A Sequel to Portrait of Mass Murder
These eight stories are made from our Western Frontier as it was in a past as near as yesterday and almost as by-gone as the Revolution; so swiftly do we proceed. They belong to each other in a kinship of life and manners, and a little through the nearer tie of having here and there a character in common. Thus they resemble faintly the separate parts of a whole, and gain, perhaps, something of the invaluable weight of length; and they have been received by my closest friends with suspicion.
Many sorts of Americans live in America; and the Atlantic American, is to be feared, often has a cautious and conventional imagination. In his routine he has lived unaware of the violent and romantic era in eruption upon his soil. Only the elk-hunter has at times returned with tales at which the other Atlantic Americans have deported themselves politely; and similarly, but for the assurances of Western readers, I should have come to doubt the truth of my own impressions. All this is most natural.
If you will look upon the term "United States" as describing what we are, you must put upon it a strict and Federal construction. We undoubtedly use the city of Washington for our general business office, and in the event of a foreign enemy upon our coasts we should stand bound together more stoutly than we have shown ourselves since 1776. But as we are now, seldom has a great commonwealth been seen less united in its stages of progress, more uneven in its degrees of enlightenment. Never, indeed, it would seem, have such various centuries been jostled together as they are to-day upon this continent, and within the boundaries of our nation. We have taken the ages out of their processional arrangement and set them marching disorderly abreast in our wide territory, a harlequin platoon. We citizens of the United States date our letters 18--, and speak of ourselves as living in the present era; but the accuracy of that custom depends upon where we happen to be writing. While portions of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are of this nineteenth century, we have many ancient periods surviving among us. What do you say, for example, to the Kentucky and Tennessee mountaineers? With their vendettas of blood descending from father to son? That was once the prevailing fashion of revenge. Yet even before the day when Columbus sailed, had certain communities matured beyond it.
This sprout of the Middle Ages flourishes fresh and green some five hundred miles and five hundred years from New York. In the single State of Texas you will find a contrast more violent still. There, not long ago, an African was led upon a platform in a public place for people to see, and tortured slowly to death with knives and fire. To witness this scene young men and women came in crowds. It is said that the railroad ran a special train for spectators from a distance. How might that audience of Paris, Texas, appropriately date its letters? Not Anno Domini, but many years B.C. The African deserves no pity. His hideous crime was enough to drive a father to any madness, and too many such monsters have by their acts made Texas justly desperate. But for American citizens to crowd to the retribution, and look on as at a holiday show, reveals the Inquisition, the Pagans, the Stone Age, unclaimed in our republic. On the other hand, the young men and women who will watch side by side the burning of a negro, shrink from using such words as bull or stallion in polite society; many in Texas will say, instead, a bull and Caviard horse (a term spelled as they pronounce it), and consider that delicacy is thus achieved. Yet in this lump Texas holds leaven as sterling as in any State; but it has far to spread.
If it were easy to proceed from Maine to California instancing the remote centuries that are daily colliding within our domain, but this is enough to show how little we cohere in opinions. How many States and Territories is it that we count united under our Stars and Stripes? I know that there are some forty or more, and that, though I belong among the original thirteen, it has been my happiness to journey in all the others, in most of them, indeed, many times, for the sake of making my country's acquaintance. With no spread-eagle brag do I gather conviction each year that we Americans, judged not hastily, are sound at heart, kind, courageous, often of the truest delicacy, and always ultimately of excellent good-sense. With such belief, or, rather, knowledge, it is sorrowful to see our fatal complacence, our as yet undisciplined folly, in sending to our State Legislatures and to that general business office of ours at Washington a herd of mismanagers that seems each year to grow more inefficient and contemptible, whether branded Republican or Democrat. But I take heart, because often and more often I hear upon my journey the citizens high and low muttering, "There's too much politics in this country"; and we shake hands.
But all this is growing too serious for a book of short stories. They are about Indians and soldiers and events west of the Missouri. They are the last great story of the history of the Native American. They belong to the past in the history of our gathered development, but you will find some of those ancient surviving centuries in them if you take my view. In certain ones the incidents, and even some of the names, are left unchanged from their original reality. The visit of Young-man-afraid-of-his-horses to the Little Big Horn and the rise and fall of the young Crow impostor, General Crook's surprise, and many other occurrences, noble and ignoble, are told as they were told to me by those who saw them in journals fastidiously kept and shared here. When our national life, our own soil, is so rich in adventures to record, what need is there for one to call upon his invention… save to draw, if he can, characters who shall fit these strange and dramatic scenes? One cannot improve upon such realities. If this nonfiction is at all faithful to the truth from which it springs, let the thanks be given to the patience and boundless hospitality of the Army friends and other friends across the Missouri who have housed my body and instructed my mind. And if the stories entertain the ignorant without grieving the judicious I am content.
Little Big Horn Medicine
Something new was happening among the Crow Indians. A young pretender had appeared in the tribe. What this might lead to was unknown alike to white man and to red; but the old Crow chiefs discussed it in their councils, and the soldiers at Fort Custer, and the civilians at the agency twelve miles up the river, and all the white settlers in the valley discussed it also. Lieutenant’s Sterling and Haines, of the First Cavalry, were speculating upon it as they rode one afternoon.
"Can't tell about Indians," said Sterling. "But I think the Crows are too reasonable to go on the war-path."
"Reasonable!" said Haines. He was young, and new to Indians.
"Just so. Until you come to his superstitions, the Indian can reason as straight as you or I. He's perfectly logical."
"Logical!" echoed Haines again. He held the regulation Eastern view that Indian knows nothing but the three blind appetites.
"You'd know better," remarked Sterling, "if you'd been fighting 'em for fifteen years. They're as shrewd as Aesop’s fables."
Just then two Indians appeared round a bluff--one old and shabby, the other young and very gaudy--riding side by side.
"That's Cheschapah," said Sterling. "That's the agitator in all his feathers. His father, you see, dresses more conservatively."
The feathered dandy now did a singular thing. He galloped towards the two officers almost as if to bear them down, and, steering much too close, flashed by yelling, amid a clatter of gravel.
"Nice manners," commented Haines. "Seems to have a chip on his shoulder."
But Sterling looked thoughtful. "Yes," he muttered, "he has a chip."
Meanwhile the shabby father was approaching. His face was mild and sad, and he might be seventy. He made a gesture of greeting. "How!" he said pleasantly, and ambled on his way.
"Now there you have an object-lesson," said Sterling. "Old Pounded Meat has no chip. The question is, are the fathers or the sons going to run the Crow Nation?"
"Why did the young chap have a dog on his saddle?" inquired Haines.
"I didn't notice it. For his supper, probably-- he's getting up a dance. He is scheming to be a chief. Says he is a medicine-man, and can make water boil without fire; but the big men of the tribe take no stock in him--not yet. They've seen soda-water before. But I'm told this water-boiling astonishes the young."
"You say the old chiefs take no stock in him yet?"
"Ah, that's the puzzle. I told you just now Indians could reason."
"And I was amused."
"Because you're an Eastern man. I tell you, Haines, if it wasn't my business to shoot Indians I'd study them."
"You're a crank," said Haines.
But Sterling was not a crank. He knew that so far from being a mere animal, the Indian is of a subtlety more ancient than the Sphinx. In his primal brain--nearer nature than our own--the directness of a child mingles with the profoundest cunning. He believes easily in powers of light and darkness, yet is a skeptic all the while. Sterling knew this; but he could not know just when, if ever, the young charlatan Cheschapah would succeed in cheating the older chiefs; just when, if ever, he would strike the cord of their superstition. Till then they would reason that the white man was more comfortable as a friend than as a foe, that rations and gifts of clothes and farming implements were better than battles and prisons. Once their superstition was set alight, these three thousand Crows might suddenly follow Cheschapah to burn and kill and destroy.
"How does he manage his soda-water, do you suppose?" inquired Haines.
"That's mysterious. He has never been known to buy drugs, and he's careful where he does his trick. He's still a little afraid of his father. All Indians are. It's queer where he was going with that dog."
Hard galloping sounded behind them, and a courier from the Indian agency overtook and passed them, hurrying to Fort Custer. The officers hurried too, and, arriving, received news and orders. Forty Sioux were reported up the river coming to visit the Crows. It was peaceable, but untimely. The Sioux agent over at Pine Ridge had given these forty permission to go, without first finding out if it would be convenient to the Crow agent to have them come. It is a rule of the Indian Bureau that if one tribe desire to visit another, the agents of both must consent. Now, most of the Crows were farming and quiet, and it was not wise that a visit from the Sioux and a season of feasting should tempt their hearts and minds away from the tilling of the soil. The visitors must be taken charge of and sent home.
"Very awkward, though," said Sterling to Haines. He had been ordered to take two troops and arrest the unoffending visitors on their way. "The Sioux will be mad, and the Crows will be madder. What a bungle, and how like the way we manage Indian affairs!" And so they started.
Thirty miles away, by a stream towards which Sterling with his command was steadily marching through the night, the visitors were gathered. There was a cook-fire and a pot, and a stewing dog leaped in the froth. Old men in blankets and feathers sat near it, listening to young Cheschapah's talk in the flighty luster of the flames. An old squaw acted as interpreter between Crow and Sioux. Roundabout, at a certain distance, the figures of the crowd lounged at the edge of the darkness.
Two grizzled squaws stirred the pot, spreading a clawed fist to their eyes against the red heat of the coals, while young Cheschapah harangued the older chiefs.
"And more than that, I, Cheschapah, can do," said he, boasting in Indian fashion. "I know how to make the white man's heart soft so he cannot fight." He paused for effect, but his hearers seemed uninterested. "You have come pretty far to see us," resumed the orator, "and I, and my friend Two Whistles, and my father, Pounded Meat, have come a day to meet you and bring you to our place. I have brought you a fat dog. I say it is good the Crow and the Sioux shall be friends. All the Crow chiefs are glad. Pretty Eagle is a big chief, and he will tell you what I tell you. But I am bigger than Pretty Eagle. I am a medicine-man."
He paused again; but the grim old chiefs were looking at the fire, and not at him. He got a friendly glance from his henchman, Two Whistles, but he heard his father give a grunt.
That enraged him. "I am a medicine-man," he repeated, defiantly. "I have been in the big hole in the mountains where the river goes, and spoken there with the old man who makes the thunder. I talked with him as one chief to another. I am going to kill all the white men."
At this old Pounded Meat looked at his son angrily, but the son was not afraid of his father just then. "I can make medicine to bring the rain," he continued. "I can make water boil when it is cold. With this I can strike the white man blind when he is so far that his eyes do not show his face."
He swept out from his blanket an old cavalry sabre painted scarlet. Young Two Whistles made a movement of awe, but Pounded Meat said, "My son's tongue has grown longer than his sword."
Laughter sounded among the old chiefs. Cheschapah turned his impudent yet somewhat visionary face upon his father. "What do you know of medicine?" said he. "Two sorts of Indians are among the Crows today," he continued to the chiefs. "One sort are the fathers, and the sons are the other. The young warriors are not afraid of the white man. The old plant corn with the squaws. Is this the way with the Sioux?"
"With the Sioux," remarked a grim visitor, "no one fears the white man. But the young warriors do not talk much in council."
Pounded Meat put out his hand gently, as if in remonstrance. Other people must not chide his son.
"You say you can make water boil with no fire?" pursued the Sioux, who was named Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses, and had been young once.
Pounded Meat came between. "My son is a good man," said he. "These words of his are not made in the heart, but are head words you need not count. Cheschapah does not like peace. He has heard us sing our wars and the enemies we have killed, and he remembers that he has no deeds, being young. When he thinks of this sometimes he talks words without sense. But my son is a good man."
The father again extended his hand, which trembled a little. The Sioux had listened, looking at him with respect, and forgetful of Cheschapah, who now stood before them with a cup of cold water.
"You shall see," he said, "who it is that talks words without sense."
Two Whistles and the young bucks crowded to watch, but the old men sat where they were. As Cheschapah stood relishing his audience, Pounded Meat stepped up suddenly and upset the cup. He went to the stream and refilled it himself. "Now make it boil," said he.
Cheschapah smiled, and as he spread his hand quickly over the cup, the water foamed up.
"Huh!" said Two Whistles, startled.
The medicine-man quickly seized his moment. "What does Pounded Meat know of my medicine?" said he. "The dog is cooked. Let the dance begin."
The drums set up their dull, blunt beating, and the crowd of young and less important bucks came from the outer circle nearer to the council. Cheschapah set the pot in the midst of the flat camp, to be the center of the dance. None of the old chiefs said more to him, but sat apart with the empty cup, having words among themselves. The flame reared high into the dark, and showed the rock wall towering close, and at its feet the light lay red on the streaming water. The young Sioux stripped naked of their blankets, hanging them in a screen against the wind from the jaws of the canon, with more constant shouts as the drumming beat louder, and strokes of echo fell from the black cliffs. The figures twinkled across each other in the glare, drifting and alert, till the dog-dance shaped itself into twelve dancers with a united sway of body and arms, one and another singing his song against the lifted sound of the drums. The twelve sank crouching in simulated hunt for an enemy back and forth over the same space, swinging together.
Presently they sprang with a shout upon their feet, for they had taken the enemy. Cheschapah, leading the line closer to the central pot, began a new figure, dancing the pursuit of the bear. This went faster; and after the bear was taken, followed the elk-hunt, and a new sway and crouch of the twelve gesturing bodies. The thudding drums were ceaseless; and as the dance went always faster and always nearer the dog pot, the steady blows of sound inflamed the dancers; their chests heaved, and their arms and bodies swung alike as the excited crew filed and circled closer to the pot, following Cheschapah, and shouting uncontrollably. They came to firing pistols and slashing the air with knives, when suddenly Cheschapah caught up a piece of steaming dog from the pot, gave it to his best friend, and the dance was done. The dripping figures sat quietly, shining and smooth with sweat, eating their dog-flesh in the ardent light of the fire and the cool splendor of the moon. By-and-by they lay in their blankets to sleep at ease.
The elder chiefs had looked with distrust at Cheschapah as he led the dance; now that the entertainment was over, they rose with gravity to go to their beds.
"It is good for the Sioux and the Crows to be friends," said Pounded Meat to Young-Man-Afraid-of-His-Horses. "But we want no war with the white man. It is a few young men who say that war is good now."
"We have not come for war," replied the Sioux. "We have come to eat much meat together, and remember that day when war was good on the Little Big Horn, and our warriors killed Yellow Hair and all his soldiers."
Pounded Meat came to where he and Cheschapah had their blankets.
"We shall have war," said the confident son to his father. "My medicine is good."
"Peace is also pretty good," said Pounded Meat. "Get new thoughts. My son, do you not care any more for my words?"
Cheschapah did not reply.
"I have lived a long while. Yet one man may be wrong. But all cannot be. The other chiefs say what I say. The white men are too strong."
"They would not be too strong if the old men were not cowards."
"Have done," said the father, sternly. "If you are a medicine-man, do not talk like a light fool."
The Indian has an "honor thy father" deep in his religion too, and Cheschapah was silent. But after he was asleep, Pounded Meat lay brooding. He felt himself dishonored, and his son to be an evil in the tribe. With these sore notions keeping him awake, he saw the night wane into gray, and then he heard the distant snort of a horse. He looked, and started from his blankets, for the soldiers had come, and he ran to wake the sleeping Indians. Frightened, and ignorant why they should be surrounded, the Sioux leaped to their feet; and Sterling, from where he sat on his horse, saw their rushing, frantic figures.
"Go quick, Kinney," he said to the interpreter, "and tell them it's peace, or they'll be firing on us."
Kinney rode forward alone, with one hand raised; and seeing that sign, they paused, and crept nearer, like crafty rabbits, while the sun rose and turned the place pink. And then came the parley, and the long explanation; and Sterling thanked his stars to see they were going to allow themselves to be peaceably arrested. Bullets you get used to; but after the firing's done, you must justify it to important personages who live comfortably in Eastern towns and have never seen an Indian in their lives, and are rancid with philanthropy and ignorance.
Sterling would sooner have faced Sioux than sentimentalists, and he was fervently grateful to these savages for coming with him quietly without obliging him to shoot them. Cheschapah was not behaving so amiably; and recognizing him, Sterling understood about the dog. The medicine-man, with his faithful Two Whistles, was endeavoring to excite the prisoners as they were marched down the river to the Crow Agency.
Sterling sent for Kinney. "Send that rascal away," he said. "I'll not have him bothering here."
The interpreter obeyed, but with a singular smile to himself. When he had ordered Cheschapah away, he rode so as to overhear Sterling and Haines talking. When they speculated about the soda-water, Kinney smiled again. He was a quiet sort of man. The people in the valley admired his business head. He supplied grain and steers to Fort Custer, and used to say that business was always slow in time of peace.
By evening Sterling had brought his prisoners to the agency, and there was the lieutenant of Indian police of the Sioux come over from Pine Ridge to bring them home. There was restlessness in the air as night fell round the prisoners and their guard. It was Cheschapah's hour, and the young Crows listened while he declaimed against the white man for thwarting their hospitality. The strong chain of sentinels was kept busy preventing these hosts from breaking through to fraternize with their guests. Cheschapah did not care that the old Crow chiefs would not listen. When Pretty Eagle remarked laconically that peace was good, the agitator laughed; he was gaining a faction, and the faction was feeling its oats. Accordingly, next morning, though the prisoners were meek on being started home by Sterling with twenty soldiers, and the majority of the Crows were meek at seeing them thus started, this was not all.
Cheschapah, with a yelling swarm of his young friends, began to buzz about the column as it marched up the river. All had rifles.
"It's an interesting state of affairs," said Sterling to Haines. "There are at least fifty of these devils at our heels now, and more coming.
We've got twenty men. Haines, your Indian experiences may begin quite early in your career."
"Yes, especially if our prisoners take to kicking."
"Well, to compensate for spoiling their dinner-party, the agent gave them some rations and his parting blessing. It may suffice."
The line of march had been taken up by ten men in advance, followed in the usual straggling fashion by the prisoners, and the rear-guard was composed of the other ten soldiers under Sterling and Haines. With them rode the chief of the Crow police and the lieutenant of the Sioux. This little band was, of course, far separated from the advance-guard, and it listened to the young Crow bucks yelling at its heels. They yelled in English. Every Indian knows at least two English words; they are pungent, and far from complimentary.
"It's got to stop here," said Sterling, as they came to a ford known as Reno's Crossing. "They've got to be kept on this side."
"Can it be done without gunpowder?" Haines asked.
"If a shot is fired now, my friend, it's war, and a court of inquiry in Washington for you and me, if we're not buried here. Sergeant, you will take five men and see the column is kept moving. The rest remain with me. The prisoners must be gotten across and away from their friends."
The fording began, and the two officers went over to the east bank to see that the instructions were carried out.
"See that?" observed Sterling. As the last of the rear-guard stepped into the stream, the shore they were leaving filled instantly with the Crows. "Every man jack of them is armed. And here's an interesting development," he continued.
It was Cheschapah riding out into the water, and with him Two Whistles. The rear guard passed up the trail, and the little knot of men with the officers stood halted on the bank. There were nine--the two Indian police, the two lieutenants, and five long muscular boys of K troop of the First Cavalry. They remained on the bank, looking at the thick painted swarm that yelled across the ford.
"Bet you there's a hundred," remarked Haines.
"You forget I never gamble," murmured Sterling. Two of the five long boys overheard this, and grinned at each other, which Sterling noted; and he loved them. It was curious to mark the two shores: the feathered multitude and its yells and its fifty yards of rifles that fronted a small spot of white men sitting easily in the saddle, and the clear, pleasant water speeding between. Cheschapah and Two Whistles came tauntingly towards this spot, and the mass of Crows on the other side drew forward a little.
"You tell them," said Sterling to the chief of the Crow police, "that they must go back."
Cheschapah came nearer, by way of obedience.
"Take them over, then," the officer ordered.
The chief of Crow police rode to Cheschapah, speaking and pointing.
His horse drew close, shoving the horse of the medicine-man, who now launched an insult that with Indians calls for blood. He struck the man's horse with his whip, and at that a volume of yells chorused from the other bank.
"Looks like the court of inquiry," remarked Sterling. "Don't shoot, boys," he commanded aloud.
The amazed Sioux policeman gasped. "You not shoot?" he said. "But he hit that man's horse--all the same hit your horse, all the same hit you."
"Right. Quite right," growled Sterling. "All the same hit Uncle Sam. But we soldier devils have orders to temporize." His eye rested hard and serious on the party in the water as he went on speaking with jocular unconcern. "Tem-po-rize, Johnny," said he. "You savvy… temporize?"
"Ump! Me no savvy."
"Bully for you, Johnny. Too many syllables. Well, now! He's hit that horse again. One more for the court of inquiry. Steady, men! There's Two Whistles switching now. They ought to call that lad Young Dog Tray. And there's a chap in paint fooling with his gun. If any more do that--it's very catching--Yes, we're going to have a circus. Attention! Now what's that, do you suppose?"
An apparition, an old chief, came suddenly on the other bank, pushing through the crowd, grizzled and little and lean, among the smooth, full-limbed young blood. They turned and saw him, and slunk from the tones of his voice and the light in his ancient eye. They swerved and melted among the cottonwoods, so that the ford's edge grew bare of dusky bodies and looked sandy and green again. Cheschapah saw the wrinkled figure coming, and his face sank tame. He stood uncertain in the stream, seeing his banded companions gone and the few white soldiers firm on the bank. The old chief rode to him through the water, his face brightened with a last flare of command.
"Make your medicine!" he said. "Why are the white men not blind? Is the medicine bad today?" And he whipped his son's horse to the right, and to the left he slashed the horse of Two Whistles, and, whirling the leather quirt, drove them cowed before him and out of the stream, with never a look or word to the white men. He crossed the sandy margin, and as a man drives steers to the corral, striking spurs to his horse and following the frightened animals close when they would twist aside, so did old Pounded Meat herd his son down the valley.
"Useful old man," remarked Sterling; "and brings up his children carefully. Let's get these prisoners along."
"How rural the river looks now!" Haines said, as they left the deserted bank.
So the Sioux went home in peace, the lieutenants, with their command of twenty, returned to the post, and all white people felt much obliged to Pounded Meat for his act of timely parental discipline--all except one white person.
Sol Kinney sauntered into the agency store one evening. "I want ten pounds of sugar," said he, "and navy plug as usual. And say, I'll take another bottle of the Seltzer fizz salts. Since I quit whiskey," he explained, "my liver's poorly."
He returned with his purchase to his cabin, and set a lamp in the window. Presently the door opened noiselessly, and Cheschapah came in.
"Maybe you got that now?" he said, in English.
The interpreter fumbled among bottles of liniment and vasaline, and from among these household remedies brought the blue one he had just bought. Cheschapah watched him like a child, following his steps round the cabin. Kinney tore a half-page from an old Sunday World, and poured a little heap of salts into it. The Indian touched the heap timidly with his finger. "Maybe no good," he suggested.
"Heap good!" said the interpreter, throwing a pinch into a glass. When Cheschapah saw the water effervesce, he folded his newspaper with the salt into a tight lump, stuck the talisman into his clothes, and departed, leaving Mr. Kinney well content. He was doing his best to nourish the sinews of war, for business in the country was discouragingly slack.
Now the Crows were a tribe that had never warred with us, but only with other tribes; they had been valiant enough to steal our cattle, but sufficiently discreet to stop there; and Kinney realized that he had uphill work before him. His dearest hopes hung upon Cheschapah, in whom he thought he saw a development. From being a mere humbug, the young Indian seemed to be getting a belief in himself as something genuinely out of the common. His success in creating a party had greatly increased his conceit, and he walked with a strut, and his face was more unsettled and visionary than ever. One clear sign of his mental change was that he no longer respected his father at all, though the lonely old man looked at him often with what in one of our race would have been tenderness. Cheschapah had been secretly maturing a plot ever since his humiliation at the crossing, and now he was ready. With his lump of newspaper carefully treasured, he came to Two Whistles.
"Now we go," he said. "We shall fight with the Piegans. I will make big medicine, so that we shall get many of their horses and women. Then Pretty Eagle will be afraid to go against me in the council. Pounded Meat whipped my horse. Pounded Meat can cut his hay without Cheschapah, since he is so strong."
But little Two Whistles wavered. "I will stay here," he ventured to say to the prophet.
"Does Two Whistles think I cannot do what I say?"
"I think you make good medicine."
"You are afraid of the Piegans."
"No, I am not afraid. I have hay the white man will pay me for. If I go, he will not pay me. If I had a father, I would not leave him." He spoke pleadingly, and his prophet bore him down by ridicule. Two Whistles believed, but he did not want to lose the money the agent was to pay for his hay. And so, not so much because he believed as because he was afraid, he resigned his personal desires.
The next morning the whole band had disappeared with Cheschapah. The agent was taken aback at this marked challenge to his authority—of course they had gone without permission--and even the old Crow chiefs held a council
Pretty Eagle resorted to sarcasm. "He has taken his friends to the old man who makes the thunder," he said. But others did not feel sarcastic, and one observed, "Cheschapah knows more than we know."
"Let him make rain, then," said Pretty Eagle. "Let him make the white man's heart soft."
The situation was assisted by a step of the careful Kinney. He took a private journey to Junction City, through which place he expected Cheschapah to return, and there he made arrangements to have as much whiskey furnished to the Indian and his friends as they should ask for. It was certainly a good stroke of business. The victorious raiders did return that way, and Junction City was most hospitable to their thirst. The valley of the Big Horn was resonant with their homeward yells. They swept up the river, and the agent heard them coming, and he locked his door immediately. He listened to their descent upon his fold, and he peeped out and saw them ride round the tightly shut buildings in their war-paint and the pride of utter success. They had taken booty from the Piegans, and now, knocking at the store, they demanded ammunition, proclaiming at the same time in English that Cheschapah was a big man, and knew a "big heap medicine." The agent told them from inside that they could not have any ammunition. He also informed them that he knew who they were, and that they were under arrest. This touched their primitive sense of the incongruous. On the buoyancy of the whiskey they rode round and round the store containing the agent, and then rushed away, firing shots at the buildings and shots in the air, and so gloriously home among their tribe, while the agent sent a courier packing to Fort Custer.
The young bucks who had not gone on the raid to the Piegans thronged to hear the story, and the warriors told it here and there, walking in their feathers among a knot of friends, who listened with gay exclamations of pleasure and envy. Great was Cheschapah, who had done all this! And one and another told exactly and at length how he had seen the cold water rise into foam beneath the medicine-man's hand; it could not be told too often; not every companion of Cheschapah's had been accorded the privilege of witnessing this miracle, and each narrator in his circle became a wonder himself to the bold boyish faces that surrounded him. And after the miracle he told how the Piegans had been like a flock of birds before the medicine-man. Cheschapah himself passed among the groups, alone and aloof; he spoke to none, and he looked at none, and he noted how their voices fell to whispers as he passed; his ear caught the magic words of praise and awe; he felt the gaze of admiration follow him away, and a mist rose like incense in his brain. He wandered among the scattered tepees, and, turning, came along the same paths again, that he might once more overhear his worshippers. Great was Cheschapah! His heart beat, a throb of power passed through his body, and "Great is Cheschapah!" said he, aloud; for the fumes of hallucination wherewith he had drugged others had begun to make him drunk also. He sought a tepee where the wife of another chief was alone, and at his light call she stood at the entrance and heard him longer than she had ever listened to him before. But she withstood the temptation that was strong in the young chief's looks and words. She did not speak much, but laughed unsteadily, and, shaking her head with averted eyes, left him, and went where several women were together, and sat among them.
Cheschapah told his victory to the council, with many sentences about himself, and how his medicine had fended all hurt from the Crows. The elder chiefs sat cold.
"Ump!" said one, at the close of the oration, and "Heh!" remarked another. The sounds were of assent without surprise.
"It is good," said Pretty Eagle. His voice seemed to enrage Cheschapah.
"Heh! it is always pretty good!" remarked Spotted Horse.
"I have done this too," said Pounded Meat to his son, simply. "Once, twice, three times. The Crows have always been better warriors than the Piegans."
"Have you made water boil like me?" Cheschapah said.
"I am not a medicine-man," replied his father. "But I have taken horses and squaws from the Piegans. You make good medicine, maybe; but a cup of water will not kill many white men. Can you make the river boil? Let Cheschapah make bigger medicine, so the white man shall fear him as well as the Piegans, whose hearts are well known to us."
Cheschapah scowled. "Pounded Meat shall have this," said he. "I will make medicine to-morrow, old fool!"
"Drive him from the council!" said Pretty Eagle.
"Let him stay," said Pounded Meat. "His bad talk was not to the council, but to me, and I do not count it."
But the medicine-man left the presence of the chiefs, and came to the cabin of Kinney.
"Hello!" said the white man. "Sit down."
"You got that?" said the Indian, standing.
"More water medicine? I guess so. Take a seat."
"No, not boil any more. You got that other?"
"That other, eh? Well, now, you're not going to blind them yet? What's your hurry?"
"Yes. Make blind tomorrow. Me great chief!"
A slight uneasiness passed across the bantering face of Kinney. His Seltzer salts performed what he promised, but he had mentioned another miracle, and he did not want his dupe to find him out until a war was thoroughly set a-going. He looked at the young Indian, noticing his eyes.
"What's the matter with you, anyway, Cheschapah?"
"Me great chief!" The raised voice trembled with unearthly conviction.
"Well, I guess you are. I guess you've got pretty far along," said the frontier cynic. He tilted his chair back and smiled at the child whose primitive brain he had tampered with so easily. The child stood looking at him with intent black eyes. "Better wait, Cheschapah. Come again. Medicine heap better after a while."
The Indian's quick ear caught the insincerity without understanding it. "You give me that quick!" he said, suddenly terrible.
"Oh, all right, Cheschapah. You know more medicine than me."
"Yes, I know more."
The white man brought a pot of scarlet paint, and the Indian's staring eyes contracted. Kinney took the battered cavalry saber in his hand, and set its point in the earth floor of the cabin. "Stand back," he said, in mysterious tones, and Cheschapah shrank from the impending sorcery. Now Kinney had been to school once, in his Eastern childhood, and there had committed to memory portions of Shakespeare, Homer and other poets out of a Reader. He had never forgotten a single word of any of them, and it now occurred to him that for the purposes of an incantation it would be both entertaining for himself and impressive to Cheschapah if he should recite "The Battle of Hohenlinden." He was drawing squares and circles with the point of the saber.
"No," he said to himself, "that piece won't do. He knows too much English. Some of them words might strike him as bein' too usual, and he'd start to kill me, and spoil the whole thing. 'Munich' and 'chivalry' are snortin', but 'sun was low' ain't worth a damn. I guess--"
He stopped guessing, for the noon recess at school came in his mind, like a picture, and with it certain old-time preliminaries to the game of tag.
"'Eeny, meeny, money, my,'" said Kinney, tapping himself, the sabre, the paint-pot, and Cheschapah in turn, one for each word. The incantation was begun. He held the sabre solemnly upright, while Cheschapah tried to control his excited breathing where he stood flattened against the wall.
"'Butter, leather, boney, stry;
Harrico, barrico, whee, why, whoa, whack!'
"You're it, Cheschapah." After that the weapon was given its fresh coat of paint, and Cheschapah went away with his new miracle in the dark.
"He is it," mused Kinney, grave, but inwardly lively. He was one of those sincere artists who need no popular commendation. "And whoever he does catch, it won't be me," he concluded. He felt pretty sure there would be war now.
Dawn showed the summoned troops near the agency at the corral, standing to horse. Cheschapah gathered his hostiles along the brow of the ridge in the rear of the agency buildings, and the two forces watched each other across the intervening four hundred yards.
"There they are," said the agent, jumping about. "Shoot them, colonel; shoot them!"
"You can't do that, you know," said the officer, "without an order from the President, or an overt act from the Indians."
So nothing happened, and Cheschapah told his friends the white men were already afraid of him. He saw more troops arrive, water their horses in the river, form line outside the corral, and dismount. He made ready at this movement, and all Indian on-lookers scattered from the expected fight. Yet the white man stayed quiet. It was issue day, but no families remained after drawing their rations. They had had no dance the night before, as was usual, and they did not linger a moment now, but came and departed with their beef and flour at once.
"I have done all this," said Cheschapah to Two Whistles.
"Cheschapah is a great man," assented the friend and follower. He had gone at once to his hay-field on his return from the Piegans, but some one had broken the little Indian's fence, and cattle were wandering in what remained of his crop.
"Our nation knows I will make a war, and therefore they do not stay here," said the medicine-man, caring nothing what Two Whistles might have suffered. "And now they will see that the white soldiers dare not fight with Cheschapah. The sun is high now, but they have not moved because I have stopped them. Do you not see it is my medicine?"
"We see it." It was the voice of the people.
But a chief spoke. "Maybe they wait for us to come."
Cheschapah answered. "Their eyes shall be made sick. I will ride among them, but they will not know it." He galloped away alone, and lifted his red sword as he sped along the ridge of the hills, showing against the sky. Below at the corral the white soldiers waited ready, and heard him chanting his war song through the silence of the day. He turned in a long curve, and came in near the watching troops and through the agency, and then, made bolder by their motionless figures and guns held idle, he turned again and flew, singing, along close to the line, so they saw his eyes; and a few that had been talking low as they stood side by side fell silent at the spectacle. They could not shoot until some Indian should shoot. They watched him and the gray pony pass and return to the hostiles on the hill. Then they saw the hostiles melt away like magic.
Their prophet had told them to go to their tepees and wait for the great rain he would now bring. It was noon, and the sky utterly blue over the bright valley. The sun rode a space nearer the west, and the thick black clouds assembled in the mountains and descended; their shadow flooded the valley with a lake of slatish blue, and presently the sudden torrents sluiced down with flashes and the ample thunder of Montana. Thus not alone the law against our soldiers firing the first shot in an Indian excitement, but now also the elements coincided to help the medicine-man's destiny.
Cheschapah sat in a tepee with his father, and as the rain splashed heavily on the earth the old man gazed at the young one.
"Why do you tremble, my son? You have made the white soldier's heart soft," said Pounded Meat. "You are indeed a great man, my son."
Cheschapah rose. "Do not call me your son," said he. "That is a lie."
He went out into the fury of the rain, lifting his face against the drops, and exultingly calling out at each glare of the lightning. He went to Pretty Eagle's young squaw, who held off from him no longer, but got on a horse, and the two rode into the mountains. Before the sun had set, the sky was again utterly blue, and a cool scent rose everywhere in the shining valley.
The Crows came out of their tepees, and there were the white soldiers obeying orders and going away. They watched the column slowly move across the flat land below the bluffs, where the road led down the river twelve miles to the post.
"They are afraid," said new converts. "Cheschapah's rain has made their hearts soft."
"They have not all gone," said Pretty Eagle. "Maybe he did not make enough rain." But even Pretty Eagle began to be shaken, and he heard several of his brother chiefs during the next few days openly declare for the medicine-man. Cheschapah with his woman came from the mountains, and Pretty Eagle did not dare to harm him. Then another coincidence followed that was certainly most reassuring to the war party. Some of them had no meat, and told Cheschapah they were hungry. With consummate audacity he informed them he would give them plenty at once. On the same day another timely electric storm occurred up the river, and six steers were struck by lightning.
When the officers at Fort Custer heard of this they became serious.
"If this was not the nineteenth century," said Haines, "I should begin to think the elements were deliberately against us."
"It's very careless of the weather," said Sterling. "Very inconsiderate, at such a juncture."
Yet nothing more dangerous than red-tape happened for a while. There was an expensive quantity of investigation from Washington, and this gave the hostiles time to increase both in faith and numbers.
Among the excited Crows only a few wise old men held out. As for Cheschapah himself, ambition and success had brought him to the weird enthusiasm of a fanatic. He was still a charlatan, but a charlatan who believed utterly in his star. He moved among his people with growing mystery, and his hapless adjutant, Two Whistles, rode with him, slaved for him, abandoned the plans he had for making himself a farm, and, desiring peace in his heart, weakly cast his lot with war. Then one day there came an order from the agent to all the Indians: they were to come in by a certain fixed day. The department commander had assembled six hundred troops at the post, and these moved up the river and went into camp. The usually empty ridges, and the bottom where the road ran, filled with white and red men. Half a mile to the north of the buildings, on the first rise from the river, lay the cavalry, and some infantry above them with a howitzer, while across the level, three hundred yards opposite, along the river-bank, was the main Indian camp. Even the hostiles had obeyed the agent's order, and came in close to the troops, totally unlike hostiles in general; for Cheschapah had told them he would protect them with his medicine, and they shouted and sang all through this last night. The women joined with harsh cries and shriekings, and a scalp-dance went on, besides lesser commotions and gatherings, with the throbbing of drums everywhere. Through the sleepless din ran the barking of a hundred dogs, that herded and hurried in crowds of twenty at a time, meeting, crossing from fire to fire among the tepees. Their yelps rose to the high bench of land, summoning a horde of coyotes. These cringing nomads gathered from the desert in a tramp army, and, skulking down the bluffs, sat in their outer darkness and ceaselessly howled their long, shrill greeting to the dogs that sat in the circle of light. The general sent scouts to find the nature of the dance and hubbub, and these brought word it was peaceful; and in the morning another scout summoned the elder chiefs to a talk with the friend who had come from the Great Father at Washington to see them and find if their hearts were good.
"Our hearts are good," said Pretty Eagle. "We do not want war. If you want Cheschapah, we will drive him out from the Crows to you."
"There are other young chiefs with bad hearts," said the commissioner, naming the ringleaders that were known. He made a speech, but Pretty Eagle grew sullen. "It is well," said the commissioner; "you will not help me to make things smooth, and now I step aside and the war chief will talk."
"If you want any other chiefs," said Pretty Eagle, "come and take them."
"Pretty Eagle shall have an hour and a half to think on my words," said the general. "I have plenty of men behind me to make my words good. You must send me all those Indians who fired at the agency."
The Crow chiefs returned to the council, which was apart from the war party's camp; and Cheschapah walked in among them, and after him, slowly, old Pounded Meat, to learn how the conference had gone.
"You have made a long talk with the white man," said Cheschapah. "Talk is pretty good for old men. I and the young chiefs will fight now and kill our enemies."
"Cheschapah," said Pounded Meat, "if your medicine is good, it may be the young chiefs will kill our enemies to-day. But there are other days to come, and after them still others; there are many, many days. My son, the years are a long road. The life of one man is not long, but enough to learn this thing truly: the white man will always return. There was a day on this river when the dead soldiers of Yellow Hair lay in hills, and the squaws of the Sioux warriors climbed among them with their knives. What do the Sioux warriors do now when they meet the white man on this river? Their hearts are on the ground, and they go home like children when the white man says, 'You shall not visit your friends.' My son, I thought war was good once. I have kept you from the arrows of our enemies on many trails when you were so little that my blankets were enough for both. Your mother was not here anymore, and the chiefs laughed because I carried you. Oh, my son, I have seen the hearts of the Sioux broken by the white man, and I do not think war is good."
"The talk of Pounded Meat is very good," said Pretty Eagle. "If Cheschapah were wise like his father, this trouble would not have come to the Crows. But we could not give the white chief so many of our chiefs that he asked for to-day."
Cheschapah laughed. "Did he ask for so many? He wanted only Cheschapah, who is not wise like Pounded Meat."
"You would have been given to him," said Pretty Eagle.
"Did Pretty Eagle tell the white chief that? Did he say he would give Cheschapah? How would he give me? In one hand, or two? Or would the old warrior take me to the white man's camp on the horse his young squaw left?"
Pretty Eagle raised his rifle, and Pounded Meat, quick as a boy, seized the barrel and pointed it up among the poles of the tepee, where the quiet black fire smoke was oozing out into the air. "Have you lived so long," said Pounded Meat to his ancient comrade, "and do this in the council?" His wrinkled head and hands shook, the sudden strength left him, and the rifle fell free.
"Let Pretty Eagle shoot," said Cheschapah, looking at the council. He stood calm, and the seated chiefs turned their grim eyes upon him. Certainty was in his face, and doubt in theirs. "Let him send his bullet five times--ten times. Then I will go and let the white soldiers shoot at me until they all lie dead."
"It is heavy for me," began Pounded Meat, "that my friend should be the enemy of my son."
"Tell that lie no more," said Cheschapah. "You are not my father. I have made the white man blind, and I have softened his heart with the rain. I will call the rain to-day." He raised his red sword, and there was a movement among the sitting figures. "The clouds will come from my father's place, where I have talked with him as one chief to another. My mother went into the mountains to gather berries. She was young, and the thunder-maker saw her face. He brought the black clouds, so her feet turned from home, and she walked where the river goes into the great walls of the mountain, and that day she was stricken fruitful by the lightning. You are not the father of Cheschapah." He dealt Pounded Meat a blow, and the old man fell. But the council sat still until the sound of Cheschapah's galloping horse died away. They were ready now to risk everything. Their skepticism was conquered.
The medicine-man galloped to his camp of hostiles, and, seeing him, they yelled and quickly finished plaiting their horses' tails. Cheschapah had accomplished his wish; he had become the prophet of all the Crows, and he led the armies of the faithful. Each man stripped his blanket off and painted his body for the fight. The forms slipped in and out of the brush, buckling their cartridge-belts, bringing their ponies, while many families struck their tepees and moved up nearer the agency. The spare horses were run across the river into the hills, and through the yelling that shifted and swept like flames along the wind the hostiles made ready and gathered, their crowds quivering with motion, and changing place and shape as more mounted Indians appeared.
"Are the holes dug deep as I marked them on the earth?" said Cheschapah to Two Whistles. "That is good. We shall soon have to go into them from the great rain I will bring. Make these strong, to stay as we ride. They are good medicine, and with them the white soldiers will not see you any more than they saw me when I rode among them that day."
He had strips and capes of red flannel, and he and Two Whistles fastened them to their painted bodies.
"You will let me go with you?" said Two Whistles.
"You are my best friend," said Cheschapah, "and to-day I will take you. You shall see my great medicine when I make the white man's eyes grow sick."
The two rode forward, and one hundred and fifty followed them, bursting from their tepees like an explosion, and rushing along quickly in skirmish-line. Two Whistles rode beside his speeding prophet, and saw the red sword waving near his face, and the sun in the great still sky, and the swimming, fleeting earth. His superstition and the fierce ride put him in a sort of trance.
"The medicine is beginning!" shouted Cheschapah; and at that Two Whistles saw the day grow large with terrible shining, and heard his own voice calling and could not stop it. They left the hundred and fifty behind, he knew not where or when. He saw the line of troops ahead change to separate waiting shapes of men, and their legs and arms become plain; then all the guns took clear form in lines of steady glitter. He seemed suddenly alone far ahead of the band, but the voice of Cheschapah spoke close by his ear through the singing wind, and he repeated each word without understanding; he was watching the ground rush by, lest it might rise against his face, and all the while he felt his horse's motion under him, smooth and perpetual. Something weighed against his leg, and there was Cheschapah he had forgotten, always there at his side, veering him around somewhere. But there was no red sword waving. Then the white men must be blind already, wherever they were, and Cheschapah, the only thing he could see, sat leaning one hand on his horse's rump firing a pistol. The ground came swimming towards his eyes always, smooth and wide like a gray flood, but Two Whistles knew that Cheschapah would not let it sweep him away. He saw a horse without a rider floated out of blue smoke, and floated in again with a cracking noise; white soldiers moved in a row across his eyes, very small and clear, and broke into a blurred eddy of shapes which the flood swept away clean and empty. Then a dead white man came by on the quick flood. Two Whistles saw the yellow stripe on his sleeve; but he was gone, and there was nothing but sky and blaze, with Cheschapah's head-dress in the middle. The horse's even motion continued beneath him, when suddenly the head-dress fell out of Two Whistles' sight, and the earth returned. They were in brush, with his horse standing and breathing, and a dead horse on the ground with Cheschapah, and smoke and moving people everywhere outside. He saw Cheschapah run from the dead horse and jump on a gray pony and go. Somehow he was on the ground too, looking at a red sword lying beside his face. He stared at it a long while, then took it in his hand, still staring; all at once he rose and broke it savagely, and fell again. His faith was shivered to pieces like glass. But he got on his horse, and the horse moved away. He was looking at the blood running on his body. The horse moved always, and Two Whistles followed with his eye a little deeper gush of blood along a crease in his painted skin, noticed the flannel, and remembering the lie of his prophet, instantly began tearing the red rags from his body, and flinging them to the ground with cries of scorn. Presently he heard some voices, and soon one voice much nearer, and saw he had come to a new place, where there were white soldiers looking at him quietly. One was riding up and telling him to give up his pistol. Two Whistles got off and stood behind his horse, looking at the pistol. The white soldier came quite near, and at his voice Two Whistles moved slowly out from behind the horse, and listened to the cool words as the soldier repeated his command. The Indian was pointing his pistol uncertainly, and he looked at the soldier's coat and buttons, and the straps on the shoulders, and the bright steel saber, and the white man's blue eyes; then Two Whistles looked at his own naked, clotted body, and, turning the pistol against himself, fired it into his breast.
Far away up the river, on the right of the line, a lieutenant with two men was wading across after some hostiles that had been skirmishing with his troop. The hostiles had fallen back after some hot shooting, and had dispersed among the brush and tepees on the farther shore, picking up their dead, as Indians do. It was interesting work, this splashing breast-high through a river into a concealed hornets'-nest, and the lieutenant thought a little on his unfinished plans and duties in life; he noted one dead Indian left on the shore, and went steadfastly in among the half-seen tepees, rummaging and beating in the thick brush to be sure no hornets remained. Finding them gone, and their dead spirited away, he came back on the bank to the one dead Indian, who had a fine head-dress, and was still branded with gay red streamers of flannel, and was worth all the rest of the dead put together, and much more. The head lay in the water, and one hand held the rope of the gray pony, who stood quiet and uninterested over his fallen rider. They began carrying the prize across to the other bank, where many had now collected, among others Kinney and the lieutenant's captain, who subsequently said, "I found the body of Cheschapah;" and, indeed, it was a very good thing to be able to say.
"This busts the war," said Kinney to the captain, as the body was being lifted over the Little Horn. "They know he's killed, and they've all quit. I was up by the tepees near the agency just now, and I could see the hostiles jamming back home for dear life. They was chucking their rifles to the squaws, and jumping in the river--ha! ha!--to wash off their war-paint, and each ---- ---- would crawl out and sit innercint in the family blanket his squaw had ready. If you was to go there now, cap'n, you'd find just a lot of harmless Injuns eatin' supper like all the year round. Let me help you, boys, with that carcass."
Kinney gave a hand to the lieutenant and men of G troop, First United States Cavalry, and they lifted Cheschapah up the bank. In the tilted position of the body the cartridge-belt slid a little, and a lump of newspaper fell into the stream. Kinney watched it open and float away with a momentary effervescence. The dead medicine-man was laid between the white and red camps, that all might see he could be killed like other people; and this wholesome discovery brought the Crows to terms at once. Pretty Eagle had displayed a flag of truce, and now he surrendered the guilty chiefs whose hearts had been bad. Every one came where the dead prophet lay to get a look at him. For a space of hours Pretty Eagle and the many other Crows he had deceived rode by in single file, striking him with their whips; after them came a young squaw, and she also lashed the upturned face.
This night was untroubled at the agency, and both camps and the valley lay quiet in the peaceful dark. Only Pounded Meat, alone on the top of a hill, mourned for his son; and his wailing voice sounded through the silence until the new day came. Then the general had him stopped and brought in, for it might be that the old man's noise would unsettle the Crows again.
Ephraim, the proprietor of Twenty Mile, had wasted his day in burying a man. He did not know the man. He had found him, or what the Apaches had left of him, sprawled among some charred sticks just outside the Canon del Oro. It was a useful discovery in its way, for otherwise Ephraim might have gone on hunting his strayed horses near the canon, and ended among charred sticks himself. Very likely the Indians were far away by this time, but he returned to Twenty Mile with the man tied to his saddle, and his pony nervously snorting. And now the day was done, and the man lay in the earth, and they had even built a fence round him; for the hole was pretty shallow, and coyotes have a way of smelling this sort of thing a long way off when they are hungry, and the man was not in a coffin. They were always short of coffins in Arizona.
Day was done at Twenty Mile, and the customary activity prevailed inside that flat-roofed cube of mud. Sounds of singing, shooting, dancing, and Mexican tunes on the concertina came out of the windows hand in hand, to widen and die among the hills. A limber, pretty boy, who might be nineteen, was dancing energetically, while a grave old gentleman, with tobacco stains running down his white beard, pointed a pistol at the boy's heels, and shot a hole in the earth now and then to show that the weapon was really loaded.
Everybody was quite used to all of this--excepting the boy. He was an Eastern new-comer, passing his first evening at a place of entertainment. Night in and night out every guest at Twenty Mile was either happy and full of whiskey, or else his friends were making arrangements for his funeral. There was water at Twenty Mile--the only water for two score miles. Consequently it was an important station on the road between the southern country and Old Camp Grant, and the new mines north of the Mescal Range. The stunt, liquor-perfumed adobe cabin lay on the gray floor of the desert like an isolated slab of chocolate. A corral, two desolate stable-sheds, and the slowly turning windmill were all else.
Here Ephraim and one or two helpers abode, armed against Indians, and selling whiskey. Variety in their vocation of drinking and killing was brought them by the travelers. These passed and passed through the glaring vacant months--some days only one ragged fortune-hunter, riding a pony; again by twos and threes, with high-loaded burros; and sometimes they came in companies, walking beside their clanking freight-wagons. Some were young, and some were old, and all drank whiskey, and wore knives and guns to keep each other civil. Most of them were bound for the mines, and some of them sometimes returned. No man trusted the next man, and their names, when they had any, would be O'Rafferty, Angus, Schwartzmeyer, Jose Maria, and Smith. All stopped for one night; some longer, remaining drunk and profitable to Ephraim; now and then one stayed permanently, and had a fence built round him. Whoever came, and whatever befell them, Twenty Mile was chronically hilarious after sundown--a dot of riot in the dumb Arizona night.
On this particular evening they had a tenderfoot. The boy, being new in Arizona, still trusted his neighbor. Such people turned up occasionally. This one had paid for everybody's drink several times, because he felt friendly, and never noticed that nobody ever paid for his. They had played cards with him, stolen his spurs, and now they were making him dance. It was an ancient pastime; yet two or three were glad to stand round and watch it, because it was some time since they had been to the opera. Now the tenderfoot had misunderstood these friends at the beginning, supposing himself to be among good fellows, and they therefore naturally set him down as a fool. But even while dancing you may learn much, and suddenly. The boy, besides being limber, had good tough black hair, and it was not in fear, but with a cold blue eye, that he looked at the old gentleman. The trouble had been that his own revolver had somehow hitched, so he could not pull it from the holster at the necessary moment.
"Tried to draw on me, did yer?" said the old gentleman. "Step higher! Step, now, or I'll crack open yer kneepans, ye robin's egg."
"Thinks he's having a bad time," remarked Ephraim. "Wonder how he'd like to have been that man the Injuns had sport with?"
"Weren't his ear funny?" said one who had helped bury the man.
"Ear?" said Ephraim. "You boys ought to been along when I found him, and seen the way they'd fixed up his mouth." Ephraim explained the details simply, and the listeners shivered. But Ephraim was a humorist. "Wonder how it feels," he continued, "to have--"
Here the boy sickened at his comments and the loud laughter. Yet a few hours earlier these same half-drunken jesters had laid the man to rest with decent humanity. The boy was taking his first dose of Arizona. By no means was everybody looking at his jig. They had seen tenderfoot so often. There was a Mexican game of cards; there was the concertina; and over in the corner sat Specimen Jones, with his back to the company, singing to himself. Nothing had been said or done that entertained him in the least. He had seen everything quite often.
"Higher! skip higher, you elegant calf," remarked the old gentleman to the tenderfoot. "High-yer!" And he placidly fired a fourth shot that scraped the boy's boot at the ankle and threw earth over the clock, so that you could not tell the minute from the hour hand.
"'Drink to me only with thine eyes,'" sang Specimen Jones, softly.
They did not care much for his songs in Arizona. These lyrics were all, or nearly all, that he retained of the days when he was twenty, although he was but twenty-six now.
The boy was cutting pigeon-wings, the concertina played "Matamoras," Jones continued his lyric, when two Mexicans leaped at each other, and the concertina stopped with a quack.
"Quit it!" said Ephraim from behind the bar, covering the two with his double-barreled weapon. "I don't want any greasers scrapping round here to-night. We've just got cleaned up."
It had been cards, but the Mexicans made peace, to the regret of Specimen Jones. He had looked round with some hopes of a crisis, and now for the first time he noticed the boy.
"Blamed if he ain't neat," he said. But interest faded from his eye, and he turned again to the wall. "'Lieb Vaterland magst ruhig sein,'" ("Dear Fatherland, you want to be quiet") he melodiously observed. His repertory was wide and refined. When he sang he was always grammatical.
"Ye kin stop, kid," said the old gentleman, not unkindly, and he shoved his pistol into his belt.
The boy ceased. He had been thinking matters over. Being lithe and strong, he was not tired nor much out of breath, but he was trembling with the plan and the prospect he had laid out for himself. "Set 'em up," he said to Ephraim. "Set 'em up again all round."
His voice caused Specimen Jones to turn and look once more, while the old gentleman, still benevolent, said, "Yer langwidge means pleasanter than it sounds, kid." He glanced at the boy's holster, and knew he need not keep a very sharp watch as to that. Its owner had bungled over it once already. All the old gentleman did was to place himself next the boy on the off side from the holster; any move the tenderfoot's hand might make for it would be green and unskillful, and easily anticipated.
The company lined up along the bar, and the bottle slid from glass to glass. The boy and his tormentor stood together in the middle of the line, and the tormentor, always with half a thought for the holster, handled his drink on the wet counter, waiting till all should be filled and ready to swallow simultaneously, as befits good manners.
"Well, my regards," he said, seeing the boy raise his glass; and as the old gentleman's arm lifted in unison, exposing his waist, the boy reached down a lightning hand, caught the old gentleman's own pistol, and jammed it in his face.
"Now you'll dance," said he.
"Whoop!" exclaimed Specimen Jones, delighted. "_Blamed_ if he ain't neat!" And Jones's handsome face lighted keenly.
"Hold on!" the boy sang out, for the amazed old gentleman was mechanically drinking his whiskey out of sheer fright. The rest had forgotten their drinks. "Not one swallow," the boy continued. "No, you'll not put it down either. You'll keep hold of it, and you'll dance all round this place. Around and around. And don't you spill any. And I'll be thinking what you'll do after that."
Specimen Jones eyed the boy with growing esteem. "Why, he ain't bigger than a pint of cider," said he.
"Prance away!" commanded the tenderfoot, and fired a shot between the old gentleman's not widely straddled legs.
"You hev the floor, Mr. Adams," Jones observed, respectfully, at the old gentleman's agile leap. "I'll let no man here interrupt you." So the capering began, and the company stood back to make room. "I've saw juicy things in this Territory," continued Specimen Jones, aloud, to himself, "but this combination fills my bill."
He shook his head sagely, following the black-haired boy with his eye. That youth was steering Mr. Adams round the room with the pistol, proud as a ring-master. Yet not altogether. He was only nineteen, and though his heart beat stoutly, it was beating alone in a strange country. He had come straight to this from hunting squirrels along the Susquehanna, with his mother keeping supper warm for him in the stone farm-house among the trees. He had read books in which hardy heroes saw life, and always triumphed with precision on the last page, but he remembered no receipt for this particular situation. Being good game American blood, he did not think now about the Susquehanna, but he did long with all his might to know what he ought to do next to prove himself a man. His buoyant rage, being glutted with the old gentleman's fervent skipping, had cooled, and a stress of reaction was falling hard on his brave young nerves. He imagined everybody against him. He had no notion that there was another American wanderer there, whose reserved and whimsical nature he had touched to the heart.
The fickle audience was with him, of course, for the moment, since he was upper dog and it was a good show; but one in that room was distinctly against him. The old gentleman was dancing with an ugly eye; he had glanced down to see just where his knife hung at his side, and he had made some calculations. He had fired four shots; the boy had fired one. "Four and one hez always made five," the old gentleman told himself with much secret pleasure, and pretended that he was going to stop his double-shuffle. It was an excellent trap, and the boy fell straight into it. He squandered his last precious bullet on the spittoon near which Mr. Adams happened to be at the moment, and the next moment Mr. Adams had him by the throat. They swayed and gulped for breath, rutting the earth with sharp heels; they rolled to the floor and floundered with legs tight tangled, the boy blindly striking at Mr. Adams with the pistol-butt, and the audience drawing closer to lose nothing, when the bright knife flashed suddenly. It poised, and flew across the room, harmless, for a foot had driven into Mr. Adams's arm, and he felt a cold ring grooving his temple. It was the smooth, chilly muzzle of Specimen Jones's six-shooter.
"That's enough," said Jones. "More than enough."
Mr. Adams, being mature in judgment, rose instantly, like a good old sheep, and put his knife back obedient to orders. But in the brain of the over-strained, bewildered boy universal destruction was whirling. With a face stricken lean with ferocity, he staggered to his feet, plucking at his obstinate holster, and glaring for a foe. His eye fell first on his deliverer, leaning easily against the bar watching him, while the more and more curious audience scattered, and held themselves ready to murder the boy if he should point his pistol their way. He was dragging at it clumsily, and at last it came. Specimen Jones sprang like a cat, and held the barrel vertical and gripped the boy's wrist.
"Go easy, son," said he. "I know how you're feelin'."
The boy had been wrenching to get a shot at Jones, and now the quietness of the man's voice reached his brain, and he looked at Specimen Jones. He felt a potent brotherhood in the eyes that were considering him, and he began to fear he had been a fool. There was his dwarf Eastern revolver, slack in his inefficient fist, and the singular person still holding its barrel and tapping one derisive finger over the end, careless of the risk to his first joint.
"Why, you little ass hole," said Specimen Jones, caressingly, to the hypnotized youth, "if you was to pop that squirt off at me, I'd turn you up and spank y'u. Set 'em up, Ephraim."
But the commercial Ephraim hesitated, and Jones remembered. His last cent was gone. It was his third day at Ephraim's. He had stopped, having a little money, on his way to Tucson, where a friend had a job for him, and was waiting. He was far too experienced a character ever to sell his horse or his saddle on these occasions, and go on drinking. He looked as if he might, but he never did; and this was what disappointed business men like Ephraim in Specimen Jones.
But now, here was this tenderfoot he had undertaken to see through, and Ephraim reminding him that he had no more of the wherewithal. "Why, so I haven't," he said, with a short laugh, and his face flushed. "I guess," he continued, hastily, "this is worth a dollar or two." He drew a chain up from below his flannel shirt-collar and over his head. He drew it a little slowly. It had not been taken off for a number of years--not, indeed, since it had been placed there originally. "It ain't brass," he added, lightly, and strewed it along the counter without looking at it. Ephraim did look at it, and, being satisfied, began to uncork a new bottle, while the punctual audience came up for its drink.
"Won't you please let me treat?" said the boy, unsteadily. "I ain't likely to meet you again, sir." Reaction was giving him trouble inside.
"Where are you bound, kid?"
"Oh, just a ways up the country," answered the boy, keeping a grip on his voice.
"Well, you may get there. Where did you pick up that--that thing? Your pistol, I mean."
"It's a present from a friend," replied the tenderfoot, with dignity.
"Farewell gift, wasn't it, kid? Yes; I thought so. Now I'd hate to get an affair like that from a friend. It would start me wondering if he liked me as well as I'd always thought he did. Put up that money, kid. You're drinking with me. Say, what's yer name?"
"Well, J. Cumnor, I'm glad to know y'u. Ephraim, let me make you acquainted with Mr. Cumnor. Mr. Adams, if you're rested from your quadrille, you can shake hands with my friend. Step around, you Miguels and Serapios and Cristobals, whatever y'u claim your names are. This is Mr. J. Cumnor."
The Mexicans did not understand either the letter or the spirit of these American words, but they drank their drink, and the concertina resumed Its acrid melody. The boy had taken himself off without being noticed.
"Say, Spec," said Ephraim to Jones, "I'm no hog. Here's yer chain. You'll be along again."
"Keep it till I'm along again," said the owner.
"Just as you say, Spec," answered Ephraim, smoothly, and he hung the pledge over an outdated calendar of a nude cream-colored lady with bright straw hair holding out a bottle of somebody's champagne. Specimen Jones sang no more songs, but smoked, and leaned in silence on the bar. The company were talking of bed, and Ephraim plunged his glasses into a bucket to clean them for the morrow.
"Know anything about that kid?" inquired Jones, abruptly.
Ephraim shook his head as he washed.
"Traveling alone, ain't he?"
"Where did y'u say y'u found that fellow layin' the Injuns got?"
"Mile this side the canon. 'Mong them sand-humps."
"How long had he been there, do y'u figure?"
"Three days, anyway."
Jones watched Ephraim finish his cleansing. "Your clock needs wiping," he remarked. "A man might suppose it was nine, to see that thing the way the dirt hides the hands. Look again in half an hour and it'll say three. That's the kind of clock gives a man the jams. Sends him crazy."
"Well, that ain't a bad thing to be in this country," said Ephraim, rubbing the glass case and restoring identity to the hands. "If that man had been crazy he'd been livin' right now. Injuns'll never touch lunatics."
"That band have passed here and gone north," Jones said. "I saw a smoke among the foot-hills as I come along day before yesterday. I guess they're aiming to cross the Santa Catalina. Most likely they're that band from round the San Carlos that were reported as raiding down in Sonora."
"I seen well enough," said Ephraim, "when I found him that they wasn't going to trouble us any, or they'd have been around by then."
He was quite right, but Specimen Jones was thinking of something else. He went out to the corral, feeling disturbed and doubtful. He saw the tall white freight-wagon of the Mexicans, looming and silent, and a little way off the new fence where the man lay. An odd sound startled him, though he knew it was no Indians at this hour, and he looked down into a little dry ditch. It was the boy, hidden away flat on his stomach among the stones, sobbing.
"Oh, snakes!" whispered Specimen Jones, and stepped back. The Latin races embrace and weep, and all goes well; but among Saxons tears are a horrid event. Jones never knew what to do when it was a woman, but this was truly disgusting. He was well seasoned by the frontier, had tried a little of everything: town and country, ranches, saloons, stage-driving, marriage occasionally, and latterly mines. He had sundry claims staked out, and always carried pieces of stone in his pockets, discoursing upon their mineral-bearing capacity, which was apt to be very slight. That is why he was called Specimen Jones. He had exhausted all the important sensations, and did not care much for anything anymore. Perfect health and strength kept him from discovering that he was a saddened, drifting man. He wished to kick the boy for his baby performance, and yet he stepped carefully away from the ditch so the boy should not suspect his presence. He found himself standing still, looking at the dim, broken desert.
"Why, hell," complained Specimen Jones, "he played the little man to start with. He did so. He scared that old horse-thief, Adams, just about dead. Then he went to kill me, that kep' him from bein' buried early to-morrow. I've been wild that way myself, and wantin' to shoot up the whole outfit." Jones looked at the place where his middle finger used to be, before a certain evening in Tombstone. "But I never--" He glanced towards the ditch, perplexed. "What's that mean? Why in the world does he git to cryin' for _now_, do you suppose?" Jones took to singing without knowing it. "'Ye shepherds, tell me, ha-ve you seen my Flora pass this way?'" he murmured. Then a thought struck him. "Hello, kid!" he called out. There was no answer. "Of course," said Jones. "Now he's ashamed to hev me see him come out of there." He walked with elaborate slowness round the corral and behind a shed. "Hello, you kid!" he called again.
"I was thinking of going to sleep," said the boy, appearing quite suddenly. "I--I'm not used to riding all day. I'll get used to it, you know," he hastened to add.
"'Ha-ve you seen my Flo'--Say, kid, where y'u bound, anyway?"
"San Carlos? Oh. Ah. 'Flora pass this way?'"
"Is it far, sir?"
"Awful far, sometimes. It's always liable to be far through the Arivaypa Canon."
"I didn't expect to make it between meals," remarked Cumnor.
"No. Sure. What made you come this route?"
"A man told me."
"A man? Oh. Well, it _is_ kind o' difficult, I admit, for an Arizonan not to lie to a stranger. But I think I'd have told you to go by Tres Alamos and Point of Mountain. It's the road the man that told you would choose himself every time. Do you like Injuns, kid?"
Cumnor snapped eagerly.
"Of course y'u do. And you've never saw one in the whole
minute-and-a-half you've been alive. I know all about it."
"I'm not afraid," said the boy.
"Not afraid? Of course y'u ain't. What's your idea in going to Carlos? Got town lots there?"
"No," said the literal youth, to the huge internal diversion of Jones. "There's a man there I used to know back home. He's in the cavalry. What sort of a town is it for sport?" asked Cumnor, in a gay Lothario tone.
"_Town_?" Specimen Jones caught hold of the top rail of the corral. "_Sport?_ Now I'll tell y'u what sort of a town it is. There ain't no streets. There ain't no houses. There ain't any land and water in the usual meaning of them words. There's Mount Turnbull. It's pretty near a usual mountain, but y'u don't want to go there. The Creator didn't make San Carlos. It's a heap older than Him. When He got around to it after slickin' up Paradise and them fruit-trees, He just left it to be as He found it, as a sample of the way they done business before He come along. He 'ain't done any work around that spot at all, He 'ain't. Mix up a barrel of sand and ashes and thorns, and jam scorpions and rattlesnakes along in, and dump the outfit on stones, and heat yer stones red-hot, and set the United States army loose over the place chasin' Apaches, and you've got San Carlos."
Cumnor was silent for a moment. "I don't care," he said. "I want to chase Apaches."
"Did you see that man Ephraim found by the canon?" Jones inquired.
"Didn't get here in time."
"Well, there was a hole in his chest made by an arrow. But there's no harm in that if you die at wunst. That chap didn't, y'u see. You heard Ephraim tell about it. They'd done a number of things to the man before he could die. Roastin' was only one of 'em. Now your road takes you through the mountains where these Injuns hev gone. Kid, come along to Tucson with me," urged Jones, suddenly.
Again Cumnor was silent. "Is my road different from other people's?" he said, finally.
"Not to Grant, it ain't. These Mexicans are hauling freight to Grant. But what's the matter with your coming to Tucson with me?"
"I started to go to San Carlos, and I'm going," said Cumnor.
"You're a poor chuckle-headed fool!" burst out Jones, in a rage. "And y'u can go, for all I care--you and your Christmas-tree pistol. Like as not you won't find your cavalry friend at San Carlos. They've killed a lot of them soldiers huntin' Injuns this season. Good-night."
Specimen Jones was gone. Cumnor walked to his blanket-roll, where his saddle was slung under the shed. The various doings of the evening had bruised his nerves. He spread his blankets among the dry cattle-dung, and sat down, taking off a few clothes slowly. He lumped his coat and overalls under his head for a pillow, and, putting the despised pistol alongside, lay between the blankets. No object showed in the night but the tall freight-wagon. The tenderfoot thought he had made altogether a fool of himself upon the first trial trip of his manhood, alone on the open sea of Arizona. No man, not even Jones now, was his friend. A stranger, who could have had nothing against him but his inexperience, had taken the trouble to direct him on the wrong road. He did not mind definite enemies. He had punched the heads of those in Pennsylvania, and would not object to shooting them here; but this impersonal, surrounding hostility of the unknown was new and bitter: the cruel, assassinating, cowardly Southwest, where prospered those jail-birds whom the vigilantes had driven from California. He thought of the nameless human carcass that lay near, buried that day, and of the jokes about its mutilations. Cumnor was not an innocent boy, either in principles or in practice, but this laughter about a dead body had burned into his young, unhardened soul. He lay watching with hot, dogged eyes the brilliant stars. A passing wind turned the windmill, which creaked a forlorn minute, and ceased. He must have gone to sleep and slept soundly, for the next he knew it was the cold air of dawn that made him open his eyes. A numb silence lay over all things, and the tenderfoot had that moment of curiosity as to where he was now which comes to those who have journeyed for many days. The Mexicans had already departed with their freight-wagon. It was not entirely light, and the embers where these early starters had cooked their breakfast lay glowing in the sand across the road. The boy remembered seeing a wagon where now he saw only chill, distant peaks, and while he lay quiet and warm, shunning full consciousness, there was a stir in the cabin, and at Ephraim's voice reality broke upon his drowsiness, and he recollected Arizona and the keen stress of shifting for himself. He noted the gray paling round the grave. Indians? He would catch up with the Mexicans, and travel in their company to Grant. Freighters made but fifteen miles in the day, and he could start after breakfast and be with them before they stopped to noon. Six men need not worry about Apaches, Cumnor thought. The voice of Specimen Jones came from the cabin, and sounds of lighting the stove, and the growling conversation of men getting up. Cumnor, lying in his blankets, tried to overhear what Jones was saying, for no better reason than that this was the only man he had met lately who had seemed to care whether he were alive or dead. There was the clink of Ephraim's whiskey-bottles, and the cheerful tones of old Mr. Adams, saying, "It's better 'n brushin' yer teeth"; and then further clinking, and an inquiry from Specimen Jones.
"Whose spurs?" said he.
"Mine." This from Mr. Adams.
"How long have they been yourn?"
"Since I got 'em, I guess."
"Well, you've enjoyed them spurs long enough." The voice of Specimen Jones now altered in quality. "And you'll give 'em back to that kid."
Muttering followed that the boy could not catch. "You'll give 'em back," repeated Jones. "I seen y'u lift 'em from under that chair when I was in the corner."
"That's straight, Mr. Adams," said Ephraim. "I noticed it myself, though I had no objections, of course. But Mr. Jones has pointed out--"
"Since when have you growed so honest, Jones?" cackled Mr. Adams, seeing that he must lose his little booty. "And why didn't you raise yer objections when you seen me do it?"
"I didn't know the kid," Jones explained. "And if it don't strike you that game blood deserves respect, why it does strike me."
Hearing this, the tenderfoot, outside in his shed, thought better of mankind and life in general, arose from his nest, and began preening himself. He had all the correct trappings for the frontier, and his toilet in the shed gave him pleasure. The sun came up, and with a stroke struck the world to crystal. The near sand-hills went into rose, the crabbed yucca and the mesquite turned transparent, with lances and pale films of green, like drapery graciously veiling the desert's face, and distant violet peaks and edges framed the vast enchantment beneath the liquid exhalations of the sky. The smell of bacon and coffee from open windows filled the heart with bravery and yearning, and Ephraim, putting his head round the corner, called to Cumnor that he had better come in and eat. Jones, already at table, gave him the briefest nod; but the spurs were there, replaced as Cumnor had left them under a chair in the corner. In Arizona they do not say much at any meal, and at breakfast nothing at all; and as Cumnor swallowed and meditated, he noticed the cream-colored lady and the chain, and he made up his mind he should assert his identity with regard to that business, though how and when was not clear to him. He was in no great haste to take up his journey. The society of the Mexicans whom he must sooner or later overtake did not tempt him. When breakfast was done he idled in the cabin, like the other guests, while Ephraim and his assistant busied about the premises. But the morning grew on, and the guests, after a season of smoking and tilted silence against the wall, shook themselves and their effects together, saddled, and were lost among the waste thorny hills. Twenty Mile became hot and torpid. Jones lay on three consecutive chairs, occasionally singing, and old Mr. Adams had not gone away either, but watched him, with more tobacco running down his beard.
"Well," said Cumnor, "I'll be going."
"Nobody's stopping y'u," remarked Jones.
"You're going to Tucson?" the boy said, with the chain problem still unsolved in his mind. "Good-bye, Mr. Jones. I hope I'll--we'll--"
"That'll do," said Jones; and the tenderfoot, thrown back by this severity, went to get his saddle-horse and his burro.
Presently Jones remarked to Mr. Adams that he wondered what Ephraim was doing, and went out. The old gentleman was left alone in the room, and he swiftly noticed that the belt and pistol of Specimen Jones were left alone with him. The accouterments lay by the chair its owner had been lounging in. It is an easy thing to remove cartridges from the chambers of a revolver, and replace the weapon in its holster so that everything looks quite natural. The old gentleman was entertained with the notion that somewhere in Tucson Specimen Jones might have a surprise, and he did not take a minute to prepare this, drop the belt as it lay before, and saunter innocently out of the saloon. Ephraim and Jones were criticising the tenderfoot's property as he packed his burro.
"Do y'u make it a rule to travel with ice-cream?" Jones was inquiring.
"They're for water," Cumnor said. "They told me at Tucson I'd need to carry water for three days on some trails."
It was two good-sized milk-cans that he had, and they bounced about on the little burro's pack, giving him as much amazement as a jackass can feel. Jones and Ephraim were hilarious.
"Don't go without your spurs, Mr. Cumnor," said the voice of old Mr. Adams, as he approached the group. His tone was particularly civil.
The tenderfoot had, indeed, forgotten his spurs, and he ran back to get them. The cream-colored lady still had the chain hanging upon her, and Cumnor's problem was suddenly solved. He put the chain in his pocket, and laid the price of one round of drinks for last night's company on the shelf below the chromo. He returned with his spurs on, and went to his saddle that lay beside that of Specimen Jones under the shed. After a moment he came with his saddle to where the men stood talking by his pony, slung it on, and tightened the cinches; but the chain was now in the saddle-bag of Specimen Jones, mixed up with some tobacco, stale bread, a box of matches, and a hunk of fat bacon. The men at Twenty Mile said good-day to the tenderfoot, with monosyllables and indifference, and watched him depart into the heated desert. Wishing for a last look at Jones, he turned once, and saw the three standing, and the chocolate brick of the cabin, and the windmill white and idle in the sun.
"He'll be gutted by night," remarked Mr. Adams.
"I ain't buryin' him, then," said Ephraim.
"Nor I," said Specimen Jones. "Well, it's time I was getting to Tucson."
He went to the saloon, strapped on his pistol, saddled, and rode away. Ephraim and Mr. Adams returned to the cabin; and here is the final conclusion they came to after three hours of discussion as to who took the chain and who had it just then:
_Ephraim._ Jones, he hadn't no cash.
_Mr. Adams._ The kid, he hadn't no sense.
_Ephraim._ The kid, he lent the cash to Jones.
_Mr. Adams._ Jones, he goes off with his chain.
_Both._ What damn fools everybody is, anyway!
And they went to dinner. But Mr. Adams did not mention his relations with Jones's pistol. Let it be said, in extenuation of that performance, that Mr. Adams supposed Jones was going to Tucson, where he said he was going, and where a job and a salary were awaiting him. In Tucson an unloaded pistol in the holster of so handy a man on the drop as was Specimen would keep people civil, because they would not know, any more than the owner, that it was unloaded; and the mere possession of it would be sufficient in nine chances out of ten--though it was undoubtedly for the tenth that Mr. Adams had a sneaking hope. But Specimen Jones was not going to Tucson. A contention in his mind as to whether he would do what was good for himself, or what was good for another, had kept him sullen ever since he got up. Now it was settled, and Jones in serene humor again. Of course he had started on the Tucson road, for the benefit of Ephraim and Mr. Adams.
The tenderfoot rode along. The Arizona sun beat down upon the deadly silence, and the world was no longer of crystal, but a mesa, dull and gray and hot. The pony's hoofs grated in the gravel, and after a time the road dived down and up among lumpy hills of stone and cactus, always nearer the fierce glaring Sierra Santa Catalina. It dipped so abruptly in and out of the shallow sudden ravines that, on coming up from one of these into sight of the country again, the tenderfoot's heart jumped at the close apparition of another rider quickly bearing in upon him from gullies where he had been moving unseen. But it was only Specimen Jones.
"Hello!" said he, joining Cumnor. "Hot, ain't it?"
"Where are you going?" inquired Cumnor.
"Up here a ways." And Jones jerked his finger generally towards the Sierra, where they were heading.
"Thought you had a job in Tucson."
"That's what I have."
Specimen Jones had no more to say, and they rode for a while, their ponies' hoofs always grating in the gravel, and the milk-cans lightly clanking on the burro's pack. The bunched blades of the yuccas bristled steel-stiff, and as far as you could see it was a gray waste of mounds and ridges sharp and blunt, up to the forbidding boundary walls of the Tortilita one way and the Santa Catalina the other. Cumnor wondered if Jones had found the chain. Jones was capable of not finding it for several weeks, or of finding it at once and saying nothing.
"You'll excuse my meddling with your business?" the boy hazarded.
Jones looked inquiring.
"Something's wrong with your saddle-pocket."
Specimen saw nothing apparently wrong with it, but perceiving Cumnor was grinning, unbuckled the pouch. He looked at the boy rapidly, and looked away again, and as he rode, still in silence, he put the chain back round his neck below the flannel shirt-collar.
"Say, kid," he remarked, after some time, "what does J stand for?"
"J? Oh, my name! Jock."
"Well, Jock, will y'u explain to me as a friend how y'u ever come to be such a fool as to leave yer home--wherever and whatever it was--in exchange for this here God-forsaken and iniquitous hole?"
"If you'll explain to me," said the boy, greatly heartened, "how you come to be ridin' in the company of a fool, instead of goin' to your job at Tucson."
The explanation was furnished before Specimen Jones had framed his reply. A burning freight-wagon and five dismembered human stumps lay in the road. This was what had happened to the Miguels and Serapios and the concertina. Jones and Cumnor, in their dodging and struggles to exclude all expressions of growing mutual esteem from their speech, had forgotten their journey, and a sudden bend among the rocks where the road had now brought them revealed the blood and fire staring them in the face. The plundered wagon was three parts empty; its splintered, blazing boards slid down as they burned into the fiery heap on the ground; packages of soda and groceries and medicines slid with them, bursting into chemical spots of green and crimson flame; a wheel crushed in and sank, spilling more packages that flickered and hissed; the garbage of combat and murder littered the earth, and in the air hung an odor that Cumnor knew, though he had never smelled it before. Morsels of dropped booty up among the rocks showed where the Indians had gone, and one horse remained, groaning, with an accidental arrow in his belly.
"We'll just kill him," said Jones; and his pistol snapped idly, and snapped again, as his eye caught a motion--a something--two hundred yards up among the bowlders on the hill. He whirled round. The enemy was behind them also. There was no retreat. "Yourn's no good!" yelled Jones, fiercely, for Cumnor was getting out his little, foolish revolver. "Oh, what a trick to play on a man! Drop off yer horse, kid; drop, and do like me. Shootin's no good here, even if I was loaded. _They_ shot, and look at them now. God bless them ice-cream freezers of yourn, kid! Did y'u ever see a crazy man? If you 'ain't, _make it up as y'u go along_!"
More objects moved up among the bowlders. Specimen Jones ripped off the burro's pack, and the milk-cans rolled on the ground. The burro began grazing quietly, with now and then a step towards new patches of grass. The horses stood where their riders had left them, their reins over their heads, hanging and dragging. From two hundred yards on the hill the ambushed Apaches showed, their dark, scattered figures appearing cautiously one by one, watching with suspicion. Specimen Jones seized up one milk-can, and Cumnor obediently did the same.
"You kin dance, kid, and I kin sing, and we'll go to it," said Jones. He rambled in a wavering loop, and diving eccentrically at Cumnor, clashed the milk-cans together. "'Es schallt ein Ruf wie Donnerhall,'" he bawled, beginning the song of "Die Wacht am Rhein." "Why don't you dance?" he shouted, sternly. The boy saw the terrible earnestness of his face, and, clashing his milk-cans in turn, he shuffled a sort of jig.
The two went over the sand in loops, toe and heel; the donkey continued his quiet grazing, and the flames rose hot and yellow from the freight-wagon. And all the while the stately German hymn pealed among the rocks, and the Apaches crept down nearer the bowing, scraping men.
The sun shone bright, and their bodies poured with sweat. Jones flung off his shirt; his damp, matted hair was half in ridges and half glued to his forehead, and the delicate gold chain swung and struck his broad, naked breast. The Apaches drew nearer again, their bows and arrows held uncertainly. They came down the hill, fifteen or twenty, taking a long time, and stopping every few yards. The milk-cans clashed, and Jones thought he felt the boy's strokes weakening. "Die Wacht am Rhein" was finished, and now it was "'Ha-ve you seen my Flora pass this way?'"
"Y'u mustn't play out, kid," said Jones, very gently. "Indeed y'u mustn't;" and he at once resumed his song. The silent Apaches had now reached the bottom of the hill. They stood some twenty yards away, and Cumnor had a good chance to see his first Indians. He saw them move, and the color and slim shape of their bodies, their thin arms, and their long, black hair. It went through his mind that if he had no more clothes on than that, dancing would come easier. His boots were growing heavy to lift, and his overalls seemed to wrap his sinews in wet, strangling thongs. He wondered how long he had been keeping this up. The legs of the Apaches were free, with light moccasins only half-way to the thigh, slenderly held up by strings from the waist. Cumnor envied their unencumbered steps as he saw them again walk nearer to where he was dancing. It was long since he had eaten, and he noticed a singing dulness in his brain, and became frightened at his thoughts, which were running and melting into one fixed idea. This idea was to take off his boots, and offer to trade them for a pair of moccasins. It terrified him--this endless, molten rush of thoughts; he could see them coming in different shapes from different places in his head, but they all joined immediately, and always formed the same fixed idea. He ground his teeth to master this encroaching inebriation of his will and judgment. He clashed his can more loudly to wake him to reality, which he still could recognize and appreciate. For a time he found it a good plan to listen to what Specimen Jones was singing, and tell himself the name of the song, if he knew it. At present it was "Yankee Doodle," to which Jones was fitting words of his own. These ran, "Now I'm going to try a bluff. And mind you do what I do"; and then again, over and over. Cumnor waited for the word "bluff"; for it was hard and heavy, and fell into his thoughts, and stopped them for a moment. The dance was so long now he had forgotten about that. A numbness had been spreading through his legs, and he was glad to feel a sharp pain in the sole of his foot. It was a piece of gravel that had somehow worked its way in, and was rubbing through the skin into the flesh. "That's good," he said, aloud. The pebble was eating the numbness away, and Cumnor drove it hard against the raw spot, and relished the tonic of its burning friction.
The Apaches had drawn into a circle. Standing at some interval apart, they entirely surrounded the arena. Shrewd, half convinced, and yet with awe, they watched the dancers, who clashed their cans slowly now in rhythm to Jones's hoarse, parched singing. He was quite master of himself, and led the jig round the still blazing wreck of the wagon, and circled in figures of eight between the corpses of the Mexicans, clashing the milk-cans above each one. Then, knowing his strength was coming to an end, he approached an Indian whose splendid fillet and trappings denoted him of consequence; and Jones was near shouting with relief when the Indian shrank backward. Suddenly he saw Cumnor let his can drop, and without stopping to see why, he caught it up, and, slowly rattling both, approached each Indian in turn with tortuous steps. The circle that had never uttered a sound till now receded, chanting almost in a whisper some exorcising song which the man with the fillet had begun. They gathered round him, retreating always, and the strain, with its rapid muttered words, rose and fell softly among them. Jones had supposed the boy was overcome by faintness, and looked to see where he lay. But it was not faintness. Cumnor, with his boots off, came by and walked after the Indians in a trance. They saw him, and quickened their pace, often turning to be sure he was not overtaking them. He called to them unintelligibly, stumbling up the sharp hill, and pointing to the boots. Finally he sat down. They continued ascending the mountain, herding close round the man with the feathers, until the rocks and the filmy tangles screened them from sight; and like a wind that hums uncertainly in grass, their chanting died away.
The sun was half behind the western range when Jones next moved. He called, and, getting no answer, he crawled painfully to where the boy lay on the hill. Cumnor was sleeping heavily; his head was hot, and he moaned. So Jones crawled down, and fetched blankets and the canteen of water. He spread the blankets over the boy, wet a handkerchief and laid it on his forehead; then he lay down himself.
The earth was again magically smitten to crystal. Again the sharp cactus and the sand turned beautiful, and violet floated among the mountains, and rose-colored orange in the sky above them.
"Jock," said Specimen at length.
The boy opened his eyes.
"Your foot is awful, Jock. Can y'u eat?"
"Not with my foot."
"Ah, God bless y'u, Jock! Y'u ain't turruble sick. But _can_ y'u eat?"
Cumnor shook his head.
"Eatin's what y'u need, though. Well, here." Specimen poured a judicious mixture of whiskey and water down the boy's throat, and wrapped the awful foot in his own flannel shirt. "They'll fix y'u over to Grant. It's maybe twelve miles through the cannon. It ain't a town any more than Carlos is, but the soldiers'll be good to us. As soon as night comes you and me must somehow git out of this."
Somehow they did, Jones walking and leading his horse and the imperturbable little burro, and also holding Cumnor in the saddle. And when Cumnor was getting well in the military hospital at Grant, he listened to Jones recounting to all that chose to hear how useful a weapon an ice-cream freezer can be, and how if you'll only chase Apaches in your stocking feet they are sure to run away. And then Jones and Cumnor both enlisted; and I suppose Jones's friend is still expecting him in Tucson.
Unskilled at murder and without training in running away, one of the two Healy boys had been caught with ease soon after their crime. What they had done may be best learned in the following extract from a certain official report:
"The stage was within five miles of its destination when it was confronted by the usual apparition of a masked man levelling a double-barrelled shot-gun at the driver, and the order to 'Pull up, and throw out the express box.' The driver promptly complied. Meanwhile the guard, Buck Montgomery, who occupied a seat inside, from which he caught a glimpse of what was going on, opened fire at the robber, who dropped to his knees at the first shot, but a moment later discharged both barrels of his gun at the stage.
The driver dropped from his seat to the foot-board with five buckshot in his right leg near the knee, and two in his left leg; a passenger by his side also dropped with three or four buckshot in his legs. Before the guard could reload, two shots came from behind the bushes back of the exposed robber, and Buck fell to the bottom of the stage mortally wounded--shot through the back. The whole murderous sally occupied but a few seconds, and the order came to 'Drive on.' Officers and citizens quickly started in pursuit, and the next day one of the robbers, a well-known young man of that vicinity, son of a respectable farmer in Fresno County, was overtaken and arrested."
Feeling had run high in the streets of Siskiyou when the prisoner was brought into town, and the wretch's life had come near a violent end at the hands of the mob, for Buck Montgomery had many friends. But the steadier citizens preserved the peace, and the murderer was in the prison awaiting his trial by formal law. It was now some weeks since the tragedy, and Judge Campbell sat at breakfast reading his paper.
"Why, that is excellent!" he suddenly exclaimed.
"May I ask what is excellent, judge?" inquired his wife. She had a big nose, and even bigger ears."
"They've caught the other one, Amanda. Got him last evening in a restaurant at Woodland." The judge read the paragraph to Mrs. Campbell, who listened severely. "And so," he concluded, "when to-night's train gets up, we'll have them both safe in jail."
Mrs. Campbell dallied over her eggs, shaking her head. Presently she sighed. But as Amanda often did this, her husband finished his own eggs and took some more. "Poor boy!" said the lady, pensively. "Only twenty-three last 12th of October. What a cruel fate!"
Now the judge supposed she referred to the murdered man. "Yes," he said. "Vile. You've got him romantically young, my dear. I understood he was thirty-five."
"I know his age perfectly, Judge Campbell. I made it my business to find out. And to think his brother might actually have been lynched!"
"I never knew that either. You seem to have found out all about the family, Amanda. What were they going to lynch the brother for?"
The ample lady folded her fat, middle-aged hands on the edge of the table, and eyed her husband with bland displeasure. "Judge Campbell!" she uttered, and her lips shut wide and firm. She would restrain herself, if possible.
"Well, my dear?"
"You ask me that. You pretend ignorance of that disgraceful scene. Who was it said to me right in the street that he disapproved of lynching? I ask you, judge, who was it right there at the jail--"
"Oh!" said the enlightened judge.
"--Right at the left-hand side of the door of the jail in this town of Siskiyou, who was it got that trembling boy safe inside from those yelling fiends and talked to the crowd on a barrel of number ten nails, and made those wicked men stop and go home?"
"Amanda, I believe I recognize myself."
"I should think you did, Judge Campbell. And now they've caught the other one, and he'll be up with the sheriff on to-night's train, and I suppose they'll lynch _him_ now!"
"There's not the slightest danger," said the judge. "The town wants them to have a fair trial. It was natural that immediately after such an atrocious act--"
"Those poor boys had never murdered anybody before in their lives," interrupted Amanda.
"But they did murder Montgomery, you will admit."
"Oh yes!" said Mrs. Campbell, with impatience. "I saw the hole in his back. You needn't tell me all that again. If he'd thrown out the express box quicker they wouldn't have hurt a hair of his head. Wells, Fargo's messengers know that perfectly. It was his own fault. Those boys had no employment, and they only wanted money. They did not seek human blood, and you needn't tell me they did."
"They shed it, however, Amanda. Quite a lot of it. Stage-driver and a passenger too."
"Yes, you keep going back to that as if they'd all been murdered instead of only one, and you don't care about those two poor boys locked in a dungeon, and their gray-haired father down in Fresno County who never did anything wrong at all, and he sixty-one in December."
"The county isn't thinking of hanging the old gentleman," said the judge.
"That will do, Judge Campbell," said his lady, rising. "I shall say no more. Total silence for the present is best for you and best for me. Much best. I will leave you to think of your speech, which was by no means silver. Not even life with you for twenty-five years this coming 10th of July has inured me to insult. I am capable of understanding whom they think of hanging, and your speaking to me as if I did not does you little credit; for it was a mere refuge from a woman's just accusation of heartlessness which you felt, and like a man would not acknowledge; and therefore it is that I say no more but leave you to go down the street to the Ladies' Lyceum where I shall find companions with some spark of humanity in their bosoms and milk of human kindness for those whose hasty youth has plunged them in misery and delivered them to the hands of those who treat them as if they were stones and sticks full of nothing but monstrosity instead of breathing men like themselves to be shielded by brotherhood and hope and not dashed down by cruelty and despair."
It had begun stately as a dome, with symmetry and punctuation, but the climax was untrammeled by a single comma. The orator swept from the room, put on her bonnet and shawl, and the judge, still sitting with his eggs, heard the front door close behind her. She was president of the Ladies' Reform and Literary Lyceum, and she now trod thitherward through Siskiyou.
"I think Amanda will find companions there," mused the judge. "But her notions of sympathy beat me." The judge had a small, wise blue eye, and he liked his wife more than well. She was sincerely good, and had been very courageous in their young days of poverty. She loved their son, and she loved him. Only, when she took to talking, he turned up a mental coat-collar and waited. But if the male sex did not appreciate her powers of eloquence her sister citizens did; and Mrs. Campbell, besides presiding at the Ladies' Reform and Literary Lyceum in Siskiyou, often addressed female meetings in Ashland, Yreka, and even as far away as Tehama and Redding. She found companions this morning.
"To think of it!" they exclaimed, at her news of the capture, for none had read the paper. They had been too busy talking of the next debate, which was upon the question, "Ought we to pray for rain?" But now they instantly forgot the wide spiritual issues raised by this inquiry, and plunged into the fascinations of crime, reciting once more to each other the details of the recent tragedy. The room hired for the Lyceum was in a second story above the apothecary and book shop--a combined enterprise in Siskiyou--and was furnished with fourteen rocking-chairs. Pictures of Mount Shasta and Lucretia Mott ornamented the wall, with a photograph from an old master representing Leda and the Swan. This typified the Lyceum's approval of Art, and had been presented by one of the husbands upon returning from a three days' business trip to San Francisco.
"Dear! dear!" said Mrs. Parsons, after they had all shuddered anew over the shooting and the blood. "With so much suffering in the world, how fulsome seems that gay music!" She referred to the Siskiyou brass-band, which was rehearsing the march from "Fatinitza" in an adjacent room in the building. Mrs. Parsons had large, mournful eyes, a poetic vocabulary, and wanted to be president of the Lyceum herself.
"Melody has its sphere, Gertrude," said Mrs. Campbell, in a wholesome voice. "We must not be morbid. But this I say to you, one and all: Since the men of Siskiyou refuse, it is for the women to vindicate the town's humanity, and show some sympathy for the captive who arrives to-night."
They all thought so too.
"I do not criticise," continued their president, magnanimously, "nor do I complain of any one. Each in this world has his or her mission, and the most sacred is Woman's own--to console!"
"True, true!" murmured Mrs. Slocum.
"We must do something for the prisoner, to show him we do not desert him in his hour of need," Mrs. Campbell continued.
"We'll go and meet the train!" Mrs. Slocum exclaimed, eagerly. "I've never seen a real murderer."
"A bunch of flowers for him," said Mrs. Parsons, closing her mournful eyes. "Roses." And she smiled faintly.
"Oh, lilies!" cried little Mrs. Day, with rapture. "Lilies would look _real_ nice."
"Don't you think," said Miss Sissons, who had not spoken before, and sat a little apart from the close-drawn clump of talkers, "that we might send the widow some flowers too, some time?" Miss Sissons was a pretty girl, with neat hair. She was engaged to the captain of Siskiyou's baseball nine.
"The widow?" Mrs. Campbell looked vague.
"Mrs. Montgomery, I mean--the murdered man's wife. I--I went to see if I could do anything, for she has some children; but she wouldn't see me," said Miss Sissons. "She said she couldn't talk to anybody."
"Poor thing!" said Mrs. Campbell. "I dare say it was a dreadful shock to her. Yes, dear, we'll attend to her after a while. We'll have her with us right along, you know, whereas these unhappy boys may--may be--may soon meet a cruel death on the scaffold." Mrs. Campbell evaded the phrase "may be hanged" rather skilfully. To her trained oratorical sense it had seemed to lack dignity.
"So young!" said Mrs. Day.
"And both so full of promise, to be cut off!" said Mrs. Parsons.
"Why, they can't hang them both, I should think," said Miss Sissons. "I thought only one killed Mr. Montgomery."
"My dear Louise," said Mrs. Campbell, "they can do anything they want, and they will. Shall I ever forget those ruffians who wanted to lynch the first one? They'll be on the jury!"
The clump returned to their discussion of the flowers, and Miss Sissons presently mentioned she had some errands to do, and departed.
"Would that that girl had more soul!" said Mrs. Parsons.
"She has plenty of soul," replied Mrs. Campbell, "but she's under the influence of a man. Well, as I was saying, roses and lilies are too big."
"Oh, _why_?" said Mrs. Day. "They would _please_ him so."
"He couldn't carry them, Mrs. Day. I've thought it all out. He'll be walked to the jail between strong men. We must have some small boukay to pin on his coat, for his hands will be shackled."
"You don't say!" cried Mrs. Slocum. "How awful! I must get to that train. I've never seen a man in shackles in my life."
So violets were selected; Mrs. Campbell brought some in the afternoon from her own borders, and Mrs. Parsons furnished a large pin. She claimed also the right to affix the decoration upon the prisoner's breast because she had suggested the idea of flowers; but the other ladies protested, and the president seemed to think that they all should draw lots. It fell to Mrs. Day.
"Now I declare!" twittered the little matron. "I do believe I'll never dare."
"You must say something to him," said Amanda; "something fitting and choice."
"Oh dear no, Mrs. Campbell. Why, I never--my gracious! Why, if I'd known I was expected--Really, I couldn't think--I'll let _you_ do it!"
"We can't hash up the ceremony that way, Mrs. Day," said Amanda, severely. And as they all fell arguing, the whistle blew.
"There!" said Mrs. Slocum. "Now you've made me late, and I'll miss the shackles and everything."
She flew down-stairs, and immediately the town of Siskiyou saw twelve members of the Ladies' Reform and Literary Lyceum follow her in a hasty phalanx across the square to the station. The train approached slowly up the grade, and by the time the wide smoke-stack of the locomotive was puffing its wood smoke in clouds along the platform, Amanda had marshalled her company there.
"Where's the gals all goin', Bill?" inquired a large citizen in boots of the ticket-agent.
"Nowheres, I guess, Abe," the agent replied. "Leastways, they 'ain't bought any tickets off me."
"Maybe they're for stealin' a ride," said Abe.
The mail and baggage cars had passed, and the women watched the smoking-car that drew up opposite them. Mrs. Campbell had informed her friends that the sheriff always went in the smoker; but on this occasion, for some reason, he had brought his prisoner in the Pullman sleeper at the rear, some way down the track, and Amanda's vigilant eye suddenly caught the group, already descended and walking away. The platoon of sympathy set off, and rapidly came up with the sheriff, while Bill, Abe, the train conductor, the Pullman conductor, the engineer, and the fireman abandoned their duty, and stared, in company with the brakemen and many passengers. There was perfect silence but for the pumping of the air-brake on the engine. The sheriff, not understanding what was coming, had half drawn his pistol; but now, surrounded by universal petticoats, he pulled off his hat and grinned doubtfully. The friend with him also stood bareheaded and grinning. He was young Jim Hornbrook, the muscular betrothed of Miss Sissons. The prisoner could not remove his hat, or he would have done so. Miss Sissons, who had come to the train to meet her lover, was laughing extremely in the middle of the road.
"Take these violets," faltered Mrs. Day, and held out the bunch, backing away slightly at the same time.
"Nonsense," said Amanda, stepping forward and grasping the flowers. "The women of Siskiyou are with you," she said, "as we are with all the afflicted." Then she pinned the violets firmly to the prisoner's flannel shirt. His face, at first amazed as the sheriff's and Hornbrook's, smoothed into cunning and vanity, while Hornbrook's turned an angry red, and the sheriff stopped grinning.
"Them flowers would look better on Buck Montgomery's grave, madam," said the officer. "Maybe you'll let us pass now." They went on to the jail.
"Waal," said Abe, on the platform, "that's the most disgustin' fool thing I ever did see."
"All aboa-rd!" said the conductor, and the long train continued its way to Portland.
The platoon, well content, dispersed homeward to supper, and Jim Hornbrook walked home with his girl.
"For Lord's sake, Louise," he said, "who started that move?"
She told him the history of the morning.
"Well," he said, "You tell Mrs. Campbell, with my respects, that she's just playing with fire. A good woman like her ought to have more sense. Those men are going to have a fair trial."
"She wouldn't listen to me, Jim, not a bit. And, do you know, she really didn't seem to feel sorry--except just for a minute--about that poor woman."
"Louise, why don't you quit her outfit?"
"Resign from the Lyceum? That's so silly of you, Jim. We're not all crazy there; and that," said Miss Sissons, demurely, "is what makes a girl like me so valuable!"
"Well, I'm not stuck on having you travel with that lot."
"They speak better English than you do, Jim dear. Don't! in the street!"
"Sho! It's dark now," said Jim. "And it's been three whole days since--" But Miss Sissons escaped inside her gate and rang the bell. "Now see here, Louise," he called after her, "when I say they're playing with fire I mean it. That woman will make trouble in this town."
"She's not afraid," said Miss Sissons. "Don't you know enough about us yet to know we can't be threatened?"
"You!" said the young man. "I wasn't thinking of you." And so they separated.
Mrs. Campbell sat opposite the judge at supper, and he saw at once from her complacent reticence that she had achieved some triumph against his principles. She chatted about topics of the day in terms that were ingeniously trite. Then a letter came from their son in Denver, and she forgot her role somewhat, and read the letter aloud to the judge, and wondered wistfully who in Denver attended to the boy's buttons and socks; but she made no reference whatever to Siskiyou jail or those inside it. Next morning, however, it was the judge's turn to be angry.
"Amanda," he said, over the paper again, "you had better stick to socks, and leave criminals alone."
Amanda gazed at space with a calm smile.
"And I'll tell you one thing, my dear," her husband said, more incisively, "it don't look well that I should represent the law while my wife figures" (he shook the morning paper) "as a public nuisance. And one thing more: _Look out!_ For if I know this community, and I think I do, you may raise something you don't bargain for."
"I can take care of myself, judge," said Amanda, always smiling. These two never were angry both at once, and to-day it was the judge that sailed out of the house. Amanda pounced instantly upon the paper. The article was headed "Sweet Violets." But the editorial satire only spurred the lady to higher efforts. She proceeded to the Lyceum, and found that "Sweet Violets" had been there before her. Every woman held a copy, and the fourteen rocking-chairs were swooping up and down like things in a factory. In the presence of this blizzard, Mount Shasta, Lucretia Mott, and even Leda and the Swan looked singularly serene on their wall, although on the other side of the wall the "Fatinitza" march was booming brilliantly. But Amanda quieted the storm. It was her gift to be calm when others were not, and soon the rocking-chairs were merely rippling.
"The way my boys scolded me--" began Mrs. Day.
"For men I care not," said Mrs. Parsons. "But when my own sister unbraids me in a public place--" The lady's voice ceased, and she raised her mournful eyes. It seemed she had encountered her unnatural relative at the post-office. Everybody had a tale similar. Siskiyou had denounced their humane act.
"Let them act ugly," said Mrs. Slocum. "We will not swerve."
"I sent roses this morning," said Mrs. Parsons.
"_Did_ you, dear?" said Mrs. Day. "My lilies shall go this afternoon."
"Here is a letter from the prisoner," said Amanda, producing the treasure; and they huddled to hear it. It was very affecting. It mentioned the violets blooming beside the hard couch, and spoke of prayer.
"He had lovely hair," said Mrs. Slocum.
"_So_ brown!" said Mrs. Day.
"Black, my dear, and curly."
"Light brown. I was a good deal closer, Susan--"
"Never mind about his hair," said Amanda. "We are here not to flinch. We must act. Our course is chosen, and well chosen. The prison fare is a sin, and a beefsteak goes to them both at noon from my house."
"Oh, why didn't we ever think of that before?" cried the ladies, in an ecstasy, and fell to planning a series of lunches in spite of what Siskiyou might say or do. Siskiyou did not say very much; but it looked; and the ladies waxed more enthusiastic, luxuriating in a sense of martyrdom because now the prisoners were stopped writing any more letters to them. This was doubtless a high-handed step, and it set certain pulpits preaching about love. The day set for the trial was approaching; Amanda and her flock were going. Prayer-meetings were held, food and flowers for the two in jail increased in volume, and every day saw some of the Lyceum waiting below the prisoners' barred windows till the men inside would thrust a hand through and wave to them; then they would shake a handkerchief in reply, and go away thrilled to talk it over at the Lyceum. And Siskiyou looked on all the while, darker and darker.
Then finally Amanda had a great thought. Listening to "Fatinitza" one morning, she suddenly arose and visited Herr Schwartz, the band-master. Herr Schwartz was a wise and well-educated German. They had a lengthy conference.
"I don't pelief dot vill be very goot," said the band-master.
But at that Amanda talked a good deal; and the worthy Teuton was soon bewildered, and at last gave a dubious consent, "since it would blease de ladies."
The president of the Lyceum arranged the coming event after her own heart. The voice of Woman should speak in Siskiyou. The helpless victims of male prejudice and the law of the land were to be flanked with consolation and encouragement upon the eve of their ordeal in court. In their lonely cell they were to feel that there were those outside whose hearts beat with theirs. The floral tribute was to be sumptuous, and Amanda had sent to San Francisco for pound-cake. The special quality she desired could not be achieved by the Siskiyou confectioner.
Miss Sissons was not a party to this enterprise, and she told its various details to Jim Hornbrook, half in anger, half in derision. He listened without comment, and his face frightened her a little.
"Jim, what's the matter?" said she.
"Are you going to be at that circus?" he inquired.
"I thought I might just look on, you know," said Miss Sissons. "Mrs. Campbell and a brass-band--"
"You'll stay in the house that night, Louise."
"Why, the ring isn't on my finger yet," laughed the girl, "the fatal promise of obedience--" But she stopped, perceiving her joke was not a good one. "Of course, Jim, if you feel that way," she finished. "Only I'm grown up, and I like reasons."
"Well--that's all right too."
"Ho, ho! All right! Thank you, sir. Dear me!"
"Why, it ain't to please me, Louise; indeed it ain't. I can't swear everything won't be nice and all right and what a woman could be mixed up in, but--well, how should you know what men are, anyway, when they've been a good long time getting mad, and are mad all through? That's what this town is to-day, Louise."
"I don't know," said Miss Sissons, "and I'm sure I'd rather not know." And so she gave her promise. "But I shouldn't suppose," she added, "that the men of Siskiyou, mad or not, would forget that women are women."
Jim laughed. "Oh no," he said, "they ain't going to forget that."
The appointed day came; and the train came, several hours late, bearing the box of confectionery, addressed to the Ladies' Reform and Literary Lyceum. Bill, the ticket-agent, held his lantern over it on the platform.
"That's the cake," said he.
"What cake?" Abe inquired.
Bill told him the rumor.
"Cake?" repeated Abe. "Fer them?" and he tilted his head towards the jail. "Will you say that again, friend? I ain't clear about it. _Cake_, did ye say?"
"Pound-cake," said Bill. "Ordered special from San Francisco."
Now pound-cake for adults is considered harmless. But it is curious how unwholesome a harmless thing can be if administered at the wrong time.
The gaunt, savage-looking Californian went up to the box slowly. Then he kicked it lightly with his big boot, seeming to listen to its reverberation. Then he read the address. Then he sat down on the box to take a think. After a time he began speaking aloud. "They hold up a stage," he said, slowly. "They lay up a passenger fer a month. And they lame Bob Griffiths fer life. And then they do up Buck. Shoot a hole through his spine. And I helped bury him; fer I liked Buck." The speaker paused, and looked at the box. Then he got up. "I hain't attended their prayer-meetin's," said he, "and I hain't smelt their flowers. Such perfume's liable to make me throw up. But I guess I'll hev a look at their cake."
He went to the baggage-room and brought an axe. The axe descended, and a splintered slat flew across the platform. "There's a lot of cake," said Abe. The top of the packing-case crashed on the railroad track, and three new men gathered to look on. "It's fresh cake too," remarked the destroyer. The box now fell to pieces, and the tattered paper wrapping was ripped away. "Step up, boys," said Abe, for a little crowd was there now. "Soft, ain't it?" They slung the cake about and tramped it in the grime and oil, and the boards of the box were torn apart and whirled away. There was a singular and growing impulse about all this. No one said anything; they were very quiet; yet the crowd grew quickly, as if called together by something in the air. One voice said, "Don't forgit we're all relyin' on yer serenade, Mark," and this raised a strange united laugh that broke brief and loud, and stopped, leaving the silence deeper than before. Mark and three more left, and walked towards the Lyceum. They were members of the Siskiyou band, and as they went one said that the town would see an interesting trial in the morning. Soon after they had gone the crowd moved from the station, compact and swift.
Meanwhile the Lyceum had been having disappointments. When the train was known to be late, Amanda had abandoned bestowing the cake until morning. But now a horrid thing had happened: the Siskiyou band refused its services! The rocking-chairs were plying strenuously; but Amanda strode up and down in front of Mount Shasta and Lucretia Mott.
Herr Schwartz entered. "It's all right, madam," said he. "My trombone haf come back, und--"
"You'll play?" demanded the president.
"We blay for de ladies."
The rocking-chairs were abandoned; the Lyceum put on its bonnet and shawl, and marshaled down-stairs with the band.
"Ready," said Amanda.
"Ready," said Herr Schwartz to his musicians. "Go a leedle easy mit der Allegro, or we bust 'Fatinitza.'"
The spirited strains were lifted in Siskiyou, and the procession was soon at the jail in excellent order. They came round the corner with the trombone going as well as possible. Two jerking bodies dangled at the end of ropes, above the flare of torches. Amanda and her flock were shrieking.
"So!" exclaimed Herr Schwartz. "Dot was dose Healy boys we haf come to gif serenade." He signed to stop the music.
"No you don't," said two of the masked crowd, closing in with pistols. "You'll play fer them fellers till you're told to quit."
"Cerdainly," said the philosophical Teuton. "Only dey gif brobably very leedle attention to our Allegro."
So "Fatinitza" trumpeted on while the two on the ropes twisted, and grew still by-and-by. Then the masked men let the band go home. The Lyceum had scattered and fled long since, and many days passed before it revived again to civic usefulness, nor did its members find comfort from their men. Herr Schwartz gave a parting look at the bodies of the lynched murderers. "My!" said he, "das Ewigweibliche haf draw them apove sure enough."
Miss Sissons next day was walking and talking off her shock and excitement with her lover. "And oh, Jim," she concluded, after they had said a good many things, "you hadn't anything to do with it, had you?" The young man did not reply, and catching a certain expression on his face, she hastily exclaimed: "Never mind! I don't want to know--ever!"
So James Hornbrook kissed his sweetheart for saying that, and they continued their walk among the pleasant hills.