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A Deal in Wheat
and Other Stories
of the New and Old West

Frank Norris


This is the Bookwise complete ebook of A Deal in Wheat and Other Stories of the New and Old West by Frank Norris, available to read online as an alternative to epub, mobi, kindle, pdf or text only versions. For information about the status of this work, see Copyright Notice.




“Hey, youse!” shouted the car-boy. He brought his trundling, jolting, loose-jointed car to a halt by the face of the drift. “Hey, youse!” he shouted again.

Bunt shut off the Burly air-drill and nodded.

“Chaw,” he remarked to me.

We clambered into the car, and, as the boy released the brake, rolled out into the main tunnel of the Big Dipple, and banged and bumped down the long incline that led to the mouth.

“Chaw” was dinner. It was one o’clock in the morning, and the men on the night shift were taking their midnight spell off. Bunt was back at his old occupation of miner, and I — the one loafer of all that little world of workers — had brought him a bottle of beer to go with the “chaw”; for Bunt and I were ancient friends.

As we emerged from the cool, cave-like dampness of the mine and ran out into the wonderful night air of the Sierra foothills, warm, dry, redolent of witch-hazel, the carboy began to cough, and, after we had climbed out of the car and had sat down on the embankment to eat and drink, Bunt observed:

“D’ye hear that bark? That kid’s a one-lunger for fair. Which ain’t no salubrious graft for him — this hiking cars about in the bowels of the earth, Some day he’ll sure up an’ quit. Ought to go down to Yuma a spell.”

The engineer in the mill was starting the stamps. They got under way with broken, hiccoughing dislocations, bumping and stumbling like the hoofs of a group of horses on the cattle-deck in a gale. Then they jumped to a trot, then to a canter, and at last settled down to the prolonged roaring gallop that reverberated far off over the entire cañon.

“I knew a one-lunger once,” Bunt continued, as he uncorked the bottle, “and the acquaintance was some distressful by reason of its bringing me into strained relations with a cow-rustlin’, hair-liftin’, only-one-born-in-captivity, man-eatin’ brute of a one-legged Greaser which he was named Peg-leg Smith. He was shy a leg because of a shotgun that the other man thought wasn’t loaded. And this here happens, lemme tell you, ‘way down in the Panamint country, where they wasn’t no doctor within twenty miles, and Peg-leg outs with his bowie and amputates that leg hisself, then later makes a wood stump outa a ole halter and a table-leg. I guess the whole jing-bang of it turned his head, for he goes bad and loco thereafter, and begins shootin’ and r’arin’ up an’ down the hull Southwest, a-roarin’ and a-bellerin’ and a-takin’ on amazin’. We dasn’t say boo to a yaller pup while he’s round. I never see such mean blood. Jus’ let the boys know that Peg-leg was anyways adjacent an’ you can gamble they walked chalk.

“Y’see, this Peg-leg lay it out as how he couldn’t abide no cussin’ an’ swearin’. He said if there was any tall talkin’ done he wanted to do it. And he sure could. I’ve seed him hold on for six minutes by the watch an’ never repeat hisself once. An’ shoot! Say, lemme tell you he did for two Greasers once in a barroom at La Paz, one in front o’ him, t’other straight behind, him standing between with a gun in each hand, and shootin’ both guns at the same time. Well, he was just a terror,” declared Bunt, solemnly, “and when he was in real good form there wa’n’t a man south o’ Leadville dared to call his hand.

“Now, the way I met up with this skunkin’ little dewdrop was this-like It was at Yuma, at a time when I was a kid of about nineteen. It was a Sunday mornin’; Peg-leg was in town. He was asleep on a lounge in the back room o’ Bud Overick’s Grand Transcontinental Hotel. (I used to guess Bud called it that by reason that it wa’n’t grand, nor transcontinental, nor yet a hotel — it was a bar.) This was twenty year ago, and in those days I knowed a one-lunger in Yuma named Clarence. (He couldn’t help that — he was a good kid — but his name was Clarence.) We got along first-rate. Yuma was a great consumptive place at that time. They used to come in on every train; yes, and go out, too — by freight.

“Well, findin’ that they couldn’t do much else than jes’ sit around an’ bark and keep their shawls tight, these ‘ere chaps kinda drew together, and lay it out to meet every Sunday morning at Bud’s to sorta talk it over and have a quiet game. One game they had that they played steady, an’ when I drifted into Bud’s that morning they was about a dozen of ’em at it — Clarence, too. When I came in, there they be, all sittin’ in a circle round a table with a cigar box on it. They’d each put four bits into the box. That was the pot.

“A stranger wouldn’t ‘a’ made nothin’ very excitin’ out of that game, nor yet would ‘a’ caught on to what it were. For them pore yaps jes’ sat there, each with his little glass thermometer in his mouth, a-waitin’ and a-waitin’ and never sayin’ a word. Then bime-by Bud, who’s a-holdin’ of the watch on ‘em, sings out ‘Time!’ an’ they all takes their thermometers out an’ looks at ’em careful-like to see where they stand.

“‘Mine’s ninety-nine,’ says one.

“An’ another says:

“‘Mine’s a hundred.’

“An’ Clarence pipes up — coughin’ all the time:

“‘Mine’s a hundred ‘n one ‘n ‘alf.’

“An’, no one havin’ a higher tempriture than that, Clarence captures the pot. It was a queer kind o’ game.

“Well, on that particular Sunday morning they’s some unpleasantness along o’ one o’ the other one-lungers layin’ it out as how Clarence had done some monkey-business to make his tempriture so high. It was said as how Clarence had took and drunk some hot tea afore comin’ into the game at Bud’s. They all began to discuss that same p’int.

“Naturally, they don’t go at it polite, and to make their remarks p’inted they says a cuss-word occasional, and Clarence, bein’ a high-steppin’ gent as takes nobody’s dust, slings it back some forceful.

“Then all at once they hears Peg-leg beller from where’s he layin’ on the lounge (they ain’t figured on his bein’ so contiguous), and he gives it to be understood, does Peg-leg, as how the next one-lunger that indulges in whatsoever profanity will lose his voice abrupt.

“They all drops out at that, bar the chap who had the next highest tempriture to Clarence. Him having missed the pot by only a degree or so is considerable sore.

“‘Why,’ says he, ‘I’ve had a reg’lar fever since yesterday afternoon, an’ only just dodged a hem’rage by a squeak. I’m all legitimate, I am; an’ if you-alls misdoubts as how my tempriture ain’t normal you kin jes’ ask the doctor. I don’t take it easy that a strappin’, healthy gesabe whose case ain’t nowheres near the hopeless p’int yet steps in here with a scalded mouth and plays it low.’

“Clarence he r’ars right up at that an’ forgits about Peg-leg an’ expresses doubts, not to say convictions, about the one-lunger’s chances of salvation. He puts it all into about three words, an’ just as quick as look at it we hears ol’ Peg-leg’s wooden stump a-comin’. We stampedes considerable prompt, but Clarence falls over a chair, an’ before he kin get up Peg-leg has him by the windpipe.

“Now I ain’t billin’ myself as a all-round star hero an’ general grand-stand man. But I was sure took with Clarence, an’ I’d ‘a’ been real disappointed if Peg-leg ‘ud a-killed him that morning — which he sure was tryin’ to do when I came in for a few chips.

“I don’ draw on Peg-leg, him being down on his knees over Clarence, an’ his back turned, but without sensin’ very much what I’m a-doin’ of I grabs holt o’ the first part o’ Peg-leg that comes handy, which, so help me, Bob, is his old wooden leg. I starts to pull him off o’ Clarence, but instead o’ that I pulls off the wooden leg an’ goes a-staggerin’ back agin the wall with the thing in my fist.

“Y’know how it is now with a fightin’ pup if you pull his tail while he’s a-chawin’ up the other pup. Ye can bat him over the head till you’re tired, or kick him till you w’ars your boot out, an’ he’ll go right on chawin’ the harder. But monkey with his tail an’ he’s that sensitive an’ techy about it that he’ll take a interest right off.

“Well, it were just so with Peg-leg — though I never knew it. Just by accident I’d laid holt of him where he was tender; an’ when he felt that leg go — say, lemme tell you, he was some excited. He forgits all about Clarence, and he lines out for me, a-clawin’ the air. Lucky he’d left his gun in the other room.

“Well, sir, y’ought to have seen him, a-hoppin’ on one foot, and banging agin the furniture, jes’ naturally black in the face with rage, an’ doin’ his darnedest to lay his hands on me, roarin’ all the whiles like a steer with a kinked tail.

“Well, I’m skeered, and I remarks that same without shame. I’m skeered. I don’t want to come to no grapples with Peg-leg in his wrath, an’ I knows that so long as he can’t git his leg he can’t take after me very fast. Bud’s saloon backs right up agin the bluff over the river. So what do I do but heave that same wooden leg through one o’ the back windows, an’ down she goes (as I thought) mebbe seventy feet into the cañon o’ the Colorado? And then, mister man, I skins out — fast.

“I takes me headlong flight by way o’ the back room and on-root pitches Peg-leg’s gun over into the cañon, too, an’ then whips around the corner of the saloon an’ fetches out ag’in by the street in front. With his gun gone an’ his leg gone, Peg-leg — so long’s y’ain’t within arm’s reach — is as harmless as a horned toad. So I kinda hangs ‘round the neighbourhood jes’ to see what-all mout turn up.

“Peg-leg, after hoppin’ back to find that his gun was gone, to look for his leg, comes out by the front door, hoppin’ from one chair to another, an’ seein’ me standin’ there across the street makes remarks; an’ he informs me that because of this same little turn-up this mornin’ I ain’t never goin’ to live to grow hair on my face. His observations are that vigorous an’ p’inted that I sure begin to see it that way, too, and I says to myself:

“‘Now you, Bunt McBride, you’ve cut it out for yourself good and hard, an’ the rest o’ your life ain’t goin’ to be free from nervousness. Either y’ought to ‘a’ let this here hell-roarin’ maverick alone or else you should ‘a’ put him clean out o’ business when you had holt o’ his shootin’-iron. An’ I ain’t a bit happy.’ And then jes’ at this stage o’ the proceedings occurs what youse ‘ud call a diversion.

“It seemed that that wood stump didn’t go clean to the river as I first figured, but stuck three-fourths the way down. An’ a-course there’s a fool half-breed kid who’s got to chase after it, thinkin’ to do Peg-leg a good turn.

“I don’t know nothin’ about this, but jes’ stand there talkin’ back to Peg-leg, an’ pre-tendin’ I ain’t got no misgivings, when I sees this kid comin’ a-cavoortin’ an’ a-cayoodlin’ down the street with the leg in his hands, hollerin’ out:

“‘Here’s your leg, Mister Peg-leg! I went an’ got it for you, Mister Peg-leg!’

“It ain’t so likely that Peg-leg could ‘a’ caught me even if he’d had his leg, but I wa’n’t takin’ no chances. An’ as Peg-leg starts for the kid I start, too — with my heart knockin’ agin my front teeth, you can bet.

“I never knew how fast a man could hop till that mornin’, an’, lookin’ at Peg-leg with the tail o’ my eye as I ran, it seemed to me as how he was a-goin’ over the ground like a ole he-kangaroo. But somehow he gets off his balance and comes down all of a smash like a rickety table, an’ I reaches the kid first an’ takes the leg away from him.

“I guess Peg-leg must ‘a’ begun to lay it out by then that I held a straight flush to his ace high, for he sits down on the edge of the sidewalk an’, being some winded, too, he just glares. Then byme-by he says:

“‘You think you are some smart now, sonny, but I’m a-studyin’ of your face so’s I’ll know who to look for when I git a new leg; an’ believe me, I’ll know it, m’son — yours and your friend’s too’ (he meant Clarence)— ‘an’ I guess you’ll both be kind o’ sick afore I’m done with you. You!’ he goes on, tremendous disgustful. ‘You! an’ them one-lungers a-swearin’ an’ a-cussin’ an’ bedamnin’ an’ bedevilin’ one a-other. Ain’t ye just ashamed o’ yourselves ?’ (he thought I was a one-lunger, too); ‘ain’t ye ashamed — befoulin’ your mouths, and disturbin’ the peace along of a quiet Sunday mornin’, an’ you-alls waist over in your graves? I’m fair sick o’ my job,’ he remarks, goin’ kind o’ thoughtful. ‘Ten years now I’ve been range-ridin’ all this yere ranch, a-doin’ o’ my little feeble, or’nary best to clean out the mouths o’ you men an’ purify the atmosphere o’ God’s own country, but I ain’t made one convert. I’ve pounded ’em an’ booted ‘em, an’ busted ’em an’ shot ’em up, an’ they go on cussin’ each other out harder’n ever. I don’t know w’at all to do an’ I sometimes gets plumb discouraged-like.’

“Now, hearin’ of him talk that-a-way, an’ a-knowin’ of his weakness, I gits a idea. It’s a chanst and mebbee it don’t pan out, but I puts it up as a bluff. I don’t want, you see, to spend the rest o’ my appointed time in this yere vale o’ tears a-dodgin’ o’ Peg-leg Smith, an’ in the end, after all, to git between the wind and a forty-eight caliber do-good, sure not. So I puts up a deal. Says I: ‘Peg-leg, I’ll make a bargint along o’ you. You lays it out as how you ain’t never converted nobody out o’ his swearin’ habits. Now if you wants, ‘ere’s a chanst. You gimmee your word as a gent and a good-man-an’-true, as how you won’t never make no play to shoot me up, in nowise whatsoever, so long as we both do live, an’ promise never to bust me, or otherwise, and promise never to rustle me or interfere with my life, liberty and pursuit o’ happiness, an’ thereunto you set your seal an’ may Lord ‘a’ mercy on your soul — you promise that, an’ I will agree an’ covenant with the party o’ the first part to abstain an’ abjure, early or late, dry or drinkin’, in liquor or out, out o’ luck or in, rangin’ or roundin’, from all part an’ parcel o’ profanity, cuss-words, little or big, several and separate, bar none; this yere agreement to be considered as bindin’ an’ obligatory till the day o’ your demise, decease or death. There!’ says I, ‘there’s a fair bargint put up between man an’ man, an’ I puts it to you fair. You comes in with a strong ante an’ you gets a genuine, guaranteed an’ high-grade convert — the real article. You stays out, an’ not only you loses a good chanst to cut off and dam up as vigorous a stream o’ profanity as is found between here and Laredo, but you loses a handmade, copper-bound, steel-riveted, artificial limb — which in five minutes o’ time,’ says I, windin’ up, ‘will sure feed the fire. There’s the bargint.’

“Well, the ol’ man takes out time for about as long as a thirsty horse-rustler could put away half a dozen drinks an’ he studies the proposition sideways and endways an’ down side up. Then at last he ups and speaks out decided-like:

“‘Son,’ he says, ‘son, it’s a bargint. Gimmee my leg.’

“Somehow neither o’ us misdoubts as how the other man won’t keep his word; an’ I gives him his stump, an’ he straps her on joyful-like, just as if he’d got back a ole friend. Then later on he hikes out for Mojave and I don’ see him no more for mebbee three years.”

“And then?” I prompted.

“Well, I’ll tell you,” continued Bunt, between mouthfuls of pie, “I’ll tell you. This yere prejudice agin profanity is the only thing about this yere Peg-leg that ain’t pizen bad, an’ that prejudice, you got to know, was just along o’ his being loco on that one subjeck. ‘Twa’n’t as if he had any real principles or convictions about the thing. It was just a loco prejudice. Just as some gesabes has feelin’s agin cats an’ snakes, or agin seein’ a speckled nigger. It was just on-reasonable. So what I’m aimin’ to have you understand is the fact that it was extremely appropriate that Peg-leg should die, that it was a blame good thing, and somethin’ to be celebrated by free drinks all round.

“You can say he treated me white, an’ took my unsupported word. Well, so he did; but that was in spite o’ what he really was hisself, ‘way on the inside o’ him. Inside o’ him he was black-bad, an’ it wa’n’t a week after we had made our bargint that he did for a little Mojave kid in a way I don’t like to think of.

“So when he took an’ died like as how I’m a-going to tell you of, I was plumb joyful, not only because I could feel at liberty to relieve my mind when necessary in a manner as is approved of and rightful among gents — not only because o’ that, but because they was one less bad egg in the cow-country.

“Now the manner o’ Peg-leg’s dying was sure hilarious-like. I didn’t git over laughin’ about it for a month o’ Sundays — an’ I ain’t done yet. It was sure a joke on Peg-leg. The cutest joke that ever was played off on him.

“It was in Sonora — Sonora, Arizona, I mean. They’d a-been a kind o’ gold excitement there, and all the boys had rounded up. The town was full — chock-a-block. Peg-leg he was there too, drunk all the time an’ bullyin’ everybody, an’ slambangin’ around in his same old way. That very day he’d used a friend o’ his — his best friend — cruel hard: just mean and nasty, you know.

“Well, I’m sitting into a little game o’ faro about twelve o’clock at night, me an’ about a dozen o’ the boys. We’re good an’ interested, and pretty much to the good o’ the game, an’ somebody’s passin’ drinks when all at once there’s a sure big rumpus out in the street, an’ a gent sticks his head thro’ the door an’ yells out:

“‘Hi, there, they’s a fire! The Golden West Hotel is on fire!’

“We draws the game as soon as convenient and hikes out, an’, my word, you’d ‘a’ thought from the looks o’ things as how the whole town was going. But it was only the hotel — the Golden West, where Peg-leg was stayin’; an’ when we got up we could hear the ol’ murderer bellerin’ an’ ragin’, an’ him drunk — of course.

“Well, I’m some excited. Lord love you, I’d as soon ‘a’ seen Peg-leg shot as I would eat, an’ when I remembers the little Mojave kid I’m glad as how his time is at hand. Saved us the trouble o’ lynchin’ that sooner or later had to come.

“Peg-leg’s room was in the front o’ the house on the fourth floor, but the fire was all below, and what with the smoke comin’ out the third-story winders he couldn’t see down into the street, no more’n the boys could see him — only they just heard him bellerin’.

“Then some one of ’em sings out:

“‘Hey, Peg-leg, jump! We got a blanket here.’

“An’ sure enough he does jump!”

Here Bunt chuckled grimly, muttering, “Yes, sir, sure enough he did jump.”

“I don’t quite see,” I observed, “where the laugh comes in. What was the joke of it?”

“The joke of it was,” finished Bunt, “that they hadn’t any blanket.”


“Well, m’son,” observed Bunt about half an hour after supper, “if your provender has shook down comfortable by now, we might as well jar loose and be moving along out yonder.”

We left the fire and moved toward the hobbled ponies, Bunt complaining of the quality of the outfit’s meals. “Down in the Panamint country,” he growled, “we had a Chink that was a sure frying-pan expert; but this Dago — my word! That ain’t victuals, that supper. That’s just a’ ingenious device for removing superfluous appetite. Next time I assimilate nutriment in this camp I’m sure going to take chloroform beforehand. Careful to draw your cinch tight on that pinto bronc’ of yours. She always swells up same as a horned toad soon as you begin to saddle up.”

We rode from the circle of the camp-fire’s light and out upon the desert. It was Bunt’s turn to ride the herd that night, and I had volunteered to bear him company.

Bunt was one of a fast-disappearing type. He knew his West as the cockney knows his Piccadilly. He had mined with and for Ralston, had soldiered with Crook, had turned cards in a faro game at Laredo, and had known the Apache Kid. He had fifteen separate and different times driven the herds from Texas to Dodge City, in the good old, rare old, wild old days when Dodge was the headquarters for the cattle trade, and as near to heaven as the cowboy cared to get. He had seen the end of gold and the end of the buffalo, the beginning of cattle, the beginning of wheat, and the spreading of the barbed-wire fence, that, in the end, will take from him his occupation and his revolver, his chaparejos and his usefulness, his lariat and his reason for being. He had seen the rise of a new period, the successive stages of which, singularly enough, tally exactly with the progress of our own world-civilization: first the nomad and hunter, then the herder, next and last the husband-man. He had passed the mid-mark of his life. His mustache was gray. He had four friends — his horse, his pistol, a teamster in the Indian Territory Panhandle named Skinny, and me.

The herd — I suppose all told there were some two thousand head — we found not far from the water-hole. We relieved the other watch and took up our night’s vigil. It was about nine o’clock. The night was fine, calm.

There was no cloud. Toward the middle watches one could expect a moon. But the stars, the stars! In Idaho, on those lonely reaches of desert and range, where the shadow of the sun by day and the courses of the constellations by night are the only things that move, these stars are a different matter from those bleared pin-points of the city after dark, seen through dust and smoke and the glare of electrics and the hot haze of fire-signs. On such a night as that when I rode the herd with Bunt anything might have happened; one could have believed in fairies then, and in the buffalo-ghost, and in all the weirds of the craziest Apache “Messiah” that ever made medicine.

One remembered astronomy and the “measureless distances” and the showy problems, including the rapid moving of a ray of light and the long years of its travel between star and star, and smiled incredulously. Why, the stars were just above our heads, were not much higher than the flat-topped hills that barred the horizons. Venus was a yellow lamp hung in a tree; Mars a red lantern in a clock-tower.

One listened instinctively for the tramp of the constellations. Orion, Cassiopeia and Ursa Major marched to and fro on the vault like cohorts of legionaries, seemingly within call of our voices, and all without a sound.

But beneath these quiet heavens the earth disengaged multitudinous sounds — small sounds, minimized as it were by the muffling of the night. Now it was the yap of a coyote leagues away; now the snapping of a twig in the sage-brush; now the mysterious, indefinable stir of the heat-ridden land cooling under the night. But more often it was the confused murmur of the herd itself — the click of a horn, the friction of heavy bodies, the stamp of a hoof, with now and then the low, complaining note of a cow with a calf, or the subdued noise of a steer as it lay down, first lurching to the knees, then rolling clumsily upon the haunch, with a long, stertorous breath of satisfaction.

Slowly at Indian trot we encircle the herd. Earlier in the evening a prairie-wolf had pulled down a calf, and the beasts were still restless.

Little eddies of nervousness at long intervals developed here and there in the mass — eddies that not impossibly might widen at any time with perilous quickness to the maelstrom of a stampede. So as he rode Bunt sang to these great brutes, literally to put them to sleep — sang an old grandmother’s song, with all the quaint modulations of sixty, seventy, a hundred years ago:

“With her ogling winks
And bobbling blinks,
Her quizzing glass,
Her one eye idle,
Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle.
Whack, fol-de-rol!”

I remember that song. My grandmother — so they tell me — used to sing it in Carolina, in the thirties, accompanying herself on a harp, if you please:

“Oh, she loved a bold dragoon,
With his broadsword, saddle, bridle.”

It was in Charleston, I remembered, and the slave-ships used to discharge there in those days. My grandmother had sung it then to her beaux; officers they were; no wonder she chose it— “Oh, she loved a bold dragoon” — and now I heard it sung on an Idaho cattle-range to quiet two thousand restless steers.

Our talk at first, after the cattle had quieted down, ran upon all manner of subjects. It is astonishing to note what strange things men will talk about at night and in a solitude. That night we covered religion, of course, astronomy, love affairs, horses, travel, history, poker, photography, basket-making, and the Darwinian theory. But at last inevitably we came back to cattle and the pleasures and dangers of riding the herd.

“I rode herd once in Nevada,” remarked Bunt, “and I was caught into a blizzard, and I was sure freezing to death. Got to where I couldn’t keep my eyes open, I was that sleepy. Tell you what I did. Had some eating-tobacco along, and I’d chew it a spell, then rub the juice into my eyes. Kept it up all night. Blame near blinded me, but I come through. Me and another man named Blacklock — Cock-eye Blacklock we called him, by reason of his having one eye that was some out of line. Cock-eye sure ought to have got it that night, for he went bad afterward, and did a heap of killing before he did get it. He was a bad man for sure, and the way he died is a story in itself.”

There was a long pause. The ponies jogged on. Rounding on the herd, we turned southward.

“He did ‘get it’ finally, you say,” I prompted.

“He certainly did,” said Bunt, “and the story of it is what a man with a’ imaginary mind like you ought to make into one of your friction tales.”

“Is it about a treasure?” I asked with apprehension. For ever since I once made a tale (of friction) out of one of Bunt’s stories of real life, he has been ambitious for me to write another, and is forever suggesting motifs which invariably — I say invariably — imply the discovery of great treasures. With him, fictitious literature must always turn upon the discovery of hidden wealth.

“No,” said he, “it ain’t about no treasure, but just about the origin, hist’ry and development — and subsequent decease — of as mean a Greaser as ever stole stock, which his name was Cock-eye Blacklock.

“You see, this same Blacklock went bad about two summers after our meet-up with the blizzard. He worked down Yuma way and over into New Mexico, where he picks up with a sure-thing gambler, and the two begin to devastate the population. They do say when he and his running mate got good and through with that part of the Land of the Brave, men used to go round trading guns for commissary, and clothes for ponies, and cigars for whisky and such. There just wasn’t any money left anywhere. Those sharps had drawed the landscape clean. Some one found a dollar in a floor-crack in a saloon, and the barkeep’ gave him a gallon of forty-rod for it, and used to keep it in a box for exhibition, and the crowd would get around it and paw it over and say: ‘My! my! Whatever in the world is this extremely cu-roos coin?’

“Then Blacklock cuts loose from his running mate, and plays a lone hand through Arizona and Nevada, up as far as Reno again, and there he stacks up against a kid — a little tenderfoot kid so new he ain’t cracked the green paint off him — and skins him. And the kid, being foolish and impulsive-like, pulls out a peashooter. It was a twenty-two,” said Bunt, solemnly. “Yes, the kid was just that pore, pathetic kind to carry a dinky twenty-two, and with the tears runnin’ down his cheeks begins to talk tall. Now what does that Cockeye do? Why, that pore kid that he had skinned couldn’t ‘a’ hurt him with his pore little bric-à-brac. Does Cock-eye take his little parlour ornament away from him, and spank him, and tell him to go home? No, he never. The kid’s little tin pop-shooter explodes right in his hand before he can crook his forefinger twice, and while he’s a-wondering what-all has happened Cock-eye gets his two guns on him, slow and deliberate like, mind you, and throws forty-eights into him till he ain’t worth shooting at no more. Murders him like the mud-eating, horse-thieving snake of a Greaser that he is; but being within the law, the kid drawing on him first, he don’t stretch hemp the way he should.

“Well, fin’ly this Blacklock blows into a mining-camp in Placer County, California, where I’m chuck-tending on the night-shift. This here camp is maybe four miles across the divide from Iowa Hill, and it sure is named a cu-roos name, which it is Why-not. They is a barn contiguous, where the mine horses are kep’, and, blame me! if there ain’t a weathercock on top of that same — a golden trotting-horse — upside down. When the stranger an’ pilgrim comes in, says he first off: ‘Why’n snakes they got that weathercock horse upside down — why?’ says he. ‘Why-not,’ says you, and the drinks is on the pilgrim.

“That all went very lovely till some gesabe opens up a placer drift on the far side the divide, starts a rival camp, an’ names her Because. The Boss gets mad at that, and rights up the weathercock, and renames the camp Ophir, and you don’t work no more pilgrims.

“Well, as I was saying, Cock-eye drifts into Why-not and begins diffusing trouble. He skins some of the boys in the hotel over in town, and a big row comes of it, and one of the bed-rock cleaners cuts loose with both guns. Nobody hurt but a quarter-breed, who loses a’ eye. But the marshal don’t stand for no short-card men, an’ closes Cock-eye up some prompt. Him being forced to give the boys back their money is busted an’ can’t get away from camp. To raise some wind he begins depredating.

“He robs a pore half-breed of a cayuse, and shoots up a Chink who’s panning tailings, and generally and variously becomes too pronounced, till he’s run outen camp. He’s sure stony-broke, not being able to turn a card because of the marshal. So he goes to live in a ole cabin up by the mine ditch, and sits there doing a heap o’ thinking, and hatching trouble like a’ ole he-hen.

“Well, now, with that deporting of Cock-eye comes his turn of bad luck, and it sure winds his clock up with a loud report. I’ve narrated special of the scope and range of this ‘ere Blacklock, so as you’ll understand why it was expedient and desirable that he should up an’ die. You see, he always managed, with all his killings and robbings and general and sundry flimflamming, to be just within the law. And if anybody took a notion to shoot him up, why, his luck saw him through, and the other man’s shooting-iron missed fire, or exploded, or threw wild, or such like, till it seemed as if he sure did bear a charmed life; and so he did till a pore yeller tamale of a fool dog did for him what the law of the land couldn’t do. Yes, sir, a fool dog, a pup, a blame yeller pup named Sloppy Weather, did for Cock-eye Blacklock, sporting character, three-card-monte man, sure-thing sharp, killer, and general bedeviler.

“You see, it was this way. Over in American Cañon, some five miles maybe back of the mine, they was a creek called the American River, and it was sure chock-a-block full of trouts. The Boss used for to go over there with a dinky fish-pole like a buggy-whip about once a week, and scout that stream for fish and bring back a basketful. He was sure keen on it, and had bought some kind of privilege or other, so as he could keep other people off.

“Well, I used to go along with him to pack the truck, and one Saturday, about a month after Cock-eye had been run outen camp, we hiked up over the divide, and went for to round up a bunch o’ trouts. When we got to the river there was a mess for your life. Say, that river was full of dead trouts, floating atop the water; and they was some even on the bank. Not a scratch on ‘em; just dead. The Boss had the papsy-lals. I never did see a man so rip-r’aring, snorting mad. I hadn’t a guess about what we were up against, but he knew, and he showed down. He said somebody had been shooting the river for fish to sell down Sacramento way to the market. A mean trick; kill more fish in one shoot than you can possibly pack.

“Well, we didn’t do much fishing that day — couldn’t get a bite, for that matter — and took on home about noon to talk it over. You see, the Boss, in buying the privileges or such for that creek, had made himself responsible to the Fish Commissioners of the State, and ’twasn’t a week before they were after him, camping on his trail incessant, and wanting to know how about it. The Boss was some worried, because the fish were being killed right along, and the Commission was making him weary of living. Twicet afterward we prospected along that river and found the same lot of dead fish. We even put a guard there, but it didn’t do no manner of good.

“It’s the Boss who first suspicions Cock-eye. But it don’t take no seventh daughter of no seventh daughter to trace trouble where Black-lock’s about. He sudden shows up in town with a bunch of simoleons, buying bacon and tin cows Footnote: Condensed milk. and such provender, and generally giving it away that he’s come into money. The Boss, who’s watching his movements sharp, says to me one day:

“‘Bunt, the storm-centre of this here low area is a man with a cock-eye, an’ I’ll back that play with a paint horse against a paper dime.’

“‘No takers,’ says I. ‘Dirty work and a cock-eyed man are two heels of the same mule.’

“‘Which it’s a-kicking of me in the stummick frequent and painful,’ he remarks, plenty wrathful.

“‘On general principles,’ I said, ‘it’s a royal flush to a pair of deuces as how this Blacklock bird ought to stop a heap of lead, and I know the man to throw it. He’s the only brother of my sister, and tends chuck in a placer mine. How about if I take a day off and drop round to his cabin and interview him on the fleetin’ and unstable nature of human life?’

“But the Boss wouldn’t hear of that.

“‘No,’ says he; ‘that’s not the bluff to back in this game. You an’ me an’ ‘Mary-go-round’ — that was what we called the marshal, him being so much all over the country— ‘you an’ me an’ Mary-go-round will have to stock a sure-thing deck against that maverick.’

“So the three of us gets together an’ has a talky-talk, an’ we lays it out as how Cock-eye must be watched and caught red-handed.

“Well, let me tell you, keeping case on that Greaser sure did lack a certain indefinable charm. We tried him at sun-up, an’ again at sundown, an’ nights, too, laying in the chaparral an’ tarweed, an’ scouting up an’ down that blame river, till we were sore. We built surreptitious a lot of shooting-boxes up in trees on the far side of the cañon, overlooking certain an’ sundry pools in the river where Cock-eye would be likely to pursue operations, an’ we took turns watching. I’ll be a Chink if that bad egg didn’t put it on us same as previous, an’ we’d find new-killed fish all the time. I tell you we were fitchered; and it got on the Boss’s nerves. The Commission began to talk of withdrawing the privilege, an’ it was up to him to make good or pass the deal. We knew Blacklock was shooting the river, y’ see, but we didn’t have no evidence. Y’ see, being shut off from card-sharping, he was up against it, and so took to pot-hunting to get along. It was as plain as red paint.

“Well, things went along sort of catch-as-catch-can like this for maybe three weeks, the Greaser shooting fish regular, an’ the Boss b’iling with rage, and laying plans to call his hand, and getting bluffed out every deal.

“And right here I got to interrupt, to talk some about the pup dog, Sloppy Weather. If he hadn’t got caught up into this Blacklock game, no one’d ever thought enough about him to so much as kick him. But after it was all over, we began to remember this same Sloppy an’ to recall what he was; no big job. He was just a worthless fool pup, yeller at that, everybody’s dog, that just hung round camp, grinning and giggling and playing the goat, as half-grown dogs will. He used to go along with the car-boys when they went swimmin’ in the resevoy, an’ dash along in an’ yell an’ splash round just to show off. He thought it was a keen stunt to get some gesabe to throw a stick in the resevoy so’s he could paddle out after it. They’d trained him always to bring it back an’ fetch it to whichever party throwed it. He’d give it up when he’d retrieved it, an’ yell to have it throwed again. That was his idea of fun — just like a fool pup.

“Well, one day this Sloppy Weather is off chasing jack-rabbits an’ don’t come home. Nobody thinks anything about that, nor even notices it. But we afterward finds out that he’d met up with Blacklock that day, an’ stopped to visit with him — sorry day for Cockeye. Now it was the very next day after this that Mary-go-round an’ the Boss plans another scout. I’m to go, too. It was a Wednesday, an’ we lay it out that the Cockeye would prob’ly shoot that day so’s to get his fish down to the railroad Thursday, so they’d reach Sacramento Friday — fish day, see. It wasn’t much to go by, but it was the high card in our hand, an’ we allowed to draw to it.

“We left Why-not afore daybreak, an’ worked over into the cañon about sun-up. They was one big pool we hadn’t covered for some time, an’ we made out we’d watch that. So we worked down to it, an’ clumb up into our trees, an’ set out to keep guard.

“In about an hour we heard a shoot some mile or so up the creek. They’s no mistaking dynamite, leastways not to miners, an’ we knew that shoot was dynamite an’ nothing else. The Cock-eye was at work, an’ we shook hands all round. Then pretty soon a fish or so began to go by — big fellows, some of ‘em, dead an’ floatin’, with their eyes popped ‘way out same as knobs — sure sign they’d been shot.

“The Boss took and grit his teeth when he see a three-pounder go by, an’ made remarks about Blacklock.

“‘‘Sh!’ says Mary-go-round, sudden-like. ‘Listen!’

“We turned ear down the wind, an’ sure there was the sound of some one scrabbling along the boulders by the riverside. Then we heard a pup yap.

“‘That’s our man,’ whispers the Boss.

“For a long time we thought Cock-eye had quit for the day an’ had coppered us again, but byne-by we heard the manzanita crack on the far side the cañon, an’ there at last we see Blacklock working down toward the pool, Sloppy Weather following an’ yapping and cayoodling just as a fool dog will.

“Blacklock comes down to the edge of the water quiet-like. He lays his big scoop-net an’ his sack — we can see it half full already — down behind a boulder, and takes a good squinting look all round, and listens maybe twenty minutes, he’s that cute, same’s a coyote stealing sheep. We lies low an’ says nothing, fear he might see the leaves move.

“Then byne-by he takes his stick of dynamite out his hip pocket — he was just that reckless kind to carry it that way — an’ ties it careful to a couple of stones he finds handy. Then he lights the fuse an’ heaves her into the drink, an’ just there’s where Cock-eye makes the mistake of his life. He ain’t tied the rocks tight enough, an’ the loop slips off just as he swings back his arm, the stones drop straight down by his feet, and the stick of dynamite whirls out right enough into the pool.

“Then the funny business begins.

“Blacklock ain’t made no note of Sloppy Weather, who’s been sizing up the whole game an’ watchin’ for the stick. Soon as Cock-eye heaves the dynamite into the water, off goes the pup after it, just as he’d been taught to do by the car-boys.

“‘Hey, you fool dog!’ yells Blacklock.

“A lot that pup cares. He heads out for that stick of dynamite same as if for a veal cutlet, reaches it, grabs hold of it, an’ starts back for shore, with the fuse sputterin’ like hot grease. Blacklock heaves rocks at him like one possessed, capering an’ dancing; but the pup comes right on. The Cock-eye can’t stand it no longer, but lines out. But the pup’s got to shore an’ takes after him. Sure; why not? He think’s it’s all part of the game. Takes after Cock-eye, running to beat a’ express, while we-all whoops and yells an’ nearly falls out the trees for laffing. Hi! Cock-eye did scratch gravel for sure. But ‘tain’t no manner of use. He can’t run through that rough ground like Sloppy Weather, an’ that fool pup comes a-cavartin’ along, jumpin’ up against him, an’ him a-kickin’ him away, an’ r’arin’, an’ dancin’, an’ shakin’ his fists, an’ the more he r’ars the more fun the pup thinks it is. But all at once something big happens, an’ the whole bank of the cañon opens out like a big wave, and slops over into the pool, an’ the air is full of trees an’ rocks and cart-loads of dirt an’ dogs and Blacklocks and rivers an’ smoke an’ fire generally. The Boss got a clod o’ river-mud spang in the eye, an’ went off his limb like’s he was trying to bust a bucking bronc’ an’ couldn’t; and ol’ Mary-go-round was shooting off his gun on general principles, glarin’ round wild-eyed an’ like as if he saw a’ Injun devil.

“When the smoke had cleared away an’ the trees and rocks quit falling, we clumb down from our places an’ started in to look for Black-lock. We found a good deal of him, but they wasn’t hide nor hair left of Sloppy Weather. We didn’t have to dig no grave, either. They was a big enough hole in the ground to bury a horse an’ wagon, let alone Cock-eye. So we planted him there, an’ put up a board, an’ wrote on it:

Here lies most
who died of a’
entangling alliance with
stick of dynamite.

Moral: A hook and line is good enough
fish-tackle for any honest man.

“That there board lasted for two years, till the freshet of ‘82, when the American River — Hello, there’s the sun!”

All in a minute the night seemed to have closed up like a great book. The East flamed roseate. The air was cold, nimble. Some of the sage-brush bore a thin rim of frost. The herd, aroused, the dew glistening on flank and horn, were chewing the first cud of the day, and in twos and threes moving toward the water-hole for the morning’s drink. Far off toward the camp the breakfast fire sent a shaft of blue smoke straight into the moveless air. A jack-rabbit, with erect ears, limped from the sage-brush just out of pistol-shot and regarded us a moment, his nose wrinkling and trembling. By the time that Bunt and I, putting our ponies to a canter, had pulled up by the camp of the Bar-circle-Z outfit, another day had begun in Idaho.


The manuscript of the account that follows belongs to a harness-maker in Albuquerque, Juan Tejada by name, and he is welcome to whatever of advertisement this notice may bring him. He is a good fellow, and his patented martingale for stage horses may be recommended. I understand he got the manuscript from a man named Bass, or possibly Bass left it with him for safe-keeping. I know that Tejada has some things of Bass’s now — things that Bass left with him last November: a mess-kit, a lantern and a broken theodolite — a whole saddle-box full of contraptions. I forgot to ask Tejada how Bass got the manuscript, and I wish I had done so now, for the finding of it might be a story itself. The probabilities are that Bass simply picked it up page by page off the desert, blown about the spot where the fight occurred and at some little distance from the bodies. Bass, I am told, is a bone-gatherer by profession, and one can easily understand how he would come across the scene of the encounter in one of his tours into western Arizona. My interest in the affair is impersonal, but none the less keen. Though I did not know young Karslake, I knew his stuff — as everybody still does, when you come to that. For the matter of that, the mere mention of his pen-name, “Anson Qualtraugh,” recalls at once to thousands of the readers of a certain world-famous monthly magazine of New York articles and stories he wrote for it while he was alive; as, for instance, his admirable descriptive work called “Traces of the Aztecs on the Mogolon Mesa,” in the October number of 1890. Also, in the January issue of 1892 there are two specimens of his work, one signed Anson Qualtraugh and the other Justin Blisset. Why he should have used the Blisset signature I do not know. It occurs only this once in all his writings. In this case it is signed to a very indifferent New Year’s story. The Qualtraugh “stuff” of the same number is, so the editor writes to me, a much shortened transcript of a monograph on “Primitive Methods of Moki Irrigation,” which are now in the archives of the Smithsonian. The admirable novel, “The Peculiar Treasure of Kings,” is of course well known. Karslake wrote it in 1888-89, and the controversy that arose about the incident of the third chapter is still — sporadically and intermittently — continued.

The manuscript that follows now appears, of course, for the first time in print, and I acknowledge herewith my obligations to Karslake’s father, Mr. Patterson Karslake, for permission to publish.

I have set the account down word for word, with all the hiatuses and breaks that by nature of the extraordinary circumstances under which it was written were bound to appear in it. I have allowed it to end precisely as Karslake was forced to end it, in the middle of a sentence. God knows the real end is plain enough and was not far off when the poor fellow began the last phrase that never was to be finished.

The value of the thing is self-apparent. Besides the narrative of incidents it is a simple setting forth of a young man’s emotions in the very face of violent death. You will remember the distinguished victim of the guillotine, a lady who on the scaffold begged that she might be permitted to write out the great thoughts that began to throng her mind. She was not allowed to do so, and the record is lost. Here is a case where the record is preserved. But Karslake, being a young man not very much given to introspection, his work is more a picture of things seen than a transcription of things thought. However, one may read between the lines; the very breaks are eloquent, while the break at the end speaks with a significance that no words could attain.

The manuscript in itself is interesting. It is written partly in pencil, partly in ink (no doubt from a fountain pen), on sheets of manila paper torn from some sort of long and narrow account-book. In two or three places there are smudges where the powder-blackened finger and thumb held the sheets momentarily. I would give much to own it, but Tejada will not give it up without Bass’s permission, and Bass has gone to the Klondike.

As to Karslake himself. He was born in Raleigh, in North Carolina, in 1868, studied law at the State University, and went to the Bahamas in 1885 with the members of a government coast survey commission. Gave up the practice of law and “went in” for fiction and the study of the ethnology of North America about 1887. He was unmarried.

The reasons for his enlisting have long been misunderstood. It was known that at the time of his death he was a member of B Troop of the Sixth Regiment of United States Cavalry, and it was assumed that because of this fact Karslake was in financial difficulties and not upon good terms with his family. All this, of course, is untrue, and I have every reason to believe that Karslake at this time was planning a novel of military life in the Southwest, and, wishing to get in closer touch with the milieu of the story, actually enlisted in order to be able to write authoritatively. He saw no active service until the time when his narrative begins. The year of his death is uncertain. It was in the spring probably of 1896, in the twenty-eighth year of his age.

There is no doubt he would have become in time a great writer. A young man of twenty-eight who had so lively a sense of the value of accurate observation, and so eager a desire to produce that in the very face of death he could faithfully set down a description of his surroundings, actually laying down the rifle to pick up the pen, certainly was possessed of extraordinary faculties.

“They came in sight early this morning just after we had had breakfast and had broken camp. The four of us— ‘Bunt,’ ‘Idaho,’ Estorijo and myself — were jogging on to the southward and had just come up out of the dry bed of some water-hole — the alkali was white as snow in the crevices — when Idaho pointed them out to us, three to the rear, two on one side, one on the other and — very far away — two ahead. Five minutes before, the desert was as empty as the flat of my hand. They seemed literally to have grown out of the sage-brush. We took them in through my field-glasses and Bunt made sure they were an outlying band of Hunt-in-the-Morning’s Bucks. I had thought, and so had all of us, that the rest of the boys had rounded up the whole of the old man’s hostiles long since. We are at a loss to account for these fellows here. They seem to be well mounted.

“We held a council of war from the saddle without halting, but there seemed very little to be done — but to go right along and wait for developments. At about eleven we found water — just a pocket in the bed of a dried stream — and stopped to water the ponies. I am writing this during the halt.

“We have one hundred and sixteen rifle cartridges. Yesterday was Friday, and all day, as the newspapers say, ‘the situation remained unchanged.’ We expected surely that the night would see some rather radical change, but nothing happened, though we stood watch and watch till morning. Of yesterday’s eight only six are in sight and we bring up reserves. We now have two to the front, one on each side, and two to the rear, all far out of rifle-range.

The following paragraph is in an unsteady script and would appear to have been written in the saddle. The same peculiarity occurs from time to time in the narrative, and occasionally the writing is so broken as to be illegible.

“On again after breakfast. It is about eight-fifteen. The other two have come back — without ‘reserves,’ thank God. Very possibly they did not go away at all, but were hidden by a dip in the ground. I cannot see that any of them are nearer. I have watched one to the left of us steadily for more than half an hour and I am sure that he has not shortened the distance between himself and us. What their plans are Hell only knows, but this silent, persistent escorting tells on the nerves. I do not think I am afraid — as yet. It does not seem possible but that we will ride into La Paz at the end of the fortnight exactly as we had planned, meet Greenock according to arrangements and take the stage on to the railroad. Then next month I shall be in San Antonio and report at headquarters. Of course, all this is to be, of course; and this business of to-day will make a good story to tell. It’s an experience — good ‘material.’ Very naturally I cannot now see how I am going to get out of this” the word “alive” has here been erased, “but of course I will. Why ‘of course’? I don’t know. Maybe I am trying to deceive myself. Frankly, it looks like a situation insoluble; but the solution will surely come right enough in good time.

“Eleven o’clock. — No change.

“Two-thirty P. M. — We are halted to tighten girths and to take a single swallow of the canteens. One of them rode in a wide circle from the rear to the flank, about ten minutes ago, conferred a moment with his fellow, then fell back to his old position. He wears some sort of red cloth or blanket. We reach no more water till day after to-morrow. But we have sufficient. Estorijo has been telling funny stories en route.

“Four o’clock P. M. — They have closed up perceptibly, and we have been debating about trying one of them with Idaho’s Winchester. No use; better save the ammunition. It looks….” the next words are undecipherable, but from the context they would appear to beas if they would attack to-night”…we have come to know certain of them now by nicknames. We speak of the Red One, or the Little One, or the One with the Feather, and Idaho has named a short thickset fellow on our right ‘Little Willie.’ By God, I wish something would turn up — relief or fight. I don’t care which. How Estorijo can cackle on, reeling off his senseless, pointless funny stories, is beyond me. Bunt is almost as bad. They understand the fix we are in, I know, but how they can take it so easily is the staggering surprise. I feel that I am as courageous as either of them, but levity seems horribly inappropriate. I could kill Estorijo joyfully.

“Sunday morning. — Still no developments. We were so sure of something turning up last night that none of us pretended to sleep. But nothing stirred. There is no sneaking out of the circle at night. The moon is full. A jack-rabbit could not have slipped by them unseen last night.

“Nine o’clock (in the saddle). — We had coffee and bacon as usual at sunrise; then on again to the southeast just as before. For half an hour after starting the Red One and two others were well within rifle-shot, nearer than ever before. They had worked in from the flank. But before Idaho could get a chance at them they dipped into a shallow arroyo, and when they came out on the other side were too far away to think of shooting.

“Ten o’clock. — All at once we find there are nine instead of eight; where and when this last one joined the band we cannot tell. He wears a sombrero and army trousers, but the upper part of his body is bare. Idaho calls him ‘Half-and-half.’ He is riding a —— They’re coming.

“Later. — For a moment we thought it was the long-expected rush. The Red One — he had been in the front — wheeled quick as a flash and came straight for us, and the others followed suit. Great Heavens, how they rode! We could hear them yelling on every side of us. We jumped off our ponies and stood behind them, the rifles across the saddles. But at four hundred yards they all pivoted about and cantered off again leisurely. Now they followed us as before — three in the front, two in the rear and two on either side. I do not think I am going to be frightened when the rush does come. I watched myself just now. I was excited, and I remember Bunt saying to me, ‘Keep your shirt on, m’son’; but I was not afraid of being killed. Thank God for that! It is something I’ve long wished to find out, and now that I know it I am proud of it. Neither side fired a shot. I was not afraid. It’s glorious. Estorijo is all right.

“Sunday afternoon, one-thirty. — No change. It is unspeakably hot.

“Three-fifteen. — The One with the Feather is walking, leading his pony. It seems to be lame.” With this entry Karslake ended page five, and the next page of the manuscript is numbered seven. It is very probable, however, that he made a mistake in the numerical sequence of his pages, for the narrative is continuous, and, at this point at least, unbroken. There does not seem to be any sixth page.

“Four o’clock. — Is it possible that we are to pass another night of suspense? They certainly show no signs of bringing on the crisis, and they surely would not attempt anything so late in the afternoon as this. It is a relief to feel that we have nothing to fear till morning, but the tension of watching all night long is fearful.

“Later. — Idaho has just killed the Little One.

“Later. — Still firing.

“Later. — Still at it.

“Later, about five. — A bullet struck within three feet of me.

“Five-ten. — Still firing.

“Seven-thirty P. M., in camp. — It happened so quickly that it was all over before I realized. We had our first interchange of shots with them late this afternoon. The Little One was riding from the front to the flank. Evidently he did not think he was in range — nor did any of us. All at once Idaho tossed up his rifle and let go without aiming — or so it seemed to me. The stock was not at his shoulder before the report came. About six seconds after the smoke had cleared away we could see the Little One begin to lean backward in the saddle, and Idaho said grimly, ‘I guess I got you.’ The Little One leaned farther and farther till suddenly his head dropped back between his shoulder-blades. He held to his pony’s mane with both hands for a long time and then all at once went off feet first. His legs bent under him like putty as his feet touched the ground. The pony bolted.

“Just as soon as Idaho fired the others closed right up and began riding around us at top speed, firing as they went. Their aim was bad as a rule, but one bullet came very close to me. At about half-past five they drew off out of range again and we made camp right where we stood. Estorijo and I are both sure that Idaho hit the Red One, but Idaho himself is doubtful, and Bunt did not see the shot. I could swear that the Red One all but went off his pony. However, he seems active enough now.

“Monday morning. — Still another night without attack. I have not slept since Friday evening. The strain is terrific. At daybreak this morning, when one of our ponies snorted suddenly, I cried out at the top of my voice. I could no more have repressed it than I could have stopped my blood flowing; and for half an hour afterward I could feel my flesh crisping and pringling, and there was a sickening weakness at the pit of my stomach. At breakfast I had to force down my coffee. They are still in place, but now there are two on each side, two in the front, two in the rear. The killing of the Little One seems to have heartened us all wonderfully. I am sure we will get out — somehow. But oh! the suspense of it.

“Monday morning, nine-thirty. — Under way for over two hours. There is no new development. But Idaho has just said that they seem to be edging in. We hope to reach water to-day. Our supply is low, and the ponies are beginning to hang their heads. It promises to be a blazing hot day. There is alkali all to the west of us, and we just commence to see the rise of ground miles to the southward that Idaho says is the San Jacinto Mountains. Plenty of water there. The desert hereabout is vast and lonesome beyond words; leagues of sparse sage-brush, leagues of leper-white alkali, leagues of baking gray sand, empty, heat-ridden, the abomination of desolation; and always — in whichever direction I turn my eyes — always, in the midst of this pale-yellow blur, a single figure in the distance, blanketed, watchful, solitary, standing out sharp and distinct against the background of sage and sand.

“Monday, about eleven o’clock. — No change. The heat is appalling. There is just a ——

“Later. — I was on the point of saying that there was just a mouthful of water left for each of us in our canteens when Estorijo and Idaho both at the same time cried out that they were moving in. It is true. They are within rifle range, but do not fire. We, as well, have decided to reserve our fire until something more positive happens.

“Noon. — The first shot — for to-day — from the Red One. We are halted. The shot struck low and to the left. We could see the sand spout up in a cloud just as though a bubble had burst on the surface of the ground.

“They have separated from each other, and the whole eight of them are now in a circle around us. Idaho believes the Red One fired as a signal. Estorijo is getting ready to take a shot at the One with the Feather. We have the ponies in a circle around us. It looks as if now at last this was the beginning of the real business.

Later, twelve-thirty-five. — Estorijo missed. Idaho will try with the Winchester as soon as the One with the Feather halts. He is galloping toward the Red One.

“All at once, about two o’clock, the fighting began. This is the first let-up. It is now — God knows what time. They closed up suddenly and began galloping about us in a circle, firing all the time. They rode like madmen. I would not have believed that Indian ponies could run so quickly. What with their yelling and the incessant crack of their rifles and the thud of their ponies’ feet our horses at first became very restless, and at last Idaho’s mustang bolted clean away. We all stood to it as hard as we could. For about the first fifteen minutes it was hot work. The Spotted One is hit. We are certain of that much, though we do not know whose gun did the work. My poor old horse is bleeding dreadfully from the mouth. He has two bullets in the stomach, and I do not believe he can stand much longer. They have let up for the last few moments, but are still riding around us, their guns at ‘ready.’ Every now and then one of us fires, but the heat shimmer has come up over the ground since noon and the range is extraordinarily deceiving.

“Three-ten. — Estorijo’s horse is down, shot clean through the head. Mine has gone long since. We have made a rampart of the bodies.

“Three-twenty. — They are at it again, tearing around us incredibly fast, every now and then narrowing the circle. The bullets are striking everywhere now. I have no rifle, do what I can with my revolver, and try to watch what is going on in front of me and warn the others when they press in too close on my side.” Karslake nowhere accounts for the absence of his carbine. That a U. S. trooper should be without his gun while traversing a hostile country is a fact difficult to account for.

“Three-thirty. — They have winged me — through the shoulder. Not bad, but it is bothersome. I sit up to fire, and Bunt gives me his knee on which to rest my right arm. When it hangs it is painful.

“Quarter to four. — It is horrible. Bunt is dying. He cannot speak, the ball having gone through the lower part of his face, but back, near the neck. It happened through his trying to catch his horse. The animal was struck in the breast and tried to bolt. He reared up, backing away, and as we had to keep him close to us to serve as a bulwark Bunt followed him out from the little circle that we formed, his gun in one hand, his other gripping the bridle. I suppose every one of the eight fired at him simultaneously, and down he went. The pony dragged him a little ways still clutching the bridle, then fell itself, its whole weight rolling on Bunt’s chest. We have managed to get him in and secure his rifle, but he will not live. None of us knows him very well. He only joined us about a week ago, but we all liked him from the start. He never spoke of himself, so we cannot tell much about him. Idaho says he has a wife in Torreon, but that he has not lived with her for two years; they did not get along well together, it seems. This is the first violent death I have ever seen, and it astonishes me to note how unimportant it seems. How little anybody cares — after all. If I had been told of his death — the details of it, in a story or in the form of fiction — it is easily conceivable that it would have impressed me more with its importance than the actual scene has done. Possibly my mental vision is scaled to a larger field since Friday, and as the greater issues loom up one man more or less seems to be but a unit — more or less — in an eternal series. When he was hit he swung back against the horse, still holding by the rein. His feet slid from under him, and he cried out, ‘My God!’ just once. We divided his cartridges between us and Idaho passed me his carbine. The barrel was scorching hot.

“They have drawn off a little and for fifteen minutes, though they still circle us slowly, there has been no firing. Forty cartridges left. Bunt’s body (I think he is dead now) lies just back of me, and already the gnats — I can’t speak of it.”

Karslake evidently made the next few entries at successive intervals of time, but neglected in his excitement to note the exact hour as above. We may gather that “They” made another attack and then repeated the assault so quickly that he had no chance to record it properly. I transcribe the entries in exactly the disjointed manner in which they occur in the original. The reference to the “fire” is unexplainable.

“I shall do my best to set down exactly what happened and what I do and think, and what I see.

“The heat-shimmer spoiled my aim, but I am quite sure that either

“This last rush was the nearest. I had started to say that though the heat-shimmer was bad, either Estorijo or myself wounded one of their ponies. We saw him stumble.

“Another rush ——

“Our ammunition

“Only a few cartridges left.

“The Red One like a whirlwind only fifty yards away.

“We fire separately now as they sneak up under cover of our smoke.

“We put the fire out. Estorijo—” It is possible that Karslake had begun here to chronicle the death of the Mexican.

“I have killed the Spotted One. Just as he wheeled his horse I saw him in a line with the rifle-sights and let him have it squarely. It took him straight in the breast. I could feel that shot strike. He went down like a sack of lead weights. By God, it was superb!

“Later. — They have drawn off out of range again, and we are allowed a breathing-spell. Our ponies are either dead or dying, and we have dragged them around us to form a barricade. We lie on the ground behind the bodies and fire over them. There are twenty-seven cartridges left.

“It is now mid-afternoon. Our plan is to stand them off if we can till night and then to try an escape between them. But to what purpose? They would trail us so soon as it was light.

[Illustration: CAUGHT IN THE CIRCLE.

The last stand of three troopers and a scout overtaken by a band of hostile Indians

Drawn by Frederic Remington. Courtesy of Collier’s Weekly.]

“We think now that they followed us without attacking for so long because they were waiting till the lay of the land suited them. They wanted — no doubt — an absolutely flat piece of country, with no depressions, no hills or stream-beds in which we could hide, but which should be high upon the edges, like an amphitheatre. They would get us in the centre and occupy the rim themselves. Roughly, this is the bit of desert which witnesses our ‘last stand.’ On three sides the ground swells a very little — the rise is not four feet. On the third side it is open, and so flat that even lying on the ground as we do we can see (leagues away) the San Jacinto hills— ‘from whence cometh no help.’ It is all sand and sage, forever and forever. Even the sage is sparse — a bad place even for a coyote. The whole is flagellated with an intolerable heat and — now that the shooting is relaxed — oppressed with a benumbing, sodden silence — the silence of a primordial world. Such a silence as must have brooded over the Face of the Waters on the Eve of Creation — desolate, desolate, as though a colossal, invisible pillar — a pillar of the Infinitely Still, the pillar of Nirvana — rose forever into the empty blue, human life an atom of microscopic dust crushed under its basis, and at the summit God Himself. And I find time to ask myself why, at this of all moments of my tiny life-span, I am able to write as I do, registering impressions, keeping a finger upon the pulse of the spirit. But oh! if I had time now — time to write down the great thoughts that do throng the brain. They are there, I feel them, know them. No doubt the supreme exaltation of approaching death is the stimulus that one never experiences in the humdrum business of the day-to-day existence. Such mighty thoughts! Unintelligible, but if I had time I could spell them out, and how I could write then! I feel that the whole secret of Life is within my reach; I can almost grasp it; I seem to feel that in just another instant I can see it all plainly, as the archangels see it all the time, as the great minds of the world, the great philosophers, have seen it once or twice, vaguely — a glimpse here and there, after years of patient study. Seeing thus I should be the equal of the gods. But it is not meant to be. There is a sacrilege in it. I almost seem to understand why it is kept from us. But the very reason of this withholding is in itself a part of the secret. If I could only, only set it down! — for whose eyes? Those of a wandering hawk? God knows. But never mind. I should have spoken — once; should have said the great Word for which the World since the evening and the morning of the First Day has listened. God knows. God knows. What a whirl is this? Monstrous incongruity. Philosophy and fighting troopers. The Infinite and dead horses. There’s humour for you. The Sublime takes off its hat to the Ridiculous. Send a cartridge clashing into the breech and speculate about the Absolute. Keep one eye on your sights and the other on Cosmos. Blow the reek of burned powder from before you so you may look over the edge of the abyss of the Great Primal Cause. Duck to the whistle of a bullet and commune with Schopenhauer. Perhaps I am a little mad. Perhaps I am supremely intelligent. But in either case I am not understandable to myself. How, then, be understandable to others? If these sheets of paper, this incoherence, is ever read, the others will understand it about as much as the investigating hawk. But none the less be it of record that I, Karslake, SAW. It reads like Revelations: ‘I, John, saw.’ It is just that. There is something apocalyptic in it all. I have seen a vision, but cannot — there is the pitch of anguish in the impotence — bear record. If time were allowed to order and arrange the words of description, this exaltation of spirit, in that very space of time, would relax, and the describer lapse back to the level of the average again before he could set down the things he saw, the things he thought. The machinery of the mind that could coin the great Word is automatic, and the very force that brings the die near the blank metal supplies the motor power of the reaction before the impression is made … I stopped for an instant, looking up from the page, and at once the great vague panorama faded. I lost it all. Cosmos has dwindled again to an amphitheatre of sage and sand, a vista of distant purple hills, the shimmer of scorching alkali, and in the middle distance there, those figures, blanketed, beaded, feathered, rifle in hand.

“But for a moment I stood on Patmos.

“The Ridiculous jostles the elbow of the Sublime and shoulders it from place as Idaho announces that he has found two more cartridges in Estorijo’s pockets.

“They rushed again. Eight more cartridges gone. Twenty-one left. They rush in this manner — at first the circle, rapid beyond expression, one figure succeeding the other so swiftly that the dizzied vision loses count and instead of seven of them there appear to be seventy. Then suddenly, on some indistinguishable signal, they contract this circle, and through the jets of powder-smoke Idaho and I see them whirling past our rifle-sights not one hundred yards away. Then their fire suddenly slackens, the smoke drifts by, and we see them in the distance again, moving about us at a slow canter. Then the blessed breathing-spell, while we peer out to know if we have killed or not, and count our cartridges. We have laid the twenty-one loaded shells that remain in a row between us, and after our first glance outward to see if any of them are down, our next is inward at that ever-shrinking line of brass and lead. We do not talk much. This is the end. We know it now. All of a sudden the conviction that I am to die here has hardened within me. It is, all at once, absurd that I should ever have supposed that I was to reach La Paz, take the east-bound train and report at San Antonio. It seems to me that I knew, weeks ago, that our trip was to end thus. I knew it — somehow — in Sonora, while we were waiting orders, and I tell myself that if I had only stopped to really think of it I could have foreseen today’s bloody business.

“Later. — The Red One got off his horse and bound up the creature’s leg. One of us hit him, evidently. A little higher, it would have reached the heart. Our aim is ridiculously bad — the heat-shimmer ——

“Later. — Idaho is wounded. This last time, for a moment, I was sure the end had come. They were within revolver range and we could feel the vibration of the ground under their ponies’ hoofs. But suddenly they drew off. I have looked at my watch; it is four o’clock.

“Four o’clock. — Idaho’s wound is bad — a long, raking furrow in the right forearm. I bind it up for him, but he is losing a great deal of blood and is very weak.

“They seem to know that we are only two by now, for with each rush they grow bolder. The slackening of our fire must tell them how scant is our ammunition.

“Later. — This last was magnificent. The Red One and one other with lines of blue paint across his cheek galloped right at us. Idaho had been lying with his head and shoulders propped against the neck of his dead pony. His eyes were shut, and I thought he had fainted. But as he heard them coming he struggled up, first to his knees and then to his feet — to his full height — dragging his revolver from his hip with his left hand. The whole right arm swung useless. He was so weak that he could only lift the revolver half way — could not get the muzzle up. But though it sagged and dropped in his grip, he would die fighting. When he fired the bullet threw up the sand not a yard from his feet, and then he fell on his face across the body of the horse. During the charge I fired as fast as I could, but evidently to no purpose. They must have thought that Idaho was dead, for as soon as they saw him getting to his feet they sheered their horses off and went by on either side of us. I have made Idaho comfortable. He is unconscious; have used the last of the water to give him a drink. He does not seem ——

“They continue to circle us. Their fire is incessant, but very wild. So long as I keep my head down I am comparatively safe.

“Later. — I think Idaho is dying. It seems he was hit a second time when he stood up to fire. Estorijo is still breathing; I thought him dead long since.

“Four-ten. — Idaho gone. Twelve cartridges left. Am all alone now.

“Four-twenty-five. — I am very weak.” Karslake was evidently wounded sometime between ten and twenty-five minutes after four. His notes make no mention of the fact. “Eight cartridges remain. I leave my library to my brother, Walter Patterson Karslake; all my personal effects to my parents, except the picture of myself taken in Baltimore in 1897, which I direct to be” the next lines are undecipherable “…at Washington, D. C., as soon as possible. I appoint as my literary —

“Four forty-five. — Seven cartridges. Very weak and unable to move lower part of my body. Am in no pain. They rode in very close. The Red One is —— An intolerable thirst ——

“I appoint as my literary executor my brother, Patterson Karslake. The notes on ‘Coronado in New Mexico’ should be revised.

“My death occurred in western Arizona, April 15th, at the hands of a roving band of Hunt-in-the-Morning’s bucks. They have ——

“Five o’clock. — The last cartridge gone.

“Estorijo still breathing. I cover his face with my hat. Their fire is incessant. Am much weaker. Convey news of death to Patterson Karslake, care of Corn Exchange Bank, New York City.

“Five-fifteen — about. — They have ceased firing, and draw together in a bunch. I have four cartridges left” see conflicting note dated five o’clock, “but am extremely weak. Idaho was the best friend I had in all the Southwest. I wish it to be known that he was a generous, open-hearted fellow, a kindly man, clean of speech, and absolutely unselfish. He may be known as follows: Sandy beard, long sandy hair, scar on forehead, about six feet one inch in height. His real name is James Monroe Herndon; his profession that of government scout. Notify Mrs. Herndon, Trinidad, New Mexico.

“The writer is Arthur Staples Karslake, dark hair, height five feet eleven, body will be found near that of Herndon.

“Luis Estorijo, Mexican ——

“Later. — Two more cartridges.

“Five-thirty. — Estorijo dead.

“It is half-past five in the afternoon of April fifteenth. They followed us from the eleventh — Friday — till to-day. It will

The MS. ends here.


“Which I puts it up as how you ain’t never heard about that time that Hardenberg and Strokher — the Englisher — had a friendly go with bare knuckles — ten rounds it was — all along o’ a feemale woman?”

It is a small world and I had just found out that my friend, Bunt McBride — horse-wrangler, miner, faro-dealer and bone-gatherer — whose world was the plains and ranges of the Great Southwest, was known of the Three Black Crows, Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan, and had even foregathered with them on more than one of their ventures for Cyrus Ryder’s Exploitation Agency — ventures that had nothing of the desert in them, but that involved the sea, and the schooner, and the taste of the great-lunged canorous trades.

“Ye ain’t never crossed the trail o’ that mournful history?”

I professed my ignorance and said:

“They fought?”

“Mister Man,” returned Bunt soberly, as one broaching a subject not to be trifled with, “They sure did. Friendly-like, y’know — like as how two high-steppin’, sassy gents figures out to settle any little strained relations — friendly-like but considerable keen.”

He took a pinch of tobacco from his pouch and a bit of paper and rolled a cigarette in the twinkling of an eye, using only one hand, in true Mexican style.

“Now,” he said, as he drew the first long puff to the very bottom of the leathern valves he calls his lungs. “Now, I’m a-goin’ for to relate that same painful proceedin’ to you, just so as you kin get a line on the consumin’ and devourin’ foolishness o’ male humans when they’s a woman in the wind. Woman,” said Bunt, wagging his head thoughtfully at the water, “woman is a weather-breeder. Mister Dixon, they is three things I’m skeered of. The last two I don’t just rightly call to mind at this moment, but the first is woman. When I meets up with a feemale woman on my trail, I sheers off some prompt, Mr. Dixon; I sheers off. An’ Hardenberg,” he added irrelevantly, “would a-took an’ married this woman, so he would. Yes, an’ Strokher would, too.”

“Was there another man?” I asked.

“No,” said Bunt. Then he began to chuckle behind his mustaches. “Yes, they was.” He smote a thigh. “They sure was another man for fair. Well, now, Mr. Man, lemmee tell you the whole ‘how.’

“It began with me bein’ took into a wild-eyed scheme that that maverick, Cy Ryder, had cooked up for the Three Crows. They was a row down Gortamalar way. Same gesabe named Palachi — Barreto Palachi — findin’ times dull an’ the boys some off their feed, ups an’ says to hisself, ‘Exercise is wot I needs. I will now take an’ overthrow the blame Gover’ment.’ Well, this same Palachi rounds up a bunch o’ insurrectos an’ begins pesterin’ an’ badgerin’ an’ hectorin’ the Gover’ment; an’ r’arin’ round an’ bellerin’ an’ makin’ a procession of hisself, till he sure pervades the landscape; an’ before you knows what, lo’n beholt, here’s a reel live Revolution-Thing cayoodlin’ in the scenery, an’ the Gover’ment is plum bothered.

“They rounds up the gesabe at last at a place on the coast, but he escapes as easy as how-do-you-do. He can’t, howsomever, git back to his insurrectos; the blame Gover’ment being in possession of all the trails leadin’ into the hinterland; so says he, ‘What for a game would it be for me to hyke up to ‘Frisco an’ git in touch with my financial backers an’ conspirate to smuggle down a load o’ arms?’ Which the same he does, and there’s where the Three Black Crows an’ me begin to take a hand.

“Cy Ryder gives us the job o’ taking the schooner down to a certain point on the Gortamalar coast and there delivering to the agent o’ the gazabo three thousand stand o’ forty-eight Winchesters.

“When we gits this far into the game Ryder ups and says:

“‘Boys, here’s where I cashes right in. You sets right to me for the schooner and the cargo. But you goes to Palachi’s agent over ‘crost the bay for instructions and directions.’

“‘But,’ says the Englisher, Strokher, ‘this bettin’ a blind play don’t suit our hand. Why not’ says he, ‘make right up to Mister Palachi hisself?’

“‘No,’ says Ryder, ‘No, boys. Ye can’t. The Sigñor is lying as low as a toad in a wheeltrack these days, because o’ the pryin’ and meddlin’ disposition o’ the local authorities. No,’ he says, ‘ye must have your palaver with the agent which she is a woman,’ an’ thereon I groans low and despairin’.

“So soon as he mentions ‘feemale’ I knowed trouble was in the atmosphere. An’ right there is where I sure looses my presence o’ mind. What I should a-done was to say, ‘Mister Ryder, Hardenberg and gents all: You’re good boys an’ you drinks and deals fair, an’ I loves you all with a love that can never, never die for the terms o’ your natural lives, an’ may God have mercy on your souls; but I ain’t keepin’ case on this ‘ere game no longer. Woman and me is mules an’ music. We ain’t never made to ride in the same go-cart Good-by.’ That-all is wot I should ha’ said. But I didn’t. I walked right plum into the sloo, like the mudhead that I was, an’ got mired for fair — jes as I might a-knowed I would.

“Well, Ryder gives us a address over across the bay an’ we fair hykes over there all along o’ as crool a rain as ever killed crops. We finds the place after awhile, a lodgin’-house all lorn and loony, set down all by itself in the middle o’ some real estate extension like a tepee in a ‘barren’ — a crazy ‘modern’ house all gimcrack and woodwork and frostin’, with never another place in so far as you could hear a coyote yelp.

“Well, we bucks right up an’ asks o’ the party at the door if the Sigñorita Esperanza Ulivarri — that was who Ryder had told us to ask for — might be concealed about the premises, an’ we shows Cy Ryder’s note. The party that opened the door was a Greaser, the worst looking I ever clapped eyes on — looked like the kind wot ‘ud steal the coppers off his dead grandmother’s eyes. Anyhow, he says to come in, gruff-like, an’ to wait, poco tiempo.

“Well, we waited moucho tiempo — muy moucho, all a-settin’ on the edge of the sofy, with our hats on our knees, like philly-loo birds on a rail, and a-countin’ of the patterns in the wall-paper to pass the time along. An’ Hardenberg, who’s got to do the talkin’, gets the fidgets byne-by; and because he’s only restin’ the toes o’ his feet on the floor, his knees begin jiggerin’; an’ along o’ watchin’ him, my knees begin to go, an’ then Strokher’s and then Ally Bazan’s. An’ there we sat all in a row and jiggered an’ jiggered. Great snakes, it makes me sick to the stummick to think o’ the idjeets we were.

“Then after a long time we hears a rustle o’ silk petticoats, an’ we all grabs holt o’ one another an’ looks scared-like, out from under our eyebrows. An’ then — then, Mister Man, they walks into that bunk-house parlour the loveliest-lookin’ young feemale woman that ever wore hair.

“She was lovelier than Mary Anderson; she was lovelier than Lotta. She was tall, an’ black-haired, and had a eye … well, I dunno; when she gave you the littlest flicker o’ that same eye, you felt it was about time to take an’ lie right down an’ say, ‘I would esteem it, ma’am, a sure smart favour if you was to take an’ wipe your boots on my waistcoat, jus’ so’s you could hear my heart a-beatin’. That’s the kind o’ feemale woman she was.

“Well, when Hardenberg had caught his second wind, we begins to talk business.

“‘An’ you’re to take a passenger back with you,’ says Esperanza after awhile.

“‘What for a passenger might it be?’ says Hardenberg.

“She fished out her calling-card at that and tore it in two an’ gave Hardenberg one-half.

“‘It’s the party,’ she says, ‘that’ll come aboard off San Diego on your way down an’ who will show up the other half o’ the card — the half I have here an’ which the same I’m goin’ to mail to him. An’ you be sure the halves fit before you let him come aboard. An’ when that party comes aboard,’ she says, ‘he’s to take over charge.’

“‘Very good,’ says Hardenberg, mincing an’ silly like a chessy cat lappin’ cream. ‘Very good, ma’am; your orders shall be obeyed.’ He sure said it just like that, as if he spoke out o’ a story-book. An’ I kicked him under the table for it.

“Then we palavers a whole lot an’ settles the way the thing is to be run, an’ fin’ly, when we’d got as far as could be that day, the Sigñorita stood up an’ says:

“‘Now me good fellows.’ ’Twas Spanish she spoke. ‘Now, me good fellows, you must drink a drink with me.’ She herds us all up into the dining-room and fetches out — not whisky, mind you — but a great, fat, green-and-gold bottle o’ champagne, an’ when Ally Bazan has fired it off, she fills our glasses — dinky little flat glasses that looked like flower vases. Then she stands up there before us, fine an’ tall, all in black silk, an’ puts her glass up high an’ sings out ——

“‘To the Revolution!’

“An’ we all solemn-like says, ‘To the Revolution,’ an’ crooks our elbows. When we-all comes to, about half an hour later, we’re in the street outside, havin’ jus’ said good-by to the Sigñorita. We-all are some quiet the first block or so, and then Hardenberg says — stoppin’ dead in his tracks:

“‘I pauses to remark that when a certain young feemale party havin’ black hair an’ a killin’ eye gets good an’ ready to travel up the centre aisle of a church, I know the gent to show her the way, which he is six feet one in his stocking-feet, some freckled across the nose, an’ shoots with both hands.’

“‘Which the same observations,’ speaks up Strokher, twirlin’ his yeller lady-killer, ‘which the same observations,’ he says, ‘has my hearty indorsement an’ cooperation savin’ in the particular of the description o’ the gent. The gent is five foot eleven high, three feet thick, is the only son of my mother, an’ has yeller mustaches and a buck tooth.’

“‘He don’t qualify,’ puts in Hardenberg. ‘First, because he’s a Englisher, and second, because he’s up again a American — and besides, he has a tooth that’s bucked.’

“‘Buck or no buck,’ flares out Strokher, ‘wot might be the meanin’ o’ that remark consernin’ being a Englisher?’

“‘The fact o’ his bein’ English,’ says Hardenberg, ‘is only half the hoe-handle. ‘Tother half being the fact that the first-named gent is all American. No Yank ain’t never took no dust from aft a Englisher, whether it were war, walkin’-matches, or women.’

“‘But they’s a Englisher,’ sings out Strokher, ‘not forty miles from here as can nick the nose o’ a freckled Yank if so be occasion require.’

“Now ain’t that plum foolish-like,” observed Bunt, philosophically. “Ain’t it plum foolish-like o’ them two gesabes to go flyin’ up in the air like two he-hens on a hot plate — for nothin’ in the world but because a neat lookin’ feemale woman has looked at ’em some soft?

“Well, naturally, we others — Ally Bazan an’ me — we others throws it into ’em pretty strong about bein’ more kinds of blame fools than a pup with a bug; an’ they simmers down some, but along o’ the way home I kin see as how they’re a-glarin’ at each other, an’ a-drawin’ theirselves up proud-like an’ presumptchoous, an’ I groans again, not loud but deep, as the Good Book says.

“We has two or three more palavers with the Sigñorita Esperanza and stacks the deck to beat the harbor police and the Customs people an’ all, an’ to nip down the coast with our contraband. An’ each time we chins with the Sigñorita there’s them two locoes steppin’ and sidle’n’ around her, actin’ that silly-like that me and Ally Bazan takes an’ beats our heads agin’ the walls so soon as we’re alone just because we’re that pizen mortified.

“Fin’ly comes the last talky-talk an’ we’re to sail away next day an’ mebbee snatch the little Joker through or be took an’ hung by the Costa Guardas.

“An’ ‘Good-by,’ says Hardenberg to Esperanza, in a faintin’, die-away voice like a kitten with a cold. ‘An’ ain’t we goin’ to meet no more?’

“‘I sure hopes as much,’ puts in Strokher, smirkin’ so’s you’d think he was a he-milliner sellin’ a bonnet. ‘I hope,’ says he, ‘our delightful acquaintanceship ain’t a-goin’ for to end abrupt this-a-way.’

“‘Oh, you nice, big Mister Men,’ pipes up the Sigñorita in English, ‘we will meet down there in Gortamalar soon again, yes, because I go down by the vapour carriages to-morrow.’

“‘Unprotected, too,’ says Hardenberg, waggin’ his fool head. ‘An’ so young!’

“Holy Geronimo! I don’t know what more fool drivelin’ they had, but they fin’ly comes away. Ally Bazan and me rounds ’em up and conducts ’em to the boat an’ puts ’em to bed like as if they was little — or drunk, an’ the next day — or next night, rather — about one o’clock, we slips the heel ropes and hobbles o’ the schooner quiet as a mountain-lion stalking a buck, and catches the out-tide through the gate o’ the bay. Lord, we was some keyed up, lemmee tell you, an’ Ally Bazan and Hardenberg was at the fore end o’ the boat with their guns ready in case o’ bein’ asked impert’nent questions by the patrol-boats.

“Well, how-some-ever, we nips out with the little Jokers (they was writ in the manifest as minin’ pumps) an’ starts south. This ‘ere pasear down to Gortamalar is the first time I goes a-gallying about on what the Three Crows calls ‘blue water’; and when that schooner hit the bar I begins to remember that my stummick and inside arrangements ain’t made o’ no chilled steel, nor yet o’ rawhide. First I gits plum sad, and shivery, and I feels as mean an’ pore as a prairie-dog w’ich ‘as eat a horned toad back’ards. I goes to Ally Bazan and gives it out as how I’m going for to die, an’ I puts it up that I’m sure sad and depressed-like; an’ don’t care much about life nohow; an’ that present surroundin’s lack that certain undescribable charm. I tells him that I knows the ship is goin’ to sink afore we git over the bar. Waves! — they was higher’n the masts; and I’ve rode some fair lively sun-fishers in my time, but I ain’t never struck anythin’ like the r’arin’ and buckin’ and high-an’-lofty tumblin’ that that same boat went through with those first few hours after we had come out.

“But Ally Bazan tells me to go downstairs in the boat an’ lie up quiet, an’ byne-by I do feel better. By next day I kin sit up and take solid food again. An’ then’s when I takes special notice o’ the everlastin’ foolishness o’ Strokner and Hardenberg.

“You’d a thought each one o’ them two mush-heads was tryin’ to act the part of a ole cow which has had her calf took. They goes a-moonin’ about the boat that mournful it ‘ud make you yell jus’ out o’ sheer nervousness. First one ‘ud up an’ hold his head on his hand an’ lean on the fence-rail that ran around the boat, and sigh till he’d raise his pants clean outa the top o’ his boots. An’ then the other ‘ud go off in another part o’ the boat an’ he’d sigh an’ moon an’ take on fit to sicken a coyote.

“But byne-by — we’re mebbee six days to the good o’ ‘Frisco — byne-by they two gits kind o’ sassy along o’ each t’other, an’ they has a heart-to-heart talk and puts it up as how either one o’ ’em ‘ud stand to win so only the t’other was out o’ the game.

“‘It’s double or nothing,’ says Hardenberg, who is somethin’ o’ a card sharp, ‘for either you or me, Stroke; an’ if you’re agreeable I’ll play you a round o’ jacks for the chance at the Sigñorita — the loser to pull out o’ the running for good an’ all.’

“No, Strokher don’t come in on no such game, he says. He wins her, he says, as a man, and not as no poker player. No, nor he won’t throw no dice for the chance o’ winnin’ Esperanza, nor he won’t flip no coin, nor yet ‘rastle. ‘But,’ says he all of a sudden, ‘I’ll tell you which I’ll do. You’re a big, thick, strappin’ hulk o’ a two-fisted dray-horse, Hardie, an’ I ain’t no effete an’ digenerate one-lunger myself. Here’s wot I propose — that we-all takes an’ lays out a sixteen-foot ring on the quarterdeck, an’ that the raw-boned Yank and the stodgy Englisher strips to the waist, an’ all-friendly-like, settles the question by Queensbury rules an’ may the best man win.’

“Hardenberg looks him over.

“‘An’ wot might be your weight?’ says he. ‘I don’t figure on hurtin’ of you, if so be you’re below my class.’

“‘I fights at a hunder and seventy,’ says Strokher.

“‘An’ me,’ says Hardenberg, ‘at a hunder an’ seventy-five. We’re matched.’

“‘Is it a go?’ inquires Strokher.

“‘You bet your great-gran’mammy’s tortis-shell chessy cat it’s a go,’ says Hardenberg, prompt as a hop-frog catching flies.

“We don’t lose no time trying to reason with ‘em, for they is sure keen on havin’ the go. So we lays out a ring by the rear end o’ the deck, an’ runs the schooner in till we’re in the lee o’ the land, an’ she ridin’ steady on her pins.

“Then along o’ about four o’clock on a fine still day we lays the boat to, as they say, an’ folds up the sail, an’ havin’ scattered resin in the ring (which it ain’t no ring, but a square o’ ropes on posts), we says all is ready.

“Ally Bazan, he’s referee, an’ me, I’m the time-keeper which I has to ring the ship’s bell every three minutes to let ’em know to quit an’ that the round is over.

“We gets ’em into the ring, each in his own corner, squattin’ on a bucket, the time-keeper bein’ second to Hardenberg an’ the referee being second to Strokher. An’ then, after they has shuk hands, I climbs up on’ the chicken-coop an’ hollers ‘Time’ an’ they begins.

“Mister Man, I’ve saw Tim Henan at his best, an’ I’ve saw Sayres when he was a top-notcher, an’ likewise several other irregler boxin’ sharps that were sure tough tarriers. Also I’ve saw two short-horn bulls arguin’ about a question o’ leadership, but so help me Bob — the fight I saw that day made the others look like a young ladies’ quadrille. Oh, I ain’t goin’ to tell o’ that mill in detail, nor by rounds. Rounds! After the first five minutes they wa’n’t no rounds. I rung the blame bell till I rung her loose an’ Ally Bazan yells ‘break-away’ an’ ‘time’s up’ till he’s black in the face, but you could no more separate them two than you could put the brakes on a blame earthquake.

“At about suppertime we pulled ’em apart. We could do it by then, they was both so gone; an’ jammed each one o’ ’em down in their corners. I rings my bell good an’ plenty, an’ Ally Bazan stands up on a bucket in the middle o’ the ring an’ says:

“‘I declare this ‘ere glove contest a draw.’

“An’ draw it sure was. They fit for two hours stiddy an’ never a one got no better o’ the other. They give each other lick for lick as fast an’ as steady as they could stand to it. ‘Rastlin’, borin’ in, boxin’ — all was alike. The one was just as good as t’other. An’ both willin’ to the very last.

“When Ally Bazan calls it a draw, they gits up and wobbles toward each other an’ shakes hands, and Hardenberg he says:

“‘Stroke, I thanks you a whole lot for as neat a go as ever I mixed in.’

“An’ Strokher answers up:

“‘Hardie, I loves you better’n ever. You’se the first man I’ve met up with which I couldn’t do for — an’ I’ve met up with some scraggy propositions in my time, too.’

“Well, they two is a sorry-lookin’ pair o’ birds by the time we runs into San Diego harbour next night. They was fine lookin’ objects for fair, all bruises and bumps. You remember now we was to take on a party at San Diego who was to show t’other half o’ Esperanza’s card, an’ thereafterward to boss the job.

“Well, we waits till nightfall an’ then slides in an’ lays to off a certain pile o’ stone, an’ shows two green lights and one white every three and a half minutes for half a hour — this being a signal.

“They is a moon, an’ we kin see pretty well. After we’d signaled about a hour, mebbee, we gits the answer — a one-minute green flare, and thereafterward we makes out a rowboat putting out and comin’ towards us. They is two people in the boat. One is the gesabe at the oars an’ the other a party sitting in the hinder end.

“Ally Bazan an’ me, an’ Strokher an’ Hardenberg, we’s all leanin’ over the fence a-watchin’; when all to once I ups an’ groans some sad. The party in the hinder end o’ the boat bein’ feemale.

“‘Ain’t we never goin’ to git shut of ‘em?’ says I; but the words ain’t no more’n off my teeth when Strokher pipes up:

“‘It’s she,’ says he, gaspin’ as though shot hard.

“‘Wot!’ cries Hardenberg, sort of mystified, ‘Oh, I’m sure a-dreamin’! he says, just that silly-like.

“‘An’ the mugs we’ve got!’ says Strokher.

“An’ they both sets to swearin’ and cussin’ to beat all I ever heard.

“‘I can’t let her see me so bunged up,’ says Hardenberg, doleful-like, ‘Oh, whatever is to be done?’

“‘An’ I look like a real genuine blown-in-the-bottle pug,’ whimpers Strokher. ‘Never mind,’ says he, ‘we must face the music. We’ll tell her these are sure honourable scars, got because we fit for her.’

“Well, the boat comes up an’ the feemale party jumps out and comes up the let-down stairway, onto the deck. Without sayin’ a word she hands Hardenberg the half o’ the card and he fishes out his half an’ matches the two by the light o’ a lantern.

“By this time the rowboat has gone a little ways off, an’ then at last Hardenberg says:

“‘Welkum aboard, Sigñorita.’

“And Strokher cuts in with ——

“‘We thought it was to be a man that ‘ud join us here to take command, but you,’ he says — an’ oh, butter wouldn’t a-melted in his mouth— ‘But you he says, ‘is always our mistress.

“‘Very right, bueno. Me good fellows,’ says the Sigñorita, ‘but don’t you be afraid that they’s no man is at the head o’ this business.’ An’ with that the party chucks off hat an’ skirts, and I’ll be Mexican if it wa’n’t a man after all!

“‘I’m the Sigñor Barreto Palachi, gentlemen,’ says he. ‘The gringo police who wanted for to arrest me made the disguise necessary. Gentlemen, I regret to have been obliged to deceive such gallant compadres; but war knows no law.’

“Hardenberg and Strokher gives one look at the Sigñor and another at their own spiled faces, then:

“‘Come back here with the boat!’ roars Hardenberg over the side, and with that — (upon me word you’d a-thought they two both were moved with the same spring) — over they goes into the water and strikes out hands over hands for the boat as hard as ever they kin lay to it. The boat meets ’em — Lord knows what the party at the oars thought — they climbs in an’ the last I sees of ’em they was puttin’ for shore — each havin’ taken a oar from the boatman, an’ they sure was makin’ that boat hum.

“Well, we sails away eventually without ‘em; an’ a year or more afterward I crosses their trail again in Cy Ryder’s office in ‘Frisco.”

“Did you ask them about it all?” said I.

“Mister Man,” observed Bunt. “I’m several kinds of a fool; I know it. But sometimes I’m wise. I wishes for to live as long as I can, an’ die when I can’t help it. I does not, neither there, nor thereafterward, ever make no joke, nor yet no alloosion about, or concerning the Sigñorita Esperanza Palachi in the hearin’ o’ Hardenberg an’ Strokher. I’ve seen — (ye remember) — both those boys use their fists — an’ likewise Hardenberg, as he says hisself, shoots with both hands.”



Very much of this story must remain untold, for the reason that if it were definitely known what business I had aboard the tramp steam-freighter Glarus, three hundred miles off the South American coast on a certain summer’s day, some few years ago, I would very likely be obliged to answer a great many personal and direct questions put by fussy and impertinent experts in maritime law — who are paid to be inquisitive. Also, I would get “Ally Bazan,” Strokher and Hardenberg into trouble.

Suppose on that certain summer’s day, you had asked of Lloyds’ agency where the Glarus was, and what was her destination and cargo. You would have been told that she was twenty days out from Callao, bound north to San Francisco in ballast; that she had been spoken by the bark Medea and the steamer Benevento; that she was reported to have blown out a cylinder head, but being manageable was proceeding on her way under sail.

That is what Lloyds would have answered.

If you know something of the ways of ships and what is expected of them, you will understand that the Glarus, to be some half a dozen hundred miles south of where Lloyds’ would have her, and to be still going south, under full steam, was a scandal that would have made her brothers and sisters ostracize her finally and forever.

And that is curious, too. Humans may indulge in vagaries innumerable, and may go far afield in the way of lying; but a ship may not so much as quibble without suspicion. The least lapse of “regularity,” the least difficulty in squaring performance with intuition, and behold she is on the black list, and her captain, owners, officers, agents and consignors, and even supercargoes, are asked to explain.

And the Glarus was already on the black list. From the beginning her stars had been malign. As the Breda, she had first lost her reputation, seduced into a filibustering escapade down the South American coast, where in the end a plain-clothes United States detective — that is to say, a revenue cutter — arrested her off Buenos Ayres and brought her home, a prodigal daughter, besmirched and disgraced.

After that she was in some dreadful black-birding business in a far quarter of the South Pacific; and after that — her name changed finally to the Glarus — poached seals for a syndicate of Dutchmen who lived in Tacoma, and who afterward built a club-house out of what she earned.

And after that we got her.

We got her, I say, through Ryder’s South Pacific Exploitation Company. The “President” had picked out a lovely little deal for Hardenberg, Strokher and Ally Bazan (the Three Black Crows), which he swore would make them “independent rich” the rest of their respective lives. It is a promising deal (B. 300 it is on Ryder’s map), and if you want to know more about it you may write to ask Ryder what B. 300 is. If he chooses to tell you, that is his affair.

For B. 300 — let us confess it — is, as Hardenberg puts it, as crooked as a dog’s hind leg. It is as risky as barratry. If you pull it off you may — after paying Ryder his share — divide sixty-five, or possibly sixty-seven, thousand dollars between you and your associates. If you fail, and you are perilously like to fail, you will be sure to have a man or two of your companions shot, maybe yourself obliged to pistol certain people, and in the end fetch up at Tahiti, prisoner in a French patrol-boat.

Observe that B. 300 is spoken of as still open. It is so, for the reason that the Three Black Crows did not pull it off. It still stands marked up in red ink on the map that hangs over Ryder’s desk in the San Francisco office; and any one can have a chance at it who will meet Cyrus Ryder’s terms. Only he can’t get the Glarus for the attempt.

For the trip to the island after B. 300 was the last occasion on which the Glarus will smell blue water or taste the trades. She will never clear again. She is lumber.

And yet the Glarus on this very blessed day of 1902 is riding to her buoys off Sausalito in San Francisco Bay, complete in every detail (bar a broken propeller shaft), not a rope missing, not a screw loose, not a plank started — a perfectly equipped steam-freighter.

But you may go along the “Front” in San Francisco from Fisherman’s Wharf to the China steamships’ docks and shake your dollars under the seamen’s noses, and if you so much as whisper Glarus they will edge suddenly off and look at you with scared suspicion, and then, as like as not, walk away without another word. No pilot will take the Glarus out; no captain will navigate her; no stoker will feed her fires; no sailor will walk her decks. The Glarus is suspect. She has seen a ghost.

It happened on our voyage to the island after this same B. 300. We had stood well off from shore for day after day, and Hardenberg had shaped our course so far from the track of navigation that since the Benevento had hulled down and vanished over the horizon no stitch of canvas nor smudge of smoke had we seen. We had passed the equator long since, and would fetch a long circuit to the southard, and bear up against the island by a circuitous route. This to avoid being spoken. It was tremendously essential that the Glarus should not be spoken.

I suppose, no doubt, that it was the knowledge of our isolation that impressed me with the dreadful remoteness of our position. Certainly the sea in itself looks no different at a thousand than at a hundred miles from shore. But as day after day I came out on deck at noon, after ascertaining our position on the chart (a mere pin-point in a reach of empty paper), the sight of the ocean weighed down upon me with an infinitely great awesomeness — and I was no new hand to the high seas even then.

But at such times the Glarus seemed to me to be threading a loneliness beyond all worlds and beyond all conception desolate. Even in more populous waters, when no sail notches the line of the horizon, the propinquity of one’s kind is nevertheless a thing understood, and to an unappreciated degree comforting. Here, however, I knew we were out, far out in the desert. Never a keel for years upon years before us had parted these waters; never a sail had bellied to these winds. Perfunctorily, day in and day out we turned our eyes through long habit toward the horizon. But we knew, before the look, that the searching would be bootless. Forever and forever, under the pitiless sun and cold blue sky stretched the indigo of the ocean floor. The ether between the planets can be no less empty, no less void.

I never, till that moment, could have so much as conceived the imagination of such loneliness, such utter stagnant abomination of desolation. In an open boat, bereft of comrades, I should have gone mad in thirty minutes.

I remember to have approximated the impression of such empty immensity only once before, in my younger days, when I lay on my back on a treeless, bushless mountainside and stared up into the sky for the better part of an hour.

You probably know the trick. If you do not, you must understand that if you look up at the blue long enough, the flatness of the thing begins little by little to expand, to give here and there; and the eye travels on and on and up and up, till at length (well for you that it lasts but the fraction of a second), you all at once see space. You generally stop there and cry out, and — your hands over your eyes — are only too glad to grovel close to the good old solid earth again. Just as I, so often on short voyage, was glad to wrench my eyes away from that horrid vacancy, to fasten them upon our sailless masts and stack, or to lay my grip upon the sooty smudged taffrail of the only thing that stood between me and the Outer Dark.

For we had come at last to that region of the Great Seas where no ship goes, the silent sea of Coleridge and the Ancient One, the unplumbed, untracked, uncharted Dreadfulness, primordial, hushed, and we were as much alone as a grain of star-dust whirling in the empty space beyond Uranus and the ken of the greater telescopes.

So the Glarus plodded and churned her way onward. Every day and all day the same pale-blue sky and the unwinking sun bent over that moving speck. Every day and all day the same black-blue water-world, untouched by any known wind, smooth as a slab of syenite, colourful as an opal, stretched out and around and beyond and before and behind us, forever, illimitable, empty. Every day the smoke of our fires veiled the streaked whiteness of our wake. Every day Hardenberg (our skipper) at noon pricked a pin-hole in the chart that hung in the wheel-house, and that showed we were so much farther into the wilderness. Every day the world of men, of civilization, of newspapers, policemen and street-railways receded, and we steamed on alone, lost and forgotten in that silent sea.

“Jolly lot o’ room to turn raound in,” observed Ally Bazan, the colonial, “withaout steppin’ on y’r neighbour’s toes.”

“We’re clean, clean out o’ the track o’ navigation,” Hardenberg told him. “An’ a blessed good thing for us, too. Nobody ever comes down into these waters. Ye couldn’t pick no course here. Everything leads to nowhere.”

“Might as well be in a bally balloon,” said Strokher.

I shall not tell of the nature of the venture on which the Glarus was bound, further than to say it was not legitimate. It had to do with an ill thing done more than two centuries ago. There was money in the venture, but it was not to be gained by a violation of metes and bounds which are better left intact.

The island toward which we were heading is associated in the minds of men with a Horror.

A ship had called there once, two hundred years in advance of the Glarus — a ship not much unlike the crank high-prowed caravel of Hudson, and her company had landed, and having accomplished the evil they had set out to do, made shift to sail away. And then, just after the palms of the island had sunk from sight below the water’s edge, the unspeakable had happened. The Death that was not Death had arisen from out the sea and stood before the ship, and over it, and the blight of the thing lay along the decks like mould, and the ship sweated in the terror of that which is yet without a name.

Twenty men died in the first week, all but six in the second. These six, with the shadow of insanity upon them, made out to launch a boat, returned to the island and died there, after leaving a record of what had happened.

The six left the ship exactly as she was, sails all set, lanterns all lit — left her in the shadow of the Death that was not Death.

She stood there, becalmed, and watched them go. She was never heard of again.

Or was she — well, that’s as may be.

But the main point of the whole affair, to my notion, has always been this. The ship was the last friend of those six poor wretches who made back for the island with their poor chests of plunder. She was their guardian, as it were, would have defended and befriended them to the last; and also we, the Three Black Crows and myself, had no right under heaven, nor before the law of men, to come prying and peeping into this business — into this affair of the dead and buried past. There was sacrilege in it. We were no better than body-snatchers.

When I heard the others complaining of the loneliness of our surroundings, I said nothing at first. I was no sailor man, and I was on board only by tolerance. But I looked again at the maddening sameness of the horizon — the same vacant, void horizon that we had seen now for sixteen days on end, and felt in my wits and in my nerves that same formless rebellion and protest such as comes when the same note is reiterated over and over again.

It may seem a little thing that the mere fact of meeting with no other ship should have ground down the edge of the spirit. But let the incredulous — bound upon such a hazard as ours — sail straight into nothingness for sixteen days on end, seeing nothing but the sun, hearing nothing but the thresh of his own screw, and then put the question.

And yet, of all things, we desired no company. Stealth was our one great aim. But I think there were moments — toward the last — when the Three Crows would have welcomed even a cruiser.

Besides, there was more cause for depression, after all, than mere isolation.

On the seventh day Hardenberg and I were forward by the cat-head, adjusting the grain with some half-formed intent of spearing the porpoises that of late had begun to appear under our bows, and Hardenberg had been computing the number of days we were yet to run.

“We are some five hundred odd miles off that island by now,” he said, “and she’s doing her thirteen knots handsome. All’s well so far — but do you know, I’d just as soon raise that point o’ land as soon as convenient.”

“How so?” said I, bending on the line. “Expect some weather?”

“Mr. Dixon,” said he, giving me a curious glance, “the sea is a queer proposition, put it any ways. I’ve been a seafarin’ man since I was big as a minute, and I know the sea, and what’s more, the Feel o’ the sea. Now, look out yonder. Nothin’, hey? Nothin’ but the same ol’ skyline we’ve watched all the way out. The glass is as steady as a steeple, and this ol’ hooker, I reckon, is as sound as the day she went off the ways. But just the same if I were to home now, a-foolin’ about Gloucester way in my little dough-dish — d’ye know what? I’d put into port. I sure would. Because why? Because I got the Feel o’ the Sea, Mr. Dixon. I got the Feel o’ the Sea.”

I had heard old skippers say something of this before, and I cited to Hardenberg the experience of a skipper captain I once knew who had turned turtle in a calm sea off Trincomalee. I ask him what this Feel of the Sea was warning him against just now (for on the high sea any premonition is a premonition of evil, not of good). But he was not explicit.

“I don’t know,” he answered moodily, and as if in great perplexity, coiling the rope as he spoke. “I don’t know. There’s some blame thing or other close to us, I’ll bet a hat. I don’t know the name of it, but there’s a big Bird in the air, just out of sight som’eres, and,” he suddenly exclaimed, smacking his knee and leaning forward, “I — don’t — like — it — one — dam’ — bit.”

The same thing came up in our talk in the cabin that night, after the dinner was taken off and we settled down to tobacco. Only, at this time, Hardenberg was on duty on the bridge. It was Ally Bazan who spoke instead.

“Seems to me,” he hazarded, “as haow they’s somethin’ or other a-goin’ to bump up pretty blyme soon. I shouldn’t be surprised, naow, y’know, if we piled her up on some bally uncharted reef along o’ to-night and went strite daown afore we’d had a bloomin’ charnce to s’y ‘So long, gen’lemen all.’”

He laughed as he spoke, but when, just at that moment, a pan clattered in the galley, he jumped suddenly with an oath, and looked hard about the cabin.

Then Strokher confessed to a sense of distress also. He’d been having it since day before yesterday, it seemed.

“And I put it to you the glass is lovely,” he said, “so it’s no blow. I guess,” he continued, “we’re all a bit seedy and ship-sore.”

And whether or not this talk worked upon my own nerves, or whether in very truth the Feel of the Sea had found me also, I do not know; but I do know that after dinner that night, just before going to bed, a queer sense of apprehension came upon me, and that when I had come to my stateroom, after my turn upon deck, I became furiously angry with nobody in particular, because I could not at once find the matches. But here was a difference. The other man had been merely vaguely uncomfortable.

I could put a name to my uneasiness. I felt that we were being watched.

It was a strange ship’s company we made after that. I speak only of the Crows and myself. We carried a scant crew of stokers, and there was also a chief engineer. But we saw so little of him that he did not count. The Crows and I gloomed on the quarterdeck from dawn to dark, silent, irritable, working upon each other’s nerves till the creak of a block would make a man jump like cold steel laid to his flesh. We quarreled over absolute nothings, glowered at each other for half a word, and each one of us, at different times, was at some pains to declare that never in the course of his career had he been associated with such a disagreeable trio of brutes. Yet we were always together, and sought each other’s company with painful insistence.

Only once were we all agreed, and that was when the cook, a Chinaman, spoiled a certain batch of biscuits. Unanimously we fell foul of the creature with so much vociferation as fishwives till he fled the cabin in actual fear of mishandling, leaving us suddenly seized with noisy hilarity — for the first time in a week. Hardenberg proposed a round of drinks from our single remaining case of beer. We stood up and formed an Elk’s chain and then drained our glasses to each other’s health with profound seriousness.

That same evening, I remember, we all sat on the quarterdeck till late and — oddly enough — related each one his life’s history up to date; and then went down to the cabin for a game of euchre before turning in.

We had left Strokher on the bridge — it was his watch — and had forgotten all about him in the interest of the game, when — I suppose it was about one in the morning — I heard him whistle long and shrill. I laid down my cards and said:


In the silence that followed we heard at first only the muffled lope of our engines, the cadenced snorting of the exhaust, and the ticking of Hardenberg’s big watch in his waistcoat that he had hung by the arm-hole to the back of his chair. Then from the bridge, above our deck, prolonged, intoned — a wailing cry in the night — came Strokher’s voice:

“Sail oh-h-h.”

And the cards fell from our hands, and, like men turned to stone, we sat looking at each other across the soiled red cloth for what seemed an immeasurably long minute.

Then stumbling and swearing, in a hysteria of hurry, we gained the deck.

There was a moon, very low and reddish, but no wind. The sea beyond the taffrail was as smooth as lava, and so still that the swells from the cutwater of the Glarus did not break as they rolled away from the bows.

I remember that I stood staring and blinking at the empty ocean — where the moonlight lay like a painted stripe reaching to the horizon — stupid and frowning, till Hardenberg, who had gone on ahead, cried:

“Not here — on the bridge!”

We joined Strokher, and as I came up the others were asking:

“Where? Where?”

And there, before he had pointed, I saw — we all of us saw — And I heard Hardenberg’s teeth come together like a spring trap, while Ally Bazan ducked as though to a blow, muttering:

“Gord ‘a’ mercy, what nyme do ye put to’ a ship like that?”

And after that no one spoke for a long minute, and we stood there, moveless black shadows, huddled together for the sake of the blessed elbow touch that means so incalculably much, looking off over our port quarter.

For the ship that we saw there — oh, she was not a half-mile distant — was unlike any ship known to present day construction.

She was short, and high-pooped, and her stern, which was turned a little toward us, we could see, was set with curious windows, not unlike a house. And on either side of this stern were two great iron cressets such as once were used to burn signal-fires in. She had three masts with mighty yards swung ‘thwart ship, but bare of all sails save a few rotting streamers. Here and there about her a tangled mass of rigging drooped and sagged.

And there she lay, in the red eye of the setting moon, in that solitary ocean, shadowy, antique, forlorn, a thing the most abandoned, the most sinister I ever remember to have seen.

Then Strokher began to explain volubly and with many repetitions.

“A derelict, of course. I was asleep; yes, I was asleep. Gross neglect of duty. I say I was asleep — on watch. And we worked up to her. When I woke, why — you see, when I woke, there she was,” he gave a weak little laugh, “and — and now, why, there she is, you see. I turned around and saw her sudden like — when I woke up, that is.”

He laughed again, and as he laughed the engines far below our feet gave a sudden hiccough. Something crashed and struck the ship’s sides till we lurched as we stood. There was a shriek of steam, a shout — and then silence.

The noise of the machinery ceased; the Glarus slid through the still water, moving only by her own decreasing momentum.

Hardenberg sang, “Stand by!” and called down the tube to the engine-room.

“What’s up?”

I was standing close enough to him to hear the answer in a small, faint voice:

“Shaft gone, sir.”


“Yes, sir.”

Hardenberg faced about.

“Come below. We must talk.” I do not think any of us cast a glance at the Other Ship again. Certainly I kept my eyes away from her. But as we started down the companion-way I laid my hand on Strokher’s shoulder. The rest were ahead. I looked him straight between the eyes as I asked:

“Were you asleep? Is that why you saw her so suddenly?”

It is now five years since I asked the question. I am still waiting for Strokher’s answer.

Well, our shaft was broken. That was flat. We went down into the engine-room and saw the jagged fracture that was the symbol of our broken hopes. And in the course of the next five minutes’ conversation with the chief we found that, as we had not provided against such a contingency, there was to be no mending of it. We said nothing about the mishap coinciding with the appearance of the Other Ship. But I know we did not consider the break with any degree of surprise after a few moments.

We came up from the engine-room and sat down to the cabin table.

“Now what?” said Hardenberg, by way of beginning.

Nobody answered at first.

It was by now three in the morning. I recall it all perfectly. The ports opposite where I sat were open and I could see. The moon was all but full set. The dawn was coming up with a copper murkiness over the edge of the world. All the stars were yet out. The sea, for all the red moon and copper dawn, was gray, and there, less than half a mile away, still lay our consort. I could see her through the portholes with each slow careening of the Glarus.

“I vote for the island,” cried Ally Bazan, “shaft or no shaft. We rigs a bit o’ syle, y’know — —” and thereat the discussion began.

For upward of two hours it raged, with loud words and shaken forefingers, and great noisy bangings of the table, and how it would have ended I do not know, but at last — it was then maybe five in the morning — the lookout passed word down to the cabin:

“Will you come on deck, gentlemen?” It was the mate who spoke, and the man was shaken — I could see that — to the very vitals of him. We started and stared at one another, and I watched little Ally Bazan go slowly white to the lips. And even then no word of the ship, except as it might be this from Hardenberg:

“What is it? Good God Almighty, I’m no coward, but this thing is getting one too many for me.”

Then without further speech he went on deck.

The air was cool. The sun was not yet up. It was that strange, queer mid-period between dark and dawn, when the night is over and the day not yet come, just the gray that is neither light nor dark, the dim dead blink as of the refracted light from extinct worlds.

We stood at the rail. We did not speak; we stood watching. It was so still that the drip of steam from some loosened pipe far below was plainly audible, and it sounded in that lifeless, silent grayness like — God knows what — a death tick.

“You see,” said the mate, speaking just above a whisper, “there’s no mistake about it. She is moving — this way.”

“Oh, a current, of course,” Strokher tried to say cheerfully, “sets her toward us.”

Would the morning never come?

Ally Bazan — his parents were Catholic — began to mutter to himself.

Then Hardenberg spoke aloud.

“I particularly don’t want — that — out — there — to cross our bows. I don’t want it to come to that. We must get some sails on her.”

“And I put it to you as man to man,” said Strokher, “where might be your wind.”

He was right. The Glarus floated in absolute calm. On all that slab of ocean nothing moved but the Dead Ship.

She came on slowly; her bows, the high, clumsy bows pointed toward us, the water turning from her forefoot. She came on; she was near at hand. We saw her plainly — saw the rotted planks, the crumbling rigging, the rust-corroded metal-work, the broken rail, the gaping deck, and I could imagine that the clean water broke away from her sides in refluent wavelets as though in recoil from a thing unclean. She made no sound. No single thing stirred aboard the hulk of her — but she moved.

We were helpless. The Glarus could stir no boat in any direction; we were chained to the spot. Nobody had thought to put out our lights, and they still burned on through the dawn, strangely out of place in their red-and-green garishness, like maskers surprised by daylight.

And in the silence of that empty ocean, in that queer half-light between dawn and day, at six o’clock, silent as the settling of the dead to the bottomless bottom of the ocean, gray as fog, lonely, blind, soulless, voiceless, the Dead Ship crossed our bows.

I do not know how long after this the Ship disappeared, or what was the time of day when we at last pulled ourselves together. But we came to some sort of decision at last. This was to go on — under sail. We were too close to the island now to turn back for — for a broken shaft.

The afternoon was spent fitting on the sails to her, and when after nightfall the wind at length came up fresh and favourable, I believe we all felt heartened and a deal more hardy — until the last canvas went aloft, and Hardenberg took the wheel.

We had drifted a good deal since the morning, and the bows of the Glarus were pointed homeward, but as soon as the breeze blew strong enough to get steerageway Hardenberg put the wheel over and, as the booms swung across the deck, headed for the island again.

We had not gone on this course half an hour — no, not twenty minutes — before the wind shifted a whole quarter of the compass and took the Glarus square in the teeth, so that there was nothing for it but to tack. And then the strangest thing befell.

I will make allowance for the fact that there was no centre-board nor keel to speak of to the Glarus. I will admit that the sails upon a nine-hundred-ton freighter are not calculated to speed her, nor steady her. I will even admit the possibility of a current that set from the island toward us. All this may be true, yet the Glarus should have advanced. We should have made a wake.

And instead of this, our stolid, steady, trusty old boat was — what shall I say?

I will say that no man may thoroughly understand a ship — after all. I will say that new ships are cranky and unsteady; that old and seasoned ships have their little crochets, their little fussinesses that their skippers must learn and humour if they are to get anything out of them; that even the best ships may sulk at times, shirk their work, grow unstable, perverse, and refuse to answer helm and handling. And I will say that some ships that for years have sailed blue water as soberly and as docilely as a street-car horse has plodded the treadmill of the ‘tween-tracks, have been known to balk, as stubbornly and as conclusively as any old Bay Billy that ever wore a bell. I know this has happened, because I have seen it. I saw, for instance, the Glarus do it.

Quite literally and truly we could do nothing with her. We will say, if you like, that that great jar and wrench when the shaft gave way shook her and crippled her. It is true, however, that whatever the cause may have been, we could not force her toward the island. Of course, we all said “current”; but why didn’t the log-line trail?

For three days and three nights we tried it. And the Glarus heaved and plunged and shook herself just as you have seen a horse plunge and rear when his rider tries to force him at the steam-roller.

I tell you I could feel the fabric of her tremble and shudder from bow to stern-post, as though she were in a storm; I tell you she fell off from the wind, and broad-on drifted back from her course till the sensation of her shrinking was as plain as her own staring lights and a thing pitiful to see.

We roweled her, and we crowded sail upon her, and we coaxed and bullied and humoured her, till the Three Crows, their fortune only a plain sail two days ahead, raved and swore like insensate brutes, or shall we say like mahouts trying to drive their stricken elephant upon the tiger — and all to no purpose. “Damn the damned current and the damned luck and the damned shaft and all,” Hardenberg would exclaim, as from the wheel he would catch the Glarus falling off. “Go on, you old hooker — you tub of junk! My God, you’d think she was scared!”

Perhaps the Glarus was scared, perhaps not; that point is debatable. But it was beyond doubt of debate that Hardenberg was scared.

A ship that will not obey is only one degree less terrible than a mutinous crew. And we were in a fair way to have both. The stokers, whom we had impressed into duty as A.B.’s, were of course superstitious; and they knew how the Glarus was acting, and it was only a question of time before they got out of hand.

That was the end. We held a final conference in the cabin and decided that there was no help for it — we must turn back.

And back we accordingly turned, and at once the wind followed us, and the “current” helped us, and the water churned under the forefoot of the Glarus, and the wake whitened under her stern, and the log-line ran out from the trail and strained back as the ship worked homeward.

We had never a mishap from the time we finally swung her about; and, considering the circumstances, the voyage back to San Francisco was propitious.

But an incident happened just after we had started back. We were perhaps some five miles on the homeward track. It was early evening and Strokher had the watch. At about seven o’clock he called me up on the bridge.

“See her?” he said.

And there, far behind us, in the shadow of the twilight, loomed the Other Ship again, desolate, lonely beyond words. We were leaving her rapidly astern. Strokher and I stood looking at her till she dwindled to a dot. Then Strokher said:

“She’s on post again.”

And when months afterward we limped into the Golden Gate and cast anchor off the “Front” our crew went ashore as soon as discharged, and in half a dozen hours the legend was in every sailors’ boarding-house and in every seaman’s dive, from Barbary Coast to Black Tom’s.

It is still there, and that is why no pilot will take the Glarus out, no captain will navigate her, no stoker feed her fires, no sailor walk her decks. The Glarus is suspect. She will never smell blue water again, nor taste the trades. She has seen a Ghost.



The End

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