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Title: Plain Mary Smith - A Romance of Red Saunders
Author: Phillips, Henry Wallace, 1869-1930
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Plain Mary Smith - A Romance of Red Saunders" ***

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                          Plain Mary Smith

                      A Romance of Red Saunders

                      By Henry Wallace Phillips


    With Illustrations
    By Martin Justice

    New York
    The Century Co.
    1905

    Copyright, 1905, by
    THE CENTURY CO.

    Copyright, 1905, by
    FRANK LESLIE PUBLISHING HOUSE
    (Incorporated)

    _Published October, 1905_

    THE DE VINNE PRESS



[Illustration: "I grabbed cans of tomatoes, and pasted the heap"]



CONTENTS


I "BUT WASN'T IT A GORGEOUS SMASH!"

II "THE VILLAGE PRIDE"

III SANDY GRAY

IV THE FIGHT

V "ON MY BUREAU WAS A KNIFE--"

VI "I'M MARY SMITH"

VII "SAVE ME, ARTHUR!"

VIII ARCHIE OUT OF ASPINWALL

IX ENTER BROTHER BELKNAP

X "YOUR LIFE, IF YOU HURT HIM!"

XI SAXTON'S STORY

XII BILL MEETS A RELATIVE

XIII RED MAKES A FEW REMARKS

XIV BROTHER BELKNAP'S REVOLUTION

XV TOMATOES BY THE QUART

XVI RED PLAYS TRUMPS



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"I grabbed cans of tomatoes, and pasted the heap"

"'You git married and shuck them clothes'"

"'You fight that boy fair'"

"I left home ... mother and father both waving me good-by in the road"

"The _Matilda_ saw a whale, or something, and shied"

"He grabbed up his wooden box and made a miracle"

"'Still wearing your legs cut short, I see'"

"I laid two strong hands on Archie's mane"

"I crowded my victim down against the saddle with my left hand"



PLAIN MARY SMITH

A ROMANCE OF RED SAUNDERS



I

"BUT WASN'T IT A GORGEOUS SMASH!"


Old Foster used to say the reason some women married men they entirely
should not was because nature tried to even up all round. Very likely
that's it, but it's a rocky scheme for the Little Results. When my
mother married my father, it was the wonder of the neighborhood. I don't
fully understand it to this day, as many things as I've seen.

She was a beautiful, tall, kind, proud woman, who walked as if she owned
the world and loved it; from her I get my French blood. Was there a dog
got his foot run over? Here he comes for mother, hollering and
whimpering, showing her the paw and telling her all about it, sure she'd
understand. And she did. 'Twixt her and the brutes was some kind of
sympathy that did away with need of words. Doggy'd look at her with
eyebrows up and wigwag with his tail, "Left hind leg very painful. Fix
it, but touch lightly, _if_ you please."

Father was a gaunt, big man, black and pale; stormy night to her
sunshine. A good man, estimated by what he didn't do (which is a queer
way to figure goodness), but a powerful discourager on the active side.
He believed in Hell first, last, and all the time; I think he felt some
scornful toward the Almighty for such a weak and frivolous institution
as Heaven. How much of this was due to his own nature, and how much to
the crowd he traveled with, I don't know. He had to have it in him to go
with them; still, I like to think they led him off. Left to mother's
influence, he'd have been a different man--more as I remembered him when
I was a little chap. This "church" of his was down on everything that
had a touch of color, a pleasant sound, or a laugh in it: all such was
wickedness. I remember how I got whaled for kissing Mattie. A boy that
wouldn't kiss Mattie if she'd let him should have been trimmed to a
peak. However, I got whaled for anything and everything. In this he was
supported by his fellow church-members, most of 'em high-cheek-boned men
with feverish eyes, like himself. "Take heed to the word, Brother
Saunders," they'd say: "'Spare the rod and spoil the child.'" So
father'd refuse to spare the rod, and he'd spoil me for the time being,
anyhow.

They weren't all men of that stamp, though. You can't get a crowd of
fools to hold together unless there's a rascal to lead them. Anker was
the boss of the business--and a proper coyote he was. A little man, him;
long-nosed and slit-eyed; whispered, mostly, from behind his hand. He
had it in for me, most particular. First place, I nicknamed him "Canker"
and it stuck; next place, one day me and Tom, Mattie's brother, being
then about sixteen apiece, come up from swimming and stopped at Anker's
patch to pull a turnip. While we sat there, cutting off slices and
enjoying it, never thinking of having harmed the man, Anker slides out
to us, so quiet we couldn't hear him till he was right there, and calls
us a pair of reprobates and thieves. I never liked the sound of that
word "thief." He got the turnip. He'd have got worse, too, but Tom slung
the sleeve of his shirt around my neck and choked me down.

The turnip sent him to grass. As he got up, smiling with half his mouth,
and wiping turnip off his manly brow, "You'll regret this, young man,"
says he; "some day you'll be sorry for this."

Poor Tom had his hands full holding me. "Well, you'd better run along,"
says he; "for if this shirt gives way, _you'll_ regret it to-day."

Anker was a man to give advice, generally. When he cast an eye on me,
foaming and r'aring, he concluded he'd take the same, for once, and
ambled out of that.

He kept his word, though. He made me regret it. You'd hardly believe a
man near fifty years old would hold a grudge against a sixteen-year-old
boy hard enough to lie about him on every occasion, and poison the boy's
father's mind, would you? That's the facts. He stirred the old man up by
things he "really didn't like to tell, you know, but felt it his painful
duty"--and so forth. Yes, sir; he made me regret it plenty. You might
say he broke our home up. And so, if ever I meet that gentleman in the
hereafter, above or below, him and me is going to have some kind of a
scuffle--but shucks! There's no use getting excited over it at my age.
The good Lord's attended to his case all right, without any help from
me.

In all kinds of little things mother and father were separated by miles.
Take the case of old Eli Perkins, the tin-peddler, for instance. Mother
used to love to buy things from Eli, to hear him bargain and squirm,
trying his best to give you a wrong steer, without lying right out.
"Well, now, Mis' Saunders," he'd say, "I ain't sayin' _myself_ thet thet
pan is solerd tin; I'm on'y repeatin' of what I bin tolt. I du' know es
it _be_ solerd tin; mebbe not. In thet case, of course, it ain't wuth
nineteen cents, es I was sayin', but about, about ... well, well, now!
I'll tell you what I'll do, ma'am. I'll say fourteen cents and a few of
them Baldwins to take the taste out 'n my mouth--can't do no fairer than
thet now, kin I? Yassam--well, nuthin' more _to_-day? Thankee, ma'am."
And Eli'd drive off, leaving mother and me highly entertained. But
father'd scowl when his eye fell on Eli. It seems that the poor old cuss
was a child of the devil, because he would take Chief Okochohoggammee's
Celebrated Snaggerroot Indian Bitters for some trouble Eli felt drawing
toward him and tried to meet in time. When Eli got an overdose of the
chief's medicine he had one song. Then you heard him warble:

    "Retur-n-n-n-i-n' from mar-r-r-ket,
    Thebutterneggsallsold,
    And--will you be so kind, young man,
    And tie 'em up for _ME_?
    Yaas I will, yaas I will, w'en we git UPon the hill.
    And we joggled erlong tergether singin'
    TOORAL-I-YOODLE-I-AAAAAAAAAAAAY!!"

Well, sir, to hear it, and to see Eli, with his head bent back near to
break off, his old billy-goat whisker wagging to the tune, was to obtain
a pleasant memory. The way that "TOORAL-I-YOODLE-I-AY" come out used to
start old Dandy Jim, the horse, on a dead run.

Another offspring of the same split-hoof parent was Bobby Scott, the
one-legged sailorman that used to whittle boats for us boys when he was
sober, and go home from the tavern Saturday nights at the queerest gait
you ever saw, playing his accordion and scattering pennies to the kids.
I always liked any kind of music; pennies didn't come my way so
often--how were you going to make me believe Old Bob was a wicked
sinner? I didn't, nor that Eli was neither. I thought a heap of both of
'em.

But railroading was what gave me the first wrench from the home tree. It
happened one evening I wandered over the hills to the end of the little
jerk-line that ran our way, and watched the hostler put the engine in
the shed for the night. It was a small tea-pot of an engine that one of
our Western 'Guls could smear all over the track and never know there'd
been an accident, but, man! she looked big to me. And the hostler! Well,
I classed him with the lad that hooked half-dollars out of the air at
the Sunday-school show, and took a rabbit out of Judge Smalley's hat.
But the hostler was a still more wonderful man. I tried to figure if
he'd ever speak to me, and what I should do if he did. Every time I got
the chores done early, I skipped it over to the railroad, till finally
the hostler he sees a long-legged boy eating him with his eyes, and he
says:

"Hello, bub!"

I scuffed my feet and said, "Good morning."

The hostler spit careful over the top of the switch and says, with one
eye shut, "Like a ride?"

Well!!

Howsomever, it seemed manners to me to refuse all pleasant propositions,
so I said "no" and prepared to slide away. But he was a wise man.

"Better come down to the shed," he says. So I climbed aboard with no
more talk.

"This is the throttle," says he. "You pull that and she goes: try it."

Notwithstanding I expected that engine to explode and scatter us the
minute a strange hand was laid on her, I wrastled my nerve together and
moved the lever a tiny bit. "Chow!" says the old engine,
"Chow-chow-chow!" and I near had a fit with pride and scaredness. It
_is_ a great sensation to hold them big critters under your hand. I
never knew an engineer yet that got rid of it entirely.

So there was me, white in the face with grandeur, hogging the engine
into the shed. I couldn't sleep much that night. When I did doze off, it
was to travel a great many miles a minute on a road-bed laid flat
against the side of a mountain, with an engine that had wash-tubs for
drivers, and was run by winding up by a crank, like the old clock in the
hall. Lord! how I whizzed around the turns! Grinding away like a
lunatic, until the road ended--just ended, that's all, and off we went
into the air. From that on I had business at the railroad every evening
I could get off.

I went over to my engine one night. There wasn't a soul around. My
friend was as ingenious a Yank as ever helped make this world a factory.
He'd got up a scheme for a brake, almost the identical thing with the
air-brake they use to-day, except Jerry took pressure into his
brake-pistons straight from the boiler. He spent every cent he had to
get one made and put on his pusher. How he used to explain it to me, and
tell me what we'd do when he sold his patent! For he was a great friend
of mine, Jerry was, and I knew the workings of that brake as well as he
did himself. The reason he wasn't around was that he'd taken the pusher
down the line to show his scheme to some railroad people. So there stood
an engine all alone--the one I was used to, I thought--and it occurred
to me there'd be no particular harm if I got aboard and moved her up and
down the track a foot or two--you see, I'd never had her single-handed.
So I started easy, and reversed her, and played around that way for a
while, till naturally I got venturesome. One stunt that Jerry and I
loved to try was to check her up short with his patent brake. The poor
old pusher never got put to bed without being stood on end a half-dozen
times; that suggested to me that I'd slam her down on the shed doors and
see how near I could come to them without hitting. I backed 'way off,
set her on the corner, yanked the throttle, and we boiled for the shed,
me as satisfied with myself as could be. I didn't leave much margin for
stopping, so there wasn't a lot of track left when I reached down for
the brake-lever, and found--it wasn't there! If some day you reach for
something and find your right arm's missing, you'll know how I felt. In
the little bit of time before the smash, there wasn't a scrap of my
brain working--and then, Holy Jeeroosalum! How we rammed that shed! The
door fell over, cleaning that engine to the boiler; stack, bell,
sand-box, and whistle lay in the dust, and all of the cab but where I
sat. Quicker'n lightning we bulled through the other end, and the rest
of the cab left there. How it come I didn't get killed, I don't
know--all that remained of the shed was a ruin, and that had a list to
port that would have scart a Cape-Horner. I woke up then and threw her
over kerbang, but she went into the bunker squirting fire from her
drivers. I shut her down, took one despairing look, and says out loud,
"I guess I'll go home."

I felt about as bad as falls to the lot of man at any age. Jerry was
sure to get into trouble over it; he'd make a shrewd guess at who did
it, whether I told or not, and his confidence in me would be a thing of
the past--nothing but black clouds on the sky-line, whilst inside of me
some kind of little devil was hollering all the time, "But wasn't it a
gorgeous smash!"

I went home and to bed that night without speaking, resolved to let my
misfortunes leak out when they got ready. That's the kind of resolution
I've never been able to keep--I've got to face a thing, got to get it
done with, swallow my medicine, and clean the table for a new deal.

Next morning I told father. You can imagine how easy it was--me
stumbling and stuttering while he sat there, still as if he'd been
painted for the occasion.

"Have you entirely finished?" says he, when the sound of my words hit my
ears with such a lonesome feeling that I quit talking.

"Yes, sir," I says, "that's about all of it."

"Well, William, I see you're determined to make our name a disgrace
through the community," he begins again. That was out of whooping range
from the truth. I hadn't determined to do anything to our name, nor
nothing else, when I got aboard that engine. Far from me had it been to
determine anything, so I filed a protest.

"Why, father," I says, "it was an accident--it was just as if you'd
hopped into a neighbor's wagon, not noticing the head-stall wasn't on
the horse, and the critter'd run away, and things--" Here again I run
down with a buzz. He wasn't paying the least heed to the sense of what I
said. It only interrupted him. He sailed right on, explaining how I was
the most undiluted scoundrel of his acquaintance, an all-wool villain of
the closest weave, built to hold sin like a Navajo blanket does water.

Now I understand that the old gentleman did think a lot of me, and, of
course, wanted me to be as near like him as possible, as representing
the highest style of man--it was his disappointment he poured on me, not
his judgment. But then, I was sixteen by the clock, and I thought, of
all the fool laying-outs I'd heard, that crossed the rope an easy first.

I wanted to respect my father; you can't guess how much I wanted to, but
when he insisted on talking like Eli Perkins's mule, it simply wasn't
possible. He stood there, black and sullen, and I stood there, red and
sullen.

"Get yourself ready to go with me," he says, turns on his heel, and
walks to the house, his hands clasped behind his back, and his big head
leant forrard,--a fine, powerful chunk of a man, all right. Oh, Lord!
What he could have been if he'd listened to mother instead of Anker!
There wasn't a man in this county more respected, nor whose word was
better thought of on any subject outside of his own family, and that
hydrophobia of a doctrine of his. Honest? Why, he was the savings-bank
of the place. All the old hayseeds around there turned their surplus in
to him to take care of, instead of putting it in a sock,--and I want you
to understand that the real old Yankee farmer, with tobacco juice on his
whiskers, was a man you'd fool just once in a lifetime, and you'd sit up
more'n one night to figure how you got the best of it, then.

Well, down him and me goes to the railroad office, and I have to tell my
tale. I begged hard to be allowed to leave Jerry out of it, but no--that
wouldn't do: it would be a lie. I always stood ready to lie to any
extent to help a friend. I think that hurt me worse than the rest of it.

After some parleying around the offices, we were shown up into a private
room. There sat three men, officers of the company, and Jerry.

My father made few words of his part, simply saying he stood prepared to
pay all damages, although he could ill afford it, and that I would tell
the story.

First off, I was embarrassed, but soon I was flying my arms around, and
letting 'em know all about it, as if we'd played together for years.

Two of those men had been boys once; they had an almighty hard job to
keep an official face on, as some of my interest in engineering, and my
satisfaction in having made a corking old bust-up of her while I was at
it, crept into my discourse. The third man was in an ugly state of
liquor. He let out on me, although the others said, "Come! Come!"
Father's face was something to look at when he saw the only man that
sided with him was three-quarters loaded.

After giving me a blast, this bucko, who I believe was president of the
company, kind of falls over on his desk and opens up on Jerry, while my
heart broke entirely. He was about as reasonable toward Jerry as my
father had been toward me. The other two bit their lips, as if they
weren't going to stand for a whole lot more; everybody that knew Jerry,
liked him.

Howsomever, Jeremiah was a prophet in his own country. He belonged to
that tribe of Yankees that don't seem to be born very fast these days,
but long may they wave! the good-natured, able kind that feared the face
of no man nor the hoof of no jackass, and always had something to say
that wrecked the situation.

He walks carefully over to the side of the room to where the spittoon
was, so's he could talk with freedom, and sidles easily back again, and
says he, "Mr. Hawkins, you've lit on me like a sparrow-hawk. If I
thought you was in condition to make a speech, I'd feel tolerable cast
down. As it is, I advise you to go out and take another snifter,--I
appeal from Cæsar drunk to Cæsar drunker." Well, sir, those other two
let out a yell and fell on the floor; the old president, he r'ars up
with massacre in his eye for a minute, and then it got the best of him.

"Shut your noise, you damn fools," says he to the others; then to Jerry,
"With the loan of your arm, I'll fill your prescription." So off he
toddles to the door. When he got there he turned around, and fixed upon
my father a stern but uncertain eye.

"_I'm_ drunk with liquor, sir," says he, "and there's recovery in that
case; but _you're_ drunk on your own virtue,--may God have mercy on your
soul! Take the boy home and use him right,--there is no bill to pay."



II

"THE VILLAGE PRIDE"


Well, mother gave me a long talking to, after that. Not scolding, but
conversation, just as if I was a human being. Somehow it's easier to get
along with me that way.

I reckon I averaged three sessions a week in the woodshed, but father
might as well have walloped a lime-kiln, for all the tears he drew out
of me.

Yet let mother talk to me in her quiet way--easy and gentle, the words
soaking in, and the first thing you knew, I had a lump in my throat, and
some blamed thing got in my eyes.

I wanted to do what was right by all of them, I certainly did. It was a
misfit all round, there's where the trouble come. Father couldn't
possibly enter into my feelings. Sixteen I was, staggering with
strength, red-headed, and aching to be at something all the time. It
ain't in reason I could remember to put one foot before the
other--right-left, right-left, day in and day out.

Then, as soon as I'd cleaned up all the boys in our place, every young
man for miles around who made pretensions to being double-handed came to
find what I was made of.

It's all right to say don't fight, but when this young man slouched
along and cast disparagin' eyes in my direction, it was plain somebody
had to be hurt, and it might as well not be me.

Honest, I'd rather have been in the woods, fishing, or just laying on my
back, watching the pines swinging over me, so slow, so regular, tasting
the smell of 'em, and fancying I was an Injun or Mr. Ivanhoe, or
whatever idee was uppermost at the time, than out in the dusty road,
smiting my fellow-man. But if you should be mean enough to ask me if I
took no pleasure in the art of assault and battery, I'd have to admit a
slight inclination.

Not that I wanted to hurt anybody, either--small malice there was in
those mix-ups! I reckon, with the other lad, as with me, it was more a
case of doing your little darnedest--of letting out all you held, once
in so often--that made the interest.

But father was powerful opposed to scrapping, and, of course, mother
didn't like it, neither. The only place a woman likes a row is in a
book.

Women is fond of bargains. They like a fine fight with no bills to pay.

It was a little that way with mother. This time she was talking to me,
she brought up for my instruction Great-grandfather Saunders, who fought
in the Revolution. He was one of 'em that clubbed their muskets at
Bunker Hill. When they asked the old man about it afterward he said he
acted that way because he was too darned scart to run. Howsomever, he
was a fair-to-medium quarrelsome old gentleman when his blood was up.
Mother carefully explained to me that was different--_he_ was fighting
for his country. Yet, at the same time, I recollect seeing a letter the
old man wrote, calling his neighbors a lot of rum-swilling,
psalm-singing hypocrites. Now a man's neighbors are his country. I think
Grandpa Saunders liked a row, myself.

Next, mother told me about my French forebears, and a nice peaceful lot
they were, for sure. The head of the outfit--the Sieur De La
Tour--sassed the king himself to his teeth--he didn't care no more about
a king than I do--unless it happened to match on a two-card draw. There
was some racket about a friend of Many-times-great-grandfather De La
Tour's offending the king. He took refuge with the old man, while
the king sent the sheriff after him. "You must yield him to the
king!" says the sheriff. "Not to any king under God!" says
Many-times-great-grandfather De La Tour. Hence, trouble. My! How
mother's eyes shone when she repeated that proud answer. Yet suppose I
sassed father like that? There's something about distance lending
enchantment to the view. Well, they downed the old man, although he
stacked the posse around him in great shape. Meantime his friend was
using both feet to acquire some of that distance to lend enchantment to
the view, I just spoke of.

One thing stuck out in these old-timers. Whatever their faults might be,
meanness wasn't one of 'em. Therefore I indorsed the lot. I left her
that day determined to be such a son as anybody would be proud of. Why,
in half an hour's time I was wondering how I could make the virtuous
jobs last. Already my chest swelled, as I see myself pointed to on the
street as a model boy.

My first stagger at being the Village Pride come off next day--Sunday.
It would take a poet to describe how much I didn't like Sunday, and a
large, black-whiskered poet, at that. Man! Sitting in that little old
church of a warm day, with the bees bumbling outside, and all kinds of
smells coaxing, coaxing me to the woods, and a kind of uneasy, dry
feeling of the skin, that only the water-hole by the cider-mill could
cure. Then to know, too, that the godless offspring of the unregenerate
were at that minute diving from the dam--chow!--into the slippery cool
water--and me the best diver in the crowd....

I wriggled, squirmed my fingers into knots, and let my fancy roam.
Roaming fancy was my one amusement in church.

We had the kind of minister who roars one minute and whispers the next.
I always imagined he shouted as loud as he dared, short of waking the
baby. I never was done being surprised, after he'd hissed the conclusion
through his teeth in a way that should have sent chills down your
backbone, to hear him rattle off a bunch of notices as fast as he could
talk.

I couldn't get interested in the sermon, so my mind wandered. At times
an elephant sneaked through the back door and blew a barrel of water
down the preacher's back. Then there was the monkey. He skipped gaily
from pew to pew, yanking the women's bonnets off, pulling the men's
hair, hanging from the roof-beams by his tail, and applying a
disrespectful thumb to his nose. That elephant and monkey got to be as
real as anything. Sometimes they'd jump into life when I wasn't thinking
of 'em at all.

This Sunday, however, I made a manful stand against temptation. As soon
as the elephant peeked through the door, I took a long breath and forced
him out. I didn't let the monkey much more 'n bob his head over Deacon
Anker's pew, although one of my pet delights was when he grabbed the
deacon's top-knot and twisted it into a rope.

And my reward for an honest try was to listen to as lovely a tale of
treachery and unladylike behavior as I can remember. The sermon was
about a Mrs. Jael. She took in one of the enemy, fed him fine, and while
he was asleep, grabbed a hammer and a railroad spike and nailed him to
the floor by his head. Whilst I was revolving in my mind how, and on
what person, I could best apply these teachings, another thought
occurred to me.

"Mother!" I whispers, pulling her sleeve.

"Sssh!" says she; "what is it, Will?"

"You never could have done that," I says.

She squeezed my hand and whispered back, "You're right, Will," with an
approving smile.

"No," says I, still full of my discovery, "you'd have pounded your
thumb."

Her face went ten different ways and then she snorted right out. It was
a scandal. It took her so by surprise she couldn't get the best of it,
so we two had to leave the church. When we got outside she sat down and
laughed for five minutes.

"Whatever does possess you to say such things?" she says. "It was
dreadful!"

Next day father patted me on the back with a nice limber sapling, for
misbehavior in church. This caused the first show of rebellion I ever
saw in mother.

She came out to the woodshed when court was in session.

"I'd like to speak to you a minute," she says to father.

"I have no time now," he answers short.

"I'd like to speak to you a minute," repeats mother: there was a hint of
Many-times-great-grandfather De La Tour in her tones. Father considered
for a minute; then laid down the club and went out. First they talked
quietly. Next, I heard mother--not because she spoke loud, but because
there was such a push behind the words:

"I am as much a culprit as he is," she says; "why not use the whip on
me?"

Father talked strong about being master in his own house, and like that.
It was bluff--boy that I was, I caught the hollow ring of it. Yet mother
changed her tone instantly. She turned gently to argument. "You _are_
the master," she says; "but would you make your own son a slave? Why do
you treat mistakes as crimes? Why do you expect a man's control in a
sixteen-year-old boy? I have never asked for much, but now I ask--"

They walked so far away I couldn't hear what she asked. I didn't care.
She was on my side; I'll swear I didn't feel the ridges on my back.

When father returned and said, "Well, you can go now," I left that
woodshed a happy boy.

I made up my mind even stronger to be a monument of behavior. Whether it
was mother's talk, or that I did really keep out of scrapes, at least I
got through the week without a thrashing.

Then come Sunday again. My Sunday-school teacher was a maiden lady by
the name of Mehitabel Demilt--aunt to Thomas F., my present partner.
Miss Hitty wasn't much to look at. Growing her nose had absorbed most of
her vitality, and her years was such she could have looked on a good
part of mankind right motherly, if she'd been inclined that way.
Howsomever, she wore the styles of sweet sixteen, and whenever a man
come around she frisked like a clothes-horse.

But a kinder woman never lived. When with the boys she dropped her
tomfoolery, too. Trouble was, them young clothes stood for all she
dreamt of--give them dreams the go-by, and the race was lost for poor
Miss Hitty. Feathers flyin' and ribbons streaming, she made herself
believe she was still in the running; without 'em, she knew only too
well what it was to be a lonely, long-nosed, forsaken, homely old maid.
I don't blame her a particle. Her finery stood to her like whisky to a
busted man. Take a little wine for your stomachache, and a few clothes
for your heartache.

A trifle gay for father's crowd was Miss Hitty, but they didn't dast to
say a word. She belonged to one of our best families, and her
brother-in-law, who could be as ungodly a man under provocation as you
ever see, held a mortgage on the church. He'd 'a' dumped the outfit into
the snows of winter, and never a second thought, if they didn't treat
Miss Hitty right. So they overlooked things and gave her the Bible class
to run. Mighty nice to us boys she was; she certainly was. Curious mix
of part child and part horse-sense woman. The woman savvied her place
all right, but the child part couldn't stand for the pain of it.

If there was anything that made Miss Hitty warlike it was cruelty. Seems
the Mrs. Jael sermon riled her plumb through. I suppose, perhaps, she
didn't understand how any woman could be so recklessly extravagant as to
drive a nail through a sound man's head, and spoil him. Miss Hitty might
have spiked his coat-tails to the floor, but his head? Never. Joshing
aside, she beat the tom-tom over that sermon, giving us boys a medicine
talk that sticks still: how we were all fools not to make the earth as
pleasant as we could, so long 's we got to live here. It seemed
reasonable. I thought about it all that night, trying to find a subject
to make better and happier, as Miss Hitty said.

Before I went to sleep I'd located my victim. First thing in the morning
I went and told mother all about it. You know I'm medium enthusiastic
over what I'm going to do, so I was laying it off to her in great shape,
when I brought up short, seeing her eyes full of tears. I plumped down
and hugged her.

"What's the matter? I didn't mean to make you cry," I says, feeling it
was my luck to do the wrong thing, and not half try.

"I'm not crying, little boy," she says; "I'm only one of those ladies in
the books who don't want their true-loves to go to war." She kissed me.
We often used to play parts of those books, so I took it just as she
said, thinking it astonishing how well she acted the part; not much
realizing what it meant to a mother who loved her boy, and knew he meant
no harm, to have him clubbed all the time. But she shook off the tears
right away.

"Arise!" says she, laughing, and putting a flower in my coat. "Arise,
Sir William of the Hot Heart! Go thy way and conquer."

So I giggled and looked simple, give her one of them boys' kisses that
would come under the head of painful operations to anybody but a mother,
and skipped, as graceful as legs four foot long would permit, to my new
job.



III

SANDY GRAY


The saying, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,"
oughtn't to be taken too literal. For instance, if Foster was sick abed,
nothing could please him more than reading about how Professor So-and-so
had mixed a little of this acid and a squirt of that other truck, and
found out what his highly esteemed friend Herr Doctor Professor
Schmittygeshucks said about the results wasn't true at all. And such
thrilling stories. Week on end you could feed Fos that and keep him
happy. Now, when Fos boiled this stuff down to my understanding, I was
interested, too; but, right off the bat, I shouldn't care for it if I
was sick. I'd rather hear something about the beauteous maid and her
feller. Or a tune on the guitar. Or a little chin concerning the way
Baldy Smith tried to play six cards in a jack-pot, and what happened to
Baldy almost instantly afterward. No, sir, you can't stick too close to
doing what you'd like to have done to you, because tastes differ.

The foundation on which I put my plan for increasing human happiness was
the queerest little cuss you ever did see. A kid about twelve years old,
who looked to be a hundred and ten even before Sammy Perkins shot his
eye out and shrunk him up on one side. It was an accident, of course.
Sammy'd saved nigh a year, till he had three dollars and seventy-five
cents gathered in a heap to buy a bored-out army musket. Then he invited
Sandy Gray to go with him; they started to rid the country of wild
critters. They walked and they walked, but Heaven mercifully preserved
the rabbits. So it become time for lunch, and also Sandy was now an
Injun, whilst Sammy was Iron-jawed Pete, the Nightmare of the Red Man.
Iron-jawed Pete says to Chief Sandy Eagle-bird, "Pick up chips! Make a
fire!" But the haughty soul of the noble savage riz at the notion. Be
darned if he'd pick up chips. "All right," says Iron-jawed Pete, "then
I'll shoot you." And, the gun not being loaded, he promptly blew Sandy
full of bird-shot. I've heard about these wonderful destroyers--cannon a
quarter of a mile long, that shoot bullets the size of hogsheads with
force enough to knock a grasshopper off a spear of wheat at twenty-three
and one third miles; and while I'm somewhat impressed, I can't but feel
there's nothing like the old-fashioned, reliable, unloaded gun. Who ever
heard of man, woman, or child missing with a gun that wasn't loaded? If
I was a leader of a forlorn hope in particularly sad conditions, I'd say
to my trusty men, "Boys, them guns ain't loaded," and instantly close a
contract at so much a ton for removing the remnants of the enemy.

It cost Sammy's father many a dollar to square it with Gray's folks.
They were a hard outfit, anyhow--what is called white trash down South.
The father used to get drunk, come home, break the furniture, and throw
the old woman out of the house; that is, if she didn't happen to be
drunk at the time. In the last case, he come home, got the furniture
broke on him, and was thrown out of the house.

It wasn't an ideal home, like Miss Doolittle is always talking about.
The kids gave Sandy a wide berth after the shooting, but my sympathies
went out to him. He was a good opening, you see. I want to state right
here, though, it wasn't all getting my name up. All my life I've had a
womanish horror of men or animals with their gear out of order. I'd walk
ten mile to dodge a cripple. And this here Sandy, with his queer little
hop, and his little claw hands, and his twist to one side, and his long
nose, and his little black eyes, and his black hair hanging in streaks
down on his yaller and dirt-colored face, looked like nothing else on
earth so much as a boiled pet crow.

When I jumped over the Grays' back fence, I see my friend Sandy playing
behind the ruin they called a barn. Execution was the game he played. He
had a gallows fixed up real natural. Just as I come up he was hanging a
cat.

"The Lord have mercy on your soul!" squeaks Sandy, pulling the drop.
Down goes the cat, wriggling so natural she near lost a half a dozen of
her lives before I recovered enough to interfere. I resisted a craving
to kick Mr. Sandy over the barn, and struck in to amuse him at something
else. First off, he hung back, but by and by I had him tearing around
lively, because we were aboard ship with a storm coming up to port, a
pirate to sta'bbud, breakers forrud, and a rocky coast aft. Anybody
would step quick under them conditions. So Sandy he moseyed aloft and
hollered down the pirates was gaining on us, the storm approaching fast,
the breakers breaking worse than ever, and the rock-bound coast holding
its own. I hastily mounted three cord wood cannon, reefed the barn door,
and battened down the hatches in the chicken-coop, without a hen being
the wiser.

We were in the most interesting part when an unexpected enemy arrived on
the scene, in the person of Sandy's mother, and did us in a single pass.
She saw him up in the tree; she give me one glare and begun to talk.

I climbed the fence and went home. All the way back I felt this was a
wicked and ungrateful world. The more I thought about it, the worse I
felt. I wanted to get to my own room without mother's seeing me, but she
came to the head of the stair when I was half up. "Well, son," she says,
smiling so it didn't seem quite such a desert, "how did you make out
with the little Gray boy?"

"Oh, not anything special," says I, airily, hoping to pass by.

"Come in and tell me," she says. So I went in, hedging at first, but
limbering up when she stroked my hair. Finally my wrongs come out hot
and fast. I told about his hanging the cat, and made it as bad as I
could. I enlarged upon the care and pains I spent in leading him into
better ways.

"And, then," says I, "just as we were having a good time, that mother of
his comes out. And what do you suppose she says?"

Mother rubbed her hand over her mouth, swallowed once or twice, and
managed to look as serious as anything. "I can't imagine," she answers;
"you tell me."

I shook my finger. "Can I say exactly what that woman said?"

"Yes."

"Well," says I, imitating Mrs. Gray, voice and all--voice like a
horse-fiddle, head stuck front, and elbows wide apart--"well," I says,
"she looked up the tree and saw Sandy. 'Sandy Gra-a-y!' she hollers;
'Sandy Gray! You one-eyed, warp-sided, nateral-born fool! What you mean,
playing with that Bill Saunders? You come in this house quick, afore you
git you' other gol-damn eye knocked out!'"

Mother dropped her sewing and had a fit on the spot. That made me mad
for a minute. Then I laughed, too.

"Don't give up, Will," says mother. "It takes time to learn to do the
right thing. You kiss your mother and forget all about it--you didn't
want Mrs. Gray to pay you for amusing Sandy, anyway, did you?"

"Of course not," I replies. "But she needn't of.... Darn him, he was
hanging a cat!"

Mother went off the handle again.

"Perhaps you _like_ people who hang cats?" I says, very scornful, the
sore spot hurting again.

"Now, Will, don't be silly!" says mother. "Try again; think how funny it
would have seemed to you, if it had happened to any one else."

"That's so," I admits, my red hair smoothing down. "Well, I'll try
again; but no more Sandy Grays."



IV

THE FIGHT


The next day my friend Mrs. Gray waylaid father, and told him fervently
she didn't want me teachin' her Sandy none of my fool tricks.

And the old gentleman read me the riot act trimmed me to a peak, by word
of mouth. There's where me and righteous conduct near parted company.
I'm afraid I sassed the old man a little. I was awful sore, you know.
Anyway, it wound up unpleasant. Father wouldn't listen to my side, as
usual, and I'll leave it to any man that's tried to do the right thing
and had it explode with him to realize how I felt. Boys have feelings.
There's lots of folk don't believe it, but I've studied boys to a
certain extent, and I'm willing to bet small sums they're almost like
persons in that respect.

I got ugly under the pressure. Then I beat the head near off Anker's
slimy little whelp, as the only relief in sight. That was dead wrong. He
was 'way smaller 'n me, and hadn't done nothing at the time to deserve
it. I went on father's principle that although no immediate cause was
visible, yet there was plenty in the past and future to lick him for, so
I lammed his both eyes black, bunged up his nose, and sent him hollering
home. He met our schoolteacher on the way. Mr. Judson and I come
together fairly regular, yet we liked each other. He was a square man,
Samuel Judson, and he knew kids from thirty years' experience. He never
made but one mistake with me, and he come out and begged my pardon
before the whole school for that. Father sneered at his doing it--saying
a teacher ought to uphold discipline, and to beg a boy's pardon was just
inviting all kinds of skulduggery. Howsomever, Sammy Judson won me by
that play. When he put the gad on me it was with the best of feelings on
both sides. I can see the old lad now, smiling a thin little smile, sort
of sourcastic, yet real kind underneath, whilst he twiddled the switch
in his hands.

"Just let me trim a certain amount of foolishness out of you, and you'll
make a fine man--a _fine_ man, William," he'd say. And perhaps you think
that small thin gentleman didn't know how to make a hickory bite! He
could get every tender spot, by instinct.

Well, he met young Mr. Anker, as I was saying, and asked him what ailed
him. Algy explained the foul way I treated him, careful not to let the
tale lose anything.

"Ah!" says Sammy, "and what was this for?"

"For nothing at all--not a thing!"

Sammy looks at him from under his shaggy eyebrows. "I've often longed to
thrash you for that same reason," says he, and marches on.

But lovely Peter! Father handed me back my mistreating Algy with
interest on the investment. Pheeew! And talk! I was the most cowardly
brute in the country--to assault and batter a poor, nice, gentlemanly
little boy--a great big hulking scoundrel like myself--why, it passed
all crimes in history. Old Uncle Nero scratching the fiddle, while the
fire-insurance companies tore their hair, was a public benefactor
compared to me.

That passed. I was only hindered, not stopped, in my reckless career of
Village Pride. I'm a kind of determined cuss. But Fate sprung a stuffed
deck on me. I did a piece of reforming really worth doing, but it cost
me my home. Moreover, I was perfectly innocent of the intention. Don't
it beat the devil? To tell it longhand, the play come up like this:

We had a party in our town who deserved a statue in the Hall--Mary Ann
McCracken by name. She was a Holy Terror. Never before nor since have I
seen anything like Mary Ann. I reckon she had about sixty years to her
credit, and two hundred pounds to show for 'em. She ran a dairy up on
the hill, doing her own milking and delivering, with only one
long-suffering man to help out. I always remember that man walking
around with one hand flying in the air, talking to himself, but when
Miss Mary Ann said in her bass voice, "Pete! You Pete!" "Yessum,
yessum!" says Pete as polite as possible.

The old lady used to bend slowly toward you, as if taking aim with her
nose, and she fired her remarks through and through you. She'd sprung a
plank somewhere, and had a little list to the side, but not at all
enough so she couldn't take care of her own business and any other
body's that come her way. When she went by father's house she used to
roar, "Hark, froom the toomb--a doooleful sound!" because she hated
everything concerning father's church, from the cellar to the
lightning-rod. One day she was talking to mother, that she happened to
like, snorting scornful, as was her custom, when father had the bad luck
to appear on the scene.

"Adele Delatter," says Mary Ann, "what made you marry that man?"
pointing a finger at father like a horse-pistol. "What made you marry
him, heh? heh? Don't you answer me. Hunh. He ain't got blood in his
veins at all; he turns decent vittels to vinegar. Hah. His mother's milk
curddled in his stummick." She humped up her back and shook both fists.
"He orter married _me_!" says she; "I'd 'a' fixed him! He'd orter
married ME!" She b'iled over entirely and galloped for the gate. "I'd
wring his cussed neck, if I stayed a minute longer!" she hollers. When
she got in the wagon she rumbled and "pah'd" and "humphed." Then she
stuck her red face out and yelled, "Orter married me. _I'd_ give him all
the hell he needed! Pah, pish, yah! Git out o' here, Jacky hoss, before
you take to singin' hymns!"

She's the only human being I ever met that did just exactly what he,
she, or it sweetly damned pleased to do. In that way, she's restful to
remember. Most of us have got to copper, once in a while; but nothing
above, below, nor between ever made her hedge a mill.

Well, I was walking home from Sunday-school with Miss Hitty one Sunday,
trying to get points on my new system, when who should we see bearin'
down the street, all sails set and every gun loaded, but Miss Mary Ann
McCracken! The first blast she give us was:

"Ha, Mehitabel! Gallivantin' around with the boys, now that the men's
give out, hey?"

Poor little Miss Hitty was flummexed fool-hardy. She stuttered out some
kind of answer, instead of breakin' for home.

"Oh, my! my! my!" says Mary Ann, not paying the least attention to Miss
Hitty's remarks. "My!" says she, "you'd ought to shuck them clothes.
What you wastin' your time on boys fur? You was always hombly, Hitty;
yes, but you're clean--I'll say that for you--you're _clean_. You stand
some chance yet. You git married and shuck them clothes--_but shuck them
clothes anyhow_!"

[Illustration: "'You git married and shuck them clothes'"]

You could have heard her to Willet's Mountain. And away she flew.

Miss Hitty cried all the way home. I did my best to comfort her, but
Mary Ann jabbed deep. She was child entirely when we reached her front
door, and she turned to me just like a child.

"_Must_ I wear different clothes, Will?" she says.

"Not a darn bit," says I. "Not for all the jealous, pop-eyed old
Jezebels in ten townships."

She stood a moment, relieved, but still doubtful. "I don't know but what
I _should_," she said. Then I got in the argument that went every time,
on every question, in those parts. "Why, Miss Hitty!" I says, "how you
talk! Think of the cost of it!"

She was so grateful she threw both arms and her parasol around my neck
and kissed me then and there. "I won't!" she says, stamping her foot, "I
won't! I won't!" and she swept into the house real spirited, like a
high-strung mouse.

So it come I was Miss Hitty's champion.

Algy Anker happened to see Miss Hitty kiss me, and, of course, I heard
from it. All the gay wags in town took a fly out of me. Even old Eli led
me mysteriously to one side and whispered he believed in helping young
fellers, so, when I was getting my outfit--he winked--why, he'd make a
big reduction in tinware. I stood most of the gaffing pretty well,
although I couldn't stop at any place without adding to the collection
of rural jokes, but at last one man stepped over the line that separates
a red-head from war.

There was always a crowd of country loafers around the tavern. A city
loafer ain't like a country loafer. The city loafer is a blackguard that
ain't got a point in his favor, except that he's different from the
country loafer.

One day I had to go by the tavern and I see Mick Murphy tilted back in
his chair, hat over eyes, thumbs in suspenders; big neck busting his
shirt open, big legs busting through the pants' legs, big feet busting
through the ends of his curved-up shoes, and a week's growth of
pig-bristles busting out of his red face. Mick was the bold bully of the
rough crowd--fellers from twenty to twenty-five. He worked till he got
money enough to buy whisky, then he got drunk and licked somebody.

The course of such lads is pretty regular. Mick was about a year from
robbing hen-roosts. Next to hen-roosts comes holding up the lone farmer.
Then the gang gets brash entirely, two or three are killed, and the rest
land in the pen. You wouldn't believe hardly what kiddish minds these
ignorant, hulking brutes have sometimes, nor how, sometimes, they come
to the front, big, bigger than life-size. A painter wouldn't waste a
minute putting down Mick Murphy as a thing of beauty. Little bits of
eyes, near hid with whisky bloat; big puffy lips, stained with tobacco
juice till they looked like the blood was coming through; dirty-handed,
dirty-clothed, and dirty-mouthed--yah! And still--well, when I remember
how that bulldozer went up a burning flight of stairs, tore a burning
door off with them big dirty hands, and brought a little girl down
through a wallow of flames, taking the coat off his back to wrap around
her, and how the pride of the man come out when the mother stumbled
toward him, calling on God to reward him, and he straightened under the
pain and said, "Ah, that's all right, ledy! 'F your ol' man'll stand a
drink an' a new shirt we'll call it square." The son-of-a-gun never left
his bed for six weeks--why, he was broiled all down one side--why, when
I remember that, I can't call up such a disgust for old Mick.

As I said, I see Mick Murphy leaning back in his chair at the tavern. Of
course, he had a word to say about me and Miss Hitty. Now, the bare
sight of Mick used to make the hair stand up on the back of my neck and
growls boil inside of me. I just naturally disliked that man. So I
sassed him plenty. He got mad and threatened to slap my face. I sassed
him more, and he _did_ slap my face. In one twenty-fifth of a second I
caught him on his rum-bouquet and sent him plumb off his feet--not bad
for a sixteen-year-old, when you consider the other party was an
accomplished rough-houser. Yes, sir, he went right down, clean, more
from the quickness than the stuff behind the blow, as I hadn't anywheres
near grew into my strength yet. The tavern crowd set up a roar, and then
jumped to interfere, for Mick he roared, too, and made to pull me apart.
The onlookers wouldn't stand for it. They weren't such high-toned gents,
but a contest between a leggy kid and a powerful man looked too far off
the level.

"You run," says one fellow to me. "We'll hold him." But hanged if I was
going to run. My thoughts was a mix, as usual in such cases--most of it
hardly thinking at all, and the rest a kind of white-hot wish to damage
something, and a desire to hustle away from there before I got hurt.
Then, too, it had reached the limit about Miss Hitty--I sure wasn't
going to stand hearing her name mishandled by tavern loafers. Yet the
principal cause for my staying was my anxiety to leave. That big,
bellowing Irishman, dragging a half-dozen men to get at me, blood
streaming down his face, and his expression far from agreeable, put a
crimp in my soul, and don't you forget it. But I understood that this
was my first man's-size proposition, and if I didn't take my licking
like a man I never could properly respect myself afterward. So whilst my
legs were pleading, "Come, Willie, let's trot and see mother--it will be
pleasanter," I raked my system for sand and stood pat.

I knew a trick or two about assaulting your fellow-man as well as Mick,
when you come to that. Fighting is really as good an education for
fighting as sparring is, and perhaps a little better. It ain't so much a
question of how you make your props and parries, as how much damage you
inflict upon the party of the second part.

"Let him come!" I says. "What you holding him for, 's if he was a ragin'
lion or something? Let go of him!"

"You skip, you darn fool," says my first friend. "He'll eat you raw."

"Well, it will be my funeral," I says. "If you will see he don't put me
down and gouge my eye out, I'll take him as he comes."

Gouging was a great trick with that gang,--I feared it more than death
itself.

Just at that minute old Eli drove up. "What in tarnation's this?" says
he. When he found out, he tried to make me go home, but all this advice
I didn't want had made me more determined. I got crying mad. "Gol-ding
it all to thunder!" says I, hopping up and down. "You see me fair play
and turn him loose, Eli. I want one more swat at him,--just let me hit
him once more, and I'll go home."

Eli was a tall, round-shouldered man, who looked like a cross between a
prosperous minister and a busted lawyer. He had a consumptive cough, and
an easy, smoothing way with his hands, always sort of apologizing.
Several men had been led astray by these appearances, and picked a
quarrel with Eli. Two weeks in bed was the average for making that
mistake.

He looked at me with his head sideways, pulling his chin whisker.
"Billy," says he, "I hev experienced them sentiments myself. It shell be
as you say." He went to his wagon, and drew out a muzzle-loading pistol
from under the seat. The pistol was loaded with buckshot, and four
fingers of powder to push it, as every one around knew. He walked up to
Mick and put the touch of a cold, gray, Yankee eye on him. "Young man,"
he says, "I ain't for your clawin', chawin', kickin' style of conductin'
a row, so I tell you this: you fight that boy fair, or I'll mix buckshot
with your whisky.--Turn your bullock loose!"

[Illustration: "'You fight that boy fair'"]

The men let go of him, and he come.

Fortunately, I remember every detail of that scrap, clear as crystal. I
led with my left, and Mick countered with his chin. A thunderstorm hit
me in the left ear. Kerbang, kerswot. Scurry-scurry, biff-biff-biff.
Somebody hit somewhere. Somebody with a pain in the neck. No time to
find out who it is. Zip, smash, rip; more pains; streaks of fire on the
horizon; must have run aground. Roar-roar-bump,--ah, bully for you,
Billy! Slam him, Mick! Hit him again, sonny! You got him! Now you got
him! Aaaay-hooray!

Here we go, bumping over the ties. Right over the edge of the
trestle,--bing! C'm' off'n him, you big black whelp, aggh! le' go! Twist
his thumb! Kick the brute! Get up, boy! Roooor swishz.--Where in thunder
did the big black thing come from? Never mind. No time to stop. Lovely
Peter! How she rolls! Who's sick?--Mick, probably. Lightning struck,
that time.... Again ... Mmmmmmearrrrr ... dark ... dark. Raining
ice-water! He's all right! Give him a little air! Somebody crying, "I
did the best I could by him, Eli; g-gu-gug-gol-darn him!" More light.
Daybreak, and here I am again, on the ground, wet to the hide, the
bucket they emptied on me alongside, and Eli holding my head up. And
what's the thing opposite, with one eye swelled shut, and a mouth the
size of a breakfast-roll?--Why, it's Mick!

"Did he lick me, Eli?" says I.

Eli laughed kind of nervous. "Neither you, nor him, nor me, will ever
know," says he. "He's willing to call it a draw."

I staggered to my feet and wabbled to my partner in the dance, holding
out my hand. "Much obliged to you, Mick," says I.

He leaned back and laughed, till I joined, as well as I could, for
crying. He grabbed my hand and shook it. "Yer all right," says he.
"Sorry I am I said a word to ye. An' yer th' h--- of a red-headed bye to
fight. I've enough."

Whilst I was a simple lad, I wasn't a fool. For me to hold that
two-hundred-and-twenty-five-pound rough-and-tumble fighter even, was
impossible. He was ashamed of the whole thing. As soon as his ugly
temper had the edge knocked off it, he took that way of closing the
deal. No bad man at all, old Mick.

"You say that to save my feelings," I said.

"What's that?" says he, rough and hard. "Off with ye!" He wouldn't admit
being decent for a farm. He swung away. Then I got another jar. A voice
called me and I swung around.



V

"ON MY BUREAU WAS A KNIFE--"


My father stood behind me, such a picture it chills me to think of him.
All of his face was chalk-white; his hands shook like palsy. I reckon I
can slide over the next little while. You guess what a crazy-mad man,
who's fed his mind on darkness for years, would be likely to do. I never
raised a hand in defense--took it. At the same time I made my mind up to
end this business, quick and strong. I had enough.

Of course, from father's point of view, something could be said. Had I
been drunk and fighting at the tavern, as my nice, gentlemanly little
friend, Algy Anker, ran and told him, nobody'd blamed him for getting
orry-eyed. But he might have asked me what I had to say--a woman-killer
gets that show. He used me bad enough, so Eli interfered. "I don't care
if I never sell another thing to you," says he; "but, neighbor, you
sha'n't hit thet boy ag'in--no, now! There's no use to squirm--you
sha'n't do it, and that's all. You run along, Bill."

When mother saw me, she cried out. I was a sight, for sure. Ought to
have washed up a bit, and not give her such a shock, but my head was
sizzing like a pin-wheel. Only one idea stuck.

"I'm not hurt much, mother," I says. "I want to speak to you."

Mother was quick-witted and hardy-witted, too. She knew there was no boy
foolishness in this, so she choked down her feelings, got a basin, clean
water, and a towel, and said, "Tell me while I bathe your face."

I told her. It was queer how quiet I felt. I don't know but what it's
always that way, though, when a man has made his mind up tight. We
seemed almost of an age, mother and me, that little while.

She pleaded with me. "Don't leave your home, Will. I have been wrong; I
should have done more; I didn't, thinking things would right themselves;
but now I'll promise to stand between."

"And what will your life be like?" I asked her. I grew old pretty fast,
under pressure.

"Never mind that!" she cried. "My boy, to have you with me--"

"Sh!" I says. "How could I help minding it?"

She was still.

"And worse might come," I went on. "I don't like to say it, yet every
time I couldn't promise to be.... There'd come a day too often ... I'm
strong, and if I should--" She put her hand on my lips.

"Go to your room, Will; and let me think alone for a while," she said.
She caught me and held me close, with never a tear, but a look worse
than an ocean of tears. I couldn't have stood it, if I hadn't known I
was doing the right thing. To a dead certainty, there would be no peace
with me in the house. Any doubts anybody might have had was removed when
father come in. He went straight to mother's room. I heard him shouting;
talking so fast his words were broken; stamping around; quoting
Scripture one minute, crying threats and slaughter the next. It was
pitiful. I hustled, getting things ready; I knew, a little more of
listening, and I'd have nothing but contempt for my father. Then
mother's voice rung out, telling him to leave until he could talk like a
man. Usually, she could force him, when she wished, hers being so much
bigger a mind, but this time the littler soul was beyond itself with
fury. "Don't take that tone with me!" he roared. "I won't stand it! And
as for the lies that boy told you, I'll have them out of his back!"
Their door slammed open, and he fairly ran toward mine. I jumped and
locked it. Mother was close after him. "You shall _not_!" she said.
"Listen to reason! You've done enough harm--Oh!" she cried, in pain. I
thought he hit her.

What I feared boiled up in me. On my bureau was a knife; a big, heavy
knife, that got into my hand somehow. It was me and the devil for that
round. How long I stood with the knife raised, I don't know. Then mother
spoke calmly. "You hurt my arm, holding it so tight," she said. "That
certainly isn't necessary." He had grace enough to beg her pardon.
Finally, she got him to leave. A good job. That day had been a trifle
too much for me, already. I can't see a bare knife since, without a
shudder. Don't like the glint of steel at all. Years after, a flash of
sun on water would bring things back, and I'd have a sickness in the
stomach.

An hour after, mother came in. "Well, my boy, you are right," she says,
as if the very life were out of her.

"Yes," I says, thinking of the knife; "and I'll just slide out quiet,
and no trouble to anybody."

She roused herself. "You will leave in daylight, my son," she says,
"with your mother to say good-by. You have done nothing wrong, and you
sha'n't leave ashamed."

"But, mother, that will make it bad for you," I says.

"I married your father; I brought you into the world," she says. "I know
my duty, and I shall do it, if it costs all our lives, let alone a
little trouble. And, besides," she says, getting up, excited, "no matter
what any one can say, you've been a good--" She broke down, all at once.
The rest of it she cried into my shoulder, whilst I told her about how
I'd be rich and great in no time, and father'd come around all right
after a while, and we'd all be happy, till she felt better. And I
believed it myself so strong, and put it out so clear, that I think I
convinced her. Anyway, they got along all right after I left. That's a
comfort.

So it was arranged. I shouldn't say anything, but keep out of father's
way until she made him yield the point. She laid it out to the old
gentleman clear and straight, Mattie tells me--(Mattie's mother was my
mother's half-sister)--telling him I wasn't drunk, as he could readily
prove, and as for the fighting, if he intended to beat me every time I
defended a woman, why, she'd leave, too. That part of it stuck in
mother's mind; she would not listen when I told her it was only one of
the reasons for the row. And she summed the thing up by saying I was
determined to leave; that it was best all around; and that he must act
like a human being and a father for once. By this time, I reckon he
didn't feel so terrible proud of himself. At least, it was pulled off
easy. I left home, with some small money in my pocket, a trunk of
clothes in Eli's care, and mother and father both waving me good-by in
the road, for the Great World, per Boston, and a schooner trading South,
that belonged to Eli's cousin.

[Illustration: "I left home ... mother and father both waving me good-by
in the road"]

And here's a queer thing. The day I left, Mick went into the tavern and
called for a glass of whisky. He poured out a snorter and balanced it on
the flat of his thumb. "Ladies and gintlemen," says he, "ye here behold
th' koind friend that led Mick Murphy--that's licked the country--to
bang a bit of a bye, after misnamin' a dacent woman." Smash! goes the
glass on the floor. "Tra-la-loo to you!" says Mick, flinging the
barkeep' a half-dollar. "Keep the change," he says. "It's the last cent
I have, and the last you'll get from me."

And that's just what happened, too. He's located about twenty mile over
yonder, with a good factory and somewheres between ninety and nine
thousand Murphys claiming him as their start. And my best friend is old
Mick. He cried when I first went to see him. I reformed him, but it cost
me my home. I never knew, either, till he told me himself, a year ago.



VI

"I'M MARY SMITH"


Plunk, plunk, plunketty-plunk, down the pike, me and Eli, and Dandy Jim,
Eli's black horse.

I'll never tell you how I felt. It was the first I'd ever been away from
home. All the regrets I had was eased by knowing it wouldn't be more
than six months before I'd come back with a gunny-sack full of
hundred-dollar bills, buy Mr. Jasper's place with the pillars in front,
and a railroad, and pervade things in general with a tone of pink and
birds singing.

One thing about being a boy is that you're sure of to-morrow, anyhow.

Well, we slid along behind a free-gaited horse, in an easy wagon, over
good roads, in early New England summer, when every breath of air had a
pretty story to tell. If it hadn't been for the tight vest I had on, I
reckon my heart would have bust my ribs for joyfulness.

Boston scart the life out of me. I had no notion there was that many
folks and horses and buildings in the world. We pulled for the schooner
right away, but none too quick for me. I never liked a crowd. A man
understands he don't amount to much, yet don't like to have the fact
rubbed in.

Cap'n Jesse Conklin owned the boat. He had a mild blue eye, a splendid
line of cuss words, a body as big as mine, and a pair of legs that just
saved him from running aground. When I first saw him I thought he was
standing in a hole. Howsomever, he got around mighty lively on his
little stumps, and he could light his pipe when the _Matilda_, of
Boston, was throwing handsprings. He always opened his eyes wide and
said, "Ha!" like he was perfectly astonished when you spoke to him.
Then, to square things, you was really perfectly astonished when he
spoke to you.

Eli introduced me. "Ha!" says the captain. "So this is one of them
ripperty-splintered and bejiggered young thingermergummeries that runs
away from hum, heh?" I don't wish to be understood as giving the
captain's exact words, although I ain't one of your durn prudes,
neither.

Eli explained.

"Ha!" says the captain. "Is that so? Howjer come by them legs, young
feller? You'll be riggin' a set of stays fur them when we hit the
stream. I've seen shorter and thicker things than them growin' on
trellises."

"Never you mind about his legs, you old bladder-head," says Eli,
cousinly. "You're to take the boy as passenger."

"_I_ am!" says Captain Jesse, jumping back, mad as a bumblebee. "_I_ am;
that's _me_! I don't own this boat nor nothin'! I've got to be told what
I'm to do, I have!"

"Sure!" says Eli, undisturbed.

"Well, all right," says the captain, calm as anything. "What makes you
so hasty, Eli? Does he pay his passage, or work it?"

"He gives you five dollars in hand, and works the rest of it," says Eli.

The cap'n gave a horrible grin, showing a set of teeth like a small
horse.

"And won't he work it!" says he, rubbing his hands together. "Dry
land'll do for him, two weeks out."

"Yaaas," says Eli. "You're a turble person, you are--you'd ought to been
a pirate, Jess."

Cap'n Jesse got mad again--he was more like a little boy than anybody of
his weight I ever see. He come up to Eli and shook his finger under that
hawk-bill of a nose.

"I don't want none of your slack, Eli!" he says. "You've tried me
often"--here he got impressive, talking very slow--"don't you try me
once too much!"

Eli grabbed the hand, stuck the finger in his mouth, and bit it.

"Aaoow!" yells the captain, grabbing his finger. "You quit your
foolin'!"

By this time I was lost entirely. What to make of the proceedings was
beyond guessing. Boylike, I thought men always acted with some big idea
in view, but the next minute Eli and Cap'n Jesse had grabbed holt of one
another and was scuffling and giggling around the deck like a pair of
kids. Captain Jess was stout about the shoulders; he had Eli waving in
the breeze once, but at last Eli gave him a back trip and down they
come. Then up they got; each cut off a hunk of chewing and began to talk
as if they'd acted perfectly reasonable. Seems that's the way they
always come together.

The three of us took a look about the boat. She was an able, fine
three-master, the pride of Jesse's soul; 'most as big as a ship.

Them were the days when most folk built deep and narrer, but Jesse had
ideas of his own when he laid down the lines of the _Matilda_, of
Boston. She looked bluff and heavy in the bows and her bilges turned
hard, but she walked over the water, and don't you forget it. Moreover,
she was the kindest boat in a seaway I ever boarded. Old _Matilda_ girl
would heel just so far; after that the worst draft that ever whistled
wouldn't put her under an inch; she'd part with her sticks first. Handy
boat, a schooner, too; sensible and Yankeefied. Lord! what a
claw-and-messing on board a square-rigger, compared to it! And taking
two men to the schooner's one at that.

The _Matilda_ was fitted for passengers. She had eight nice clean
cabins, and fine quarters for the crew. In most such boats you can't
more 'n stand up, if you stretch between hair and shoe-leather the way I
do, but here there was head-room a-plenty. And Uncle Jesse ate the boys
well, too. Good old craft and good old boy running her. Soon's you
realized that all his spitting and swearing and roaring didn't amount to
no more than a hearty sneeze, you got along with Jesse great, if you was
fit to get along with anybody.

We took aboard four passengers that night, one of 'em being a lady. The
next morning at four we pulled out with the ebb-tide.

Before we got into the open water, I felt such a joy boiling inside me I
had to sing, no matter what the feelings of the rest were. Oh! Oh! The
blue, bright sky; and the blue, crinkly, good-smelling water; the
quantities of fresh air around, and _Matilda_ picking up her white
skirts and skipping for Panama! Neither man nor money will ever give me
a feeling like that again. But then,--ah, then! And there's 'most always
a then,--when the _Matilda_ tried to spear a gull with her bowsprit,
and, shamefaced at the failure above, tried to harpoon some little fishy
with the same weapon,--why, I hope I'll never have a feeling like that
again, neither.

I hung over a bunk like a snarl of rope. Jesse come down and grinned at
me. I couldn't even get mad. "Tell mother I died thinking of her," was
all I could say.

Now that was noble of me. Many a man has cashed his checks not feeling
half so bad; but if any poor soul ever regretted a good deed, I did that
one. That last message to my mother seemed to remain in the memory of
our ship's company, long after I was willing to forget it.

For two solid days I didn't live inside of myself,--mind floated around
in space. After that, I got up, ready for anything in the line of eating
they had on board. Jesse brought me a smoked herring and a cup of
coffee,--the first coffee I ever tasted, mother thinking it wasn't good
for boys. Within ten minutes after my meal, William De La Tour Saunders
belonged to himself once more. Never had a squirm of seasickness since.
For the first week I wasn't quite up to the mark, but Jesse told me to
take a cup of sea-water every morning before breakfast, which tuned me
up in jig-time.

I saw our lady passenger when she come up for air. A girl of about
twenty, supple and balanced as a tight-rope walker; you thought she was
slim when you first looked at her, yet when you looked the second time
you couldn't prove it. What a beautiful thing is a set of muscles that
know their business! Muscles that meet every roll of a boat, or whatever
it is they should meet, without haste and without loss of time,--just
there, when they should be there! Why, to see that girl walk twenty feet
on the schooner's deck was a picture to remember for the rest of your
days. Kid that I was, I noticed there wasn't a line in her makeup that
said, "Look at me." Afterward I learned to shake my head at graceful
ladies, but I feel kindly toward them still, out of memory of that first
girl. My mother moved beautifully, likewise Mattie. They were quiet,
though; restful women; this one was all spring and ginger,--for Heaven's
sake, don't think I mean prancy! Nor that I haven't met a prancy girl or
two who was all right, when I say that,--fat and jolly, yellow-haired
girls, to go with good meals and a romp,--but this My Lady was made of
the stuff Uncle Shakspere wrote. She was clean and sweet as pine-woods
after rain, but full of fire, sense, and foolishness.

I remember thinking, "When this girl turns round she ain't going to be
handsome in the face. With that head of hair, that back, and that walk,
Providence will feel square on the deal." And when she did turn round I
simply spread my hands, mouth, and eyes, and looked at her. I forgot
being aboard ship, I forgot where I was going and why, I forgot who I
was and everything else; all I knew was that a kind of human I never
believed lived was walking toward me.

I caught one glance of her eyes; outside their beauty was fun, kindness,
and a desire to be friends; from that minute one red-headed puppy-dog
found something to live for.

My devotion had nothing to do with the ordinary love-affair. As for
marrying her, no such idea entered my loft. I had no jealousies. All I
wanted was for her to be near me, to be a friend of mine, and that she
might be on hand to approve if I did something surprising. I wanted the
privilege of her hearing me talk about myself; and, for the rest of it,
I could sit and look at her beauty, the same as you or me could sit and
listen to the greatest music. It meant more than just good looks; I
wouldn't go too far if I said it was a kind of religion. And the devil
take my soul if I forget the horse-sense and kindness that girl used in
teaching a foot-loose boy what a different place this world is, from
what he'd been like to think it, without her. A young feller's first
outpourings toward a woman has more effect on him than even his mother's
years of care. He kind of takes mother for granted. The other woman
represents his own endeavors. I played in luck.

We were introduced, bang! When about ten feet away from me she took her
hand from the rail to gather in one end of a shawl. At that minute the
_Matilda_ saw a whale, or something, and shied. We struck the mainmast
together, me trying to hold her up. She said, "Why, how do you do?" I
said I did very well, and was she hurt? She said, not in the least,
thank you, except in her feelings, at being so clumsy. I said, if _she_
was clumsy, why, then, why, then--Now I was a little bashful. Nobody
could be a clodhopper who lived with my mother, and ordinarily I acted
quite like a man when necessary, but this was a little sudden. I
couldn't reach the word I looked for. With one hand braced against the
mainmast, her hair standing in a black cloud about her head, the color
whipped to her cheeks, she gave me a flash from the corner of her eye:
"I'm afraid I lose my compliment," said she.

[Illustration: "The _Matilda_ saw a whale, or something and shied"]

Afterward I learned she had liked me from the first, too, and was afraid
I mightn't turn out well. Lucky for me I didn't try to show off!

"I wouldn't think it a compliment to compare you to anything on earth!"
says I, meaning every word of it.

She laughed out, hearty as a boy. "Royal!" she said, and held out her
hand.

"And the hand is the hand of--?" she asked.

"Bill Saunders," said I, thinking to take off my hat.

"I sound almost as honest as you," said she. "I'm Mary Smith."

It was almost a shock to think she was Mary Smith. Since then it would
be a shock to think of her as Eulalie Rosalinde De Montmorency. She
didn't need it. Plain Mary Smith told of what was beneath her
loveliness,--and, I'm forced to admit, her side-stepping and
buck-jumping, once in a while. Oh, she could cut loose for fair, if
stirred, but you could always remember with perfect faith Mary Smith.

It wasn't five minutes after we started talking that Arthur Saxton came
along. The girl knew him, and said good morning in that civil, hold-off
fashion a good woman uses to a man she thinks may come to liking her too
well, or that she may come to like too well, when the facts are against
any happy result. So there was three of us, that took our little share
of what followed, gathered together early in the game.

I liked Saxton from the jump. He had more faults than any other man I
ever seen. He was the queerest, contrariest cuss, and yet such a
gentleman; he had such a way, and such talents, that when you were mad
enough to kill him, you couldn't help but feel glad you knew him to get
mad at. Somehow, he steered clear of meanness. There was a sort of
nobility in his capers, even when his best friends would have to admit
they didn't seem to be of a size for a full-grown man. I don't know how
to express myself. He often played a poor part; but darned if he didn't
carry it off well, because it was him; I think that's the nearest I can
come to it; good or bad, large or small, he was always Saxton, never
attempting to put on anything different. And vain! Well, Heaven preserve
us! And, on the other hand, not vain, neither. 'Twas like this. Among
the things he did well enough to be high-class was playing the violin.
He had a style and a go in it all his own, but he hadn't spent the time
to learn some of the stunts that go with the trade. All the same, his
natural gifts got him a job to play in concerts. The boss of the affair
was a German, the kind of a man who had a soul to realize that Saxton
made music, but had a head to go crazy over his slam-dashery. Now,
Saxton grew excited whilst playing, and cut loose on his own hook,
letting the poor perspiring Dutchman and the rest of the orchestra keep
up to his trail the best they could. At these opportunities the Dutchman
went home in a cab, frothing at the mouth. You see, he understood it was
great stuff, as far as Saxton was concerned, so he cussed the cab-driver
and the cab-horse, and the people on the street, being an honest sort of
Dutchman, if limited; but, also, he had a pride in his gang, and he felt
entitled to a show, here and there.

At last there come a big occasion. Saxton was half sick and loaded up on
champagne and coffee to pull through the evening. I have his own word
for it, the mixture done wonders. Right in the middle of a piece by a
gentleman whose name I don't recall, as it's spelt with all the tail-end
of the alphabet, and sounds like rip-sawing a board, Saxton throws dull
care away and wanders into regions of beautiful sounds hitherto
unexplored. Now and then the tall and melancholy gent with the
bull-fiddle would scratch out a note or two, and the drummer got in a
lick here and there, while the flute man toodle-oodled around to head
off Saxy; but, on the whole, that orchestra was worse lost than so many
West Pointers trying to catch an Apache who ain't longing for home. They
sat and let old Saxton ramp by himself, laying low to hit her up strong
on the last note. And they did,--but they misguessed the note. Saxton
ground his teeth yet, recalling the finish. "It was my best," said he.
"I was inspired that night,--and then, for that assortment of garlic and
sausage to smash me!"

Well, he heaved his fiddle at the poor leader, and called him a barrel
of sauerkraut afloat on a sea of beer, right before the whole audience.
It is perhaps unnecessary to state that he and the orchestra parted
company. Now he was off for Panama,--quit fiddling forever. Done with
it. Going to take up a _man's_ work, he said. He didn't mention the
variety, but rolled out the statement as if it was a joy. In the
meantime, he was painting pictures and writing a novel. The pictures
never got finished, and the novel hasn't come out, but those things
didn't make him any less entertaining; and, as usual, what did get done
of them was almighty well done, and done in a way only Arthur Saxton
could do. I never see such a man to stamp himself on anything he put his
hand to. And when he was working, if you said the least thing against
the job, he wanted trouble with you; but the next day he'd smoke his
pipe and tear it apart worse than you possibly could. That was Saxy:
first crack, spoiled kid; second thought, clear-headed man.

The three of us, Mary and him and me, walked the deck day after day,
talking of everything, from what fine weather it was to religion. Once
Saxton called our attention to the wind in the rigging. Afterward I knew
it sounded like Injun chants and coyotes howling, but Saxton asked if we
didn't notice how much it was like the songs the children sing in play.
He said those songs must have been handed down from far-off days--when
we whites were savages, hopping around hollering hye-ee yah, hye-ee yah,
and calling on the ladies, dressed in a streak of red paint. I don't
know about that, though. No child in this world can be as mournful
enjoying himself as a cow-puncher with all night before him and seven
hundred verses to get through; there's puncher songs would make a strong
man curl up and die.

Now, says Saxton, what makes children and savages, who have a clear
field to amuse themselves as they see fit, pick, with deliberate choice,
such melancholy tunes? And he said it was because nature always hit on
that; wind in rigging, wind in trees, waterfalls, the far-off hum of the
city, all sad, sad.

I asked him, if it was natural, where did we get the idea it was sad? It
struck me that if a thing was natural, it was natural, not sad, nor
nothin' else.

He said, because nature was sad. Mary said, no such a thing; nature
wasn't sad--there were the flowers and green fields, also natural, and
pleasant and cheerful to the eye; there was more blue sky than gray, and
as for the savage being sad, why, that might be, but it wasn't sad to
think that men were working out of savagery into civilization.

So then Saxton gave civilization one for its Ma, and talk brisked up.
Civilization stood for Dutchmen that ran orchestras to Saxton, and he
didn't spare her feelings none. I was glad Civvy, old girl, was no
friend of mine. According to him, of all the mistakes so foolish that to
think of bettering it was like building a hole with no rim around it,
civilization stood first and foremost.

Mary got red in the face and her eyes shone. They had it up one side and
down the other, forgetting me entirely. Finally Saxton told her she
wasn't talking honestly, that she hated civilization worse than he did,
and it was plumb hypocrisy for her to set up in its defense; whereupon
she replied that _she_ hadn't wasted her time and talents, anyhow; that
she wasn't throwing things up the first little obstacle that came in the
way. Which didn't seem to be just the answer one might expect to the
charge, but finished Saxton plenty.

He drew himself up proud. "If every topic had to turn to
personalities--" said he.

"I didn't begin the personalities," said Mary. "You called me a fraud."

"I never did!" cries Saxton. "I said you were defending a cause you
didn't believe in!"

"And that isn't a fraud? I admire your distinctions."

Saxton chewed his mustache and swallowed. He made her a low bow and
said, in a tone of voice to flatten her out: "I am glad Miss Smith finds
something admirable in me!"

Mary's lip curled hard and contemptuous. It _was_ kiddish.

"There'd be plenty in you to admire if you let it have liberty," she
said. "The trouble is that your follies seem worth it, to you."

"Follies! You let me off lightly. Why not absurdities, idiocies?"

"Pick your name," she said, throwing away her interest with a sweep of
her hand.

"There is one folly you give me great cause to regret," he answered her,
his manhood coming back to him, "but yet I never do."

"Oh!" she jeered at him. "You should renounce them all. If I understand
your meaning, that is the least excusable--you have some reason for the
others."

Later I understood the cruelty of that speech. It was cruel to be kind,
but it was mighty cruel and a doubtful kindness. It woke old Saxton up.
He took a breath and shook. He put a hand on her shoulder, standing
straight and tall--a handsome, slim critter, if ever there lived one.

"Listen!" he said, quiet, but all of him in it. "You shall care for me,
just as I am--you understand? A fool, and a this, and a that--but you
shall care."

A look in her eyes--the kind of defy that grows of being scart--showed
his talk wasn't all air.

But it went in a second, and she whirled on him. "Why don't you
advertise your intentions?" she demanded. "If I had an idea I should be
so persecuted--"

"Don't say persecuted, little girl," he answered her softly. "Let's be
friends the rest of the trip. I'll trouble you no more,--by sea," he
finished, smiling.

She gripped the rail and looked out over the waters. Again her eyes
turned to him for a second. He was worth it. That dark, long face of
his, set off with his red neckerchief, made something for any woman to
look at. And we're not always so darned fond of reasonable people as we
make out.

"If only--" she began, then bit back whatever it was. "Well, as you
say," she wound up, "let us be friends. Isn't it foolish for us to
quarrel so, Will?" she asked, turning to me. "I think you must feel
we're both ridiculous."

"I don't care whether you are or not," I said. "I like you both."

Saxton looked pleased 'way back in his dark eyes. "That's the boy for my
money!" he said. And then we three began to laugh.

"It's all too beautiful to quarrel in," he said, waving an arm around.
"To feel sorrowful on such a day, savage or civilized, really is
ridiculous."

She couldn't help giving him one last jab,--I make a guess he turned
happy too soon to please her. If she didn't like him, she liked somebody
who so much resembled him that she wanted to have him around to remind
her.

"Mr. Saxton's sorrows are soon healed," she said. "That's a valuable
disposition."

"I take _that_ as friendly, because I must," said he, smiling in a way,
as with the other things he did, that was beautiful in a fashion of its
own. She tried to buck against it, to keep sneering; but something so
young and joyful was in his face, she couldn't help smiling back at him.
So we walked the deck and talked about everything in the best of humors.



VII

"SAVE ME, ARTHUR!"


The first part of the _Matilda's_ trip slid by, day after day, like a
happy dream. We had weather that couldn't be bettered; days of sunlight
and pretty sailing breezes; nights picked out of heaven. The moon was in
her glory. I like high land better than I do the ocean, but few sights
can beat a full moon swelling over the glitter of water. There's also a
snugness, a cozy, contented feeling, aboard a small boat, that you can't
get elsewhere, except in a prairie camp. I suppose it's the contrast
between so much space of sky and land or water, where people are not,
and the little spot where they are, that makes your partners rise in
value.

Of course, the fact that it was my first cutaway puts a gilt edge on all
that time, yet one other thing, a new thing, that made all my life
different for me, must get its credit. That was music,--good music. Back
home they weren't much in the musical line. I think I can remember when
mother used to play the piano some, but her life soon jarred all that
out of her. Bar here and there a man with a mouth-organ or a concertina,
and a fiddler to do dance-tunes, the only thing that stood for music to
me was the singing in father's church. I have since thought that anybody
who could stand that once a week was certainly a good Christian. I
remember one Sunday the preacher told us about heaven, and how it was a
steady line of harps and hymn-tunes. I put in the rest of that Sunday
bewildered. I didn't want to go to hell, and after that description of
heaven I wasn't anxious to go there, neither. Looked like the hereafter
was dark and uncertain.

But when I first heard Saxton, with his fiddle; Barbado Joe, the nigger
cook, with the guitar; and Mary singing, my soul just laid on its back
and purred. I was standing at the rail, thinking, kind of misty
kid-fashion, one moonlit night, when there came a ripple of little notes
from the guitar, with three wind-up chords like spring water in the
desert. Then old Sax's fiddle 'way, 'way up; so light, so delicate, so
sweet and pretty that shivers ran down my back. I stiffened like a
pointer-pup first smelling game. "Here's something," I thought,
"something that's me, all right, but I don't understand yet." And then,
Mary's voice rose gorgeous out of the bigness of sky and moonlight and
water; it filled the whole empty world, without an effort. Me and the
moon and the waves stopped dead and listened. Even the _Matilda_ trod
the water gently.

I turned and looked at Mary. There's no way for me to tell you what a
picture she made. If I say she was beautiful, you'll think of some woman
you know, and that's wrong, for there never was another like Mary. She
was always beautiful, but never else had quite the touch as when lost in
her singing. Man, she was Paradise itself, and when she opened her lips
and sang, you entered the gates thereof.

Of course, everybody's heard good singing, the same as everybody's seen
handsome faces, but once in a while you strike a face or a voice that's
beyond all guessing. You'd never believed it, if you hadn't seen or
heard it.

She sang as easily as you think,--opened her lips and it rolled out.
And, in spite of power that could ring the air for miles and never seem
loud, a deep something trembled underneath that was the very soul of
pity and womankindness, and another little something floated high and
joyful above it like the laugh of a child. Yes, sir. That voice was
food, drink, and clean blankets. When she stopped, I thought I never
wanted to hear a sound again. But I didn't know the limit of old Sax.
With her voice quivering in his heart, he grabbed up his wooden box and
made a miracle. Sure, it was different; but just as sure he tore a hole
in you. His eyes were on Mary, backing the story the violin was telling.
She was giving way, too. Her eyes would meet his, as if she couldn't
help herself. He'd promised not to speak, but that didn't stop the old
fiddle from making out the prettiest kind of case.

[Illustration: "He grabbed up his wooden box and made a miracle"]

She sat with her chin in her hand, breathing deep. The violin would give
a tug at her, and, as I say, her eyes would turn to Sax, and then she'd
force them away again, over the water, slowly down to the deck once
more. She was frightened. I don't blame her, for Sax was out of himself.
He towered there in the moonlight making those inhumanly beautiful
sounds, his face burning white and his eyes burning black, fire clean
through, fire in every soople muscle, fire pulsing out of every heave of
his shoulders, one handsome and scary figure. There was something so
out-and-out wild in him, I swear he looked as if he could call up devils
from the sea.

Well, when a man does get beyond the ordinary he scares the rest of the
tribe. If two fellows start to fight, the bystanders will try to
separate them. It's kind of instinct--I've done it many a time myself,
when it would have been better to let the boys whack 'emselves
good-natured instead of keeping the grudge sour on their stomachs.
Anyway, I can't blame Mary for feeling leery of Sax when I confess that
he put creeps in my spine. He seemed to grow till he filled the bow of
the boat; the fiddle sung in my ears till I couldn't think straight;
heavy medicine in it, you bet. Mary got whiter and whiter. I saw her
constantly wetting her lips, and her hand went to her heart. The whole
night was changed. The air was full of war and uneasiness. I wish to
Heaven I knew how it might have ended, if nothing interrupted, because
Saxton was doing magic. It was the queerest feeling I ever had. What
Mary's feelings were I'd give something to know, but just when things
were the tightest old Jesse come up and pulled my sleeve.

"Get the girl below quiet," he says. "Hell will be loose in a minute."

I stared at him. Coming on top of my queer sensations, it gummed my
works. Jesse pointed to the sou'east.

A cloud was flying north, the center of it black, but wisps and
streamers flew out white in the moonlight like steam from an explosion.
To the north of it lay another storm, huge and heavy, black as death,
except where lightning sprayed through it.

"Wind, Jesse?" I says.

"The last time I see a thing like that, boy," he says, "I made land
three days later, aboard a hencoop--the only one of a hull ship's
company. Get that girl below."

I thought quick, as he walked away. The fiddle had stopped. A wicked
silence lay on everything. Old man Fear put his cold feet on me. I
looked again at the mass to s'utherd. It boiled and turned and twisted.
Big gusts of black and white shot crazily out to nowhere--she was
climbing! Then I looked at the group. Mary sat white and still. Sax
stood behind her, his fiddle by his side, holding the bow like a sword.
He was white and still, too, and looking up to where the moon was going
out. Their backs were turned to the devilry that threatened us.

I stepped forward,--easy as possible, and spoke to her.

"You're not looking well, Mary," I said. "Hadn't you better go down?"

That was before my poker days. Playing a four-flush gives a man control
of his face and voice. She heard what I wanted to hide at once, being
naturally sharp as a needle and tuned high that night.

"What's the matter?" says she.

"Matter?" says I, laughing gaily. "Why, I don't want to see you
sick--come along like a good girl."

"Tell me why I should, and I will," she says. Well, what was the use?
Hadn't she the right to know? When old Jesse said trouble was turning
the corner, you could expect the knock on the door. He had the
reputation of being the most fearless as well as the most careful
skipper in the coast trade. He never took a chance, if there was nothing
in it, and he'd take 'em all, if there was.

Sax bent to us. "What's up?" says he. I didn't say a word--pointed
behind him. He looked for a full five seconds.

"Tornado, by God!" he says in a sort of savage whisper.

He took the violin and bow in those thin strong hands of his and
crumpled 'em up, and threw the pieces overboard. I'll swear he felt what
I did--that he _had_ called up a devil from the sea.

Then he put a hand on Mary's shoulder. "Go below, sweetheart," he said.

"But you'll call me--you'll let me--" she says, an agony in her eyes.

"You ought to know that I will be with you, if there's no need of me
here," he said. We stood stock-still for a minute. It had come with such
a stunning bang.

"There is great danger, Mary," said Saxton. "But you'll be brave, my
dear?"

"I will, Arthur," she answered. Then her eyes filled with panic and she
caught him around the neck. "Save me, Arthur! Save me!" she cried. "Oh,
I don't want to die!"

Never in his life had Arthur Saxton stood up more of a man and
gentleman. He put his hand on her head and looked courage into her. "Nor
do I want to die while there's a chance of you," he said. "Now you'll
believe and trust me, and go with Will?"

I think he kissed her--I don't remember. That hell aloft was sudsing
fast to us, and I was dancing inside to do something beside wait for a
drowning. Anyhow, old Jesse's voice ripped out ferocious; there was a
rattle of blocks, and I put Mary below at the bottom of the step, picked
up a lantern for her, told her we'd watch out more for her than we would
for ourselves, and seeing how utterly God-forsaken the poor girl looked,
I kissed her, too.

"Don't leave me, Will! Oh, don't!" she cried; "I can't stand it!"

"I must," I pleaded. "Mary, think! I may be some use."

She gripped herself. "That is so. Go, Will."

It hurt to go. The lantern made a dim light in which her face half
showed. The shadows shifted black, here and there. From above came a
grinding, shattering sort of roar, like a train crossing a bridge. It
was horrible to leave a woman alone to face it. But then came a scurry
and trampling of feet on deck; yells and orders. That was my place.

"Good-by! God save you!" I said, caught her hand for a good-by, and
jumped up the stair.

I was just in time. They slammed the hatch down almost on my heels.

"Mary's there!" I screamed in Jesse's ear.

"It's her only chance!" he roared back.

On deck that machinery roar drowned everything. It rattled the bones in
your body. The deck sung to it. You felt the humming on your feet. It
dumbed and tortured you at the same time, like a fever-dream. You
couldn't think for it, and your temper was spoiled entirely.

Lightning! My God! It was zippitty-flash-flash-flash, so fast and
fearful that the whole world jumped out into broad day and back a
hundred times a minute. Heaven send I'll never see another such sight as
the sea those flashes showed. Under the spout it was as if somebody had
run a club into a snake-hole. You got it, to the least crinkle, in the
lightning blasts. There were walls of water like Niagara Falls, jumbled
up, falling, smashing together. If it hit us square we'd vanish.

Saxton stood near me. He passed me a rope and signed for me to make
myself fast. I couldn't do it. I must be free. I thought of Mary, below,
and shook. What must she feel? We couldn't get down to her now, and that
made me sick. Saxton fastened the rope around me. He put his mouth to my
ear and shouted, "You never could hold without it!"

I let him do what he liked. All desire to do anything myself, one way or
the other, was rattled out of me.

"How is she?" he shrieked again. I could just hear him at a one-inch
range.

"All right,"! said.

"Make a little prayer to Himmel," he says, "for here it comes!"

Here it come. Something that looked like the Atlantic up-ended loomed
over the bows. The wind struck me flat on my back, in one grand crash of
snapping wood, roaring water, thunder, and the fall of the pillars of
the world. The ocean swept over me, yet I rose high in the air. I felt
that the _Matilda_ was turning a back somersault. The rope nearly cut me
in half. Just when my lungs were pumping so I couldn't hold my breath a
heart-beat longer, the wind suddenly cut over my face. Man! It hit like
a fire-engine stream! I turned and swallowed some of it before we went
down into the deep again. After that, it was plain disorderly conduct.
Part of the time I was playing at home, a little boy again, and part of
the time I was having a hard time trying to sleep in strange lands. But
the next thing I can swear to is that the moon was shining, and the
_Matilda_ jumping like a horse. In spite of the aches and pains all over
me, I just lay still for a minute and let it soak in that I was still on
board this pretty good old world. Next, I thought of Mary and the rest
of them and scrambled to my feet. I was dizzy--a three-inch cut across
the top of my head gave reason enough for that, let alone the rest of
the racket--and one eye was swelled shut. Otherwise, barring a sprained
arm, a raw circle around me where the rope cut, a black-and-blue spot
the size of a ham on my right leg, and all the skin off my knuckles, I
was the same person.

Saxton got himself up. We stared at each other.

"Hello!" says he.

"Hello!" says I.

"Well, what the devil are you doing alive?" he says. He meant it, too.
It seemed to astonish him greatly. This made me mad.

"Well, I guess I have a right to," I says. At this we both laughed very
hard. So hard I couldn't stop, till he grabbed me by the arm.

"Mary!" he says.

We both tried to cast our moorings. The knots were jammed beyond fingers
and teeth. He took out a knife and we cut loose. On the way to the hatch
we come across Jesse sitting up straight, staring out to sea. He put his
hand to his head and put it down again, looking at his fingers. What he
found so interesting in the fingers I don't know, but he couldn't take
his eyes off of them.

"Hurt, Jesse?" we asked him.

He turned a face like a child's to us. "My," he says, "wasn't it wet!"

"Come on!" says Sax; "he's all right!"

We pulled the scuttle off by main strength.

"Mary!" we called. "Mary!"

"Yes!" she answered. The relief was so sweet my knees weakened. She came
to the stair and looked up. Durned if the old lantern wasn't burning.
That knocked me. I remembered lighting that lantern several hundred
years ago, and here it was, still burning!

"Are you hurt?" said Saxton.

"Not--no, not much," she answered. "But nearly dead from fright--is it
over?"

"All over, thank God!" says Sax. "We only caught the edge of it, or--
The moon is shining now. There's a heavy sea still, but that's harmless
if the boat isn't strained--do you want us to stay with you?"

She looked up and laughed--a great deal nearer being sensible than
either Sax or me.

"If I could stand the other, I can stand this alone--where's your
promise, Arthur? You never came near me."

He took this very seriously. "Why, Mary," he began, "do you think I
would have left you if I could have helped it! They closed the hatch--"

"Come along," I said. "She's joking."

He turned and looked at me. "_Is_ she?" he asked, as earnest as if his
life hung on it. Not the least strange memory of that night is when
Arthur Saxton turned and said, "Is she?"

"Sure!" I replied. "Come--some of the boys may be badly hurt."

We pulled through that uproar surprisingly good. Of course, every
man-jack of us had lumps and welts and cuts, and there were some bones
broken. Saxton was slapped down with such force that the flat of his
hand was one big blister where it hit the deck, and the whole line of
his forearm was a bruise--but that saved his face. One passenger drew a
bad ankle, jammed in the wreckage. The worst hurt was Jimmy Hixley, a
sailor; a block hit him in the ribs--probably when the mainmast
went--and caved him for six inches.

The actual twister had only hit one third of us, from where the mainmast
stood, aft. That stick was pulled out by the roots--clean. Standing
rigging and all. Good new stuff at that. Some of the stays came out at
the eyes and some of 'em snapped. One sailor picked a nasty hurt out of
it. The stays were steel cable, and when one parted it curled back
quick, the sharp ends of the broken wires clawing his leg.

Nobody knows the force of the wind in that part of the boat. Had there
been a man there, no rope could hold him from being blown overboard;
but, luckily, we were all forward.

The rails were cut clean as an ax stroke. Nothing was left but the
wheel, and the deck was lifted in places as if there'd been an explosion
below.

However, we weren't in the humor to kick over trifles. We shook hands
all around and took a man's-sized swig of whisky apiece, then started to
put things shipshape.

Jesse had an extra spar and a bit of sail that we rigged as a jigger,
and though the _Matilda_ didn't foot it as pretty as before, we had a
fair wind nearly all the rest of the trip, making Panama in two weeks,
without another accident.



VIII

ARCHIE OUT OF ASPINWALL


The thing I recall clearest, when we dropped anchor at Aspinwall, was a
small boat putting off to us, and a curly yellow head suddenly popping
up over the rail, followed by the rest of a six-foot whole man. That was
Jimmy Holton, my future boss.

Him and Jesse swore how glad they was to see each other, and
pump-handled and pounded each other on the back, whilst I sized the
newcomer up. He was my first specimen of real West-Missouri-country man;
I liked the breed from that minute. He was a cuss, that Jimmy. When he
looked at you with the twinkle in them blue eyes of his, you couldn't
help but laugh. And if there wasn't a twinkle in those eyes, and you
laughed, you made a mistake. Thunder! but he was a sight to take your
eye--the reckless, handsome, long-legged scamp! With his yellow silk
handkerchief around his neck, and his curls of yellow hair--pretty as a
woman's--and his sombrero canted back--he looked as if he was made of
mountain-top fresh air.

"Well, Jesse!" says he; "well, Jess, you durned old porpoise! You look
as hearty as usual, and still wearing your legs cut short, I see; but
what the devil have you been doing to your boat?"

[Illustration: "'Still wearing your legs cut short, I see'"]

So then Jesse told him about the tornado.

Jimmy's eyes were taking the whole place in, although he listened with
care.

"Well, what brings you aboard, Jim!" says Jesse.

"I'm looking for a man," says Jimmy. "I want a white man; a good, kind,
orderly sort of white man that'll do what he's told without a word,
and'll bust my head for me if I dast curse him the way I do the pups
working for me now."

"H'm!" says Jesse, sliding me a kind of underneath-the-table glance.
"What's the line of work?"

"Why, the main job is to be around and look and act white. I got too
durned much to see to--there's the ranch and the mine and the
store--that drunken ex-college professor I hired did me to the tune of
fifteen hundred cold yellow disks and skipped. You see, I want somebody
to tell, 'Here, you look after this,' and he won't tell me that ain't in
the lesson. Ain't you got a young feller that'll grow to my ways? I'll
pay him according to his size."

"H'm!" says Jesse again, jerking a thumb toward me. "There's a boy you
might do business with."

Jim's head come around with the quickness that marked him. Looking into
that blue eye of his was like looking into a mirror--you guessed all
there was to you appeared in it. He had me estimated in three fifths of
a second.

"Howdy, boy!" says he, coming toward me with his hand out. "My name's
Jim Holton. You heard the talk--what do you think?"

I looked at him for a minute, embarrassed. "I don't seem to be able to
think," says I. "Lay it out again, will you? I reckon the answer is
yes."

"It sure is," says he. "It's got to be. What's your name?" He showed he
liked me--he wasn't afraid to show anybody that he liked 'em--or didn't.

"Bill," says I--"Bill Saunders."

"Now Heaven is kind!" says he. "I hadn't raised my hopes above a Sam or
a Tommy, but to think of a strapping, blue-eyed, brick-topped, bully-boy
Bill! Bill!" he says, "can you guess Old Man Noah's feelings when the
little bird flew up to him with the tree in his teeth? Well, he'll seem
sad alongside of me when I catch sight of that sunrise head of yours
above my gang of mud-colored greasers and Chinamen. You owe it to
charity to give me that pleasure. By the way, William, if you should see
a greaser flatten his ears back and lay a hand on his knife, what would
you do--read him a chapter of the Bible, or kick him in the belt?"

I thought this over. "I don't know," says I. "I never saw anybody do
that."

"Bill," says he, "I'm getting more and more contented with you. I
thought at first you might be quarrelsome. You don't fight, do you?"

"Well," I says, flustered, "not to any great extent--not unless I get
mad, or the other feller does something, or I feel I ought to, or--"

"'Nough said," says he. "There's reasons enough to keep the peace of
Europe. I have observed, Bill, in this and many other countries, that
dove-winged peace builds her little nest when I hit first and hardest. I
tell you, on the square, I'll use you right as long as you seem to
appreciate it. That's my line of action, and I can prove it by Jesse--I
can prove anything by Jesse. No; but, honest, boy, if you come with me,
there's little chance for us to bunk as long as you do your share. And,"
he says, sizing me up, "if an accident should happen, when you've got
more meat on that frame of yours, be durned if I don't believe it would
be worth the trouble."

"Explain to him," says Jesse; "the boy's just away from his ma--he don't
know nothing about working out."

Jim turned to me, perfectly serious--he was like Sax--joke as long as it
was joking-time, then drop it and talk as straight as a rifle-barrel.

"I want a right-hand man of my own country," he says. "You'll have to
watch gangs of men to see they work up; keep an eye on what goes out
from the stores; beat the head off the first beggar you see abusing a
horse; and do what I tell you, generally. For that, I'll put one hundred
United States dollars in your jeans each and every month we're together,
unless you prove to be worth more--or nothing. I won't pay less, for the
man in the job that ain't worth a hundred ain't worth a cent--how's it
hit you!"

A hundred dollars a month! It hit me so hard my teeth rattled.

"Well," I stammers, "a hundred dollars is an awful lot of money--you
ain't going to find the worth of it in my hide--I don't know about
bossing men and things like that--why, I don't know _anything_--"

He put his hand on my shoulder and smiled at me. He had a smile as sweet
as a woman's. He was as nice as a woman, on his good side--and you'd
better keep that side toward you. Him and Sax was of a breed there, too.
I understood him better from knowing Sax.

"Billy boy," he says, "that's my funeral. I've dealt with men some
years. I don't ask you for experience: I ask you for intentions. I get
sick, living with a lot of men that don't care any more about me than I
do about them--that _ain't_ living. You can clear your mind. I like your
looks. If I've made a mistake, why, it's a mistake, and we'll part still
good friends. If I haven't made a mistake, it won't take you long to
learn what I want you to know, and I'll get the worth of my time
training a good pup--is it a go, son?"

I was so delighted I took right hold of his hand. "I begin to hope you
and me will never come to words," said he as he straightened his fingers
out.

I blundered out an apology. He reached up and rubbed my hair around.
"There was heart in that grip, son," he said. "You needn't excuse that."

Just then Mary came on deck and he saw her. He whistled under his
breath. "That the kind of cargo you carry now, Jess?" he asked. "I'll
take all you got off your hands at your own price."

"Like to know her?" says Jesse. "She's going to teach in one of them
mission schools at Panama. You'll see her again, likely."

"I suppose she ought to be consulted," says Jim; "but I'll waive
ceremony with you, Jesse."

So they went aft to where Mary stood, a little look of expectancy on her
face. She'd been about to join Sax, but seeing the two come, didn't like
to move, as it was evident they had something to say to her.

Jesse and Jim made a curious team. Jesse flew along on his little
trotters, whilst Jim swung in a long, easy cat-stride, three foot and a
half to the pace. Jesse always looked kind of tied together loose. Jim
was trim as a race-horse--yet not finicky. His spurs rattled on the
deck. Take him from boots to scalp-lock, he was a pretty picture of a
man.

"Miss Smith," says Jesse, with a bob, "this feller's Jim Holton."

"And very glad that he is, for once in his life," says Jim, sweeping the
deck with his hat, and looking compliments.

Mary smiled just enough to make the dimples count. They were best of the
dimple family--not fat dimples, but little spots you'd like to own.

She wasn't the girl to take gaiety from a stranger; but, somehow, Jim
showed for what he was--a clean heart, if frolicsome.

Mary was a match for him, all right. She made him as deep a bow, gave
him a look, and in a mock-earnest way, with her hand on her heart, said:

"Am I to suppose myself the cause of so much joy?"

"You're not to suppose--you're to know," says Jim.

"Well," says Mary, with another flying look at him, "it doesn't seem
possible; but the evidence of such very truthful and very blue, blue
eyes"--she stopped and looked at the eyes--"is, of course, beyond
questioning."

That knocked Jimmy. Underneath his dash, he was a modest fellow, and to
have his personal appearance remarked openly rattled him. Mary'd got the
war on his territory in two seconds. He looked at her, dumb; until,
seeing her holding back her laughter by means of a row of the whitest of
teeth set into the most interesting of under lips, he laughed right out
and offered his hand.

"I'll simply state in plain English," he says, not wanting to quit
whipped, "that you are the best use those eyes have ever been put to."

"That's entirely satisfactory," says Mary. "I'd have a bad disposition
not to be contented with that--and, Mr. Holton, here's a friend of
mine--Mr. Saxton."

Saxton was the only one who hadn't drawn entertainment out of the
previous performance. He and Holton shook hands without smiles. It was
more like the hand-shake before "time" is called. But they looked each
other square in the eye--honest enemies, at least--not like the durned
brute--well, he comes later.

There they stood; fine, graceful, upstanding huskies, both; each as
handsome as the other, in his own way; each as able as the other, in his
own way; one black and poetic-looking; the other fair and
romantic-looking. You pays your money and you takes your choice. Sax
knew more of books; Jim knew more of men. Sax knew the wild lands of
music and such; Jim had slept with an Injun or two watching out to be
sure he wasn't late for the office the next morning. Either one was
plenty durn good enough to make a girl fix her hair straight.

And there stood Mary, the cause of the look each man put upon the other.
She'd brought down Jim in one stroke--he was a sudden sort of jigger.
Well, there she stood; and if there's anything in having a subject worth
fighting for, those two fellers ought to have been the happiest of men.

I'm glad I can add this: Mary didn't _want_ any man to fight about
her--not much! She was the real, true woman; the kind that brings hope
in her hand. Of course she had some vanity, and if two fellows got a
little cross when she was around, that wouldn't break her heart; but to
arouse any deep feeling of anger between two men--why, I honestly
believe she'd rather they'd strike her than each other. Oh, no! She
stood for nothing of that kind. She stood heart and soul for light and
fun and kindness. If she made mistakes, it was from a natural
underrating of how the other party felt, or, like her worst mistake,
through some twisted idea of duty. There's a saying that a little
knowledge is a dangerous thing, and that's particularly true of women.
When a good woman gets hold of half a fact, she can raise the very devil
with it.

That two felt disposed to glare put restraint on conversation, and after
some talk, in which Jim fished for an invitation to call on Mary in
Panama, and got what you might call a limited order--"I shall be very
glad to see you, sometime, Mr. Holton"--he turned and treated me to a
view of Western methods.

"Pack your turkey and come with me, Bill," he says.

"What--_now_?" says I.

"Well, I'll wait, if you want me to," he says. "But what's your reason?"

"Not any," says I, and skipped for my truck. Isn't it surprising how
people, even boys, that ain't much troubled about fixed rules, will keep
on going the same old way; not because there's sense, comfort, nor
profit in it, but simply because it is the same old way? I've known
folks to live in places and keep at jobs, hating both, could quit
easily, yet staying on and on, simply because they were there yesterday.
I've got so that if people start talking over an act, I feel like
saying, "For Heaven's sake! Let's try it and then we'll _know_," while
at the same time it happens that their talk is so good, I feel bashful
about cutting in. Give me the Western idea. People that get an action
on, instead of an oration. That is, if they're the right kind of people.
Yet I dearly love to talk. It's a strange world!

Jimmy was the Western idea on two legs. The moment he thought of a
thing, he grew busy. And when work was over, I'd talk him against any
man I ever met. Perhaps the chief difference between the Western man's
way and the Eastern man's way is that the Westerner says it's fun and
believes it, whilst the Easterner says it's a great and holy undertaking
he's employed in, and wastes lots of time trying to believe it. We all
do the things we like to do, and we might as well admit it, cheerful.

I hadn't much more than time to say good-by all around, and find out
where Sax and Mary were going to stay, before I was off on the new deal.

"Have you ever ridden a horse?" Jim asks me, when we hit shore.

"Never," says I.

"Well," says he, rubbing his head, "we _can_ go across on the railroad,
but I'd like to stop here and there. It wouldn't be so bad if the good
critters hadn't been all hired out or bought this last rush. As it is,
you stand to get on to something that don't want you. My Pedro'd eat you
alive if you laid a hand on him, or I'd trade with you--you got to learn
sometime, Bill, but you'll get a tough first lesson here--suppose we
take the train, eh?"

Now, I hadn't come to the Isthmus of Panama to exhibit all the things I
was afraid of. I didn't like the thought of playing puss-in-the-corner
with a horse I'd never met before, a little bit, and I liked the idea of
backing out still less.

"Trot your animal out," I says. "I guess, if I get a hold on him, we
won't separate for a while."

Jim rubbed his head again.

"I don't want to lose you right in the start," he says. "These mustangs
are the most reliable hunks of wickedness on earth--"

"All I need to try and ride is a horse," I says. He laughed and shrugged
his shoulders. "I won't quarrel with that spirit," he says. He spoke to
a native in Spanish. The feller looked at me and spread both hands. I
scarcely knew there was such a thing as a Spanish language, but I knew
that those hands said, "This is the impossible you have shoved down my
chimney."

Jim translated. "He says he can't think of but one brute, and he can't
imagine you and that one making any kind of combination."

"If you're keeping me here to see my sand run out, you'll make it, all
right," I says--"otherwise, get that horse."

Jim spoke to the native and the native looked at me again, shaking his
head sorrowful. At last he discarded all responsibility and ambled off.

Here come my gallant steed. His neck had a haughty in-curve; he was
bow-legged forrud, and knock-kneed aft. His hips stuck out so far the
hair couldn't get the nourishment it needed, and fell out. He had a nose
like Julius Cæsar, an under lip that hung down three inches, and the eye
of a dying codfish. I lost all fear of him at once. Ignorance is the
papa of courage. According to instructions, I put my left foot in the
stirrup and made ready to board. At that instant my trusty steed whipped
his head around like a rattlesnake, gathered a strip of flesh about six
inches long, shut his eyes, and made his teeth to approach each other.
I've been hurt several times in my life, but for straight agony give me
a horse-bite.

With a yell that brought out every revolutionist in Aspinwall,--which
means the town was there,--I grabbed that cussed brute by the windpipe
and stopped his draft. Jim and the native made some motions.

"Keep out of this!" I hollered. "This is my fight!"

So then me and my faithful horse began to see who could stand it the
longest. There was nothing soul-stirring and uplifting about the
contest. He pinched my leg, and I pinched his throat. He kicked me, and
I kicked him. We wrastled all over the place, playing plain
stick-to-him-Pete. The worst of having a hand-to-hand with an animal is
that he don't tire. You get weaker and weaker; they get stronger and
stronger. Besides, the pain in my leg almost seemed to stop my heart.
Murder! how it hurt!

At the same time, a horse doesn't do as well without an occasional
breath of fresh air, and I had this feller's supply cut off short.
Pretty soon he got frantic, and the way he tore and r'ared around there
was a treat. It didn't occur to either one of us to let go. Finally,
when I'd ceased to think entirely, there came a staggering sort of fall;
hands took hold of me and dragged me away.

Jim lifted my head and gave me a drink of water. He swore at himself
ferocious, and by all that was great and powerful, lie was going to
shoot that horse.

By this time I was interested in the art of riding. I told him he wasn't
going to kill my horse; that I intended to ride that same mustang out of
the town of Aspinwall if it took some time and all of my left leg.

"What's the good of being a fool?" says he. "Now, Bill, you be
sensible."

"Where's the horse?" says I.

He had to laugh. "United you fell," says he. "I honest think he hadn't a
cent the best of it."

I got on my feet and made for Mr. Mustang. As the critter stood there,
with his sad lower lip hanging slack, thinking what a wicked world it
was, I recalled who he looked like. He was the dead ringer for Archibald
Blavelt, back home. Archie was such a mean old cuss that the
neighborhood was proud of him--he carried it 'way beyond the point where
it was a disgrace. I should have known better than to tackle anything
that resembled Archie, but I didn't. Instead, I walked up, club in hand,
waiting for the mustang to make a crooked move. He paid no attention,
let me put my foot in the stirrup, swing aboard and settle down. Not
till then did he toss his head gaily in the air and holler for joy. You
see, he'd made out that we were likely to break even, both on the
ground, so he tried getting under me. I refuse to say what happened
next. I thought I was aboard the _Matilda_ with the tornado on. I saw,
in jerks, pale-faced men scrambling right up the sides of houses; women
shrieking and dusting away from there, and between thirty and forty
thousand dogs, barking and snapping and tumbling out of the way.

I laid two strong hands on Archie's (I called him Archie) mane and
wrapped my legs around his barrel and gave myself up for lost. We spent
years tearing that section of Aspinwall to pieces, till, all of a
sudden, Archie give a jump that landed me on his rump and pulled out for
more room. And didn't he go! It was scandalous, the way he flapped them
bony legs of his. Once in a while he kicked up behind, and I made a fine
bow. Every time that happened some polite Spaniard took off his hat to
me, thinking I was a friend he hadn't time to recognize.

[Illustration: "I laid two strong hands on Archie's mane"]

I stayed with that mustang, somehow, until we come to a narrow alley. At
the end of it a fearful fat Spaniard, with a Panama hat and a green
umbrella, was crossing. I hollered to him to get out of the way, but the
sight of me and Archie streaming in the breeze surprised him so he stood
paralyzed. He made a fat man's hop for safety, too late. When we were
fifteen feet from him, Archie threw a hand-spring, and I put my head,
like a red buttonhole bouquet, plumb in the gentleman's vest.

"Assassin!" he cries, and fetches me a wipe with the green umbrella
before he expires temporarily on the street.

Of course, there's lots of things will damage you worse than butting a
stout gentleman; at the same time I went at him quick, and stopped
quicker. This world was all a dizzy show, till the crowd came up, Jim,
on his Pedro, leading. They were all there: all the revolutionists, all
the women with babies, and all the dogs, down to the last pup. I
couldn't have had a bigger audience if I'd done something to be proud
of.

Some of 'em held on to the fat gentleman, who was yearning to draw my
heart's blood with the green umbrella. Some of 'em stood and admired
Archie, who was smacking his lips over some grass that grew on the side,
and looked about as vicious as Mary and her little lamb; some of 'em
come to help me--all conversed freely.

"Now, darn your buttons!" says Jim, "you might have been killed! Hadn't
been for Señor Martinez there, you would 'a' been. Didn't I tell you not
to try it again--didn't I?"

It was quite true he had told me that very thing. At the same time, one
of the least consoling things in this world, when a man's made a fool of
himself, is to have somebody come up and tell him he prophesied it.
You'd like to think it just happened that way. It breaks your heart to
feel it's like twice two.

I sat up and looked at Jim. "You told me all that," says I, "but what's
the matter with letting virtue be its own reward?"

Jim laughed and said he guessed I was not quite done yet. Then he
introduced me to Mr. Martinez as the grateful result of a well-lined
stomach applied at the proper time.

Martinez sheathed the green umbrella and extended the hand of
friendship, like the Spanish gentleman he was.

"Ah me!" says he, "but you ride with furiosity! And," he adds
thoughtfully, "your head is of a firmness." He waved his hand so the
diamonds glittered like a shower. "A treefle--a leetle, leetle treeful,"
by which he meant trifle. "Now," says he, as if we'd finished some
important business, "shall we resuscitate?"

Jim said we would, so the whole crowd moved to where Santiago Christobal
Colon O'Sullivan gave you things that lightened the shadows for the time
being, and proceeded to resuscitate.

Inside, Mr. Martinez the Stout told the whole story between drinks. He
was the horse, or me, or himself, or the consequences, as occasion
required. I'd have gone through more than that to see Mr. Martinez
gallop the length of the saloon, making it clear to us how Archie acted.
And when he was me, darned if he didn't manage to look like me, and when
he was Archie he seemed to thin out and grow bony hip-joints
immediately; Archie'd nickered at sight of him. How in blazes a
three-hundred-pound Spanish gentleman contrived to resemble a thin,
red-headed six-foot-two New England kid and a bow-necked, cat-hammed
mustang is an art beyond me. He did it; let it go at that.

Outside, the men went over it all. The women dropped their babies in the
street, so they could have their hands free to talk. I think even the
dogs took a shy at the story. Never were folks so interested. And,
strange to Yankee eyes, not a soul laughed.

I learned then the reason why the Spanish-American incorporated the
revolution in his constitution. It's because of the scarcity of
theaters. If there was a theater for every ten inhabitants, and plays
written where everybody was a king, peace would settle on Spanish
America like a green scum on a frog-pond.

Howsomever, I ain't going to jeer at those people. I got to like 'em,
and, as far as that goes, we have little fool ways of our own that we
notice when we get far enough away from home to see straight.

I didn't ride Archie out of Aspinwall. I went to a hotel, slept strictly
on one side, and scrapped it out with the little natives of the Isthmus
until morning.

Curious, how things go. After this first experience I shouldn't have
said that riding a horse would grow on me until being without one made
me feel as if I'd lost the use of my legs. Water is all right. I like
boats--I like about everything--but still, I think the Almighty never
did better by man than when he put him on a horse. A good horse, open
country--miles of it, without a stick or hole--a warm sun and a cool
wind--can you beat it? I can't.



IX

ENTER BROTHER BELKNAP


I can slide over my first month's work quick. At least half of us have
been boys once, and a good share of that half have run into the stiff
proposition when they were boys. I carried on my back most of the
trouble in that part of the country--they were a careless people. Jim
give me my head and let me bump it into mistakes. "Find out" was his
motto. "Don't ask the boss," and I found out, perspiring freely the
while. I had to hire men and fire 'em, wrastle with the Spanish
language, keep books, keep my temper, learn what a day's work meant,
learn to handle a team, get the boys to pull together, and last, but not
least, try to get the best of that cussed horse, Archie.

I can't tell which was the worst. I know this, though: while my
sympathies are with the hired man, yet that season of getting along with
him taught me that the boss's job isn't one long, sugar-coated dream,
neither. If the hired man knew more, he'd have less wrongs, and also, if
he knew more, he wouldn't be a hired man. What that proves, I pass.

Keeping books wore down my proud spirit, too. I do hate a puttering job.
It was all there, anyhow. Jim pulled at his mustache and wrinkled his
manly brow when he first snagged on my bookkeeping. "What the devil is
this item?" he'd say. "'_Francis Lopez borrowed a dollar on his pay;
says his mother's sick. That's a lie, I bet._' You mustn't let the boys
have money that way, Bill, and never mind putting your thoughts in the
cash-book--save 'em for your diary."

I got the hang of it after a while, and one grand day my cash balanced.
That was a moment to remember. I don't recall that it ever happened
again. The store made most of my trouble. We handled all kinds of truck,
from kerosene oil to a jews'-harp, through rough clothes and the
hardware department. My helper was the lunkheadest critter God ever
trusted outdoors. You'd scarcely believe one man's head could be so
foolish. At the same time the poor devil was kind and polite, and he
needed the job so bad, I couldn't fire him. But he took some of the
color out of my hair, all right. He was a Mexican who talked English, so
he was useful that way, anyhow. But Man! What the stuff cost was marked
in letters--"Washington" was our cost-mark word. If the thing cost a
dollar fifty, it was marked WIN, then you tacked on the profit. Well,
poor Pedro used to forget all about the father of his country, if there
came a rush, and as he didn't have any natural common sense, you could
expect him to sell a barrel of kerosene for two bits and charge eight
dollars for a paper of needles. Whenever I heard wild cries of
astonishment and saw the arms a-flying, I could be sure that Pedro had
lost track of American history. He'd make a statue of William Penn get
up and cuss, that feller. I tried everything--wrote out the prices, gave
him lists, put pictures of our George all over the store, swore at him
till I was purple and him weeping in his pocket-handkerchief, calling
the saints to witness how the memory of the G-r-r-eat Ouash-eeng-tong
would never depart from his mind again, and in three minutes he'd sell a
twenty-five dollar Stetson hat for eighty-seven cents. It took a good
deal of my time rushing around the country getting those sales back.

Then, when the confinement of the store told too much on my nerves and
the gangs had all been looked up, I went to the corral and took a fall
out of Archibald. Or, more properly speaking, I took a fall off
Archibald. That horse was a complete education in the art of riding. I
never since have struck anything, bronco, cayuse, or American horse,
that didn't seem like an amateur 'longside of him. He'd pitch for a half
hour in a space no bigger than a dining-room table; then he'd run and
buck for another half hour. If you stuck so much out, he'd kick your
feet out of the stirrups, stick his ears in the ground, and throw a
somersault. No man living could think up more schemes than that mustang,
and you might as well try to tire a steam-engine. At the end of the
first hour Archie was simply nice and limber; the second hour saw him
getting into the spirit of it; by the third hour he was warmed up and
working like a charm. I'm guessing the third hour. Two was my limit.

All these things kept me from calling on my friends in town for some
time, till Jim gave me three days off to use as I pleased. I put me on
the tallest steeple hat with the biggest bells I could find; I had spurs
that would do to harpoon a whale, and they had jinglers on 'em wherever
a jingler would go. My neckerchief was a heavenly blue, to match my
hair, and it was considerably smaller than a horse-blanket. The hair
itself had grown well down to my neck, and she's never been cut from
that day, except to trim the ends. In my sash I stuck a horse-pistol and
a machete. Contact with the Spaniard had already corrupted me into being
proud of my small feet, so I spent one hour getting my boots on, and oh,
Lord! the misery of those boots! I tell you what it is, if one man or
woman should do to another what that victim will do to himself, for
Vanity's sake, the neighbors would rise and lynch the offender. When I
worried those boots off at night, I'd fall back and enjoy the blessed
relief for five minutes without moving. It was almost worth the pain,
that five minutes. I used to know a man who said he got more real value
out of the two weeks his wife went to visit her mother than he did out
of a year, before he was married.

But I looked great, you bet. Probably my expression was foolish, but I
wouldn't mind feeling myself _such_ a thumping hunk of a man once more,
expression and all. And I rode a little mouse-colored American
horse, with a cream mane and tail and two white feet forward,--a pretty,
playful little cuss with no sin in him, as proud of me and himself as I
was. There was only one more thing to make that trip complete, and about
ten mile out of Panama I filled. Out of a side draw pops a blackavised
road-agent, and informs me that he wants my money. I drew horse-pistol
and machete and charged with a loud holler. That brigand shed his gun
and threw his knees higher than his shoulders getting out of that. I
paused and overtook him. He explained sadly and untruthfully that
nothing but a starving wife and twenty-three children drove him to such
courses. I told him the evil of his ways--no short story, neither. You
bet I spread myself on that chance,--then I gave him two dollars for the
family and rode my cheerful way. It really is beautiful to think of
anybody being so pleased with anything as I was with myself. And the
story I had now to tell Mary! We did a fast ten mile into Panama.

I found the house where Mary boarded without much trouble. It was one of
the old-fashioned Spanish houses where the upper stories stick out,
although not like some of 'em, as it had a garden around it. A bully old
house, with sweet-smelling vines and creepers and flowers, and statues
and a fountain in the garden. The fountain only squirted in the rainy
season, but it was good to look at. A garden with a fountain in it was a
thing I'd always wanted to see. Seemed to me like I could begin to
believe in some of the stories I read, when I saw that.

Everything had a far-away look. For a full minute I couldn't get over
the notion that I'd ridden into a story-book by mistake. So I sat on my
horse and stared at it, glad I came, till a soft rush of feet on the
grass and a voice I'd often wanted to hear in the past month calling,
"Why, Will! I was sure it was you!" made me certain of my welcome.

Now, I'd been too busy to think much lately, but when my eyes fell on
that beautiful girl, running to see me, glad to see me--eyes, mouth, and
outstretched hands all saying she was glad to see me--I just naturally
hopped off my horse, over the wall, and gathered her in both arms. She
kissed me, frank and hearty, and then we shook hands and said all those
things that don't mean anything, that people say to relieve their
feelings.

Then she laughed and fixed her hair, eying me sideways, and she says: "I
don't know that I should permit that from so large and ferocious looking
a person. But perhaps it's too late, so tell me everything--how do you
get on with Mr. Holton? What are you doing? Why haven't I heard from
you? I thought certainly you wouldn't desert me in this strange country
for a whole month--I've missed you awfully."

"Have you, Mary!" I said; "have you really?" I couldn't get over it,
that she'd missed me.

"I should say I had, you most tremendous big boy, you!" she says, giving
me a little loving shake. "Do you suppose I've forgotten all our walks
and talks on the _Matilda_? And all your funny speeches? Oh, Will! I've
been homesick, and your dear old auburn locks are home!"

"Why, there's Sax!" says I, in the innocence of my heart. "Hasn't he
been around?"

"I haven't seen much of Mr. Saxton," she answers, cooling so I felt the
need of a coat--"and that's quite different."

Well, I hustled away from the subject fast, sorry to know something was
wrong between my friends, but too durned selfish to spoil my own
greeting. I plunged into the history of Mr. William Saunders, from the
time of leaving the _Matilda_. Mary was the most eloquent listener I
ever met. She made a good story of whatever she harkened to.

Well, sir, I had a pleasant afternoon. There was that story-book old
house and garden, Mary and me at a little table, drinking lime-juice
lemonade, me in my fine clothes out for a real holiday, smoking like a
real man, telling her about the crimp I put in that road-agent.

Yes, I was having a glorious time, when the gate opened and a man came
in. Somehow, from the first look I got of him I didn't like him.
Something of the shadow that used to hang over home lay in that lad's
black coat.

Mary's face changed. The life went out. Something heavy, serious, and
tired came into it, yet she met the newcomer with the greatest respect.
As they came toward me I stiffened inside. Mr. Belknap and Mr. Saunders
shook hands. His closed upon mine firmly and coldly, like a machine. He
announced that he was glad to meet me in a tone of voice that would
leave a jury doubtful. We stood around, me embarrassed, and even Mary
ill at ease, until he said: "Shall we not sit down?" Feeling at school
once more, down I sat. If he'd said: "Shall we not walk off upon our
ears!" I'd felt obliged to try it.

He put a compulsion on you. He made you want to please him, though you
hated him.

Well, there we sat. "Mr. Belknap is doing a wonderful work among these
poor people," explained Mary to me. There was something prim in her
speech that knocked another color off the meeting.

"You are too good," said Mr. Belknap. He was modest, too, in a way that
reproached you for daring to talk of him so careless. I wished that Mr.
Belknap would get to work on his poor people and leave us alone, but he
had no such intention.

"Miss Smith," says he, "is one of those who credit others with the
excellencies they believe in from possession."

Mary colored, and a little frown I could not understand lay on her
forehead for the second. It was curious, that man's way. When he made
his speech it was like he put a rope upon the girl. I didn't see much
meaning to it, except a compliment, but I felt something behind it, and
suddenly I understood her frown. It was the way you look when something
you feel you ought to do, that you've worked yourself into believing you
want to do, although at the bottom of your heart you'd chuck it quick,
comes up for action.

I'd have broken into the talk if I could, but Brother Belknap had me
tongue-tied, so I just sat, wishful to go, in spite of Mary, and unable
to start. It seemed like presuming a good deal to leave, or do anything
else Mr. Belknap hadn't mentioned.

We talked like advice to the young in the third reader. Mr. Belknap
announced his topics and smiled his superior knowledge. I'd have hit him
in the eye for two cents, and at the same time if he told me to run away
like a good little boy, darned if I don't believe I'd done it--me, that
chased the road-agent up the valley not three hours before!

Mary moved her glass in little circles and looked off into distance.
Something of the change from our first being together, to this, was
working in her. "It is hard," she said, trying to pass it off lightly,
"to bear the weight of virtues that don't belong to me!"

Mr. Belknap leaned forward. He was a heavy-built, easy-moving man; you
had to grant him a kind of elegance that went queer enough with the
preacher-air he wore of his own will. He put his head out and looked at
her. I watched him close, and I saw a crafty, hard light in his eyes as
if the tiger in him had come for a look out of doors. He purred soft,
like a tiger. "Nowhere is humility more becoming than in a beautiful
woman."

At that minute his hold on me snapped. Believing him honest, he had me
kiboshed--seeing that expression, which, I suppose, he didn't think
worth while hiding from a gawky kid--I was my own man again, hating him
and ready for war with him, in a blaze. Too young to understand much
about love-affairs and the like of that, I still knew those eyes, that
had shifted in a second from pompous piety to cunning, meant no good to
Mary.

"I don't know about humility," says I, "but I'll go bail for Mary's
honesty." I laid my hand on hers as I spoke. Funny that I did that and
spoke as I did. It came to me at once, without thinking--like I'd been a
dog and bristled at him for a sure-enough tiger.

Mary wasn't the kind to go back on a friend in any company. She put her
other hand on mine and said: "That's the nicest thing you could say,
Will."

Mr. Belknap didn't like it. He swung around as if he found me worth more
attention than at first, and when our eyes met he saw I was on to him,
bigger than a wolf. All he changed was a quick tightening of the lips.
We looked at each other steady. He ought to have showed uneasiness,
consarn him, but he didn't. Instead he smiled, like I was amusing. I
loved him horrible for that--me and my steeple hat and sash to be
amusing!

"You have a most impulsive nature, Mr. Saunders," says he.

I wanted to tell him he was entirely correct, and that I'd like to chase
two rascals the same day. I had sense enough not to, but said:

"I'm not ashamed to own it--particularly where Mary's concerned."

"Ah!" he says, raising his eyebrows, "you are old friends?"

"Not so very _old_," says Mary. "That seems cold--we're very warm, young
friends."

"It is pleasant for the young to have friends," says he.

"That's hardly as surprising a remark as your face led me to expect,"
says I. "It's pleasant for _anybody_ to have friends."

It was his turn not to be overjoyed. I hid my real meaning under a
lively manner for Mary's benefit, and while perhaps she didn't like my
being quite so frivolous to the overpowering Mr. Belknap, she saw no
harm in the speech. He did, though.

"Am I to count you among my friends?" says he.

"Any friend of Mary's is a friend of mine," I answered. He took. "Then
that is assured," he says, with his smoothest smile.

We all waited.

"Ah, Youth!" says Mr. Belknap, with a look at Mary, and an explaining,
indulgent smile at me. "How heartening it is to see its readiness, its
resource in the untried years! Rejoice in your youth and strength, my
young friend!--as for me--" he stopped and looked so grave he near
fooled me again. "I am worn down so I barely believe in hope. My poor,
commonplace ambitions, my dull idea of duty puts me out of the pale of
friendship entirely--I have nothing pleasant to offer my friend."

"Oh, no! Mr. Belknap!" says Mary. "How can you speak like that? With
your great work--how can you call it dull? I'm sure it is a high
privilege to be listed with your friends!"

I felt a chill go over me--the whole business was tricky, stagy; of a
piece with the highfalutin talk. Belknap was no old man, not a day over
forty, and powerful as a bull, by the look of him, yet the tone of his
voice, the air he threw around it, made him the sole and lonely survivor
of a great misfortune, without a helping hand at time of need.

I felt mad and disgusted with Mary for being taken in. I had yet to
learn that even the best of women are easy worked through the medium of
making 'em feel they are the support of a big man. They'll take his word
for his size, and swallow almost anything for the fun of supporting him.
Saxton made the great mistake of admitting his foolishnesses to be
foolish, and swearing at 'em; he should have sadly regretted them as
accidents. A woman has to learn a heap before she can appreciate a
thoroughly honest man. There is a poetry in being honest, but like some
kinds of music, it takes a highly educated person to enjoy it. Sing to
the girls in a sweet and melancholy voice about a flower from your angel
mother's grave, and most of 'em will forget you never contributed a cent
to the angel mother's support--and it ain't that they like honesty the
less, but romance the more, as the feller said about Julius Cæsar. But
when a woman like Mary does get her bearings she has 'em for keeps.

Now Sax was a durned sight more romantic really than this black-coated
play-actor, but he would insist on stripping things to the bones, and
the sight of the skeleton--good, honest, flyaway man frame that it
was--scart Mary.

It came across me bitter that she looked at Brother Belknap the way she
did. I got up.

"I must go," I says.

"Why, Will! won't you stay to supper? I thought you surely would."

"No," I says, "I've got another friend here it's time to remember--I'll
take supper with Arthur Saxton."

Mary looked very confused and bothered. Belknap shot his eyes from her
to me and back again, learning all he could from our faces. And in a
twinkle I knew that he was the cause, through lies or some kind of
devilry, of the coolness between Mary and Arthur Saxton.

The blood went to the top of my head.

"Good-by, Mr. Belknap," I says, "we'll meet again."

"I most certainly hope so," says he, bowing and smiling most polite.

"You keep that hope green, and not let it get away from you like the
rest of 'em, and it sure will happen," says I. I turned and looked hard
at Mary. "Have you any message for Arthur?" I asked her.

She bit her lips, and glanced at Belknap. "No," says she, short, "I have
no message for Mr. Saxton."

"Too bad," says I. "He was a good friend of yours." With that I turned
and stalked off. She followed me, and caught me gently by the sleeve.

"You're not angry at me, Will? I'm all alone here, you know."

I had it hot on my tongue to tell her I was angry plenty, but it crossed
my mind how that would play into Belknap's hand, whatever scheme he was
working, for Mary wouldn't stand too much from anybody; so, with an
unaccountable rush of sense to the brain, I said:

"Not angry, Mary, but jarred, to see you go back on a friend."

"Will, you don't understand! It is not I who have gone back--who have
been unfriendly to Mr. Saxton, it is he who has put it out of my power
to be his friend--I can't even tell you--you must believe me."

"Did _he_ tell _you_ this?" I asked her.

"No," she said.

"Well, until he does, I'd as soon believe Arthur as Mr. Belknap."

"Mr. Belknap! How did you know--why, what do you mean, Will?"

"I mean that I don't like Belknap a little bit," said I most unwisely.
"And I do like you and Saxton."

"You don't know Mr. Belknap, and you are very unreasonable," she said,
getting warm.

"Unreasonable enough to be afire all over at the thought of any one
cheating you, Mary--will you excuse that?"

I held out my hand, but she gave me a hug. "I'm not going to pretend to
be angry at you, for I can't," she said. "'You do not love me--no? So
kiss me good-by, and go!' One minute, Will, may I speak to you as if you
really were my brother?"

"I should say you could."

"Well, then, will you promise me that in this place you will do nothing,
nor go anywhere with Arth--with any one that would make me ashamed to
treat you as I do? Will you keep yourself the same sweet, true-hearted
boy I have known, for your mother's sake, and for my sake?"

Her eyes had filled with tears. I'd have promised to sit quietly on a
ton of dynamite until it went off--and kept my word at that.

"I promise, Mary," says I.

"Will, boy, I love you," she said, "and I love you because there's
nothing silly in that honest red head of yours to misunderstand me. I
want to be your dear sister--and to think that you might, too--" She
broke off, and the tears overflowed.

Looking at her, a hard suspicion of Saxton jolted me. I didn't know a
great deal of the crooked side, but, of course, I had a glimmer, and it
struck me that if he had been cutting up bad, when he pretended to care
for this girl, he needed killing.

"Tell me, Mary," I asked her, "has Arthur--"

"Hush, Will--I can tell you nothing. You must see with your own eyes.
And here's a kiss for your promise--which will be kept! And to-morrow at
three you're to be here again."

And off I goes up the road sitting very straight, and I tell you, if it
hadn't been for the mean suspicion of Saxton, what with the
mouse-colored horse waving his cream mane and tail, my new steeple hat,
the sash with a gun and machete in it, the spurs jingling, the memory of
having chased a fierce road-agent to a finish, and the kiss of the most
beautiful woman in the world on my lips, I'd been a medium well-feeling
sort of boy. I guess my anxiety about Saxton didn't quite succeed in
drowning the other, neither. You can't expect too much of scant
eighteen.



X

"YOUR LIFE, IF YOU HURT HIM!"


I hadn't thought to ask what Saxton was at in a business way. I didn't
know where to find him; there was no use in going back, so I rode at
random through the streets.

As I swung into a dark alley I came upon a fierce and quiet little
fight. Two men set upon a third, who had his back against the wall. The
knives flashed, they ducked, parried, got away, cut and come again with
a quickness and a savageness that lifted my hair. Jeeminy! There was
spirit in that row! And not a sound except the soft sliding of feet and
the noise of blows. They'd all been touched, too; red showed here and
there on them, as well as on the stones.

While I looked the one man slipped and came down on his back, striking
his head and his right elbow, the knife flying out of his hand.

I breathed quicker--some fights make you feel warlike--and when I see
the other two dive right at the man, down and helpless, I broke the
silence and the peace at one and the same instant. The mouse-colored
horse butted a lad sailing down the alley. I grabbed the other up on the
saddle and cuffed him with all my heart.

"You dirty Mut!" says I. "Two of you on one man! Have something with
me," and I slapped his black face to a blister. He tried to get at me
with the knife, but a pinch on the neck loosened his grip.

The feller the little horse rammed got on his feet, looking like he was
going to return for a minute; it was me against the two. I crowded my
victim down against the saddle with my left hand--Lord! how he
squawked!--and drew my gun with the right. "Take either way that suits
you," says I. The bucko didn't sabe English, maybe, but a forty-four gun
is easy translated in any language. He chose the other end of the alley.

[Illustration: "I crowded my victim against the saddle with my left
hand"]

The feller that fell got on his feet. He was a good-looking chap, in
spite of a big scar across his face and the careless way his white
clothes were daubed with red.

"_Mushisimas gracias_, Señor," says he, "_me alegro mucho de ver a
usted_."

"Don't mention it," says I. "I understand a little Spanish, but I speak
English. I wouldn't have cut in if they hadn't played it crooked on
you--here's your boy, not damaged much, if you want to have it out."

"I spike Anglish veree splendidlee," says he, "I th-thank ju. Eef you
weel so kindly han' me dthat man, I keel heem."

"Holy Christmas!" says I--he asked as cool as he would a light for his
cigar--"What do you mean? Just _stick_ him?"

"_Certamente_," says he, "he ees no good."

I chucked my victim as far as I could throw him. "Run, you fool!" I
says, and he scuttled out of that like a jack-rabbit.

He was gone before my friend could start after him. I got the full blast
of the disappointment.

"I do not quite understand, Señor," says he, with his hand on his knife.

"Hold!" says I, "you've no call to jump me--I can't stand for a man
being slit in cold blood--no offense meant."

"I forget your service," says he. "Pardon--here ees my han'." We shook
hands. "But you have made the foolish thing," he says. "There ees a man
who ees to be keeled dead, and you let heem go--that ees more foolish as
to let the Fer-de-lance free."

"Well, I know," says I, "I suppose you're right, but my ideas ain't
quite foreign enough yet."

He smiled. "Your largeness made me mistake," says he. "I see you are a
gentleman not of so many years, but of the heart strong and the arm
stronger--you play with that man--chuckee--chuckee--chuckee--like hees
mother. Eet was lovelee. May I ask the name?"

"William De La Tour Saunders," says I, "commonly called Bill."

"Ah, Beel!" says he, "I r-r-remember. Here is Antonio Oriñez--your
frien' when you wish."

"Well, Mr. Oriñez," says I, "hadn't we better be walking along? You're
bleeding pretty free."

"_Ta!_" says he, shrugging his shoulders. "I am used to eet--still, I
go. Thees ees not a healthy land for me."

"What was the row about?" I asked, my kid curiosity coming up.

"I cannot tell even my best frien'," he answers, smiling so pleasant
there was no injury. "_Quiere poqnito de aguardiente?_"

"No," I says, "I'm not drinking at present--it's a promise I made." (Oh,
the vanity of a boy!) "But I'll trot along with you."

He shook his head. "Do not," he says, "believe me, I have reason--can I
do you any service, now?"

I was a little anxious to get on my own business. The lull from the
fight had come in the shape of a seasick feeling.

"Do you know a man by the name of Saxton?" I inquired.

He gave me a quick look--a friendly look, "Arthur
Saxton--tall--grande--play the violeen like the davil?"

"That's him."

"Around that corner, not far, on thees side," waving his left hand, "you
see the name--eet ees a es-store for food."

I was surprised enough to find that Sax had opened a grocery store.

"Thanks," says I, and swung in the saddle.

Oriñez raised a hand, playful.

"Geeve me some other ho-r-r-r-se!" says he. "Bin' opp my wounds!" he
laughed. "By-by, Beel, r-remember me, as I shall remember ju!"

"Good-by, Mr. Oriñez," says I. He called after me, "Eef you need a
frien', there is Oriñez!"

"Same to you, old man!" I says, and swings around the corner.

Saxton was working outside the store, overseeing the unloading of some
wagons. It was a large store, with a big stock, and Sax was busy as a
hound-pup at a rabbit-hole. I rubbed my eyes. Somehow the last thing I
expected to see Sax was a storekeeper. I slipped up and put my hands on
his shoulders to surprise him. It surprised him all right. I felt the
muscles jump under the coat, although he stood still enough, and he
whirled on me with an ugly look in his eye.

I think, perhaps, of all the unpleasant positions a man can get himself
into, that of a playful friendly fit gone wrong will bring the sweat out
the quickest--you do feel such a fool!

"Beg your pardon, Arthur," says I, fairly cool, as really I hadn't done
anything for him to get so wrathy about.

But he got the best of himself at once, and the old, kind smile came,
taking out the lines that changed his face so.

"What are you talking about?" says he, playful in his turn--forced
playful, painful to see. He gave me a slap on the back and I let her
flicker at that--always willing to take a friend's intentions rather
than the results. I never went into friendship as a money-making
business.

"I thought I startled you," I said. He laughed loud, so loud that I
looked at him and backed away a little. "Startled me!" he says. "What
nonsense! When did you come in? How do you like your job? Going to stay
long?"

He fired these questions at me as fast as he could talk. I, dumb-struck,
answered somehow, while I felt around for something to think with.

He was here and there and all over, doing everything with the same
fever-hurry. Popping a string of questions at me and away before I could
answer the half of them, as if he couldn't hold his mind to one thing
more than a minute--and this was Arthur Saxton!

Part of my mind talked to him, part wrastled with Mary's hints and the
other part kept up a wondering why and what, for I felt for that man a
whole-hearted kid's worship.

A sack of flour fell from the wagon and split. Instantly Sax broke out
into a fit of cursing. I never heard anything like it. He cursed the
flour, the man that dropped it, Panama, the business, and everything
above and below, his eyes two balls of wild-fire.

The man jumped back scared. Sax's jaws worked hard; he got back an
outside appearance of humanity.

"This heat makes me irritable, Bill," he said. "Besides, there's lots of
annoyance in a new business."

"Sure," says I. I saw the flour sack was only an excuse--a little hole
to let out the strain. A person's wits will outfoot his judgment
sometimes. I had no experience to guide me, yet I knew Saxton needed
humoring.

I've heard people say that things--like liquor, for instance--couldn't
get the best of such and such a man, because he was strong-willed. What
kind of argument is that? Suppose he _wants_ to drink. Ain't his strong
will going to make him drink just that much harder, and be that much
harder to turn back, than a man with a putty spine? The only backbone
some men has is what their neighbors think. Them you can handle. But the
man that rules himself generally finds it quite different from being the
lady boss of an old woman's home. Just because he's fit to rule, he'll
rebel, and he'll scrap with himself till they put a stone up, marking
the place of a drawn battle. But the neighbors won't know it. They'll
envy him the dead easy time he had, or get mad when he does something
foolish--loses one heat out of many that the neighbors didn't even dare
to run--and gossip over him. "Who'd think a man that's lived as good a
life as Mr. Smith would," and so forth. But you can't blame the
neighbors neither. Most people reasonably prefer peace to war, and with
a man like Sax it's war most of the time. You have to care a heap to
stay with him.

Well, he was in a bad way for sure. He talked fast--often not finishing
what he had to say. He laughed a great deal, too, and when the laugh
passed and the dreary look came on his face again, it was enough to make
you shiver.

Presently a nice little man came up--a Spaniard and a gentleman.

From the time I took hold of his hand I felt more cheerful. You knew by
his eye he understood things.

Sax introduced him as an old friend and as his partner in the business.
"Perez puts up the money and the experience," says he, "and I put up a
bold front."

"After I've begged you not to speak in that way?" says Perez, smiling,
but reproachful.

"I'm not sailing under false colors," says Sax, sharp. "You've made an
asylum for an empty head--you'll have to listen to it."

Perez dropped the subject at once.

The Spaniard turned to me and asked me most courteously about my aims in
the country. We were talking along when Saxton interrupted us. "We'll
never get enough to drink this way," says he; "come into the office."

We went back into the little room where they entertained the big
customers. Saxton called a boy and ordered brandy. When it came he
grabbed the bottle feverishly. As he did so, Perez glanced at me. We
understood each other.

Sax couldn't drink until we joined him--habit again--how she pulls! He
wanted that drink. It was the one thing he did want in the world, yet
there he waited while we fooled away as much time as we could.

"Well, here's regards!" he said at last, and his lower jaw trembled with
eagerness. Perez drank and I made the motions.

"That's the stuff!" says Sax, with a cheap swagger that knocked me
harder than anything I'd seen so far. "The good old truck that you
Spaniards mollify under the name of aguardiente is the solution of all
problems, Perez."

"_Si, si_, Señor?" says Perez. "It is a great solvent." He stirred the
red sugar in the bottom of his glass. "I have seen it dissolve many a
good manhood--like that."

"None of your friends, I hope?" sneers Sax.

"I hope not."

Saxton looked at him a minute; a hundred different fits showed in his
eye, but the hurry of his mind let none stay long enough for action.

The shadow settled on him again. I never in my life saw more misery in a
human face, and to save me I couldn't tell you where the expression came
from, because the man kept his muscles in an iron grip. There wasn't a
droop of the mouth, nor a line in the forehead, nor a twitch of the
eye--it was just powerful enough to make itself felt, without signs.

He came back again with a snap.

"Why, you're not drinking, Bill!" says he, noticing my glass. It was not
Arthur Saxton, to urge a boy to drink.

"No," I says, easy, "I'm not used to tropical beverages--I expect to
find it full of red peppers. Lord, what a dose I got in my first _chile
con carne_--"

He cut into my attempt at a diversion.

"Why don't you drink?" he asked.

"Because I promised Mary not to."

The mention of the name was too much. He took a quick breath.

"Oh, I wouldn't mind that," he says, light enough on the outside, but
beginning to heat up inside again.

"I mind my word," I answered.

Perez looked quickly across at me and smiled.

"She makes mistakes like the rest of us," says Saxton.

"She makes mistakes," says I, "but _not_ like the rest of us."

Perez stretched out his hand. "I am again glad to have met Mr.
Saunders," he said.

Sax looked from one to the other of us. Suddenly he sprang up, giving
the table such a push it landed on its back against the wall. "I hate to
be the _only_ blackguard in the party," he said, and stood furious,
panting.

Perez slipped to me and whispered, "Mind him not--for two weeks, day and
night, brandy, brandy, brandy--it has not drunken him--but the man is
mad."

"What are you whispering about?" demanded Sax, so savagely I got ready
for action. "If you've anything to say about me, let me hear it--I yearn
for interesting news." He had his fist drawn back as he came up to
Perez.

The little man's face went white. "Arthur," he said, "would you strike
me?"

"I'd strike any one--any dirty sneak who'd talk about me behind my
back."

"Arthur," said Perez, slowly, "when I was a poor, sickly, sad little boy
at a Northern school I had a friend who protected me, who took many a
blow for my sake; when I was a young man, sick with _la viruela_, I had
a friend who risked his life to save mine; as an older man, I have a
friend who can take my life if he wishes--strike."

And so help me! He would have struck! Never tell me a man is this and
that. A man is everything. In his right mind, nothing an Apache invented
would have forced Arthur Saxton to do such a thing--no fear on earth,
nor no profit on earth would have tempted him for an instant. But now he
would have struck.

I grabbed his wrist.

"You fool!" I cried, "what are you doing?" He clipped me bang in the
eye. Saxton was a strong man, weakened by whisky. I was twice as strong
and braced with rage.

I whirled him around and slammed him on the floor.

Something cold pressed against my temple. It was a revolver in the hands
of Perez. "Your life for it, if you hurt him," said he.

For a second, I meant to quit that place in disgust. Then the size of it
took hold of me. It doesn't matter whether a thing is wise or not--in
fact, you never can tell whether a thing is wise or not--but if it has a
size to it, it suits me.

I thought for a minute. There we stood, me holding Saxton, Perez holding
me--just that little, cold touch, you'd think might be pleasant on a hot
day.

"I hope you ain't nervous, Mr. Perez?" says I, to gain time.

"What?" says he, kind of befuzzled. "No, I am not nervous."

"That's right," says I, hearty. "Don't try to see how hard that trigger
pulls, or you'll disturb my thoughts." Then I made up my mind.

"Saxton," says I, "if there's a remnant in you of the man you once was,
get your friend to leave, and take the licking you deserve."

I looked down at him--the man was back again! Talk about your moral
suasion, I tell you there's a time when only one thing counts. I'd done
more for Arthur Saxton by slamming him down on the floor than the
doctors and preachers could have brought about in ten years. He went
down _hard_, mind you. Yes, sir, there was the old Saxton, with his
forehead frowned up because his head hurt, but the old, kindly, funny
little smile on his lips.

"Perez," he said, "run away and let the bad little boy get his
spanking--although, Bill," he went on, "if it's reformation you're
after, I don't need it." He laughed up at me. "You think I'm trying to
dodge payment, but, so help me, I'm not, Billy boy."

To see him like that, his laughing self again, after the nightmare we'd
just been through, set me to sniveling--darn it, I was excited and only
a kid, but I cried--yes, I cried. And Perez, he cried.

"N-nice way for you to act," says I, "and s-spoil all a poor boy's got
to respect."

The awful slush of that struck us all, and we broke out into a laugh
together--a wibbly kind of laugh, but it served.

Arthur got up and dusted his clothes. He shook fearfully. I never saw a
man in worse shape and still be able to stand. Two weeks of a steady
diet of French brandy on top of trouble will put a man outside the
ordinary run, or inside his long home.

It was fine, the way he gathered himself. He brought something like what
he ought to be out of the wreck in two minutes.

"Now," he says steady, "I owe you fellows something--I owe you a great
deal, Perez--I'd started to finish on the alcohol route. I don't like
the company I keep. If I'm going to die I'll die with a better man than
you stopped, Bill. In fact, I think my kid fit is over. I reckon I'll
try to live like a man, and as a start I'm going to tell you both what
ails me--to have it out for once. So help me, it isn't for myself--it's
for you, Henry. You've invested time and money in me, and you sha'n't
lose it. If you know what you're up against, you may be able to help me
help myself. I'm sick of myself. All my life I have kept my mouth shut,
out of a foolish pride. The little sacrifice will be something on the
altar of friendship, Henry, old man. Come along to my room."



XI

SAXTON'S STORY


We seated ourselves around the table in Saxton's bedroom.

"Perez," said Saxton, "you know from the beginning the boy and girl love
affair between me and Mary Smith. It was no small thing for me. I cared
then and I care now. I think the one thing which stood between Mary and
myself as the greatest point of difference was my trick of stripping
things to the bare facts. She liked romance, whether fact or not; I
liked the romance that lay in fact. She cared for me--that is certain,
but some reports when I was about nineteen to the effect that I was
raising the devil, and had led a weak-headed fellow astray with me,
seemed to give the girl a permanent twist against me. Now here's the
truth. In our little town we had a number of men who earned comfortable
fortunes and then laid back. Their boys, with nothing to do and nothing
in their heads, acted as one might suppose. They took to drinking and
gambling, not because they were bad but simply to pass the time; the
town was dull enough, God knows. Pretty soon the wilder crowd became an
open scandal. Among them were some of my best friends, and I went with
'em, with as sincere a desire to line 'em up with decency again as any
long-faced deacon in the town; but instead of spouting piety, I thought
I would play their game until I could get 'em to play mine, that is, I
took a drink with 'em, and I played some poker with 'em, all the while
trying to show the strongest head and the most checks when it came to
'cash-up' in the poker game. I felt that if I could beat 'em, what I
said would go.

"There was one mean scoundrel in the bunch--a hypocrite to the marrow.
He really was to blame for the worst outbreaks, but he pulled the long
face when among respectable people. I wanted to get the best of that
lad. If you're going to lead drinking men and gamblers, you've got to be
the best drinker and the best card player in the bunch. The rest were
empty-headed boys, who'd have taken up religion as quickly as faro bank,
if some one led 'em to it. Well, I think I'd won out, if my friend the
hypocrite, who was foxy enough in his way, hadn't back-capped me, by
telling the town the evil of my ways. The first break was with my
father. The news came to him carefully prepared. When I tried to explain
my side, the disgusted incredulity of his face stopped me almost before
I began. Father gave me my choice: to leave his house or to leave the
company I kept. I cannot bear to be doubted. I made a choice. I left
both the house and the company I kept. Father had been good to me;
knowing how he felt, I would not disgrace him. Then I made my living
with my fiddle.

"Mary at first believed in me, but they talked her out of it. If she'd
doubted of her own mind, I wouldn't have cared so much, but to know me
as she did, and then prefer the word of outsiders--well, I roared at her
like a maniac; it was much like now, as sweetly reasonable and all. No
wonder the girl was frightened. I haven't a doubt she felt that
entertaining an interest for me was little better than criminal. At the
same time the interest was there, and, like myself, she took a middle
course by plunging with what heart she could into a dreary and
hide-bound church. I drove her to it, and I paid the bill. If I could
bring one half the sense into my own affairs that I can into some
outside thing, I suppose I should sometime succeed. A little coaxing, an
appeal for sympathy,--any show of gentleness on my part might have
brought her round.--As we are, we are. I demanded, and here am I.

"I made it up with father afterwards; he didn't understand, but he
believed. You see I wouldn't take a cent from him. He offered me money,
but I said flat that as I didn't please him, I wouldn't take it. Father
had been a business man all his days, and money had become his measure.
If I refused money I meant business. That's no sneer--a good old man was
my father. But Mary stood me off. When I'm not despairing, I know she
cares. I have learned how much conventions mean to a woman--well, I
don't blame 'em. I wish I had a few conventions against which I could
lean and rest this minute. Then comes a man named Belknap--"

"Why, I have just met him, Saxton," said I.

"Did you, Bill? I am thankful for it. I have gotten so my heart aches
for facts to back me. What is your judgment on the gentleman?"

"Smooth as a sausage skin," says I.

"All of that," says Saxton; "he is one subtle scoundrel."

"But he isn't so hard to get on to, neither!"

"For a man, no," says Saxton; "but Belknap has information that you, nor
Perez, nor I, nor any man who is a man has, and that is the difference
between a woman's thinking and a man's thinking. We know a man will
swallow all manner of guff in politics; he'll buy a gold brick from a
cheap blatherskite. That sort of thing is man's folly. I don't pretend
to understand women's follies, but Belknap does. He can talk such
nonsense to a seemingly sensible woman that you fancy she's laughing at
him, and behold! when you look to see the smile, you find the lady in
tears.

"When he came into the game he was young. He took an instant interest in
Mary, and at once used his smooth tongue, and his perfect knowledge of a
woman's character, to win her. He worked through her vanity, through her
virtues, and through all the avenues his peculiar intelligence opened to
him. He gained her attention from the first, and now his power over her
is something horrible to me. Again, had it not been my own affair, how
easily I could have beaten him! If only my head and not my heart were in
it--yet, I do not care for the game when my heart isn't in it, so where
I don't care, I don't even try. This makes a jolly life.

"Our friend, Belknap, has a great work to do, converting these heathen
Catholics to the Protestant faith, for which he has schools and
missions, and for which also he needs teachers, and later, a wife, so
Mary leaves home for here. Of course, he hasn't breathed a word of
anything but the Great Work, and his lonely struggle, and queer as it
is, and scoundrel that he is, I know he partly believes in himself.
Sentimental advances would frighten her off. He bides his time, does Mr.
Spider, and lets habit of mind crush out all the girl's natural
instincts until she has no resource but him."

"I thought you said he was of a deep understanding in regard to the
women?" said Perez.

"He is."

"And he will suppress the natural feelings?"

"Yes."

"Mine has been a lonely life, Arthur, of reality," said Perez; "_you_
are my affection--but when the Señor Belknap has suppressed the natural
feelings of any woman, he has but to ask, and my store, and my ranches,
and my cattle are his."

Saxton shook his head wearily. "You don't know him, Enrique."

"I have interrupt," said Perez; "pardon!"

"There is this much more," said Saxton. "On the trip across I saw I had
regained some of my standing in Mary's eyes, enough, at least, to send
me up into cloudland. My heart went out to every creature I saw, and I
certainly was a fool not to know I'd do something idiotic. I did it. One
night, walking from the store, a woman stopped and spoke to me.
Ordinarily I would have pushed on as easily as might be, but in this
woman a hint of delicacy still lingered. There was something in her face
that shone like the last of day, in the way she carried herself, in the
way she held her head, there was still womanly pride; in short, she was
the one out of a thousand for whom there is hope. She came straight to
me out of the crowd, with the same faith a dog has often shown me. That
is the kind of thing against which I am defenseless, and I am glad of
it. Her story was short, plain, honest. She excused nothing, she made no
attempt to put herself in a better light. No man could have talked
squarer or more to the point; she was tired of the life she led, she had
an impulse to change, she did not know whether the impulse would last or
not, she had not a cent, but if I would help her she would make an
effort. No man with a heart in his body is going to refuse an appeal
like that. You know I am not quite a boy to be fooled by whining. I
realized the chances against her lasting out, and so did she. The thing
was genuine, whatever the result. It appeared to me that to hand her
money as you'd throw a plate of cold fodder to a tramp, was not just the
proper course of a man who thought of himself as a gentleman. Also I
admit that I fancied myself standing as somewhat of a hero in Mary's
eyes. So I treated my poor new friend as though she were a decent woman.
I never preached at her,--I had had enough of preaching,--but simply
gave her a 'good day,' and if a kind word once in a while had any
weight, she got it. There was nothing in all this I could not have
explained to Mary to my own credit. I did not like the kind of thing
that woman stood for. She had no attraction for me in any way, shape, or
manner, but Mr. Belknap saw his opportunity. He has this town plastered
with spies; your house is no safeguard against his meddling. When he
found out, he gave Mary a revised edition of my conduct. I can imagine
him doing it--his sorrowfully deploring my fall; the insinuations more
damaging than any bald statement; the sighs and half-finished sentences.
He had the start and he used it well. When I next went to see Mary I got
a queer reception; among other pleasant things, she said my coming was
an insult, and for the soft answer that turneth away wrath she replied
that I had degraded myself beyond hope, when I asked her what in the
world was the matter. Of course, I went crazy on the instant; the
surprise of it took away what little sense I had. A minute's time and I
might have gathered wits to present my case--"

Here old Sax got excited again. He looked at both of us, as if he
thought that we doubted him.

"I tell you again," he said, "that that other woman was nothing to me at
all, except a poor pitiful creature that I would have been a brute not
to help. I am speaking honestly as a man to his two friends--"

"Arthur," said Perez, "to me you need never justify, need never explain;
if you say so, that is all, the rest is wasted time."

"Here, too," says I.

It would stagger anybody to see how poor Saxton wanted us to believe
him. I began to see how he had poisoned his life. He looked at us very
thankfully, but tears came into his eyes. He tried to go on in the calm
way, but his throat was husky. Then he swore out free and felt better.

"To save time, I believe you in turn," he said. "Another of my tricks is
to wish to be believed in myself, and yet always doubt other people.
Well, I lost my grip; I cannot remember all I said to Mary, but I can
easily remember that it was all unpleasant. I simply improved on the
Almighty's handiwork by making a longer-eared jackass of myself than I
was intended to be, winding up as a masterstroke by attacking Belknap.
It was only two days before, Perez, that Oriñez had told me the other
side of Belknap's Great Work; of how he was undoing all that you and
Oriñez had done for the salvation of this unlucky country, by starting
up a revolution in order that a lot of poor devils might be killed for
his private benefit. I laid it on hard in my fury, and Mary told me to
leave. She said she didn't want to be a witness of my descending so low
as to attack an honorable man behind his back,--and then I came away.
The Lord knows I have no memory of that walk home; everything that was
bad in my blood came out. Honest, I fought--that is to say, I had lucid
intervals of an hour or so, but every day my sense wore blunt under the
grind of despair. It was a disease; it would come on me in waves like an
ague fit. I really suffered physically; I lost every bit of decency that
ever was in me; I became a God-forsaken, devil-ridden brute; a quart of
French brandy a day did me no especial good, and yet I loved the stuff
for the time. Well, the disease, like any disease, had to reach its
climax. It came when I started to strike you, Henry--that was the limit
of meanness for any living man. Then old Bill here took hold of me, and
squeezed what was left of the obsession out of me with the first hug of
his arms. For the expulsion of devils, I recommend your long flippers,
Bill, my boy....

"I am not going to apologize to you, Henry, nor to Bill. If I didn't
feel something more than any apology could make good, I wouldn't be
worth your trouble. But right here I shift."

We sat still. Seldom you see a man take out his soul: when that happens,
it is usually a kind of indecent exposure. A man must shake every
glimmer of vanity out.

Old Saxton stood out naked and unashamed like a statue. Nobody felt
embarrassed. I was too young to appreciate it fully, although I did in a
measure. I saw that all he wanted was to be honest. Not a word altered
to win either sympathy or approval for himself. I suppose that is the
way the woman he spoke of attracted him.

Perez spoke very gently and cautiously.

"This is all strange to me, Arthur," he said; "I am trying to
understand. You seem so strong, of the head so remarkably clear and
capable, that it is a difficulty to understand this trouble. I ask now,
if you put a restraint upon yourself, will not--pardon, you know I only
ask for good--"

Sax threw both arms in the air. "For God's sake, and for both our sakes,
Henry, don't quiddle with courtesy--slam out with it! I've lost all
right to consideration--you can only give me self-respect by showing you
believe me man enough to hear what you have to say."

That slow smile lit up Perez's eyes. "Quite right, Arthur," he said.
"'_Me he equivocado_'--this, then: If you restrain yourself, like the
volcano, will you not break out somewhere new?"

"Not so long as I keep my grip on facts: I'm safe when I can say, 'I'm
getting crazy again.' The saying restores my sanity. Having no one to
say it to, I run amuck."

"You have that friend," said Perez. He stopped a minute. "I would not
have you hold yourself, if that would do you harm, Arthur; but now I
say, take yourself in the hand strong, for of my life the bitterest time
was when you raised your arm at me."

Saxton's face jerked and then grew still. "Come, boys!" he said, rolling
a handful of cigars on the table. "Smoke."

I never saw any one who could get himself and friends in and out of
trouble like Saxton. In five minutes we were laughing and talking as
though nothing unusual had occurred. That's what I call strength of
mind. It wasn't that Sax couldn't feel if he let himself, Heaven knows.
It was that he could shut down so tight, when roused to it, that he
_wouldn't_ feel, nor you, neither.

At the same time there was a pity for him aching at the bottom of my
heart, and when Perez and I left him to walk home together a remark
Perez made started the Great Scheme into operation.

"The girl _must_ care for him," said Perez. "His erraticality! Bah! What
woman cares for that, so long that the strangeness is in the way of
feeling, and not in the way of non-feeling? Women desire that their
admirer shall be of some romance. And with that beautiful poet face; the
fine manner; the grace of body and of mind--that unusual beautiful which
is he and no other--you tell me that any woman shall see that lay at her
feet and not be moved? _Tonteria!_ I believe it not. When the story of
that other woman arrived to Señorita Maria's ear what is it she feel?
The religious abhorrence? The violation of taste? Perhaps, but much more
a thing she does not know herself, that monster of the green eye, called
Jealousy--believe me, Señor Saunders, the man who look sees more of the
play. It is so. Mees Mary may feel bad in many way, but when she will
listen to the explanation not at all, her worst feel bad is jealousy."

I don't want to lay claim for myself as a great student of mankind, yet
ideas to that effect had begun to peek around the corner of my skull. It
seemed to me that Mary felt altogether too _hot_ sorry and not enough
resigned sorry for it to be a case of friendly interest.

"I guess you're right, Mr. Perez," said I, "and if we could only get Sax
to bust through her ideas, as I busted through his to-day--"

"_Perfectamente!_" cried Perez, slapping me on the back. "It is the
same; obsession, Arthur called it. It is that and no other. This Belknap
has so played upon her mind that it is not her mind; it is a meexture of
some ideas she has, and what he wishes her to be. If she could have an
arm of that rude strength like your own--but," he shrugged his
shoulders, "it is a lady, and there is nothing."

"I'm not so darned sure about that," says I, little particles of a plan
slowly settling in the mud-puddle I call my mind. "I'm not so hunky-dory
positive.... If I could get holt of something against that cussed
Belknap,--something that would look bad to a woman,--I'd risk it."

Perez brightened right up. "You have something thought about?" he asked,
eager. "Do not go to the hotel to-night. Let me be your host--we are
right at the door--_Su casa_, Señor--let me offer my little
entertainment, and we shall to talk further--will you not let it be so?"

I liked Perez and I wanted to talk as much as he did. "Much obliged,"
says I; "I hate a hotel, anyhow." So in we went.



XII

BILL MEETS A RELATIVE


Perez had a fine house, a revelation to me; big halls, big rooms, the
walls covered with pictures, Injun relics, armor, swords, guns, and what
not; many servants to fetch and carry, and an ease and comfort over it
for which delicious is the only word.

We had a bully little dinner out in the cool garden, which I got through
all right by playing second to Perez. The finger-bowls had me off the
trail a little, but I waited and discovered their purpose. You can find
out everything if you wait long enough.

Then with coffee and cigars we began to talk.

"Now for the plan of Señor Saunders," says Perez, opening the bottom of
his well-supported vest. He looked so respectable and ordinary sitting
there, that my plan lost its light. I forgot the other side of him.

"Well," I begun, lamely, "Saxton wants to marry Mary."

Perez politely acknowledged that such was the fact.

"Then," says I, "why don't he just do it?"

Perez looked his disappointment.

"That would be well, surely," says he in the tone one uses to a harmless
fool.

"Here," says I. "First, I want to break into Mr. Belknap. You say he's
got some kind of political game on?"

Perez renewed his interest. "_Si_," says he. "This is what he makes. He
is now going to and fro, putting those that have come to his church
against those of the old religion. Against the Catholic Church he lays
the blame of everything wrong. It will be a revolution, he says, to
annihilate that enemy of man, the old church, and in its place put that
wonder of virtue, the church of Mr. Belknap. What _will_ happen is that
many poor men shall be killed, and the wolf-rascals get fat, as usual.
With Belknap are the few in earnest, who think; the many who neither
care nor think, but are led; those that fight for love of it; those who
are hypocrites, and those who look for profit. On our side, the same.
There is no advantage to either by comparison in that. In here comes the
difference. Such men as Oriñez and myself know that this unhappy land
must have peace, before any notion of right can grow. When it is all
fight, fight, fight, one cannot think evenly--has your brother been
killed? Your wife and sisters murdered? And then you will think calmly
of the issue? Time is needed to heal these old wounds, that more can
work together. So Oriñez and I fight for time--I with my money and my
counsel, he with the terror of his name. Once I did Oriñez a favor; he
never forgets. So when I called to help me in this, the tiger sheathed
his claws; the man of blood turned shepherd; the robber, honest;
but,"--and here Perez's voice took a bitterness worse than curses,--"but
Mr. Belknap, that respected man of God, will have it that the need of
the State is the drawing of blood--once more, fire, slaughter, rape,
till the land stinks with corpses, lays black in the sunlight and rings
with the cries of injured women--a great work...."

Perez stood up, gripping the table. "I am a little, peaceful man," he
said, "but there are times when I could drive a knife through that man
and shout with joy for every blow." He sat down quickly and smiled a
faint smile. "_My_ obsession," said he, wiping his forehead; "I, too,
preach peace through the letting of blood. Belknap may be as much in
earnest as myself--Bah! This foolish pretense of candor! He is _not_; he
is a scoundrel--whether he knows it or not, a scoundrel."

"Well, that's good news," said I. "It won't be hard for me to pick a
quarrel with him, which is precisely what I intend to do. I'll meet his
schemes with some of my own, Mary likes me, and it will be at least a
stand-off in her mind if Brother Belknap and I fall out. Then the next
thing is for Arthur to get a party of men, capture Mary, take her off
and marry her."

Perez threw up his hands in horror. "Señor Saunders!" he cried; "for you
to say this! I am astonished! Abstract the lady without her wish? Surely
I have not heard you rightly--_chanzas aparte_, you play with me--you
wish to see me look?"

"Not I," says I, stout; "I mean every word of it. As Sax said this
afternoon, there's times when it's wicked to twiddle with courtesy. That
girl will ruin her whole life if Belknap has the making of it. Her
friends oughtn't to stand by and see it done--damn it, man! Suppose she
dropped her handkerchief as she was falling over a cliff--what would you
do first: save her life or pick up the handkerchief?"

Perez puffed and thought a moment. "_Tiene V. razon_," he says, "there
is more here than a ball-room. I knew her as a girl, I know her now.
Belknap I know too. My life I stake on it that for Belknap to win her,
means her life wrecked, and yet I stop--from habit. I stake my life--I
mean it--on my judgment, yet dare not stake an action to make that
judgment good."

He waited again, while the minutes slipped by; drumming on the table;
shifting things in his mind. The whole air of long, long use to the
handsome, nice things I saw about me struck me strong in the man. He was
born to it, and his forebears centuries before him. Yet instead of
breeding out the man in him, it had only taken off the scum.

At last he spoke. "Give me more time, _campañero_. I shall consider this
further. To meddle with other lives is always a dangerous business, just
as not to meddle may be a shameful one. As it stands, if he gets not the
lady for a wife, Saxton is a lost man--I know him. On his word, on your
word and on my word, she is not indifferent to him. We know Belknap is a
rascal, and for her unfit. And so, action--yet I am a man of peace."

He smiled at me. "Did you ever see a man of peace in more unpeaceful
place? Well, Señor Saunders, your plan has that daring which often cows
success. It remains to be seen whether Arthur can by any means be
brought to think of it: his pride will be afire at the thought--yes,
that is it. Listen. If you can gain his acceptance--and you have no plan
without it--I am with you, heart and soul."

"Good!" says I. "Shake hands on it. I sha'n't strike Arthur at once. I
mean to work up the disagreement with Brother Belknap first. 'T will do
no harm in any case if his head is punched."

Perez laughed. "You are warrior, pure and not so simple," says he.
"Heaven send strength to your arm when you meet."

"I ask no odds of top, bottom, nor middle," says I. "Give me a fair
field."

"There spoke a better spirit than Achilles of old times," says Perez.
"So should I be, if I had an arm like that."

"I'll bet there'd be some danger in you, my friend!" says I.

The light went out of his face. "Mention it not," he said sternly. "Once
it was my misfortune to kill a man--you are not offended at my speech?"

"Not on your family portraits!--but, of course, I couldn't know--you
ain't put out, for your part?"

"Only what is right I should be--what is it your great poet says--'bears
yet a precious jewel in its head'? So with me. To walk with a ghost has
done me no harm. In pity for myself, I pity others. But this is a
melancholy talk--come, I shall show you my pictures. Some are wonderful,
all are good."

So we went into the fine old house again and saw the paintings. They
were beyond my calculations. Outside of the things Sax never finished
and bar a chromo or two, I'd never seen a picture--I don't count the
grandfathers' portraits at home--decent people enough, them and their
wives, but not what you'd call beautiful except Great-Grandmother De La
Tour--she was a corker.

Seeing that I enjoyed 'em, Perez explained the pictures to me, what were
the good points. When I've told people the names on the pictures in
Perez's gallery, I've simply been told I lied.

Next Perez said, "You like music, Señor Saunders?"

"You bet!" says I. So he led the way into a room off the gallery. It was
a long, high room rounded at one end, with an arched ceiling. The least
whisper in there rang clear. At the round end was an organ. Perez
called; a little Injun boy came to pump the organ.

Perez seated himself on the bench. "Now," said he, "if only we had
Arthur--foolish fellow! Here is this great house with only one small man
in it! I beg him to live here, but he will not--he says he must live in
a place rough, as you saw."

"I'm inclined to think Sax knows his pasture, Mr. Perez," I answered.

He nodded. "I only spoke as I often do," he said, "of what I wish,
instead of what must be--so little a change would make this so much
better a world." He thought for a second. "An easier world," he
corrected; "really it is better as it is--well, I am more musician than
philosopher,--what will you, _amigo mio_? Something grand? military? of
sentiment, or peace?"

"I tell you, Mr. Perez," says I, "I don't know anything about music.
Can't you play pieces not too high for me, yet good to listen to, so I
feel it, and learn at the same time?"

He laughed as if I tickled him. "There speaks that so practical Northern
head," says he, "that will have the heart lifted and also a dollar in
the pocket."

"Am I foolish?" I asked. I never yet played being big before a man who
knew something. When he _knows_ he sees your little play and despises
you for it.

"Not foolish, _chico_," says Perez. "Only wise with a wisdom strange to
me." He wheeled and looked at me. "A most strange young man you are; the
strength of a giant, roaring health and no fool, and yet you will listen
to an older man--you _wish_ to listen. Receive the thanks of an older
man. The hope of such service is the one poor vanity remaining to him.
May time so deal with you that you shall never know the compliment you
pay--listen!"

The old organ burst into a pride of sound. Big and splendid--steel and
fair ladies--roses and sudden death. Made my heart get big and want to
do something. Perhaps talking with Perez, his air of decent sadness, and
his old-time way of speaking, kind of lofty for this date, yet never
slopping over; and perhaps the beautiful old house with its hangings,
pictures, and armor helped the music, but anyhow, as I listened, I had
visions. I felt like a lost calf that's got back to the herd and a sight
of mama. I was still in my dream when I realized the music had stopped
and that Perez was looking at me.

"May I take a liberty?" said he. "A resemblance has perplexed me since I
met you."

"Sure," says I, waking up.

He walked to the corner where there stood an old suit of armor. It was
made for a sizable man. Together we put the corselet on me, and then I
fixed the helmet and followed Perez's lead.

He held a lamp before us, as we went down a passage into a small side
room. There I thought I saw my image in a glass. Perez laughed at my
face, when I found it was a picture. It seemed magic to me.

"What in the world!" says I.

"Behold the Marquis De La Tour!" says he.

"The devil it is!" says I. "Still respected, though forty greats
removed! Perez, old man, that's my grandpa!"

"The face proves it," he answered. "He is also mine. Cousin, I felt the
pull of blood this day. Your hand, and we shall have a bottle of wine."

"It ain't often that a man meets his forty-ply great-grandpa and so nice
a Spanish cousin," says I. "I reckon I can square it with Mary later.
Lead on, McDuff, and dammed be he who cannot hold enough."

A very tidy little tidal wave of joy broke over the Perez mansion.
Everybody rejoiced; we had the man-servant and the maid-servant and the
rest of the menagerie in drinking healths to the new-met relatives. To
this day I ain't exactly sure how close connected Perez and I are.
Grandpa De La Tour was a little nearer than Adam, to be sure, but not
near enough, so there wouldn't have been some fussing about his will, if
it should suddenly be discovered.

One of his daughters married a Spaniard that started the Perez
line,--and My! but that line was spread out thin! There'd been pretty
husky families on my side, too; however, I was durned proud to claim kin
with a man like Perez, and I wouldn't have spoiled the lonesome little
man's joy in finding a relative, anyhow. All his tribe but him had been
wiped out completely. I was the only relative he had--that is, that he
knew about. The United States was full of 'em, if he'd only known it.
Europe, too, I reckon. Still, his talk about the pull of blood wasn't
nonsense, neither. I felt drawn to him from the first, and who can say
that in feeling and ways of acting we really weren't closer connected
than some brothers are? And Grandpa De La Tour was all right for an
excuse. I sure did look like him--not so much now, that I wear hair on
my face, but then I wouldn't have known which was him and which was me
if we met on the street.

Before we turned in for the night I spoke to Perez again about Sax and
Mary. He listened eager enough now. What I suggested was all
right--little peculiarities of a gentleman. As Perez put it, "The
greater courtesy of the heart, that stops not at the puny fences of the
fixed way." How different the same thing looks in different lights! He
was dead right about the fences. I never saw a fence yet without wanting
to tear a hole in it, but you've only to string a thread across, if I've
no business there, to keep me out.

It appeared to me then, and it appears to me still, that I had a right
to interfere in Mary's affair. At times, of course, you're a plain
meddlesome Pete, if you cut in, and you deserve all you probably will
get,--as many kicks as the parties can land on you before you escape; on
the other hand, Perez was right when he said it sometimes was shameful
not to interfere. And while marriage is the most private of all things,
it's the most binding, too: you can lose money, get experience, and make
more; fall out with your friends and make it up again, but a lifetime
tied to one person is the stiffest proposition a human being is called
upon to face. Here's Mary, a girl without much experience, putting
herself in the way of being hooked for life to a man I knew to be a
fraud--let her suffer for her folly? No, by the Lord! Let me suffer for
my folly, if necessary, but in it I go. We're all kids and sometimes
we've got to be made to do the right thing--and--here's the rub--if
strict but kind papa is sure he's right (which he can't be) its easy; if
not, I suppose it's up to us as per general orders, do the best you can
and prepare to go down with the wreck. I envy the man who's sure he's
right, but the Lord have mercy on his friends. Well, that's what Perez
and I arrived at; that we were stacked against a blooming mystery and
we'd shoot at the one glimmer of light we had. Mary _did_ care for Sax.
Good. Belknap was a fraud. Good. To the devil with the rest of the
argument.

However, I didn't reveal my full plan regarding Belknap to my kinsman. I
had a hunch that even my likeness to Grandpa De La Tour wouldn't
convince him. You see, like most kids, savages, and people not grown up
in general, I believed in playing the game as it was played on me. I
wouldn't let a rogue escape for want of a helpful lie in season, acted
or spoken. I couldn't see why you shouldn't get him his way, so long as
you got him. It took me some years to understand Saxton's saying, that
it was better for a rascal to escape, than for an honest man to turn
rascal in catching him. Plain enough when you think of it. If you work
low down on the other feller, to trip him, there's two rascals, that's
all. It comes medium hard to see it in that light, though, when before
your eyes the rascal is having it all his own way. And, while I
disapprove of my own methods, the results was great. No use talking, the
wicked sometimes prosper and your Uncle William played in a full-jeweled
streak of luck. The next day I opened my campaign.



XIII

RED MAKES A FEW REMARKS


It seemed to me it was only friendly for me to get some sympathy for
Saxton, as he wouldn't try for himself. Yet this looked a delicate
proposition. I can't give you the proper idea of how quick-witted Mary
was, how easy she saw the behind-meaning of your words, or even saw
things you didn't know yourself.

It's a good trait to its possessor, but, like everything else in this
world, there's a price to pay for it. She sometimes saw things that
weren't there. A man with extra good sight is more fooled by mirage than
a man who doesn't trust his eyes so much. And it had fallen down on her,
on the most important dealing of her life. She saw Saxton wrong, and
couldn't see him right, for that trust in her own judgment. She had to
root up the very foundation of her belief in everything to upset her
wrong judgment of him. She felt the drawing toward him was something to
be fought hard, the same as a man would fight a growing inclination to
drink. And like a great many people (although it's a thing I can't
understand myself), she swung to what was solemn, uninteresting, and
hard, for safety.

And changed! Well, that morning, when I slid around to the house of the
fountain, I scarcely knew her. It was Saturday, and no school. About a
dozen or twenty young Panamans walked or sat about the yard. The
Reconstructed looked stiff and unhappy in the boiled white shirt of
progress, but out of native good nature tried to appear pleasant.

Lots of the Great Works, that spread misery over whole communities,
wouldn't come off, if a sense of a joke was left in the conspirators.
Mary was keen for a laugh, and saw the funny side of things as quick as
any man, yet those poor little devils all out of place and condition
didn't raise a smile on her face. It did on mine, though. I thought of
'em, happy in their fleas, sun, and dirt, and then looked at the
early-Christian-martyr expression on their faces and choked, but that
laugh rode on sorrow and anger at that. It was a downright wickedness to
the children. I looked at Mary, knowing her for a kind woman--one who
loved all innocent play. I hit myself on the head at the
dumb-foolishness of it. How in the devil's name could she bring herself
to approve of this? Why is it we lay a course for somebody else we'd
never think of following ourselves? Well, I sat there and echo continued
to answer "Why?" as usual, till the silence thickened.

She broke it with a lucky proposition. "You seem very serious this
morning, Will," she said.

I told her that was so; looking at the poor little revolutionists in
their white shirts of suffering, I made up my mind to let her have it.

"I wonder," I said, "if it's asking too much of you to listen to me for
awhile. I had a miserable time of it, as a boy, and now and then it sits
on me so hard I like to speak to a friend for comfort."

It was the surest way to claim her time. She caught my hand.
"Certainly," she said. "If you only knew, Will, how anxious I am to be
of some real service in this world, instead of being told that I'm--"

"Let it go!" I put in. "That you're good to look at, and so forth?"

She nodded. "I don't mean that I'm so lofty-minded that I don't like it
sometimes, yet I mustn't grow to like it and--"

"For my part I'm glad there's some beauty in this little old world,"
said I. "I love to trig myself out as you see--give the folks a treat.
Honest, I can't see the harm in brightening up the landscape all you're
able. But, though I ain't much of a professional beauty, I can
understand that too much sugar leads to seasickness."

"You're as handsome a young man as a young man should be!" says Mary,
indignant. "Don't attempt a foolish modesty. I wish I were strong, and
six-foot-three, and a man!"

"Throw in the red hair?"

"You have beautiful hair! I believe you know it, you vain boy, and let
it grow purposely. And now you're just leading me to sound your
praises!"

I laughed. "I'd stick at nothing, for that," I answered. "Oh, why ain't
I ten years older! I'd have you out of here in a minute!"

"I believe you would," she said; "I don't believe you'd care for my
protests nor prayers nor tears. You'd just selfishly pick me right up
and walk away with me and bully me for the rest of my days!"

"Just that--Heavens! But I'd make it awful for you! Captain Jesse would
be a lambkin beside me!"

We both laughed, thinking of Jesse the Terrible.

"The dear old _Matilda_!" she said,--almost whispered,--and her eyes
grew softer.

"Happy times, weren't they? And coming after what I'd left--" I shook my
head.

"Tell me, Will."

"I've wondered how much was my not understanding," I went on, "and how
much I had to kick about. I suppose if I was older, I'd be like
Sax--keep my troubles to myself--but I haven't learned how, yet. Still,
I don't want to spoil your morning."

She frowned a little at Saxton's name, not an ill-tempered, but a
thoughtful frown, as a new idea struck her. She put it away from her,
and turned.

"That you should come to me, Will, is a high compliment. I know you're
not the kind to give your woes to the world. If--" she smiled at me, "if
you won't think it heartless of me, I'll say I'll enjoy hearing 'em."

"I understand," I answered; "just as, in a way, I'll enjoy telling them.
Well, here we go."

So I put the facts to her as fair and calm as I could, patterning after
Saxton's method. I hadn't his nerve; gradually heat swept into my
discourse. I forgot where I was and who I was talking to, as the old
wrongs boiled up.

When I finished I remembered, and sat back.

Mary was also still.

I rolled a cigarette and played for airiness. "Of course," I said, "it's
all in a lifetime."

She put her hand on mine. "Don't," she said, "don't."

I shut up. The minutes slid by heavy-footed.

At last she spoke.

"For sheer inhumanity," she said, "I think that is without an equal."

"Oh, no!" I said. "I reckon the story's common enough wherever people
let an idea ride 'em bareback. Father was a good man, with bad notions,
that's all."

I purposely let my eye fall on the little revolutionists, standing in a
melancholy line--nothing to do, nothing to think, all balloon-juice to
them.

As I hoped, her eyes followed mine. She straightened, seeing the point.
Color came into her face. "Children!" she called sharply in Spanish,
"why do you not run and play?"

The line fell into embarrassment. They hooked the dirt with their feet
and looked at each other.

"Alfonso!" said Mary, "start some game!"

The biggest boy took off his hat and smiled his grave, polite smile.

"_Si_, Señorita!" he replied; "but what is 'game'?"

"I've been so busy with--more important things that I haven't thought of
amusements," Mary explained to me, aside. There was apology in the
explanation; I heard with glad ears. "Is it possible they know no
games?"

"Why, I suppose they do, of a kind," I answered; "but it seems to me the
chief lack of these kids is real play; they're all little old men and
women; the kid spring is knocked out of 'em; they've lived in war and
slaughter so much they don't believe in anything else."

"Well," said she promptly, "that's a poor state of affairs."

"The worst," said I. "What kind of nation can you grow out of children
who have no fun? Their God will look like a first cousin of our devil. I
_did_ manage to rake some sport out of my time, or else I'd gone to the
bad entirely, I reckon."

The color deepened in her face. She didn't have to be hit with a club.

"We wanted to furnish them a moral backbone, first," she apologized
again. "It seemed necessary to give them some standards of conduct."

"I'd give 'em a good time, first--they're a hint young for standards."

"Just see them stand there! Why, they seem without an idea--what shall I
do with them?" She was all at a loss. "It isn't right, poor children!"
She suddenly turned to me, with eagerness in her face. "Couldn't you
stir them up, Will?"

"Sure!" says I, throwing away the cigarette. "Come along! Tag, you're
it!" and I lit out at a gallop, Mary after me, and the revolutionists
watching, altogether too polite to appear astonished. My! but that girl
could run! Jump, too; I cleared the fountain, thinking she'd have to go
'round, but she gathered her skirts in her hand and was over it in a
flash of black and white, clean-motioned as a greyhound.

"_Qui dado, compadres!_" I yelled. "Here comes the government army!"
Instantly they understood and scattered. By hollering at them, they
finally got the idea. Tag wouldn't have interested them--revolution did.
We divided into sides. As soon as they got going good, Mary and I
dropped out of it.

"There," said I, watching 'em running and hollering and giggling, "I
like that better."

"It is better," agreed Mary, "and my thanks to you for the change. I'm
afraid one forgets the little needs in thinking of the great ones."

"Mary," I said, "it may sound strange coming from me; I hope you won't
take it wrong; but do you know that in reading the New Testament plumb
through, I can't remember coming on a place where it says anything about
big needs? Please don't think I'm talking too careless for decency;
Christ always acted like a kind friend, as I see it. I can't believe it
would hurt His feelings a particle to hear me talk this way. He was
above worrying about lots of things that bother the churches. He stopped
to take a glass of wine and have a talk with a saloon-keeper. Now, if He
was God, was that a little thing? Does God do little useless things?
Remember, I thought these things over when I was getting it hard--stop
me, if I seem disrespectful."

"No," she said, "it sounds queerly to me, but I know you are not
disrespectful, Will. I wouldn't accuse you of being the kind of fool
who'd play smart at the expense of the Almighty."

"All right--glad you understand me. Now, listen! Is it great to pull a
long face? Is it right to get melancholy about religion, when the head
of it always preached happiness? Is it sensible to try and make every
one do your way, when you're told the nearer like little children we
are, the better we are off? Don't you think you're acting as if you knew
better than Christ Himself? You don't imagine that those kids, as they
were ten minutes ago, was what He meant when He said, 'Suffer little
children to come unto Me'? Seems to me you've altered the text to read:
'Suffer, little children, to come unto Me.' They sure were suffering in
them starched white shirts, but I'm betting the words weren't meant to
read like that."

"Will," she said earnestly, "I think I've made the common mistake of
supposing that I alone cared. Even now, while I feel you have more the
real spirit than I, your way of speaking jars on me." She sat down as if
she had suddenly grown weak. "I have simply worshiped a certain way of
doing things and forgotten the results and the reason for doing
anything. Your straight way of putting it makes my life seem
ridiculous."

She stopped with a miserable face. I hadn't, in the least, thought to
convince her. Most people will hang on to a mistake of that kind harder
than they will to a life-preserver. It was like turning a Republican
into a Democrat by simply showing him he was wrong--who'd go into
politics with that idea?

I stared at her, not believing. "Why, Mary," I said, hedging, as a
person will in such circumstances, "it ain't a cinch that I'm right. I'm
only a boy, and of course things appear to me boy fashion."

She cut me short. "To be honest, doubts have troubled me before this.
Your history proves what can be done by extreme--"

Up to this she had spoken quite quietly. Now she put her head in her
hands and burst out crying; fortunately we were in a little summer-house
where no one could see us.

"Oh, Will!" she sobbed out, "the struggle for nothing at all! All fight,
fight, and no peace! I want to be a good woman, I _do_; but what is
there for me?"

"Listen to me again," says I, so sorry that I had another attack of
reason. "There's this for you--to be a man's wife, and make him twice a
man because you are his wife; to raise boys and girls that prove what's
right--there's a job for you."

She dried her tears and smiled at me, ashamed of showing so much
feeling. "Is this an offer?" she said.

I had to laugh. "You don't squirm out that way, young lady--you were in
earnest and you know it. I'll take you, if necessary--by the Prophet
Moses, I _will_, if some other feller doesn't show up soon--but I want
to speak of a more suitable man."

She looked at me. It was a try at being stern, but, as a result, it was
a good deal more scared.

"You can do a great deal with me, Will," she said, "but I'll not hear a
word of Arthur Saxton."

"Then," says I, stern in dead earnest, "you are a foolish and an unfair
woman. You've believed what was told you; now you _shall_ hear a
friend."

"I will _not_," she cried, rising.

I caught her arms and forced her back into the seat. "You will," I
answered.

"Very well," she said with quivering lips. "If you wish to take
advantage of the friendship I have shown you, and, because you are
strong, make me hear what I have forbidden you to say, I'm helpless."

"All the mean things you say sha'n't stop me. Now, as long as you _must_
listen, won't you pay attention?" I asked this in my most wheedling
tone. I knew I'd fetch her. She stayed stiff for about ten seconds. Then
the dimples came.

"It makes me so angry to think I can't get angry with you, I don't know
what to do," she snapped at me. "You have no _business_ to talk to me
this way. I shouldn't stand it for a minute. You're nothing but a great
bully, bullying a poor little woman, you nice boy! Who ever heard of
such an argument? Because you _make_ me listen, I must pay attention!
Well, to show you what a friend I am, I will."

"Thank you, Mary," I said, holding out my hand. "Thank you, dear. You'll
not be the worse for hearing the truth. It isn't like you to condemn a
man unheard."

"I heard him."

"You heard a lunatic--he told me; why will you call up the worst of him
and believe only in that?"

She sprang up, outraged. "I do _not_ call up the worst of him! That is a
cowardly excuse--he should be man enough to--"

"Wait: I never meant you did it intentionally. Can't you see how anxious
he might be to please you? Can't you believe that if he did something he
thought would please you greatly, and you called him a rascal for it,
that the worst of him would likely come on top?"

"Yes," she answered slowly; "I can see that--_I_ should, I know."

"Of course you would. Now listen. I have a story for you, that your love
of kindness and nobility will find pleasure in."

Again I tried Saxton's method--there isn't a better one, if it's real
stuff you have to tell. Very quietly I put it to her as he had to me.
She had less color when I finished.

"If that is the truth, it _was_ noble," she said, when I finished. The
breath fluttered in her throat.

"It _is_ the truth. Arthur isn't too good to lie, by any means, but he
has too much pride and courage to lie about a thing like that."

She nodded her head in assent. I got excited, seeing victory in sight,
but had sense enough to keep cool. I knew, even at that early age,
there's snags sometimes underneath the smoothest water.

She sighed as if the life of her went out.

"Impulse," she said, "a noble impulse--and then? an ignoble one,
followed with the same determination."

That had too much truth in it. I didn't approve of his drinking himself
to death, because he couldn't have what he wanted.

"Yes," I answered smoothly, "and what he needs is a strong excuse to
make them all good--he has the strength to do it, you don't deny that?"

"He has strength to do anything--there is the pity of it. There never
lived a man who so had his life in his own hand as Arthur Saxton. Would
you have me marry him to reform him? Have I no right to feel proud, on
my side?"

"No, to the first," says I, "and yes, to the second. He has waked up at
last, I feel sure--if only you could believe in him a little more."

"Oh, Will!" she said, "that is what I fear the most. I don't care if he
demands much, for so do I, but to be dependent that way--I cannot trust
him, till he trusts himself."

"Yes, Mary," I agreed; "but at the same time, he's lots more of a man
than the average, handicap him with all his faults!"

She answered me with a curious smile. "Mine is an unhappy nature in one
way," she said; "half a loaf is worse than no bread to me. I'd rather
never know of Paradise than see and lose it." She threw her hands out
suddenly, in a gesture that was little short of agony.

"Oh, I wish sometimes I had no moral sense at all--that I could just
live and be happy--and I _can't_ be very good if I wish that--that's a
comfort." She turned to me. "Now, Will, I have opened my heart to you as
I could not have done to my own mother; will you believe me if I say I
cannot talk about this any more?"

"Sure, sweetheart," I said, and kissed her. She let her head stay on my
shoulder.

"You are a great comfort, brother Will," she said. The tone made
something sting in my eyes. Poor little woman, fighting it out all
alone, so unhappy under the smiles, so born to be happy!

I couldn't speak to save me. She looked up at my face. "You are a brave
and noble gentleman, brother mine," she said. I think that would have
finished me up--I am such a darned woman at times, but she changed quick
as lightning.

"Let's play with the children," she said. "We've had enough of this."

I was glad to scamper around. One thing was certain. I'd hurt Sax none,
and proved the value of my plan. Another thing I wanted to know I
learned on leaving.

"Mary," I said, as if it was an understood thing between us, "why did
Mr. Belknap speak against Saxton?"

She fell into the trap, unthinking. "Because he wished to warn me, of
course. And in spite of all you say, Will--forgive me--he is a man of
such insight, I cannot believe him altogether wrong."

"It would be bad if Belknap didn't turn out the man you think him,
wouldn't it?" I asked, innocently.

"It would," she said. And with that I came away.



XIV

BROTHER BELKNAP'S REVOLUTION


The next thing needed in my calculations was time. My three-day vacation
ended Monday; I had to have an extension or a sure thing on another,
shortly. I was ready to throw up my job, but I felt it wouldn't come to
that, likely, so I pulled for home and Jim.

At the store Pedro told me Jim had been there yesterday afternoon, but
left at once in no pleasant frame of mind. Pedro didn't know where he
had gone. Took out toward the east, riding fast.

I didn't know what to do. If I went after him, it was likely I'd miss
him; if I waited, he mightn't be around again for days.

"What ailed him, Pede?" I asked.

"That is that which I am not to know," says Pedro. "He cuss and swear
mos' fiercily. He also es-strike one stranger _hombre_ who has been here
making conversation with the workers. _Si_, he strike heem verree
strong, so that the stranger does not know anything for one hour. He
also say he will to shoot that stranger if he put the foot on thees
groun' again. The men that are there make protestation and Señor Holton
say, 'You are fools.' And Pepe, the large one, say, 'I am not a fool,'
and Señor Holton say, 'No--you are a jackass,' and Pepe say, 'You have
abused us much.' I am astonish to hear that, for of all men I have seen
none is so kind to the people as Señor Holton; and I am moved to say,
'Pepe, you lie!' He thereupon strike me at the nose, as you see. I
say,'Pepe, you may strike my nose, but that does not make you not a
liar--a liar is what you are.' And Señor Holton say, 'Mind them not,
Pedro, you are an honest man; but now I shall to abuse them for the fair
if I do hear one cheep,' and he draw out his peestol and say, 'Yap, you
coyotes! Let me hear you!' and there is such silence that one may hear
his heart. Then Señor Holton say to me, 'Pedro, this is bad business.
Mind the store the best you can--I must ride. If they come at you h'run
away--I do not care for these goods, and you have spoken up like a
man.'" Pedro smote himself upon the lung with his clenched fist. "H'run
I shall not," says he. "Thees store can only be obtain by making the
es-step over my corpsey."

"Corpsey" sounded kind of frivolous for the occasion. However,
underneath all the rolling eye and fine large gestures, the sand of the
little man lay strong. I didn't understand the racket at all, but I knew
it meant business or Jim would never have taken such a stand.

"Why didn't you tell me this first, Pedro?" I asked. "I might have gone
away and left you alone."

"That was what I try to weesh," said he. "For you are young, and there
is life before you. These are b-a-a-d fallows, these; if they keel
Pedro, eet ees no harm, but you have been kin' to me, and I do not weesh
you hurt. So I say, I shall let him go; they mus' not harm Beel; and
then I feel so verree lonesome, and I think, He shall know and for
himself decide."

"Why, you darned old Guinea!" I yelled at him, "d'you suppose I'd leave
you to buck this through alone? I don't know what got into Jim not to
put some men in with you."

Pedro shrugged his shoulders. "Señor Holton had no time--what it ees,
ees emperative--and for those men, they are all mad, I think. They come
and es-swear at me, who never have done them injury--I, never! Who can
say Pedro harmed him? They only leave when you are to arrive."

I don't know why, but suddenly it came upon me that we were stacked
against a crowd of men--I mean it came right _real_ to me, and I sat
down in a chair, limp. I never admired a man more than I did Pedro, at
that moment. There he was, the little man I so often laughed at, quietly
going about his business, waiting for a crowd to come and kill him! I
didn't mind one or two, or perhaps a few more men, so much, but the
crowd threw a crimp into me. When you learn how much bigger a coward a
crowd is, than any one man in it, you are not so troubled, but then!
Well, it was the first time I'd been right down terrified in my life,
and it was awful. I raked the sweat off my forehead, steadied myself the
best I could, and says:

"Well, Pede, we're in for it!"

"_Tiene V. razon!_" says he; "but we will to do what we can. If I live,
always shall I remember how Beel stay with me."

I've heard it said that a good example will steady you when you're
scart. Out of my personal experience I beg to differ. I got mad at Pedro
for not being frightened; and the more I thought how well he behaved,
the worse rattled I got. I sat there, in a hot chill every time I heard
a noise outdoors, till at last some sense came back to me. "This won't
do!" says I. "Here, Pede, where's the hot-water bottle?"

He handed me a bottle of brandy. I put the neck to my neck and warmed my
poor soul. Lord! but it tasted good. Dutch courage ain't on the same
shelf with real courage, but it's a durned sight better than
scart-to-death in a rumpus.

I hadn't more than time to give a "hoo" of satisfaction and put the
bottle down, when there came a running and a yelling down the road. Pede
and I jumped for the door together. The valley lay flat between the
hills, north of us, and you could see a mile to the turn in the road.
Down the road two men were running for their lives, a screeching gang
after them, peppering 'em with rocks, clubs, and what not. Also there
was the shine of knives--the shine that always sickens me. I waited for
a gun-shot, but none came. The two had fifty yards' start, and they
weren't losing it, if they could help it. As they drew nearer I could
hear remarks about Papists from the crowd. In a second I saw the
play--Brother Belknap's revolution!

That braced me. The victims ran with their arms over their heads for
protection; when one dropped his arms and raised his head to cry for
help, I recognized Tony Gonzales, the squarest, nicest man in the place.
That steadied me more yet. Fifty men to the two!

"Come on, Pedro!" I hollered. We each grabbed a pick-handle, and with
that in one hand and a gun in the other, we went to the door.

"Beel," says Pedro, "let us to remain here. They cannot be hurt now, for
they run verree fas'. The es-store is a fort. If we stay, we do better."

I took in the situation. Tony and his mate were keeping distance nobly.
I suppose they drew a clip or two from a stone, but they were in no
deadly danger unless the crowd got hold of them. Pedro wasn't much of a
hand to sell groceries and truck, but he was a durned good general when
it came to war.

"Queeck, Beel!" says he. "For to defend us make closed the windows and
doors, but the one!"

We worked sharp, rolling barrels against the doors and slapping boxes of
canned goods against the window-shutters. The work did me a power of
good. Anger had driven out most of my fear, yet getting my muscles into
use was needed to remove the rest of the poison from my system.

Next I broke open a box of cartridges and spread them on the counter,
while Pedro loaded revolvers taken from the stock. By the time the feet
drew near, we were in fighting trim. Another cry for help sounded almost
at the door. Pede and I rushed out.

"Get in, boys," I said, "and grab a gun!" They ducked under my arm and
entered the store.

The rest drew up in a huddle, a ways off, and stopped.

"Now, gentlemen," I said in the best Spanish I could muster, "what's the
matter?"

I got no answer, but bad looks. They talked and muttered among
themselves, and shifted about, with ugly motions--as black and
treacherous a mob as a man would like to dream of.

My temperature went right up. I naturally despise not getting an answer
to a question. One lad shook his fist and growled something.

That was all. I waited. "Once more," says I, "what's the matter?" Same
performance. I shot a hole through the hat of the lad who shook his
fist. "Third and last call," says I, "what's the matter?" but they broke
and ran.

My play held 'em for a minute. Our best show was to take the top hand at
once, so I walked down to them.

"Now I want to know what ails you people," I said, getting the meaning
into Spanish, if the words were a little mixed, "and I want to know
quick, or there'll be a fuss right here."

A big feller jeered at me: "Put down the gun, and _I'll_ show you what's
the matter," he said.

"You will?" says I, parting with what sense I had. "You yellow-bellied
snake-in-the-grass! _You_ will show a white man, will you? Come on out
here, you that's so brave in a crowd!"

I chucked the gun away and waited for him. I got just what I might have
expected--they all come for me! Cursing my fool soul, I jumped for the
gun. I almost had my hand on it when a rock took me behind the ear and
laid me on the grass. It was up to Mr. William De La Tour Saunders to
put his feet under him with celerity and hike out of that. It was
painful--sufferin' Moses! How I hated to run from that crowd! I snorted,
but run was the word, and run I did, with them hollering and laughing at
me. Inside, I grabbed two of the guns from the counter, called to Pedro
and the other two, and started back. I met the gang right at the door.
It was curious how making me run had braved them; they were for tearing
everything apart now. Well, our meeting was a surprise to both parties.
I've had to be grateful all my life that my hands think faster than my
head. I put four shots into that crowd before I thought at all. The man
who picked up my revolver fired and missed me from a three-foot range. I
got some of the powder, also a knife in the shoulder, but four men laid
out discouraged 'em and they broke again. I put it to them with both
hands, Pedro and the other boys cutting in before they found shelter.

By this time I was wild--wanted to go after them and hunt 'em out. Pedro
and the other two fastened on me and dragged me in.

"More shall come, Beel!" cried Pedro.

"We must have care--do not to go, I implore!"

He not only implored, but half-strangled me; they hauled me back and
shut the door.

"Listen, all," says Pedro. "This is not the end. Others will come with
guns, and then!--But now to see what is outside." He stationed us each
where we could peek through cracks, and so cover the store from all
sides. There was barrels of ammunition, General Pedro issued commands to
blaze away at a sight.

The folks outside kept up a stream of cursing and abuse, jeers and
threats, and we returned a revolver fire just as effective. It was too
far for a short gun.

We had two rifles in the shop. I wasn't then, and never have been, as
good a shot with a rifle as with a pistol. Gonzales, though, had been a
hunter. He took the rifle with a pleased smile.

"You make _me_ run," says he, playfully, to outdoors. "Now I make _you_
jump! It is thus we amuse ourselves." A man showed his head, to the
sound of an instant crash from the rifle. He jumped, all right.

"The old church shall say mass for your soul, Juan," says Gonzales. "You
are the best dead man in the country."

After that, they were careful. I thought they'd leave, seeing they
couldn't do anything with us, till Pedro explained they were probably
holding us till armed men came. I should have felt dismal once more at
this news, if I'd had nothing to do. The darkened store wore on my
feelings. One feller I shot wriggled in a funny fashion as he lay on the
ground. He was still wriggling--I could see him every time I stopped to
think. He gave a long twist, like a snake, bringing his face to the
light, at the last. He looked as if he felt perfectly disgusted. He
hadn't ought to have looked that way. It bothered me.

The other three stood the gaff of waiting much better than I. In fact, I
was frantic inside me, though I made a good chest of it. "Pede," I says,
"let me have the other rifle--I'm going scouting."

"That is well," says Gonzales. "If you can get up on the hill without
being seen, you can drive them out, and we shall have a shot."

So I took the rifle and squirmed through the brush and rocks back of the
store until I was a hundred yards or so up the hill. It was a steep
slant. In going so far I'd risen nearly a hundred feet. I could see part
of our besiegers plain. Some ten of 'em lay behind boulders, smoking
cigarettes and taking it easy. Another batch sat under the bridge. The
rest I couldn't see.

I had a particular grudge against the feller who challenged me to fight.
I searched carefully, and finally made him out, under a rock about three
hundred yards away, sitting with his back to me, and playing a game with
the man in front of him.

His fat back made a corking target. I rested the gun between two stones
and had him dead to rights. I was ready to listen to the report and see
him fall over, when, by the gods of war! my finger wouldn't pull the
trigger. I hadn't the least feeling about killing that treacherous
skunk, so far as I knew, but all the same, I could _not_ pull that
trigger. I was surprised, plenty. "Why, you damn fool!" I says to
myself, "what's eating you! That lad would 'a' slaughtered your entire
family, by this time!"

True, too, but it didn't make the gun go off. It's mighty queer how an
unexpected "me" will jump out of you at times. There was one Bill
Saunders just as anxious to do that blackguard as a man could be, and
there was another--and the boss, too--who wouldn't stand for it.

I cussed between my teeth. "If you'd look at me, instead of turning your
back, you dog!" I whispered, "I'd heap you up quick." I broke out into a
sweat of shame, knowing how my friends were putting their faith in my
gathering a man or two. I could have cried with mortification. Suddenly
my lad jumped up and pointed, forgetting where he was. The next second
the finger jammed into the ground, and the whang of Gonzales's rifle cut
through the valley.

I looked where he pointed. Here come a string of men with guns,
dog-trotting. I up and pasted into them. The shot started those below.
Some jumped up. I could have whaled it to them all right now, but a
shell jammed. Our boys socked it to them from the store, while I clawed
at the durned cartridge. Got it out with my knife at last and banged
away, first below and then at the approaching soldiers. I dropped a man
and the soldiers scattered behind rocks and trees.

There was no use staying longer. I had only three cartridges left;
nothing much I could do anyhow, as they would sneak up from this on;
besides, I stood to get cut off from the store, so I carefully picked my
way back, not wanting them to learn there was no one on the hill. In
such a case as ours, you fight for time. I hoped nothing from time, but
every minute you lived was clear gain. Out here in the country prisoners
of war were stood against a wall.

So long as they thought we had men on the hill, they'd be cautious.
Likely they'd send men around to clear the hill, first, and that would
give us some minutes.

The other boys had seen the arrival of the soldiers. They were quiet,
but hopeless. Gonzales shrugged his shoulders and examined his rifle.
"How many?" he asked.

"Soldiers and all, or just soldiers?"

"All."

"Nigh a hundred."

"_Ay de mi! Adios el mundo!_ Four men against a hundred! Well, they
shall speak of us after--not a hundred will they be, when we leave."

The feeling that you'll leave a good name behind to comfort your last
minutes, is a mighty good thing. Wish I had it. It didn't matter a darn
to me. All I could think of was that they shouldn't get me--not if they
was a million--and I proposed to work on those lines with force.

"Perhaps they won't jump us," I said with more wish than hope. "If they
try any other play, we can hold 'em a week."

I had some contempt for those soldiers. I parted with it later. You see,
they were barefoot, ragged, and dirty. Not a thing marked 'em for
soldiers, but the guns and the orders. I hadn't seen many soldiers, but
what I had seen was gay with uniforms and a brass band. Now, if they'd
come at our store with a brass band, it would have been something like.
This was only a rucus, with us holding the working end of the mule. No
glory, no uniforms, no band, no nothing, but just getting holes shot in
you, and it wouldn't be no more than truthful for me to admit I was
perfectly contented with my hide as she was.

We strengthened the doors and windows by piling more boxes up, leaving
only holes to shoot through. Then we waited. The dark heat in the store
just melted you; outside the sun hammered fit to knock your eye out.
When it comes hot and still--deadly still--I can remember that hour's
waiting in the store. I couldn't hold on to what I was thinking of for a
minute; all my ideas flipped around like scart birds, and I sweat and
sweat, and I was sick at my stomach, and the man I shot kept squirming.
It was the same as sitting up in bed to find out your nightmare is real.
To the devil with waiting! I tried to clamp my attention on mother, on
Mary, on everybody I knew. Useless. I didn't seem to know anybody--they
were only jokes, and mostly, the faces, as they skipped by, turned on me
and grinned. At the same time I kept talking with the other boys and
even laughed once in a while. I know they thought I was cool as a
watermelon. I'm even with them there; I thought _they_ were, too.

When Gonzales called, with a click in his voice, "Hist! _Quid'ow!_ They
come!" I could have raised both hands to heaven in thanks. There's
nothing one-eighth as bad in getting killed as sitting around waiting
for it.

I jumped for my window. There ain't a bit of what was in front of me but
what's with me to stay. I could only see a small space that
day--anything that wasn't in a ten-foot circle was dark. I leave the why
to the doctors. It never troubled me again.

I had the south window, kind of slantwise facing the road, and about
twenty foot from it, where it passed the store. There was a breastwork
of canned goods shoulder high, with lots of loose cartridges spread on
the inner top box. The box near me was open, and red labels on quart
cans of tomatoes shone out--"Pride of the Garden." I wonder if the man
that raised 'em, or he that canned 'em, ever imagined they were going to
become the bulwarks of the State of Panama?

The shutters were heavy, with holes in 'em about four inches wide, which
you could cover with a round piece of wood that swung on a screw. These
holes were right in height for me to shoot through. The other boys had
to stand on boxes, being shorter.

I took a peep through my gun-hole. There come the rebels, flap-flapping
down the road in their bare feet, trailing their guns, their
wide-brimmed hats shaking comical. And I felt happy when I saw it. These
were real men, and for the last hour I'd been fighting ghosts. We didn't
want 'em to hit us in a body, so I called cheerful to the other boys,
"Bet you a can of tomatoes I draw first blood!" and let her flicker
through the loop-hole.



XV

TOMATOES BY THE QUART


The barefoot soldiers expected to walk right through us. They come
straight and fairly bunched, while we dropped them. They kept coming and
we kept dropping them. Streaks of white flew out of the shutters and
whiskers grew on the walls, but not a man of us was touched, while we
laid them out something awful.

It wasn't we was crack shots, neither, excepting Gonzales. We were, for
all practical purposes, cool.

Speaking for myself, I felt neither hope nor fear. I had but one
ambition--to make the party that arrived as small as possible. It would
surprise me to learn that our boys missed two shots out of five. And
there isn't any crowd, white, brown, nor black, that can stand a gaffing
like that.

They had no plan. As I say, they thought all they had to do was walk up
and take us. When we put every third man on the grass, they halted,
bunching closer, and we pumped it to 'em for keeps. They melted down the
road, panic-struck.

We had no cheers of victory, being much too busy. By just keeping
industriously at work instead of hollering we put three or four more out
of the game. It was business, for us.

The smoke drifted slowly up the hillside; some of the wounded men began
hollerin' for water; one got to his knees and emptied his gun at us.
Gonzales was for removing him, but I held his hand. "Let him ease his
mind," I said, "he can't hit anything." And just to make me out a liar,
the beggar covered me with splinters from the shutter. Gonzales shot,
and that was over. I began to wish they'd hustle us again.

The sweat poured off us. We panted like running dogs. Outside there,
where the valley rippled with sun-heat, all was still, except that
cry--"Water! water! For the love of God, water!" I've needed water
since. I know what that screech means. Lord! that hour!--a blaze of sun,
blue shadows, wisps of smoke curling up the hill, and the lonesome cry
in the big silence--"Water! water! For the love of God, water!" That's
what it come to; them fellers didn't care much for victory--they wanted
water.

It wore on me, like the barking of a dog. I grabbed the water-pail and
started for the door.

"Here!" cries Pedro, "what will you make?"

"I want to stop that noise."

"Put down the pail!" says Pedro. "Foolish fellow! Do you not know they
keel you at once?"

"Pede," I says, "I can't sit here and hear 'em holler like that--there's
no damn use in talking."

"Listen," says Pedro, grabbing me by the coat. "See what you do; here
are friends; for them you care not. Eef you are keeled, so much the
worse are we--are we not more than they? You leave us, and you shall be
keeled and our hope goes--I ask you, is that good?"

"No," I says, putting down the pail. "It ain't, Pede. You're right," and
one of 'em outside struck a new note that stuck in me and quivered.
"Remember," I says, "that I died admitting you were right." Darn it, I
was risking my own hide. But Pede had the truth of it. I oughtn't to
have done it. So I grabbed the pail and went out.

I was considerable shot at, but not by the wounded men.

The first lad was a shock-headed half-Injun, with a face to scare a
mule. He was blue-black from loss of blood. "Drink, pretty creature,
drink," says I. He grabbed the pail and proceeded to surround the
contents. "Whoa, there!" says I, "there are others!" I had to yank the
pail away from him. He looked at me with his fevered eyes, and held out
his big, gray, quivering hands--"For the love of God, Señor,
_poquito--poquito_!"

"No more for you," I said, and he slumped back, his jaw shaking. It was
a waste of water, really; he'd been bored plumb center. So I went the
rounds, having to fight 'em away as if they was wolves. Lord! how they
wanted that water!

When I got to next to the last man, some better marksmen up the road
shot my hat off. That riled me. It would make anybody mad. I stopped on
the spot and expressed my sentiments.

"You're a nice lot of rosy-cheeked gentlemen, you are," says I. "You
damned greasy, smelly, flat-footed mix of bad Injun and bad white! If I
could get hands on one of you, I'd shred him so fine he'd float on the
breeze. Now, you sons of calamity, you shoot at me once more, and I'll
call on you!"

I was ready to go right up. I waited a minute, but no more shots came.

"All right," says I. "_Sin vergüenza!_" and more I won't repeat. The
Spaniard has nice ideas about a good many things, but he cusses by the
hog-pen. So I told 'em what I could remember that was disrespectful, fed
the last man his water, and returned. I stopped to look at my first man.
He'd passed on. Well, I wasn't sorry he'd had a drink.

"Ha-ha, Pede!" says I when I got back, "I fooled you!"

"By one eench!" says he, looking at my hat.

"Inch is as good as a mile, and that cussed noise is stopped for a
while, anyhow."

A stone rattled back of us.

"Look to the doors, quick!" says Pedro.

We hopped to our places.

"Many coming down the hill!" says Gonzales.

It wasn't that I had scared or impressed my friends by my oration that
they hadn't shot further; no, they simply took advantage of the
opportunity to work a sneak on us from behind. I call that low-down.
Howsomever, it didn't matter what I called it. They were at our back
door, knocking hard.

Skipping gaily from tree to rock, they was full as well sheltered as we.
Worst of all, when the store was built, the stones from the cellar had
been placed in a row behind--not fifteen feet from the back door. There
was no way under heaven we could keep them from lining up behind that
stone wall, and hitting us all in a lump when they got ready.

We shut and barricaded the front door. That side of the store must take
care of itself. We simply had to put all hands to meet the rush.

In a few minutes, stones, clubs, and a few shots fell on the front of
the store, to draw us--this was the other lads, not the soldiers.
Gonzales made a quick move, fired half a dozen shots in that direction,
and then came back.

A white handkerchief on a stick waved behind the wall.

"We wish to talk!" said a voice.

"Talk later, we're busy now!" says Pedro.

"We shall spare your lives, if you yield the store. We only wish to
destroy this because it belongs to Holton, who supports the iniquitous,
the government that now is. On our word of honor, you shall live, if you
yield the store."

"Well," whispered Pedro to us, "what do you say?"

"Tell him the fortune-teller fooled him," says I.

"Tell him to go to hell," says Gonzales.

"It is a trick," says the other man.

"So think I," says Pedro. He called aloud: "We are large healthy men. To
make us live is necessary we have more than your word of honor--do not
play further, cowards that you are! The store you may have when we give
it to you. We will kill you all--all!"

All four of us yelled and hooted at 'em. We were strung tight now.
Thirty-odd men ready to climb at you, fifteen feet away, thirty or forty
more all ready to whack at you from behind, takes the slack out.

There was just one second of hush, and then hell bu'st her b'iler. Lord!
Lord! Of all the banging and yelling and smashing you ever did hear!
Noise enough for Gettysburg. They come at us from all around. We
scrambled like monkeys, shooting; jumping elsewhere; shooting
again--zip, zip, zip--fast as you could clap your hands. They bored in
so they could hammer on the door. I was helping there until I heard a
crash from my window, and saw a head coming in. I caved that head with
my rifle-barrel and fired into a swarm over the remains. They fired
right back again; lead sung like a bees' nest. Flame and smoke spurted
out all over. You couldn't see any more in the store. I snapped at the
crowd until I found there was no results, my magazine being empty; and,
there scarcely being time to load, I poked 'em with the muzzle. In the
middle of this razzle-dazzle come another crash and a flood of light. I
saw the front door down; men tumbling through the opening.

I screeched to the other boys, grabbed cans of tomatoes, and pasted the
heap. It sounds like a funny weapon, but I want you to understand that
when an arm like mine heaves a quart can of tomatoes at you, some little
time will pass before you see the joke. I hit one man under the nose and
lifted him three feet.

I followed this up with a box in one lump, clubbed my rifle, and lit
into 'em. It was then that one of our boys shot me in the leg by
mistake. You couldn't tell what you were doing. It was all a mess of
noise and lunacy. The leg-shot brought me to my knees and the gang atop.
I worked lively before I was free. Somehow I got a knife--I'll never
tell for sure how, nor when. But at last I was loose with a crowd in
front looking at me and calling for guns.

"Beel, Beel! Help!" called Pedro. How was I to help? The moment I turned
my back that outfit would swarm in.

It was all over. I heard Gonzales curse above all the other noises. And
then, as I stood there, sick, knowing I must drop in a minute, I saw a
change on the faces in front of me. Things were swimming considerable
and I smiled at my own foolishness. I must have lost sight for a second,
for when I saw again, the crowd was leaving, tight as they could pelt.

As I gracefully put my ear in a spittoon, I heard a tremendous firing,
and the next minute, through the doorway, beheld the soles of barefooted
soldiers' feet.

Somebody shook me by the shoulders. I came out of dreamland long enough
to see Pedro with the tears running down his face. "Beel!" he screamed;
"Beel! by the mercy of God, it is Señor Holton with men!"

Then his voice changed. "What ees eet? You are hurt, no?"

"No," says I. "I just wanted to listen to the spittoon."

I reckon that joke was too much for me, in my condition. It takes a
strong man to stand the wear of things like that. Anyhow, my next
appearance in active life found me all bandaged up neat as a Sailors'
Home, and a very nice-looking gentleman holding my wrist with one hand,
with a glass of truck to throw into me in the other, and Jim was
swearing a prayer to the doctor not to let me go.

"Oh, I wasn't thinking of going anywhere," says I, to relieve his mind.
"What are you laughing at? I wasn't."

"That's right, Bill," says Jim, taking my hand. "Just stay right here."

The doctor fed me something that I felt clear down to my toes, still
keeping his hand on the wrist.

"Good!" says he. "The effect of shock is over--it's only the lost blood
now--he must have lost a gallon, from his appearance."

"Durn careless of me," says I, still hazy. "But what in thunder am I
doing here? What's all this about?"

"Lie down, Bill," says Jim. "You have three knife-cuts and four
bullet-holes in you."

"I have?" says I, rousing up. "Well, then, why didn't I holler for
water?"

"You did," says Jim.

"There, there!" says the doctor. "No more talk! Lie still, young man,
and sleep, if you can."

It was two days later when I got particulars. Seems I was out of my head
for four hours, and like to die any minute; that I had a hole in the
lower leg, another in the hip, a streak across the top of my head, and a
bullet in the shoulder. Also a slash across the right hand, and another
on the right forearm, and a stab in the same upper arm. I suppose that
was during the hand-to-hand at the window and the door. I have a faint
memory of getting the knife by pulling it out of my own arm. But the
bullet-holes knocked me. I don't remember getting shot at all--only a
dizziness when one man fired in my face. I guess that was the streak
across the head.

I was the star performer. The other boys drew a couple of holes apiece
or so. Gonzales wasn't even laid up, though Pedro had his arm shattered.

Well, they kept me quiet, although I was crazy to talk. At the third day
I demanded food, instead of swill. The doctor looked troubled and shook
his head.

"See here, Doc," says I, "how am I going to manufacture good new blood,
without the raw material? Just let me have a half-a-dozen eggs and a
hunk of bacon and a loaf of bread, and I'll do credit to you."

He snorted at the idea, but I begged so hard he says at last: "Well, all
right; you are the toughest piece of humanity I ever struck; maybe it
_will_ do you good."

When I got outside that first square meal, William De La Tour Saunders
felt less naked and ashamed inside of him, and proceeded to get better a
mile a minute.

The fourth day I could sit up and hear Jim tell me all about it.

He had found a feller in the camp preaching revolution. For some time
this had been expected. It was known that a General Zampeto was setting
up for President, and it was also known that Belknap was backing him,
although he took great care not to be mixed in it by name. But Zampeto
and Belknap had fooled our crowd plenty, by being all ready for action
when it was supposed they were just starting in.

When Jim caught and thumped that first revolutionist, he tumbled at once
that things were about to boil, so he flew for help. His camp was a sort
of turning-point. The two sides were about evenly divided as to forces,
and, as Jim worked nearly three hundred men, it meant a great deal which
side they fought on.

Jim's men were mainly peaceful, quiet fellows, like Gonzales and that
other feller--(Pepe something-or-other--I don't know as I ever learned
his full name)--and Jim had great authority with them. If the rebels
smashed Jim on the start, his men would fall in on the winning side, or
at worst remain neutral. Neither Zampeto nor Jim had the least idea
they'd fight hard--it was just the moral effect of it, and then, too,
the supplies in the store were valuable.

Jim could have rounded up enough of the boys to lick the hide off this
gang of rebels, if it wasn't, as I said, that, knowing 'em to be nice
quiet lads, like Pedro, he felt sure they'd quit in a mess. "And never
will I be such a fool as that again," says Jim. "I knew you'd give 'em
war, but to think of Pedro! I told him to run and save himself!"

Our boys, being scattered and without a leader, simply had to submit to
being chased out of the country. Chance led Gonzales and Pepe to fly to
the store.

So much for us. No one knew what was doing in Panama. The country was
full of rebels around us, and Jim found himself too busy gathering an
army to ride to town and see.

He finally had some three or four hundred men, armed after a fashion,
that he drilled from morning till night.

And here was I, stuck in bed! Doc wouldn't let me try the game leg,
although I felt sure it would hold me.

"You stay there till I tell you," says he, "and then you'll get up and
be useful; if you try now, you'll only go back again to be a nuisance to
your friends."

He put it that way to make it a cinch I'd stay. Nobody ever was kinder
than him and the rest. Each day some one was with me to play cards, or
checkers, or talk. Old Jim couldn't do enough for me. I think he'd spent
all his time in the house if it wasn't that he must take hold outside.
"Boy, I know what you did for me," he said. "There ain't no use talking
about it between us, but what I have is yours."

Just the same, I _knew_ that leg was all right, so one day, when I found
myself alone, I got up to walk to the water-pail. I laid down on the
floor so hard I near bu'sted my nose. "Guess I don't want any drink,"
thinks I. "I'll go to bed, instead." I couldn't make that, neither. My
arms only held me for a second, then they sprung out at the elbow. I
sweat and swore at the cussed contraptions that wouldn't work. Tears of
rage come free and fast. Them arms and legs of mine had served me so
long, I couldn't believe they'd gone back on me like that, and I was so
ashamed to have the doctor come and ketch me that I flew into a fit,
foamin' and fumin' and snarlin' like a trapped bear.

It was then the doctor entered on the scene. What he said was never
intended to be repeated. Lord save us! He put my case in juicy words!

"Now, you red-headed young fool!" says he, as he rolled me in bed, "I
want you to understand I'd beat your head off, if you were a well man,
for this trick!" He shook his fist under my nose. "Wait till you get
up!" says he.

"Ain't I?" says I, feeling good-natured once more to see him in such a
wax. "Ain't I waiting?"

"I won't talk to you!" says he, and slams himself out of the room.



XVI

RED PLAYS TRUMPS


Things went fast before I was around again. Jim met five hundred men
sent out by Zampeto to clear the country, and killed or captured every
man of 'em. The prisoners he penned close, but fed well, to teach 'em
white ways.

Then he sent deceiving messengers back to Zampeto, to report how well
the rebel army was doing. Victory kept perching on her standard till it
was near worn out. But, all the same, another detachment, working to the
east, to unite further south with the first body and sweep back toward
the capital, would do excellently. The detachment was sent by Zampeto
and gobbled the same as before. More victories were reported to the home
rebel government, and assurances given that with another body, the three
could descend on that part of the city held by Perez and Oriñez and
crush it between their forces. Once more did Zampeto approve, to his bad
fortune. And this did him up. It was all over with Belknap, Zampeto &
Co., except the actual capture of their part of the town. They held
Santa Ana and the church, the time-respected custom with revolutions.

Zampeto must have been a plumb fool. I saw him afterward--a fat, pompous
man with a rolling, glaring eye. If Belknap had been able to step in, in
person, we shouldn't have had a walk over; but while Zampeto was
agreeable to advice in the beginning, he soon suffered from _cabeza
grande_, which swell-headed state Jim's reports of victories raised to a
fearful size, and Belknap could do nothing with him.

His losses were tremendous for that country, and there he sat at home,
serene in the belief of a conqueror! We had a cinch. Not a thing to do
but chase them out of their holes!

I had my plans concerning Saxton and Mary, so Jim held the final attack
on the city until I was able to ride. Then he sent word to Perez and our
army started--not in mass, because somebody in the rebel army might have
sense enough to scout a little, but by fives and tens, slipping along
back ways and short cuts until Belknap and Zampeto were surrounded on
the outside by two to one, and faced by an equal force in numbers, and a
far superior in courage and ability, from within.

I got Oriñez and Perez to help me in the last act. We three wormed our
way into the rebel town, early one morning, lying quiet in a cellar
until evening came. Strange to say, the night before, Saxton met with an
accident. I was handling a revolver and it went off, somehow or other,
and burnt him across the back. "Christopher Columbus, Bill!" says he,
"what a careless cuss you are! You've put me out of commission!"
Gracious, but I was sorry! Yet, being the guilty party, I couldn't see
where with decency I might do less than carry the word to Mary. That's
one reason why we went into the rebels' camp. The other had to do with
Belknap. He was easily capable of explaining things to his own credit,
as long as he did all the talking. Now I wanted a hand in the
conversation. We hid in the trees back of the fountain. Soldiers came
and went. Zampeto himself, looking like a traveling jewelry-store, made
a visit, but all hands were so secure in the belief of the wonderful
success of the cause that they never suspected the existence of three
enemies in the same garden--or even in the same one hundred square
miles, for the matter of that. At last we saw Belknap; he came to the
door with Zampeto. Behind him we saw the women-folk. One looked like
Mary, but I couldn't be sure. Every time she moved somebody stuck his
head in the way. At last Zampeto dropped something, and as he stooped to
pick it up, I saw Mary plainly. She looked thin and worn, poor girl.
Certain that both were in the house, I made a quick sneak across to the
kitchen window, up the shutters, and in at a window on the second floor.
Mary had told me the room Belknap kept as his private office. It was
that window I went in.

I heard my man's heavy step in the hall, as I gathered myself. I heard
Mary's voice answer him in a sad and lifeless tone. "I hope it will soon
be over--it seems terrible, terrible! Although the end may be good." I
heard her door shut, and, Belknap coming again, I got my gun ready, put
on a bashful expression, and waited. I do not lie when I say that Mr.
Belknap was astonished to find me in his private room. That expression
was one of the few honest ones it had been my privilege to see upon his
face.

"What are you doing here?" he asked, savage.

"Why, I only came to speak to Mary--to tell her about Mr. Saxton," I
stammered, shyly, knowing that Saxton's name would wake him up.

"What about Saxton?" he asked, putting his wicked eye on me.

"Why, I want to tell Mary--I don't like to say--"

"What!" he said, dropping the sound of his voice still further and
sending the meaning of it high. "What? You come into my room and won't
answer my questions?" He took a quick cat-like step toward me. I saw I
had a lively man to deal with, and, weak as I was, it stood me in hand
to get ready. "There was a letter," I mumbled, reaching in my pocket for
my gun. With my hand on that, I changed my mind. "I guess I oughtn't to
let you have it, Mr. Belknap," I said.

He got gray around the mouth. "Give me that letter!" says he, in his
strained whispering. "Give it to me, or, so help me God, I'll kill you
where you stand."

I jumped back, terrified. "You wouldn't hurt me?" I gasped. "I shouldn't
give you the letter, sir; it was intended for Mary--please don't hurt
me! I've been sick!"

He drew a knife. "If you do not instantly hand me that letter," he says,
and he meant every word of it, "I shall put this in your heart."

That was the justification I needed. It's queer, but I never saw a man
who didn't have to have an excuse. Belknap had _his_, I reckon.

We stood there, me quivering with fear, and his bad light eyes murderous
on me, while slowly, slowly, I drew out ... my gun.

"Now," whispers I, "you petrified hunk of hypocrisy, I've got you! Hand
me that knife!"

He couldn't understand. He just stared. "Hand me that knife!" says I,
letting what I felt become apparent. He passed over the knife. With all
his faults, he was too smart a man not to know the fix he was in. Yet I
thought I'd clinch it.

"Mr. Belknap," says I, "your goose is cooked. The government army is
right outside, as your people could have seen, if they'd had the wit of
a mud-turtle. I've come into your lines prepared to do anything
necessary, as you can readily imagine. We're going to have a little
play-acting now, and you're to guess your part. If you guess
wrong--Well, heaven has missed you for some time, and she sha'n't be
defrauded any longer."

His eyes flickered with fury. He couldn't have said a word to save him.

"Understand," I whispers, "a crooked move and--_adios_!"

He understood. I kicked a table over and scuffled with my feet as if
there was a row, then lay down on the floor, where I could watch my man,
and yelled quietly for help. Oriñez's head showed at the window. I
signaled him, and he lay behind the shutter with his artillery trained
on Belknap, the virtuous.

"Don't cause me the great grief, Señor," he whispers. Belknap turned
and, seeing him, the life went out of his face.

I hadn't yelled loud enough to alarm the house. Only Mary's quick feet
responded to the call.

She, too, was a trifle surprised to find me lying on the floor in
Belknap's room.

"Save me, Mary!" I cried. "Save me!"

What's a little foolish pride when your friend's good is at stake? Yet
it hurt to do that.

"Why, Will! Mr. Belknap!" she cried, astonished. "Whatever is the
matter? What does this mean?"

"I came to see you, Mary," I said, almost crying, "and Mr. Belknap
threatened to kill me."

"To kill _you_, Will?" she said, in a voice that rang like a man's. "To
_kill_ you?"

"Yes," I said piteously. "And I'm not fit to fight him--I've been
hurt--see my head, where I've been shot." I tore open my shirt sleeve.
"See the cuts! and the bullet holes!"

"Oh, poor boy! poor, poor boy!" she said in such loving pity that I felt
a skunk and had a mind to chuck the game. But it was out of my hands
now. Mary sprang up and faced Belknap, so strong, graceful, and daring
in her rage that I forgot my job in admiring her.

"Explain!" she said.

Belknap opened his mouth. Outside sounded a little click--like a creak
in the shutter-hinge. No words came.

The blood flamed in her face. "Have you _nothing_ to say to me, sir? I
shall ask you once more what this poor wounded boy has done to you, that
you propose to kill him?"

You never saw an uglier mug than Belknap's in all your days, as it
appeared then. Ordinarily, although I hate to say it, he was a
fine-looking man, but now his face was so twisted he looked like the
devil in person. And still he said nothing. He had plenty good reason
not to.

At this, Mary went at him. "I thought you a good man--a wise man," she
said, with a bitter quiet that burnt, in every word. "You are a cowardly
scoundrel. Attack the boy if you dare. I think I am a match for such as
you."

And so help me John Rodgers, if she didn't catch up the heavy ruler from
his desk and stand ready for him!

If I had the least remaining pity for Belknap, the look he threw at her
finished it. He would have struck her if he could. I know it. The man
was nothing but a rotten mess of selfishness.

"Bah!" says she, throwing down the ruler with disgust. "I am making much
out of little. You are not worth notice."

She turned to me, all womanly gentleness and pity.

"Never mind, Will dear," she said. "You are safe, he dare not touch you.
What was it you risked your life to tell me?"

"Mary," I said, speaking very slowly, to make it sound its worst.
"Arthur--is--shot."

She acted as if she was, too. I caught her just in time. She hung so for
a moment, not fainting, but as lifeless.

"Now," she said, scarcely above a breath--"now, when I have just begun
to see, it comes! And I have myself to thank for it."

She was so white it frightened me; besides, things were everlastingly
sliding along with Bill.

"Oh, he's not _dead_!" I explained, quickly. "He mayn't even be badly
hurt, but I felt sure you wanted to know."

Then the tears came. "Want to know?" she sobbed. "Of course I want to
know. Oh, what a fool of a woman I've been! And to think of your coming
to tell me at the risk of your life! I haven't deserved it! Where is
Arthur? Can we go there? Can we go, Will? You don't believe he'll die?
He mustn't! He can't!"

Last I saw of Saxton he was chuckling merrily over the doctor's mistake
concerning the value of aces up. Unless he'd changed his mind in the
meanwhile, he hadn't the remotest intention of dying.

"It's dodging through the lines, Mary, to get to him--risky."

She waved my objection off with an impatient hand, dried her eyes, and
made ready.

"Come with me until I get some things together," she said, practical, in
spite of her fire. I do sure like that combination.

"I'll stay here," says I. "You won't hurt me now, will you, Mr.
Belknap?" This I remarked in a very youthful, pleading tone.

He said, "No," after a struggle. It didn't sound like anything you ever
heard from a human throat.

"I'll just stay here," I said. I wanted a word with the man. Mary looked
doubtful for a moment, but at length left.

"Now, Belknap," says I, when she was safely in her room, and me almighty
glad to be my own self again, "because you've been a friend of
Mary's--that is, because she thought you were--you go free, if you wish.
When we leave we'll send you back a man. Take my advice and go with
him--don't get it into your fool head I'm working a plant on you this
time. You can guess what your carcass will be worth when we take the
city. Our men are due here in minutes."

He looked at me and ground his teeth--palsied with rage, shaking all
over.

"Better do it," I said.

And then came testimony: far-off firing, and yells.

"Our boys are closing in," I told him. "That's them, now."

The firing grew heavier and then quit. The yells increased.

Another look flashed on his face--fear. For a while I think the bigger
man in him determined to stick it out, but fear drew the pot.

The change grew.

"Of course," he said, "if I am to understand that you mean well by me--"

I cut him off.

"I don't mean well by you. I despise you altogether. You get away safely
because Mary thought once you were a friend. It's a fool notion that you
can take advantage of, or not, as pleases you. I won't attempt to
disguise the fact that you are wanted bad by some of our side. Oriñez,
there, would like to have your hide to remember you by."

"_Si_, Señor!" says Oriñez from the window. "It is only that my word is
given you are not dead now."

There came another burst of firing, nearer. Another street taken.

"I agree," said Belknap, and now he was anxious, fawning. "I can take a
few belongings? Trifles that I have picked up and wish to keep?"

"Leave your trifles and let them keep me," jeered Oriñez.

"You can take what you can carry," I answered, short.

"Thank you--thank you," he said hurriedly. "Would you mind if I asked
you to leave me alone in the room? A stranger distracts one when it
comes to what to leave and what to keep."

"We won't steal your darned money, even if we see it," I said. "You'll
have time after we leave to gather your wealth."

He bit his nails. "The time seems short," he said. The firing broke out
nearer, and now you could hear our war-whoop. "Viva Perez! Down with the
traitors!" Each side called the other traitors. "Perez" was the key to
the party.

"Short or not, it's what you get," I answered him. Mary left her room
and the talk stopped.

"I am ready," she said.

I took her bundle and we started. At the head of the stairs she paused.
"Will," she said, "I hate that man; but as I hope to go to the happiness
of my life, I will not leave him so."

"Good for you!" says I.

She went in again and held out her hand.

"Mr. Belknap," she said, "I wish no ill-will between us. Forgive me as
fully as I forgive you."

He was on pins and needles to get his money; to be rid of us.

"Certainly, my dear young lady!" says he with haste and effusion.
"Certainly! Of course!" It meant nothing to him at all. And it meant a
ton to Mary. She stared at him until I pulled her away. "Is that a sane
man?" she asked me.

"I've no time for conundrums," I answered her. "We must be getting out
of this."

If I succeeded, I was to signal Perez. When we reached the garden, I
could walk freely, being in the company of the well-known Señorita
Maria. I undid my neckerchief, shook it carelessly, and Perez was off,
to bring Arthur by any kind of method to the arranged meeting-place.

Oriñez struck off ahead to scout for possible danger.

There was none. We hadn't gone five squares before we ran into
panic-stricken rebels, and the firing-line was approaching on the jump.

Not wanting Mary to see the wounded men, and not caring to explain just
then why I couldn't have waited an hour or two for my message, I took
the back way.

We landed at the little ruined stone house before Saxton and Perez; they
had much farther to travel.

"We must wait here," I told Mary.

"Must we?" she asked pitifully. "Can't we go on?"

"Now, my dear girl, see here," says I, in a fatherly manner, "after I've
tried to do the best--"

"Yes, dear, yes--I'm ungrateful, I know." She cried a little. "But I've
been such a fool! You're _sure_ he isn't dangerously hurt?"

"Why, it may be," says I, with a wave of my hand, "that he's up and
around! I don't know much about these things, you know. I'm scart easy."

Then she petted me and said I had a wise reason, she was sure, and if it
was dangerous to go on, she wouldn't, and she'd be patient, and she was
all worn out and she looked a fright, and _what_ a fool she had been!
And she cried some more.

I heard a step. I'd strained my ears for it for the last twenty minutes.
"Now," I says to her, "I'll skip out to see what's doing."

I slid behind a tree in time to prevent Sax from seeing me. Perez was on
the hill waving his hands for joy. I felt pretty dum joyous myself,
hiding in the brush with the lovely feeling of putting through a
thoroughly successful put-up job added to the other.

Dead silence after Saxton stepped within the little house. Then come one
cry--"Arthur!"

The whole business, from the cradle to the grave, was done up in one
small word.

Perez come down the hill; I left my brush-pile. Arthur and Mary were
sitting on the stone step, hand in hand. I'll bet they never said a word
after that first cry, and they held hands like they was afraid to let
go, even for a minute. I thought we'd have lots of explaining to do, but
shucks! They didn't want any explanations. There they were, sitting on
the door-step, hand in hand. Good enough old explanation for anybody.

They didn't even see us.

I raised my voice, calling to Perez, "Your Excellency, I have the honor
to report Panama has fallen!"

And there they sat, hand in hand. They didn't even hear us, neither.





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