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The Game And The Nation Act Second








From: The Virginian

"That is the only step I have had to take this whole trip," said the
Virginian. He holstered his pistol with a jerk. "I have been fearing
he would force it on me." And he looked at empty, receding Dakota with
disgust. "So nyeh back home!" he muttered.

"Known your friend long?" whispered Scipio to me.

"Fairly," I answered.

Scipio's bleached eyes brightened with admiration as he considered the
Southerner's back. "Well," he stated judicially, "start awful early when
yu' go to fool with him, or he'll make you feel unpunctual."

"I expaict I've had them almost all of three thousand miles," said the
Virginian, tilting his head toward the noise in the caboose. "And I've
strove to deliver them back as I received them. The whole lot. And I
would have. But he has spoiled my hopes." The deputy foreman looked
again at Dakota. "It's a disappointment," he added. "You may know what I
mean."

I had known a little, but not to the very deep, of the man's pride and
purpose in this trust. Scipio gave him sympathy. "There must be quite a
balance of 'em left with yu' yet," said Scipio, cheeringly.

"I had the boys plumb contented," pursued the deputy foreman, hurt
into open talk of himself. "Away along as far as Saynt Paul I had them
reconciled to my authority. Then this news about gold had to strike us."

"And they're a-dreamin' nuggets and Parisian bowleyvards," suggested
Scipio.

The Virginian smiled gratefully at him.

"Fortune is shinin' bright and blindin' to their delicate young eyes,"
he said, regaining his usual self.

We all listened a moment to the rejoicings within.

"Energetic, ain't they?" said the Southerner. "But none of 'em was
whelped savage enough to sing himself bloodthirsty. And though they're
strainin' mighty earnest not to be tame, they're goin' back to Sunk
Creek with me accordin' to the Judge's awders. Never a calf of them will
desert to Rawhide, for all their dangerousness; nor I ain't goin' to
have any fuss over it. Only one is left now that don't sing. Maybe I
will have to make some arrangements about him. The man I have parted
with," he said, with another glance at Dakota, "was our cook, and I will
ask yu' to replace him, Colonel."

Scipio gaped wide. "Colonel! Say!" He stared at the Virginian. "Did I
meet yu' at the palace?"

"Not exackly meet," replied the Southerner. "I was present one mawnin'
las' month when this gentleman awdehed frawgs' laigs."

"Sakes and saints, but that was a mean position!" burst out Scipio. "I
had to tell all comers anything all day. Stand up and jump language hot
off my brain at 'em. And the pay don't near compensate for the drain on
the system. I don't care how good a man is, you let him keep a-tappin'
his presence of mind right along, without takin' a lay-off, and you'll
have him sick. Yes, sir. You'll hit his nerves. So I told them they
could hire some fresh man, for I was goin' back to punch cattle or fight
Indians, or take a rest somehow, for I didn't propose to get jaded,
and me only twenty-five years old. There ain't no regular Colonel
Cyrus Jones any more, yu' know. He met a Cheyenne telegraph pole in
seventy-four, and was buried. But his palace was doin' big business, and
he had been a kind of attraction, and so they always keep a live bear
outside, and some poor fello', fixed up like the Colonel used to be,
inside. And it's a turruble mean position. Course I'll cook for yu'.
Yu've a dandy memory for faces!"

"I wasn't right convinced till I kicked him off and you gave that shut
to your eyes again," said the Virginian.

Once more the door opened. A man with slim black eyebrows, slim black
mustache, and a black shirt tied with a white handkerchief was looking
steadily from one to the other of us.

"Good day!" he remarked generally and without enthusiasm; and to the
Virginian, "Where's Schoffner?"

"I expaict he'll have got his bottle by now, Trampas."

Trampas looked from one to the other of us again. "Didn't he say he was
coming back?"

"He reminded me he was going for a bottle, and afteh that he didn't wait
to say a thing."

Trampas looked at the platform and the railing and the steps. "He told
me he was coming back," he insisted.

"I don't reckon he has come, not without he clumb up ahaid somewhere.
An' I mus' say, when he got off he didn't look like a man does when he
has the intention o' returnin'."

At this Scipio coughed, and pared his nails attentively. We had already
been avoiding each other's eye. Shorty did not count. Since he got
aboard, his meek seat had been the bottom step.

The thoughts of Trampas seemed to be in difficulty. "How long's this
train been started?" he demanded.

"This hyeh train?" The Virginian consulted his watch. "Why, it's been
fanning it a right smart little while," said he, laying no stress upon
his indolent syllables.

"Huh!" went Trampas. He gave the rest of us a final unlovely scrutiny.
"It seems to have become a passenger train," he said. And he returned
abruptly inside the caboose.

"Is he the member who don't sing?" asked Scipio.

"That's the specimen," replied the Southerner.

"He don't seem musical in the face," said Scipio.

"Pshaw!" returned the Virginian. "Why, you surely ain't the man to mind
ugly mugs when they're hollow!"

The noise inside had dropped quickly to stillness. You could scarcely
catch the sound of talk. Our caboose was clicking comfortably westward,
rail after rail, mile upon mile, while night was beginning to rise from
earth into the clouded sky.

"I wonder if they have sent a search party forward to hunt Schoffner?"
said the Virginian. "I think I'll maybe join their meeting." He opened
the door upon them. "Kind o' dark hyeh, ain't it?" said he. And lighting
the lantern, he shut us out.

"What do yu' think?" said Scipio to me. "Will he take them to Sunk
Creek?"

"He evidently thinks he will," said I. "He says he will, and he has the
courage of his convictions."

"That ain't near enough courage to have!" Scipio exclaimed.
"There's times in life when a man has got to have courage WITHOUT
convictions--WITHOUT them--or he is no good. Now your friend is that
deep constitooted that you don't know and I don't know what he's
thinkin' about all this."

"If there's to be any gun-play," put in the excellent Shorty, "I'll
stand in with him."

"Ah, go to bed with your gun-play!" retorted Scipio, entirely
good-humored. "Is the Judge paying for a carload of dead punchers to
gather his beef for him? And this ain't a proposition worth a man's
gettin' hurt for himself, anyway."

"That's so," Shorty assented.

"No," speculated Scipio, as the night drew deeper round us and the
caboose click-clucked and click-clucked over the rail joints; "he's
waitin' for somebody else to open this pot. I'll bet he don't know but
one thing now, and that's that nobody else shall know he don't know
anything."

Scipio had delivered himself. He lighted a cigarette, and no more wisdom
came from him. The night was established. The rolling bad-lands sank
away in it. A train-hand had arrived over the roof, and hanging the red
lights out behind, left us again without remark or symptom of curiosity.
The train-hands seemed interested in their own society and lived in
their own caboose. A chill wind with wet in it came blowing from the
invisible draws, and brought the feel of the distant mountains.

"That's Montana!" said Scipio, snuffing. "I am glad to have it inside my
lungs again."

"Ain't yu' getting cool out there?" said the Virginian's voice. "Plenty
room inside."

Perhaps he had expected us to follow him; or perhaps he had meant us
to delay long enough not to seem like a reenforcement. "These gentlemen
missed the express at Medora," he observed to his men, simply.

What they took us for upon our entrance I cannot say, or what they
believed. The atmosphere of the caboose was charged with voiceless
currents of thought. By way of a friendly beginning to the three hundred
miles of caboose we were now to share so intimately, I recalled myself
to them. I trusted no more of the Christian Endeavor had delayed them.
"I am so lucky to have caught you again," I finished. "I was afraid my
last chance of reaching the Judge's had gone."

Thus I said a number of things designed to be agreeable, but they met my
small talk with the smallest talk you can have. "Yes," for instance, and
"Pretty well, I guess," and grave strikings of matches and thoughtful
looks at the floor. I suppose we had made twenty miles to the
imperturbable clicking of the caboose when one at length asked his
neighbor had he ever seen New York.

"No," said the other. "Flooded with dudes, ain't it?"

"Swimmin'," said the first.

"Leakin', too," said a third.

"Well, my gracious!" said a fourth, and beat his knee in private
delight. None of them ever looked at me. For some reason I felt
exceedingly ill at ease.

"Good clothes in New York," said the third.

"Rich food," said the first.

"Fresh eggs, too," said the third.

"Well, my gracious!" said the fourth, beating his knee.

"Why, yes," observed the Virginian, unexpectedly; "they tell me that
aiggs there ain't liable to be so rotten as yu'll strike 'em in this
country."

None of them had a reply for this, and New York was abandoned. For some
reason I felt much better.

It was a new line they adopted next, led off by Trampas.

"Going to the excitement?" he inquired, selecting Shorty.

"Excitement?" said Shorty, looking up.

"Going to Rawhide?" Trampas repeated. And all watched Shorty.

"Why, I'm all adrift missin' that express," said Shorty.

"Maybe I can give you employment," suggested the Virginian. "I am taking
an outfit across the basin."

"You'll find most folks going to Rawhide, if you re looking for
company," pursued Trampas, fishing for a recruit.

"How about Rawhide, anyway?" said Scipio, skillfully deflecting this
missionary work. "Are they taking much mineral out? Have yu' seen any of
the rock?"

"Rock?" broke in the enthusiast who had beaten his knee. "There!" And he
brought some from his pocket.

"You're always showing your rock," said Trampas, sulkily; for Scipio now
held the conversation, and Shorty returned safely to his dozing.

"H'm!" went Scipio at the rock. He turned it back and forth in his hand,
looking it over; he chucked and caught it slightingly in the air, and
handed it back. "Porphyry, I see." That was his only word about it. He
said it cheerily. He left no room for discussion. You could not damn
a thing worse. "Ever been in Santa Rita?" pursued Scipio, while the
enthusiast slowly pushed his rock back into his pocket. "That's down in
New Mexico. Ever been to Globe, Arizona?" And Scipio talked away about
the mines he had known. There was no getting at Shorty any more that
evening. Trampas was foiled of his fish, or of learning how the fish's
heart lay. And by morning Shorty had been carefully instructed to change
his mind about once an hour. This is apt to discourage all but very
superior missionaries. And I too escaped for the rest of this night. At
Glendive we had a dim supper, and I bought some blankets; and after that
it was late, and sleep occupied the attention of us all.

We lay along the shelves of the caboose, a peaceful sight I should
think, in that smoothly trundling cradle. I slept almost immediately, so
tired that not even our stops or anything else waked me, save once, when
the air I was breathing grew suddenly pure, and I roused. Sitting in
the door was the lonely figure of the Virginian. He leaned in silent
contemplation of the occasional moon, and beneath it the Yellowstone's
swift ripples. On the caboose shelves the others slept sound and still,
each stretched or coiled as he had first put himself. They were not
untrustworthy to look at, it seemed to me--except Trampas. You would
have said the rest of that young humanity was average rough male blood,
merely needing to be told the proper things at the right time; and one
big bunchy stocking of the enthusiast stuck out of his blanket, solemn
and innocent, and I laughed at it. There was a light sound by the door,
and I found the Virginian's eye on me. Finding who it was, he nodded
and motioned with his hand to go to sleep. And this I did with him in
my sight, still leaning in the open door, through which came the
interrupted moon and the swimming reaches of the Yellowstone.





Next: The Game And The Nation Last Act

Previous: Between The Acts



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