"John isn't going to be a drug clerk," Whitey said, disgusted at Bill's ignorance. Whitey knew something of the big Indian's ambitions, having heard him discuss them with Mr. Sherwood. "Father probably has heard of an opening in some college, where John can become an instructor in chemistry."
Bill didn't know what that meant, either, but, not wishing to display his ignorance further, he said hastily, "Oh, that's diff'runt."
"When's John going?" demanded Whitey.
"Right off. Gonna drive him t' th' Junction to-day."
"Then no more lessons!" cried Whitey. "We'll be off for a hunting trip. I hear Moose Lake is just loaded with wild geese. Where's Injun? I must run and tell him."
"Wait a minit," cautioned Bill. "There's somethin' more. But first I must tell you how s'prised an' pained you make me by showin' this here dislike for learnin'."
"Surprised nothing," retorted Whitey. "Did you like it when you were a kid?"
"Nope," Bill confessed promptly. "But I'm dern sorry I didn't, now. You ain't got no idea what a handicap a feller's under what ain't got no eddication."
Whitey thought that what Bill had just said had given him a pretty good idea of the handicap, but he was wise enough to say nothing. Bill sat down and began to roll a cigarette.
"O' course, they's a lot of things in life that you can't learn outa books," Bill said. "But th' feller with th' book-learnin' generally has th' upper hand. There's one thing books never rightly teached no boy, an' that's lookin' ahead. I've often wondered why they didn't pay more 'tention t' that, but mostly a boy has t' learn it for himself. If he happens t' be born in the wilderness he just nach'lly has t' learn it, or I reckon he'd die."
Whitey fidgeted about, knowing that Bill was on one of his favorite topics, and wouldn't stop and tell the rest of his news until he was run down.
"Take Injun, f'r instance," Bill went on. "He's got a way o' figurin' out things that's wonderful, an' once in a while that way o' figurin' has saved his life. They's a highbrow word for that stuff, an' it's 'observation.' You just stick to that observation thing, kid, an' you'll find it a heap o' use t' you in this country."
Whitey knew of Injun's wonderful powers of observation which he had often shown on the trail, but could not help thinking that some of his red friend's cleverness was due to the lore inherited from his Indian ancestors, with their knowledge of the wild and of the habits of its beasts and birds. But Bill droned on while Whitey squirmed with impatience, and presently a welcome interruption came in the person of Shorty Palmer, who dashed into the room.
"Say, Bill," Shorty cried, "you got th' new time-table?"
"Sure," said Bill. "Last time I was to the Junction."
"Well, didn't you notice that th' Eastern Express leaves two hours earlier now?"
"It does, an' you'll have t' burn up th' prairie t' make it, an' Buck's got th' team all hitched, an' John Big Moose's just throwin' things into his trunk, an' you'd best get a move on."
"Jumpin' garter snakes!" cried Bill. "I never—"
"Oh," Whitey interrupted, "this observation thing is great stuff. And you just stick to it, and—"
"Shucks, I ain't got no time t' argue with kids," said Bill, and started for the door.
"Hold on," called Whitey. "What was that other news you were going to tell me?"
"Nothin'," said Bill, "'cept your father writes that now John Big Moose is goin', you an' Injun'll have t' go t' school at th' Forks," and he hurried from the bunk house, followed by Shorty.
Whitey sank down on a stool in despair. Gone were the dreams of adventure, of wild geese and bears just wakening from their winter's sleep. School! And with those few kids at the Forks!
"What's the use of anything?" Whitey muttered dejectedly.
And Bull, who at times was very sympathetic, looked up at him as much as to say, "Nothing."
That night, in the bunk house, Bill Jordan was holding forth to a select few—Jim Walker, Charlie Bassett, Buck Higgins, and Shorty Palmer; all old friends and true, who could dispute and quarrel with one another without the serious results that would have attended such action on the part of strangers.
"Talkin' 'bout Injuns," said Bill, "all I don't know 'bout 'em you c'd write on a hummin'-bird's finger-nail."
"Hummin'-birds don't have no finger-nails," corrected Shorty Palmer.
"Sure they don't," allowed Bill. "But you c'd write it on one if they did."
"They has claws," persisted Shorty. "B'sides, no hummin'-bird ain't goin' t' stay still long enough for you to write on his claw."
"I know that, too," said Bill. "That thing I was sayin' is what's called a figger o' speech. Same as 'independent as a hog on ice,' or 'dead as a door nail.' Ev'body knows them things ain't independent or dead. It's just a fancy way o' expressin' yourself. Can't you give a feller credit for no 'magination?"
"Oh, you got 'magination all right," Shorty agreed. "You ain't in no ways hampered by facts. But, anyway, we wasn't talkin' 'bout Injuns."
"No, but we was goin' to," retorted Bill, "for I was about t' d'rect th' conversation in them channels when you makes them ign'rant interruptions."
"Oh, go on an' talk, Bill," Jim Walker broke in. "Don't pertend that Shorty, nor th' whole United States Army, c'd stop you if you wanted t' chin."
Thus urged Bill began his discourse. "What started my mind workin' on this here Injun question was somethin' that come up to-day," he said. "John Big Moose bein' gone, you know, Mr. Sherwood writes me that Injun an' Whitey is t' go to school over to th' Forks. So on my way back from drivin' John t' th' Junction I stops at that there temple o' knowledge, as th' feller says, t' prepare th' mind o' Jennie Adams, what teaches there, for th' comin' of this bunch of new scholards.
"Y' all know Jennie, old Hog Adams's daughter. Th' one with th' wart on her chin, that was engaged for matrimoney to Sid Gilman till one day they was ridin' t'gether, an' Sid's cayuse slips into a gopher hole, an' Sid falls off an' sprains his ankle, an' lets loose such a string o' cuss words that Jennie—"
"Say, Bill," protested Buck Higgins, "'f you couldn't shoot no straighter'n you c'n talk you'd be a mighty poor risk for a insurance comp'ny. Nev' mind this here Jennie's history from th' time of th' flood. Get down t' th' present day."
"Well," Bill continued reluctantly, "I tells Jennie 'bout Injun an' Whitey's bein' 'bout t' be added to her string o' pupils, an' what d'ye s'pose she responds? That there ain't nothin' doin' with Injun. That Whitey, bein' a paleface, is entitled t' absorb all th' knowledge he c'n hold, but that Injun, bein' copper-colored, has got t' get along with other brunettes of his kind, back in some school east of here, 'specially designated by a patern'l gov'ment."
"Did she say all them words?" demanded Charlie Bassett.
"Just like that," Bill replied. "'S though she knew 'em by heart. Must 'a' bin some circular, or somep'n' she'd learned aforehand."
"Well, what d'ye think o' that?" Jim Walker exploded. "Think o' that John Big Moose, an' all he knows, an' him bein' allowed t' learn folks in some Eastern high school, an' that there Jennie Adams, what don't know enough t' tell time by a kitchen clock, not bein' puhmitted t' learn Injun nothin'. It ain't right."
Bill Jordan leaned back, well satisfied with the effect he had produced. "'Course it ain't right," he said. "Th' reason for it is that th' cemetery o' learnin' where John's goin' t' teach is a private institootion, an' this here shack o' Jennie's is controlled by th' gov'ment. I ain't no anarkiss, but—"
"What's an anarkiss?" interrupted Buck.
"A feller what's ag'in' th' gov'ment," explained Bill. "You can't make me b'lieve that our Injun ain't as good as th' scholards at Jennie's emporium. Take that potato-faced brother Jim of hers, f'r instance, that's a coyote in 'pearance an' a rattlesnake at heart. Why, Injun's a—a—prince of timber buck too compared t' him."
Bill did not know what a Prince of Timbuctoo was, and neither did the other punchers, but it sounded impressive, and served to vent his feelings against a law which affected his friend Injun—for as such Bill, and all the men in the bunk house, regarded the boy.
There may have been reasons why the Indian children were kept from association with whites. But in the minds of these men of the plains, who knew both the bad and the good in the red men, and the bad and the good in the white men of that day and that country, the reasons were not founded on justice. Furthermore, they were conceived by lawmakers far away. So the cowboys vented their feelings against what seemed to them rank injustice.
"But t' get back t' what I know 'bout Injuns," said Bill, after the discussion had gone on for some time. "What d'ye s'pose our Injun thinks 'bout this here rule as says he ain't as good as that pie-faced Jim Adams? He knows 'tain't right, same as we do, an' he thinks to himself, 'Here's another thing I got t' put up with, an' if I rare up an' make a row 'bout it, I'll get th' wuss of it, as my people always has. So what'll I do? I'll lay low, an' say nothin', an' I won't give them white brothers no chance t' see that they've hurt my feelin's. I'll hide my hurt with my pride—one o' th' only things my white brothers has left me.'"
There was silence for a moment in the bunk house. Then Jim Walker spoke. "Well, Injun may think that," he said. "But whatever he thinks you won't never really know. He's that savin' o' speech, like all Injuns."
"They're savin' enough o' speech here, 'mongst us folks," Bill Jordan said. "But with their own people they're great speech-makers."
"G'wan," objected Buck Higgins. "Who ever heard of a Injun talkin' much."
"Yes, siree," Bill declared. "They're great talkers 'mongst folks they knows and trusts. Why, at their pow-wows they're reg'lar orators. Ev'body knows that what's had a lot t' do with 'em, same as me. John Big Moose was easy with white folks, an' look the way he could spill langwidge. 'Most as good as we all."
The others silently agreed to this, thinking what a great advantage it would be to John Big Moose in the Eastern college to talk as well as they did.
"Our Injun boy could talk as well as John Big Moose, if he was usin' his own speech, an' wanted to," continued Bill. "He's rather jerky now 'count of his not knowin' our langwidge very well, for one thing, an' from bein' in th' habit of concealin' his thoughts from white men—like all other Injuns—for another thing."
Now you, who read this, must know by this time how well Bill Jordan liked to tell things and to prove them—if he could; and if he couldn't make the other fellow believe they were true, to think up something the other fellow couldn't answer; and if he couldn't do that, to go away before the other could think of an answer. We all have known boys or men of this sort, and, being human, we don't like to have them assuming that they know more than we do. That is, we don't like it all the time. And this sort of feeling was stirring in that bunk house, at that moment. And finally Charlie Bassett spoke.
"Bill," he said, "you're allus tellin' us somethin' 'bout somethin' what we don't know nothin' 'bout, with th' idee of gettin' us t' think you're a pretty wise feller. Now, all this you've bin tellin' us 'bout Injuns sounds reason'ble, but if you want us to really b'lieve it, you've got t' show us. Ain't that so, fellers?"
The others, thus appealed to, nodded solemnly.
"How'm I goin' t' prove it?" asked Bill, thus driven into a corner.
"By gettin' Injun t' talk," Charlie answered. "An' furthermore I'll betcha a can of peaches or a apple pie for each one of this gang, all 'round, that you can't prove it."
Canned peaches are regarded as a great luxury in the West, or were at that time, to say nothing of apple pies, and Bill considered the matter. Moreover, his reputation was at stake, and that was a bigger thing to him than peaches or apple pie either. After careful thought he spoke.
"I'll have t' go you," he said, "but there's two conditions to this here contest."
"Give 'em a name," said Charlie.
"Th' first is, that Injun's gotta be among friends."
"We're all his friends," Charlie said. "Won't we do?"
"Yes, just us an' Whitey, if he's along," Bill agreed. "The next condition is, that I don't agree t' make Injun talk direct on no subject. F'r instance, if I asks him what he thinks 'bout bein' barred out o' that there school, I don't promise he'll tell me right out. He may spring some tale or yarn that shows what he thinks; mebbe he will, but I don't claim t' get no exact expression of his feelin's in th' matter."
"Them conditions goes," Charlie agreed, "don't they, fellers?"
The "fellers" agreed that they did, and it now only remained to await the coming of Injun. He was Whitey's guest at the ranch house that night, the night of the last day of Whitey's freedom from school. As it was early, no doubt the boys would soon appear at the bunk house, to listen to the sort of Arabian Nights' entertainment that was afforded by the tales of the cowpunchers.
There was a momentary lull in the talk of the men, a lull in keeping with the outer night, which was still and very dark. Presently a faint light flickered across the southern windows of the bunk house, followed by a low rumble in the northeast.
"Storm in th' mountains," volunteered Jim.
Another moment of silence was followed by a brighter glare, as the sky in the south caught the reflection of the northern lightning. The former rumble was succeeded by a more distinct series of crashes, as though the storm gods of Indian belief were warming up to their work.
"Reck'n she's comin' this way," said Bill Jordan.
There was the sighing of a gentle breeze through the cottonwoods, then a glare that shamed the oil lamps, and, so fast that it almost might be said to trip on the light, a crash that caused the men to turn and regard one another, almost in awe.
"Them mountain storms sure comes downhill fast," said Shorty.
As though announced by the breeze a roar of wind tore through the trees, and shook the bunk house windows. The darkness was split by vivid, bluish-green flashes to which the thunder responded in an almost constant cannonading. The door opened, and Injun and Whitey forced their way in, then threw their weight upon it in the effort to close it against the force of the wind. Bill went to their aid.
"Funny how th' wind allus swings 'round with them storms," said Bill, when the door was closed. "Seems t' back up an' get underneath 'em, then push 'em from behind."
"We've missed the rain, anyway," gasped Whitey, sinking down on a bunk.
"Not by much," said Bill, as the swish of a downpouring torrent sounded on the walls and roof and hissed through the bending branches of the cottonwoods.
Gradually the thunder drew grumblingly away. The wind ceased to clamor, and for a time the rain, relieved of the gale's force, fell straight in a steady tattoo on the roof. Then it passed, and a slighter coolness of the air, noticeable even in the closeness of the bunk house, was the only token left of the storm's spurt of fury.
"Them storms is like some folks' money; comes hard and goes easy," said Shorty Palmer.
"Comes quick an' goes quicker's more like it," corrected Bill Jordan.
"Have it your own way," grumbled Shorty. "Not that I have t' tell you that, for you'd have it, anyway."
Now that the momentary interruption of the summer tempest had passed, the minds of the company turned to the subject of Bill and Charlie's wager, with the object of it, Injun, sitting on a cracker box and gazing solemnly at nothing in particular. The other men all looked expectantly at Bill, who fidgeted a moment in his chair, then started, in what he intended for a light, conversational tone.
"Y' all ready for school to-morrow, Whitey?" Bill began, on his roundabout attack.
"Yeh," Whitey replied gloomily.
"Too bad 'bout you, Injun. Kind o' disappointin', their barrin' you out. Kind o' unfair, too."
Injun's response to this was as broad a grin as he ever showed to the world. "Me glad," he said. "No like school."
This was rather a setback to Bill, who had expected to play on Injun's feeling of resentment. He rolled a cigarette and planned a new line of attack. He knew that all the punchers would be glad to see him fail to make Injun talk, and this didn't make Bill any more easy in his mind. It may have been pleasing to him to have worked up a reputation for knowing more than the others, but this reputation was not without its drawbacks. For one thing, it was hard to keep it up; for another, it filled his friends with glee when he failed to keep it up. He puffed hard on his cigarette, and thought harder.
Whitey broke the silence. "Tell us a story, Bill," he suggested.
"I ain't exactly got no story in mind," Bill replied. "We was talkin' 'bout folks, b'fore you an' Injun come, an' how they is apt t' be unjust, 'specially in th' way o' makin' laws an' such, an' it kind o' got me thinkin' serious; kind o' drove stories out o' my head."
"Why, John Big Moose was talking about that the other day," Whitey exclaimed, "and how hard it is for one body of people to understand and sympathize with another, and about that sayin', 'Man's inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.' Of course, you know that saying. Bill?"
"'Course," answered Bill. "My father was allus mentionin' of it."
"Your old man was a blacksmith, wa'n't he, Bill?" Buck Higgins asked.
"Seems t' me 'twould 'a' bin more in the way o' sense if he'd talked 'bout man's unhumanness t' hosses," Buck said lightly.
Bill ignored this, and got back to the serious side of the subject. "It's somethin' t' make a critter think," he declared. "Take white folks an' Injuns, f'r instance. They ain't never rightly understood each other, 'cause they ain't never bin rightly in tune with each other, an' that's another way o' sayin' they ain't bin in symp'thy. An' th' only way they could get that way would be t' tell, outspoke, what they thinks o' each other. Now they's Injun, here. He's bin our friend for some time, an' we bin his, but no one ain't never knowed his real 'pinion of us, an' I think it'd be some help in adjustin' matters all round if we did."
Shielding his mouth with his hand, Shorty Palmer turned to Buck Higgins, and spoke in a hoarse whisper, that could be heard distinctly by everybody. "Bill's like one o' them big express trains you see at th' Junction," Shorty hissed. "Takes him some time t' get started, but he gets somewheres when he does."
Bill tried to look as though he hadn't heard this, and turned to Injun, with what was supposed to be an expression of brotherly frankness on his face. "Just among friends, Injun, d'ye think white folks as a class stacks up perty good?"
Injun stared at Bill. "Huh," he grunted. "Mebbe some good, mebbe some bad."
"O' course," said Bill, "they's good an' bad 'mongst 'em, but I mean t' stack 'em up against Injuns, as a whole tribe, see?"
"Injuns same way. Mebbe some good, mebbe some bad."
This did not seem to be getting anywhere, and Bill became more personal. "Now, Injun, honest," he said, "don't you think your people are underdogs in these here conditions the whites have forced 'em into, an' that they got a constant grouch against most whites?"
"My people good people. Him see straight," Injun replied, with dignity.
Bill was sorry now that he had started on this line of attack. He knew that the Min-i-ko-wo-ju tribe, a branch of the Sioux or Dakotas, of which Injun was a member, had been treated very fairly by Mr. Sherwood, Whitey's father. That largely through the influence of Mr. Sherwood, aided and abetted by John Big Moose, the educated Dakota, the Min-i-ko-wo-jus had come in for their share of the recently discovered gold mine. He also knew that gratitude was a strong factor in the Indian character.
But with all his boasted knowledge of his red brothers, what Bill did not know was what Injun was thinking of, and that was something unconnected with his white brothers, or their justice or injustice to his kind. It was something induced by the stillness of the night, following the storm. Thoughts of another night, when Injun was not in a long, narrow bunk-house room, surrounded by booted cowboy friends, but in a tepee, dimly lighted by a central fire, around which squatted his serious-faced, copper-hued kinsmen, smoking their long pipes, and telling of their deeds and mishaps.
And when his mind was fixed on a subject, Injun—like other Indians—was not to be deflected by the thoughts of others. Bill might talk and talk of justice and injustice, or about cows or cartridges; Injun's mind would stay put, and when he spoke, if it was two hours afterwards, it would be of that night in the tepee.
But it was not that long before the silence that had fallen on the men was broken. Bill was trying to think of another line of argument that would induce Injun to speak at length. Whitey, who knew Injun better than any one else, was looking at him, and realizing that he had something on his mind. "Why don't you tell us a story, Injun?" Whitey asked.
There was another long pause in the bunk house, and nothing could be heard save the ticking of the alarm clock that was Wong's special property, on which he relied to give him his three a.m. call to get the punchers' breakfast ready by sunup. And then Injun spoke, he who rarely talked, save in monosyllables.
"When owl sleep; when thunder don't beat drum; when wind don't make noise like big whistle; when trees stand straight up and don't bend; when everything quick is in hole; when Great Spirit he make sign and everybody him sleep—then I hear my papa tell story about my mamma's brother; how he get 'um fingers worn off on end. My mamma's brother him great buck; call him 'buck' when him brave, before him made Chief.
"My mamma's brother him know white man scout, great friend my mamma's brother. Him talk Indian talk, just like Sioux. My mamma's brother friend him work for army; him watch when Indian go on war path. Him good man. Him like Indian. Him know Indian no bad.
"My mamma's brother friend him say to my mamma's brother him like to bring his friend, White Chief, to Indian war dance. Him say White Chief he no tell what he see. My mamma's brother he say no: White Chief, with much ribbon on clothes, have crooked tongue. My mamma's brother friend he say White Chief he no tell; give word before Great Spirit. My mamma's brother then he say come."
As the clipped sentences fell in soft gutturals from Injun's lips his face remained expressionless, except for his eyes, which gazed back into the dim, smoke-laden tepee and into the face of his father, a great story-teller of a race of great story-tellers; a survivor of the age-old days when the deeds and legends of all men were made history by the voice alone. And the men, their wager forgotten, and Whitey, too, leaned forward and saw the tepee and saw Injun's uncle talking to the scout, whom he trusted, and who trusted the White Chief.
In what followed, Injun left some of the details to the imagination of his hearers, or perhaps thought that they knew of them. Of how, before the great war dance, the chiefs of the tribe assembled in conclave in their council tent. And before these chiefs, who sat as a sort of jury, appeared the young men of the tribe. And each young Indian told of his brave deeds, performed since the last war dance, and according to these deeds the chiefs decided whether the young man was worthy to become a chief.
He needed no witnesses; his word was sufficient—for the Indian spoke only the truth. And the descendant of a chief was held more worthy of honor than another, for brave blood flowed in his veins. But after each young man was deemed worthy, he must prove his bravery at the dance. From a center pole hung a number of rawhide thongs. Through the breast or back of each young brave two slits were cut, and a stick or skewer was passed through them, and a thong tied to each end of the skewer. Then the braves danced around the pole, leaning back and supporting their weight on the skewer, and when this weight tore the skewer from the flesh, the braves were deemed worthy to become chiefs. But should one give up, or faint from pain, he was deemed unworthy. And the torture suffered by all was great—but the torture borne by those through whose backs the skewers were passed was greater.
"White Chief and scout come to Indian war dance," Injun continued. "At dance, when braves make talk and tell how they do things what make 'em chief, my mamma's brother he tell how him ride on prairie and see two white men. Him ride to them quick to show him friend. White men say Injun bad. White men shoot at my mamma's brother. My mamma's brother him shoot at white men. Him kill white men. My mamma's brother him made chief, after him dance with stick through breast until stick break.
"Scout, my mamma's brother friend, and White Chief they go 'way. My mamma's brother friend him say to White Chief, 'You see now why you no tell. Injun him good, no blame. White men they bad, want kill Injun.'
"White Chief him say, 'No, Injun bad. Me tell.'"
"Him go back and—"
The door of the bunk house opened suddenly and a cowboy stalked in, a lean, dark man, rather short and slim, with eyes of that peculiar light, slaty gray that have a staring effect; apparently no depth to them. These, with heavy overhanging brows and an inclination to sneer, gave him a forbidding appearance. His hat and slicker glistened with water. At his entrance Injun ceased speaking abruptly.
"Gee, I got soaked in that rain," said the newcomer. "Stopped at th' Cut on my way back from th' Junction. Th' railroad hands got paid, to-day, an' they're raisin' cain. Wisht I'd stayed there, 'stead o' gettin' soaked."
"I wish you had, too," Bill Jordan murmured to himself, unheard by the other.
This puncher, Henry Dorgan, was a man who was vaguely disliked on the ranch, with nothing in particular on which to hang the cause of the feeling. It was characteristic of him, for one thing, that he had no nickname. In a country where almost every one's name was familiarly shortened into Hank, or Bill, or Jim, or was changed to Kid, or Red, or Shorty, he remained Henry—not even Harry.
He threw off his hat and slicker, stamped to shake off the moisture that clung to his boots, sat down, and prepared to make himself at home.
"Go ahead, Injun," said Jim Walker. "You was just at th' most interestin' part."
Injun rose, walked to a bucket in a corner, poured himself a dipper of water, and drank calmly. Then he returned, sat down and looked straight ahead of him. There was a painful tension, of which Dorgan did not seem to be aware. Buck Higgins tried to dispel it.
"Perceed, Injun," he said. "We're all a-waitin' on you."
Without embarassment, Injun continued to say nothing. Bill Jordan began to show signs of nervousness, which finally broke into speech.
"Had anythin' t' eat, Henry?" he asked.
"Nope. Too busy drinkin' an' things, at th' Cut," replied Dorgan, who, however, showed no signs of intoxication.
"Better go out t' th' kitchen, an' rustle yourself somep'n'," Bill suggested.
"Wong'll get crazy if I monkey with his grub," objected Henry.
"I'll take care o' Wong. G'wan, you don't wanta be hungry," Bill said.
"I c'd do with some beans an' coffee," Dorgan allowed, and took himself off.
After he was gone, there was another period of silence. It was so unusual for Injun to talk at all, and the effort to start him again having failed, it seemed now to occur to everybody that it probably would be better to let him alone until he got in the mood again. Presently Whitey saw Injun's eyes take on their former faraway look, as though they were gazing into his father's tepee fire, or into the red faces of his kinsmen.
"What did the White Chief do when he went back?" Whitey asked softly.
"Him go back and get plenty soldiers," responded Injun. "And come get my mamma's brother, and tie him on pony, with him face looking at pony tail. My mamma's brother him lose much blood where stick break through chest. Him almost died when get to Fort. White Chief put him in log calaboose. Him stay there long, long time; mebbe so twenty, thirty moons.
"Then him dig dirt in floor with hands, and cover up when they bring him bread and water—and he hide his hands all the time, fingers so much bleed. Then when dark and no moon, him dig out last dirt, him come up outside. Him run sixty mile, him come my father, him tell my father."
"My father he say to our people, 'Now, we fight, and we fight heap!'"
Injun paused for a moment, as one considering and about to utter judgment. "White man bad. Injun he no bad," he said.
Injun's story was concluded. He rose and walked from the bunk house.
There was a moment's hush broken by Jim Walker. "Who in thunder d'ye s'pose that White Chief was?" he demanded. "Gee! We sure butted into some real Injun history."
"That's what I'm thinkin'," said Bill Jordan. "An' seein' as how Injun's uncle was old Rain-in-the-Face, an' seein' as how th' old man's fingers was all stubbed off at th' ends, an' seein' as how Lonesome Charlie Reynolds, th' greatest scout what ever lived, was a great friend of th' Injuns, an' spoke their langwidge, an' seein' as how he was scout for General Terry, up at old Fort Buford, an' seein' as how that's where th' Seventh Cavalry was quartered, an' seein' as how Captain Tom Custer was always hated by th' Sioux, an' by old Rain-in-the-Face in partic'ler—by golly, boys!—"
Bill paused, as he and the men were impressed by the important point to which his line of argument was leading, then went on excitedly: "We only have t' reason deflectively t' put our fingers on th' button what caused th' doggonedest Injun fights this country ever knowed!"
"It begins, gee whiz! it begins—we all are all right, boys! It begins in '75, with Injun's tribe. An' in '76, General Custer an' Captain Tom Custer an' two hundred an' sixty-one o' their men was all wiped out. An' them Injuns kep' right on fightin' till '81, when John Gall, th' big Sioux Chief, surrenders at that big fight in th' snow, when it was fifty-two below, an' them Injuns was fightin' in their skins, with no coverin' but a blanket.
"Just think of it, boys. An' sittin' right here in this bunk house, years an' years after, us cowpunchers get th' real cause o' th' whole rumpus, which them Washington folks has bin figurin' out for years, an' couldn't do it none whatever. Didn't I tell you all when a Injun talks he says somethin'?"
There was no disputing this, and the men looked solemn as they considered the series of great tragedies and the chain of circumstances which had led up to them. Then, as the impression made on Bill Jordan began to fade, and thoughts of his own importance to take its place, he turned triumphantly to Jim Walker.
"Well, did I make Injun talk, an' do we get them peaches?" Bill demanded.
"You make him talk!" Jim returned scornfully. "All you did was t' make him shut up. Whitey made him talk."
"G'wan," Bill retorted. "Didn't them suggestions o' mine 'bout white men an' Injuns start him thinkin' 'bout that bad White Chief hombre? An' didn't I get rid o' Henry Dorgan, 'cause Injun's distrustful of him, an' wouldn't chin with him 'round?"
"'F y'ask for my opinion, I don't b'lieve none o' you made him talk," said Shorty Palmer. "I think he just—"
"I didn't ask for your opinion," Bill interrupted. "No feller c'n tell me nothin' 'bout Injuns—"
But if this bunk house argument were followed to its end I should have to write another book. Perhaps you can guess who paid for the peaches.
FISH-HOOKS AND HOOKY
After breakfast the next morning when Injun and Whitey came out of the ranch house, Whitey was heavy-hearted. The thought of going to that school at the Forks was the cause of his depression. It was like some sort of penalty one must pay for being a boy. Injun was to escort Whitey to the school, as an act of friendship—as one might go to another's funeral.
Sitting Bull was sleeping peaceably on the veranda. Sitting Bull had no regard for the man who said that "early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise," or he never had heard of him. Sitting Bull always slept late. There were other rules that boys must follow to which Bull paid no attention. He did not chew his food carefully, as every one knows that boys should. There were times when Whitey envied Bull, and this first day of school was one of them.
But when the boys started for the corral to get their ponies, Bull roused himself and expressed a wish to go with them. He had a mistaken idea that he could keep up with the horses for nine miles, and it was with some difficulty that Whitey got him to give it up.
"He don't know what he's missing," Whitey said sadly, as he and Injun turned from the disappointed Bull and walked reluctantly to the corral.
It was a beautiful day, too. Did you ever notice that the first day of school always is beautiful? Injun and Whitey's ponies made short work of the nine miles of road that skirted the foothills and led to the Forks, the spirited animals seeming to drink in the bracing morning air that swept down from the mountains as though it were a tonic, which indeed it was.
The Forks was a spot at which a road that led down from the mountains joined the road to the Junction. The mountain road was little more than a trail, seldom traveled, and almost overgrown with grass, and where it joined the other stood the shack which was used as a schoolhouse. This shack had been built by some early homeseeker, who had long ago abandoned it to seek other pastures. It was old and discouraged-looking, and patched in spots with pieces of tin and boards. As a temple of learning it was not an inviting-looking place.
The pupils evidently had assembled in the shack, for tied in the shelter of some maples near by were four cayuses and two weary-looking mules. There were eight scholars, as Whitey knew, so he guessed that the mules carried double. Injun seemed much more cheerful on this occasion than Whitey, who dismounted and tied Monty near the other animals. Then, before entering for the sacrifice, he tiptoed over to the shack and peeped into the window. He tiptoed back to where Injun sat calmly on his pinto. There was a look of horror on Whitey's face.
"Girls!" he whispered.
Bill Jordan had not told Whitey that some of Miss Adams's pupils were of the fair sex. He had left that as a pleasant surprise. And there were just two things in life that Whitey was mortally afraid of—one was girls and the other was school.
Some persons regard the Indians as a cruel and heartless race. I do not hold with this opinion, but I am bound to state what Whitey's friend Injun did now. He grinned—actually grinned. Whitey gave him a sad, reproachful look, and with his package of lunch under his arm, slouched into the schoolhouse.
It is needless to follow Whitey into this seat of learning. If this were a record of the torments and horrors he underwent during his boyhood days, it might be well to describe this period at length. But suffice it to say that Jennie Adams, the teacher, was a young woman who, if given a little time to think, could tell you, without using a paper or pencil, how much six pounds of butter would cost at twelve cents a pound. Also, that the girl pupils, of whom there were four,—those who rode the mules double,—had a habit of tittering, also of leaning over close to each and making whispered remarks about Whitey.
A week of this did not add to Whitey's thirst for knowledge, which was not very strong at best, and it was just a week from this first day that he was again riding toward the schoolhouse, and something happened. It was another bright morning, and Whitey had reached a spot where the road branched up into the foothills to avoid a marsh, when he noticed signs of excitement in his pony, Monty. These signs would have been stronger had the wind been blowing the other way, and had Monty's nose made him aware of the exact danger that lurked near. As it was, his ears, which were much keener than Whitey's, caught sounds of some disturbing presence, and Whitey had difficulty in keeping him in the road.
At a sharp turn, Whitey and Monty were greeted by a roar that was deeper than that of any automobile horn you ever heard, a roar that had menace behind it, and that came from a large brown bear which had risen on its hind legs and was advancing into the road with both front paws extended wide, as though with the intent of embracing both Whitey and Monty.
Monty did not wait for any guiding rein to turn him. He wheeled on a space about as big as a cigar-box, and hit the trail for home, and for some time he and Whitey gave a fair imitation of a runaway train on a down grade. All Whitey could do was to lie low on Monty's neck, digging his moccasins into Monty's ribs, for fear he would change his mind—which he didn't.
And neither Whitey nor Monty knew that that roar came from a mother bear, and that back of the bear was a small cub, with a round, funny little stomach, industriously combing the bushes for berries, and regarding life as one round of pleasure. There was no need for them to know that. Whitey had had experiences with bears, as you may remember. If wireless had been invented, he might possibly have been willing to use it as a means of introduction, but in no way he could think of at the moment was he willing to meet a bear on its native heath.
That settled it. No school that day. Couldn't expect a fellow to go to school when he had to run into bears on the trail. What was an old bear doing near the ranch, anyhow? Didn't seem right. When Monty had toned down his headlong trip away from that bear, or thought he was at a safe distance, Whitey found himself near the river, and idly turned Monty toward its banks. Might as well take a little ride. Fellow didn't learn much at that school, anyway. And so, after the ways of boys and men, Whitey made excuses for not doing what he didn't want to do.
With his mind somewhat at ease, Monty ambled along the shore of the Yellowstone, with Whitey enjoying the scenery as much as his conscience would let him, and his conscience getting weaker every minute. And presently, at some distance, he saw a small huddled-up figure sitting on the bank. Closer inspection proved this figure to be pink, and still closer inspection revealed it to be Injun. Wondering what Injun was doing in that neighborhood, Whitey approached, and was surprised to find that Injun was fishing.
Knowing that Indians never fish except through necessity, Whitey was puzzled. As he drew nearer, Injun turned and regarded him, betraying no surprise at Whitey's being there; at his not being in school. Whitey dismounted and sat near his friend.
"What are you fishing for, Injun?" he asked.
"Fish," Injun replied seriously.
"Of course," said Whitey. "I mean what do you want to catch the fish for?"
"Gum," spoke Injun briefly.
"Gum?" demanded the bewildered Whitey. "You can't make gum out of fish."
Injun said nothing at all. Whitey thought that perhaps he had a bite, but he hadn't. He just didn't ooze information. It had to be dragged from him. So Whitey proceeded.
"Please explain about this fishing for gum," he said politely.
"Gum him chew," Injun replied.
"Oh, chewing-gum!" cried Whitey. A light dawned on him, for he knew that Injun was very fond of chewing-gum. So was Whitey. "You trade the fish for gum."
"No trade; sell 'em; get much gum."
This was the first commercial instinct that Whitey had ever known Injun to show, and he looked at him admiringly. At that moment Injun got a bite. He did not betray any of the excitement a white boy does on such an occasion. He solemnly pulled in his line, and when it was almost in, a good-sized pickerel squirmed off the hook, and flopped back into the water. And now Injun showed no disappointment. He seriously examined the worm on his hook, to see that it was intact, then cast the line into the river again.
Whitey watched him in silence. Injun got another bite, and the same operation was repeated, except that the fish that escaped was larger than the other. Injun patiently rebaited his hook. "Biggest one him get away," he grunted.
Whitey knew something about fishermen and the stories they tell: that it is always the biggest fish that escaped. But in this case it seemed to be true, for strung on a willow twig was Injun's catch, about six small pickerel.
"How long you been fishing here?" Whitey asked.
"And that's all you've caught?" Whitey indicated the string of fish.
"Let's see your hook," Whitey said, as another pickerel was pulled almost to shore, and then flopped back into its native element.
When Injun displayed the hook, Whitey saw that it was one of the little ones they had used in fastening the tick-tack to Wong's window. "Why, this is too small for pickerel," exclaimed Whitey. "It's for perch. You ought to have a bigger one."
"Yes, me know," said Injun.
Again Whitey was impressed by Injun's patience. There he had sat for several hours, watching those big fish return to the Yellowstone and safety. Whitey knew that he never could have stood it. Finally he questioned him.
"If you knew that the big fish would fall off that hook, and that they are just waiting to be caught, how could you stand just getting the little ones?" Whitey said. "They're not worth much."
"Mebbe after time big fish him swallow hook, then me get him," answered Injun, which was a pretty long speech for him, and explained many matters.
As Whitey sat watching Injun waiting for an accommodating and greedy pickerel to come along, a great idea was born to him—a fishing partnership between him and Injun.
And that was why, if Whitey could have been closely watched, one would have seen him sneaking around the ranch barn every morning, just before it was time to start for school, and slipping things into his pockets. And on examination these things would have been seen to be fishing-lines and hooks of the proper size for pickerel.
And that is why, for about four days a week, Injun and Whitey sat dangling their feet in the Yellowstone River, catching large flocks of pickerel, which they peddled to neighboring ranchmen at two bits a half-dozen. And that is why they were always well supplied with chewing-gum.
Now, it is not my purpose to defend or excuse this conduct of Injun and Whitey's, but simply to record it. If you are looking for a moral in this story, you may find it in what followed on the heels of this fishing partnership. In the first place, no boy without money may display things which cost money without attracting attention, followed by suspicion. Gum costs money, and the chewing of it is a very apparent action.
Soon Bill Jordan was saying to Jim Walker: "Where d'you s'pose them kids get all that gum?"
Jim was answering, "Down t' th' Junction."
"But they ain't got no money," Bill was objecting.
Then Buck Higgins was sauntering up and remarking, "Say, Sid Griggs, over t' th' Diamond Dagger, was tellin' me, t'day, how Injun and Whitey sells him herds o' fine pick'rul at six bits a throw."
"Why don't they bring some home? When do they ketch them pick'rul? That's where they get th' cash!" Bill Jordan was exclaiming, in a rather disconnected manner, thus showing that the putting of two and two together is fatal to wrongdoers.
Then Bill called on Miss Jennie Adams, at her temple of learning, and found that Whitey had spent only a week there, and confirmed his—Bill's—suspicion that school hours had become fishing hours.
Bill Jordan was big and strong enough to lick Whitey, but he felt that he had not the moral right to do so, and he was greatly puzzled. He realized that, as you may lead a horse to the water but you can't make him drink, so you may lead a boy to school but you can't make him study. Most of Bill's own school hours had been spent in hunting, as he didn't care for fishing. Thus, if Bill lectured Whitey, the boy could throw Bill's own ignorance of book-learning in his face.
The more Bill thought over this matter the more undecided he became, and finally he saddled his horse and rode down to the Junction, and resorted to what was, for him, a very unusual action. So later in the day Mr. Sherwood received the following telegram, in his New York office:
Whitey wont learn nothin. Ketches pickrul. What will I do?
You will notice that this message took exactly ten words—which was evidence of more thinking on Bill's part.
Bill waited patiently at the Junction, and late that night received the following answer:
Put the boy at such a hard job that he will be glad to resume his studies.
A HARD JOB
The next day, as Whitey—all unconscious of the plot against him—returned from the affairs of his fishing partnership, he was met by Bill Jordan.
"Whitey," said Bill, "I got somep'n' for you t' do, an' I'm 'fraid it'll take you out o' school for a while."
Whitey looked sharply at Bill for a trace of suspicion or sarcasm, but Bill's face was as blank as a Chinaman's.
"'S very important," Bill continued, "an' I think your father'd consider me justified in takin' you away fr'm your lessons." Having studied this matter all out beforehand, Bill was using larger words than usual. "I got a letter for t' be delivered t' Dan Brayton, up at th' T Up and Down Ranch, 'bout some business o' your father's. Really, I ought t' go m'self, an' see Dan pussonally, but I ain't got time. Can't spare any o' th' men, 'count o' th' roundup's comin' on. Don't see nothin' t' do, except t' make you th' messenger."
Whitey was delighted. "Where is the T Up and Down?" he asked.
"'Bout a hunderd an' fifteen miles no'thwest o' here, t'other side o' Zumbro Creek," Bill answered.
"Good!" cried Whitey. "I'll take Injun, and—"
"Wouldn't do that," Bill objected. "Dan hates Injuns, an' he'd sure be rambunctious 'bout this one."
"All right," Whitey agreed, rather reluctantly. "If I start early enough, Monty and I ought to make it some time to-morrow night."
If Whitey had been noticing Bill's face at that moment, he would have seen a rather peculiar smile cross it, but he wasn't. Nor did he suspect anything the next morning, when he met Bill at the corral before dawn.
"That Monty hoss o' yours seems sort o' lame, this mornin'," said Bill. "Reck'n one o' th' other cayuses must 'a' kicked him, or somep'n. Dunno as he c'd stand th' trip."
And, sure enough, Monty limped slightly as he moved about the corral. Whitey did not know that a hair tied around a horse's leg, just above the hock, will make the animal limp, and will not be noticeable, nor that as a part of Bill's scheme Monty had been so treated. So Whitey was worried about his pony, but Bill assured him that Monty would probably be all right in a day or so—when it was too late.
"Pshaw, I'll have to ride a strange horse!" Whitey said dejectedly.
"I bin thinkin'," said Bill, "what with our bein' kinda short on stock, just now, an' th' boys needin' all their strings for th' round-up, an' everythin', it might be a good scheme for you t' go in th' stage. Be sort of a change for you. You c'd ride as far as Cal Smith's ranch, an' he'd lend you a hoss t' take you on t' th' T Up and Down."
Again the unsuspecting Whitey was delighted, as every Western boy was, in those days, to ride on the old-fashioned but swift-moving stage-coaches that were still the main means of communication between many places in that sparsely settled country.
At six o'clock Whitey was waiting in the road, with Bill, and when the coach appeared, and was halted, was hoisted up to a seat beside the driver; a seat of honor that did not happen to be occupied that trip. Messenger boys and telephones were unknown on the Frontier at that time. Even the telegraph lines were limited to the course of the big railroad that pointed its nose from St. Paul to the Pacific. So Whitey, with the important letter sewed inside his shirt, thereby became the first messenger boy known to the history of the West.
And he surely enjoyed seeing the driver wield his long whip, and capably handle the six reins that controlled the six spirited horses. And going down grade Whitey would have to put his arm around the driver's middle, because his legs were not quite long enough to reach the dashboard, and if the body of that old-fashioned stage-coach had hit him in the middle of the back, Whitey would have beaten the horses down the hill.
Everything went well for ninety miles, and at a certain trail the driver pulled up and said, "Well, son, here's where you have t' wear out your moccasins. There's your trail, bearing off t' th' right. Follow it for twenty-five miles, an' you'll be where you want t' go."
"Twenty-five miles!" gasped Whitey. "Do you mean to say that I have to walk twenty-five miles?"
"Sure," said the driver. "If you keep goin' good an' lively th' rest o' th' day, you c'n hit th' Zumbro before dark, an' just one mile this side o' th' Zumbro is Cal Smith's ranch. He'll take care o' you overnight, an' you c'n go t' th' T Up and Down in th' mornin'."
"B—but I didn't know I had to walk," Whitey protested.
"Reck'n you do, unless you c'n ketch a jack-rabbit an' ride him," the driver answered.
"I thought the ranch was right on the line of the stage road," Whitey said weakly. "Bill Jordan didn't say anything about walking."
"Well, Bill's a funny cuss, an' mebbe he kept this for you as a sort o' s'prise," the driver allowed, with a grin. "Good-bye. Giddap!" And the coach whirled away, in a cloud of dust, leaving Whitey standing in the lonely road, looking off over the lonelier prairie.
But nothing was to be gained by that, and he started along the trail, which really was a little-used wagon track. And as he walked he thought about Bill Jordan, and his conclusions were none too pleasant. He did not suspect that this was part of a deep-laid plot of Bill's. Rather he thought that, as the driver had said, this was one of Bill's jokes, and he could fancy Bill and Jim Walker and Buck Higgins and the others chuckling over the trick, and Whitey planned how he would get even with Bill when he returned. He little guessed how long it would be before that return, and how many events would intervene to drive thoughts of revenge from his mind.
And Whitey trudged on and on, and the walking was very bad, for there had been a succession of heavy rains, almost cloud-bursts, that had made the road soggy. And for several miles the trail led through rocky hills, and there the walking was even worse, for the rains had washed the earth out of the trails, leaving a series of sharp stones that certainly were hard on moccasin-clad feet. And the harder the trail was, the harder became Whitey's opinion of Bill Jordan and his jokes.
Darkness comes late in that northern country, and it was dusk when Whitey had another unpleasant surprise, for he came to the Zumbro, and a sight met his eyes that would have made almost any grown-up stand back and look a lot. She wasn't a creek, she was a river; no, she wasn't a river, she was a rearing, roaring, raging torrent, owing to the rains and floods that had filled the banks to overflowing.
And this wasn't the worst of it. Where was Cal Smith's ranch, a mile this side of the Zumbro? The driver had told him about that, so it couldn't have been another of Bill Jordan's jokes. Whitey looked back, and saw a line of hills, and realized that the ranch lay behind them, and that he had passed it. And sorrowfully he retraced his steps.
They say that the last mile of a long walk is the worst, and it certainly proved so in this case, for it was dark when Whitey turned off into a side road and the lights of Cal Smith's ranch house met his view.
There may have been more welcome sights to Whitey than the yellow gleams of those window lights, but he could not remember them, as he limped toward the house. Even the sharp barking of a dog, that was stilled by a call from an opening door, sounded good to him. And when he was in the house, where he was welcomed by big, genial Cal Smith, and seated at a table in the kitchen, devouring ham and eggs and home-made bread and pie, and drinking hot coffee, provided by good-natured, motherly Mrs. Cal—why, it was almost worth the tramp to meet such a reception at the end of it.
And friendly and hospitable as were Mr. and Mrs. Cal, there were other and greater attractions in that household for Whitey. There were five young Smiths,—five boys, three older and two younger than, Whitey,—and not a girl in sight. In that company Whitey forgot all about being tired. A new boy, that knew stories, was meat and drink to them—and five boys, that knew stories that were new to Whitey, were meat and drink to him.
Their sleeping quarters were the garret, and while a lantern swung from a beam, and Mr. and Mrs. Cal were asleep, and the boys were supposed to be asleep, those kids just wrote and rewrote a history of the West that would make all the tenderfeet in the world stay at home, and forever hold down the population of the Frontier.
And the smallest boy, named Cal after his father, had a hard time keeping awake, but was bound to do it if it killed him; and the biggest boy, named Abe after Abraham Lincoln, probably knew more about wild animals than any boy in the world; and the smallest boy never had killed any animals, except a stray mole or two, that happened to get out in the daytime, by mistake, but he was goin' to—and—well, there was so much to be told, and it had to be told so fast, that no shorthand writer that ever lived could have put it all down.
But finally, no matter how interesting the company, sleep will come to healthy boys, and just before that time came, and could not be put off any longer, they happened to be talking about dreams. Abe said that if you would tie a rope around your neck, and tie it to a beam, just before you went to sleep, you would sure dream of a hanging. And, of course, Whitey had to try it.
He tied the rope around his neck, he tied the other end around a beam, and he went to sleep. There were six boys in that bed, and there was a whole lot of crowding, and Whitey was sleeping on the outside. And he didn't have to dream about any hanging, because he came so near the real thing. I don't have to tell you how it happened. Bill Jordan's letter came mighty near not being delivered. However, all ended happily, and save for rubbing that part of his anatomy where he wore a collar after he was grown up, Whitey was all right.
THE T UP AND DOWN
The next day Cal Smith said that a joke was all very well, but twenty-five miles was far enough to carry it, and he staked Whitey to a horse to make the rest of the trip with, Whitey to return the horse on his way back. When they reached Zumbro Creek it hadn't gone down a bit, except to go down stream, and it was doing that like the dickens. It certainly was a very bad-tempered-looking creek, but Cal Smith wasn't afraid of it.
He had brought along all his sons, and a couple of ranch hands, and instructed them to stand by with ropes, while he took Whitey about a quarter of a mile up the creek, and the two of them plunged in. Cal Smith was not going to let any kid try to swim a horse across that creek by himself.
It was quite a sight to see all those Smith boys standing in a line on the bank. With the biggest one, Abe, at one end, and the smallest one, Cal, at the other, and the rest of them standing according to their sizes, they looked like a flight of steps. And little Cal was too small to be of any use, but he didn't know that, and some one had given him the end of a lariat to hold, and he clutched it, and looked as anxious and important as any one.
All went well with Cal Smith and Whitey until they got to about the middle of the creek, and then, zowie! the full force of the current hit them, and they went down the stream as though they were a couple of feathers. But the little range ponies were just as game as Cal Smith, and they kept fighting that stream as though they were humans, and kept edging over and edging over until they finally got a footing and scrambled out on the other bank, a full quarter of a mile below the ford. So Zumbro Creek had beat them a whole half-mile down stream, on that trip across.
"So long, son," said Cal Smith. "You've only got about twelve miles to go to reach the T Up and Down, and you'd better stay there a couple of days before you start back, to give this creek a chance to learn how to behave itself."
Then Cal Smith rode back a half-mile up the stream to make the return trip, and Whitey watched, and the flight of steps of Smith boys watched. And when Cal landed safely, and Whitey waved at them all from a distance, as he rode away, he felt, as I think you will feel, that it was no wonder Western men had the reputation of being big-hearted, when a man like Cal Smith would take all that trouble for a boy he never had seen before.
The T Up and Down was a rather small ranch, boasting not over a thousand head of cattle, but its manager, Dan Brayton, proved to be a very large man. That is, he was large around, for he was not tall. He must have weighed nearly three hundred pounds, and when Whitey first saw him, he at once wondered how he ever got on a horse, and then Whitey reflected that it sure would take a mighty strong horse to buck with Dan on it.
When Whitey arrived, Dan was in what he called his office, a small room all fitted up with saddles and bridles, and boots and spurs, and belts and guns, and—oh, yes; there was a little desk almost hidden in the litter, and Dan Brayton was seated at it, his face all wrinkled in the effort to solve some figures written on a piece of paper.
Dan received Whitey cordially, but seemed surprised to hear that he was the bearer of an important letter from Bill Jordan. He held the letter in his hand and looked at it critically, as people do who are not in the habit of receiving many letters, and he asked:
"How is Silent?"
"Silent?" inquired the puzzled Whitey.
"Sure, Silent," replied Dan. "That's what we allus called Bill Jordan back in Wyomin'."
"Why, he talks all the time," said Whitey.
"That's th' reason we called him Silent," Dan answered, chuckling.
Whitey did not know that Bill Jordan hated this nickname, and had done his best to leave it behind when he moved from Wyoming, and that when he came to Montana he only got rid of it by licking several cowpunchers who tried to tack it onto him there. But he answered that Bill was very well. When Dan had looked the letter up and down, and behind and before, and over and back, he finally opened it and read it.
But before he had finished it, he was attacked by a violent fit of coughing and choking, and became almost purple in the face. Whitey feared that he might be about to have a fit of apoplexy, which he had heard that stout people are subject to, but Dan gasped out something about going to get a drink, and hurried from the room, and was gone a long time.
Even then Whitey did not suspect anything. He was so pleased with the journey—barring the twenty-five-mile walk—and with the strange experiences he was having, that his mind had no room in which to harbor suspicious thoughts of Bill Jordan. When Dan returned, he seemed better, though his face was a trifle red. He apologized to Whitey, saying that he was subject to such "spells." Then he inquired how Whitey got along on his trip to the T Up and Down.
Whitey described his journey, and Dan seemed much concerned about Whitey's having had to walk the twenty-five miles, and couldn't understand how Bill Jordan had made the mistake of supposing that Cal Smith's ranch was on the stage road. And when Whitey told him that the driver thought Bill was playing a joke on him, Dan shook his head solemnly, and seemed almost about to have another spell, and allowed that Bill suttinly wouldn't play no joke o' that kind.
Whitey had thought that most fat people were jolly, and was surprised to find Dan Brayton so serious. But he thought maybe it was the letter that made him so, for when he looked at it, he wrinkled up his forehead, and coughed behind his hand, and seemed to be considering it very weightily. At last he spoke.
"This here letter's very important," Dan said, "an' I don't wonder Bill wouldn't trust none o' them fool punchers with it. An' 'course, Bill didn't c'nfide its insides t' you, knowin' how important your father takes all them important matters o' his."
Whitey wondered if Dan didn't know any other long word besides "important," but he said nothing, while Dan thought and thought about the letter, and finally spoke again.
"I bin thinkin'," he said, "that I'll have t' c'nsider this here matter 't some length, 'fore decidin' on no course o' action. You don't mind stayin' overnight, do you?"
Whitey replied that it had been his intention to remain at the T Up and Down for a day or two, if it was agreeable to Dan, so that matter was settled.
"Th' ain't much t' see 'round here, th' country bein' kind o' flat an' uninterestin', an' I reck'n, bein' rather tired, you wouldn't mind just settin' here an' readin', while I go an' c'nsult with my foreman," Dan said, and went away and presently returned with a big thick book, which was very heavy, and gave it to Whitey. "This here's my fav'rut book," Dan continued, "an' is very absorbin'. Set in my chair there, an' read y'self t' death, 'f you feel like it," and Dan took himself off.
So Whitey sat in Dan's chair, which happened to be the only chair in the room, and was extremely uncomfortable, being all sagged down on one side, on account of Dan's weight. The book proved to be a several-years-old copy of the Congressional Record, containing the speeches made before Congress at that time, and in addition to being heavy, it was more than dull. Whitey couldn't understand how Dan found it "absorbin'." Dan certainly must be a serious-minded person, despite his fat. And yet, from over near the bunk house, Whitey heard loud laughter coming from several men. He reflected hopefully that perhaps the hands were not so solemn as Dan Brayton.
But this hope was ill-founded, for later, when Dan took Whitey to the bunk house, he found all the punchers who were there were reading serious-looking books. Whitey supposed that "like master, like man," they must be taking after Dan Brayton. He did not know that some of those cowboys couldn't read at all, and if he had looked close enough he might have seen that some of those who could read were holding their books upside down.
Whitey's stay at the T Up and Down turned out to be as dull as the Congressional Record. There was an old-fashioned melodeon in the living-room of the ranch house, and it was very much out of tune. One of the punchers could play, and he played, and the others sang hymns, and sang them very badly, and when they had finished the hymns, they started on doleful songs like "The Cowboy's Lament," and "Bury Me On the Lone Perare-e-e."
These seemed to be great favorites with the punchers, and Whitey wondered at it. They were getting less popular with him every minute. Afterwards he learned what may have made them please the men; that almost all the songs sung on the ranges are written by the cowboys themselves, and they may be dismal because of being composed during lonely night rides.
One puncher called "Little" Thompson, who was high and narrow in build—shaped something like a lath, with a face something like an undertaker's—sang at length. First a doleful ditty that went like this:
"Oh! my name it is J.W. Wright, I came from Tennessee. There was a killin' in th' mountains, th' sheriff got his, ye see. I left my wife an' babies, them kids I loved so well, An' I'll find a grave on th' lone prairee, Oh! pardners, ain't it hell?"
After this had dragged out its weary length he got an encore, and responded with this gem:
"We came up over th' long trail, Three thousand cattle strong. Ned Saunders needed a hair cut, Fer his hair was too darned long.
"Oh, th' night was dark an' stormee, An' the Injuns round did yell, So we herded into a canyon, An' th' sons-o'-guns come like hell.
"Ned lost his hair, he didn't care, Fer he had lots t' spare, Oh, te-tumity tum-tum,"—and so on.
There were at least a hundred verses of this last, each verse more deadly dull than the one before, and Little was very conscientious; he didn't slight any of them. Long before he was through, Whitey envied the fate of Ned Saunders. But the evening was only mortal, it had to end, and at last it did.
Whitey must have shown signs of wear, for as they parted to go to bed, Dan Brayton said to him, "Cheer up, it may rain to-morrow," and it did!
Now, if there was anything more depressing than the T Up and Down when the weather was fine, it was that same ranch when it rained. How Whitey got through that awful day he never really knew. The most cheerful thing that happened was during dinner, when Dan Brayton told a long yarn about a brother of his, who had small-pox and fleas at one and the same time, and, as Dan said, "was more t' be pitied than scorned." And this might have been a joke, though no one laughed. But at last evening came with another programme of dirges, then night with its blessed sleep.
FELIX THE FAITHLESS
To Whitey's intense relief the following morning was clear, and he realized, with delight, that at last he would be able to get away from the T Up and Down. He had never been so tired of a place in his life. It was almost worse than school.
After breakfast Dan Brayton took Whitey into his office, and while Whitey sat on a saddle, Dan slouched in his saggy chair and talked business.
"I'm sure glad you bin able t' stay a coupl'a days," he said. "It musta bin a pleasant change for you, an' it's give me a chanst t' think over this here important business o' your father's. I've writ a letter for you t' deliver, t' my friend Walt Lampson, o' the Star Circle, down so'east o' here a piece, for you t' take t' him. Y' see, we can't fill all your dad's r'quir'munts, so I'm callin' on Walt t' sort o' help out with th' balance."
Dan looked impressively at Whitey, who didn't understand much of what he was talking about, and didn't care about anything he was to do, he was so glad to get away from the T Up and Down.
"This'll take you out of your way a bit," Dan went on, "but you won't have t' cross th' Zumbro, an' I'll send back that hoss you borrowed from Cal Smith, by one o' the hands. An' I'll lend you one o' my nags t' take you as far as Willer Bend, where you c'n get another mount. Little Thompson'll go that far with you, an' from there on th' goin's straight."
So, on the borrowed horse, and with the letter sewed inside his shirt, Whitey set forth with Little Thompson, the tall, thin, solemn cowboy who had sung the dismal songs. And glad as he was to leave, Whitey regretted that he did not have a more cheerful companion. For Little's idea of entertainment was to talk about funerals.
He seemed to have enjoyed going to them greatly, and described each individual one at length. Never before had Whitey known what a subject for conversation funerals could make. Little dwelled on the burial of each one of his immediate family, then passed on to his distant relatives, then to his friends, then to his acquaintances. Whitey's nerves were pretty steady, as you know, but after about four hours of this, Little got him so fidgety that he thought he would fall off the horse. Finally he thought Little had changed the subject, and breathed a sigh of relief.
"Drink's a awful evil," Little announced solemnly. "They was a friend o' mine, one o' them two-handed drinkers, what was down to Bismarck, an' got in th' c'ndition what liquor perduces, an' this friend o' mine was standin' on th' sidewalk, an' 'long comes a funeral."
"Here it is again!" muttered Whitey, with a groan.
"An' this friend o' mine," Little continued, "sees this here funeral, an' bein' in th' c'ndition he's in, he thinks it is a percession, an' he waves his hat an' cheers, an' he gets urrested."
Little looked sternly at Whitey as though to drive the moral of this story home, and to warn him never to drink and cheer a funeral. But at this moment "Willer Bend" hove in sight, and the talk turned to other channels.
The Bend was a relief in more ways than one, for it was a beautiful spot on the sharp turn of a narrow creek, whose banks were overhung by weeping-willows, the green of their leaves made vivid by the recent rain. One Chet Morgan, a nester, lived here. Nesters—or small farmers—were not usually popular in the early days of the Western ranges, as they had a way of fencing in the springs, or water-holes, to provide irrigation for their crops. But there was plenty of water in that country, so Chet was welcome to all of it he wanted.
While Whitey sat in the doorway of the small shack, Little had a long talk with Chet, near the stable, and Chet seemed to be nodding his head in agreement to everything the puncher said. They then rested awhile and had dinner with the nester, and after that Little rode away, leading Whitey's borrowed horse. There seemed no reason for Whitey's staying any longer, and Chet again went to the stable, and returned leading what is called a jack, "jack" being short for "jackass."
"Here's your mount, son," said Chet, "an' if you'll keep t' th'—"
"Am I to ride that?" Whitey demanded, pointing at the jack.
"Sure," Chet replied. "Both of my hosses has glanders, but this jack's all right. I've rid him offen. You'll find him gentle an' perseverin' an' good comp'ny. Mebbe he does go a mite faster toward home than away from it, but he allus gets somewhere. His name's Felix, after a uncle o' mine what—"
Followed a personal history of Chet's uncle, to which Whitey did not listen. He was thinking of the figure he would cut arriving at the Star Circle on Felix, and hoped he would get there at night. Chet returned to the subject of the jack, to whose back a blanket was strapped.
"I'm sorry my saddles won't fit him," said Chet, "but you'll find sittin' on this blanket as comf'tbul as your mother's rockin'-chair, an' you've only sixty mile t' go."
"Sixty miles!" gasped Whitey.
"Thassall. Now you keep t' that road, with them hills t' your right, an' when you get t'—"
Chet described at length Whitey's route to the Star Circle Ranch. Sadly Whitey mounted Felix and set forth. Again the road proved little but a grass-grown wagon track through the rolling plain edged by the gray hills. And soon it seemed to Whitey that Chet had been over-enthusiastic when he said that Felix's back was easy as a rocking-chair. At first it might have seemed so, but after awhile it felt more like a rail fence.
And Whitey discovered peculiar traits in Felix. He constantly wanted to turn to the right, and had to be pulled back, and he was cold-jawed. And once in a while he would stop short, and when Whitey urged him on, would start in a despondent way, with his head down and his ears flopping, and would have to be kicked or whipped to be urged to do anything faster than a walk. It was all very discouraging.
Perhaps you never have seen a horse or a jack attached to the end of the pole of one of those old stone grinding-mills, around which he marches and marches, while the grain is ground between the whirling stones in the center. That was Felix's regular job, which accounted for many of his peculiarities—but Whitey never knew about it.
Among the interesting things about animals is their sense of time. Many of them seem to be as accurate as clocks and some of them as useful as calendars. One dog, in particular, comes to my mind, whom his master used to bathe on Sundays. And when this custom was firmly fixed in his—the pup's—mind, he would go away on Friday night and stay away till Monday morning. He got to be the dirtiest dog in town.
And the easiest time for an animal to tell is the time to stop work and eat. Felix was very clever in that regard. At about six o'clock the unsuspecting Whitey dismounted to stretch himself and ease the strain of jouncing up and down on that rocking-chair that had come to feel like a ridge-pole. Naturally his eyes turned away from Felix, to whom he was beginning to take a personal dislike.
Whitey's eyes were brought back with a jerk by the soft thud of little hoofs on the prairie, for Felix was beating it back toward Willer Bend, with a speed that astonished his late rider. Whitey started after him instinctively, but he soon realized that that was useless, and he stood and watched, while Felix became a blurred spot in the distance. Whitey didn't know that it was time to quit for the day at the grinding-mill—and it would not have done him any good if he had.
But he knew that it was lonely on the prairie. And that he had come only about a third of the way to the Star Circle Ranch. So he supposed he must be in for another walk, for he wouldn't go back to Willer Bend for that Felix, not if he died for it. He started determinedly on his course. He might meet some one who would give him a lift. Anyway, it was going to be a moonlight night, and wouldn't be so bad; and walking wasn't much slower than riding Felix, and was far more comfortable.
So Whitey trudged and trudged until dusk came. Then he sat down and ate some of the food he had brought with him. Then darkness came, and a big moon poked its head up over the eastern horizon, and rode up into the sky, where it began to get smaller and more silvery, and to flood the prairie with its light. And Whitey started, and it wasn't so bad to tread the soft road, and to hear the hum of the insects, and to feel the gentle night breeze against his face, and it would be something to tell about afterwards.
Whitey did not know what time it was when he sat down on a hummock to rest. And he must have fallen asleep, for after a while, out of some vague country that seemed like the mountains near the Bar O Ranch, a great giant came rushing down toward him. And the giant had a head like Felix's, but on top of it was a big yellow light—like those lamps miners wear on their heads—that grew brighter and brighter, and the giant roared louder and louder, until he woke Whitey up.
Whitey rubbed his eyes, then pinched himself to make sure he was awake, for the roaring still sounded in his ears, and he looked around and saw two little red and green lights disappearing in the distance. And then he understood that he must have sat down near the track of the railroad, for those lights were on the end of a train, and the big yellow light on the giant's head must have been the engine's headlight.
Well, the road followed the railway for a distance, and it couldn't be such an awful way to the Star Circle Ranch. Should he go on, or should he sleep some more? He might catch cold from the dew, but he could put on his slicker, and—he was awfully tired.
He yawned, he nodded, he was sound asleep before he knew it.
A FOOL'S ERRAND
When Whitey arrived at the Star Circle Ranch, at about ten o'clock in the morning, he was still a very tired boy. The Star Circle was a much larger ranch than the T Up and Down, with a much smaller manager, for Walt Lampson, who was also part owner of the place, was not much taller than Whitey, and he was serious-looking, too—didn't look at all like Cal Brayton.
After Whitey had delivered his letter to Walt Lampson and had eaten some breakfast, which the cook had rustled for him, he began to tell Walt of his adventures in coming from the T Up and Down, and he was surprised when Walt roared with laughter. This attracted some of the cowpunchers, and they roared, too. Whitey had to repeat the part about Felix going home. It seemed strange to Whitey that Cal Brayton who looked so merry should be so solemn, and Walt Lampson who looked so solemn should be so merry.
After sleeping for about twelve hours at a stretch for three nights Whitey might be said to be a trifle rested and able to look around and take an interest in his surroundings. And he began to discover things about the character of the men on the Star Circle Ranch. They were given to loud laughter, but he noticed that most of this laughter was at the misfortunes of others. And they were always playing jokes on one another and cutting up tricks; but beneath this playfulness there seemed to be a sort of fierceness—something like the ferocity that lurks beneath the play of a tiger.
He had plenty of time for these reflections and feelings, as Walt Lampson did not seem to be in a hurry about attending to Mr. Sherwood's business, and Whitey caught Walt and the men looking at him in a peculiar way, when they thought he was not noticing them. On the third day after his arrival—an unpleasant, lowering day, for that time of the year, with a cold wind—Walt spoke thus to Whitey:
"I'm havin' some stock cut out, t'day, t' send to your dad. How'd ye like t' go out on th' range an' take a look at it?"
"Is that the business Bill sent me on?" asked Whitey.
"Partly," Walt answered. "What d'ye say? You might as well do that as loaf around here."
"I'll go," said Whitey.
"All right. You c'n go with Hank Dawes. He's startin' pretty soon, an' he'll get you a hoss."
It was some relief to Whitey to be galloping over the prairie, though Hank Dawes was not the man he would have chosen as a companion. Hank's cruelty to his horse turned Whitey against him. Whitey had seen many animals treated unfeelingly, but he never could understand how a man could enjoy torturing one, as Hank seemed to. Finally, after an outburst on Hank's part that included quirting and spurring and swearing, Whitey could hold in no longer.
"If you'd treat your horse better he'd behave better," he said angrily. "You ought to know that."
For a moment Hank looked blankly at Whitey, then burst out laughing. He could not understand any one's having consideration for a horse, and the boy's anger struck him as being funny. Whitey turned from him in disgust, baffled by such a lack of understanding and feeling.
The writer knows many men in the West, and, having been born and raised there, naturally thinks Westerners the finest men in the world. But for him to deny that there are good and bad among them would be idle. As idle to deny that some of them were cruel to their horses. Among these the Indians and Mexicans bear the worst reputations with those who are supposed to know. But, for the sake of truth, the author wishes to say that he found the Indians uniformly kind to their horses. And as for the Mexicans, not only were they always kind and considerate to their mounts, but they were among the greatest horsemen in the world.
Whitey and Hank rode for a time in a silence broken only by Hank's occasional profane mutterings at his patient horse, then Whitey descried two objects moving toward him from the west. At first he mistook them for two horsemen, then discovered that one horse was being led, then that the rider was Injun, and the led horse was Monty. With a whoop of astonishment and joy Whitey galloped toward them.
"Hello, Injun, what's all this?" yelled Whitey when within speaking distance, so glad that he was almost ready to embrace his friend.
Injun, as usual, showed no surprise, but there was a gleam of welcome in his eye. "Monty, him stolen," he said. "Me find him."
Whitey wormed Injun's story from him, in jerky sentences, while Hank Dawes rode up and looked on, and listened indifferently. It seemed that two days before, at the Bar O Ranch Monty had "turned up missing." Injun, who knew Monty's hoofprints as one friend would know the color of another's eyes, had taken it upon himself to follow them. They had led him a long chase, ending at a night camp, many miles west of the spot where he and Whitey met.
Injun had tied his pony some distance from the camp. This that he might not whinney a greeting to Monty. Then Injun had crept up on the camper-thief, and waited patiently until "him snore heap." Then Injun had quietly extracted Monty from that camp, and silently faded away into the night. He was now on his way to the Bar O.
"Didn't you see who the thief was?" asked Whitey.
"Him fire out. Me 'fraid make light," said Injun, unknowingly giving a hint of the time he must have visited at the camp.
Monty was showing his joy at meeting Whitey, who was patting the pony's neck.
"This isn't my saddle!" Whitey cried suddenly.
"Him Bill Jordan's saddle," said Injun, grinning. It seemed to appeal to Injun's peculiar sense of humor that the clever Mr. Jordan should have had his saddle stolen.
"Did Bill suspect any one?" inquired Whitey.
"Guess heap, can't tell," Injun replied. "Henry Dorgan, him leave Monday," Injun added darkly, plainly willing to connect the man he disliked with the theft.
Whitey hardly thought that Dorgan would risk a return to the ranch for Monty, though he always had admired the pony. If Dorgan had stolen Monty, it was pleasant to think that he was now wending his way across the plains on foot.
Another idea occurred to Whitey. "Why don't you stay with me, Injun?" he demanded. "Then we can ride back to the Bar O together."
Injun grinned his agreement to the idea, not saying that he had thought of it first. So Whitey transferred his person to Monty, and, leading the Star Circle horse, he and Injun and Hank Dawes continued on their way. And Mr. Dawes was allowed to ride ahead while Whitey told Injun what had befallen him since leaving the Bar O Ranch, and of his present errand.
Injun cast a knowing eye at the sky. "No cut out cows t'day," he said. "Heap storm comin'."
"What's the difference?" Whitey asked. "Maybe we can ride night herd. It'll be great fun."
Riding night herd was not Injun's idea of fun, but he was so glad to be with Whitey again that he made no objection. He seldom made objections, anyway. It occurred to neither of the boys that after Injun's long pursuit of the horse-thief, it would be a hardship for him to ride all that day and possibly that night. And, of course, Injun wasn't hungry. He had not been fool enough to start out on a long chase without providing himself with food.
So the boys rode on. Even had they known into what they were riding it is unlikely that they would have turned back. Had Walt Lampson known of the coming peril he would not have been at the Star Circle, laughingly telling his men of sending Whitey on a wild-goose chase, that would end with his spending a night in the saddle, facing a blinding storm. Lampson and all the men he could summon would have been heavily armed, dashing at full speed toward the threatened herd.
Buck Milton, the range boss, made a better impression on Whitey than any other man he had seen at the Star Circle. He was tall, blond, sinewy. He was thoughtful and serious, and not ill-natured. He looked like a man who could take a joke which he might not understand any too well, and put up a fight in which he would prove a deadly factor. In short, he was a character you would look at twice, and Whitey was surprised to find him in the Star Circle outfit.
Hank Dawes handed Buck a letter, which Whitey took to be instructions from Walt Lampson, and Buck read it, talked to Hank a moment, and when Buck rode over to where Whitey waited with Injun, he was smiling.
"There won't be no cuttin' out t'day," he said. "Too late, for one thing, and for another it's goin' t' storm. You boys like t' stay with th' herd t'night? Be kinda rough."
"Why, yes. We'd like it immensely. It'll be a sort of adventure," Whitey replied.
"Well, some folks might call it that," said Buck. "You might stick along with me." And he and the boys rode off together.
You must know of the old, old enmity that existed between the cowmen and the sheepmen of those early days of the Western ranges. In the neighborhood in which Whitey found himself, this enmity was particularly bitter, for more and more had the sheep been encroaching on the plains that the cattlemen regarded as their own. And the reason for this enmity: once the white-coated flocks had passed over the land it was dead as a feeding-ground for cattle.
So little wonder that the cattlemen thought of the sheep as pests or vermin, and considered their owners as deadly foes, and in turn were regarded as foes by the sheepmen. The cattlemen were in possession of most of the ranges, and possession was nine points of the law in a country in which there was little law, except that of the gun.
Along the banks of the Yellowstone, where it wended its snakelike course to the Missouri, wandered the massive herds of the Star Circle, and around them rode the cow waddies, the few outriders, keeping their charges from straying, and ever watchful for the dreaded sheep, which had of late sprung up like buffalo grass, and, as Buck Milton expressed it, "in a country that God had made for cows."
And over the range in like peace grazed the enemy; white-fleeced, soft and downy as doves, and as harmless and innocent. Of all weapons ever used in warfare the strangest, these living emblems of innocence. It was a warfare fought far from the public eye. The men who fought the cattle were little like those bull-fighters of Spain who responded to the applause of thousands. They acted in the dark, if they could, and for hire, and yet they may have had hearts—but those who hired them surely had none.
And all unconscious of coming danger the boys rode with the few herders, or by themselves, near the wandering cattle. The storm had held off while twilight faded, but now the sky was cloud-curtained, and the night fell inky black and silent save for sounds from the herd. The soft thudding of hoofs, the occasional low-voiced note, possibly of a cow to its young, seemed to blend into a murmur, strange and fascinating to Whitey, commonplace and tiresome to the men of the range.
Then the storm began to send signals of its approach from air and sky. First the hushing of the wind, then the pale glares from the distant sky where the earth's edge joined it, then the rumble of thunder, growing in volume with the brighter, green flashes of the lightning—all familiar enough to Whitey, but now giving him a thrill because felt in strange surroundings. The nervous stirring of the mass of beasts near by added to the boy's thrill, for a coming storm was never to be taken calmly by the hulking, helpless brutes.
And when the rush of wind and the crashing of the coming tempest sounded, and the herders were renewing their watchfulness, another storm was breeding that they did not dream of. For over beyond, in a gully, the sheepmen were gathered. And each man carried a white garment, like those you may have seen pictured as worn by the old raiders of the South—the Ku-Klux Klan. They were waiting only for the lightning to become blinding, the thunder to become deafening.
And when the electrical storm was at its height, you will know what happened when those white-clad figures went among the thousands of range-bred beasts, guarded by a pitiful handful of men. For range cattle are accustomed to a man only when he is mounted; then he is a part of his horse. It is dangerous for him to go among them on foot; then he is a strange animal. Many a cowboy has dismounted, rescued a steer from the mire—and had to run for his life. Thus were those white-clad figures doubly monstrous and terrifying to the herd.