Part 3 out of 5
But the earnestly petitioned clerk consented, and Billy was the first to
hasten into the room. He stood rapturous while Lin buckled the belt round
his scanty stomach, and ingeniously buttoned the suspenders outside the
accoutrement to retard its immediate descent to earth.
"Did it ever kill a man?" asked Billy, touching the six-shooter.
"No. It ain't never had to do that, but I expect maybe it's stopped some
"Oh, leave me wear it just a minute! Do you collect arrow-heads? I think
they're bully. There's the finest one you ever seen." He brought out the
relic, tightly wrapped in paper, several pieces. "I foun' it myself,
camping with father. It was sticking in a crack right on top of a rock,
but nobody'd seen it till I came along. Ain't it fine?"
Mr. McLean pronounced it a gem.
"Father an' me found a lot, an' they made mother mad laying around, an'
she throwed 'em out. She takes stuff from Kelley's."
"He keeps the drug-store at Laramie. Mother gets awful funny. That's how
she was when I came home. For I told Mr. Perkins he lied, an' I ran then.
An' I knowed well enough she'd lick me when she got through her spell--
an' father can't stop her, an' I--ah, I was sick of it! She's lamed me up
twice beating me--an' Perkins wanting me to say 'God bless my mother!'
a-getting up and a-going to bed--he's a flubdub! An' so I cleared out.
But I'd just as leaves said for God to bless father--an' you. I'll do it
now if you say it's any sense."
Mr. McLean sat down in a chair. "Don't yu' do it now," said he.
"You wouldn't like mother," Billy continued. "You can keep that." He came
to Lin and placed the arrow-head in his hands, standing beside him. "Do
you like birds' eggs? I collect them. I got twenty-five kinds--sage-hen,
an' blue grouse, an' willow-grouse, an' lots more kinds harder--but I
couldn't bring all them from Laramie. I brought the magpie's, though. D'
you care to see a magpie egg? Well, you stay to-morrow an' I'll show you
that en' some other things I got the engine-man lets me keep there, for
there's boys that would steal an egg. An' I could take you where we could
fire that pistol. Bet you don't know what that is!"
He brought out a small tin box shaped like a thimble, in which were
things that rattled.
Mr. McLean gave it up.
"That's kinni-kinnic seed. You can have that, for I got some more with
Lin received this second token also, and thanked the giver for it. His
first feeling had been to prevent the boy's parting with his treasures,
but something that came not from the polish of manners and experience
made him know that he should take them. Billy talked away, laying bare
his little soul; the street boy that was not quite come made place for
the child that was not quite gone, and unimportant words and confidences
dropped from him disjointed as he climbed to the knee of Mr. McLean, and
inadvertently took that cow-puncher for some sort of parent he had not
hitherto met. It lasted but a short while, however, for he went to sleep
in the middle of a sentence, with his head upon Lin's breast. The man
held him perfectly still, because he had not the faintest notion that
Billy would be impossible to disturb. At length he spoke to him,
suggesting that bed might prove more comfortable; and, finding how it
was, rose and undressed the boy and laid him between the sheets. The arms
and legs seemed aware of the moves required of them, and stirred
conveniently; and directly the head was upon the pillow the whole small
frame burrowed down, without the opening of an eye or a change in the
breathing. Lin stood some time by the bedside, with his eyes on the long,
curling lashes and the curly hair. Then he glanced craftily at the door
of the room, and at himself in the looking-glass. He stooped and kissed
Billy on the forehead, and, rising from that, gave himself a hangdog
stare in the mirror, and soon in his own bed was sleeping the sound sleep
He was faintly roused by the church bells, and lay still, lingering with
his sleep, his eyes closed, and his thoughts unshaped. As he became
slowly aware of the morning, the ringing and the light reached him, and
he waked wholly, and, still lying quiet, considered the strange room
filled with the bells and the sun of the winter's day. "Where have I
struck now?" he inquired; and as last night returned abruptly upon his
mind, he raised himself on his arm.
There sat Responsibility in a chair, washed clean and dressed, watching
"You're awful late," said Responsibility. "But I weren't a-going without
telling you good-bye."
"Go?" exclaimed Lin. "Go where? Yu' surely ain't leavin' me to eat
breakfast alone?" The cow-puncher made his voice very plaintive. Set
Responsibility free after all his trouble to catch him? This was more
than he could do!
"I've got to go. If I'd thought you'd want for me to stay--why, you said
you was a-going by the early train!"
"But the durned thing's got away on me," said Lin, smiling sweetly from
"If I hadn't a-promised them--"
"Sidney Ellis and Pete Goode. Why, you know them; you grubbed with them."
"We're a-going to have fun to-day."
"For it's Christmas, an' we've bought some good cigars, an' Pete says
he'll learn me sure. O' course I've smoked some, you know. But I'd just
as leaves stayed with you if I'd only knowed sooner. I wish you lived
here. Did you smoke whole big cigars when you was beginning?"
"Do you like flapjacks and maple syrup?" inquired the artful McLean.
"That's what I'm figuring on inside twenty minutes."
"Twenty minutes! If they'd wait--"
"See here, Bill. They've quit expecting yu', don't yu' think? I'd ought
to waked, yu' see, but I slep' and slep', and kep' yu' from meetin' your
engagements, yu' see--for you couldn't go, of course. A man couldn't
treat a man that way now, could he?"
"Course he couldn't," said Billy, brightening.
"And they wouldn't wait, yu' see. They wouldn't fool away Christmas, that
only comes onced a year, kickin' their heels and sayin' 'Where's Billy?'
They'd say, 'Bill has sure made other arrangements, which he'll explain
to us at his leesyure.' And they'd skip with the cigars."
The advocate paused, effectively, and from his bolster regarded Billy
with a convincing eye.
"That's so," said Billy.
"And where would yu' be then, Bill? In the street, out of friends, out of
Christmas, and left both ways, no tobaccer and no flapjacks. Now, Bill,
what do yu' say to us putting up a Christmas deal together? Just you and
"I'd like that," said Billy. "Is it all day?"
"I was thinkin' of all day," said Lin. "I'll not make yu' do anything
yu'd rather not."
"Ah, they can smoke without me," said Billy, with sudden acrimony. "I'll
see 'em to-morro'."
"That's you!" cried Mr. McLean. "Now, Bill, you hustle down and tell them
to keep a table for us. I'll get my clothes on and follow yu'."
The boy went, and Mr. McLean procured hot water and dressed himself,
tying his scarf with great care. "Wished I'd a clean shirt," said he.
"But I don't look very bad. Shavin' yesterday afternoon was a good move."
He picked up the arrow-head and the kinni-kinnic, and was particular to
store them in his safest pocket. "I ain't sure whether you're crazy or
not," said he to the man in the looking-glass. "I ain't never been sure."
And he slammed the door and went down-stairs.
He found young Bill on guard over a table for four, with all the chairs
tilted against it as warning to strangers. No one sat at any other table
or came into the room, for it was late, and the place quite emptied of
breakfasters, and the several entertained waiters had gathered behind
Billy's important-looking back. Lin provided a thorough meal, and Billy
pronounced the flannel cakes superior to flapjacks, which were not upon
the bill of fare.
"I'd like to see you often," said he. "I'll come and see you if you don't
live too far."
"That's the trouble," said the cow-puncher. "I do. Awful far." He stared
out of the window.
"Well, I might come some time. I wish you'd write me a letter. Can you
write?" "What's that? Can I write? Oh yes."
"I can write, an' I can read too. I've been to school in Sidney,
Nebraska, an' Magaw, Kansas, an' Salt Lake--that's the finest town except
Billy fell into that cheerful strain of comment which, unreplied to, yet
goes on contented and self-sustaining, while Mr. McLean gave amiable
signs of assent, but chiefly looked out of the window; and when the now
interested waiter said respectfully that he desired to close the room,
they went out to the office, where the money was got out of the safe and
the bill paid.
The streets were full of the bright sun, and seemingly at Denver's gates
stood the mountains sparkling; an air crisp and pleasant wafted from
their peaks; no smoke hung among the roofs, and the sky spread wide over
the city without a stain; it was holiday up among the chimneys and tall
buildings, and down among the quiet ground-stories below as well; and
presently from their scattered pinnacles through the town the bells broke
out against the jocund silence of the morning.
"Don't you like music?" inquired Billy.
"Yes," said Lin.
Ladies with their husbands and children were passing and meeting, orderly
yet gayer than if it were only Sunday, and the salutations of Christmas
came now and again to the cow-puncher's ears; but to-day, possessor of
his own share in this, Lin looked at every one with a sort of friendly
challenge, and young Billy talked along beside him.
"Don't you think we could go in here?" Billy asked. A church door was
open, and the rich organ sounded through to the pavement. "They've good
music here, an' they keep it up without much talking between. I've been
in lots of times."
They went in and sat to hear the music. Better than the organ, it seemed
to them, were the harmonious voices raised from somewhere outside, like
unexpected visitants; and the pair sat in their back seat, too deep in
listening to the processional hymn to think of rising in decent imitation
of those around them. The crystal melody of the refrain especially
reached their understandings, and when for the fourth time "Shout the
glad tidings, exultingly sing," pealed forth and ceased, both the
delighted faces fell.
"Don't you wish there was more?" Billy whispered.
"Wish there was a hundred verses," answered Lin.
But canticles and responses followed, with so little talking between them
they were held spellbound, seldom thinking to rise or kneel. Lin's eyes
roved over the church, dwelling upon the pillars in their evergreen, the
flowers and leafy wreaths, the texts of white and gold. "'Peace, good-
will towards men,'" he read. "That's so. Peace and good-will. Yes, that's
so. I expect they got that somewheres in the Bible. It's awful good, and
you'd never think of it yourself."
There was a touch on his arm, and a woman handed a book to him. "This is
the hymn we have now," she whispered, gently; and Lin, blushing scarlet,
took it passively without a word. He and Billy stood up and held the book
together, dutifully reading the words:
"It came upon the midnight clear,
That glorious song of old,
From angels bending near the earth
To touch their harps of gold;
Peace on the earth--"
This tune was more beautiful than all, and Lin lost himself in it, until
he found Billy recalling him with a finger upon the words, the concluding
"And the whole world sent back the song
Which now the angels sing."
The music rose and descended to its lovely and simple end; and, for a
second time in Denver, Lin brushed a hand across his eyes. He turned his
face from his neighbor, frowning crossly; and since the heart has reasons
which Reason does not know, he seemed to himself a fool; but when the
service was over and he came out, he repeated again, "'Peace and
good-will.' When I run on to the Bishop of Wyoming I'll tell him if he'll
preach on them words I'll be there."
"Couldn't we shoot your pistol now?" asked Billy.
"Sure, boy. Ain't yu' hungry, though?"
"No. I wish we were away off up there. Don't you?"
"The mountains? They look pretty, so white! A heap better 'n houses. Why,
we'll go there! There's trains to Golden. We'll shoot around among the
To Golden they immediately went, and after a meal there, wandered in the
open country until the cartridges were gone, the sun was low, and Billy
was walked off his young heels--a truth he learned complete in one horrid
moment, and battled to conceal.
"Lame!" he echoed, angrily. "I ain't."
"Shucks!" said Lin, after the next ten steps. "You are, and both feet."
"Tell you, there's stones here, an' I'm just a-skipping them."
Lin, briefly, took the boy in his arms and carried him to Golden. "I'm
played out myself," he said, sitting in the hotel and looking
lugubriously at Billy on a bed. "And I ain't fit to have charge of a
hog." He came and put his hand on the boy's head.
"I'm not sick," said the cripple. "I tell you I'm bully. You wait an' see
me eat dinner."
But Lin had hot water and cold water and salt, and was an hour upon his
knees bathing the hot feet. And then Billy could not eat dinner!
There was a doctor in Golden; but in spite of his light prescription and
most reasonable observations, Mr. McLean passed a foolish night of vigil,
while Billy slept, quite well at first, and, as the hours passed, better
and better. In the morning he was entirely brisk, though stiff.
"I couldn't work quick to-day," he said. "But I guess one day won't lose
me my trade."
"How d' yu' mean?" asked Lin.
"Why, I've got regulars, you know. Sidney Ellis an' Pete Goode has
theirs, an' we don't cut each other. I've got Mr. Daniels an' Mr. Fisher
an' lots, an' if you lived in Denver I'd shine your boots every day for
nothing. I wished you lived in Denver."
"Shine my boots? Yu'll never! And yu' don't black Daniels or Fisher, or
any of the outfit."
"Why, I'm doing first-rate," said Billy, surprised at the swearing into
which Mr. McLean now burst. "An' I ain't big enough to get to make money
at any other job."
"I want to see that engine-man," muttered Lin. "I don't like your smokin'
"Pete Goode? Why, he's awful smart. Don't you think he's smart?"
"Smart's nothin'," observed Mr. McLean.
"Pete has learned me and Sidney a lot," pursued Billy, engagingly.
"I'll bet he has!" growled the cow-puncher; and again Billy was taken
aback at his language.
It was not so simple, this case. To the perturbed mind of Mr. McLean it
grew less simple during that day at Golden, while Billy recovered, and
talked, and ate his innocent meals. The cow-puncher was far too wise to
think for a single moment of restoring the runaway to his debauched and
shiftless parents. Possessed of some imagination, he went through a scene
in which he appeared at the Lusk threshold with Billy and forgiveness,
and intruded upon a conjugal assault and battery. "Shucks!" said he. "The
kid would be off again inside a week. And I don't want him there,
Denver, upon the following day, saw the little bootblack again at his
corner, with his trade not lost; but near him stood a tall, singular man,
with hazel eyes and a sulky expression. And citizens during that week
noticed, as a new sight in the streets, the tall man and the little boy
walking together. Sometimes they would be in shops. The boy seemed as
happy as possible, talking constantly, while the man seldom said a word,
and his face was serious.
Upon New-year's Eve Governor Barker was overtaken by Mr. McLean riding a
horse up Hill Street, Cheyenne.
"Hello!" said Barker, staring humorously through his glasses. "Have a
"Changed my mind," said Lin, grinning. "Proves I've got one. Struck
Christmas all right, though."
"Who's your friend?" inquired his Excellency.
"This is Mister Billy Lusk. Him and me have agreed that towns ain't nice
to live in. If Judge Henry's foreman and his wife won't board him at Sunk
Creek--why, I'll fix it somehow."
The cow-puncher and his Responsibility rode on together toward the open
"Sufferin Moses!" remarked his Excellency.
We had fallen half asleep, my pony and I, as we went jogging and jogging
through the long sunny afternoon. Our hills of yesterday were a pale-blue
coast sunk almost away behind us, and ahead our goal lay shining, a
little island of houses in this quiet mid-ocean of sage-brush. For two
hours it had looked as clear and near as now, rising into sight across
the huge dead calm and sinking while we travelled our undulating,
imperceptible miles. The train had come and gone invisibly, except for
its slow pillar of smoke I had watched move westward against Wyoming's
stainless sky. Though I was still far off, the water-tank and other
buildings stood out plain and complete to my eyes, like children's blocks
arranged and forgotten on the floor. So I rode along, hypnotized by the
sameness of the lazy, splendid plain, and almost unaware of the distant
rider, till, suddenly, he was close and hailing me.
"They've caved!" he shouted.
"Who?" I cried, thus awakened.
"Ah, the fool company," said he, quieting his voice as he drew near.
"They've shed their haughtiness," he added, confidingly, as if I must
know all about it.
"Where did they learn that wisdom?" I asked, not knowing in the least.
"Experience," he called over his shoulder (for already we had met and
passed); "nothing like experience for sweating the fat off the brain."
He yelled me a brotherly good-bye, and I am sorry never to have known
more of him, for I incline to value any stranger so joyous. But now I
waked the pony and trotted briskly, surmising as to the company and its
haughtiness. I had been viewing my destination across the sagebrush for
so spun-out a time that (as constantly in Wyoming journeys) the emotion
of arrival had evaporated long before the event, and I welcomed
employment for my otherwise high-and-dry mind. Probably he meant the
railroad company; certainly something large had happened. Even as I
dismounted at the platform another hilarious cow-puncher came out of the
station, and, at once remarking, "They're going to leave us alone,"
sprang on his horse and galloped to the corrals down the line, where some
cattle were being loaded into a train. I went inside for my mail, and
here were four more cow-punchers playing with the agent. They had got a
letter away from him, and he wore his daily look of anxiety to appreciate
the jests of these rollicking people. "Read it!" they said to me; and I
did read the private document, and learned that the railroad was going to
waive its right to enforce law and order here, and would trust to Separ's
good feeling. "Nothing more," the letter ran, "will be done about the
initial outrage or the subsequent vandalisms. We shall pass over our
wasted outlay in the hope that a policy of friendship will prove our
genuine desire to benefit that section.
"'Initial outrage,'" quoted one of the agent' large playmates. "Ain't
"Well," said I, "you would have some name for it yourself if you sent a
deputy sheriff to look after your rights, and he came back tied to the
The man smiled luxuriously over this memory.
"We didn't hurt him none. Just returned him to his home. Hear about the
label Honey Wiggin pinned on to him? 'Send us along one dozen as per
sample.' Honey's quaint! Yes," he drawled judicially, "I'd be mad at
that. But if you're making peace with a man because it's convenient why,
your words must be pleasanter than if you really felt pleasant." He took
the paper from me, and read, sardonically: "'Subsequent vandalisms ...
wasted outlay.' I suppose they run this station from charity to the
cattle. Saves the poor things walking so far to the other railroad
'Policy of friendship ... genuine desire'--oh mouth-wash!" And, shaking
his bold, clever head, he daintily flattened the letter upon the head of
the agent. "Tubercle," said he (this was their name for the agent, who
had told all of us about his lungs), "it ain't your fault we saw their
fine letter. They just intended you should give it out how they wouldn't
bother us any more, and then we'd act square. The boys'll sit up late
over this joke."
Then they tramped to their horses and rode away. The spokesman had hit
the vital point unerringly; for cow-punchers are shrewdly alive to
frankness, and it often draws out the best that is in them; but its
opposite affects them unfavorably; and I, needing sleep, sighed to think
of their late sitting up over that joke. I walked to the board box
painted "Hotel Brunswick"--"hotel" in small italics and "Brunswick"
in enormous capitals, the N and the S wrong side up.
Here sat a girl outside the door, alone. Her face was broad, wholesome,
and strong, and her eyes alert and sweet. As I came she met me with a
challenging glance of good-will. Those women who journeyed along the line
in the wake of payday to traffic with the men employed a stare well
known; but this straight look seemed like the greeting of some pleasant
young cowboy. In surprise I forgot to be civil, and stepped foolishly by
her to see about supper and lodging.
At the threshold I perceived all lodging bespoken. On each of the four
beds lay a coat or pistol or other article of dress, and I must lodge
myself. There were my saddle-blankets--rather wet; or Lin McLean might
ride in to-night on his way to Riverside; or perhaps down at the corrals
I could find some other acquaintance whose habit of washing I trusted and
whose bed I might share. Failing these expedients, several empties stood
idle upon a siding, and the box-like darkness of these freight-cars was
timely. Nights were short now. Camping out, the dawn by three o'clock
would flow like silver through the universe, and, sinking through my
blankets, remorselessly pervade my buried hair and brain. But with clean
straw in the bottom of an empty, I could sleep my fill until five or six.
I decided for the empty, and opened the supper-room door, where the table
was set for more than enough to include me; but the smell of the butter
that awaited us drove me out of the Hotel Brunswick to spend the
remaining minutes in the air.
"I was expecting you," said the girl. "Well, if I haven't frightened
him!" She laughed so delightfully that I recovered and laughed too.
"Why," she explained, "I just knew you'd not stay in there. Which side
are you going to butter your bread this evening?"
"You had smelt it?" said I, still cloudy with surprise. "Yes.
Unquestionably. Very rancid." She glanced oddly at me, and, with less
fellowship in her tone, said, "I was going to warn you--" when suddenly,
down at the corrals, the boys began to shoot at large. "Oh, dear!" she
cried, starting up. "There's trouble."
"Not trouble," I assured her. "Too many are firing at once to be in
earnest. And you would be safe here."
"Me? A lady without escort? Well, I should reckon so! Leastways, we are
respected where I was raised. I was anxious for the gentlemen ovah
yondah. Shawhan, K. C. branch of the Louavull an' Nashvull, is my home."
The words "Louisville and Nashville" spoke creamily of Blue-grass.
"Unescorted all that way!" I exclaimed.
"Isn't it awful?" said she, tilting her head with a laugh, and showing
the pistol she carried. "But we've always been awful in Kentucky. Now I
suppose New York would never speak to poor me as it passed by?" And she
eyed me with capable, good-humored satire.
"Why New York?" I demanded. "Guess again."
"Well," she debated, "well, cowboy clothes and city language--he's
English!" she burst out; and then she turned suddenly red, and whispered
to herself, reprovingly, "If I'm not acting rude!"
"Oh!" said I, rather familiarly.
"It was, sir; and please to excuse me. If you had started joking so free
with me, I'd have been insulted. When I saw you--the hat and everything--
I took you--You see I've always been that used to talking to--to folks
around!" Her bright face saddened, memories evidently rose before her,
and her eyes grew distant.
I wished to say, "Treat me as 'folks around,'" but this tall country girl
had put us on other terms. On discovering I was not "folks around," she
had taken refuge in deriding me, but swiftly feeling no solid ground
there, she drew a firm, clear woman's line between us. Plainly she was a
comrade of men, in her buoyant innocence secure, yet by no means in the
dark as to them.
"Yes, unescorted two thousand miles," she resumed, "and never as far as
twenty from home till last Tuesday. I expect you'll have to be
scandalized, for I'd do it right over again to-morrow."
"You've got me all wrong," said I. "I'm not English; I'm not New York. I
am good American, and not bounded by my own farm either. No sectional
line, or Mason and Dixon, or Missouri River tattoos me. But you, when you
say United States, you mean United Kentucky!"
"Did you ever!" said she, staring at what was Greek to her--as it is to
most Americans. "And so if you had a sister back East, and she and you
were all there was of you any more, and she hadn't seen you since--not
since you first took to staying out nights, and she started to visit you,
you'd not tell her 'Fie for shame'?"
"I'd travel my money's length to meet her!" said I.
A wave of pain crossed her face. "Nate didn't know," she said then,
lightly. "You see, Nate's only a boy, and regular thoughtless about
Ah! So this Nate never wrote, and his sister loved and championed him!
Many such stray Nates and Bobs and Bills galloped over Wyoming, lost and
"I'm starting for him in the Buffalo stage," continued the girl.
"Then I'll have your company on a weary road," said I; for my journey was
now to that part of the cattle country.
"To Buffalo?" she said, quickly. "Then maybe you--maybe--My brother is
Nate Buckner." She paused. "Then you're not acquainted with him?"
"I may have seen him," I answered, slowly. "But faces and names out here
come and go."
I knew him well enough. He was in jail, convicted of forgery last week,
waiting to go to the penitentiary for five years. And even this wild
border community that hated law courts and punishments had not been
sorry, for he had cheated his friends too often, and the wide charity of
the sage-brush does not cover that sin. Beneath his pretty looks and
daring skill with horses they had found vanity and a cold, false heart;
but his sister could not. Here she was, come to find him after lonely
years, and to this one soul that loved him in the world how was I to tell
the desolation and the disgrace? I was glad to hear her ask me if the
stage went soon after supper.
"Now isn't that a bother?" said she, when I answered that it did not
start till morning. She glanced with rueful gayety at the hotel. "Never
mind," she continued, briskly; "I'm used to things. I'll just sit up
somewhere. Maybe the agent will let me stay in the office. You're sure
all that shooting's only jollification?"
"Certain," I said. "But I'll go and see."
"They always will have their fun," said she. "But I hate to have a poor
boy get hurt--even him deserving it!"
"They use pistols instead of fire-crackers," said I. "But you must never
sleep in that office. I'll see what we can do."
"Why, you're real kind!" she exclaimed, heartily. And I departed,
wondering what I ought to do.
Perhaps I should have told you before that Separ was a place once--a sort
of place; but you will relish now, I am convinced, the pithy fable of its
Midway between two sections of this still unfinished line that, rail
after rail and mile upon mile, crawled over the earth's face visibly
during the constructing hours of each new day, lay a camp. To this point
these unjoined pieces were heading, and here at length they met. Camp
Separation it had been fitly called, but how should the American railway
man afford time to say that? Separation was pretty and apt, but needless;
and with the sloughing of two syllables came the brief, businesslike
result--Separ. Chicago, 1137-1/2 miles. It was labelled on a board large
almost as the hut station. A Y-switch, two sidings, the fat water-tank
and steam-pump, and a section-house with three trees before it composed
the north side. South of the track were no trees. There was one long
siding by the corrals and cattle-chute, there were a hovel where plug
tobacco and canned goods were for sale, a shed where you might get your
horse shod, a wire fence that at shipping times enclosed bales of pressed
hay, the hotel, the stage stable, and the little station--some seven
shanties all told. Between them were spaces of dust, the immediate plains
engulfed them, and through their midst ran the far-vanishing railroad, to
which they hung like beads on a great string from horizon to horizon. A
great east-and-west string, one end in the rosy sun at morning, and one
in the crimson sun at night. Beyond each sky-line lay cities and ports
where the world went on out of sight and hearing. This lone steel thread
had been stretched across the continent because it was the day of haste
and hope, when dollars seemed many and hard times were few; and from the
Yellowstone to the Rio Grande similar threads were stretching, and little
Separs by dispersed hundreds hung on them, as it were in space eternal.
Can you wonder that vigorous young men with pistols should, when they
came to such a place, shoot them off to let loose their unbounded joy of
And yet it was not this merely that began the custom, but an error of the
agent's. The new station was scarce created when one morning Honey Wiggin
with the Virginian had galloped innocently in from the round-up to
telegraph for some additional cars.
"I'm dead on to you!" squealed the official, dropping flat at the sight
of them; and bang went his gun at them. They, most naturally, thought it
was a maniac, and ran for their lives among the supports of the
water-tank, while he remained anchored with his weapon, crouched behind
the railing that fenced him and his apparatus from the laity; and some
fifteen strategic minutes passed before all parties had crawled forth to
an understanding, and the message was written and paid for and
comfortably despatched. The agent was an honest creature, but of tame
habits, sent for the sake of his imperfect lungs to this otherwise
inappropriate air. He had lived chiefly in mid-West towns, a serious
reader of our comic weeklies; hence the apparition of Wiggin and the
Virginian had reminded him sickeningly of bandits. He had express money
in the safe, he explained to them, and this was a hard old country,
wasn't it? and did they like good whiskey?
They drank his whiskey, but it was not well to have mentioned that about
the bandits. Both were aware that when shaved and washed of their
round-up grime they could look very engaging. The two cow-punchers rode
out, not angry, but grieved that a man come here to dwell among them
should be so tactless.
"If we don't get him used to us," observed the Virginian, "he and his
pop-gun will be guttin' some blameless man."
Forthwith the cattle country proceeded to get the agent used to it. The
news went over the sage-brush from Belle Fourche to Sweetwater, and
playful, howling horsemen made it their custom to go rioting with pistols
round the ticket office, educating the agent. His lungs improved, and he
came dimly to smile at this life which he did not understand. But the
company discerned no humor whatever in having its water-tank perforated,
which happened twice; and sheriffs and deputies and other symptoms of
authority began to invest Separ. Now what should authority do upon these
free plains, this wilderness of do-as-you-please, where mere breathing
the air was like inebriation? The large, headlong children who swept in
from the sage-brush and out again meant nothing that they called harm
until they found themselves resisted. Then presently happened that affair
of the cow-catcher; and later a too-zealous marshal, come about a
mail-car they had side-tracked and held with fiddles, drink, and
petticoats, met his death accidentally, at which they were sincerely
sorry for about five minutes. They valued their own lives as little, and
that lifts them forever from baseness at least. So the company,
concluding such things must be endured for a while yet, wrote their
letter, and you have seen how wrong the letter went. All it would do
would be from now on to fasten upon Separ its code of recklessness; to
make shooting the water-tank (for example) part of a gentleman's
deportment when he showed himself in town.
It was not now the season of heavy shipping; to-night their work would be
early finished, and then they were likely to play after their manner. To
arrive in such a place on her way to her brother, the felon in jail, made
the girl's journey seem doubly forlorn to me as I wandered down to the
A small, bold voice hailed me. "Hello, you!" it said; and here was Billy
Lusk, aged nine, in boots and overalls, importantly useless with a stick,
helping the men prod the steers at the chute.
"Thought you were at school," said I.
"Ah, school's quit," returned Billy, and changed the subject. "Say, Lin's
hunting you. He's angling to eat at the hotel. I'm grubbing with the
outfit." And Billy resumed his specious activity.
Mr. McLean was in the ticket-office, where the newspaper had transiently
reminded him of politics. "Wall Street," he was explaining to the agent,
"has been lunched on by them Ross-childs, and they're moving on. Feeding
along to Chicago. We want--" Here he noticed me and, dragging his gauntlet
off, shook my hand with his lusty grasp.
"Your eldest son just said you were in haste to find me," I remarked.
"Lose you, he meant. The kid gets his words twisted."
"Didn't know you were a father, Mr. McLean," simpered the agent.
Lin fixed his eye on the man. "And you don't know it now," said he. Then
he removed his eye. "Let's grub," he added to me. My friend did not walk
to the hotel, but slowly round and about, with a face overcast. "Billy is
a good kid," he said at length, and, stopping, began to kick small mounds
in the dust. Politics floated lightly over him, but here was a matter
dwelling with him, heavy and real. "He's dead stuck on being a
cow-puncher," he presently said.
"Some day--" I began.
"He don't want to wait that long," Lin said, and smiled affectionately.
"And, anyhow, what is 'some day'? Some day we punchers will not be here.
The living will be scattered, and the dead--well, they'll be all right.
Have yu' studied the wire fence? It's spreading to catch us like nets do
the salmon in the Columbia River. No more salmon, no more cow-punchers,"
stated Mr. McLean, sententiously; and his words made me sad, though I
know that progress cannot spare land and water for such things. "But
Billy," Lin resumed, "has agreed to school again when it starts up in the
fall. He takes his medicine because I want him to." Affection crept anew
over the cow-puncher's face. "He can learn books with the quickest when
he wants, that Bear Creek school-marm says. But he'd ought to have a
regular mother till--till I can do for him, yu' know. It's onwholesome
him seeing and hearing the boys--and me, and me when I forget!--but
shucks! how can I fix it? Billy was sure enough dropped and deserted. But
when I found him the little calf could run and notice like everything!"
"I should hate your contract, Lin," said I. "Adopting's a touch-and-go
business even when a man has a home."
"I'll fill the contract, you bet! I wish the little son-of-a-gun was
mine. I'm a heap more natural to him than that pair of drunkards that got
him. He likes me: I think he does. I've had to lick him now and then, but
Lord! his badness is all right--not sneaky. I'll take him hunting next
month, and then the foreman's wife at Sunk Creek boards him till school.
Only when they move, Judge Henry'll make his Virginia man foreman--and
he's got no woman to look after Billy, yu' see."
"He's asking one hard enough," said I, digressing.
"Oh yes; asking! Talk of adopting--" said Mr. McLean, and his wide-open,
hazel eyes looked away as he coughed uneasily. Then abruptly looking at
me again, he said: "Don't you get off any more truck about eldest son and
that, will yu', friend? The boys are joshing me now--not that I care for
what might easy enough be so, but there's Billy. Maybe he'd not mind, but
maybe he would after a while; and I am kind o' set on--well--he didn't
have a good time till he shook that home of his, and I'm going to make
this old bitch of a world pay him what she owes him, if I can. Now you'll
drop joshing, won't yu'?" His forehead was moist over getting the thing
said and laying bare so much of his soul.
"And so the world owes us a good time, Lin?" said I.
He laughed shortly. "She must have been dead broke, then, quite a while,
you bet! Oh no. Maybe I used to travel on that basis. But see here" (Lin
laid his hand on my shoulder), "if you can't expect a good time for
yourself in reason, you can sure make the kids happy out o' reason, can't
I fairly opened my mouth at him.
"Oh yes," he said, laughing in that short way again (and he took his hand
off my shoulder); "I've been thinking a wonderful lot since we met last.
I guess I know some things yu' haven't got to yet yourself-- Why, there's
"That there is!" said I. "And certainly the world owes her a better--"
"She's a fine-looker," interrupted Mr. McLean, paying me no further
attention. Here the decrepit, straw-hatted proprietor of the Hotel
Brunswick stuck his beard out of the door and uttered "Supper!" with a
shrill croak, at which the girl rose.
"Come!" said Lin, "let's hurry!"
But I hooked my fingers in his belt, and in spite of his plaintive oaths
at my losing him the best seat at the table, told him in three words the
sister's devoted journey.
"Nate Buckner!" he exclaimed. "Him with a decent sister!"
"It's the other way round," said I. "Her with him for a brother!"
"He goes to the penitentiary this week," said Lin. "He had no more cash
to stake his lawyer with, and the lawyer lost interest in him. So his
sister could have waited for her convict away back at Joliet, and saved
time and money. How did she act when yu' told her?"
"I've not told her."
"Not? Too kind o' not your business? Well, well! You'd ought to know
better 'n me. Only it don't seem right to let her--no, sir; it's not
right, either. Put it her brother was dead (and Miss. Fligg's husband
would like dearly to make him dead), you'd not let her come slap up
against the news unwarned. You would tell her he was sick, and start her
"Death's different," said I.
"Shucks! And she's to find him caged, and waiting for stripes and a
shaved head? How d' yu' know she mightn't hate that worse 'n if he'd been
just shot like a man in a husband scrape, instead of jailed like a skunk
for thieving? No, sir, she mustn't. Think of how it'll be. Quick as the
stage pulls up front o' the Buffalo post-office, plump she'll be down
ahead of the mail-sacks, inquiring after her brother, and all that crowd
around staring. Why, we can't let her do that; she can't do that. If you
don't feel so interfering, I'm good for this job myself." And Mr. McLean
took the lead and marched jingling in to supper.
The seat he had coveted was vacant. On either side the girl were empty
chairs, two or three; for with that clean, shy respect of the frontier
that divines and evades a good woman, the dusty company had sat itself at
a distance, and Mr. McLean's best seat was open to him. Yet he had veered
away to the other side of the table, and his usually roving eye attempted
no gallantry. He ate sedately, and it was not until after long weeks and
many happenings that Miss Buckner told Lin she had known he was looking
at her through the whole of this meal. The straw-hatted proprietor came
and went, bearing beefsteak hammered flat to make it tender. The girl
seemed the one happy person among us; for supper was going forward with
the invariable alkali etiquette, all faces brooding and feeding amid a
disheartening silence as of guilt or bereavement that springs from I have
never been quite sure what--perhaps reversion to the native animal
absorbed in his meat, perhaps a little from every guest's uneasiness lest
he drink his coffee wrong or stumble in the accepted uses of the fork.
Indeed, a diffident, uncleansed youth nearest Miss Buckner presently
wiped his mouth upon the cloth; and Mr. McLean, knowing better than that,
eyed him for this conduct in the presence of a lady. The lively strength
of the butter must, I think, have reached all in the room; at any rate,
the table-cloth lad, troubled by Mr. McLean's eye, now relieved the
general silence by observing, chattily:
"Say, friends, that butter ain't in no trance."
"If it's too rich for you," croaked the enraged proprietor, "use
The company continued gravely feeding, while I struggled to preserve the
decorum of sadness, and Miss Buckner's face was also unsteady. But
sternness mantled in the countenance of Mr. McLean, until the harmless
boy, embarrassed to pieces, offered the untasted smelling-dish to Lin, to
me, helped himself, and finally thrust the plate at the girl, saying, in
his Texas idiom,
He spoke in the shell voice of adolescence, and on "butter" cracked an
octave up into the treble. Miss Buckner was speechless, and could only
shake her head at the plate.
Mr. McLean, however, thought she was offended. "She wouldn't choose for
none," he said to the youth, with appalling calm. "Thank yu' most to
"I guess," fluted poor Texas, in a dove falsetto, "it would go slicker
rubbed outside than swallered."
At this Miss Buckner broke from the table and fled out of the house.
"You don't seem to know anything," observed Mr. McLean. "What toy-shop
did you escape from?"
"Wind him up! Wind him up!" said the proprietor, sticking his head in
from the kitchen.
"Ah, what's the matter with this outfit?" screamed the boy, furiously.
"Can't yu' leave a man eat? Can't yu' leave him be? You make me sick!"
And he flounced out with his young boots.
All the while the company fed on unmoved. Presently one remarked,
"Who's hiring him?"
"The C. Y. outfit," said another.
"Half-circle L.," a third corrected.
"I seen one like him onced," said the first, taking his hat from beneath
his chair. "Up in the Black Hills he was. Eighteen seventy-nine. Gosh!"
And he wandered out upon his business. One by one the others also
Upon going out, Lin and I found the boy pacing up and down, eagerly in
talk with Miss Buckner. She had made friends with him, and he was now
smoothed down and deeply absorbed, being led by her to tell her about
himself. But on Lin's approach his face clouded, and he made off for the
corrals, displaying a sullen back, while I was presenting Mr. McLean to
Overtaken by his cow-puncher shyness, Lin was greeting her with ungainly
ceremony, when she began at once, "You'll excuse me, but I just had to
have my laugh."
"That's all right, m'm," said he; "don't mention it."
"For that boy, you know--"
"I'll fix him, m'm. He'll not insult yu' no more. I'll speak to him."
"Now, please don't! Why--why--you were every bit as bad!" Miss Buckner
pealed out, joyously. "It was the two of you. Oh dear!"
Mr. McLean looked crestfallen. "I had no--I didn't go to--"
"Why, there was no harm! To see him mean so well and you mean so well,
and--I know I ought to behave better!"
"No, yu' oughtn't!" said Lin, with sudden ardor; and then, in a voice of
deprecation, "You'll think us plumb ignorant."
"You know enough to be kind to folks," said she.
"We'd like to."
"It's the only thing makes the world go round!" she declared, with an
emotion that I had heard in her tone once or twice already. But she
caught herself up, and said gayly to me, "And where's that house you were
going to build for a lone girl to sleep in?"
"I'm afraid the foundations aren't laid yet," said I.
"Now you gentlemen needn't bother about me."
"We'll have to, m'm. You ain't used to Separ."
"Oh, I am no--tenderfoot, don't you call them?" She whipped out her
pistol, and held it at the cow-puncher, laughing.
This would have given no pleasure to me; but over Lin's features went a
glow of delight, and he stood gazing at the pointed weapon and the girl
behind it. "My!" he said, at length, almost in a whisper, "she's got the
drop on me!"
"I reckon I'd be afraid to shoot that one of yours," said Miss Buckner.
"But this hits a target real good and straight at fifteen yards." And she
handed it to him for inspection.
He received it, hugely grinning, and turned it over and over. "My!" he
murmured again. "Why, shucks!" He looked at Miss Buckner with stark
rapture, caressing the polished revolver at the same time with a fond,
unconscious thumb. "You hold it just as steady as I could," he said with
pride, and added, insinuatingly, "I could learn yu' the professional drop
in a morning. This here is a little dandy gun."
"You'd not trade, though," said she, "for all your flattery."
"Will yu' trade?" pounced Lin. "Won't yu'?"
"Now, Mr. McLean, I am afraid you're thoughtless. How could a girl like
me ever hold that awful .45 Colt steady?"
"She knows the brands, too!" cried Lin, in ecstasy. "See here," he
remarked to me with a manner that smacked of command, "we're losing time
right now. You go and tell the agent to hustle and fix his room up for a
lady, and I'll bring her along."
I found the agent willing, of course, to sleep on the floor of the
office. The toy station was also his home. The front compartment held the
ticket and telegraph and mail and express chattels, and the railing, and
room for the public to stand; through a door you then passed to the
sitting, dining, and sleeping box; and through another to a cooking-stove
in a pigeon-hole. Here flourished the agent and his lungs, and here the
company's strict orders bade him sleep in charge; so I helped him put his
room to rights. But we need not have hurried ourselves. Mr. McLean was so
long in bringing the lady that I went out and found him walking and
talking with her, while fifty yards away skulked poor Texas, alone. This
boy's name was, like himself, of the somewhat unexpected order, being
As I came towards the new friends they did not appear to be joking, and
on seeing me Miss Buckner said to Lin, "Did he know?"
"You did know!" she exclaimed, but lost her resentment at once, and
continued, very quietly and with a friendly tone, "I reckon you don't
like to have to tell folks bad news."
It was I that now hesitated.
"Not to a strange girl, anyway!" said she. "Well, now I have good news to
tell you. You would not have given me any shock if you had said you knew
about poor Nate, for that's the reason--Of course those things can't be
secrets! Why, he's only twenty, sir! How should he know about this world?
He hadn't learned the first little thing when he left home five years
ago. And I am twenty-three--old enough to be Nate's grandmother, he's
that young and thoughtless. He couldn't ever realize bad companions when
they came around. See that!" She showed me a paper, taking it out like a
precious thing, as indeed it was; for it was a pardon signed by Governor
Barker. "And the Governor has let me carry it to Nate myself. He won't
know a thing about it till I tell him. The Governor was real kind, and we
will never forget him. I reckon Nate must have a mustache by now?" said
she to Lin.
"Yes," Lin answered, gruffly, looking away from her, "he has got a
mustache all right."
"He'll be glad to see you," said I, for something to say.
"Of course he will! How many hours did you say we will be?" she asked
Lin, turning from me again, for Mr. McLean had not been losing time. It
was plain that between these two had arisen a freemasonry from which I
was already shut out. Her woman's heart had answered his right impulse to
tell her about her brother, and I had been found wanting!
So now she listened over again to the hours of stage jolting that "we"
had before us, and that lay between her and Nate. "We would be four--
herself, Lin, myself, and the boy Billy." Was Billy the one at supper? Oh
no; just Billy Lusk, of Laramie. "He's a kid I'm taking up the country,"
Lin explained. "Ain't you most tuckered out?"
"Oh, me!" she confessed, with a laugh and a sigh.
There again! She had put aside my solicitude lightly, but was willing Lin
should know her fatigue. Yet, fatigue and all, she would not sleep in the
agent's room. At sight of it and the close quarters she drew back into
the outer office, so prompted by that inner, unsuspected strictness she
had shown me before.
"Come out!" she cried, laughing. "Indeed, I thank you. But I can't have
you sleep on this hard floor out here. No politeness, now! Thank you ever
so much. I'm used to roughing it pretty near as well as if I was--a
cowboy!" And she glanced at Lin. "They're calling forty-seven," she added
to the agent.
"That's me," he said, coming out to the telegraph instrument. "So you're
one of us?"
"I didn't know forty-seven meant Separ," said I. "How in the world do you
"I didn't. I heard forty-seven, forty-seven, forty-seven, start and go
right along, so I guessed they wanted him, and he couldn't hear them from
"Can yu' do astronomy and Spanish too?" inquired the proud and smiling
"Why, it's nothing! I've been day operator back home. Why is a deputy
coming through on a special engine?"
"Please don't say it out loud!" quavered the agent, as the machine
clicked its news.
"Yu' needn't be scared of a girl," said Lin. "Another sheriff! So they're
not quit bothering us yet."
However, this meddling was not the company's, but the county's; a sheriff
sent to arrest, on a charge of murder, a man named Trampas, said to be at
the Sand Hill Ranch. That was near Rawhide, two stations beyond, and the
engine might not stop at Separ, even to water. So here was no molesting
of Separ's liberties.
"All the same," Lin said, for pistols now and then still sounded at the
corrals, "the boys'll not understand that till it's explained, and they
may act wayward first. I'd feel easier if you slept here," he urged to
the girl. But she would not. "Well, then, we must rustle some other
private place for you. How's the section-house?"
"Rank," said the agent, "since those Italians used it. The pump engineer
has been scouring, but he's scared to bunk there yet himself."
"Too bad you couldn't try my plan of a freight-car!" said I.
"An empty?" she cried. "Is there a clean one?"
"You've sure never done that?" Lin burst out.
"So you're scandalized," said she, punishing him instantly. "I reckon it
does take a decent girl to shock you." And while she stood laughing at
him with robust irony, poor Lin began to stammer that he meant no
offence. "Why, to be sure you didn't!" said she. "But I do enjoy you real
"Well, m'm," protested the wincing cow-puncher, driven back to addressing
her as "ma'am," "we ain't used--"
"Don't tangle yourself up worse, Mr. McLean. No more am I 'used.' I have
never slept in an empty in my life. And why is that? Just because I've
never had to. And there's the difference between you boys and us. You do
lots of things you don't like, and tell us. And we put up with lots of
things we don't like, but we never let you find out. I know you meant no
offense," she continued, heartily, softening towards her crushed
protector, "because you're a gentleman. And lands! I'm not complaining
about an empty. That will be rich--if I can have the door shut."
Upon this she went out to view the cars, Mr. McLean hovering behind her
with a devoted, uneasy countenance, and frequently muttering "Shucks!"
while the agent and I followed with a lamp, for the dark was come. With
our help she mounted into the first car, and then into the next, taking
the lamp. And while she scanned the floor and corners, and slid the door
back and forth, Lin whispered in my ear: "Her name's Jessamine. She told
me. Don't yu' like that name?" So I answered him, "Yes, very much,"
thinking that some larger flower--but still a flower--might have been
"Nobody seems to have slept in these," said she, stepping down; and on
learning that even the tramp avoided Separ when he could, she exclaimed,
"What lodging could be handier than this! Only it would be so cute if you
had a Louavull an' Nashvull car," said she. "Twould seem like my old
Kentucky home!" And laughing rather sweetly at her joke, she held the
lamp up to read the car's lettering. "'D. and R. G.' Oh, that's a way-off
stranger! I reckon they're all strange." She went along the train with
her lamp. "Yes, 'B. and M.' and 'S. C. and P.' Oh, this is rich! Nate
will laugh when he hears. I'll choose 'C., B. and Q.' That's a little
nearer my country. What time does the stage start? Porter, please wake
'C., B. and Q.' at six, sharp," said she to Lin.
From this point of the evening on, I think of our doings--their doings--
with a sort of unchanging homesickness. Nothing like them can ever happen
again, I know; for it's all gone--settled, sobered, and gone. And
whatever wholesomer prose of good fortune waits in our cup, how I thank
my luck for this swallow of frontier poetry which I came in time for!
To arrange some sort of bed for her was the next thing, and we made a
good shake-down--clean straw and blankets and a pillow, and the agent
would have brought sheets; but though she would not have these, she did
not resist--what do you suppose?--a looking-glass for next morning! And
we got a bucket of water and her valise. It was all one to her, she said,
in what car Lin and I put up; and let it be next door, by all means, if
it pleased him to think he could watch over her safety better so; and she
shut herself in, bidding us good-night. We began spreading straw and
blankets for ourselves, when a whistle sounded far and long, and its tone
rose in pitch as it came.
"I'll get him to run right to the corrals," said the agent, "so the
sheriff can tell the boys he's not after them."
"That'll convince 'em he is," said Lin. "Stop him here, or let him go
But we were not to steer the course that events took now. The rails of
the main line beside us brightened in wavering parallels as the headlight
grew down upon us, and in this same moment the shootings at the corrals
chorused in a wild, hilarious threat. The burden of the coming engine
heavily throbbed in the air and along the steel, and met and mixed with
the hard, light beating of hoofs. The sounds approached together like a
sort of charge, and I stepped between the freight-cars, where I heard Lin
ordering the girl inside to lie down flat, and could see the agent
running about in the dust, flapping his arms to signal with as much
coherence as a chicken with its head off. I had very short space for
wonder or alarm. The edge of one of my freight-cars glowed suddenly with
the imminent headlight, and galloping shots invaded the place. The
horsemen flew by, overreaching, and leaning back and lugging against
their impetus. They passed in a tangled swirl, and their dust coiled up
thick from the dark ground and luminously unfolded across the glare of
the sharp-halted locomotive. Then they wheeled, and clustered around it
where it stood by our cars, its air-brake pumping deep breaths, and the
internal steam humming through its bowels; and I came out in time to see
Billy Lusk climb its front with callow, enterprising shouts. That was
child's play; and the universal yell now raised by the horsemen was their
child's play too; but the whole thing could so precipitately reel into
the fatal that my thoughts stopped. I could only look when I saw that
they had somehow recognized the man on the engine for a sheriff. Two had
sprung from their horses and were making boisterously toward the cab,
while Lin McLean, neither boisterous nor joking, was going to the cab
from my side, with his pistol drawn, to keep the peace. The engineer sat
with a neutral hand on the lever, the fireman had run along the top of
the coal in the tender and descended and crouched somewhere, and the
sheriff, cool, and with a good-natured eye upon all parties, was just
beginning to explain his errand, when some rider from the crowd cut him
short with an invitation to get down and have a drink. At the word of
ribald endearment by which he named the sheriff, a passing fierceness
hardened the officer's face, and the new yell they gave was less playful.
Waiting no more explanations, they swarmed against the locomotive, and
McLean pulled himself up on the step. The loud talking fell at a stroke
to let business go on, and in this silence came the noise of a
sliding-door. At that I looked, and they all looked, and stood harmless,
like children surprised. For there on the threshold of the freight-car,
with the interior darkness behind her, and touched by the headlight's
diverging rays, stood Jessamine Buckner.
"Will you gentlemen do me a favor?" said she. "Strangers, maybe, have no
right to ask favors, but I reckon you'll let that pass this time. For I'm
real sleepy!" She smiled as she brought this out. "I've been four days
and nights on the cars, and to-morrow I've got to stage to Buffalo. You
see I'll not be here to spoil your fun to-morrow night, and I want boys
to be boys just as much as ever they can. Won't you put it off till
In their amazement they found no spokesman; but I saw Lin busy among
them, and that some word was passing through their groups. After the
brief interval of stand-still they began silently to get on their horses,
while the looming engine glowed and pumped its breath, and the sheriff
and engineer remained as they were.
"Good-night, lady," said a voice among the moving horsemen, but the
others kept their abashed native silence; and thus they slowly filed away
to the corrals. The figures, in their loose shirts and leathern chaps,
passed from the dimness for a moment through the cone of light in front
of the locomotive, so that the metal about them made here and there a
faint, vanishing glint; and here and there in the departing column a
bold, half-laughing face turned for a look at the girl in the doorway,
and then was gone again into the dimness.
The sheriff in the cab took off his hat to Miss Buckner, remarking that
she should belong to the force; and as the bell rang and the engine
moved, off popped young Billy Lusk from his cow-catcher. With an
exclamation of horror she sprang down, and Mr. McLean appeared, and, with
all a parent's fright and rage, held the boy by the arm grotesquely as
the sheriff steamed by.
"I ain't a-going to chase it," said young Billy, struggling.
"I've a mind to cowhide you," said Lin.
But Miss Buckner interposed. "Oh, well," said she, "next time; if he does
it next time. It's so late to-night! You'll not frighten us that way
again if he lets you off?" she asked Billy.
"No," said Billy, looking at her with interest. "Father 'd have cowhided
me anyway, I guess," he added, meditatively.
"Do you call him father?"
"Ah, father's at Laramie," said Billy, with disgust. "He'd not stop for
your asking. Lin don't bother me much."
"You quit talking and step up there!" ordered his guardian. "Well, m'm, I
guess yu' can sleep good now in there."
"If it was only an 'L. and N.' I'd not have a thing against it!
Good-night, Mr. McLean; good-night, young Mr.--"
"I'm Billy Lusk. I can ride Chalkeye's pinto that bucked Honey Wiggin."
"I am sure you can ride finely, Mr. Lusk. Maybe you and I can take a ride
together. Pleasant dreams!"
She nodded and smiled to him, and slid her door to; and Billy considered
it, remarking: "I like her. What makes her live in a car?"
But he was drowsing while I told him; and I lifted him up to Lin, who
took him in his own blankets, where he fell immediately asleep. One
distant whistle showed how far the late engine had gone from us. We left
our car open, and I lay enjoying the cool air. Thus was I drifting off,
when I grew aware of a figure in the door. It was Lin, standing in his
stockings and not much else, with his pistol. He listened, and then
leaped down, light as a cat. I heard some repressed talking, and lay in
expectancy; but back he came, noiseless in his stockings, and as he slid
into bed I asked what the matter was. He had found the Texas boy,
Manassas Donohoe, by the girl's car, with no worse intention than keeping
a watch on it. "So I gave him to understand," said Lin, "that I had no
objection to him amusing himself playing picket-line, but that I guessed
I was enough guard, and he would find sleep healthier for his system."
After this I went to sleep wholly; but, waking once in the night, thought
I heard some one outside, and learned in the morning from Lin that the
boy had not gone until the time came for him to join his outfit at the
corrals. And I was surprised that Lin, the usually good-hearted, should
find nothing but mirth in the idea of this unknown, unthanked young
sentinel. "Sleeping's a heap better for them kind till they get their
growth," was his single observation.
But when Separ had dwindled to toys behind us in the journeying stage I
told Miss Jessamine, and although she laughed too, it was with a note
that young Texas would have liked to hear; and she hoped she might see
him upon her return, to thank him.
"Any Jack can walk around all night," said Mr. McLean, disparagingly.
"Well, then, and I know a Jack who didn't," observed the young lady.
This speech caused her admirer to be full of explanations; so that when
she saw how readily she could perplex him, and yet how capable and
untiring he was about her comfort, helping her out or tucking her in at
the stations where we had a meal or changed horses, she enjoyed the hours
very much, in spite of their growing awkwardness.
But oh, the sparkling, unbashful Lin! Sometimes he sat himself beside her
to be close, and then he would move opposite, the better to behold her.
Never, except once long after (when sorrow manfully borne had still
further refined his clay), have I heard Lin's voice or seen his look so
winning. No doubt many a male bird cares nothing what neighbor bird
overhears his spring song from the top of the open tree, but I extremely
doubt if his lady-love, even if she be a frank, bouncing robin, does not
prefer to listen from some thicket, and not upon the public lawn.
Jessamine grew silent and almost peevish; and from discourse upon man and
woman she hopped, she skipped, she flew. When Lin looked at his watch and
counted the diminished hours between her and Buffalo, she smiled to
herself; but from mention of her brother she shrank, glancing swiftly at
me and my well-assumed slumber.
And it was with indignation and self-pity that I climbed out in the hot
sun at last beside the driver and small Billy.
"I know this road," piped Billy, on the box
"'I camped here with father when mother was off that time. You can take a
left-hand trail by those cottonwoods and strike the mountains."
So I inquired what game he had then shot.
"Ah, just a sage-hen. Lin's a-going to let me shoot a bear, you know.
What made Lin marry mother when father was around?"
The driver gave me a look over Billy's head, and I gave him one; and I
instructed Billy that people supposed his father was dead. I withheld
that his mother gave herself out as Miss Peck in the days when Lin met
her on Bear Creek.
The formidable nine-year-old pondered. "The geography says they used to
have a lot of wives at Salt Lake City. Is there a place where a woman can
have a lot of husbands?"
"It don't especially depend on the place," remarked the driver to me.
"Because," Billy went on, "Bert Taylor told me in recess that mother'd
had a lot, and I told him he lied, and the other boys they laughed and I
blacked Bert's eye on him, and I'd have blacked the others too, only Miss
Wood came out. I wouldn't tell her what Bert said, and Bert wouldn't, and
Sophy Armstrong told her. Bert's father found out, and he come round, and
I thought he was a-going to lick me about the eye, and he licked Bert!
Say, am I Lin's, honest?"
"No, Billy, you're not," I said.
"Wish I was. They couldn't get me back to Laramie then; but, oh, bother!
I'd not go for 'em! I'd like to see 'em try! Lin wouldn't leave me go.
You ain't married, are you? No more is Lin now, I guess. A good many are,
but I wouldn't want to. I don't think anything of 'em. I've seen mother
take 'pothecary stuff on the sly. She's whaled me worse than Lin ever
does. I guess he wouldn't want to be mother's husband again, and if he
does," said Billy, his voice suddenly vindictive, "I'll quit him and
"No danger, Bill," said I.
"How would the nice lady inside please you?" inquired the driver.
"Ah, pshaw! she ain't after Lin!" sang out Billy, loud and scornful.
"She's after her brother. She's all right, though," he added,
At this all talk stopped short inside, reviving in a casual, scanty
manner; while unconscious Billy Lusk, tired of the one subject, now spoke
cheerfully of birds' eggs.
Who knows the child-soul, young in days, yet old as Adam and the hills?
That school-yard slur about his mother was as dim to his understanding as
to the offender's, yet mysterious nature had bid him go to instant war!
How foreseeing in Lin to choke the unfounded jest about his relation to
Billy Lusk, in hopes to save the boy's ever awakening to the facts of his
mother's life! "Though," said the driver, an easygoing cynic, "folks with
lots of fathers will find heaps of brothers in this country!" But
presently he let Billy hold the reins, and at the next station carefully
lifted him down and up. "I've knowed that woman, too," he whispered to
me. "Sidney, Nebraska. Lusk was off half the time. We laughed when she
fooled Lin into marryin' her. Come to think," he mused, as twilight
deepened around our clanking stage, and small Billy slept sound between
us, "there's scarcely a thing in life you get a laugh out of that don't
make soberness for somebody."
Soberness had now visited the pair behind us; even Lin's lively talk had
quieted, and his tones were low and few. But though Miss Jessamine at our
next change of horses "hoped" I would come inside, I knew she did not
hope very earnestly, and outside I remained until Buffalo.
Journeying done, her face revealed the strain beneath her brave
brightness, and the haunting care she could no longer keep from her eyes.
The imminence of the jail and the meeting had made her cheeks white and
her countenance seem actually smaller; and when, reminding me that we
should meet again soon, she gave me her hand, it was ice-cold. I think
she was afraid Lin might offer to go with her. But his heart understood
the lonely sacredness of her next half-hour, and the cow puncher,
standing aside for her to pass, lifted his hat wistfully and spoke never
a word. For a moment he looked after her with sombre emotion; but the
court-house and prison stood near and in sight, and, as plain as if he
had said so, I saw him suddenly feel she should not be stared at going up
those steps; it must be all alone, the pain and the joy of that reprieve!
He turned away with me, and after a few silent steps said, "Wasted! all
"Let us hope--" I began.
"You're not a fool," he broke in, roughly. "You don't hope anything."
"He'll start life elsewhere," said I.
"Elsewhere! Yes, keep starting till all the elsewheres know him like
Powder River knows him. But she! I have had to sit and hear her tell and
tell about him; all about back in Kentucky playin' around the farm, and
how she raised him after the old folks died. Then he got bigger and made
her sell their farm, and she told how it was right he should turn it into
money and get his half. I did not dare say a word, for she'd have just
bit my head off, and--and that would sure hurt me now!" Lin brought up
with a comical chuckle. "And she went to work, and he cleared out, and no
more seen or heard of him. That's for five years, and she'd given up
tracing him, when one morning she reads in the paper about how her
long-lost brother is convicted for forgery. That's the way she knows he's
not dead, and she takes her savings off her railroad salary and starts
for him. She was that hasty she thought it was Buffalo, New York, till
she got in the cars and read the paper over again. But she had to go as
far as Cincinnati, either way. She has paid every cent of the money he
stole." We had come to the bridge, and Lin jerked a stone into the quick
little river. "She's awful strict in some ways. Thought Buffalo must be a
wicked place because of the shops bein' open Sunday. Now if that was all
Buffalo's wickedness! And she thinks divorce is mostly sin. But her heart
is a shield for Nate."
"Her face is as beautiful as her actions," he added.
"Well," said I, "and would you make such a villain your brother-in-law?"
He whirled round and took both my shoulders. "Come walking!" he urged. "I
must talk some." So we followed the stream out of town towards the
mountains. "I came awful near asking her in the stage," said he.
"Goodness, Lin! give yourself time!"
"Time can't increase my feelings."
"Hers, man, hers! How many hours have you known her?"
"Hours and hours! You're talking foolishness! What have they got to do
with it? And she will listen to me. I can tell she will. I know I can be
so she'll listen, and it will go all right, for I'll ask so hard. And
everything'll come out straight. Yu' see, I've not been spending to speak
of since Billy's on my hands, and now I'll fix up my cabin and finish my
fencing and my ditch--and she's going to like Box Elder Creek better than
Shawhan. She's the first I've ever loved."
"Then I'd like to ask--" I cried out.
"Ask away!" he exclaimed, inattentively, in his enthusiasm.
"When you--" but I stopped, perceiving it impossible. It was, of course,
not the many transient passions on which he had squandered his substance,
but the one where faith also had seemed to unite. Had he not married
once, innocent of the woman's being already a wife? But I stopped, for to
trench here was not for me or any one.
And my pause strangely flashed on him something of that I had in my mind.
"No," he said, his eyes steady and serious upon me, "don't you ask about
the things you're meaning." Then his face grew radiant and rather stern.
"Do you suppose I don't know she's too good for me? And that some bygones
can't ever be bygones? But if you," he said, "never come to look away up
to a woman from away down, and mean to win her just the same as if you
did deserve her, why, you'll make a turruble mess of the whole business!"
When we walked in silence for a long while, he lighted again with the
blossoming dawn of his sentiment. I thought of the coarse yet taking
vagabond of twenty I had once chanced upon, and hunted and camped with
since through the years. Decidedly he was not that boy to-day! It is not
true that all of us rise through adversity, any more than that all plants
need shadow. Some starve out of the sunshine; and I have seen misery
deaden once kind people to everything but self--almost the saddest sight
in the world! But Lin's character had not stood well the ordeal of
happiness, and for him certainly harsh days and responsibility had been
needed to ripen the spirit. Yes, Jessamine Buckner would have been much
too good for him before that humiliation of his marriage, and this care
of young Billy with which he had loaded himself. "Lin," said I, "I will
drink your health and luck."
"I'm healthy enough," said he; and we came back to the main street and
into the main saloon.
"How d'ye, boys?" said some one, and there was Nate Buckner. "It's on me
to-day," he continued, shoving whiskey along the bar; and I saw he was a
little drunk. "I'm setting 'em up," he continued. "Why? Why, because"--he
looked around for appreciation--"because it's not every son-of-a-gun in
Wyoming gets pardoned by Governor Barker. I'm important, I want you to
understand," he pursued to the cold bystanders. "They'll have a picture
of me in the Cheyenne paper. 'The Bronco-buster of Powder River!' They
can't do without me! If any son-of-a-gun here thinks he knows how to
break a colt," he shouted, looking around with the irrelevant fierceness
of drink--and then his challenge ebbed vacantly in laughter as the
subject blurred in his mind. "You're not drinking, Lin," said he.
"No," said McLean, "I'm not."
"Sworn off again? Well, water never did agree with me."
"Yu' never gave water the chance," retorted the cow-puncher, and we left
the place without my having drunk his health.
It was a grim beginning, this brag attempt to laugh his reputation down,
with the jail door scarce closed behind him. "Folks are not going to like
that," said Lin, as we walked across the bridge again to the hotel. Yet
the sister, left alone here after an hour at most of her brother's
company, would pretend it was a matter of course. Nate was not in, she
told us at once. He had business to attend to and friends to see he must
get back to Riverside and down in that country where colts were waiting
for him. He was the only one the E. K. outfit would allow to handle their
young stock. Did we know that? And she was going to stay with a Mrs.
Pierce down there for a while, near where Nate would be working. All this
she told us; but when he did not return to dine with her on this first
day, I think she found it hard to sustain her wilful cheeriness. Lin
offered to take her driving to see the military post and dress parade at
retreat, and Cloud's Peak, and Buffalo's various sights; but she made
excuses and retired to her room. Nate, however, was at tea, shaven clean,
with good clothes, and well conducted. His tone and manner to Jessamine
were confidential and caressing, and offended Mr. McLean, so that I
observed to him that it was scarcely reasonable to be jealous.
"Oh, no jealousy!" said he. "But he comes in and kisses her, and he
kisses her good-night, and us strangers looking on! It's such
oncontrollable affection, yu' see, after never writing for five years. I
expect she must have some of her savings left."
It is true that the sister gave the brother money more than once; and as
our ways lay together, I had chances to see them both, and to wonder if
her joy at being with him once again was going to last. On the road to
Riverside I certainly heard Jessamine beg him to return home with her;
and he ridiculed such a notion. What proper life for a live man was that
dead place back East? he asked her. I thought he might have expressed
some regret that they must dwell so far apart, or some intention to visit
her now and then; but he said nothing of the sort, though he spoke
volubly of himself and his prospects. I suppose this spectacle of brother
and sister had rubbed Lin the wrong way too much, for he held himself and
Billy aloof, joining me on the road but once, and then merely to give me
the news that people here wanted no more of Nate Buckner; he would be run
out of the country, and respect for the sister was all that meanwhile
saved him. But Buckner, like so many spared criminals, seemed brazenly
unaware he was disgraced, and went hailing loudly any riders or drivers
we met, while beside him his sister sat close and straight, her stanch
affection and support for the world to see. For all she let appear, she
might have been bringing him back from some gallant heroism achieved; and
as I rode along the travesty seemed more and more pitiful, the outcome
darker and darker.
At all times is Riverside beautiful, but most beautiful when the sun
draws down through the openings of the hills. From each one a stream
comes flowing clearly out into the plain, and fields spread green along
the margins. It was beneath the long-slanted radiance of evening that we
saw Blue Creek and felt its coolness rise among the shifting veils of
light. The red bluff eastward, the tall natural fortress, lost its stern
masonry of shapes, and loomed a soft towering enchantment of violet and
amber and saffron in the changing rays. The cattle stood quiet about the
levels, and horses were moving among the restless colts. These the
brother bade his sister look at, for with them was his glory; and I heard
him boasting of his skill--truthful boasting, to be sure. Had he been
honest in his dealings, the good-will that man's courage and dashing
appearance beget in men would have brought him more employment than he
could have undertaken. He told Jessamine his way of breaking a horse that
few would dare, and she listened eagerly. "Do you remember when I used to
hold the pony for you to get on?" she said. "You always would scare me,
Nate!" And he replied, fluently, Yes, yes; did she see that horse there,
near the fence? He was a four-year-old, an outlaw, and she would find no
one had tried getting on his back since he had been absent. This was the
first question he asked on reaching the cabin, where various neighbors
were waiting the mail-rider; and, finding he was right, he turned in
pride to Jessamine.
"They don't know how to handle that horse," said he. "I told you so.
Give me a rope."
Did she notice the cold greeting Nate received? I think not. Not only was
their welcome to her the kinder, but any one is glad to witness bold
riding, and this chance made a stir which the sister may have taken for
cordiality. But Lin gave me a look; for it was the same here as it had
been in the Buffalo saloon.
"The trick is easy enough," said Nate, arriving with his outlaw, and
liking an audience. "You don't want a bridle, but a rope hackamore like
this--Spanish style. Then let them run as hard as they want, and on a
sudden reach down your arm and catch the hackamore short, close up by the
mouth, and jerk them round quick and heavy at full speed. They quit their
fooling after one or two doses. Now watch your outlaw!"
He went into the saddle so swift and secure that the animal, amazed,
trembled stock-still, then sprang headlong. It stopped, vicious and
knowing, and plunged in a rage, but could do nothing with the man, and
bolted again, and away in a straight blind line over the meadow, when the
rider leaned forward to his trick. The horse veered in a jagged swerve,
rolled over and over with its twisted impetus, and up on its feet and on
without a stop, the man still seated and upright in the saddle. How we
cheered to see it! But the figure now tilted strangely, and something
awful and nameless came over us and chilled our noise to silence. The
horse, dazed and tamed by the fall, brought its burden towards us, a
wobbling thing, falling by small shakes backward, until the head sank on
the horse's rump.
"Come away," said Lin McLean to Jessamine and at his voice she obeyed and
went, leaning on his arm.
Jessamine sat by her brother until he died, twelve hours afterwards,
having spoken and known nothing. The whole weight of the horse had
crushed him internally. He must have become almost instantly unconscious,
being held in the saddle by his spurs, which had caught in the hair
cinch; it may be that our loud cheer was the last thing of this world
that he knew. The injuries to his body made impossible any taking him
home, which his sister at first wished to do. "Why, I came here to bring
him home," she said, with a smile and tone like cheerfulness in wax. Her
calm, the unearthly ease with which she spoke to any comer (and she was
surrounded with rough kindness), embarrassed the listeners; she saw her
calamity clear as they did, but was sleep-walking in it. It was Lin gave
her what she needed--the repose of his strong, silent presence. He spoke
no sympathy and no advice, nor even did he argue with her about the
burial; he perceived somehow that she did not really hear what was said
to her, and that these first griefless, sensible words came from some
mechanism of the nerves; so he kept himself near her, and let her tell
her story as she would. Once I heard him say to her, with the same
authority of that first "come away"; "Now you've had enough of the
talking. Come for a walk." Enough of the talking--as if it were a
treatment! How did he think of that? Jessamine, at any rate, again obeyed
him, and I saw the two going quietly about in the meadows and along the
curving brook; and that night she slept well. On one only point did the
cow-puncher consult me.
"They figured to put Nate on top of that bald mound," said he. "But she
has talked about the flowers and shade where the old folks lie, and where
she wants him to be alongside of them. I've not let her look at him
to-day, for--well, she might get the way he looks now on her memory. But
I'd like to show you my idea before going further."
Lin had indeed chosen a beautiful place, and so I told him at the first
sight of it.
"That's all I wanted to know," said he. "I'll fix the rest."
I believe he never once told Jessamine the body could not travel so far
as Kentucky. I think he let her live and talk and grieve from hour to
hour, and then led her that afternoon to the nook of sunlight and
sheltering trees, and won her consent to it thus; for there was Nate
laid, and there she went to sit, alone. Lin did not go with her on those
But now something new was on the fellow's mind. He was plainly occupied
with it, whatever else he was doing, and he had some active cattle-work.
On my asking him if Jessamine Buckner had decided when to return east, he
inquired of me, angrily, what was there in Kentucky she could not have in
Wyoming? Consequently, though I surmised what he must be debating, I felt
myself invited to keep out of his confidence, and I did so. My advice to
him would have been ill received, and--as was soon to be made plain--
would have done his delicacy injustice. Next, one morning he and Billy
were gone. My first thought was that he had rejoined Jessamine at Mrs.
Pierce's, where she was, and left me away over here on Bear Creek, where
we had come for part of a week.
But stuck in my hat-band I found a pencilled farewell.
Now Mr. McLean constructed perhaps three letters in the year--painful,
serious events--like an interview with some important person with whom
your speech must decorously flow. No matter to whom he was writing, it
froze all nature stiff in each word he achieved; and his bald business
diction and wild archaic penmanship made documents that I value among my
choicest correspondence; this one, especially:
"Wensday four a. m.
"DEAR SIR this is to Inform you that i have gone to Separ on important
bisness where i expect to meet you on your arrival at same point. You
will confer a favor and oblidge undersigned by Informing Miss J. Buckner
of date (if soon) you fix for returning per stage to Separ as Miss J.
Buckner may prefer company for the trip being long and poor
Yours &c. L. McLEAN."
This seemed to point but one way; and (uncharitable though it sound) that
this girl, so close upon bereavement, should be able to give herself to a
lover was distasteful to me.
But, most extraordinary, Lin had gone away without a word to her, and she
was left as plainly in the dark as myself. After her first frank surprise
at learning of his departure, his name did not come again from her lips,
at any rate to me. Good Mrs. Pierce dropped a word one day as to her
opinion of men who deceive women into expecting something from them.
"Let us talk straight," said I. "Do you mean that Miss Buckner says that,
or that you say it?"
"Why, the poor thing says nothing!" exclaimed the lady. "It's like a man
to think she would. And I'll not say anything, either, for you're all
just the same, except when you're worse; and that Lin McLean is going to
know what I think of him next time we meet."
He did. On that occasion the kind old dame told him he was the best boy
in the country, and stood on her toes and kissed him. But meanwhile we
did not know why he had gone, and Jessamine (though he was never subtle
or cruel enough to plan such a thing) missed him, and thus in her
loneliness had the chance to learn how much he had been to her.
Though pressed to stay indefinitely beneath Mrs. Pierce's hospitable
roof, the girl, after lingering awhile, and going often to that nook in
the hill by Riverside, took her departure. She was restless, yet clung to
the neighborhood. It was with a wrench that she fixed her going when I
told her of my own journey back to the railroad. In Buffalo she walked to
the court-house and stood a moment as if bidding this site of one
life-memory farewell, and from the stage she watched and watched the
receding town and mountains. "It's awful to be leaving him!" she said.
"Excuse me for acting so in front of you." With the poignant emptiness
overcoming her in new guise, she blamed herself for not waiting in
Illinois until he had been sent to Joliet, for then, so near home, he
must have gone with her.
How could I tell her that Nate's death was the best end that could have
come to him? But I said: "You know you don't think it was your fault. You
know you would do the same again." She listened to me, but her eyes had
no interest in them. "He never knew pain," I pursued, "and he died doing
the thing he liked best in the world. He was happy and enjoying himself,
and you gave him that. It's bad only for you. Some would talk religion,
but I can't."
"Yes," she answered, "I can think of him so glad to be free. Thank you
for saying that about religion. Do you think it's wicked not to want it--
to hate it sometimes? I hope it's not. Thank you, truly."
During our journey she summoned her cheerfulness, and all that she said
was wholesome. In the robust, coarse soundness of her fibre, the wounds
of grief would heal and leave no sickness--perhaps no higher
sensitiveness to human sufferings than her broad native kindness already
held. We touched upon religion again, and my views shocked her Kentucky
notions, for I told her Kentucky locked its religion in an iron cage
called Sunday, which made it very savage and fond of biting strangers.
Now and again I would run upon that vein of deep-seated prejudice that
was in her character like some fine wire. In short, our disagreements
brought us to terms more familiar than we had reached hitherto. But when
at last Separ came, where was I? There stood Mr. McLean waiting, and at
the suddenness of him she had no time to remember herself, but stepped
out of the stage with such a smile that the ardent cow-puncher flushed
"So I went away without telling you goodbye!" he began, not wisely. "Mrs.
Pierce has been circulating war talk about me, you bet!"
The maiden in Jessamine spoke instantly. "Indeed? There was no special
obligation for you to call on me, or her to notice if you didn't."
"Oh!" said Lin, crestfallen. "Yu' sure don't mean that?"
She looked at him, and was compelled to melt. "No, neighbor, I don't mean
"Neighbor!" he exclaimed; and again, "Neighbor," much pleased. "Now it
would sound kind o' pleasant if you'd call me that for a steady thing."
"It would sound kind of odd, Mr. McLean, thank you."
"Blamed if I understand her," cried Lin. "Blamed if I do. But you're
going to understand me sure quick!" He rushed inside the station, spoke
sharply to the agent, and returned in the same tremor of elation that had
pushed him to forwardness with his girl, and with which he seemed near
bursting. "I've been here three days to meet you. There's a letter, and I
expect I know what's in it. Tubercle has got it here." He took it from
the less hasty agent and thrust it in Jessamine's hand. "You needn't to
fear. Please open it; it's good news this time, you bet!" He watched it
in her hand as the boy of eight watches the string of a Christmas parcel
he wishes his father would cut instead of so carefully untie. "Open it,"
he urged again. "Keeping me waiting this way!"
"What in the world does all this mean?" cried Jessamine, stopping short
at the first sentence.
"Read," said Lin.
"You've done this!" she exclaimed.
So she read, with big eyes. It was an official letter of the railroad,
written by the division superintendent at Edgeford. It hoped Miss Buckner
might feel like taking the position of agent at Separ. If she was willing
to consider this, would she stop over at Edgeford, on her way east, and
talk with the superintendent? In case the duties were more than she had
been accustomed to on the Louisville and Nashville, she could continue
east with the loss of only a day. The superintendent believed the salary
could be arranged satisfactorily. Enclosed please to find an order for a
free ride to Edgeford.
Jessamine turned her wondering eyes on Lin. "You did do this," she
repeated, but this time with extraordinary quietness.
"Yes," said he. "And I am plumb proud of it."
She gave a rich laugh of pleasure and amusement; a long laugh, and
stopped. "Did anybody ever!" she said.
"We can call each other neighbors now, yu' see," said the cow-puncher.
"Oh no! oh no!" Jessamine declared. "Though how am I ever to thank you?"
"By not argufying," Lin answered.
"Oh no, no! I can do no such thing. Don't you see I can't? I believe you
"I've been waiting to hear yu' say that," said the complacent McLean.
"I'm not argufying. We'll eat supper now. The east-bound is due in an
hour, and I expect you'll be wanting to go on it."
"And I expect I'll go, too," said the girl.
"I'll be plumb proud to have yu'," the cow-puncher assented.
"I'm going to get my ticket to Chicago right now," said Jessamine, again
laughing, sunny and defiant.
"You bet you are!" said the incorrigible McLean. He let her go into the
station serenely. "You can't get used to new ideas in a minute," he
remarked to me. "I've figured on all that, of course. But that's why," he
broke out, impetuously, "I quit you on Bear Creek so sudden. 'When she
goes back away home,' I'd been saying to myself every day, 'what'll you
do then, Lin McLean?' Well, I knew I'd go to Kentucky too. Just knew I'd
have to, yu' see, and it was inconvenient, turruble inconvenient--Billy
here and my ranch, and the beef round-up comin'--but how could I let her
go and forget me? Take up, maybe, with some Blue-grass son-of-a-gun back
there? And I hated the fix I was in till that morning, getting up, I was
joshin' the Virginia man that's after Miss Wood. I'd been sayin' no
educated lady would think of a man who talked with an African accent.
'It's repotted you have a Southern rival yourself,' says he, joshin'
back. So I said I guessed the rival would find life uneasy. 'He does,'
says he. 'Any man with his voice broke in two halves, and one down in his
stomach and one up among the angels, is goin' to feel uneasy. But Texas
talks a heap about his lady vigilante in the freight-car.' 'Vigilante!' I
said; and I must have jumped, for they all asked where the lightning had
struck. And in fifteen minutes after writing you I'd hit the trail for
Separ. Oh, I figured things out on that ride!" (Mr. McLean here clapped
me on the back.) "Got to Separ. Got the sheriff's address--the sheriff
that saw her that night they held up the locomotive. Got him to meet me
at Edgeford and make a big talk to the superintendent. Made a big talk
myself. I said, 'Put that girl in charge of Separ, and the boys'll quit
shooting your water-tank. But Tubercle can't influence 'em.' 'Tubercle?'
says the superintendent. 'What's that?' And when I told him it was the
agent, he flapped his two hands down on the chair arms each side of him
and went to rockin' up and down. I said the agent was just a temptation
to the boys to be gay right along, and they'd keep a-shooting. 'You can
choose between Tubercle and your tank,' I said; 'but you've got to move
one of 'em from Separ if yu' went peace.' The sheriff backed me up good,
too. He said a man couldn't do much with Separ the way it was now; but a
decent woman would be respected there, and the only question was if she
could conduct the business. So I spoke up about Shawhan, and when the
whole idea began to soak into that superintendent his eyeballs jingled
and he looked as wise as a work-ox. 'I'll see her,' says he. And he's
going to see her."
"Well," said I, "you deserve success after thinking of a thing like that!
You're wholly wasted punching cattle. But she's going to Chicago. By
eleven o'clock she will have passed by your superintendent."
"Why, so she will!" said Lin, affecting surprise.
He baffled me, and he baffled Jessamine. Indeed, his eagerness with her
parcels, his assistance in checking her trunk, his cheerful examination
of check and ticket to be sure they read over the same route, plainly
failed to gratify her.
Her firmness about going was sincere, but she had looked for more
dissuasion; and this sprightly abettal of her departure seemed to leave
something vacant in the ceremonies She fell singularly taciturn during
supper at the Hotel Brunswick, and presently observed, "I hope I shall
see Mr. Donohoe."
"Texas?" said Lin. "I expect they'll have tucked him in bed by now up at
the ranch. The little fellow is growing yet."
"He can walk round a freight-car all night," said Miss Buckner, stoutly.
"I've always wanted to thank him for looking after me."
Mr. McLean smiled elaborately at his plate
"Well, if he's not actually thinking he'll tease me!" cried out Jessamine
"Though he claims not to be foolish like Mr. Donohoe. Why, Mr. McLean,
you surely must have been young once! See if you can't remember!"
"Shucks!" began Lin.
But her laughter routed him. "Maybe you didn't notice you were young,"
she said. "But don't you reckon perhaps the men around did? Why, maybe
even the girls kind o' did!"
"She's hard to beat, ain't she?" inquired Lin, admiringly, of me.
In my opinion she was. She had her wish, too about Texas; for we found
him waiting on the railroad platform, dressed in his best, to say
good-bye. The friendly things she told him left him shuffling and
repeating that it was a mistake to go, a big mistake; but when she said
the butter was not good enough, his laugh cracked joyously up into the
treble. The train's arrival brought quick sadness to her face, but she
made herself bright again with a special farewell for each acquaintance.
"Don't you ride any more cow-catchers," she warned Billy Lusk, "or I'll
have to come back and look after you."
"You said you and me were going for a ride, and we ain't," shouted the
long-memoried nine-year-old. "You will," murmured Mr. McLean, oracularly.
As the train's pace quickened he did not step off, and Miss Buckner cried
"Too late," said he, placidly. Then he called to me, "I'm hard to beat,
too!" So the train took them both away, as I might have guessed was his
intention all along.
"Is that marriage again?" said Billy, anxiously. "He wouldn't tell me
"He's just seeing Miss Buckner as far as Edgeford," said the agent. "Be
"Then I don't see why he wouldn't take me along," Billy complained. And
But the lover was not back to-morrow. He was capable of anything, gossip
remarked, and took up new themes. The sun rose and set, the two trains
made their daily slight event and gathering; the water-tank, glaring
bulkily in the sun beaconed unmolested; and the agent's natural sleep was
unbroken by pistols, for the cow-boys did not happen to be in town. Separ
lay a clot of torpor that I was glad to leave behind me for a while. But
news is a strange, permeating substance, and it began to be sifted
through the air that Tubercle was going to God's country.
That is how they phrased it in cow-camp, meaning not the next world, but
the Eastern States.
"It's certainly a shame him leaving after we've got him so good and used
to us," said the Virginian.
"We can't tell him good-bye," said Honey Wiggin. "Separ'll be slow."
"We can give his successor a right hearty welcome," the Virginian
"That's you!" said Honey. "Schemin' mischief away ahead. You're the
leadin' devil in this country, and just because yu' wear a
faithful-looking face you're tryin' to fool a poor school-marm."
"Yes," drawled the Southerner, "that's what I'm aiming to do."
So now they were curious about the successor, planning their hearty
welcome for that official, and were encouraged in this by Mr. McLean. He
reappeared in the neighborhood with a manner and conversation highly
"Bring your new wife?" they inquired.
"No; she preferred Kentucky," Lin said.
"Bring the old one?"
"No; she preferred Laramie."
"Kentucky's a right smart way to chase after a girl," said the Virginian.
"Sure!" said Mr. McLean. "I quit at Edgeford."
He met their few remarks so smoothly that they got no joy from him; and
being asked had he seen the new agent, he answered yes, that Tubercle had
gone Wednesday, and his successor did not seem to be much of a man.
But to me Lin had nothing to say until noon camp was scattering from its
lunch to work, when he passed close, and whispered, "You'll see her
to-morrow if you go in with the outfit." Then, looking round to make sure
we were alone in the sage-brush, he drew from his pocket, cherishingly, a
little shining pistol. "Hers," said he, simply.
I looked at him.
"We've exchanged," he said.
He turned the token in his hand, caressing it as on that first night when
Jessamine had taken his heart captive.
"My idea," he added, unable to lift his eyes from the treasure. "See
I looked, and there was the word "Neighbor" engraved on it.
"Her idea," said he.
"A good one!" I murmured.
"It's on both, yu' know. We had it put on the day she settled to accept
the superintendent's proposition." Here Lin fired his small exchanged
weapon at a cotton-wood, striking low. "She can beat that with mine!" he
exclaimed, proud and tender. "She took four days deciding at Edgeford,
and I learned her to hit the ace of clubs." He showed me the cards they
had practiced upon during those four days of indecision; he had them in a
book as if they were pressed flowers. "They won't get crumpled that way,"
said he; and he further showed me a tintype. "She's got the other at
Separ," he finished.
I shook his hand with all my might. Yes, he was worthy of her! Yes, he
deserved this smooth course his love was running! And I shook his hand
again. To tonic her grief Jessamine had longed for some activity, some
work, and he had shown her Wyoming might hold this for her as well as
Kentucky. "But how in the world," I asked him, "did you persuade her to
stop over at Edgeford at all?"
"Yu' mustn't forget," said the lover (and he blushed), "that I had her
four hours alone on the train."
But his face that evening round the fire, when they talked of their next
day's welcome to the new agent, became comedy of the highest, and he was
so desperately canny in the moments he chose for silence or for comment!
He had not been sure of their ignorance until he arrived, and it was a
joke with him too deep for laughter. He had a special eye upon the
Virginian, his mate in such a tale of mischiefs, and now he led him on.
He suggested to the Southerner that caution might be wise; this change at
Separ was perhaps some new trick of the company's.
"We mostly take their tricks," observed the Virginian.
"Yes," said Lin, nodding sagely at the fire, "that's so, too."
Yet not he, not any one, could have foreseen the mortifying harmlessness