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Scipio Moralizes

From: The Virginian

Into what mood was it that the Virginian now fell? Being less busy,
did he begin to "grieve" about the girl on Bear Creek? I only know
that after talking so lengthily he fell into a nine days' silence. The
talking part of him deeply and unbrokenly slept.

Official words of course came from him as we rode southward from the
railroad, gathering the Judge's stray cattle. During the many weeks
since the spring round-up, some of these animals had as usual got
very far off their range, and getting them on again became the present
business of our party.

Directions and commands--whatever communications to his subordinates
were needful to the forwarding of this--he duly gave. But routine has
never at any time of the world passed for conversation. His utterances,
such as, "We'll work Willo' Creek to-morro' mawnin'," or, "I want the
wagon to be at the fawks o' Stinkin' Water by Thursday," though on some
occasions numerous enough to sound like discourse, never once broke the
man's true silence. Seeming to keep easy company with the camp, he yet
kept altogether to himself. That talking part of him--the mood which
brings out for you your friend's spirit and mind as a free gift or as an
exchange--was down in some dark cave of his nature, hidden away. Perhaps
it had been dreaming; perhaps completely reposing. The Virginian was one
of those rare ones who are able to refresh themselves in sections. To
have a thing on his mind did not keep his body from resting. During our
recent journey--it felt years ago now!--while our caboose on the freight
train had trundled endlessly westward, and the men were on the ragged
edge, the very jumping-off place, of mutiny and possible murder, I had
seen him sleep like a child. He snatched the moments not necessary for
vigil. I had also seen him sit all night watching his responsibility,
ready to spring on it and fasten his teeth in it. And now that he had
confounded them with their own attempted weapon of ridicule, his powers
seemed to be profoundly dormant. That final pitched battle of wits had
made the men his captives and admirers--all save Trampas. And of him the
Virginian did not seem to be aware.

But Scipio le Moyne would say to me now and then, "If I was Trampas, I'd
pull my freight." And once he added, "Pull it kind of casual, yu' know,
like I wasn't noticing myself do it."

"Yes," our friend Shorty murmured pregnantly, with his eye upon the
quiet Virginian, "he's sure studying his revenge."

"Studying your pussy-cat," said Scipio. "He knows what he'll do. The
time 'ain't arrived." This was the way they felt about it; and not
unnaturally this was the way they made me, the inexperienced Easterner,
feel about it. That Trampas also felt something about it was easy
to know. Like the leaven which leavens the whole lump, one spot of
sulkiness in camp will spread its dull flavor through any company that
sits near it; and we had to sit near Trampas at meals for nine days.

His sullenness was not wonderful. To feel himself forsaken by his recent
adherents, to see them gone over to his enemy, could not have made
his reflections pleasant. Why he did not take himself off to other
climes--"pull his freight casual," as Scipio said--I can explain only
thus: pay was due him--"time," as it was called in cow-land; if he would
have this money, he must stay under the Virginian's command until the
Judge's ranch on Sunk Creek should be reached; meanwhile, each day's
work added to the wages in store for him; and finally, once at Sunk
Creek, it would be no more the Virginian who commanded him; it would be
the real ranch foreman. At the ranch he would be the Virginian's equal
again, both of them taking orders from their officially recognized
superior, this foreman. Shorty's word about "revenge" seemed to me
like putting the thing backwards. Revenge, as I told Scipio, was what I
should be thinking about if I were Trampas.

"He dassent," was Scipio's immediate view. "Not till he's got strong
again. He got laughed plumb sick by the bystanders, and whatever spirit
he had was broke in the presence of us all. He'll have to recuperate."
Scipio then spoke of the Virginian's attitude. "Maybe revenge ain't just
the right word for where this affair has got to now with him. When yu'
beat another man at his own game like he done to Trampas, why, yu've had
all the revenge yu' can want, unless you're a hog. And he's no hog. But
he has got it in for Trampas. They've not reckoned to a finish. Would
you let a man try such spite-work on you and quit thinkin' about him
just because yu'd headed him off?" To this I offered his own notion
about hogs and being satisfied. "Hogs!" went on Scipio, in a way that
dashed my suggestion to pieces; "hogs ain't in the case. He's got to
deal with Trampas somehow--man to man. Trampas and him can't stay this
way when they get back and go workin' same as they worked before. No,
sir; I've seen his eye twice, and I know he's goin' to reckon to a

I still must, in Scipio's opinion, have been slow to understand, when on
the afternoon following this talk I invited him to tell me what sort
of "finish" he wanted, after such a finishing as had been dealt Trampas
already. Getting "laughed plumb sick by the bystanders" (I borrowed his
own not overstated expression) seemed to me a highly final finishing.
While I was running my notions off to him, Scipio rose, and, with the
frying-pan he had been washing, walked slowly at me.

"I do believe you'd oughtn't to be let travel alone the way you do."
He put his face close to mine. His long nose grew eloquent in its
shrewdness, while the fire in his bleached blue eye burned with amiable
satire. "What has come and gone between them two has only settled the
one point he was aimin' to make. He was appointed boss of this outfit in
the absence of the regular foreman. Since then all he has been playin'
for is to hand back his men to the ranch in as good shape as they'd been
handed to him, and without losing any on the road through desertion or
shooting or what not. He had to kick his cook off the train that day,
and the loss made him sorrowful, I could see. But I'd happened to come
along, and he jumped me into the vacancy, and I expect he is pretty near
consoled. And as boss of the outfit he beat Trampas, who was settin' up
for opposition boss. And the outfit is better than satisfied it come out
that way, and they're stayin' with him; and he'll hand them all back in
good condition, barrin' that lost cook. So for the present his point is
made, yu' see. But look ahead a little. It may not be so very far ahead
yu'll have to look. We get back to the ranch. He's not boss there any
more. His responsibility is over. He is just one of us again, taking
orders from a foreman they tell me has showed partiality to Trampas
more'n a few times. Partiality! That's what Trampas is plainly trusting
to. Trusting it will fix him all right and fix his enemy all wrong.
He'd not otherwise dare to keep sour like he's doing. Partiality! D' yu'
think it'll scare off the enemy?" Scipio looked across a little creek
to where the Virginian was helping throw the gathered cattle on the
bedground. "What odds"--he pointed the frying-pan at the Southerner--"d'
yu' figure Trampas's being under any foreman's wing will make to a man
like him? He's going to remember Mr. Trampas and his spite-work if he's
got to tear him out from under the wing, and maybe tear off the wing in
the operation. And I am goin' to advise your folks," ended the complete
Scipio, "not to leave you travel so much alone--not till you've learned
more life."

He had made me feel my inexperience, convinced me of innocence,
undoubtedly; and during the final days of our journey I no longer
invoked his aid to my reflections upon this especial topic: What would
the Virginian do to Trampas? Would it be another intellectual crushing
of him, like the frog story, or would there be something this time more
material--say muscle, or possibly gunpowder--in it? And was Scipio,
after all, infallible? I didn't pretend to understand the Virginian;
after several years' knowledge of him he remained utterly beyond me.
Scipio's experience was not yet three weeks long. So I let him alone as
to all this, discussing with him most other things good and evil in
the world, and being convinced of much further innocence; for Scipio's
twenty odd years were indeed a library of life. I have never met a
better heart, a shrewder wit, and looser morals, with yet a native sense
of decency and duty somewhere hard and fast enshrined.

But all the while I was wondering about the Virginian: eating with him,
sleeping with him (only not so sound as he did), and riding beside him
often for many hours.

Experiments in conversation I did make--and failed. One day particularly
while, after a sudden storm of hail had chilled the earth numb and white
like winter in fifteen minutes, we sat drying and warming ourselves by
a fire that we built, I touched upon that theme of equality on which I
knew him to hold opinions as strong as mine. "Oh," he would reply, and
"Cert'nly"; and when I asked him what it was in a man that made him a
leader of men, he shook his head and puffed his pipe. So then, noticing
how the sun had brought the earth in half an hour back from winter to
summer again, I spoke of our American climate.

It was a potent drug, I said, for millions to be swallowing every day.

"Yes," said he, wiping the damp from his Winchester rifle.

Our American climate, I said, had worked remarkable changes, at least.

"Yes," he said; and did not ask what they were.

So I had to tell him. "It has made successful politicians of the Irish.
That's one. And it has given our whole race the habit of poker."

Bang went his Winchester. The bullet struck close to my left. I sat up

"That's the first foolish thing I ever saw you do!" I said.

"Yes," he drawled slowly, "I'd ought to have done it sooner. He was
pretty near lively again." And then he picked up a rattlesnake six feet
behind me. It had been numbed by the hail, part revived by the sun, and
he had shot its head off.

Next: Would You Be A Parson?

Previous: The Game And The Nation Last Act

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