"Mr. Le Moyne," said the Virginian, "the outfit's cookin' stuff
is aboard, and if you'll get the fire ready, we'll try how
frawgs' laigs go fried." He walked off at once, the man following
like a dog. Inside the caboose rose a gust of laughter.
"Frogs!" muttered Scipio. And then turning a blank face to me,
"Colonel Cyrus Jones had them on his bill of fare," I said.
"'FROGS' LEGS A LA DELMONICO.'"
"Shoo! I didn't get up that thing. They had it when I came. Never
looked at it. Frogs?" He went down the steps very slowly, with a
long frown. Reaching the ground, he shook his head. "That man's
trail is surely hard to anticipate," he said. "But I must hurry
up that fire. For his appearance has given me encouragement,"
Scipio concluded, and became brisk. Shorty helped him, and I
brought wood. Trampas and the other people strolled off to the
station, a compact band.
Our little fire was built beside the caboose, so the cooking
things might be easily reached and put back. You would scarcely
think such operations held any interest, even for the hungry,
when there seemed to be nothing to cook. A few sticks blazing
tamely in the dust, a frying-pan, half a tin bucket of lard, some
water, and barren plates and knives and forks, and three silent
men attending to them--that was all. But the travellers came to
see. These waifs drew near us, and stood, a sad, lone, shifting
fringe of audience; four to begin with; and then two wandered
away; and presently one of these came back, finding it worse
elsewhere. "Supper, boys?" said he. "Breakfast," said Scipio,
crossly. And no more of them addressed us. I heard them joylessly
mention Wall Street to each other, and Saratoga; I even heard the
name Bryn Mawr, which is near Philadelphia. But these fragments
of home dropped in the wilderness here in Montana beside a
freight caboose were of no interest to me now.
"Looks like frogs down there, too," said Scipio. "See them marshy
slogs full of weeds?" We took a little turn and had a sight of
the Virginian quite active among the ponds. "Hush! I'm getting
some thoughts," continued Scipio. "He wasn't sorry enough. Don't
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