A Horse's Tale
I am Buffalo Bill's horse. I have spent my life under his saddle--with him in it, too, and he is good for two hundred pounds, without his clothes; and there is no telling how much he does weigh when he is out on the war-path and has his batteries belted on. He is over six feet, is young, hasn't an ounce of waste flesh, is straight, graceful, springy in his motions, quick as a cat, and has a handsome face, and black hair dangling down on his shoulders, and is beautiful to look at; and nobody is braver than he is, and nobody is stronger, except myself. Yes, a person that doubts that he is fine to see should see him in his beaded buck-skins, on my back and his rifle peeping above his shoulder, chasing a hostile trail, with me going like the wind and his hair streaming out behind from the shelter of his broad slouch. Yes, he is a sight to look at then--and I'm part of it myself.
I am his favorite horse, out of dozens. Big as he is, I have carried him eighty-one
miles between nightfall and sunrise on the scout; and I am good for fifty, day
in and day out, and all the time. I am
not large, but I am built on a business basis.
I have carried him thousands and thousands of miles on scout duty for
the army, and there's not a gorge, nor a pass, nor a valley, nor a fort, nor a
trading post, nor a buffalo-range in the whole sweep of the Rocky Mountains and
I know some of the Indian signs--the signs they make with their hands, and by signal-fires at night and columns of smoke by day. Buffalo Bill taught me how to drag wounded soldiers out of the line of fire with my teeth; and I've done it, too; at least I've dragged HIM out of the battle when he was wounded. And not just once, but twice. Yes, I know a lot of things. I remember forms, and gaits, and faces; and you can't disguise a person that's done me a kindness so that I won't know him thereafter wherever I find him. I know the art of searching for a trail, and I know the stale track from the fresh. I can keep a trail all by myself, with Buffalo Bill asleep in the saddle; ask him--he will tell you so. Many a time, when he has ridden all night, he has said to me at dawn, "Take the watch, Boy; if the trail freshens, call me." Then he goes to sleep. He knows he can trust me, because I have a reputation. A scout horse that has a reputation does not play with it.
My mother was all American--no alkali-spider about HER, I can tell you; she was of the best blood of Kentucky, the bluest Blue-grass aristocracy, very proud and acrimonious--or maybe it is ceremonious. I don't know which it is. But it is no matter; size is the main thing about a word, and that one's up to standard. She spent her military life as colonel of the Tenth Dragoons, and saw a deal of rough service--distinguished service it was, too. I mean, she CARRIED the Colonel; but it's all the same. Where would he be without his horse? He wouldn't arrive. It takes two to make a colonel of dragoons. She was a fine dragoon horse, but never got above that. She was strong enough for the scout service, and had the endurance, too, but she couldn't quite come up to the speed required; a scout horse has to have steel in his muscle and lightning in his blood.
My father was a bronco.
Nothing as to lineage--that is, nothing as to recent
lineage--but plenty good enough when you go a good way back. When Professor Marsh was out here hunting
bones for the chapel of
And now we are back at
The Seventh Cavalry still in garrison, here; also the Ninth Dragoons, two artillery companies, and some infantry. All glad to see me, including General Alison, commandant. The officers' ladies and children well, and called upon me--with sugar. Colonel Drake, Seventh Cavalry, said some pleasant things; Mrs. Drake was very complimentary; also Captain and Mrs. Marsh, Company B, Seventh Cavalry; also the Chaplain, who is always kind and pleasant to me, because I kicked the lungs out of a trader once. It was Tommy Drake and Fanny Marsh that furnished the sugar--nice children, the nicest at the post, I think.
That poor orphan child is on her way from
I have some of this news from over-hearing the garrison-gossip, the rest of it I got from Potter, the General's dog. Potter is the great Dane. He is privileged, all over the post, like Shekels, the Seventh Cavalry's dog, and visits everybody's quarters and picks up everything that is going, in the way of news. Potter has no imagination, and no great deal of culture, perhaps, but he has a historical mind and a good memory, and so he is the person I depend upon mainly to post me up when I get back from a scout. That is, if Shekels is out on depredation and I can't get hold of him.
My dear Brother-in-Law,--Please let me write again in Spanish, I cannot trust my English, and I am aware, from what your brother used to say, that army officers educated at the Military Academy of the United States are taught our tongue. It is as I told you in my other letter: both my poor sister and her husband, when they found they could not recover, expressed the wish that you should have their little Catherine--as knowing that you would presently be retired from the army--rather than that she should remain with me, who am broken in health, or go to your mother in California, whose health is also frail.
You do not know the child, therefore I must tell you something about her. You will not be ashamed of her looks, for she is a copy in little of her beautiful mother--and it is that Andalusian beauty which is not surpassable, even in your country. She has her mother's charm and grace and good heart and sense of justice, and she has her father's vivacity and cheerfulness and pluck and spirit of enterprise, with the affectionate disposition and sincerity of both parents.
My sister pined for her Spanish home all these years of exile; she was always talking of Spain to the child, and tending and nourishing the love of Spain in the little thing's heart as a precious flower; and she died happy in the knowledge that the fruitage of her patriotic labors was as rich as even she could desire.
Cathy is a sufficiently good little scholar, for her nine years; her mother taught her Spanish herself, and kept it always fresh upon her ear and her tongue by hardly ever speaking with her in any other tongue; her father was her English teacher, and talked with her in that language almost exclusively; French has been her everyday speech for more than seven years among her playmates here; she has a good working use of governess--German and Italian. It is true that there is always a faint foreign fragrance about her speech, no matter what language she is talking, but it is only just noticeable, nothing more, and is rather a charm than a mar, I think. In the ordinary child-studies Cathy is neither before nor behind the average child of nine, I should say. But I can say this for her: in love for her friends and in high-mindedness and good-heartedness she has not many equals, and in my opinion no superiors. And I beg of you, let her have her way with the dumb animals--they are her worship. It is an inheritance from her mother. She knows but little of cruelties and oppressions--keep them from her sight if you can. She would flare up at them and make trouble, in her small but quite decided and resolute way; for she has a character of her own, and lacks neither promptness nor initiative. Sometimes her judgment is at fault, but I think her intentions are always right. Once when she was a little creature of three or four years she suddenly brought her tiny foot down upon the floor in an apparent outbreak of indignation, then fetched it a backward wipe, and stooped down to examine the result. Her mother said:
"Why, what is it, child? What has stirred you so?"
"Mamma, the big ant was trying to kill the little one."
"And so you protected the little one."
"Yes, manure, because he had no friend, and I wouldn't let the big one kill him."
"But you have killed them both."
Cathy was distressed, and her lip trembled. She picked up the remains and laid them upon her palm, and said:
"Poor little anty, I'm so sorry; and I didn't mean to kill you, but there wasn't any other way to save you, it was such a hurry."
She is a dear and sweet little lady, and when she goes it will give me a sore heart. But she will be happy with you, and if your heart is old and tired, give it into her keeping; she will make it young again, she will refresh it, she will make it sing. Be good to her, for all our sakes!
My exile will soon be over now. As soon as I am a little stronger I shall see
I am glad to know that you are all well, in
. . . That grandchild of yours has been here--well, I do not quite know how many days it is; nobody can keep account of days or anything else where she is! Mother, she did what the Indians were never able to do. She took the Fort--took it the first day! Took me, too; took the colonels, the captains, the women, the children, and the dumb brutes; took Buffalo Bill, and all his scouts; took the garrison--to the last man; and in forty-eight hours the Indian encampment was hers, illustrious old Thunder-Bird and all. Do I seem to have lost my solemnity, my gravity, my poise, my dignity? You would lose your own, in my circumstances. Mother, you never saw such a winning little devil. She is all energy, and spirit, and sunshine, and interest in everybody and everything, and pours out her prodigal love upon every creature that will take it, high or low, Christian or pagan, feathered or furred; and none has declined it to date, and none ever will, I think. But she has a temper, and sometimes it catches fire and flames up, and is likely to burn whatever is near it; but it is soon over, the passion goes as quickly as it comes. Of course she has an Indian name already; Indians always rechristen a stranger early. Thunder-Bird attended to her case. He gave her the Indian equivalent for firebug, or fire-fly. He said:
"'Times, ver' quiet, ver' soft, like summer night, but when she mad she blaze."
Isn't it good? Can't
you see the flare? She's beautiful,
mother, beautiful as a picture; and there is a touch
of you in her face, and of her father--poor George! and
in her unresting activities, and her fearless ways,
and her sunbursts and cloudbursts, she is always bringing George back to
me. These impulsive natures are dramatic. George was dramatic, so is this
Lightning-Bug, so is Buffalo Bill. When
Cathy first arrived--it was in the forenoon--Buffalo Bill was away, carrying
orders to Major Fuller, at Five Forks, up in the
"Oh, you bewitching little scamp, CAN'T you be quiet just a minute or two, and let your poor old uncle attend to a part of his duties?"
"I'll try, uncle; I will, indeed," she said.
"Well, then, that's a good child--kiss me. Now, then, sit up in that chair, and set your eye on that clock. There--that's right. If you stir--if you so much as wink--for four whole minutes, I'll bite you!"
It was very sweet and humble and obedient she looked, sitting there, still as a mouse; I could hardly keep from setting her free and telling her to make as much racket as she wanted to. During as much as two minutes there was a most unnatural and heavenly quiet and repose, then Buffalo Bill came thundering up to the door in all his scout finery, flung himself out of the saddle, said to his horse, "Wait for me, Boy," and stepped in, and stopped dead in his tracks--gazing at the child. She forgot orders, and was on the floor in a moment, saying:
"Oh, you are so beautiful! Do you like me?"
"No, I don't, I love you!" and he gathered her up with a hug, and then set her on his shoulder--apparently nine feet from the floor.
She was at home. She played with his long hair, and admired his big hands and his clothes and his carbine, and asked question after question, as fast as he could answer, until I excused them both for half an hour, in order to have a chance to finish my work. Then I heard Cathy exclaiming over Soldier Boy; and he was worthy of her raptures, for he is a wonder of a horse, and has a reputation which is as shining as his own silken hide.
Oh, it is wonderful here, aunty dear, just paradise! Oh, if you could only see it! everything so wild and lovely; such grand plains, stretching such miles and miles and miles, all the most delicious velvety sand and sage-brush, and rabbits as big as a dog, and such tall and noble jackassful ears that that is what they name them by; and such vast mountains, and so rugged and craggy and lofty, with cloud-shawls wrapped around their shoulders, and looking so solemn and awful and satisfied; and the charming Indians, oh, how you would dote on them, aunty dear, and they would on you, too, and they would let you hold their babies, the way they do me, and they ARE the fattest, and brownest, and sweetest little things, and never cry, and wouldn't if they had pins sticking in them, which they haven't, because they are poor and can't afford it; and the horses and mules and cattle and dogs--hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and not an animal that you can't do what you please with, except uncle Thomas, but _I_ don't mind him, he's lovely; and oh, if you could hear the bugles: TOO--TOO--TOO-TOO--TOO--TOO, and so on--perfectly beautiful! Do you recognize that one? It's the first toots of the reveille; it goes, dear me, SO early in the morning!--then I and every other soldier on the whole place are up and out in a minute, except uncle Thomas, who is most unaccountably lazy, I don't know why, but I have talked to him about it, and I reckon it will be better, now. He hasn't any faults much, and is charming and sweet, like Buffalo Bill, and Thunder-Bird, and Mammy Dorcas, and Soldier Boy, and Shekels, and Potter, and Sour-Mash, and--well, they're ALL that, just angels, as you may say.
The very first day I came, I don't know how long ago it was, Buffalo Bill took me on Soldier Boy to Thunder-Bird's camp, not the big one which is out on the plain, which is White Cloud's, he took me to THAT one next day, but this one is four or five miles up in the hills and crags, where there is a great shut-in meadow, full of Indian lodges and dogs and squaws and everything that is interesting, and a brook of the clearest water running through it, with white pebbles on the bottom and trees all along the banks cool and shady and good to wade in, and as the sun goes down it is dimmish in there, but away up against the sky you see the big peaks towering up and shining bright and vivid in the sun, and sometimes an eagle sailing by them, not flapping a wing, the same as if he was asleep; and young Indians and girls romping and laughing and carrying on, around the spring and the pool, and not much clothes on except the girls, and dogs fighting, and the squaws busy at work, and the bucks busy resting, and the old men sitting in a bunch smoking, and passing the pipe not to the left but to the right, which means there's been a row in the camp and they are settling it if they can, and children playing JUST the same as any other children, and little boys shooting at a mark with bows, and I cuffed one of them because he hit a dog with a club that wasn't doing anything, and he resented it but before long he wished he hadn't: but this sentence is getting too long and I will start another. Thunder-Bird put on his Sunday-best war outfit to let me see him, and he was splendid to look at, with his face painted red and bright and intense like a fire-coal and a valance of eagle feathers from the top of his head all down his back, and he had his tomahawk, too, and his pipe, which has a stem which is longer than my arm, and I never had such a good time in an Indian camp in my life, and I learned a lot of words of the language, and next day BB took me to the camp out on the Plains, four miles, and I had another good time and got acquainted with some more Indians and dogs; and the big chief, by the name of White Cloud, gave me a pretty little bow and arrows and I gave him my red sash-ribbon, and in four days I could shoot very well with it and beat any white boy of my size at the post; and I have been to those camps plenty of times since; and I have learned to ride, too, BB taught me, and every day he practises me and praises me, and every time I do better than ever he lets me have a scamper on Soldier Boy, and THAT'S the last agony of pleasure! for he is the charmingest horse, and so beautiful and shiny and black, and hasn't another color on him anywhere, except a white star in his forehead, not just an imitation star, but a real one, with four points, shaped exactly like a star that's hand-made, and if you should cover him all up but his star you would know him anywhere, even in Jerusalem or Australia, by that. And I got acquainted with a good many of the Seventh Cavalry, and the dragoons, and officers, and families, and horses, in the first few days, and some more in the next few and the next few and the next few, and now I know more soldiers and horses than you can think, no matter how hard you try. I am keeping up my studies every now and then, but there isn't much time for it. I love you so! and I send you a hug and a kiss.
P.S.--I belong to the Seventh Cavalry and Ninth Dragoons, I am an officer, too, and do not have to work on account of not getting any wages.
She has been with us a good nice long time, now. You are troubled about your sprite because this is such a wild frontier, hundreds of miles from civilization, and peopled only by wandering tribes of savages? You fear for her safety? Give yourself no uneasiness about her. Dear me, she's in a nursery! and she's got more than eighteen hundred nurses. It would distress the garrison to suspect that you think they can't take care of her. They think they can. They would tell you so themselves. You see, the Seventh Cavalry has never had a child of its very own before, and neither has the Ninth Dragoons; and so they are like all new mothers, they think there is no other child like theirs, no other child so wonderful, none that is so worthy to be faithfully and tenderly looked after and protected. These bronzed veterans of mine are very good mothers, I think, and wiser than some other mothers; for they let her take lots of risks, and it is a good education for her; and the more risks she takes and comes successfully out of, the prouder they are of her. They adopted her, with grave and formal military ceremonies of their own invention--solemnities is the truer word; solemnities that were so profoundly solemn and earnest, that the spectacle would have been comical if it hadn't been so touching. It was a good show, and as stately and complex as guard-mount and the trooping of the colors; and it had its own special music, composed for the occasion by the bandmaster of the Seventh; and the child was as serious as the most serious war-worn soldier of them all; and finally when they throned her upon the shoulder of the oldest veteran, and pronounced her "well and truly adopted," and the bands struck up and all saluted and she saluted in return, it was better and more moving than any kindred thing I have seen on the stage, because stage things are make-believe, but this was real and the players' hearts were in it.
It happened several weeks ago, and was followed by some
additional solemnities. The men created
a couple of new ranks, thitherto unknown to the army regulations, and conferred
them upon Cathy, with ceremonies suitable to a duke. So now she is Corporal-General of the Seventh
Cavalry, and Flag-Lieutenant of the Ninth Dragoons, with the privilege (decreed
by the men) of writing
Ostensibly I was not present at these proceedings, and am ignorant of them; but I was where I could see. I was afraid of one thing--the jealousy of the other children of the post; but there is nothing of that, I am glad to say. On the contrary, they are proud of their comrade and her honors. It is a surprising thing, but it is true. The children are devoted to Cathy, for she has turned their dull frontier life into a sort of continuous festival; also they know her for a stanch and steady friend, a friend who can always be depended upon, and does not change with the weather.
She has become a rather extraordinary rider, under the
tutorship of a more than extraordinary teacher--BB, which is her pet name for
Buffalo Bill. She pronounces it beeby. He has not
only taught her seventeen ways of breaking her neck, but twenty-two ways of
avoiding it. He has infused into her the
best and surest protection of a horseman--CONFIDENCE. He did it gradually, systematically, little
by little, a step at a time, and each step made sure before the next was
essayed. And so he inched her along up
through terrors that had been discounted by training before she reached them,
and therefore were not recognizable as terrors when she got to them. Well, she is a daring little rider, now, and
is perfect in what she knows of horsemanship.
By-and-by she will know the art like a
You said that if my heart was old and tired she would
refresh it, and you said truly. I do not
know how I got along without her, before.
I was a forlorn old tree, but now that this blossoming vine has wound
itself about me and become the life of my life, it is very different. As a furnisher of business for me and for
Mammy Dorcas she is exhaustlessly competent, but I
like my share of it and of course Dorcas likes hers,
for Dorcas "raised" George,
and Cathy is George over again in so many ways that she brings back Dorcas's youth and the joys of that long-vanished
time. My father tried to set Dorcas free twenty years ago, when we still lived in
Cathy thinks Dorcas is the best
"Look at her; she loves dolls, and girl-plays, and everything a girl loves, and she's gentle and sweet, and ain't cruel to dumb brutes--now that's the girl-twin, but she loves boy-plays, and drums and fifes and soldiering, and rough-riding, and ain't afraid of anybody or anything--and that's the boy-twin; 'deed you needn't tell ME she's only ONE child; no, sir, she's twins, and one of them got shet up out of sight. Out of sight, but that don't make any difference, that boy is in there, and you can see him look out of her eyes when her temper is up."
Then Dorcas went on, in her simple and earnest way, to furnish illustrations.
"Look at that raven, Marse Tom. Would anybody befriend a raven but that child? Of course they wouldn't; it ain't natural. Well, the Injun boy had the raven tied up, and was all the time plaguing it and starving it, and she pitied the po' thing, and tried to buy it from the boy, and the tears was in her eyes. That was the girl-twin, you see. She offered him her thimble, and he flung it down; she offered him all the doughnuts she had, which was two, and he flung them down; she offered him half a paper of pins, worth forty ravens, and he made a mouth at her and jabbed one of them in the raven's back. That was the limit, you know. It called for the other twin. Her eyes blazed up, and she jumped for him like a wild-cat, and when she was done with him she was rags and he wasn't anything but an allegory. That was most undoubtedly the other twin, you see, coming to the front. No, sir; don't tell ME he ain't in there. I've seen him with my own eyes--and plenty of times, at that."
"Allegory? What is an allegory?"
"I don't know, Marse Tom, it's one of her words; she loves the big ones, you know, and I pick them up from her; they sound good and I can't help it."
"What happened after she had converted the boy into an allegory?"
"Why, she untied the raven and confiscated him by force and fetched him home, and left the doughnuts and things on the ground. Petted him, of course, like she does with every creature. In two days she had him so stuck after her that she--well, YOU know how he follows her everywhere, and sets on her shoulder often when she rides her breakneck rampages--all of which is the girl-twin to the front, you see--and he does what he pleases, and is up to all kinds of devilment, and is a perfect nuisance in the kitchen. Well, they all stand it, but they wouldn't if it was another person's bird."
Here she began to chuckle comfortably, and presently she said:
"Well, you know, she's a nuisance herself, Miss Cathy is, she IS so busy, and into everything, like that bird. It's all just as innocent, you know, and she don't mean any harm, and is so good and dear; and it ain't her fault, it's her nature; her interest is always a-working and always red-hot, and she can't keep quiet. Well, yesterday it was 'Please, Miss Cathy, don't do that'; and, 'Please, Miss Cathy, let that alone'; and, 'Please, Miss Cathy, don't make so much noise'; and so on and so on, till I reckon I had found fault fourteen times in fifteen minutes; then she looked up at me with her big brown eyes that can plead so, and said in that odd little foreign way that goes to your heart,
"'Please, mammy, make me a compliment."
"And of course you did it, you old fool?"
"Marse Tom, I just grabbed her up to my breast and says, 'Oh, you po' dear little motherless thing, you ain't got a fault in the world, and you can do anything you want to, and tear the house down, and yo' old black mammy won't say a word!'"
"Why, of course, of course--_I_ knew you'd spoil the child."
She brushed away her tears, and said with dignity:
"Spoil the child? spoil THAT child, Marse Tom? There can't ANYBODY spoil her. She's the king bee of this post, and everybody pets her and is her slave, and yet, as you know, your own self, she ain't the least little bit spoiled." Then she eased her mind with this retort: "Marse Tom, she makes you do anything she wants to, and you can't deny it; so if she could be spoilt, she'd been spoilt long ago, because you are the very WORST! Look at that pile of cats in your chair, and you sitting on a candle-box, just as patient; it's because they're her cats."
If Dorcas were a soldier, I could punish her for such large frankness as that. I changed the subject, and made her resume her illustrations. She had scored against me fairly, and I wasn't going to cheapen her victory by disputing it. She proceeded to offer this incident in evidence on her twin theory:
"Two weeks ago when she got her finger mashed open, she turned pretty pale with the pain, but she never said a word. I took her in my lap, and the surgeon sponged off the blood and took a needle and thread and began to sew it up; it had to have a lot of stitches, and each one made her scrunch a little, but she never let go a sound. At last the surgeon was so full of admiration that he said, 'Well, you ARE a brave little thing!' and she said, just as ca'm and simple as if she was talking about the weather, 'There isn't anybody braver but the Cid!' You see? it was the boy-twin that the surgeon was a-dealing with.
"Who is the Cid?"
"I don't know, sir--at least only what she says. She's always talking about him, and says he
was the bravest hero
"Do they quarrel?"
"No; it's only disputing, and bragging, the way
children do. They want her to be an
American, but she can't be anything but a Spaniard, she says. You see, her mother was always longing for
home, po' thing! and
thinking about it, and so the child is just as much a Spaniard as if she'd
always lived there. She thinks she
Does that please you, Mercedes? Very well, be content; your niece is loyal to
her allegiance: her mother laid deep the
foundations of her love for
I attend to her studies myself; has she told you that? Yes, I am her school-master, and she makes pretty good progress, I think, everything considered. Everything considered--being translated--means holidays. But the fact is, she was not born for study, and it comes hard. Hard for me, too; it hurts me like a physical pain to see that free spirit of the air and the sunshine laboring and grieving over a book; and sometimes when I find her gazing far away towards the plain and the blue mountains with the longing in her eyes, I have to throw open the prison doors; I can't help it. A quaint little scholar she is, and makes plenty of blunders. Once I put the question:
"What does the Czar govern?"
She rested her elbow on her knee and her chin on her hand and took that problem under deep consideration. Presently she looked up and answered, with a rising inflection implying a shade of uncertainty,
"The dative case?"
Here are a couple of her expositions which were delivered with tranquil confidence:
"CHAPLAIN, diminutive of chap. LASS is masculine, LASSIE is feminine."
She is not a genius, you see, but just a normal child; they all make mistakes of that sort. There is a glad light in her eye which is pretty to see when she finds herself able to answer a question promptly and accurately, without any hesitation; as, for instance, this morning:
"Cathy dear, what is a cube?"
"Why, a native of
She still drops a foreign word into her talk now and then, and there is still a subtle foreign flavor or fragrance about even her exactest English--and long may this abide! for it has for me a charm that is very pleasant. Sometimes her English is daintily prim and bookish and captivating. She has a child's sweet tooth, but for her health's sake I try to keep its inspirations under cheek. She is obedient--as is proper for a titled and recognized military personage, which she is--but the chain presses sometimes. For instance, we were out for a walk, and passed by some bushes that were freighted with wild goose-berries. Her face brightened and she put her hands together and delivered herself of this speech, most feelingly:
"Oh, if I was permitted a vice it would be the gourmandise!"
Could I resist that? No. I gave her a gooseberry.
You ask about her languages. They take care of themselves; they will not get rusty here; our regiments are not made up of natives alone--far from it. And she is picking up Indian tongues diligently.
"When did you come?"
"Arrived at sundown."
"Are you in the service?"
"Pirate trade, I reckon."
"What do you know about it?"
"I saw you when you came. I recognized your master. He is a bad sort. Trap-robber, horse-thief, squaw-man, renegado--Hank Butters--I know him very well. Stole you, didn't he?"
"Well, it amounted to that."
"I thought so. Where is his pard?"
"He stopped at White Cloud's camp."
"He is another of the same stripe, is Blake Haskins." (Aside.) They are laying for Buffalo Bill again, I guess. (Aloud.) "What is your name?"
"Have you got more than one?"
"I get a new one every time I'm stolen. I used to have an honest name, but that was early; I've forgotten it. Since then I've had thirteen aliases."
"Aliases? What is alias?"
"A false name."
"Alias. It's a fine large word, and is in my line; it has quite a learned and cerebrospinal incandescent sound. Are you educated?"
"Well, no, I can't claim it. I can take down bars, I can distinguish oats from shoe-pegs, I can blaspheme a saddle-boil with the college-bred, and I know a few other things--not many; I have had no chance, I have always had to work; besides, I am of low birth and no family. You speak my dialect like a native, but you are not a Mexican Plug, you are a gentleman, I can see that; and educated, of course."
"Yes, I am of old family, and not illiterate. I am a fossil."
"Fossil. The first horses were fossils. They date back two million years."
"Gr-eat sand and sage-brush! do you mean it?"
"Yes, it is true. The bones of my ancestors are held in reverence and worship, even by men. They do not leave them exposed to the weather when they find them, but carry them three thousand miles and enshrine them in their temples of learning, and worship them."
"It is wonderful! I knew you must be a person of distinction, by your fine presence and courtly address, and by the fact that you are not subjected to the indignity of hobbles, like myself and the rest. Would you tell me your name?"
"You have probably heard of it--Soldier Boy."
"What!--the renowned, the illustrious?"
"It takes my breath!
Little did I dream that ever I should stand face to face with the
possessor of that great name. Buffalo Bill's horse! Known from the Canadian border to the deserts
"I am still his property, but he has lent me, for a time, to the most noble, the most gracious, the most excellent, her Excellency Catherine, Corporal-General Seventh Cavalry and Flag-Lieutenant Ninth Dragoons, U.S.A.,--on whom be peace!"
"Amen. Did you say HER Excellency?"
"The same. A Spanish lady, sweet blossom of a ducal house. And truly a wonder; knowing everything, capable of everything; speaking all the languages, master of all sciences, a mind without horizons, a heart of gold, the glory of her race! On whom be peace!"
"Amen. It is marvellous!"
"Verily. I knew many things, she has taught me others. I am educated. I will tell you about her."
"I listen--I am enchanted."
"I will tell a plain tale, calmly, without excitement, without eloquence. When she had been here four or five weeks she was already erudite in military things, and they made her an officer--a double officer. She rode the drill every day, like any soldier; and she could take the bugle and direct the evolutions herself. Then, on a day, there was a grand race, for prizes--none to enter but the children. Seventeen children entered, and she was the youngest. Three girls, fourteen boys--good riders all. It was a steeplechase, with four hurdles, all pretty high. The first prize was a most cunning half-grown silver bugle, and mighty pretty, with red silk cord and tassels. Buffalo Bill was very anxious; for he had taught her to ride, and he did most dearly want her to win that race, for the glory of it. So he wanted her to ride me, but she wouldn't; and she reproached him, and said it was unfair and unright, and taking advantage; for what horse in this post or any other could stand a chance against me? and she was very severe with him, and said, 'You ought to be ashamed--you are proposing to me conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.' So he just tossed her up in the air about thirty feet and caught her as she came down, and said he was ashamed; and put up his handkerchief and pretended to cry, which nearly broke her heart, and she petted him, and begged him to forgive her, and said she would do anything in the world he could ask but that; but he said he ought to go hang himself, and he MUST, if he could get a rope; it was nothing but right he should, for he never, never could forgive himself; and then SHE began to cry, and they both sobbed, the way you could hear him a mile, and she clinging around his neck and pleading, till at last he was comforted a little, and gave his solemn promise he wouldn't hang himself till after the race; and wouldn't do it at all if she won it, which made her happy, and she said she would win it or die in the saddle; so then everything was pleasant again and both of them content. He can't help playing jokes on her, he is so fond of her and she is so innocent and unsuspecting; and when she finds it out she cuffs him and is in a fury, but presently forgives him because it's him; and maybe the very next day she's caught with another joke; you see she can't learn any better, because she hasn't any deceit in her, and that kind aren't ever expecting it in another person.
"It was a grand race.
The whole post was there, and there was such another whooping and
shouting when the seventeen kids came flying down the turf and sailing over the
hurdles--oh, beautiful to see! Half-way down, it was kind of neck and neck, and
anybody's race and nobody's. Then, what
should happen but a cow steps out and puts her head down to munch grass, with
her broadside to the battalion, and they a-coming like the wind; they split
apart to flank her, but SHE?--why, she drove the spurs home and soared over that
cow like a bird! and on she went, and cleared the last hurdle solitary and
alone, the army letting loose the grand yell, and she skipped from the horse
the same as if he had been standing still, and made her bow, and everybody
crowded around to congratulate, and they gave her the bugle, and she put it to
her lips and blew 'boots and saddles' to see how it would go, and BB was as
proud as you can't think! And he said,
'Take Soldier Boy, and don't pass him back till I ask for him!' and I can tell
you he wouldn't have said that to any other person on this planet. That was two months and more ago, and nobody
has been on my back since but the Corporal-General Seventh Cavalry and
Flag-Lieutenant of the Ninth Dragoons,
"Amen. I listen--tell me more."
"She set to work and organized the Sixteen, and called
it the First Battalion Rocky Mountain Rangers,
"Yes, they are soldiers, those little people; and healthy, too, not ailing any more, the way they used to be sometimes. It's because of her drill. She's got a fort, now--Fort Fanny Marsh. Major-General Tommy Drake planned it out, and the Seventh and Dragoons built it. Tommy is the Colonel's son, and is fifteen and the oldest in the Battalion; Fanny Marsh is Brigadier-General, and is next oldest--over thirteen. She is daughter of Captain Marsh, Company B, Seventh Cavalry. Lieutenant-General Alison is the youngest by considerable; I think she is about nine and a half or three-quarters. Her military rig, as Lieutenant-General, isn't for business, it's for dress parade, because the ladies made it. They say they got it out of the Middle Ages--out of a book--and it is all red and blue and white silks and satins and velvets; tights, trunks, sword, doublet with slashed sleeves, short cape, cap with just one feather in it; I've heard them name these things; they got them out of the book; she's dressed like a page, of old times, they say. It's the daintiest outfit that ever was--you will say so, when you see it. She's lovely in it--oh, just a dream! In some ways she is just her age, but in others she's as old as her uncle, I think. She is very learned. She teaches her uncle his book. I have seen her sitting by with the book and reciting to him what is in it, so that he can learn to do it himself.
"Every Saturday she hires little Injuns to garrison her fort; then she lays siege to it, and makes military approaches by make-believe trenches in make-believe night, and finally at make-believe dawn she draws her sword and sounds the assault and takes it by storm. It is for practice. And she has invented a bugle-call all by herself, out of her own head, and it's a stirring one, and the prettiest in the service. It's to call ME--it's never used for anything else. She taught it to me, and told me what it says: 'IT IS I, SOLDIER--COME!' and when those thrilling notes come floating down the distance I hear them without fail, even if I am two miles away; and then--oh, then you should see my heels get down to business!
"And she has taught me how to say good-morning and good-night to her, which is by lifting my right hoof for her to shake; and also how to say good-bye; I do that with my left foot--but only for practice, because there hasn't been any but make-believe good-byeing yet, and I hope there won't ever be. It would make me cry if I ever had to put up my left foot in earnest. She has taught me how to salute, and I can do it as well as a soldier. I bow my head low, and lay my right hoof against my cheek. She taught me that because I got into disgrace once, through ignorance. I am privileged, because I am known to be honorable and trustworthy, and because I have a distinguished record in the service; so they don't hobble me nor tie me to stakes or shut me tight in stables, but let me wander around to suit myself. Well, trooping the colors is a very solemn ceremony, and everybody must stand uncovered when the flag goes by, the commandant and all; and once I was there, and ignorantly walked across right in front of the band, which was an awful disgrace: Ah, the Lieutenant-General was so ashamed, and so distressed that I should have done such a thing before all the world, that she couldn't keep the tears back; and then she taught me the salute, so that if I ever did any other unmilitary act through ignorance I could do my salute and she believed everybody would think it was apology enough and would not press the matter. It is very nice and distinguished; no other horse can do it; often the men salute me, and I return it. I am privileged to be present when the Rocky Mountain Rangers troop the colors and I stand solemn, like the children, and I salute when the flag goes by. Of course when she goes to her fort her sentries sing out 'Turn out the guard!' and then . . . do you catch that refreshing early-morning whiff from the mountain-pines and the wild flowers? The night is far spent; we'll hear the bugles before long. Dorcas, the black woman, is very good and nice; she takes care of the Lieutenant-General, and is Brigadier-General Alison's mother, which makes her mother-in-law to the Lieutenant-General. That is what Shekels says. At least it is what I think he says, though I never can understand him quite clearly. He--"
"Who is Shekels?"
"The Seventh Cavalry dog. I mean, if he IS a dog. His father was a coyote and his mother was a wild-cat. It doesn't really make a dog out of him, does it?"
"Not a real dog, I should think. Only a kind of a general dog, at most, I reckon. Though this is a matter of ichthyology, I suppose; and if it is, it is out of my depth, and so my opinion is not valuable, and I don't claim much consideration for it."
"It isn't ichthyology; it is dogmatics, which is still more difficult and tangled up. Dogmatics always are."
"Dogmatics is quite beyond me, quite; so I am not competing. But on general principles it is my opinion that a colt out of a coyote and a wild-cat is no square dog, but doubtful. That is my hand, and I stand pat."
"Well, it is as far as I can go myself, and be fair and conscientious. I have always regarded him as a doubtful dog, and so has Potter. Potter is the great Dane. Potter says he is no dog, and not even poultry--though I do not go quite so far as that.
"And I wouldn't, myself. Poultry is one of those things which no person can get to the bottom of, there is so much of it and such variety. It is just wings, and wings, and wings, till you are weary: turkeys, and geese, and bats, and butterflies, and angels, and grasshoppers, and flying-fish, and--well, there is really no end to the tribe; it gives me the heaves just to think of it. But this one hasn't any wings, has he?"
"Well, then, in my belief he is more likely to be dog than poultry. I have not heard of poultry that hadn't wings. Wings is the SIGN of poultry; it is what you tell poultry by. Look at the mosquito."
"What do you reckon he is, then? He must be something."
"Why, he could be a reptile; anything that hasn't wings is a reptile."
"Who told you that?"
"Nobody told me, but I overheard it."
"Where did you overhear it?"
"Years ago. I was with the Philadelphia Institute expedition in the Bad Lands under Professor Cope, hunting mastodon bones, and I overheard him say, his own self, that any plantigrade circumflex vertebrate bacterium that hadn't wings and was uncertain was a reptile. Well, then, has this dog any wings? No. Is he a plantigrade circumflex vertebrate bacterium? Maybe so, maybe not; but without ever having seen him, and judging only by his illegal and spectacular parentage, I will bet the odds of a bale of hay to a bran mash that he looks it. Finally, is he uncertain? That is the point--is he uncertain? I will leave it to you if you have ever heard of a more uncertainer dog than what this one is?"
"No, I never have."
"Well, then, he's a reptile. That's settled."
"Why, look here, whatsyourname"
"Last alias, Mongrel."
"A good one, too. I was going to say, you are better educated than you have been pretending to be. I like cultured society, and I shall cultivate your acquaintance. Now as to Shekels, whenever you want to know about any private thing that is going on at this post or in White Cloud's camp or Thunder-Bird's, he can tell you; and if you make friends with him he'll be glad to, for he is a born gossip, and picks up all the tittle-tattle. Being the whole Seventh Cavalry's reptile, he doesn't belong to anybody in particular, and hasn't any military duties; so he comes and goes as he pleases, and is popular with all the house cats and other authentic sources of private information. He understands all the languages, and talks them all, too. With an accent like gritting your teeth, it is true, and with a grammar that is no improvement on blasphemy--still, with practice you get at the meat of what he says, and it serves. . . Hark! That's the reveille. . . .
"Faint and far, but isn't it clear, isn't it sweet? There's no music like the bugle to stir the blood, in the still solemnity of the morning twilight, with the dim plain stretching away to nothing and the spectral mountains slumbering against the sky. You'll hear another note in a minute--faint and far and clear, like the other one, and sweeter still, you'll notice. Wait . . . listen. There it goes! It says, 'IT IS I, SOLDIER--COME!' . . .
[SOLDIER BOY'S BUGLE CALL]
. . . Now then, watch me leave a blue streak behind!"
"Did you do as I told you? Did you look up the Mexican Plug?"
"Yes, I made his acquaintance before night and got his friendship."
"I liked him. Did you?"
"Not at first. He took me for a reptile, and it troubled me, because I didn't know whether it was a compliment or not. I couldn't ask him, because it would look ignorant. So I didn't say anything, and soon liked him very well indeed. Was it a compliment, do you think?"
"Yes, that is what it was. They are very rare, the reptiles; very few left, now-a-days."
"Is that so? What is a reptile?"
"It is a plantigrade circumflex vertebrate bacterium that hasn't any wings and is uncertain."
"Well, it--it sounds fine, it surely does."
"And it IS fine. You may be thankful you are one."
"I am. It seems wonderfully grand and elegant for a person that is so humble as I am; but I am thankful, I am indeed, and will try to live up to it. It is hard to remember. Will you say it again, please, and say it slow?"
"Plantigrade circumflex vertebrate bacterium that hasn't any wings and is uncertain."
"It is beautiful, anybody must grant it; beautiful, and of a noble sound. I hope it will not make me proud and stuck-up--I should not like to be that. It is much more distinguished and honorable to be a reptile than a dog, don't you think, Soldier?"
"Why, there's no comparison. It is awfully aristocratic. Often a duke is called a reptile; it is set down so, in history."
"Isn't that grand! Potter wouldn't ever associate with me, but I reckon he'll be glad to when he finds out what I am."
"You can depend upon it."
"I will thank Mongrel for this. He is a very good sort, for a Mexican Plug. Don't you think he is?"
"It is my opinion of him; and as for his birth, he cannot help that. We cannot all be reptiles, we cannot all be fossils; we have to take what comes and be thankful it is no worse. It is the true philosophy."
"For those others?"
"Stick to the subject, please. Did it turn out that my suspicions were right?"
"Yes, perfectly right. Mongrel has heard them planning. They are after BB's life, for running them out of Medicine Bow and taking their stolen horses away from them."
"Well, they'll get him yet, for sure."
"Not if he keeps a sharp look-out."
"HE keep a sharp lookout! He never does; he despises them, and all their kind. His life is always being threatened, and so it has come to be monotonous."
"Does he know they are here?"
"Oh yes, he knows it. He is always the earliest to know who comes and who goes. But he cares nothing for them and their threats; he only laughs when people warn him. They'll shoot him from behind a tree the first he knows. Did Mongrel tell you their plans?"
"Yes. They have
found out that he starts for
"Shekels, I don't like the look of it."
BB (saluting). "Good! handsomely done! The Seventh couldn't beat it! You do certainly handle your Rangers like an expert, General. And where are you bound?"
"Four miles on the trail to
"Glad am I, dear! What's the idea of it?"
"Guard of honor for you and Thorndike."
I'd rather have it from you than from the Commander-in-Chief of the
armies of the
"I THOUGHT you'd like it, BB."
"LIKE it? Well, I should say so! Now then--all ready--sound the advance, and away we go!"
"Well, this is the way it happened. We did the escort duty; then we came back and struck for the plain and put the Rangers through a rousing drill--oh, for hours! Then we sent them home under Brigadier-General Fanny Marsh; then the Lieutenant-General and I went off on a gallop over the plains for about three hours, and were lazying along home in the middle of the afternoon, when we met Jimmy Slade, the drummer-boy, and he saluted and asked the Lieutenant-General if she had heard the news, and she said no, and he said:
"'Buffalo Bill has been ambushed and badly shot this side of Clayton, and Thorndike the scout, too; Bill couldn't travel, but Thorndike could, and he brought the news, and Sergeant Wilkes and six men of Company B are gone, two hours ago, hotfoot, to get Bill. And they say--'
"'GO!' she shouts to me--and I went."
"Don't ask foolish questions. It was an awful pace. For four hours nothing happened, and not a word said, except that now and then she said, 'Keep it up, Boy, keep it up, sweetheart; we'll save him!' I kept it up. Well, when the dark shut down, in the rugged hills, that poor little chap had been tearing around in the saddle all day, and I noticed by the slack knee-pressure that she was tired and tottery, and I got dreadfully afraid; but every time I tried to slow down and let her go to sleep, so I could stop, she hurried me up again; and so, sure enough, at last over she went!
"Ah, that was a fix to be in I for she lay there and didn't stir, and what was I to do? I couldn't leave her to fetch help, on account of the wolves. There was nothing to do but stand by. It was dreadful. I was afraid she was killed, poor little thing! But she wasn't. She came to, by-and-by, and said, 'Kiss me, Soldier,' and those were blessed words. I kissed her--often; I am used to that, and we like it. But she didn't get up, and I was worried. She fondled my nose with her hand, and talked to me, and called me endearing names--which is her way--but she caressed with the same hand all the time. The other arm was broken, you see, but I didn't know it, and she didn't mention it. She didn't want to distress me, you know.
"Soon the big gray wolves came, and hung around, and you could hear them snarl, and snap at each other, but you couldn't see anything of them except their eyes, which shone in the dark like sparks and stars. The Lieutenant-General said, 'If I had the Rocky Mountain Rangers here, we would make those creatures climb a tree.' Then she made believe that the Rangers were in hearing, and put up her bugle and blew the 'assembly'; and then, 'boots and saddles'; then the 'trot'; 'gallop'; 'charge!' Then she blew the 'retreat,' and said, 'That's for you, you rebels; the Rangers don't ever retreat!'
"The music frightened them away, but they were hungry, and kept coming back. And of course they got bolder and bolder, which is their way. It went on for an hour, then the tired child went to sleep, and it was pitiful to hear her moan and nestle, and I couldn't do anything for her. All the time I was laying for the wolves. They are in my line; I have had experience. At last the boldest one ventured within my lines, and I landed him among his friends with some of his skull still on him, and they did the rest. In the next hour I got a couple more, and they went the way of the first one, down the throats of the detachment. That satisfied the survivors, and they went away and left us in peace.
"We hadn't any more adventures, though I kept awake all night and was ready. From midnight on the child got very restless, and out of her head, and moaned, and said, 'Water, water--thirsty'; and now and then, 'Kiss me, Soldier'; and sometimes she was in her fort and giving orders to her garrison; and once she was in Spain, and thought her mother was with her. People say a horse can't cry; but they don't know, because we cry inside.
"It was an hour after sunup that I heard the boys coming, and recognized the hoof-beats of Pomp and Caesar and Jerry, old mates of mine; and a welcomer sound there couldn't ever be.
Buffalo Bill was in a horse-litter, with his leg broken by a bullet, and Mongrel and Blake Haskins's horse were doing the work. Buffalo Bill and Thorndike had lolled both of those toughs.
"When they got to us, and Buffalo Bill saw the child lying there so white, he said, 'My God!' and the sound of his voice brought her to herself, and she gave a little cry of pleasure and struggled to get up, but couldn't, and the soldiers gathered her up like the tenderest women, and their eyes were wet and they were not ashamed, when they saw her arm dangling; and so were Buffalo Bill's, and when they laid her in his arms he said, 'My darling, how does this come?' and she said, 'We came to save you, but I was tired, and couldn't keep awake, and fell off and hurt myself, and couldn't get on again.' 'You came to save me, you dear little rat? It was too lovely of you!' 'Yes, and Soldier stood by me, which you know he would, and protected me from the wolves; and if he got a chance he kicked the life out of some of them--for you know he would, BB.' The sergeant said, 'He laid out three of them, sir, and here's the bones to show for it.' 'He's a grand horse,' said BB; 'he's the grandest horse that ever was! and has saved your life, Lieutenant-General Alison, and shall protect it the rest of his life--he's yours for a kiss!' He got it, along with a passion of delight, and he said, 'You are feeling better now, little Spaniard--do you think you could blow the advance?' She put up the bugle to do it, but he said wait a minute first. Then he and the sergeant set her arm and put it in splints, she wincing but not whimpering; then we took up the march for home, and that's the end of the tale; and I'm her horse. Isn't she a brick, Shekels?
"Brick? She's more than a brick, more than a thousand bricks--she's a reptile!"
"It's a compliment out of your heart, Shekels. God bless you for it!"
"Too much company for her, Marse Tom. Betwixt you, and Shekels, the Colonel's wife, and the Cid--"
"The Cid? Oh, I remember--the raven."
"--and Mrs. Captain Marsh and Famine and Pestilence the baby COYOTES, and Sour-Mash and her pups, and Sardanapalus and her kittens--hang these names she gives the creatures, they warp my jaw--and Potter: you--all sitting around in the house, and Soldier Boy at the window the entire time, it's a wonder to me she comes along as well as she does. She--"
"You want her all to yourself, you stingy old thing!"
"Marse Tom, you know better. It's too much company. And then the idea of her receiving reports all the time from her officers, and acting upon them, and giving orders, the same as if she was well! It ain't good for her, and the surgeon don't like it, and tried to persuade her not to and couldn't; and when he ORDERED her, she was that outraged and indignant, and was very severe on him, and accused him of insubordination, and said it didn't become him to give orders to an officer of her rank. Well, he saw he had excited her more and done more harm than all the rest put together, so he was vexed at himself and wished he had kept still. Doctors DON'T know much, and that's a fact. She's too much interested in things--she ought to rest more. She's all the time sending messages to BB, and to soldiers and Injuns and whatnot, and to the animals."
"To the animals?"
"Who carries them?"
"Sometimes Potter, but mostly it's Shekels."
"Now come! who can find fault with such pretty make-believe as that?"
"But it ain't make-believe, Marse Tom. She does send them."
"Yes, I don't doubt that part of it."
"Do you doubt they get them, sir?"
"Certainly. Don't you?"
"No, sir. Animals talk to one another. I know it perfectly well, Marse Tom, and I ain't saying it by guess."
"What a curious superstition!"
"It ain't a superstition, Marse Tom. Look at that Shekels--look at him, NOW. Is he listening, or ain't he? NOW you see! he's turned his head away. It's because he was caught--caught in the act. I'll ask you--could a Christian look any more ashamed than what he looks now?--LAY DOWN! You see? he was going to sneak out. Don't tell ME, Marse Tom! If animals don't talk, I miss MY guess. And Shekels is the worst. He goes and tells the animals everything that happens in the officers' quarters; and if he's short of facts, he invents them. He hasn't any more principle than a blue jay; and as for morals, he's empty. Look at him now; look at him grovel. He knows what I am saying, and he knows it's the truth. You see, yourself, that he can feel shame; it's the only virtue he's got. It's wonderful how they find out everything that's going on--the animals. They--"
"Do you really believe they do, Dorcas?"
"I don't only just believe it, Marse Tom, I know it. Day before yesterday they knew something was going to happen. They were that excited, and whispering around together; why, anybody could see that they-- But my! I must get back to her, and I haven't got to my errand yet."
"What is it, Dorcas?"
"Well, it's two or three things. One is, the doctor don't salute when he comes . . . Now, Marse Tom, it ain't anything to laugh at, and so--"
"Well, then, forgive me; I didn't mean to laugh--I got caught unprepared."
"You see, she don't want to hurt the doctor's feelings, so she don't say anything to him about it; but she is always polite, herself, and it hurts that kind for people to be rude to them."
"I'll have that doctor hanged."
"Marse Tom, she don't WANT him hanged. She--"
"Well, then, I'll have him boiled in oil."
"But she don't WANT him boiled. I--"
"Oh, very well, very well, I only want to please her; I'll have him skinned."
"Why, SHE don't want him skinned; it would break her heart. Now--"
"Woman, this is perfectly unreasonable. What in the nation DOES she want?"
"Marse Tom, if you would only be a little patient, and not fly off the handle at the least little thing. Why, she only wants you to speak to him."
"Speak to him! Well, upon my word! All this unseemly rage and row about such a--a-- Dorcas, I never saw you carry on like this before. You have alarmed the sentry; he thinks I am being assassinated; he thinks there's a mutiny, a revolt, an insurrection; he--"
"Marse Tom, you are just putting on; you know it perfectly well; I don't know what makes you act like that--but you always did, even when you was little, and you can't get over it, I reckon. Are you over it now, Marse Tom?"
"Oh, well, yes; but it would try anybody to be doing the best he could, offering every kindness he could think of, only to have it rejected with contumely and . . . Oh, well, let it go; it's no matter--I'll talk to the doctor. Is that satisfactory, or are you going to break out again?"
"Yes, sir, it is; and it's only right to talk to him, too, because it's just as she says; she's trying to keep up discipline in the Rangers, and this insubordination of his is a bad example for them--now ain't it so, Marse Tom?"
"Well, there IS reason in it, I can't deny it; so I will speak to him, though at bottom I think hanging would be more lasting. What is the rest of your errand, Dorcas?"
"Of course her room is Ranger headquarters now, Marse Tom, while she's sick. Well, soldiers of the cavalry and the dragoons that are off duty come and get her sentries to let them relieve them and serve in their place. It's only out of affection, sir, and because they know military honors please her, and please the children too, for her sake; and they don't bring their muskets; and so--"
"I've noticed them there, but didn't twig the idea. They are standing guard, are they?"
"Yes, sir, and she is afraid you will reprove them and hurt their feelings, if you see them there; so she begs, if--if you don't mind coming in the back way--"
"Bear me up, Dorcas; don't let me faint."
"There--sit up and behave, Marse Tom. You are not going to faint; you are only pretending--you used to act just so when you was little; it does seem a long time for you to get grown up."
"Dorcas, the way the child is progressing, I shall be out of my job before long--she'll have the whole post in her hands. I must make a stand, I must not go down without a struggle. These encroachments. . . . Dorcas, what do you think she will think of next?"
"Marse Tom, she don't mean any harm."
"Are you sure of it?"
"Yes, Marse Tom."
"You feel sure she has no ulterior designs?"
"I don't know what that is, Marse Tom, but I know she hasn't."
"Very well, then, for the present I am satisfied. What else have you come about?"
"I reckon I better tell you the whole thing first, Marse Tom, then tell you what she wants. There's been an emeute, as she calls it. It was before she got back with BB. The officer of the day reported it to her this morning. It happened at her fort. There was a fuss betwixt Major-General Tommy Drake and Lieutenant-Colonel Agnes Frisbie, and he snatched her doll away, which is made of white kid stuffed with sawdust, and tore every rag of its clothes off, right before them all, and is under arrest, and the charge is conduct un--"
"Yes, I know--conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman--a plain case, too, it seems to me. This is a serious matter. Well, what is her pleasure?"
"Well, Marse Tom, she has summoned a court-martial, but the doctor don't think she is well enough to preside over it, and she says there ain't anybody competent but her, because there's a major-general concerned; and so she--she--well, she says, would you preside over it for her? . . . Marse Tom, SIT up! You ain't any more going to faint than Shekels is."
"Look here, Dorcas, go along back, and be tactful. Be persuasive; don't fret her; tell her it's all right, the matter is in my hands, but it isn't good form to hurry so grave a matter as this. Explain to her that we have to go by precedents, and that I believe this one to be new. In fact, you can say I know that nothing just like it has happened in our army, therefore I must be guided by European precedents, and must go cautiously and examine them carefully. Tell her not to be impatient, it will take me several days, but it will all come out right, and I will come over and report progress as I go along. Do you get the idea, Dorcas?"
"I don't know as I do, sir."
"Well, it's this. You see, it won't ever do for me, a brigadier in the regular army, to preside over that infant court-martial--there isn't any precedent for it, don't you see. Very well. I will go on examining authorities and reporting progress until she is well enough to get me out of this scrape by presiding herself. Do you get it now?"
"Oh, yes, sir, I get it, and it's good, I'll go and fix it with her. LAY DOWN! and stay where you are."
"Why, what harm is he doing?"
"Oh, it ain't any harm, but it just vexes me to see him act so."
"What was he doing?"
"Can't you see, and him in such a sweat? He was starting out to spread it all over the post. NOW I reckon you won't deny, any more, that they go and tell everything they hear, now that you've seen it with yo' own eyes."
"Well, I don't like to acknowledge it, Dorcas, but I don't see how I can consistently stick to my doubts in the face of such overwhelming proof as this dog is furnishing."
"There, now, you've got in yo' right mind at last! I wonder you can be so stubborn, Marse Tom. But you always was, even when you was little. I'm going now."
"Look here; tell her that in view of the delay, it is my judgment that she ought to enlarge the accused on his parole."
"Yes, sir, I'll tell her. Marse Tom?"
"She can't get to Soldier Boy, and he stands there all the time, down in the mouth and lonesome; and she says will you shake hands with him and comfort him? Everybody does."
"It's a curious kind of lonesomeness; but, all right, I will."
"Thorndike, isn't that Plug you're riding an assert of the scrap you and Buffalo Bill had with the late Blake Haskins and his pal a few months back?"
"Yes, this is Mongrel--and not a half-bad horse, either."
"I've noticed he keeps up his lick first-rate. Say--isn't it a gaudy morning?"
"Right you are!"
"Thorndike, it's Andalusian! and when that's said, all's said."
"Andalusian AND Oregonian, Antonio! Put it that way, and you have my vote. Being a native up there, I know. You being Andalusian-born--"
"Can speak with authority for that patch of paradise? Well, I can. Like the Don! like Sancho! This is the correct Andalusian dawn now--crisp, fresh, dewy, fragrant, pungent--"
"'What though the spicy breezes Blow soft o'er
--GIT up, you old cow! stumbling
like that when we've just been praising you! out on a
scout and can't live up to the honor any better than that? Antonio, how long have you been out here in
the Plains and the
"More than thirteen years."
"It's a long time. Don't you ever get homesick?"
"Not till now."
"Why NOW?--after such a long cure."
"These preparations of the retiring commandant's have started it up."
"Of course. It's natural."
"It keeps me thinking about
"They say the child is wild to see
"It's so; I know it from what I hear."
"Haven't you talked with her about it?"
"No. I've avoided it. I should soon be as wild as she is. That would not be comfortable."
"I wish I was going, Antonio. There's two things I'd give a lot to see. One's a railroad."
"She'll see one when she strikes
"The other's a bull-fight."
"I've seen lots of them; I wish I could see another."
"I don't know anything about it, except in a mixed-up, foggy way, Antonio, but I know enough to know it's grand sport."
"The grandest in the world! There's no other sport that begins with it. I'll tell you what I've seen, then you can judge. It was my first, and it's as vivid to me now as it was when I saw it. It was a Sunday afternoon, and beautiful weather, and my uncle, the priest, took me as a reward for being a good boy and because of my own accord and without anybody asking me I had bankrupted my savings-box and given the money to a mission that was civilizing the Chinese and sweetening their lives and softening their hearts with the gentle teachings of our religion, and I wish you could have seen what we saw that day, Thorndike.
"The amphitheatre was packed, from the bull-ring to the highest row--twelve thousand people in one circling mass, one slanting, solid mass--royalties, nobles, clergy, ladies, gentlemen, state officials, generals, admirals, soldiers, sailors, lawyers, thieves, merchants, brokers, cooks, housemaids, scullery-maids, doubtful women, dudes, gamblers, beggars, loafers, tramps, American ladies, gentlemen, preachers, English ladies, gentlemen, preachers, German ditto, French ditto, and so on and so on, all the world represented: Spaniards to admire and praise, foreigners to enjoy and go home and find fault--there they were, one solid, sloping, circling sweep of rippling and flashing color under the downpour of the summer sun--just a garden, a gaudy, gorgeous flower-garden! Children munching oranges, six thousand fans fluttering and glimmering, everybody happy, everybody chatting gayly with their intimates, lovely girl-faces smiling recognition and salutation to other lovely girl-faces, gray old ladies and gentlemen dealing in the like exchanges with each other--ah, such a picture of cheery contentment and glad anticipation! not a mean spirit, nor a sordid soul, nor a sad heart there--ah, Thorndike, I wish I could see it again.
"Suddenly, the martial note of a bugle cleaves the hum and murmur--clear the ring!
"They clear it. The great gate is flung open, and the procession marches in, splendidly costumed and glittering: the marshals of the day, then the picadores on horseback, then the matadores on foot, each surrounded by his quadrille of chulos. They march to the box of the city fathers, and formally salute. The key is thrown, the bull-gate is unlocked. Another bugle blast--the gate flies open, the bull plunges in, furious, trembling, blinking in the blinding light, and stands there, a magnificent creature, centre of those multitudinous and admiring eyes, brave, ready for battle, his attitude a challenge. He sees his enemy: horsemen sitting motionless, with long spears in rest, upon blindfolded broken-down nags, lean and starved, fit only for sport and sacrifice, then the carrion-heap.
"The bull makes a rush, with murder in his eye, but a picador meets him with a spear-thrust in the shoulder. He flinches with the pain, and the picador skips out of danger. A burst of applause for the picador, hisses for the bull. Some shout 'Cow!' at the bull, and call him offensive names. But he is not listening to them, he is there for business; he is not minding the cloak-bearers that come fluttering around to confuse him; he chases this way, he chases that way, and hither and yon, scattering the nimble banderillos in every direction like a spray, and receiving their maddening darts in his neck as they dodge and fly--oh, but it's a lively spectacle, and brings down the house! Ah, you should hear the thundering roar that goes up when the game is at its wildest and brilliant things are done!
"Oh, that first bull, that day, was great! From the moment the spirit of war rose to flood-tide in him and he got down to his work, he began to do wonders. He tore his way through his persecutors, flinging one of them clear over the parapet; he bowled a horse and his rider down, and plunged straight for the next, got home with his horns, wounding both horse and man; on again, here and there and this way and that; and one after another he tore the bowels out of two horses so that they gushed to the ground, and ripped a third one so badly that although they rushed him to cover and shoved his bowels back and stuffed the rents with tow and rode him against the bull again, he couldn't make the trip; he tried to gallop, under the spur, but soon reeled and tottered and fell, all in a heap. For a while, that bull-ring was the most thrilling and glorious and inspiring sight that ever was seen. The bull absolutely cleared it, and stood there alone! monarch of the place. The people went mad for pride in him, and joy and delight, and you couldn't hear yourself think, for the roar and boom and crash of applause."
"Antonio, it carries me clear out of myself just to hear you tell it; it must have been perfectly splendid. If I live, I'll see a bull-fight yet before I die. Did they kill him?"
"Oh yes; that is what the bull is for. They tired him out, and got him at last. He kept rushing the matador, who always slipped smartly and gracefully aside in time, waiting for a sure chance; and at last it came; the bull made a deadly plunge for him--was avoided neatly, and as he sped by, the long sword glided silently into him, between left shoulder and spine--in and in, to the hilt. He crumpled down, dying."
"Ah, Antonio, it IS the noblest sport that ever was. I would give a year of my life to see it. Is the bull always killed?"
"Yes. Sometimes a bull is timid, finding himself in so strange a place, and he stands trembling, or tries to retreat. Then everybody despises him for his cowardice and wants him punished and made ridiculous; so they hough him from behind, and it is the funniest thing in the world to see him hobbling around on his severed legs; the whole vast house goes into hurricanes of laughter over it; I have laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks to see it. When he has furnished all the sport he can, he is not any longer useful, and is killed."
"Well, it is perfectly grand, Antonio, perfectly beautiful. Burning a nigger don't begin."
"Sage-Brush, you have been listening?"
"Isn't it strange?"
"Well, no, Mongrel, I don't know that it is."
"Why don't you?"
"I've seen a good many human beings in my time. They are created as they are; they cannot help it. They are only brutal because that is their make; brutes would be brutal if it was THEIR make."
"To me, Sage-Brush, man is most strange and unaccountable. Why should he treat dumb animals that way when they are not doing any harm?"
"Man is not always like that, Mongrel; he is kind enough when he is not excited by religion."
"Is the bull-fight a religious service?"
"I think so. I have heard so. It is held on Sunday."
(A reflective pause, lasting some moments.) Then:
"When we die, Sage-Brush, do we go to heaven and dwell with man?"
"My father thought not. He believed we do not have to go there unless we deserve it."
It was a prodigious trip, but delightful, of course, through
the Rockies and the Black Hills and the mighty sweep of the Great Plains to
civilization and the
No. It will be
permanent. Cathy has elected to abide
We left the post in the early morning. It was an affecting time. The women cried over Cathy, so did even those stern warriors, the Rocky Mountain Rangers; Shekels was there, and the Cid, and Sardanapalus, and Potter, and Mongrel, and Sour-Mash, Famine, and Pestilence, and Cathy kissed them all and wept; details of the several arms of the garrison were present to represent the rest, and say good-bye and God bless you for all the soldiery; and there was a special squad from the Seventh, with the oldest veteran at its head, to speed the Seventh's Child with grand honors and impressive ceremonies; and the veteran had a touching speech by heart, and put up his hand in salute and tried to say it, but his lips trembled and his voice broke, but Cathy bent down from the saddle and kissed him on the mouth and turned his defeat to victory, and a cheer went up.
The next act closed the ceremonies, and was a moving surprise. It may be that you have discovered, before this, that the rigors of military law and custom melt insensibly away and disappear when a soldier or a regiment or the garrison wants to do something that will please Cathy. The bands conceived the idea of stirring her soldierly heart with a farewell which would remain in her memory always, beautiful and unfading, and bring back the past and its love for her whenever she should think of it; so they got their project placed before General Burnaby, my successor, who is Cathy's newest slave, and in spite of poverty of precedents they got his permission. The bands knew the child's favorite military airs. By this hint you know what is coming, but Cathy didn't. She was asked to sound the "reveille," which she did.
With the last note the bands burst out with a crash: and woke the mountains with the "Star-Spangled Banner" in a way to make a body's heart swell and thump and his hair rise! It was enough to break a person all up, to see Cathy's radiant face shining out through her gladness and tears. By request she blew the "assembly," now. . . .
. . . Then the bands thundered in, with "Rally round the flag, boys, rally once again!" Next, she blew another call ("to the Standard") . . .
[TO THE STANDARD]
. . . and the bands responded with
"When we were marching through
[BOOTS AND SADDLES]
and the bands could hardly hold in for the final note; then they turned their whole strength loose on "Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching," and everybody's excitement rose to blood-heat.
Now an impressive pause--then the bugle sang "TAPS"--translatable, this time, into "Good-bye, and God keep us all!" for taps is the soldier's nightly release from duty, and farewell: plaintive, sweet, pathetic, for the morning is never sure, for him; always it is possible that he is hearing it for the last time. . . .
. . . Then the bands turned their instruments towards Cathy and burst in with that rollicking frenzy of a tune, "Oh, we'll all get blind drunk when Johnny comes marching home--yes, we'll all get blind drunk when Johnny comes marching home!" and followed it instantly with "Dixie," that antidote for melancholy, merriest and gladdest of all military music on any side of the ocean--and that was the end. And so--farewell!
I wish you could have been there to see it all, hear it all, and feel it: and get yourself blown away with the hurricane huzza that swept the place as a finish.
When we rode away, our main body had already been on the road an hour or two--I speak of our camp equipage; but we didn't move off alone: when Cathy blew the "advance" the Rangers cantered out in column of fours, and gave us escort, and were joined by White Cloud and Thunder-Bird in all their gaudy bravery, and by Buffalo Bill and four subordinate scouts. Three miles away, in the Plains, the Lieutenant-General halted, sat her horse like a military statue, the bugle at her lips, and put the Rangers through the evolutions for half an hour; and finally, when she blew the "charge," she led it herself. "Not for the last time," she said, and got a cheer, and we said good-bye all around, and faced eastward and rode away.
Postscript. A Day Later. Soldier Boy was stolen last night. Cathy is
almost beside herself, and we cannot comfort her. Mercedes and I are not much
alarmed about the horse, although this part of
It is five months. Or is it six? My troubles have clouded my memory. I have been all over this land, from end to end, and now I am back again since day before yesterday, to that city which we passed through, that last day of our long journey, and which is near her country home. I am a tottering ruin and my eyes are dim, but I recognized it. If she could see me she would know me and sound my call. I wish I could hear it once more; it would revive me, it would bring back her face and the mountains and the free life, and I would come--if I were dying I would come! She would not know ME, looking as I do, but she would know me by my star. But she will never see me, for they do not let me out of this shabby stable--a foul and miserable place, with most two wrecks like myself for company.
How many times have I changed hands? I think it is twelve times--I cannot
remember; and each time it was down a step lower, and each time I got a harder
master. They have been cruel, every one;
they have worked me night and day in degraded employments, and beaten me; they
have fed me ill, and some days not at all.
And so I am but bones, now, with a rough and frowsy skin humped and
cornered upon my shrunken body--that skin which was once so glossy, that skin
which she loved to stroke with her hand.
I was the pride of the mountains and the
To die--that does not disturb me; we of the service never care for death. But if I could see her once more! if I could hear her bugle sing again and say, "It is I, Soldier--come!"
To return, now, to where I was, and tell you the rest. We shall never know how she came to be there; there is no way to account for it. She was always watching for black and shiny and spirited horses--watching, hoping, despairing, hoping again; always giving chase and sounding her call, upon the meagrest chance of a response, and breaking her heart over the disappointment; always inquiring, always interested in sales-stables and horse accumulations in general. How she got there must remain a mystery.
At the point which I had reached in a preceding paragraph of this account, the situation was as follows: two horses lay dying; the bull had scattered his persecutors for the moment, and stood raging, panting, pawing the dust in clouds over his back, when the man that had been wounded returned to the ring on a remount, a poor blindfolded wreck that yet had something ironically military about his bearing--and the next moment the bull had ripped him open and his bowls were dragging upon the ground: and the bull was charging his swarm of pests again. Then came pealing through the air a bugle-call that froze my blood--"IT IS I, SOLDIER--COME!" I turned; Cathy was flying down through the massed people; she cleared the parapet at a bound, and sped towards that riderless horse, who staggered forward towards the remembered sound; but his strength failed, and he fell at her feet, she lavishing kisses upon him and sobbing, the house rising with one impulse, and white with horror! Before help could reach her the bull was back again--
She was never conscious again in life. We bore her home, all mangled and drenched in blood, and knelt by her and listened to her broken and wandering words, and prayed for her passing spirit, and there was no comfort--nor ever will be, I think. But she was happy, for she was far away under another sky, and comrading again with her Rangers, and her animal friends, and the soldiers. Their names fell softly and caressingly from her lips, one by one, with pauses between. She was not in pain, but lay with closed eyes, vacantly murmuring, as one who dreams. Sometimes she smiled, saying nothing; sometimes she smiled when she uttered a name--such as Shekels, or BB, or Potter. Sometimes she was at her fort, issuing commands; sometimes she was careering over the plain at the head of her men; sometimes she was training her horse; once she said, reprovingly, "You are giving me the wrong foot; give me the left--don't you know it is good-bye?"
After this, she lay silent some time; the end was near. By-and-by she murmured, "Tired . . . sleepy . . . take Cathy, mamma." Then, "Kiss me, Soldier." For a little time, she lay so still that we were doubtful if she breathed. Then she put out her hand and began to feel gropingly about; then said, "I cannot find it; blow 'taps.'" It was the end.