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Members of the Family written by an American writer and historian Owen Wister. This book is one of many works by him. It has already Published in 1911. Now republish in ebook format. We believe this work is culturally important in its original archival form. While we strive to adequately clean and digitally enhance the original work, there are occasionally instances where imperfections such as blurred or missing pages, poor pictures or errant marks may have been introduced due to either the quality of the original work. Despite these occasional imperfections, we have brought it back into print as part of our ongoing global book preservation commitment, providing customers with access to the best possible historical reprints. We appreciate your understanding of these occasional imperfections, and sincerely hope you enjoy reading this book.
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Members of the Family
Illustrator: H. T. Dunn
II. SPIT-CAT CREEK
III. IN THE BACK
I. The Storing of the Energy
II. The Energy is Transmitted
III. The Vibrations Spread
IV. The Energy is Once Again Transmitted
V. THE GIFT HORSE
VI. EXTRA DRY
VII. WHERE IT WAS
VIII. THE DRAKE WHO HAD MEANS OF HIS OWN
“Pie like mother made,” said Scipio
When this October comes, twenty years will be sped since the author of these Western tales sat down one evening to begin his first tale of the West, and—will you forgive him a preamble of gossip, of retrospection? Time steps in between the now that is and the then that was with a vengeance; it blocks the way for us all; we cannot go back. When the old corner, the old place, the old house, wear the remembered look, beckon to the memory as if to say, No change here! Then verily is the change worst, the shell most empty, the cheat well-nigh too piercing. In a certain garden I used to plunder in 1866, the smell to-day of warm, dusty strawberries.... But did we admit to our companionship ghosts only, what would living be? I continue to eat strawberries. As for smells, they’re worse than old melodies, I think. Lately I was the sport of one. My train was trundling over the plains—a true train of the past, half freight, half passenger, cars of an obsolete build, big smoke-stack on the archaic engine, stops for meals, inveterate news-boy with bad candy, bad novels, bad bananas—a dear old horrible train, when magic was suddenly wrought. It came in through the open window, its wand touched me, and the evoked spirits rose. With closed eyes I saw them once more, standing there out in the alkali, the antelope by scores and hundreds, only a little way off, a sort of color between cinnamon and amber in the morning sun, transparent and phantom-like, with pale legs. Only a little way off. Eyes closed, I watched them, as in 1885 with open ones I beheld them first from the train. Now they were running; I saw the bobbing dots of their white receding rears, and through me passed the ghost of that first thrill at first seeing antelope yesterday—it seemed yesterday: only a little way off. I opened my eyes; there was the train as it ought to look, there were the plains, the alkali, the dry gullies, the mounds, the flats, the enormous sunlight, the virgin air like the first five measures of Lohengrin—but where were the antelope? So natural did everything continue to look, surely they must be just over that next rise! No; over the one beyond that? No; only a little, little way off, but gone for evermore! And magic smote me once again through the window. Thousands of cattle were there, with horsemen. Were they not there? Not over the next rise? No; gone for evermore. What was this magic that came in through the window? The smell of the sage-brush. After several years it was greeting me again. All day long it breathed a welcome and a sigh, as if the desert whispered: Yes, I look as if I were here; but I am a ghost, too, there’s no coming back. All day long the whiffs of sage-brush conjured old sights before me, till my heart ran over with homesickness for what was no more, and the desert seemed to whisper: It’s not I you’re seeking, you’re straining your eyes to see yourself,—you as you were in your early twenties, with your illusion that I, the happy hunting-ground of your young irresponsibility, was going to be permanent. You must shut your eyes to see yourself and me and the antelope as we all used to be. Why, if Adam and Eve had evaded the angel and got back into the garden, do you think they would have found it the same after Cain and Abel? Thus moralized the desert, and I thought, How many things we have to shut our eyes to see!
Permanent! Living men, not very old yet, have seen the Indian on the war-path, the buffalo stopping the train, the cow-boy driving his cattle, the herder watching his sheep, the government irrigation dam, and the automobile—have seen every one of these slides which progress puts for a moment into its magic-lantern and removes to replace with a new one. The final tale in this book could not possibly have happened in the day of the first tale, although scarcely twenty years separate the new, present Wyoming from that cow-boy Wyoming which then flourished so boisterously, and is now like the antelope. Steam and electricity make short work of epochs. We don’t know how many centuries the Indian and the buffalo enjoyed before the trapper and pioneer arrived. These latter had fifty or sixty good years of it, pushing westward until no west was left to push to; a little beyond Ogden in 1869, the driving of that golden spike which riveted the rails between New York and San Francisco, rang out the old, rang in the new, and progress began to work its magic-lantern faster. The soldier of the frontier, the frontier post—gone; the cattle-range—gone; the sheep episode just come, yet going already, or at any rate already mixed, diluted, with the farm, the truck garden, the poultry yard, the wife, the telephone, the summer boarder, and the Victor playing the latest Broadway “records” in valleys where the august wilderness reigned silent—yesterday. The nomadic, bachelor West is over, the housed, married West is established. This rush of change, this speed we live at everywhere (only faster in some places than in others) has led some one to remark sententiously that when a Western baby is born, it immediately makes its will, while when a New York baby is born, it merely applies for a divorce.
But what changes can ever efface that early vision which began with the antelope? Wyoming burst upon the tenderfoot resplendent, like all the story-books, like Cooper and Irving and Parkman come true again; here, actually going on, was that something which the boy runs away from school to find, that land safe and far from Monday morning, nine o’clock, and the spelling-book; here was Saturday eternal, where you slept out-of-doors, hunted big animals, rode a horse, roped steers, and wore deadly weapons. Make no mistake: fire-arms were at times practical and imperative, but this was not the whole reason for sporting them on your hip; you had escaped from civilization’s school-room, an air never breathed before filled your lungs, and you were become one large shout of joy. College-boy, farm-boy, street-boy, this West melted you all down to the same first principles. Were you seeking fortune? Perhaps, incidentally, but money was not the point; you had escaped from school. This holiday was leavened by hard bodily work, manly deeds, and deeds heroic, and beneath all the bright brave ripple moved the ground-swell of tragedy. Something of promise, also, was in the air, promise of a democracy which the East had missed:—
“With no spread-eagle brag do I gather conviction each year that we Americans, judged not hastily, are sound at heart, kind, courageous, often of the truest delicacy, and always ultimately of excellent good sense. With such belief, or, rather, knowledge, it is sorrowful to see our fatal complacence, our as yet undisciplined folly, in sending to our State Legislatures and to that general business office of ours at Washington, a herd of mismanagers that seems each year to grow more inefficient and contemptible, whether branded Republican or Democrat. But I take heart, because oftener and oftener I hear upon my journey the citizens high and low muttering, ‘There’s too much politics in this country’; and we shake hands.”
Such “insurgent” sentiments did I in 1895, some time before insurgency’s day, speak out in the preface to my first book of Western tales; to-day my faith begins to be justified. In the West, where the heart of our country has been this long while, and where the head may be pretty soon, the citizens are awakening to the fact that our first century of “self” government merely substituted the divine right of corporations for the divine right of Kings. Surprising it is not, that a people whose genius for machinery has always been paramount should expect more from constitutions and institutions than these mere mechanisms of government can of themselves perform; the initiative, referendum, and recall are excellent inventions, but if left to run alone, as all our other patent devices have been, they will grind out nothing for us: By his very creed is the American dedicated to eternal vigilance. This we forgot for so long that learning it anew is both painful and slow. We have further to remember that prosperity is something of a curse in disguise; it is the poor governments in history that have always been the purest; where there is much to steal, there will be many to steal it. We must discern, too, the illusion of “natural rights,” once an inspiration, now a shell from which life has passed on into new formulas. A “right” has no existence, save in its potential exercise; it does not proceed from within, it is permitted from without, and “natural rights” is a phrase empty of other meaning than to denote whatever primitive or acquired inclinations of man each individual is by common consent allowed to realize. These permissions have varied, and will vary, with the ages. Polygamy would be called a natural right now in some parts of the world; to the criminal and the diseased one wife will presently be forbidden in many places. Let this single illustration serve. No argument based upon the dogmatic premise of natural rights can end anywhere save in drifting fog. We see this whenever a meeting of anarchists leads a judge or an editor into the trap of attempting to define the “right” of free speech. In fact, all government, all liberty, reduces itself to one man saying to another: You may do this; but if you do that, I will kill you. This power Democracy vests in “the people,” and our final lesson to learn is that in a Democracy there is no such separate thing as “the people”; all of us are the people. Truly his creed compels the American to eternal vigilance! Will he learn to live up to it?
From the West the tenderfoot took home with him the health he had sought, and an enthusiasm his friends fled from; what was Wyoming to them or they to Wyoming? In 1885 the Eastern notion of the West was “Alkali Ike” and smoking pistols. No kind of serious art had presented the frontier as yet. Fresh visits but served to deepen the tenderfoot’s enthusiasm and whet his impatience that so much splendid indigenous material should literally be wasting its sweetness on the desert air. It is likely always to be true that in each hundred of mankind ninety-nine can see nothing new until the hundredth shakes it in their faces—and he must keep shaking it. No plan of shaking was yet in the tenderfoot’s mind, he was dedicated to other calling; but he besieged the ears of our great painter and our great novelist. He told the painter of the strong, strange shapes of the buttes, the epic landscape, the color, the marvellous light, the red men blanketed, the white men in chapareros, the little bronze Indian children; particularly does he recall—in 1887 or 1888—an occasion about two o’clock in the morning in a certain beloved club in Boston, when he had been preaching to the painter. A lesser painter (he is long dead) sat by, unbelieving. No, he said, don’t go. I’m sure it’s all crude, repulsive, no beauty. But John Sargent did believe. Other work waited him; his path lay elsewhere, he said, but he was sure the tenderfoot spoke truth. Other work awaited the novelist, too; both painter and novelist were wiser than to leave what they knew to be their own for unknown fields. But would no one, then, disperse the Alkali Ikes and bring the West into American art and letters?
It was a happy day for the tenderfoot when he read the first sage-brush story by Mary Hallock Foote. At last a voice was lifted to honor the cattle country and not to libel it. Almost at the same moment Charles King opened for us the door upon frontier military life. He brought spirited army scenes to our ken, Mrs. Foote more generally clothed the civilian frontier with serious and tender art. They (so far as I know) were the first that ever burst into that silent sea. Next, Mr. Roosevelt began to publish his vivid, robust accounts of Montana life. But words alone, no matter how skilfully used, were not of themselves adequate to present to the public a picture so strange and new. Another art was needed, and most luckily the man with the seeing eye and shaping hand arrived.
A monument to Frederic Remington will undoubtedly rise some day; the artist who more than any one has gathered up in a grand grasp an entire era of this country’s history, and handed it down visible, living, picturesque, for coming generations to see—such man will have a monument. But in the manner of commemorating national benefactors, I would we resembled the French who celebrate their great ones—not soldiers and statesmen alone, but all their great ones—by naming public places in their honor: the Quai Voltaire, the Rue Bizet, the Rue Auber—to mention the first that come to memory. Everywhere in France you will meet with these instances of a good custom. In this country we seem to value even third-rate politicians more than first-rate men of art and letters. If Paris can by her streets perpetuate the memory of the composers of Carmen and Fra Diavolo, would it not be fitting that Denver, Cheyenne, Tucson, and other western cities, should have a Remington street? I am glad I did not wait until he was dead to pay my tribute to him. The two opportunities that came to me in his life I took, nor has my opinion of his work changed since then. If he never quite found himself in color, he was an incomparable draftsman; best of all, he was a great wholesome force making for independence, and he taught to our over-imitative American painters the needed lesson that their own country furnishes subjects as worthy as any that Delacroix or Millet ever saw. I have lived to see what I did not expect, the desert on canvas; for which I thank Fernand Lungren. Tributes to the dead seem late to me, and I shall take this chance to acknowledge my debt to some more of the living.
Four years after that night vigil with Sargent, the tenderfoot had still written no word about the West. It was in 1891, after repeated sojournings in camp, ranch, and military post, that his saturation with the whole thing ran over, so to speak, in the form of fiction. Writing had been a constant pastime since the school paper; in 1884 Mr. Howells (how kind he was!) had felt my literary pulse and pronounced it promising; a quickening came from the pages of Stevenson; a far stronger shove next from the genius of Plain Tales from the Hills; during an unusually long and broad wandering through the Platte valley, Powder River, Buffalo, Cheyenne, Fort Washakie, Jackson’s Hole, and the Park, the final push happened to be given by Prosper Mérimée; I had the volume containing Carmen with me. After reading it in the Park I straightway invented a traveller’s tale. This was written down after I got home—I left some good company at a club dinner table one night to go off to a lonely library and begin it. A second followed, both were sent to Franklin Square and accepted by Mr. Alden. Then I found my pretty faithfully-kept Western diaries (they would now fill a shelf) to be a reservoir of suggestion—and at times a source of despair; as, for instance, when I unearthed the following abbreviations: Be sure to remember Green-hides—perpendicular—sediment—Tuesdays as a rule.
Aware of Mérimée’snot highly expansive nature, I should hesitate, were he alive, to disclose my debt to his Carmen—my favorite of all short stories; but Mr. Howells and Mr. Kipling will be indulgent, and there is another who will have to bear with my gratitude. In 1896 I sat with him and he went over my first book, patiently, minutely pointing out many things. Everything that he said I could repeat this moment, and his own pages have continued to give me hints without end. That the pupil in one or two matters ventures to disagree with his benefactor may be from much lingering ignorance, or because no two ever think wholly alike: tot homines quot sententiæ, as the Latin grammar used so incontrovertibly to remark. It is significant to note how this master seems to be teaching a numerous young generation. Often do I pick up some popular magazine and read a story (one even of murder, it may be, in tropic seas or city slums) where some canny bit of foreshortening, of presentation, reveals the spreading influence, and I say, Ah, my friend, never would you have found out how to do that if Henry James hadn’t set you thinking!
It can happen, says Montesquieu, that the individual through pursuing his own welfare contributes to the general good; Mr. Herbert Croly admirably and sagaciously applies this thought to the case of the artist and the writer. Their way to be worthy citizens and serve the State, he says, is to see to it that their work be reverently thorough, for thus they set high the standard of national excellence. To which I would add, that a writer can easily take himself too seriously, but he can never take his art too seriously. In our country, the painter and writer have far outstripped the working-man in their ideal of honest work. This is (partly) because painter and writer have to turn out a good product to survive, while the working-man manages to survive with the least possible of personal effort and skill. Did I offer my publisher such work as the plumber and carpenter offer me, I should feel myself disgraced. Are we to see the day when the slovenly, lazy poet shall enact that the careful, industrious poet must work no longer and sell no more than he?
Editors have at times lamented to me that good work isn’t distinguished from bad by our multifarious millions. I have the happiness to know the editors to be wrong. Let the subject of a piece of fiction contain a simple, broad appeal, and the better its art, the greater its success; although the noble army of readers will not suspect that their pleasure is largely due to the skill. Such a book as The Egoist, where the subject is rarefied and complex, of course no height of art will render acceptable, save to the rehearsed few. Thanks to certain of our more robust editors, the noble army grows daily more rehearsed, reads “harder” books than it did, accepts plainer speech and wider range of subject than the skittish spinster generation of a while ago. But mark here an underlying principle. The plain speech in Richardson was in his day nothing to start back from; to-day it is inhibited by a change in our circumambient reticence. The circumambient reticence varies in degree with each race, and almost with every generation of each race. Something like a natural law, it sets the limits for what can be said aloud in grown-up company—and Art is speaking aloud in grown-up company; it consists no more of the professional secrets of the doctor than it does of the prattle of the nursery. Its business is indeed to take notice of everything in life, but always subject to the circumambient reticence. Those gentlemen (and ladies) who utter that gaseous shibboleth about Art for Art (as well cry Beefsteak for Beefsteak) and would have our books and plays be foul because Ben Jonson frequently was and Anatole France frequently is, are out of their reckoning; and generally they may be suspected not so much of an abstract passion for truth as of a concrete letch for animalism. Almost the only advice for the beginner is, Clearly feel what you intend to express, and then go ahead, listening to nobody, unless to one who also perceives clearly your intention. Great and small things does this rule fit. Once in an early tale I sought to make our poor alphabet express the sound of cow-bells, and I wrote that they tankled on the hillside. In the margin I stated my spelling to be intentional. Back it came in the galley, tinkled. A revised proof being necessary, I restored my word with emphasis—and lo, tinkle was returned me again. I appealed to the veteran and well-loved sage at the head of Harper’s Magazine. He supported me. Well, in the new Oxford dictionary, behold Tankle and me, two flies in amber, perpetuated by that Supreme Court; I have coined a new acknowledged word for the English language. This should not be told, but for its small moral, and if I could not render a final set of thanks to the living. Countless blunders have been saved me by the watchful eye of the printer and proofreader, those friends I never see, whose names I do not know. For twenty years they have marked places where through carelessness or fatigue I have slipped; may some of them know through this page that I appreciate their service.
This book is three years late; the first tale designed for it was published in 1901. Its follower should even now be ready. It is not yet begun; it exists merely in notes and intentions. Give me health and a day, sighs Emerson; and I am sorry for all who have to say that. When you see the new moon over your left shoulder, wish always for health; never mind all the other things. I own to an attachment for the members of this family; I would fain follow their lives a little more, into twentieth century Wyoming, which knows not the cow-boy, and where the cow-boy feels at times more lost than ever he was on the range. Of all the ills that harass writing, plans deferred seem at times the worst; yet great pleasures offset them—the sight of one’s pages in a foreign tongue, meeting horses in the Rocky Mountains named after the members of one’s family, being asked from across the world for further news of some member. Lately a suggestion full of allurement came from one who had read of Sir Francis, the duchess, and the countess, in the Saturday Evening Post. (There, by the way, is an intrepid editor!) Why not add, said the reader, a third lady to the group in Jimsy’s pond, and see what they would all do then? Only consider the possibilities! But I dare not. Life, without whose gifts none of us could have a story to tell—not even Scheherezadè—life presented to me Sir Francis and his adoring household. Never could I risk trusting to invention in a matter so delicate. Would the duchess and the countess unite to draw the line at the added sister? Would Sir Francis rise to the emergency? And if so, what line would he take? The added sister might prove a lamb, a minx, or a vixen. You see the possibilities. Dearly should I like to return this summer to the singing waters of Buffalo Horn, and place a third lady in that pond of Jimsy’s; then we might have another story if others are ever to be. My science in the third tale is of course out of date; since Kelvin, energy is immortal no longer, and a lower form of it was transmitted to the Secretary than was originally stored in Captain Stone.
Scipio Le Moyne lay in bed, held together with bandages. His body had need for many bandages. A Bar-Circle-Zee three-year-old had done him violent mischief at the forks of Stinking Water. But for the fence, Scipio might have swung clear of the wild, rearing animal. When they lifted his wrecked frame from the ground one of them had said:—
“A spade’s all he’ll need now.”
Overhearing this with some still unconquered piece of his mind, Scipio made one last remark: “I ain’t going to die for years and years.”
Upon this his head had rolled over, and no further statements came from him for—I forget how long. Yet somehow, we all believed that last remark of his.
“Since I’ve known him,” said the Virginian, “I have found him a truthful man.”
“Which don’t mean,” Honey Wiggin put in, “that he can’t lie when he ought to.”
Judge Henry always sent his hurt cow-punchers to the nearest surgical aid, which in this case was the hospital on the reservation. Here then, one afternoon, Scipio lay, his body still bound tight at a number of places, but his brain needing no bandages whatever; he was able to see one friend for a little while each day. It was almost time for this day’s visitor to go, and the visitor looked at his watch.
“Oh, don’t do that!” pleaded the man in bed. “I’m not sick any more.”
“You will be sick some more if you keep talking,” replied the Virginian.
“Thinkin’ is a heap more dangerous, if y’u can’t let it out,” Scipio urged. “I’m not half through tellin’ y’u about Horacles.”
“Did his mother name him that?” inquired the Virginian.
“Naw! But his mother brought it on him. Didn’t y’u know? Of course you don’t often get so far north in the Basin as the Agency. His name is Horace Pericles Byram. Well, the Agent wasn’t going to call his assistant store-clerk all that, y’u know, not even if he has got an uncle in the Senate of the United States. Couldn’t spare the time. Days not long enough. Not even in June. So everybody calls him Horacles now. He’s reconciled to it. But I ain’t. It’s too good for him. A heap too good. I’ve knowed him all my life, and I can’t think of a name that’s not less foolish than he is. Well, where was I? I was tellin’ y’u how back in Gallipoleece he couldn’t understand anything. Not dogs. Not horses. Not girls.”
“Do you understand girls?” the Virginian interrupted.
“Better’n Horacles. Well, now it seems he can’t understand Indians. Here he is sellin’ goods to ’em across the counter at the Agency store. I could sell twiced what he does, from what they tell me. I guess the Agent has begun to discover what a trick the Uncle played him when he unloaded Horacles on him. Now why did the Uncle do that?”
Scipio stopped in his rambling discourse, and his brows knitted as he began to think about the Uncle. The Virginian once again looked at his watch, but Scipio, deep in his thoughts, did not notice him. “Uncle,” he resumed to himself, half aloud, “Uncle was the damnedest scoundrel in Gallipoleece.—Say!” he exclaimed suddenly, and made an eager movement to sit up. “Oh Lord!” he groaned, sinking back. “I forgot.—What’s your hurry?”
But the Virginian had seen the pain transfix his friend’s face, and though that face had instantly smiled, it was white. He stood up. “I’d ought to get kicked from here to the ranch,” he said, remorsefully. “I’ll get the doctor.”
Vainly the man in bed protested; his visitor was already at the door.
“I’ve not told y’u about his false teeth!” shrieked Scipio, hoping this would detain him. “And he does tricks with a rabbit and a bowl of fish.”
But the guest was gone. In his place presently the Post surgeon came, and was not pleased. Indeed, this excellent army doctor swore. Still, it was not the first time that he had done so, nor did it prove the last; and Scipio, it soon appeared, had given himself no hurt. But in answer to a severe threat, he whined:—
“Oh, ain’t y’u goin’ to let me see him to-morro’?”
“You’ll see nobody to-morrow except me.”
“Well, that’ll be seein’ nobody,” whined Scipio, more grievously.
The doctor grinned. “In some ways you’re incurable. Better go to sleep now.” And he left him.
Scipio did not go to sleep then, though by morning he had slept ten healthful hours, waking with the Uncle still at the centre of his thoughts. It made him again knit his brows.
“No, you can’t see him to-day,” said the doctor, in reply to a request.
“But I hadn’t finished sayin’ something to him,” Scipio protested. “And I’m well enough to see my dead grandmother.”
“That I’ll not forbid,” answered the doctor. And he added that the Virginian had gone back to Sunk Creek with some horses.
“Oh, yes,” said Scipio. “I’d forgot. Well, he’ll be coming through on his way to Billings next week. You been up to the Agency lately? Yesterday? Well, there’s going to be something new happen. Agent seem worried or anything?”
“Not that I noticed. Are the Indians going on the war-path?”
“Nothing like that. But why does a senator of the United States put his nephew in that store? Y’u needn’t to tell me it’s to provide for him, for it don’t provide. I thought I had it figured out last night, but Horacles don’t fit. I can’t make him fit. He don’t understand Injuns. That’s my trouble. Now the Uncle must know Horacles don’t understand. But if he didn’t know?” pursued Scipio, and fell to thinking.
“Well,” said the doctor indulgently, as he rose, “it’s good you can invent these romances. Keeps you from fretting, shut up here alone.”
“There’d be no romances here,” retorted Scipio. “Uncle is exclusively hard cash.” The doctor departed.
At his visit next morning, he was pleased with his patient’s condition. “Keep on,” said he, “and I’ll let you sit up Monday for ten minutes. Any more romances?”
“Been thinkin’ of my past life,” said Scipio.
The doctor laughed long. “Why, how old are you, anyhow?” he asked at length.
“Oh, there’s some lovely years still to come before I’m thirty. But I’ve got a whole lot of past life, all the same.” Then he pointed a solemn, oracular finger at the doctor. “What white man savvys the Injun? Not you. Not me. And I’ve drifted around some, too. The map of the United States has been my home. Been in Arizona and New Mexico and among the Siwashes—seen all kinds of Injun—but I don’t savvy ’em. I know most any Injun’s better’n most any white man till he meets the white man. Not smarter, y’u know, but better. And I do know this: You take an Injun and let him be a warrior and a chief and a grandfather who has killed heaps of white men in his day—but all that don’t make him grown up. Not like we’re grown up. He stays a child in some respects till he’s dead. He’ll believe things and be scared at things that ain’t nothin’ to you and me. You take Old High Bear right on this reservation. He’s got hair like snow and eyes like an eagle’s and he can sing a war-song about fights that happened when our fathers were kids. But if you want to deal with him, you got to remember he’s a child of five.”
“I do know all this,” said the doctor, interested. “I’ve not been twenty years on the frontier for nothing.”
“Horacles don’t know it,” said Scipio. “I’ve saw him in the store all season.”
“Well,” said the doctor, “see you to-morrow. I’ve some new patients in the ward.”
“Guess I know why they’re here.”
“Oh, yes,” sighed the doctor. “You know. Few come here for any other reason.” The doctor held views about how a military post should be regulated, which popular sentiment will never share. “Can I do anything for you?” he inquired.
“If I could have some newspapers?” said Scipio.
“Why didn’t you tell me before?” said the doctor. After that he saw to it that Scipio had them liberally.
With newspapers the patient sat surrounded deep, when the Virginian, passing north on his way to Billings, looked in for a moment to give his friend the good word. That is what he came for, but what he said was:—
“So he has got false teeth?”
Scipio, hearing the voice at the door, looked over the top of his paper at the visitor.
“Yes,” he replied, precisely as if the visitor had never been out of the room.
“What d’ y’u know?” inquired the Virginian.
“Nothing; what do you?”
After all, such brief greetings cover the ground.
“Better sit down,” suggested Scipio.
The Virginian sat, and took up a paper. Thus for a little while they both read in silence.
“Did y’u stop at the Agency as y’u came along?” asked Scipio, not looking up from his paper.
There was silence again as they continued reading. The Virginian, just come from Sunk Creek, had seen no newspapers as recent as these. When two friends on meeting after absence can sit together for half an hour without a word passing between them, it is proof that they really enjoy each other’s company. The gentle air came in the window, bringing the tonic odor of the sage-brush. Outside the window stretched a yellow world to distant golden hills. The talkative voice of a magpie somewhere near at hand was the only sound.
“Nothing in the newspapers in particular,” said Scipio, finally.
“You expaictin’ something particular?” the Virginian asked.
“Mind sayin’ what it is?”
“Wish I knew what it is.”
“Always him—and Uncle. I’d like to spot Uncle.”
Mess call sounded from the parade ground. It recalled the flight of time to the Virginian.
“When you get back from Billings,” said Scipio, “you’re liable to find me up and around.”
“Hope so. Maybe you’ll be well enough to go with me to the ranch.”
But when the Virginian returned, a great deal had happened all at once, as is the custom of events.
Scipio’s vigorous convalescence brought him in the next few days to sitting about in the open air, and then enlarged his freedom to a crutch. He hobbled hither and yon, paying visits, many of them to the doctor. The doctor it was, and no newspaper, who gave to Scipio the first grain of that “something particular” which he had been daily seeking and never found. He mentioned a new building that was being put up rather far away down in the corner of the reservation. The rumor in the air was that it had something to do with the Quartermaster’s department. The odd thing was that the Quartermaster himself had heard nothing about it. The Agent up at the Agency store considered this extremely odd. But a profound absence of further explanations seemed to prevail. What possible need for a building was there at that inconvenient, isolated spot?
Scipio slapped his leg. “I guess what y’u call my romance is about to start.”
“Well,” the doctor admitted, “it may be. Curious things are done upon Indian reservations. Our management of them may be likened to putting the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments into a bag and crushing them to powder. Let our statesmen at Washington get their hands on an Indian reservation, and not even honor among thieves remains.”
“Say, doc,” said Scipio, “when d’ y’u guess I can get off?”
“Don’t be in too much of a hurry,” the doctor cautioned him. “If you go to Sunk Creek—”
“Sunk Creek! I only want to go to the Agency.”
“Oh, well, you could do that to-day—but don’t you want to see the entertainment? Conjuring tricks are promised.”
“I want to see Horacles.”
“But he is the entertainment. Supper comes after he’s through.”
Scipio stayed. He was not repaid, he thought. “A poor show,” was his comment as he went to bed. He came later to be very glad indeed that he had gone to that entertainment.
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