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A Pair Of Blue Eyes

From: Desert Dust

In the estimate of the affable brakeman (a gentleman wearing sky-blue army
pantaloons tucked into cowhide boots, half-buttoned vest, flannel shirt
open at the throat, and upon his red hair a flaring-brimmed black slouch
hat) we were making a fair average of twenty miles an hour across the
greatest country on earth. It was a flat country of far horizons, and for
vast stretches peopled mainly, as one might judge from the car windows, by
antelope and the equally curious rodents styled prairie dogs.

Yet despite the novelty of such a ride into that unknown new West now
being spanned at giant's strides by the miraculous Pacific Railway, behold
me, surfeited with already five days' steady travel, engrossed chiefly in
observing a clear, dainty profile and waiting for the glimpses, time to
time, of a pair of exquisite blue eyes.

Merely to indulge myself in feminine beauty, however, I need not have
undertaken the expense and fatigue of journeying from Albany on the Hudson
out to Omaha on the plains side of the Missouri River; thence by the
Union Pacific Railroad of the new transcontinental line into the Indian
country. There were handsome women a-plenty in the East; and of access,
also, to a youth of family and parts. I had pictures of the same in my
social register. A man does not attain to twenty-five years without having
accomplished a few pages of the heart book. Nevertheless all such pages
were--or had seemed to be--wholly retrospective now, for here I was,
advised by the physicians to "go West," meaning by this not simply the
one-time West of Ohio, or Illinois, or even Iowa, but the remote and
genuine West lying beyond the Missouri.

Whereupon, out of desperation that flung the gauntlet down to hope I had
taken the bull by the horns in earnest. West should be full dose, at the
utmost procurable by modern conveyance.

The Union Pacific announcements acclaimed that this summer of 1868 the
rails should cross the Black Hills Mountains of Wyoming to another range
of the Rocky Mountains, in Utah; and that by the end of the year one might
ride comfortably clear to Salt Lake City. Certainly this was "going West"
with a vengeance; but as appeared to me--and to my father and mother and
the physicians--somewhere in the expanse of brand new Western country, the
plains and mountains, I would find at least the breath of life.

When I arrived in Omaha the ticket agent was enabled to sell me
transportation away to the town of Benton, Wyoming Territory itself, six
hundred and ninety miles (he said) west of the Missouri.

Of Benton I had never heard. It was upon no public maps, as yet. But in
round figures, seven hundred miles! Practically the distance from Albany
to Cincinnati, and itself distant from Albany over two thousand miles! All
by rail.

Benton was, he explained, the present end of passenger service, this
August. In another month--and he laughed.

"Fact is, while you're standing here," he alleged, "I may get orders any
moment to sell a longer ticket. The Casements are laying two to three
miles of track a day, seven days in the week, and stepping right on the
heels of the graders. Last April we were selling only to Cheyenne, rising
of five hundred miles. Then in May we began to sell to Laramie, five
hundred and seventy-six miles. Last of July we began selling to Benton, a
hundred and twenty miles farther. Track's now probably fifty or more miles
west of Benton and there's liable to be another passenger terminus
to-morrow. So it might pay you to wait."

"No," I said. "Thank you, but I'll try Benton. I can go on from there as I
think best. Could you recommend local accommodations?"

He stared, through the bars of the little window behind which lay a
six-chambered revolver.

"Could I do what, sir?"

"Recommend a hotel, at Benton where I'm going. There is a hotel, I

"Good Lord!" he exclaimed testily. "In a city of three thousand people? A
hotel? A dozen of 'em, but I don't know their names. What do you expect to
find in Benton? You're from the East, I take it. Going out on spec', or
pleasure, or health?"

"I have been advised to try Western air for a change," I answered. "I am
looking for some place that is high, and dry."

"Consumption, eh?" he shrewdly remarked. "High and dry; that's it. Oh,
yes; you'll find Benton high enough, and toler'bly dry. You bet! And
nobody dies natural, at Benton, they say. Here's your ticket. Thank you.
And the change. Next, please."

It did not take me long to gather the change remaining from seventy
dollars greenbacks swapped for six hundred and ninety miles of travel at
ten cents a mile. I hastily stepped aside. A subtle fragrance and a rustle
warned me that I was obstructing a representative of the fair sex. So did
the smirk and smile of the ticket agent.

"Your pardon, madam," I proffered, lifting my hat--agreeably dazzled while
thus performing.

She acknowledged the tribute with a faint blush. While pocketing my change
and stowing away my ticket I had opportunity to survey her further.

"Benton," she said briefly, to the agent.

We were bound for the same point, then. Ye gods, but she was a little
beauty: a perfect blonde, of the petite and fully formed type, with
regular features inclined to the clean-cut Grecian, a piquant mouth
deliciously bowed, two eyes of the deepest blue veiled by long lashes, and
a mass of glinting golden hair upon which perched a ravishing little
bonnet. The natural ensemble was enhanced by her costume, all of black,
from the closely fitting bodice to the rustling crinoline beneath which
there peeped out tiny shoes. I had opportunity also to note the jet
pendant in the shelly ear toward me, and the flashing rings upon the
fingers of her hands, ungloved in order to sort out the money from her

Sooth to say, I might not stand there gawking. Once, by a demure sideways
glance, she betrayed knowledge of my presence. Her own transaction was all
matter-of-fact, as if engaging passage to Benton of Wyoming Territory
contained no novelty for her. Could she by any chance live there--a woman
dressed like she was, as much a la mode as if she walked Broadway in New
York? Omaha itself had astonished me with the display upon its streets;
and now if Benton, far out in the wilderness, should prove another
surprise----! Indeed, the Western world was not so raw, after all. Strange
to say, as soon as one crossed the Missouri River one began to sense
romance, and to discover it.

As seemed to me, the ticket agent would have detained her, in defiance of
the waiting line; but she finished her business shortly, with shorter
replies to his idle remarks; and I turned away under pretense of examining
some placards upon the wall advertising "Platte Valley lands" for sale. I
had curiosity to see which way she wended. Then as she tripped for the
door, casting eyes never right nor left, and still fumbling at her
reticule, a coin slipped from her fingers and rolled, by good fortune,
across the floor.

I was after it instantly; caught it, and with best bow presented it.

"Permit me, madam."

She took it.

"Thank you, sir."

For a moment she paused to restore it to its company; and I grasped the

"I beg your pardon. You are going to Benton, of Wyoming Territory?"

Her eyes met mine so completely as well-nigh to daze me with their glory.
There was a quizzical uplift in her frank, arch smile.

"I am, sir. To Benton City, of Wyoming Territory."

"You are acquainted there?" I ventured.

"Yes, sir. I am acquainted there. And you are from Benton?"

"Oh, no," I assured. "I am from New York State." As if anybody might not
have known. "But I have just purchased my ticket to Benton, and----" I
stammered, "I have made bold to wonder if you would not have the goodness
to tell me something of the place--as to accommodations, and all that. You
don't by any chance happen to live there, do you?"

"And why not, sir, may I ask?" she challenged.

I floundered before her query direct, and her bewildering eyes and
lips--all tantalizing.

"I didn't know--I had no idea--Wyoming Territory has been mentioned in the
newspapers as largely Indian country----"

"At Benton we are only six days behind New York fashions," she smiled.
"You have not been out over the railroad, then, I suspect. Not to North
Platte? Nor to Cheyenne?"

"I have never been west of Cincinnati before."

"You have surely been reading of the railroad? The Pacific Railway between
the East and California?"

"Yes, indeed. In fact, a friend of mine, named Stephen Clark, nephew of
the Honorable Thurlow Weed formerly of Albany, was killed a year ago by
your Indians while surveying west of the Black Hills. And of course there
have been accounts in the New York papers."

"You are not on survey service? Or possibly, yes?"

"No, madam."

"A pleasure trip to end of track?"

She evidently was curious, but I was getting accustomed to questions into
private matters. That was the universal license, out here.

"The pleasure of finding health," I laughed. "I have been advised to seek
a location high and dry."

"Oh!" She dimpled adorably. "I congratulate you on your choice. You will
make no mistake, then, in trying Benton. I can promise you that it is high
and reasonably dry. And as for accommodations--so far as I have ever heard
anybody is accommodated there with whatever he may wish." She darted a
glance at me; stepped aside as if to leave.

"I am to understand that it is a city?" I pleaded.

"Benton? Why, certainly. All the world is flowing to Benton. We gained
three thousand people in two weeks--much to the sorrow of poor old
Cheyenne and Laramie. No doubt there are five thousand people there now,
and all busy. Yes, a young man will find his opportunities in Benton. I
think your choice will please you. Money is plentiful, and so are the
chances to spend it." She bestowed upon me another sparkling glance. "And
since we are both going to Benton I will say 'Au revoir,' sir." She left
me quivering.

"You do live there?" I besought, after; and received a nod of the golden
head as she entered the sacred Ladies' Waiting Room.

Until the train should be made up I might only stroll, restless and
strangely buoyed, with that vision of an entrancing fellow traveler
filling my eyes. Summoned in due time by the clamor "Passengers for the
Pacific Railway! All aboard, going west on the Union Pacific!" here amidst
the platform hurly-burly of men, women, children and bundles I had the
satisfaction to sight the black-clad figure of My Lady of the Blue Eyes;
hastening, like the rest, but not unattended--for a brakeman bore her
valise and the conductor her parasol. The scurrying crowd gallantly parted
before her. It as promptly closed upon her wake; try as I might I was
utterly unable to keep in her course.

Obviously, the train was to be well occupied. Carried on willy-nilly I
mounted the first steps at hand; elbowed on down the aisle until I managed
to squirm aside into a vacant seat. The remaining half was at once
effectually filled by a large, stout, red-faced woman who formed the base
of a pyramid of boxes and parcels.

My neighbor, who blocked all egress, was going to North Platte, three
hundred miles westward, I speedily found out. And she almost as speedily
learned that I was going to Benton.

She stared, round-eyed.

"I reckon you're a gambler, young man," she accused.

"No, madam. Do I look like a gambler?"

"You can't tell by looks, young man," she asserted, still suspicious,
"Maybe you're on spec', then, in some other way."

"I am seeking health in the West, is all, where the climate is high and

"My Gawd!" she blurted. "High and dry! You're goin' to the right place.
For all I hear tell, Benton is high enough and dry enough. Are your
eye-teeth peeled, young man?"

"My eye-teeth?" I repeated. "I hope so, madam. Are eye-teeth necessary in

"Peeled, and with hair on 'em, young man," she assured. "I guess you're a
pilgrim, ain't you? I see a leetle green in your eye. No, you ain't a
tin-horn. You're some mother's boy, jest gettin' away from the trough. My
sakes! Sick, too, eh? Weak lungs, ain't it? Now you tell me: Why you goin'
to Benton?"

There was an inviting kindness in her query. Plainly she had a good heart,
large in proportion with her other bulk.

"It's the farthest point west that I can reach by railroad, and everybody
I have talked with has recommended it as high and dry."

"So it is," she nodded; and chuckled fatly. "But laws sakes, you don't
need to go that fur. You can as well stop off at North Platte, or Sidney
or Cheyenne. They'll sculp you sure at Benton, unless you watch out mighty

"How so, may I ask?"

"You're certainly green," she apprised. "Benton's roarin'--and I know what
that means. Didn't North Platte roar? I seen it at its beginnin's. My old
man and me, we were there from the fust, when it started in as the
railroad terminal. My sakes, but them were times! What with the gamblin'
and the shootin' and the drinkin' and the high-cockalorums night and day,
'twasn't no place for innocence. Easy come, easy go, that was the word. I
don't say but what times were good, though. My old man contracted
government freight, and I run an eatin' house for the railroaders, so we
made money. Then when the railroad moved terminus, the wust of the crowd
moved, too, and us others who stayed turned North Platte into a strictly
moral town. But land sakes! North Platte in its roarin' days wasn't no
place for a young man like you. Neither was Julesburg, or Sidney, or
Cheyenne, when they was terminuses. And I hear tell Benton is wuss'n all
rolled into one. Young man, now listen: You stop off at North Platte,
Nebrasky. It's healthy and it's moral, and it's goin' to make Omyha look
like a shinplaster. I'll watch after you. Maybe I can get you a job in my
man's store. You've j'ined some church, I reckon? Now if you're a

But since I had crossed the Missouri something had entered into my blood
which rendered me obstinate against such allurements. For her North
Platte, "strictly moral," and the guardianship of her broad motherly wing
I had no ardent feeling. I was set upon Benton; foolishly, fatuously set.
And in after days--soon to arrive--I bitterly regretted that I had not
yielded to her wholesome, honest counsel.

Nevertheless this was true, at present:

"But I have already purchased my ticket to Benton," I objected. "I
understand that I shall find the proper climate there, and suitable
accommodations. And if I don't like it I can move elsewhere. Possibly to
Salt Lake City, or Denver."

She snorted.

"In among them Mormons? My Gawd, young man! Where they live in
conkibinage--several women to one man, like a buffler herd or other beasts
of the field? I guess your mother never heard you talk like that.
Denver--well, Denver mightn't be bad, though I do hear tell that folks
nigh starve to death there, what with the Injuns and the snow. Denver
ain't on no railroad, either. If you want health, and to grow up with a
strictly moral community, you throw in with North Platte of Nebrasky, the
great and growin' city of the Plains. I reckon you've heard of North
Platte, even where you come from. You take my word for it, and exchange
your ticket."

It struck me here that the good woman might not be unbiased in her
fondness for North Platte. To extol the present and future of these
Western towns seemed a fixed habit. During my brief stay in Omaha--yes, on
the way across Illinois and Iowa from Chicago, I had encountered this
peculiar trait. Iowa was rife with aspiring if embryonic metropolises. Now
in Nebraska, Columbus was destined to be the new national capital and the
center of population for the United States; Fremont was lauded as one of
the great railroad junctions of the world; and North Platte, three hundred
miles out into the plains, was proclaimed as the rival of Omaha, and
"strictly moral."

"I thank you," I replied. "But since I've started for Benton I think I'll
go on. And if I don't like it or it doesn't agree with me you may see me
in North Platte after all."

She grunted.

"You can find me at the Bon Ton restaurant. If you get in broke, I'll take
care of you."

With that she settled herself comfortably. In remarkably short order she
was asleep and snoring.

Next: To Better Acquaintance

Previous: Prosperity And Parting

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