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I Rise In Favor

From: Desert Dust

With that he went forward. So did I; but the barricade at the end of My
Lady's seat was intact, and I sat down in my own seat, to keep expectant
eye upon her profile--a decided relief amidst that crude melange of people
in various stages of hasty dressing after a night of cramped postures.

The brakeman's words, although mysterious in part, had concluded
reassuringly. My Lady, he said, would prove a valuable friend in Benton. A
friend at hand means a great deal to any young man, stranger in a strange

The conductor came back--a new conductor; stooped familiarly over the
barricade and evidently exchanged pleasantries with her.

"Sidney! Sidney! Twenty minutes for breakfast!" the brakeman bawled, from
the door.

There was the general stir. My Lady shot a glance at me, with inviting
eyes, but arose in response to the proffered arm of the conductor, and I
was late. The aisle filled between us as he ushered her on and the train
slowed to grinding of brakes and the tremendous clanging of a gong.

Of Sidney there was little to see: merely a station-house and the small
Railroad Hotel, with a handful of other buildings forming a single
street--all squatting here near a rock quarry that broke the expanse of
uninhabited brown plains. The air, however, was wonderfully invigorating;
the meal excellent, as usual; and when I emerged from the dining-room,
following closely a black figure crowned with gold, I found her strolling
alone upon the platform.

Therefore I caught up with her. She faced me with ready smile.

"You are rather slow in action, sir," she lightly accused. "We might have
breakfasted together; but it was the conductor again, after all."

"I plead guilty, madam," I admitted. "The trainmen have an advantage over
me, in anticipating events. But the next meal shall be my privilege. We
stop again before reaching Benton?"

"For dinner, yes; at Cheyenne."

"And after that you will be home."

"Home?" she queried, with a little pucker between her brows.

"Yes. At Benton."

"Of course." She laughed shortly. "Benton is now home. We have moved so
frequently that I have grown to call almost no place home."

"I judge then that you are connected, as may happen, with a flexible
business," I hazarded. "If you are in the army I can understand."

"No, I'm not an army woman; but there is money in following the railroad,
and that is our present life," she said frankly. "A town springs up, you
know, at each terminus, booms as long as the freight and passengers pile
up--and all of a sudden the go-ahead business and professional men pull
stakes for the next terminus as soon as located. That has been the custom,
all the way from North Platte to Benton."

"Which accounts for your acquaintance along the line. The trainmen seem to
know you."

"Trainmen and others; oh, yes. It is to be expected. I have no objections
to that. I am quite able to take care of myself, sir."

We were interrupted. A near-drunken rowdy (upon whom I had kept an uneasy
corner of an eye) had been careening over the platform, a whiskey bottle
protruding from the hip pocket of his sagging jeans, a large revolver
dangling at his thigh, his slouch hat cocked rakishly upon his tousled
head. His language was extremely offensive--he had an ugly mood on, but
nobody interfered. The crowd stood aside--the natives laughing, the
tourists like myself viewing him askance, and several Indians watching
only gravely.

He sighted us, and staggered in.

"Howdy?" he uttered, with an oath. "Shay--hello, stranger. Have a smile.
Take two, one for lady. Hic!" And he thrust his bottle at me.

My Lady drew back. I civilly declined the "smile."

"Thank you. I do not drink."

"What?" He stared blearily. His tone stiffened. "The hell you say. Too
tony, eh? Too--'ic! Have a smile, I ask you, one gent to 'nother. Have a
smile, you (unmentionable) pilgrim; fer if you don't----"

"Train's starting, Jim," she interposed sharply. "If you want to get
aboard you'd better hurry."

The engine tooted, the bell was ringing, the passengers were hurrying,
incited by the conductor's shout: "All 'board!"

Without another word she tripped for the car steps. I gave the fellow one
firm look as he stood stupidly scratching his thatch as if to harrow his
ideas; and perforce left him. By the cheers he undoubtedly made in the
same direction. I was barely in time myself. The train moved as I planted
foot upon the steps of the nearest car--the foremost of the two. The train
continued; halted again abruptly, while cheers rang riotous; and when I
crossed the passageway between this car and ours the conductor and
brakeman were hauling the tipsy Jim into safety.

My Lady was ensconced.

"Did they get him?" she inquired, when I paused.

"By the scruff of the neck. The drunken fellow, you mean."

"Yes; Jim."

"You know him?"

"He's from Benton. I suppose he's been down here on a little pasear, as
they say."

"If you think he'll annoy you----?" I made bold to suggest, for I greatly
coveted the half of her seat.

"Oh, I'm not afraid of Jim. But yes, do sit down. You can put these things
back in your seat. Then we can talk."

I had no more than settled triumphantly, when the brakeman ambled through,
his face in a broad grin. He also paused, to perch upon the seat end, his
arm extended friendlily along the back.

"Well, we got him corralled," he proclaimed needlessly. "That t'rantular
juice nigh broke his neck for him."

"Did you take his bottle away, Jerry?" she asked.

"Sure thing. He'll be peaceable directly. Soused to the guards. Reckon
he's inclined to be a trifle ugly when he's on a tear, ain't he? They'd
shipped him out of Benton on a down train. Now he's going back up."

"He's safe, you think?"

"Sewed tight. He'll sleep it off and be ready for night." The brakeman
winked at her. "You needn't fear. He'll be on deck, right side up with

"I've told this gentleman that I'm not afraid," she answered quickly.

"Of course. And he knows what's best for him, himself." The brakeman
slapped me on the shoulder and good-naturedly straightened. "So does this
young gentleman, I rather suspicion. I can see his fortune's made. You
bet, if he works it right. I told him if you cottoned to him----"

"Now you're talking too much, Jerry," she reproved. "The gentleman and I
are only traveling acquaintances."

"Yes, ma'am. To Benton. Let 'er roar. Cheyenne's the closest I can get,
myself, and Cheyenne's a dead one--blowed up, busted worse'n a galvanized
Yank with a pocket full o' Confed wall-paper." He yawned. "Guess I'll take
forty winks. Was up all night, and a man can stand jest so much, Injuns or
no Injuns."

"Did you expect to meet with Indians, sir, along the route?" I asked.

"Hell, yes. Always expect to meet 'em between Kearney and Julesburg. It's
about time they were wrecking another train. Well, so long. Be good to
each other." With this parting piece of impertinence he stumped out.

"A friendly individual, evidently," I hazarded, to tide her over her
possible embarrassment.

Her laugh assured me that she was not embarrassed at all, which proved her
good sense and elevated her even farther in my esteem.

"Oh, Jerry's all right. I don't mind Jerry, except that his tongue is
hung in the middle. He probably has been telling you some tall yarns?"

"He? No, I don't think so. He may have tried it, but his Western
expressions are beyond me as yet. In fact, what he was driving at on the
rear platform I haven't the slightest idea."

"Driving at? In what way, sir?"

"He referred to the green in his eye and in the moon, as I recall; and to
a mysterious 'system'; and gratuitously offered me a 'steer.'"

Her face hardened remarkably, so that her chin set as if tautened by iron
bands. Those eyes glinted with real menace.

"He did, did he? Along that line of talk! The clapper-jaw! He's altogether
too free." She surveyed me keenly. "And naturally you couldn't understand
such lingo."

"I was not curious enough to try, my dear madam. He talked rather at
random; likely enjoyed bantering me. But," I hastily placated in his
behalf, "he recommended Benton as a lively place, and you as a friend of
value in case that you honored me with your patronage."

"My patronage, for you?" she exclaimed. "Indeed? To what extent? Are you
going into business, too? As one of--us?"

"If I should become a Bentonite, as I hope," I gallantly replied, "then of
course I should look to permanent investment of some nature. And before my
traveling funds run out I shall be glad of light employment. The brakeman
gave me to understand merely that by your kindly interest you might be
disposed to assist me."

"Oh!" Her face lightened. "I dare say Jerry means well. But when you spoke
of 'patronage'---- That is a current term of certain import along the
railroad." She leaned to me; a glow emanated from her. "Tell me of
yourself. You have red blood? Do you ever game? For if you are not afraid
to test your luck and back it, there is money to be made very easily at
Benton, and in a genteel way." She smiled bewitchingly. "Or are you a
Quaker, to whom life is deadly serious?"

"No Quaker, madam." How could I respond otherwise to that pair of dancing
blue eyes, to that pair of derisive lips? "As for gaming--if you mean
cards, why, I have played at piquet and romp, in a social way, for small
stakes; and my father brought Old Sledge back from the army, to the family

"You are lucky. I can see it," she alleged.

"I am, on this journey," I asserted.

She blushed.

"Well said, sir. And if you choose to make use of your luck, in Benton, by
all means----"

Whether she would have shaped her import clearly I did not know. There was
a commotion in the forward part of the car. That same drunken wretch Jim
had appeared; his bottle (somehow restored to him) in hand, his hat
pushed back from his flushed greasy forehead.

"Have a smile, ladies an' gents," he was bellowing thickly. "Hooray! Have
a smile on me. Great an' gloryus 'casion--'ic! Ever'body smile. Drink to
op'nin' gloryus Pac'fic--'ic--Railway. Thash it. Hooray!" Thus he came
reeling down the aisle, thrusting his bottle right and left, to be denied
with shrinkings or with bluff excuses.

It seemed inevitable that he should reach us. I heard My Lady utter a
little gasp, as she sat more erect; and here he was, espying us readily
enough with that uncanny precision of a drunken man, his bottle to the

"Have a smile, you two. Wouldn't smile at station; gotto smile now. Yep.
'Ic! 'Ray for Benton! All goin' to Benton. Lesh be good fellers."

"You go back to your seat, Jim," she ordered tensely. "Go back, if you
know what's good for you."

"Whash that? Who your dog last year? Shay! You can't come no highty-tighty
over me. Who your new friend? Shay!" He reeled and gripped the seat,
flooding me with his vile breath. "By Gawd, I got the dead-wood on you,
you----!" and he had loosed such a torrent of low epithets that they are

"For that I'd kill you in any other place, Jim," she said. "You know I'm
not afraid of you. Now get, you wolf!" Her voice snapped like a whip-lash
at the close; she had made sudden movement of hand--it was extended and I
saw almost under my nose the smallest pistol imaginable; nickeled, of two
barrels, and not above three inches long; projecting from her palm, the
twin hammers cocked; and it was as steady as a die.

Assuredly My Lady did know how to take care of herself. Still, that was
not necessary now.

"No!" I warned. "No matter. I'll tend to him."

The fellow's face had convulsed with a snarl of redder rage, his mouth
opened as if for fresh abuse--and half rising I landed upon it with my

"Go where you belong, you drunken whelp!"

I had struck and spoken at the same time, with a rush of wrath that
surprised me; and the result surprised me more, for while I was not
conscious of having exerted much force he toppled backward clear across
the aisle, crashed down in a heap under the opposite seat. His bottle
shattered against the ceiling. The whiskey spattered in a sickening shower
over the alarmed passengers.

"Look out! Look out!" she cried, starting quickly. Up he scrambled,
cursing, and wrenching at his revolver. I sprang to smother him, but there
was a flurry, a chorus of shouts, men leaped between us, the brakeman and
conductor both had arrived, in a jiffy he was being hustled forward,
swearing and blubbering. And I sank back, breathless, a degree ashamed, a
degree rather satisfied with my action and my barked knuckles.

Congratulations echoed dully.

"The right spirit!"

"That'll l'arn him to insult a lady."

"You sartinly rattled him up, stranger. Squar' on the twitter!"

"Shake, Mister."

"For a pilgrim you're consider'ble of a hoss."

"If he'd drawn you'd have give him a pill, I reckon, lady. I know yore
kind. But he won't bother you ag'in; not he."

"Oh, what a terrible scene!"

To all this I paid scant attention. I heard her, as she sat composedly,
scarcely panting. The little pistol had disappeared.

"The play has been made, ladies and gentlemen," she said. And to me:
"Thank you. Yes," she continued, with a flash of lucent eyes and a
dimpling smile, "Jim has lost his whiskey and has a chance to sober up.
He'll have forgotten all about this before we reach Benton. But I thank
you for your promptness."

"I didn't want you to shoot him," I stammered. "I was quite able to tend
to him myself. Your pistol is loaded?"

"To be sure it is." And she laughed gaily. Her lips tightened, her eyes
darkened. "And I'd kill him like a dog if he presumed farther. In this
country we women protect ourselves from insult. I always carry my
derringer, sir."

The brakeman returned with a broom, to sweep up the chips of broken
bottle. He grinned at us.

"There's no wind in him now," he communicated. "Peaceful as a baby. We
took his gun off him. I'll pass the word ahead to keep him safe, on from

"Please do, Jerry," she bade. "I'd prefer to have no more trouble with
him, for he might not come out so easily next time. He knows that."

"Surely ought to, by golly," the brakeman agreed roundly. "And he ought to
know you go heeled. But that there tanglefoot went to his head. Looks now
as if he'd been kicked in the face by a mule. Haw haw! No offense, friend.
You got me plumb buffaloed with that fivespot o' yourn." And finishing his
job he retired with dust-pan and broom.

"You're going to do well in Benton," she said suddenly, to me, with a nod.
"I regret this scene--I couldn't help it, though, of course. When Jim's
sober he has sense, and never tries to be familiar."

She was amazingly cool under the epithets that he had applied. I admired
her for that as she gazed at me pleadingly.

"A drunken man is not responsible for words or actions, although he should
be made so," I consoled her. "Possibly I should not have struck him. In
the Far West you may be more accustomed to these episodes than we are in
the East."

"I don't know. There is a limit. You did right. I thank you heartily.
Still"--and she mused--"you can't always depend on your fists alone. You
carry no weapon, neither knife nor gun?"

"I never have needed either," said I. "My teaching has been that a man
should be able to rely upon his fists."

"Then you'd better get 'heeled,' as we say, when you reach Benton. Fists
are a short-range weapon. The men generally wear a gun somewhere. It is
the custom."

"And the women, too, if I may judge," I smiled.

"Some of us. Yes," she repeated, "you're likely to do well, out here, if
you'll permit me to advise you a little."

"Under your tutelage I am sure I shall do well," I accepted. "I may call
upon you in Benton? If you will favor me with your address----?"

"My address?" She searched my face in manner startled. "You'll have no
difficulty finding me; not in Benton. But I'll make an appointment with
you in event"--and she smiled archly--"you are not afraid of strange

"I have been taught to respect women, madam," said I. "And my respect is
being strengthened."

"Oh!" I seemed to have pleased her. "You have been carefully brought up,

"To fear God, respect woman, and act the man as long as I breathe," I
asserted. "My mother is a saint, my father a nobleman, and what I may have
learned from them is to their credit."

"That may go excellently in the East," she answered. "But we in the West
favor the Persian maxim--to ride, to shoot, and to tell the truth. With
those three qualities even a tenderfoot can establish himself."

"Whether I can ride and shoot sufficient for the purpose, time will show,"
I retorted. "At least," and I endeavored to speak with proper emphasis,
"you hear the truth when I say that I anticipate much pleasure as well as
renewed health, in Benton."

"Were we by ourselves we would seal the future in another 'smile'
together," she slyly promised. "Unless that might shock you."

"I am ready to fall in with the customs of the country," I assured. "I
certainly am not averse to smiles, when fittingly proffered."

So we exchanged fancies while the train rolled over a track remarkable for
its smoothness and leading ever onward across the vast, empty plains bare
save for the low shrubs called sage-brush, and rising here and there into
long swells and abrupt sandstone pinnacles.

We stopped near noon at the town of Cheyenne, in Wyoming Territory.
Cheyenne, once boasting the title (I was told) "The Magic City of the
Plains," was located upon a dreary flatness, although from it one might
see, far southwest, the actual Rocky Mountains in Colorado Territory,
looking, at this distance of one hundred miles, like low dark clouds. The
up grade in the west promised that we should soon cross over their
northern flanks, of the Black Hills.

Last winter, Cheyenne, I was given to understand, had ten thousand
inhabitants; but the majority had followed the railroad west, so that now
there remained only some fifteen hundred. After dinner we, too, went

We overcame the Black Hills Mountains about two o'clock, having climbed to
the top with considerable puffing of the engine but otherwise almost
imperceptibly to the passengers. When we were halted, upon the crown, at
Sherman Station, to permit us to alight and see for ourselves, I scarcely
might believe that we were more than eight thousand feet in air. There was
nothing to indicate, except some little difficulty of breath; not so much
as I had feared when in Cheyenne, whose six thousand feet gave me a
slightly giddy sensation.

My Lady moved freely, being accustomed to the rarity; and she assured me
that although Benton was seven thousand feet I would soon grow wonted to
the atmosphere. The habitues of this country made light of the spot; the
strangers on tour picked flowers and gathered rocks as mementoes of the
"Crest of the Continent"--which was not a crest but rather a level
plateau, wind-swept and chilly while sunny. Then from this Sherman Summit
of the Black Hills of Wyoming the train swept down by its own momentum
from gravity, for the farther side.

The fellow Jim had not emerged, as yet, much to my relief. The scenery was
increasing in grandeur and interest, and the play of my charming companion
would have transformed the most prosaic of journeys into a trip through

I hardly noted the town named Laramie City, at the western base of the
Black Hills; and was indeed annoyed by the vendors hawking what they
termed "mountain gems" through the train. Laramie, according to My Lady,
also once had been, as she styled it, "a live town," but had deceased in
favor of Benton. From Laramie we whirled northwest, through a broad valley
enlivened by countless antelope scouring over the grasses; thence we
issued into a wilder, rougher country, skirting more mountains very gloomy
in aspect.

However, of the panorama outside I took but casual glances; the phenomenon
of blue and gold so close at hand was all engrossing, and my heart beat
high with youth and romance. Our passage was astonishingly short, but the
sun was near to setting beyond distant peaks when by the landmarks that
she knew we were approaching Benton at last.

We crossed a river--the Platte, again, even away in here; briefly paused
at a military post, and entered upon a stretch of sun-baked,
reddish-white, dusty desert utterly devoid of vegetation.

There was a significant bustle in the car, among the travel-worn
occupants. The air was choking with the dust swirled through every crevice
by the stir of the wheels--already mobile as it was from the efforts of
the teams that we passed, of six and eight horses tugging heavy wagons.
Plainly we were within striking distance of some focus of human energies.

"Benton! Benton in five minutes. End o' track," the brakeman shouted.

"My valise, please."

I brought it. The conductor, who like the other officials knew My Lady,
pushed through to us and laid hand upon it.

"I'll see you out," he announced. "Come ahead."

"Pardon. That shall be my privilege," I interposed. But she quickly

"No, please. The conductor is an old friend. I shall need no other
help--I'm perfectly at home. You can look out for yourself."

"But I shall see you again--and where? I don't know your address; fact is,
I'm even ignorant of your name," I pleaded desperately.

"How stupid of me." And she spoke fast and low, over her shoulder.
"To-night, then, at the Big Tent. Remember."

I pressed after.

"The Big Tent! Shall I inquire there? And for whom?"

"You'll not fail to see me. Everybody knows the Big Tent, everybody goes
there. So au revoir."

She was swallowed in the wake of the conductor, and I fain must gather my
own belongings before following. The Big Tent, she said? I had not
misunderstood; and I puzzled over the address, which impinged as rather
bizarre, whether in West or East.

We stopped with a jerk, amidst a babel of cries.

"Benton! All out!" Out we stumbled. Here I was, at rainbow's end.

Next: I Meet Friends

Previous: To Better Acquaintance

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