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High And Dry








From: Desert Dust

The counsel to don a garb smacking less of the recent East struck me as
sound; for although I was not the only person here in Eastern guise,
nevertheless about the majority of the populace there was an easy
aggressiveness that my appearance evidently lacked.

So I must hurry ere the shops closed.

"I beg your pardon. What time do the stores close, can you tell me?" I
asked of the nearest bystander.

He surveyed me.

"Close? Hell!" he said. "They don't close for even a dog fight, pardner.
Business runs twenty-five hours every day, seven days the week, in these
diggin's."

"And where will I find a haberdashery?"

"A what? Talk English. What you want?"

"I want a--an outfit; a personal outfit."

"Blanket to moccasins? Levi's, stranger. Levi'll outfit you complete and
throw in a yellow purp under the wagon."

"And where is Levi's?"

"There." And he jerked his head aside. "You could shut your eyes and spit
in the doorway."

With that he rudely turned his back upon me. But sure enough, by token of
the large sign "Levi's Mammoth Emporium: Liquors, Groceries and General
Merchandise," I was standing almost in front of the store itself.

I entered, into the seething aisle flanked by heaped-up counters and
stacked goods that bulged the partially boarded canvas walls. At last I
gained position near one of the perspiring clerks and caught his eye.

"Yes, sir. You, sir? What can I do for you, sir?" He rubbed his hands
alertly, on edge with a long day.

"I wish a hat, flannel shirt, a serviceable ready-made suit, boots,
possibly other matters."

"We have exactly the things for you, sir. This way."

"Going out on the advance line, sir?" he asked, while I made selections.

"That is not unlikely."

"They're doing great work. Three miles of track laid yesterday; twelve so
far this week. Averaging two and one-half miles a day and promising
better."

"So I understand," I alleged.

"General Jack Casement is a world beater. If he could get the iron as fast
as he could use it he'd build through to California without a halt. But
looks now as if somewhere between would have to satisfy him. You are a
surveyor, I take it?"

"Yes, I am surveying on the line along with the others," I answered. And
surveying the country I was.

"You are the gentlemen who lay out the course," he complimented. "Now, is
there something else, sir?"

"I need a good revolver, a belt and ammunition."

"We carry the reliable--the Colt's. That's the favorite holster gun in use
out here. Please step across, sir."

He led.

"If you're not particular as to shine," he resumed, "we have a second-hand
outfit that I can sell you cheap. Took it in as a deposit, and the
gentleman never has called for it. Of course you're broken in to the
country, but as you know a new belt and holster are apt to be viewed with
suspicion and a gentleman sometimes has to draw when he'd rather not, to
prove himself. This gun has been used just enough to take the roughness
off the trigger pull, and it employs the metallic cartridges--very
convenient. The furniture for it is O. K. And all at half price."

I was glad to find something cheap. The boots had been fifteen dollars,
the hat eight, shirt and suit in proportion, and the red silk handkerchief
two dollars and a half. Yes, Benton was "high."

With my bulky parcel I sought the Belle Marie Cafe, ate my supper, thence
hastened through the gloaming to the hotel for bath and change of costume.

I had yet time to array myself, as an experiment and a lark; and that I
sillily did, hurriedly tossing my old garments upon bed and floor, in
order to invest with the new. The third bed was occupied when I came in;
occupied on the outside by a plump, round-faced, dust-scalded man, with
piggish features accentuated by his small bloodshot eyes; dressed in
Eastern mode but stripped to the galluses, as was the custom. He lay upon
his back, his puffy hands folded across his spherical abdomen where his
pantaloons met a sweaty pink-striped shirt; and he panted wheezingly
through his nose.

"Hell of a country, ain't it!" he observed in a moment. "You a stranger,
too?"

"I have been here a short time, sir."

"Thought so. Jest beginnin' to peel, like me. I been here two days. What's
your line?"

"I have a number of things in view," I evaded.

"Well, you don't have to tell 'em," he granted. "Thought you was a
salesman. I'm from Saint Louie, myself. Sell groceries, and pasteboards on
the side. Cards are the stuff. I got the best line of sure-thing
stock--strippers, humps, rounds, squares, briefs and marked backs--that
ever were dealt west of the Missouri. Judas Priest, but this is a roarer
of a burg! What it ain't got I never seen--and I ain't no spring
goslin', neither. I've plenty sand in my craw. You ain't been plucked
yet?"

"No, sir. I never gamble."

"Wish I didn't, but my name's Jakey and I'm a good feller. Say, I'm
supposed to be wise, too, but they trimmed me two hundred dollars. Now I'm
gettin' out." He groaned. "Take the train in a few minutes. Dasn't risk
myself on the street again. Sent my baggage down for fear I'd lose that.
Say," he added, watching me, "looks like you was goin' out yourself. One
of them surveyor fellers, workin' for the railroad?"

"It might be so, sir," I replied.

He half sat up.

"You'll want to throw a leg, I bet. Lemme tell you. It's a hell of a town
but it's got some fine wimmen; yes, and a few straight banks, too. You're
no crabber or piker; I can see that. You go to the North Star. Tell Frank
that Jakey sent you. They'll treat you white. You be sure and say Jakey
sent you. But for Gawd's sake keep out of the Big Tent."

"The Big Tent?" I uttered. "Why so?"

"They'll sweat you there," he groaned lugubriously. "Say, friend, could
you lend me twenty dollars? You've still got your roll. I ain't a stivver.
I'm busted flat."

"I'm sorry that I can't accommodate you, sir," said I. "I have no more
money than will see me through--and according to your story perhaps not
enough."

"I've told you of the North Star. You mention Jakey sent you. You'll make
more than your twenty back, at the North Star," he urged inconsistent.
"If it hadn't been for that damned Big Tent----" and he flopped with a
dismal grunt.

By this time, all the while conscious of his devouring eyes, I had changed
my clothing and now I stood equipped cap-a-pie, with my hat clapped at an
angle, and my pantaloons in my boots, and my red silk handkerchief
tastefully knotted at my throat, and my six-shooter slung; and I could
scarcely deny that in my own eyes, and in his, I trusted, I was a pretty
figure of a Westerner who would win the approval, as seemed to me, of My
Lady in Black or of any other lady.

His reflection upon the Big Tent, however, was the fly in my ointment.
Therefore, preening and adjusting with assumed carelessness I queried, in
real concern:

"What about the Big Tent? Where is it? Isn't it respectable?"

"Respectable? Of course it's respectable. You don't ketch your Jakey in no
place that ain't. I've a family to think of. You ain't been there? Say!
There's where they all meet, in that Big Tent; all the best people, too,
you bet you. But I tell you, friend----"

He did not finish. An uproar sounded above the other street clamor: a
pistol shot, and another--a chorus of hoarse shouts and shrill frightened
cries, the scurrying rush of feet, all in the street; and in the hall of
the hotel, and the lobby below, the rush of still more feet, booted, and
the din of excited voices.

My man on the bed popped with the agility of a jack-in-the-box for the
window.

"A fight, a fight! Shootin' scrape!" In a single motion grabbing coat and
hat he was out through the door and pelting down the hall. Overcome by the
zest of the moment I pelted after, and with several others plunged as
madly upon the porch. We had left the lobby deserted.

The shots had ceased. Now a baying mob ramped through the street, with
jangle "Hang him! Hang him! String him up!" Borne on by a hysterical
company I saw, first a figure bloody-chested and inert flat in the dust,
with stooping figures trying to raise him; then, beyond, a man bareheaded,
whiskered, but as white as death, hustled to and fro from clutching hands
and suddenly forced in firm grips up the street, while the mob trailed
after, whooping, cursing, shrieking, flourishing guns and knives and
ropes. There were women as well as men in it.

All this turned me sick. From the outskirts of the throng I tramped back
to my room and the bath. The hotel was quiet as if emptied; my room was
vacant--and more than vacant, for of my clothing not a vestige remained!
My bag also was gone. Worse yet, prompted by an inner voice that stabbed
me like an icicle I was awakened to the knowledge that every cent I had
possessed was in those vanished garments.

For an instant I stood paralyzed, fronting the calamity. I could not
believe. It was as if the floor had swallowed my belongings. I had been
absent not more than five minutes. Surely this was the room. Yes, Number
Six; and the beds were familiar, their tumbled covers unaltered.

Now I held the bath-room responsible. The scoundrel in the bath had heard,
had taken advantage, made a foray and hidden. Out I ran, exploring. Every
room door was wide open, every apartment blank; but there was a splashing,
from the bath--I listened at the threshold, gently tried the knob--and
received such a cry of angry protest that it sent me to the right-about,
on tiptoe. The thief was not in the bath.

My heart sank as I bolted down for the office. The clerk had reinstated
himself behind the counter. He composedly greeted me, with calm voice and
with eyes that noted my costume.

"You can have your bath as soon as the porter gets back from the hanging,
sir," he said. "That is, unless you'd prefer to hurry up by toting your
own water. The party now in will be out directly."

"Never mind the bath," I uttered, breathless, in a voice that I scarcely
recognized, so piping and aghast it was. "I've been robbed--of money,
clothes, baggage, everything!"

"Well, what at?" he queried, with a glimmer of a smile.

"What at? In my room, I tell you. I had just changed to try on these
things; the street fight sounded; I was gone not five minutes and
nevertheless the room was sacked. Absolutely sacked."

"That," he commented evenly, "is hard luck."

"Hard luck!" I hotly rejoined. "It's an outrage. But you seem remarkably
cool about it, sir. What do you propose to do?"

"I?" He lifted his brows. "Nothing. They're not my valuables."

"But this is a respectable hotel, isn't it?"

"Perfectly; and no orphan asylum. We attend strictly to our business and
expect our guests to attend to theirs."

"I was told that it was safe for me to leave my things in my room."

"Not by me, sir. Read that." And he called my attention to a placard that
said, among other matters: "We are not responsible for property of any
nature left by guests in their rooms."

"Where's the chief of police?" I demanded. "You have officers here, I
hope."

"Yes, sir. The marshal is the chief of police, and he's the whole show.
The provost guard from the post helps out when necessary. But you'll find
the marshal at the mayor's office or else at the North Star gambling hall,
three blocks up the street. I don't think he'll do you any good, though.
He's not likely to bother with small matters, especially when he's
dealing faro bank. He has an interest in the North Star. You'll never see
your property again. Take my word for it."

"I won't? Why not?"

"You've played the gudgeon for somebody; that's all. Easiest thing in the
world for a smart gentleman to slip into your room while you were absent,
go through it, and make his getaway by the end of the hall, out over the
kitchen roof. It's been done many a time."

"A traveling salesman saw me dressing. He went out before me but he might
have doubled," I gasped. "He had one of the beds--who is he?"

"I don't know him, sir."

"A round-bellied, fat-faced man--sold groceries and playing cards."

"There is no such guest in your room, sir. You have bed Number One, bed
Number Two is assigned to Mr. Bill Brady, who doubtless will be in soon.
Number Three is temporarily vacant."

"The man said he was about to catch the train east," I pursued
desperately. "A round-bellied, fat-faced man in pink striped shirt----"

"If he was to catch any train, that train has just pulled out."

"And who was in the bath, ten or fifteen minutes ago?"

"My wife, sir; and still there. She has to take her chances like everybody
else. No, sir; you've been done. You may find your clothes, but I doubt
it. You are next upon the bath list." And he became all business. "The
porter will carry up the water and notify you. You are allowed twenty
minutes. That is satisfactory?"

A bath, now!

"No, certainly not," I blurted. "I have no time nor inclination for a
bath, at present. And," I faltered, ashamed, "I'll have to ask you to
refund me the dollar and a half. I haven't a cent."

"Under the circumstances I can do that, although it is against our rules,"
he replied. "Here it is, sir. We wish to accommodate."

"And will you advance me twenty dollars, say, until I shall have procured
funds from the East?" I ventured.

A mask fell over his face. He slightly smiled.

"No, sir; I cannot. We never advance money."

"But I've got to have money, to tide me over, man," I pleaded. "This
dollar and a half will barely pay for a meal. I can give you
references----"

"From Colonel Sunderson, may I ask?" His voice was poised tentatively.

"No. I never saw the Colonel before. My references are Eastern. My
father----"

"As a gentleman the Colonel is O. K.," he smoothly interrupted. "I do not
question his integrity, nor your father's. But we never advance money. It
is against the policy of the house."

"Has my trunk come up yet?" I queried.

"Yes, sir. If you'd rather have it in your room----"

"In my room!" said I. "No! Else it might walk out the hall window, too.
You have it safe?"

"Perfectly, except in case of burglary or fire. It is out of the weather.
We're not responsible for theft or fire, you understand. Not in Benton."

"Good Lord!" I ejaculated, weak. "You have my trunk, you say? Very good.
Will you advance me twenty dollars and keep the trunk as security? That, I
think, is a sporting proposition."

He eyed me up and down.

"Are you a surveyor? Connected with the road?"

"No."

"What is your business, then?"

"I'm a damned fool," I confessed. "I'm a gudgeon--I'm a come-on. In fact,
as I've said before, I'm out here looking for health, where it's high and
dry." He smiled. "And high and dry I'm landed in short order. But the
trunk's not empty. Will you keep it and lend me twenty dollars? I presume
that trunk and contents are worth two hundred."

"I'll speak with the porter," he answered.

By the lapse of time between his departure and his return he and the gnome
evidently had hefted the trunk and viewed it at all angles. Now he came
back with quick step.

"Yes, sir; we'll advance you twenty dollars on your trunk. Here is the
money, sir." He wrote, and passed me a slip of paper also. "And your
receipt. When you pay the twenty dollars, if within thirty days, you can
have your trunk."

"And if not?" I asked uncomfortably.

"We shall be privileged to dispose of it. We are not in the pawn business,
but we have trunks piled to the ceiling in our storeroom, left by
gentlemen in embarrassed circumstances like yours."

I never saw that trunk again, either. However, of this, more anon. At that
juncture I was only too glad to get the twenty dollars, pending the time
when I should be recouped from home; for I could see that to be stranded
"high and dry" in Benton City of Wyoming Territory would be a dire
situation. And I could not hope for much from home. It was a bitter dose
to have to ask for further help. Three years returned from the war my
father had scarcely yet been enabled to gather the loose ends of his
former affairs.

"Now if you will direct me to the telegraph office----?" I suggested.

"The telegraph into Benton is the Union Pacific Railroad line," he
informed; "and that is open to only Government and official business. If
you wish to send a private dispatch you should forward it by post to
Cheyenne, one hundred and seventy-five miles, where it will be put on the
Overland branch line for the East by way of Denver. The rate to New York
is eight dollars, prepaid."

I knew that my face fell. Eight dollars would make a large hole in my
slender funds--I had been foolish not to have borrowed fifty dollars on
the trunk. So I decided to write instead of telegraph; and with him
watching me I endeavored to speak lightly.

"Thank you. Now where will I find the place known as the Big Tent?"

He laughed with peculiar emphasis.

"If you had mentioned the Big Tent sooner you'd have got no twenty dollars
from me, sir. Not that I've anything against it, understand. It's all
right, everybody goes there; perfectly legitimate. I go there myself. And
you may redeem your trunk to-morrow and be buying champagne."

"I am to meet a friend at the Big Tent," I stiffly explained. "Further
than that I have no business there. I know nothing whatever about it."

"I beg your pardon, sir. No offense intended. The Big Tent is highly
regarded--a great place to spend a pleasant evening. All Benton indulges.
I wish you the best of luck, sir. You are heeled, I see. No one will take
you for a pilgrim." Despite the assertion there was a twinkle in his eye.
"You will find the Big Tent one block and a half down this street. You
cannot miss it."





Next: I Go To Rendezvous

Previous: On Grand Tour



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