The Sheep Herder's Cabin
From: Dorothy On A Ranch
When, in the delirium of fever, Jim Barlow strayed from his room at San
Leon, the one idea in his mind was that the mountains called him. One
distant peak, in especial, seemed imbued with life, using human speech
and gesture--warning him to come, and come at once, lest some terrible
thing befall him. He must obey! He must--he must!
He set off at a run, his bare feet unconsciously seeking the smooth
driveway of the home-piece, and following it at breakneck speed till it
ended in the road below the mesa. There the rougher going hindered him
somewhat, but not greatly, and he kept to the highway till it reached a
river and a bridge.
Beyond the bridge the road divided into three forks, the northern one
ascending steadily toward the peak to which his fancy still fixed itself
and he struck off upon this. How long he travelled he did not know,
though his unnatural strength due to his fever must have lasted for
hours. Gradually, that fierce, inward excitement that drove him on gave
place to a sudden weariness, and he dropped like a stone on the spot
where it overcame him.
As the morning rose, clear and bright, a company of horsemen, riding in
single file toward a distant pass, came upon a prostrate, nearly naked
figure lying in their path. The horsemen were Ute Indians, and like many
of their white brothers, were prospecting for gold. All sorts of
precious metals were to be found in these Rocky mountains, and were
their own rightful inheritance. They were peaceably inclined to share
and share alike with the pale faces. For years there had been friendship
between them and the red men had learned many things from the white. Not
the least had been this craving for gold; and where once they would have
toiled only in the chase, to shoot and kill the game with which the
mountains abounded, they now longed for the glittering stones hidden
But they were in no haste. The gold was hidden--it would keep, and they
had ridden all night long. So, at sight of poor Jim, lying motionless,
they dismounted and discussed him.
"He is dead," said the foremost, in his own tongue which, of course, the
lad would not have understood, even if he had heard.
Another stooped down and turned the boy's face upward. It was scratched
with the underbrush through which he had made his way and the light
garments he wore were in shreds. His feet were swollen and bruised and
the bandages had been torn from his arm.
"Not dead. Might as well be. Heap bad," said another Indian, gravely
shaking his head.
There were four in the party and one of them filled a cup at a nearby
spring and dashed the water over the lad's face. His fit of exhaustion
was about over, anyway, and the shock of the ice-cold water revived him,
so that he opened his eyes and looked into the dark face bent above him.
But there was no intelligence in this look and presently his lids
drooped and he was once more oblivious to all about him.
The Indians held a consultation. Three were for going on, after they had
breakfasted, and leaving the vagrant to his fate. One was for giving
help and, being the leader of the party as well as a red-skinned "Good
Samaritan," his counsel prevailed.
When they resumed the trail, Jim Barlow was carried with them, very much
like a sack of meal across a saddle bow. But carried--not left to die.
When he again opened his eyes, and this time with consciousness in them,
he was in a small shanty, rude in the extreme; and his bed a pile of
hemlock boughs spread with a woollen blanket. He lay for some time
trying to think where he was and what had happened to him, and idly
watching the bent figure of a man sitting just outside the doorway of
the hut. The man was smoking and a little boy was playing in the sand at
Jim couldn't see anything interesting in these two strangers nor in the
cabin itself and, with a feeling of great weakness, closed his eyes once
more, and for many hours of sound, refreshing sleep. When for the third
time he awoke his senses had returned and only the weakness remained. He
tried to speak and after several efforts succeeded in asking, audibly:
"Where am I?"
At sound of his voice the man outside rose and came to the boy, nodding
his head in satisfaction but in silence.
"Where--am--I?" asked Jim, again.
The man shook his head. By his appearance he was Mexican, but he wore an
Indian costume of buckskin, once gaily decorated and fringed but now
worn and very dirty. His straight black hair hung low over his forehead
and his hands looked as if they had never seen water. His face was not
ugly, neither was it kind; and he seemed more stolid than stupid.
"Where--am--I? Who are you?" again demanded Jim, trying to get up, but
instantly sinking back from utter weakness.
There was no answer; but, after a long contemplation of his guest, the
Mexican crossed to a little stove, wherein a few sticks were burning.
From a rusty coffee pot which stood upon it, he poured some liquid into
a tin cup and brought it to the lad.
Jim tried to sit up and take the cup into his own hand but he could not;
so, with unexpected gentleness, the man slipped his arm under his
patient's shoulders and raised him to a half-sitting posture. Then he
held the cup to Jim's lips, who drank eagerly, the muddy coffee seeming
like nectar to his dry, parched throat.
The drink refreshed him but he was still too weak to rise, or even care
to do so. Dozing and waking, wondering a little over his situation yet
mostly indifferent to everything, the hours passed.
Jim's interest was next aroused by the man's dressing of his arm. He did
this with real skill, removing the big leaves of some healing plant,
with which it had been bound, and replacing these with fresh ones,
confining them in place by long strips of split reeds.
The soft, cool leaves were wonderfully comforting and with the easing of
the pain serious thoughts came. To the injured lad everything now seemed
a blank from the evening meal at San Leon, after his arrival there,
until now. Why he had left that ranch and why he had come to this queer
place he could not imagine; but the picture of the beautiful,
mission-like house was distinct, and of Dorothy walking across its lawn
Dorothy! It seemed a long time since he had seen her or heard her sweet
voice chide him for his misdoings. Why--now he remembered--he hadn't
said good-night to Dorothy, his first faithful friend. But it is
needless to follow the gropings of Jim's mind back to the realization of
his present situation. Yet the first and strongest feeling which
possessed him was that he must tell Dorothy where he was. Dolly was such
a hand to worry, silly Dolly! And she was his best, earliest friend.
The Mexican brought him his breakfast of bacon and corn bread, with
another cup of that coffee which always stood upon the stove. A child
came with the man and gazed at Jim with solemn, wondering eyes.
Jim returned the stare with interest. This was the first small Indian he
had ever seen and to judge by the little fellow's face he might have
been an old, old man--he was so grave and dignified.
"How are you, sonny?" said Jim.
The midget simply blinked.
"Can't you talk, kid?" again questioned the stranger, holding out his
The little boy did not answer, save by placing his own chubby, extremely
dirty hand on Jim's extended palm.
"Good. You're friendly, if you are dumb. Sort of needs washin', don't
it? Water. Can you bring me some water? I'm thirsty."
The child walked to a big tank, or half-barrel, outside the door and
dipped the tin coffee cup within it. But he was too short to reach the
low supply and giving himself an extra hitch upwards, over the edge, the
better to obtain the draught, he lost his balance and fell in head
Jim's low bed commanded a view of this and he started to rescue the
youngster, but the man was before him. He treated the accident as if it
were an ordinary occurrence, pulling the child out by the seat of his
leather breeches, shaking him as one might a wet puppy, and setting him
on his feet without a word. Indeed, words seemed the most precious
commodity in that queer shanty, so rarely were they used. But the
father, if such he were, himself filled the cup with the stale water and
gave it to the child, who carried it to Jim as calmly as if no trouble
had attended his getting it.
"Thank you, boy. What's your name?"
"Name--Jose," said the man answering for him. He pronounced it "Ho-say,"
and Jim was pleased. Knowing that he might meet people who spoke
Spanish, in this trip west, the studious lad had brought a Spanish
grammar along with him on the train and had glanced into it whenever he
had a chance. Of course, he could not speak it himself, nor understand
it well, nor was the dialect here in use very much like the correct
language of the grammar.
"Jose, where is this place?"
The child stared. Then suddenly went out of doors and returned with a
baby lamb in his arms. He plumped this down upon Jim's breast and smiled
for the first time. The lamb was his latest, greatest treasure and, in
his childish sympathy, he offered it to the "hurted man." With his good
arm, Jim made the little animal more comfortable, while Jose vanished
without again. This time he returned with a fine basket of Indian
workmanship, and this was filled in part by glittering stones and in
part by flowers. All these he deposited on the bed beside the lamb, and
folded his arms behind him in profound satisfaction. He had done his
very best. He had given the sick one all his things. If that didn't cure
him it would be no further business of Jose's.
The man of the house had now seated himself beside the stove. He placed
an earthen pan beside him on the clay floor and laid a bundle of rushes
beside it. Also, he took down from a peg in the wall an unfinished
basket, and reseating himself, proceeded to weave upon it. He used only
the finest of splits, torn from the reeds, almost like thread in their
delicacy and he worked very slowly. From time to time he held the basket
from him, studying its appearance with half-closed eyes, as an artist
studies a picture. Frequently, he lifted the coffee pot to his lips and
drank from its spout.
Jim watched him in silent admiration of his deftness with the weaving
and in disgust at his use of the coffee pot--thinking he would want no
more draughts from it himself. All the time his mind grew clearer and he
began to form plans for telling Dorothy where he was--though he didn't
know that, himself; but, at least, of letting her know he was alive. She
would have to guess at the rest and she would surely trust him to come
back when he could.
When the weaver looked up again Jim beckoned him to approach. Rather
reluctantly, he did so. For his own part he was getting tired of this
helpless lad, left in his hut by White Feather, his Ute brother-in-law.
If Moon Face were living, the Ute maiden who had been his wife and
little Jose's mother, it wouldn't have mattered. To her would have
fallen the care. Nothing had gone right with him, Alaric, the sheep
herder, since Moon Face fell ill and died, though he went often to that
far place in the forest where her body had been secretly buried in the
crevice of a great rock. Moon Face had left him for a few days' visit to
a camp of her relatives and there had taken the small-pox and died,
despite the fact that she had been treated by the wisest medicine men
and immersed in the sweat-box, the Indian cure for all ills. If he had
been near enough to such a thing, or had had energy enough to prepare it
up here at his home, Alaric would promptly have subjected poor Jim to
As it was, the isolation of Alaric's hut and his laziness saved the
wanderer from this. Now, as he obeyed the boy's summons, he was brooding
over his misfortunes and was more grim even than usual.
"Well, young man?"
Jim was surprised. The man had been so silent, hitherto, that he
imagined they two had no language in common.
"So you speak English! That makes it easy. I want to send a message to
the place I--I left. Will you take it?"
Alaric shook his head, firmly declining.
"Don't get ugly. If you won't go, will you send somebody?"
The Mexican pretended that his English did not go so far as this. He
obstinately would not understand.
Then followed a long argument which greatly wearied Jim and simply
failed of its object. At last, he named "San Leon" and Alaric's
expression brightened. That was the place where there was plenty of
money and the sheep herder loved money. He had been there. It was not
far away, by a road he knew, yet he did not care to go there again,
himself. There had been a transaction of horses that wasn't pleasant to
remember. Old Lem Hunt had accused him of being a thief, once on a
time, when some thoroughbreds had been missing from the San Leon
corrals, and Alaric had had hard work to prove his innocence. He had
been obliged to prove it because, in Colorado, men were still sometimes
inclined to take justice in their own hands and not wait for the law to
do it for them.
The truth was that the sheep herder had not, personally, taken a single
steed from San Leon. He had merely "assisted" some of his Indian friends
to do so. He had even carefully kept all knowledge of the affair from
the ears of his brother-in-law, White Feather; a man who indeed loved
fine horseflesh, as all the Utes did, but preferred to increase his
herds by legitimate trading.
The other Indians, whom Alaric had "assisted," had paid their assistant
in honest gold--he wouldn't take any other sort of payment--and there
had been more gold changing hands in order to secure the real thieves.
And because he loved the gold Alaric had thus assisted both sides and
received double pay. Also, he had left an unsavory memory of himself at
San Leon as well as offended his Ute relatives; and White Feather not
only prevented harm being done to his Mexican brother-in-law, but also
used the occasion to make Alaric subject to himself. Thus it was that he
had made the sheep herder take in the sick lad he had found on the trail
and swear to be kind to him.
"San Lean? Si.... En verdad. Well, senor?"
If this injured, half-naked youth had hailed from that rich man's ranch
it might be worth while to hearken to what he wished.
"I want to tell a girl there that I am not dead. I want to send just
that message, till I can go there myself. Do this for me and I
will--will pay you--when I can."
Alaric considered. From present appearances there seemed small chance of
Jim's ever paying anybody for any service. Yet--there was White Feather
to please and there was possible payment at San Leon. He nodded
"Then get me somethin' to write on!" begged Jim, vastly excited by this
chance to set himself right with his friends.
He might as well have asked for the moon. Writing was not an
accomplishment of Alaric's and he had never owned a scrap of paper fit
for such use. Yet the longer he pondered the matter the more willing the
man became. Finally, he took Jose upon his knee, and, emphasizing each
word of instruction by a stern forefinger and a threat of fearful
punishment for disobedience, he instilled into the little fellow's mind
the fact that he was to go to San Leon ranch; to find there a pretty
girl in a white dress; a girl with big brown eyes and dark curly hair. A
girl who was always laughing and who always wore a red bow on her head.
He, Alaric, would go with his son as far as the cypress hedge,
bordering the west side of the lake. There he would wait for the child
to do his errand and return, and would himself be out of sight of that
old sharpshooter, whom he feared.
He had another inspiration--of generosity and greed commingled. That
lamb of Jose's. He could afford to give that away because it wasn't his
own, nor even really the little one's. It belonged to the rich ranch
owner whose sheep he herded, up here on the lonely mountain. The girl
for whom this sick boy wished a message might like the lamb and give the
papoose money for it. Money would be far better for Jose than any pet.
After this course of silent reasoning, Alaric bestirred himself to
action. He had often had to make his "mark" upon some paper of
agreement, the nearest to writing that he could come. He understood that
Jim wished to make his own now. So, selecting a bit of glittering stone
that was fairly smooth, he handed it to the lad, and afterward crushed
the stem of a plant which exuded a red juice. With this other sharp
pointed bit of stone dipped in this juice, anybody might make as many
"marks" as he chose upon the flat stone.
Jim was quick to understand the suggestion but real writing was out of
the question. The best he could accomplish was that D which was in his
peculiar hand. By signs, more than words, Alaric expressed the whole
matter; and Jim eagerly caught at the suggestion. The lamb would be a
pretty gift for Dorothy and would tell her better than words that he
remembered her and was safe. Only--the little animal was like everything
else seen in this cabin--so dirty! He couldn't send it to dainty Dorothy
in such condition. In a few words he explained to the shepherd his ideas
about it and was amused by the infinite contempt shown on Alaric's face.
However, he made short work of that matter. He was now impatient to be
off, the sooner to get that possible payment of gold; and remembered
that White Feather had commanded him to serve the sick stranger to the
best of his ability. With a flippant gesture he seized the lamb and
carried it to the tank outside the door; and sousing it up and down till
its dusty fleece was white and itself nearly drowned, he threw it on
Jim's bed to dry.
Jose found his voice and jabbered in a mixture of Spanish and Indian,
expressing his pity for his pet; then brought handfuls of grass and
leaves to rub it with. This vigorous attention, in which Jim used his
own sound arm, soon restored the lambkin to a beauty that surprised them
all. More grass and flowers were put in the bottom of the basket with
the marked stone, the lamb upon this cushion, and the cover fastened on.
Alaric informed Jim that such a basket was worth a great deal of money.
He had learned the art of making such from Moon Face, who had travelled
sometimes to the distant railway line and sold them to tourists. It was
so tightly woven it would hold water; and in his pride over his
handiwork the weaver would have poured a dipper of it into the basket to
prove his statement.
"No, no! The poor little thing has had more than its share of water!
Best save the rest for yourself!" protested Jim, with a feeble attempt
at a joke.
Alaric desisted then, hung the dipper back on the tank, seized the
basket in one hand and Jose in the other and strode away. The last
glimpse Jim had of them showed poor little Jose's fat legs being swung
along, touching the ground only now and then, as they utterly failed to
keep up with his father's pace.
Left alone, Jim lay still a long time, idly fingering some bits of rock
which the child had scattered upon his blanket. He felt very cold; and
again, in another moment, he seemed to be burning up. He thought of the
water in the tank. He was desperately thirsty, his throat growing dry,
his lips swelling; and alternately he longed to dip his head in that
barrel and drink--drink--drink! then shivered with disgust remembering
the various uses the stale fluid had been put to. Finally, sleep, or
unconsciousness, overcame him and for many days he knew no more.
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