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Title: The River and I
Author: Neihardt, John G., 1881-1973
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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list of these is found at the end of the book.



THE RIVER AND I



_Other Books by_
JOHN G. NEIHARDT

INDIAN TALES AND OTHERS
POETIC VALUES
THE QUEST
THE SONG OF HUGH GLASS
THE SONG OF THE INDIAN WARS
THE SONG OF THREE FRIENDS
THE SPLENDID WAYFARING
TWO MOTHERS
COLLECTED POEMS



[Illustration: NIGHT IN CAMP.]



                 THE
              RIVER AND
                  I



                  BY
           JOHN G. NEIHARDT



             _Illustrated
              New Edition_



               New York
         THE MACMILLAN COMPANY
                 1927
         _All rights reserved_



           COPYRIGHT, 1910,
         BY JOHN G. NEIHARDT.

       Set up and electrotyped.
Reissued in new format, October, 1927.



PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
         BY THE CORNWALL PRESS



                  TO
               MY MOTHER



NOTE


The following account of a youthful adventure was written during the
winter of 1908, ran as a serial in _Putnam's Magazine_ the following
year, and appeared as a book in 1910, five years before "The Song of
Hugh Glass," the first piece of my Western Cycle. Many who have cared
for my narrative poems, feeling the relation between those and this
earlier avowal of an old love, have urged that "The River and I" be
reprinted.

J.G.N.

St. Louis, 1927.



CONTENTS


CHAPTER                                          PAGE
   I. THE RIVER OF AN UNWRITTEN EPIC                1

  II. SIXTEEN MILES OF AWE                         22

 III. HALF-WAY TO THE MOON                         40

  IV. MAKING A GETAWAY                             65

   V. THROUGH THE REGION OF WEIR                   84

  VI. GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS                    113

 VII. ON TO THE YELLOWSTONE                       137

VIII. DOWN FROM THE YELLOWSTONE                   165



ILLUSTRATIONS

Night in Camp                               _Frontispiece_
                                              FACING PAGE
"Off on the Perilous Floods"                        6
Barriers Formed before Him                          7
The Boats Wrecked in an Ice Gorge                   7
After the Spring Break-Up                          18
"Hole-in-the-Wall" Rock on the Upper Missouri      19
Palisades of the Upper Missouri                    19
Great Falls from Cliff Above                       30
Great Falls from the Front                         31
"This was Benton"                                  52
Ruins of Old Fort Benton                           52
The House of the Bourgeois                         53
A Round-Up Outfit on the March                     62
Joe                                                62
Montana Sheep                                      63
A Montana Wool-Freighter                           63
The "Atom I" under Construction                    74
The Cable Ferry Towed Us Out                       74
Laid Up with a Broken Rudder                       75
"Atom" Sailing Up-Stream in a Head Wind            86
Typical Rapids on Upper Missouri                   87
Wolf Point, the First Town in 500 Miles            98
Entrance to the Bad Lands                          99
Fresh Meat!                                       110
Supper!                                           111
"Walking" Boats over Shallows                     126
Typical Upper Missouri River Reach                126
The Mouth of the James                            127
Reveille!                                         142
The Pen and Key Ranch                             143
Assiniboine Indian Chief                          154
Assiniboine Indian Camp                           155
On the Hurricane Deck of the "Expansion";
    Capt. Marsh Third from the Left               166
Fort Union in 1837                                167
Site of Old Fort Union                            167
Boats Laid Up for the Winter at Washburn, N.D.    178
Washburn, N.D.                                    178
The Landing at Bismarck, N.D.                     179
The Yankton Landing in the Old Days               192
"Atom II" Landing at Sioux City                   193



THE RIVER AND I



THE RIVER AND I


CHAPTER I

THE RIVER OF AN UNWRITTEN EPIC


It was Carlyle--was it not?--who said that all great works produce an
unpleasant impression on first acquaintance. It is so with the Missouri
River. Carlyle was not, I think, speaking of rivers; but he was speaking
of masterpieces--and so am I.

It makes little difference to me whether or not an epic goes at a
hexameter gallop through the ages, or whether it chooses to be a flood
of muddy water, ripping out a channel from the mountains to the sea. It
is merely a matter of how the great dynamic force shall express itself.

I have seen trout streams that I thought were better lyrics than I or
any of my fellows can ever hope to create. I have heard the moaning of
rain winds among mountain pines that struck me as being equal, at least,
to _Adonais_. I have seen the solemn rearing of a mountain peak into the
pale dawn that gave me a deep religious appreciation of my significance
in the Grand Scheme, as though I had heard and understood a parable from
the holy lips of an Avatar. And the vast plains of my native country are
as a mystic scroll unrolled, scrawled with a cabalistic writ of infinite
things.

In the same sense, I have come to look upon the Missouri as something
more than a stream of muddy water. It gave me my first big boy dreams.
It was my ocean. I remember well the first time I looked upon my
turbulent friend, who has since become as a brother to me. It was from a
bluff at Kansas City. I know I must have been a very little boy, for the
terror I felt made me reach up to the saving forefinger of my father,
lest this insane devil-thing before me should suddenly develop an
unreasoning hunger for little boys. My father seemed as tall as
Alexander--and quite as courageous. He seemed to fear it almost not at
all. And I should have felt little surprise had he taken me in his arms
and stepped easily over that mile or so of liquid madness. He talked
calmly about it--quite calmly. He explained at what angle one should
hold one's body in the current, and how one should conduct one's legs
and arms in the whirlpools, providing one should swim across.

_Swim across!_ Why, it took a giant even to talk that way! For the
summer had smitten the distant mountains, and the June floods ran. Far
across the yellow swirl that spread out into the wooded bottom-lands, we
watched the demolition of a little town. The siege had reached the
proper stage for a sally, and the attacking forces were howling over the
walls. The sacking was in progress. Shacks, stores, outhouses suddenly
developed a frantic desire to go to St. Louis. It was a weird retreat in
very bad order. A cottage with a garret window that glared like the eye
of a Cyclops, trembled, rocked with the athletic lift of the flood, made
a panicky plunge into a convenient tree; groaned, dodged, and took off
through the brush like a scared cottontail. I felt a boy's pity and
sympathy for those houses that got up and took to their legs across the
yellow waste. It did not seem fair. I have since experienced the same
feeling for a jack-rabbit with the hounds a-yelp at its heels.

But--to _swim_ this thing! To fight this cruel, invulnerable, resistless
giant that went roaring down the world with a huge uprooted oak tree in
its mouth for a toothpick! This yellow, sinuous beast with hell-broth
slavering from its jaws! This dare-devil boy-god that sauntered along
with a town in its pocket, and a steepled church under its arm for a
moment's toy! Swim _this_?

For days I marvelled at the magnificence of being a fullgrown man,
unafraid of big rivers.

But the first sight of the Missouri River was not enough for me. There
was a dreadful fascination about it--the fascination of all huge and
irresistible things. I had caught my first wee glimpse into the
infinite; I was six years old.

Many a lazy Sunday stroll took us back to the river; and little by
little the dread became less, and the wonder grew--and a little love
crept in. In my boy heart I condoned its treachery and its giant sins.
For, after all, it sinned through excess of strength, not through
weakness. And that is the eternal way of virile things. We watched the
steamboats loading for what seemed to me far distant ports. (How the
world shrinks!) A double stream of "roosters" coming and going at a
dog-trot rushed the freight aboard; and at the foot of the gang-plank
the mate swore masterfully while the perspiration dripped from the point
of his nose.

And then--the raucous whistles blew. They reminded me of the lions
roaring at the circus. The gang-plank went up, the hawsers went in. The
snub nose of the steamer swung out with a quiet majesty. Now she feels
the urge of the flood, and yields herself to it, already dwindled to
half her size. The pilot turns his wheel--he looks very big and quiet
and masterful up there. The boat veers round; bells jangle. And now the
engine wakens in earnest. She breathes with spurts of vapor!

Breathed? No, it was sighing; for about it all clung an inexplicable
sadness for me--the sadness that clings about all strong and beautiful
things that must leave their moorings and go very, very far away. (I
have since heard it said that river boats are not beautiful!) My throat
felt as though it had smoke in it. I felt that this queenly thing really
wanted to stay; for far down the muddy swirl where she dwindled,
dwindled, I heard her sobbing hoarsely.

Off on the perilous flood for "faërie lands forlorn"! It made the world
seem almost empty and very lonesome.

And then the dog-days came, and I saw my river tawny, sinewy, gaunt--a
half-starved lion. The long dry bars were like the protruding ribs of
the beast when the prey is scarce, and the ropy main current was like
the lean, terrible muscles of its back.

In the spring it had roared; now it only purred. But all the while I
felt in it a dreadful economy of force, just as I have since felt it in
the presence of a great lean jungle-cat at the zoo. Here was a thing
that crouched and purred--a mewing but terrific thing. Give it an
obstacle to overcome--fling it something to devour; and lo! the crushing
impact of its leap!

And then again I saw it lying very quietly in the clutch of a bitter
winter--an awful hush upon it, and the white cerement of the snow flung
across its face. And yet, this did not seem like death; for still one
felt in it the subtle influence of a tremendous personality. It slept,
but sleeping it was still a giant. It seemed that at any moment the
sleeper might turn over, toss the white cover aside and, yawning,
saunter down the valley with its thunderous seven-league boots. And
still, back and forth across this heavy sleeper went the pigmy wagons of
the farmers taking corn to market!

[Illustration: "OFF ON THE PERILOUS FLOODS."]

[Illustration: BARRIERS FORMED BEFORE HIM.]

[Illustration: THE BOATS WRECKED IN AN ICE GORGE.]

But one day in March the far-flung arrows of the geese went over. _Honk!
honk!_ A vague, prophetic sense crept into the world out of
nowhere--part sound, part scent, and yet too vague for either. Sap
seeped from the maples. Weird mist-things went moaning through the
night. And then, for the first time, I saw my big brother win a fight!

For days, strange premonitory noises had run across the shivering
surface of the ice. Through the foggy nights, a muffled intermittent
booming went on under the wild scurrying stars. Now and then a staccato
crackling ran up the icy reaches of the river, like the sequent
bickering of Krags down a firing line. Long seams opened in the
disturbed surface, and from them came a harsh sibilance as of a line of
cavalry unsheathing sabres.

But all the while, no show of violence--only the awful quietness with
deluge potential in it. The lion was crouching for the leap.

Then one day under the warm sun a booming as of distant big guns began.
Faster and louder came the dull shaking thunders, and passed swiftly up
and down, drawling into the distance. Fissures yawned, and the sound of
the grumbling black water beneath came up. Here and there the surface
lifted--bent--broke with shriekings, groanings, thunderings. And
then----

The giant turned over, yawned and got to his feet, flinging his arms
about him! Barriers formed before him. Confidently he set his massive
shoulders against them--smashed them into little blocks, and went on
singing, shouting, toward the sea. It was a glorious victory. It made me
very proud of my big brother. And yet all the while I dreaded him--just
as I dread the caged tiger that I long to caress because he is so strong
and so beautiful.

Since then I have changed somewhat, though I am hardly as tall, and
certainly not so courageous as Alexander. But I have felt the sinews of
the old yellow giant tighen about my naked body. I have been bent upon
his hip. I have presumed to throw against his Titan strength the craft
of man. I have often swum in what seemed liquid madness to my boyhood.
And we have become acquainted through battle. No friends like fair foes
reconciled!

And I have been panting on his bars, while all about me went the lisping
laughter of my brother. For he has the strength of a god, the headlong
temper of a comet; but along with these he has the glad, mad,
irresponsible spirit of a boy. Thus ever are the epic things.

The Missouri is unique among rivers. I think God wished to teach the
beauty of a virile soul fighting its way toward peace--and His precept
was the Missouri. To me, the Amazon is a basking alligator; the Tiber is
a dream of dead glory; the Rhine is a fantastic fairy-tale; the Nile a
mummy, periodically resurrected; the Mississippi, a convenient
geographical boundary line; the Hudson, an epicurean philosopher.

But the Missouri--my brother--is the eternal Fighting Man!

I love things that yearn toward far seas: the singing Tennysonian brooks
that flow by "Philip's farm" but "go on forever"; the little Ik Walton
rivers, where one may "study to be quiet and go a-fishing"! The
Babylonian streams by which we have all pined in captivity; the
sentimental Danube's which we can never forget because of "that night in
June"; and at a very early age I had already developed a decent respect
for the verbose manner in which the "waters come down at Lodore."

But the Missouri is more than a sentiment--even more than an epic. It is
the symbol of my own soul, which is, I surmise, not unlike other souls.
In it I see flung before me all the stern world-old struggle become
materialized. Here is the concrete representation of the earnest desire,
the momentarily frustrate purpose, the beating at the bars, the
breathless fighting of the half-whipped but never-to-be-conquered
spirit, the sobbing of the wind-broken runner, the anger, the madness,
the laughter. And in it all the unwearying urge of a purpose, the
unswerving belief in the peace of a far away ocean.

If in a moment of despair I should reel for a breathing space away from
the fight, with no heart for battle-cries, and with only a desire to
pray, I could do it in no better manner than to lift my arms above the
river and cry out into the big spaces: "You who somehow
understand--behold this river! It expresses what is voiceless in me. It
prays for me!"

Not only in its physical aspect does the Missouri appeal to the
imagination. From Three Forks to its mouth--a distance of three thousand
miles--this zigzag watercourse is haunted with great memories. Perhaps
never before in the history of the world has a river been the
thoroughfare of a movement so tremendously epic in its human appeal, so
vastly significant in its relation to the development of man. And in the
building of the continent Nature fashioned well the scenery for the
great human story that was to be enacted here in the fullness of years.
She built her stage on a large scale, taking no account of miles; for
the coming actors were to be big men, mighty travelers, intrepid
fighters, laughers at time and space. Plains limited only by the rim of
sky; mountains severe, huge, tragic as fate; deserts for the trying of
strong spirits; grotesque volcanic lands--dead, utterly
ultra-human--where athletic souls might struggle with despair; impetuous
streams with their rapids terrible as Scylla, where men might go down
fighting: thus Nature built the stage and set the scenes. And that the
arrangements might be complete, she left a vast tract unfinished, where
still the building of the world goes on--a place of awe in which to feel
the mighty Doer of Things at work. Indeed, a setting vast and weird
enough for the coming epic. And as the essence of all story is struggle,
tribes of wild fighting men grew up in the land to oppose the coming
masters; and over the limitless wastes swept the blizzards.

I remember when I first read the words of Vergil beginning _Ubi tot
Simois_, "where the Simois rolls along so many shields and helmets and
strong bodies of brave men snatched beneath its floods." The far-seeing
sadness of the lines thrilled me; for it was not of the little stream of
the _Æneid_ that I thought while the Latin professor quizzed me as to
constructions, but of that great river of my own epic country--the
Missouri. Was I unfair to old Vergil, think you? As for me, I think I
flattered him a bit! And in this modern application, the ancient lines
ring true. For the Missouri from Great Falls to its mouth is one long
grave of men and boats. And such men!

It is a time-honored habit to look back through the ages for the epic
things. Modern affairs seem a bit commonplace to some of us. A horde of
semi-savages tears down a town in order to avenge the theft of a
faithless wife who was probably no better than she should have been--and
we have the _Iliad_. A petty king sets sail for his native land, somehow
losing himself ten years among the isles of Greece--and we have the
_Odyssey_. (I would back a Missouri River "rat" to make the distance in
a row boat within a few months!) An Argive captain returns home after an
absence of ten years to find his wife interested overmuch in a friend
who went not forth to battle; a wrangle ensues; the tender spouse
finishes her lord with an axe--and you have the _Agamemnon_. (To-day we
should merely have a sensational trial, and hysterical scareheads in the
newspapers.) Such were the ancient stories that move us all--sordid
enough, be sure, when you push them hard for fact. But time and genius
have glorified them. Not the deeds, but Homer and Æschylus and the
hallowing years are great.

We no longer write epics--we live them. To create an epic, it has been
said somewhere, the poet must write with the belief that the immortal
gods are looking over his shoulder.

We no longer prostrate ourselves before the immortal gods. We have long
since discovered the divinity within ourselves, and so we have flung
across the continents and the seas the visible epics of will.

The history of the American fur trade alone makes the Trojan War look
like a Punch and Judy show! and the Missouri River was the path of the
conquerors. We have the facts--but we have not Homer.

An epic story in its essence is the story of heroic men battling, aided
or frustrated by the superhuman. And in the fur trade era there was no
dearth of battling men, and the elements left no lack of superhuman
obstacles.

I am more thrilled by the history of the Lewis and Clark expedition than
by the tale of Jason. John Colter, wandering three years in the
wilderness and discovering the Yellowstone Park, is infinitely more
heroic to me that Theseus. Alexander Harvey makes Æneas look like a
degenerate. It was Harvey, you know, who fell out with the powers at
Fort Union, with the result that he was ordered to report at the
American Fur Company's office at St. Louis before he could be reinstated
in the service. This was at Christmas time--Christmas of a Western
winter. The distance was seventeen hundred miles, as the crow flies.
"Give me a dog to carry my blankets," said he, "and by God I'll report
before the ice goes out!" He started afoot through the hostile tribes
and blizzards. He reported at St. Louis early in March, returning to
Union by the first boat out that year. And when he arrived at the Fort,
he called out the man who was responsible for the trouble, and quietly
killed him. That is the stern human stuff with which you build realms.
What could not Homer do with such a man? And when one follows him
through his recorded career, even Achilles seems a bit ladylike beside
him!

The killing of Carpenter by his treacherous friend, Mike Fink, would
easily make a whole book of hexameters--with a nice assortment of gods
and goddesses thrown in. There was a woman in the case--a half-breed.
Well, this half-breed woman fascinates me quite as much as she whose
face "launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium"!
In ancient times the immortal gods scourged nations for impieties; and,
as we read, we feel the black shadow of inexorable fate moving through
the terrific gloom of things. But the smallpox scourge that broke out at
Fort Union in 1837, sweeping with desolation through the prairie tribes,
moves me more than the storied catastrophes of old. It was a Reign of
Terror. Even Larpenteur's bald statement of it fills me with the fine
old Greek sense of fate. Men sickened at dawn and were dead at sunset.
Every day a cartload or two of corpses went over the bluff into the
river; and men became reckless. Larpenteur and his friend joked daily
about the carting of the gruesome freight. They felt the irresistible,
and they laughed at it, since struggle was out of the question. Some
drank deeply and indulged in hysterical orgies. Some hollowed out their
own graves and waited patiently beside them for the hidden hand to
strike. At least fifteen thousand died--Audubon says one hundred and
fifty thousand; and the buffalo increased rapidly--because the hunters
were few.

Would not such a story--here briefly sketched--move old Sophocles?

The story of the half-breed woman--a giantess--who had a dozen sons, has
about it for me all the glamour of an ancient yarn. The sons were
free-trappers, you know, and, incidentally, thieves and murderers. (I
suspect some of our classic heroes were as much!) But they were
doubtless living up to the light that was in them, and they were game to
the finish. So was the old woman; they called her "the mother of the
devils." Trappers from the various posts organized to hunt them down,
and the mother and the sons barricaded their home. The fight was a hard
one. One by one the "devils" fell fighting about their mother. And then
the besieging party fired the house. With all her sons wounded or dead,
the old woman sallied forth. She fought like a grizzly and went down
like a heroine.

A sordid, brutal story? Ah, but it was life! Fling about this story of
savage mother-love the glamour of time and genius, and it will move you!

And the story of old Hugh Glass! Is it not fateful enough to be the
foundation of a tremendous Æschylean drama? A big man he was--old and
bearded. A devil to fight, a giant to endure, and an angel to forgive!
He was in the Leavenworth campaign against the Aricaras, and afterward
he went as a hunter with the Henry expedition. He had a friend--a mere
boy--and these two were very close. One day Glass, who was in advance of
the party, beating up the country for game, fell in with a grizzly; and
when the main party came up, he lay horribly mangled with the bear
standing over him. They killed the bear, but the old man seemed done
for; his face had all the features scraped off, and one of his legs went
wabbly when they lifted him.

It was merely a matter of one more man being dead, so the expedition
pushed on, leaving the young friend with several others to see the old
man under ground. But the old man was a fighter and refused to die,
though he was unconscious: held on stubbornly for several days, but it
seemed plain enough that he would have to let go soon. So the young
friend and the others left the old man in the wilderness to finish up
the job by himself. They took his weapons and hastened after the main
party, for the country was hostile.

But one day old Glass woke up and got one of his eyes open. And when he
saw how things stood, he swore to God he would live, merely for the sake
of killing his false friend. He crawled to a spring near by, where he
found a bush of ripe bull-berries. He waited day after day for strength,
and finally started out to _crawl_ a small matter of one hundred miles
to the nearest fort. And he did it, too! Also he found his friend after
much wandering--and forgave him.

Fancy Æschylus working up that story with the Furies for a chorus and
Nemesis appearing at intervals to nerve the old hero!

[Illustration: AFTER THE SPRING BREAK-UP.]

[Illustration: "HOLE-IN-THE-WALL" ON THE UPPER MISSOURI.]

[Illustration: PALISADES OF THE UPPER MISSOURI.]

And Rose the Renegade, who became the chief of a powerful tribe of
Indians! And Father de Smet, one of the noblest figures in history,
carrying the gospel into the wilderness! And Le Barge, the famous pilot,
whose biography reads like a romance! In the history of the Missouri
River there were hundreds of these heroes, these builders of the epic
West. Some of them were violent at times; some were good men and some
were bad. But they were masterful always. They met obstacles and
overcame them. They struck their foes in front. They thirsted in
deserts, hungered in the wilderness, froze in the blizzards, died with
the plagues, and were massacred by the savages. Yet they conquered.
Heroes of an unwritten epic! And their pathway to defeat and victory was
the Missouri River.

If you wish to have your epic spiced with the glamour of kings, the
history of the river will not fail you; for in those days there were
kings as well as giants in the land. Though it was not called such, all
the blank space of the map of the Missouri River country and even to the
Pacific, was one vast empire--the empire of the American Fur Company;
and J.J. Astor in New York spoke the words that filled the wilderness
with deeds. Thus democratic America once beheld within her own confines
the paradox of an empire truly Roman in character.

Here and there on the banks of the great waterway--an imperial road that
would have delighted Cæsar--many forts were built. These were the
ganglia of that tremendous organism of which Astor was the brain. The
bourgeois of one of these posts was virtually proconsul with absolute
power in his territory. Mackenzie at Union--which might be called the
capital of the Upper Missouri country--was called "King of the
Missouri." He had an eye for seeing purple. At one time he ordered a
complete suit of armor from England; and even went so far as to have
medals struck, in true imperial fashion, to be distributed among his
loyal followers.

Far and wide these Western American kings flung the trappers, their
subjects, into the wilderness. Verily, in the unwritten "Missouriad"
there is no lack of regal glamour.

The ancients had a way of making vast things small enough to be
familiar. They make gods of the elements, and natural phenomena became
to them the awful acts of the gods.

These moderns made no gods of the elements--they merely conquered them!
The ancients idealized the material. These moderns materialized the
ideal. The latter method is much more appealing to me--an American--than
the former. I love the ancient stories; but it is for the modern
marvellous facts that I reserve my admiration.

When one looks upon his own country as from a height of years, old tales
lose something of their wonder for him. It is owing to this attitude
that the prospect of descending the great river in a power canoe from
the head of navigation gave me delight.

Days and nights filled with the singing and muttering of my big brother!
And I would need only to close my eyes, and all about me would come and
go the ghosts of the mighty doers--who are my kin. Big men, bearded and
powerful, pushing up stream with the cordelle on their shoulders!
Voyageurs chanting at the paddles! Mackinaws descending with precious
freights of furs! Steamboats grunting and snoring up stream! Old forts
sprung up again out of the dusk of things forgotten, with all the old
turbulent life, where in reality to-day the plough of the farmer goes or
the steers browse! Forgotten battles blowing by in the wind! And from a
bluff's summit, here and there, ghostly war parties peering down upon
me--the lesser kin of their old enemies--taking a summer's outing where
of old went forth the fighting men, the builders of the unwritten epic!



CHAPTER II

SIXTEEN MILES OF AWE


Our party of three left the railroad at Great Falls, a good two-days'
walk up river from Benton, the head of Missouri River navigation, to
which point our boat material had been shipped and our baggage checked.

A vast sun-burned waste of buffalo-grass, prickly pears, and sagebrush
stretched before us to the north and east; and on the west the filmy
blue contour of the Highwoods Mountains lifted like sun-smitten thunder
clouds in the July swelter. One squinting far look, however, told you
that these were not rain clouds. The very thought of rain came to you
with the vagueness of some birth-surviving memory of a former time. You
looked far up and out to the westward and caught the glint of snow on
the higher peaks. But the sight was unconvincing; it was like a story
told without the "vital impulse." Always had these plains blistered
under this July sun; always had the spots of alkali made the only
whiteness; and the dry harsh snarl and snap of the grasshoppers' wings
had pricked this torrid silence through all eternity.

A stern and pitiless prospect for the amateur pedestrian, to be sure;
for devotees of the staff and pack have come to associate pedestrianism
with the idyllic, and the idyllic nourishes only in a land of frequent
showers. Theocritus and prickly pears are not compatible. Yet it was not
without a certain thrill of exaltation that we strapped on our packs and
stretched our legs after four days on the dusty plush.

And though ahead of us lay no shady, amiably crooked country roads and
bosky dells, wherein one might lounge and dawdle over Hazlitt, yet we
knew how crisscross cattle-trails should take us skirting down the
river's sixteen miles of awe.

Five hundred miles below its source, the falls of the Missouri begin
with a vertical plunge of sixty feet. This is the Black Eagle Falls,
presumably named so by Lewis and Clark and other explorers, because of
the black eagles found there.

With all due courtesy to my big surly grumbling friend, the Black Eagle
Falls, I must say that I was a bit disappointed in him. Oh! he is quite
magnificent enough, and every inch a Titan, to be sure; but of late
years it seems he has taken up with company rather beneath him. First of
all, he has gone to work in a most plebeian, almost slave-like fashion,
turning wheels and making lights and dragging silly little trolley cars
about a straggling town. Also, he hobnobs continually with a sprawling,
brawling, bad-breathed smelter, as no respectable Titan should do. And
on top of it all--and this was the straw that broke the back of my
sentimental camel--he allows them to maintain a park on the cliffs above
him, where the merest white-skinned, counter-jumping pigmy may come of a
Sunday for his glass of pop and a careless squint at the toiling Titan.
Puny Philistines eating peanuts and watching Samson at his Gaza stunt! I
like it not. Rather would I see the Muse Clio pealing potatoes or
Persephone busy with a banana cart! Encleadus wriggling under a mountain
is well enough; but Enceladus composedly turning a crank for little
men--he seemed too heavy for that light work.

Leaning on the frame observation platform, I closed my eyes, and in the
dull roar that seemed the voices of countless ages, the park and the
smelter and the silly bustling trolley cars and the ginger-ale and the
peanuts and my physical self--all but my own soul--were swallowed up. I
saw my Titan brother as he was made--four hundred yards of writhing,
liquid sinew, strenuously idle, magnificently worthless, flinging
meaningless thunders over the vast arid plain, splendidly empty under
sun and stars! I saw him as La Verendrye must have seen him--busy only
at the divine business of being a giant. And for a moment behind shut
eyes, it seemed very inconsequential to me that cranks should be turned
and that trolley cars should run up and down precisely in the same
place, never getting anywhere, and that there should be anything in all
that tract but an austere black eagle or two, and my own soul, and my
Titan brother.

When I looked again, I could half imagine the old turbulent fellow
winking slyly at me and saying in that undertone you hear when you
forget the thunders for a moment: "Don't you worry about me, little man.
It's all a joke, and I don't mind. Only to-morrow and then another
to-morrow, and there won't be any smelters or trolley cars or ginger-ale
or peanuts or sentimentalizing outers like yourself. But I'll be here
howling under sun and stars."

Whereupon I posed the toiling philosopher before the camera, pressed
the bulb, and descended from the summit of the cliff (as well as from my
point of view) to the trail skirting northward up the river, leaving
Encleadus grumbling at his crank.

Perhaps, after all, cranks really have to be turned. Still, it seems too
bad, and I have long bewailed it almost as a personal grief, that
utility and ugliness should so often be running mates.

They tell me that the Matterhorn never did a tap of work; and you
couldn't color one Easter egg with all the gorgeous sunsets of the
world! May we all become, some day, perfectly useless and beautiful!

At the foot of the first fall, a mammoth spring wells up out of the
rock. Nobody tells you about it; you run across it by chance, and it
interests you much more in that way. It would seem that a spring
throwing out a stream equivalent to a river one hundred yards wide and
two feet deep would deserve a little exploitation. Down East they would
have a great white sprawling hotel built close by it wherein one could
drink spring water (at a quarter the quart), with half a pathology
pasted on the bottle as a label. But nobody seems to care much about so
small an ooze out there: everything else is so big. And so it has
nothing at all to do but go right on being one of the very biggest
springs of all the world. This is really something; and I like it better
than the quarter-per-quart idea.

In sixteen miles the Missouri River falls four hundred feet.
Incidentally, this stretch of river is said to be capable of producing
the most tremendous water-power in the world.

After skirting four miles of water that ran like a mill-race, we came
upon the Rainbow Falls, where a thousand feet of river takes a drop of
fifty feet over a precipice regular as a wall of masonry. This was much
more to my liking--a million horse-power or so busy making rainbows!
Bully!

It was a very hot day and the sun was now high. I sat down to wipe the
sweat out of my eyes. I wished to get acquainted with this weaver of
iridescent nothings who knew so well the divine art of doing nothing at
all and doing it good and hard! After all, it isn't so easy to do
nothing and make it count!

And in the end, when all broken lights have blended again with the
Source Light, I'm not so sure that rainbows will seem less important
than rows and rows of arc lights and clusters and clusters of
incandescent globes. Are you? I can contract an indefinable sort of
heartache from the blue sputter of a city light that snuffs out moon and
stars for tired scurrying folks: but the opalescent mist-drift of the
Rainbow Falls wove heavens for me in its sheen, and through its
whirlwind rifts and crystal flaws, far reaches opened up with all the
heart's desire at the other end. You shut your eyes with that thunder in
your ears and that gusty mist on your face, and you see it very
plainly--more plainly than ever so many arc lights could make you see
it--the ultimate meaning of things. To be sure, when you open your eyes
again, it's all gone--the storm-flung rainbows seem to hide it again.

A mile below, we came upon the Crooked Falls of twenty feet. Leaving the
left bank and running almost parallel with it for some three hundred
yards, then turning and making a horseshoe, and returning to the right
bank almost opposite the place of first observation, this fall is nearly
a mile in length, being an unbroken sheet for that distance. This one,
also, does nothing at all, and in a beautifully irregular way. Somehow
it made me think of Walt Whitman! But we left it soon, swinging out
into the open parched country. We knew all this turbulence to be merely
the river's bow before the great stunt.

As we swung along, kicking up the acrid alkali dust from the
cattle-trail that snaked its way through the cactus and sagebrush, the
roar behind us died; and before us, far away, dull muffled thunders grew
up in the hush of the burning noon. Thunders in a desert, and no cloud!
For an hour we swung along the trail, and ever the thunders
increased--like the undertone of the surf when the sea whitens. We were
approaching the Great Falls of the Missouri. There were no sign posts in
that lonesome tract; no one of whom to ask the way. Little did we need
direction. The voice of thunder crying in the desert led us surely.

A half-hour more of clambering over shale-strewn gullies, up sun-baked
watercourses, and we found ourselves toiling up the ragged slope of a
bluff; and soon we stood upon a rocky ledge with the thunders beneath
us. Damp gusts beat upward over the blistering scarp of the cliff. I lay
down, and crawling to the edge, looked over. Two hundred feet below
me--straight down as a pebble drops--a watery Inferno raged, and
far-flung whirlwinds all but exhausted with the dizzy upward reach,
whisked cool, invisible mops of mist across my face.

Flung down a preliminary mile of steep descent, choked in between
soaring walls of rock four hundred yards apart, innumerable crystal tons
rushed down ninety feet in one magnificent plunge. You saw the long bent
crest--shimmering with the changing colors of a peacock's back--smooth
as a lake when all winds sleep; and then the mighty river was snuffed
out in gulfs of angry gray. Capricious river draughts, sucking up the
damp defile, whipped upward into the blistering sunlight gray spiral
towers that leaped into opal fires and dissolved in showers of diamond
and pearl and amethyst.

[Illustration: GREAT FALLS FROM CLIFF ABOVE.]

[Illustration: GREAT FALLS FROM THE FRONT.]

I caught myself tightly gripping the ledge and shrinking with a
shuddering instinctive fear. Then suddenly the thunders seemed to stifle
all memory of sound--and left only the silent universe with myself and
this terribly beautiful thing in the midst of utter emptiness. And I
loved it with a strange, desperate, tigerish love. It expressed itself
so magnificently; and that is really all a man, or a waterfall, or a
mountain, or a flower, or a grasshopper, or a meadow lark, or an ocean,
or a thunderstorm has to do in this world. And it was doing it right
out in the middle of a desert, bleak, sun-leprosied, forbidding, with
only the stars and the moon and the sun and a cliff-swallow or two to
behold. Thundering out its message into the waste places, careless of
audiences--like a Master! Bully, grizzled old Master-Bard singing--as
most of them do--to empty benches! And it had been doing that ten
thousand thousand years, and would do so for ten thousand thousand more,
and never pause for plaudits. I suspect the soul of old Homer did
that--and is still doing it, somehow, somewhere. After all there isn't
much difference between really tremendous things--Homer or waterfalls or
thunderstorms--is there? It's only a matter of how things happen to be
big.

I was absent-mindedly chasing some big thundering line of Sophocles when
Bill, the little Cornishman, ran in between me and the evasive line:
"Lord! what a waste of power!"

There is some difference in temperaments. Most men, I fancy, would have
enjoyed a talk with a civil engineer upon that ledge. I should have
liked to have Shelley there, myself! It's the difference between poetry
and horse-power, dithyrambics and dynamos, Keats and Kipling! What is
the energy exerted by the Great Falls of the Missouri? How many
horse-power did Shelley fling into the creation of his _West Wind_? How
many foot-pounds did the boy heart of Chatterton beat before it broke?
Something may be left to the imagination!

We backtrailed to a point where the cliff fell away into a rock-strewn
incline, and clambered down a break-neck slope to the edge of the
crystal broil. There was a strange exhilaration about it--a novel sense
of discovering a natural wonder for ourselves. We seemed the first men
who had ever been there: that was the most gripping thing about it.

Aloof, stupendous, terriffic, staggering in the intensity of its wild
beauty, you reach it by a trail. There are no 'busses running and you
can't buy a sandwich or a peanut or a glass of beer within ten miles of
its far-flung thunders. For twentieth century America, that is doing
rather well!

Skirting the slippery rocks at the lip of the mad flood, we swung
ourselves about a ledge, dripping with the cool mist-drift; descended to
the level of the lower basin, where a soaking fog made us shiver; pushed
through a dripping, oozing, autumnal sort of twilight, and came out
again into the beat of the desert sun, to look squarely into the face of
the giant.

A hawk wheeled and swooped and floated far up in the dazzling air.
Somehow that hawk seemed to make the lonely place doubly lonely. Did you
ever notice how a lone coyote on a snow-heaped prairie gives you a
heartache, whereas the empty waste would only have exhilarated you?
Always, it seemed, that veering hawk had hung there, and would hang so
always--outliving the rising of suns and the drifting of stars and the
visits of the moon.

A vague sense of grief came over me at the thought of all this eternal
restlessness, this turbulent fixity; and, after all, it seemed much
greater to be even a very little man, living largely, dying, somehow,
into something big and new; than to be this Promethean sort of thing, a
giant waterfall in a waste.

I have known men who felt dwarfed in the presence of vast and awful
things. I never felt bigger than when I first looked upon the ocean. The
skyward lift of a mountain peak makes me feel very, very tall. And when
a thunderstorm comes down upon the world out of the northwest, with
jagged blades of fire ripping up the black bellies of the clouds, I know
all about the heart of Attila and the Vikings and tigers and Alexander
the Great! So I think I grew a bit out there talking to that water-giant
who does nothing at all--not even a vaudeville stunt--and does it so
masterfully.

By and by they'll build a hotel in the flat at the edge of the lower
basin; plant prim flowers in very prim beds; and rob you on the genteel
European plan. Comfortably sitting in a willow chair on the broad
veranda, one will read the signs on those cliffs--all about the best
shoes to wear, and what particular pill of all the pills that be, should
be taken for that ailing kidney. But it will not be I who shall sit in
that willow chair on that broad, as yet unbuilt, veranda.

The sun was glinting at the rim of the cliffs, and the place of awe and
thunders was slowly filling with shadow. We found a steep trail,
inaccessible for vehicles, leading upward in the direction of Benton. It
was getting that time of day when even a sentimentalist wants a
beefsteak, especially if he has hiked over dusty scorching trails and
scrambled over rocks all day.

Some kind man back in the town, with a fund of that most useless
article, information, had told us of a place called Goodale,
theoretically existing on the Great Northern Railroad between Great
Falls and Benton. We had provided only for luncheon, trusting to fate
and Goodale for supper.

Goodale! A truly beautiful name! No doubt in some miraculous way the
character of the country changed suddenly just before you got there
merely to justify the name. Surely no one would have the temerity to
conjure up so beautiful a name for a desert town. Yet, half unwillingly,
I thought of a little place I once visited--against my will, since the
brakeman put me off there--by the name of Forest City. I remembered with
misgivings how there wasn't a tree within something like four hundred
miles. But I pushed that memory aside as a lying prophet. I believed in
Goodale and beefsteak. Goodale would be a neat, quiet little town, set
snugly in a verdant valley. We would come into it by starlight--down a
careless gypsying sort of country road; and there would be the sound of
a dear little trickling bickering cool stream out in the shadows of the
trees fringing the approach to Goodale. And we'd pass pretty little
cottages with vines growing over the doors, and hollyhocks peeping over
the fences, and cheerful lights in the windows.

Goodale! And then, right in the middle of the town (no, _village_--the
word is cosier somehow)--right in the middle of the village there would
be a big restaurant, with such alluring scents of beefsteak all about
it.

I set the pace up that trail. It was a swinging, loose, cavalry-horse
sort of pace--the kind that rubs the blue off the distance and paints
the back trail gray. Goodale was a sort of Mecca. I thought of it with
something like a religious awe. How far was Goodale, would you suppose?
Not far, certainly, once we found the railroad.

We made the last steep climb breathlessly, and came out on the level. A
great, monotonous, heartachy prairie lay before us--utterly featureless
in the twilight. Far off across the scabby land a thin black line swept
out of the dusk into the dusk--straight as a crow's flight. It was the
railroad. We made a cross-cut for it, tumbling over gopher holes,
plunging through sagebrush, scrambling over gullies that told the
incredible tale of torrents having been there once. I ate quantities of
alkali dust and went on believing in Goodale and beefsteak. Beefsteak
became one of the principal stations on the Great Northern Railroad, so
far as I was concerned personally. That is what you might call the
geography of a healthy stomach.

With the falling of the sun the climate of the country had changed. It
was no longer blistering. You sat down for a moment and a shiver went up
your spine. At noon I thought about all the lime-kilns I had ever met.
Now I could hear the hickory nuts dropping in the crisp silence down in
the old Missouri woods.

We struck the railroad and went faster. Since my first experience with
railroad ties, I have continued to associate them with hunger. I need
only look an ordinary railroad tie in the face to contract a wonderful
appetite. It works on the principle of a memory system. So, as we put
the ties behind us, I increased my order at that restaurant in the sweet
little pedestrian's village of Goodale. "A couple of eggs on the side,
waiter," I said half audibly to the petite woman in the white apron who
served the tables in the restaurant there. She was very real to me. I
could count the rings on her fingers; and when she smiled, I noted that
her teeth were very white--doubtless they got that way from eating
quantities and quantities of thick juicy beefsteak!

The track took a sudden turn ahead. "Around that bend," I said aloud,
"lies Goodale." We went faster. We rounded the bend, only to see the
dusky, heartachy, barren stretch.

"Railroads," explained I to myself, "have a way of going somewhere; it
is one of their peculiarities." No doubt this track had been laid for
the express purpose of guiding hungry folks to the hospitable little
village. We plunged on for an hour. Meanwhile my orders to the trim
little woman in the white apron increased steadily. She smiled broadly
but winsomely, showing those charming beefsteak-polished teeth. They
shone like a beacon ahead of me, for it was now dark.

Suddenly we came upon a signboard. We went up to it, struck a match, and
read breathlessly--"GOODALE."

We looked about us. Goodale was a switch and a box car.

              Nothing beside remains,

I quoted,

                'round the decay
    Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
    The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Alas for the trim little lady with the white teeth and the smile and the
beefsteak!

We said bitter things there in that waste about the man with the
information. We loaded his memory with anathemas. One cannot eat a
signboard, even with so inviting a name upon it. An idea struck me--it
seemed a very brilliant one at the moment. I sat down and delivered
myself of it to my companions, who also had lusted after the flesh-pots.
"We have wronged that man with the information," said I. "He was no
ordinary individual; he was a prophet: he simply got his dates mixed. In
precisely one hundred years from now, there will be a town on this
spot--and a restaurant! Shall we wait?"

They cursed me bitterly. I suspect neither of them is a philosopher.
Thereat I proceeded to eat a thick juicy steak from the T-bone portion
of an unborn steer, served by the trim little lady of a hundred years
hence, there in that potential village of Goodale. And as I smoked my
cigarette, I felt very thankful for all the beautiful things that do not
exist.

And I slept that night in the great front bedroom, the ceiling of which
is of diamond and turquoise.



CHAPTER III

HALF-WAY TO THE MOON


At last the sinuous yellow road dropped over the bluff rim and, to all
appearances, dissolved into the sky--a gray-blue, genius-colored sky.

It was sundown, and this was the end of the trail for us. Beneath the
bluff rim lay Benton. We flung ourselves down in the bunch-grass that
whispered dryly in a cool wind fresh from the creeping night-shade. Now
that Benton lay beneath us, I was in no hurry to look upon it.

_Fort Benton?_ What a clarion cry that name had been to me! Old men--too
old for voyages--had talked about this place; a long time ago, 'way down
on the Kansas City docks, I had heard them. How far away it was then!
Reach after reach, bend after bend, grunting, snoring, toiling, sparring
over bars, bucking the currents, dodging the snags, went the snub-nosed
steamers--brave little steamers!--forging on toward Fort Benton. And it
was so very, very far away--half-way to the moon no doubt! St. Louis was
indeed very far away. But Fort Benton!----

Well, they spoke of the Fort Benton traffic as "the mountain trade," and
I had not then seen a mountain. You could stand on the very tallest
building in Kansas City, and you could look and look and never see a
mountain. And to think how far the brave little steamers had to go! How
_did_ they ever manage to get back?

But the old men on the docks--they had been there and all the way back,
perhaps hundreds of times. And they were such heroes! Great paw-like
hands they had, toughened with the gripping of cables; eyes that had
that way of looking through and far beyond things. (Seamen and plainsmen
have it.) And they had such romantic, crinkly, wrinkly, leathery faces.
They got so on the way to Benton and back. And they talked about
it--those old men lounging on the docks--because it was so far away and
they were so old that they couldn't get there any more.

What a picture I made out of their kaleidoscopic chatter; beautifully
inaccurate, impossibly romantic picture, in which big muscley men had
fights with yawping painted savages that always got gloriously licked,
in the approved story-book manner! I could shut my eyes and see it all
very plainly, away off there half-way to the moon. And I used to wonder
how my father could be such a strong man and never have any hankering to
go up there at all! The two facts were quite incompatible. He should
have been a captain and taken me on for cub pilot, or at least a
"striker" engineer; though I wouldn't have objected seriously to the
business of a cabin boy. I thought it would be very nice to engage in
the mountain trade.

And then, after a while, in the new light that creeps in with years, I
began to rearrange my picture of things up there; and Benton crept a wee
bit closer--until I could see its four adobe walls and its two adobe
bastions, stern with portholes, sitting like bulldogs at the opposite
corners ready to bark at intruders. And in and out at the big gate went
the trappers--sturdy, rough-necked, hirsute fellows in buckskins, with
Northwest fusils on their shoulders; lean-bodied, capable fellows, with
souls as lean as their bodies, survivors of long hard trails, men who
could go far and eat little and never give up. I was very fond of that
sort of man.

Little by little the picture grew. Indian bull boats flocked at the
river front beneath the stern adobe walls; moored mackinaws swayed in
the current, waiting to be loaded with peltries and loosed for the long
drift back to the States; and the keel-boats, looking very fat and lazy,
unloaded supplies in the late fall that were loaded at St. Louis in the
early spring. And these had come all the way without the stroke of a
piston or the crunch of a paddle-wheel or a pound of steam. Nothing but
grit and man-muscle to drag them a small matter of two or three thousand
miles up the current of the most eccentric old duffer of a river in the
world!

What men it did take to do that! I saw them on the wild shelterless
banks of the yellow flood--a score or so of them--stripped and sweating
under the prairie sun, with the cordelle on their calloused shoulders,
straightening out to the work like honest oxen. What _males_ those
cordelle men were--what _stayers_! Fed on wild, red meat, lean and round
of waist, thick of chest, thewed for going on to the finish. Ten or
fifteen miles a day and every inch a fight! Be sure they didn't do it
merely for the two or three hundred dollars a year they got from the
Company. They did it because they were that sort of men, and had to
express themselves. Everything worth while is done that way.

Do they raise that breed now? Never doubt it! You need only find your
keel-boats or their equivalents, and the men will come around for the
job, I'm sure. But when you speak enthusiastically of the old Greek
doers of things, I'd like to put in a few words for those old up-river
men. They belong to the unwritten American epic.

And then the keel-boats and the bull-boats and the mackinaws and the
up-river men flashed out--like a stereopticon picture when the man moves
the slide; and I saw a little ragged village of log houses scattered
along the water front. I saw the levees piled with merchandise, and a
score or more of packets rushing fresh cargoes ashore--mates bawling
commands down the gangplanks where the roustabouts came and went at a
trot. Gold-mad hundreds thronged the wagon-rutted streets of this raw
little village, the commercial center of a vast new empire. Six-horse
freighters trundled away toward the gold fields; and others trundled in,
their horses jaded with the precious freight they pulled. And I saw
steamers dropping out for the long voyage back to the States, freighted
with cargoes of gold dust--really truly story-book treasure-ships that
would have made old Captain Kidd's men mad with delight.

As I lay dreaming in the bunch-grass, it all grew up so real that I had
to get up and take my first look, half expecting to find it all there
just as in the old days.

We stood at the rim of the bluff and looked down into a cup-like valley
upon a quiet little village, winking with scattered lights in the
gloaming. Past it swept the river--glazed with the twilight and
silver-splotted with early stars.

This was Benton--it could have been almost any other town as well. And
yet, once upon a time, it had filled my day-dreams with wonders--this
place that seemed half-way to the moon.

The shrill shriek of a Great Northern locomotive, trundling freight cars
through the gloom, gave the death-stroke to the old boy-dream. It was
the cry of modernity. This boisterous, bustling, smoke-breathing thing,
plunging through the night with flame in its throat, had made the
change, dragged old Benton out of the far-off lunar regions and set
what is left of it right down in the back yard of the world. Even a very
little boy could get there now.

"And yet," thought I, as we set out rapidly for the village in the
valley, "the difference between the poetry of mackinaws and Great
Northern locomotives is merely a matter of perspective. If those old
cordelle men could only come back for a while from their Walhalla, how
they would crowd about that wind-splitting, fire-eating, iron beast,
panting from its long run, and catching its breath for another plunge
into the waste places and the night! And I? I would be gazing
wide-mouthed at the cordelle men. It's only the human curiosity about
the other side of the moon. How perfect the nights would be if we could
only see that lost Pleiad!"

Ankle-deep in the powdery sand, we entered the little town with its
business row facing the water front. One glance at the empty levees told
you of the town's dead glory. Not a steamboat's stacks, blackening in
the gloom, broke the peaceful glitter of the river under the stars. But
along the sidewalk where the electric-lighted bar-rooms buzzed and
hummed, brawny cow-men, booted and spurred, lounged about, talking in
that odd but not unpleasant Western English that could almost be called
a dialect.

But it was not the Benton of the cow-men that I felt about me. It was
still for me the Benton of the fur trade and the steamboats and the gold
rush--my boyhood's Benton half-way to the moon--the ghost of a dead
town.

At Goodale I had sought a substantial town and found a visionary one. At
Benton I had sought a visionary town and found a substantial one.
Philosophy was plainly indicated as the proper thing. And, after all, a
steaming plate of lamp chops in a Chinese chuck-house of a substantial
though disappointing town, is more acceptable to even a dreamer than the
visionary beefsteak I ate out there in that latent restaurant of a
potential village.

This was a comfortable thought; and for a quarter of an hour, the far
weird cry of things that are no more, was of no avail. The rapid music
of knife and fork drowned out the asthmatic snoring of the ghostly
packets that buck the stream no more. How grub does win against
sentiment!

Swallowing the last of the chops, "Where will I find the ruins of the
old fort?" I asked of my bronze-faced neighbor across the wreck of
supper. He looked bored and stiffened a horny practical thumb in the
general direction of the ruins. "Over there," he said laconically.

I caught myself wondering if a modern Athenian would thus carelessly
direct you to the Acropolis. Is the comparison faulty? Surely a ruin is
sacred only for what men did there. We are indeed a headlong race. We
keep our ruins behind us. Perhaps that is why we get somewhere. And yet,
what beauty blooms flowerlike to the backward gaze! Music and
poetry--all the deepest, purest sentiments of the heart--are fed greatly
upon the memory of the things that were but can never be again.
Mnemosyne is the mother of all the Muses.

I got up and went out. By the light of a thin moon, I found the place
"over there." An odd, pathetic little ruin it is, to be sure. Nothing
imposing about it. It doesn't compel through admiration: it woos through
pity--the great, impersonal kind of pity.

    "A single little turret that remains
    On the plains"--

Browning tells about all there is to tell about it, though he never
heard of it; only they called it a "bastion" in the old days--the
little square adobe blockhouse that won't stand much longer. One
crumbling bastion and two gaunt fragments of adobe walls in a waste of
sand beside the river--that's Fort Benton.

A thin pale grudging strip of moon lit it up: just the moon by which to
see ruins--a moon for backward looking and regrets. A full round
love-moon wouldn't have served at all.

Out of pure moon-haze I restored the walls of the house where the
bourgeois lived. The fireplace and the great mud chimney are still
there, and the smut of the old log fires still clings inside. The man
who sat before that hearth was an American king. A simple word of
command spoken in that room was the thunder of the law in the wilderness
about, and men obeyed. There's a bat living there now. He tumbled about
me in the dull light, filling the silence with the harsh whir of
pinions.

I thought about that night a long, long time ago when all the people
under the protection of the newly erected fort, gathered here for a
house-warming. How clearly I could hear that squawking, squeaking,
good-natured fiddle and the din of dancing feet! Only the sound got
mixed up with the dim, weird moonlight, until you didn't know whether
you were hearing or seeing or feeling it--the music of the fiddles and
the feet. Oh, the dim far music!

I thought about the other ruins of the world, the exploited,
tourist-haunted ruins; and I wondered why the others attract so much
attention while this one attracts practically none at all. How they do
dig after old Troy--poor old long-buried, much-abused Troy! And nobody
even cares to steal a brick from this ruined citadel that took so great
a part in the American epic. Indeed, you would not be obliged to steal a
brick; there are no guards.

Some one has said that the history of our country as taught in the
common schools is the history of a narrow strip of land along the
Atlantic coast. The statement is significant. The average school-teacher
knows very little about Fort Benton, I suspect.

And yet, one of the most tremendous of all human movements centered
about it--the movement that brought about the settlement of the
Northwest. One of these days they will plant a potato patch there!

But modern Benton?

Get on a train in the East, snuggle up in your berth, plunge on to the
Western coast, and you run through the real West in the night. They are
getting Eastern out there at the rim of the big sea. Benton is in the
West--the big, free, heart-winning West; and it gives promise of staying
there for a while yet.

Charter a bronco and canter out across the river for an hour, and it
will be very plain to you that the romantic West still lives--the West
of the cowboy and the bronco and the steer. Not the average story-book
West, to be sure. Perhaps that West never existed. But it is the West
that has bred and is still breeding a race of men as beautiful in a
virile way (and how else should men be beautiful?) as this dear old
mother of an Earth ever suckled.

I stood once on the yellow slope of a hill and watched a round-up outfit
passing in the gulch below. Four-horse freighters grumbling up the dusty
trail; cook wagons trundling after; whips popping over the sweating
teams; a hundred or more saddle ponies trailing after in rolling clouds
of glinting dust; a score of bronze-faced, hard-fisted outriders,
mounted on gaunt, tough, wise little horses--such strong, outdoor,
masterful Americans, truly beautiful in a big manly way!

The sight of it all put that glorious little achy feeling in my throat
that you get when they start the fife and drum, or when a cavalry column
wheels at the word of command, or when a regiment swings past with even
tread, or when you stand on a dock and watch a liner dropping out into
the fog. It's the feeling that you're a man and mighty proud of it. But
somehow it always makes you just a little sad.

I felt proud of that bunch of strong capable fellows--proud as though I
had created them myself.

[Illustration: "THIS WAS BENTON."]

[Illustration: RUINS OF OLD FORT BENTON.]

[Illustration: THE HOUSE OF THE BOURGEOIS.]

And once again the glorious little achy feeling in the throat came. The
Congressman from Choteau County had returned from Washington with fresh
laurels; and Benton turned out to welcome her Great Man. Down the dusty,
poorly lighted, front street came the little band--a shirt-sleeved
squad. Halting under the dingy glow of a corner street-lamp, they struck
up the best-intentioned, noisiest noise I ever heard. The tuba raced
lumberingly after the galloping cornet, that ran neck-and-neck with the
wheezing clarinet; and the drums beat up behind, pounding like the hoofs
of stiff-kneed horses half a stretch behind.

It was a mad, exciting race of sounds--a sort of handicap. The circular
glow of the street-lamp became the social center of Benton. At last the
mad race was ended. I think it was the cornet that won, with the
clarinet a close second. The tuba, as I recollect it, complacently
claimed third money, and the bass-drum finished last with a shameless,
resolute boom!

A great hoarse cry went up--probably for the winning cornet; a
big-lunged, generous, warrior cry that made you think of a cavalry
charge in the face of bayonets. And the shirt-sleeved band swung off
down the street in the direction of the little cottage where the Great
Man lived. All Benton fell in behind--clerks and bar-keeps and sheepmen
and cowboys tumbling into fours. Under the yellow flare of the kerosene
torches they went down the street like a campaigning company in rout
step, scattering din and dust.

Great, deep-chested, happy-looking, open air fellows, they were; big
lovers, big haters, good laughers, eaters, drinkers--and every one of
them potentially a fighting man.

And suddenly, as I watched them pass, something deep down in me cried
out: "Great God! What a fighting force we can drum up out of the cactus
and the sagebrush when the time comes!" And when I looked again, not one
of the sun-bronzed faces was strange to me, but every one was the face
of a brother. Choteau's Congressman was my Congressman! Benton's Great
Man was my Great Man! I fell into line alongside a big bronco-buster
with his high-heeled boots and his clanking spurs and his bandy-legged,
firm-footed horseman's stride. Thirty yards farther on we were old
comrades. That is the Western way.

Once again the little band struck up a march, which was very little more
than a rhythmic snarling and booming of the drums, with now and then the
shrill savage cry of the clarinet stabbing the general dim. Irresistibly
the whole line swung into step.

What is it about the rhythmic stride of many men down a dusty road that
grips you by the throat and makes your lungs feel like overcharged
balloons? I felt something like the maddening, irritating tang of
powder-smoke in my throat. Trumpet cries that I had never heard, yet
somehow dimly remembered, wakened in the night about us--far and faint,
but haughty with command. It took very little imagination for me to
feel the whirlwind of battles I may never know, to hear the harsh
metallic snarl of high-power bullets I may never face. For, marching
there in the dusty, torch-painted night, with that ragged procession of
Westerners, a deep sense of the essential comradeship of free men had
come upon me; and I could think of these men in no other way than as
potential fighting men--the stern hard stuff with which you build and
keep your empires. What a row Napoleon could have kicked up with half a
million of these sagebrush boys to fling foeward under his
cannon-clouds!

We reached the cottage of the Great Man with the fresh laurels. He met
us at the gate. He called us Jim and Bill and Frank and Kid something or
other. We called him Charlie. And he wasn't the least bit stiff or
proud, though we hadn't the least doubt that half of Washington was in
tears at his departure for the West.

The sudden flare of a torch betrayed his moist eyes as he told us how he
loved us. And I'm sure he meant it. He said, with that Western drawl of
his: "Boys, while I was back there trying to do a little something for
you in Congress, I heard a lot of swell bands; but I didn't hear any
such music as this little old band of ours has made to-night!" The
unintentional humor somehow didn't make you want to laugh at all.

We're all riding with his outfit; and next year we're going to send
Charlie back East again. May we all die sheepmen if we don't--and that's
the limit in Montana!

Talking about sheepmen, reminds me of Joe, the big bronco-buster, and
his _mot_. I was doing the town with Joe, and he was carefully educating
me in the Western mysteries. He told me all about "day-wranglers" and
"night-hawks" and "war-bags" and "round-ups"; showed me how to tie a
"bull-noose" and a "sheep-shank" and a "Mexican hacamore"; put me onto
the twist-of-the-wrist and the quick arm-thrust that puts half-hitches
'round a steer's legs; showed me how a cowboy makes dance music with a
broom and a mouth-harp--and many other wonderful feats, none of which I
can myself perform.

I wanted to feel the mettle of the big typical fellow, and so I said
playfully: "Say, Joe, come to confession--you're a sheepman, now aren't
you?"

He clanked down a glass of long-range liquid, and glared down at me with
a monitory forefinger pointing straight between my eyes: "Now you look
here, Shorty," he drawled; "you're a friend of mine, and whatever you
say _goes_, as long as I ain't all caved in! But you cut that out, and
don't you say that out loud again, or you and me'll be having to scrap
the whole outfit!"

He resumed his glass. I told him, still playfully, that a lot of mighty
good poetry had been written about sheep and sheepmen and crooks and
lambs and things like that, and that I considered my question
complimentary.

"You're talkin' about sheepmen in the old country, Shorty," he drawled.
"There ain't any cattle ranges there, you know. Do you know the
difference between a sheepman in Scotland, say, and in Montana?"

I did not.

"Well," he proceeded, "over in Scotland when a feller sees a sheepman
coming down the road with his sheep, he says: 'Behold the gentle
shepherd with his fleecy flock!' That's poetry. Now in Montana, that
same feller says, when he sees the same feller coming over a ridge with
the same sheep: '_Look at that crazy blankety-blank with his woolies!_'
That's fact. You mind what I say, or you'll get spurred."

I don't quite agree with Joe, however. Once, lying in my tent across
the river, I looked out over the breaks through that strange purple
moonlight, such as I had always believed to exist only in the staging of
a melodrama, and saw four thousand sheep descending to the ferry.

Like lava from a crater they poured over the slope above me; and above
them, seeming prodigiously big against the weird sky, went the sheepman
with his staff in his hand and a war-bag over his arm, while at his
heels a wise collie followed. It was a picture done by chance very much
as Millet could have done it. And somehow Joe's _mot_ couldn't stand
before that picture.

There is indeed a big Pindaric sort of poetry about a plunging mass of
cattle. And just as truly there is a sort of Theocritus poetry about
sheep. Only in the latter case, the poetical vanishing point is farther
away for me than is the case with cattle. I think I couldn't write very
good verses about a flock of sheep, unless I were at least five hundred
yards away from them. I haven't figured the exact distance as yet. But
when you have a large flock of sheep camping about you all night, making
you eat fine sand and driving you mad with that most idiotic of all
noises (which happened once to me), you don't get up in the morning
quoting Theocritus. You remember Joe's _mot_!

       *       *       *       *       *

We found a convenient gravel bar on the farther side of the river, where
we established our navy-yard. There we proceeded to set up the keel of
the _Atom I_--a twenty-foot canoe with forty-inch beam, lightly ribbed
with oak and planked with quarter-inch cypress.

No sooner had we screwed up the bolts in the keel, than our ship-yard
became a sort of free information bureau. Every evening the cable ferry
brought over a contingent of well-wishers, who were ardent in their
desire to encourage us in our undertaking, which was no less than that
of making a toboggan slide down the roof of the continent.

The salient weakness of the _genus homo_, it has always seemed to me, is
an overwhelming desire to give advice. Through several weeks of toil, we
were treated to a most liberal education on marine matters. It appeared
that we had been laboring under a fatal misunderstanding regarding the
general subject of navigation. Our style of boat was indeed
admirable--for a lake, if you please, _but_--well, of course, they did
not wish to discourage us. It was quite possible that we were
unacquainted with the Upper Missouri. Now the Upper River (hanging out
that bleached rag of a sympathetic smile), the Upper River was _not_ the
Lower River, you know. (That really _did_ seem remarkably true, and we
became alarmed.) The Upper River, mind you, was terriffic. Why, those
frail ribs and that impossible planking would go to pieces on the first
rock--like an egshell! Of course, we were free to do as we pleased--they
would not discourage us for the world. And the engine! Gracious! Such a
boat would never stand the vibration of a four-horse, high-speed engine
driving a fourteen-inch screw! It appeared plainly that we were almost
criminally wrong in all our calculations. Shamefacedly we continued to
drive nails into the impossible hull, knowing full well--poor misguided
heroes--that we were only fashioning a death trap! There could be no
doubt about it. The free information bureau was unanimous. It was all
very pathetic. Nothing but the tonic of an habitual morning swim in the
clear cold river kept us game in the face of the inevitable!

We saw it all. With a sort of forlorn cannon-torn-cavalry-column hope we
pushed on with the fatal work. Never before did I appreciate old Job in
the clutches of good advice. I used to accuse him of rabbit blood. In
the light of experience, I wish to record the fact that I beg his
pardon. He was in the house of his friends. I think Job and I understand
each other better now. It was not the boils, but the free advice!

At last the final nail was driven and clenched, the canvas glued on and
ironed, the engine installed. The trim, slim little craft with her
admirable speed lines, tapering fore and aft like a fish, lay on the
ways ready for the plunge.

We had arranged to christen her with beer. The Kid stood at the prow
with the bottle poised, awaiting his cue. The little Cornishman knelt at
the prow. He was _not_ bowed in prayer. He was holding a bucket under
the soon-to-be-broken bottle. "For," said he, "in a country where beer
is so dear and advice so cheap, let us save the beer that we may be
strong to stand the advice!"

The argument was inded Socratic.

"And now, little boat," said I, in that dark brown tone of voice of
which I am particularly proud, "be a good girl! Deliver me not unto the
laughter of my good advisers. I christen thee _Atom_!"

The bottle broke--directly above that bucket.

And now before us lay the impossible as plainly pointed out, not only by
local talent, but by no less a man that the august captain of a
government snag-boat. Several weeks before the launching, an event had
taken place at Benton. The first steamboat for sixteen years tied up
there one evening. She was a government snag-boat. Now a government
snag-boat may be defined as a boat maintained by the government for the
sole purpose of sailing the river _and dodging snags_. This particular
snag-boat, I learned afterward in the course of a long cruise behind
her, holds the snag-boat record. I consider her pilot a truly remarkable
man. He seemed to have dodged them all.

All Benton turned out to view the big red and white government steamer.
There was something almost pathetic about the public demonstration when
you thought of the good old steamboat days. During her one day's visit
to the town, I met the captain.

[Illustration: A ROUND-UP OUTFIT ON THE MARCH.]

[Illustration: JOE.]

[Illustration: MONTANA SHEEP.]

[Illustration: A MONTANA WOOL-FREIGHTER.]

He was very stiff and proud. He awed me. I stood before him fumbling my
hat. Said I to myself: "The personage before me is more than a snag-boat
captain. This is none other than the gentleman who invented the Missouri
River. No doubt even now he carries the patent in his pocket!"

"Going down river in a power canoe, eh?" he growled, regarding me
critically. "Well, you'll never get down!"

"That so?" croaked I, endeavoring to swallow my Adam's apple.

"No, you won't!"

"Why?" ventured I timidly, almost pleadingly; "isn't there--uh--isn't
there--uh--_water enough_?"

"Water enough--yes!" growled the personage who invented the longest
river in the world and therefore knew what he was talking about. "Plenty
of water--_but you won't find it_!"

Now as the _Atom_ slid into the stream, I thought of the captain's
words. Since that time the river had fallen three feet. We drew eighteen
inches.

Sixty-five days after that oraculous utterance of the captain, the Kid
and I, half stripped, sun-burned, sweating at the oars, were forging
slowly against a head wind at the mouth of the Cheyenne, sixteen hundred
miles below the head of navigation. A big white and red steamer was
creeping up stream over the shallow crossing of the Cheyenne's bar,
sounding every foot of the water fallen far below the usual summer
level.

It was the snag-boat. Crossing her bows and drifting past her slowly, I
stood up and shouted to the party in the pilot house:

"I want to speak to the captain."

He came out on the hurricane deck--the man who invented the river. He
was still stiff and proud, but a swift smile crossed his face as he
looked down upon us, half-naked and sun-blackened there in our dinky
little craft.

"Captain," I cried, and perhaps there was the least vainglory in me; "I
talked to you at Benton."

"Yes, sir."

"Well, _I have found that water!_"



CHAPTER IV

MAKING A GETAWAY


Tell a Teuton that he can't, and very likely he will show you that he
can. It's in the blood. Between the prophecy of the snag-boat captain
and my vainglorious answer at the Cheyenne crossing, I learned to
respect the words of the man who invented the eccentric old river. In
the face of heavy head winds, I quoted the words, "You'll never get
down"--and they bit deep like whip lashes. On many a sand-bar and gravel
reef, with the channel far away, I heard the words, "Plenty of water,
yes, but you won't find it!" And always something stronger than my
muscles cried out within me: "The devil I won't, O, you inventor of
rain-water creeks!" Hour by hour, day by day, against almost continual
head winds and with the lowest water in years, that discouraging
prophecy invaded me and was repulsed. And that is why we have pessimists
in the world. A pessimist is merely a counter-irritant.

I stood on the bank for some time after the _Atom I_ slid into the
water, admiring her truly beautiful lines. Once I was captain of a trunk
lid that sailed a frog-pond down in Kansas City; and at that time I
thought I knew the meaning of pride. I did not. All three of us were a
bit puffed up over that boat. Something of that ride that goes before a
fall awoke in my captain's breast as I loved her with my eyes--that
trim, slim speed-thing, tugging at her forward line, graceful and
slender and strong and fleet as a Diana.

I said at last: "I will now get in her, drop down to the town landing,
and proceed to put to shame a few of these local motor-tubs that make so
much fuss and don't go anywhere!"

I loved her as a man should love all things that are swift and strong
and honest, keen for marks and goals--a big, clean-limbed, thoroughbred
horse that will break his heart to get under the wire first; a
high-power rifle, slim of muzzle, thick of breech, with its wicked
little throaty cry, doing its business over a flat trajectory a thousand
yards away: I love her as a man should love those. Little did I dream
that she would betray me.

I took in the line and went aboard. At that moment I almost understood
the snag-boat captain's bearing. To be master of the _Atom I_ seemed
quite enough; but to be the really truly captain of a big red and white
snag-boat--it must have been overwhelming!

I dropped out into the current that, fresh from its plunge of four
hundred feet in sixteen miles, ran briskly. Everything was in readiness.
I meant to put a crimp in the vanity of that free-information bureau.

I turned on the switch, opened the needle valve, swung the throttle over
to the notch numbered with a big "2." I placed the crank on the wheel
and gave it a vigorous turn.

"Poof!" said the engine sweetly, and the kind word encouraged me
immensely. Again I cranked.

"Poof! Poof!"

It seemed that I had somehow misunderstood the former communication, and
it was therefore repeated with emphasis. Like a model father who walks
the floor with the weeping child, tenderly seeking the offending pin, I
looked over the engine. "What have I neglected?" said I. I intended to
be quite logical and fair in the matter.

I once presided over a country newspaper that ran its presses with a
gasoline engine with a most decided artistic temperament. That engine
used to have a way of communing silently with its own soul right in the
middle of press day. I remembered this with forebodings. I remembered
how firm but kind I was obliged to be with that old engine. I remembered
how it always put its hands in its pockets and took an extended vacation
every time I swore at it. I decided to be nothing but a perfect
gentleman with this engine. I even endeavored to be a jovial good
fellow.

"What is it, Little One?" said I mentally; "does its little carburetor
hurt it? Or did the bad man strangle it with that horrid old gasoline?"

I tenderly jiggled its air valve, fiddled gently with its spark-control
lever. I cranked it again. It barked at me like a dog! I had been kind
to it, and it barked right in my face. I wanted to slap it. I lifted my
eyes and saw that the rapid current would soon carry me past the town
landing. I seized a paddle and shoved her in. Of course, a member of the
free-information bureau was at the landing. He had with him a bland
smile and a choice bit of information.

"Having trouble with your engine, aren't you?" he said as I leaped
ashore with the line. "There must be something wrong with it!" The
remark was indeed illuminating. It struck me with the force of an
inspiration. It seemed so true.

"Strange that I hadn't thought of that!" I remarked. "That really must
be the trouble--there's something wrong with it. Thanks!"

I tied the boat and went up-town, hoping to sidetrack the benevolent
member of that ubiquitous bureau. When I returned, I found half a dozen
other benevolent members at the landing. They were holding a
consultation, evidently; and the very air felt gummy with latent advice.

"What's the matter with your engine?" they chorused.

"Why, there's something wrong with it!" I explained cheerfully, as I
went aboard again. I began to crank, praying steadily for a miracle. Now
and then I managed to coax forth a gaseous chortle or two. The
convention on the landing understood every chortle in a truly marvellous
way.

"It's the spark-plug, that's sure!" announced one with an air of
finality. "When an engine has run for a while (!) the spark-plug gets
all smutted up. Have you cleaned your spark-plug?"

"No, Jim!" contradicted another, "it's all in the oil feed! Look how she
puffs! W'y it's in the oil feed--plain as day! Now if you'll take off
that carburetor and----"

I cranked on heroically.

"It's in the timer," voluntered another. "You see that little brass
lever back there? Well, you take and remove that and you'll find
that----"

I cranked on shamelessly.

"The batteries ain't no good!" growled a man with a big voice that
reminded me of a bass-drum booming up among the wind instruments in a
medley. Like the barber who owned the white owl, I stuck to my business.
I cranked on.

"It ain't _in_ them batteries--them batteries is all right!" piped a
weazened little man who had been grinning wisely at the lack of
mechanical ability so shamelessly exposed by his fellows.

"Now in a jump-spark engine," he explained leisurely, with a knowing
squint of his eyes and an uplifted explanatory forefinger: "in a
jump-spark engine, gentlemen, there is a number of things to consider.
Now if you'll take and remove that cylinder-head, pull out the piston,
and----"

The voice of the expounder was suddenly drowned out by the earsplitting
rapid-fire of the exhaust! The miracle had happened! Hooray!

I grasped the steering cords and jammed her rudder hard to port. Her
fourteen-inch screw, suddenly started at full speed ahead, made the
light, slim craft leap like a spike-spurred horse.

But the turn was too short. She thrust her sharp haughty nose into the
air like an offended lady, and started up the bank after that
information bureau. If a tree had been convenient, I think she would
have climbed it.

I shut her down.

"_She went that time!_" chorused the information bureau. Coming from an
information bureau, the statement was marvellously correct. But I had
suddenly become too glad-hearted for a sharp retort.

"If you will please throw me the line, and push me off," I said
confidently, "I'll drop out into the current."

I dropped out.

"Now for putting a crimp in some people's vanity!" I exulted.

I cranked. Nothing doing! I cranked some more. No news from the crimping
department. I continued to crank; also, I continued to drift. Somehow
the current seemed to have increased alarmingly in speed.

I thought I heard a sound of merriment. I looked up. The little weazened
man was gesticulating wildly with that forefinger of his. He was
explaining something. The information bureau, steadily dwindling into
the distance, was not listening. It seemed to be enjoying itself
immensely.

I swallowed a half-spoken word that tasted bitter as it went down. Then
I cranked again. There seemed to be nothing else to do. It was a hot
day; hot sweat blinded me, and trickled off the tip of my nose. My hands
began to develop blisters. Finally, a deep disgust seized me. I once saw
a tender-hearted lady on her knees in the dust before a balky auto. I
remembered her half-sobbed words: "_You mean thing, you! What is the
matter with you, anyway! Oh, you mean, mean thing!_"

I sat down in front of that engine and abandoned myself to a great
feeling of tenderness and chivalry for that unfortunate lady. In that
moment I believe I would have fought a bear for her! Oh that all the
gasoline engines in the world could be concentrated somehow into one
big woolly, scary black bear, how I could have set my teeth in its neck
and died chewing!

I heard a roaring of waters that broke my vision of bear fights and
gentle ladies in distress. A hundred yards ahead of me I saw rapids. The
words of the information bureau came back to me with terrible
distinctness: "Why, her light timbers will go to pieces on the first
rock!"

Although I am no hero, I didn't get frightened. I got sore. "Go ahead,
and smash yourself up, if you like!" I cried to the balky craft. And
then I waited to see her do it. She swung 'round sharply with the first
suck of the rapids, struck a rock, side-stepped, struck another, and
went on down, grinding and dragging on a stony reef.

It suddenly came to me that this was what they called the Grocondunez
Rapids. I remembered that they said the name meant "the big bridge of
the nose." The name had a powerful fascination for me--I wanted to hit
something good and hard somewhere in that region!

Finally she swung clear of the reef, caught the swirl of the main
current, and started for New Orleans with the bit in her teeth. I wasn't
ready to arrive in New Orleans at once; I had made other arrangements.
So I grasped a paddle and drove her into shallow water. I leaped out,
waist-deep in the cold stream, and threw my weight against her.
Pantingly, I wondered what was the exact distance to the nearest axe. I
resolved to crank her once more, and then for the axe hunt!

I leaned over the gunwale and began to grind. For the life of me, I
don't know just what I did to her; but it seemed that she had taken some
offence. Without the least warning, she leaped forward at three-quarter
speed, and started up stream with that haughty head of her thrust
skyward!

I clung desperately to her gunwale, and she dragged me insultingly in
the drink! She made a soppy rag of me! I managed to scramble
aboard--something after the fashion of a bronco-buster who mounts at a
gallop.

But the way she _traveled_! I forgot the ducking and forgave her with
all my heart. I held her nose well out into the channel where the
current ran with swells, though no wind blew.

[Illustration: THE "ATOM I" UNDER CONSTRUCTION.]

[Illustration: THE CABLE FERRY TOWED US OUT.]

[Illustration: LAID UP WITH A BROKEN RUDDER.]

Bucking the rapids, she split the fast water over her nose and sent it
aft in two clean-cut masses, that hissed about her like angry skirts. A
light, V-shaped wake spread after, scarcely agitating the surface. She
dragged no water. There was no churning at her stern. Only the dull,
sub-aqueous drone, felt rather than heard beneath the rapid banging of
her exhaust, told me how the honest little screw thrust hard.

I pushed the spark-lever close to the reversing point, and opened her
throttle wide. This acted like a bottle-fly on the flank of a spirited
mare. She shook herself, quivering through all her light, pliable
construction, lifted her prow another inch or two, and flung the rapids
behind her.

Slim, fleet, clean-heeled, and hungry for distance, she raced toward the
Benton landing two miles up.

In my anxiety to show her to the benevolent ones, I left the current and
took a crosscut over a rocky ford. Pebbles flung from her pounding heels
showered down upon me. I climbed forward and let her hammer away. She
cleared the gravel bar, and as she plunged past the now silent
information bureau on the landing, condescendingly I waved a hand at
them and went on splitting water.

We shot under the bridge, forged into the crossing current, passed the
big brick hotel, where a considerable number came out to salute us.
They dubbed her the fastest boat that had ever climbed that current, I
learned afterward. Alas! I was getting my triumph early and in one big
chunk! I figure that that one huge breakfast of triumph, if properly
distributed, would have fed me through the whole two thousand miles of
back-strain and muscle-cramp. And yet, through all the days of
snail-paced toil that followed, I remained truly thankful for that early
breakfast.

The Kid and the Cornishman, busy in camp with the packing for the
voyage, had shared in the gloom of my temporary defeat. But now, as I
plunged past them, I could see them leaping into the air and cracking
their heels together with delight. They had wet every plank of her with
their sweat, and they were as proud as I. In the light of the following
days, their delight dwindled into a pathetic thing.

I held her on her course up-stream, reached the bend a mile above, swung
round and--discovered that she had only then begun to lift her heels!
With the rapid current to aid, her speed was truly wonderful. She could
have kept pace with any respectable freight train at least.

I indulged in a little feverish mental calculation. She could make, with
the minimum current, eighteen miles per hour. Every day meant fifteen
hours of light. Sioux City was two thousand miles away. We could reach
Sioux City easily in ten days of actual running!

While I was covering that fast mile back to camp I saw the _Atom I_
passing Sioux City with an air of high-nosed contempt. I developed a
sort of unreasoning hunger for New Orleans--a kind of violent thirst for
the Gulf of Mexico! Nothing short of these, it seemed to me, could be
worthy of so fleet a craft. When I shoved her nose into the landing, I
found that my companions thoroughly agreed with me.

All that night in my restless sleep I drove speed boats at a terrific
pace through impossible channels and rock-toothed Scyllas; and the
little Cornishman fought angry seas and heard a dream-wind shrieking in
the cordage, and felt the salt spume on his face. "I wonder why I am
always dreaming that," he said. "Atavism," I ventured; and he regarded
me narrowly, as though I might be maligning his character in some way.

At dawn we had already eaten and were loading the _Atom_ for the voyage.
With her cargo she drew eighteen inches of water. At full speed, she
would squat four inches. It was the first of August and the water,
which had reached in the spring its highest point for twenty years, had
been falling rapidly, and now promised to go far below the average
low-water mark. We had ahead of us a long voyage, every mile of which
was strange water.

Once again I went over that feverish calculation. This time I was more
generous. I decided upon fifteen days. The cable ferry towed us out
beyond the gravel bars that, during the last week, had been slowly
lifting their bleached masses higher. In mid-stream we cut loose.

At the first turn the engine started. We were going at a good half-speed
clip, when suddenly the engine changed its mind. "Squash!" it said
wearily. Then it let off a gasoline sigh and went into a peaceful sleep.
We had reached the brick hotel. We pulled in with the paddles and tied
up. The information bureau was there, and at once went into
consultation.

"I'm looking for an engine doctor," I said. "How about Mr. Blank? They
tell me he knows the unknowable."

"Best man with an engine in town," sad one.

"For gracious' sake, keep that man away from your engine if you don't
want it ruined!" said others. A man who can arouse a diversity of
opinions is at least a man of originality. I went after that man.

He came--with an air of mystery and a monkey wrench. He sat down in
front of the patient (how that word _does_ fit!) and after some time he
said: "_Hm!_"

He unscrewed this--and whistled awhile; he unscrewed that--and whistled
some more. Then he screwed up both this and that and cranked her.

"Phew-oo-oo-oo!" said the engine. Whereat the doctor smiled knowingly.
It was plain that she was an open book to him.

"What is the trouble?" said I, with that tone of voice you use in a
sick-room.

It appeared to be appendicitis.

"Spark-plug," muttered the doctor.

"Shall I get another?" I asked, half apologetically.

"Better," grunted the doctor.

I chased down an automobile owner, and a launch owner and a man who had
a small pumping-engine. I was eloquent in my appeal for spark-plugs. I
made a very fine collection of them[1] and hastened back to the doctor.
He didn't seem to appreciate my efforts. He had the patient on the
operating table. Everything was either unscrewed or pulled out. He was
carefully scrutinizing the wreck--for more things to screw out!

"Locate the trouble?" I ventured.

"Buzzer's out of whack," replied the Man of Awe. "Have to get another
spark-coil!" In times of sickness even the sternest man submits to
medical tyranny. I ran down a man who once owned a power boat, and he
had a spark coil. He finally agreed to forgo the pleasure of possessing
it for a suitable reward. Considering the size of that reward, he had
undoubtedly become greatly attached to his spark-coil!

I returned in triumph to the doctor. He was now screwing up all that he
had previously unscrewed.

"Think she'll go now?" I pleaded.

He screwed up several dozen things, and whistled a while. Then the
oracle gave voice: "'Fraid the batteries won't do; they're awful weak!"

With a bitter heart, I turned on my heel and went forth once more.
Electrical supplies were not on sale at any of the stores. But I found a
number of gentlemen who were evidently connoisseurs in the battery
business. They had batteries of which they were extremely fond. They
parted with some of superior quality upon the consideration of a
friendly regard for me--and a slight emolument on my part. I was
evidently very popular.

At a breathless speed I returned to--_not_ to the doctor. He had
vanished. Rumor had it that he had gone home to lunch, for the sun was
now high. So far as I know, he is still at lunch.

Several things were yet unscrewed. I fell to work. Wherever anything
seemed to make a snug fit, I screwed it in. Other remaining things I
drove into convenient holes. All the while I begged blind fate to guide
me. Then I connected the batteries, supplied the new spark-coil,
selected a new spark-plug at random, and screwed it in.

Having done various things, I carefully surveyed my environs for a lady.
There were no ladies present, so I spoke out freely. "And now," said I,
having exhausted my vocabulary, "I shall crank!"

Bill and the Kid sat on a pile of rocks looking very sullen. For some
reason or other they seemed to doubt that engine. I don't know how long
I cranked. I know only that the impossible happened. The boat started
for the hotel piazza!

I didn't shut her down this time. I leaped out and took her by the nose.
Putting our shoulders against the power of the screw, we walked her out
into the current, headed her down stream, and scrambled in, wet to the
ears.

My logbook speaks for that day as follows: "Left Benton at 2:30
P.M. Gypsied along under half gasoline for several hours,
safely crossing the Shonkin and Grocondunez bars. Struck a rock in
Fontenelle Rapids at 4:30, taking off rudder. Landed with difficulty on
a gravel-bar and repaired damages. At 5:30 engine bucked. A heavy wind
from the west beat us against a ragged shore for an hour and a half.
Impossible to proceed without power, except by cordelling--which we did,
walking waist-deep in the water much of the time. Paddles useless in
such a head wind. The wind falling at sunset, we drifted, again losing
our rudder while shooting Brule Rapids. Tied up at the head of Black
Bluff Rapids at dusk, having made twenty miles out of two thousand for
the first day's run. Have to extend that fifteen days! Just the same,
that information bureau saw us leave under power!"

FOOTNOTES:

[Footnote 1: Dear Reader: Should you undertake the Missouri River trip,
don't lay anything out on spark-plugs. I sowed them all along up there.
Take a drag-net. You will scoop up several hundred dry batteries, but
don't mind them; they are probably spoiled.]



CHAPTER V

THROUGH THE REGION OF WEIR


We awoke with light hearts on the second morning of the voyage. All
about us was the sacred silence of the wilderness dawn. The coming sun
had smitten the chill night air into a ghostly fog that lay upon the
valley like a fairy lake.

We were at the rim of the Bad Lands and there were no birds to sing; but
crows, wheeling about a sandstone summit, flung doleful voices downward
into the morning hush--the spirit of the place grown vocal.

Cloaked with the fog, our breakfast fire of driftwood glowed ruddily.
What is there about the tang of wood-smoke in a lonesome place that
fills one with glories that seem half memory and half dream? Crouched on
my haunches, shivering just enough to feel the beauty there is in fire,
I needed only to close my eyes, smarting with the smoke, to feel myself
the first man huddled close to the first flame, blooming like a mystic
flower in the chill dawn of the world!

Perhaps that is what an outing is for--to strip one down to the lean
essentials, press in upon one the glorious privilege of being one's
self, unique in all the universe of innumerable unique things. Crouched
close to your wilderness campfire, the great Vision comes easily out of
the smoke. Once again you feel the bigness of your world, the tremendous
significance of everything in it--including yourself--and a far-seeing
sadness grips you. Living in the flesh seems so transient, almost a
pitiful thing in the last analysis. But somehow you feel that there is
something bigger--not beyond it, but all about it continually. And you
wonder that you ever hated anyone. You know, somehow, there in the smoky
silence, why men are noble or ignoble; why they lie or die for a
principle; why they kill, or suffer martyrdom; why they love and hate
and fight; why women smile under burdens, sin splendidly or
sordidly--and why hearts sometimes break.

And expanded by the bigness of the empty silent spaces about you, like a
spirit independent of it and outside of it all, you love the great red
straining Heart of Man more than you could ever love it at your desk in
town. And you want to get up and move--push on through purple
distances--whither? Oh, anywhere will do! What you seek is at the end of
the rainbow; it is in the azure of distance; it is just behind the glow
of the sunset, and close under the dawn. And the glorious thing about it
is that you know you'll never find it until you reach that lone, ghostly
land where the North Star sets, perhaps. You're merely glad to know that
you're not a vegetable--and that the trail never really ends anywhere.

Just now, however, the longing for the abstract had the semblance of a
longing for the concrete. It always has that semblance, for that matter.
You never really want what you think you are seeking. Touch the
substance--and away you go after the shadow!

[Illustration: "ATOM" SAILING UP-STREAM IN A HEAD WIND.]

[Illustration: TYPICAL RAPIDS ON UPPER MISSOURI.]

Around the bend lay Sioux City. Around what bend? What matter? Somewhere
down stream the last bend lay, and in between lay the playing of the
game. Any bend will do to sail around! There's a lot of fun in merely
being able to move about and do things. For this reason I am overwhelmed
with gratitude whenever I think that, through some slight error in the
cosmic process, the life forces that glow in me might have been flung
into a turnip--_but weren't_! The thought is truly appalling--isn't it?
The avoidance of that one awful possibility is enough to make any man
feel lucky all his life. It's such fun to awaken in the morning with all
your legs and arms and eyes and ears about you, waiting to be used
again! So strong was this thought in me when we cast off, that even the
memory of Bill's amateurish pancakes couldn't keep back the whistle.

The current of the Black Bluffs Rapids whisked us from the bank with a
giddy speed, spun us about a right-angled bend, and landed us in a long
quiet lake. Contrary to the average opinion, the Upper Missouri is
merely a succession of lakes and rapids. In the low-water season, this
statement should be italicised. When you are pushing down with the power
of your arms alone the rapids show you how fast you want to go, and the
lakes show you that you can't go that fast. For the teaching of
patience, the arrangement is admirable. But when head winds blow, a
three-mile reach means about a two-hour fight.

This being a very invigorating morning, however, the engine decided to
take a constitutional. It ran. Below the mouth of the Marias River,
twenty minutes later, we grounded on Archer's Bar and shut down. After
dragging her off the gravel, we discovered that the engine wished to
sleep. No amount of cranking could arouse it. Now and then it would say
"_squash_," feebly rolling its wheel a revolution or two--like a
sleepy-head brushing off a fly with a languid hand.

A light breeze had sprung up out of the west. The stream ran east and
northeast. We hastily rigged a tarp on a pair of oars spliced for a
mast, and proceeded at a care-free pace. The light breeze ruffled the
surface of the slow stream;

      "----yet still the sail made on
    A pleasant noise till noon."

In the lazy heat of the mounting sun, tempered by the cool river
draught, the yellow sandstone bluffs, whimsically decorated with sparse
patches of greenery, seemed to waver as though seen through shimmering
silken gauze. And over it all was the hush of a dream, except when, in a
spasmodic freshening of the breeze, the rude mast creaked and a sleepy
watery murmur grew up for a moment at the wake.

Now and then at a break in the bluffs, where a little coulee entered the
stream, the gray masses of the bull-berry bushes lifted like smoke, and
from them, flame-like, flashed the vivid scarlet of the berry-clusters,
smiting the general dreaminess like a haughty cry in a silence.

A wilderness indeed! It seemed that waste land of which Tennyson sang,
"where no man comes nor hath come since the making of the world." I
thought of the steamboats and the mackinaws and the keel-boats and the
thousands of men who had pushed through this dream-world and the thought
was unconvincing. Fairies may have lived here, indeed; and in the youth
of the world, a glad young race of gods might have dreamed gloriously
among the yellow crags. But surely we were the first men who had ever
passed that way--and should be the last.

Suddenly the light breeze boomed up into a gale. The _Atom_, with
bellying sail, leaped forward down the roughening water, swung about a
bend, raced with a quartering wind down the next reach, shot across
another bend--and lay drifting in a golden calm. Still above us the
great wind buzzed in the crags like a swarm of giant bees, and the
waters about us lay like a sheet of flawless glass.

With paddles we pushed on lazily for an hour. At the next bend, where
the river turned into the west, the great gale that had been roaring
above us, suddenly struck us full in front. Sucking up river between the
wall rocks on either side, its force was terrific. You tried to talk
while facing it, and it took your breath away. In a few minutes, in
spite of our efforts with the paddles, we lay pounding on the shallows
of the opposite shore.

We got out. Two went forward with the line and the third pushed at the
stern. Progress was slow--no more than a mile an hour. The clear water
of the upper river is always cold, and the great wind chilled the air.
Even under the August noon it took brisk work to keep one's teeth from
chattering. The bank we were following became a precipice rising sheer
from the river's edge, and the water deepened until we could no longer
wade. We got in and poled on to the next shallows, often for many
minutes at a time barely holding our own against the stiff gusts. For
two hours we dragged the heavily laden boat, sometimes walking the bank,
sometimes wading in mid-stream, sometimes poling, often swimming with
the line from one shallow to another. And the struggle ended as suddenly
as it began. Upon rounding the second bend the head wind became a stern
wind, driving us on at a jolly clip until nightfall.

During the late afternoon, we came upon a place where the Great Northern
Railroad touches the river for the last time in five hundred miles. Here
we saw two Italian section hands whiling away their Sunday with fishing
rods. I went ashore, hoping to buy some fish. Neither of the two could
speak English, and Italian sounds to me merely like an unintelligible
singing. However, they gave me to understand that the fish were not for
sale, and my proffered coin had no persuasive powers.

Still wanting those fish, I rolled a smoke, carelessly whistling the
while a strain from an opera I had once heard. For some reason or other
that strain had been in my head all day. I had gotten up in the morning
with it; I had whistled it during the fight with the head wind. The Kid
called it "that Dago tune." I think it was something from _Il
Trovatore_.

Suddenly one of the little Italians dropped his rod, stood up to his
full height, lifted his arms very much after the manner of an orchestra
leader and joined in with me. I stopped--because I saw that he _could_
whistle. He carried it on with much expression to the last thin note
with all the ache of the world in it. And then he grinned at me.

"Verdi!" he said sweetly.

I applauded. Whereat the little Italian produced a bag of tobacco. We
sat down on the rocks and smoked together, holding a wordless but
perfectly intelligble conversation of pleasant grins.

That night we had fish for supper! I got them for a song--or, rather,
for a whistle. I was fed with more than fish. And I went to sleep that
night with a glorious thought for a pillow: Truth expressed as Art is
the universal language. One immortal strain from Verdi, poorly whistled
in a wilderness, had made a Dago and a Dutchman brothers!

Scarcely had the crackling of the ruddy log lulled us to sleep, when the
night had flitted over like a shadow, and we were cooking breakfast. A
lone, gray wolf, sitting on his haunches a hundred paces away, regarded
us curiously. Doubtless we were new to his generation; for in the
evening dusk we had drifted well into the Bad Lands.

Bad Lands? Rather the Land of Awe!

A light stern wind came up with the sun. During the previous evening we
had rigged a cat-sail, and noiselessly we glided down the glinting trail
of crystal into the "Region of Weir."

On either hand the sandstone cliffs reared their yellow masses against
the cloudless sky. Worn by the ebbing floods of a prehistoric sea,
carved by the winds and rains of ages, they presented a panorama of
wonders.

Rows of huge colonial mansions with pillared porticoes looked from their
dizzy terraces across the stream to where soaring mosques and mystic
domes of worship caught the sun. It was all like the visible dream of a
master architect gone mad. Gaunt, sinister ruins of medieval castles
sprawled down the slopes of unassailable summits. Grim brown towers,
haughtily crenellated, scowled defiance on the unappearing foe. Titanic
stools of stone dotted barren garden slopes, where surely gods had once
strolled in that far time when the stars sang and the moon was young.
Dark red walls of regularly laid stone--huge as that the Chinese flung
before the advance of the Northern hordes--held imaginary empires
asunder. Poised on a dizzy peak, Jove's eagle stared into the eye of the
sun, and raised his wings for the flight deferred these many centuries.
Kneeling face to face upon a lonesome summit, their hands clasped before
them, their backs bent as with the burdens of the race, two women prayed
the old, old woman prayer. The snow-white ruins of a vast cathedral lay
along the water's edge, and all about it was a hush of worship. And near
it, arose the pointed pipes of a colossal organ--with the summer silence
for music.

With a lazy sail we drifted through this place of awe; and for once I
had no regrets about that engine. The popping of the exhaust would have
seemed sacrilegious in this holy quiet.

Seldom do men pass that way. It is out of the path of the tourist. No
excursion steamers ply those awesome river reaches. Across the sacred
whiteness of that cathedral's imposing mass, no sign has ever been
painted telling you the merits of the best five-cent cigar in the world!
Few besides the hawks and the crows would see it, if it were there.

And yet, for all the quiet in this land of wonder, somehow you cannot
feel that the place is unpeopled. Surely, you think, invisible knights
clash in tourney under those frowning towers. Surely a lovelorn maiden
spins at that castle window, weaving her heartache into the magic
figures of her loom. Stately dames must move behind the shut doors of
those pillared mansions; devotees mutter Oriental prayers beneath those
sun-smitten domes. And amid the awful inner silence of that cathedral,
white-robed priests lift wan faces to their God.

Under the beat of the high sun the light stern wind fell. The slack sail
drooped like a sick-hearted thing. Idly drifting on the slow glassy
flood, we seemed only an incidental portion of this dream in which the
deepest passions of man were bodied forth in eternal fixity. Towers of
battle, domes of prayer, fanes of worship, and then--the kneeling women!
Somehow one couldn't whistle there. Bill and the Kid, little given to
sentiment, sat quietly and stared.

Late in the afternoon we found ourselves out of this "Region of Weir."
Great wall rocks soared above us. Consulting our map, we found that we
were nearing Eagle Rapids, the first of a turbulent series. I had fondly
anticipated shooting them all under power. So once more I decided to go
over that engine. We landed at the wooded mouth of a little ravine,
having made a trifle over twenty miles that day.

With those tools of the engine doctor--an air of mystery and a
monkey-wrench--I unscrewed everything that appeared to have a thread on
it, and pulled out the other things. The odds, I figured, were in my
favor. A sick engine is useless, and I felt assured of either killing or
curing. I did something--I don't know what; but having achieved the
complete screwing up and driving in of things--_it went_!

So on the morning of the fourth day, we were up early, eager for the
shooting of rapids. We had understood from the conversation of the
seemingly wise, that Eagle Rapids was the first of a series that made
the other rapids we had passed through look like mere ripples on the
surface. In some of those we had gone at a very good clip, and several
times we had lost our rudder.

I remembered how the steamboats used to be obliged to throw out cables
and slowly wind themselves up with the power of the "steam nigger." I
also remembered the words of Father de Smet: "There are many rapids, ten
of which are very difficult to ascend and very dangerous to go down."

We had intended from the very first to get wrecked in one or all of
these rapids. For this reason we had distributed forward, aft, and
amidships, eight five-gallon cans, soldered air-tight. The frail craft
would, we figured, be punctured. The cans would displace nearly three
hundred and fifty pounds of water, and the boat and engine, submerged,
would lose a certain weight. I had made the gruesome calculation with
fond attention to detail. I decided that she should be wrecked quite
arithmetically. We should be able, the figures said, to recover the
engine and patch the boat. We had provided three life-preservers, but
one had been stolen; so I had fancied what a bully fight one might have
if he should be thrown out into the mad waters without a life-preserver.

I have never been able to explain it satisfactorily; it is one of the
paradoxes; but human nature seems to take a weird delight in placing in
jeopardy that which is dearest. Even a coward with his fingers clenched
desperately on the ragged edge of hazard, feels an inexplicable thrill
of glory. Having several times been decently scared, I know.

One likes to take a sly peep behind the curtain of the big play, hoping
perhaps to get a slight hint as to what machinery hoists the moon, and
what sort of contrivance flings the thunder and lightning, and many
other things that are none of his business. Only, to be sure, he intends
to get away safely with his information. When you think you see your
finish bowing to receive you, something happens in your head. It's like
a sultry sheet of rapid fire lapping up for a moment the thunder-shaken
night--and discovering a strange land to you. And it's really good for
you.

Under half speed we cruised through the windless golden morning; and the
lonesome canyon echoed and re-echoed with the joyful chortle of the
resurrected engine. We had covered about ten miles, when a strange
sighing sound grew up about us. It seemed to emanate from the soaring
walls of rock. It seemed faint, yet it arose above the din of the
explosions, drowned out the droning of the screw.

Steadily the sound increased. Like the ghost of a great wind it moaned
and sighed about us. Little by little a new note crept in--a sibilant,
metallic note as of a tense sheet of silk drawn rapidly over a thin
steel edge.

[Illustration: WOLF POINT, THE FIRST TOWN IN 500 MILES.]

[Illustration: ENTRANCE TO THE BAD LANDS.]

We knew it to be the mourning voice of the Eagle Rapids; but far as we
could see, the river was quiet as a lake. We jogged on for a mile,
with the invisible moaning presence about us. It was somewhat like the
intangible something you feel about a powerful but sinister personality.
The golden morning was saturated with it.

Suddenly, turning a sharp bend about the wall of rock that flanked the
channel, a wind of noise struck us. It was like the hissing of
innumerable snakes against a tonal background of muffled continuous
thunder. A hundred yards before us was Eagle Rapids--a forbidding patch
of writhing, whitening water, pricked with the upward thrust of
toothlike rocks.

The first sight of it turned the inside of me mist-gray. Temporarily,
wrecks and the arithmetic of them had little charm for me. I seized the
spark-lever, intending to shut down. Instead, I threw it wide open. With
the resulting leap of the craft, all the gray went out of me.

I grasped the rudder ropes and aimed at a point where the sinuous
current sucked through a passage in the rocks like a lean flame through
a windy flue. Did you ever hear music that made you see purple? It was
that sort of purple I saw (or did I hear it like music?) when we plunged
under full speed into the first suck of the rapids. We seemed a
conscious arrow hurled through a gray, writhing world, the light of
which was noise. And then, suddenly, the quiet, golden morning flashed
back; and we were ripping the placid waters of a lake.

The Kid broke out into boisterous laughter that irritated me strangely:
"Where the devil do you suppose our life-preservers are?" he bawled.
"They're clear down under all the cargo!"

A world of wonderful beauty was forging past us. In the golden calm, the
scintillant sheet of water seemed to be rushing backward, splitting
itself over the prow, like a fabric woven of gold and silver drawn
rapidly against a keen stationary blade.

The sheer cliffs had fallen away into pine-clad slopes, and vari-colored
rocks flung notes of scarlet and gold through the sombre green of the
pines--like the riotous treble cries of an organ pricking the sullen
murmur of the bass. So still were the clean waters that we seemed midway
between two skies.

We skirted the base of a conical rock that towered three hundred feet
above us--a Titan sentinel. It was the famous Sentinel Rock of the old
steamboat days. I shut the engine down to quarter speed, for somehow
from the dizzy summit a sad dream fell upon me and bade me linger.

I stared down into the cold crystal waters at the base of the rock.
Many-colored mosses, sickly green, pale, feverish red, yellow like fear,
black like despair, purple like the lips of a strangled man, clung
there. I remembered an old spring I used to haunt when I was just old
enough to be awed by the fact of life and frightened at the possibility
of death. Just such mosses grew in the depths of that spring. I used to
stare into it for hours.

It fascinated me in a terrible way. I thought Death looked like that.
Even now I am afraid I could not swim long in clear waters with those
fearful colors under me. I am sure they found Ophelia floating like a
ghastly lily in such a place.

Filled with a shadow of the old childish dread, I looked up to the
austere summit of the Sentinel. Scarred and haggard with time it caught
the sun. I thought of how long it had stood there just so, under the
intermittent flashing of moon and sun and star, since first its flinty
peak had pricked through the hot spume of prehistoric seas.

Fantastic reptiles, winged and finned and fanged, had basked upon
it--grotesque, tentative vehicles of the Flame of Life! And then these
flashed out, and the wild sea fell, and the land arose--hideous and
naked, a steaming ooze fetid with gasping life. And all the while this
scarred Sentinel stared unmoved. And then a riot of giant vegetation all
about it--divinely extravagant, many-colored as fire. And this too
flashed out--like the impossible dream of a god too young. And the Great
Change came, and the paradox of frost was in the world, stripping life
down to the lean essentials till only the sane, capable things might
live. And still the Titan stared as in the beginning. And then, men were
in the land--gaunt, terrible, wolf-like men, loving and hating. And La
Verendrye forged past it; and Lewis and Clark toiled under it through
these waters of awful quiet. And then the bull boats and the mackinaws
and the packets. And all these flashed out; and still it stood unmoved.
And I came--and I too would flash out, and all men after me and all
life.

I viewed the colossal watcher with something like terror--the aspect of
death about its base and that cynical glimmer of sunlight at its top. I
flung the throttle open, and we leaped forward through the river hush.
I wanted to get away from this thing that had seen so much of life and
cared so little. It depressed me strangely; it thrust bitter questions
within the charmed circle of my ego. It gave me an almost morbid desire
for speed, as though there were some place I should reach before the
terrible question should be answered against me.

We fled down five or six miles of depressingly quiet waters. Once again
the wall rocks closed about us. We seemed to be going at a tediously
slow pace, yet the two thin streams of water rushed hissing from prow to
stern. A strange mood was upon me. Once when I was a boy and far from
home, I awoke in the night with a bed of railroad ties under me, and the
chill black blanket of the darkness about me. I wanted to get up and run
through that damned night--anywhere, just so I went fast
enough--stopping only when exhaustion should drag me down. And yet I was
afraid of nothing tangible; hunger and the stranger had sharpened
whatever blue steel there was in my nature. I was afraid of being still!
Were you ever a homesick boy, too proud to tell the truth about it?

I felt something of that boy's ache as we shot in among the wall rocks
again. It was a psychic hunger for something that does not exist. Oh, to
attain the terrible speed one experiences in a fever-dream, to get
somewhere before it is too late, before the black curtain drops!

To some this may sound merely like the grating of overwrought nerves.
But it is more than that. All religions grew out of that most human
mood. And whenever one is deeply moved, he feels it. For even the most
matter-of-fact person of us all has now and then a suspicion that this
life is merely episodic--that curtain after curtain of darkness is to be
pierced, world after world of consciousness and light to be passed
through.

Once more the rocks took on grotesque shapes--utterly ultra-human in
their suggestiveness. Those who have marveled at the Hudson's beauty
should drop down this lonesome stretch.

We shot through the Elbow Rapids at the base of the great
Hole-in-the-wall Rock. It was deep and safe--much like an exaggerated
mill-race. It ran in heavy swells, yet the day was windless.

In the late afternoon we shot the Dead Man's Rapids, a very turbulent
and rocky stretch of water. We went through at a freight-train speed,
and began to develop a slight contempt for fast waters. That night we
camped at the mouth of the Judith River on the site of the now forgotten
Fort Chardon. We had made only ninety-eight miles in four days. It began
to appear that we might be obliged to finish on skates!

We were up and off with the first gray of the morning. We knew Dauphin
Rapids to be about seventeen miles below, and since this particular
patch of water had by far the greatest reputation of all the rapids, we
were eager to make its acquaintance.

The engine began to show unmistakable signs of getting tired of its job.
Now and then it barked spitefully, had half a notion to stop, changed
its mind, ran faster than it should, wheezed and slowed down--acting in
an altogether unreasonable way. But it kept the screw humming
nevertheless.

Fortunately it was going at a mad clip when we sighted the Dauphin.
There was not that sibilance and thunder that had turned me a bit gray
inside at first sight of the Eagle. The channel was narrow, and no rocks
appeared above the surface. But speed _was_ there; and the almost
noiseless rolling of the swift flood ahead had a more formidable
appearance than that of the Eagle. Rocks above the surface are not much
to be feared when you have power and a good rudder. But we drew about
twenty-two inches of water, and I thought of the rocks under the
surface.

I had, however, only a moment to think, for we were already traveling a
good eighteen miles, and when the main swirl of the rapids seized us, we
no doubt reached twenty-five. I was grasping the rudder ropes and we
were all grinning a sort of idiotic satisfaction at the amazing spurt of
speed, when----

Something was about to happen!

The Kid and I were sitting behind the engine in order to hold her screw
down to solid water. Bill, decorated with a grin, sat amidships facing
us. I caught a pink flash in the swirl just under our bow, and then _it
happened_!

The boat reared like a steeple-chaser taking a fence! The Kid shot
forward over the engine and knocked the grin off Bill's face! Clinging
desperately to the rudder ropes, I saw, for a brief moment, a good
three-fourths of the frail craft thrust skyward at an angle of about
forty-five degrees. Then she stuck her nose in the water and her screw
came up, howling like seven devils in the air behind me! Instinctively,
I struck the spark-lever; the howling stopped,--and we were floating in
the slow waters below Dauphin Rapids.

All the cargo had forged forward, and the persons of Bill and the Kid
were considerably tangled. We laughed loud and long. Then we gathered
ourselves up and wondered if she might be taking water under the cargo.
It developed that she wasn't. But one of our grub boxes, containing all
the bacon, was missing. So were the short oars that we used for paddles.
While we laughed, these had found some convenient hiding-place.

We had struck a smooth bowlder and leaped over it. A boat with the
ordinary launch construction would have opened at every seam. The light
springy tough construction of the _Atom_ had saved her. Whereat I
thought of the Information Bureau and was well pleased.

Altogether we looked upon the incident as a purple spot. But we were
many miles from available bacon, and when, upon trial, the engine
refused to make a revolution, we began to get exceedingly hungry for
meat.

Having a dead engine and no paddles, we drifted. We drifted very slowly.
The Kid asked if he might not go ashore and drive a stake in the bank.
For what purpose? Why, to ascertain whether we were going up or down
stream! While we drifted in the now blistering sun, we talked about
_meat_. With a devilish persistence we quite exhausted the subject. We
discussed the best methods for making a beefsteak delicious. It made us
very hungry for meat. The Kid announced that he could feel his backbone
sawing at the front of his shirt. But perhaps that was only the
hyperbole of youth. Bill confessed that he had once grumbled at his good
wife for serving the steak too rare. He now stated that at the first
telegraph station he would wire for forgiveness. I advised him to wire
for money instead and buy meat with it. Personally I felt a sort of
wistful tenderness for packing-houses.

That day passed somehow, and the next morning we were still hungry for
meat. We spent most of the morning talking about it. In the blistering
windless afternoon, we drifted lazily. Now and then we took turns
cranking the engine.

We were going stern foremost and I was cranking. We rounded a bend
where the wall rocks sloped back, leaving a narrow arid sagebrush strip
along both sides of the stream. I had straightened up to get the kink
out of my back and mop the sweat out of my eyes, when I saw something
that made my stomach turn a double somersault.

A good eight hundred yards down stream at the point of a gravel-bar,
something that looked like and yet unlike a small cluster of drifting,
leafless brush moved slowly into the water. Now it appeared quite
distinct, and now it seemed that a film of oil all but blotted it out. I
blinked my eyes and peered hard through the baffling yellow glare. Then
I reached for the rifle and climbed over the gunwhale. I smelled raw
meat.

Fortunately, we were drifting across a bar, and the slow water came only
to my shoulders. The thing eight hundred yards away was forging across
stream by this time--heading for the mouth of a coulee. I saw plainly
now that the brush grew out of a head. It was a buck with antlers.

Just below the coulee's mouth, the wall rocks began again. The buck
would be obliged to land above the wall rocks, and the drifting boat
would keep him going. I reached shore and headed for that coulee. The
sagebrush concealed me. At the critical moment, I intended to show
myself and start him up the steep slope. Thus he would be forced to
approach me while fleeing me. When I felt that enough time had passed, I
stood up. The buck, shaking himself like a dog, stood against the yellow
sandstone at the mouth of the gulch. He saw me, looked back at the
drifting boat, and appeared to be undecided.

I wondered what the range might be. Back home in the plowed field where
I frequently plug tin cans at various long ranges, I would have called
it six hundred yards--at first. Then suddenly it seemed three or four
hundred. Like a thing in a dream the buck seemed to waver back and forth
in the oily sunlight.

"Call it four hundred and fifty," I said to myself, and let drive. A
spurt of yellow stone-dust leaped from the cliff a foot or so above the
deer's back. Only four hundred? But the deer had made up his mind. He
had urgent business on the other side of that slope--he appeared to be
overdue.

[Illustration: FRESH MEAT.]

[Illustration: SUPPER!]

I pumped up another shell and drew fine at four hundred. That time
his rump quivered for a second as though a great weight had been dropped
on it. But he went on with increased speed. Once more I let him have it.
That time he lost an antler. He had now reached the summit, two hundred
feet up at the least.

He hesitated--seemed to be shivering. I have hunted with a full stomach
and brought down game. But there's a difference when you are empty. In
that moment before you kill, you became the sort of fellow your mother
wouldn't like. Perhaps the average man would feel a little ashamed to
tell the truth about that savage moment. I got down on my knee and put a
final soft-nosed ball where it would do the most good. The buck reared,
stiffened, and came down, tumbling over and over.

That night we pitched camp under a lone scrubby tree at the mouth of an
arid gulch that led back into the utterly God-forsaken Bad Lands. It was
the wilderness indeed. Coyotes howled far away in the night, and diving
beaver boomed out in the black stream.

We built half a dozen fires and swung above them the choice portions of
our kill. And how we ate--with what glorious appetites!

It is good to sit with a glad-hearted company flinging words of joyful
banter across very tall steins. It is good to draw up to a country table
at Christmas time with turkey and pumpkin-pies and old-fashioned
puddings before you, and the ones you love about you. I have been deeply
happy with apples and cider before an open fireplace. I have been
present when the brilliant sword-play of wit flashed across a banquet
table--and it thrilled me. _But_----

There is no feast like the feast in the open--the feast in the flaring
light of a night fire--the feast of your own kill, with the tang of the
wild and the tang of the smoke in it!



CHAPTER VI

GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS


It all came back there by the smoldering fires--the wonder and the
beauty and the awe of being alive. We had eaten hugely--a giant feast.
There had been no formalities about that meal. Lying on our blankets
under the smoke-drift, we had cut with our jack-knives the tender
morsels from a haunch as it roasted. When the haunch was at last cooked
to the bone, only the bone was left.

Heavy with the feast, I lay on my back watching the gray smoke brush my
stars that seemed so near. _My stars!_ Soft and gentle and mystical!
Like a dark-browed Yotun woman wooing the latent giant in me, the night
pressed down. I closed my eyes, and through me ran the sensuous surface
fires of her dream-wrought limbs. Upon my face the weird magnetic lure
of ever-nearing, never-kissing lips made soundless music. Like a sister,
like a mother she caressed me, lazy with the huge feast; and yet, a
drowsy, half-voluptuous joy shimmered and rippled in my veins.

Drowsing and dreaming under the drifting smoke-wrack, I felt the sense
of time and self drop away from me. No now, no to-morrow, no yesterday,
no I! Only eternity, one vast whole--sun-shot, star-sprent, love-filled,
changeless. And in it all, one spot of consciousness more acute than
other spots; and that was the something that had eaten hugely, and that
now felt the inward-flung glory of it all; the swooning, half-voluptuous
sense of awe and wonder, the rippling, shimmering, universal joy.

And then suddenly and without shock--like the shifting of the wood
smoke--the mood veered, and there was nothing but I. Space and eternity
were I--vast projections of myself, tingling with my consciousness to
the remotest fringe of the outward swinging atom-drift; through
immeasurable night, pierced capriciously with shafts of paradoxic day;
through and beyond the awful circle of yearless duration, my ego lived
and knew itself and thrilled with the glory of being. The slowly
revolving Milky Way was only a glory within me; the great woman-star
jeweling the summit of a cliff, was only an ecstasy within me; the
murmuring of the river out in the dark was only the singing of my heart;
and the deep, deep blue of the heavens was only the splendid color of my
soul.

Bill snored. Among the glowing fires moved the black bulk of the Kid,
turning the hunks of venison. And then the universe and I, curiously
mixed, swooned into nothing at all, and I was blinking at a golden glow,
and from the river came a shouting.

It was broad day. We leaped up, and rubbing the sleep from our eyes, saw
a light skiff drifting toward us. It contained two men--Frank and
Charley. We had met them at Benton, and during an acquaintance of three
weeks we had learned of their remarkable ability as cooks. Frank was a
little Canadian Frenchman, and Charley was English. Both, in the
parlance of the road, were "floaters"; that is to say, no locality ever
knew them long; the earth was their floor, the sky their ceiling--and
their god was Whim. Naturally our trip had appealed to them, and one
month in Benton had aggravated that hopelessly incurable
disease--_Wanderlust_.

So we had agreed that somewhere down river we would camp for a week and
wait for them. They would do the cooking, and we would take them in tow.
Two days after we dropped out of Benton, they had abruptly "jumped" an
unfinished job and put off after us in a skiff, rowing all day and most
of the night in order to overtake us.

Certainly they had arrived at the moment most psychologically favorable
for the beginning of an odd sort of tyranny that followed. Cooking is a
weird mystery to me. As for Bill and the Kid, courtesy forbids detailed
comment. The Kid had been uniformly successful in disguising the most
familiar articles of diet; and Bill was perhaps least unsuccessful in
the making of flapjacks. According to his naïve statement, he had
discovered the trick of mixing the batter while manufacturing
photographer's mounting paste. His statement was never questioned. My
only criticism on his flapjacks was simply that he left too much to the
imagination. For these and kindred reasons, we gladly hailed the
newcomers.

Ten minutes after the skiff touched shore, the camp consisted of two
cooks and three scullions. The Kid was a hewer and packer of wood, I was
a peeler and slicer of things, and Bill, sweetly oblivious of his
bewhiskered dignity, danced about in the humblest of moods, handing this
and that to the grub-lords.

"You outfitted like greenhorns!" announced the usurpers. "What you want
is raw material. Run down to the boat, please, and bring me this! Oh,
yes, and bring me that! And you'll find the other in the bottom of the
skiff's forward locker! Put a little more wood on the fire, Kid; and
say, Bill, hand me that, won't you? Who's going to get a pail of water?"

All three of us were going to get a pail of water, of course! It was the
one thing in the world we wanted to do very much--get a pail of water!

But the raw materials--how they played on them! I regarded their
performance as a species of duet; and the raw materials, ranged in the
sand about the fire, were the keys. Frank touched this, Charley touched
that, and over the fire the music grew--perfectly stomach-ravishing!

We had bought with much care all, or nearly all the ordinary
cooking-utensils. These the usurpers scorned. Three or four gasoline
cans, transformed by a jack-knife into skillets, ovens, platters, etc.,
sufficed for these masters of their craft. The downright Greek
simplicity of their methods won me completely.

"This is indeed Art," thought I; "first, the elimination of the
non-essential, and then the virile, unerring directness, the seemingly
easy accomplishment resulting from effort long forgotten; and, above
all, the final, convincing delivery of the goods."

Out of the chaos of the raw material, beneath the touch of Charley's
wise hands, emerged a wondrous cosmos of biscuits, light as the heart of
a boy. And Frank, singing a French ditty, created wheat cakes. His
method struck me as poetic. He scorned the ordinary uninspired cook's
manner of turning the half-baked cake. One side being done, he waited
until the ditty reached a certain lilting upward leap in the refrain,
when, with a dexterous movement of the frying-pan, he tossed the cake
into the air, making it execute a joyful somersault, and catching it
with a sizzling _splat_ in the pan, just as the lilting measure ceased
abruptly.

Why, I could taste that song in the pancakes!

I wonder why domestic economy has so persistently overlooked the value
of song as an adjunct to cookery. _Gâteaux à la chansonnette!_ Who
wouldn't eat them for breakfast?

At six in the evening we put off, Charley, the Kid and I manning the
power boat, Bill and Frank the skiff, which was towed by a thirty-foot
line. I had, during the day, transformed my unquestioned slavery into a
distinct advantage, having carefully impressed upon the Englishman the
honor I would do him by allowing him to become chief engineer of the
_Atom_. I carefully avoided the subject of cranking. I was tired
cranking. I felt that I had exhausted the possibilities of enjoyment in
that particular form of physical exercise. It had developed during the
day that Charley had once run a gasoline engine. I was careful to
emphasize my ridiculous lack of mechanical ability. Charley took the
bait beautifully.

But just now the engine ran merrily. Above its barking I sang the
praises of the Englishman, with a comfortable feeling that, at least in
this, the tail would wag the dog.

Through the clear quiet waters, between soaring canyon walls, we raced
eastward into the creeping twilight. Here and there the banks widened
out into valleys of wondrous beauty, flanked by jagged miniature
mountains transfigured in the slant evening light. It seemed the "færie
land forlorn" of which Keats dreamed, where year after year come only
the winds and the rains and the snow and the sunlight and the star-sheen
and the moon-glow.

In the deepening evening our widening V-shaped wake glowed with
opalescent witch-fires. Watching the oily ripples, I steered wild and
lost the channel. We all got out and, wading in different directions,
went hunting for the Missouri River. It had flattened out into a lake
three or four hundred yards wide and eight inches deep. Slipping poles
under the power boat, we carried it several hundred yards to a point
where the stream deepened. It was now quite dark, and the engine quit
work for the day. The skiff towed us another mile or so to a camping
place.

Having moored the boats, we lined up on the shore and had a song. It was
a quintet, consisting of a Frenchman, an Englishman, an Irishman, a
Cornishman, and a German. A very strong quintet it was; that is to say,
strong on volume. As to quality--we weren't thrusting ourselves upon an
audience. The river and the sky didn't seem to mind, and the cliffs sang
after us, lagging a beat or two.

We wished to sing ever so beautifully; and, after all, it would be much
better to have the whole world wishing to sing melodiously, than to have
just a few masters here and there who really can! Did you ever hear a
barefooted, freckle-faced plowboy singing powerfully and quite out of
tune, the stubble fields about him still glistening with the morning
dew, and the meadow larks joining in from the fence-posts? I have: and
soaring above the faulty execution, I heard the lark-heart of the
never-aging world wooing the far-off eternal dawn. True song is merely a
hopeful condition of the soul. And so I am sure we sang very wonderfully
that night.

And how the flapjacks disappeared as a result of that singing! We ate
until Charley refused to bake any more; then we rolled up in our
blankets by the fire and "swapped lies," dropping off one at a time into
sleep until the last speaker finished his story with only the drowsy
stars for an audience. At least I suppose it was so; I was not the last
speaker.

Alas! too seldom were we to hail the evening star with song. So far we
had made in a week little more than one hundred and fifty miles. With
the exception of a few hours of head winds, that week had been a week of
dream. We now awoke fully to the fact that in low water season the
Missouri is not swift. In our early plans we had fallen in with the
popular fallacy that one need only cut loose and let the current do the
rest; whereas, in low water, one would probably never reach the end of
his journey by that method. In addition to this, our gasoline was
running low. We had trusted to irrigation plants for replenishing our
supply from time to time. But the great flood of the spring had swept
the valley clean. Where the year before there were prosperous ranch
establishments with gasoline pumping plants, there was only desolation
now. It was as though we traveled in the path of a devastating army.
Perhaps the summer of 1908 was the most unfavorable season for such a
trip in the last fifty years. Steamboating on the upper river is only a
memory. There are now no wood-yards as formerly. We found ourselves with
no certainty of procuring grub and oil; our engine became more and more
untrustworthy; our paddles had been lost. What winds we had generally
blew against us, and the character of the banks was changing. The cliffs
gave way to broad alluvial valleys, over which, at times, the gales
swept with terrific force.

Our map told us of a number of river "towns." We had already been
partially disillusioned as to the character of those "towns." They were
pretty much in a class with Goodale, except that they lacked the switch
and the box-car and the sign. Just now Rocky Point lay ahead of us.
Rocky Point meant a new supply of food and oil. Stimulated by this
thought, Charley cranked heroically under the blistering sun and managed
to arouse the engine now and then into spasms of speed. He had not yet
begun to swear. Fearfully I awaited the first evidence of the new mood,
which I knew must come.

At least once a day we put the machinery on the operating table. Each
time we succeeded only in developing new symptoms.

At a point about fifty miles from the "town" so deeply longed for, a
lone cow-punch appeared on the bank.

"How far to Rocky Point?" I cried.

"Oh, something less than two hundred miles!" drawled the horseman. (How
carelessly they juggle with miles in that country!)

"It's just a little place, isn't it?" I continued.

"Little place!" answered the cow-puncher; "hell, no!"

"What!" I cried in glee; "Is it really a town of importance?" I had
visions of a budding metropolis, full of gasoline and grub.

"I guess it ain't a little place," explained the rider; "_w'y, they've
got nigh onto ten thousand cattle down there_!"

Ten minutes after that, Charley, after a desperate but unsuccessful fit
of cranking, straightened the kink out of his back, mopped the
perspiration from his face--_and swore_!

Almost immediately I felt, or at least thought I felt, a distinct change
in the temper of the crew--for the worse. We used the better part of two
days covering the last fifty miles into Rocky Point, only to find that
the place consisted of a log ranch-house, two women, an old man, and
"Texas." The cattle and the other men were scattered over a hundred
miles or so of range. The women either would not or could not supply us
with grub, explaining that the nearest railroad town was ninety miles
away. Gasoline was out of the question. We might be able to buy some at
the mouth of Milk River, _two hundred miles down stream_!

"Texas," who made me think of Gargantua, and who had a chest like a
bison bull's, and a drawling fog-horn voice, ran a saloon in an odd
little shanty boat brought down by the flood. He solved the problem for
us.

"You cain't get no gasoline short o' Milk River," he bellowed
drawlingly; "and you sure got to paddle, so you better buy whisky!"

While we were deciding to accept the offered advice, "Texas" whittled a
stick and got off a few jokes of Rabelaisian directness. We laughed
heartily, and as a mark of his appreciation, he gave us five quarts for
a gallon. Which proved, in spite of his appearance, that "Texas" was
very human.

We gave the engine a final trial. It ran by spasms--backwards. Then,
finally, it refused to run at all. We tried to make ourselves believe
that the gasoline was too low in the tank, that the pressure of the oil
had something to do with it. At first we really knew better. But days of
drudgery at the paddles transformed the makeshift hope into something
almost like a certainty.

There was no lumber at Rocky Point. We rummaged through a pile of
driftwood and found some half-rotted two-by-sixes. These we hacked into
paddles. They weighed, when thoroughly soaked, at least fifteen pounds
apiece.

Sending Bill and Frank on ahead with the skiff and the small store of
provisions, Charley and I, the Kid at the steering rope, set out pushing
the power canoe with the paddles. The skiff was very soon out of sight.

The _Atom_, very fast under power, was, with paddles, the slowest boat
imaginable. There was no lift to her prow, no exhilarating leap as with
the typical light canoe driven by regulation paddles. And she was as
unwieldy as a log. A light wind blew up-stream, and the current was very
slow. After dark we caught up with Bill and Frank, who had supper
waiting. I had been tasting venison all day; but there was none for
supper. In spite of a night's smoking, all of it had spoiled. This left
us without meat. Our provisions now consisted mostly of flour. We had a
few potatoes and some toasted wind called "breakfast food." During six
or seven hours of hard work at the paddles, we had covered no more than
fifteen miles. These facts put together gave no promising result. In
addition to this, it was impossible to stir up a song. Even the liquor
wouldn't bring it out. And the flapjacks were not served _à la
chansonnette_ that night. I tried to explain why the trip was only
beginning to get interesting; but my words fell flat. And when the
irrepressible Kid essayed a joke, I alone laughed at it, though rather
out of gratitude than mirth.

[Illustration: "WALKING" BOATS OVER SHALLOWS.]

[Illustration: TYPICAL UPPER MISSOURI RIVER REACH.]

[Illustration: THE MOUTH OF THE JAMES.]

There are many men who live and die with the undisputed reputation of
being good fellows--your friends and mine--who, if put to the test,
would fail miserably. Fortunate is that man to whom it is not given to
test all of his friends. This is not cynicism; it is only human nature;
and I love human nature, being myself possessed of so much of it. I
admire it when it stands firmly upon its legs, and I love it when it
wabbles. But when it gains power with increasing odds, grows big with
obstacles, I worship it.

    "To thrill with the joy of girded men,
    To go on forever and fail, and go on again--
    With the half of a broken hope for a pillow at night--"

Thus it should have been. But that night, staring into the face of three
of the four, I saw the yellow streak. The Kid was not one of the three.
The first railroad station would hold out no temptation to him. He was a
kid, but manhood has little to do with age. It must exist from the
first like a tang of iron in the blood. Age does not really create
anything--it only develops. Your wonderful and beautiful things often
come as paradoxes. I looked for a man and found him in a boy.

Bill talked about home and stared into the twilight. The "floaters" were
irritable, quarreling with the fire, the grub, the cooking-utensils, and
verbally sending the engine to the devil.

Seeing about eighteen hundred miles of paddle work ahead, knowing that
at that season of the year the prevailing winds would be head winds, and
having very little faith in the engine under any conditions, I decided
to travel day and night, for the water was falling steadily and already
the channels were at times hard to find. Charley and Frank grumbled. I
told them we would split the grub fairly, a fifth to a man, and that
they might travel as slowly as they liked, the skiff being their
property. They stayed with us.

We lashed the boats together and put off into the slow current. A
haggard, eerie fragment of moon slinked westward. Stars glinted in the
flawless chilly blue. The surface of the river was like polished
ebony--a dream-path wrought of gloom and gleam. The banks were lines of
dusk, except where some lone cottonwood loomed skyward like a giant
ghost clothed with a mantle that glistered and darkled in the chill
star-sheen.

There was the feel of moving in eternity about it all. The very
limitation of the dusk gave the feeling of immensity. There was no sense
of motion, yet we moved. The sky seemed as much below as above. We
seemed suspended in a hollow globe. Now and then the boom of a diving
beaver's tail accented the clinging quiet; and by fits the drowsy
muttering of waterfowl awoke in the adjacent swamps, and droned back
into the universal hush.

Frank and I stood watch, the three others rolling up in their blankets
among the luggage. It occurred to me for the first time that we had a
phonograph under the cargo. I went down after it. At random I chose a
record and set the machine going. It was a Chopin _Nocturne_ played on a
'cello--a vocal yearning, a wailing of frustrate aspirations, a brushing
of sick wings across the gates of heavens never to be entered; and then
the finale--an insistent, feverish repetition of the human ache, ceasing
as with utter exhaustion.

I looked about me drinking in the night. How little this music really
expressed it! It seemed too humanly near-sighted, too egotistic, too
petty to sound out under those far-seeing stars, in that divine quiet.

I slipped on another record. This time it was a beautiful little song,
full of the sweet melancholy of love. I shut it down. The thing wouldn't
do. In the evening--yes. But _now_! Truly there is something womanly
about Night, something loverlike in a vast impersonal way; but too
big--she is too terribly big to woo with human sentiment. Only a
windlike chant would do--something with an undertone of human despair,
outsoared by brave, savage flights of invincible soul-hope--great virile
singing man-cries, winged as the starlight, weird as space--Whitman
sublimated, David's soul poured out in symphony.

I started another going. This time I did not stop it, for the Night was
singing--through its nose perhaps, but still it was singing--out of that
machine. It was Wagner's _Evening Star_ played by an orchestra. It
filled the night, swept the glittering reaches, groped about in the
glooms; and then, leaving the human theme behind, soul-like the upward
yearning violins took flight, dissolving at last into starlight and
immensity. Ages swept by me like a dream-wind. When I got back, the
machine, all but run down, was scratching hideously.

Slowly we swung about in the scarcely perceptible current. Down among
the luggage the three snored discordantly. Frank's cigarette glowed
intermittently against the dim horizon, like a bonfire far off.
Somewhere out in the gloom coyotes chattered and yelped, and from far
across the dusky valley others answered--a doleful tenson.

I dozed. Frank awoke us all with a shout. We leaped up and stared
blinkingly into the north. That whole region of the sky was aflame from
zenith to horizon with spectral fires. It was the aurora. Not the pale,
ragged glow, sputtering like the ghost of a huge lamp-flame, which is
familiar to every one, but a billowing of color, rainbows gone mad! In
the northeast the long rolling columns formed--many-colored clouds of
spectral light whipped up as by a whirlwind--flung from eastward to
westward, devouring Polaris and the Wain--rapid sequent towers of
smokeless fire!

It dazzled and whirled and mounted and fell like the illumined filmy
skirts of some invisible Titanic serpentine dancer, madly pirouetting
across a carpet of stars. Then suddenly it all fell into a dull
ember-glow and flashed out. The ragged moon dropped out of the
southwestern sky. In the chill of the night, gray, dense fog wraiths
crawled upon the hidden face of the waters.

Again I dozed and awakened with the sense of having stopped suddenly. A
light wind had arisen and we were fast on a bar. Frank and I took our
blankets out on the sand, rolled up and went to sleep.

The red of dawn awoke us as though some one had shouted. Frank and I sat
up and stared about. A white-tail deer was drinking at the river's edge
three hundred yards away. So far as we were concerned, it was a
dream-deer. We blinked complacently at it until it disappeared in the
brush. Then we thought of the rifle.

We were all stiff and chilled. The boats were motionless in shallow
water. We all got out in the stream that felt icy to us, and waded the
crafts into the channel. Incidentally we remembered Texas and his
wisdom.

The time was early August; but nevertheless there was a tang of frost in
the air and the river seemed to flow not water but a thick frore fog. I
smelled persimmons distinctly--it was that cold; brown spicy persimmons
smashed on crisp autumn leaves down in old Missouri! The smell haunted
me all morning like a bitter-sweet regret.

We breakfasted on flapjacks and, separating the boats, put off. The
skiff left us easily and disappeared. A head wind arose with the sun and
increased steadily. By eleven o'clock it blew so strongly that we could
make no headway with the rude paddles, and the waves, rolling at least
four feet from trough to crest, made it impossible to hold the boat in
course. We quit paddling, and got out in the water with the line. Two
pulled and one pushed. All day we waded, sometimes up to our necks;
sometimes we swam a bit, and sometimes we clung to the boat and kicked
it on to the next shallows. Our progress was ridiculously slow, but we
kept moving. When we stopped for a few minutes to smoke under the lee of
a bank, our legs cramped.

To lay up one day would be only to establish a precedent for day after
day of inactivity. The prevailing winds would be head winds. We clung
to the shoddy hope held out by that magic name--Milk River. We knew too
well that Milk River was only a snare and a delusion; but one must fight
toward something--it makes little difference what you call that
something. A goal, in itself, is an empty thing; all the virtue lies in
the moving toward the goal.

Often we sank deep in the mud; often at the bends we could scarcely
forge against the blast that held us leaning to the pull. Noon came and
still we had not overtaken the skiff. Dark came, and we had not yet
sighted it. But with the sun, the wind fell, and we paddled on, lank and
chilled. About ten o'clock we sighted the campfire.

We ate flapjacks once more--delicious, butterless flapjacks!--and then
once more we put off into the chill night. We made twelve miles that
day, and every foot had been a fight. I wanted to raise it to
twenty-five before sunrise. No one grumbled this time; but in the light
of the campfire the faces looked cheerless--except the Kid's face.

We huddled up in our blankets and, naturally, all of us went to sleep. A
great shock brought us to our feet. The moon had set and the sky was
overcast. Thick night clung around us. We saw nothing, but by the
rocking of the boats and the roaring of the river, we knew we were
shooting rapids.

Still dazed with sleep, I had a curious sense of being whirled at a
terrific speed into some subterranean suck of waters. There was nothing
to do but wait. We struck rocks and went rolling, shipping buckets of
water at every dip. Then there was a long sickening swoop through utter
blackness. It ended abruptly with a thud that knocked us down.

We found that we were no longer moving. We got out, hanging to the
gunwales. The boats were lodged on a reef of rock, and we were obliged
to "walk" them for some distance, when suddenly the water deepened, and
we all went up to our necks. And the night seemed bitterly cold. I never
shivered more in January.

It was yet too dark to find a camping place; so we drifted on until the
east paled. Then we built a great log fire and baked ourselves until
sunrise.

Day after day my log-book begins with the words, "Heavy head winds," and
ends with "Drifted most of the night." We covered about twenty-five
miles every twenty-four hours. Every day the cooks grumbled more; and
Bill had a way of staring wistfully into the distance and talking about
home, that produced in me an odd mixture of anger and pity.

We had lost our map: we had no calendar. Time and distance, curiously
confused, were merely a weariness in the shoulders.



CHAPTER VII

ON TO THE YELLOWSTONE


At last one evening (shall I confess it?) we had blue-crane soup for
supper!

Now a flight of gray-blue cranes across a pearl-gray sky, shot with
threads of evening scarlet, makes a masterly picture: indeed, an effect
worthy of reproduction in Art. You see a Japanese screen done in heroic
size; and it is a sight to make you long exquisitely for things that are
not--like a poet. But----

Let us have no illusions about this matter! Crane soup is not
satisfactory. It looks gray-blue and tastes gray-blue, and gives to your
psychic inwardness a dull, gray-blue, melancholy tone. And when you
nibble at the boiled gray-blue meat of an adult crane, you catch
yourself wondering just what sort of _ragout_ could be made out of
boots; you have a morbid longing to know just how bad such a _ragout_
would really be!

Hereafter on whatever trails I may follow, blue cranes shall be used
chiefly for Japanese screen effects. Little by little (the latent
philosopher in me emerges to remark) by experience we place not only
ourselves but all things in their proper places in the universe. This
process of fitting things properly in one's cosmos seems to be one of
the chief aims of conscious life. Therefore I score one for
myself--having placed blue cranes permanently in that cosmic nook given
over to Japanese screen effects!

Next morning we pushed on. The taste of that crane soup clung to me all
day like the memory of an old sorrow dulled by time.

Deer tracks were plentiful, but it has long been conceded that the
tracks are by far the least edible things pertaining to an animal.
Cranes seemed to have multiplied rapidly. Impudently tame, they lined
the gravel-bars, and regarded us curiously as we fought our way past
them. Now and then a flock of wild ducks alighted several hundred yards
from us. We had only a rifle. To shoot a moving duck out of a moving
boat with a rifle is a feat attended with some difficulties. Once we
wounded a wild goose, but it got away; which offended our sense of
poetic justice. After crane soup one would seem to deserve roast goose.

I scanned the dreary monotonous valleys stretching away from the river.
We had for several days been living on scenery, tobacco, and flapjacks.
The scenery had flattened out, tobacco was running low; but the
flapjacks bid fair to go on forever. I sought in my head for the exact
adjective, the particular epithet with the inevitable feel about it,
with which to describe that monotonous melancholy stretch. Every time I
tried, I came back to the word "_baconless_." The word took on exquisite
overtones of gray meaning, and I worked up those overtones until I had a
perfectly wrought melancholy poem of one word--"_Baconless_." For, after
all, a poem never existed upon paper, but lives subtly in the
consciousness of the poet, and in the minds of those who understand the
poet through the suggestiveness of his written symbols, and their own
remembered experiences.

But during the next morning, poetic justice worked. A rider mounted on a
piebald pony appeared on the bank and shouted for us to pull in.

I suddenly realized why a dog wags his tail at a stranger. But the
feeling I had was bigger than that. This mounted man became at once for
me the incarnation of the meaning of bacon!

When two parties meet and each wants what the other can give, it doesn't
take long to get acquainted. The rider was a youth of about seventeen.
One glance at his face told you the story of his rearing. He was
unmistakably city-bred, and his hands showed that his life had begun too
easy for his own good.

"From the East?" he questioned joyously. "Say, you know little old New
York, don't you? When were you there last?"

The lad was hungry, but not for bacon. Alas! Our hunger was the
healthier one! We talked of New York. "Mother's in Paris," he
volunteered, "and Dad's in New York meeting her bills. But the Old Man's
got a grouch at me, and so he sent me 'way out here in this God-forsaken
country! Say, what did they make this country for? Got any tailor-made
cigarettes about you? How did Broadway look when you were there last?
Lights all there yet at night? I've been here two years--it seems like
two hundred! Talk about Robinson Crusoe! Say, I've got him distanced!"

I helped him build up a momentary Broadway there in the wilderness--the
lights, the din, the hurrying, jostling theater crowds, the cafés,
faces, faces--anguished faces, eager faces, weary faces, painted faces,
squalor, brilliance. For me the memory of it only made me feel the pity
of it all. But the lad's eyes beamed. He was homesick for Broadway.

I changed the subject from prose to poetry; that is, from Broadway to
bacon.

"Wait here till I come back," said the lad, mounting. He spurred up a
gulch and disappeared. In an hour he reappeared with a half strip of the
precious stuff. "Take money for it? Not on your life!" he insisted.
"You've been down there, and that goes for a meal ticket with me!"

Fried bacon! And flapjacks sopped in the grease of it! After all, a
banquet is very much a state of mind.

When we pulled away, the ostracized New Yorker bade us farewell with a
snatch of a song once more or less popular: "Give my regards to
Broadway!"

We pushed on vigorously now. The head wind came up. _The head wind!_ It
seemed one of the eternal things. We paddled and cordelled valiantly,
discussing Milk River the while. We had grown very credulous on that
subject. Somehow or other an unlimited supply of gasoline was all the
engine needed for the complete restoration of its health; and Milk River
stood for gasoline in liberal quantities. Hope is generally represented
by the poets as a thing winged and ethereal; nevertheless it can be fed
on bacon.

The next morning we arrived at the mouth of what we took to be Hell
Creek, which flows (when it has any water in it!) out of the Bad Lands.
It didn't take much imagination to name that creek. The whole country
from which it debouches looks like Hell--"with the lights out," as
General Sully once remarked. A country of lifeless hills that had the
appearance of an endless succession of huge black cinder heaps from
prehistoric fires.

The wind had increased steadily all day, and now we saw ahead of us a
long rolling stretch of wind-lashed river that discouraged us somewhat.
A gray mist rolled with the wind, and dull clouds scudded over. We
pitched camp in a clump of cottonwoods and made flapjacks; after which
the Kid and I, taking our blankets and the rifle, set out to explore
Hell Creek.

[Illustration: REVEILLE!]

[Illustration: THE PEN AND KEY RANCH.]

The windings of the ravine soon hid us from the river, and we found
ourselves in a melancholy world, without life and without any human
significance. It was very easy to imagine one's self lost amid the drear
ashen craters of the moon. We pushed on up the creek, kicking up clouds
of alkali dust as we went. A creek of a burnt-out hell it was, to be
sure. It seemed almost blasphemous to call this arid gully a creek. Boys
swim in creeks, and fishes twinkle over the shallows where the sweet
eager waters make a merry sound. Creek, indeed! Did a cynic name this
dry ragged gash in the midst of a bleak black world where nothing lived,
where never laughter sounded?

A seething, fiery ooze might have flowed there once, but surely never
did water make music there.

We pushed on five or six miles, and the evening shade began to press in
about us. At last we issued forth into a flat basin, surrounded by the
weird hills--a grotesque, wind-carved amphitheater, admirably suited for
a witches' orgy. Some bleached bison heads with horns lay scattered
about the place, and a cluster of soapweeds grew there--God knows how!
They thrust their sere yellow sword-blades skyward with the pitiful
defiance of desperate things. It seemed natural enough that something
should be dead in this sepulcher; but the living weeds, fighting
bitterly for life, seemed out of place.

I looked about and thought of Poe. Surely just beyond those summits
where the melancholy sky touched the melancholy hills, one would come
upon the "dank tarn of Auber" and the "ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir."

We gathered a quantity of the dry sword-bladed soapweeds, and with one
of the blankets made a lean-to shelter against the steep hillside. The
place was becoming eerie in the gray evening that spread slowly over the
dead land. The mist driven by the moaning wind became a melancholy
drizzle. We dragged the soapweeds under cover and lit a fire with
difficulty. It was a half-hearted, smudgy, cheerless fire.

And then the night fell--tremendous, overpowering night! The Kid and I,
huddled close in one blanket, thrust our heads out from under the
shelter and watched the ghastly world leap by fits out of the dark, when
the sheet lightning flared through the drizzle. It gave one an odd
shivery feeling. It was as though one groped about a strange dark room
and saw, for a brief moment in the spurting glow of a wind-blown
sulphur match, the staring face of a dead man. Over us the great wind
groaned. Water dripped through the blanket--like tears. We scraped the
last damp ends of the weeds together that the fire might live a little
longer. Byron's poem came back to me with a new force; and lying on my
stomach in the cheerless drip before a drowning fire, I chanted snatches
of it aloud to the Kid and to that sinister personality that was the
Night.

      I had a dream which was not all a dream;
    The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
        Did wander darkling in eternal space,
        Rayless and pathless; and the icy earth
    Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air.

Low thunder shook the ink-sopped night--I thought of it as the Spirit of
Byron applauding his own terrific lines.

    A fearful hope was all the world contained;
    Forests were set on fire--but hour by hour
    They fell and faded--and the crackling trunks
    Extinguished with a crash--and all was black.

Out in the wind-voiced darkness, swept by spasmodic deluges of rapid
flame and muffled thunder, it seemed I could hear the dream-forests of
the moody Master crackling and booming in the gloom.

      --looked up
    With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
    The pall of a past world.

"Say, how long is that piece?" asked the Kid.

    And vipers crawled
    And twined themselves among the multitude,
    Hissing--

We wondered if there might not be some rattlesnakes in that vicinity.

    --They raked up
    And, shivering, scraped with their cold skeleton hands
    The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
    Blew for a little life, and made a flame
    Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
    Their eyes as it grew brighter, and beheld
    Each other's aspects--saw and shrieked and died--

"Cut that out!" said the Kid.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because," said the Kid.

But what are Bad Lands for? I had hoped to chant a bit of James Thomson,
the younger, also, there in that "dreadful night." I never was in a
place where it seemed to fit so well.

But we huddled up in our blanket under the dripping shelter, and that
was a long night. The soppy gray morning came at length. A midsummer
morning after a night of rain--and yet, no bird, no hopeful greenery, no
sense of the upward yearning Earth-Soul!

When we sighted the Missouri River again, the sun had broken through
upon the greengirt, glinting stream. It seemed like Paradise.

By almost continuous travel we reached Lismus Ferry on the second
morning from Hell Creek. The ferryman had a bit of information for us.
We would find nothing at the mouth of Milk River but a sandbar, he
advised us. But he had some ointment to apply to the wound thus
inflicted, in that Glasgow, a town on the Great Northern, was only
twenty-five miles inland. The weekly stage had left on the morning
before; but the ferryman understood that the trail was not overcrowded
with pedestrians.

It was a smarting ointment to apply to so fresh a wound; but we took the
medicine. Frank, Charley, and I set out at once for Glasgow, leaving the
others at camp to repair the leaking boat during our absence. The stage
trail led through an arid, undulating prairie of yellow buffalo grass.
There were creek beds, but they were filled with dust at this season of
the year. The Englishman set the pace with the stride of the
long-legged. The sun rose high; the dry runs reminded us unpleasantly of
our increasing thirst, and the puffing wind blew hot as from a distant
prairie fire.

I followed at the Englishman's heels, and by and by it began to occur to
me that he could walk rather rapidly. The Frenchman trailed after at a
steadily increasing distance, until finally I could no longer hear his
forceful remarks (uttered in two languages) concerning a certain corn
which he possessed. We had been cramped up in a boat for several weeks,
and the frequent soakings in the cold water had done little good to our
joints. None of us was fit for walking. I kept back a limp until the
Englishman ahead of me began to step with a little jerking of the knees;
and then with an almost vicious delight, I gave over and limped. I never
knew before the great luxury of limping. We covered the distance in
something less than six hours.

The next morning, in a drizzling rain, each packing a five-gallon can of
gasoline and some provisions, we set out for the Ferry; and it was a
sorry, bedraggled trio that limped up to camp eight hours later. We did
little more than creep the last five miles. And all for a spiteful
little engine that might prove ungrateful in the end!

It rained all night--a cold, insistent downpour. Our log fire was
drowned out; the tent dripped steadily; our blankets got soppy; and
three of us were so stiff that the least movement gave keen pain.

Soppy dawn--wet wood--bad grub for breakfast--and bad humor concealed
with difficulty; but through it all ran a faint note of victory at the
thought of the gasoline, and the way that engine would go! We lay in
camp all day--soppy, sore--waiting for the rain to let up. By way of
cheering up I read _L'Assomoir_; and a grim graveyard substitute for
cheer it was. But the next day broke with a windy, golden dawn. We
filled the tank, packed the luggage and lo! the engine worked! It took
all the soreness out of our legs to see it go.

We rejoiced now in the heavy and steadily increasing head wind; for it
was like conquering an old enemy to go crashing through the rolling
water that had for so many days given us pitiless battle.

For five or six miles we plunged on down the wind-tumbled river. There
was a distinct change in the temper of the crew. A vote at that time
would have been unanimous for finishing at New Orleans.

_Squash!_

The engine stopped; the _Atom_ swung round in the trough of the waves,
and the tow-skiff rammed us, trying to climb over our gunwale. We
wallowed in the wash of a bar, and cranked by turns. At the end of an
hour no illusions were left us. Holding an inquest over the engine, we
pronounced it dead.

In the drear fag end of the windy day, soaked from much wading and weary
of paddling with little headway, we made camp in a clump of scarlet
bull-berry bushes; and by the evening fire two talked of railroad
stations, one talked of home, and I thought of that one of the "soldiers
three" who "swore quietly into the sky."

The Milk River illusion was lost. Two hundred miles below was the mouth
of the Yellowstone--the first station in the long journey. A few days
back we had longed for gasoline; but there was no one to sell. Now we
had fifteen gallons to sell--and there was no one to buy. The hope
without the gasoline was decidedly better than the gasoline without the
hope. Whereat the philosopher in me emerges to remark--but who cares?
Philosophy proceeds backward, and points out errors of thought and
action chiefly when it has become too late to mend them. But it is
possible to be poor in the possession of erstwhile prospective wealth,
and rich in retrospective poverty. Oh, blessed is he who is negatively
rich!

Being a bit stunned by the death of the hope conceived in weariness, we
did not put off that night, but huddled up in our blankets close to the
log fire; for this midsummer night had in it a tang of frost.

Day came--cloudy and cold--blown over the wilderness by a wind that made
the cottonwoods above us groan and pop. The waves were higher than we
had seen them before. We had little heart for cordelling, and no
paddling could make headway against that gale. It was Sunday. Everything
was damp and chilly. Shivers ran up our backs while we toasted our feet
and faces; and the wind-whipped smoke had a way of blowing in every
direction at once. Charley struggled with the engine, which now and then
made a few revolutions--backwards--by way of leading him on. He heaped
big curses upon it, and it replied periodically with snorts of rage.

Bad blood developed, and mutiny ensued, which once gave promise of
pirate-story developments--fortunately warded off. Before the day was
done, it was made plain that the Kid and I would travel alone from the
mouth of the Yellowstone. "For," said the Kid with certain virile
decorations of speech, "I'm going with you if we have to buy skates!"

The wind fell at sunset. A chill, moonless, starry night lured me, and I
decided to travel. The mutineers, eager to reach a railroad as soon as
possible, agreed to go. The skiff led and the _Atom_ followed with
paddles. A mile or so below we ran into shallows and grounded. We waded
far around in the cold water that chilled us to the marrow, but could
find neither entrance nor outlet to the pocket in which we found
ourselves. Wading ashore, we made a cheerless camp in the brush, leaving
the boats stuck in the shallows. For the first time, the division in the
camp was well marked. The Kid and I instinctively made our bed together
under one blanket, and the others bunked apart. We had become the main
party of the expedition; the others were now merely enforced camp
followers. It was funny in an unpleasant way.

In the morning a sea of stiff fog hid our boats. Packing the camp stuff
on our backs, we waded about and found the crafts.

At last, after a number of cheerless days and nights of continuous
travel, the great, open, rolling prairies ahead of us indicated our
approach toward the end of the journey's first stage. The country began
to look like North Dakota, though we were still nearly two hundred miles
away. The monotony of the landscape was depressing. It seemed a thousand
miles to the sunrise. The horizon was merely a blue haze--and the
endless land was sere. The river ran for days with a succession of
regularly occurring right-angled bends to the north and east. Each
headland shot out in the same way, with, it seemed, the same snags in
the water under it, and the same cottonwoods growing on it; and opposite
each headland was the same stony bluff, wind- and water-carved in the
same way: until at last we cried out against the tediousness of the
oft-repeated story, wondering whether or not we were continually passing
the same point, and somehow slipping back to pass it again.

But at last we reached Wolf Point--the first town in five hundred miles.
We had seen no town since we left Benton. An odd little burlesque of a
town it was; but walking up its main street we felt very metropolitan
after weeks on those lonesome river stretches.

Five Assiniboine Indian girls seemed to be the only women in the town. I
coaxed them to stand for a photograph on the incontestable grounds that
they were by far the prettiest women I had seen for many days! The
effect of my generous praise is fixed forever on the pictured faces
presented herewith.

Here, during the day, Frank and Charley disposed of their skiff and we
saw them no more. We pushed on with little mourning. But in a spirit of
fairness, let me record that Charley's biscuits were marvels, and that
Frank's _gâteaux à la chansonnette_ were things of beauty and therefore
joys forever.

[Illustration: ASSINIBOINE INDIAN CHIEF.]

[Illustration: ASSINIBOINE INDIAN CAMP.]

The days that followed were long and hard; and half the chilly nights
were spent in drying ourselves before a roaring fire. There were more
mosquitoes now. They began to torture us at about five o'clock in the
afternoon, and left off only when the cold of night came, relieving us
of one discomfort by the substitution of another. Bill, of whom I had
come to think as the expatriated turnip, gave me an opportunity to study
homesickness--at once pitiful and ludicrous in a man with abundant
whiskers. But he pulled strenuously at the forward paddle, every stroke
as he remarked often, taking him closer to home.

The river had fallen alarmingly, and was still falling. Several times we
were obliged to unload the entire cargo, piling it high in the shallow
water, that we might be able to carry the empty boat to the channel.

One evening we came upon a typical Montana ranch--the Pen and Key. The
residence, barns, sheds, fences were built of logs. The great rolling
country about it was thickly dotted with horses and cattle. The place
looked like home. It was a sight from Pisgah--a glimpse of a Promised
Land after the Wilderness. We pulled in, intending to buy some
provisions for the last stage of the journey to the Yellowstone.

I went up to the main ranch-house, and was met at the door by one of
those blessed creatures that have "mother" written all over them. Hers
were not the eyes of a stranger. She looked at me as she must look at
one of her sons when he returns from an extended absence. I told at
once the purpose of my errand, explaining briefly what we were doing on
the river. Why, yes, certainly we could have provisions. But we weren't
going any farther that night--were we? The rancher appeared at this
moment--a retired major of the army, who looked the part--and decided
that we would stay for supper. How many were there in our party? Three?
"Three more plates," he said to the daughters of the house, busy about
the kitchen.

Let's be frank! It really required no persuasion at all to make a guest
of me. Had I allowed myself adequate expression of my delight, I should
have startled the good mother by turning a somersault or a series of
cartwheels! Oh, the smell of an old-fashioned wholesome meal in process
of development!

A short while back I sang the praises of the feast in the open--the
feast of your own kill, tanged with the wood smoke. And even here I
cling to the statement that of all meals, the feast of wild meat in the
wilderness takes precedence. But the supper we ate that evening takes
close second. Welcome on every face!--the sort of welcome that the most
lavish tips could not buy. And after the dishes were cleared away, they
brought out a phonograph, and we all sat round like one family, swapping
information and yarns even up, while the music went on. When we left
next morning at sunrise, it seemed that we were leaving home--and the
river reaches looked a bit dismal all that day.

Having once been a vagabond in a non-professional way, I have a theory
about the physiognomy of houses. Some have a forbidding,
sick-the-dog-on-you aspect about them, not at all due, I am sure, to
architectural design. Experience has taught me to be suspicious of such
houses. Some houses have the appearance of death--their windows strike
you as eyeless sockets, the doors look like mouths that cannot speak.
The great houses along Fifth Avenue seemed like that to me. I could walk
past them in the night and feel like a ghost. I have seen cottages that
I wanted to kneel to; and I'm sure this feeling wasn't due to the vine
growing over the porch or the roses nodding in the yard. Knock at the
door of such a house, and the chances are in favor of your being met by
a quiet, motherly woman--one who will instantly make you think of your
own mother. Some very well constructed houses look surly, and some
shabby ones look kind, somehow. If you have ever been a book agent or a
tramp, how you will revel in this seeming digression! God grant that no
man in need may ever look wistfully at your house or at mine, and pass
on with a shake of the head. It is a subtle compliment to have book
agents and tramps frequently at one's door.

Am I really digressing? My theme is a trip on a great river. Well,
kindness and nature are not so far apart, let us believe.

Now this ranch-house looked hospitable; there was no mistaking it.
Wherefore I deduce that the spirit of the inhabitants must pierce
through and emanate from the senseless walls like an effluvium. Who
knows but that every house has its telltale aura, plain to a vision of
sufficient spiritual keenness? Perhaps some one will some day write a
book _On the Physio-Psychological Aspect of Houses_: and there will be
an advance sale of at least one copy on that book.

At noon on the fourth day from the Pen and Key Ranch, we pulled up at
the Mondak landing two miles above the mouth of the Yellowstone. We were
thoroughly soaked, having dragged the boat the last two or three miles
through the shallows and intermittent deeps of an inside channel. The
outer channel was rolling viciously in that eternal thing, the head
wind. We had covered the first six hundred miles with a power boat
(called so, doubtless, because it required so much power to shove it
along!) in a little less than four weeks. During that time we had
received no mail, and I was making a break for the post-office, oozing
and feeling like an animated sponge, when a great wind-like voice roared
above me: "_Hey there!_"

I looked up to the hurricane deck of a steamer that lay at the bank
taking on freight. A large elderly man, dressed like a farmer, with an
exaggerated straw hat shading a face that gripped my attention at once,
was looking down at me. It was the face of a born commander; it struck
me that I should like to have it cast in bronze to look at whenever a
vacillating mood might seize me.

"_Come aboard!_" bawled the man under the ample hat. There was nothing
in the world just then that I wished for more than my mail; but somehow
I felt the will to obey--even the necessity of obeying.

"You came from Benton?" he asked, when I had clambered up the forward
companionway and stood dripping before the captain of the steamer
_Expansion_. At this closer range, the strength of the face was even
more impressive, with its eagle beak and its lines of firmness; but a
light of kindness was shed through it, and the eyes took on a gentle
expression.

"How did you find the water?"

"Very low, sir; we cordelled much of the way."

"I tried to get this boat to Benton," he said, "and got hung up on the
rocks above Lismus Ferry."

"And we drifted over them helter-skelter at midnight!"

He smiled, and we were friends. Thus I met Captain Grant Marsh, the
Grand Old Man of the Missouri River. He was freighting supplies up the
Yellowstone for the great Crane Creek irrigation dam, sixty miles above
the mouth. The _Expansion_ was to sail on the following day, and I was
invited to go along. Seeing that the Captain was short of help, I
insisted upon enlisting as a deck hand for the trip.

It was work. I think I should prefer hod-carrying as a profession, for
we had a heavy cargo, ranging from lumber and tiling to flour and beer;
and there are no docks on the Yellowstone. The banks were steep, the sun
was very hot, and the cargo had to be landed by man power. My companions
in toil swore bitterly about everything in general and steamboating in
particular.

"How much are you getting?" asked a young Dane of me, as we trudged up
the plank together.

"Nothing at all," I said.

He swore an oath of wonder, and stopped to look me over carefully for
the loose screw in my make-up.

"--nothing but the fun of it," I added.

He sniffed and looked bewildered.

"Did it ever occur to you," said I, "that a man will do for nothing what
he wouldn't do for money?"

I could see my conundrum playing peek-a-boo all about his stolid
features. After that the Dane treated me with an air of superiority--the
superiority of thirty dollars per month over nothing at all.

We stopped twice to coal, and worked far into the night. There are no
coal chutes on the Yellowstone. We carried and wheeled the stuff aboard
from a pile on the bank. During a brief interval of rest, the young
Dane announced to the others that I was working for nothing; whereat
questioning eyes were turned upon me in the dull lantern light. And I
said to myself: I can conceive of heaven only as an improbable condition
in which all men would be willing and able to work for nothing at all. I
had read in the Dane's face the meaning of a price. Heaving coal, I
built Utopias.

When the boat was under way, I sat in the pilot-house with the Captain,
watching the yellow flood and the yellow cliffs drift past like a
vision. And little by little, this old man who has followed the river
for over sixty years, pieced out the wonderful story of his life--a
story fit for Homer. That story may now be read in a book, so I need not
tell it here. But I came to think of him as the incarnation of the
river's mighty spirit; and I am proud that I served him as a deck hand.

As we steamed out of the Yellowstone into the clear waters of the
Missouri, the Captain pointed out to me the spot upon which Fort Union
stood. Upon landing, I went there and found two heaps of stone at the
opposite corners of a rectangle traced by a shallow ditch where of old
the walls stood. This was all that remained of the powerful
fort--virtually the capital of the American Fur Company's Upper Missouri
empire--where Mackenzie ruled--Mackenzie who was called King!

Long slough grass grew there, and blue waxen flowers struggled up amid
the rubble of what were once defiant bastions. I lay down in the
luxuriant grass, closed my eyes, and longed for a vision of heroic days.
I thought of the Prince who had been entertained there with his great
retinue; of the regality of the haughty Scotchman who ruled there; of
Alexander Harvey, who had killed his enemy on the very spot, doubtless,
where I lay: killed him as an outraged brave man kills--face to face
before the world. I thought of Bourbonais, the golden-haired Paris of
this fallen Ilium. I thought of the plague that raged there in '37, and
of Larpenteur and his friend, grim, jesting carters of the dead!

It all passed before me--the unwritten Iliad of a stronghold forgotten.
But the vision wouldn't come. The river wind moaned through the grasses.

I looked off a half mile to the modern town of Mondak, and wondered how
many in that town cared about this spot where so much had happened, and
where the grass grew so very tall now.

I gathered blue flowers and quoted, with a slight change, the lines of
Stevenson:

    But ah, how deep the grass
    Along the battlefield!



CHAPTER VIII

DOWN FROM THE YELLOWSTONE


The geographer tells us that the mouth of the Missouri is about
seventeen miles above St. Louis, and that the mouth of the Yellowstone
is near Buford, North Dakota. It appeared to me that the fact is
inverted. The Missouri's mouth is near Buford, and the Yellowstone
empties directly into the Mississippi!

I find that I am not alone in this opinion. Father de Smet and other
early travelers felt the truth of it; and Captain Marsh, who has piloted
river craft through every navigable foot of the entire system of rivers,
having sailed the Missouri within sound of the Falls and the Yellowstone
above Pompey's Pillar, feels that the Yellowstone is the main stem and
the Missouri a tributary.

Where the two rivers join, even at low water, the Yellowstone pours a
vast turbulent flood, compared with which the clear and quieter
Missouri appears an overgrown rain-water creek. The Mississippi after
some miles obliterates all traces of its great western tributary; but
the Missouri at Buford is entirely lost in the Yellowstone within a few
hundred yards. All of the unique characteristics by which the Missouri
River is known are given to it by the Yellowstone--its turbulence, its
tawniness, its feline treachery, its giant caprices.

Examine closely, and everything will take on before your eyes either
masculine or feminine traits. Gender, in a broad sense, is universal,
and nothing was created neuter. The Upper Missouri is decidedly female:
an Amazon, to be sure, but nevertheless not a man. Beautiful, she is,
alluring or terrible, but always womanlike. But when you strike the
ragged curdling line of muddy water where the Yellowstone comes in, it
is all changed. You feel the sinewy, nervous might of the man.

So it is, that when you look upon the Missouri at Kansis City, it is the
Yellowstone that you behold!

[Illustration: ON THE HURRICANE DECK OF THE "EXPANSION"; CAPT. MARSH
THIRD FROM THE LEFT.]

[Illustration: FORT UNION IN 1837.]

[Illustration: SITE OF OLD FORT UNION.]

But names are idle sounds; and being of a peace-loving disposition, I
would rather withdraw my contention than seriously disturb the
geographical _status quo_! Let it be said that the Upper Missouri is the
mother and the Yellowstone the father of this turbulent Titan, who
inherits his father's might and wonder, and takes through courtesy the
maiden name of his mother. There! I am quite appeased, and the
geographers may retain their nomenclature.

At Mondak, Luck stood bowing to receive us. The _Atom I_ had suffered
more from contact with snags and rocks than we had supposed. For several
hundred miles her intake of water had steadily increased. We had toiled
at the paddles with the water halfway to our knees much of the time;
though now and then--by spasms--we bailed her dry. She had become a
floating lump of discouragement, and still fourteen hundred miles lay
ahead.

But on the day previous to our sailing, a nervous little man with a
wistful eye offered us a trade. He had a steel boat, eighteen feet long,
forty inches beam, which he had built in the hours between work and
sleep during the greater part of a year.

His boat was some miles up the Yellowstone, but he spoke of her in so
artless and loving a manner--as a true workman might speak--and with
such a wistful eye cast upon our boat, that I believed in him and his
boat. He had no engine. It was the engine in our boat that attracted
him, as he wished to make a hunting trip up river in the fall. He stated
that his boat would float, that it was a dry boat, that it would row
with considerable ease. "Then," said I, "paddle her down to the mouth of
the Yellowstone, and the deal is made." After dark he returned to our
camp with a motor boat, ready to take us to our new craft, _Atom II_.

Leaving all our impedimenta to be shipped by rail, that is, Bill, the
tent, extra blankets, phonograph--everything but a few cooking-utensils,
an ax, a tarp, and a pair of blankets--the Kid and I got in with the
little man and dropped down to the Yellowstone. The new boat was moored
under a mud bank. I climbed in, lit a match, and my heart leaped with
joy. She was staunch and beautiful--a work of love, which means a work
of honesty. Fore and aft were air-tight compartments. She had an oil
tank, a water tank, engine housing, steering wheel, lockers. She was
ready for the very engine I had ordered to be shipped to me at Bismarck.
She was dry as a bone, and broad enough to make a snug bed for two.

The little man and the motor boat dropped out into the gloom and left us
gloating over our new possession, sending thankful rings of tobacco
smoke at the stars. When the first flush of triumph had passed, we
rolled up in the bottom of the boat, lulled to sleep by the cooing of
the fusing rivers, united under our gunwale. Such a sleep--a _dry_
sleep! and the sides of the boat protected us against the chill night
wind.

And the dawn came--shouting merrily like a boy! I once had a chum who
had a habit of whistling me out of bed now and then of a summer morning,
when the birds were just awakening, and the dew looked like frost on the
grass. And the sun that morning made me think of my old boy chum with
his blithe, persistent whistling. For the first hard stage of the
journey was done; all had left me but a brave lad who would take his
share of the hardships with a light heart. (All boys are instinctively
true sportsmen!) And before us lay the great winding stretch of a savage
river that I had loved long--the real Missouri of my boyhood.

A new spirit had come upon us with the possession of the _Atom II_--the
spirit of the forced march. For nearly a month we had floundered,
trusting to a sick engine and inefficient paddles. Now we had a staunch,
dry boat, and eight-foot oars. We trusted only ourselves, and we were
one in the desire to push the crooked yellow miles behind us. During the
entire fourteen hundred miles that desire increased, until our progress
was little more than a retreat. We pitched no camps; we halted only when
we could proceed no further owing to sandbars encountered in the dark;
we ate as we found it convenient to do so. Regularly relieving each
other at the oars, one sat at the steering wheel, feeling for the
channel. And it was not long until I began to note a remarkable change
in the muscles of the Kid, for we toiled naked to the waist most of the
time. His muscles had shown little more than a girl's when we first swam
together at Benton. Now they began to stand out, clearly defined, those
of his chest sprawling rigidly downward to the lean ribs, and little
eloquent knots developed on the bronzed surface of his once smooth arms.
He was at the age of change, and he was growing into a man before my
eyes. It was good to see.

All the first day the gods breathed gently upon us, and we made fifty
miles, passing Trenton and Williston before dark. But the following day,
our old enemy, the head wind, came with the dawn. We were now sailing a
river more than twice the size of the Upper Missouri, and the waves were
in proportion. Each at an oar, with the steering wheel lashed, we forged
on slowly but steadily. In midstream we found it impossible to control
the boat, and though we hugged the shore whenever possible, we were
obliged to cross with the channel at every bend. When the waves caught
us broadside, we were treated to many a compulsory bath, and our clothes
were thoroughly washed without being removed. An ordinary skiff would
have capsized early in the day, but the _Atom II_ could carry a full
cargo of water and still float.

By sunset the wind fell, the river smoothed as a wrinkled brow at the
touch of peace. Aided by a fair current, we skulled along in the hush of
evening through a land of vast green pastures with "cattle upon a
thousand hills." The great wind had spread the heavens with ever
deepening clouds. The last reflected light of the sun fell red upon the
burnished surface of the water. It seemed we were sailing a river of
liquefied red flame; only for a short distance about us was the water
of that peculiar Missouri hue which makes one think of bad coffee
colored with condensed milk.

Slowly the colors changed, until we were in the midst of a stream of
iridescent opal fires; and quite lost in the gorgeous spectacle, at
length we found ourselves upon a bar.

We got out and waded around in water scarcely to our ankles, feeling for
a channel. The sand was hard; the bar seemed to extend across the entire
river; but a thin rippling line some fifty yards ahead told us where it
ended. We found it impossible to push the heavy boat over the shallows.
The clouds were deepening, and the night was coming rapidly. Setting the
Kid to work digging with an oar at the prow, I pushed and wriggled the
stern until I saw galaxies. Thus alternately digging and pushing, we at
last reached navigable depths.

It was now quiet and dark. Low thunder was rolling, and now and then
vivid flashes of lightning discovered the moaning river to us--ghastly
and forbidding in the momentary glare. We decided to pull in for the
night; but in what direction should we pull? A drizzling rain had begun
to fall, and the sheet lightning glaring through it only confused
us--more than the sooty darkness that showered in upon us after the
rapid flashes. We sat still and waited. In the intermittent silences,
the rain hissed on the surface of the river like a shower of innumerable
heated pebbles. Ahead of us we heard the dull booming of the cut banks,
as the current undermined ponderous ledges of sand.

Now, a boat that happens under a falling cut bank, passes at once into
the region of forgotten things. The boat would follow the main current;
the main current flows always under the cut banks. How long would it
take us to get there? Which way should we pull? Put a simpler question:
In which way were we moving? We hadn't the least conception of
direction. For us the night had only one dimension--_out_!

Finally a great booming and splashing sounded to our left, and the boat
rocked violently a moment after. We grasped the oars and pulled blindly
in what we supposed to be the opposite direction, only to be met by
another roar of falling sand from that quarter.

There seemed to be nothing to do but have faith in that divinity which
is said to superintend the goings and coming of fools and drunkards.
Therefore we abandoned the oars, twiddled our thumbs, and let her drift.
We couldn't even smoke, for the rain was now coming down merrily. The
Kid thought it a great lark, and laughed boisterously at our
predicament. By flashes I saw the drenched grin under his dripping nose.
But for me, some lines written by that sinister genius, Wainwright, came
back with a new force, and clamored to be spoken:

_"Darkness--sooty, portentous darkness--shrouds the whole scene; as if
through a horrid rift in a murky ceiling, a rainy deluge--'sleety flaw,
discolored water'--streams down amain, spreading a grisly spectral
light, even more horrible than that palpable night."_

At length the sensation of sudden stopping dizzied us momentarily. We
thrust out an oar and felt a slowly sloping bar. Driving the oar
half-way into the soft sand, we wrapped the boat's chain about it and
went to bed, flinging the tarp over us.

A raw dawn wind sprinkled a cheerless morning over us, and we got up
with our joints grinding rustily. We were in the midst of a desolate
waste of sand and water. The bar upon which we had lodged was utterly
bare. Drinking a can of condensed milk between us, we pushed on.

That day we found ourselves in the country of red barns. It was like
warming cold hands before an open grate to look upon them. At noon we
saw the first wheat-field of the trip--an undulating golden flood,
dimpled with the tripping feet of the wind. These were two joys--quite
enough for one day. But in the afternoon the third came--the first
golden-rod. My first impulse was to take off my hat to it, offer it my
hand.

That evening we pulled up to a great bank, black-veined with outcrops of
coal, and cooked supper over a civilized fire. For many miles along the
river in North Dakota, as well as along the Yellowstone in Montana,
these coal outcrops are in evidence. Doubtless, within another
generation, vast mining operations will be opened up in these
localities. Coal barges will be loaded at the mines and dropped down
stream to the nearest railroad point.

We were in the midst of an idyllic country--green, sloping, lawn-like
pastures, dotted sparsely with grotesque scrub oaks. Far over these the
distant hills lifted in filmy blue. The bluffs along the water's edge
were streaked with black and red and yellow, their colors deepened by
the recent rains. Lazy with a liberal supper, we drifted idly and gave
ourselves over for a few minutes to the spell of this twilight
dreamland. I stared hard upon this scene that would have delighted
Theocritus; and with little effort, I placed a half-naked shepherd boy
under the umbrella top of that scrub oak away up yonder on the lawny
slope. With his knees huddled to his chin, I saw him, his fresh cheeks
bulged with the breath of music. I heard his pipe--clear,
dream-softened--the silent music of my own heart. Dream flocks sprawled
tinkling up the hills.

With a wild burst of scarlet, the sunset flashed out. Black clouds
darkened the visible idyll. A chill gust swept across the stream,
showering rain and darkness. Each at an oar, we forged on, until we lost
the channel in the gloom. At the first peep of day we were off again,
after a breakfast of pancakes, bacon, and coffee.

We were gradually becoming accustomed to the strain of constant rowing.
For at least sixteen hours a day we fought the wind, during which time
the oars were constantly dipping; and very often our day lengthened out
to twenty hours. We had no time-piece, and a night of drifting was
divided into two watches. These watches we determined either by the
dropping of a star toward the horizon, or by the position of the moon
when it shone. On dark nights, the sleeper trusted to the judgment of
his friend to call when the watch seemed sufficiently long. Daily the
water fell, and every inch of fall increased the difficulty of
traveling.

We were now passing through the country of the Mandans, Gros Ventres,
and Ricarees, the country through which old Hugh Glass crawled his
hundred miles with only hate to sustain him. To the west lay the barren
lands of the Little Missouri, through which Sully pushed with his
military expedition against the Sioux on the Yellowstone. An army flung
boldly through a dead land--a land without forage, and waterless--a
labyrinth of dry ravines and ghastly hills! Sully called it "hell with
the lights out." A magnificent, Quixotic expedition that succeeded! I
compared it with the ancient expeditions--and I felt the eagle's wings
strain within me. _Sully!_ There were trumpets and purple banners for me
in the sound of the name!

Late in the evening we reached the mouth of the Little Missouri. There
we found one of the few remaining mud lodges of the ancient type. We
landed and found ourselves in the midst of a forsaken little frontier
town. A shambling shack bore the legend, "Store," with the "S" looking
backward--perhaps toward dead municipal hopes. A few tumble-down frame
and log shanties sprawled up the desultory grass-grown main street, at
one end of which dwelt a Mandan Indian family in the mud lodge.

A dozen curs from the lodge resented our intrusion with canine
vituperation. I thrust my head into the log-cased entrance of the
circular house of mud, and was greeted with a sound of scolding in the
Mandan jargon, delivered by a squaw of at least eighty years. She arose
from the fire that burned in the center of the great circular room, and
approached me with an "I-want-your-scalp" expression. One of her
daughters, a girl dressed in a caricature of the white girl's garments,
said to me: "She wants to know what you've got to trade." To this old
woman of the prairie, all white men were traders.

"I want to buy," I said, "eggs, meat, bread, anything to eat."

[Illustration: BOATS LAID UP FOR THE WINTER AT WASHBURN, N.D.]

[Illustration: WASHBURN, N.D.]

[Illustration: THE LANDING AT BISMARCK, N.D.]

The old woman looked me over with a whimper of amused superiority,
and disappeared, soon reappearing with a dark brown object not wholly
unlike a loaf of bread. "Wahtoo," she remarked, pointing to the dark
brown substance.

I gave her a half-dollar. Very quietly she took it and went back to her
fire. "But," said I, "do you sell your bread for fifty cents per loaf?"

The girl giggled, and the old woman gave me another piece of her Mandan
mind. She had no change, it appeared. I then insisted upon taking the
balance in eggs. The old woman said she had no eggs. I pointed to a
flock of hens that was holding a sort of woman's club convention in the
yard, discussing the esthetics of egg-laying, doubtless, while
neglecting their nests.

The old lady arose majestically, disappeared again, and reappeared with
three eggs. I protested. The Mandan lady forthwith explained (or at
least it appeared so to me) all the execrable points in my character.
They seemed to be numerous, and she appeared to be very frank about the
matter. My moral condition, apparently, was clearly defined in her own
mind. I withdrew in haste, fearing that the daughter at any moment might
begin to translate.

We dropped down river a few miles, prepared supper, and attacked the
dark brown substance which the Indian lady had called "wahtoo." At the
first bite, I began to learn the Mandan tongue. I swallowed a chunk
whole, and then enlightened the Kid as to a portion of the Mandan
language. "Wahtoo," said I, "means 'indigestible'; it is an evident
fact." Then, being strengthened by our linguistic triumph, we fell upon
the dark brown substance again. But almost anything has its good points;
and I can conscientiously recommend Mandan bread for durability!

Once more we had a rainy night. The tarp, stretched across the boat,
sagged with the water it caught, and poured little persistent streams
upon us. The chief of these streams, from the point of size, seemed
consciously aiming at my ear. Thirce I turned over, shifted my position;
thrice I was awakened by the sound of a merry brooklet pouring into that
persecuted member.

Somewhere in the world the white cock was crowing sleepily when we put
off, stiff and soaked and shivering.

Early in the day the fine sand from banks and bars began to lift in the
wind. It smarted our faces like little whip lashes. Very often we could
see no further than a hundred and fifty yards in any direction. Only by
a constant, rapid dipping of the oars could the boat be held
perpendicular to the choppy waves. One stroke missed meant hard work for
both of us in getting out of the trough.

Fighting every foot of water, we wallowed through the swells--past Elbow
Woods, past Fort Berthold, past the forlorn, raggedy little town,
"Expansion." (We rechristened it "Contraction"!)

During the day the gale swept the sky clear. The evening air was crisp
and invigorating. We cooked supper early and rowed on silently over the
mirroring waters, between two vast sheets of stars, through a semilucent
immensity. Far ahead of us a high cliff loomed black and huge against
the spangled blue-black velvet of the sky. On its summit a dark mass
soared higher. We thought it a tree, but surely a gigantic one.
Approaching it, the soaring mass became a medieval castle sitting
haughtily with frowning crenellations upon an impregnable rock; and the
Missouri became for the moment a larger Rhine. At last, rowing up under
the sheer cliff, the castle resolved itself into a huge grain elevator,
its base a hundred feet above the stream.

Although it was late, we tied our boat, clambered up a zigzag path, and
found ourselves in one of the oddest little towns in the
West--Manhaven--one of the few remaining steamboat towns.

The main street zigzagged carelessly through a jumble of little houses.
One light in all the street designated the social center of the town, so
we went there. It was the grocery store--a general emporium of ideas and
canned goods.

Entering, we found ourselves in the midst of "the rustic cackle of the
burg." I am sure the municipal convention was verbally reconstructing
the universe; but upon our entrance, the matter was abruptly laid on the
table. When we withdrew, the entire convention, including the
grocery-man, adjourned, and accompanied us to the river where the
general merits of our boat were thoroughly discussed by lantern light.
Also, various conflicting versions of the distance to Bismarck were
given--each party being certain of his own infallibility.

There is something curious about the average man's conception of
distance. During the entire trip we found no two men who agreed on this
general subject. After acquiring a book of river distances, we created
much amusement for ourselves by asking questions. The conversation very
often proceeded in this manner:

"Will you please tell us how far it is to So-and-So?"

"One hundred and fifty-two and a half miles!" (with an air of absolute
certainty).

"But you are slightly mistaken, sir; the exact distance is sixty-two and
seven-tenths miles!" (Consternation on the face of the omniscient
informant.)

Once a man told us that a certain town was one hundred and fifty miles
down stream. We reached the town in an hour and a half!

However, we had more success with the Indian. One day we came upon an
old Mandan buck and squaw, who were taking a bath in the river,
doubtless feeling convinced that they needed it. The current took us
within fifty yards of them. Upon our approach, they got out of the water
and sat in the sand quite as nude and unashamed as our first parents
before the apple ripened.

"Bismarck--how far?" I shouted, standing up in the boat.

The buck rose in all his unclothed dignity, raised his two hands, shut
and opened them seven times, after which he lowered one arm, and again
opened and shut a hand. Then with a spear-like thrust of the arm toward
the southeast, he stiffened the index finger in the direction of
Bismarck. He meant "seventy-five miles as the crow flies." As near as I
could figure it out afterward, he was doubtless correct.

At noon the next day we reached the mouth of the Knife River, near which
stood the Mandan village made famous by Lewis and Clark as their winter
quarters. Fort Clark also stood here. Nothing remains of the Fort but
the name and a few slight indentations in the ground. A modern steamboat
town, Deapolis occupies the site of the old post. Across the river there
are still to be seen the remains of trenches. A farmer pointed them out
to us as all that remains of the winter camp of the great explorers.

In the late evening we passed Washburn, the "steamboat center" of the
upper river, fifty water miles from Bismarck. It made a very pretty
appearance with its neat houses climbing the hillside. Along the water
front, under the elevators, a half-dozen steamboats of the good
old-fashioned type, lay waiting for their cargoes. Two more boats were
building on the ways.

Night caught us some five miles below the town, and, wrapping ourselves
in our blankets, we set to drifting. I went on watch and the Kid rolled
up forward and went to sleep. After sixteen hours of rowing in the wind,
it is a difficult matter to keep awake. The night was very calm; the
quiet waters crooned sleepily about the boat. I set myself the task of
watching the new moon dip toward the dim hills; I intended to keep
myself awake in that manner. The moon seemed to have stuck. Slowly I
passed into an impossible world, in which, with drowsy will, I struggled
against an exasperating moon that had somehow gotten itself tangled in
star-sheen and couldn't go down.

I awoke with a start. My head was hanging over the gunwale--the dawn was
breaking through the night wall. A chill wind was rolling breakers upon
us, and we were fast upon a bar. I awakened the Kid and we put off. We
had no idea of the distance covered while sleeping. It must have been at
least twenty miles, for, against a heavy wind, we reached Bismarck at
one o'clock.

We had covered about three hundred and fifty miles in six days, but we
had paid well for every mile. As we passed under the Bismarck bridge,
we confessed that we were thoroughly fagged. It was the thought of the
engine awaiting us at this town that had kept us from confessing
weariness before.

I landed and made for the express office three miles away. A half-hour
later I stood, covered with humility and perspiration, in the awful
presence of the expressman, who regarded me with that lofty "God-and-I"
air, characteristic of some emperors and almost all railroad officials.
I stated to the august personage that I was looking for an engine
shipped to me by express.

It seems that my statement was insulting. The man snarled and shook his
head. I have since thought that he was the owner of the Northern Pacific
system in disguise. I suggested that the personage might look about. The
personage couldn't stoop to that; but a clerk who overheard my insulting
remark (he had not yet become the owner of a vast transportation system)
condescended to make a desultory search. He succeeded in digging up a
spark-coil--and that is all I ever saw of the engine.

During my waiting at Bismarck, I had a talk with Captain Baker, manager
of the Benton Packet Line. We agreed in regard to the Government's
neglect of duty toward the country's most important natural
thoroughfare, the Missouri River. About Sioux City, the Government
operates a snag-boat, the _Mandan_, at an expense ridiculously
disproportionate to its usefulness. The _Mandan_ is little more than an
excursion boat maintained for a few who are paid for indulging in the
excursions. A crew of several hundred men with shovels, picks, and
dynamite, could do more good during one low water season than such boats
could do during their entire existence.

The value of the great river as an avenue of commerce is steadily
increasing; and those who discourage the idea of "reopening" navigation
of the river, are either railroad men or persons entirely ignorant of
the geography of the Northwest. Captain Marsh would say, "Reopen
navigation? I've sailed the river sixty years, and in that time
navigation has not ceased."

Rocks could and should be removed from the various rapids, and the banks
at certain points should be protected against further cutting. A natural
canal, extending from New Orleans in the South and Cincinnati in the
East to the Rockies in the Northwest, is not to be neglected long by an
intelligent Government.

As a slow freight thoroughfare, this vast natural system of waterways is
unequalled on the globe. Within another generation, doubtless, this
all-but-forgotten fact will be generally rediscovered.

Having waited four days for the engine, we put off again with oars. It
was near sundown when we started, hungry for those thousand miles that
remained. When we had pulled in to the landing at Bismarck, we were like
boxers who stagger to their corners all but whipped. But we had
breathed, and were ready for another round. A kind of impersonal anger
at the failure of another hope nerved us; and this new fighting spirit
was like another man at the oars. Many of the hard days that followed
left on our memories little more than the impress of a troubled dream.
We developed a sort of contempt for our old enemy, the head wind--that
tireless, intangible giant that lashed us with whips of sand, drove us
into shallows, set its mighty shoulders against our prow, roared with
laughter at us when, soaked and weary, we walked and pushed our boat for
miles at a time. The quitter that is in all men more or less, often
whispered to us when we were weariest: "Why not take the train? What is
it all for?" Well, what is life for? We were expressing ourselves out
there on the windy river. The wind said we couldn't and our muscles said
we shouldn't, and the snag-boat captain had said we couldn't get
down--so we went on. We were now in full retreat--retreat from the
possibility of quitting.

During the first night out, an odd circumstance befell us that, for some
hours, seemed likely to lose us our boat. As usual, we set to drifting
at dark. The moon, close on its half, was flying, pale and frightened,
through scudding clouds. However, the wind blew high and the surface of
the water was unruffled. There could be nothing more eerie than a night
of drifting on the Missouri, with a ghastly moon dodging in and out
among the clouds. The strange glimmer, peculiar to the surface of the
tawny river at night, gives it a forbidding aspect, and you seem
surrounded by a murmuring immensity.

We were, presumably, drifting into a great sandy bend, for we heard the
constant booming of falling sand ahead. It was impossible to trace the
channel, so we swung idly about with the current. Suddenly, we stopped.
Our usual proceeding in such cases was to leap out and push the boat
off. That night, fortunately, we were chilly, and did not fancy a
midnight ducking. Each taking an oar, we thrust at the bar. The oars
went down to the grip in quicksand. Had we leaped out as usual, there
would have been two burials that night without the customary singing.

We rocked the boat without result. We were trapped; so we smoked awhile,
thought about the matter, and decided to go to bed. In the morning we
would fasten on our cork belts and reach shore--perhaps. Having reached
shore, we would find a stray skiff and go on. But the _Atom II_ seemed
booked for a long wait on that quicksand bar.

During the night a violent shaking of the boat awakened us. A heavy wind
was blowing, and the prow of the boat was swinging about. It soon
stopped with a chug. We stood up and rocked the boat vigorously. It
broke loose again, and swung half-way around. Continuing this for a
half-hour, we finally drifted into deep water.

The next day we passed Cannon Ball River, and reached Standing Rock
Agency in the late evening. Sitting Bull is buried there. After a late
supper, we went in search of his grave. We found it after much lighting
of matches at headstones, in a weed-grown corner of the Agency
burying-ground. A slab of wood, painted white, bears the following
inscription in black: "In Memory of Sitting Bull. Died Dec. 15, 1890."

Perched upon the ill-kept grave, we smoked for an hour under the flying
moon. A dog howled somewhere off in the gloomy waste.

That night the Erinnyes, in the form of a swarm of mosquitoes, attacked
us lying in our boat. The weary Kid rolled and swore till dawn, when a
light wind sprang up _astern_. We hoisted our sail, and for one whole
day cruised merrily, making sixty miles by sunset. This took us to the
town of Mobridge.

I was charmed with the novelty of driving our old enemy in harness. So,
letting the Kid go to sleep forward under the sail, I cruised on into
the night. The wind had fallen somewhat, but it kept the canvas filled.
The crooning of the water, the rustling of the sail, the thin voices of
bugs on shore, and the guttural song of the frogs, shocking the general
quiet--these sounds only intensified the weird calm of the night. The
sky was cloudless, and the moon shone so brightly that I wrote my day's
notes by its glow.

The winking lights of Mobridge slowly dropped astern and faded into the
glimmering mist.

    Lonely seamen all the night
    Sail astonished amid stars.

The remembered lines gave me the divine itch for quoting verses. I did
so, until the poor tired Kid swore drowsily in his sleep under the mast.
The air was of that invigorating coolness that makes you think of cider
in its sociable stage of incipient snappiness. Sleepy dogs bayed far
away. Lone trees approached me, the motion seeming to belong to them
rather than to me, and drifted slowly past--austere spectral figures.
Somewhere about midnight I fell asleep and was awakened by a flapping
sail and a groaning mast, to find myself sprawling over the wheel. The
wind had changed; it was once more blowing up-stream, and a drizzling
rain was driving through the gloom. During my sleep the boat had gone
ashore. I moored her to a drift log, lowered sail, flung a tarp over us,
and went to sleep again. And the morning came--blanketed with gray
oozing fog. The greater part of that day we rowed on in the rain without
a covering. In the evening we reached Forest City, an odd little old
town, looking wistfully across stream at the youthful red and white
government buildings of the Cheyenne Agency.

[Illustration: THE YANKTON LANDING IN THE OLD DAYS.]

[Illustration: "ATOM II" LANDING AT SIOUX CITY.]

Despite its name, this town is utterly treeless! I once knew a
particularly awkward, homely, and freckled young lady named "Lily." The
circumstance always seemed grimly humorous to me, and I remembered it as
we strolled through the town that couldn't live up to its name.

We were ravenously hungry, and as soon as possible we got our feet under
the table of the town's dingy restaurant. A long, lean man came to take
our orders. He was a walking picture of that condition known to patent
medicine as "before taking." I looked for the fat, cheerful person who
should illustrate the effect of eating at that place, but in vain. When
the lean man reappeared with the two orders carefully tucked away in the
palms of his bony hands, I thought I grasped the etiology of his
thinness. It was indeed a frugal repast. We took in the situation at a
glance.

"Please consider us four hearty men, if you will," I said kindly; "and
bring two more meals." The man obeyed. My _third_ order, it seems, met
objections from the cook. The lean man, after a half audible colloquy
with the presiding spirit of the kitchen, reported with a whipped
expression that the house was "all out of grub." I regretted the matter
very much, as I had looked forward to a long, unbroken series of meals
that evening.

Setting out at moonrise, just after sunset, we reached Pascal Island,
fifteen miles below, before sleep came upon us in a manner not to be
resisted. All night coyotes yelped from the hilltops about us,
recounting their immemorial sorrows to the wandering moon.

At sunset of the fifth day from Bismarck, we pulled in at Pierre.
Although I had never been there before, Carthage was not more hospitable
to storm-tossed Æneas than Pierre to the weather-beaten crew of the
_Atom_. At a reception given us by Mr. Doane Robinson, secretary of the
State Historical Society, I felt again the warmth of the great heart of
the West.

During the first night out of Pierre, the Kid, having stood his watch,
called me at about one o'clock. The moon was sailing high. I grasped the
oars and fell to rowing with a resolute swing, meaning, in the shortest
possible time, to wear off the disagreeable stupor incident to arising
at that time of night. I had been rowing for some time when I noted a
tree on the bank near which the current ran. Still drowsy, I turned my
head away and pulled with a will. After another spell of energetic
rowing, I looked astern, expecting to see that tree at least a mile
behind. There was no tree in sight, and yet I could see in that
direction with sufficient clearness to discern the bulk of a tree if any
were there.

"I am rowing to beat the devil!" thought I; "that tree is away around
the bend already!" So I increased the speed and length of my stroke, and
began to come out of my stupor. Some time later, I happened to look
behind me. _The tree in question was about three hundred yards ahead of
the boat!_ I had been rowing up-stream for at least a half-hour in a
strenuous race with that tree! The Kid, aroused by my laughter, asked
sleepily what in thunder tickled me. I told him I had merely thought of
a funny story; whereat he mumbled some unintelligble anathema, and
lapsed again into a snoring state. But I claim the distinction of being
the only man on record who ever raced a half-hour with a tree, and
finished three city blocks to the bad!

The next day we rounded the great loop, in which the river makes a
detour of thirty miles. Having rowed the greater part of the day, we
found ourselves in the evening only two or three miles from a point we
had reached in the morning.

In a drizzling rain we passed Brule Agency. In the evening, soppy and
chilled, we were pulling past a tumble-down shanty built under the
bluffs, when a man stepped from the door and hailed us. We pulled in.
"You fellers looks like you needed a drink of booze," said the man as we
stepped ashore. "Well, I got it for sale, and it ain't no harm to
advertise!"

This strenuous liquor merchant bore about him all the wretched marks of
the stuff he sold.

"Have your wife cook us two meals," said I, "and I'll deal with you."

"Jump in my boat," said he. I got in his skiff, wondering what his whim
might mean. After several strokes of the oars, he pulled a flask from
his pocket, took my coin and rowed back to shore. "Government license,"
he explained; "got to sell thirty feet from the bank." "Poor old
Government," thought I; "they beat you wherever they deal with you!"

We went up to the wretched shanty, built of driftwood, and entered. The
interior was a mêlée of washtubs, rickety chairs, babies, and flies. The
woman of the house hung out a ragged smile upon her puckered mouth,
etched at the lips with many thin lines of worry, and aped hospitality
in a manner at once pathetic and ridiculous. A little girl, who looked
fifty or five, according to how you observed her, dexterously dodged the
drip from the cracks in the roof, as she backed away into a corner, from
whence she regarded us with eyes already saddened with the ache of life.

After many days and nights in the great open, fraternizing with the
stars and the moon and the sun and the river, it gave me a heartache to
have the old bitter human fact thrust upon me again. "What is there left
here to live for?" thought I. And just then I noted, hanging on the wall
where the water did not drip, a neatly framed marriage certificate. This
was the one attempt at decoration.

It was the household's 'scutcheon of respectability. This woman, even in
her degradation, true to the noblest instinct of her sex, clung to this
holy record of a faded glory.

Two days later, pushing on in the starlit night, we heard ahead the
sullen boom of waters in turmoil. For a half-hour, as we proceeded, the
sound increased, until it seemed close under our prow. We knew there
was no cataract in the entire lower portion of the river; and yet, only
from a waterfall had I ever heard a sound like that. We pulled for the
shore, and went to bed with the sinister booming under our bow.

Waking in the gray dawn, we found ourselves at the mouth of the Niobrara
River. Though a small stream compared with the Missouri, so great is its
speed, and so tremendous the impact of its flood, that the mightier, but
less impetuous Missouri is driven back a quarter of a mile.

Reaching Springfield--twelve miles below--before breakfast, in the
evening we lifted Yankton out of a cloud of flying sand. The next day
Vermilion and Elk Point dropped behind; and then, thirty miles of the
two thousand remained.

In the weird hour just before the first faint streak of dawn grows out
of dark, we were making coffee--the last outdoor coffee of the year. Oh,
the ambrosial stuff!

We were under way when the stars paled. At sunrise the smoke of Sioux
City was waving huge ragged arms of welcome out of the southeast. At
noon we landed. We had rowed fourteen hundred miles against almost
continual head winds in a month, and we had finished our two thousand
miles in two months. It was hard work. And yet----

The clang of the trolleys, the rumble of the drays, the rushing of the
people!

I prefer the drifting of the stars, the wandering of the moon, the
coming and going of the sun, the crooning of the river, the shout of the
big, manly, devil-may-care winds, the boom of the diving beaver in the
night.

I never felt at home in a town. Up river when the night dropped over me,
somehow I always felt comfortably, kindly housed. Towns, after all, are
machines to facilitate getting psychically lost.

When I started for the head of navigation a friend asked me what I
expected to find on the trip. "Some more of myself," I answered.

And, after all, that is the Great Discovery.



Transcriber's Note:

The original text has a number of typographical errors and spelling
inconsistencies, which have been maintained in this text. The following
list details these errors:

Original
Page No.   Typographical error
  4        marvelled for marveled
  8        tighen for tighten
  9        Danube's for Danubes
 14        "... to me that Theseus. ..." "that" should read "than"
 24        pealing for peeling
 32        terriffic for terrific
 47        lamp for lamb
 60        egshell for eggshell
           terriffic for terrific
 61        inded for indeed
 66        ride for pride
 70        voluntered for volunteered
 78        sad for said
 92        intelligble for intelligible
109        gunwhale for gunwale
119        "I was tired cranking." for "I was tired of cranking."
131        tenson for tension
166        Kansis for Kansas
171        skulled for sculled
180        Thirce for Thrice
195        unintelligble for unintelligible

Inconsistencies

cross-cut / crosscut
Encleadus / Enceladus
færie / faërie
half-way / halfway
Hole-in-the-Wall / Hole-in-the-wall
log-book / logbook
mid-stream / midstream
sand-bar / sandbar
"Texas" / Texas
wind-like / windlike





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