Part 1 out of 4
Etext prepared by Bill Brewer, email@example.com
The Jimmyjohn Boss and Other Stories
By Owen Wister
To Messrs. Harper & Bothers and Henry Mills Alden whose friendliness and
fair dealing I am glad of this chance to record
It's very plain that if a thing's the fashion--
Too much the fashion--if the people leap
To do it, or to be it, in a passion
Of haste and crowding, like a herd of sheep,
Why then that thing becomes through imitation
Vulgar, excessive, obvious, and cheap.
No gentleman desires to be pursuing
What every Tom and Dick and Harry's doing.
Stranger, do you write books? I ask the question,
Because I'm told that everybody writes
That what with scribbling, eating, and digestion,
And proper slumber, all our days and nights
Are wholly filled. It seems an odd suggestion--
But if you do write, stop it, leave the masses,
Read me, and join the small selected classes.
The Jimmyjohn Boss
One day at Nampa, which is in Idaho, a ruddy old massive jovial man stood
by the Silver City stage, patting his beard with his left hand, and with
his right the shoulder of a boy who stood beside him. He had come with
the boy on the branch train from Boise, because he was a careful German
and liked to say everything twice--twice at least when it was a matter of
business. This was a matter of very particular business, and the German
had repeated himself for nineteen miles. Presently the east-bound on the
main line would arrive from Portland; then the Silver City stage would
take the boy south on his new mission, and the man would journey by the
branch train back to Boise. From Boise no one could say where he might
not go, west or east. He was a great and pervasive cattle man in Oregon,
California, and other places. Vogel and Lex--even to-day you may hear the
two ranch partners spoken of. So the veteran Vogel was now once more
going over his notions and commands to his youthful deputy during the
last precious minutes until the east-bound should arrive.
"Und if only you haf someding like dis," said the old man, as he tapped
his beard and patted the boy, "it would be five hoondert more dollars
salary in your liddle pants."
The boy winked up at his employer. He had a gray, humorous eye; he was
slim and alert, like a sparrow-hawk--the sort of boy his father openly
rejoices in and his mother is secretly in prayer over. Only, this boy had
neither father nor mother. Since the age of twelve he had looked out for
himself, never quite without bread, sometimes attaining champagne,
getting along in his American way variously, on horse or afoot, across
regions of wide plains and mountains, through towns where not a soul knew
his name. He closed one of his gray eyes at his employer, and beyond this
made no remark.
"Vat you mean by dat vink, anyhow?" demanded the elder.
"Say," said the boy, confidentially--"honest now. How about you and me?
Five hundred dollars if I had your beard. You've got a record and I've
got a future. And my bloom's on me rich, without a scratch. How many
dollars you gif me for dat bloom?" The sparrow-hawk sailed into a
freakish imitation of his master.
"You are a liddle rascal!" cried the master, shaking with entertainment.
"Und if der peoples vas to hear you sass old Max Vogel in dis style they
would say, 'Poor old Max, he lose his gr-rip.' But I don't lose it." His
great hand closed suddenly on the boy's shoulder, his voice cut clean and
heavy as an axe, and then no more joking about him. "Haf you understand
that?" he said.
"How old are you, son?"
"Oh my, that is offle young for the job I gif you. Some of dose man you
go to boss might be your father. Und how much do you weigh?"
"About a hundred and thirty."
"Too light, too light. Und I haf keep my eye on you in Boise. You are not
so goot a boy as you might be."
"Well, sir, I guess not."
"But you was not so bad a boy as you might be, neider. You don't lie
about it. Now it must be farewell to all that foolishness. Haf you
understand? You go to set an example where one is needed very bad. If
those men see you drink a liddle, they drink a big lot. You forbid them,
they laugh at you. You must not allow one drop of whiskey at the whole
place. Haf you well understand?"
"Yes, sir. Me and whiskey are not necessary to each other's happiness."
"It is not you, it is them. How are you mit your gun?"
Vogel took the boy's pistol from its holster and aimed at an empty bottle
which was sticking in the thin Deceiver snow. "Can you do this?" he said,
carelessly, and fired. The snow struck the bottle, but the unharming
bullet was buried half an inch to the left.
The boy took his pistol with solemnity." No," he said. "Guess I can't do
that." He fired, and the glass splintered into shapelessness. "Told you I
couldn't miss as close as you did," said he.
"You are a darling," said Mr. Vogel. "Gif me dat lofely weapon."
A fortunate store of bottles lay, leaned, or stood about in the white
snow of Nampa, and Mr. Vogel began at them.
"May I ask if anything is the matter?" inquired a mild voice from the
"Stick that lily head in-doors," shouted Vogel; and the face and
eye-glasses withdrew again into the stage." The school-teacher he will be
beautifool virtuous company for you at Malheur Agency," continued Vogel,
shooting again; and presently the large old German destroyed a bottle
with a crashing smack. "Ah!" said he, in unison with the smack. "Ah-ha!
No von shall say der old Max lose his gr-rip. I shoot it efry time now,
but the train she whistle. I hear her."
The boy affected to listen earnestly.
"Bah! I tell you I hear de whistle coming."
"Did you say there was a whistle?" ventured the occupant of the stage.
The snow shone white on his glasses as he peered out.
"Nobody whistle for you," returned the robust Vogel. "You listen to me,"
he continued to the boy. "You are offle yoong. But I watch you plenty
this long time. I see you work mit my stock on the Owyhee and the
Malheur; I see you mit my oder men. My men they say always more and more,
'Yoong Drake he is a goot one,' und I think you are a goot one mine own
self. I am the biggest cattle man on the Pacific slope, und I am also an
old devil. I have think a lot, und I like you."
"I'm obliged to you, sir."
"Shut oop. I like you, und therefore I make you my new sooperintendent at
my Malheur Agency r-ranch, mit a bigger salary as you don't get before.
If you are a sookcess, I r-raise you some more."
"I am satisfied now, sir."
"Bah! Never do you tell any goot business man you are satisfied mit vat
he gif you, for eider he don't believe you or else he think you are a
fool. Und eider ways you go down in his estimation. You make those men at
Malheur Agency behave themselves und I r-raise you. Only I do vish, I do
certainly vish you had some beard on that yoong chin."
The boy glanced at his pistol.
"No, no, no, my son," said the sharp old German. "I don't want gunpowder
in dis affair. You must act kviet und decisif und keep your liddle shirt
on. What you accomplish shootin'? You kill somebody, und then, pop!
somebody kills you. What goot is all that nonsense to me?"
"It would annoy me some, too," retorted the boy, eyeing the capitalist.
"Don't leave me out of the proposition."
"Broposition! Broposition! Now you get hot mit old Max for nothing."
"If you didn't contemplate trouble," pursued the boy, "what was your
point just now in sampling my marksmanship?" He kicked some snow in the
direction of the shattered bottle. "It's understood no whiskey comes on
that ranch. But if no gunpowder goes along with me, either, let's call
the deal off. Buy some other fool."
"You haf not understand, my boy. Und you get very hot because I happen to
make that liddle joke about somebody killing you. Was you thinking maybe
old Max not care what happen to you?"
A moment of silence passed before the answer came: "Suppose we talk
"Very well, very well. Only notice this thing. When oder peoples talk oop
to me like you haf done many times, it is not they who does the getting
hot. It is me--old Max. Und when old Max gets hot he slings them out of
his road anywheres. Some haf been very sorry they get so slung. You
invite me to buy some oder fool? Oh, my boy, I will buy no oder fool
except you, for that was just like me when I was yoong Max!" Again the
ruddy and grizzled magnate put his hand on the shoulder of the boy, who
stood looking away at the bottles, at the railroad track, at anything
save his employer.
The employer proceeded: "I was afraid of nobody und noding in those days.
You are afraid of nobody and noding. But those days was different. No
Pullman sleepers, no railroad at all. We come oop the Columbia in the
steamboat, we travel hoonderts of miles by team, we sleep, we eat
nowheres in particular mit many unexpected interooptions. There was
Indians, there was offle bad white men, und if you was not offle yourself
you vanished quickly. Therefore in those days was Max Vogel hell und
The magnate smiled a broad fond smile over the past which he had kicked,
driven, shot, bled, and battled through to present power; and the boy
winked up at him again now.
"I don't propose to vanish, myself," said he.
"Ah-ha! you was no longer mad mit der old Max! Of coorse I care what
happens to you. I was alone in the world myself in those lofely wicked
Reserve again made flinty the boy's face.
"Neider did I talk about my feelings," continued Max Vogel, "but I nefer
show them too quick. If I was injured I wait, and I strike to kill. We
all paddles our own dugout, eh? We ask no favors from nobody; we must win
our spurs! Not so? Now I talk business with you where you interroopt me.
If cow-boys was not so offle scarce in the country, I would long ago haf
bounce the lot of those drunken fellows. But they cannot be spared; we
must get along so. I cannot send Brock, he is needed at Harper's. The
dumb fellow at Alvord Lake is too dumb; he is not quickly courageous.
They would play high jinks mit him. Therefore I send you. Brock he say to
me you haf joodgement. I watch, and I say to myself also, this boy haf
goot joodgement. And when you look at your pistol so quick, I tell you
quick I don't send you to kill men when they are so scarce already! My
boy, it is ever the moral, the say-noding strength what gets there--mit
always the liddle pistol behind, in case--joost in case. Haf you
understand? I ask you to shoot. I see you know how, as Brock told me. I
recommend you to let them see that aggomplishment in a friendly way.
Maybe a shooting-match mit prizes--I pay for them--pretty soon after you
come. Und joodgement--und joodgement. Here comes that train. Haf you well
Upon this the two shook hands, looking square friendship in each other's
eyes. The east-bound, long quiet and dark beneath its flowing clots of
smoke, slowed to a halt. A few valises and legs descended, ascended,
herding and hurrying; a few trunks were thrown resoundingly in and out of
the train; a woolly, crooked old man came with a box and a bandanna
bundle from the second-class car; the travellers of a thousand miles
looked torpidly at him through the dim, dusty windows of their Pullman,
and settled again for a thousand miles more. Then the east-bound,
shooting heavier clots of smoke laboriously into the air, drew its slow
length out of Nampa, and away.
"Where's that stage?" shrilled the woolly old man. "That's what I'm
"Why, hello!" shouted Vogel. "Hello, Uncle Pasco! I heard you was dead."
Uncle Pasco blinked his small eyes to see who hailed him. "Oh!" said he,
in his light, crusty voice. "Dutchy Vogel. No, I ain't dead. You guessed
wrong. Not dead. Help me up, Dutchy."
A tolerant smile broadened Vogel's face. "It was ten years since I see
you," said he, carrying the old man's box.
"Shouldn't wonder. Maybe it'll be another ten till you see me next." He
stopped by the stage step, and wheeling nimbly, surveyed his old-time
acquaintance, noting the good hat, the prosperous watch-chain, the big,
well-blacked boots. "Not seen me for ten years. Hee-hee! No. Usen't to
have a cent more than me. Twins in poverty. That's how Dutchy and me
started. If we was buried to-morrow they'd mark him 'Pecunious' and me
'Impecunious.' That's what. Twins in poverty."
"I stick to von business at a time, Uncle," said good-natured, successful
A flicker of aberration lighted in the old man's eye. "H'm, yes," said
he, pondering. "Stuck to one business. So you did. H'm." Then, suddenly
sly, he chirped: "But I've struck it rich now." He tapped his box.
"Jewelry," he half-whispered. "Miners and cow-boys."
"Yes," said Vogel. "Those poor, deluded fellows, they buy such stuff."
And he laughed at the seedy visionary who had begun frontier life with
him on the bottom rung and would end it there. "Do you play that
concertina yet, Uncle?" he inquired.
"Yes, yes. I always play. It's in here with my tooth-brush and socks."
Uncle Pasco held up the bandanna. "Well, he's getting ready to start. I
guess I'll be climbing inside. Holy Gertrude!"
This shrill comment was at sight of the school-master, patient within the
stage. "What business are you in?" demanded Uncle Pasco.
"I am in the spelling business," replied the teacher, and smiled,
"Hell!" piped Uncle Pasco. "Take this."
He handed in his bandanna to the traveller, who received it politely. Max
Vogel lifted the box of cheap jewelry; and both he and the boy came
behind to boost the old man up on the stage step. But with a nettled look
he leaped up to evade them, tottered half-way, and then, light as a husk
of grain, got himself to his seat and scowled at the schoolmaster.
After a brief inspection of that pale, spectacled face, "Dutchy," he
called out of the door, "this country is not what it was."
But old Max Vogel was inattentive. He was speaking to the boy, Dean
Drake, and held a flask in his hand. He reached the flask to his new
superintendent. "Drink hearty," said he. "There, son! Don't be shy. Haf
you forgot it is forbidden fruit after now?"
"Kid sworn off?" inquired Uncle Pasco of the school-master.
"I understand," replied this person, "that Mr. Vogel will not allow his
cow-boys at the Malheur Agency to have any whiskey brought there.
Personally, I feel gratified." And Mr. Bolles, the new school-master,
gave his faint smile.
"Oh," muttered Uncle Pasco. "Forbidden to bring whiskey on the ranch?
H'm." His eyes wandered to the jewelry-box. "H'm," said he again; and
becoming thoughtful, he laid back his moth-eaten sly head, and spoke no
further with Mr. Bolles.
Dean Drake climbed into the stage and the vehicle started.
"Goot luck, goot luck, my son!" shouted the hearty Max, and opened and
waved both his big arms at the departing boy: He stood looking after the
stage. "I hope he come back," said he. "I think he come back. If he come
I r-raise him fifty dollars without any beard."
The stage had not trundled so far on its Silver City road but that a
whistle from Nampa station reached its three occupants. This was the
branch train starting back to Boise with Max Vogel aboard; and the boy
looked out at the locomotive with a sigh.
"Only five days of town," he murmured. "Six months more wilderness now."
"My life has been too much town," said the new school-master. "I am
looking forward to a little wilderness for a change."
Old Uncle Pasco, leaning back, said nothing; he kept his eyes shut and
his ears open.
"Change is what I don't get," sighed Dean Drake. In a few miles, however,
before they had come to the ferry over Snake River, the recent
leave-taking and his employer's kind but dominating repression lifted
from the boy's spirit. His gray eye wakened keen again, and he began to
whistle light opera tunes, looking about him alertly, like the
sparrow-hawk that he was. "Ever see Jeannie Winston in 'Fatinitza'?" he
inquired of Mr. Bolles.
The school-master, with a startled, thankful countenance, stated that he
"Ought to," said Drake.
"You a man? that can't be true!
Men have never eyes like you."
That's what the girls in the harem sing in the second act. Golly whiz!"
The boy gleamed over the memory of that evening.
"You have a hard job before you," said the school-master, changing the
"Yep. Hard." The wary Drake shook his head warningly at Mr. Bolles to
keep off that subject, and he glanced in the direction of slumbering
Uncle Pasco. Uncle Pasco was quite aware of all this. "I wouldn't take
another lonesome job so soon," pursued Drake, "but I want the money. I've
been working eleven months along the Owyhee as a sort of junior boss, and
I'd earned my vacation. Just got it started hot in Portland, when biff!
old Vogel telegraphs me. Well, I'll be saving instead of squandering. But
it feels so good to squander!"
"I have never had anything to squander," said Bolles, rather sadly.
"You don't say! Well, old man, I hope you will. It gives a man a lot
he'll never get out of spelling-books. Are you cold? Here." And despite
the school-master's protest, Dean Drake tucked his buffalo coat round and
over him. "Some day, when I'm old," he went on, "I mean to live
respectable under my own cabin and vine. Wife and everything. But not,
anyway, till I'm thirty-five."
He dropped into his opera tunes for a while; but evidently it was not
"Fatinitza" and his vanished holiday over which he was chiefly
meditating, for presently he exclaimed: "I'll give them a shooting-match
in the morning. You shoot?"
Bolles hoped he was going to learn in this country, and exhibited a Smith
& Wesson revolver.
Drake grieved over it. "Wrap it up warm," said he. "I'll lend you a real
one when we get to the Malheur Agency. But you can eat, anyhow. Christmas
being next week, you see, my programme is, shoot all A.M. and eat all
P.M. I wish you could light on a notion what prizes to give my
"Buccaroos?" said Bolles.
"Yep. Cow-punchers. Vaqueros. Buccaroos in Oregon. Bastard Spanish word,
you see, drifted up from Mexico. Vogel would not care to have me give 'em
money as prizes."
At this Uncle Pasco opened an eye.
"How many buccaroos will there be?" Bolles inquired.
"At the Malheur Agency? It's the headquarters of five of our ranches.
There ought to be quite a crowd. A dozen, probably, at this time of
Uncle Pasco opened his other eye. "Here, you!" he said, dragging at his
box under the seat. "Pull it, can't you? There. Just what you're after.
There's your prizes." Querulous and watchful, like some aged, rickety
ape, the old man drew out his trinkets in shallow shelves.
"Sooner give 'em nothing," said Dean Drake.
"What's that? What's the matter with them?"
"Guess the boys have had all the brass rings and glass diamonds they
"That's all you know, then. I sold that box clean empty through the
Palouse country last week, 'cept the bottom drawer, and an outfit on
Meacham's hill took that. Shows all you know. I'm going clean through
your country after I've quit Silver City. I'll start in by Baker City
again, and I'll strike Harney, and maybe I'll go to Linkville. I know
what buccaroos want. I'll go to Fort Rinehart, and I'll go to the Island
Ranch, and first thing you'll be seeing your boys wearing my stuff all
over their fingers and Sunday shirts, and giving their girls my stuff
right in Harney City. That's what."
"All right, Uncle. It's a free country."
"Shaw! Guess it is. I was in it before you was, too. You were wet behind
the ears when I was jammin' all around here. How many are they up at your
place, did you say?"
"I said about twelve. If you're coming our way, stop and eat with us."
"Maybe I will and maybe I won't." Uncle Pasco crossly shoved his box
"All right, Uncle. It's a free country," repeated Drake.
Not much was said after this. Uncle Pasco unwrapped his concertina from
the red handkerchief and played nimbly for his own benefit. At Silver
City he disappeared, and, finding he had stolen nothing from them, they
did not regret him. Dean Drake had some affairs to see to here before
starting for Harper's ranch, and it was pleasant to Bolles to find how
Drake was esteemed through this country. The school-master was to board
at the Malheur Agency, and had come this way round because the new
superintendent must so travel. They were scarcely birds of a feather,
Drake and Bolles, yet since one remote roof was to cover them, the
in-door man was glad this boy-host had won so much good-will from high
and low. That the shrewd old Vogel should trust so much in a
nineteen-year-old was proof enough at least of his character; but when
Brock, the foreman from Harper's, came for them at Silver City, Bolles
witnessed the affection that the rougher man held for Drake. Brock shook
the boy's hand with that serious quietness and absence of words which
shows the Western heart is speaking. After a look at Bolles and a silent
bestowing of the baggage aboard the team, he cracked his long whip and
the three rattled happily away through the dips of an open country where
clear streams ran blue beneath the winter air. They followed the Jordan
(that Idaho Jordan) west towards Oregon and the Owyhee, Brock often
turning in his driver's seat so as to speak with Drake. He had a long,
gradual chapter of confidences and events; through miles he unburdened
these to his favorite:
The California mare was coring well in harness. The eagle over at
Whitehorse ranch had fought the cat most terrible. Gilbert had got a
mule-kick in the stomach, but was eating his three meals. They had a new
boy who played the guitar. He used maple-syrup an his meat, and claimed
he was from Alabama. Brock guessed things were about as usual in most
ways. The new well had caved in again. Then, in the midst of his gossip,
the thing he had wanted to say all along came out: "We're pleased about
your promotion," said he; and, blushing, shook Drake's hand again.
Warmth kindled the boy's face, and next, with a sudden severity, he said:
"You're keeping back something."
The honest Brock looked blank, then labored in his memory.
"Has the sorrel girl in Harney married you yet?" said Drake.
Brock slapped his leg, and the horses jumped at his mirth. He was mostly
grave-mannered, but when his boy superintendent joked, he rejoiced with
the same pride that he took in all of Drake's excellences.
"The boys in this country will back you up," said he, next day; and Drake
inquired: "What news from the Malheur Agency?"
"Since the new Chinaman has been cooking for them," said Brock, "they
have been peaceful as a man could wish."
"They'll approve of me, then," Drake answered. "I'm feeding 'em hyas
Christmas muck-a-muck. "
"And what may that be?" asked the schoolmaster.
"You no kumtux Chinook?" inquired Drake. "Travel with me and you'll learn
all sorts of languages. It means just a big feed. All whiskey is barred,"
he added to Brock.
"It's the only way," said the foreman. "They've got those Pennsylvania
men up there."
Drake had not encountered these.
"The three brothers Drinker," said Brock. "Full, Half-past Full, and
Drunk are what they call them. Them's the names; they've brought them
from Klamath and Rogue River."
"I should not think a Chinaman would enjoy such comrades," ventured Mr.
"Chinamen don't have comrades in this country," said Brock, briefly.
"They like his cooking. It's a lonesome section up there, and a Chinaman
could hardly quit it, not if he was expected to stay. Suppose they kick
about the whiskey rule?" he suggested to Drake.
"Can't help what they do. Oh, I'll give each boy his turn in Harney City
when he gets anxious. It's the whole united lot I don't propose to have
cut up on me."
A look of concern for the boy came over the face of foreman Brock.
Several times again before their parting did he thus look at his
favorite. They paused at Harper's for a day to attend to some matters,
and when Drake was leaving this place one of the men said to him: "We'll
stand by you." But from his blithe appearance and talk as the slim boy
journeyed to the Malheur River and Headquarter ranch, nothing seemed to
be on his mind. Oregon twinkled with sun and fine white snow. They
crossed through a world of pines and creviced streams and exhilarating
silence. The little waters fell tinkling through icicles in the
loneliness of the woods, and snowshoe rabbits dived into the brush. East
Oregon, the Owyhee and the Malheur country, the old trails of General
Crook, the willows by the streams, the open swales, the high woods where
once Buffalo Horn and Chief E-egante and O-its the medicine-man
prospered, through this domain of war and memories went Bolles the
school-master with Dean Drake and Brock. The third noon from Harper's
they came leisurely down to the old Malheur Agency, where once the
hostile Indians had drawn pictures on the door, and where Castle Rock
frowned down unchanged.
"I wish I was going to stay here with you," said Brock to Drake. "By
Indian Creek you can send word to me quicker than we've come."
"Why, you're an old bat!" said the boy to his foreman, and clapped him
farewell on the shoulder.
Brock drove away, thoughtful. He was not a large man. His face was
clean-cut, almost delicate. He had a well-trimmed, yellow mustache, and
it was chiefly in his blue eye and lean cheek-bone that the frontiersman
showed. He loved Dean Drake more than he would ever tell, even to
The young superintendent set at work to ranch-work this afternoon of
Brock's leaving, and the buccaroos made his acquaintance one by one and
stared at him. Villany did not sit outwardly upon their faces; they were
not villains; but they stared at the boy sent to control them, and they
spoke together, laughing. Drake took the head of the table at supper,
with Bolles on his right. Down the table some silence, some staring, much
laughing went on--the rich brute laugh of the belly untroubled by the
brain. Sam, the Chinaman, rapid and noiseless, served the dishes.
"What is it?" said a buccaroo.
"Can it bite?" said another.
"If you guess what it is, you can have it," said a third.
"It's meat," remarked Drake, incisively, helping himself; "and tougher
than it looks."
The brute laugh rose from the crowd and fell into surprised silence; but
no rejoinder came, and they ate their supper somewhat thoughtfully. The
Chinaman's quick, soft eye had glanced at Dean Drake when they laughed.
He served his dinner solicitously. In his kitchen that evening he and
Bolles unpacked the good things--the olives, the dried fruits, the
cigars--brought by the new superintendent for Christmas; and finding
Bolles harmless, like his gentle Asiatic self, Sam looked cautiously
about and spoke:
"You not know why they laugh," said he. "They not talk about my meat
then. They mean new boss, Misser Dlake. He velly young boss."
"I think," said Bolles, "Mr. Drake understood their meaning, Sam. I have
noticed that at times he expresses himself peculiarly. I also think they
understood his meaning."
The Oriental pondered. "Me like Misser Dlake," said he. And drawing quite
close, he observed, "They not nice man velly much."
Next day and every day "Misser Dlake" went gayly about his business, at
his desk or on his horse, vigilant, near and far, with no sign save a
steadier keenness in his eye. For the Christmas dinner he provided still
further sending to the Grande Ronde country for turkeys and other things.
He won the heart of Bolles by lending him a good horse; but the
buccaroos, though they were boisterous over the coming Christmas joy, did
not seem especially grateful. Drake, however, kept his worries to
"This thing happens anywhere," he said one night in the office to Bolles,
puffing a cigar. "I've seen a troop of cavalry demoralize itself by a
sort of contagion from two or three men."
"I think it was wicked to send you here by yourself," blurted Bolles.
"Poppycock! It's the chance of my life, and I'll jam her through or
"I think they have decided you are getting turkeys because you are afraid
of them," said Bolles.
"Why, of course! But d' you figure I'm the man to abandon my Christmas
turkey because my motives for eating it are misconstrued?"
Dean Drake smoked for a while; then a knock came at the door. Five
buccaroos entered and stood close, as is the way with the guilty who feel
"We were thinking as maybe you'd let us go over to town," said Half-past
Full, the spokesman.
"Oh, any day along this week."
"Can't spare you till after Christmas."
"Maybe you'll not object to one of us goin'?"
"You'll each have your turn after this week."
A slight pause followed. Then Half-past Full said: "What would you do if
I went, anyway?"
"Can't imagine," Drake answered, easily. "Go, and I'll be in a position
to inform you."
The buccaroo dropped his stolid bull eyes, but raised them again and
grinned. "Well, I'm not particular about goin' this week, boss."
"That's not my name," said Drake, "but it's what I am."
They stood a moment. Then they shuffled out. It was an orderly
Drake winked over to Bolles. "That was a graze," said he, and smoked for
a while. "They'll not go this time. Question is, will they go next?"
Drake took a fresh cigar, and threw his legs over the chair arm.
"I think you smoke too much," said Bolles, whom three days had made
familiar and friendly.
"Yep. Have to just now. That's what! as Uncle Pasco would say. They are a
half-breed lot, though," the boy continued, returning to the buccaroos
and their recent visit. "Weaken in the face of a straight bluff, you see,
unless they get whiskey-courageous. And I've called 'em down on that."
"Oh!" said Bolles, comprehending.
"Didn't you see that was their game? But he will not go after it."
"The flesh is all they seem to understand," murmured Bolles.
Half-past Full did not go to Harney City for the tabooed whiskey, nor did
any one. Drake read his buccaroos like the children that they were. After
the late encounter of grit, the atmosphere was relieved of storm. The
children, the primitive, pagan, dangerous children, forgot all about
whiskey, and lusted joyously for Christmas. Christmas was coming! No
work! A shooting-match! A big feed! Cheerfulness bubbled at the Malheur
Agency. The weather itself was in tune. Castle Rock seemed no longer to
frown, but rose into the shining air, a mass of friendly strength. Except
when a rare sledge or horseman passed, Mr. Bolles's journeys to the
school were all to show it was not some pioneer colony in a new, white,
silent world that heard only the playful shouts and songs of the
buccaroos. The sun overhead and the hard-crushing snow underfoot filled
every one with a crisp, tingling hilarity.
Before the sun first touched Castle Rock on the morning of the feast they
were up and in high feather over at the bunk-house. They raced across to
see what Sam was cooking; they begged and joyfully swallowed lumps of his
raw plum-pudding. "Merry Christmas!" they wished him, and "Melly
Clismas!" said he to them. They played leap-frog over by the stable, they
put snow down each other's backs. Their shouts rang round corners; it was
like boys let out of school. When Drake gathered them for the
shooting-match, they cheered him; when he told them there were no prizes,
what did they care for prizes? When he beat them all the first round,
they cheered him again. Pity he hadn't offered prizes! He wasn't a good
business man, after all!
The rounds at the target proceeded through the forenoon, Drake the
acclaimed leader; and the Christmas sun drew to mid-sky. But as its
splendor in the heavens increased, the happy shoutings on earth began to
wane. The body was all that the buccaroos knew; well, the flesh comes
pretty natural to all of us--and who had ever taught these men about the
spirit? The further they were from breakfast the nearer they were to
dinner; yet the happy shootings waned! The spirit is a strange thing.
Often it dwells dumb in human clay, then unexpectedly speaks out of the
It was no longer a crowd Drake had at the target. He became aware that
quietness had been gradually coming over the buccaroos. He looked, and
saw a man wandering by himself in the lane. Another leaned by the stable
corner, with a vacant face. Through the windows of the bunk-house he
could see two or three on their beds. The children were tired of
shouting. Drake went in-doors and threw a great log on the fire. It
blazed up high with sparks, and he watched it, although the sun shown
bright on the window-sill. Presently he noticed that a man had come in
and taken a chair. It was Half-past Full, and with his boots stretched to
the warmth, he sat gazing into the fire. The door opened and another
buckaroo entered and sat off in a corner. He had a bundle of old letters,
smeared sheets tied trite a twisted old ribbon. While his large,
top-toughened fingers softly loosened the ribbon, he sat with his back to
the room and presently began to read the letters over, one by one. Most
of the men came in before long, and silently joined the watchers round the
treat fireplace. Drake threw another log on, and in a short time this,
too, broke into ample flame. The silence was long; a slice of shadow had
fallen across the window-sill, when a young man spoke, addressing the
"I skinned a coon in San Saba, Texas, this day a year."
At the sound of a voice, some of their eyes turned on the speaker, but
turned back to the fire again. The spirit had spoken from the clay,
aloud; and the clay was uncomfortable at hearing it.
After some more minutes a neighbor whispered to a neighbor, "Play you a
game of crib."
The man nodded, stole over to where the board was, and brought it across
the floor on creaking tip-toe. They set it between them, and now and then
the cards made a light sound in the room.
"I treed that coon on Honey," said the young man, after a while--"Honey
Creek, San Saba. Kind o' dry creek. Used to flow into Big Brady when it
The flames crackled on, the neighbors still played their cribbage. Still
was the day bright, but the shrinking wedge of sun had gone entirely from
the window-sill. Half-past Full had drawn from his pocket a mouthorgan,
breathing half-tunes upon it; in the middle of "Suwanee River" the man
who sat in the corner laid the letter he was beginning upon the heap on
his knees and read no more. The great genial logs lay glowing, burning;
from the fresher one the flames flowed and forked; along the embered
surface of the others ran red and blue shivers of iridescence. With legs
and arms crooked and sprawled, the buccaroos brooded, staring into the
glow with seldom-winking eyes, while deep inside the clay the spirit
spoke quietly. Christmas Day was passing, but the sun shone still two
good hours high. Outside, over the snow and pines, it was only in the
deeper folds of the hills that the blue shadows had come; the rest of the
world was gold and silver; and from far across that silence into this
silence by the fire came a tinkling stir of sound. Sleighbells it was,
steadily coming, too early for Bolles to be back from his school
The toy-thrill of the jingling grew clear and sweet, a spirit of
enchantment that did not wake the stillness, but cast it into a deeper
dream. The bells came near the door and stopped, and then Drake opened
"Hello, Uncle Pasco!" said he. "Thought you were Santa Claus."
"Santa Claus! H'm. Yes. That's what. Told you maybe I'd come."
"So you did. Turkey is due in--let's see--ninety minutes. Here, boys!
some of you take Uncle Pasco's horse."
"No, no, I won't. You leave me alone. I ain't stoppin' here. I ain't
hungry. I just grubbed at the school. Sleepin' at Missouri Pete's
to-night. Got to make the railroad tomorrow." The old man stopped his
precipitate statements. He sat in his sledge deep1y muffled, blinking at
Drake and the buccaroos, who had strolled out to look at him, "Done a big
business this trip," said he. "Told you I would. Now if you was only
givin' your children a Christmas-tree like that I seen that feller yer
schoolmarm doin' just now--hee-hee!" From his blankets he revealed the
well-known case. "Them things would shine on a tree," concluded Uncle
"Hang 'em in the woods, then," said Drake.
"Jewelry, is it?" inquired the young Texas man.
Uncle Pasco whipped open his case. "There you are," said he. "All what's
left. That ring'll cost you a dollar."
"I've a dollar somewheres," said the young man, fumbling.
Half-past Full, on the other side of the sleigh, stood visibly fascinated
by the wares he was given a skilful glimpse of down among the blankets.
He peered and he pondered while Uncle Pasco glibly spoke to him.
"Scatter your truck out plain!" the buccaroo exclaimed, suddenly. "I'm
not buying in the dark. Come over to the bunk-house and scatter."
"Brass will look just the same anywhere," said Drake.
"Brass!" screamed Uncle. "Brass your eye!"
But the buccaroos, plainly glad for distraction, took the woolly old
scolding man with them. Drake shouted that if getting cheated cheered
them, by all means to invest heavily, and he returned alone to his fire,
where Bolles soon joined him. They waited, accordingly, and by-and-by the
sleigh-bells jingled again. As they had come out of the silence, so did
they go into it, their little silvery tinkle dancing away in the
distance, faint and fainter, then, like a breath, gone.
Uncle Pasco's trinkets had audibly raised the men's spirits. They
remained in the bunkhouse, their laughter reaching Drake and Bolles more
and more. Sometimes they would scuffle and laugh loudly.
"Do you imagine it's more leap-frog?" inquired the school-master.
"Gambling," said Drake. "They'll keep at it now till one of them wins
everything the rest have bought."
"Have they been lively ever since morning?"
"Had a reaction about noon," said Drake. "Regular home-sick spell. I felt
sorry for 'em."
"They seem full of reaction," said Bolles. "Listen to that!"
It was now near four o'clock, and Sam came in, announcing dinner.
"All ready," said the smiling Chinaman.
"Pass the good word to the bunk-house," said Drake, "if they can hear
Sam went across, and the shouting stopped. Then arose a thick volley of
screams and cheers.
"That don't sound right," said Drake, leaping to his feet. In the next
instant the Chinaman, terrified, returned through the open door. Behind
him lurched Half-past Full, and stumbled into the room. His boot caught,
and he pitched, but saved himself and stood swaying, heavily looking at
Drake. The hair curled dense over his bull head, his mustache was spread
with his grin, the light of cloddish humor and destruction burned in his
big eye. The clay had buried the spirit like a caving pit.
"Twas false jewelry all right!" he roared, at the top of his voice. "A
good old jimmyjohn full, boss. Say, boss, goin' to run our jimmyjohn off
the ranch? Try it on, kid. Come over and try it on!" The bull beat on the
Dean Drake had sat quickly down in his chair, his gray eye upon the
hulking buccaroo. Small and dauntless he sat, a sparrow-hawk caught in a
trap, and game to the end--whatever end.
"It's a trifle tardy to outline any policy about your demijohn," said he,
seriously. "You folks had better come in and eat before you're beyond
"Ho, we'll eat your grub, boss. Sam's cooking goes." The buccaroo lurched
out and away to the bunk-house, where new bellowing was set up.
"I've got to carve this turkey, friend," said the boy to Bolles.
"I'll do my best to help eat it," returned the school-master, smiling.
"Misser Dlake," said poor Sam, "I solly you. I velly solly you."
"Reserve your sorrow, Sam," said Dean Drake. "Give us your soup for a
starter. Come," he said to Bolles. "Quick."
He went into the dining-room, prompt in his seat at the head of the
table, with the school-master next to him.
"Nice man, Uncle Pasco," he continued. "But his time is not now. We have
nothing to do for the present but sit like every day and act perfectly
"I have known simpler tasks," said Mr. Bolles, "but I'll begin by
spreading this excellently clean napkin."
"You're no schoolmarm!" exclaimed Drake; "you please me."
"The worst of a bad thing," said the mild Bolles, "is having time to
think about it, and we have been spared that."
"Here they come," said Drake.
They did come. But Drake's alert strategy served the end he had tried
for. The drunken buccaroos swarmed disorderly to the door and halted.
Once more the new superintendent's ways took them aback. Here was the
decent table with lights serenely burning, with unwonted good things
arranged upon it--the olives, the oranges, the preserves. Neat as parade
drill were the men's places, all the cups and forks symmetrical along the
white cloth. There, waiting his guests at the far end, sat the slim young
boss talking with his boarder, Mr. Bolles, the parts in their smooth hair
going with all the rest of this propriety. Even the daily tin dishes were
banished in favor of crockery.
"Bashful of Sam's napkins, boys?" said the boss. "Or is it the
At this bidding they came in uncertainly. Their whiskey was ashamed
inside. They took their seats, glancing across at each other in a
transient silence, drawing their chairs gingerly beneath them. Thus
ceremony fell unexpected upon the gathering, and for a while they
swallowed in awkwardness what the swift, noiseless Sam brought them. He
in a long white apron passed and re-passed with his things from his
kitchen, doubly efficient and civil under stress of anxiety for his young
master. In the pauses of his serving he watched from the background, with
a face that presently caught the notice of one of them.
"Smile, you almond-eyed highbinder," said the buccaroo. And the Chinaman
smiled his best.
"I've forgot something," said Half-past Full, rising. "Don't let 'em skip
a course on me." Half-past left the room.
"That's what I have been hoping for," said Drake to Bolles.
Half-past returned presently and caught Drake's look of expectancy. "Oh
no, boss," said the buccaroo, instantly, from the door. "You're on to me,
but I'm on to you." He slammed the door with ostentation and dropped with
a loud laugh into his seat.
"First smart thing I've known him do," said Drake to Bolles. "I am
Two buccaroos next left the room together.
"They may get lost in the snow," said the humorous Half-past. "I'll just
show 'em the trail." Once more he rose from the dinner and went out.
"Yes, he knew too much to bring it in here," said Drake to Bolles. "He
knew none but two or three would dare drink, with me looking on."
"Don't you think he is afraid to bring it in the same room with you at
all?" Bolles suggested.
"And me temperance this season? Now, Bolles, that's unkind."
"Oh, dear, that is not at all what--"
"I know what you meant, Bolles. I was only just making a little merry
over this casualty. No, he don't mind me to that extent, except when he's
sober. Look at him!"
Half-past was returning with his friends. Quite evidently they had all
found the trail.
"Uncle Pasco is a nice old man!" pursued Drake. "I haven't got my gun on.
"Yes," said Bolles, but with a sheepish swerve of the eye.
Drake guessed at once. "Not Baby Bunting? Oh, Lord! and I promised to
give you an adult weapon!--the kind they're wearing now by way of
"Talkin' secrets, boss?" said Half-past Full.
The well-meaning Sam filled his cup, and this proceeding shifted the
buccaroo's truculent attention.
"What's that mud?" he demanded.
"Coffee," said Sam, politely.
The buccaroo swept his cup to the ground, and the next man howled dismay.
"Burn your poor legs?" said Half-past. He poured his glass over the
victim. They wrestled, the company pounded the table, betting hoarsely,
until Half-past went to the floor, and his plate with him.
"Go easy," said Drake. "You're smashing the company's property."
"Bald-headed china for sure, boss!" said a second of the brothers
Drinker, and dropped a dish.
"I'll merely tell you," said Drake, "that the company don't pay for this
"Not twice?" said Half-past Full, smashing some more. "How about thrice?"
"Want your money now?" another inquired.
A riot of banter seized upon all of them, and they began to laugh and
"How much did this cost?" said one, prying askew his three-tined fork.
"How much did you cost yourself?" said another to Drake.
"What, our kid boss? Two bits, I guess."
"Hyas markook. Too dear!"
They bawled at their own jokes, loud and ominous; threat sounded beneath
their lightest word, the new crashes of china that they threw on the
floor struck sharply through the foreboding din of their mirth. The
spirit that Drake since his arrival had kept under in them day by day,
but not quelled, rose visibly each few succeeding minutes, swelling
upward as the tide does. Buoyed up on the whiskey, it glittered in their
eyes and yelled mutinously in their voices.
"I'm waiting all orders," said Bolles to Drake.
"I haven't any," said Drake. "New ones, that is. We've sat down to see
this meal out. Got to keep sitting."
He leaned back, eating deliberately, saying no more to the buccaroos;
thus they saw he would never leave the room till they did. As he had
taken his chair the first, so was the boy bound to quit it the last. The
game of prying fork-tines staled on them one by one, and they took to
songs, mostly of love and parting. With the red whiskey in their eyes
they shouted plaintively of sweethearts, and vows, and lips, and meeting
in the wild wood. From these they went to ballads of the cattle-trail and
the Yuba River, and so inevitably worked to the old coast song, made of
three languages, with its verses rhymed on each year since the first
beginning. Tradition laid it heavy upon each singer in his turn to keep
the pot a-boiling by memory or by new invention, and the chant went
forward with hypnotic cadence to a tune of larkish, ripping gayety. He
who had read over his old stained letters in the homesick afternoon had
waked from such dreaming and now sang:
"Once jes' onced in the year o' 49,
I met a fancy thing by the name o' Keroline;
I never could persuade her for to leave me be;
She went and she took and she married me."
His neighbor was ready with an original contribution:
"Once, once again in the year o' '64,
By the city of Whatcom down along the shore--
I never could persuade them for to leave me be--
A Siwash squaw went and took and married me."
"What was you doin' between all them years?" called Half-past Full.
"Shut yer mouth," said the next singer:
Once, once again in the year o' 71
('Twas the suddenest deed that I ever done)--
I never could persuade them for to leave me be--
A rich banker's daughter she took and married me."
"This is looking better," said Bolles to Drake.
"Don't you believe it," said the boy.
Ten or a dozen years were thus sung.
"I never could persuade them for to leave me be" tempestuously brought
down the chorus and the fists, until the drunkards could sit no more, but
stood up to sing, tramping the tune heavily together. Then, just as the
turn came round to Drake himself, they dashed their chairs down and
herded out of the room behind Half-past Full, slamming the door.
Drake sat a moment at the head of his Christmas dinner, the fallen
chairs, the lumpy wreck. Blood charged his face from his hair to his
collar. "Let's smoke," said he. They went from the dinner through the
room of the great fireplace to his office beyond.
"Have a mild one?" he said to the schoolmaster.
"No, a strong one to-night, if you please." And Bolles gave his mild
"You do me good now and then," said Drake.
"Dear me," said the teacher, "I have found it the other way."
All the rooms fronted on the road with doors--the old-time agency doors,
where the hostiles had drawn their pictures in the days before peace had
come to reign over this country. Drake looked out, because the singing
had stopped and they were very quiet in the bunk-house. He saw the
Chinaman steal from his kitchen.
"Sam is tired of us," he said to Bolles.
"Running away, I guess. I'd prefer a new situation myself. That's where
you're deficient, Bolles. Only got sense enough to stay where you happen
to be. Hello. What is he up to?"
Sam had gone beside a window of the bunkhouse and was listening there,
flat like a shadow. Suddenly he crouched, and was gone among the sheds.
Out of the bunk-house immediately came a procession, the buccaroos still
quiet, a careful, gradual body.
Drake closed his door and sat in the chair again. "They're escorting that
jug over here," said he. "A new move, and a big one."
He and Bolles heard them enter the next room, always without much noise
or talk--the loudest sound was the jug when they set it on the floor.
Then they seemed to sit, talking little.
"Bolles," said Drake, "the sun has set. If you want to take after Sam--"
But the door of the sitting-room opened and the Chinaman himself came in.
He left the door a-swing and spoke clearly. "Misser Dlake," said he,
"slove bloke" (stove broke).
The superintendent came out of his office, following Sam to the kitchen.
He gave no look or word to the buccaroos with their demijohn; he merely
held his cigar sidewise in his teeth and walked with no hurry through the
sitting-room. Sam took him through to the kitchen and round to a hind
corner of the stove, pointing.
"Misser Dlake," said he, "slove no bloke. I hear them inside. They going
"That's about the way I was figuring it," mused Dean Drake.
"Misser Dlake," said the Chinaman, with appealing eyes, "I velly solly
you. They no hurtee me. Me cook."
"Sam, there is much meat in your words. Condensed beef don't class with
you. But reserve your sorrows yet a while. Now what's my policy?" he
debated, tapping the stove here and there for appearances; somebody might
look in. "Shall I go back to my office and get my guns?"
"You not goin' run now?" said the Chinaman, anxiously.
"Oh yes, Sam. But I like my gun travelling. Keeps me kind of warm. Now if
they should get a sight of me arming--no, she's got to stay here till I
come back for her. So long, Sam! See you later. And I'll have time to
thank you then."
Drake went to the corral in a strolling manner. There he roped the
strongest of the horses, and also the school-master's. In the midst of
his saddling, Bolles came down.
"Can I help you in any way?" said Bolles.
"You've done it. Saved me a bothering touch-and-go play to get you out
here and seem innocent. I'm going to drift."
"There are times to stay and times to leave, Bolles; and this is a case
of the latter. Have you a real gun on now?"
Poor Bolles brought out guiltily his .22 Smith & Wesson. "I don't seem to
think of things," said he.
"Cheer up," said Drake. "How could you thought-read me? Hide Baby
Bunting, though. Now we're off. Quietly, at the start. As if we were
merely jogging to pasture."
Sam stood at his kitchen door, mutely wishing them well. The horses were
walking without noise, but Half-past Full looked out of the window.
"We're by, anyhow," said Drake. "Quick now. Burn the earth. "The horse
sprang at his spurs." Dust, you son of a gun! Rattle your hocks! Brindle!
Vamoose!" Each shouted word was a lash with his quirt. "Duck!" he called
Bolles ducked, and bullets grooved the spraying snow. They rounded a
corner and saw the crowd jumping into the corral, and Sam's door empty of
that prudent Celestial.
"He's a very wise Chinaman!" shouted Drake, as they rushed.
"What?" screamed Bolles.
"Very wise Chinaman. He'll break that stove now to prove his innocence."
"Who did you say was innocent?" screamed Bolles.
"Oh, I said you were," yelled Drake, disgusted; and he gave over this
effort at conversation as their horses rushed along.
It was a dim, wide stretch of winter into which Drake and Bolles galloped
from the howling pursuit. Twilight already veiled the base of Castle
Rock, and as they forged heavily up a ridge through the caking snow, and
the yells came after them, Bolles looked seriously at Dean Drake; but
that youth wore an expression of rising merriment. Bolles looked back at
the dusk from which the yells were sounding, then forward to the
spreading skein of night where the trail was taking him and the boy, and
in neither direction could he discern cause for gayety.
"May I ask where we are going?" said he.
"Away," Drake answered. "Just away, Bolles. It's a healthy resort."
Ten miles were travelled before either spoke again. The drunken buccaroos
yelled hot on their heels at first, holding more obstinately to this
chase than sober ruffians would have attempted. Ten cold, dark miles
across the hills it took to cure them; but when their shootings, that had
followed over heights where the pines grew and down through the open
swales between, dropped off, and died finally away among the willows
along the south fork of the Malheur, Drake reined in his horse with a
"Now isn't that too bad!" he exclaimed.
"It is all very bad," said Bolles, sorry to hear the boy's tone of
"I didn't think they'd fool me again," continued Drake, jumping down.
"Again?" inquired the interested Bolles.
"Why, they've gone home!" said the boy, in disgust.
"I was hoping so," said the school-master.
"Hoping? Why, it's sad, Bolles. Four miles farther and I'd have had them
"Oh!" said Bolles.
"I wanted them to keep after us," complained Drake. "Soon as we had a
good lead I coaxed them. Coaxed them along on purpose by a trail they
knew, and four miles from here I'd have swung south into the mountains
they don't know. There they'd have been good and far from home in the
snow without supper, like you and me, Bolles. But after all my trouble
they've gone back snug to that fireside. Well, let us be as cosey as we
He built a bright fire, and he whistled as he kicked the snow from his
boots, busying over the horses and the blankets. "Take a rest," he said
to Bolles. "One man's enough to do the work. Be with you soon to share
our little cottage." Presently Bolles heard him reciting confidentially
to his horse, "Twas the night after Christmas, and all in the
house--only we are not all in the house!" He slapped the belly of his
horse Tyee, who gambolled away to the limit of his picket-rope.
"Appreciating the moon, Bolles?" said he, returning at length to the
fire. "What are you so gazeful about, father?"
"This is all my own doing," lamented the school-master.
"What, the moon is?"
"It has just come over me," Bolles continued. "It was before you got in
the stage at Nampa. I was talking. I told Uncle Pasco that I was glad no
whiskey was to be allowed on the ranch. It all comes from my folly!"
"Why, you hungry old New England conscience!" cried the boy, clapping him
on the shoulder. "How in the world could you foresee the crookedness of
that hoary Beelzebub?"
"That's all very well," said Bolles, miserably. "You would never have
mentioned it yourself to him."
"You and I, Bolles, are different. I was raised on miscellaneous
wickedness. A look at my insides would be liable to make you say your
The school-master smiled. "If I said any prayers," he replied, "you would
be in them."
Drake looked moodily at the fire. "The Lord helps those who help
themselves," said he. "I've prospered. For a nineteen-year-old I've
hooked my claw fairly deep here and there. As for to-day--why, that's in
the game too. It was their deal. Could they have won it on their own
play? A joker dropped into their hand. It's my deal now, and I have some
jokers myself. Go to sleep, Bolles. We've a ride ahead of us."
The boy rolled himself in his blanket skillfully. Bolles heard him say
once or twice in a sort of judicial conversation with the blanket --"and
all in the house--but we were not all in the house. Not all. Not a full
house--" His tones drowsed comfortably into murmur, and then to quiet
breathing. Bolles fed the fire, thatched the unneeded wind-break (for the
calm, dry night was breathless), and for a long while watched the moon
and a tuft of the sleeping boy's hair.
"If he is blamed," said the school-master, "I'll never forgive myself.
I'll never forgive myself anyhow."
A paternal, or rather maternal, expression came over Bolles's face, and
he removed his large, serious glasses. He did not sleep very well.
The boy did. "I'm feeling like a bird," said he, as they crossed through
the mountains next morning on a short cut to the Owybee. "Breakfast will
brace you up, Bolles. There'll be a cabin pretty soon after we strike the
other road. Keep thinking hard about coffee."
"I wish I could," said poor Bolles. He was forgiving himself less and
Their start had been very early; as Drake bid the school-master observe,
to have nothing to detain you, nothing to eat and nothing to pack, is a
great help in journeys of haste. The warming day, and Indian Creek well
behind them, brought Drake to whistling again, but depression sat upon
the self-accusing Bolles. Even when they sighted the Owyhee road below
them, no cheerfulness waked in him; not at the nearing coffee, nor yet at
the companionable tinkle of sleigh-bells dancing faintly upward through
the bright, silent air.
"Why, if it ain't Uncle Pasco!" said Drake, peering down through a gap in
the foot-hill. "We'll get breakfast sooner than I expected. Quick! Give
me Baby Bunting!"
"Are you going to kill him?" whispered the school-master, with a beaming
countenance. And he scuffled with his pocket to hand over his hitherto
Drake considered him. "Bolles, Bolles," said he, "you have got the New
England conscience rank. Plymouth Rock is a pudding to your heart. Remind
me to pray for you first spare minute I get. Now follow me close. He'll
be much more useful to us alive."
They slipped from their horses, stole swiftly down a shoulder of the
hill, and waited among some brush. The bells jingled unsuspectingly
onward to this ambush.
"Only hear 'em!" said Drake. "All full of silver and Merry Christmas.
Don't gaze at me like that, Bolles, or I'll laugh and give the whole snap
away. See him come! The old man's breath streams out so calm. He's not
worried with New England conscience. One, two, three" Just before the
sleigh came opposite, Dean Drake stepped out. "Morning, Uncle!" said he.
"Throw up your hands"
Uncle Pasco stopped dead, his eyes blinking. Then he stood up in the
sleigh among his blankets. "H'm," said he, "the kid."
"Throw up your hands! Quit fooling with that blanket!" Drake spoke
dangerously now. "Bolles," he continued, "pitch everything out of the
sleigh while I cover him. He's got a shot-gun under that blanket. Sling
It was slung. The wraps followed. Uncle Pasco stepped obediently down,
and soon the chattels of the emptied sleigh littered the snow. The old
gentleman was invited to undress until they reached the six-shooter that
Drake suspected. Then they ate his lunch, drank some whiskey that he had
not sold to the buccaroos, told him to repack the sleigh, allowed him to
wrap up again, bade him take the reins, and they would use his
six-shooter and shot-gun to point out the road to him.
He had said very little, had Uncle Pasco, but stood blinking, obedient
and malignant. "H'm," said he now, "goin' to ride with me, are you?"
He was told yes, that for the present he was their coachman. Their horses
were tired and would follow, tied behind. "We're weary, too," said Drake,
getting in. "Take your legs out of my way or I'll kick off your shins.
Bolles, are you fixed warm and comfortable? Now start her up for Harper
"What are you proposing to do with me?" inquired Uncle Pasco.
"Not going to wring your neck, and that's enough for the present. Faster,
Uncle. Get a gait on. Bolles, here's Baby Bunting. Much obliged to you
for the loan of it, old man."
Uncle Pasco's eye fell on the 22-caliber pistol. "Did you hold me up with
that lemonade straw?" he asked, huskily.
"Yep," said Drake. "That's what."
"Oh, hell!" murmured Uncle Pasco. And for the first time he seemed
"Uncle, you're not making time," said Drake after a few miles. "I'll
thank you for the reins. Open your bandanna and get your concertina. Jerk
the bellows for us."
"That I'll not!" screamed Uncle Pasco.
"It's music or walk home," said the boy. "Take your choice."
Uncle Pasco took his choice, opening with the melody of "The Last Rose of
Summer." The sleigh whirled up the Owyhee by the winter willows, and the,
levels, and the meadow pools, bright frozen under the blue sky. Late in
this day the amazed Brock by his corrals at Harper's beheld arrive his
favorite, his boy superintendent, driving in with the schoolmaster
staring through his glasses, and Uncle Pasco throwing out active strains
upon his concertina. The old man had been bidden to bellows away for his
Drake was not long in explaining his need to the men. "This thing must be
worked quick," said he. "Who'll stand by me?"
All of them would, and he took ten, with the faithful Brock. Brock would
not allow Gilbert to go, because he had received another mule-kick in the
stomach. Nor was Bolles permitted to be of the expedition. To all his
protests, Drake had but the single word: "This is not your fight, old
man. You've done your share with Baby Bunting."
Thus was the school-master in sorrow compelled to see them start back to
Indian Creek and the Malheur without him. With him Uncle Pasco would have
joyfully exchanged. He was taken along with the avengers. They would not
wring his neck, but they would play cat and mouse with him and his
concertina; and they did. But the conscience of Bolles still toiled. When
Drake and the men were safe away, he got on the wagon going for the mail,
thus making his way next morning to the railroad and Boise, where Max
Vogel listened to him; and together this couple hastily took train and
team for the Malheur Agency.
The avengers reached Indian Creek duly, and the fourth day after his
Christmas dinner Drake came once more in sight of Castle Rock.
"I am doing this thing myself, understand," he said to Brock. "I am
"We're here to take your orders," returned the foreman. But as the agency
buildings grew plain and the time for action was coming, Brock's anxious
heart spoke out of its fulness. "If they start in to--to--they might--I
wish you'd let me get in front," he begged, all at once.
"I thought you thought better of me," said Drake.
"Excuse me," said the man. Then presently: "I don't see how anybody could
'a' told he'd smuggle whiskey that way. If the old man [Brock meant Max
Vogel] goes to blame you, I'll give him my opinion straight."
"The old man's got no use for opinions," said Drake. "He goes on results.
He trusted me with this job, and we're going to have results now."
The drunkards were sitting round outside the ranch house. It was evening.
They cast a sullen inspection on the new-comers, who returned them no
inspection whatever. Drake had his men together and took them to the
stable first, a shed with mangers. Here he had them unsaddle. "Because,"
he mentioned to Brock, "in case of trouble we'll be sure of their all
staying. I'm taking no chances now."
Soon the drunkards strolled over, saying good-day, hazarding a few
comments on the weather and like topics, and meeting sufficient answers.
"Goin' to stay?"
"That's a good horse you've got."
But Sam was the blithest spirit at the Malheur Agency. "Hiyah!" he
exclaimed. "Misser Dlake! How fashion you come quick so?" And the
excellent Chinaman took pride in the meal of welcome that he prepared.
"Supper's now," said Drake to his men. "Sit anywhere you feel like. Don't
mind whose chair you're taking--and we'll keep our guns on."
Thus they followed him, and sat. The boy took his customary perch at the
head of the table, with Brock at his right. "I miss old Bolles," he told
his foreman. "You don't appreciate Bolles."
"From what you tell of him," said Brock, "I'll examine him more careful."
Seeing their boss, the sparrow-hawk, back in his place, flanked with
supporters, and his gray eye indifferently upon them, the buccaroos grew
polite to oppressiveness. While Sam handed his dishes to Drake and the
new-comers, and the new-comers eat what was good before the old
inhabitants got a taste, these latter grew more and more solicitous. They
offered sugar to the strangers, they offered their beds; Half-past Full
urged them to sit companionably in the room where the fire was burning.
But when the meal was over, the visitors went to another room with their
arms, and lighted their own fire. They brought blankets from their
saddles, and after a little concertina they permitted the nearly perished
Uncle Pasco to slumber. Soon they slumbered themselves, with the door
left open, and Drake watching. He would not even share vigil with Brock,
and all night he heard the voices of the buccaroos, holding grand,
When the relentless morning came, and breakfast with the visitors again
in their seats unapproachable, the drunkards felt the crisis to be a
strain upon their sobered nerves. They glanced up from their plates, and
down; along to Dean Drake eating his hearty porridge, and back at one
another, and at the hungry, well-occupied strangers.
"Say, we don't want trouble," they began to the strangers.
"Course you don't. Breakfast's what you're after."
"Oh, well, you'd have got gay. A man gets gay."
"Mr. Drake," said Half-past Full, sweating with his effort, "we were
sorry while we was a-fogging you up."
"Yes," said Drake. "You must have been just overcome by contrition."
A large laugh went up from the visitors, and the meal was finished
without further diplomacy.
"One matter, Mr. Drake," stammered Half-past Full, as the party rose.
"Our jobs. We're glad to pay for any things what got sort of broke."
"Sort of broke," repeated the boy, eyeing him. "So you want to hold your
"If--" began the buccaroo, and halted.
"Fact is, you're a set of cowards," said Drake, briefly. "I notice you've
forgot to remove that whiskey jug." The demijohn still stood by the great
fireplace. Drake entered and laid hold of it, the crowd standing back and
watching. He took it out, with what remained in its capacious bottom, set
it on a stump, stepped back, levelled his gun, and shattered the vessel
to pieces. The whiskey drained down, wetting the stump, creeping to the
Much potency lies in the object-lesson, and a grin was on the faces of
all present, save Uncle Pasco's. It had been his demijohn, and when the
shot struck it he blinked nervously.
"You ornery old mink!" said Drake, looking at him. "You keep to the
jewelry business hereafter."
The buccaroos grinned again. It was reassuring to witness wrath turn upon
"You want to hold your jobs?" Drake resumed to them. "You can trust
"Yes, sir," said Half-past Full.
"But I don't trust you," stated Drake, genially; and the buccaroos'
hopeful eyes dropped. "I'm going to divide you," pursued the new
superintendent. "Split you far and wide among the company's ranches. Stir
you in with decenter blood. You'll go to White-horse ranch, just across
the line of Nevada," he said to Half-past Full. "I'm tired of the
brothers Drinker. You'll go--let's see--"
Drake paused in his apportionment, and a sleigh came swiftly round the
turn, the horse loping and lathery.
"What vas dat shooting I hear joost now?" shouted Max Vogel, before he
could arrive. He did not wait for any answer. "Thank the good God!" he
exclaimed, at seeing the boy Dean Drake unharmed, standing with a gun.
And to their amazement he sped past them, never slacking his horse's lope
until he reached the corral. There he tossed the reins to the placid
Bolles, and springing out like a surefooted elephant, counted his
saddle-horses; for he was a general. Satisfied, he strode back to the
crowd by the demijohn. "When dem men get restless," he explained to Drake
at once, "always look out. Somebody might steal a horse."
The boy closed one gray, confidential eye at his employer. "Just my
idea," said he," when I counted 'em before breakfast."
"You liddle r-rascal," said Max, fondly, "What you shoot at?"
Drake pointed at the demijohn. "It was bigger than those bottles at
Nampa," said he. "Guess you could have hit it yourself."
Max's great belly shook. He took in the situation. It had a flavor that
he liked. He paused to relish it a little more in silence.
"Und you have killed noding else?" said he, looking at Uncle Pasco, who
blinked copiously. "Mine old friend, you never get rich if you change
your business so frequent. I tell you that thirty years now." Max's hand
found Drake's shoulder, but he addressed Brock. "He is all what you tell
me," said he to the foreman. "He have joodgement."
Thus the huge, jovial Teuton took command, but found Drake had left
little for him to do. The buccaroos were dispersed at Harper's, at Fort
Rinehart, at Alvord Lake, towards Stein's peak, and at the Island Ranch
by Harney Lake. And if you know east Oregon, or the land where Chief
E-egante helped out Specimen Jones, his white soldier friend, when the
hostile Bannocks were planning his immediate death as a spy, you will
know what wide regions separated the buccaroos. Bolles was taken into Max
Vogel's esteem; also was Chinese Sam. But Max sat smoking in the office
with his boy superintendent, in particular satisfaction.
"You are a liddle r-rascal," said he. "Und I r-raise you fifty dollars."
A Kinsman of Red Cloud
It was thirty minutes before a June sundown at the post, and the first
call had sounded for parade. Over in the barracks the two companies and
the single troop lounged a moment longer, then laid their police litera-
ture down, and lifted their stocking feet from the beds to get ready. In
the officers' quarters the captain rose regretfully from after-dinner
digestion, and the three lieutenants sought their helmets with a sigh.
Lieutenant Balwin had been dining an unconventional and impressive guest
at the mess, and he now interrupted the anecdote which the guest was
achieving with frontier deliberation.
"Make yourself comfortable," he said. "I'll have to hear the rest about
the half-breed when I get back."
"There ain't no more--yet. He got my cash with his private poker deck
that onced, and I'm fixing for to get his'n."
Second call sounded; the lines filed out and formed, the sergeant of the
guard and two privates took their station by the flag, and when battalion
was formed the commanding officer, towering steeple-stiff beneath his
plumes, received the adjutant's salute, ordered him to his post, and
began drill. At all this the unconventional guest looked on comfortably
from Lieutenant Balwin's porch.
"I doubt if I could put up with that there discipline all the week," he
mused. "Carry--arms! Present--Arms! I guess that's all I know of it." The
winking white line of gloves stirred his approval. "Pretty good that.
Gosh, see the sun on them bayonets!"
The last note of retreat merged in the sonorous gun, and the flag shining
in the light of evening slid down and rested upon the earth. The blue
ranks marched to a single bugle--the post was short of men and
officers--and the captain, with the released lieutenants, again sought
digestion and cigars. Balwin returned to his guest, and together they
watched the day forsake the plain. Presently the guest rose to take his
leave. He looked old enough to be the father of the young officer, but he
was a civilian, and the military man proceeded to give him excellent
"Now don't get into trouble, Cutler."
The slouch-shouldered scout rolled his quid gently, and smiled at his
superior with indulgent regard.
"See here, Cutler, you have a highly unoccupied look about you this
evening. I've been studying the customs of this population, and I've
noted a fact or two."
"Let 'em loose on me, sir."
"Fact one: When any male inhabitant of Fort Laramie has a few spare
moments, he hunts up a game of cards."
"Well, sir, you've called the turn on me."
"Fact two: At Fort Laramie a game of cards frequently ends in
"Fact three: Mr. Calvin, in them discussions Jarvis Cutler has the last
word. You put that in your census report alongside the other two."
"Well, Cutler, if somebody's gun should happen to beat yours in an
argument, I should have to hunt another wagon-master."
"I'll not forget that. When was you expecting to pull out north?"
"Whenever the other companies get here. May be three days--may be three
"Then I will have plenty time for a game to-night."
With this slight dig of his civilian independence into the lieutenant's
military ribs, the scout walked away, his long, lugubrious frockcoat
(worn in honor of the mess) occasionally flapping open in the breeze, and
giving a view of a belt richly fluted with cartridges, and the ivory
handle of a pistol looking out of its holster. He got on his horse,
crossed the flat, and struck out for the cabin of his sociable friends,
Loomis and Kelley, on the hill. The open door and a light inside showed
the company, and Cutler gave a grunt, for sitting on the table was the
half-breed, the winner of his unavenged dollars. He rode slower, in order
to think, and arriving at the corral below the cabin, tied his horse to
the stump of a cottonwood. A few steps towards the door, and he wheeled
on a sudden thought, and under cover of the night did a crafty something
which to the pony was altogether unaccountable. He unloosed both front
and rear cinch of his saddle, so they hung entirely free in wide bands
beneath the pony's belly. He tested their slackness with his hand several
times, stopping instantly when the more and more surprised pony turned
his head to see what new thing in his experience might be going on, and,
seeing, gave a delicate bounce with his hind-quarters.
"Never you mind, Duster," muttered the scout. "Did you ever see a
skunk-trap? Oughts is for mush-rats, and number ones is mostly used for
'coons and 'possums, and I guess they'd do for a skunk. But you and we'll
call this here trap a number two, Duster, for the skunk I'm after is a
big one. All you've to do is to act natural."
Cutler took the rope off the stump by which Duster had been tied
securely, wound and strapped it to the tilted saddle, and instead of this
former tether, made a weak knot in the reins, and tossed them over the
stump. He entered the cabin with a countenance sweeter than honey.
"Good-evening, boys," he said. "Why, Toussaint, how do you do?"
The hand of Toussaint had made a slight, a very slight, movement towards
his hip, but at sight of Cutler's mellow smile resumed its clasp upon his
"Golly, but you're gay-like this evening," said Kelley.
"Blamed if I knowed he could look so frisky," added Loomis.
"Sporting his onced-a-year coat," Kelley pursued. "That ain't for our
"No, we're not that high in society." Both these cheerful waifs had
drifted from the Atlantic coast westward.
Cutler looked from them to his costume, and then amiably surveyed the
"Well, boys, I'm in big luck, I am. How's yourn nowadays, Toussaint?"
"Pretty good sometime. Sometime heap hell." The voice of the half-breed
came as near heartiness as its singularly false quality would allow, and
as he smiled he watched Cutler with the inside of his eyes.
The scout watched nobody and nothing with great care, looked about him
pleasantly, inquired for the whiskey, threw aside hat and gloves, sat
down, leaning the chair back against the wall, and talked with artful
candor. "Them sprigs of lieutenants down there," said he, "they're a
surprising lot for learning virtue to a man. You take Balwin. Why, he
ain't been out of the Academy only two years, and he's been telling me
how card-playing ain't good for you. And what do you suppose he's been
and offered Jarvis Cutler for a job? I'm to be wagon-master." He paused,
and the half-breed's attention to his next words increased.
"Wagon-master, and good pay, too. Clean up to the Black Hills; and the
troops'll move soon as ever them reinforcements come. Drinks on it, boys!
Set 'em up, Joole Loomis. My contract's sealed with some of Uncle Sam's
cash, and I'm going to play it right here. Hello! Somebody coming to join
us? He's in a hurry."
There was a sound of lashing straps and hoofs beating the ground, and
Cutler looked out of the door. As he had calculated, the saddle had
gradually turned with Duster's movements and set the pony bucking.
"Stampeded!" said the scout, and swore the proper amount called for by
such circumstances. "Some o' you boys help me stop the durned fool."
Loomis and Kelley ran. Duster had jerked the prepared reins from the
cottonwood, and was lurching down a small dry gulch, with the saddle
bouncing between his belly and the stones.
Cutler cast a backward eye at the cabin where Toussaint had stayed behind
alone. "Head him off below, boys, and I'll head him off above," the scout
sang out. He left his companions, and quickly circled round behind the
cabin, stumbling once heavily, and hurrying on, anxious lest the noise
had reached the lurking half-breed. But the ivory-handled pistol, jostled
from its holster, lay unheeded among the stones where he had stumbled. He
advanced over the rough ground, came close to the logs, and craftily
peered in at the small window in the back of the cabin. It was evident
that he had not been heard. The sinister figure within still sat on the
table, but was crouched, listening like an animal to the shouts that were
coming from a safe distance down in the gulch. Cutler, outside of the
window, could not see the face of Toussaint, but he saw one long brown
hand sliding up and down the man's leg, and its movement put him in mind
of the tail of a cat. The hand stopped to pull out a pistol, into which
fresh cartridges were slipped. Cutler had already done this same thing
after dismounting, and he now felt confident that his weapon needed no
further examination. He did not put his hand to his holster. The figure
rose from the table, and crossed the room to a set of shelves in front of
which hung a little yellow curtain. Behind it were cups, cans, bottles, a
pistol, counters, red, white, and blue, and two fresh packs of cards,
blue and pink, side by side. Seeing these, Toussaint drew a handkerchief
from his pocket, and unwrapped two further packs, both blue; and at this
Cutler's intent face grew into plain shape close to the window, but
receded again into uncertain dimness. From down in the gulch came shouts
that the runaway horse was captured. Toussaint listened, ran to the door,
and quickly returning, put the blue pack from the shelf into his pocket,
leaving in exchange one of his own. He hesitated about altering the
position of the cards on the shelf, but Kelley and Loomis were
unobservant young men, and the half-breed placed the pink cards on top of
his blue ones. The little yellow curtain again hung innocently over the
shelves, and Toussaint, pouring himself a drink of whiskey, faced round,
and for the first time saw the window that had been behind his back. He
was at it in an instant, wrenching its rusty pin, that did not give, but
stuck motionless in the wood. Cursing, he turned and hurried out of the
door and round the cabin. No one was there. Some hundred yards away the
noiseless Cutler crawled farther among the thickets that filled the head
of the gulch. Toussaint whipped out a match, and had it against his
trousers to strike and look if there were footprints, when second
thoughts warned him this might be seen, and was not worth risking
suspicion over, since so many feet came and went by this cabin. He told
himself no one could have been there to see him, and slowly returned
inside, with a mind that fell a hair's breadth short of conviction.
The boys, coming up with the horse, met Cutler, who listened to how
Duster had stood still as soon as he had kicked free of his saddle,
making no objection to being caught. They suggested that he would not
have broken loose had he been tied with a rope; and hearing this, Cutler
bit off a piece of tobacco, and told them they were quite right: a horse
should never be tied by his bridle. For a savory moment the scout cuddled
his secret, and turned it over like the tobacco lump under his tongue.
Then he explained, and received serenely the amazement of Loomis and
"When you kids have travelled this Western country awhile you'll keep
your cards locked," said he." He's going to let us win first. You'll see,
he'll play a poor game with the pink deck. Then, if we don't call for
fresh cards, why, he'll call for 'em himself. But, just for the fun of
the thing, if any of us loses steady, why, we'll call. Then, when he gets
hold of his strippers, watch out. When he makes his big play, and is
stretchin' for to rake the counters in, you grab 'em, Joole; for by then
I'll have my gun on him, and if he makes any trouble we'll feed him to
the coyotes. I expect that must have been it, boys," he continued, in a
new tone, as they came within possible ear-shot of the half-breed in the
cabin. "A coyote come around him where he was tied. The fool horse has
seen enough of 'em to git used to 'em, you'd think, but he don't. There;
that'll hold him. I guess he'll have to pull the world along with him if
he starts to run again."
The lamp was placed on the window-shelf, and the four took seats, Cutler
to the left of Toussaint, with Kelley opposite. The pink cards fell
harmless, and for a while the game was a dull one to see. Holding a pair
of kings, Cutler won a little from Toussaint, who remarked that luck must
go with the money of Uncle Sam. After a few hands, the half-breed began
to bet with ostentatious folly, and, losing to one man and another, was
joked upon the falling off of his game. In an hour's time his blue chips
had been twice reinforced, and twice melted from the neat often-counted
pile in which he arranged them; moreover, he had lost a horse from his
string down on Chug Water.
"Lend me ten dollar," he said to Cutler. "You rich man now."
In the next few deals Kelley became poor. "I'm sick of this luck," said
"Then change it, why don't you? Let's have a new deck." And Loomis rose.
"Joole, you always are for something new," said Cutler. "Now I'm doing
pretty well with these pink cards. But I'm no hog. Fetch on your fresh
The eyes of the half-breed swerved to the yellow curtain. He was by a
French trapper from Canada out of a Sioux squaw, one of Red Cloud's
sisters, and his heart beat hot with the evil of two races, and none of
their good. He was at this moment irrationally angry with the men who had
won from him through his own devices, and malice undisguised shone in his
lean flat face. At sight of the blue cards falling in the first deal,
silence came over the company, and from the distant parade-ground the
bugle sounded the melancholy strain of taps. Faint, far, solemn,
melodious, the music travelled unhindered across the empty night.
"Them men are being checked off in their bunks now," said Cutler.
"What you bet this game?" demanded Toussaint.
"I've heard 'em play that same music over a soldier's grave," said
"You goin' to bet?" Toussaint repeated.
Cutler pushed forward the two necessary white chips. No one's hand was
high, and Loomis made a slight winning. The deal went its round several
times, and once, when it was Toussaint's, Cutler suspected that special
cards had been thrown to him by the half-breed as an experiment. He
therefore played the gull to a nicety, betting gently upon his three
kings; but when he stepped out boldly and bet the limit, it was not
Toussaint but Kelley who held the higher hand, winning with three aces.
Why the coup should be held off longer puzzled the scout, unless it was
that Toussaint was carefully testing the edges of his marked cards to see
if he controlled them to a certainty. So Cutler played on calmly.
Presently two aces came to him in Toussaint's deal, and he wondered how
many more would be in his three-card draw. Very pretty! One only, and he
lost to Loomis, who had drawn three, and held four kings. The hands were
getting higher, they said. The game had "something to it now." But
Toussaint grumbled, for his luck was bad all this year, he said. Cutler
had now made sure that the aces and kings went where the half-breed
wished, and could be slid undetected from the top or the middle or the
bottom of the pack; but he had no test yet how far down the scale the
marking went. At Toussaint's next deal Cutler judged the time had come,
and at the second round of betting he knew it. The three white men played
their parts, raising each other without pause, and again there was total
silence in the cabin. Every face bent to the table, watching the turn
repeat its circle with obstinate increase, until new chips and more new
chips had been brought to keep on with, and the heap in the middle had
mounted high in the hundreds, while in front of Toussaint lay his knife
and a match-box--pledges of two more horses which he had staked. He had
drawn three cards, while the others took two, except Cutler, who had a
pair of kings again, and drawing three, picked up two more. Kelley
dropped out, remarking he had bet more than his hand was worth, which was
true, and Loomis followed him. Their persistence had surprised Toussaint
a little. He had not given every one suspicious hands: Cutler's four
kings were enough. He bet once more, was raised by the scout, called, and
threw down his four aces.
"That beats me," said Cutler, quietly, and his hand moved under his
frock-coat, as the half-breed, eyeing the central pile of counters in
triumph, closed his fingers over it. They were dashed off by Kelley, who
looked expectantly across at Cutler, and seeing the scout's face wither
into sudden old age, cried out, "For God's sake, Jarvis, where's your
gun?" Kelley sprang for the yellow curtain, and reeled backward at the
shot of Toussaint. His arm thrashed along the window-sill as he fell,
sweeping over the lamp, and flaring channels of oil ran over his body and
spread on the ground. But these could no longer hurt him. The half-breed
had leaped outside the cabin, enraged that Cutler should have got out
during the moment he had been dealing with Kelley. The scout was groping
for his ivory-handled pistol off in the darkness. He found it, and
hurried to the little window at a second shot he heard inside. Loomis,
beating the rising flame away, had seized the pistol from the shelf, and
aimlessly fired into the night at Toussaint. He fired again, running to
the door from the scorching heat. Cutler got round the house to save him
if he could, and saw the half-breed's weapon flash, and the body pitch
out across the threshold. Toussaint, gaining his horse, shot three times
and missed Cutler, whom he could not clearly see; and he heard the
scout's bullets sing past him as his horse bore him rushing away.
Jarvis Cutler lifted the dead Loomis out of the cabin. He made a try for
Kelley's body, but the room had become a cave of flame, and he was driven
from the door. He wrung his hands, giving himself bitter blame aloud, as
he covered Loomis with his saddle-blanket, and jumped bareback upon
Duster to go to the post. He had not been riding a minute when several
men met him. They had seen the fire from below, and on their way up the
half-breed had passed them at a run.
"Here's our point," said Cutler. "Will he hide with the Sioux, or will he
take to the railroad? Well, that's my business more than being
wagon-master. I'll get a warrant. You tell Lieutenant Balwin--and
somebody give me a fresh horse."
A short while later, as Cutler, with the warrant in his pocket, rode out
of Fort Laramie, the call of the sentinels came across the night: "Number
One. Twelve o'clock, and all's well." A moment, and the refrain sounded
more distant, given by Number Two. When the fourth took it up, far away
along the line, the words were lost, leaving something like the faint
echo of a song. The half-breed had crossed the Platte, as if he were
making for his kindred tribe, but the scout did not believe in this too
"There's Chug Water lying right the other way from where he went, and I
guess it's there Mr. Toussaint is aiming for." With this idea Cutler
swung from north to southwest along the Laramie. He went slowly over his
shortcut, not to leave the widely circling Toussaint too much in his
rear. The fugitive would keep himself carefully far on the other side of
the Laramie, and very likely not cross it until the forks of Chug Water.
Dawn had ceased to be gray, and the doves were cooing incessantly among
the river thickets, when Cutler, reaching the forks, found a bottom where
the sage-brush grew seven and eight feet high, and buried himself and his
horse in its cover. Here was comfort; here both rivers could be safely
watched. It seemed a good leisure-time for a little fire and some
breakfast. He eased his horse of the saddle, sliced some bacon, and put a
match to his pile of small sticks. As the flame caught, he stood up to
enjoy the cool of a breeze that was passing through the stillness, and he
suddenly stamped his fire out. The smell of another fire had come across
Chug Water on the wind. It was incredible that Toussaint should be there
already. There was no seeing from this bottom, and if Cutler walked up
out of it the other man would see too. If it were Toussaint, he would not
stay long in the vast exposed plain across Chug Water, but would go on
after his meal. In twenty minutes it would be the thing to swim or wade
the stream, and crawl up the mud bank to take a look. Meanwhile, Cutler
dipped in water some old bread that he had and sucked it down, while the
little breeze from opposite hook the cottonwood leaves and brought over
the smell of cooking meat. The sun grew warmer, and the doves ceased.
Cutler opened his big watch, and clapped it shut as the sound of mud
heavily slopping into the other river reached him. He crawled to where he
could look at the Laramie from among his sagebrush, and there was
Toussaint leading his horse down to the water. The half-breed gave a
shrill call, and waved his hat. His call was answered, and as he crossed
the Laramie, three Sioux appeared, riding to the bank. They waited till
he gained their level, when all four rode up the Chug Water, and went out
of sight opposite the watching Cutler. The scout threw off some of his
clothes, for the water was still high, and when he had crossed, and drawn
himself to a level with the plain, there were the four squatted among the
sage-brush beside a fire. They sat talking and eating for some time. One
of them rose at last, pointed south, and mounting his horse, dwindled to
a dot, blurred, and evaporated in the heated, trembling distance. Cutler
at the edge of the bank still watched the other three, who sat on the
ground. A faint shot came, and they rose at once, mounted, and vanished
southward. There was no following them now in this exposed country, and
Cutler, feeling sure that the signal had meant something about
Toussaint's horses, made his fire, watered his own horse, and letting him
drag a rope where the feed was green, ate his breakfast in ease.
Toussaint would get a fresh mount, and proceed to the railroad. With the
comfort of certainty and tobacco, the scout lolled by the river under the
cottonwood, and even slept. In the cool of the afternoon he reached the
cabin of an acquaintance twenty miles south, and changed his horse. A man
had passed by, he was told. Looked as if bound for Cheyenne. "No," Cutler
said, "he's known there"; and he went on, watching Toussaint's tracks.
Within ten miles they veered away from Cheyenne to the southeast, and
Cutler struck out on a trail of his own more freely. By midnight he was
on Lodge-Pole Creek, sleeping sound among the last trees that he would
pass. He slept twelve hours, having gone to bed knowing he must not come
into town by daylight. About nine o'clock he arrived, and went to the
railroad station; there the operator knew him. The lowest haunt in the
town had a tent south of the Union Pacific tracks; and Cutler, getting
his irons, and a man from the saloon, went there, and stepped in,
covering the room with his pistol. The fiddle stopped, the shrieking
women scattered, and Toussaint, who had a glass in his hand, let it fly
at Cutler's head, for he was drunk. There were two customers besides
"Nobody shall get hurt here," said Cutler, above the bedlam that was now
set up. "Only that man's wanted. The quieter I get him, the quieter it'll
be for others."
Toussaint had dived for his pistol, but the proprietor of the dance-hall,
scenting law, struck the half-breed with the butt of another, and he
rolled over, and was harmless for some minutes. Then he got on his legs,