A reflective and futuristic view of cattle breeding from outside the registered mainstream
Join date: 2010-09-25
|Subject: Re: The Virginian Mon 19 Mar 2012, 21:23|| |
THE GAME AND THE NATION--ACT SECOND
"That is the only step I have had to take this whole trip," said the Virginian. He holstered his pistol with a jerk. "I have been fearing he would force it on me." And he looked at empty, receding Dakota with disgust. "So nyeh back home!" he muttered.
"Known your friend long?" whispered Scipio to me.
"Fairly," I answered.
Scipio's bleached eyes brightened with admiration as he considered the Southerner's back. "Well," he stated judicially, "start awful early when yu' go to fool with him, or he'll make you feel unpunctual."
"I expaict I've had them almost all of three thousand miles," said the Virginian, tilting his head toward the noise in the caboose. "And I've strove to deliver them back as I received them. The whole lot. And I would have. But he has spoiled my hopes." The deputy foreman looked again at Dakota. "It's a disappointment," he added. "You may know what I mean."
I had known a little, but not to the very deep, of the man's pride and purpose in this trust. Scipio gave him sympathy. "There must be quite a balance of 'em left with yu' yet," said Scipio, cheeringly.
"I had the boys plumb contented," pursued the deputy foreman, hurt into open talk of himself. "Away along as far as Saynt Paul I had them reconciled to my authority. Then this news about gold had to strike us."
"And they're a-dreamin' nuggets and Parisian bowleyvards," suggested Scipio.
The Virginian smiled gratefully at him.
"Fortune is shinin' bright and blindin' to their delicate young eyes," he said, regaining his usual self.
We all listened a moment to the rejoicings within.
"Energetic, ain't they?" said the Southerner. "But none of 'em was whelped savage enough to sing himself bloodthirsty. And though they're strainin' mighty earnest not to be tame, they're goin' back to Sunk Creek with me accordin' to the Judge's awders. Never a calf of them will desert to Rawhide, for all their dangerousness; nor I ain't goin' to have any fuss over it. Only one is left now that don't sing. Maybe I will have to make some arrangements about him. The man I have parted with," he said, with another glance at Dakota, "was our cook, and I will ask yu' to replace him, Colonel."
Scipio gaped wide. "Colonel! Say!" He stared at the Virginian. "Did I meet yu' at the palace?"
"Not exackly meet," replied the Southerner. "I was present one mawnin' las' month when this gentleman awdehed frawgs' laigs."
"Sakes and saints, but that was a mean position!" burst out Scipio. "I had to tell all comers anything all day. Stand up and jump language hot off my brain at 'em. And the pay don't near compensate for the drain on the system. I don't care how good a man is, you let him keep a-tappin' his presence of mind right along, without takin' a lay-off, and you'll have him sick. Yes, sir. You'll hit his nerves. So I told them they could hire some fresh man, for I was goin' back to punch cattle or fight Indians, or take a rest somehow, for I didn't propose to get jaded, and me only twenty-five years old. There ain't no regular Colonel Cyrus Jones any more, yu' know. He met a Cheyenne telegraph pole in seventy-four, and was buried. But his palace was doin' big business, and he had been a kind of attraction, and so they always keep a live bear outside, and some poor fello', fixed up like the Colonel used to be, inside. And it's a turruble mean position. Course I'll cook for yu'. Yu've a dandy memory for faces!"
"I wasn't right convinced till I kicked him off and you gave that shut to your eyes again," said the Virginian.
Once more the door opened. A man with slim black eyebrows, slim black mustache, and a black shirt tied with a white handkerchief was looking steadily from one to the other of us.
"Good day!" he remarked generally and without enthusiasm; and to the Virginian, "Where's Schoffner?"
"I expaict he'll have got his bottle by now, Trampas."
Trampas looked from one to the other of us again. "Didn't he say he was coming back?"
"He reminded me he was going for a bottle, and afteh that he didn't wait to say a thing."
Trampas looked at the platform and the railing and the steps. "He told me he was coming back," he insisted.
"I don't reckon he has come, not without he clumb up ahaid somewhere. An' I mus' say, when he got off he didn't look like a man does when he has the intention o' returnin'."
At this Scipio coughed, and pared his nails attentively. We had already been avoiding each other's eye. Shorty did not count. Since he got aboard, his meek seat had been the bottom step.
The thoughts of Trampas seemed to be in difficulty. "How long's this train been started?" he demanded.
"This hyeh train?" The Virginian consulted his watch. "Why, it's been fanning it a right smart little while," said he, laying no stress upon his indolent syllables.
"Huh!" went Trampas. He gave the rest of us a final unlovely scrutiny. "It seems to have become a passenger train," he said. And he returned abruptly inside the caboose.
"Is he the member who don't sing?" asked Scipio.
"That's the specimen," replied the Southerner.
"He don't seem musical in the face," said Scipio.
"Pshaw!" returned the Virginian. "Why, you surely ain't the man to mind ugly mugs when they're hollow!"
The noise inside had dropped quickly to stillness. You could scarcely catch the sound of talk. Our caboose was clicking comfortably westward, rail after rail, mile upon mile, while night was beginning to rise from earth into the clouded sky.
"I wonder if they have sent a search party forward to hunt Schoffner?" said the Virginian. "I think I'll maybe join their meeting." He opened the door upon them. "Kind o' dark hyeh, ain't it?" said he. And lighting the lantern, he shut us out.
"What do yu' think?" said Scipio to me. "Will he take them to Sunk Creek?"
"He evidently thinks he will," said I. "He says he will, and he has the courage of his convictions."
"That ain't near enough courage to have!" Scipio exclaimed. "There's times in life when a man has got to have courage WITHOUT convictions--WITHOUT them--or he is no good. Now your friend is that deep constitooted that you don't know and I don't know what he's thinkin' about all this."
"If there's to be any gun-play," put in the excellent Shorty, "I'll stand in with him."
"Ah, go to bed with your gun-play!" retorted Scipio, entirely good-humored. "Is the Judge paying for a carload of dead punchers to gather his beef for him? And this ain't a proposition worth a man's gettin' hurt for himself, anyway."
"That's so," Shorty assented.
"No," speculated Scipio, as the night drew deeper round us and the caboose click-clucked and click-clucked over the rail joints; "he's waitin' for somebody else to open this pot. I'll bet he don't know but one thing now, and that's that nobody else shall know he don't know anything."
Scipio had delivered himself. He lighted a cigarette, and no more wisdom came from him. The night was established. The rolling bad-lands sank away in it. A train-hand had arrived over the roof, and hanging the red lights out behind, left us again without remark or symptom of curiosity. The train-hands seemed interested in their own society and lived in their own caboose. A chill wind with wet in it came blowing from the invisible draws, and brought the feel of the distant mountains.
"That's Montana!" said Scipio, snuffing. "I am glad to have it inside my lungs again."
"Ain't yu' getting cool out there?" said the Virginian's voice. "Plenty room inside."
Perhaps he had expected us to follow him; or perhaps he had meant us to delay long enough not to seem like a reenforcement. "These gentlemen missed the express at Medora," he observed to his men, simply.
What they took us for upon our entrance I cannot say, or what they believed. The atmosphere of the caboose was charged with voiceless currents of thought. By way of a friendly beginning to the three hundred miles of caboose we were now to share so intimately, I recalled myself to them. I trusted no more of the Christian Endeavor had delayed them. "I am so lucky to have caught you again," I finished. "I was afraid my last chance of reaching the Judge's had gone."
Thus I said a number of things designed to be agreeable, but they met my small talk with the smallest talk you can have. "Yes," for instance, and " Pretty well, I guess," and grave strikings of matches and thoughtful looks at the floor. I suppose we had made twenty miles to the imperturbable clicking of the caboose when one at length asked his neighbor had he ever seen New York.
"No," said the other. "Flooded with dudes, ain't it?"
"Swimmin'," said the first.
"Leakin', too," said a third.
"Well, my gracious!" said a fourth, and beat his knee in private delight. None of them ever looked at me. For some reason I felt exceedingly ill at ease.
"Good clothes in New York," said the third.
"Rich food," said the first.
"Fresh eggs, too," said the third.
"Well, my gracious!" said the fourth, beating his knee.
"Why, yes," observed the Virginian, unexpectedly; "they tell me that aiggs there ain't liable to be so rotten as yu'll strike 'em in this country."
None of them had a reply for this, and New York was abandoned. For some reason I felt much better.
It was a new line they adopted next, led off by Trampas.
"Going to the excitement?" he inquired, selecting Shorty.
"Excitement?" said Shorty, looking up.
"Going to Rawhide?" Trampas repeated. And all watched Shorty.
"Why, I'm all adrift missin' that express," said Shorty.
"Maybe I can give you employment," suggested the Virginian. "I am taking an outfit across the basin."
"You'll find most folks going to Rawhide, if you re looking for company," pursued Trampas, fishing for a recruit."
"How about Rawhide, anyway?" said Scipio, skillfully deflecting this missionary work. "Are they taking much mineral out? Have yu' seen any of the rock?"
"Rock?" broke in the enthusiast who had beaten his knee. "There!" And he brought some from his pocket.
"You're always showing your rock," said Trampas, sulkily; for Scipio now held the conversation, and Shorty returned safely to his dozing
"H'm!" went Scipio at the rock. He turned it back and forth in his hand, looking it over; he chucked and caught it slightingly in the air, and handed it back. "Porphyry, I see." That was his only word about it. He said it cheerily. He left no room for discussion. You could not damn a thing worse. "Ever been in Santa Rita?" pursued Scipio, while the enthusiast slowly pushed his rock back into his pocket. "That's down in New Mexico. Ever been to Globe, Arizona?" And Scipio talked away about the mines he had known. There was no getting at Shorty any more that evening. Trampas was foiled of his fish, or of learning how the fish's heart lay. And by morning Shorty had been carefully instructed to change his mind about once an hour. This is apt to discourage all but very superior missionaries. And I too escaped for the rest of this night. At Glendive we had a dim supper, and I bought some blankets; and after that it was late, and sleep occupied the attention of us all.
We lay along the shelves of the caboose, a peaceful sight I should think, in that smoothly trundling cradle. I slept almost immediately, so tired that not even our stops or anything else waked me, save once, when the air I was breathing grew suddenly pure, and I roused. Sitting in the door was the lonely figure of the Virginian. He leaned in silent contemplation of the occasional moon, and beneath it the Yellowstone's swift ripples. On the caboose shelves the others slept sound and still, each stretched or coiled as he had first put himself. They were not untrustworthy to look at, it seemed to me--except Trampas. You would have said the rest of that young humanity was average rough male blood, merely needing to be told the proper things at the right time; and one big bunchy stocking of the enthusiast stuck out of his blanket, solemn and innocent, and I laughed at it. There was a light sound by the door, and I found the Virginian's eye on me. Finding who it was, he nodded and motioned with his hand to go to sleep. And this I did with him in my sight, still leaning in the open door, through which came the interrupted moon and the swimming reaches of the Yellowstone.
Join date: 2010-09-25
|Subject: Re: The Virginian Mon 19 Mar 2012, 21:24|| |
THE GAME AND THE NATION--LAST ACT
It has happened to you, has it not, to wake in the morning and wonder for a while where on earth you are? Thus I came half to life in the caboose, hearing voices, but not the actual words at first.
But presently, "Hathaway!" said some one more clearly. "Portland 1291!"
This made no special stir in my intelligence, and I drowsed off again to the pleasant rhythm of the wheels. I he little shock of stopping next brought me to, somewhat, with the voices still round me; and when we were again in motion, I heard: "Rosebud! Portland 1279!" These figures jarred me awake, and I said, "It was 1291 before," and sat up in my blankets.
The greeting they vouchsafed and the sight of them clustering expressionless in the caboose brought last evening's uncomfortable memory back to me. Our next stop revealed how things were going to-day.
"Forsythe," one of them read on the station. "Portland 1266."
They were counting the lessening distance westward. This was the undercurrent of war. It broke on me as I procured fresh water at Forsythe and made some toilet in their stolid presence. We were drawing nearer the Rawhide station--the point, I mean, where you left the railway for the new mines. Now Rawhide station lay this side of Billings. The broad path of desertion would open ready for their feet when the narrow path to duty and' Sunk Creek was still some fifty miles more to wait. Here was Trampas's great strength; he need make no move meanwhile, but lie low for the immediate temptation to front and waylay them and win his battle over the deputy foreman. But the Virginian seemed to find nothing save enjoyment in this sunny September morning, and ate his breakfast at Forsythe serenely.
That meal done and that station gone, our caboose took up again its easy trundle by the banks of the Yellowstone. The mutineers sat for a while digesting in idleness.
"What's your scar?" inquired one at length inspecting casually the neck of his neighbor.
"Foolishness," the other answered.
"Well, I don't know but I prefer to have myself to thank for a thing," said the first.
"I was displaying myself," continued the second. "One day last summer it was. We come on a big snake by Torrey Creek corral. The boys got betting pretty lively that I dassent make my word good as to dealing with him, so I loped my cayuse full tilt by Mr. Snake, and swung down and catched him up by the tail from the ground, and cracked him same as a whip, and snapped his head off. You've saw it done?" he said to the audience.
The audience nodded wearily.
"But the loose head flew agin me, and the fangs caught. I was pretty sick for a while."
"It don't pay to be clumsy," said the first man. "If you'd snapped the snake away from yu' instead of toward yu', its head would have whirled off into the brush, same as they do with me."
"How like a knife-cut your scar looks!" said I.
"Don't it?" said the snake-snapper. "There's many that gets fooled by it."
"An antelope knows a snake is his enemy," said another to me. "Ever seen a buck circling round and round a rattler?"
"I have always wanted to see that," said I, heartily. For this I knew to be a respectable piece of truth.
"It's worth seeing," the man went on. "After the buck gets close in, he gives an almighty jump up in the air, and down comes his four hoofs in a bunch right on top of Mr. Snake. Cuts him all to hash. Now you tell me how the buck knows that."
Of course I could not tell him. And again we sat in silence for a while--friendlier silence, I thought.
"A skunk'll kill yu' worse than a snake bite," said another, presently. "No, I don't mean that way," he added. For I had smiled. "There is a brown skunk down in Arkansaw. Kind of prairie-dog brown. Littler than our variety, he is. And he is mad the whole year round, same as a dog gets. Only the dog has a spell and dies but this here Arkansaw skunk is mad right along, and it don't seem to interfere with his business in other respects. Well, suppose you're camping out, and suppose it's a hot night, or you're in a hurry, and you've made camp late, or anyway you haven't got inside any tent, but you have just bedded down in the open. Skunk comes travelling along and walks on your blankets. You're warm. He likes that, same as a cat does. And he tramps with pleasure and comfort, same as a cat. And you move. You get bit, that's all. And you die of hydrophobia. Ask anybody."
"Most extraordinary!" said I. "But did you ever see a person die from this?"
"No, sir. Never happened to. My cousin at Bald Knob did."
"No, sir. Saw a man."
"But how do you know they're not sick skunks?"
"No, sir! They're well skunks. Well as anything. You'll not meet skunks in any state of the Union more robust than them in Arkansaw. And thick."
"That's awful true," sighed another. "I have buried hundreds of dollars' worth of clothes in Arkansaw."
"Why didn't yu' travel in a sponge bag?" inquired Scipio. And this brought a slight silence.
"Speakin' of bites," spoke up a new man, "how's that?" He held up his thumb.
"My!" breathed Scipio. "Must have been a lion."
The man wore a wounded look. "I was huntin' owl eggs for a botanist from Boston," he explained to me.
"Chiropodist, weren't he?" said Scipio. "Or maybe a sonnabulator?"
"No, honest," protested the man with the thumb; so that I was sorry for him, and begged him to go on.
"I'll listen to you," I assured him. And I wondered wily this politeness of mine should throw one or two of them into stifled mirth. Scipio, on the other hand, gave me a disgusted look and sat back sullenly for a moment, and then took himself out on the platform, where the Virginian was lounging.
"The young feller wore knee-pants and ever so thick spectacles with a half-moon cut in 'em," resumed the narrator, "and he carried a tin box strung to a strap I took for his lunch till it flew open on him and a horn toad hustled out. Then I was sure he was a botanist--or whatever yu' say they're called. Well, he would have owl eggs--them little prairie-owl that some claim can turn their head clean around and keep a-watchin' yu', only that's nonsense. We was ridin' through that prairie-dog town, used to be on the flat just after yu' crossed the south fork of Powder River on the Buffalo trail, and I said I'd dig an owl nest out for him if he was willing to camp till I'd dug it. I wanted to know about them owls some myself--if they did live with the dogs and snakes, yu' know," he broke off, appealing to me. "Oh, yes," I told him eagerly.
"So while the botanist went glarin' around the town with his glasses to see if he could spot a prairie-dog and an owl usin' the same hole, I was diggin' in a hole I'd seen an owl run down. And that's what I got." He held up his thumb again.
"The snake!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, sir. Mr. Rattler was keepin' house that day. Took me right there. I hauled him out of the hole hangin' to me. Eight rattles."
"Eight!" said I. "A big one."
"Yes, sir. Thought I was dead. But the woman--"
"The woman?" said I.
"Yes, woman. Didn't I tell yu' the botanist had his wife along? Well, he did. And she acted better than the man, for he was rosin' his head, and shoutin' he had no whiskey, and he didn't guess his knife was sharp enough to amputate my thumb, and none of us chewed, and the doctor was twenty miles away, and if he had only remembered to bring his ammonia--well, he was screeching out 'most everything he knew in the world, and without arranging it any, neither. But she just clawed his pocket and burrowed and kep' yelling, 'Give him the stone, Augustus!' And she whipped out one of them Injun medicine-stones,--first one I ever seen,--and she clapped it on to my thumb, and it started in right away."
"What did it do?" said I.
"Sucked. Like blotting-paper does. Soft and funny it was, and gray. They get 'em from elks' stomachs, yu' know. And when it had sucked the poison out of the wound, off it falls of my thumb by itself! And I thanked the woman for saving my life that capable and keeping her head that cool. I never knowed how excited she had been till afterward. She was awful shocked."
"I suppose she started to talk when the danger was over," said I, with deep silence around me.
"No; she didn't say nothing to me. But when her next child was born, it had eight rattles."
Din now rose wild in the caboose. They rocked together. The enthusiast beat his knee tumultuously. And I joined them. Who could help it? It had been so well conducted from the imperceptible beginning. Fact and falsehood blended with such perfect art. And this last, an effect so new made with such world-old material! I cared nothing that I was the victim, and I joined them; but ceased, feeling suddenly somehow estranged or chilled. It was in their laughter. The loudness was too loud. And I caught the eyes of Trampas fixed upon the Virginian with exultant malevolence. Scipio's disgusted glance was upon me from the door.
Dazed by these signs, I went out on the platform to get away from the noise. There the Virginian said to me: "Cheer up! You'll not be so easy for 'em that-a-way next season."
He said no more; and with his legs dangled over the railing, appeared to resume his newspaper.
"What's the matter?" said I to Scipio.
"Oh, I don't mind if he don't," Scipio answered. "Couldn't yu' see? I tried to head 'em off from yu' all I knew, but yu' just ran in among 'em yourself. Couldn't yu' see? Kep' hinderin' and spoilin' me with askin' those urgent questions of yourn--why, I had to let yu' go your way! Why, that wasn't the ordinary play with the ordinary tenderfoot they treated you to! You ain't a common tenderfoot this trip. You're the foreman's friend. They've hit him through you. That's the way they count it. It's made them encouraged. Can't yu' see?"
Scipio stated it plainly. And as we ran by the next station, "Howard!" they harshly yelled. "Portland 1256!"
We had been passing gangs of workmen on the track. And at that last yell the Virginian rose. "I reckon I'll join the meeting again," he said. "This filling and repairing looks like the washout might have been true."
"Washout?" said Scipio.
"Big Horn bridge, they say--four days ago."
"Then I wish it came this side Rawhide station."
"Do yu'?" drawled the Virginian. And smiling at Scipio, he lounged in through the open door.
"He beats me," said Scipio, shaking his head. "His trail is turruble hard to anticipate."
"Work bein' done on the road, I see," the Virginian was saying, very friendly and conversational.
"We see it too," said the voice of Trampas.
"Seem to be easin' their grades some."
"Cheaper to build 'em the way they want 'em at the start, a man would think," suggested the Virginian, most friendly. "There go some more I-talians."
"They're Chinese," said Trampas.
"That's so," acknowledged the Virginian, with a laugh.
"What's he monkeyin' at now?" muttered Scipio.
"Without cheap foreigners they couldn't afford all this hyeh new gradin'," the Southerner continued.
"Grading! Can't you tell when a flood's been eating the banks?"
"Why, yes," said the Virginian, sweet as honey. "But 'ain't yu' heard of the improvements west of Big Timber, all the way to Missoula, this season? I'm talkin' about them."
"Oh! Talking about them. Yes, I've heard."
"Good money-savin' scheme, ain't it?" said the Virginian. "Lettin' a freight run down one hill an' up the next as far as she'll no without steam, an' shavin' the hill down to that point." Now this was an honest engineering fact. "Better'n settin' dudes squintin' through telescopes and cypherin' over one per cent reductions," the Southerner commented.
"It's common sense," assented Trampas. "Have you heard the new scheme about the water-tanks?"
"I ain't right certain," said the Southerner.
"I must watch this," said Scipio, "or I shall bust. He went in, and so did I.
They were all sitting over this discussion of the Northern Pacific's recent policy as to betterments, as though they were the board of directors. Pins could have dropped. Only nobody would have cared to hear a pin.
"They used to put all their tanks at the bottom of their grades," said Trampas.
"Why, yu' get the water easier at the bottom."
"You can pump it to the top, though," said Trampas, growing superior. "And it's cheaper."
"That gets me," said the Virginian, interested.
"Trains after watering can start down hill now and get the benefit of the gravity. It'll cut down operating expenses a heap."
"That's cert'nly common sense!" exclaimed the Virginian, absorbed. "But ain't it kind o' tardy?"
"Live and learn. So they gained speed, too. High speed on half the coal this season, until the accident."
"Accident!" said the Virginian, instantly.
"Yellowstone Limited. Man fired at engine driver. Train was flying past that quick the bullet broke every window and killed a passenger on the back platform. You've been running too much with aristocrats," finished Trampas, and turned on his heel.
"Haw, hew!" began the enthusiast, but his neighbor gripped him to silence. This was a triumph too serious for noise. Not a mutineer moved; and I felt cold.
"Trampas," said the Virginian, "I thought yu'd be afeared to try it on me."
Trampas whirled round. His hand was at his belt. "Afraid!" he sneered.
"Shorty!" said Scipio, sternly, and leaping upon that youth, took his half-drawn pistol from him.
"I'm obliged to yu'," said the Virginian to Scipio. Trampas's hand left his belt. He threw a slight, easy look at his men, and keeping his back to the Virginian, walked out on the platform and sat on the chair where the Virginian had sat so much.
"Don't you comprehend," said the Virginian to Shorty, amiably, "that this hyeh question has been discussed peaceable by civilized citizens? Now you sit down and be good, and Mr. Le Moyne will return your gun when we're across that broken bridge, if they have got it fixed for heavy trains yet."
"This train will be lighter when it gets to that bridge," spoke Trampas, out on his chair.
"Why, that's true, too!" said the Virginian. "Maybe none of us are crossin' that Big Horn bridge now, except me. Funny if yu' should end by persuadin' me to quit and go to Rawhide myself! But I reckon I'll not. I reckon I'll worry along to Sunk Creek, somehow."
"Don't forget I'm cookin' for yu'," said Scipio, gruffy.
"I'm obliged to yu'," said the Southerner.
"You were speaking of a job for me," said Shorty.
"I'm right obliged. But yu' see--I ain't exackly foreman the way this comes out, and my promises might not bind Judge Henry to pay salaries.
A push came through the train from forward. We were slowing for the Rawhide station, and all began to be busy and to talk. "Going up to the mines to-day?" "Oh, let's grub first." "Guess it's too late, anyway." And so forth; while they rolled and roped their bedding, and put on their coats with a good deal of elbow motion, and otherwise showed off. It was wasted. The Virginian did not know what vitas going on in the caboose. He was leaning and looking out ahead, and Scipio's puzzled eye never left him. And as we halted for the water-tank, the Southerner exclaimed, "They 'ain t got away yet!" as if it were good news to him.
He meant the delayed trains. Four stalled expresses were in front of us, besides several freights. And two hours more at least before the bridge would be ready.
Travellers stood and sat about forlorn, near the cars, out in the sage-brush, anywhere. People in hats and spurs watched them, and Indian chiefs offered them painted bows and arrows and shiny horns.
"I reckon them passengers would prefer a laig o' mutton," said the Virginian to a man loafing near the caboose.
"Bet your life!" said the man. "First lot has been stuck here four days."
"Plumb starved, ain't they?" inquired the Virginian.
"Bet your life! They've eat up their dining cars and they've eat up this town."
"Well," said the Virginian, looking at the town, "I expaict the dining-cyars contained more nourishment."
"Say, you're about right there!" said the man. He walked beside the caboose as we puffed slowly forward from the water-tank to our siding. "Fine business here if we'd only been ready," he continued. "And the Crow agent has let his Indians come over from the reservation. There has been a little beef brought in, and game, and fish. And big money in it, bet your life! Them Eastern passengers has just been robbed. I wisht I had somethin' to sell!"
"Anything starting for Rawhide this afternoon?" said Trampas, out of the caboose door.
"Not until morning," said the man. "You going to the mines?" he resumed to the Virginian.
"Why," answered the Southerner, slowly and casually, and addressing himself strictly to the man, while Trampas, on his side, paid obvious inattention, "this hyeh delay, yu' see, may unsettle our plans some. But it'll be one of two ways,--we're all goin' to Rawhide, or we're all goin' to Billings. We're all one party, yu' see."
Trampas laughed audibly inside the door as he rejoined his men. "I et him keep up appearances," I heard him tell them. "It don't hurt us what he says to strangers."
"But I'm goin' to eat hearty either way," continued the Virginian. "And I ain' goin' to be robbed. I've been kind o' promisin' myself a treat if we stopped hyeh."
"Town's eat clean out," said the man.
"So yu' tell me. But all you folks has forgot one source of revenue that yu' have right close by, mighty handy. If you have got a gunny sack, I'll show you how to make some money."
"Bet your life!" said the man.
"Mr. Le Moyne," said the Virginian, "the outfit's cookin' stuff is aboard, and if you'll get the fire ready, we'll try how frawgs' laigs go fried." He walked off at once, the man following like a dog. Inside the caboose rose a gust of laughter.
"Frogs!" muttered Scipio. And then turning a blank face to me, "Frogs?"
"Colonel Cyrus Jones had them on his bill of fare," I said. "'FROGS' LEGS A LA DELMONICO.'"
"Shoo! I didn't get up that thing. They had it when I came. Never looked at it. Frogs?" He went down the steps very slowly, with a long frown. Reaching the ground, he shook his head. "That man's trail is surely hard to anticipate," he said. "But I must hurry up that fire. For his appearance has given me encouragement," Scipio concluded, and became brisk. Shorty helped him, and I brought wood. Trampas and the other people strolled off to the station, a compact band.
Our little fire was built beside the caboose, so the cooking things might be easily reached and put back. You would scarcely think such operations held any interest, even for the hungry, when there seemed to be nothing to cook. A few sticks blazing tamely in the dust, a frying-pan, half a tin bucket of lard, some water, and barren plates and knives and forks, and three silent men attending to them--that was all. But the travellers came to see. These waifs drew near us, and stood, a sad, lore, shifting fringe of audience; four to begin with; and then two wandered away; and presently one of these came back, finding it worse elsewhere. "Supper, boys?" said he. "Breakfast," said Scipio, crossly. And no more of them addressed us. I heard them joylessly mention Wall Street to each other, and Saratoga; I even heard the name Bryn Mawr, which is near Philadelphia. But these fragments of home dropped in the wilderness here in Montana beside a freight caboose were of no interest to me now.
"Looks like frogs down there, too," said Scipio. "See them marshy slogs full of weeds?" We took a little turn and had a sight of the Virginian quite active among the ponds. "Hush! I'm getting some thoughts," continued Scipio. "He wasn't sorry enough. Don't interrupt me."
"I'm not," said I.
"No. But I'd 'most caught a-hold." And Scipio muttered to himself again, "He wasn't sorry enough." Presently he swore loud and brilliantly. "Tell yu'!" he cried. "What did he say to Trampas after that play they exchanged over railroad improvements and Trampas put the josh on him? Didn't he say, ' Trampas, I thought you'd be afraid to do it?' Well, sir, Trampas had better have been afraid. And that's what he meant. There's where he was bringin' it to Trampas made an awful bad play then. You wait. Glory, but he's a knowin' man! Course he wasn't sorry. I guess he had the hardest kind of work to look as sorry as he did. You wait."
"Wait? What for? Go on, man! What for?"
"I don't know! I don't know! Whatever hand he's been holdin' up, this is the show-down. He's played for a show-down here before the caboose gets off the bridge. Come back to the fire, or Shorty'll be leavin' it go out. Grow happy some, Shorty!" he cried on arriving, and his hand cracked on Shorty's shoulder. "Supper's in sight, Shorty. Food for reflection."
"None for the stomach?" asked the passenger who had spoken once before.
"We're figuring on that too," said Scipio. His crossness had melted entirely away.
"Why, they're cow-boys!" exclaimed another passenger; and he moved nearer.
From the station Trampas now came back, his herd following him less compactly. They had found famine, and no hope of supplies until the next train from the East. This was no fault of Trampas's; but they were following him less compactly. They carried one piece of cheese, the size of a fist, the weight of a brick, the hue of a corpse. And the passengers, seeing it, exclaimed, "There's Old Faithful again!" and took off their hats.
"You gentlemen met that cheese before, then?" said Scipio, delighted.
"It's been offered me three times a day for four days," said the passenger. "Did he want a dollar or a dollar and a half?"
"Two dollars!" blurted out the enthusiast. And all of us save Trampas fell into fits of imbecile laughter.
"Here comes our grub, anyway," said Scipio, looking off toward the marshes. And his hilarity sobered away in a moment.
"Well, the train will be in soon," stated Trampas. "I guess we'll get a decent supper without frogs."
All interest settled now upon the Virginian. He was coming with his man and his gunny sack, and the gunny sack hung from his shoulder heavily, as a full sack should. He took no notice of the gathering, but sat down and partly emptied the sack. "There," said he, very businesslike, to his assistant, "that's all we'll want. I think you'll find a ready market for the balance."
"Well, my gracious!" said the enthusiast. "What fool eats a frog?"
"Oh, I'm fool enough for a tadpole!" cried the passenger. And they began to take out their pocket-books.
"You can cook yours right hyeh, gentlemen," said the Virginian, with his slow Southern courtesy. "The dining-cyars don't look like they were fired up."
"How much will you sell a couple for?" inquired the enthusiast.
The Virginian looked at him with friendly surprise. "Why, help yourself! We're all together yet awhile. Help yourselves," he repeated, to Trampas and his followers. These hung back a moment, then, with a slinking motion, set the cheese upon the earth and came forward nearer the fire to receive some supper.
"It won't scarcely be Delmonico style," said the Virginian to the passengers, "nor yet Saynt Augustine." He meant the great Augustin, the traditional chef of Philadelphia, whose history I had sketched for him at Colonel Cyrus Jones's eating palace.
Scipio now officiated. His frying-pan was busy, and prosperous odors rose from it.
"Run for a bucket of fresh water, Shorty," the Virginian continued, beginning his meal. "Colonel, yu' cook pretty near good. If yu' had sold 'em as advertised, yu'd have cert'nly made a name."
Several were now eating with satisfaction, but not Scipio. It was all that he could do to cook straight. The whole man seemed to glisten. His eye was shut to a slit once more, while the innocent passengers thankfully swallowed.
"Now, you see, you have made some money," began the Virginian to the native who had helped him get the frogs.
"Bet your life!" exclaimed the man. "Divvy, won't you?" And he held out half his gains.
"Keep 'em," returned the Southerner. "I reckon we're square. But I expaict they'll not equal Delmonico's, seh?" he said to a passenger.
"Don't trust the judgment of a man as hungry as I am!" exclaimed the traveller, with a laugh. And he turned to his fellow-travellers. "Did you ever enjoy supper at Delmonico's more than this?" "Never!" they sighed.
"Why, look here," said the traveller, "what fools the people of this town are! Here we've been all these starving days, and you come and get ahead of them!"
"That's right easy explained," said the Virginian. "I've been where there was big money in frawgs, and they 'ain't been. They're all cattle hyeh. Talk cattle, think cattle, and they're bankrupt in consequence. Fallen through. Ain't that so?" he inquired of the native.
"That's about the way," said the man.
"It's mighty hard to do what your neighbors ain't doin'," pursued the Virginian. "Montana is all cattle, an' these folks must be cattle, an' never notice the country right hyeh is too small for a range, an' swampy, anyway, an' just waitin' to be a frawg ranch."
At this, all wore a face of careful reserve.
"I'm not claimin' to be smarter than you folks hyeh," said the Virginian, deprecatingly, to his assistant. "But travellin' learns a man many customs. You wouldn't do the business they done at Tulare, California, north side o' the lake. They cert'nly utilized them hopeless swamps splendid. Of course they put up big capital and went into it scientific, gettin' advice from the government Fish Commission, an' such like knowledge. Yu' see, they had big markets for their frawgs,--San Francisco, Los Angeles, and clear to New York afteh the Southern Pacific was through. But up hyeh yu' could sell to passengers every day like yu' done this one day. They would get to know yu' along the line. Competing swamps are scarce. The dining-cyars would take your frawgs, and yu' would have the Yellowstone Park for four months in the year. Them hotels are anxious to please, an' they would buy off yu' what their Eastern patrons esteem as fine-eatin'. And you folks would be sellin' something instead o' nothin'."
"That's a practical idea," said a traveller. "And little cost."
"And little cost," said the Virginian.
"Would Eastern people eat frogs?" inquired the man.
"Look at us!" said the traveller.
"Delmonico doesn't give yu' such a treat!" said the Virginian.
"Not exactly!" the traveller exclaimed.
"How much would be paid for frogs?" said Trampas to him. And I saw Scipio bend closer to his cooking.
"Oh, I don't know," said the traveller. "We've paid pretty well, you see."
"You're late for Tulare, Trampas," said the Virginian.
"I was not thinking of Tulare," Trampas retorted. Scipio's nose was in the frying-pan.
"Mos' comical spot you ever struck!" said the Virginian, looking round upon the whole company. He allowed himself a broad smile of retrospect. "To hear 'em talk frawgs at Tulare! Same as other folks talks hawsses or steers or whatever they're raising to sell. Yu'd fall into it yourselves if yu' started the business. Anything a man's bread and butter depends on, he's going to be earnest about. Don't care if it is a frawg."
"That's so," said the native. "And it paid good?"
"The only money in the county was right there," answered the Virginian. "It was a dead county, and only frawgs was movin'. But that business was a-fannin' to beat four of a kind. It made yu' feel strange at first, as I said. For all the men had been cattle-men at one time or another. Till yu' got accustomed, it would give 'most anybody a shock to hear 'em speak about herdin' the bulls in a pasture by themselves." The Virginian allowed himself another smile, but became serious again. "That was their policy," he explained. "Except at certain times o' year they kept the bulls separate. The Fish Commission told 'em they'd better, and it cert'nly worked mighty well. It or something did--for, gentlemen, hush! but there was millions. You'd have said all the frawgs in the world had taken charge at Tulare. And the money rolled in! Gentlemen, hush! 'twas a gold mine for the owners. Forty per cent they netted some years. And they paid generous wages. For they could sell to all them French restaurants in San Francisco, yu' see. And there was the Cliff House. And the Palace Hotel made it a specialty. And the officers took frawgs at the Presidio, an' Angel Island, an' Alcatraz, an' Benicia. Los Angeles was beginnin' its boom. The corner-lot sharps wanted something by way of varnish. An' so they dazzled Eastern investors with advertisin' Tulare frawgs clear to New Orleans an' New York. 'Twas only in Sacramento frawgs was dull. I expaict the California legislature was too or'n'ry for them fine-raised luxuries. They tell of one of them senators that he raked a million out of Los Angeles real estate, and started in for a bang-up meal with champagne. Wanted to scatter his new gold thick an' quick. But he got astray among all the fancy dishes, an' just yelled right out before the ladies, 'Damn it! bring me forty dollars' worth of ham and aiggs.' He was a funny senator, now."
The Virginian paused, and finished eating a leg. And then with diabolic art he made a feint at wandering to new fields of anecdote. "Talkin' of senators," he resumed, "Senator Wise--"
"How much did you say wages were at Tulare?" inquired one of the Trampas faction.
"How much? Why, I never knew what the foreman got. The regular hands got a hundred. Senator Wise--"
"A hundred a MONTH?"
"Why, it was wet an' muddy work, yu' see. A man risked rheumatism some. He risked it a good deal. Well, I was going to tell about Senator Wise. When Senator Wise was speaking of his visit to Alaska--"
"Forty per cent, was it?" said Trampas.
"Oh, I must call my wife'" said the traveller behind me. "This is what I came West for." And he hurried away.
"Not forty per cent the bad years," replied the Virginian. "The frawgs had enemies, same as cattle. I remember when a pelican got in the spring pasture, and the herd broke through the fence--"
"Fence?" said a passenger.
"Ditch, seh, and wire net. Every pasture was a square swamp with a ditch around, and a wire net. Yu've heard the mournful, mixed-up sound a big bunch of cattle will make? Well, seh, as yu' druv from the railroad to the Tulare frawg ranch yu' could hear 'em a mile. Springtime they'd sing like girls in the organ loft, and by August they were about ready to hire out for bass. And all was fit to be soloists, if I'm a judge. But in a bad year it might only be twenty per cent. The pelican rushed 'em from the pasture right into the San Joaquin River, which was close by the property. The big balance of the herd stampeded, and though of course they came out on the banks again, the news had went around, and folks below at Hemlen eat most of 'em just to spite the company. Yu' see, a frawg in a river is more hopeless than any maverick loose on the range. And they never struck any plan to brand their stock and Prove ownership."
"Well, twenty per cent is good enough for me," said Trampas, "if Rawhide don't suit me."
"A hundred a month!" said the enthusiast. And busy calculations began to arise among them.
"It went to fifty per cent," pursued the Virginian, "when New York and Philadelphia got to biddin' agaynst each other. Both cities had signs all over 'em claiming to furnish the Tulare frawg. And both had 'em all right. And same as cattle trains, yu'd see frawg trains tearing acrosst Arizona--big glass tanks with wire over 'em--through to New York, an' the frawgs starin' out."
"Why, George," whispered a woman's voice behind me, "he's merely deceiving them! He's merely making that stuff up out of his head."
"Yes, my dear, that's merely what he's doing."
"Well, I don't see why you imagined I should care for this. I think I'll go back."
"Better see it out, Daisy. This beats the geysers or anything we're likely to find in the Yellowstone."
"Then I wish we had gone to Bar Harbor as usual," said the lady, and she returned to her Pullman.
But her husband stayed. Indeed, the male crowd now was a goodly sight to see, how the men edged close, drawn by a common tie. Their different kinds of feet told the strength of the bond--yellow sleeping-car slippers planted miscellaneous and motionless near a pair of Mexican spurs. All eyes watched the Virginian and gave him their entire sympathy. Though they could not know his motive for it, what he was doing had fallen as light upon them--all except the excited calculators. These were loudly making their fortunes at both Rawhide and Tulare, drugged by their satanically aroused hopes of gold, heedless of the slippers and the spurs. Had a man given any sign to warn them, I think he would have been lynched. Even the Indian chiefs had come to see in their show war bonnets and blankets. They naturally understood nothing of it, yet magnetically knew that the Virginian was the great man. And they watched him with approval. He sat by the fire with the frying-pan, looking his daily self--engaging and saturnine. And now as Trampas declared tickets to California would be dear and Rawhide had better come first, the Southerner let loose his heaven-born imagination.
"There's a better reason for Rawhide than tickets, Trampas," said he. "I said it was too late for Tulare."
"I heard you," said Trampas. "Opinions may differ. You and I don't think alike on several points.
"Gawd, Trampas!" said the Virginian, "d' yu' reckon I'd be rotting hyeh on forty dollars if Tulare was like it used to be? Tulare is broke."
"What broke it? Your leaving?"
"Revenge broke it, and disease," said the Virginian, striking the frying-pan on his knee, for the frogs were all gone. At those lurid words their untamed child minds took fire, and they drew round him again to hear a tale of blood. The crowd seemed to lean nearer.
But for a short moment it threatened to be spoiled. A passenger came along, demanding in an important voice, "Where are these frogs?" He was a prominent New York after-dinner speaker, they whispered me, and out for a holiday in his private car. Reaching us and walking to the Virginian, he said cheerily, "How much do you want for your frogs, my friend?"
"You got a friend hyeh?" said the Virginian. "That's good, for yu' need care taken of yu'." And the prominent after-dinner speaker did not further discommode us.
"That's worth my trip," whispered a New York passenger to me.
"Yes, it was a case of revenge," resumed the Virginian, "and disease. There was a man named Saynt Augustine got run out of Domingo, which is a Dago island. He come to Philadelphia, an' he was dead broke. But Saynt Augustine was a live man, an' he saw Philadelphia was full o' Quakers that dressed plain an' eat humdrum. So he started cookin' Domingo way for 'em, an' they caught right ahold. Terrapin, he gave 'em, an' croakeets, an' he'd use forty chickens to make a broth he called consommay. An' he got rich, and Philadelphia got well known, an' Delmonico in New York he got jealous. He was the cook that had the say-so in New York."
"Was Delmonico one of them I-talians?" inquired a fascinated mutineer.
"I don't know. But he acted like one. Lorenzo was his front name. He aimed to cut--"
"Domingo's throat?" breathed the enthusiast. "Aimed to cut away the trade from Saynt Augustine an' put Philadelphia back where he thought she belonged. Frawgs was the fashionable rage then. These foreign cooks set the fashion in eatin', same as foreign dressmakers do women's clothes. Both cities was catchin' and swallowin' all the frawgs Tulare could throw at 'em. So he--"
"Lorenzo?" said the enthusiast.
"Yes, Lorenzo Delmonico. He bid a dollar a tank higher. An' Saynt Augustine raised him fifty cents. An' Lorenzo raised him a dollar An' Saynt Augustine shoved her up three Lorenzo he didn't expect Philadelphia would go that high, and he got hot in the collar, an' flew round his kitchen in New York, an' claimed he'd twist Saynt Augustine's Domingo tail for him and crack his ossified system. Lorenzo raised his language to a high temperature, they say. An' then quite sudden off he starts for Tulare. He buys tickets over the Santa Fe, and he goes a-fannin' and a-foggin'. But, gentlemen, hush! The very same day Saynt Augustine he tears out of Philadelphia. He travelled by the way o' Washington, an' out he comes a-fannin' an' a-foggin' over the Southern Pacific. Of course Tulare didn't know nothin' of this. All it knowed was how the frawg market was on soarin' wings, and it vitas feelin' like a flight o' rawckets. If only there'd been some preparation,--a telegram or something,--the disaster would never have occurred. But Lorenzo and Saynt Augustine was that absorbed watchin' each other--for, yu' see, the Santa Fe and the Southern Pacific come together at Mojave, an' the two cooks travelled a matter of two hundred an' ten miles in the same cyar--they never thought about a telegram. And when they arruv, breathless, an' started in to screechin' what they'd give for the monopoly, why, them unsuspectin' Tulare boys got amused at 'em. I never heard just all they done, but they had Lorenzo singin' and dancin', while Saynt Augustine played the fiddle for him. And one of Lorenzo's heels did get a trifle grazed. Well, them two cooks quit that ranch without disclosin' their identity, and soon as they got to a safe distance they swore eternal friendship, in their excitable foreign way. And they went home over the Union Pacific, sharing the same stateroom. Their revenge killed frawgs. The disease--"
"How killed frogs?" demanded Trampas.
"Just killed 'em. Delmonico and Saynt Augustine wiped frawgs off the slate of fashion. Not a banker in Fifth Avenue'll touch one now if another banker's around watchin' him. And if ever yu' see a man that hides his feet an' won't take off his socks in company, he has worked in then Tulare swamps an' got the disease. Catch him wadin', and yu'll find he's web-footed. Frawgs are dead, Trampas, and so are you."
"Rise up, liars, and salute your king!" yelled Scipio. "Oh, I'm in love with you!" And he threw his arms round the Virginian.
"Let me shake hands with you," said the traveller, who had failed to interest his wife in these things. "I wish I was going to have more of your company."
"Thank ye', seh," said the Virginian.
Other passengers greeted him, and the Indian chiefs came, saying, "How!" because they followed their feelings without understanding.
"Don't show so humbled, boys," said the deputy foreman to his most sheepish crew. "These gentlemen from the East have been enjoying yu' some, I know. But think what a weary wait they have had hyeh. And you insisted on playing the game with me this way, yu' see. What outlet did yu' give me? Didn't I have it to do? And I'll tell yu' one thing for your consolation: when I got to the middle of the frawgs I 'most believed it myself." And he laughed out the first laugh I had heard him give.
The enthusiast came up and shook hands. That led off, and the rest followed, with Trampas at the end. The tide was too strong for him. He was not a graceful loser; but he got through this, and the Virginian eased him down by treating him precisely like the others--apparently. Possibly the supreme--the most American--moment of all was when word came that the bridge was open, and the Pullman trains, with noise and triumph, began to move westward at last. Every one waved farewell to every one, craning from steps and windows, so that the cars twinkled with hilarity; and in twenty minutes the whole procession in front had moved, and our turn came.
"Last chance for Rawhide," said the Virginian.
"Last chance for Sunk Creek," said a reconstructed mutineer, and all sprang aboard. There was no question who had won his spurs now.
Our caboose trundled on to Billings along the shingly cotton-wooded Yellowstone; and as the plains and bluffs and the distant snow began to grow well known, even to me, we turned to our baggage that was to come off, since camp would begin in the morning. Thus I saw the Virginian carefully rewrapping Kenilworth, that he might bring it to its owner unharmed; and I said, "Don't you think you could have played poker with Queen Elizabeth?"
"No; I expaict she'd have beat me," he replied. "She was a lady."
It was at Billings, on this day, that I made those reflections about equality. For the Virginian had been equal to the occasion: that is the only kind of equality which I recognize.
Join date: 2010-09-25
|Subject: Re: The Virginian Mon 19 Mar 2012, 21:24|| |
Into what mood was it that the Virginian now fell? Being less busy, did he begin to "grieve" about the girl on Bear Creek? I only know that after talking so lengthily he fell into a nine days' silence. The talking part of him deeply and unbrokenly slept.
Official words of course came from him as we rode southward from the railroad, gathering the Judge's stray cattle. During the many weeks since the spring round-up, some of these animals had as usual got very far off their range, and getting them on again became the present business of our party.
Directions and commands--whatever communications to his subordinates were needful to the forwarding of this--he duly gave. But routine has never at any time of the world passed for conversation. His utterances, such as, "We'll work Willo' Creek to-morro' mawnin'," or, "I want the wagon to be at the fawks o' Stinkin' Water by Thursday," though on some occasions numerous enough to sound like discourse, never once broke the man's true silence. Seeming to keep easy company with the camp, he yet kept altogether to himself. That talking part of him--the mood which brings out for you your friend's spirit and mind as a free gift or as an exchange--was down in some dark cave of his nature, hidden away. Perhaps it had been dreaming; perhaps completely reposing. The Virginian was one of those rare ones who are able to refresh themselves in sections. To have a thing on his mind did not keep his body from resting. During our recent journey--it felt years ago now!--while our caboose on the freight train had trundled endlessly westward, and the men were on the ragged edge, the very jumping-off place, of mutiny and possible murder, I had seen him sleep like a child. He snatched the moments not necessary for vigil I had also seen him sit all night watching his responsibility, ready to spring on it and fasten his teeth in it. And now that he had confounded them with their own attempted weapon of ridicule, his powers seemed to be profoundly dormant. That final pitched battle of wits had made the men his captives and admirers--all save Trampas. And of him the Virginian did not seem to be aware.
But Scipio le Moyne would say to me now and then, "If I was Trampas, I'd pull my freight." And once he added, "Pull it kind of casual, yu' know, like I wasn't noticing myself do it."
"Yes," our friend Shorty murmured pregnantly, with his eye upon the quiet Virginian, "he's sure studying his revenge."
"Studying your pussy-cat," said Scipio. "He knows what he'll do. The time 'ain't arrived." This was the way they felt about it; and not unnaturally this was the way they made me, the inexperienced Easterner, feel about it. That Trampas also felt something about it was easy to know. Like the leaven which leavens the whole lump, one spot of sulkiness in camp will spread its dull flavor through any company that sits near it; and we had to sit near Trampas at meals for nine days.
His sullenness was not wonderful. To feel himself forsaken by his recent adherents, to see them gone over to his enemy, could not have made his reflections pleasant. Why he did not take himself off to other climes--"pull his freight casual," as Scipio said--I can explain only thus: pay was due him--"time," as it was called in cow-land; if he would have this money, he must stay under the Virginian's command until the Judge's ranch on Sunk Creek should be reached; meanwhile, each day's work added to the wages in store for him; and finally, once at Sunk Creek, it would be no more the Virginian who commanded him; it would be the real ranch foreman. At the ranch he would be the Virginian's equal again, both of them taking orders from their officially recognized superior, this foreman. Shorty's word about "revenge" seemed to me like putting the thing backwards. Revenge, as I told Scipio, was what I should be thinking about if I were Trampas.
"He dassent," was Scipio's immediate view. "Not till he's got strong again. He got laughed plumb sick by the bystanders, and whatever spirit he had was broke in the presence of us all. He'll have to recuperate." Scipio then spoke of the Virginian's attitude. "Maybe revenge ain't just the right word for where this affair has got to now with him. When yu' beat another man at his own game like he done to Trampas, why, yu've had all the revenge yu' can want, unless you're a hog. And he's no hog. But he has got it in for Trampas. They've not reckoned to a finish. Would you let a man try such spitework on you and quit thinkin' about him just because yu'd headed him off?" To this I offered his own notion about hogs and being satisfied. "Hogs!" went on Scipio, in a way that dashed my suggestion to pieces; "hogs ain't in the case. He's got to deal with Trampas somehow--man to man. Trampas and him can't stay this way when they get back and go workin' same as they worked before. No, sir; I've seen his eye twice, and I know he's goin' to reckon to a finish."
I still must, in Scipio's opinion, have been slow to understand, when on the afternoon following this talk I invited him to tell me what sort of "finish" he wanted, after such a finishing as had been dealt Trampas already. Getting "laughed plumb sick by the bystanders" (I borrowed his own not overstated expression) seemed to me a highly final finishing. While I was running my notions off to him, Scipio rose, and, with the frying-pan he had been washing, walked slowly at me.
"I do believe you'd oughtn't to be let travel alone the way you do." He put his face close to mine. His long nose grew eloquent in its shrewdness, while the fire in his bleached blue eye burned with amiable satire. "What has come and gone between them two has only settled the one point he was aimin' to make. He was appointed boss of this outfit in the absence of the regular foreman. Since then all he has been playin' for is to hand back his men to the ranch in as good shape as they'd been handed to him, and without losing any on the road through desertion or shooting or what not. He had to kick his cook ok the train that day, and the loss made him sorrowful, I could see. But I'd happened to come along, and he jumped me into the vacancy, and I expect he is pretty near consoled. And as boss of the outfit he beat Trampas, who was settin' up for opposition boss. And the outfit is better than satisfied it come out that way, and they're stayin' with him; and he'll hand them all back in good condition, barrin' that lost cook. So for the present his point is made, yu' see. But look ahead a little. It may not be so very far ahead yu'll have to look. We get back to the ranch. He's not boss there any more. His responsibility is over. He is just one of us again, taking orders from a foreman they tell me has showed partiality to Trampas more'n a few times. Partiality! That's what Trampas is plainly trusting to. Trusting it will fix him all right and fix his enemy all wrong. He'd not otherwise dare to keep sour like he's doing. Partiality! D' yu' think it'll scare off the enemy?" Scipio looked across a little creek to where the Virginian was helping threw the gathered cattle on the bedground. "What odds "--he pointed the frying-pan at the Southerner--"d' yu' figure Trampas's being under any foreman's wing will make to a man like him? He's going to remember Mr. Trampas and his spite-work if he's got to tear him out from under the wing, and maybe tear off the wing in the operation. And I am goin' to advise your folks," ended the complete Scipio, "not to leave you travel so much alone--not till you've learned more life."
He had made me feel my inexperience, convinced me of innocence, undoubtedly; and during the final days of our journey I no longer invoked his aid to my reflections upon this especial topic: What would the Virginian do to Trampas? Would it be another intellectual crushing of him, like the frog story, or would there be something this time more material--say muscle, or possibly gunpowder--in it? And was Scipio, after all, infallible? I didn't pretend to understand the Virginian; after several years' knowledge of him he remained utterly beyond me. Scipio's experience was not yet three weeks long. So I let him alone as to all this, discussing with him most other things good and evil in the world, and being convinced of much further innocence; for Scipio's twenty odd years were indeed a library of life. I have never met a better heart, a shrewder wit, and looser morals, with yet a native sense of decency and duty somewhere hard and fast enshrined.
But all the while I was wondering about the Virginian: eating with him, sleeping with him (only not so sound as he did), and riding beside him often for many hours.
Experiments in conversation I did make--and failed. One day particularly while, after a sudden storm of hail had chilled the earth numb and white like winter in fifteen minutes, we sat drying and warming ourselves by a fire that we built, I touched upon that theme of equality on which I knew him to hold opinions as strong as mine. "Oh," he would reply, and "Cert'nly"; and when I asked him what it was in a man that made him a leader of men, he shook his head and puffed his pipe. So then, noticing how the sun had brought the earth in half an hour back from winter to summer again, I spoke of our American climate.
It was a potent drug, I said, for millions to be swallowing every day.
"Yes," said he, wiping the damp from his Winchester rifle.
Our American climate, I said, had worked remarkable changes, at least.
"Yes," he said; and did not ask what they were.
So I had to tell him. "It has made successful politcians of the Irish. That's one. And it has given our whole race the habit of poker."
Bang went his Winchester. The bullet struck close to my left. I sat up angrily.
"That's the first foolish thing I ever saw you do! I said.
"Yes," he drawled slowly, "I'd ought to have done it sooner. He was pretty near lively again." And then he picked up a rattlesnake six feet behind me. It had been numbed by the hail, part revived by the sun, and he had shot its head off.
Join date: 2010-09-25
|Subject: Re: The Virginian Mon 19 Mar 2012, 21:25|| |
"WOULD YOU BE A PARSON?"
After this I gave up my experiments in conversation. So that by the final afternoon of our journey, with Sunk Creek actually in sight, and the great grasshoppers slatting their dry song over the sage-brush, and the time at hand when the Virginian and Trampas would be "man to man," my thoughts rose to a considerable pitch of speculation.
And now that talking part of the Virginian, which had been nine days asleep, gave its first yawn and stretch of waking. Without preface, he suddenly asked me, "Would you be a parson?"
I was mentally so far away that I couldn't get back in time to comprehend or answer before he had repeated:"What would yu' take to be a parson?"
He drawled it out in his gentle way, precisely as if no nine days stood between it and our last real intercourse.
"Take?" I was still vaguely moving in my distance. "How?"
His next question brought me home.
"I expect the Pope's is the biggest of them parson jobs?"
It was with an "Oh!" that I now entirely took his idea. "Well, yes; decidedly the biggest."
"Beats the English one? Archbishop--ain't it?--of Canterbury? The Pope comes ahead of him?"
"His Holiness would say so if his Grace did not."
The Virginian turned half in his saddle to see my face--I was, at the moment, riding not quite abreast of him--and I saw the gleam of his teeth beneath his mustache. It was seldom I could make him smile, even to this slight extent. But his eyes grew, with his next words, remote again in their speculation.
"His Holiness and his Grace. Now if I was to hear 'em namin' me that-a-way every mawnin', I'd sca'cely get down to business."
"Oh, you'd get used to the pride of it."
"'Tisn't the pride. The laugh is what would ruin me. 'Twould take 'most all my attention keeping a straight face. The Archbishop"--here he took one of his wide mental turns--"is apt to be a big man in them Shakespeare plays. Kings take talk from him they'd not stand from anybody else; and he talks fine, frequently. About the bees, for instance, when Henry is going to fight France. He tells him a beehive is similar to a kingdom. I learned that piece." The Virginian could not have expected to blush at uttering these last words. He knew that his sudden color must tell me in whose book it was he had learned the piece Was not her copy of Kenilworth even now In his cherishing pocket? So he now, to cover his blush, very deliberately recited to me the Archbishop's discourse upon bees and their kingdom:
"'Where some, like magistrates, correct at home...
Others, like soldiers, armed in their stings,
Make loot upon the summer's velvet buds;
Which pillage they with merry march bring home
To the tent-royal of their emperor:
He, busied in his majesty, surreys
The singing masons building roofs of gold.'
"Ain't that a fine description of bees a-workin'? 'The singing masons building roofs of gold!' Puts 'em right before yu', and is poetry without bein' foolish. His Holiness and his Grace. Well, they could not hire me for either o' those positions. How many religions are there?"
"All over the earth?"
"Yu' can begin with ourselves. Right hyeh at home I know there's Romanists, and Episcopals--"
"Two kinds!" I put in. "At least two of Episcopals."
"That's three. Then Methodists and Baptists, and--"
"Well, you do the countin'."
I accordingly did it, feeling my revolving memory slip cogs all the way round. "Anyhow, there are safely fifteen."
"Fifteen." He held this fact a moment. "And they don't worship a whole heap o' different gods like the ancients did?"
"It's just the same one?"
"The same one."
The Virginian folded his hands over the horn of his saddle, and leaned forward upon them in contemplation of the wide, beautiful landscape.
"One God and fifteen religions," was his reflection. "That's a right smart of religions for just one God."
This way of reducing it was, if obvious to him, so novel to me that my laugh evidently struck him as a louder and livelier comment than was required. He turned on me as if I had somehow perverted the spirit of his words.
"I ain't religious. I know that. But I ain't unreligious. And I know that too."
"So do I know it, my friend."
"Do you think there ought to be fifteen varieties of good people?" His voice, while it now had an edge that could cut anything it came against, was still not raised. "There ain't fifteen. There ain't two. There's one kind. And when I meet it, I respect it. It is not praying nor preaching that has ever caught me and made me ashamed of myself, but one or two people I have knowed that never said a superior word to me They thought more o' me than I deserved, and that made me behave better than I naturally wanted to. Made me quit a girl onced in time for her not to lose her good name. And so that's one thing I have never done. And if ever I was to have a son or somebody I set store by, I would wish their lot to be to know one or two good folks mighty well--men or women--women preferred."
He had looked away again to the hills behind Sunk Creek ranch, to which our walking horses had now almost brought us.
"As for parsons "--the gesture of his arm was a disclaiming one--"I reckon some parsons have a right to tell yu' to be good. The bishop of this hyeh Territory has a right. But I'll tell yu' this: a middlin' doctor is a pore thing, and a middlin' lawyer is a pore thing; but keep me from a middlin' man of God."
Once again he had reduced it, but I did not laugh this time. I thought there should in truth be heavy damages for malpractice on human souls. But the hot glow of his words, and the vision of his deepest inner man it revealed, faded away abruptly.
"What do yu' make of the proposition yondeh?" As he pointed to the cause of this question he had become again his daily, engaging, saturnine self.
Then I saw over in a fenced meadow, to which we were now close, what he was pleased to call "the proposition." Proposition in the West does, in fact, mean whatever you at the moment please,--an offer to sell you a mine, a cloud-burst, a glass of whiskey, a steamboat. This time it meant a stranger clad in black, and of a clerical deportment which would in that atmosphere and to a watchful eye be visible for a mile or two.
"I reckoned yu' hadn't noticed him," was the Virginian's reply to my ejaculation. "Yes. He set me goin' on the subject a while back. I expect he is another missionary to us pore cow-boys."
I seemed from a hundred yards to feel the stranger's forceful personality. It was in his walk--I should better say stalk--as he promenaded along the creek. His hands were behind his back, and there was an air of waiting, of displeased waiting, in his movement.
"Yes, he'll be a missionary," said the Virginian, conclusively; and he took to singing, or rather to whining, with his head tilted at an absurd angle upward at the sky:
"'Dar is a big Car'lina nigger,
About de size of dis chile or p'raps a little bigger,
By de name of Jim Crow.
Dat what de white folks call him.
If ever I sees hint I 'tends for to maul him,
Just to let de white folks see
Such an animos as he
Can't walk around the streets and scandalize me.'
The lane which was conducting us to the group of ranch buildings now turned a corner of the meadow, and the Virginian went on with his second verse:
"'Great big fool, he hasn't any knowledge.
Gosh! how could he, when he's never been to scollege?
Neither has I.
But I'se come mighty nigh;
I peaked through de door as I went by.'"
He was beginning a third stanza, but stopped short; a horse had neighed close behind us.
"Trampas," said he, without turning his head, "we are home."
"It looks that way." Some ten yards were between ourselves and Trampas, where he followed.
"And I'll trouble yu' for my rope yu' took this mawnin' instead o' your own."
"I don't know as it's your rope I've got." Trampas skilfully spoke this so that a precisely opposite meaning flowed from his words.
If it was discussion he tried for, he failed. The Virginian's hand moved, and for one thick, flashing moment my thoughts were evidently also the thoughts of Trampas. But the Virginian only held out to Trampas the rope which he had detached from his saddle.
"Take your hand off your gun, Trampas. If I had wanted to kill yu' you'd be lying nine days back on the road now. Here's your rope. Did yu' expect I'd not know it? It's the only one in camp the stiffness ain't all drug out of yet. Or maybe yu' expected me to notice and--not take notice?"
"I don't spend my time in expectations about you. If--"
The Virginian wheeled his horse across the road. "Yu're talkin' too soon after reachin' safety, Trampas. I didn't tell yu' to hand me that rope this mawnin', because I was busy. I ain't foreman now; and I want that rope."
Trampas produced a smile as skilful as his voice. "Well, I guess your having mine proves this one is yours." He rode up and received the coil which the Virginian held out, unloosing the disputed one on his saddle. If he had meant to devise a slippery, evasive insult, no small trick in cow-land could be more offensive than this taking another man's rope. And it is the small tricks which lead to the big bullets. Trampas put a smooth coating of plausibility over the whole transaction. "After the rope corral we had to make this morning"--his tone was mock explanatory--"the ropes was all strewed round camp, and in the hustle I--"
"Pardon me," said a sonorous voice behind us, "do you happen to have seen Judge Henry?" It was the reverend gentleman in his meadow, come to the fence. As we turned round to him he spoke on, with much rotund authority in his eye. "From his answer to my letter, Judge Henry undoubtedly expects me here. I have arrived from Fetterman according to my plan which I announced to him, to find that he has been absent all day--absent the whole day."
The Virginian sat sidewise to talk, one long, straight leg supporting him on one stirrup, the other bent at ease, the boot half lifted from its dangling stirrup. He made himself the perfection of courtesy. "The Judge is frequently absent all night, seh."
"Scarcely to-night, I think. I thought you might know something about him."
"I have been absent myself, seh."
"Ah! On a vacation, perhaps?" The divine had a ruddy facet. His strong glance was straight and frank and fearless; but his smile too much reminded me of days bygone, when we used to return to school from the Christmas holidays, and the masters would shake our hands and welcome us with: "Robert, John, Edward, glad to see you all looking so well! Rested, and ready for hard work, I'm sure!"
That smile does not really please even good, tame little boys; and the Virginian was nearing thirty.
"It has not been vacation this trip, seh," said he, settling straight in his saddle. "There's the Judge driving in now, in time for all questions yu' have to ask him."
His horse took a step, but was stopped short. There lay the Virginian's rope on the ground. I had been aware of Trampas's quite proper departure during the talk; and as he was leaving, I seemed also to be aware of his placing the coil across the cantle of its owner's saddle. Had he intended it to fall and have to be picked up? It was another evasive little business, and quite successful, if designed to nag the owner of the rope. A few hundred yards ahead of us Trampas was now shouting loud cow-boy shouts. Were they to announce his return to those at home, or did they mean derision? The Virginian leaned, keeping his seat, and, swinging down his arm, caught up the rope, and hung it on his saddle somewhat carefully. But the hue of rage spread over his face.
From his fence the divine now spoke, in approbation, but with another strong, cheerless smile. "You pick up that rope as if you were well trained to it."
"It's part of our business, seh, and we try to mind it like the rest." But this, stated in a gentle drawl, did not pierce the missionary's armor; his superiority was very thick.
We now rode on, and I was impressed by the reverend gentleman's robust, dictatorial back as he proceeded by a short cut through the meadow to the ranch. You could take him for nothing but a vigorous, sincere, dominating man, full of the highest purpose. But whatever his creed, I already doubted if he were the right one to sow it and make it grow in these new, wild fields. He seemed more the sort of gardener to keep old walks and vines pruned in their antique rigidity. I admired him for coming all this way with his clean, short, gray whiskers and his black, well-brushed suit. And he made me think of a powerful locomotive stuck puffing on a grade.
Meanwhile, the Virginian rode beside me, so silent in his volcanic wrath that I did not perceive it. The missionary coming on top of Trampas had been more than he could stand. But I did not know, and I spoke with innocent cheeriness.
"Is the parson going to save us?" I asked; and I fairly jumped at his voice:"Don't talk so much!" he burst out. I had got the whole accumulation!
"Who's been talking?" I in equal anger screeched back. "I'm not trying to save you. I didn't take your rope." And having poured this out, I whipped up my pony.
But he spurred his own alongside of me; and glancing at him, I saw that he was now convulsed with internal mirth. I therefore drew down to a walk, and he straightened into gravity.
"I'm right obliged to yu'," he laid his hand in its buckskin gauntlet upon my horse's mane as he spoke, "for bringing me back out o' my nonsense. I'll be as serene as a bird now--whatever they do. A man," he stated reflectively, "any full-sized man, ought to own a big lot of temper. And like all his valuable possessions, he'd ought to keep it and not lose any." This was his full apology. "As for salvation, I have got this far: somebody," he swept an arm at the sunset and the mountains, "must have made all that, I know. But I know one more thing I would tell Him to His face: if I can't do nothing long enough and good enough to earn eternal happiness, I can't do nothing long enough and bad enough to be damned. I reckon He plays a square game with us if He plays at all, and I ain't bothering my haid about other worlds."
As we reached the stables, he had become the serene bird he promised, and was sentimentally continuing:
"'De sun is made of mud from de bottom of de river;
De moon is made o' fox-fire, as you might disciver;
De stars like de ladies' eyes,
All round de world dey flies,
To give a little light when de moon don't rise.'"
If words were meant to conceal our thoughts, melody is perhaps a still thicker veil for them. Whatever temper he had lost, he had certainly found again; but this all the more fitted him to deal with Trampas, when the dealing should begin. I had half a mind to speak to the Judge, only it seemed beyond a mere visitor's business. Our missionary was at this moment himself speaking to Judge Henry at the door of the home ranch.
"I reckon he's explaining he has been a-waiting." The Virginian was throwing his saddle off as I loosened the cinches of mine. "And the Judge don't look like he was hopelessly distressed."
I now surveyed the distant parley, and the Judge, from the wagonful of guests whom he had evidently been driving upon a day's excursion, waved me a welcome, which I waved back. "He's got Miss Molly Wood there!" I exclaimed.
"Yes." The Virginian was brief about this fact. "I'll look afteh your saddle. You go and get acquainted with the company."
This favor I accepted; it was the means he chose for saying he hoped, after our recent boiling over, that all was now more than right between us. So for the while I left him to his horses, and his corrals, and his Trampas, and his foreman, and his imminent problem.
Join date: 2010-09-25
|Subject: Re: The Virginian Mon 19 Mar 2012, 21:26|| |
DR. MACBRIDE BEGS PARDON
Judge and Mrs. Henry, Molly Wood, and two strangers, a lady and a gentleman, were the party which had been driving in the large three-seated wagon. They had seemed a merry party. But as I came within hearing of their talk, it was a fragment of the minister's sonority which reached me first: "--more opportunity for them to have the benefit of hearing frequent sermons," was the sentence I heard him bring to completion.
Judge and Mrs. Henry, Molly Wood, and two strangers, a lady and a gentleman, were the party which had been driving in the large three-seated wagon. They had seemed a merry party. But as I came within hearing of their talk, it was a fragment of the minister's sonority which reached me first: "--more opportunity for them to have the benefit of hearing frequent sermons," was the sentence I heard him bring to completion.
"We may be said to have met already." Dr. MacBride had fixed upon me his full, mastering eye; and it occurred to me that if they had policemen in heaven, he would be at least a centurion in the force. But he did not mean to be unpleasant; it was only that in a mind full of matters less worldly, pleasure was left out. "I observed your friend was a skilful horseman," he continued. "I was saying to Judge Henry that I could wish such skilful horsemen might ride to a church upon the Sabbath. A church, that is, of right doctrine, where they would have opportunity to hear frequent sermons."
"Yes," said Judge Henry, "yes. It would be a good thing."
Mrs. Henry, with some murmur about the kitchen, here went into the house.
"I was informed," Dr. MacBride held the rest of us, "before undertaking my journey that I should find a desolate and mainly godless country. But nobody gave me to understand that from Medicine Bow I was to drive three hundred miles and pass no church of any faith."
The Judge explained that there had been a few a long way to the right and left of him. "Still," he conceded, "you are quite right. But don't forget that this is the newest part of a new world."
"Judge," said his wife, coming to the door, "how can you keep them standing in the dust with your talking?"
This most efficiently did break up the discourse. As our little party, with the smiles and the polite holdings back of new acquaintanceship, moved into the house, the Judge detained me behind all of them long enough to whisper dolorously, "He's going to stay a whole week."
I had hopes that he would not stay a whole week when I presently learned of the crowded arrangements which our hosts, with many hospitable apologies, disclosed to us. They were delighted to have us, but they hadn't foreseen that we should all be simultaneous. The foreman's house had been prepared for two of us, and did we mind? The two of us were Dr. MacBride and myself; and I expected him to mind. But I wronged him grossly. It would be much better, he assured Mrs. Henry, than straw in a stable, which he had tried several times, and was quite ready for. So I saw that though he kept his vigorous body clean when he could, he cared nothing for it in the face of his mission. How the foreman and his wife relished being turned out during a week for a missionary end myself was not my concern, although while he and I made ready for supper over there, it struck me as hard on them. The room with its two cots and furniture was as nice as possible; and we closed the door upon the adjoining room, which, however, seemed also untenanted.
Mrs. Henry gave us a meal so good that I have remembered it, and her husband the Judge strove his best that we should eat it in merriment. He poured out his anecdotes like wine, and we should have quickly warmed to them; but Dr. MacBride sat among us, giving occasional heavy ha-ha's, which produced, as Miss Molly Wood whispered to me, a "dreadfully cavernous effect." Was it his sermon, we wondered, that he was thinking over? I told her of the copious sheaf of them I had seen him pull from his wallet over at the foreman's. "Goodness!" said she. "Then are we to hear one every evening?" This I doubted; he had probably been picking one out suitable for the occasion. "Putting his best foot foremost," was her comment; "I suppose they have best feet, like the rest of us." Then she grew delightfully sharp. "Do you know, when I first heard him I thought his voice was hearty. But if you listen, you'll find it's merely militant. He never really meets you with it. He's off on his hill watching the battle-field the whole time."
"He will find a hardened pagan here."
"Oh, no! The wild man you're taming brought you Kenilworth safe back."
She was smooth. "Oh, as for taming him! But don't you find him intelligent?"
Suddenly I somehow knew that she didn't want to tame him. But what did she want to do? The thought of her had made him blush this afternoon. No thought of him made her blush this evening.
A great laugh from the rest of the company made me aware that the Judge had consummated his tale of the "Sole Survivor."
"And so," he finished, "they all went off as mad as hops because it hadn't been a massacre." Mr. and Mrs. Ogden--they were the New Yorkers-gave this story much applause, and Dr. MacBride half a minute later laid his "ha-ha," like a heavy stone, upon the gayety.
"I'll never be able to stand seven sermons," said Miss Wood to me.
"Talking of massacres,"--I now hastened to address the already saddened table,--"I have recently escaped one myself."
The Judge had come to an end of his powers. "Oh, tell us!" he implored.
"Seriously, sir, I think we grazed pretty wet tragedy but your extraordinary man brought us out into comedy safe and dry."
This gave me their attention; and, from that afternoon in Dakota when I had first stepped aboard the caboose, I told them the whole tale of my experience: how I grew immediately aware that all was not right, by the Virginian's kicking the cook off the train; how, as we journeyed, the dark bubble of mutiny swelled hourly beneath my eyes; and how, when it was threatening I know not what explosion, the Virginian had pricked it with humor, so that it burst in nothing but harmless laughter.
Their eyes followed my narrative: the New Yorkers, because such events do not happen upon the shores of the Hudson; Mrs. Henry, because she was my hostess; Miss Wood followed for whatever her reasons were--I couldn't see her eyes; rather, I FELT her listening intently to the deeds and dangers of the man she didn't care to tame. But it was the eyes of the Judge and the missionary which I saw riveted upon me indeed until the end; and they forthwith made plain their quite dissimilar opinions.
Judge Henry struck the table lightly with his fist. "I knew it!" And he leaned back in his chair with a face of contentment. He had trusted his man, and his man had proved worthy.
"Pardon me." Dr. MacBride had a manner of saying "pardon me," which rendered forgiveness well-nigh impossible.
The Judge waited for him.
"Am I to understand that these--a--cow-boys attempted to mutiny, and were discouraged in this attempt upon finding themselves less skilful at lying than the man they had plotted to depose?"
I began an answer. "It was other qualities, sir, that happened to be revealed and asserted by what you call his lying that--"
"And what am I to call it, if it is not lying? A competition in deceit in which, I admit, he out did them.
"It's their way to--"
"Pardon me. Their way to lie? They bow down to the greatest in this?"
"Oh," said Miss Wood in my ear, "give him up."
The Judge took a turn. "We-ell, Doctor--" He seemed to stick here.
Mr. Ogden handsomely assisted him. "You've said the word yourself, Doctor. It's the competition, don't you see? The trial of strength by no matter what test."
"Yes," said Miss Wood, unexpectedly. "And it wasn't that George Washington couldn't tell a lie. He just wouldn't. I'm sure if he'd undertaken to he'd have told a much better one than Cornwall's."
"Ha-ha, madam! You draw an ingenious subtlety from your books."
"It's all plain to me," Ogden pursued. "The men were morose. This foreman was in the minority. He cajoled them into a bout of tall stories, and told the tallest himself. And when they found they had swallowed it whole--well, it would certainly take the starch out of me," he concluded. "I couldn't be a serious mutineer after that."
Dr. MacBride now sounded his strongest bass. "Pardon me. I cannot accept such a view, sir. There is a levity abroad in our land which I must deplore. No matter how leniently you may try to put it, in the end we have the spectacle of a struggle between men where lying decides the survival of the fittest. Better, far better, if it was to come, that they had shot honest bullets. There are worse evils than war."
The Doctor's eye glared righteously about him. None of us, I think, trembled; or, if we did, it was with emotions other than fear. Mrs. Henry at once introduced the subject of trout-fishing, and thus happily removed us from the edge of whatever sort of precipice we seemed to have approached; for Dr. MacBride had brought his rod. He dilated upon this sport with fervor, and we assured him that the streams upon the west slope of the Bow Leg Mountains would afford him plenty of it. Thus we ended our meal in carefully preserved amity.