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Lin McLean by Owen Wister

Part 5 out of 5

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riders reached the tilted gate of the graveyard, they sprang off and
scattered among the hillocks, stumbling and eager. They nodded to Barker
and McLean, quietly waiting there, and began choosing among the open,
weather-drifted graves from which the soldiers had been taken. Their
figures went up and down the uneven ridges, calling and comparing.

"Here," said the Doughie, "here's a good hole."

"Here's a deep one," said another.

"We've struck a well here," said some more. "Put her in here."

The sand-hills became clamorous with voices until they arrived at a
choice, when some one with a spade quickly squared the rain-washed
opening. With lariats looping the coffin round, they brought it and were
about to lower it, when Chalkeye, too near the edge, fell in, and one end
of the box rested upon him. He could not rise by himself, and they pulled
the ropes helplessly above.

McLean spoke to Barker. "I'd like to stop this," said he, "but a man
might as well--"

"Might as well stop a cloud-burst," said Barker.

"Yes, Doc. But it feels--it feels like I was looking at ten dozen Lin
McLeans." And seeing them still helpless with Chalkeye, he joined them
and lifted the cow-boy out.

"I think," said Slaghammer, stepping forward, "this should proceed no
further without some--perhaps some friend would recite 'Now I lay me?"'

"They don't use that on funerals," said the Doughie.

"Will some gentleman give the Lord's Prayer?" inquired the coroner.

Foreheads were knotted; triad mutterings ran among them; but some one
remembered a prayer book in one of the rooms in Drybone, and the notion
was hailed. Four mounted, and raced to bring it. They went down the hill
in a flowing knot, shirts ballooning and elbows flapping, and so
returned. But the book was beyond them. "Take it, you; you take it," each
one said. False beginnings were made, big thumbs pushed the pages back
and forth, until impatience conquered them. They left the book and
lowered the coffin, helped again by McLean. The weight sank slowly,
decently, steadily, down between the banks. The sound that it struck the
bottom with was a slight sound, the grating of the load upon the solid
sand; and a little sand strewed from the edge and fell on the box at the
same moment. The rattle came up from below, compact and brief, a single
jar, quietly smiting through the crowd, smiting it to silence. One
removed his hat, and then another, and then all. They stood eying each
his neighbor, and shifting their eyes, looked away at the great valley.
Then they filled in the grave, brought a head-board from a grave near by,
and wrote the name and date upon it by scratching with a stone.

"She was sure one of us," said Chalkeye. "Let's give her the Lament."

And they followed his lead:

"Once in the saddle, I used to go dashing,
Once in the saddle, I used to go gay;
First took to drinking, and then to card-playing;
Got shot in the body, and now here I lay.

"Beat the drum slowly, Play the fife lowly,
Sound the dead march as you bear me along.
Take me to Boot-hill, and throw the sod over me--
I'm but a poor cow-boy, I know I done wrong."

When the song was ended, they left the graveyard quietly and went down
the hill. The morning was growing warm. Their work waited them across
many sunny miles of range and plain. Soon their voices and themselves had
emptied away into the splendid vastness and silence, and they were gone--
ready with all their might to live or to die, to be animals or heroes, as
the hours might bring them opportunity. In Drybone's deserted quadrangle
the sun shone down upon Lusk still sleeping, and the wind shook the aces
and kings in the grass.


Over at Separ, Jessamine Buckner had no more stockings of Billy's to
mend, and much time for thinking and a change of mind. The day after that
strange visit, when she had been told that she had hurt a good man's
heart without reason, she took up her work; and while her hands
despatched it her thoughts already accused her. Could she have seen that
visitor now, she would have thanked her. She looked at the photograph on
her table. "Why did he go away so quickly?" she sighed. But when young
Billy returned to his questions she was buoyant again, and more than a
match for him. He reached the forbidden twelfth time of asking why Lin
McLean did not come back and marry her. Nor did she punish him as she had
threatened. She looked at him confidentially, and he drew near, full of

"Billy, I'll tell you just why it is," said she. "Lin thinks I'm not a
real girl."

"A--ah," drawled Billy, backing from her with suspicion.

"Indeed that's what it is, Billy. If he knew I was a real girl--"

"A--ah," went the boy, entirely angry. "Anybody can tell you're a girl."
And he marched out, mystified, and nursing a sense of wrong. Nor did his
dignity allow him to reopen the subject.

To-day, two miles out in the sage-brush by himself, he was shooting
jack-rabbits, but began suddenly to run in toward Separ. A horseman had
passed him, and he had loudly called; but the rider rode on, intent upon
the little distant station. Man and horse were soon far ahead of the boy,
and the man came into town galloping.

No need to fire the little pistol by her window, as he had once thought
to do! She was outside before he could leap to the ground. And as he held
her, she could only laugh, and cry, and say "Forgive me! Oh, why have you
been so long?" She took him back to the room where his picture was, and
made him sit, and sat herself close. "What is it?" she asked him. For
through the love she read something else in his serious face. So then he
told her how nothing was wrong; and as she listened to all that he had to
tell, she, too, grew serious, and held very close to him. "Dear, dear
neighbor!" she said.

As they sat so, happy with deepening happiness, but not gay yet, young
Billy burst open the door. "There!" he cried. "I knowed Lin knowed you
were a girl!"

Thus did Billy also have his wish. For had he not told Jessamine that he
liked her, and urged her to come and live with him and Lin? That cabin on
Box Elder became a home in truth, with a woman inside taking the only
care of Mr. McLean that he had known since his childhood: though
singularly enough he has an impression that it is he who takes care
of Jessamine!


The black pines stand high up the hills,
The white snow sifts their columns deep,
While through the canyon's riven cleft
From there, beyond, the rose clouds sweep.

Serene above their paling shapes
One star hath wakened in the sky.
And here in the gray world below
Over the sage the wind blows by;

Rides through the cotton-woods' ghost-ranks,
And hums aloft a sturdy tune
Among the river's tawny bluffs,
Untenanted as is the moon.

Far 'neath the huge invading dusk
Comes Silence awful through the plain;
But yonder horseman's heart is gay,
And he goes singing might and main.

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