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We Get A Super








From: Desert Dust

What with assorting and stowing the bales of cloth and the other goods in
the Jenks two wagons, watering the animals and staking them out anew,
tinkering with the equipment and making various essays with the bull whip,
I found occupation enough; nevertheless there were moments of interim, or
while passing to and fro, when I was vividly aware of the scenes and
events transpiring in this Western world around about.

The bugles sounded calls for the routine at Fort Steele--a mere
cantonment, yet, of tents and rough board buildings squatting upon the
bare brown soil near the river bank, north of us, and less than a month
old. The wagon road was a line of white dust from the river clear to
Benton, and through the murk plodded the water haulers and emigrants and
freighters, animals and men alike befloured and choked. The dust cloud
rested over Benton. It fumed in another line westward, kept in suspense by
on-traveling stage and wagon--by wheel, hoof and boot, bound for Utah and
Idaho. From the town there extended northward a third dust line, marking
the stage and freighting road through the Indian country to the mining
settlements of the famous South Pass of the old Oregon Trail; yes, and
with branches for the gold regions of Montana.

The railroad trains kept thundering by us--long freights, dusty and
indomitable, bringing their loads from the Missouri River almost seven
hundred miles in the east. And rolling out of Benton the never-ceasing
construction trains sped into the desert as if upon urgent errands in
response to some sudden demand of More, More, More.

Upon all sides beyond this business and energy the country stretched lone
and uninhabited; a great waste of naked, hot, resplendent land blotched
with white and red, showing not a green spot except the course of the
Platte; with scorched, rusty hills rising above its fantastic surface,
and, in the distance, bluish mountain ranges that appeared to float and
waver in the sun-drenched air.

The sounds from Benton--the hammering, the shouting, the babbling, the
puffing of the locomotives--drifted faintly to us, merged into the
cracking of whips and the oaths and songs by the wagon drivers along the
road. Of our own little camp I took gradual stock.

It, like the desert reaches, evinced little of feverishness, for while
booted men busied themselves at tasks similar to mine, others lolled,
spinning yarns and whittling; the several women, at wash-boards and at
pots and pans and needles, worked contentedly in sun and shade; children
played at makeshift games, dogs drowsed underneath the wagons, and outside
our circle the mules and oxen grazed as best they might, their only
vexation the blood-sucking flies. The flies were kin of Benton.

Captain Adams loped away, as if to town. Others went in. While I was idle
at last and rather enjoying the hot sun as I sat resting upon a convenient
wagon-tongue Daniel hulked to me, still snapping his ox goad.

"Haowdy?" he addressed again; and surveyed, eying every detail of my
clothing.

"Howdy?" said I.

"Yu know me?"

"Your name is Daniel, isn't it?"

"No, 'tain't. It's Bonnie Bravo on the trail."

"All right, sir," said I. "Whichever you prefer."

"I 'laow we pull out this arternoon," he volunteered farther.

"I'm agreeable," I responded. "The sooner the better, where I'm
concerned."

"I 'laow yu (and he pronounced it, nasally, yee-ou) been seein' the
elephant in Benton an' it skinned yu."

"I saw all of Benton I wish to see," I granted. "You've been there?"

"I won four bits, an' then yu bet I quit," he greedily proclaimed. "I was
too smart for 'em. I 'laow yu're a greenie, ain't yu?"

"In some ways I am, in some ways I'm not."

"I 'laow yu aim to go through with this train to Salt Lake, do yu?"

"That's the engagement I've made with Mr. Jenks."

"Don't feel too smart, yoreself, in them new clothes?"

"No. They're all I have. They won't be new long."

"Yu bet they won't. Ain't afeared of peterin' aout on the way, be yu? I
'laow yu're sickly."

"I'll take my chances," I smiled, although he was irritating in the
extreme.

"It's four hunderd mile, an' twenty mile at a stretch withaout water. Most
the water's pizen, too, from hyar to the mountings."

"I'll have to drink what the rest drink, I suppose."

"I 'laow the Injuns are like to get us. They're powerful bad in that thar
desert. Ain't afeared o' Injuns, be yu?"

"I'll have to take my chances on that, too, won't I?"

"They sculped a whole passel o' surveyors, month ago," he persisted.
"Yu'll sing a different tyune arter yu've been corralled with nothin' to
drink." He viciously snapped his whip, the while inspecting me as if
seeking for other joints in my armor. "Yu aim to stay long in Zion?"

"I haven't planned anything about that."

"Reckon yu're wise, Mister. We don't think much o' Gentiles, yonder. We
don't want 'em, nohaow. They'd all better git aout. The Saints settled
that country an' it's ourn."

"If you're a sample, you're welcome to live there," I retorted. "I think
I'd prefer some place else."

"Haow?" he bleated. "Thar ain't no place as good. All the rest the world
has sold itself to the devil."

"How much of the world have you seen?" I asked.

"I've seen a heap. I've been as fur east as Cheyenne--I've teamed acrost
twice, so I know. An' I know what the elders say; they come from the East
an' some of 'em have been as fur as England. Yu can't fool me none with
yore Gentile lies."

As I did not attempt, we remained in silence for a moment while he waited,
provocative.

"Say, Mister," he blurted suddenly. "Kin yu shoot?"

"I presume I could if I had to. Why?"

"Becuz I'm the dangest best shot with a Colt's in this hyar train, an'
I'll shoot ye for--I'll shoot ye for (he lowered his voice and glanced
about furtively)--I'll shoot ye for two bits when my paw ain't 'raound."

"I've no cartridges to waste at present," I informed. "And I don't claim
to be a crack shot."

"Damn ye, I bet yu think yu are," he accused. "Yu set thar like it. All
right, Mister; any time yu want to try a little poppin' yu let me know."
And with this, which struck me as a veiled threat, he lurched on,
snapping that infernal whip.

He left me with the uneasy impression that he and I were due to measure
strength in one way or another.

Wagon Boss Adams returned at noon. The word was given out that the train
should start during the afternoon, for a short march in order to break in
the new animals before tackling the real westward trail.

After a deal of bustle, of lashing loads and tautening covers and geeing,
hawing and whoaing, about three o'clock we formed line in obedience to the
commands "Stretch out, stretch out!"; and with every cask and barrel
dripping, whips cracking, voices urging, children racing, the Captain
Adams wagon in the lead (two pink sunbonnets upon the seat), the valorous
Daniel's next, and Mormons and Gentiles ranging on down, we toiled
creaking and swaying up the Benton road, amidst the eddies of hot,
scalding dust.

It was a mixed train, of Gentile mules and the more numerous Mormon oxen;
therefore not strictly a "bull" train, but by pace designated as such. And
in the vernacular I was a "mule-whacker" or even "mule-skinner" rather
than a "bull-whacker," if there is any appreciable difference in role.
There is none, I think, to the animals.

Trudging manfully at the left fore wheel behind Mr. Jenks' four span of
mules, trailing my eighteen-foot tapering lash and occasionally well-nigh
cutting off my own ear when I tried to throw it, I played the
teamster--although sooth to say there was little of play in the job, on
that road, at that time of the day.

The sun was more vexatious, being an hour lower, when we bravely entered
Benton's boiling main street. We made brief halt for the finishing up of
business; and cleaving a lane through the pedestrians and vehicles and
animals there congregated, the challenges of the street gamblers having
assailed us in vain, we proceeded--our Mormons gazing straight ahead,
scornful of the devil's enticements, our few Gentiles responding in kind
to the quips and waves and salutations.

Thus we eventually left Benton; in about an hour's march or some three
miles out we formed corral for camp on the farther side of the road from
the railroad tracks which we had been skirting.

Travel, except upon the tracks (for they were rarely vacant) ceased at
sundown; and we all, having eaten our suppers, were sitting by our fires,
smoking and talking, with the sky crimson in the west and the desert
getting mysterious with purple shadows, when as another construction train
of box cars and platform cars clanked by I chanced to note a figure spring
out asprawl, alight with a whiffle of sand, and staggering up hasten for
us.

First it accosted the hulk Daniel, who was temporarily out on herd,
keeping the animals from the tracks. I saw him lean from his saddle; then
he rode spurring in, bawling like a calf:

"Paw! Paw! Hey, yu-all! Thar's a woman yonder in britches an' she 'laows
to come on. She's lookin' for Mister Jenks."

Save for his excited stuttering silence reigned, a minute. Then in a storm
of rude raillery--"That's a hoss on you, George!" "Didn't know you owned
one o' them critters, George," "Does she wear the britches, George?" and
so forth--my friend Jenks arose, peering, his whiskered mouth so agape
that he almost dropped his pipe. And we all peered, with the women of the
caravan smitten mute but intensely curious, while the solitary figure,
braving our stares, came on to the fires.

"Gawd almighty!" Mr. Jenks delivered.

Likewise straightening I mentally repeated the ejaculation, for now I knew
her as well as he. Yes, by the muttered babble others in our party knew
her. It was My Lady--formerly My Lady--clad in embroidered short Spanish
jacket, tightish velvet pantaloons, booted to the knees, pulled down upon
her yellow hair a black soft hat, and hanging from the just-revealed belt
around her slender waist, a revolver trifle.

She paused, small and alone, viewing us, her eyes very blue, her face very
white.

"Is Mr. Jenks there?" she hailed clearly.

"Damn' if I ain't," he mumbled. He glowered at me. "Yes, ma'am, right
hyar. You want to speak with me?"

"By gosh, it's Montoyo's woman, ain't it?" were the comments.

"I do, sir."

"You can come on closer then, ma'am," he growled. "There ain't no secrets
between us."

Come on she did, with only an instant's hesitation and a little
compression of the lips. She swept our group fearlessly--her gaze crossed
mine, but she betrayed no sign.

"I wish to engage passage to Salt Lake."

"With this hyar train?" gasped Jenks.

"Yes. You are bound for Salt Lake, aren't you?"

"For your health, ma'am?" he stammered.

She faintly smiled, but her eyes were steady and wide.

"For my health. I'd like to throw in with your outfit. I will cook, keep
camp, and pay you well besides."

"We haven't no place for a woman, ma'am. You'd best take the stage."

"No. There'll be no stage out till morning. I want to make arrangements at
once--with you. There are other women in this train." She flashed a glance
around. "And I can take care of myself."

"If you aim to go to Salt Lake your main holt is Benton and the stage. The
stage makes through in four days and we'll use thirty," somebody
counseled.

"An' this bull train ain't no place for yore kind, anyhow," grumbled
another. "We've quit roarin'--we've cut loose from that hell-hole
yonder."

"So have I." But she did not turn on him. "I'm never going back. I--I
can't, now; not even for the stage. Will you permit me to travel with you,
sir?"

"No, ma'am, I won't," rasped Mr. Jenks. "I can't do it. It's not in my
line, ma'am."

"I'll be no trouble. You have only Mr. Beeson. I don't ask to ride. I'll
walk. I merely ask protection."

"So do we," somebody sniggered; and I hated him, for I saw her sway upon
her feet as if the words had been a blow.

"No, ma'am, I'm full up. I wouldn't take on even a yaller dog, 'specially
a she one," Jenks announced. "What your game is now I can't tell, and I
don't propose to be eddicated to it. But you can't travel along with me,
and that's straight talk. If you can put anything over on these other
fellers, try your luck."

"Oh!" she cried, wincing. Her hands clenched nervously, a red spot dyed
either cheek as she appealed to us all. "Gentlemen! Won't one of you help
me? What are you afraid of? I can pay my way--I ask no favors--I swear to
you that I'll give no trouble. I only wish protection across."

"Where's Pedro? Where's Montoyo?"

She turned quickly, facing the jeer; her two eyes blazed, the red spots
deepened angrily.

"He? That snake? I shot him."

"What! You? Killed him?" Exclamations broke from all quarters.

She stamped her foot.

"No. I didn't have to. But when he tried to abuse me I defended myself.
Wasn't that right, gentlemen?"

"Right or wrong, he'll be after you, won't he?"

The question held a note of alarm. Her lip curled.

"You needn't fear. I'll meet him, myself."

"By gosh, I don't mix up in no quarrel 'twixt a man and his woman."
And--"'Tain't our affair. When he comes he'll come a-poppin'." Such were
the hasty comments. I felt a peculiar heat, a revulsion of shame and
indignation, which made the present seem much more important than the
past. And there was the recollection of her, crying, and still the accents
of her last appeals in the early morning.

"I thought that I might find men among you," she disdainfully said--a
break in her voice. "So I came. But you're afraid of him--of that breed,
that vest-pocket killer. And you're afraid of me, a woman whose cards are
all on the table. There isn't a one of you--even you, Mr. Beeson, sir,
whom I tried to befriend although you may not know it." And she turned
upon me. "You have not a word to say. I am never going back, I tell you
all. You won't take me, any of you? Very well." She smiled wanly. "I'll
drift along, gentlemen. I'll play the lone hand. Montoyo shall never seize
me. I'd rather trust to the wolves and the Indians. There'll be another
wagon train."

"I am only an employee, madam," I faltered. "If I had an outfit of my own
I certainly would help you."

She flushed painfully; she did not glance at me direct again, but her
unspoken thanks enfolded me.

"Here's the wagon boss," Jenks grunted, and spat. "Mebbe you can throw in
with him. When it comes to supers, that's his say-so. I've all I can tend
to, myself, and I don't look for trouble. I've got no love for Montoyo,
neither," he added. "Damned if I ain't glad you give him a dose."

Murmurs of approval echoed him, as if the tide were turning a little. All
this time--not long, however--Daniel had been sitting his mule, transfixed
and gaping, his oddly wry eyes upon her. Now the large form of Captain
Adams came striding in contentious, through the gathering dusk.

"What's this?" he demanded harshly. "An ungodly woman? I'll have no
trafficking in my train. Get you gone, Delilah. Would you pursue us even
here?"

"I am going, sir," she replied. "I ask nothing from you or
these--gentlemen."

"Them's the two she's after, paw: Jenks an' that greenie," Daniel bawled.
"They know her. She's follered 'em. She aims to travel with 'em. Oh, gosh!
She's shot her man in Benton. Gosh!" His voice trailed off. "Ain't she
purty, though! She's dressed in britches."

"Get you gone," Captain Adams thundered. "And these your paramours with
you. For thus saith the Lord: There shall be no lusting of adultery among
his chosen. And thus say I, that no brazen hussy in men's garments shall
travel with this train to Zion--no, not a mile of the way."

Jenks stiffened, bristling.

"Mind your words, Adams. I'm under no Mormon thumb, and I'll thank you not
to connect me and this--lady in ary such fashion. As for your brat on
horseback, he'd better hold his yawp. She came of her own hook, and damned
if I ain't beginnin' to think----"

I sprang forward. Defend her I must. She should not stand there, slight,
lovely, brave but drooping, aflame with the helplessness of a woman alone
and insulted.

"Wait!" I implored. "Give her a chance. You haven't heard her story. All
she wants is protection on the road. Yes, I know her, and I know the cur
she's getting away from. I saw him strike her; so did Mr. Jenks. What were
you intending to do? Turn her out into the night? Shame on you, sir. She
says she can't go back to Benton, and if you'll be humane enough to
understand why, you'll at least let her stay in your camp till morning.
You've got women there who'll care for her, I hope."

I felt her instant look. She spoke palpitant.

"You have one man among you all. But I am going. Good-night, gentlemen."

"No! Wait!" I begged. "You shall not go by yourself. I'll see you into
safety."

Daniel cackled.

"Haw haw! What'd I tell yu, paw? Hear him?"

"By gum, the boy's right," Jenks declared. "Will you go back to Benton if
we take you?" he queried of her. "Are you 'feared of Montoyo? Can he shoot
still, or is he laid out?"

"I'll not go back to Benton, and I'm not afraid of that bully," said she.
"Yes, he can shoot, still; but next time I should kill him. I hope never
to see him again, or Benton either."

The men murmured.

"You've got spunk, anyhow," said they. And by further impulse: "Let her
stay the night, Cap'n. It'll be plumb dark soon. She won't harm ye. Some
o' the woman folks can take care of her."

Captain Adams had been frowning sternly, his heavy face unsoftened.

"Who are you, woman?"

"I am the wife of a gambler named Montoyo."

"Why come you here, then?"

"He has been abusing me, and I shot him."

"There is blood on your hands? Are you a murderess as well as a harlot?"

"Shame!" cried voices, mine among them. "That's tall language."

Strangely, and yet not strangely, sentiment had veered. We were
Americans--and had we been English that would have made no difference. It
was the Anglo-Saxon which gave utterance.

She crimsoned, defiant; laughed scornfully.

"You would not dare bait a man that way, sir. Blood on my hands? Not
blood; oh, no! He couldn't pan out blood."

"You killed him, woman?"

"Not yet. He's likely fleecing the public in the Big Tent at this very
moment."

"And what did you expect here, in my train?"

"A little manhood and a little chivalry, sir. I am going to Salt Lake and
I knew of no safer way."

"She jumped off a railway train, paw," bawled Daniel. "I seen her. An' she
axed for Mister Jenks, fust thing."

"I'll give you something to stop that yawp. Come mornin', we'll settle,
young feller," my friend Jenks growled.

"I did," she admitted. "I have seen Mr. Jenks; I have also seen Mr.
Beeson; I have seen others of you in Benton. I was glad to know of
somebody here. I rode on the construction train because it was the
quickest and easiest way."

"And those garments!" Captain Adams accused. "You wish to show your
shape, woman, to tempt men's eyes with the flesh?"

She smiled.

"Would you have me jump from a train in skirts, sir? Or travel far afoot
in crinoline? But to soothe your mind I will say that I wore these clothes
under my proper attire and cloak until the last moment. And if you turn me
away I shall cut my hair and continue as a boy."

"If you are for Salt Lake--where we are of the Lord's choosing and wish
none of you--there is the stage," he prompted shrewdly. "Go to the stage.
You cannot make this wagon train your instrument."

"The stage?" She slowly shook her head. "Why, I am too well known, sir,
take that as you will. And the stage does not leave until morning. Much
might happen between now and morning. I have nobody in Benton that I can
depend upon--nobody that I dare depend upon. And by railway, for the East?
No. That is too open a trail. I am running free of Benton and Pedro
Montoyo, and stage and train won't do the trick. I've thought that out."
She tossed back her head, deliberately turned. "Good-night, ladies and
gentlemen."

Involuntarily I started forward to intercept. The notion of her heading
into the vastness and the gloom was appalling; the inertness of that
increasing group, formed now of both men and women collected from all the
camp, maddened. So I would have besought her, pleaded with her, faced
Montoyo for her--but a new voice mediated.

"She shall stay, Hyrum? For the night, at least? I will look after her."

The Captain's younger wife, Rachael, had stepped to him; laid one hand
upon his arm--her smooth hair touched ashine by the firelight as she gazed
up into his face. Pending reply I hastened directly to My Lady herself and
detained her by her jacket sleeve.

"Wait," I bade.

Whereupon we both turned. Side by side we fronted the group as if we might
have been partners--which, in a measure, we were, but not wholy according
to the lout Daniel's cackle and the suddenly interrogating countenances
here and there.

"You would take her in, Rachael?" the Captain rumbled. "Have you not heard
what I said?"

"We are commanded to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless, Hyrum."

"Verily that is so. Take her. I trust you with her till the morning. The
Lord will direct us further. But in God's name clothe her for the daylight
in decency. She shall not advertise her flesh to men's eyes."

"Quick!" I whispered, with a push. Rachael, however, had crossed for us,
and with eyes brimming extended her hand.

"Will you come with me, please?" she invited.

"You are not afraid of me?"

"I? No. You are a woman, are you not?" The intonation was gentle, and
sweet to hear--as sweet as her rosy face to see.

"Yes," sighed My Lady, wearily. "Good-night, sir." She fleetingly smiled
upon me. "I thank you; and Mr. Jenks."

They went, Rachael's arm about her; other women closed in; we heard
exclamations, and next they were supporting her in their midst, for she
had crumpled in a faint.

Captain Adams walked out a piece as if musing. Daniel pressed beside him,
talking eagerly. His voice reached me.

"She's powerful purty, ain't she, paw! Gosh, I never seen a woman in
britches before. Did yu? Paw! She kin ride in my wagon, paw. Be yu goin'
to take her on, paw? If yu be, I got room."

"Go. Tend to your stock and think of other things," boomed his father.
"Remember that the Scriptures say, beware of the scarlet woman."

Daniel galloped away, whooping like an idiot.

"Wall, there she is," my friend Jenks remarked non-committally. "What
next'll happen, we'll see in the mornin'. Either she goes on or she goes
back. I don't claim to read Mormon sign, myself. But she had me jumpin'
sideways, for a spell. So did that young whelp."

There was some talk, idle yet not offensive. The men appeared rather in a
judicial frame of mind: laid a few bets upon whether her husband would
turn up, in sober fashion nodded their heads over the hope that he had
been "properly pinked," all in all sided with her, while admiring her
pluck roundly denied responsibility for women in general, and genially but
cautiously twitted Mr. Jenks and me upon our alleged implication in the
affair.

Darkness, still and chill, had settled over the desert--the only
discernible horizon the glow of Benton, down the railroad track. The ashes
of final pipes were rapped out upon our boot soles. Our group dispersed,
each man to his blanket under the wagons or in the open.

"Wall," friend Jenks again broadly uttered, in last words as he turned
over with a grunt, for easier posture, near me, "hooray! If it simmers
down to you and Dan'l, I'll be there."

With that enigmatical comment he was silent save for stertorous breathing.
Vaguely cogitating over his promise I lay, toes and face up, staring at
the bright stars; perplexed more and more over the immediate events of the
future, warmly conscious of her astonishing proximity in this very train,
prickled by the hope that she would continue with us, irritated by the
various assumptions of Daniel, and somehow not at all adverse to the
memory of her in "britches."

That phase of the matter seemed to have affected Daniel and me similarly.
Under his hide he was human.





Next: Daniel Takes Possession

Previous: I Cut Loose



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