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I Cut Loose

From: Desert Dust

I nodded; rebuffing his attentive eyes I stuffed the envelope into my
pantaloons pocket.

"Good-bye, sir."

"Good luck. When you come back remember the Queen."

"I'll remember the Queen," said I; and with the envelope smirching my
flesh I stepped out, holding my head as high as though my pockets
contained something of more value.

The events of yesterday had hardened, thank Heaven; and so had I, into an
obstinacy that defied this mocking Western country. I was down to the
ground and was going to scratch. To make for home like a whipped dog,
there to hang about, probably become an invalid and die resistless, was
unthinkable. Already the Far West air and vigor had worked a change in me.
In the fresh morning I felt like a fighting cock, or a runner recruited by
a diet of unbolted flour and strong red meat.

The falsity of the life here I looked upon as only an incident. The gay
tawdry had faded; I realized how much more enduring were the rough,
uncouth but genuine products like my friend Mr. Jenks and those of that
ilk, who spoke me well instead of merely fair. Health of mind and body
should be for me. Hurrah!

But the note! It could have been sent by only one person--the
superscription, dainty and feminine, betrayed it. That woman was still
pursuing me. How she had found out my name I did not know; perhaps from
the label on my bag, perhaps through the hotel register. I did not recall
having exchanged names with her--she never had proffered her own name. At
all events she appeared determined to keep a hold upon me, and that was

Couldn't she understand that I was no longer a fool--that I had wrenched
absolutely loose from her and that she could do nothing with me? So in
wrath renewed by her poor estimate of my common sense I was minded to tear
the note to fragments, unread, and contemptuously scatter them. Had she
been present I should have done so, to show her.

Being denied the satisfaction I saw no profit in wasting that modicum of
spleen, when I might double it by deliberately reading her effusion and
knowingly casting it into the dust. One always can make excuses to
oneself, for curiosity. Consequently I halted, around a corner in this
exhausted Benton; tore the envelope open with gingerly touch. The folded
paper within contained a five-dollar bank note.

That was enough to pump the blood to my face with a rush. It was an
insult--a shame, first hand. A shoddy plaster, applied to me--to me, Frank
Beeson, a gentleman, whether to be viewed as a plucked greenhorn or not.
With cheeks twitching I managed to read the lines accompanying the dole:


You would not permit me to explain to you to-night, therefore I must
write. The recent affair was a mistake. I had no intention that you
should lose, and I supposed you were in more funds. I insist upon
speaking with you. You shall not go away in this fashion. You will
find me at the Elite Cafe, at a table, at ten o'clock in the morning.
And in case you are a little short I beg of you to make use of the
enclosed, with my best wishes and apologies. You may take it as a
loan; I do not care as to that. I am utterly miserable.

To Frank Beeson, Esquire.

Faugh! Had there been a sewer near I believe that I should have thrown the
whole enclosure in, and spat. But half unconsciously wadding both money
and paper in my hand as if to squeeze the last drop of rancor from them I
swung on, seeing blindly, ready to trample under foot any last obstacle to
my passage out.

Then, in the deserted way, from a lane among the straggling shacks, a
figure issued. I disregarded it, only to hear it pattering behind me and
its voice:

"Mr. Beeson! Wait! Please wait."

I had to turn about to avoid the further degradation of acting the churl
to her, an inferior. And as I had suspected, she it was, arriving
breathless and cloak inwrapped, only her white face showing.

"You have my note?" she panted.

There were dark half circles under her eyes, pinch lines about her mouth,
all her face was wildly strained. She simulated distress very well

"Here it is, and your money. Take them." And I thrust my unclosed fist at

"No! And you were going? You didn't intend to reply?"

"Certainly not. I am done with you, and with Benton, madam. Good-morning.
I have business."

She caught at my sleeve.

"You are angry. I don't blame you, but you have time to talk with me and
you shall talk." She spoke almost fiercely. "I demand it, sir. If not at
the cafe, then here and now. Will you stand aside, please, where the whole
town shan't see us; or do you wish me to follow you on? I'm risking
already, but I'll risk more."

I sullenly stepped aside, around the corner of a sheet-iron groggery
(plentifully punctured, I noted, with bullet holes) not yet open for
business and faced by the blank wall of a warehouse.

"I've been waiting since daylight," she panted, "and watching the hotel. I
knew you were still there; I found out. I was afraid you wouldn't answer
my note, so I slipped around and cut in on you. Where are you going,

"That, madam, is my private affair," I replied. "And all your efforts to
influence me in the slightest won't amount to a row of pins. And as I am
in a hurry, I again bid you good-morning. I advise you to get back to your
husband and your beauty sleep, in order to be fresh for your Big Tent

"My husband? You know? Oh, of course you know." She gazed affrightedly
upon me. "To Montoyo, you say? Him? No, no! I can't! Oh, I can't, I
can't." She wrung her hands, she held me fast. "And I know where you're
going. To that wagon train. Mr. Jenks has engaged you. You will bull-whack
to Salt Lake? You? Don't! Please don't. There's no need of it."

"I am done with Benton, and with Benton's society, madam," I insisted. "I
have learned my lesson, believe me, and I'm no longer a 'gudgeon.'"

"You never were," said she. "Not that. And you don't have to turn
bull-whacker or mule-skinner either. It's a hard life; you're not fitted
for it--never, never. Leave Benton if you will. I hate it myself. And let
us go together."

"Madam!" I rapped; and drew back, but she clung to me.

"Listen, listen! Don't mistake me again. Last night was enough. I want
to go. I must go. We can travel separately, then; I will meet you
anywhere--Denver, Omaha, Chicago, New York, anywhere you

"Your husband, madam," I prompted. "He might have objections to parting
with you."

"Montoyo? That snake--you fear that snake? He is no husband to me. I could
kill him--I will do it yet, to be free from him."

"My good name, then," I taunted. "I might fear for my good name more than
I'd fear a man."

"I have a name of my own," she flashed, "although you may not know it."

"I have been made acquainted with it," I answered roundly.

"No, you haven't. Not the true. You know only another." Her tone became
humbler. "But I'm not asking you to marry me," she said. "I'm not asking
you to love me as a paramour, sir. Please understand. Treat me as you
will; as a sister, a friend, but anything human. Only let me have your
decent regard until I can get 'stablished in new quarters. I can help
you," she pursued eagerly. "Indeed I can help you if you stay in the West.
Yes, anywhere, for I know life. Oh, I'm so tired of myself; I can't run
true, I'm under false colors. You saw how the trainmen curried favor all
along the line, how familiar they were, how I submitted--I even dropped
that coin a-purpose in the Omaha station, for you, just to test you.
Those things are expected of me and I've felt obliged to play my part.
Men look upon me as a tool to their hands, to make them or break them. All
they want is my patronage and the secrets of the gaming table. And there
is Montoyo--bullying me, cajoling me, watching me. But you were different,
after I had met you. I foolishly wished to help you, and last night the
play went wrong. Why did I take you to his table? Because I think myself
entitled, sir," she said on, bridling a little, defiant of my gaze, "to
promote my friends when I have any. I did not mean that you should wager
heavily for you. Montoyo is out for large stakes. There is safety in small
and I know his system. You remember I warned you? I did warn you. I saw
too late. You shall have all your money back again. And Montoyo struck
me--me, in public! That is the end. Oh, why couldn't I have killed him?
But if you stayed here, so should I. Not with him, though. Never with him.
Maybe I'm talking wildly. You'll say I'm in love with you. Perhaps I
am--quien sabe? No matter as to that. I shall be no hanger-on, sir. I only
ask a kind of partnership--the encouragement of some decent man near me. I
have money; plenty, till we both get a footing. But you wouldn't live on
me; no! I don't fancy that of you for a moment. I would be glad merely to
tide you over, if you'd let me. And I--I'd be willing to wash floors in a
restaurant if I might be free of insult. You, I'm sure, would at least
protect me. Wouldn't you? You would, wouldn't you? Say something, sir."
She paused, out of breath and aquiver. "Shall we go? Will you help me?"

For an instant her appeal, of swimming blue eyes, upturned face, tensed
grasp, breaking voice, swayed me. But what if she were an actress, an
adventuress? And then, my parents, my father's name! I had already been
cozened once, I had resolved not to be snared again. The spell cleared and
I drew exultant breath.

"Impossible, madam," I uttered. "This is final. Good-morning."

She staggered and with magnificent but futile last flourish clapped both
hands to her face. Gazing back, as I hastened, I saw her still there,
leaning against the sheet-iron of the groggery and ostensibly weeping.

Having shaken her off and resisted contrary temptation I looked not again
but paced rapidly for the clean atmosphere of the rough-and-honest bull
train. As a companion, better for me Mr. Jenks. When my wrath cooled I
felt that I might have acted the cad but I had not acted the simpleton.

The advance of the day's life was stirring all along the road, where under
clouds of dust the four and six horse-and-mule wagons hauled water for the
town, pack outfits of donkeys and plodding miners wended one way or the
other, soldiers trotted in from the military post, and Overlanders slowly
toiled for the last supply depot before creaking onward into the desert.

Along the railway grade likewise there was activity, of construction
trains laden high with rails, ties, boxes and bales, puffing out, their
locomotives belching pitchy black smoke that extended clear to the
ridiculous little cabooses; of wagon trains ploughing on, bearing supplies
for the grading camps; and a great herd of loose animals, raising a
prodigious spume as they were driven at a trot--they also heading
westward, ever westward, under escort of a protecting detachment of
cavalry, riding two by two, accoutrements flashing.

The sights were inspiring. Man's work at empire building beckoned me, for
surely the wagoning of munitions to remote outposts of civilization was
very necessary. Consequently I trudged best foot forward, although on
empty stomach and with empty pockets; but glad to be at large, and
exchanging good-natured greetings with the travelers encountered.

Nevertheless my new boots were burning, my thigh was chafed raw from the
swaying Colt's, and my face and throat were parched with the dust, when in
about an hour, the flag of the military post having been my landmark, I
had arrived almost at the willow-bordered river and now scanned about for
the encampment of my train.

Some dozen white-topped wagons were standing grouped in a circle upon the
trampled dry sod to the south of the road. Figures were busily moving
among them, and the thin blue smoke of their fires was a welcoming signal.
I marked women, and children. The whole prospect--they, the breakfast
smoke, the grazing animals, the stout vehicles, a line of washed
clothing--was homy. So I veered aside and made for the spot, to inquire my
way if nothing more.

First I addressed a little girl, tow-headed and barelegged, in a single
cotton garment.

"I am looking for the Captain Adams wagon train. Do you know where it

She only pointed, finger of other hand in her mouth; but as she indicated
this same camp I pressed on. Mr. Jenks himself came out to meet me.

"Hooray! Here you are. I knew you'd do it. That's the ticket. Broke loose,
have you?"

"Yes, sir. I accept your offer if it's still open," I said.

We shook hands.

"Wide open. Could have filled it a dozen times. Come in, come on in and
sit. You fetched all your outfit?"

"What you see," I confessed. "I told you my condition. They stripped me

He rubbed his beard.

"Wall, all you need is a blanket. Reckon I can rustle you that. You can
pay for it out of your wages or turn it in at the end of the trip. Fust
I'd better make you acquainted to the wagon boss. There he is, yonder."

He conducted me on, along the groups and fires and bedding outside the
wagon circle, and halted where a heavy man, of face smooth-shaven except
chin, sat upon a wagon-tongue whittling a stick.

"Mornin', Cap'n. Wall, I'm filled out. I've hired this lad and can move
whenever you say the word. You----" he looked at me. "What's your name,
you say?"

"Frank Beeson," I replied.

"Didn't ketch it last night," he apologized. "Shake hands with Cap'n Hyrum
Adams, Frank. He's the boss of the train."

Captain Adams lazily arose--a large figure in his dusty boots, coarse
trousers and flannel shirt, and weather-beaten black slouch hat. The
inevitable revolver hung at his thigh. His pursed lips spurted a jet of
tobacco juice as he keenly surveyed me with small, shrewd, china-blue eyes
squinting from a broad flaccid countenance. But the countenance was
unemotional while he offered a thick hand which proved singularly soft and
flatulent under the callouses.

"Glad to meet you, stranger," he acknowledged in slow bass. "Set down, set

He waved me to the wagon-tongue, and I thankfully seated myself. All of a
sudden I seemed utterly gone; possibly through lack of food. My sigh must
have been remarked.

"Breakfasted, stranger?" he queried passively.

"Not yet, sir. I was anxious to reach the train."

"Pshaw! I was about to ask you that," Mr. Jenks put in. "Come along and
I'll throw together a mess for you."

"Nobody goes hungry from the Adams wagon, stranger," Captain Adams
observed. He slightly raised his voice, peremptory. "Rachael! Fetch our
guest some breakfast."

"But as Mr. Jenks has invited me, Captain, and I am in his employ----" I
protested. He cut me short.

"I have said that nobody, man, woman or child, or dog, goes hungry from
the Adams wagon. The flesh must be fed as well as the soul."

There were two women in view, busied with domestic cares. I had sensed
their eyes cast now and then in my direction. One was elderly, as far as
might be judged by her somewhat slatternly figure draped in a draggled
snuff-colored, straight-flowing gown, and by the merest glimpse of her
features within her faded sunbonnet. The other promptly moved aside from
where she was bending over a wash-board, ladled food from a kettle to a
platter, poured a tin cupful of coffee from the pot simmering by the fire,
and bore them to me; her eyes down, shyly handed them.

I thanked her but was not presented. To the Captain's "That will do,
Rachael," she turned dutifully away; not so soon, however, but that I had
seen a fresh young face within the bonnet confines--a round rosy face
according well with the buxom curves of her as she again bent over her

"Our fare is that of the tents of Abraham, stranger," spoke the Captain,
who had resumed his whittling. "Such as it is, you are welcome to. We are
a plain people who walk in the way of the Lord, for that is commanded."

His sonorous tones were delivered rather through the nose, but did not
fail of hospitality.

"I ask nothing better, sir," I answered. "And if I did, my appetite would
make up for all deficiencies."

"A healthy appetite is a good token," he affirmed. "Show me a well man who
picks at his victuals and I will show you a candidate for the devil. His
thoughts will like to be as idle as his knife."

The mess of pork and beans and the black unsweetened coffee evidently were
what I needed, for I began to mend wonderfully ere I was half through the
course. He had not invited me to further conversation--only, when I had
drained the cup he called again: "Rachael! More coffee," whereupon the
same young woman advanced, without glancing at me, received my cup, and
returned it steaming.

"You are from the East, stranger?" he now inquired.

"Yes, sir. I arrived in Benton only yesterday."

"A Sodom," he growled harshly. "A tented sepulcher. And it will perish. I
tell you, you do well to leave it, you do well to yoke yourself with the
appointed of this earth, rather than stay in that sink-pit of the
eternally damned."

"I agree with you, sir," said I. "I did not find Benton to be a pleasant
place. But I had not known, when I started from Omaha."

"Possibly not," he moodily assented. "The devil is attentive; he is
present in the stations, and on the trains; he will ride in those gilded
palaces even to the Jordan, but he shall not cross. In the name of the
Lord we shall face him. What good there shall come, shall abide; but the
evil shall wither. Not," he added, "that we stand against the railroad. It
is needed, and we have petitioned without being heard. We are strong but
isolated, we have goods to sell, and the word of Brigham Young has gone
forth that a railroad we must have. Against the harpies, the gamblers, the
loose women and the lustful men and all the Gentile vanities we will stand
upon our own feet by the help of Almighty God."

At this juncture, when I had finished my platter of pork and beans and my
second cup of coffee, a tall, double-jointed youth of about my age,
carrying an ox goad in his hand, strolled to us as if attracted by the
harangue. He was clad in the prevalent cowhide boots, linsey-woolsey
pantaloons tucked in, red flannel shirt, and battered hat from which
untrimmed flaxen hair fell down unevenly to his shoulder line. He wore at
his belt butcher-knife and gun.

By his hulk, his light blue eyes, albeit a trifle crossed, and the general
lineaments of his stolid, square, high-cheeked countenance I conceived him
to be a second but not improved edition of the Captain.

A true raw-bone he was; and to me, as I casually met his gaze, looked to
be obstinate, secretive and small minded. But who can explain those sudden
antagonisms that spring up on first sight?

"My son Daniel," the Captain introduced. "This stranger travels to Zion
with us, Daniel, in the employ of Mr. Jenks."

The youth had the grip of a vise, and seemed to enjoy emphasizing it while
cunningly watching my face.

"Haowdy?" he drawled. With that he twanged a sentence or two to his
father. "I faound the caow, Dad. Do yu reckon to pull aout to-day?"

"I have not decided. Go tend to your duties, Daniel."

Daniel bestowed upon me a parting stare, and lurched away, snapping the
lash of his goad.

"And with your permission I will tend to mine, sir," I said. "Mr. Jenks
doubtless has work for me. I thank you for your hospitality."

"We are commanded by the prophet to feed the stranger, whether friend or
enemy," he reproved. "We are also commanded by the Lord to earn our bread
by the sweat of our brow. As long as you are no trifler you will be
welcome at my wagon. Good-day to you."

As I passed, the young woman, Rachael--whom I judged to be his daughter,
although she was evidently far removed from parent stock--glanced quickly
up. I caught her gaze full, so that she lowered her eyes with a blush. She
was indeed wholesome if not absolutely pretty. When later I saw her with
her sunbonnet doffed and her brown hair smoothly brushed back I thought
her more wholesome still.

Mr. Jenks received me jovially.

"Got your belly full, have you?"

"I'm a new man," I assured.

"Wall, those Mormons are good providers. They'll share with you whatever
they have, for no pay, but if you rub 'em the wrong way or go to dickerin'
with 'em they're closer'n the hide on a cold mule. You didn't make sheep's
eyes at ary of the women?"

"No, sir. I am done with women."

"And right you are."

"However, I could not help but see that the Captain's daughter is pleasing
to look upon. I should be glad to know her, were there no objections."

"How? His daughter?"

"Miss Rachael, I believe. That is the name he used."

"The young one, you mean?"

"Yes, sir. The one who served me with breakfast. Rosy-cheeked and plump."

"Whoa, man! She's his wife, and not for Gentiles. They're both his wives;
whether he has more in Utah I don't know. But you'd best let her alone.
She's been j'ined to him."

This took me all aback, for I had no other idea than that she was his
daughter, or niece--stood in that kind of relation to him. He was twice
her age, apparently. Now I could only stammer:

"I've no wish to intrude, you may be sure. And Daniel, his son--is he

"That whelp? Met him, did you? No, he ain't married, yet. But he will be,
soon as he takes his pick 'cordin' to law and gospel among them people.
You bet you: he'll be married plenty."

Next: We Get A Super

Previous: I Accept An Offer

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