Part 1 out of 5
MY DEAR HARRY MERCER: When Lin McLean was only a hero in manuscript, he
received his first welcome and chastening beneath your patient roof. By
none so much as by you has he in private been helped and affectionately
disciplined, an now you must stand godfather to him upon this public
HOW LIN McLEAN WENT EAST
In the old days, the happy days, when Wyoming was a Territory with a
future instead of a State with a past, and the unfenced cattle grazed
upon her ranges by prosperous thousands, young Lin McLean awaked early
one morning in cow camp, and lay staring out of his blankets upon the
world. He would be twenty-two this week. He was the youngest cow-puncher
in camp. But because he could break wild horses, he was earning more
dollars a month than any man there, except one. The cook was a more
indispensable person. None save the cook was up, so far, this morning.
Lin's brother punchers slept about him on the ground, some motionless,
some shifting their prone heads to burrow deeper from the increasing day.
The busy work of spring was over, that of the fall, or beef round-up, not
yet come. It was mid-July, a lull for these hard-riding bachelors of the
saddle, and many unspent dollars stood to Mr. McLean's credit on the
"What's the matter with some variety?" muttered the boy in his blankets.
The long range of the mountains lifted clear in the air. They slanted
from the purple folds and furrows of the pines that richly cloaked them,
upward into rock and grassy bareness until they broke remotely into
bright peaks, and filmed into the distant lavender of the north and the
south. On their western side the streams ran into Snake or into Green
River, and so at length met the Pacific. On this side, Wind River flowed
forth from them, descending out of the Lake of the Painted Meadows. A
mere trout-brook it was up there at the top of the divide, with easy
riffles and stepping-stones in many places; but down here, outside the
mountains, it was become a streaming avenue, a broadening course,
impetuous between its two tall green walls of cottonwood-trees. And so it
wound away like a vast green ribbon across the lilac-gray sage-brush and
the yellow, vanishing plains.
"Variety, you bet!" young Lin repeated, aloud.
He unrolled himself from his bed, and brought from the garments that made
his pillow a few toilet articles. He got on his long boy legs and limped
blithely to the margin. In the mornings his slight lameness was always
more visible. The camp was at Bull Lake Crossing, where the fork from
Bull Lake joins Wind River. Here Lin found some convenient
shingle-stones, with dark, deepish water against them, where he plunged
his face and energetically washed, and came up with the short curly hair
shining upon his round head. After enough looks at himself in the dark
water, and having knotted a clean, jaunty handkerchief at his throat, he
returned with his slight limp to camp, where they were just sitting at
breakfast to the rear of the cook-shelf of the wagon.
"Bugged up to kill!" exclaimed one, perceiving Lin's careful dress.
"He sure has not shaved again?" another inquired, with concern.
"I ain't got my opera-glasses on," answered a third.
"He has spared that pansy-blossom mustache," said a fourth.
"My spring crop," remarked young Lin, rounding on this last one, "has
juicier prospects than that rat-eaten catastrophe of last year's hay
which wanders out of your face."
"Why, you'll soon be talking yourself into a regular man," said the
But the camp laugh remained on the side of young Lin till breakfast was
ended, when the ranch foreman rode into camp.
Him Lin McLean at once addressed. "I was wantin' to speak to you," said
The experienced foreman noticed the boy's holiday appearance. "I
understand you're tired of work," he remarked.
"Who told you?" asked the bewildered Lin.
The foreman touched the boy's pretty handkerchief. "Well, I have a way of
taking things in at a glance," said he. "That's why I'm foreman, I
expect. So you've had enough work?"
"My system's full of it," replied Lin, grinning. As the foreman stood
thinking, he added, "And I'd like my time."
Time, in the cattle idiom, meant back-pay up to date.
"It's good we're not busy," said the foreman.
"Meanin' I'd quit all the same?" inquired Lin, rapidly, flushing.
"No--not meaning any offence. Catch up your horse. I want to make the
post before it gets hot."
The foreman had come down the river from the ranch at Meadow Creek, and
the post, his goal, was Fort Washakie. All this part of the country
formed the Shoshone Indian Reservation, where, by permission, pastured
the herds whose owner would pay Lin his time at Washakie. So the young
cow-puncher flung on his saddle and mounted.
"So-long!" he remarked to the camp, by way of farewell. He might never be
going to see any of them again; but the cow-punchers were not
demonstrative by habit.
"Going to stop long at Washakie?" asked one.
"Alma is not waiter-girl at the hotel now," another mentioned.
"If there's a new girl," said a third, "kiss her one for me, and tell her
I'm handsomer than you."
"I ain't a deceiver of women," said Lin.
"That's why you'll tell her," replied his friend.
"Say, Lin, why are you quittin' us so sudden, anyway?" asked the cook,
grieved to lose him.
"I'm after some variety," said the boy.
"If you pick up more than you can use, just can a little of it for me!"
shouted the cook at the departing McLean.
This was the last of camp by Bull Lake Crossing, and in the foreman's
company young Lin now took the road for his accumulated dollars.
"So you're leaving your bedding and stuff with the outfit?" said the
"Brought my tooth-brush," said Lin, showing it in the breast-pocket of
his flannel shirt.
"Going to Denver?"
"Take in San Francisco?"
"Made any plans?"
"Don't want anything on your brain?"
"Nothin' except my hat, I guess," said Lin, and broke into cheerful song:
"'Twas a nasty baby anyhow,
And it only died to spite us;
'Twas afflicted with the cerebrow
They wound up out of the magic valley of Wind River, through the
bastioned gullies and the gnome-like mystery of dry water-courses, upward
and up to the level of the huge sage-brush plain above. Behind lay the
deep valley they had climbed from, mighty, expanding, its trees like
bushes, its cattle like pebbles, its opposite side towering also to the
edge of this upper plain. There it lay, another world. One step farther
away from its rim, and the two edges of the plain had flowed together
over it like a closing sea, covering without a sign or ripple the great
country which lay sunk beneath.
"A man might think he'd dreamed he'd saw that place," said Lin to the
foreman, and wheeled his horse to the edge again. "She's sure there,
though," he added, gazing down. For a moment his boy face grew
thoughtful. "Shucks!" said he then, abruptly, "where's any joy in money
that's comin' till it arrives? I have most forgot the feel o' spot-cash."
He turned his horse away from the far-winding vision of the river, and
took a sharp jog after the foreman, who had not been waiting for him.
Thus they crossed the eighteen miles of high plain, and came down to Fort
Washakie, in the valley of Little Wind, before the day was hot.
His roll of wages once jammed in his pocket like an old handkerchief,
young Lin precipitated himself out of the post-trader's store and away on
his horse up the stream among the Shoshone tepees to an unexpected
entertainment--a wolf-dance. He had meant to go and see what the new
waiter-girl at the hotel looked like, but put this off promptly to attend
the dance. This hospitality the Shoshone Indians were extending to some
visiting Ute friends, and the neighborhood was assembled to watch the
ring of painted naked savages.
The post-trader looked after the galloping Lin. "What's he quitting his
job for?" he asked the foreman.
"Same as most of 'em quit."
"Never had a boy more so. Good-hearted, willing, a plumb dare-devil with
"And worthless," suggested the post-trader.
"Well--not yet. He's headed that way."
"Been punching cattle long?"
"Came in the country about seventy-eight, I believe, and rode for the
Bordeaux Outfit most a year, and quit. Blew in at Cheyenne till he went
broke, and worked over on to the Platte. Rode for the C. Y. Outfit most a
year, and quit. Blew in at Buffalo. Rode for Balaam awhile on Butte
Creek. Broke his leg. Went to the Drybone Hospital, and when the fracture
was commencing to knit pretty good he broke it again at the hog-ranch
across the bridge. Next time you're in Cheyenne get Dr. Barker to tell
you about that. McLean drifted to Green River last year and went up over
on to Snake, and up Snake, and was around with a prospecting outfit on
Galena Creek by Pitchstone Canyon. Seems he got interested in some
Dutchwoman up there, but she had trouble--died, I think they said--and he
came down by Meteetsee to Wind River. He's liable to go to Mexico or
"If you need him," said the post-trader, closing his ledger, "you can
offer him five more a month."
"That'll not hold him."
"Well, let him go. Have a cigar. The bishop is expected for Sunday, and
I've got to see his room is fixed up for him."
"The bishop!" said the foreman. "I've heard him highly spoken of."
"You can hear him preach to-morrow. The bishop is a good man."
"He's better than that; he's a man," stated the foreman--"at least so
they tell me."
Now, saving an Indian dance, scarce any possible event at the Shoshone
agency could assemble in one spot so many sorts of inhabitants as a visit
from this bishop. Inhabitants of four colors gathered to view the
wolf-dance this afternoon--red men, white men, black men, yellow men.
Next day, three sorts came to church at the agency. The Chinese laundry
was absent. But because, indeed (as the foreman said), the bishop was not
only a good man but a man, Wyoming held him in respect and went to look
at him. He stood in the agency church and held the Episcopal service this
Sunday morning for some brightly glittering army officers and their
families, some white cavalry, and some black infantry; the agency doctor,
the post-trader, his foreman, the government scout, three gamblers, the
waiter-girl from the hotel, the stage-driver, who was there because she
was; old Chief Washakie, white-haired and royal in blankets, with two
royal Utes splendid beside him; one benchful of squatting Indian
children, silent and marvelling; and, on the back bench, the commanding
officer's new hired-girl, and, beside her, Lin McLean.
Mr. McLean's hours were already various and successful. Even at the
wolf-dance, before he had wearied of its monotonous drumming and pageant,
his roving eye had rested upon a girl whose eyes he caught resting upon
him. A look, an approach, a word, and each was soon content with the
other. Then, when her duties called her to the post from him and the
stream's border, with a promise for next day he sought the hotel and
found the three gamblers anxious to make his acquaintance; for when a
cow-puncher has his pay many people will take an interest in him. The
three gamblers did not know that Mr. McLean could play cards. He left
them late in the evening fat with their money, and sought the tepees of
the Arapahoes. They lived across the road from the Shoshones, and among
their tents the boy remained until morning. He was here in church now,
keeping his promise to see the bishop with the girl of yesterday; and
while he gravely looked at the bishop, Miss Sabina Stone allowed his arm
to encircle her waist. No soldier had achieved this yet, but Lin was the
first cow-puncher she had seen, and he had given her the handkerchief
from round his neck.
The quiet air blew in through the windows and door, the pure, light
breath from the mountains; only, passing over their foot-hills it had
caught and carried the clear aroma of the sage-brush. This it brought
into church, and with this seemed also to float the peace and great
silence of the plains. The little melodeon in the corner, played by one
of the ladies at the post, had finished accompanying the hymn, and now it
prolonged a few closing chords while the bishop paused before his
address, resting his keen eyes on the people. He was dressed in a plain
suit of black with a narrow black tie. This was because the Union Pacific
Railroad, while it had delivered him correctly at Green River, had
despatched his robes towards Cheyenne.
Without citing chapter and verse the bishop began:
"And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way
off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his
neck and kissed him."
The bishop told the story of that surpassing parable, and then proceeded
to draw from it a discourse fitted to the drifting destinies in whose
presence he found himself for one solitary morning. He spoke unlike many
clergymen. His words were chiefly those which the people round him used,
and his voice was more like earnest talking than preaching.
Miss Sabina Stone felt the arm of her cow-puncher loosen slightly, and
she looked at him. But he was looking at the bishop, no longer gravely
but with wide-open eyes, alert. When the narrative reached the elder
brother in the field, and how he came to the house and heard sounds of
music and dancing, Miss Stone drew away from her companion and let him
watch the bishop, since he seemed to prefer that. She took to reading
hymns vindictively. The bishop himself noted the sun-browned boy face and
the wide-open eyes. He was too far away to see anything but the alert,
listening position of the young cow-puncher. He could not discern how
that, after he had left the music and dancing and begun to draw morals,
attention faded from those eyes that seemed to watch him, and they filled
with dreaminess. It was very hot in church. Chief Washakie went to sleep,
and so did a corporal; but Lin McLean sat in the same alert position till
Miss Stone pulled him and asked if he intended to sit down through the
hymn. Then church was out. Officers, Indians, and all the people
dispersed through the great sunshine to their dwellings, and the
cow-puncher rode beside Sabina in silence.
"What are you studying over, Mr. McLean?" inquired the lady, after a
"Did you ever taste steamed Duxbury clams?" asked Lin, absently.
"No, indeed. What's them?"
"Oh, just clams. Yu' have drawn butter, too." Mr. McLean fell silent
"I guess I'll be late for settin' the colonel's table. Good-bye," said
Sabina, quickly, and swished her whip across the pony, who scampered away
with her along the straight road across the plain to the post.
Lin caught up with her at once and made his peace.
"Only," protested Sabina, "I ain't used to gentlemen taking me out and--
well, same as if I was a collie-dog. Maybe it's Wind River politeness."
But she went riding with him up Trout Creek in the cool of the afternoon.
Out of the Indian tepees, scattered wide among the flat levels of
sage-brush, smoke rose thin and gentle, and vanished. They splashed
across the many little running channels which lead water through that
thirsty soil, and though the range of mountains came no nearer, behind
them the post, with its white, flat buildings and green trees, dwindled
to a toy village.
"My! but it's far to everywheres here," exclaimed Sabina, "and it's
little you're sayin' for yourself to-day, Mr. McLean. I'll have to do the
talking. What's that thing now, where the rocks are?"
"That's Little Wind River Canyon," said the young man. "Feel like goin'
there, Miss Stone?"
"Why, yes. It looks real nice and shady like, don't it? Let's."
So Miss Stone turned her pony in that direction.
"When do your folks eat supper?" inquired Lin.
"Half-past six. Oh, we've lots of time! Come on."
"How many miles per hour do you figure that cayuse of yourn can travel?"
"What are you a-talking about, anyway? You're that strange to-day," said
"Only if we try to make that canyon, I guess you'll be late settin' the
colonel's table," Lin remarked, his hazel eyes smiling upon her. "That
is, if your horse ain't good for twenty miles an hour. Mine ain't, I
know. But I'll do my best to stay with yu'."
"You're the teasingest man--" said Miss Stone, pouting. "I might have
knowed it was ever so much further nor it looked."
"Well, I ain't sayin' I don't want to go, if yu' was desirous of campin'
"Mr. McLean! Indeed, and I'd do no such thing!" and Sabina giggled.
A sage-hen rose under their horses' feet, and hurtled away heavily over
the next rise of ground, taking a final wide sail out of sight.
"Something like them partridges used to," said Lin, musingly.
"Partridges?" inquired Sabina.
"Used to be in the woods between Lynn and Salem. Maybe the woods are gone
by this time. Yes, they must be gone, I guess."
Presently they dismounted and sought the stream bank.
"We had music and dancing at Thanksgiving and such times," said Lin, his
wiry length stretched on the grass beside the seated Sabina. He was not
looking at her, but she took a pleasure in watching him, his curly head
and bronze face, against which the young mustache showed to its full
"I expect you used to dance a lot," remarked Sabina, for a subject.
"Yes. Do yu' know the Portland Fancy?"
Sabina did not, and her subject died away.
"Did anybody ever tell you you had good eyes?" she inquired next.
"Why, sure," said Lin, waking for a moment; "but I like your color best.
A girl's eyes will mostly beat a man's."
"Indeed, I don't think so!" exclaimed poor Sabina, too much expectant to
perceive the fatal note of routine with which her transient admirer
pronounced this gallantry. He informed her that hers were like the sea,
and she told him she had not yet looked upon the sea.
"Never?" said he. "It's a turruble pity you've never saw salt water. It's
different from fresh. All around home it's blue--awful blue in July--
around Swampscott and Marblehead and Nahant, and around the islands. I've
swam there lots. Then our home bruck up and we went to board in Boston."
He snapped off a flower in reach of his long arm. Suddenly all dreaminess
"I wonder if you'll be settin' the colonel's table when I come back?" he
Miss Stone was at a loss.
"I'm goin' East to-morrow--East, to Boston."
Yesterday he had told her that sixteen miles to Lander was the farthest
journey from the post that he intended to make--the farthest from the
post and her.
"I hope nothing ain't happened to your folks?" said she.
"I ain't got no folks," replied Lin, "barring a brother. I expect he is
taking good care of himself."
"Don't you correspond?"
"Well, I guess he would if there was anything to say. There ain't been
Sabina thought they must have quarrelled, but learned that they had not.
It was time for her now to return and set the colonel's table, so Lin
rose and went to bring her horse. When he had put her in her saddle she
noticed him step to his own.
"Why, I didn't know you were lame!" cried she.
"Shucks!" said Lin. "It don't cramp my style any." He had sprung on his
horse, ridden beside her, leaned and kissed her before she got any
measure of his activity.
"That's how," said he; and they took their homeward way galloping. "No,"
Lin continued, "Frank and me never quarrelled. I just thought I'd have a
look at this Western country. Frank, he thought dry-goods was good enough
for him, and so we're both satisfied, I expect. And that's a lot of years
now. Whoop ye!" he suddenly sang out, and fired his six-shooter at a
jack-rabbit, who strung himself out flat and flew over the earth.
Both dismounted at the parade-ground gate, and he kissed her again when
she was not looking, upon which she very properly slapped him; and he
took the horses to the stable. He sat down to tea at the hotel, and found
the meal consisted of black potatoes, gray tea, and a guttering dish of
fat pork. But his appetite was good, and he remarked to himself that
inside the first hour he was in Boston he would have steamed Duxbury
clams. Of Sabina he never thought again, and it is likely that she found
others to take his place. Fort Washakie was one hundred and fifty miles
from the railway, and men there were many and girls were few.
The next morning the other passengers entered the stage with resignation,
knowing the thirty-six hours of evil that lay before them. Lin climbed up
beside the driver. He had a new trunk now.
"Don't get full, Lin," said the clerk, putting the mail-sacks in at the
"My plans ain't settled that far yet," replied Mr. McLean.
"Leave it out of them," said the voice of the bishop, laughing, inside
It was a cool, fine air. Gazing over the huge plain down in which lies
Fort Washakie, Lin heard the faint notes of the trumpet on the parade
ground, and took a good-bye look at all things. He watched the American
flag grow small, saw the circle of steam rising away down by the hot
springs, looked at the bad lands beyond, chemically pink and rose amid
the vast, natural, quiet-colored plain. Across the spreading distance
Indians trotted at wide spaces, generally two large bucks on one small
pony, or a squaw and pappoose--a bundle of parti-colored rags. Presiding
over the whole rose the mountains to the west, serene, lifting into the
clearest light. Then once again came the now tiny music of the trumpet.
"When do yu' figure on comin' back?" inquired the driver.
"Oh, I'll just look around back there for a spell," said Lin. "About a
month, I guess."
He had seven hundred dollars. At Lander the horses are changed; and
during this operation Lin's friends gathered and said, where was any
sense in going to Boston when you could have a good time where you were?
But Lin remained sitting safe on the stage. Toward evening, at the bottom
of a little dry gulch some eight feet deep, the horses decided it was a
suitable place to stay. It was the bishop who persuaded them to change
their minds. He told the driver to give up beating, and unharness. Then
they were led up the bank, quivering, and a broken trace was spliced with
rope. Then the stage was forced on to the level ground, the bishop
proving a strong man, familiar with the gear of vehicles. They crossed
through the pass among the quaking asps and the pines, and, reaching
Pacific Springs, came down again into open country. That afternoon the
stage put its passengers down on the railroad platform at Green River;
this was the route in those days before the mid-winter catastrophes of
frozen passengers led to its abandonment. The bishop was going west. His
robes had passed him on the up stage during the night. When the reverend
gentleman heard this he was silent for a very short moment, and then
laughed vigorously in the baggage-room.
"I can understand how you swear sometimes," he said to Lin McLean; "but I
can't, you see. Not even at this."
The cow-puncher was checking his own trunk to Omaha.
"Good-bye and good luck to you," continued the bishop, giving his hand to
Lin. "And look here--don't you think you might leave that 'getting full'
out of your plans?"
Lin gave a slightly shamefaced grin. "I don't guess I can, sir," he said.
"I'm givin' yu' straight goods, yu' see," he added.
"That's right. But you look like a man who could stop when he'd had
enough. Try that. You're man enough--and come and see me whenever we're
in the same place."
He went to the hotel. There were several hours for Lin to wait. He walked
up and down the platform till the stars came out and the bright lights of
the town shone in the saloon windows. Over across the way piano-music
sounded through one of the many open doors.
"Wonder if the professor's there yet?" said Lin, and he went across the
railroad tracks. The bartender nodded to him as he passed through into
the back room. In that place were many tables, and the flat clicking and
rattle of ivory counters sounded pleasantly through the music. Lin did
not join the stud-poker game. He stood over a table at which sat a dealer
and a player, very silent, opposite each other, and whereon were painted
sundry cards, numerals, and the colors red and black in squares. The
legend "Jacks pay" was also clearly painted. The player placed chips on
whichever insignia of fortune he chose, and the dealer slid cards (quite
fairly) from the top of a pack that lay held within a skeleton case made
with some clamped bands of tin. Sometimes the player's pile of chips rose
high, and sometimes his sumptuous pillar of gold pieces was lessened by
one. It was very interesting and pretty to see; Lin had much better have
joined the game of stud-poker. Presently the eye of the dealer met the
eye of the player. After that slight incident the player's chip pile
began to rise, and rose steadily, till the dealer made admiring comments
on such a run of luck. Then the player stopped, cashed in, and said
good-night, having nearly doubled the number of his gold pieces.
"Five dollars' worth," said Lin, sitting down in the vacant seat. The
chips were counted out to him. He played with unimportant shiftings of
fortune until a short while before his train was due, and then,
singularly enough, he discovered he was one hundred and fifty dollars
behind the game.
"I guess I'll leave the train go without me," said Lin, buying five
dollars' worth more of ivory counters. So that train came and went,
removing eastward Mr. McLean's trunk.
During the hour that followed his voice grew dogged and his remarks
briefer, as he continually purchased more chips from the now surprised
and sympathetic dealer. It was really wonderful how steadily Lin lost--
just as steadily as his predecessor had won after that meeting of eyes
early in the evening.
When Lin was three hundred dollars out, his voice began to clear of its
huskiness and a slight humor revolved and sparkled in his eye. When his
seven hundred dollars had gone to safer hands and he had nothing left at
all but some silver fractions of a dollar, his robust cheerfulness was
all back again. He walked out and stood among the railroad tracks with
his hands in his pockets, and laughed at himself in the dark. Then his
fingers came on the check for Omaha, and he laughed loudly. The trunk by
this hour must be nearing Rawlins; it was going east anyhow.
"I'm following it, you bet," he declared, kicking the rail. "Not yet
though. Nor I'll not go to Washakie to have 'em josh me. And yonder lays
Boston." He stretched his arm and pointed eastward. Had he seen another
man going on in this fashion alone in the dark, among side-tracked
freight cars, he would have pitied the poor fool. "And I guess Boston'll
have to get along without me for a spell, too," continued Lin. "A man
don't want to show up plumb broke like that younger son did after eatin'
with the hogs the bishop told about. His father was a Jim-dandy, that hog
chap's. Hustled around and set 'em up when he come back home. Frank, he'd
say to me 'How do you do, brother?' and he'd be wearin' a good suit o'
clothes and--no, sir, you bet!"
Lin now watched the great headlight of a freight train bearing slowly
down into Green River from the wilderness. Green River is the end of a
division, an epoch in every train's journey. Lanterns swung signals, the
great dim thing slowed to its standstill by the coal chute, its
locomotive moved away for a turn of repose, the successor backed steaming
to its place to tackle a night's work. Cars were shifted, heavily bumping
"Hello, Lin!" A face was looking from the window of the caboose.
"Hello!" responded Mr. McLean, perceiving above his head Honey Wiggin, a
good friend of his. They had not met for three years.
"They claimed you got killed somewheres. I was sorry to hear it." Honey
offered his condolence quite sincerely.
"Bruck my leg," corrected Lin, "if that's what they meant."
"I expect that's it," said Honey. "You've had no other trouble?"
"Been boomin'," said Lin.
From the mere undertone in their voices it was plain they were good
friends, carefully hiding their pleasure at meeting.
"Wher're yu' bound?" inquired Honey.
"East," said Lin.
"Better jump in here, then. We're goin' west."
"That just suits me," said Lin.
The busy lanterns wagged among the switches, the steady lights of the
saloons shone along the town's wooden facade. From the bluffs that wall
Green River the sweet, clean sage-brush wind blew down in currents
freshly through the coal-smoke. A wrench passed through the train from
locomotive to caboose, each fettered car in turn strained into motion and
slowly rolled over the bridge and into silence from the steam and the
bells of the railroad yard. Through the open windows of the caboose great
dull-red cinders rattled in, and the whistles of distant Union Pacific
locomotives sounded over the open plains ominous and long, like ships at
Honey and Lin sat for a while, making few observations and far between,
as their way is between whom flows a stream of old-time understanding.
Mutual whiskey and silence can express much friendship, and eloquently.
"What are yu' doing at present?" Lin inquired.
Now prospecting means hunting gold, except to such spirits as the boy
Lin. To these it means finding gold. So Lin McLean listened to the talk
of his friend Honey Wiggin as the caboose trundled through the night. He
saw himself in a vision of the near future enter a bank and thump down a
bag of gold-dust. Then he saw the new, clean money the man would hand him
in exchange, bills with round zeroes half covered by being folded over,
and heavy, satisfactory gold pieces. And then he saw the blue water that
twinkles beneath Boston. His fingers came again on his trunk check. He
had his ticket, too. And as dawn now revealed the gray country to him,
his eye fell casually upon a mile-post: "Omaha, 876." He began to watch
for them:--877, 878. But the trunk would really get to Omaha.
"What are yu' laughin' about?" asked Honey.
"Oh, the wheels."
"Don't yu' hear 'em?" said Lin. "'Variety,' they keep a-sayin'. 'Variety,
"Huh!" said Honey, with scorn. "'Ker-chunka-chunk' 's all I make it."
"You're no poet," observed Mr. McLean.
As the train moved into Evanston in the sunlight, a gleam of dismay shot
over Lin's face, and he ducked his head out of sight of the window, but
immediately raised it again. Then he leaned out, waving his arm with a
certain defiant vigor. But the bishop on the platform failed to notice
this performance, though it was done for his sole benefit, nor would Lin
explain to the inquisitive Wiggin what the matter was. Therefore, very
naturally, Honey drew a conclusion for himself, looked quickly out of the
window, and, being disappointed in what he expected to see remarked,
sulkily, "Do yu' figure I care what sort of a lookin' girl is stuck on
yu' in Evanston?" And upon this young Lin laughed so loudly that his
friend told him he had never seen a man get so foolish in three years.
By-and-by they were in Utah, and, in the company of Ogden friends, forgot
prospecting. Later they resumed freight trains and journeyed north In
Idaho they said good-bye to the train hands in the caboose, and came to
Little Camas, and so among the mountains near Feather Creek. Here the
berries were of several sorts, and growing riper each day, and the bears
in the timber above knew this, and came down punctually with the season,
making variety in the otherwise even life of the prospectors. It was now
August, and Lin sat on a wet hill making mud-pies for sixty days. But the
philosopher's stone was not in the wash at that placer, nor did Lin
gather gold-dust sufficient to cover the nail of his thumb. Then they
heard of an excitement at Obo, Nevada, and, hurrying to Obo, they made
some more mud-pies.
Now and then, eating their fat bacon at noon, Honey would say, "Lin,
wher're yu' goin'?"
And Lin always replied, "East." This became a signal for drinks.
For beauty and promise, Nevada is a name among names. Nevada! Pronounce
the word aloud. Does it not evoke mountains and clear air, heights of
untrodden snow and valleys aromatic with the pine and musical with
falling waters? Nevada! But the name is all. Abomination of desolation
presides over nine-tenths of the place. The sun beats down as on a roof
of zinc, fierce and dull. Not a drop of water to a mile of sand. The mean
ash-dump landscape stretches on from nowhere to nowhere, a spot of mange.
No portion of the earth is more lacquered with paltry, unimportant
There is gold in Nevada, but Lin and Honey did not find it. Prospecting
of the sort they did, besides proving unfruitful, is not comfortable. Now
and again, losing patience, Lin would leave his work and stalk about and
gaze down at the scattered men who stooped or knelt in the water. Passing
each busy prospector, Lin would read on every broad, upturned pair of
overalls the same label, "Levi Strauss, No. 2," with a picture of two
lusty horses hitched to one of these garments and vainly struggling to
split them asunder. Lin remembered he was wearing a label just like that
too, and when he considered all things he laughed to himself. Then,
having stretched the ache out of his long legs, he would return to his
ditch. As autumn wore on, his feet grew cold in the mushy gravel they
were sunk in. He beat off the sand that had stiffened on his boots, and
hated Obo, Nevada. But he held himself ready to say "East" whenever he
saw Honey coming along with the bottle. The cold weather put an end to
this adventure. The ditches froze and filled with snow, through which the
sordid gravel heaps showed in a dreary fashion; so the two friends
Near the small new town of Mesa, Arizona, they sat down again in the
dirt. It was milder here, and, when the sun shone, never quite froze. But
this part of Arizona is scarcely more grateful to the eye than Nevada.
Moreover, Lin and Honey found no gold at all. Some men near them found a
little. Then in January, even though the sun shone, it quite froze one
"We're seein' the country, anyway," said Honey.
"Seein' hell," said Lin, "and there's more of it above ground than I
"What'll we do?" Honey inquired.
"Have to walk for a job--a good-payin' job," responded the hopeful
cow-puncher. And he and Honey went to town.
Lin found a job in twenty-five minutes, becoming assistant to the
apothecary in Mesa. Established at the drug-store, he made up the simpler
prescriptions. He had studied practical pharmacy in Boston between the
ages of thirteen and fifteen, and, besides this qualification, the
apothecary had seen him when he first came into Mesa, and liked him. Lin
made no mistakes that he or any one ever knew of; and, as the mild
weather began, he materially increased the apothecary's business by
persuading him to send East for a soda-water fountain. The ladies of the
town clustered around this entertaining novelty, and while sipping
vanilla and lemon bought knickknacks. And the gentlemen of the town
discovered that whiskey with soda and strawberry syrup was delicious, and
produced just as competent effects. A group of them were generally
standing in the shop and shaking dice to decide who should pay for the
next, while Lin administered to each glass the necessary ingredients.
Thus money began to come to him a little more steadily than had been its
wont, and he divided with the penniless Honey.
But Honey found fortune quickly, too. Through excellent card-playing he
won a pinto from a small Mexican horse-thief who came into town from the
South, and who cried bitterly when he delivered up his pet pony to the
new owner. The new owner, being a man of the world and agile on his feet,
was only slightly stabbed that evening as he walked to the dance-hall at
the edge of the town. The Mexican was buried on the next day but one.
The pony stood thirteen two, and was as long as a steamboat. He had white
eyelashes, pink nostrils, and one eye was bright blue. If you spoke
pleasantly to him, he rose instantly on his hind-legs and tried to beat
your face. He did not look as if he could run, and that was what made him
so valuable. Honey travelled through the country with him, and every
gentleman who saw the pinto and heard Honey became anxious to get up a
race. Lin always sent money for Wiggin to place, and he soon opened a
bank account, while Honey, besides his racing-bridle, bought a
silver-inlaid one, a pair of forty-dollar spurs, and a beautiful saddle
richly stamped. Every day (when in Mesa) Honey would step into the
drug-store and inquire, "Lin, wher're yu' goin'?"
But Lin never answered any more. He merely came to the soda-water
fountain with the whiskey. The passing of days brought a choked season of
fine sand and hard blazing sky. Heat rose up from the ground and hung
heavily over man and beast. Many insects sat out in the sun rattling with
joy; the little tearing river grew clear from the swollen mud, and shrank
to a succession of standing pools; and the fat, squatting cactus bloomed
everywhere into butter-colored flowers big as tulips in the sand. There
were artesian wells in Mesa, and the water did not taste very good; but
if you drank from the standing pools where the river had been, you
repaired to the drug-store almost immediately. A troop of wandering
players came dotting along the railroad, and, reaching Mesa, played a
brass-band up and down the street, and announced the powerful drama of
"East Lynne." Then Mr. McLean thought of the Lynn marshes that lie
between there and Chelsea, and of the sea that must look so cool. He
forgot them while following the painful fortunes of the Lady Isabel; but,
going to bed in the back part of the drug-store, he remembered how he
used to beat everybody swimming in the salt water.
"I'm goin'," he said. Then he got up, and, striking the light, he
inspected his bank account. "I'm sure goin'," he repeated, blowing the
light out, "and I can buy the fatted calf myself, you bet!" for he had
often thought of the bishop's story. "You bet!" he remarked once more in
a muffled voice, and was asleep in a minute. The apothecary was sorry to
have him go, and Honey was deeply grieved.
"I'd pull out with yer," he said, "only I can do business round Yuma and
westward with the pinto."
For three farewell days Lin and Honey roved together in all sorts of
places, where they were welcome, and once more Lin rode a horse and was
in his native element. Then he travelled to Deming, and so through Denver
to Omaha, where he was told that his trunk had been sold for some months.
Besides a suit of clothes for town wear, it had contained a buffalo coat
for his brother--something scarce to see in these days.
"Frank'll have to get along without it," he observed, philosophically,
and took the next eastbound train.
If you journey in a Pullman from Mesa to Omaha without a waistcoat, and
with a silk handkerchief knotted over the collar of your flannel shirt
instead of a tie, wearing, besides, tall, high-heeled boots, a soft, gray
hat with a splendid brim, a few people will notice you, but not the
majority. New Mexico and Colorado are used to these things. As Iowa, with
its immense rolling grain, encompasses you, people will stare a little
more, for you're getting near the East, where cow-punchers are not
understood. But in those days the line of cleavage came sharp-drawn at
Chicago. West of there was still tolerably west, but east of there was
east indeed, and the Atlantic Ocean was the next important
stopping-place. In Lin's new train, good gloves, patent-leathers, and
silence prevailed throughout the sleeping-car, which was for Boston
without change. Had not home memories begun impetuously to flood his
mind, he would have felt himself conspicuous. Town clothes and
conventions had their due value with him. But just now the boy's single-
hearted thoughts were far from any surroundings, and he was murmuring to
himself, "To-morrow! tomorrow night!"
There were ladies in that blue plush car for Boston who looked at Lin for
thirty miles at a stretch; and by the time Albany was reached the next
day one or two of them commented that he was the most attractive-looking
man they had ever seen! Whereas, beyond his tallness, and wide-open,
jocular eyes, eyes that seemed those of a not highly conscientious wild
animal, there was nothing remarkable about young Lin except stage effect.
The conductor had been annoyed to have such a passenger; but the
cow-puncher troubled no one, and was extremely silent. So evidently was
he a piece of the true frontier that curious and hopeful
fellow-passengers, after watching him with diversion, more than once took
a seat next to him. He met their chatty inquiries with monosyllables so
few and so unprofitable in their quiet politeness that the passengers
soon gave him up. At Springfield he sent a telegram to his brother at the
great dry-goods establishment that employed him.
The train began its homestretch after Worcester, and whirled and swung by
hills and ponds he began to watch for, and through stations with old
wayside names. These flashed on Lin's eye as he sat with his hat off and
his forehead against the window, looking: Wellesley. Then, not long
after, Riverside. That was the Charles River, and did the picnic woods
used to be above the bridge or below? West Newton; Newtonville; Newton.
"Faneuil's next," he said aloud in the car, as the long-forgotten
home-knowledge shone forth in his recollection. The traveller seated near
said, "Beg pardon?" but, turning, wondered at the all-unconscious Lin,
with his forehead pressed against the glass. The blue water flashed into
sight, and soon after they were running in the darkness between high
walls; but the cow-puncher never moved, though nothing could be seen.
When the porter announced "Boston," he started up and followed like a
sheep in the general exodus. Down on the platform he moved along with the
slow crowd till some one touched him, and, wheeling round, he seized both
his brother's hands and swore a good oath of joy.
There they stood--the long, brown fellow with the silk handkerchief
knotted over his flannel shirt, greeting tremendously the spruce
civilian, who had a rope-colored mustache and bore a fainthearted
resemblance to him. The story was plain on its face to the passers-by;
and one of the ladies who had come in the car with Lin turned twice, and
smiled gently to herself.
But Frank McLean's heart did not warm. He felt that what he had been
afraid of was true; and he saw he was being made conspicuous. He saw men
and women stare in the station, and he saw them staring as he and his
Western brother went through the streets. Lin strode along, sniffing the
air of Boston, looking at all things, and making it a stretch for his
sleek companion to keep step with him. Frank thought of the refined
friends he should have to introduce his brother to; for he had risen with
his salary, and now belonged to a small club where the paying-tellers of
banks played cards every night, and the head clerk at the Parker House
was president. Perhaps he should not have to reveal the cow-puncher to
these shining ones. Perhaps the cow-puncher would not stay very long. Of
course he was glad to see him again, and he would take him to dine at
some obscure place this first evening. But this was not Lin's plan. Frank
must dine with him, at the Parker House. Frank demurred, saying it was he
that should be host.
"And," he added, "they charge up high for wines at Parker's." Then for
the twentieth time he shifted a sidelong eye over his brother's clothes.
"You're goin' to take your grub with me," said Lin. "That's all right,
I guess. And there ain't any 'no' about it. Things is not the same like
as if father was livin'--(his voice softened)--and here to see me come
home. Now I'm good for several dinners with wines charged up high, I
expect, nor it ain't nobody in this world, barrin' just Lin McLean, that
I've any need to ask for anything. 'Mr. McLean,' says I to Lin, 'can yu'
spare me some cash?' 'Why, to be sure, you bet!' And we'll start off with
steamed Duxbury clams." The cow-puncher slapped his pocket, where the
coin made a muffled chinking. Then he said, gruffly, "I suppose
Swampscott's there yet?"
"Yes," said Frank. "It's a dead little town, is Swampscott."
"I guess I'll take a look at the old house tomorrow," Lin pursued.
"Oh, that's been pulled down since-- I forget the year they improved that
Lin regarded in silence his brother, who was speaking so jauntily of the
first and last home they had ever had.
"Seventy-nine is when it was," continued Frank. "So you can save the
trouble of travelling away down to Swampscott."
"I guess I'll go to the graveyard, anyway," said the cow-puncher in his
offish voice, and looking fixedly in front of him.
They came into Washington Street, and again the elder McLean uneasily
surveyed the younger's appearance.
But the momentary chill had melted from the heart of the genial Lin.
"After to-morrow," said he, laying a hand on his brother's shoulder, "yu'
can start any lead yu' please, and I guess I can stay with yu' pretty
Frank said nothing. He saw one of the members of his club on the other
side of the way, and the member saw him, and Frank caught diverted
amazement on the member's face. Lin's hand weighed on his shoulder, and
the stress became too great. "Lin," said he, "while you're running with
our crowd, you don't want to wear that style of hat, you know."
It may be that such words can in some way be spoken at such a time, but
not in the way that these were said. The frozen fact was irrevocably
revealed in the tone of Frank's voice.
The cow-puncher stopped dead short, and his hand slid off his brother's
shoulder. "You've made it plain," he said, evenly, slanting his steady
eyes down into Frank's. "You've explained yourself fairly well. Run along
with your crowd, and I'll not bother yu' more with comin' round and
causin' yu' to feel ashamed. It's a heap better to understand these
things at once, and save making a fool of yourself any longer 'n yu' need
to. I guess there ain't no more to be said, only one thing. If yu' see me
around on the street, don't yu' try any talk, for I'd be liable to close
your jaw up, and maybe yu'd have more of a job explainin' that to your
crowd than you've had makin' me see what kind of a man I've got for a
Frank found himself standing alone before any reply to these sentences
had occurred to him. He walked slowly to his club, where a friend joked
him on his glumness.
Lin made a sore failure of amusing himself that night; and in the bright,
hot morning he got into the train for Swampscott. At the graveyard he saw
a woman lay a bunch of flowers on a mound and kneel, weeping.
"There ain't nobody to do that for this one," thought the cow-puncher,
and looked down at the grave he had come to see, then absently gazed at
She had stolen away from her daily life to come here where her grief was
shrined, and now her heart found it hard to bid the lonely place goodbye.
So she lingered long, her thoughts sunk deep in the motionless past. When
she at last looked up, she saw the tall, strange man re-enter from the
street among the tombs, and deposit on one of them an ungainly lump of
flowers. They were what Lin had been able hastily to buy in Swampscott.
He spread them gently as he had noticed the woman do, but her act of
kneeling he did not imitate. He went away quickly. For some hours he hung
about the little town, aimlessly loitering, watching the salt water where
he used to swim.
"Yu' don't belong any more, Lin," he miserably said at length, and took
his way to Boston.
The next morning, determined to see the sights, he was in New York, and
drifted about to all places night and day, till his money was mostly
gone, and nothing to show for it but a somewhat pleasure-beaten face and
a deep hatred of the crowded, scrambling East. So he suddenly bought a
ticket for Green River, Wyoming, and escaped from the city that seemed to
numb his good humor.
When, after three days, the Missouri lay behind him and his holiday, he
stretched his legs and took heart to see out of the window the signs of
approaching desolation. And when on the fourth day civilization was
utterly emptied out of the world, he saw a bunch of cattle, and,
galloping among them, his spurred and booted kindred. And his manner took
on that alertness a horse shows on turning into the home road. As the
stage took him toward Washakie, old friends turned up every fifty miles
or so, shambling out of a cabin or a stable, and saying, in casual tones,
"Hello, Lin, where've you been at?"
At Lander, there got into the stage another old acquaintance, the Bishop
of Wyoming. He knew Lin at once, and held out his hand, and his greeting
"It took a week for my robes to catch up with me," he said, laughing.
Then, in a little while, "How was the East?"
"First-rate," said Lin, not looking at him. He was shy of the
conversation's taking a moral turn. But the bishop had no intention of
reverting--at any rate, just now--to their last talk at Green River, and
the advice he had then given.
"I trust your friends were all well?" he said.
"I guess they was healthy enough," said Lin.
"I suppose you found Boston much changed? It's a beautiful city."
"Good enough town for them that likes it, I expect," Lin replied.
The bishop was forming a notion of what the matter must be, but he had no
notion whatever of what now revealed itself.
"Mr. Bishop," the cow-puncher said, "how was that about that fellow you
told about that's in the Bible somewheres?--he come home to his folks,
and they--well there was his father saw him comin'"--He stopped,
Then the bishop remembered the wide-open eyes, and how he had noticed
them in the church at the agency intently watching him. And, just now,
what were best to say he did not know. He looked at the young man
"Have yu' got a Bible?" pursued Lin. "For, excuse me, but I'd like yu' to
read that onced."
So the bishop read, and Lin listened. And all the while this good
clergyman was perplexed how to speak--or if indeed to speak at this time
at all--to the heart of the man beside him for whom the parable had gone
so sorely wrong. When the reading was done, Lin had not taken his eyes
from the bishop's face.
"How long has that there been wrote?" he asked.
He was told about how long.
"Mr. Bishop," said Lin, "I ain't got good knowledge of the Bible, and I
never figured it to be a book much on to facts. And I tell you I'm more
plumb beat about it's having that elder brother, and him being angry,
down in black and white two thousand years ago, than--than if I'd seen a
man turn water into wine, for I'd have knowed that ain't so. But the
elder brother is facts--dead-sure facts. And they knowed about that, and
put it down just the same as life two thousand years ago!"
"Well," said the bishop, wisely ignoring the challenge as to miracles, "I
am a good twenty years older than you, and all that time I've been
finding more facts in the Bible every day I have lived."
Lin meditated. "I guess that could be," he said. "Yes; after that yu've
been a-readin', and what I know for myself that I didn't know till
lately, I guess that could be."
Then the bishop talked with exceeding care, nor did he ask uncomfortable
things, or moralize visibly. Thus he came to hear how it had fared with
Lin his friend, and Lin forgot altogether about its being a parson he was
delivering the fulness of his heart to. "And come to think," he
concluded, "it weren't home I had went to back East, layin' round them
big cities, where a man can't help but feel strange all the week. No,
sir! Yu' can blow in a thousand dollars like I did in New York, and it'll
not give yu' any more home feelin' than what cattle has put in a
stock-yard. Nor it wouldn't have in Boston neither. Now this country
here" (he waved his hand towards the endless sage-brush), "seein' it
onced more, I know where my home is, and I wouldn't live nowheres else.
Only I ain't got no father watching for me to come up Wind River."
The cow-puncher stated this merely as a fact, and without any note of
self-pity. But the bishops face grew very tender, and he looked away from
Lin. Knowing his man--for had he not seen many of this kind in his desert
diocese?--he forbore to make any text from that last sentence the
cow-puncher had spoken. Lin talked cheerfully on about what he should now
do. The round-up must be somewhere near Du Noir Creek. He would join it
this season, but next he should work over to the Powder River country.
More business was over there, and better chances for a man to take up
some land and have a ranch of his own. As they got out at Fort Washakie,
the bishop handed him a small book, in which he had turned several leaves
down, carefully avoiding any page that related of miracles.
"You need not read it through, you know," he said, smiling; "just read
where I have marked, and see if you don't find some more facts. Goodbye--
and always come and see me."
The next morning he watched Lin riding slowly out of the post towards
Wind River, leading a single pack-horse. By-and-by the little moving dot
went over the ridge. And as the bishop walked back into the
parade-ground, thinking over the possibilities in that untrained manly
soul, he shook his head sorrowfully.
THE WINNING OF THE BISCUIT-SHOOTER
It was quite clear to me that Mr. McLean could not know the news. Meeting
him to-day had been unforeseen--unforeseen and so pleasant that the thing
had never come into my head until just now, after both of us had talked
and dined our fill, and were torpid with satisfaction.
I had found Lin here at Riverside in the morning. At my horse's approach
to the cabin, it was he and not the postmaster who had come precipitately
out of the door.
"I'm turruble pleased to see yu'," he had said, immediately.
"What's happened?" said I, in some concern at his appearance.
And he piteously explained: "Why, I've been here all alone since
This was indeed all; and my hasty impressions of shooting and a corpse
gave way to mirth over the child and his innocent grievance that he had
blurted out before I could get off my horse.
Since when, I inquired of him, had his own company become such a shock to
"As to that," replied Mr. McLean, a thought ruffled, "when a man expects
lonesomeness he stands it like he stands anything else, of course. But
when he has figured on finding company--say--" he broke off (and
vindictiveness sparkled in his eye)--"when you're lucky enough to catch
yourself alone, why, I suppose yu' just take a chair and chat to yourself
for hours.--You've not seen anything of Tommy?" he pursued with interest.
I had not; and forthwith Lin poured out to me the pent-up complaints and
sociability with which he was bursting. The foreman had sent him over
here with a sackful of letters for the post, and to bring back the week's
mail for the ranch. A day was gone now, and nothing for a man to do but
sit and sit. Tommy was overdue fifteen hours. Well, you could have
endured that, but the neighbors had all locked their cabins and gone to
Buffalo. It was circus week in Buffalo. Had I ever considered the money
there must be in the circus business? Tommy had taken the outgoing
letters early yesterday. Nobody had kept him waiting. By all rules he
should have been back again last night. Maybe the stage was late reaching
Powder River, and Tommy had had to lay over for it. Well, that would
justify him. Far more likely he had gone to the circus himself and taken
the mail with him. Tommy was no type of man for postmaster. Except
drawing the allowance his mother in the East gave him first of every
month, he had never shown punctuality that Lin could remember. Never had
any second thoughts, and awful few first ones. Told bigger lies than a
small man ought, also.
"Has successes, though," said I, wickedly.
"Huh!" went on Mr. McLean. "Successes! One ice-cream-soda success. And
she"--Lin's still wounded male pride made him plaintive--"why, even that
girl quit him, once she got the chance to appreciate how insignificant he
was as compared with the size of his words. No, sir. Not one of 'em
retains interest in Tommy."
Lin was unsaddling and looking after my horse, just because he was glad
to see me. Since our first acquaintance, that memorable summer of
Pitchstone Canyon when he had taken such good care of me and such bad care
of himself, I had learned pretty well about horses and camp craft in
general. He was an entire boy then. But he had been East since, East by a
route of his own discovering--and from his account of that journey it had
proved, I think, a sort of spiritual experience. And then the years of
our friendship were beginning to roll up. Manhood of the body he had
always richly possessed; and now, whenever we met after a season's
absence and spoke those invariable words which all old friends upon this
earth use to each other at meeting--"You haven't changed, you haven't
changed at all!"--I would wonder if manhood had arrived in Lin's boy
soul. And so to-day, while he attended to my horse and explained the
nature of Tommy (a subject he dearly loved just now), I looked at him and
took an intimate, superior pride in feeling how much more mature I was
than he, after all.
There's nothing like a sense of merit for making one feel aggrieved, and
on our return to the cabin Mr. McLean pointed with disgust to some
"Look at those sorrowful toothpicks," said he: "Tommy's work."
So Lin, the excellent hearted, had angrily busied himself, and chopped a
pile of real logs that would last a week. He had also cleaned the stove,
and nailed up the bed, the pillow-end of which was on the floor. It
appeared the master of the house had been sleeping in it the reverse way
on account of the slant. Thus had Lin cooked and dined alone, supped
alone, and sat over some old newspapers until bed-time alone with his
sense of virtue. And now here it was long after breakfast, and no Tommy
"It's good yu' come this forenoon," Lin said to me. "I'd not have had the
heart to get up another dinner just for myself. Let's eat rich!"
Accordingly, we had richly eaten, Lin and I. He had gone out among the
sheds and caught some eggs (that is how he spoke of it), we had opened a
number of things in cans, and I had made my famous dish of evaporated
apricots, in which I managed to fling a suspicion of caramel throughout
"Tommy'll be hot about these," said Lin, joyfully, as we ate the eggs.
"He don't mind what yu' use of his canned goods--pickled salmon and
truck. He is hospitable all right enough till it comes to an egg. Then
he'll tell any lie. But shucks! Yu' can read Tommy right through his
clothing. 'Make yourself at home, Lin,' says he, yesterday. And he showed
me his fresh milk and his stuff. 'Here's a new ham,' says he; 'too bad my
damned hens ain't been layin'. The sons-o'guns have quit on me ever since
Christmas.' And away he goes to Powder River for the mail. 'You swore too
heavy about them hens,' thinks I. Well, I expect he may have travelled
half a mile by the time I'd found four nests."
I am fond of eggs, and eat them constantly--and in Wyoming they were
always a luxury. But I never forget those that day, and how Lin and I
enjoyed them thinking of Tommy. Perhaps manhood was not quite established
in my own soul at that time--and perhaps that is the reason why it is the
only time I have ever known which I would live over again, those years
when people said, "You are old enough to know better"--and one didn't
Salmon, apricots, eggs, we dealt with them all properly, and I had some
cigars. It was now that the news came back into my head.
"What do you think of--" I began, and stopped.
I spoke out of a long silence, the slack, luxurious silence of digestion.
I got no answer, naturally, from the torpid Lin, and then it occurred to
me that he would have asked me what I thought, long before this, had he
known. So, observing how comfortable he was, I began differently.
"What is the most important event that can happen in this country?" said
Mr. McLean heard me where he lay along the floor of the cabin on his
back, dozing by the fire; but his eyes remained closed. He waggled one
limp, open hand slightly at me, and torpor resumed her dominion over him.
"I want to know what you consider the most important event that can
happen in this country," said I, again, enunciating each word with slow
The throat and lips of Mr. McLean moved, and a sulky sound came forth
that I recognized to be meant for the word "War." Then he rolled over so
that his face was away from me, and put an arm over his eyes.
"I don't mean country in the sense of United States," said I. "I mean
this country here, and Bear Creek, and--well, the ranches southward for
fifty miles, say. Important to this section."
"Mosquitoes'll be due in about three weeks," said Lin. "Yu' might leave a
man rest till then."
"I want your opinion," said I.
"Oh, misery! Well, a raise in the price of steers."
"Yu' said yu' wanted my opinion," said Lin. "Seems like yu' merely figure
on givin' me yours."
"Very well," said I. "Very well, then."
I took up a copy of the Cheyenne Sun. It was five weeks old, and I soon
perceived that I had read it three weeks ago; but I read it again for
some minutes now.
"I expect a railroad would be more important," said Mr. McLean,
persuasively, from the floor.
"Than a rise in steers?" said I, occupied with the Cheyenne Sun. "Oh yes.
Yes, a railroad certainly would."
"It's got to be money, anyhow," stated Lin, thoroughly wakened. "Money in
"How little you understand the real wants of the country!" said I, coming
to the point. "It's a girl."
Mr. McLean lay quite still on the floor.
"A girl," I repeated. "A new girl coming to this starved country."
The cow-puncher took a long, gradual stretch and began to smile. "Well,"
said he, "yu' caught me--if that's much to do when a man is half-witted
with dinner and sleep." He closed his eyes again and lay with a specious
expression of indifference. But that sort of thing is a solitary
entertainment, and palls. "Starved," he presently muttered. "We are kind
o' starved that way I'll admit. More dollars than girls to the square
mile. And to think of all of us nice, healthy, young--bet yu' I know who
she is!" he triumphantly cried. He had sat up and levelled a finger at me
with the throw-down jerk of a marksman. "Sidney, Nebraska."
I nodded. This was not the lady's name--he could not recall her name--but
his geography of her was accurate.
One day in February my friend, Mrs. Taylor over on Bear Creek, had
received a letter--no common event for her. Therefore, during several
days she had all callers read it just as naturally as she had them all
see the new baby, and baby and letter had both been brought out for me.
The letter was signed,
"Ever your afectionite frend.
and was not easy to read, here and there. But you could piece out the
drift of it, and there was Mrs. Taylor by your side, eager to help you
when you stumbled. Miss Peck wrote that she was overworked in Sidney,
Nebraska, and needed a holiday. When the weather grew warm she should
like to come to Bear Creek and be like old times. "Like to come and be
like old times" filled Mrs. Taylor with sentiment and the cow-punchers
with expectation. But it is a long way from February to warm weather on
Bear Creek, and even cow-punchers will forget about a new girl if she
does not come. For several weeks I had not heard Miss Peck mentioned, and
old girls had to do. Yesterday, however, when I paid a visit to Miss
Molly Wood (the Bear Creek schoolmistress), I found her keeping in order
the cabin and the children of the Taylors, while they were gone
forty-five miles to the stage station to meet their guest.
"Well," said Lin, judicially, "Miss Wood is a lady."
"Yes," said I, with deep gravity. For I was thinking of an occasion when
Mr. McLean had discovered that truth somewhat abruptly.
Lin thoughtfully continued. "She is--she's--she's--what are you laughin'
"Oh, nothing. You don't see quite so much of Miss Wood as you used to, do
"Huh! So that's got around. Well, o' course I'd ought t've knowed better,
I suppose. All the same, there's lots and lots of girls do like gettin'
kissed against their wishes--and you know it."
"But the point would rather seem to be that she--"
"Would rather seem! Don't yu' start that professor style o' yours, or
I'll--I'll talk more wickedness in worse language than ever yu've heard
me do yet."
"Impossible!" I murmured, sweetly, and Master Lin went on.
"As to point--that don't need to be explained to me. She's a lady all
right." He ruminated for a moment. "She has about scared all the boys
off, though," he continued. "And that's what you get by being refined,"
he concluded, as if Providence had at length spoken in this matter.
"She has not scared off a boy from Virginia, I notice," said I. "He was
there yesterday afternoon again. Ridden all the way over from Sunk Creek.
Didn't seem particularly frightened."
"Oh, well, nothin' alarms him--not even refinement," said Mr. McLean,
with his grin. "And she'll fool your Virginian like she done the balance
of us. You wait. Shucks! If all the girls were that chilly, why, what
would us poor punchers do?"
"You have me cornered," said I, and we sat in a philosophical silence,
Lin on the floor still, and I at the window. There I looked out upon a
scene my eyes never tired of then, nor can my memory now. Spring had
passed over it with its first, lightest steps. The pastured levels
undulated in emerald. Through the many-changing sage, that just this
moment of to-day was lilac, shone greens scarce a week old in the dimples
of the foot-hills; and greens new-born beneath today's sun melted among
them. Around the doubling of the creek in the willow thickets glimmered
skeined veils of yellow and delicate crimson. The stream poured
turbulently away from the snows of the mountains behind us. It went
winding in many folds across the meadows into distance and smallness, and
so vanished round the great red battlement of wall beyond. Upon this were
falling the deep hues of afternoon--violet, rose, and saffron, swimming
and meeting as if some prism had dissolved and flowed over the turrets
and crevices of the sandstone. Far over there I saw a dot move.
"At last!" said I.
Lin looked out of the window. "It's more than Tommy," said he, at once;
and his eyes made it out before mine could. "It's a wagon. That's Tommy's
bald-faced horse alongside. He's fooling to the finish," Lin severely
commented, as if, after all this delay, there should at least be a
Presently, however, a homestretch seemed likely to occur. The bald-faced
horse executed some lively manoeuvres, and Tommy's voice reached us
faintly through the light spring air. He was evidently howling the
remarkable strain of yells that the cow-punchers invented as the speech
best understood by cows--"Oi-ee, yah, whoop-yahye-ee, oooo-oop, oop,
oop-oop-oop-oop-yah-hee!" But that gives you no idea of it. Alphabets are
worse than photographs. It is not the lungs of every man that can produce
these effects, nor even from armies, eagles, or mules were such sounds
ever heard on earth. The cow-puncher invented them. And when the last
cow-puncher is laid to rest (if that, alas! have not already befallen)
the yells will be forever gone. Singularly enough, the cattle appeared to
appreciate them. Tommy always did them very badly, and that was plain
even at this distance. Nor did he give us a homestretch, after all. The
bald-faced horse made a number of evolutions and returned beside the
"Showin' off," remarked Lin. "Tommy's showin' off." Suspicion crossed his
face, and then certainty. "Why, we might have knowed that!" he exclaimed,
in dudgeon. "It's her." He hastened outside for a better look, and I came
to the door myself. "That's what it is," said he. "It's the girl. Oh yes.
That's Taylor's buckskin pair he traded Balaam for. She come by the stage
all right yesterday, yu' see, but she has been too tired to travel, yu'
see, or else, maybe, Taylor wanted to rest his buckskins--they're
four-year-olds. Or else--anyway, they laid over last night at Powder
River, and Tommy he has just laid over too, yu' see, holdin' the mail
back on us twenty-four hours--and that's your postmaster!"
It was our postmaster, and this he had done, quite as the virtuously
indignant McLean surmised. Had I taken the same interest in the new girl,
I suppose that I too should have felt virtuously indignant.
Lin and I stood outside to receive the travellers. As their cavalcade
drew near, Mr. McLean grew silent and watchful, his whole attention
focused upon the Taylors' vehicle. Its approach was joyous. Its gear made
a cheerful clanking, Taylor cracked his whip and encouragingly chirruped
to his buckskins, and Tommy's apparatus jingled musically. For Tommy wore
upon himself and his saddle all the things you can wear in the Wild West.
Except that his hair was not long, our postmaster might have conducted a
show and minted gold by exhibiting his romantic person before the eyes of
princes. He began with a black-and-yellow rattlesnake skin for a
hat-band, he continued with a fringed and beaded shirt of buckskin, and
concluded with large, tinkling spurs. Of course, there were things
between his shirt and his heels, but all leather and deadly weapons. He
had also a riata, a cuerta, and tapaderos, and frequently employed these
Spanish names for the objects. I wish that I had not lost Tommy's
photograph in Rocky Mountain costume. You must understand that he was
really pretty, with blue eyes, ruddy cheeks, and a graceful figure; and,
besides, he had twenty-four hours' start of poor dusty Lin, whose best
clothes were elsewhere.
You might have supposed that it would be Mrs. Taylor who should present
us to her friend from Sidney, Nebraska; but Tommy on his horse undertook
the office before the wagon had well come to a standstill. "Good friends
of mine, and gentlemen, both," said he to Miss Peck; and to us, "A lady
whose acquaintance will prove a treat to our section."
We all bowed at each other beneath the florid expanse of these
recommendations, and I was proceeding to murmur something about its being
a long journey and a fine day when Miss Peck cut me short, gaily:
"Well," she exclaimed to Tommy, "I guess I'm pretty near ready for them
eggs you've spoke so much about."
I have not often seen Mr. McLean lose his presence of mind. He needed
merely to exclaim, "Why, Tommy, you told me your hens had not been laying
since Christmas!" and we could have sat quiet and let Tommy try to find
all the eggs that he could. But the new girl was a sore embarrassment to
the cow-puncher's wits. Poor Lin stood by the wheels of the wagon. He
looked up at Miss Peck, he looked over at Tommy, his features assumed a
rueful expression, and he wretchedly blurted,
"Why, Tommy, I've been and eat 'em."
"Well, if that ain't!" cried Miss Peck. She stared with interest at Lin
as he now assisted her to descend.
"All?" faltered Tommy. "Not the four nests?"
"I've had three meals, yu' know," Lin reminded him, deprecatingly.
"I helped him," said I. "Ten innocent, fresh eggs. But we have left some
ham. Forgive us, please."
"I declare!" said Miss Peck, abruptly, and rolled her sluggish, inviting
eyes upon me. "You're a case, too, I expect."
But she took only brief note of me, although it was from head to foot. In
her stare the dull shine of familiarity grew vacant, and she turned back
to Lin McLean. "You carry that," said she, and gave the pleased
cow-puncher a hand valise.
"I'll look after your things, Miss Peck," called Tommy, now springing
down from his horse. The egg tragedy had momentarily stunned him.
"You'll attend to the mail first, Mr. Postmaster!" said the lady, but
favoring him with a look from her large eyes. "There's plenty of
gentlemen here." With that her glance favored Lin. She went into the
cabin, he following her close, with the Taylors and myself in the rear.
"Well, I guess I'm about collapsed!" said she, vigorously, and sank upon
one of Tommy's chairs.
The fragile article fell into sticks beneath her, and Lin leaped to her
assistance. He placed her upon a firmer foundation. Mrs. Taylor brought a
basin and towel to bathe the dust from her face, Mr. Taylor produced
whiskey, and I found sugar and hot water. Tommy would doubtless have done
something in the way of assistance or restoratives, but he was gone to
the stable with the horses.
"Shall I get your medicine from the valise, deary?" inquired Mrs. Taylor.
"Not now," her visitor answered; and I wondered why she should take such
a quick look at me.
"We'll soon have yu' independent of medicine," said Lin, gallantly. "Our
climate and scenery here has frequently raised the dead."
"You're a case, anyway!" exclaimed the sick lady with rich conviction.
The cow-puncher now sat himself on the edge of Tommy's bed, and, throwing
one leg across the other, began to raise her spirits with cheerful talk.
She steadily watched him--his face sometimes, sometimes his lounging,
masculine figure. While he thus devoted his attentions to her, Taylor
departed to help Tommy at the stable, and good Mrs. Taylor, busy with
supper for all of us in the kitchen, expressed her joy at having her old
friend of childhood for a visit after so many years.
"Sickness has changed poor Katie some," said she. "But I'm hoping she'll
get back her looks on Bear Creek."
"She seems less feeble than I had understood," I remarked.
"Yes, indeed! I do believe she's feeling stronger. She was that tired and
down yesterday with the long stage-ride, and it is so lonesome! But
Taylor and I heartened her up, and Tommy came with the mail, and to-day
she's real spruced-up like, feeling she's among friends."
"How long will she stay?" I inquired.
"Just as long as ever she wants! Me and Katie hasn't met since we was
young girls in Dubuque, for I left home when I married Taylor, and he
brought me to this country right soon; and it ain't been like Dubuque
much, though if I had it to do over again I'd do just the same, as Taylor
knows. Katie and me hasn't wrote even, not till this February, for you
always mean to and you don't. Well, it'll be like old times. Katie'll be
most thirty-four, I expect. Yes. I was seventeen and she was sixteen the
very month I was married. Poor thing! She ought to have got some good man
for a husband, but I expect she didn't have any chance, for there was a
big fam'ly o' them girls, and old Peck used to act real scandalous,
getting drunk so folks didn't visit there evenings scarcely at all. And
so she quit home, it seems, and got a position in the railroad
eating-house at Sidney, and now she has poor health with feeding them big
trains day and night."
"A biscuit-shooter!" said I.
Loyal Mrs. Taylor stirred some batter in silence. "Well," said she then,
"I'm told that's what the yard-hands of the railroad call them poor
waiter-girls. You might hear it around the switches at them division
I had heard it in higher places also, but meekly accepted the reproof.
If you have made your trans-Missouri journeys only since the new era of
dining-cars, there is a quantity of things you have come too late for,
and will never know. Three times a day in the brave days of old you
sprang from your scarce-halted car at the summons of a gong. You
discerned by instinct the right direction, and, passing steadily through
doorways, had taken, before you knew it, one of some sixty chairs in a
room of tables and catsup bottles. Behind the chairs, standing attention,
a platoon of Amazons, thick-wristed, pink-and-blue, began immediately a
swift chant. It hymned the total bill-of-fare at a blow. In this
inexpressible ceremony the name of every dish went hurtling into the
next, telescoped to shapelessness. Moreover, if you stopped your Amazon
in the middle, it dislocated her, and she merely went back and took a
fresh start. The chant was always the same, but you never learned it. As
soon as it began, your mind snapped shut like the upper berth in a
Pullman. You must have uttered appropriate words--even a parrot will--for
next you were eating things--pie, ham, hot cakes--as fast as you could.
Twenty minutes of swallowing, and all aboard for Ogden, with your
pile-driven stomach dumb with amazement. The Strasburg goose is not
dieted with greater velocity, and "biscuit-shooter" is a grand word. Very
likely some Homer of the railroad yards first said it--for what men upon
the present earth so speak with imagination's tongue as we Americans?
If Miss Peck had been a biscuit-shooter, I could account readily for her
conversation, her equipped deportment, the maturity in her round, blue,
marble eye. Her abrupt laugh, something beyond gay, was now sounding in
response to Mr. McLean's lively sallies, and I found him fanning her into
convalescence with his hat. She herself made but few remarks, but allowed
the cow-puncher to entertain her, merely exclaiming briefly now and then,
"I declare!" and "If you ain't!" Lin was most certainly engaging, if that
was the lady's meaning. His wide-open eyes sparkled upon her, and he half
closed them now and then to look at her more effectively. I suppose she
was worth it to him. I have forgotten to say that she was handsome in a
large California-fruit style. They made a good-looking pair of animals.
But it was in the presence of Tommy that Master Lin shone more
energetically than ever, and under such shining Tommy was transparently
restless. He tried, and failed, to bring the conversation his way, and
took to rearranging the mail and the furniture.
"Supper's ready," he said, at length. "Come right in, Miss Peck; right in
here. This is your seat--this one, please. Now you can see my fields out
of the window."
"You sit here," said the biscuit-shooter to Lin; and thus she was between
them. "Them's elegant!" she presently exclaimed to Tommy. "Did you cook
I explained that the apricots were of my preparation.
"Indeed!" said she, and returned to Tommy, who had been telling her of
his ranch, his potatoes, his horses. "And do you punch cattle, too?" she
inquired of him.
"Me?" said Tommy, slightingly; "gave it up years ago; too empty a life
for me. I leave that to such as like it. When a man owns his own
property"--Tommy swept his hand at the whole landscape--"he takes to
more intellectual work."
"Lickin' postage-stamps," Mr. McLean suggested, sourly.
"You lick them and I cancel them," answered the postmaster; and it does
not seem a powerful rejoinder. But Miss Peck uttered her laugh.
"That's one on you," she told Lin. And throughout this meal it was Tommy
who had her favor. She partook of his generous supplies; she listened to
his romantic inventions, the trails he had discovered, the bears he had
slain; and after supper it was with Tommy, and not with Lin, that she
went for a little walk.
"Katie was ever a tease," said Mrs. Taylor of her childhood friend, and
Mr. Taylor observed that there was always safety in numbers. "She'll get
used to the ways of this country quicker than our little school-marm,"
Mr. McLean said very little, but read the new-arrived papers. It was only
when bedtime dispersed us, the ladies in the cabin and the men choosing
various spots outside, that he became talkative again for a while. We lay
in the blank--we had spread on some soft, dry sand in preference to the
stable, where Taylor and Tommy had gone. Under the contemplative
influence of the stars, Lin fell into generalization.
"Ever notice," said he, "how whiskey and lyin' act the same on a man?"
I did not feel sure that I had.
"Just the same way. You keep either of 'em up long enough, and yu' get to
require it. If Tommy didn't lie some every day, he'd get sick."
I was sleepy, but I murmured assent to this, and trusted he would not go
"Ever notice," said he, "how the victims of the whiskey and lyin' habit
get to increasing the dose?"
"Yes," said I.
"Him roping six bears!" pursued Mr. McLean, after further contemplation.
"Or any bear. Ever notice how the worser a man's lyin' the silenter other
men'll get? Why's that, now?"
I believe that I made a faint sound to imply that I was following him.
"Men don't get took in. But ladies now, they--"
Here he paused again, and during the next interval of contemplation I
sank beyond his reach.
In the morning I left Riverside for Buffalo, and there or thereabouts I
remained for a number of weeks. Miss Peck did not enter my thoughts, nor
did I meet any one to remind me of her, until one day I stopped at the
drug-store. It was not for drugs, but gossip, that I went. In the daytime
there was no place like the apothecary's for meeting men and hearing the
news. There I heard how things were going everywhere, including Bear
All the cow-punchers liked the new girl up there, said gossip. She was a
great addition to society. Reported to be more companionable than the
school-marm, Miss Molly Wood, who had been raised too far east, and
showed it. Vermont, or some such dude place. Several had been in town
buying presents for Miss Katie Peck. Tommy Postmaster had paid high for a
necklace of elk-tushes the government scout at McKinney sold him. Too bad
Miss Peck did not enjoy good health. Shorty had been in only yesterday to
get her medicine again. Third bottle. Had I heard the big joke on Lin
McLean? He had promised her the skin of a big bear he knew the location
of, and Tommy got the bear.
Two days after this I joined one of the roundup camps at sunset. They had
been working from Salt Creek to Bear Creek, and the Taylor ranch was in
visiting distance from them again, after an interval of gathering and
branding far across the country. The Virginian, the gentle-voiced
Southerner, whom I had last seen lingering with Miss Wood, was in camp.
Silent three-quarters of the time, as was his way, he sat gravely
watching Lin McLean. That person seemed silent also, as was not his way
quite so much.
"Lin," said the Southerner, "I reckon you're failin'."
Mr. McLean raised a sombre eye, but did not trouble to answer further.
"A healthy man's laigs ought to fill his pants," pursued the Virginian.
The challenged puncher stretched out a limb and showed his muscles with
"And yu' cert'nly take no comfort in your food," his ingenious friend
continued, slowly and gently.
"I'll eat you a match any day and place yu' name," said Lin.
"It ain't sca'cely hon'able," went on the Virginian, "to waste away
durin' the round-up. A man owes his strength to them that hires it. If he
is paid to rope stock he ought to rope stock, and not leave it dodge or
"It's not many dodge my rope," boasted Lin, imprudently.
"Why, they tell me as how that heifer of the Sidney-Nebraska brand got
plumb away from yu', and little Tommy had to chase afteh her."
Lin sat up angrily amid the laughter, but reclined again. "I'll improve,"
said he, "if yu' learn me how yu' rope that Vermont stock so handy. Has
she promised to be your sister yet?" he added.
"Is that what they do?" inquired the Virginian, serenely. "I have never
got related that way. Why, that'll make Tommy your brother-in-law, Lin!"
And now, indeed, the camp laughed a loud, merciless laugh.
But Lin was silent. Where everybody lives in a glass-house the victory is
to him who throws the adroitest stone. Mr. McLean was readier witted than
most, but the gentle, slow Virginian could be a master when he chose.
"Tommy has been recountin' his wars up at the Taylors'," he now told the
camp. "He has frequently campaigned with General Crook, General Miles,
and General Ruger, all at onced. He's an exciting fighter, in
conversation, and kep' us all scared for mighty nigh an hour. Miss Peck
appeared interested in his statements."
"What was you doing at the Taylors' yourself?" demanded Lin.
"Visitin' Miss Wood," answered the Virginian, with entire ease. For he
also knew when to employ the plain truth as a bluff. "You'd ought to
write to Tommy's mother, Lin, and tell her what a dare-devil her son is
gettin' to be. She would cut off his allowance and bring him home, and
you would have the runnin' all to yourself."
"I'll fix him yet," muttered Mr. McLean. "Him and his wars."
With that he rose and left us.
The next afternoon he informed me that if I was riding up the creek to
spend the night he would go for company. In that direction we started,
therefore, without any mention of the Taylors or Miss Peck. I was
puzzled. Never had I seen him thus disconcerted by woman. With him woman
had been a transient disturbance. I had witnessed a series of flighty
romances, where the cow-puncher had come, seen, often conquered, and
moved on. Nor had his affairs been of the sort to teach a young man
respect. I am putting it rather mildly.
For the first part of our way this afternoon he was moody, and after that
began to speak with appalling wisdom about life. Life, he said, was a
serious matter. Did I realize that? A man was liable to forget it. A man
was liable to go sporting and helling around till he waked up some day
and found all his best pleasures had become just a business. No interest,
no surprise, no novelty left, and no cash in the bank. Shorty owed him
fifty dollars. Shorty would be able to pay that after the round-up, and
he, Lin, would get his time and rustle altogether some five hundred
dollars. Then there was his homestead claim on Box Elder, and the
surveyors were coming in this fall. No better location for a home in this
country than Box Elder. Wood, water, fine land. All it needed was a house
and ditches and buildings and fences, and to be planted with crops. Such
chances and considerations should sober a man and make him careful what
he did. "I'd take in Cheyenne on our wedding-trip, and after that I'd
settle right down to improving Box Elder," concluded Mr. McLean,
His real intentions flashed upon me for the first time. I had not
remotely imagined such a step.
"Marry her!" I screeched in dismay. "Marry her!"
I don't know which word was the worse to emphasize at such a moment, but
I emphasized both thoroughly.
"I didn't expect yu'd act that way," said the lover. He dropped behind me
fifty yards and spoke no more.
Not at once did I beg his pardon for the brutality I had been surprised
into. It is one of those speeches that, once said, is said forever.
But it was not that which withheld me. As I thought of the tone in which
my friend had replied, it seemed to me sullen, rather than deeply angry
or wounded--resentment at my opinion not of her character so much as of
his choice! Then I began to be sorry for the fool, and schemed for a
while how to intervene. But have you ever tried intervention? I soon
abandoned the idea, and took a way to be forgiven, and to learn more.
"Lin," I began, slowing my horse, "you must not think about what I said."
"I'm thinkin' of pleasanter subjects," said he, and slowed his own horse.
"Oh, look here!" I exclaimed.
"Well?" said he. He allowed his horse to come within about ten yards.
"Astonishment makes a man say anything," I proceeded. "And I'll say again
you're too good for her--and I'll say I don't generally believe in the
wife being older than the husband."
"What's two years?" said Lin.
I was near screeching out again, but saved myself. He was not quite
twenty-five, and I remembered Mrs. Taylor's unprejudiced computation of
the biscuit-shooter's years. It is a lady's prerogative, however, to
estimate her own age.
"She had her twenty-seventh birthday last month," said Lin, with
sentiment, bringing his horse entirely abreast of mine. "I promised her a
"Yes," said I, "I heard about that in Buffalo."
Lin's face grew dusky with anger. "No doubt yu' heard about it," said
he. "I don't guess yu' heard much about anything else. I ain't told the
truth to any of 'em--but her." He looked at me with a certain hesitation.
"I think I will," he continued. "I don't mind tellin' you."
He began to speak in a strictly business tone, while he evened the coils
of rope that hung on his saddle.
"She had spoke to me about her birthday, and I had spoke to her about
something to give her. I had offered to buy her in town whatever she
named, and I was figuring to borrow from Taylor. But she fancied the
notion of a bear-skin. I had mentioned about some cubs. I had found the
cubs where the she-bear had them cached by the foot of a big boulder in
the range over Ten Sleep, and I put back the leaves and stuff on top o'
them little things as near as I could the way I found them, so that the
bear would not suspicion me. For I was aiming to get her. And Miss Peck,
she sure wanted the hide for her birthday. So I went back. The she-bear
was off, and I crumb up inside the rock, and I waited a turruble long
spell till the sun travelled clean around the canyon. Mrs. Bear come home
though, a big cinnamon; and I raised my gun, but laid it down to see what
she'd do. She scrapes around and snuffs, and the cubs start whining, and
she talks back to 'em. Next she sits up awful big, and lifts up a cub and
holds it to her close with both her paws, same as a person. And she
rubbed her ear agin the cub, and the cub sort o' nipped her, and she
cuffed the cub, and the other cub came toddlin', and away they starts
rolling all three of 'em! I watched that for a long while. That big thing
just nursed and played with them little cubs, beatin' em for a change
onced in a while, and talkin', and onced in a while she'd sit up solemn
and look all around so life-like that I near busted. Why, how was I goin'
to spoil that? So I come away, very quiet, you bet! for I'd have hated to
have Mrs. Bear notice me. Miss Peck, she laughed. She claimed I was
scared to shoot."
"After you had told her why it was?" said I.
"Before and after. I didn't tell her first, because I felt kind of
foolish. Then Tommy went and he killed the bear all right, and she has
the skin now. Of course the boys joshed me a heap about gettin' beat by
"But since she has taken you?" said I.
"She ain't said it. But she will when she understands Tommy."
I fancied that the lady understood. The once I had seen her she appeared
to me as what might be termed an expert in men, and one to understand
also the reality of Tommy's ranch and allowance, and how greatly these
differed from Box Elder. Probably the one thing she could not understand
was why Lin spared the mother and her cubs. A deserted home in Dubuque, a
career in a railroad eating-house, a somewhat vague past, and a present
lacking context--indeed, I hoped with all my heart that Tommy would win!
"Lin," said I, "I'm backing him."
"Back away!" said he. "Tommy can please a woman--him and his blue eyes--
but he don't savvy how to make a woman want him, not any better than he
knows about killin' Injuns."
"Did you hear about the Crows?" said I.
"About young bucks going on the war-path? Shucks! That's put up by the
papers of this section. They're aimin' to get Uncle Sam to order his
troops out, and then folks can sell hay and stuff to 'em. If Tommy
believed any Crows--" he stopped, and suddenly slapped his leg.
"What's the matter now?" I asked.
"Oh, nothing." He took to singing, and his face grew roguish to its full
extent. "What made yu' say that to me?" he asked, presently.
"About marrying. Yu' don't think I'd better."
"Onced in a while yu' tell me I'm flighty. Well, I am. Whoop-ya!"
"Colts ought not to marry," said I.
"Sure!" said he. And it was not until we came in sight of the Virginian's
black horse tied in front of Miss Wood's cabin next the Taylors' that Lin
changed the lively course of thought that was evidently filling his mind.
"Tell yu'," said he, touching my arm confidentially and pointing to the
black horse, "for all her Vermont refinement she's a woman just the same.
She likes him dangling round her so earnest--him that no body ever saw
dangle before. And he has quit spreein' with the boys. And what does he
get by it? I am glad I was not raised good enough to appreciate the Miss
Woods of this world," he added, defiantly--"except at long range."
At the Taylors' cabin we found Miss Wood sitting with her admirer, and
Tommy from Riverside come to admire Miss Peck. The biscuit-shooter might
pass for twenty-seven, certainly. Something had agreed with her--whether
the medicine, or the mountain air, or so much masculine company; whatever
had done it, she had bloomed into brutal comeliness. Her hair looked
curlier, her figure was shapelier, her teeth shone whiter, and her cheeks
were a lusty, overbearing red. And there sat Molly Wood talking sweetly
to her big, grave Virginian; to look at them, there was no doubt that he
had been "raised good enough" to appreciate her, no matter what had been
Lin greeted every one jauntily. "How are yu', Miss Peck? How are yu',
Tommy?" said he. "Hear the news, Tommy? Crow Injuns on the war-path."
"I declare!" said the biscuit-shooter.
The Virginian was about to say something, but his eye met Lin's, and then
he looked at Tommy. Then what he did say was, "I hadn't been goin' to
mention it to the ladies until it was right sure."
"You needn't to be afraid, Miss Peck," said Tommy. "There's lots of men
"Who's afraid?" said the biscuit-shooter.
"Oh," said Lin, "maybe it's like most news we get in this country. Two
weeks stale and a lie when it was fresh."
"Of course," said Tommy.
"Hello, Tommy!" called Taylor from the lane. "Your horse has broke his
rein and run down the field."
Tommy rose in disgust and sped after the animal.
"I must be cooking supper now," said Katie, shortly.
"I'll stir for yu'," said Lin, grinning at her.
"Come along then," said she; and they departed to the adjacent kitchen.
Miss Wood's gray eyes brightened with mischief. She looked at her
Virginian, and she looked at me.
"Do you know," she said, "I used to be so afraid that when Bear Creek
wasn't new any more it might become dull!"
"Miss Peck doesn't find it dull either," said I.
Molly Wood immediately assumed a look of doubt. "But mightn't it become
just--just a little trying to have two gentlemen so very--determined, you
"Only one is determined," said the Virginian
Molly looked inquiring.
"Lin is determined Tommy shall not beat him. That's all it amounts to."
"Dear me, what a notion!"
"No, ma'am, no notion. Tommy--well, Tommy is considered harmless, ma'am.
A cow-puncher of reputation in this country would cert'nly never let
Tommy get ahaid of him that way."
"It's pleasant to know sometimes how much we count!" exclaimed Molly.
"Why, ma'am," said the Virginian, surprised at her flash of indignation,
"where is any countin' without some love?"
"Do you mean to say that Mr. McLean does not care for Miss Peck?"
"I reckon he thinks he does. But there is a mighty wide difference
between thinkin' and feelin', ma'am."
I saw Molly's eyes drop from his, and I saw the rose deepen in her
cheeks. But just then a loud voice came from the kitchen.
"You, Lin, if you try any of your foolin' with me, I'll histe yu's over
"All cow-punchers--" I attempted to resume.
"Quit now, Lin McLean," shouted the voice, "or I'll put yus through that
window, and it shut."
"Well, Miss Peck, I'm gettin' most a full dose o' this treatment. Ever
since yu' come I've been doing my best. And yu' just cough in my face.
And now I'm going to quit and cough back."
"Would you enjoy walkin' out till supper, ma'am?" inquired the Virginian
as Molly rose. "You was speaking of gathering some flowers yondeh."
"Why, yes," said Molly, blithely. "And you'll come?" she added to me.
But I was on the Virginian's side. "I must look after my horse," said I,