THE GIFT HORSE

You will doubtless have perceived the flaw in the Secretary’s conduct
before I can point it out to you. He should have written a letter to
poor Leonidas with his own hand. It might not have been the easiest kind
of letter for you or for me to compose; but for a statesman of the
Secretary’s ripeness it ought to have been the affair of five minutes. A
few words of deep sympathy, a few words of hot indignation, a few words
of sincere regret that he had not yet had time to remove all the
obstructions which a despotic tradition set between him and the enlisted
man–and, best of all, a few words of promise to see Leonidas on his
coming tour through the Southwest–such a letter as this would have made
Leonidas proud and happy, and comforted forever the tingling sensations
that pierced him whenever he thought of his final choir practice. But as
Leonidas seemed no longer of any possible use to the Secretary, the
Secretary forgot all about him!

It was not understood at the ranch where Leonidas was now employed, why
he so eagerly followed the printed chronicle of the Secretary’s
approach. Indeed, had you asked him to explain it himself, I doubt if he
could have done so: the needle seeks the pole–but why? He would pore
over the Tucson paper and learn how the Secretary had visited San
Antonio and spoken to the soldiers there; how he had paused at El Paso,
and spoken to the soldiers there; how he had visited Bayard, Bowie, and
Grant, and spoken at all three; and how he was expected on the train
from Benson on the very next day, and would get off at Chiricahua
station and drive to the post; how he would return thence and proceed to
Lowell Barracks on his way to Yuma and Los Angeles.

All this programme was of natural interest to the officers and men at
Fort Chiricahua, but it seemed of unnatural interest to Leonidas.
Concerning his absorption the other cow-boys passed comments among
themselves, but made none to him, because he had altogether ceased to be
a watermelon.

The smoke of a train in that country is to be sighted from a great
distance and for some time before you can see the train, because the
smoke is very black and the train goes very slowly. Also, the dust of a
horseman or a vehicle can be descried from afar. As the smoke of the
Secretary’s train approached the Chiricahua station, the dust of a
seemly military escort drew near from the direction of the post, and the
dust of a galloping cow-boy came along the road from the ranch where
Leonidas was employed. By the platform of the station was assembled a
little group of citizens hoping for a speech; and by the time the train
made its deliberate arrival complete, the escort was arrayed with due
military precision, the ambulance was at hand near by, for the Secretary
to step into when he should feel ready, and a captain with two
lieutenants was preparing to salute the eminent statesman as he alighted
from the car. He returned their greeting, and as he stepped forward to
the end of the platform from which elevation he desired to say a few
cordial and timely words to those waiting in the surrounding dust, the
cow-boy entered the ticket office, but came out again on the platform,
which was natural, since the ticket window was at the moment closed. The
sight of the Secretary produced an immediate effect upon the appearance
of the cow-boy. He seemed to grow larger.

“Friends and soldiers,” said the Secretary, “I am always moved when I
see an enlisted man–” and even with the words, he was moved
conspicuously through the air and came down in the dust in a seated
position. The leg of Leonidas had grown exceedingly muscular. Before
anybody had regained his senses, the cow-boy was seen to dash away
shouting on his horse across the railroad track, and pursuit did not
overtake him. I am not sure if this was the fault of Captain Stone or
Sergeant Jones, both of whom were in the chase.

It gravely damaged the Secretary’s visit for him, but rendered it for
many others a memorable success, especially for Captain Stone and
Sergeant Jones. And Jones made so bold as to remark to Stone: “I think,
if the captain pleases, that the Secretary won’t never stand behind
Leonidas like Leonidas has stood behind him.”

“It is a great thing for a man to feel young,” replied Captain Stone.
His mustache was flat, smiling and serene.

Nobody knows whether or not the Secretary considered this mixing of
politics and the army to be in Nature’s plan.

It was a yellow poster, still wet with the rain. Against the wet, dark
boards of the shed on which it was pasted, its color glared like a patch
of flame.

A monstrous thunderstorm had left all space dumb and bruised, as it
were, with the heavy blows of its noise. Outside the station in the
washed, fresh air I sat waiting, staring idly at the poster. The damp
seemed to make the yellow paper yellower, the black letters blacker. A
dollar-sign, figures and zeros, exclamation points, and the two blackest
words of all, _reward_ and _murder_, were what stood out of the yellow.
Reward and Murder had been printed big and could be seen far. Two feet
away, on the same shed, was another poster, white, concerning some
stallion, his place of residence, and the fee for his service. This also
I had read, with equal inattention and idleness, but my eyes had been
drawn to the yellow spot and held by it.

Not by its news; the news was now old, since at every cabin and station
dotted along our lonely road the same poster had appeared. They had
discussed it, and whether he would be caught, and how much money he had
got from his victim. At Lost Soldier they knew he had got ten thousand
dollars, at Bull Spring they knew he had got twenty, at Crook’s Gap it
was more like twenty-five, while at Sweetwater Bridge he had got nothing
at all. What they did agree about was that he would not be caught. Too
much start. Body hadn’t been found on Owl Creek for a good many weeks.
Funny his friend hadn’t turned up. If they’d killed him, why wasn’t his
body on Owl Creek, too? If he’d got away, why didn’t he turn up? Such
comments, with many more, were they making at Lost Soldier, Bull Spring,
Crook’s Gap, and Sweetwater Bridge, and it was not the news on the
poster that drew my eye, but its mere yellow vibrations. These, in some
way, caught my brain in a net and held it still, so that thinking
stopped, and I was under a spell, torpid as any plant or
sponge–passive, perhaps, is the truer word for my state.

When I was abruptly wakened from this open-eyed sleep, I knew that I had
been hearing a song for some time:–

If that I was where I would be,
Then should I be where I am not;
Here am I where I must be,
And where I would be I cannot.

It was the neigh of some horse in the stable, loud and sudden, that had
burst the shell of my trance, causing thought to start to life again, as
if with a leap; there I sat in the wagon, waiting for Scipio Le Moyne to
come out of the house; there in my nostrils was the smell of the wet
sage-brush and of the wet straw and manure, and there, against the gray
sky, was an after-image of the yellow poster, square, huge, and blue.
The smaller print was not reproduced, but Reward and Murder stood out
clear, floating in the air. It moved with my eyes as I turned them to
get rid of the annoying vision, and it at last slowly dissolved away
over the head of the figure sitting on the corral with its back to me,
the stock-tender of this stage station. It wore out as I listened to his
song, and looked at him. He sang his song again, and I found that I now
knew it by heart.

If that I was where I would be,
Then should I be where I am not;
Here am I where I must be,
And where I would be I cannot.

[Illustration: “If that was where I would be, then should I be where I
am not”]

In the mountains, beyond the sage-brush, the thunderstorm was still
splitting the dark cañons open with fierce strokes of light; the light
seemed close, but it was a long time before its crashes and echoes came
to us through the wet air. I could not see the figure’s face, or that he
moved. One boot was twisted between the bars of the corral to hold him
steady, its trodden heel was worn to a slant; from one seat-pocket a
soiled rag protruded, and through a hole below this a piece of his red
shirt or drawers stuck out. A coat much too large for him hung from his
neck rather than from his shoulders, and the damp, limp hat that he
wore, with its spotted, unraveled hatband, somehow completed the
suggestion that he was not alive at all, but had been tied together and
stuffed and set out in joke. Certainly there were no birds here, or
crops to frighten birds from; empty bottles were the only thing that man
had sown the desert with at Rongis.[2] These lay everywhere. As the
figure sat and repeated its song beneath the still wrecked and stricken
sky, its back and its hat and its voice gave an impression of
loneliness, poignant and helpless. A windmill turned and turned and
creaked near the corral, adding its note of forlornness to the song.

A man put his head out of the house. “Stop it,” he said, and shut the
door again.

The figure obediently climbed down and went over to the windmill, took
hold of the rope hanging from its rudder, and turned the contrivance
slowly out of the wind, until the wheel ceased revolving. I saw then
that he was a boy.

The man put his head out of the house, this second time speaking louder:
“I didn’t say stop _that_, I said stop _it_; stop your damned singing.”
He withdrew his head immediately.

The boy–the mild, new yellow hair on his face was the unshaven growth
of adolescence–stood a long while looking at the door in silence, with
eyes and mouth expressing futile injury. Finally he thrust his hands
into bunchy pockets, and said:–

“I ain’t no two-bit man.”

He watched the door, as if daring it to deny this; then, as nothing
happened, he slowly drew his hands from the bunchy pockets, climbed the
corral at the spot nearest him, twisted the boot between the bars, and
sat as before, only without singing.

The cloud and the thunder were farther away, but around us still, from
unseen places, roofs and corners, dropped the leavings of the downpour.
We faced each other, saying nothing; we had nothing to say. In the East
we would have talked, but here in the Rocky Mountains an admirable habit
of silence was generally observed under such conditions.

Thus we sat waiting, I for Scipio to come out of the house with the
information he had gone in for, while the boy waited for nothing.
_Waiting for nothing_ was stamped plain upon him from head to foot, as
it is stamped upon certain figures all the world over–figures seated in
clubs, standing at corners, leaning against railroad stations and boxes
of freight, staring out of windows. Those in the clubs die at last, and
it is mentioned; the others of course die, too, only it is not
mentioned. This boy’s eyebrows were insufficient, and his front was as
ragged as his back.

Presently the same man put his head out of the door. “You after sheep?”

I nodded.

“I could a-showed you sheep. Rams. Horns as big as your thigh–bigger’n
_your_ thigh. That was before tenderfeet came in and spoiled this
country. Counted seven thousand on that there butte one morning before
breakfast. Seven thousand and twenty-three, if you want exact figgers.
Set on this porch and killed sheep whenever I wanted to. Some of ’em
used to come on the roof. Counted eight rams on the roof one morning
before breakfast. Quit your staring!” This was addressed to the boy on
the corral. “Why, you’re not a-going without another?” This convivial
question was to Scipio, who now came out of the house and across to me
with news of failure.

“I could a-showed you sheep–” resumed the man, but I was attending to
Scipio.

“He don’t know anything,” said Scipio, “nor any of ’em in there. But we
haven’t got this country rounded up yet. He’s just come out of a week of
snake fits, and, by the way it looks, he’ll enter on another about
to-morrow morning. But whiskey can’t stop _him_ lying.”

“Bad weather,” said the man, watching us make ready to continue our long
drive. “Lots o’ lightning loose in the air right now. Kind o’ weather
you’re liable to see fire on the horns of the stock some night.”

This sounded like such a promising invention that I encouraged him. “We
have nothing like that in the East.”

“H’m. Guess you’ve not. Guess you never seen sixteen thousand steers
with a light at the end of every horn in the herd.”

“Are they going to catch that man?” inquired Scipio, pointing to the
yellow poster.

“Catch him? Them? No! But I could tell ’em where he’s went. He’s went to
Idaho.”

“Thought the ’76 outfit had sold Auctioneer,” Scipio continued
conversationally.

“That stallion? No! But I could tell ’em they’d ought to.” This was his
good-by to us; he removed himself and his alcoholic omniscience into the
house.

“Wait,” I said to Scipio, as he got in and took the reins from me. “I’m
going to deal some magic to you. Look at that poster. No, not the
stallion, the yellow one. Keep looking at it hard.” While he obeyed me I
made solemn passes with my hands over his head. I kept it up, and the
boy sat on the corral bars, watching stupidly. “Now look anywhere you
please.”

Scipio looked across the corral at the gray sky. A slight stiffening of
his figure ensued, and he knit his brows. Then he rubbed a hand over his
eyes and looked again.

“You after sheep?” It was the boy sitting on the corral. We paid him no
attention.

“It’s about gone,” said Scipio, rubbing his eyes again. “Did you do that
to me? Of course y’u didn’t! What did?”

I adopted the manner of the professor who lectured on light to me when I
was nineteen. “The eye being normal in structure and focus, the color of
an after-image of the negative variety is complementary to that of the
object causing it. If, for instance, a yellow disk (or lozenge in this
case) be attentively observed, the yellow-perceiving elements of the
retina become fatigued. Hence, when the mixed rays which constitute
white light fall upon that portion of the retina which has thus been
fatigued, the rays which produce the sensation of yellow will cause less
effect than the other rays for which the eye has not been fatigued.
Therefore, white light to an eye fatigued for yellow will appear
blue–blue being yellow’s complementary color. Shall I go on?”

“Don’t y’u!” Scipio begged. “I’d sooner believe y’u done it to me.”

“I can show you sheep.” It was the boy again. We had not noticed him
come from the corral to our wagon, by which he now stood. His eyes were
now eagerly fixed upon me; as they looked into mine they seemed almost
burning with some sort of appeal.

“Hello, Timberline!” said Scipio, not at all unkindly. “Still holding
your job here? Well, you better stick to it. You’re inclined to drift
some.”

He touched the horses, and we left the boy standing and looking after
us, lonely and baffled. But when a joke was born in Scipio it must out:

“Say, Timberline,” he called back, “better insure your clothes. Y’u
couldn’t replace ’em.”

“I’m no two-bit man,” retorted the boy with anger–that pitiful anger
which feels a blow but cannot give one.

We drove away along the empty stage-road, with the mountains and the
dying storm, in which a piece of setting sun would redly glow and
vanish, making our leftward horizon, and to our right the great
undulations of a world so large as to seem the universe itself. The air
was wet still, and full of the wet sage-brush smell, and the ground was
wet, but it could not be so long in this sandy region. Three hours would
see us to the next house, unless we camped short of this upon Broke Axle
Creek.

“Why Timberline?” I asked after several miles.

“Well, he came into this country the long, lanky, innocent kid like you
saw him, and he’d always get too tall in the legs for his latest pair of
pants. They’d be half up to his knees. So we called him that. Guess he’s
most forgot his real name.”

“What is his real name?”

“I’ve quite forgot.”

This much talk did for us for two or three miles more.

“Must it be yellow?” Scipio asked then.

“Red’ll do it, too,” I answered. “Only you see green then, I think. And
there are others.”

“H’m,” observed Scipio. “Most as queer as chemistry. D’ y’u know
chemistry?”

“Why, what do you know?”

“Just the embalmin’ side. Didn’t y’u know I assisted an undertaker wunst
in Kansas City?”

“What’s that?” I interrupted sharply, for something out in the darkness
had jumped.

“Does a stray steer scare you like that to-night? Now, that embalmin’
trick give me a notion I’ll work out some time. What do you miss worst
in camp grub?”

“Eggs,” said I, immediately.

“That’s you. Well, I’m going to invent embalmed eggs–somehow.”

“Hope you do,” said I. “Do you believe I’m going to get sheep this time?
It’s all I came for.”

“You’ll get sheep,” Scipio declared, “or I’ll lose my job at Sunk Creek
ranch.” Judge Henry had lent him to me for my hunting trip. “Of course
I’d not _call_ ’em embalmed eggs,” he finished.

“Condensed,” I suggested. “Like the milk. Do you suppose the man really
did go to Idaho?”

“They do go there–and they go everywheres else that’s
convenient–Canada, San Francisco, some Indian reservation. He’ll never
get found. I expect like as not he killed the confederate along with the
victims–it’s claimed there was a cook along, too. He’s never showed up.
It’s a bad proposition to get tangled up with a murderer.”

I sat thinking of this and that and the other.

“That was a superior lie about the lights on the steers’ horns,” I
remarked next.

Scipio shoved one hand under his hat and scratched his head. “They say
that’s _so_,” he said. “I’ve heard it. Never seen it. But–tell y’u–he
ain’t got brains enough to invent a thing like that. And he’s too
conceited to tell another man’s lie.”

“Well,” I pondered, “there’s Saint Elmo’s fire. That’s genuine.”

Scipio desired to know about this, and I told him of the lights that are
seen at the ends of the yards and spars of ships at sea in atmospheric
conditions of a certain kind. He let me also tell him of the old Breton
sailor belief that these lights are the souls of dead sailor-men come
back to pray for the living in peril; but he stopped me soon when I
attempted to speak of charged thunder clouds, and the positive, and the
negative, and conductors, and Leyden jars. “That’s a heap worse than the
other stuff about yellow and blue,” he objected. “Here’s Broke Axle. D’
y’u say camp here, or make it in to the station?”

“Well, if that filthy woman still keeps the station–”

“She does. She’s a buck-skinned son-of-a-gun. We’ll camp here,
Professor.”

Scipio had first called me by this name before he knew me, in Colonel
Cyrus Jones’s Eating Palace in Omaha, intending no compliment by the
term. Since that day many adventures and surprises shared together had
changed it to a word of familiar regard; he used it sparingly, and as a
rule only upon occasions of discomfort or mischance. “You’ll get sheep,
Professor,” he now repeated in a voice of reassurance, and went his way
to attend to the horses for the night.

The earth had dried, the plenteous stars were bright in the sky, we
needed no tent over us, and merely spread my rubber blanket and the
buffalo robes, and so beneath light covers waited for sleep to the
gurgle, sluggish and musical, of Broke Axle. Scipio’s sleep was superior
to mine, coming sooner and burying him deeper from the world of
wakefulness. Thus he did not become aware of a figure sitting by our
little fire of embers, whose presence penetrated my thinner sleep until
my eyes opened and saw it. Such things give me a shock, which, I
suppose, must be fear, but it is not at all fear of the mind. I lay
still, drawing my gun stealthily into a good position and thinking what
were best to do; but he must have heard me.

“Lemme me show you sheep.”

“What’s that?” It was Scipio starting to life and action.

“Don’t shoot Timberline,” I said. “He’s come to show us sheep.”

Scipio sat staring stupefied at the figure by the embers, and then he
slowly turned his head round to me, and I thought he was going to pour
out one of those long, corrosive streams of comment that usually burst
from him when he was enough surprised. But he was too much surprised.
“His name is Henry Hall,” he said to me very mildly. “I’ve just
remembered it.”

The patient figure by the embers rose. “There’s sheep in the Washakie
Needles. Lots and lots and lots. I seen ’em myself in the spring. I can
take you right to ’em. Don’t make me go back and be stock-tender.” He
recited all this in a sort of rising wail until the last sentence, in
which the entreaty shook his voice.

“Washakie Needles is the nearest likely place,” muttered Scipio.

“If you don’t get any, you needn’t to pay me any,” urged the boy; and he
stretched out an arm to mark his words and his prayer.

We sat in our beds and he stood waiting by the embers to hear his fate,
while nothing made a sound but Broke Axle.

“Why not?” I said. “We were talking of a third man.”

“A man,” said Scipio. “Yes.”

“I can cook, I can pack, I can cook good bread, and I can show you
sheep, and if I don’t you needn’t to pay me a cent,” entreated the boy.

“He sure means what he says,” Scipio commented. “It’s your trip.”

Thus it was I came to hire Timberline.

Dawn showed him in the same miserable rags he wore on my first sight of
him at the corral, and these proved his sole visible property of any
kind; he didn’t possess a change of anything, he hadn’t brought away
from Rongis so much as a handkerchief tied up with things inside it;
most wonderful of all, he owned not even a horse–and in that country in
those days five dollars’ worth of horse was within the means of almost
anybody.

But he was not unclean, as I had feared. He washed his one set of rags,
and his skin-and-bones body, by the light of the first sunrise on Broke
Axle, and this proved a not too rare habit with him, which made all the
more strange his neglect to throw the rags away and wear the new clothes
I bought and gave him as we passed through Lander.

“Timberline,” said Scipio the next day, “if Anthony Comstock came up in
this country he’d jail you.”

“Who’s he?” screamed Timberline, sharply.

“He lives in Noo York, and he’s agin the nood. That costume of yours is
getting close on to what they claim Venus and other immoral Greek
statuary used to wear.”

After this Timberline put on the Lander clothes, but on one of his
wash-days we discovered that he kept the rags next his skin! This
clinging to such worthless things seemed probably the result of
destitution, of having had nothing, day after day and month after month.
His poor little pay at Rongis, which we gradually learned they had
always got back from him by one trick or another, was less than half
what I now gave him for his services, and I offered to advance him some
of this at places where it could be spent; but he told me to keep it
until he had earned the whole of it.

[Illustration: _Waiting for nothing_ was stamped plain upon him from
head to foot]

Yet he did not seem a miser; his willingness to help at anything in camp
was unchanging, and a surer test of not being stingy was the
indifference he showed to losing or winning the little sums we played at
cards for after supper and before bed. The score I kept in my diary
showed him to belong to the losing class. His help in camp was real, not
merely well meant; the curious haze or blur in which his mind had seemed
to be at the corral cleared away, and he was worth his wages. What he
had said he could do, he did, and more. And yet, when I looked at him,
he was somehow forever pitiful.

“Do you think anything is the matter with him?” I asked Scipio.

“Only just one thing. He’d oughtn’t never to have been born.”

“That probably applies to several million people all over this planet.”

“Sure,” assented Scipio cheerfully. He was not one of these.

“He’s so eternally silent!” I said presently.

“A man don’t ask to be born,” pursued Scipio.

“Parents can’t stop to think of that,” I returned.

“H’m,” mused Scipio. “Somebody or something has taken good care they’ll
never.”

We continued along the trail, engrossed in our several thoughts, and I
could hear Timberline, behind us with the pack horses, singing:–

If that I was where I would be,
Then should I be where I am not.

Our mode of travel had changed at Fort Washakie. There we had left the
wagon and put ourselves and our baggage upon horses, because we should
presently be in a country where wagons could not go. I suppose that more
advice is offered and less taken than of any other free commodity in the
world. Before I had settled where to go for sheep, nobody could tell me
where to go; now almost every one advised some other than the place I
had chosen. “Washakie Needles?” they would repeat unfavorably; “Union
Peak’s nearer;” or, “You go up Jakey’s Fork;” or “Red Creek’s half as
far, and twice as many sheep;” or, “Last spring I seen a ram up
Dinwiddie big as a horse.”

This discouragement, strung along our road, had small weight with me
because it was just the idle talk of those dingy loafers of the Western
cabin and saloon who never hunted, never did anything but sit still and
assume to know your own business better than you knew it yourself; it
was only once that the vigorous words of some by-passer on a horse
caused Scipio and me to discuss dropping the Washakie Needles in favor
of the country at the head of Green River. We were below Bull Lake at
the forking of the ways; none of us had ever been in the Green River
country, while Timberline evidently knew the Washakie Needles well, and
this was what finally decided us. But Timberline had been thrown into
the strangest agitation by our uncertainty. He had said nothing, but he
walked about, coming near, going away, sitting down, getting up, instead
of placidly watching his fire and cooking; until at last I told him not
to worry, that wherever we went I should keep him and pay him in any
case. Then he spoke:–

“I didn’t hire to go to Green River.”

“What have you got against Green River?”

“I hired to go to the Washakie Needles.”

His agitation left him immediately upon our turning our faces in that
direction. What had so disturbed him we could not guess; but later that
day Scipio rode up to me, bursting with a solution. He had visited a
freighter’s camp, a hundred yards off the road in the sage-brush (we
were following the Embar trail), and the freighter, upon learning our
destination, had said he supposed we were “after the reward.” It did not
get through my head at once, but when Scipio reminded me of the yellow
poster and the murder, it got through fast enough: the body had been
found on Owl Creek, and the middle fork of Owl Creek headed among the
Washakie Needles. There might be another body,–the other Eastern man
who had never been seen since,–and there was a possible third, the
confederate, the cook; many held it was the murderer’s best policy to
destroy him as well.

Owl Creek had yielded no more bodies after that one first found. Perhaps
the victims had been killed separately. Before starting on their last
journey in this world, they had let it get out somewhere down on the
railroad that they carried money; this was their awful mistake,
conducting death to them in the shape of the man who had offered himself
as their guide, and whom they had engaged without more knowledge of him
than he disclosed to them himself. Red Dog was his name in Colorado,
where he was “wanted.” The all-day sitters and drinkers in the cabins
along the road had their omniscient word as to this also: _they_ could
have told those Easterners not to hire Red Dog!

So now we had Timberline accounted for satisfactorily to ourselves; he
was “after the reward.” We never said this to him, but we worked out his
steps from the start. As stock-tender at Rongis he had seen that yellow
poster pasted up, and had read it, day after day, with its promise of
what to him was a fortune. To Owl Creek he could not go alone, having no
money to buy a horse, and being afraid, too, perhaps. If he could only
find that missing dead man–or the two of them–he might find a clew. My
sheep hunt had dropped like a Providence into his hand.

We got across the hot country where rattlesnakes were thick where
neither man lived nor water ran, and came to the first lone habitation
in this new part of the world–a new set of mountains, a new set of
creeks. A man stood at the door watching us come.

“Know him?” I asked Scipio.

“I’ve heard of him,” said Scipio. “He married a squaw.”

We were now opposite the man’s door. “You folks after the reward?” said
he.

“After mountain sheep,” I replied, somewhat angry.

We camped some ten miles beyond him, and the next day crossed a low
range, stopping near another cabin for noon. They gave us a quantity of
berries they had picked, and we gave them some potatoes.

“After the reward?” said one of them as we rode away, and I contradicted
him with temper.

“Lie to ’em,” said Scipio. “Say yes.” He developed his theory of
truthfulness; it was not real falsehood to answer as you chose questions
people had no right to ask; in fact, the only real lie was when you
denied something wrong you had done. “And I’ve told hundreds of them,
too,” he concluded pensively.

Something had begun to weigh upon our cheerfulness in this new country.
The reward dogged us, and we saw strange actions of people twice. We
came upon some hot sulphur springs[3] and camped near them, with a wide
stream between us and another camp. Those people–two men and two
women–emerged from their tent, surveyed us, nodded to us, and settled
down again. Next morning they had vanished; we could see the gleam of
empty bottles on the bank opposite where they had been. And once, riding
out of a little valley, we sighted close to us through cottonwoods a
horseman leading a pack horse out of the next little valley.

He did not nod to us, but pursued his parallel course some three hundred
yards off, until a rise in the ground hid him for a while; when this was
passed he was no longer where he should have been, abreast of us, but
far to the front, galloping away. That was our last sight of him. We
spoke of these actions a little. Did these people suspect us, or were
they afraid we suspected them?

All we ever knew was that suspicion had now gradually been wafted
through the whole air and filled it like a coming change of weather. I
could no longer look at a rock or a clump of trees without a
disagreeable thought: was something, or somebody, behind the clump of
trees and the rock? would they come out or wait until we had passed?
This influence seemed to gather even more thick and chill as we turned
up the middle fork of Owl Creek; magpies, that I had always liked to
watch and listen to, had become part of the general increasing
uncomfortableness, and their cries sounded no longer cheerful, but harsh
and unfriendly.

As we rode up the narrowing cañon of Owl Creek, the Washakie Needles,
those twin spires of naked rock, rose into view high above the clustered
mountain-tops, closing the cañon in, shutting out the setting sun. But
the nearness of my goal and my sheep hunt brought me no elation. Those
miserable questions about reward, the strange conduct of those unknown
people, dwelt in my mind. I saw in memory the floating image of that
poster; I wondered if I, in my clambering for sheep, should stumble upon
signs–evidence–an old camp–ashes–tent-pegs–or the horrible objects
that had come here alive and never gone hence. I could not drive these
fancies from me amid the austere silence of the place where _it_ had
happened.

“He _can_ talk when he wants to.”

It made me start, this remark of Scipio’s as he rode behind me.

“What has Timberline been telling you?”

“Nothing. But he’s been telling himself a heap of something.” In the
rear of our single-file party Timberline rode, and I could hear him
rambling on in a rising and falling voice. He ceased once or twice while
I listened, breaking out again as if there had been no interruption. It
was a relief to have a practical trouble threatening us; if the boy was
going off his head, we should have something real to deal with. But when
I had chosen a camp and we were unsaddling and throwing the packs on the
ground, Timberline was in his customary silence. After supper I walked
off with Scipio where our horses were.

“Do you think he’s sick?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Scipio. And that was all we said, for we liked the
subject too little to pursue it.

Next morning I was over at the creek washing before breakfast. The sun
was coming in through the open east end of our cañon, the shaking leaves
of the quaking-asp twinkled in a blithe air, and a night’s sleep had
brought me back to a much robuster mood. I had my field-glasses with me,
and far up, far up among patches of snow and green grass, I could see
sheep on both sides of the valley.

“So you sleep well?” said Scipio.

“Like a log. You?”

“Like another. Somebody in camp didn’t.”

I turned and looked at Timberline cooking over at camp.

“Looking for the horses early this morning,” pursued Scipio, “I found
his tracks up and down all over everywheres.”

“Perhaps he has found the reward.”

Scipio laughed, and I laughed. It was the only thing to do. How much had
the boy walked in the darkness?

“I think I’ll take him with us,” I then said. “I’d rather have him with
us.”

During breakfast we discussed which hill we should ascend, and, this
decided on, I was about to tell Timberline his company was expected,
when he saved me the trouble by requesting to be allowed to go himself.
His usually pale, harmless eyes were full of some sort of glitter: did
his fingers feel that they were about to clutch the reward?

That was the thirtieth of August; a quarter of a century and more has
passed; my age is double what it was; but to-day, on any thirtieth of
August, if I think of the date, the Washakie Needles stand in my
eyes,–twin spires of naked rock,–and I see what happened there.

The three of us left camp. It was warm summer in the valley by the
streaming channel of our creek, and the quiet day smelled of the pines.
We should not have taken horses, they served us so little in such a
climb as that. On the level top our legs and breathing got relief, and
far away up the next valley were sheep. This second top we reached, but
they were gone to the next beyond, where we saw them across a mile or so
of space. In the bottom below us ran the north fork of Owl Creek like a
fine white wire drawn through the distant green of the pines. Up in this
world peaks and knife-edged ridges bristled to our north away and away
beyond sight.

We now made a new descent and ascent, but had no luck, and by three
o’clock we stood upon a lofty, wet, slipping ledge that fell away on
three sides, sheer or broken, to the summer and the warmth that lay
thousands of feet below. Here it began to be very cold, and to the west
the sky now clotted into advancing lumps of thick thundercloud, black,
weaving and merging heavily and swiftly in a fierce, rising wind. We got
away from this promontory to follow a sheep trail, and as we went along
the backbone of the mountain, two or three valleys off to the right,
long, black streamers let down from the cloud. They hung and wavered
mistily close over the pines that did not grow within a thousand feet of
our high level. I gazed at the streamers, and discerned water, or
something, pouring down in them. Above our heads the day was still
serene, and we had a chance to make camp without a wetting. This I
suggested we should do, since the day’s promise of sport had failed.

“No! no!” said Timberline, hoarsely. “See there! We can get them. We’re
above them. They don’t see us!”

I saw no sheep where he pointed, but I saw him. His eyes looked red-hot.
He insisted the sheep had merely moved behind a rock, and so we went on.
The strip of clear sky narrowed, and gray bars of rain were falling
between us and the pieces of woodland that, but a moment since, had been
unblurred. Blasts of frozen wind rose about us, causing me to put on my
rubber coat before my fingers should grow too numb to button it. We
moved forward to a junction of the knife-ridges upon which a second
storm was hastening from the southwest over deep valleys that we turned
our backs upon, and kept slowly urging our horses near the Great
Washakie Needle.

We stopped at the base of its top pinnacle, glad to reach this slanting
platform of comparative safety. No sheep were anywhere, but I had ceased
to care about sheep. Jutting stones, all but their upturned points and
edges buried in the ground, made this platform a rough place to pick
one’s way over–but this was a trifle. From these jutting points a
humming sound now began to rise, a sort of droning, which at first ran
about here and there among them, with a flickering, æolian
capriciousness, then settled to a steady chord: the influence of the
electric storm had encircled us. We all looked at each other, but turned
immediately again to watch the portentous, sublime scene.

At the edge of our platform the world fell straight a thousand feet down
to a valley like the bottom of a cauldron; on the far side of the
cauldron the air, like a stroke of magic, became thick white, and
through it leaped the first lightning, a blinding violet. An arm of the
storm reached over to us, the cauldron sank from sight in a white sea,
and the hail cut my face so I bowed it down. Mixed with the hail fell
softer flakes, which, as they touched the earth, glowed for a moment
like tiny bulbs, and went out. On the ground I saw what looked like a
tangle of old, human footprints in the hard-crusted mud. These the
pellets of the swarming hail soon filled. This tempest of flying ice
struck my body, my horse, raced over the ground like spray on the crest
of breaking waves, and drove me to dismount and sit under the horse,
huddled together even as he was huddled against the fury and the biting
pain of the hail.

From under the horse’s belly I looked out upon a chaos of shooting,
hissing white, through which, in every direction, lightning flashed and
leaped, while the fearful crashes behind the curtain of the hail sounded
as if I should see a destroyed world when the curtain lifted. The place
was so flooded with electricity that I gave up the shelter of my horse,
and left my rifle on the ground and moved away from the vicinity of
these points of attraction. Of my companions I had not thought; I now
noticed them, crouching separately, much as I crouched.

So I sat–I know not how long–chilled from spine to brisket, my stiff
boots growing wet, my discarded gloves a pulp, like my hat, and melted
hail trickling from the rubber coat to my legs. At length the
hail-stones fell more gently, the near view opened, revealing white
winter on all save the steep, gray Needles; the thick, white curtain of
hail departed slowly; the hail where I was fell more scantily still.

It was slowly going away,–the great low-prowling cloud,–we should
presently be left in peace unscathed, though it was at its tricks still.
Its brimming, spilling-over electricity was now playing a new
prank–mocking my ears with crackling noises, as of a camp-fire
somewhere on earth, or in air. While I listened curiously to these, my
eye fell on Timberline. He was turning, leaning, crouching, listening
too. When he crouched, it was to peer at those old footprints I had
noticed. There was something frightful in the sight of his face, shrunk
to half its size, and I called to reassure him, and beckoned that it was
all right, that we were all right. I doubt if he saw or heard me.

Something somewhere near my head set up a delicate sound. It seemed in
my hat. I rose and began to wander, bewildered by this. The hail was now
falling very fine and gentle, when suddenly I was aware of its stinging
behind my ear more sharply than it had done at all. I turned my face in
its direction and found its blows harmless, while the stinging in my ear
grew sharper. The hissing continued close to my head whenever I walked.
It resembled the little watery escape of gas from a charged bottle whose
cork is being slowly drawn.

I was now more really disturbed than I had been during the storm’s
worst, and meeting Scipio, who was also wandering, I asked if he felt
anything. He nodded uneasily, when, suddenly–I know not why–I snatched
my hat off. The hissing was in the brim, and it died out as I looked at
the leather binding and the stitches. I expected to see some insect
there, or some visible reason for the noise. I saw nothing, but the
pricking behind my ear had also stopped. Then I knew my wet hat had been
charged like a Leyden jar with electricity. Scipio, who had watched me,
jerked his hat off also.

“Lights on steer horns are nothing to this,” I began, when a piercing
scream cut me short.

Timberline, at the other side of the stony platform, had clapped his
hands to his head.

“Take off your hat,” I shouted.

But he had fallen on his knees, and was ripping, tearing his clothes. He
plucked and dragged at the old rags next his skin. Then he flung his
hands to the sky.

“O God!” he screamed. “Oh, Jesus! Keep him off me! Oh, save me!” His
glaring face now seemed fixed on something close to him. “Leave me go! I
didn’t push you over. You know he made me push you. I meant nothing. I
knowed nothing, I was only the cook. Why, I liked you–you was kind to
me. Oh, why did I ever go! There! Take it back! There’s your money! He
give it to me when you was dead to make me hush up. There! I never spent
a cent of it!”

He tore from his rags the hush-money that had been sewed in them, and
scattered the fluttering bills in the air. Then once more he clapped his
hands to his head as he kneeled.

“Take off your hat!” I cried again.

He rose, stared wildly, and screamed: “I tell you you’ve got it all.
It’s all he gave to me!”

The next moment he plunged into the cauldron, a thousand feet below.

On the following day we found the two bodies–that second victim the
country had wondered about, and the boy. And we counted the money, the
guilty money that had for a while closed the boy’s innocent mouth: five
ten-dollar bills! Not much to hide murder for, not much to draw a
tortured soul back to the scene of another’s crime. The true murderer
was not caught, and no one ever claimed the reward.

High up the mountain amid white Winter I sat, and looked far down where
still the yellow Autumn stayed, looked at Wind River shrunk to map-size,
a basking valley, a drowsy country, tawny and warm, winding
southeastward away to the tawny plain, and there dissolving with air and
earth in one deep, hazy, golden sleep. Somewhere in that slumberous haze
beyond the buttes and utmost foothills, and burrowed into the vast
unfeatured level, lay my problem, Still Hunt Spring.

I had inquired much about Still Hunt Spring. Every man seemed to know of
it, but no man you talked with had been to it. Description of it always
came to me at second hand. Scipio I except; Scipio assured me he had
once been to it. It was no easy spot to find; a man might pass it close
and come back and pass it on the other side, yet never know it was at
his elbow: so they said. The Indians believed a supernatural thing about
it–that it was not there every day, and few of them would talk readily
about it; yet it was they who had first showed it to the white man. And
because they repeated concerning a valley two hundred feet deep, a mile
long, and a quarter-mile wide at its widest, this haunted legend of
presence and absence, its name now possessed my mind. Like a strain of
music it recurred to my thoughts each day of my November hunting in the
mountains of Wind River. Still Hunt Spring; down there, somewhere in
that drowsy distance, it lay. One trail alone led into it; from one end
of the secret ravine to the other–they said–grew a single file of
trees lank and tall as if they stood on stilts to see out over the top,
and at the further end was a spring, small, cold, and sweet; though it
welled up in the midst of sage-brush desert, there was no alkali–they
said–in that water. Still Hunt Spring!

That night I announced to my two camp companions my new project: next
summer I should see Still Hunt Spring for myself.

“Alone?” Scipio inquired.

“Not if you will come.”

“It is no tenderfoot’s trail.”

“Then if I find it I shall cease to be a tenderfoot.”

“Go on,” said Scipio, with indulgence. “We’ll not let you stay lost.”

“It is no tenderfoot’s place,” the cook now muttered.

“Then you have been there?” I asked him.

He shook his head. “I am in this country for my health,” he drawled. On
this a certain look passed between my companions, and a certain laugh. A
sudden suspicion came to me, which I kept to myself until next afternoon
when we had broken this camp where no game save health seemed plentiful,
and were down the mountains at Horse Creek and Wind River.

“I don’t believe there is any such place as Still Hunt Spring.”

This I said sitting with a company in the cabin known later on the
Postal Route map as Dubois. The nearest post-office then was
seventy-five miles away. No one spoke until a minute after, I suppose,
when a man slowly remarked: “Some call that place Blind Spring.”

He was presently followed by another, speaking equally slowly: “I’ve
heard it called Arapaho Spring.”

“Still Hunt Spring is right.” This was a heavy, rosy-faced man, of
hearty and capable appearance. His clothes were strong and good, made
of whipcord, but his maroon-colored straw hat so late in the season was
the noticeable point in his dress. His voice was assertive, having in it
something of authority, if not of menace. “Some claim there’s such a
place,” he continued, eying me steadily and curiously, “and some claim
there’s not.” (Here he made a pause.) “But I tell you there is.”

He still held his eye upon me with no friendliness. Were they all merely
playing on my tenderfoot credulity, or what was it? I was framing a
retort when sounds of trouble came from outside.

“Man down in the corral,” exclaimed somebody. “It’s that wild horse.”

Scipio met us, running. “No doctor here?” he panted. “McDonough has
bruck his leg, looks like.”

But the doctor was seventy-five miles away–like the post-office.

“Who’s McDonough?” inquired the rosy-faced man with the straw hat.

A young fellow from Colorado, they told him, a new settler on Wind River
this summer. He had taken up a ranch on North Fork and built him a
cabin. Hard luck if he had broken his leg; he had a bunch of horses;
was going to raise horses; he had good horses. Hard luck!

We found young McDonough lying in the corral, propped against a
neighbor’s kindly knee. The wild horse was snorting and showing us red
nostrils and white eyes in a far corner; he had reared and fallen
backward while being roped, and the bars had prevented dodging in time.
Dirt was ground into McDonough’s flaxen hair, the skin was tight on his
cheeks, and his tips were as white as his large, thick nails; but he
smiled at us, and his strange blue eyes twinkled with the full spark of
undaunted humor.

“Ain’t I a son of a–?” he began, and shook his head over himself and
his clumsiness. Further speech was stopped by violent retching, and I
was enough of a doctor to fear that this augured a worse hurt than a
broken leg. But no blood came up, and he was soon talking to us again,
applying to himself sundry jocular epithets which were very well in that
rough corral, but must stay there.

He was lifted to the only bed in the cabin, no sound escaping him,
though his lips remained white, and when he thought himself unobserved
he shut his eyes; but kept them open and twinkling at any one’s
approach. They were strange, perplexed eyes, evidently large, but
deep-set, their lids screwed together; later that evening I noticed that
he held his playing-cards close to them, and slightly to one side,
Scipio called him “skew-bald,” but I could see no such defect. He was
not injured internally, it proved later, but his right leg was broken
above the ankle. We had to cut his boot off, so swollen already was the
limb. The heavy man with the straw hat advised getting him to the
hospital at the post without delay, and regretted he himself had not
come up the river in his wagon; he could have given the patient a lift.
With this he departed upon a tall roan horse, with an air about him of
business and dispatch uncommon in these parts. Wind River horsemen
mostly looked and acted as if there was no such thing as being behind
time, there being no such thing as time.

“Who is he?” I asked, looking after the broad back of whipcord and the
unseasonable straw hat.

All were surprised. What? Not know Lem Speed? Biggest cattleman in the
country. Store and a bank in Lander. House in Salt Lake. Wife in Los
Angeles. Son at Yale.

“Up here looking after his interests?” I pursued.

“Up here looking after his interests.” My exact words were repeated in
that particular tone which showed I was again left out of something.

“What’s the matter with my questions?” I asked.

“What’s the matter with our answers?” said a man. Truly, mine had been a
tenderfoot speech, and I sat silent.

McDonough’s white lips regained no color that night, and the skin drew
tighter over the bones of his face as the hours wore on. He was proof
against complaining, but no stoic endurance could hide such pain as he
was in. Beneath the sunburn on his thick hand the flesh was blanched,
yet never did he once ask if the hay wagon was not come for him. They
had expected to get him off in it by seven, but it did not arrive until
ten minutes before midnight; they had found it fifteen miles up the
river, instead of two. Sitting up, twisted uncomfortably, he played
cards until one of the company, with that lovable tact of the frontier,
took the cards from him, remarking, “You’ll lose all you’ve got,” and,
with his consent, played his hand and made bets for him. McDonough then
sank flat, watching the game with his perplexed, half-shut eyes.

What I could do for him I did; it was but little. Finding his leg
burning and his hand cold, I got my brandy–their whiskey was too
doubtful–and laid wet rags on the leg, keeping them wet. He accepted my
offices and my brandy without a sign; this was like most of them, and
did not mean that he was not grateful, but only that he knew no way to
say so. Laudanum alone among my few drugs seemed applicable, and he took
twenty drops with dumb acquiescence, but it brought him neither sleep
nor doze. More I was afraid in my ignorance to give him, and so he bore,
unpalliated, what must have become well-nigh agony by midnight, when we
lifted him into the wagon. So useless had I been, and his screwed-up
eyes, with their valiant sparkle, and his stoic restraint, made me feel
so sorry for him, that while they were making his travelling bed as soft
as they could I scrawled a message to the army surgeon at the Post. “Do
everything you can for him,” I wrote, “and as I doubt if he has five
dollars to his name, hold me responsible.” This I gave McDonough without
telling him its contents. Off they drove him in the cold, mute night; I
could hear the heavy jolts of the wagon a long way. Six rocky fords lay
between here and Washakie, and Scipio thus summed up the seventy-five
miles the patient had before him: “I don’t expect he’ll improve any on
the road.”

In new camps among other mountains I now tried my luck through deeper
snow, thicker ice, and colder days, coming out at length lean and
limber, and ravenous for every good that flesh is heir to, yet reluctant
to turn eastward to that city life which would unfailingly tarnish the
bright, hard steel of health. Of Still Hunt Spring I spoke no more, but
thought often, and with undiscouraged plans to visit it. I mentioned it
but once again. Old Washakie, chief of the Shoshone tribe, did me the
honor to dine with me at the military post which bore his name. Words
cannot describe the face and presence of that old man; ragged clothes
abated nothing of his dignity. A past like the world’s beginning looked
from his eyes; his jaw and long white hair made you silent as tall
mountains make you silent. After we had dined and I had made him
presents, he drew pictures in the sand for me with his finger. Not as I
expected, almost to my disappointment, this Indian betrayed no mystery
concerning the object of my quest.

“Hé!” he said (it was like a shrug). “No hard find. You want see him?
Water pretty good, yes. Trees heap big. You make ranch maybe?”

When he heard my desire was merely to see Still Hunt Spring, I am not
certain he understood me, or if so, believed me. “Hé!” he exclaimed
again, and laughed because I laughed. “You go this way,” he said,
beginning to trace a groove in the sand. “So.” He laid a match here and
there and pinched up little hillocks, and presently he had it all set
forth. I tore off a piece of wrapping-paper from the stove and copied
the map carefully, with his comments. The place was less distant than I
had thought. I thanked him, spoke of returning “after one snow” to see
him and Still Hunt Spring. “Hé!” he shrugged. Then he mounted his pony,
and rode off without any “good-by,” Indian fashion. I counted it a
treasure I had got from him.

McDonough’s leg had knit well, and I met him on crutches crossing the
parade ground. He was discharged from hospital, and (I will not deny it)
his mere nod of greeting seemed somewhat too scant acknowledgment of the
good will I had certainly tried to show him. Yet his smile was very
pleasant, and while I noted his face, no longer embrowned with sun and
riding, but pale from confinement, I noted also the unsubdued twinkle in
his perplexed eyes. After all, why should I need thanks? As he hobbled
away with his yellow hair sticking out in a cowlick under his hat
behind, I smiled at my own smallness, and wished him good luck heartily.

The doctor, whose hospitable acquaintance I had made on first coming
through the Post this year, would not listen to my paying him anything
for his services to McDonough. Army surgeons were expected, he said, to
render what aid they could to civilians, as well as to soldiers, in the
hospital; he good-humoredly forbade all the remonstrance I attempted.
When civilians could pay him themselves, he let them do so according to
their means; it was just as well that the surrounding country should not
grow accustomed to treating “Uncle Sam” as a purely charitable
institution. McDonough had offered to pay, when he could, what he could
afford. The doctor had thought it due to me to let him know the contents
of my note, and that no such arrangement could be allowed.

“And what said he to that?” I asked.

“Nothing, as usual.”

“Disgusted, perhaps?”

“Not in the least. His myopic eyes were just as cheerful then as they
were the second before he fainted away under my surgical attentions. He
scorned ether.”

“Poor fellow! He’s a good fellow!” I exclaimed.

“M’m,” went the doctor, doubtfully.

“Know anything against him?” I asked.

“Know his kind. All the way from Assiniboine to Lowell Barracks.”

“It has made you hard to please,” I declared.

“M’m,” went the doctor again.

“Think he’ll not pay you?”

“May. May not.”

“Well, good-by, Cynic.”

“Good-by, Tenderfoot.”

The next morning, had there been time to catch the doctor, I could have
proved to him that he was hard to please. At the moment of my stepping
into the early stage I had a surprise. McDonough had been at breakfast
at the hotel, and had said nothing to me; a nod sufficed him, as
usual–it was as much social intercourse as

[Illustration: The stage rattled up as I sat]

was customary at breakfast, or, indeed, at any of the meals. The stage
rattled up as I sat, and I, its only passenger, rose and spoke a
farewell syllable to McDonough, who repeated his curt nod. My next few
minutes were spent in paying the bill, seeing my baggage roped on behind
the stage, and in bidding Scipio good-by. One foot was up to get into
the vehicle when a voice behind said, “So you’re going.”

There was McDonough, hobbled out after me to the fence. He stood
awkwardly at the open gate, smiling his pleasant smile. I replied yes,
and still he stood.

“Coming next year?”

Again I said yes, and again he stood silent, smiling and awkward. Then
it was uttered; the difficult word which shyness had choked: “If you
come, you shall have the best horse on the river.”

Before I could answer he was hobbling back to the hotel. Thus from his
heart his untrained lips at last had spoken.

I drove away, triumphing over the doctor, and in my thoughts my holiday
passed in review,–my camps, and Scipio, and Still Hunt Spring, and most
of all this fellow with his broken leg and perplexed eyes.

At Lander, they said, had I come two days earlier, I should have had the
company of Lem Speed. So he and his maroon straw hat came into my
thoughts too. He had started for California, I heard from the driver,
whose society I sought on the box. He assured me that Lem Speed was
rich, but that I carried better whiskey. Trouble was “due” in this
country, he said (after more of my whiskey), “pretty near” the sort of
trouble they were having on Powder River. For his part he did not wonder
that poor men got tired of rich men; not that he objected to riches, but
only to hogs. He had nothing against Lem Speed. Temptation to steal
stock had never come his way, but he could understand how poor men might
get tired of the big cattlemen–some poor men, anyhow. Yes, trouble was
“sure due”; what brought Lem Speed up here so long after the beef
round-up? Still, he “guessed” he hadn’t told Lem Speed anything that
would hurt a poor fellow. Lem Speed had “claimed” he was up here about
his bank. If so, why had he gone up Wind River, and all around Big
Muddy, and over to the Embar? The bank was not there. No, sir; the big
cattlemen were going to “demonstrate” over here as they had on the Dry
Cheyenne and Box Elder. I perceived “demonstration” to be the driver’s
word for the sudden hanging of somebody without due process of law, and
I expressed a doubt as to its being needed here; I had heard nothing of
cattle or horses being stolen. This he received in silence, presently
repeating that Lem Speed hadn’t got anything from _him_. We broke off
this subject for mines, and after mines we touched on topic after topic,
until I confided to him the story of McDonough.

“Of course I would never accept the horse,” I finished.

“Why not?”

“Well–well–it would hardly be suitable.”

“Please yourself,” said the driver, curtly, and looking away. “Such
treatment would not please me.”

“You mean, ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth,’ as we say?”

“I don’t know as I ever said that.” A steep gulley in the road obliged
him to put on the break and release it before he continued: “I’d not
consider I had the right to do a man a good turn if I wasn’t willing for
him to do _me_ one.”

“But I really did nothing for him.”

“Please yourself. Maybe folks are different East.”

“Well,” I ended, laughing, “I understand you, and am not the hopeless
snob I sound like, and I’ll take his horse next summer if you will take
a drink now.”

We finished our journey in amity.

The intervening months, whatever drafts they made upon my Rocky Mountain
health, weakened my designs not a whit; late June found me again in the
stagecoach, taking with eagerness that drive of thirty-two jolting
hours. Roped behind were my camp belongings, and treasured in my pocket
was Chief Washakie’s trail to Still Hunt Spring. My friend, the driver,
was on the down stage; and so, to my regret, we could not resume our
talk where we had left it; but I again encountered at once that
atmosphere of hinted doings and misdoings which had encompassed me as I
went out of the country. At the station called Crook’s Gap I came upon
new rumors of Lem Speed, and asked, had he come about his bank again?

“You and him acquainted?” inquired a man on a horse. And, on my
answering that I was not, he cursed Lem Speed slow and long, looking
about for contradiction; then, as none present took it up, he rode
sullenly away, leaving silence behind him.

When I alighted next afternoon at the Washakie post-trader’s store and
walked back to the private office of the building whither I was wont
always to repair, what I saw in that private room, through a sort of
lattice which screened it off from the general public, was a close-drawn
knot of men round a table, and on a chair a maroon-colored straw hat!
Rather hastily the post-trader came out, and, shaking my hand warmly,
drew me away from the lattice. After a few cordial questions he said:
“Come back this evening.”

“Does he never get a new hat?” I asked.

“Hat? Who? What? Oh; yes, to be sure!” laughed the post-trader. “I’ll
tell him he ought to.”

I sought out the doctor, soon learning from him that McDonough had paid
him for his services. But this had not softened his opinion of the young
fellow, though he had heard nothing against him, nor even any mention of
his name; he repeated his formula that he had known McDonough’s kind all
the way from Assiniboine to Lowell Barracks, whereupon I again called
him “cynic,” and he retorted with “tenderfoot,” and thus amicably I left
him for my postponed gossip with the post-trader. Him I found
hospitable, but preoccupied, holding a long cigar unlighted between his
taciturn lips. Each topic that I started soon died away: my Eastern
news; my summer plans to ramble with Scipio across the Divide on Gros
Ventre and Snake; the proposed extension of the Yellowstone
Park–everything failed.

“That was quite a company you had this afternoon,” I said, reaching the
end of my resources.

“Yes. Nice gentlemen. Yes.” And he rolled the long, unlighted cigar
between his lips.

“Cattlemen, I suppose?”

“Cattlemen. Yes.”

“Business all right, I hope?”

“Well, no worse than usual.”

Here again we came to an end, and I rose to go.

“Seen your friend McDonough yet?” said he, still sitting.

“Why, how do you know he’s a friend of mine?”

“Says so every time he comes into the Post.”

“Well, the doctor’s all wrong about him!” I exclaimed, and gave my
views. The post-trader watched me in his tilted chair, with a
half-whimsical smile, rolling his eternal cigar, and I finished with the
story of the horse. Then the smile left his face. He got up slowly, and
slowly took a number of turns round his office, pottered with some
papers on his desk, and finally looked at me again.

“Tell me if he does,” he said.

“Offer the horse? I shall not remind him–and I should take it only as a
loan.”

“You tell me if he does,” repeated the post-trader, now smiling again,
and so we parted.

“I wonder what he didn’t say?” I thought as I proceeded to the hotel;
for he had plainly pondered some remarks and decided upon silence.
Between them, he and the doctor had driven me to a strong hope that
McDonough would vindicate my opinion of him by making good his word. At
breakfast next morning at the hotel one of the invariable characters at
such breakfasts, an unshaven person in tattered overalls, with
rope-scarred fists and grimy knuckles, to me unknown, asked:–

“Figure on meeting your friend McDonough?”

“Not if he doesn’t figure on meeting me.”

They all took quiet turns at looking at me until some one remarked:–

“He ain’t been in town lately.”

“I’m glad his leg’s all right,” I said.

“Oh, his leg’s all right.”

The tone of this caused me to look at them. “Well, I hope he’s _all_
all-right!”

Not immediately came the answer: “By latest reports he was enjoying good
health.”

Truly they were a hopeless people to get anything direct from.
Indirectness is by some falsely supposed to be a property of only the
highly civilized; but these latter merely put a brighter and harder
polish on it.

That afternoon I drove with my camp things out of town in a
“buggy,”–very different from the Eastern vehicle which bears this
name,–and the next afternoon between Dinwiddie and Red Creek, on a
waste stretch high above the river, who should join me but McDonough. He
was riding down the mountain apparently from nowhere, and my pleasure at
seeing him was keen. His words were few and halting, as they had been
the year before, and in his pleasant, round face the blue eyes twinkled,
screwed up and as perplexed as ever. I abstained from more than
glancing at the fine sorrel that he rode, lest I should seem to be
hinting.

“Water pretty low for this season,” he said.

“Was there not much snow?”

“Next to none, and went early.”

I turned from my direct course and camped at his cabin on North Fork.

“What’s your hurry?” he said next morning, when I was preparing to go.

There was no hurry; those days had no hurry in them, and I bless their
memory for it. I sat on a stump, smoking a “Missouri meerschaum,” and
unfolding to him my plans. To the geography of my route he listened
intently–very intently.

“So you’re going to keep over the other side the mountains?” he said.

“Even to Idaho,” I answered, “and home that way.”

“Not back this way?”

“Not this year.”

He thought a little while. “You’re settled as to that?”

“Quite.”

He rose, and put some wood into the stove in his cabin; then he returned
to me where I sat on the stump. “Sure you’re quite settled you’ll keep
on the west side of the Divide?”

“Goodness!” I laughed, “why should I lie to you?”

Again he pondered in silence, and I could not imagine what he had in his
mind. What had my being east or being west of the mountains to do with
him?

He now jerked his head toward the corral. “Like him?” he inquired
gruffly. It was the sorrel horse that he meant, and I perceived that it
was standing saddled. I said nothing. The fellow’s embarrassment
embarrassed me. “Like him?” he repeated.

“Looks good to me,” I replied, adopting his gruffness.

He rose and brought the horse to me. “Get on.”

“Hulloa! You’ve got my saddle on him.”

“Get on. He ain’t the one that bruck my leg.”

I obeyed. Thus was the gift offered and accepted. I rode the horse down
and up the level river bottom. “How shall I get him back to you?” I
asked.

McDonough’s face fell. “He’ll be all right in the East,” he protested.

I smiled. “No, my good friend. Not that. Let me send him back with the
outfit.”

We compromised on this, and caught trout for the rest of the day, also
shooting some young sage chickens. The sorrel proved a fine animal.
Again McDonough delayed my departure. “I can broil those chickens fine,”
he said, “and–and you’ll not be back this way.”

He would not look at me as he said this, but busied himself with the
fire. He was lonely, and liked my company, and couldn’t say so. Dense
doctor! I reflected, not to have been warmed by this nature. But later
this friendless fellow touched my heart more acutely. A fine thought had
come to me during the evening: to leave my wagon here, to leave a note
for Scipio at the E-A outfit, to descend Wind River to the Sand Gulch,
strike Washakie’s trail to the northeast of Crow Heart Butte, and on my
vigorous sorrel find Still Hunt Spring by myself. The whole ride need
take but two days. I think I must have swelled with pride at the
prospect of this secret achievement, to be divulged, when accomplished,
to the admiring dwellers on Wind River. But I intended to have the
pleasure of divulging it to McDonough at once, and I forthwith composed
a jeering note to Scipio Le Moyne.

“Esteemed friend” (this would anger him immediately); “come and find me
at Still Hunt Spring, if you don’t fear getting lost. If you do, avoid
the risk, and I will tell you all about it Friday evening. Yours,
Tenderfoot.”

I pushed this over to McDonough, who was practising various cuts with a
pack of cards. “That will make Scipio jump,” I said.

Somewhat to my disappointment, it did not have this or any effect upon
McDonough. He held the paper close to his eyes, shutting them still more
to follow the writing, and handed it back to me, saying merely, “Pretty
good.”

“I’ll leave it over at the E-A for him,” I explained. “He thinks I’m
afraid to go there alone.”

“Yes. Pretty good,” said McDonough, as if I were venturing nothing. Was
all Wind River going to treat it as such a trifle? Or–could it be that
McDonough alone among white men and red hereabouts knew nothing of the
mystery and menace by which Still Hunt Spring was encircled?

Next morning my perplexity was cleared. I made an early start, tying
some food and a kettle and my “slicker” to the saddle. McDonough
watched me curiously.

“Leavin’ your wagon and truck?” he inquired.

“Why, yes, of course. I’ll be back for it. I’m going to the E-A now. Are
you a poet?” I continued. “I’ve begun a thing.” And I handed him some
unfinished lines, which I had entitled “At Gift Horse Ranch.” “You don’t
object to that?”

“Object to what?”

“Why, the title, ‘At Gift Horse Ranch.’”

He took the paper down from his eyes, and I saw that his face had
suddenly turned scarlet. He stood blinking for a moment, and then he
said:–

“I’d kind of like to hear it.”

“But that’s all there is to hear–so far!” I exclaimed, feeling somehow
puzzled.

He put the verses close to his eyes once more. Then he held them out to
me, and stood blinking in his odd, characteristic way. “Won’t y’u read
’em to me?” he at length managed to say. “I’ll not fool _you_.”

For yet one moment more I was dull, and did not understand.

“I can’t read,” he stated simply.

“Oh!” I murmured in mortification. And so I read the lines to him.

He stretched out his hand for the scribbled envelope on which I had
pencilled the fragment. “May I keep that?”

“Wait till I have it finished.”

“I’d kind of like to have the start to keep.” He took it and shoved it
awkwardly inside his coat. “I can’t read or write,” he said, more at his
ease now the truth was out. “Nobody ever taught me nothin’.”

But I was not at ease. “Well, that stuff of mine is not worth reading!”
I said. Cards had a meaning for him–kings, queens, ten-spots–these had
been the fellow’s only books! He went on, “Never had any folks, y’u
see–to know ’em, that is.–Well, so-long till you’re back.” He turned
to his cabin, and I touched my horse.

The sorrel had gone but a few steps when I looked over my shoulder, and
there stood the solitary figure, watching me from the cabin door.
Suddenly it occurred to me that, as he had not been able to read my
letter to Scipio, he knew nothing of my project. _This_ was why he had
manifested no surprise! “Do you think,” I called back, laughing, “that
your horse can take me to Still Hunt Spring?”

I am now sure that a flash of some totally different expression crossed
his face, but at the time I was not sure; he was instantly smiling.
“Take y’u anywhere,” he called. “Take y’u to Mexico, take y’u to Hell!”

“Oh, not yet!” I responded, and cantered away. So he thought I would not
dare to go alone to Still Hunt Spring! Well and good; they should all
believe it by Friday evening.

My cantering ceased soon,–it had been for dramatic effect,–and as I
had before me a long ride, it behooved me to walk the first miles. Yet I
was soon up the easy ascent from North Fork, and though my descent to
the main river from the dividing ridge was through precipitous red
bluffs, and accomplished with caution, I reached the E-A ranch (where it
used to be twenty-five years ago) in less than two hours. To leave my
note there for Scipio took but a minute, and now on the level trail down
Wind River I made good time, so that before ten o’clock I had crossed
back over it above the Blue Holes, skirted by where the Circle fence is
to-day, crossed North Fork here, gone up a gulch, and dropped down
again upon Wind River below its abrupt bend, and reached the desolate
Sand Gulch. I nooned at the spring which lies, no bigger than a hat,
about seven miles up the Sand Gulch on its north side. This was the
starting-point of the trail that old Washakie had drawn for me; here I
crossed the threshold of the mysterious and the untrodden.

The sense of this heightened the elation which my ride through the
bracing hours of dawn had brought me, and as I turned out of the Sand
Gulch it was as if some last tie of restraint had stepped from my
spirit, leaving it on wings free and rejoicing. This gleamy, unfooted
country always looked monotonous from the bluffs of Wind River, but I
found no tedium in it; its delicious loneliness was thrilled at each new
stage of the trail by recognizing the successive signs and landmarks
which Washakie had bidden me look for. The first was a great dull red
stone, carved rudely by some ancient savage hand to represent a
tortoise. Perhaps in another mood, the grim appearance of this monster
might have seemed a symbol of menace, but when I came upon the stone
just where my map indicated that it was to be expected, I hailed it with
triumph. Nor did the caked and naked earth of the region through which
I next traced my way dry up my ardor. Gullies sometimes hid all views
from me, and again from mounds and rises I could see for fifty miles.
Should this ever meet the eye of some reader familiar with Wind River,
he will know my whereabouts by learning that far off, but constantly in
plain sight to my left, were Black Mountain and Spring Mountain; that I
must have been headed toward a point about midway between where the mail
camp now is and the pass over to Embar; that I crossed Crow Creek and (I
think) Dry Creek, and that I saw both Steamboat Butte and Tea Pot Butte
at different points. Even to write these names is a pleasure, for I
loved that country so; and sometimes it seems as if I must go there and
smell the sage-brush again–or die!

After the tortoise came several guiding signs: a big gash in the soil,
cut by a cloud-burst; an old corral where I turned sharp to the left; a
pile of white buffalo bones five miles onward; until at length I passed
through a belt of low hills, bare and baked and colored, some pink, like
tooth-powder, and others magenta, and entered a more level region
covered with sparse grass and sage-brush. Great white patches of
alkali, acres in extent, lay upon this plain. There was no water
(Washakie had told me there would be none), and the gleamy waste
stretched away on all sides; endlessly in front, and right and left to
long lines of distant mountains, full of light and silence. Let the
reader who is susceptible to tone combinations listen to the following
dissonant, unresolved measures, played slowly over and over:–

[Music]

their brooding harmonies will picture or at least convey that landscape
better than any words. I think it was really a mournful landscape, grand
and grave with suggestion of ages unknown, of eras when the sea was not
where it is now, and animals never seen by man wandered over the
half-made world. Earth did not seem one’s own here, but alien, but
aloof, as if, through some sudden translation, one had lit upon another
planet, perhaps a dying one. Yet during these hours of nearing my goal
no such melancholy fancies

[Illustration: I found nothing new–the plain, the sage-brush, the dry
ground–no more]

overtook me; I rode forward like some explorer, and I tried to complete
the verses which I had begun at McDonough’s:–

Would I might prison in these words,
And so keep with me all the year
Some inch of this bright wilderness
Of freedom that I move in here.

But nothing resulted from it, unless a surprisingly swift flight of
time. I was aware all at once that day was gone, that the rose and
saffron heavens would soon be a field of stars. I had matched one by one
the signs on my map with the realities around me, and now had reached
the map’s last word; I was to stop when I found myself on a line between
a hollow dip in the mountains to the left and a circular patch of forest
high up on those to the right. On this line I was to travel to the right
“a little way,” said Washakie. This I began to do, wondering if the
twilight would last, and for the first time anxious. After “a little
way” I found nothing new–the plain, the sage-brush, the dry ground–no
more; and again a little further it was the same, while the twilight was
sinking, and disquiet grew within me. Lost I could not well be, but I
could fail; food would give out, and before this the sorrel and I must
retrace our way to water at the Sand Gulch, seven hours behind us. The
twilight deepened. Had I passed it? Should I ride in a circle? Rueful
thoughts of a “dry camp” began to assert themselves, and my demoralized
hand grew doubtful on the reins, when I gradually discovered that the
sorrel _knew where he was_. There was no mistaking the increasing
alertness that passed through him.

As this extraordinary fact became a certainty the chasm opened at my
feet; the sorrel was trotting quickly along the brink of Still Hunt
Spring! In broad day I should have seen it a moment sooner, and the
suddenness with which, in the semi-obscurity, it had leaped into my view
close beside me produced a startling effect. The success of my quest did
not bring the unmixed pleasure that I had looked for; the dying day, the
desolate shapes of the hills, the unbefriending hush of the plain, the
odd alertness of the sorrel–all this for a while flavored my triumph
with something akin to apprehension, and it seemed as if the ravine
beneath me had been lurking in a sort of ambush until I should be fully
within its power. The Indian legend was now easy to account for; indeed,
I have met often enough, among our unlettered and rustic white
population, with minds that would have believed, after such a shock as I
had just received, that they had beheld the earth open supernaturally.
The sorrel’s trot had become a canter as we continued to skirt the
brink. Looking down I discovered in shadowy form the line of tall
cottonwoods, spindled from their usual shape to the gaunt figures
described as being on stilts; then the horse turned into the entrance.
This steep and narrow trail was barred at a suitable place by a barrier
of brush, which I replaced after passing it. A haunting uneasiness
caused me to regret that I had not arrived in full daylight, but this I
presently overcame. Before we reached the bottom I saw a number of
horses grazing down among the trees, and they set up a great running
about and kicking their heels at the sight of a human visitor. There
must have been twenty or thirty.

Lassitude and satisfaction now divided my sensations as I made my way to
the spring, whose cool, sweet water fulfilled all expectation. My good
map served me to the last; with it I lighted my cooking fire, addressing
it aloud as I did so, “Burn! your work is done!” I needed no map to go
back! I had mastered the trail! In my recovered spirits I quite forgot
how much I owed to the sorrel. While picking up dry sticks I stumbled
upon what turned out to be a number of branding irons, which were quite
consistent with the presence of the horses and the barrier at the
entrance. Evidently the place sometimes served as a natural pasture and
corral for stock gathered on the round-up and far strayed from where
they belonged. Perhaps some one was camping here now. I shouted several
times; but my unanswered voice merely made the silence more profound,
and for a while the influence of the magic legend returned. With this my
fancy played not unpleasingly while the kettle–or rather the
coffee-pot–was boiling. The naturalness of building a fire, of making
camp, of preparing a meal, helped common sense to drive out and keep out
those featureless fears which had assailed me. What stories could be
made about this place by a skilful writer! The lost traveller stumbles
upon it, enters, suspects himself to be not alone, calls out, and
immediately the haunted walls close and he is shut within the bowels of
the earth. How release him? Therein would be the story. Or–the lost
traveller, well-nigh dead of thirst, hastens to the spring amid the
frolicsome gambols of the horses. No sooner has he drunk than he becomes
a horse himself, and the others neigh loud greetings to a brother
victim. Then a giant red man appears and brands him. How release all the
horses from the spell?

As I lay by my little cooking fire in the warm night, after some bacon
and several cups of good tea made in the coffee-pot, I was too contented
to do aught in the way of exploration, and I continued to recline,
hearing no sound but the grazing horses, and seeing nothing but the
nearer trees, the dark sides of the valley, and the open piece of sky
with its stars. My saddle-blanket and “slicker” served me for what bed I
needed, the saddle with my coat supplied a pillow, and the cups of tea
could not keep me from immediate and deep slumber.

I opened my eyes in sunlight, and the first object that they rested upon
was a maroon-colored straw hat. With the mental confusion that
frequently attends a traveller upon first waking in a new place, I lay
considering the hat and wondering where I was, until at a sound I turned
to see the hat’s owner stooping to the spring. Instantly Lem Speed,
cattleman and owner of a store and bank in Lander, a house in Salt
Lake, a wife in Los Angeles, and a son at Yale, was covering me with a
rifle.

“Stay still,” was his remark.

Not a suspicion that it was anything but a joke entered my head. I lay
there and I smiled. “I could not hurt you if I wished to.”

“You will never hurt me any more.”

Another voice then added: “He is not going to hurt any of us any more.”

“Stay still!” sharply reiterated Lem Speed, for at the second voice I
had half risen.

“For whom do you take me?” I asked.

“For one of the people we want.”

I continued to be amused. “I’ll be glad to know what you want me for.
I’ll be glad to know what damage I’ve done. I’ll be happy to make it
good. I came over here last night for–”

“Go on. What did you come for?”

“Nothing. Simply to see this place. I’ve wanted to see it for a year. I
wanted to see if I could find it by myself.” And I told them who I was
and where I lived.

“That’s a good one, ain’t it?” said a third man to Lem Speed.

“And so,” said he, “you, claiming you’re an Eastern tenderfoot, found
this place, first trip, all by yourself across fifty miles of country
old-timers get lost in?”

“No. Washakie gave me a map.”

“Let’s see your map.”

“I lighted my fire with it.”

Somebody laughed. There were now five or six of them standing round me.

“If some of you gentlemen will condescend to tell me what you think my
name is, and what you think I have done–”

“We don’t know what your name is, and we don’t care. As to what you’ve
done, that’s as well known to you as it is to us, and you’ve got gall to
ask, when we’ve caught you right on the spot, branding-irons and all.”

“Well, I’m beginning to understand. You think you’ve caught a cattle
thief.”

“Horse thief,” corrected one.

“Both, probably,” added another.

“I’ll not ask you to believe me any more,” I now said. “Don’t I see the
post-trader over there among those horses?”

“No.”

“Very well, take me to him at Washakie. He has known me for years. I
demand it.”

“We’ll not take you anywhere. We’re going to leave you here.”

And now the truth, the appalling, incredible truth, which my brain had
totally failed to take in, burst like a blast of heat or ice over my
whole being, penetrating the innermost recesses of my soul with a
blinding glare. They intended to put me to death at once; their minds
were as stone vaults closed against all explanation. Here in this hidden
crack of the wilderness my body would be left hanging, and far away my
family and friends would never know by what hideous outrage I had
perished. Slowly they would become anxious at getting no news of me;
there would be an inquiry, a mystery, then sorrow, and finally
acceptance of my unknown fate. Broken visions of home, incongruous
minglings of loved faces and commonplace objects, like my room with its
table and chairs, rushed upon me. Had I not been seated, I must have
fallen at the first shock of this stroke. They stood watching me.

“But,” I began, feeling that my very appearance was telling against me,
while my own voice sounded guilty to my ears, “but it’s not true.”

“What’s the use in him talking any more to us?” said a man to Lem
Speed.

Lem Speed addressed me. “You claim this: you’re an Eastern traveller.
You come here–out of curiosity. You risk getting lost in the hardest
country around here–out of curiosity. But you come all straight because
an Indian’s map guides you, only you’ve burnt it. And you’re a stranger,
ignorant that this is a _cache_ for rustlers. That’s what you claim. It
don’t sound like much against these facts: last year you and another man
that’s wanted in several places and that we’re after now–you and him
was known to be thick. You offered to pay his doctor’s bill. You come
back to the country where he’s been operating right along, and first
thing you do you come over to this _cache_ when he’s got stolen horses
right in it, and you ride a stolen horse that’s known to have been in
his possession, and that’s got on it now the brand of the outfit this
gentleman here represents–all out of curiosity.”

“We’ve just found six more of our stock in here,” said the gentleman
indicated by Speed.

I repeated my story in a raised voice–I had not yet had time to regain
composure. I accounted for each of my movements from the beginning until
now, vehemently reasserting my ignorance and innocence. But I saw that
they were not even attending to me any longer; they looked at me only
now and then, they spoke low to each other, pointing to the other end of
the valley, and turned, while I was still talking, to receive the report
of another man, who came from among the stolen horses.

Then I fell silent. I sat by my saddle, locking my hands round my knees,
and turning my eyes first upon the men, and then upon the whole place. A
strange crystal desolation descended upon me, quiet and cold. The early
sunlight showed every object in an extraordinary and delicate
distinctness; the stones high up the sides of the valley, the separate
leaves on the small high branches of the cottonwoods; the interstices on
the bark on lower trunks some distance away; the fine sand and grass of
the valley’s level bottom, with little wild rose bushes here and there;
all these things I noticed, and more, and then my eyes came back to my
little dead fire, and the blackened coffee-pot in which I had made the
tea. “Your friend McDonough,” they had said to me at Washakie, and I had
wondered what was behind their reticence when I inquired about him.
They were always ready, I bitterly reflected, to feed lies to a
tenderfoot, but a syllable of truth about McDonough’s suspected
dishonesty, which would have saved me from this, they were unwilling to
speak. It was natural, of course; everything was natural. I saw also why
McDonough had been so precise in asking which way I expected to travel.
Over on Snake River, and in Idaho, the sorrel was in no danger of
identification, and therefore I should be safe. But even with the whole
chain of evidence: the doctor’s bill, the corral, my unlucky tale of a
map which I could not prove, and the branding-irons with which they
believed I was going to alter the legitimate brands–what right had they
to deny me the chance I asked?

The last two of them now came from the horses to make their report:
“Five brands. Thirty-two head. N lazy Y, Bar Circle Zee, Goose Egg,
Pitch Fork, Seventy-Six, and V R.”

“Not one of you,” I broke out, “knows a word against me, except some
appearances which the post-trader will set right in one minute. I demand
to be taken to him.”

“Ain’t we better be getting along, Lem?” said one.

“Most eight o’clock,” said another, looking at his watch.

“Stand up,” said Lem Speed.

Upon being thus ordered, like a felon, my utterance was suddenly choked,
and it was with difficulty that I mastered the tears which welled hotly
to my eyes.

“Any message you want to write–”

“No!” I shouted.

“Then let’s be getting along,” said the first man.

“Any message I wrote you would not deliver; it would put a rope round
your neck, too. And, Mr. Lem Speed, with your store, and bank, and
house, and wife, and son, I hope you will live to see them come to ruin
and disgrace.”

I wish that I had never spoken these weak, discreditable words; but he
who has not been tested cannot know the bitterness of such a test as
this.

A horse was led to me, and I got on without aid, a man on each side of
me. Memory after this records nothing. We must have been some time–I
think we walked–in reaching the other end of the valley, yet I cannot
recall what was spoken around me, or whether or not anything was
spoken; I can recall only the sides of the valley passing, and the
warmer sense of the sun on my shoulders, and the vivid scent of the
sage-brush. What firmness or lack of firmness I might have displayed at
the very end I can never know. Before we halted at the fatal tree of
execution, and while my rage was still sustaining me, a noise of
rattling stones caused us all to look upward, and there, galloping down
the steep trail, wildly waving and shouting to us, was Scipio Le Moyne.
It reeled through me! I was saved!

He plunged into the midst of us at breakneck speed, drew up so short
that his horse slid, and burst out furiously–not to my captors, but to
me. “You need a nurse!” he cried hoarsely. “Any travelling you do should
be in a baby coach.”

Breath failed him, he sat in his saddle, bowed over and panting, hands
shaking, face dripping with sweat, shirt drenched, as was his trembling
horse. After a minute he looked at Speed. “So I’m in time, my God! I’ve
ridden all night. I’d have been here an hour sooner only I forgot about
the turn at the corral. Here. That’s the way I knowed it.”

He handed over my letter, left for him at the E-A ranch. This, with a
few words from him, cleared me. All that I had declared was verified;
they saw what they had been about to do.

“Well, now, well!” exclaimed one, grinning.

“To think of us getting fooled that way!” another remarked, grinning.

“But it’s all right now,” said a third, grinning.

“That’s so!” a fourth agreed. “No harm done. But we had a close shave,
didn’t we?” And he grinned too.

Lem Speed approached me. “No hard feelings,” he said jocularly, and he
held out his hand.

But is it a true joke–this American attempt at shirking responsibility
under a bluff of facetiousness? It masquerades as humor every day–a
pretty mongrel humor, more like true cowardice.

I turned to Scipio. “Tell this man that anything he wishes to say to me
he will say through you.”

Speed flushed darkly. Had he kept his temper, he could easily have
turned my speech to ridicule. But such a manner of meeting him was novel
to a man used to having his own brutal way wherever he went, and he was
disconcerted. He spoke loudly and with bluster:–

“You said some things about my wife and son that don’t go now.”

This delivered him into my hands. Again I addressed Scipio. “Say that I
wish his family no further misfortune; they have enough in having him
for husband and father.”

I think he would have shot me, but the others were now laughing. “He’s
called the turn on you, Lem. Leave him be. He’s been annoyed some this
morning.”

They now made ready to depart with their recovered property.

“You and your friend will come along with us?” one said to Scipio.

“Thank you,” I answered. “I have seen all that I ever wish to see of any
of you.”

And then suddenly I folded over and slid like a sack of flour from my
horse. It had lasted longer than my nerves were good for; darkness
engulfed me on the ground.

They had disappeared when I waked; Scipio and I were the only human
tenants of the valley. He sat watching me, and I nodded to him; then
silently shook my head at his question if I wanted anything. I lay
gazing at the rocks and trees, the tall trees with their leaves gently
stirring. It was a beautiful, serene spot and I regarded it with the
languid pleasure of a man recovering from a serious illness. We began to
talk presently, and I learned that they had taken away their stolen
horses, except the sorrel, which had been left at my complete disposal.
But from that party I would accept no amends; I would ride the sorrel
back to Wind River, and then I would send a check to the proper person,
as if I had hired the horse. This intention I may say at once that I
duly carried out. Scipio upbraided me with the spirit I was showing;
they had meant no harm to _me_, he argued; they were doing their best
now–but I turned upon him.

“Oh, their best! Do you think they’ll not break out in a new place,
condemn some other man who looks guilty to their almighty minds? I asked
to see the post-trader. Don’t forget that. There’s got to be lynching
where there’s no law, but–”

To these unfinished words Scipio could find no answer, but he remained
unconvinced, muttering that “tenderfeet shouldn’t monkey with this
country by themselves;” and in this sentiment I heartily concurred.

We spent the day and night at Still Hunt Spring. There was nothing to
call us away, and I found my physical powers more inclined to rest than
to a long ride. Scipio dried out his clothes beside the spring, and
refreshed his lank body from the perspiration and dust which had covered
it. He narrated how it had been whispered that the cattlemen were on the
eve of “demonstrating”; how McDonough’s practices and associates had
been gradually ascertained; how it was known that Still Hunt Spring had
become a hiding-place for stolen stock. Therefore my bragging letter,
written in a spirit so light, had given him what he described as
“considerable of a jolt.” He had not found it until evening, and had
instantly galloped forth into the dark, not knowing what he might find
at Still Hunt Spring.

“Then McDonough is a thief,” I sighed.

“Oh, he’s a thief all right,” said Scipio, easily.

But it made me very sad. I closed my eyes and could see McDonough as he
stood by my horse, embarrassed, reaching out his hand for that envelope
with my verses on it.

I slept more soundly and longer even than on the preceding night.
Scipio, after his hard ride, slept like me; we did not wake until the
sun was high and warm. After breakfast–it was the last morsel we had
between us–I took a final drink at the gentle and lovely pool where I
had undergone such terrible emotions, and we rode slowly and silently
down the long line of trees toward the exit of the valley. Suddenly the
sorrel jerked his head up, stopped stiff with a snort, and began to
tremble. Ahead of us there, from the branch destined for me, hung a dead
man, McDonough. This they had done while we over-slept by the spring at
the upper end of the valley. They had surprised him coming to his
_cache_.

Scipio and I sat still for a while. A wind in the branches now set the
body slightly swaying; it seemed worse when it moved; it turned halfway
round, and I saw its eyes. “I think–couldn’t we bury it?” I said.

Scipio shook his head. “It’s left there for some of his partners to
see.”

“Well–I think we might close the eyes.”

“That’s no harm,” said Scipio, “if you want.”

“Yes; I do want.”

So we dismounted. Yes; cards were all McDonough knew how to read; no one
had ever taught him anything; this was his first lesson.

“There,” said Scipio, “that does look better.” Then we rode away from
Still Hunt Spring.