"Still, by and by there floated back to us a story of how a greaser had been chased by a horrible white devil that stood twenty foot high, with teeth a foot long, horns, hoofs, claws, and a spiked tail; which travelled at a rate of speed that made a streak of lightning seem like a way-freight, scattering red fire and brimstone as it ran; which chased said greaser forty mile over hill and dale and gulch and mountain top and Bad-Land district, after polishing off his horse in one bite, and finally sank into the ground with a report like a ton of giant powder.
"And I've often wondered what really become of that bear."
The Little Bear who Grew
I was standing at the door of the office one afternoon in August. The office was on Main Street,—a thoroughfare fronting railroad tracks and a long strip of fenced grass, dotted with newly planted trees, called the "park,"—in a North Dakota town. It was hot. I mean, hot. Down that long thin street the shadows of false-fronted stores lay like blue slag on molten iron. Nothing moved: this particular metropolis-to-be of the Northwest was given over to heat and silence. Yet it wasn't muggy, sea-coast heat that turns bone and muscle into jelly—it was a passion of sun-power, light and heat together.
Just to be on a horse out in it over the prairie swells was to taste the flavour of adventure. But no such thing for me. I had to take care of the office. A thermometer inside that office marked one hundred and fourteen degrees. Had it been inside of me it would have marked three hundred and fourteen degrees.
I shall not tell the series of injustices that obliged me to stay in that hencoop, while the rest of the force went gleefully up the line to attend a ball game. I didn't count for much, while the decision in regard to the one who stayed rested in the hands of Fate. It was the manager's own pack of cards I cut. I can recall the look of sophisticated astonishment those rascals wore at my persistent bad luck. I found out afterwards that every mother's son of them had bought his ticket the day before. They had faith in that pack of cards. Most of the town had gone with them; this accounted for the deserted village effect. Several days before this I sat up all night reading H. Rider Haggard's "She." The desire to figure in remarkable events had not yet worn off, but a more unlikely theatre of adventure than that Main Street could not be conceived. I looked up and down the length of it. Hark! What sound is that? 'T is the rattle of wheels, and the "plunkety-plunk" of a farm-horse's trot. Around the corner comes an ancient Studebaker waggon drawn by an old horse, and in it two small boys are seated on a bushel basket—hardly a crisis. I fell to envying the small boys, for all that. They could go and come as they pleased; they were their own masters, free to do as they liked in the world.
As if to show that this was, indeed, the fact, in the broadest meaning of the words, the two urchins suddenly leaped high in the air, uttering shrieks; they landed on the ground and scuttled across the park as fast as legs could carry them. Absolutely no reason for this performance appeared to the eye. The horse stopped, turning his mild gaze after them, then swung his head until he saw me, at whom he gazed with that expression of complete bewilderment always so comical in an equine face. "Account for that, if you can," he said, as plainly as the printed words could do it. Finding no solution in me, he shook his head and blew his nose. He was a kind old horse, always willing to oblige, but to plan an independent campaign was beyond him, so he stood just where he was, probably saying, "Great is Allah!" to himself in the Houyhnhnm tongue, waiting for what was going to happen to get about it. The plot increased in thickness, for the bushel basket began a mysterious journey toward the back of the waggon, impelled by an unseen power. It was a curious thing to see in broad daylight. I felt quite a prickle down my spine as I watched it. Arriving at the end, over it went, disclosing the secret. From out of that basket came a small bear. I swallowed an ejaculation and looked at him. He, entirely unabashed, returned my gaze—a funny little ruffian! On the end of his spinal column he teetered, all four feet in the air, the cock of his head irresistibly suggesting the tilt of a gamin's cap. His tongue hung waggishly out of his mouth, and a sort of loose, dissipated, tough, cynical humour pervaded his person, from the squint of his little eyes to the absurd post of his hind legs. There was less of the immature bear about him than of the miniature bear. I suppose a young wild animal is like a street Arab, in that he receives his worldly knowledge with his milk.
He had on a collar and chain, whereby I recognised he was someone's property. To clear this part of history, the two small boys had been hired to take him to Mr. D——'s menagerie, when, after a struggle, he had been ensconced beneath the bushel basket. They were not the happy youths I had taken them for, these boys,—how often we envy the lot of others unwisely!—for they were obliged to sit on the basket in order to retain their captive, dreading all the time what a moment's carelessness brought to pass, an attack from beneath. When one incautious foot ventured too near the basket, Mr. Bear promptly clawed and chewed it; hence the shrieks, and the flight.
Well, not wishing this piece of live stock to escape, I walked toward him, affecting the unconcern necessary in approaching an animal. He did not retreat; he swayed on his spine and regarded me jeeringly. I grabbed the chain and pulled. Instantly, he nailed me by the leg. He had nothing but milk teeth, or I should have been much the worse for the encounter. As it was, he pinched like a vise with his strong little jaws, and I had all I wanted to pry him loose. I tried to hold him at arm's length, but he turned inside of his baggy overcoat and bit and clawed until I gave that up. I then whirled him at the end of the chain. He flew through the air with spread legs until the chain snapped, when he landed many yards away. He was up and off as soon as he stopped rolling, and I after him. The boy who was running the clothing store several vacant lots from the office came to his door at that moment, and, feeling that a bear hunt was more to his taste than twiddling his thumbs in an empty store, he came along, too, and the flour office and the clothing store were left in the hands of Providence—fortunately there were no thieves in old-time Dakota.
In front was young Mr. Bear, boring a hole in the wind, and behind him two boys, coming strong, but not in his class for speed. Our quarry gained one block in three. We just rounded a barn in time to see him jump into a wood shed behind a real estate office.
I knew a cat with kittens lived in that wood shed, and strained myself to reach there before the fun was over. However, there was ample time. The code of the animal duel is as formal and long-winded as anything the mind of man has devised. Probably everyone has seen two young cockerels, standing with their bills together, apparently lost in a Buddhistic reverie, suddenly broken by violence. They are only an illustration. All animals have their ceremonial of battle, when it is for the fun of fighting, pure and simple, with the dinner question eliminated.
The weird war song of Mrs. Cat, pealing out from the cracks of the wood shed, assured us we would be repaid for our trouble, but the tone indicated that the fell moment had not arrived. We peered through a chink. The cat was in a corner, her family around her. Her eyes roamed all over the wood shed, merely taking the bear in en passant. She seemed unconscious of the awful noise which ripped the air.
The bear, for his part, was unaware of the proximity of a yowling cat. He never so much as glanced in her direction, having found a very diverting chunk of coal, which he batted about the floor. A singular thing was that, when the coal moved it always moved nearer the cat.
The cat prepared for trouble, after the manner of her kind, and the bear prepared to cause it, after the manner of his kind. Occasionally, when a blood-curdling screech from his antagonist rang upon his eardrums, the cub would stop a moment and gaze pensively through and beyond the end of the wood shed, as if, indeed, from far off, a certain sound, made filmy and infinitesimal by distance, had reached him. Then he would smile deprecatingly to himself, as if to say, "How easily I am deceived!"
Excellent as was the feigned indifference of Mr. Bear, it must be borne in mind that he was opposed to an animal of parts. Our friend, the cat, was not a whit taken in by the comedy. When the time came for her to leap she was ready, to the last hair of her chimney-cleaner tail. She had been making most elaborate preparations all the while, stretching and retracting her claws, squirming her whalebone body flatter and flatter, her tail assuming majestic proportions, while her ears disappeared in inverse ratio.
Nearer and nearer came the chunk of coal and the slouching little bear, a touch of caution in each pretended careless action. Awful and more awful grew Grimalkin's battle plaint—her eyes blazed demoniacally.
By some subtle assurance, we humans were made aware that, on the floor of the wood shed, an imaginary deadline had been drawn by Mrs. Cat, and, when Ursus Minor advanced so much as the length of a claw beyond that in his orbit, an incident would mark his career. You may believe me or not, but the little bear understood not only this much, but he also knew where that line lay. Fully a minute he tantalised us by coquetting with it. He would advance recklessly, and we would say to ourselves, "Now!" when, lo! he would turn at the fatal point, to lie on his side and amuse himself by clawing at the chunk of coal.
Suddenly he boldly stepped across. An instant of numbing silence fell. A swish! A cat on a small bear's back. A scene impossible! A hairy tornado, rolling, twisting, flopping, yelling, screeching, roaring, and howling, tore, bit, scratched, clawed, and walloped all over the place. An epileptic nebula; a maelstrom that revolved in every way known to man at the same instant; a prodigy of tooth and claw. If that fight were magnified a hundred times, a glimpse of it would kill; as it was, myself and the clothing store boy clung weakly to the wall and wept.
The cat's tough hide easily turned the bear's claws, and his teeth were too tiny to work mischief; while his thick, shaggy coat made pussy's keener weapons ineffectual. As a consequence, the storm raged with unbridled ferocity, the motion of the foemen being so swift none could tell who was getting the better of it. There was energy in that small action and a bitterness of sound altogether indescribable, the mews of the astounded kittens quavering shrilly and loudly through the general frenzy.
At length, in spite of his antagonist's agility, the bear managed to get his "holt," and puss, wrapped in his strong arms, was practically whipped; not without protest—she was a "last-ditch" warrior. The bear settled back as grim and stolid as General Grant might have done, while the chivalry of the wood shed applied her hind claws to his waistcoat. However, the bear could do a little in this line himself. The effect was that each tried unsuccessfully to walk up the other.
The "strangle hold" began to tell. Never shall I forget the desperation in that cat's face as it appeared between the squeezing arms of the bear. Their attitude had such a resemblance to the "Huguenot Lovers" I have not been able since to look at that celebrated picture with proper countenance.
At this point, my companion and I came to the rescue. Finding all attempts at separating them by hand resulted in the usual wages of the peacemaker, we grabbed the chain and hauled the war to the pump. The pump was only a short distance way, yet it took us several minutes to make the trip, as every time we turned and gazed at them, their rigid adherence to their relative positions, no matter what condition as a whole this mode of locomotion caused them to assume, and the leering, bourgeois complacency of the victorious bear, contrasting with the patrician despair of the vanquished, caused such a weakness to come over us that we had to sit upon the ground for a while.
Water is the universal solvent. About half a minute under the pump formed the solution of this problem. A wet and skinny-looking cat, her elegance departed, streaked back to the wood shed and her offspring, while a sober and bedraggled little bear trotted behind his captors to Mr. D——'s menagerie.
This was my introduction to this bear. We called him "Cat-thumper," after the Indian fashion of christening a child from some marked exploit or incident in his career. This became contracted to "Thumper," an appropriate title, for, with the fat pickings of the restaurant, his bearship grew with a rapidity that made it a puzzle how his hide contained him.
Under these genial conditions Thumper developed humour. It became possible for one to romp with him, and in the play he was careful not to use his strength. So exemplary became his conduct that his owner, a man who never could learn from experience, or even from Billy Buck, decided to take him on Main Street. Mr. D——'s novelties were a standing menace to the security of the town and his own person as well. The amount of vanity that fat little man possessed would have supplied a theatrical company. One of his first acts, on entering a town, was to purchase the fiercest white hat, and the most aboriginal buck-skin suit to be obtained, and then don them. Almost the next act on the part of his fellow-townsmen was to hire a large and ferocious looking "cow-puncher" to recognise in Mr. D—— an ancient enemy, and make a vicious attack upon him with blank cartridges and much pomp and circumstance. Still it had no permanent effect on Mr. D——. Badinage could not wither him nor cussing stale his infinite variety. With all his exasperating traits, he had an impassable child-like faith in his doings and a soothing influence that made one smile when one wanted to cry.
The passage up street was made with no happening worthy of note except, of course, that other travellers gave him a wide berth (to Mr. D——'s extreme gratification) until they came to the butcher shop. Here Thumper's first move was to steal a fine tenderloin from the block, and swallow it whole.
"Ye're!" yelled the proprietor, an ex-Indian scout, "whatcher doin' there? Take that critter out of here!"
"I'm willing to pay for the meat," replied Mr. D——, with dignity.
"That's all right, too," retorted the proprietor, "but I promised it to Mr. Smith, and it's the only one I've got. How are you going to square that? What do you mean by toting a brute like that around, anyhow?" he wound up with increasing choler.
"I cannot see but what I have a perfect right to take with me any animal or animals I choose!" said Mr. D——.
"Not into this shop, by Jingo!" said the proprietor, reaching under the counter. "Now you sneak him out of here, quick, or I'll shoot him."
"Very well," said Mr. D——, bowing, but red, "very well. Come, Thumper!"
Thumper was in no mind to move. He liked the situation. Mr. D—— pulled on the chain, and Thumper overlooked it. A small crowd gathered in front of the door and encouraged Mr. D—— by calling, "Pull hard, the man says!" "Now, altogether, yee-hoooo!" and similar remarks. I have always felt that a bear enjoys a joke. In this case I am sure of it. Showing no bad temper, he simply refused to budge, and, by this time, when he had made up his mind, the decision was final, as far as any one man was concerned. Mr. D——'s temper went by the board; it was an embarrassing situation. "Come out of that!" he cried, with a sharp jerk at the chain.
The look of irritation vanished from the proprietor's face. "Why don't some of you fellers help the gentleman out with his bear?" he asked. Thereupon the spectators took a hand and Thumper was dragged into the street. Evidently he thought this one of the usual frolics to which we boys had accustomed him; for, once upon the sidewalk, he began to prance and gambol in the graceful fashion of his kind. It so happened that the nurse-girl of the mayor of the town, a huge Swede woman as broad as she was long (which is almost hyperbole), came trundling her charge up the board walk at the precise moment that Thumper bowled over a gentleman in front and came plainly to her view.
One Norwegian war-whoop and away she galloped, the perambulator before her, as it was not in the mind of the Vikingess to desert her duty. Screeching, she tore up the walk, the carriage bouncing and rattling, and the baby crowing with delight. An Indian stepped out of a store directly in front of her. Him Telka rammed with such fury that he landed on his neck in the road, with his feet in the air. But, as he regained his balance, resentment was drowned in unbounded amazement. "Wakstashoneee!" he said, "wakstashoneeeee!" which is the limit in the Sioux tongue. Never had the Dakota warrior expected to see the day when he would be made to bite the earth by a Swede woman and a baby carriage. Around the corner for home whirled Telka, making the turn like a circus horse. Arriving at the house, she placed one fairy foot against the door with such spirit that the lock-socket hit the opposite wall, picked up carriage and baby and went upstairs with them three rises to a leap. At the top she burst into a wild oratory of "tanks" and "Eenyens" and "beejjeerens" and "yoomps," scaring her mistress into the belief that the Sioux had attacked the town in force—an event she had long anticipated.
Thumper was led back to his pole in the park, and fastened with an ox-chain, this step being taken at the request of an informal committee of citizens. "Chained bear or dead bear" was their ultimatum, for, while they enjoyed Telka's performance, they didn't propose to make it a custom to obtain their fun from frightened women. So Thumper's freedom of the city lasted but a day. To make amends for this, we boys used to go in and tussle with him more often than before. The play was the bright spot in the life of the captive. He would begin his double shuffle of joy whenever a group of boys made their appearance. At first, this went well enough. As I have said, the bear's nature revealed its better side, under the benign influence of plenty to eat, and I cannot remember that he once took advantage of his vast and growing strength. Mr. D—— encouraged the performances, as the menagerie's purpose was to attract the attention of travellers who had a half-hour's wait at the station, and thus to spread the fame of his railroad eating-house. But misfortune came, through the applause of the passengers. Several young men of the town embraced the opportunity to show off. One of these, a brawny young six-foot Irishman named Jim, used to punch old Thumper pretty roughly, when he had a large audience. Jim was neither a bad-hearted nor cruel fellow; he simply had a body too large for his disposition. In the phrase of the West, he was "staggering with strength," and in Thumper he found a chance to work off his superfluous nervous energy—also to occupy the centre of our local stage for the brief time of train-stop. If it is love that makes the world go round, certainly vanity first put it into motion. "All is vanity," said the Preacher. From the devoted astronomer's austere lifework to the twinkle of a fairy's glittering tinsel; from the glories of the first man up the battle-swept hill to the infamous assassin, all is vanity. Such a universal attribute must necessarily be good, except in abnormal growth. Jim showed his overdevelopment of the faculty, while the abused Thumper modestly sat still and grew. And still he grew, and still he grew—with a quiet energy that made the fact that he had passed from a large bear to a very large bear go by unnoticed.
Several times, when Jim was showing more skill than Thumper, the memory of a mauled cat came to my mind. The ursine look shot at Jim now and then recalled it. I even went to the length of remonstrating, but it was without effect. It was on a Sunday morning that Nemesis attended to Jim's case. Circumstances were propitious. An excursion train, crowded with passengers, pulled up at the station. Jim had a new suit of black broadcloth, due to a temporary aberration of our local Solomon who ran the clothing store. Because of this victory, Jim was in an extraordinarily expansive mood as he swaggered down the platform.
"I guess I'll try a fall out of the bear," he announced to his companions, in a tone that informed all of his intention. Gaily he swung his long legs over the fence and advanced upon Thumper, who, by a strange coincidence, was poised on the end of his spine, with his feet in the air and his tongue lolling humorously out of his mouth, as when I first made his acquaintance. The bear noted the approach from the corner of his eye, stretched out his paws, examined them critically, seemed satisfied with the inspection, shook himself thoroughly, and resigned affairs to Fate.
Jim, stimulated by the remarks of the passengers and their eager interest in his doings, marched up to Thumper, struck a sparring attitude, and shuffled around, making sundry little passes and jabs which the bear ignored.
"Punch him!" cried a voice in the crowd. Jim lunged; the bear ducked, lazily, but effectually, and the crowd laughed. Jim drove right and left at his antagonist; the bear parried, ducked, and got away, until the crowd shrieked with merriment and the Irishman was furious. He lived to punch that bear, and, at length, he succeeded—square on the end of Thumper's snout. The bear sneezed, dropped his head, and stared fixedly at Jim.
"Run!" I yelled—alack! too late. Up rose Thumper to a paralysing height, higher still went his trusty paw, and down it came, with a swinging, sidewise blow on the Irishman's neck.
I will maintain, by oath, affirmation, or combat, that Mr. Jim made six complete revolutions, like a button on a barn door, before he struck mother earth with the dullest of thuds.
Ten to one that the town was out one Irishman would have seemed a good business proposition, and, to clinch the assurance, the bear began to walk on Jim. While the bear kneaded him like a batch of dough, some of us woke and rushed to the scene of action.
I do not remember clearly how we got out of it. Some pulled at the bear's chain, and some grabbed Jim by whatever offered a hold. At length James was rescued, alive and weeping, though three-quarters of the new suit, including the most useful portion of the nether garments, remained in Bruin's paws as the spoils of victory. The crowd on the platform was charmed. This was precisely the thing it had travelled miles to see.
Poor Jim! He was a spectacle. Tears, scratches, and dust robbed his face of all humanity; the scant remnants of the Sunday suit fluttered in the breeze; his shaking knees barely supported him. We gave him a stimulant, a blanket, and some good advice. Mr. D——, for once in his life on the right side of the question, was especially forward in furnishing the last necessity. So passed Jim from the field of his glories, and, barring some scratches, bruises, and a stiff neck (not to mention the Sunday suit, as that loss really fell upon Solomon), he was as well as ever inside of a few days. The only lasting result of the encounter for him was that, when the small boy of the town thirsted for excitement, there would arise a cry of "Hey, Jim! bin down ter pet cher bear?" and then . . .
When the train departed, and the crowd had disappeared, I went down and looked at Thumper. He seemed unchanged. I offered him a cracker; he stretched out the back of his paw, having learned that people shrank from the sight of his five-inch claws, in acceptance. This gobbled, he eyed me, as he leaned back against his pole, like an absurd fat man. Humour shone on the outside of him, but I fancied that, deep in his eyes, I could see a dull red glow, Indian style. "Now," said I to myself, "from the pangs of Jim I shall extract a moral lesson. Whenever I feel like showing off at somebody's expense, let me use caution not to select a grizzly bear."
What Thumper thought no man can tell.
In the Absence of Rules
We had a pig when we was down on the little Chantay Seeche. The Doctor begged him off a rancher, to eat up the scraps around camp. A neat person was the Doctor and a durned good cook.
We called him the Doctor because he wore specs—that's as good a claim as many has to the title. His idee was that when the pig got fat he would sell him for lots of money, but long before Foxey Bill (which was piggy) had reached the market stage money couldn't buy him. He was a great pig. My notion of hogs, previous to my acquaintance with him, was that they were dirty, stupid critters, without any respectable feelings. Perhaps it's because animals get man-like, when you associate with 'em a great deal, or perhaps Foxey Bill was an unusual proposition; but, anyhow, he was the funniest, smartest brute I ever see, and we thought a slew of him.
Clean was no name for his personal appearance. Every Sunday the Doctor took a scrub-brush and piggy down to the creek and combined 'em with the kind assistance of a cake of soap. Then Foxey just shone white as ivory, and he'd trot around in front of us, gruntin' to attract our attention, till everybody'd said, "What a beautiful, clean pig—ain't he just right?" Then he'd grunt his thanks to the company and retire behind the shack for a nap. We used to fair kill ourselves laughing at that darned pig. He had the most wheedlin' squeal, so soft and pleadin'; and he'd look up at you with them skim-milk eyes of his so pitiful, when he wanted a chunk of sugar, that you couldn't refuse him.
And knowing! Honest, he knew more'n some men. One day old Wind River was tellin' some things (that might have happened to him) in his usual way, bein' most careful to get the dates and all dead right, you know—"Now, was his name Peter, after all? Comes to my mind it was Willyam—Willyam Perkins—Well—But, anyhow, him and me, we saw that Injun," and so forth. This was a Sunday, and the gang of us sittin' in a circle, fixing leathers and one thing and another and misstatin' history faster than a horse could trot, with Foxey Bill in the middle, cocking his head from one speaker to another, takin' it all in.
At last Wind River wound up the most startlin' and unlikely collections of facts he'd favoured us with for some time. Up gets Foxey with a shriek and gallops around the house. Any man with the rudiments of intelligence would know he was hollerin': "Well, that's just too much for me; ta-ra-rum!"
Wind River looked scart. "Say!" says he. "Say! Thet hawg knows I'm er-lyin' jes' 's well 's I do!" After that old Windy used to talk to the pig as though they'd been raised together.
Foxey Bill made one miscalculation. He thought he was a small pet, like a cat. This didn't jibe with the five hundred pounds of meat he toted. And, like a cat, one of his principal amusements was to have his back scratched. If you didn't pay attention to him, when he squealed so pretty for you to please curry him with a board, he'd hump up his back, like a cat, and rub against your legs. You instantly landed on your scalp-lock and waved the aforesaid legs in the air. Of course, when the other fellers saw this comin', they didn't feel it restin' on their conscience to call your attention to it—in fact, we sometimes busied one another talkin' to give Foxey a fair field. So Foxey had things his own way around the diggin's for some time.
Then comes bow-legged Hastings, our boss, with a ram tied hard and fast in the bottom of the waggon. He explains to us that the ram is valuable, but that he's butted merry Halifax out of everything down to home, and he don't want to shut him up, so will we please take care of him? And we said No—Wanitchee heap—we guessed not—never.
Then Hastings got mad and talked to us, flyin' his hands. Such a disobligin', stubborn, sour outfit he never saw, he said. What was the use of his bein' boss, when we just laid awake nights thinkin' up disagreeable things to do to him? Was there ever a time that he'd asked us to do this or that, that every man in reach didn't r'ar up and jump down his throat? He said he'd rather be a nigger rooster on a condemned government steamboat than bear the title of boss of such a rag-chewin' hide-bound set of mules; kick, kick, kick—nothin' but kick, and life wasn't worth livin'.
So then he went behind the shack and pouted. Well, we liked Hastings, and this made us feel bad—that's the way he worked us.
The Doctor, he fried up a dish of all-sorts in his happiest manner and took it around in a cheerful voice. No. Didn't want food. Heart was broke. So then we all went and apologised and agreed to keep the ram. Then Hastings recovered, and we had that cussed sheep on our hands and feet and all over us.
Well, it was like the devil enterin' a happy home. As for Foxey, he just took one long look at the brute, curlin' and uncurlin' his little tail; then "Hungh!" says he, and blinked his eyes shut, walkin' away from there. I've seen times when I'd liked to been able to use the English of that grunt, to thoroughly acquaint some gentleman of how little I thought of him, but I ain't got the gift of speech. It was an awful call-down—but the sheep, he didn't care. If there was such a thing as a foolish Sheeny, that's what a sheep would remind me of.
But the rest of us run into practical and applied trouble in its various branches. There's one night, the Doctor starts for the cabin with a mess of flap-jacks in his hands, and the sheep comes up and pushes him in the pistol pocket so that the Doctor goes sailing into the drink with a stack of brown checks hoverin' all around him.
Then Wind River shows his one tooth and rocks on his heels, hollerin' and laughin', and the sheep rises up and smites him on the hip and thigh so he flew after the Doctor like a grey-whiskered sky-rocket, with a ha-ha! cut in two in the middle. "Woosh!" says old Windy as he comes up. "Hi, there cooky! I'll beat you ashore!" He was a handy-witted old Orahanna, that Windy, and you didn't put the kybosh on him easy. So it went with all of us. That ram come out of no-where-at-all another night and patted me on the stummick so I pretty near fainted. I tried to twist his cussed head off his shoulders, but he'd knocked the wind out of me so it was like fightin' an army in a nightmare. I was glad when the boys come out and pried me loose. Oh, oh! How we hated that woolly, blaatin' fool of a sheep!
"Well," says Windy, "I'm layin' fur th' day he snaggles himself up with Foxey Bill. You're goin' to see a nice quiet sheep after that happens."
The rest of us had lots of faith in Billy, but we couldn't see where he stood a show to win.
"Shucks!" says Steve. "The sheep'll knock the bacon out of him. The Lord knows I don't want to see it, but that's what's got to happen. Poor Bill ain't onto his style of fightin' at all. You know how pigs make war—standin' side by side, tryin' to hook each other in the flank, gruntin' and circlin' around with little quick steps—how's that goin' to apply to this son-of-a-gun that hits you a welt like a domestic cannon and then chases himself off to the sky-line for another try?"
"Well," cuts in the Doctor. "I ain't a-sayin' how—but Bill does him, all the same—bet your life."
"You talk feeble minded," says Steve. "Nobody'd more like to believe you than me, but the points ain't on the cards. It'll be just like that Braddock's campaign agin the Injuns. There goes the Britishers (that's Bill) amblin' gaily through the woods, dressed up in red and marchin' arm to arm, for fear some careless Injun would miss 'em, and there's the Injuns (that's that durned ram) off in the woods jumpin' up and down with pleasure and surprise. 'Oh, Jimmy!' hollers the Injun to his little boy. 'Run get grandpa, Towser, mama, and the baby—everybody's goin' to pick one of these and take it home—no Injun so poor but what he's entitled to at least one Englishman.'"
"That's all right," says Windy. "But where's your Injun now?"
"Well," says Steve, flabbergasted, "that's kind of true, too; he has vanished some."
"I bet you money," says the Doctor, "that Bill does him."
"I hate to rob the poor in mind," says Steve. "And yet I'd like to lose that bet—make it a month's wages?"
"I'm for standin' by my friend," says the Doctor. "I'll bet you up to the first of January."
"Got you," says Steve. "You know where you can borrow chewin', anyhow. Any other gentleman want part of this?"
Steve had money he'd drew out of his poker game up-town, so the rest of us stood not to live high until after January first, if Foxey Bill didn't lick that sheep. We didn't believe he would, but he carried our money.
Well, sir, it was a tough time waitin' for the combat to come off. Bill simply despised the sheep. Couldn't stand near to him. The only time he'd stay by the house was when the sheep was off somewheres. And, of course, it was strictly against the rules for any person to aid, abet, or help either warrior, or interfere in any way, shape, or manner.
I was two mile out from camp one day, when I heard "Ke-bang, ke-bang, ke-bang-ety, bang-bang-bang-bang!" The Doctor was losin' off all the guns in the shack to once. I hollered to Steve, him to Windy, and then we flew for home, leavin' the calves to their own responsibilities for a while.
The other boys was on hand when we arrived, their faces shinin' with excitement, and yellin' to us for the love of Moses to shake a leg before it was too late.
Poor Billy was pickin' himself up, after rollin' over three times, and the durned ram was prancin' away, wigglin' his tail like little boys does their fingers, with a thumb to the nose.
The Doctor explained to us, whilst we was waitin' for the next jar. "There's Bill," says he, "eatin' his meal out of his half-a-barrel as quiet and decent a citizen as you'll find anywheres. That's his grub and he don't like grass. Well, what must that quar'lsome hunk of horns and mutton do, but try to shove him away from there. Mind you, that ram does like grass, and he's got several hundred thousand square mile of it to lunch on—but no, sir! What he must have is a hunk of bread out of Billy's barrel. Now, Billy's no hog—he lets him have the piece of bread—then the ram wants the hull barrel; hoops, staves, and all. That's too hootin' goldarn many for anybody to stand, by ninety-nine per cent., so Bill slams him one. The ram walks off and fetches him a swat like hittin' a side of beef with a fourteen-foot board. Poor old Bill rolls three yards. Then he takes after the brute, but the ram runs away as usual. Billy thinks the fight is over and goes on with his eatin'. You're just in time to see the end of the second round. Bill's goin' to lick him, but cuss me if I see how. He can't get at that blaatin', skippin' mess of wickedness. He don't understand at all. If the sheep would give him one fair hack, he'd show him—Look! Oh, Lordy! There he goes again! Damn that sheep!"
It was an awful sight for Billy's friends to witness. I'll never tell you how many times he went rollin' down the hill, only to come back as game and useless as a rooster fightin' his reflection in a lookin' glass. He'd chase after the sheep, gruntin' fierce, but pshaw! the critter'd simply trot right away from him, wigglin' that insultin' tail in his face. Old Billy's tail was coiled as tight as a watch-spring with rage.
"He'll do him," says the Doctor. "He sure will! Now you wait!"
"I am waitin'," says Steve, at the end of the twentieth round. "Waitin' and waitin'. The only play that I see Billy makin' is for the sheep to break his neck buntin' him. You hand me that rifle. I'll now bet the crowd there's a dead sheep here in five seconds by the watch. I can't stand this."
But we wouldn't let him cut in. Fair play is fair play.
"Boys," says Wind River soft, "Bill has laid his ropes—I see it in his eye!"
"G'wan!" says Steve. "You see it in your own eye!"
"Well, you watch," says Windy. "Bill and me has been pretty well acquainted ever since that day he called me a liar—look at him now!"
Sure enough. Bill was nosin' his barrel away from the house. I couldn't see the point exactly, but took it on faith.
He was knocked galley-west and crooked three times before he moved the thing a rod, but whatever he had in his mind, he calmly went on with it as soon as he got up.
"Oh, thunder!" says the Doctor. "See him now! Billy, you're an old fool! You'll get butted plumb into the crik, next pass!" For Bill had pushed the barrel to within five foot of the edge of the creek. And when he heard the Doctor talk, I'll take my oath, that pig looked up and smiled.
"He's got him now!" says Wind River. "He's got him now, for all my next year's salary! I see it in his face!"
And Windy was so dead sure he impressed the rest of us. So there's silence, whilst old Foxey Bill is chewin' away in the barrel, and the ram is comin' over the grass—t-r-rmt, t-r-rrmt—as hard as he can paste her, head down and eyes shut. Bill, he doesn't see anything either, until there ain't more'n three foot of air between 'em, and then he jumps aside!
"Swoosh!" goes the ram into the water, and Billy straightens out his little curly tail and waves it in the air like a flag. And holler! I wisht you could have heard that pig! Nothing could been more human. "I've got the deady-deady on you, you hook-nosed, slab-sided, second cousin of a government mule!" says he. "Oh! I've got you where I want you and the way I want you, and it's up to you to convert yourself into cash at the earliest opportunity, for you won't be worth much in the market when I'm tired of my fun!" This he says as he gallops to the other side, to head the sheep off, his mild blue eye on fire. I tell you it's dangerous to rouse up a fat person with a mild blue eye.
A sheep don't swim much better than a mowin' machine, and this feller got desperate—he was for the shore, no matter what broke. And Bill ripped the wool out of him for fair as he tried to scramble up.
"Our fight, Steve!" says the Doctor. "I knew he'd do him all the time! You throw up the sponge and we'll yank the critter out!"
"Let him drown," says Steve. "I don't like him, hide nor hair—and, besides, think what he's cost me."
But that wouldn't do. Hastings would have looked so mournful, happiness couldn't get along in the same territory with him. So out comes Mr. Ram. Done. Everlastingly done. All in and the cover screwed down. We pointed our fingers at him and did a war-dance around him, sayin': "Agh—hagh! You will, will you? Now, don't you wish you'd been good!" He hadn't a word to say. And that good old Billy, he comes up and rubs Wind River's legs out from under him just as natural as ever, not set up or swell-headed a bit, like the gentleman he was.
The ram eat his grass and minded his own business from that time on.
For Sale, the Golden Queen
This is the story of the great Golden Queen deal, as Hy Smith told it, after recovering his sanity:
Aggy and me were snug up against it. One undeserved misfortune after another had come along and swatted us, till it looked as though we'd have to work for a living. But we plugged along at the Golden Queen, taking out about thirty cents a day—coarse, gold, fortunately—and at last we had 'bout an ounce and a half. Then says Aggy:
"We could sell this mine, Hy, if we only put our profits in the right place."
"Yes," says I. "This is a likely outfit around here to stick a gravel-bank on, ain't it? Good old Alder Gulch people, and folks from down Arizony way, and the like of that! Suppose you tried it on Uncle Peters, for instance—d'ye know what he'd say? Well, this 'ud be about the size of it: 'Unh, unh! Oh, man! Oh, dear me! That ain't no way to salt a mine, Ag! No, no! You'd oughter done this, and that—that's the way we used to do in Californy—nice weather, ain't it? No, thanks—I don't care to buy no placer mines—lots of country left yet for the taking up of it—it's a mighty good mine, I admit—you'd better keep it.' That's what he'd say."
Ag combed his whiskers with his fingers. "I don't think we could close out to Uncle Peters," says he.
"And if you tried some of the rest of 'em, they'd walk on your frame for insulting their intelligence. Perhaps you was thinking of inviting Pioche Bill Williams up to take a look at the ground?"
"Well, no," says Aggy, slowly. "I don't think I'd care to irritate Bill—he's mighty careless with firearms."
"I should remark. I ain't a cautious man myself in some ways, and I've met a stack of fellers that was real liberal in their idees, but for a man that takes no kind of interest in what comes afterward, give me Pioche Bill. Oh, no, Aggy, we don't sell any placer mines in these parts."
"I tell you what," says Ag. "Let's go up to town. Stands to reason there must be a mut or two up there—somebody just dying to go out and haul wealth out of the soil."
"We're a good advertisement for the business. We look horrible prosperous, don't we?" says I.
The main deck of Ag's pants was made of a flour sack. I had a pretty decent pair, but my coat was one-half horse blanket and the other half odds and ends. Ag had a long-tailed coat he used to wear when he was doing civil engineering jobs.
"We could fix one man out fairly well," says he.
"Yes; and the other would look like the losing side of a scarecrow revolution."
"Wait a minute," says he, "I'm thinking." So he sat and twisted his whiskers and whistled through his teeth.
"I've got it!" says he. "The whole business right down to the dot! Darned if it ain't the best scheme I ever lit on! Here's what happened to us: We're two honest prospectors that have been gophering around this country for years, never touching a colour, grub running low, and—well, there ain't any use bothering with that part now. I can think it up when the time comes. Here's the cream of the plant. We've had such a darn hard time of it that when at last, under the extraordinary circumstances which I have recounted before, we light on the almost undiluted gold of the Golden Queen, your mind is so weakened that you can't stand the strain of prosperity. You're haunted with delusions that you're still a poor man, and I can't keep any decent clothes on you—fast as I buy 'em you tear 'em up. Now I'm willing to sell the Golden Queen for the merely nominal sum of—what shall we strike 'em for? Five hundred? For five hundred dollars, then, so I can get out of this country to some place where my poor pardner will receive good medical treatment."
"And I'm the goat?" says I. "Well, I expected that. But do you expect anybody's going to swallow that guff? It's good. Ag, it would do fine in a newspaper, but can you find a man to trade five hundred hard iron dollars for it?"
Aggy drew himself up mighty proud. "I'll tell you what I've done in my day," says he, "I've made an intelligent man believe that the first story I told him wasn't so. Can you beat it?"
"I know you, Ag," says I. Then we had to slide down and see if we could get a small loan off Uncle Peters, for we didn't have enough dust to finance salting our sand-bank and pay for a trip to town, too. Ag would have it that we must do our turn for the old man. "It'll amuse him," says he, "and he's more likely to come forward." Truth of the matter was, when Aggy got one of his fine idees, he had to let the neighbourhood in.
Well, sir, Uncle Peters was that pleased he forked over a cartridgeful without weighing it. My play was to look melancholy, and tear a slit in my clothes once in a while. I had to just make believe that part when we was rehearsing for the old man, as there wasn't enough material to be extravagant with.
So up to town we goes, and if you ever see a picture of hard luck on two feet, it was me.
"I'm going to strike for a gambling joint," says Ag. "You take a tin-horn gam, and he knows everything, and that's just the kind of man I'm looking for."
So when we hit town, Ag sails into the Palace Dance Emporium, where they had the games running in the middle of the place between the lunch counter and the bar. He had nerve, had Agamemnon G. Jones.
"Hy," says he, "you'll have to watch the play a little. Mebbe you'd ought to change some, just as it happens. I'll have to do my lying according to the way the circumstances fall, so keep your eye peeled, and whatever you do, do it from the bottom of your heart. I can fix it so long as you don't queer me by shacking along too easy."
So saying he fixes the new necktie he'd bought down at the corner, tilts the new hat a little, and braces ahead. He could look more dressed up on 20 cents' worth of new clothes than some men could with a whole store behind 'em.
When we got into the place the folks gazed at us. Aggy was leading me by the hand.
"There," says he, very gentle. "Now sit down, and I'll tell you a story by and by."
I tore a hole in the coat, and mumbled to myself, and sat down according to directions.
Then Aggy walks up to where the stud-poker game was blooming.
"Gentlemen," says he, making them a bow, "I trust it won't inconvenience you any to have my poor unfortunate pardner in your midst for awhile? I can't desert him, and I do like to play a little cards now and then."
"What's the matter with him?" asks the dealer.
Ag taps his head.
"Violent?" asks the dealer.
Now, Ag didn't know just how he wanted to have it, so he didn't commit himself to nothing.
"Oh, I can always handle him," says he.
"Well, come right in," says the dealer. "They're only a dollar a stack."
"Well," says Ag, "I'll just invest in $10 worth to pass away the time—you take dust, don't you?"
"I used to say I wouldn't take anybody's dust," says the dealer, being funny with such a good customer, "but since I've struck this country I've found I've gotter."
Ag pulls out the old buckskin sack, that would hold enough to support quite a family through the winter. It was stuffed with gravel stones.
"Oh, here!" says he, whilst he was fumbling with the strings. "No use to open that—I've got another package—what you might call small change." Then he digs up Uncle Peters' cartridge shell.
I want to tell you I had my own troubles keeping my face together while Ag was doing his work. You never see any such good-natured, old-fashioned patriarch as he was. When they beat him out of a hand he'd laugh fit to kill himself.
"You're welcome, boys!" he'd say. "There's plenty more of it."
At the same time, you wouldn't live high on all you could make out of Aggy on a stud-poker game. He was playing 'em right down to cases, yet the way he talked, he seemed like the most liberal cuss that ever threw good money away. Of course, they had to ask him about his pardner and the rest of it whilst the cards were being shuffled, and a few inquiring remarks drew the whole sad story out of Ag.
"It's mighty tough," says he; "Hy's a fine-looking feller, when he's dressed decent; but the sight of new clothes on himself makes him furious; he foams and rips till he's tore them to gun-wadding."
"Where did you say this here claim of yours was?" asks the dealer.
"Up on Silver Creek—just below Murphy's butte," answers Ag politely.
Then that dealer put in a lot of foxy questions making poor, innocent, unsuspecting Aggy give himself dead away. He told how there wasn't time to look for a buyer that would pay the proper price and he wouldn't know where to look anyhow, so he'd have to take the first man that offered, even if he didn't get no more than five hundred for the claim.
The dealer breathed hard and fairly shuffled the spots off the cards.
"Now," says he, "I sympathise with you—I understand just how you feel about your pardner. I'm the same kind of man myself, that way. If I had a pardner in difficulties, I wouldn't mind what I lost on it so long's I could fix him up."
Here's where I nearly choked to death, for if any man could get the price of a meal off that tinhorn, without sitting on his chest and feeding him the end of a six-shooter, his face was one of the meanest tricks a deserving man ever had sprung on him.
"So if I was you," continued the dealer, "I'd get him out of this country quick, and as for your claim, why, I don't mind if I held you out on that myself," says he. "I don't want no mines; I wouldn't bother with it, only I see you're a good, kind-hearted man, and it's my motto that such people ought to be encouraged. Now, what do you say if we start for a look at the territory this afternoon? Nothing like doing things up while you are at it." Aggy kind of scratched his head as if this hurry surprised him. "I didn't just think of letting it go so sudden," said he. "You know I'm kind of attached to the place."
"That's all foolishness," says the dealer. "Your poor pardner there wants attention—you can see that—and I don't believe you're the sort of man to let him go on suffering when there ain't no need of it."
"No," says Aggy, thoughtfully, "that's so."
"And would you mind," says the dealer, his hand fairly trembling to get hold of it, "just letting me have a squint at that gunny-sack full of dust you have in your clothes?" I didn't require any hint from Ag that it was my place to be violent. With one loud holler I landed on my ear on the floor and kicked the poker table on top of the dealer. More'n a half-dozen men hopped on to me, and we had it for fair all over the place. I gave 'em the worth of their time before they got me in the corner.
"Whew!" says Aggy, wiping his brow, "this is the worst attack he's had yet."
"Just what I was telling you," says the dealer, very confidential and earnest. "You want to get him away from here quick—I've had some experience in those kinds of cases, and when I see your friend's face, I knew you wanted to get a move on."
"It's dreadful, ain't it?" says Ag. "I believe you're in the right about it—but, say, I feel that I'd ought to pay for the lamp he busted."
"Not at all," says the dealer, as generous as could be. "Not at all! That's an accident might have happened to any gentleman. Now, I'll just take a friend along, and we'll sail right out to your place. Can you drive there?"
"Oh, yes!" said Aggy. "The roads ain't anything extra, but you can make it all right."
So away goes the four of us that afternoon. Ag and me, we felt leary of the fourth man at first. He let on to be considerable of a miner, but after a bit we sized him up.
"Did you ever," says Aggy whilst they was talking this and that about mines, "did you ever run your pay dirt through a ground-sluice rocker that was fitted up with double amalgam plates, top and bottom, and had the apron sewed on to a puddle board that slanted up, instead of down?"
"Why, sure!" says that feller, judging from Aggy's tone of voice that this was the proper thing to do. "We didn't use to handle our dirt no other way out in Uckle-Chuckle county."
"Is that so?" cries Aggy, very much surprised. "Well, do you know that very few people do?"
"It makes me tired," answers the man in a knowing way, "to think of the way some folks mines. Now that you've called my attention to it, I don't recollect that I've heard of anybody using a ground-sluice rocker the way you speak of, since I left old Uckle-Chuckle county." And here I got a little violent again, because I can't conceal my feelings as well as Ag. I had to have several attacks on the way out when Ag was brought to close quarters, but we did pretty well on the trip.
"Well, gentlemen, there's the Golden Queen!" says Aggy when we turned the bend in the creek. "Seems funny that such an uninteresting-looking heap of rocks and stuff as that should be a gold mine, don't it?"
He sees by their faces that they was a little disappointed and that he'd better get in his crack first. Then the question come up of how we was to get them fellers to dig where we wanted 'em to without letting 'em see we wanted 'em to. But, Ag, he was able for it.
"Gentlemen," says he, "just stick your pick in anywhere's—one place is just as good as another. [That was the gospel truth.] But if you don't know just where to start suppose we try an old miner's trick, that Mr. Johnson there, I make no doubt, has done a hundred times."
Johnson, he smiled hearty. "Yes, yes! That old game!" says he. "I'd nearly forgot all about it—let's see—how is it you do it?"
"First you throw up a rock," says Ag.
"Oh, now I remember! Sure!" says Johnson. "You throw up a rock——" He stopped, smiling feeble and uncertain, waiting to hear the rest of it.
"Suppose we let Mr. Daggett [that was the tinhorn] do the throwing?" says Aggy. "He's a new chum, and we fellers always feel they have the luck. You may think this is all foolish superstition," says he, turning to the gambler, "but I tell you, honest, there's a good deal in it," and that was the second true thing Ag said that day.
Daggett, he threw up the rock.
"Now, go and stand over it," says Ag. Daggett's goes over according, but he ain't pointed in the right direction.
"Now, you turn around three times."
But after he done it we weren't no better oft than before, for the chump landed just as he had started.
Ag surveyed the ground.
"Now, you walk backward three steps, then four to the left, then back five more—ain't that it?" turning to Johnson.
"That's it!" says Johnson, slapping his leg. "That's her! The same old game! Lord! how it all comes back to a feller!"
"And just where you land, you dig," finishes Ag, handing Daggett's pick.
Daggett sinks the pick to the eye the first crack.
"Gosh!" says he. "Seems kind of soft here!"
"Is that so?" cried Aggy, highly excited. "Then you've struck gold for sure!" Having put it there himself he felt reasonably certain about it.
Well, they scraped up the bedrock, and Aggy offered to let Johnson pan it, but Johnson said he'd had to quit mining because his hands got so sore swinging a pan, so Daggett he kind of scrambled the dirt out after a fashion, and there at the bottom was our ounce and a half of gold! Well, I want to tell you there was some movement around there. We weren't in the same fix of a friend of mine who loaded a pan for a tenderfoot with four solid ounces, and when he slid the water around on that nice little yeller new moon in the corner of the pan, "Humph!" says the tenderfoot, "don't you get any more gold than that out of so much dirt?"
Four ounces to the pan only means about a hundred thousand dollars a day income.
"Gooramighty!" says my friend, plumb disgusted. "I'd have had to borrow all the dust there is on the creek to satisfy you—did you think it was all gold?"
It broke my heart to see the way that man Daggett washed the fine gold into the creek, but he was familiar enough with handling the dust to know that an ounce was good money, even if it did look small. He turned pale, and begun to dig for dear life. There was no prying him loose. Well, that's a point Aggy hadn't counted on. He managed to slide over near me.
"For heaven's sake, Hy!" he whispers, "fly down to Uncle Peters' and get some more dust or we're ruined! I'll put it in the pan somehow, if you'll only get it here! Hold the old man up if you have to—but get that dust!"
I begun to holler very melancholy, and prance around. By and by I pulled my freight loose and careless down creek.
"Say!" says Johnson, "there goes your friend, Mr. Jones! Shall I ketch him?"
"Oh, no," says Aggy. "Let him alone—he's used to it around here—he'll be back right away again."
When I got out of sight I humped for Uncle Peters.
"Sure!" says the old man, when I told him our troubles. "Take the whole blasted clean-up, Hy. We honest men has got to stand by each and one another—don't let that rascally tinhorn escape."
So I grabbed Uncle Peters' hard-earned savings and hustled back again.
As soon as I got in good view of the outfit, I knew something was wrong, by the look of Ag's face; but what it was got me, for there was both them fellers in the hole now, digging dirt like all possessed. Daggett had busted his supenders, and the other lad's coat was ripped up the back; but they didn't care; they were mauling the fair face of nature like genuine lunatics, and cussing and swearing in their hurry.
"Well, what's the matter with Ag?" thinks I. "Them fellers ain't got on yet, that's certain," but he looked as if he'd swallowed a stroke of lightning the wrong way. Never see a man—particular a man with Aggy's nerve—look so much like two cents on the dollar. I didn't have to be cautious in my approach; our friends were too busy to notice me.
"What the devil's loose, Ag?" says I.
"Oh, nothing!" says he. "Nothing much! They're taking it out by the hatful, that's all. Look!"
I looked, and sure enough! There was the pan with a small-sized shovelful of yaller-boys in it—pieces that would weigh up to $10 some of them. I couldn't believe my eyes.
"Where'd they get it?" says I.
"Out of the claim," says Aggy.
I nearly fell dead. "Out of the claim!" I yelled in a whisper. "Go on! Your whiskers are growing in!"
"Straight goods," says Ag, "and I had to stand here and see them do it! The Golden Queen is all my fancy painted her. The second pass that ice-pick-faced mut made he brought up a chunk as big as a biscuit. 'Is that gold?' says he. 'Oh, yes!' says I. 'That's gold!' The truth come out of me before I thought—it knocked me to see that chunk. First time I ever made such a break—well—well. Why didn't it occur to me to try the taste of that piece of ground before I put in my flavouring? I was so d—d sure there wasn't $13 worth of metal in the whole twenty acres! Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! To sprinkle a pocket that's near half gold with a little old pinch of dust, is one of them ridiculous and extravagant excesses my friend Shakespeare mentions! If there was a lily around here, I'd paint it, so's to go the whole hog."
"What in the name of all the Mormon gods are we going to do?" says I.
"Leave me think," he answers. And again he pulls his whiskers and whistles through his teeth.
There came a horrible yell from the hole. Daggett held up what seemed like a yaller potato. "Hooray!" says he. "Ain't that a humming bird?"
"You want to think quick," says I. "I feel something like murder rising in my veins."
"By gosh!" says Ag, snapping his fingers. "I've got her! Come to, you son-of-a-gun. Come to!"
"How's that?" I asked, not just tumbling exactly.
"Come to!" says Ag. "Regain your scattered intelligence! How in blazes can I sell, then, without your consent?"
"Right you are! I'm off!" says I. And with that I cut loose.
"Help!" howls Aggy; "help!"
The two fellers were too busy to want to stop, but after I sent a brace of rocks in their direction, they concluded it might be as well to quiet me first. Lord! How I did carry on! I gave Ag the wink and pulled for the creek, and it was not long before, with Aggy's help, in we all three went, kersock.
They pulled me out and laid me on the bank, insensible.
"He's dead, I reckon," says Daggett.
"No," says Aggy, "I can feel his pulse beat, but it does seem to me there's a different look in his face somehow."
Then I opened my eyes.
"Why, Agamemnon," says I, "what am I doing here?"
"Hush!" says he, "you ain't been well."
"Dear me! You don't say!" And I rubbed my forehead with my hand.
"But I feel all right now—have I been this way long?"
"Nigh on to six months, Hy, old horse; ever since we hit it so rich on our claim—don't you remember about that?"
"Certainly," says I. "It seems like yesterday; it's as clear—but who are these people?"
Ag let on to be very much embarrassed. "Well," says he, "why—hunh—why—to tell you the truth, I thought I ought to get you out of the country, to where you could see an expensive doctor, and these are some folks I brought down to buy the claim—you being sick, you know!"
"Buy the claim!" I hollers, jumping up. "Buy the claim? What's this you're giving me? After all my toils and hardships and one thing and another, to sell the Golden Queen? Well, I want you to understand that nobody buys this claim, except across my dead body," says I.
Aggy, he looks completely dumfounded. "My! This puts me in an awkward fix," he says. "Gentlemen, you see how I'm up against it? I can't sell without my partner's consent, now he's in his right mind; and, as far as that goes, the only reason I wanted to sell is removed. The dicker's off, that's the long and short of it."
Oh, how pleased that tinhorn looked! He swallowed three times and got red in the face before he answered a word.
"This may be all right, but it looks mighty queer to me," he growls.
"The ways of Providence is past understanding," says Aggy, taking off his hat. "To our poor human minds it does seem queer, no doubt. Now, Mr. Daggett," he continued, waving his arm in that broad-minded style he had, "I'm sorry things has come out this way for your sake, although a man that has such a sympathising nature as you will soon forget his own disappointment in the general joy that envelopes this camp. And to show you there's nothing small about me, you can have any one of those chunks you dug out this afternoon that don't weigh over two dollars."
Daggett sent the chunk to a place where it would melt quick, and expressed a hope we'd follow it. With that he hopped into his go-cart and pulled for town, larruping the poor horse sinful. We had the pleasure of seeing the animile turn the outfit into the gully in return for the compliment. They scrambled in again and disappeared from view. Then Aggy reached out his hand to me.
"Don't tell me nothing but the plain truth, old man," says he; "I can't bear nothing except the plainest kind of truth, but on your sacred word of honour, ain't your uncle Ag a corker?"
"Aggy," says I, "I ain't up to the occasion. There ain't a man on earth could do credit to your qualities but yourself."
Then we shook hands mighty hearty.
Where the Horse is Fate
One thing's certain, you can't run a sheep ranch, nor no other kind of ranch, without hired men. They're the most important thing, next to the sheep. I may have stated, absent-mindedly, that the Big Bend was organised on scientific principles: none of your gol-darned-heads-or-tails—who's-it—what-makes-the-ante-shy, about it. Napoleon Buonaparte in person, in his most complex minute, couldn't have got at this end of it better than I did. It looked a little roundabout, but that's the way with your Morgan strain of idees. Here's how I secured the first man—he didn't look like good material to the careless eye.
Burton and me had just turned the top of that queer hill, that overlooks the Southwest road into the Bad Lands, when I see a parcel of riders coming out. Somehow, they jarred me.
"Easy," says I, and grabs Burton's bridle.
"What the devil now?" he groans. "Injuns? Road-agents?"
"Nope," says I, getting out my field glass. I had guessed it: there was the bunch, riding close and looking ugly, with the white-faced man in the middle. If you should ask me how I knew that for a lynching, when all I could make out with my eyes was that they weren't cattle, I give it up. Seems like something passed from them to me that wasn't sight. And also if you ask why, when through the glass I got a better view of the poor devil about to be strung, I felt kind towards him, you have me speechless again. I couldn't make out his face, but there was something——
"See here, Burton," says I. "There's your peaceful prairie hanging, in its early stage."
"What!" says he, sick and hot at the same time. "How can you speak of the death of a human being so heartlessly? Let me go!"
"Hold!" says I. "You haven't heard me through. Perhaps you can be more use than to run away and hide your eyes. I ain't got a' word to say against quick law. I've seen her work, and she works to a point. She beats having the lawyers sieving all the justice out of it. All the same, they've been too careless around here—that, and a small bad boy's desire to get their names up. I know one case where they hung a perfectly innocent man, for fun, and to brag about it."
He looked at me steady. I had suspected him of being no coward, when it comes to cases.
"Now," I says, "I don't know what that is down there. Perhaps it's all right; then you and me has got to stand by. If not—well, by the sacred photograph of Mary Ann, here's one roping that won't be an undiluted pleasure. Now listen. I'm something of a high private, when it comes to war, but no man is much more than one man, if the other side's blood is bad. Give 'em to me cold, and I can throw a crimp into 'em, for I don't care a hoot at any stage of the game, and they do. But when they're warm—why, a hole between the eyes will stop me just as quick as though I wasn't Chantay Seeche Red. Are you with me? You never took longer chances in your life."
He wet his lips, and didn't speak very loud nor steady, but he says: "You lead."
"Well, hooray, Boston!" says I. "Beans is good food. Now don't take it too serious till you have to. Perhaps there ain't more'n a laugh in it. But—it's like smooth ice. How deep she is, you know when she cracks, or don't. Be as easy as you can when we get up to 'em. Nothing gained by bulling the ring. We must be prepared to look pleasant and act very different. Turn your back and see that your toy pistol is working."
Well, poor Burton! Wisht you seen him fumble his gun.
"I can't see the thing," says he, kind of sniffling. "I'd give something to be a man."
"You'll do for an imitation," I says. "Remember, I was born with red hair; comes trouble, this hair of mine sheds a red light over the landscape; I get happy-crazy; it's summer, and I can smell the flowers; there's music a long ways off—why, I could sing this minute, but there's no use in making matters worse. Honest, trouble makes me just drunk enough to be limber and—talk too much. Come on."
We single-footed it down the hillside. The party stopped and drawed together, four men quietly making a rank in front. That crowd had walked barefoot.
We come to twenty yards of 'em in silence; then a tall lad swung out towards us.
"How, Kola!" says I, wavin' my hand pleasant.
"How do you do!" says he, as if it wouldn't break his heart, no matter what the answer was.
"Why, nicely, thank you to hell," says I. "What's doin'? Horse race?"
"Probably," says he; then kind of yawning: "We're not expectin' company this morning."
"Well," I answered, "it's the unexpected always happens, except the exceptions. You talk like a man that's got something on his mind."
Don't think I'd lost my wits and was pickin' a row to no advantage. I'll admit the gent riled me some, but the point I had in view was what old Judge Hinky used to call "shifting the issue." I wanted to make one stab at just one man—not the whole party—on grounds that the rest of the crowd, who was plainly all good two-handed punchers, would see was perfectly fair. And I intended to land that stab so's they'd see I was no trifler. It was my bad luck that not a soul in the crowd knew me—even by reputation, or my hair would have made it easy for me. So I put a little ginger in the tone of my voice.
"My friend," says the tall lad, "I wouldn't advise you to get gay with us. I would advise you to move right on—or I'll move you."
He played to me, you see. If he'd said, "We'll move you," I'd had to chaw with him some more. Now I had him. Right under the harmless bundle of old clothes dangling from the saddle horn was the gun I'd borrowed from Ike—Mary Ann's twin sister, full of cartridges loaded by Ike himself—no miss-fire government issue. The next second that gun had its cold, hard eye upon Long Jim in front of me.
Whilst my hands seemed carelessly crossed on the horn, my right was really closed on the gun.
"I like to see a man back his advice," says I. "It's your move. Don't any other gentleman get restless with his hands, or I'll make our Christian brother into a collection of holes. Now, you ill-mannered brute," I says, "I don't care what your business is: it's my business to see that you give me civil answers to civil questions."
He shrunk some. He was too durned important, anyhow, that feller.
"Quick!" says I. "Lord of the Mormon hosts! Do you think I'm going to yappee with you all day? Nice morning, ain't it? Say 'yes.'"
"Yes," says he.
"I thought so," says I. "It's a raw deal when a man that's sat a horse as long as me can't say howdy on the open, without havin' a pup like you bark at him."
"Why," says he, feelin' distressed, "I didn't mean to make no bad play at you." He jerked his thumb over his shoulder towards the prisoner, who sat like a white stone. "That's it. Misplaced horse. Got him with the goods."
"Oh!" says I. "Well, 'twouldn't have done no harm to mention that first place. I wasn't noticing you particular, till you got too much alive for any man of my size to stand." I dropped my gun. "Excuse haste and a bad pen," says I; "but why don't I draw cards? Both parents were light complected and I've voted several times. How is it, boys?"
"Sure!" says they. "Take a stack, brick-top."
"Gentlemen," I says; "one word more and I am done. The question as to whether my hair is any particular colour or not, is discussed in private, by familiar friends only—savvy the burro, how he kickee with hees hin' leg?"
"All right, Colonel!" says they. "Come with us!"
I had that crowd. You see, they was all under twenty-five, and if there's anything a young man likes—a good, hearty boy—it's to see a brisk play pushed home. I'd called 'em down so their spinal columns shortened, and gagging about my hair, and the style I put on in general, caught their eye. And their own laughing and easiness wasn't so durned abandoned, as Charley Halleck used to say. There was a streak of not liking the job, and everything a little "put on," evident to the practised vision.
I'd gained two points. Made myself pretty solid with the boys, for one, and give 'em something besides hanging their fellow-man to think of for another: distracted their attention, which you got to do with children.
"I speak for my friend," says I, pointing to Burton.
"We hear you talk, Colonel," says the joker. "He's with us." So we trotted on towards the cotton-woods.
The line of work was marked out for me. I put on a grim look and sized the prisoner up from time to time as though he was nothing but an obstruction to my sight, although the face of the poor devil bit my heart. He glanced neither way, mouth set, face green-white, the slow sweat glassy all over him. Not a bad man, by a mile, I knew. It don't take me a week to size a man up, and I've seen 'em in so many conditions, red and pale, sick, dead, and well, that outside symptoms don't count for much.
I noticed another thing, that I expected. Out of the corner of my eye I see them boys nudgin' each other and talkin' about me. And the more I rode along so quiet, the more scart of me they got.
I tell you how I'd test a brave man. I'd line the competitors up, and then spring a fright behind them. Last man to cross the mark is the bravest man—still, he might only be the poorest runner. With fellers like me, it ain't courage at all. It's lunacy. I ain't in my right mind when a sharp turn comes. Why, I've gone cold a year after, thinking of things I laughed my way through when they happened. But I'm not quarrelling with fate—I thank the good Lord I'm built as I am, and don't feel scornful of a man that keeps his sense and acts scart and reasonable.
In one way, poor old Burton, lugging himself into the game by the scruff of his pants, showed more real man than I did. Yet, he couldn't accomplish anything; so there you are, if you know where that is.
I said nothing until we slid off beneath the first tree. Then I walked up to the three leaders and says, whilst the rest gathered around and listened:
"Has this critter been tried?"
"Why, no!" says one man. "We caught him on the horse."
"Yes, yes, yes," says I, raising my voice. "That's all right. But lend me your ears till I bray a thought or two. I'm that kind of a man that wouldn't string the meanest mistake the devil ever made without givin' him a trial."
"You give me a lot of trial this morning," says Long Jim.
I wasn't bringing up any argument; I was pulling them along with a mother's kind but firm hand, so I says to him: "Ah! I wasn't talking about gentlemen; I'd shoot a gentleman if he did or didn't look cross-eyed at me, just as I happened to feel. I'm talking about a man that's suspected of dirty work."
Now, when a man that's held you stiff at the end of a gun calls you a gentleman, you don't get very mad—just please remember my audience, when I tell you what I talked. Boys is boys, at any age; otherwise there wouldn't be no Knights Templars with tin swords nor a good many other things. I spoke grand, but they had it chalked down in their little books I was ready and willing to act grander. Had I struck any one or all of 'em, on the range, thinking of nothing special, and Fourth-o'-July'd to 'em like that, they would have give me the hee-hee. Howsomever, they was at present engaged in tryin' to hang a man; a job one-half of which they didn't like, and would dispose of the balance cheap, for cash. And I'd run over their little attempt to be pompous like a 'Gul engine. Position is everything, you bet your neck.
So up speaks Mr. Long Jim, that I've called a gentleman, loud and clear.
"You're right," says he, and bangs his fist into his other hand. "You're dead right, old horse," says he; "and we'll try this son-of-a-gun now and here."
"Sure!" says everybody, which didn't surprise me so much. I told you I was used to handling sheep.
After a little talk with his friend, Long Jim comes up and says: "Will you preside, Colonel?"
"I have a friend here who is a lawyer," I suggested, waving my hand toward Burton.
The speaker rubbed his chin.
"I guess this isn't a case for a lawyer," he says. "The gentleman might give us a point or two, but we'd prefer you took charge. You see," he says to Burton and me earnestly; "there's been a heap of skul-duggery around here lately—horse-stealin', maimin' cattle, and the like—till we're dead sick of it. This bucco made the most bare-faced try you ever heard of—'twas like stealin' the whiskers right off your face—and us fellers in my neighbourhood, old man and all, have saw fit to copper the deal from the soda-card. We ain't for doin' this man; we're for breaking up the play—'tain't a case of law; it's a case of livin'—so if you'll oblige, Colonel?"
"All right, sir; I'll do the best I can. Who accuses this man?"
"I," says a straightforward-looking young man of about twenty odd.
"Step up, please, and tell us."
"Why, it's like this," he says. "I'm ranchin' lone-hand down on Badger. There's the wife and two kiddies, and a job for a circus-man to make both ends meet—piecin' out a few cattle and a dozen hogs with a garden patch. All I got between me and a show-down is my team. Well, this feller comes along, played out, and asks for a drink of water. My wife's laid up—too darn much hard work for any woman—and I've got Jerry saddled by the fence, to ride for the doctor. Other horse is snake bit and weavin' in the stable with a leg like a barrel. I goes in to get the water, and when I comes out there's this sucker dustin' off with the horse. Then I run over to C-bar-nine and routs the boys out. We took out after him, corrallin' him in a draw near the Grindstones. That's about all."
"Make any fight?" I asked.
"Naw!" says the man, disgusted. "I was wanting to put my hands on him, but he comes in like a sick cow—seemed foolish."
"Oh, just stared at us. We called to him to halt, and he stopped, kind of grinned at us and says: 'Hello!' I'd a 'hello'd' him if the boys hadn't stopped me."
"Prisoner," I says, "this looks bad. I don't know where you come from, but you must have intelligence enough to see that this man's wife's life might have depended on that horse. You know we're straggled so out here that a horse means something more than so much a head. Why did you do this? Your actions don't seem to hang together."
The poor cuss changed face for the first time. He swallered hard and turned to his accuser. "Hope your lady didn't come to no harm?" says he.
"Why, no thankee; she didn't," says the other lad. "'Bliged to you for inquirin'."
There was a stir in the rest of the crowd. The prisoner had done good work for himself without knowing it. That question of his proved what I thought—he was no bad man. Something peculiar in the case. Swinging an eye on the crowd, I saw I could act. I went forward and laid my hand on his shoulder, speaking kind and easy.
"Here," says I, "you've done a fool trick, and riled the boys considerable. You'd been mad, too, if somebody'd made you ride all day. But now you tell us just what happened. If it was intended to be comical, we'll kick your pants into one long ache, and let it go at that; if it was anything else, spit it out."
He stood there, fumblin' with his hands, runnin' the back of one over his forehead once in a while, tryin' to talk, but unable. You could see it stick in his throat.
"Take time," says I; "there's lots of it both sides of us."
Then he braced.
"Boys," says he, "I got a wife an' two little roosters too. I feel sorry for the trouble I made that gentleman. I got split like this. Come to this town with seven hundred dollars, to make a start. Five hundred of that's my money, and two hundred m' wife saved up—and she was that proud and trustin' in me!" He stopped for a full minute, workin' his teeth together. "Well, I ain't much. I took to boozin' and tryin' to put the faro games out of business. Well, I went shy—quick. The five hundred was all right," he says, kind of defiant. "Man's got a right to do what he pleases with his own money; but . . . but . . . well, the girl worked hard for that little old two hundred. God Almighty! I was drunk! You don't s'pose I'd do such a thing sober?" turning to us, savage. "That ain't no excuse, howsomever," he goes on, droppin' his crop. "Comes to the point when there's nothin' left, and then I get a letter." He begun taking things out of his pockets, dropping 'em from his big tremblin' hands. "It's somewheres here—ain't that it? My eyes is no good."
He hands me a letter, addressed to Martin Hazel, in a woman's writing. "Well, that druv me crazy. So help me God, sir, I ain't pleadin' for no mercy—I'll take my medicine—but I didn't know no more what I was doin' when I jumped your horse than nothin'. I only wanted to get away from everybody. I was crazy. You read 'em that letter," says he, taking hold of me. "See if it wouldn't drive any man crazy."
Now, there's no good repeatin' the letter. It wasn't written for an audience, and the spellin' was accordin' to the lady's own views, but it was all about how happy they was going to be when Martin had things fixed up, and how funny the little boy was, and just like his pa, and, oh, couldn't he fix it so's they'd be with him soon, for her heart was near broke with waiting.
There was sand in my eyes before I'd read long, and that crowd of fierce lynchers was lookin' industriously upon the ground. One man chawed away on his baccy, like there'd be an earthquake if he stopped, and another lad, with a match in his mouth, scratched a cigarette on his leg, shieldin' it careful with his hands, and your Uncle Willy tried to fill a straight face on a four-card draw, and to talk in a tone of voice I wasn't ashamed of hearing.
During the last part of the letter the prisoner stood thoughtful, with the back of his hand to his mouth; you'd never known he was settin' his teeth into it, if it wasn't for the blood dropping from his thumb.
"The prisoner will retire," says I, with the remnants of my self-respect, "while the court passes sentence. Go sit down under the tree yonder." He shambled off. Soon's he was out of hearin' the feller that lost the horse jumps up into the air with an oath like a streak of lightning. "Here's a fine play we come near makin' by bein' so sudden," says he. "I wouldn't have that man's death on my soul for the whole territory—think of that poor woman! And he's paid the freight. Colonel, I want to thank you for drawin' things down."
So he come up and shook me by the hand, and up files the rest and does the same thing.
"Now, friends," says I, "hold on. Court hasn't passed sentence yet. I pass that this crowd put up to the tune of what it can spare to buy"—consulting the letter—"to buy Peggy a ticket West, kids included, exceptin' only the gentleman that lost the horse."
"Why, we ain't broke altogether on Badger!" says he. "You ain't goin' to bar me, boys?"
"Not on your life, if that's the way you feel," says I. I don't know what amount that crowd could spare, but I'll bet high on one thing. If you'd strong-armed the gang, you wouldn't start a bank with the proceeds after the collection was taken. There wasn't a nickel in the outfit. "I'm glad I didn't bring any more with me," says Burton, strapping himself.
Of course, I was appointed to break the news to the prisoner. He busted then; put his head on his arm and cried like a baby. But he braced quick and stepped up to the lads. "There ain't nothing I can say except thank you," says he. "I want to get each man's name so's I can pay him back. Now, if anybody here knows of a job of work I can get—well, you know what it would mean to me. Sporty life is done for me, friends; I'll work hard for any man that'll take me."
"I got you," I says. "Come along with me and I'll explain."
Then we said by-by to the boys. I played the grand with 'em still, and I'll just tell you why, me and you bein' such old friends. Although it may sound queer, coming from my mouth, yet it was because I thought I might give them boys the proper steer, sometime. You can't talk Sunday-school to young fellers like that! They don't pay no attention to what a gent in black clothes and a choker tells 'em; but suppose Chantay Seeche Red—rippin', roarin' Red Saunders, that fears the face of no man, nor the hoof of no jackass—lays his hand on a boy's shoulder, and says, "Son, I wouldn't twist it just like that." Is he goin' to get listened to? I reckon yes. So I played straight for their young imaginations, and I had 'em cinched to the last hole. And after the last one had pulled my flipper, and hoped he'd meet me soon again, me and Burton and the new hired man took out after sheep. "But," says Burton, still sort of dazed, "God only knows what we'll meet before we find them. Even sheep aren't so peaceful in this country."
He was right, too. However, when I start for sheep, I get 'em. You can see by the deep-laid plan I set to catch help for the ranch, how there's nothing for fortune to do but lay down and holler when I make up my mind.
Agamemnon and the Fall of Troy
Me and Aggy were snuggled up against the sandpaper edge as cute as anything, said Hy Smith. Even our consciences had gone back on us—they didn't have nothing to work on. The town looked like it had been deserted and then found by a party of citizens worse off than the first.
The only respectable thing in the hull darn shack-heap was Aggy's black long-tailed coat and black-brimmed hat. And they made the rest of the place look so miserable that Ag wouldn't have wore 'em if he'd had another hat and a shirt. We was a pair of twin twisters that had busted our proud and graceful forms on a scrap-iron heap.
I s'pose it was the turible depression of bein' stuck in such a hole, or some sudden weakenin' of the brain; but anyhow, in that same town of Lost Dog, Agamemnon G. Jones and Hy Smith ran hollerin' into a faint away game.
We paid ten dollars for a map showin' the location of the Lost Injun mine, from a paralytic partially roomin' at the Inter-Cosmopolitan Hotel. The Inter-Cosmopolitan had got pretty near finished, when the boom exploded with a loud sigh.
One-half the roof was missin', and the clapboardin' didn't come quite to the top, but that paralytic took it good-natured, sayin' that as he wasn't more'n half a man, half a hotel was plenty good enough for him. But ah! he allus wound up, if he could get the proper motion in his hind legs, he'd be up and find his Lost Injun mine, and after that no dull care for him.
I ain't goin' to describe that gentleman any more. When I say he unloaded a map of that Lost Injun mine, with the very spot marked with a red cross, anybody'll understand that the paralysis hadn't affected his head none.
You see, he was so quiet and patient under his afflictions, and he talked it off so smooth, that the flyest gent that ever lived could be excused for slippin' up and gettin' stuck in the discourse before he knew that gravitation was workin' at the same old stand.
Now, for a straight-away dream-builder give me Aggy. He could talk the horns off a steer, and that steer would beller with happiness to think he was rid of a nuisance.
Ag stood six-foot-two by two-foot-six, and when he had the long-tailed coat, the plug hat, and his general-in-the-army whiskers working right, he only had to stick one hand in his vest and begin, "Fellow-Citizens and Gentlemen," and he could start anything from a general war to a barber-shop expedition to gather North Poles.
Give him a good, honest, upright gang of men that would weigh two hundred a head, and Aggy could romp with their money or them, so the worst used monkey in the cage would go home pleased.
Ag was built to play with huskies, not paralytics; so one day when he stooped and turned sideways to get into the paralytic's room, treadin' soft on the boards so's not to land the outfit in the cellar, the sight of the poor sick man lyin' there—everlastingly lyin'—his helpless hands turned palm up on the covers, why, old Ag's heart was touched. He was that kind of grass-hopper, Ag, to whipsaw you out of a hundred and then lend you five hundred, even if he had to rip the pelt off somebody else to get it. I asked him about that trait onct.
"Why, Hy, my boy," says he, with his thumb in his vest, and his twenty-five cent cigar in his teeth—we was livin' at the risk of a high-roller hotel at the time—"in the first place, I'm a gentleman in disguise, and carelessness allows me to drop the disguise now and then; besides that," says he, "I hate these here conventions. Because I touch Mr. Jones for his wad, must I therefor scramble Mr. Ferguson? And if I stake Ferguson, must I open a free lunch for the country? Now, God forbid!" says Ag. "I started out being pleased by doing the things that pleased me, regardless of the vulgar habits of the mob. The mob can select its destination at any or all times it pleases, but I'm going to be Agamemnon G. Jones," says he. "The unexpected always happens, and I'm the unexpected," he says.
You wouldn't ask for a man to keep his statements clearer than that. I was the only person had a line on him. I'd figger out every possibility for him and then sleep peaceful, knowing that it had come off different.
So while nobody'd figger on Ag's gettin' stuck by a paralytic, darned if he didn't come away with a map in his hands. "Here is our fortune, Henry," says he.
Well, now, I jumped sideways. "Look here, Aggy Jones, do you mean to say that legless wonder has stuck you?"
"Mr. Troy conveyed all rights in the property to me for $10, paid in hand, including this method of findin' out where it is," says he.
"Where'd you get the $10, and me not know it?" says I.
"Trivial, trivial," says Ag.
"And do you expect to follow that dotted line until you stub your toe over a half-ton nuggets?"
"Frivolous, frivolous," says Ag.
"Yes," I says, "yes. Trivial—frivolous—all right—but what's that red cross?"
"Shows the location plainly," says he, shiftin' his cigar. "Where the arms of that cross intersect, we double it, or turn nurses in the army."
Well, I stared at him. Too much thinkin' goes to a man's head sometimes.
"You feel anything strange about you anywheres?" says I.
"Yes," says he, tapping it. "This map— Accordin' to the scale of miles these here arms on the cross are somethin' like fifty miles long. Ah, what a merry, merry time we shall have, Hy, chasin' up and down glass mountains, eatin' prickly pear, drinking rarely, and cullin' a rattlesnake here and there to twine in our locks. It will seem like old times, dropping a rock in your boots in the mornin' to quell the quivering centipede and the upstanding and high-jumping tarantula."
"Say," says I, "do you think there's a mine here at all?"
"Mine!" says he, like I'd asked a most unexpected question. "Mine? Have we lived out of eyeshot of the most remarkable mine in the United States and Canada at any time we smoked the trail?"
"No," says I, "that's so; but, Ag, you ain't goin' to push for that red cross out in the middle of hell's ash-heap, are you?"
"Only a little ways," says he; "it's time we left this anti-money trust behind us, and I always like to leave dramatically, if it's only to give the sheriff a run."
"More fast-footin' in this?"
"'Nary, but we shall meet some of our fellow-townsmen on the river to-morrow—all men who haven't done us a bit of good—and then we'll flap our gliders to a gladder land."
"But that ten dollars——"
"Look here. Let's again settle this money question once for all. Am I the financial expert for this party?"
"Selah," says Ag. "And unlike the corporations in the effete East, where a high collar marks the gentleman, we mix amusement with our lives?"
"Sure," says I.
"Well, then," says Aggy, speaking with the frankness and affection of one or more friends to another, "I ask you to swallow your tongue and watch events."
"Keno," says I. "Produce your events."
So the next day we hooted it out toward the southeast, packin' grub only, and I never says a word.
Bimeby we see a lot of people comin' a horseback, on board waggons, and runnin' afoot.
"Each man with a map," says Ag. "Look at 'em dodge, Hy. They go out of sight for seconds at the time—'Shall we gather by the river, the beautiful, the beautiful Squaw River?'—I reckon."
We did. Everybody seemed surprised at seein' everybody else.
"Just come out for a picnic, friends?" says Ag.
"Oh, yes," says everybody. "Great old day and nice spot here—tired of town—thought we'd make a holiday."
"Good, good," says Aggy, his honest face gleamin' with joy. "Let's all eat now and swop maps afterward."
Things kind of stopped for a minute. If a man was unhitchin' a mule, he waited till you could count 1, 2, 3, and then continnered.
"What d'ye mean by 'map'?" says one lad, bent under a horse to hide his face.
"What do I mean?" says Ag, offended. "Why, I mean just what Noah Webster meant when the dove came back bringin' the definition to his ark. I mean map—m-a-p, map—a drawin' that shows you the way to get to a red cross that doesn't exist on the face of nature. I like green crosses as a matter of taste, but all our paralysed friend had left was a red one, so I took that, not to be unsociable."
I've been at pleasanter lookin' picnics.
Finally the feller under the horse did some deep thinkin' and come out. "Have you honest got a map?" says he.
"To the Lost Injun mine? 'Heigh-o, the Lost Injun!'" sings Aggy. "Here she is, my friend, with all dips, angles, and variations; one million feet on the main lode; his heirs, assigns, orphans. E pluribus unum, forever and forever!"
"Yours ain't just the same as mine," says the feller, grimly spittin'.
"No," says Ag, "I reckon he spread it around. He didn't know this was the nearest ford on Squaw Creek, and we might likely come together."
And then arose a cussin', not loud, but with a full head of steam—it would make ordinary loud seem like the insides of a whisper—and a rush for horses.
"Peace, friends, peace!" says Aggy, standin' up his hull height and with his noble chest fillin' his black coat; his black whiskers expandin' in pride—a hootin', tootin' son-of-a-gun to look at. And when he said "peace," the earth shook.
The crowd stopped. "Think!" says Aggy. "Attempt the impossible! Think! Remember that paralytic is on a parlour car, flying swiftly toward the setting sun. I see the picture of that lonely railroad train whooping ties across the prairie. What is the use of throwing yourselves into a violent perspiration in a mad chase of a thing that no longer exists? The paralytic is no more; thy Faith Hath Made Him Whole." Aggy sank his voice to a beautiful whisper.
"Well, you got stuck yourself," pipes up old Grandpa Hope. "He, he, he, he shelled you too!"
"I admit it," says Ag, "and yet it is not quite what it seems. I borrowed Slit-Eyed Jenkins's two gilded nickels to get in this game. I further admit that the Government never should have left the word 'cents' off these nickels, to tempt poor but not bigoted men; further, I'll say that if Jenkins had brightened them up he might have passed them for $3.89. But Jenkins puts a thief within his stomach that steals away his business ability, so that when I asked for them nickels he merely replied: 'Take the damned Yankee skin-tricks away, with my thanks.'
"I have noted in my travels that the person to pass immoral money on us is the agent whose mind is absorbed in selling you a diamond ring, that nothing but his desire to get rid of would drive him to sell; so in this case I dropped them nickels into the grateful and quiverin' hand of that paralytic, drew my man and—here we are," says Ag.
It was the first time I ever saw a gang of full-grown men blush at the same time.
Nobody had nothin' to say except Ag, who threw the lapel of his coat back and addressed the meeting.
"Gentlemen," says he, "as I have mentioned before, our paralysed friend has fled, departed, skinned out, screwed his nut far, far from here. Don't blaspheme in the very face of the Almighty by trying to be more ridiculous than you already are. If you arrive warm and distracted, the few remaining inhabitants of Lost Dog will hold the dead moral on you the rest of your days. Cool off and wipe the word 'map' from your minds; turn from the villainies of man to the stark forces of nature; see where Squaw Creek has forced her remorseless and semi-fluid way through the mighty rampart of these Gumbo hills."
"I wish you would hush," said a puncher. "Leggo, Ag!"
"Here's where you get the worth of your money," says Ag. "You wouldn't play poker with me, would you? Of course not. I might get your money. In fact, I think I should, myself. But you would turn over ten fine large bones to a paralytic who made pencil sketches of a scene in the Alps and put the sign of the price on 'em—one sawbuck, or ten plunks? There is the sawbuck," says Aggy, tappin' his map. "But where are the plunks? Go to! There are no plunks. We kick the dust of Dog-town from our hind legs. Flee cheerily, one-time neighbours, to where a red cross fifty miles in length lies exposed to the sunlight, and then dig; dig for wealth beyond the dreams of avarice; dream of scow-loads of gold floating on a canal of champagne. Don't forget to dig, because that will give you a muscle like a Government mule. And here's where we dig—out. Ta-ta, fellow-citizens, I never expected to get you so foul!"