Puslapio vaizdai

"Tell Job that Long John may stop at the cabin, and Job is to come for me with the buckboard at nine to-morrow morning. We shall be back early. John may have his evening in town." "Will that be all, sir?"

"That is all, thank you, Margaret."

"Wad ye eat a bittie if I fetch it entil ye— just a morsel, to tak' the bluid from the head? Will ye no?" she pressed him, with motherly anxiety.

"Shut the door, and don't stand there bletherin'!" Dunsmuir shouted.

Nevertheless, an hour later the hand of Margaret noiselessly obtruded a tray into the room; on it was a dish of iced tomatoes with a mayonnaise, a plate of thin bread and butter, a slice or two of cold boiled ham, and a bottle of beer. When the tray was brought away, Margaret, who had stayed to do some ironing in the cool of the evening, saw with triumph that her offering had not been rejected.

"When he 's that way," she said to Dolly, "he's just like a fashious wean; he disna want a thing named to him."

She repeated to no one her master's orders for the morning; all that he wished said he would prefer to say himself. And so it happened that Alan went off at sunrise on his own scheme of pleasure for the day,-having helped himself to a cold breakfast in the pantry, not knowing that his father was bound for the town, like himself. Alan had one or two acquaintances who were to take part in the procession of the "Horniquebriniques." He had been urged to choose a character and to join, but, in his usual way, it was at the last moment, and without premeditation, that he decided to do so. His arm was but just well. Except for the stolen joy, now and then, of a wild moonlight gallop, life, according to his ideas, had been a steady grind. He had never acknowledged his father's right to condition him as to the use of his own horse. As a matter of principle, then, he was holding out, and cultivating meanwhile a sentiment of injury to strengthen his resolution.

It was in this mood that he stopped at Dutton's ranch and, assuming the owner's consent, borrowed an old mule of Job's called Susan. He also helped himself to one or two articles found in the cabin, with which to piece out his costume for the part he had chosen in the Horniquebriniques. As in the far West this humorous dramatization is not a common feature of the day we celebrate, a few words of description may help to explain its intense attractiveness to lads of Alan's age. It is a procession of mummers, masked or otherwise, on horseback, afoot, or in floats, who burlesque in dumb-show the prominent characters and institutions of the town, setting forth in a rough extravaganza VOL. XLIV.-53-54.

their weaknesses in the popular eye. The costumes are ridiculous, the wit is often coarse, the personal hits more than a little cruel. Yet the drolling seldom fails, in one way or another, to make its point, and the whole exhibition is not without a rude, poignant signification from the moral point of view.

Dunsmuir and Job were making way slowly through the crowd. They were endeavoring to gain the corner near the office of Marshall & Read, Dunsmuir's lawyers; but they were too late. The Horniquebriniques had started, the crowd backing down before them; there was nothing for it now but to haul up by the sidewalk until the fun had rolled by. Mock musicians, calling themselves the City Band, marched ahead of the procession, performing with cow-bells, tinware, and Chinese instruments of sound. The humor was here so overpowering as fairly to drown its own applause.

Dunsmuir, who was chewing the cud of his last and bitterest disappointment, was somewhat grimly disposed toward the day's festivities. He took little notice of the mob, as it screeched and rattled and caracoled by; but as the nuisance seemed to abate, Job spoke to him, calling his attention to a passing group which the crowd was then cheering. He looked up and smiled. He saw a broad, stout, florid man, costumed as a river-nymph, in pseudoclassic draperies, looped and girdled in such a manner as to display without offense as much as possible of his muscular proportions. He bore upon his shoulder a Chinese whiskyjar, one of a wholesale size. The vase was labeled "Norrisson's Ditch." The nymph's girdle, which must have measured full fifty inches, was stuck full of "water-contracts." Bunches of the enormous native-grown vegetables, mingled with sage-brush torn up by the roots, decorated the processional car, which was drawn by four fat, patient oxen placarded "Eastern Capital." The supporting figures of this symbolical group were an impecunious ranchman hunting in his ragged pockets for the wherewithal to pay his water-rates, and an abject Chinese vegetable-gardener, upon whose head from time to time the goddess of fertility tilted a small quantity of the sacred water of the ditch.

Broad as was the joke, Dunsmuir found no fault with it. But now a burst of applause greeted a new actor, who silently paced down the street at a respectful distance from the car of Irrigation. The little boys lining the gutters and packed into the backs of farmers' wagons screeched their comments, by way of explanation, to one another: "Hurrah for the Last Ditch!" shouted one precocious urchin.

[ocr errors][merged small]

sang another. Dunsmuir had taken these remarks as personal to himself until he turned and saw the quixotic figure intended to portray in its popular aspect the spirit of his well-known enterprise. Both he and Dutton had recognized Susan by her ear-mark, though she had been touched up anatomically with considerable skill and white paint to the likeness of a skeleton. She carried a slender, masked rider, dressed in pasteboard armor, relic of some amateur theatricals in the town. His crest was a sprig of sage united with the flowers of the wild thistle, and for a spear he carried, with some difficulty, it might be seen, an engineer's measuring-rod, to which a banneret was attached displaying the legend:

Don't tread on my Location!

This was plain enough for all to understand. The little boys pointed out to one another his big tin sword labeled "For Jumpers," and discussed the meaning of the device displayed upon his shield-a spread eagle perched on the rock-gate of the cañon, with the united crosses of St. George and St. Andrew flaming in the sky above it. This cognizance was a hasty inspiration of Alan's tossed off in the fury of conception, in red and white and black chalks. Any compunctions which the son of Dunsmuir might have had at the last moment must have given way before the artist's hunger for appreciation. To do Alan justice, he had not meant the impersonation for mockery, but merely as a good-natured acknowledgment of the wellknown facts concerning his father's ditch. Above all, he had not bargained for his father as a spectator. He trusted now to spare him the pain of a recognition; but this was not to be.

Susan had one white and wicked eye, which she turned back upon the crowd, now pressing noisily upon her sedate progress. Hitherto, whatever culminating sense of indignity she may have been nursing she had kept to herself; but now, without apparent premeditation, she bucked her rider into the middle of the street bolted past the ox-team which blocked the way ahead, and was seen no more in town that day. The knight's mask and helmet had tumbled awry with the jar of his fall; Alan was obliged to free his head before he could see about him. A dozen hands assisted him to rise, and all the town beheld his angry blushes and knew him for his father's son. Confused and bitterly mortified, he took the first chance of escape which occurred to him; he ran and jumped aboard the Norrisson Ditch car, and the Knight of the Location made his exit in the tail-end of it, among the vegetables, waving his guidon and smiling in the hope of seeming not to care

for the shouts of laughter which followed him. The crowd had "caught on " with a wild burst of cheers to this last, most unintentional point which Alan had supplied, with his father as witness.


IT had been Alan's plan to remain for the fireworks on the evening of the Fourth, but his father's bitter face came between him and all further thoughts of a "good time." By sunset he was at home. He went straight to his father's room, and the two were shut in there together. Dolly awaited anxiously the close of the interview; but when the study door opened at last, she kept away, allowing Alan to escape without a question, even from her eyes. At the usual hour she went to bid her father good night. He detained her by the hand, leaning back in his chair and turning his face from the lamp. It was a close night, the sky overcast, the atmosphere heavy with an abortive effort to rain. The wind - what little there was -came up from the plains, a false, baffling wind, reversing the currents of coolness. It smelled of dust and wild sage, and in the pauses between the hot, prickly gusts mosquitos and moths swarmed outside the windows. All the screens were in; the lamp, lighted since dusk, increased the heat, and devoured the air of the room.

"Dolly, perhaps you will be wanting to speak to your brother to-night," said Dunsmuir, wearily. The lamp threw deep shadows over his lowered eyelids as he lay back in his great leather chair. It was some time since Dolly had seen him in that strong, direct light, of an evening; she thought him much worn, and thinner, even, since the spring.

"Has he gone out of the house?" he continued. "Say good night to him. We may not see so much of him for a time." He cleared his voice, which broke from nervousness or fatigue, and sat up, looking straight before him. "I shall not tell you his last ill-omened exploit. Perhaps he will tell you himself; it would cost him little, for I doubt if he sees what it signifies. I do not know how to reach him, nor indeed if there be any depth in him to reach. I have thought to try him now in earnest. Since he will not work, either for his love or his fear; since, it seems, he neither understands nor respects what we are here to do, nor enters into it, except in a low, clownish spirit-let him work now for his bread. To-morrow he goes below. He will live at the cabin, get his meals with the men, and take orders from Job. I will have no idle mockers at my table. Now, we'll say no more about it. Show him all the kindness in your heart-but remember, you are not to go seeking him at the cabin. After

to-night he is one of the force till he shall win home by the right road."

Dolly blushed redder and redder till the smarting tears stood in her eyes. She could not speak, or she might have had occasion to repent her words; neither would she leave the room while her heart was swelling with resentment of Alan's punishment. She looked up presently and smiled, with an effort at firmness, in the face of the judge, who was also the father. He thanked her with a speechless look. He had not thought that anything could have eased him like that smile of his woman-child; but at midnight, sitting by himself, his thoughts went darkly back to Alan's offenses, which were all of a sort peculiarly offensive to himself.

"The lad shows neither sense nor judgment, nor the conduct of a gentleman," he said aloud, in the silence, which he was accustomed to address in moments of deep spiritual disturbance. "Let him go where plain lessons are to be learned of plain men. There is not a man in my employ but can set my son the example of all I have failed to teach him."

Dolly waited up for Alan as late as she dared, for fear of disturbing her father, who liked the house to be quiet always at the same hour. It then occurred to her that he might already have gone up to his bed. She went to his room and knocked, but got no answer. Her room was next to his, both opening by low, casemated dormers upon the flattish slope of the roof. She leaned out and saw Alan asleep on the shingles outside his window, his head and arms resting upon the sill. His attitude kept the expression of the mood in which he had flung himself down. She crept out upon the roof and knelt beside him, whispering a little, choking prayer. The heavens were dark; as she lifted her face one big drop of rain fell upon her forehead, the sole birth from that night-long wrestling of wind and cloud.

Drought prevailed, and toward morning the sky slowly cleared. The wind blew Dolly's curtains wide apart. A sunbeam, striking the mirror propped up on her dressing-table, made quivering rainbow-patches on the walls. A stronger gust blew something off the windowledge, and, opening her eyes, she saw on the matting a huge, overblown giant-of-battles rose. Wrapped about the stem was a folded paper which explained itself.

I am not going to the cabin to take orders from my father's men. I'll pitch myself off the bluffs first. Father has been down on me this long while, so I may as well take myself off. They need not look for me in the river, nor in the low places in town. I am not going to play the fool, so no one need worry; and when I can show a decent bit of a record maybe I will come home. Goodby, Dolly; say good-by to good old Peggie. You

are the ones who will miss me. If ever I come back, it will be for your sakes. I was n't asleep when you kissed me last night. I did n't mind Yours ever, it, but I did n't want to talk.


he takes back some things he has said. So you P. S. I shall not use my father's name until need n't go through the papers looking for news of one Alan Dunsmuir, for there 's "nae sic” a person.

With much hesitation, on account of its flippant tone, Dolly showed her father this message. Dunsmuir devoured the words with but one thought; it was little to him now, the lad's truculence or the spirit in which he bore himself under correction. The one agonized question pierced through all that could wait: "My son, where is he?"

They traced him to town, where he and Modoc were well known. He had borrowed a small sum of money of Peter Kountze, whom he had met at the Green Meadow, and had asked to be directed to the camp of engineers doing preliminary work on the Lower Snake; and thither, next day, they followed him. The search-party were informed that on the previous day a young stranger, light-haired, tallish, riding a pinto pony, had come down that way, asking for Philip Norrisson, who had never been with that division at all. The transit-man had told him that Philip Norrisson's party was in the mountains a matter of two days' journey from the camp. The young stranger, who gave his name as Robert Allen, had slept in camp and struck out early next morning for the mountains, expecting to reach the stage-station at the Summit by nightfall.

When the question was asked, What had he talked about the evening before? it was remembered that he had said he was intending to try for a position on Philip Norrisson's party; and when objection had been raised that the reservoir party would soon be through work and back in town, he had replied that it was no matter; Norrisson was a good fellow, who would be sure to put him in the way of something he could do; he was ready for anything. Peter Kountze, being further questioned, reported that Alan's first plan had been to strike for the coast, where he proposed to ship aboard a sealer bound for the Bering Sea; else to work his passage south on a San Francisco steamer, and to take the chances in that direction. Peter modestly admitted that he had tried to dissuade Alan from these projects, and, failing, had refused to lend him money more than sufficient to keep him a few days, if he stayed near home. Alan had then endeavored to find a purchaser for Modoc, but without succeeding in getting anything like what he considered a fair price. So it appeared his

designs were somewhat vague and fluid as yet.

No time was lost in following up the reservoir party; but neither at the Summit nor from any of Norrisson's men could a word be learned of Alan. No one had seen or heard of him since he turned his back on the tents and struck out across the sage-brush. At the engineers' camp on the Lower Snake all news of him ceased as if the plains had opened and swallowed him. In Alan's case a wild figure of speech had come literally true. The boy's brown cheeks were whitening in one of those oubliettes which occur as part of the black lava formation that is the floor of the Snake River plains; a floor continuous and solid for the most part, but strangely cracked and riven, undermined in places, and pierced with holes resembling the bull's-eye of a vault. Into one of these traps Alan had descended; no one seeing him go down but Modoc, who stood long, and waited, and tugged at his rope halter, and pawed the dirt and stones, and neighed to his master in vain.


THE evening Alan camped with the engineers some of the boys were telling stories around the fire in front of the office-tent. They spoke of the wonders and mysteries of the great lava desert, which mantles in dust and silence all that region north of the Snake for four hundred miles of its course between river and mountains. Camp-fire gossip, in these arid lands, runs much upon discoveries of water, as in the mountains of the same region it runs upon rich finds of gold. One of the boys who had been a stock-herder told of a pool or well in the heart of the Black Lava the water of which was fresh, though defiled at the time of his discovery by carcasses of dead cattle; the poor beasts, mad with thirst, had crowded upon it when all the streams were frozen, and perished through overweighting the ice which covered the pool. The depth of it was unknown. It was said to go down to the level of that fabled underground valley of the Snake, where, beneath the lava crust, imprisoned streams, identical in source with the river above, were tunneling their way to daylight.

It was said that in certain places these subterranean waters gushed out from beneath the lava bluffs in fountains of white foam, bringing fertility to some chosen valley, located, perhaps, by a refugee Mormon with a keen patriarchal scent for pasture, or a road-weary plainsman who here unshipped his wagon-top, and turned loose his lean stock and his tribe of whiteheaded children. It was loosely ventured round the camp-fire that rich washings of fine gold might be gathered from the beds of these hid

den watercourses, in pot-holes or crevices where the sluicings of ages had been collecting.

Alan's eyes grew big at these tales. He asked many questions; in particular why these exciting presumptions had never been put to the proof. He was told that, in all probability, until that region had been scientifically explored they were incapable of proof. The few doors which opened into that mysterious cellarage were dismal traps not easy to find; and those best acquainted with the country were shy of meddling with its secrets. The river itself had a sinister reputation. The Indians never trusted their naked bodies to its flood; no old plainsman could be induced to pull off his shirt and plunge into the Snake, nor would he suffer a "tenderfoot" to do so in his presence without earnest remonstrance and warning.

Another of the boys claimed to be the discoverer of a cave which he compared to a vast sunken jug. He had come upon it accidentally, riding as messenger from camp to camp; had stopped only long enough to drop a stone down the pit-dark hole, where all was silence and airless night. The depth, from the sound, had been something awesome. Later, with two comrades, he had searched for the "jug" over every foot of the bare plain where he had tried to locate it by memory. They had ridden from town equipped with ropes and candles; but not that day nor ever afterward had he found the lost entrance to the cave. It had relapsed into the mystery that broods over the desert, the silence which it keeps, though the ear of man is ever at its lips.

The trend of the Great Snake River plains is distinctly toward the west. That way the mountains open to welcome the warm winds from the coast, which temper the winters of all that inland region. As summer advances and drought encamps upon the land, the visiting winds are succeeded by local breezes which blow with the regularity of day and night. It is then the great air-currents, rising from the burning face of the desert, beckon to the mountain-winds, and as punctual as a sea-breeze they come whooping down at night through cañons and passes of the foot-hills. No sleeper, upon the ground or under heated house-roofs, but is grateful for these night-winds; no sunburned traveler, beneath the bright stars of the desert, but feels his strength renewed, bathed in that steady, balmy tide of coolness.

Alan rode out of camp after such a night of solid sleep, very different from the same night which his father had watched out in the cañon. It was the time of perfect equilibrium which comes twice in the twenty-four hours, once after sunrise and again about the setting of the sun. The silence of the desert was unbroken by bird or breeze or sound of footsteps, except

ing the steady clink and shuffle of Modoc's hoofs getting over the ground in excellent cayuse fashion. The little horse was at home; his ears were pricked forward, his eye keen for the trackless way he knew so well. He kept edging northward toward the pass between the low, black buttes, standing apart like gateposts to the mountains; between them lifted a far, aërial vision of the blue Owyhees, and the War Eagle, wearing his crest of snow. The face of the plain was featureless and wan. There is but one color to this desert landscape-sagegreen, slightly greener in spring, and grayer in summer, with a sifting of chrome dust. In winter it is most impressive under a light fall of snow, not heavy enough to hide the slight but significant configuration of the ground, yet white enough to throw into relief the strange markings of black lava, where it crops out, or lies scattered, or confronts the traveler in those low, flat-headed buttes, so human, so savage, in their lone outlines, keeping watch upon the

encroachments of travel.

Alan had been in the saddle since seven o'clock, and it was now noon. He was looking about for a good spot where Modoc might pick a little grass while he ate his lunch. Nothing more quickly catches the eye in an uncivilized region than a bit of painted wood. Alan could not have passed by without seeing a broken wagon-tongue abandoned in the sage-brush; and this one had the peculiarity of a new rope cleverly knotted about the middle of it. The end of the rope disappeared in the ground. Alan stopped to investigate this mystery. To his inordinate delight he found that he was kneeling at the lip of one of those dry wellsperhaps the "jug" itself. No consideration known to the mind of a boy could have deterred him from attempting to go down. He took, however, a few simple precautions. He made fast his pony to a stout sage-stump. Modoc stood well as a rule, but his heart was traveling northward, and his legs might be tempted to follow. Alan then tried the rope; the knots held. The thought did strike him, with a slight chill, What has become of the man who tied those knots? He leaned his face above the hole and shouted; he would have been surprised indeed had he received an answer. He gathered stones and tried the depth by the sound of their fall. It was deep, but not so appallingly deep, and the bottom, from the sound, was perfectly dry. Of the shape or nature of the walls he could learn but little, because of their size and the smallness of the orifice. He pulled up the rope; it was, at a guess, a twenty-foot braided lariat, with a second longer rope spliced to the end of it: fifty feet, at the most, would cover the length of that swinging tether. He now collected a bundle of sage

sticks for torches, small ones to light quickly and larger ones to burn longer. These he tied together into a fagot, which he dropped down the hole. To provide against accident to the precious bundle he fastened a torch-stick to his belt. Matches he had with him, but he felt in his pocket to make sure. He took pride in these precautions, so sensible did they strike him, so experienced and businesslike. His heart beat with expectation great and vague. Modoc watched his master restively; but without a glance at his pony, or a farewell pat, Alan put both feet into the hole, and his head was soon below the roots of the sage-brush.

When he had lowered himself about ten feet, his body began to oscillate with a slow, irregular, sickening motion. He felt himself miserably detached. He struck out with his feet, hoping to touch the sides of the vault; but he had now reached the bilge, and kicking did but aggravate the spiral movement, which became more pronounced and confusing as the rope. lengthened above him. In another moment his toes touched the bundle of torch-sticks, his stretched muscles subsided, and he stepped free upon the floor, of the cave. When a momentary dizziness had passed he looked up and saw the light of day above his head—a small, white star which shed no rays, but rather increased by contrast the palpable effect of the darkness into which he had dropped as into another element.

He made haste to light his torch. The flame spluttered and flared; he looked about him, and saw, to his horror, that he was not alone in the cave. The man who tied the knots had been watching him from the moment his body had darkened the hole. Alan had seen Juan Pacheco the homicide only once, by moonlight, at long rifle-range; he knew not a feature of him, but he was certain that it was he, the yellow Mexican, crouched upon the floor of the cave pointing a Winchester in his face. Pacheco, if he it were, seemed to recognize his visitor. He smiled a cruel, half-breed smile, displaying a bad set of wrinkles around the corners of his mouth.

"Ven aca!" he commanded quietly. Alan moved away from the hole.

"How many more come?"

"No one," said Alan. 'I am alone." Pacheco looked as if he did not believe him. A moment passed in silence, Pacheco listening, Alan breathing quick and hard.

"Hold up the light! Mas arriba!"

Alan held up his torch in both hands as high as he could, and Pacheco went through his clothes, taking from him his pistol, his cartridgebelt, and his precious matches.

"Sst! What is that?"

Modoc, stamping on the hard-baked ground,

« AnkstesnisTęsti »