Buckshot: A Record
SEVEN years ago occurred the events herein recorded ; and if in all that time I have cherished a fitful desire to put down in black and white what I then witnessed, that same desire was spurred to action by an incident, trivial in itself, which took place since the fall term of our school began. As usually happens on that occasion, more or less new pupils were added to our classes. Among them came young Stagsey. A day or two afterwards, the doctor came into my class-room, leading him by the arm, and said, “This is Master Stagsey; you will please examine him in Latin. And I think, if you observe him closely, that he will remind you of some one whom you have seen before; ” as the doctor finished speaking the boy suddenly threw up his head and looked me full in the face; his clear dark complexion and keen black eyes did indeed so remind me of some one I had seen before that the resemblance fairly startled me for the time, and sent me off into a dream of the past for the rest of the day.
Such was the incident. Moreover, I am urged to record these facts because I know it will gratify the doctor to recall our memorable summer in these pages ; and Mrs. Algernon (the doctor’s daughter) has more than once given me to understand that it would be a pleasure indeed, though tinged with sadness, — as what pleasure is not? —to review those scenes once more ; as for Mr. Algernon himself, I know he would gladly spare half an hour to read this record in the gloom of his office, and to reflect upon the incident which had so nearly affected his own happiness. Seven years ago ! Yes. At that time Mr. and Mrs. Algernon, who were but recently married, had resolved to spend the approaching summer away from home, and with much urging they had prevailed upon the doctor to accompany them. After the temporary adoption and final rejection of various plans, it was at last agreed to visit Colorado, and to pass the summer months somewhere in the mountains of that famous region. To account for my own presence in these pages, I must add that they kindly invited me to make one of the party, and that I was glad to accept of the invitation.
At the proper time, therefore, after we had supplied ourselves with what I may call the orthodox articles belonging to the outfit of the true tourist, such as field glasses, pocket flasks, patent drinking cups, not to mention shot guns, fishing tackle, and the like, we bade adieu for the time to our hot and dusty Eastern home, and turned our faces toward the cool breezes and pineclad hills of the land of the setting sun. After a journey of several days by rail, unmarked by anything unusual, we arrived in Denver, and here our eyes were gladdened by the first view of the magnificent panorama of the Rocky Mountains. Let me hasten to affirm at this point that it is not my intention to waste any time over tiresome descriptions of scenery; to be appreciated the mountains must be seen, not read about.
We remained in Denver some three or four days, undecided what course to take, until finally we learned, from a pleasant and affable gentleman whom we met at our hotel, that there was a certain section of Colorado called the “ Divide,” consisting of a chain of hills, or, more properly speaking, remnants of mountains, running east and west, at right angles with the main range. We were informed that on the southern slope of this Divide there were streams to fish in, and antelope, grouse, and other kinds of game to shoot, or to shoot at, as the case might be ; moreover, we were further told that it was a section of country seldom or never visited by pleasure-seekers, and therefore, as we were in for what Algernon called a “ pleasant, lazy time,” we concluded that we could do no better than seek that favored region, and take up our abode there.
Accordingly, one bright, breezy morning in July, we took our seats in the coach, and rolled out of Denver behind four noble grays, a happy party, southward bound for a holiday in the hills. Traveling all that day and night, we arrived next morning at Spring Valley, which we found to be a rather pretty place, low-lying in the hills ; but beyond the passing of occasional freight-trains and the arrival of the daily stage, it offered few inducements to a prolonged stay. However, after several days’ search, we succeeded in securing accommodations with an old ranchman and his wife, who lived in a beautiful little valley on the Monument, at the base of the foot-hills, and in full view of the cañon through which that charming little stream breaks out of the mountains.
We found our host and his wife to be a simple, kind-hearted couple, bent on making our stay with them as pleasant as possible. The old gentleman himself was quite remarkable for the “ battles, sieges, fortunes,” he had passed in the early days of the Territory, and I recall now many pleasant and profitable hours spent in listening to his characteristic tales. Here, then, in this quiet, secluded nook, far away from the roar and rush of the world, our ever-memorable summer began ; and here, correctly speaking, this record opens.
In my idle hours, I am given to smoking a brier-root pipe. Perhaps I should blush to make this admission, but I fear I do not. I smoke, partly because it is pleasant, and partly because I consider that the act of smoking is one of the few inducements to sound reflection. Sitting quietly smoking, one often sees visions round about him, in the fragrant clouds, that cheer and refresh him for his after-work. Who can tell how many of the worrying hours of his daily life are “ rounded into calm ” by the soothing spirit of the Indian weed ?
So then, a few mornings after our arrival at the ranch, in accordance with my custom, I was enjoying my pipe in the open air, in front of the house. Near by the doctor, in accordance with his custom, was pacing to and fro, in an after-breakfast walk. Mr. and Mrs. Algernon were standing in the doorway, laughing and talking with each other, tossing now and then a word to the doctor or myself. Presently the doctor paused in his walk, and faced us : —
“ I have been thinking of a plan whereby we might extend our acquaintance with the mountains. Suppose we should employ some one familiar with this region to lead us to the troutstreams and places of interest to strangers ? With some one to guide us, we might make excursions of days at a time, and so really ‘ rough it ’ in the hills, doubtless with much pleasure and profit.” This project was no sooner broached than it was eagerly applauded by all hands.
“ But,” said Algernon, “ I fear we should find trouble in procuring such a guide. I fancy the Pioneer, for instance, would decline the appointment himself, on account of other duties.”
I may here explain that, as our host had given us to understand that he was an “ old-timer ” in the country, we had begun to call him, amongst ourselves, the Pioneer.
“ Yes,” rejoined the doctor thoughtfully, “ I suppose he has more pressing duties.”
“ At any rate,” said Meta, “ if he cannot be our guide himself, he may be able to direct us to some one who can.”
“ A timely suggestion. Let us consult the Pioneer, then,” replied her husband.
Accordingly, the Pioneer was summoned to council, and the question of a guide was laid before him. I recollect that he came fresh from the field, and that there were “cuckle burrs” clinging to his legs. After he had carefully removed these, he straightened himself, scratched his grizzly cheeks in a reflective manner, and said, —
“ I don’t — really — know of any one jist now. Most of the men is away in the mines in summer, and them thet’s at home has ther han’s full gittin’ in hay. But then, thar’s Pettigrew, two mile below here on the crick : he mos’ ginerally has a houseful of boys, and you might git what you want down there.”
Whereupon it was moved, and seconded, and unanimously carried, that a committee, consisting of Algernon and myself, should wait upon Mr. Pettigrew without delay, for the purpose of procuring a guide, if possible, from his houseful of boys.
“ As we are to interview the gentleman, then,” remarked Algernon, “ I propose, as there is no time like the present, that we go at once.” And so, without farther ado, the council adjourned, and the committee departed on its errand.
Even at this distant day I recall the cool, fresh splendor of that morning. Far below us the Monument brawled along its rocky bed, rippling and sparkling in the sunshine, and winding in and out between the rustling aspens that lined its banks. Above us were the foot-hills, green and shady with ancient pines; and far beyond them we caught occasional glimpses of the snowy range, like dim white clouds motionless in the sky. On this side and that of the road lay huge masses of rock, hurled down from the hills, who knows how many hundreds of years ago ? After walking a mile or so, a sudden turn in the road disclosed an upland meadow, where two men were mowing hay. No sooner did I see the two men than I was conscious of a strong impulse to cross over and talk to them ; so I proposed to Algernon that we should stop and have a chat.
“ Of course,” he answered, “ and may be they can assist us in our search.” So we turned out of the road and walked towards them ; and they stopped working, and regarded us with no small curiosity. They were tall, powerful fellows, and, judging from a slight facial resemblance, I set them down as brothers. After the customary salutations and some original remarks on the beauty of the weather and the excellence of the grass, Algernon went on to tell them of our object.
“ We want to employ some one with a knowledge of the country round about, who could make it convenient to take up his abode with us for the summer, for a reasonable compensation, and who would act as guide for us, you know.”
“ Jis so,” assented the elder of the two, — “jis so; but I’m afeard you’ll have trouble a-findin’ anybody jis now.
It’s a busy season with us ranchmen,— hayin’ time.”
“ Yes,” chimed in the other ; “ and men’s pretty skearce in these parts, anyhow.”
“ I suppose so,” answered Algernon, “ and I fear our search will be in vain.”
“ But I say,” suddenly broke out the younger, “ thar’s Buckshot ! ”
“ Sure enough ! Sure enough! Thar’s Buckshot! I never thought o’ Buckshot,” replied the elder ; and thereupon the two men grinned, and burst out laughing. Somewhat amazed at this sudden mirth, Algernon and I looked at each other, and Algernon asked,—
“ Who is Buckshot ? ”
“ Buckshot,” replied the ranchman, in general terms, “ is a young fellow that knows more about these mountains than any man in the Territory. He knows every cañon, and every pass, and every crick in ’em, and he’s about the best hand at trailin’ I ever see. But then, to tell you the truth, Buckshot’s mighty skittish, an’ if he don’t take to you on the start he won’t bother you long; he ’ll turn up missin’, some fine mornin’.”
“ That’s what he ’ll do,” assented the other, grinning.
“ Buckshot,” repeated Algernon, slowly, — “ that’s a queer name.”
“ Yes, it is,” replied the ranchman ; “ an’ Buckshot’s a queer young feller, too.”
Whereat the two men fell a-laughing again. Further inquiry elicited the fact that the mysterious youth in question was stopping at present at the house of a neighbor ; and on our expressing an earnest desire for an interview, the two men volunteered to get word to him in the course of the day, and furthermore considered it more than likely that he might “ look in on us ” early the following day.
“ Now, then,” remarked Algernon, as we walked leisurely back, “ it remains to be seen whether we have done wisely in engaging this same young Buckshot. I dare say he is a specimen of the average mountain youth, — red-haired, freckle-faced, with large hands and feet, and a tendency to blush whenever he is spoken to.”
“ Perhaps, in spite of his physical drawbacks, he may serve our turn exactly,” said I.
“ Let us hope so,” rejoined my companion.
The doctor was amused at our sudden success, and he even ventured to predict that we should find quite a “character” in our guide when we became acquainted. For my own part, I was impressed that we had met with a very decided character, and I did not doubt that Mrs. Algernon would bear me out.
I wish I might present every incident that followed Buckshot’s arrival in the same vivid colors with which they are portrayed upon my memory and upon the memory of all of us; but since that may not be, let me endeavor to relate as faithfully as possible how he came among us, how we fared together for a time, and how at last —
The next morning Buckshot came, and I was so fortunate as to be first to receive him. I had just returned from my customary early walk, and was standing in front of the house, enjoying the cool, soft splendor of the morning. On a sudden I heard somebody at a distance singing in a clear, bell-like voice, of wonderful tone and sweetness, and shortly afterward a light, swift step sounded on the rocky path, and I saw a boy some twelve or fourteen years of age, to judge at a glance, coming toward the house. He was not as tall, may be, as most youths of fourteen, but he made up for his lack of inches by a wonderful grace and symmetry of build. His cheeks were brown ; his hair was dark and curly; his eyes were large, lustrous, black, and keen as a hawk’s. These few points I observed as he swung towards me with a swift, springy gait and all the lithe and lissome beauty of a young panther.
His manner was as frank and easy as possible, as he gave me his hand, and simply said, “ I ’m Buckshot.”
For a moment Algernon’s fanciful description of the “average mountain youth ” flashed before me, and I laughed, with an odd mixture of surprise and pleasure, as I clasped the boy’s hand in mine. I observed, too, that his dress was of the plainest, — dark, tight-fitting breeches, a snuff-colored shirt, and Mexican moccasins of deer-hide; his handsome curly head was half hidden by a black slouch hat, and he wore no coat. May be the absence of the latter garment showed off his lithe form to still greater advantage. I confess that I was attracted toward him at once : perhaps by the force of his youthful beauty ; perhaps, also, by his free and easy manner, which was at once void of pertness and modest. As we turned to the house, Meta came to the door, looking very pretty indeed in her crisp white morning-dress.
Now in all Buckshot’s young experience amongst the mountains and mountain people, it is questionable whether he had ever met with any really refined and cultured woman until that morning, when he saw Mrs. Algernon smiling on him from the step. At least, such was my impression at the time, for the boy stopped and stared as if he had seen a vision.
“ Meta,” I said, “ let me present a new friend. This is Buckshot.”
The boy’s black eyes fairly shone as she took his hand and gave him welcome. “ So you have come to show us the mountains, have you ? ”
He nodded in reply, and looked up suddenly as the doctor and Algernon came out. Again introductions and welcomes took place, and the doctor, turning to me, said in a low tone, “ What a remarkable face ! But what an outlandish name ! ”
“ What is your name, my young friend ? ” he added, raising his voice.
“ Buckshot,” replied his young friend, promptly.
The doctor, being a sound churchman, perhaps unconsciously followed up with the second question in the catechism: “ Who gave you this name ? ”
To which came the answer, clearly and modestly uttered, but hardly quoted from the Prayer-Book, “ Be d—d if I know! You see I’ve been called Buckshot ever since ” — But here, catching sight of the horrified countenance of the strange lady and the seriocomic expression on the face of his catechiser, he relapsed into sudden silence, and stood bashfully swinging his hat.
But the doctor was not to be repulsed in this manner. “ Ever since when ? ” he asked again.
“Ever since I’ve been in the mountains,” replied Buckshot. “ You see,” he went on rapidly, “ I was born in Missourer, and wa’n’t much higher ’n a grasshopper when the ole man started to Pike’s Peak with the ole woman an’ me. But the Indians got away with us down on the Republican. They killed the ole folks and took me off with ’em, and kep’ me about five year, till one day, when they was camped close to Larned, I took a notion to leave ; so I up and dusted into the post, an’ hid there till they left. Then I got in with a train that was comin’ out to Denver, an’ I’ve been knockin’ around in the mountains ever since.”
“ Poor boy,” said Meta, softly, “ what an experience ! ”
“ Do you know how to read, Buckshot? ” asked the doctor.
“ Mighty little,” answered the boy.
“ Can you write? ”
“ No ; I never had no chance to learn.”
“ Would you like to learn ? ”
“You bet your life,” replied Buckshot.
The doctor smiled, and turned away ; and Meta, coming up, laid her hand gently on the boy’s shoulder, and said, “ Well, if you will stay with us this summer, you shall learn to read and write both.”
And Buckshot closed the contract at once by raising his splendid eyes to her face, and saying, “ All right.”
It remained for us, also, to discover that Buckshot and the Pioneer were old acquaintances; for when the latter entered the room and found a new arrival he stared a moment, and then came forward with a grin and held out his hand.
“ Why, Buckshot ! — why, this ain’t you ? Why, I ain’t seed you since the time of the bear hunt. How d’ ye come on ? ”
To which the boy replied, in an offhand manner, that he “ came on ” first rate, and asked, “ How’s the ole woman ? ”
“ She’s middlin’,” replied the Pioneer. And then they went off together to see the “ole woman,” the Pioneer’s wife.
That day the doctor resolved himself into a committee of one, and sallied out among the neighbors to gain what information he could in regard to the young stranger. But all that he could learn was what Buckshot had already told us ; except that he made his living by doing light work for the ranchmen, such as sheep-herding, as long as it suited him, and striking out over the mountains when he grew tired of it, to spend a month or two among the miners of South Park and other diggings, far and near. With the latter class, in fact, he was said to be an universal favorite.
And here I may remark that nothing more was ever learned concerning him. His real name, his birthplace, and his parentage are as much of a mystery to us to-day as they were on that memorable morning when he first came to us. After he had been with us some little time, the doctor, who was fortunately able to gratify so praiseworthy a whim, resolved to befriend him, and to give him an opportunity of acquiring an education, if that suited the boy’s inclination. And on that score none of us had the least doubt. Meanwhile, to lose no time, Meta began to teach him such rudiments as might best prepare him for school when we should return East in the fall; and being of a remarkably apt and ready turn, he made no small progress. I am glad to record the fact, also, that he and I grew to be fast friends, and that he honored me in a great measure with his confidence.
As an instance of the vast respect which he entertained for the doctor, he informed me gravely, one day that he “ reckoned the doctor knowed it all,” and he drank in every word that fell from the doctor’s lips as if they were inspired.
As before remarked, he was carried away from the first by Meta’s beauty and her kind and gentle manner, and I really believe he worshiped her, in his boyish fashion, as devotedly as ever a man loved a woman. Speaking of her to me once, he said she was “ as white as a pigeon ; ” and ever after he ignored her name of “ Mrs. Algernon ” except to her face, and when he referred to her in conversation with the rest of us he invariably spoke of her as the “ White Lady.” Owing in part to the rough and rude experience of his childhood, and in part also to a naturally sturdy spirit, Buckshot was a very self-reliant and enterprising young fellow ; he rarely undertook a thing without putting it through. Like most boys of a like nature, he was very sensitive. A word of praise from the White Lady, for a task well learned or a deed well done, would bring a blush to his cheeks and a sparkle to his splendid eyes in an instant.
Attention was early directed to the scantiness of his wardrobe, and he was abundantly supplied with what he called a “ new outfit.” But he reappeared the next day in his old costume, with the remark that the new clothes “bothered him,” and it was not without great difficulty that we could persuade him to wear them ; and no amount of coaxing could induce him to wear an ordinary jacket, until Meta, with her woman’s wit, fashioned a sort of zouave blouse for him, which at her request he consented to wear on extraordinary occasions. I recollect it gave him the appearance of a handsome young brigand.
As soon as he observed — which he was quick to do — that swearing was not regarded in the light of an accomplishment by his new friends, as it was by the miners of South Park, he informed me in private that it was his intention for the future to “ skip all the big words,” and I bear record now that he kept his resolution.
As an instance of his implicit belief in all that was taught him, and also as an evidence of his inquiring mind, let me relate the following : —
It was the doctor’s custom every Sunday afternoon to read some portion of the Bible aloud, and then to impress the lesson still further on the boy’s memory by a few well-timed remarks. On one particular afternoon he had been reading the account of the murder of Abel by his brother Cain, and after closing the book he expatiated at some length on the enormity of Cain’s crime, and concluded by saying, “ You see, my boy, how this wretched young man was punished for his wickedness. He became a wanderer on the earth, with no home, no friends, no country. Every man he might meet was his enemy; any man might slay him, and so doing obey the divine”— When Buckshot suddenly broke in upon his peroration with a question that has puzzled many a wiser head than his own probably: “ Why, what was the use of his dodgin’ around like that? There wa’n’t nobody in the whole world but himself and his father. He must ’a been mighty lazy if he could n’t keep out of the ole man’s way ” It is hardly necessary to add that the lesson closed rather abruptly after this.
But it must not be supposed that all the time was occupied with instilling into his youthful mind Bible lessons or the multiplication table, for many a hunting party, and many a fishing party, and many a tramp through wild and wonderful mountain passes, was organized and carried out under his guidance, and his knowledge of the mountains gave evidence that he had the bump of locality excessively developed. He led us to the region of the Petrified Stumps, to the Garden of the Gods, to the Garden of the Giants ; we drank soda-water brewed hundreds of feet underground, at his bidding ; in fact, he was never at a loss for a new adventure. One in particular occurs to me now, which it may not be out of place to narrate.
It was drawing towards the close of summer when we were tempted, by Buckshot’s representations of a certain stream, to try our luck in its waters. Accordingly, equipped with self regulating rods and artificial flies (which, I regret to observe, the Pioneer used to regard with polite contempt), Algernon and I set out, one dull, cloudy morning, with our young guide on a trouting expedition. Buckshot as usual beguiled the walk by his characteristic conversation, and on this occasion even by a legend. After making our way with some difficulty over a rocky spur thickly covered with scrub oaks, we emerged at last upon a broad, open road which had the appearance of having been much used at some former time. Coming to a turn in the road, we found some ruins, consisting of a standing chimney in a very dilapidated state and the crumbling remains of a log cabin. If my curiosity was at all aroused by the sight, it was still further pricked by a solitary grave, covered with grass and tall, rank weeds, and having a half-sunken headstone of slate-colored rock. So when we sat down upon some bowlders to rest I questioned Buckshot in regard to the matter, and he delivered himself as follows : —
“ You see, this here is the ole Pike’s Peak’s trail; an’ right here is where ole Buster used to keep a ranch ; an’ every winter, when the water froze in the mines, some of the boys would come down to put in the winter with the ole man ; an’ one fall Handsome Jack, he come with ’em. Handsome Jack ? Why, he was a poker-player. I dunno what they called him that fur, because he was the homelies’ man, I believe, I ever did see. Well, one night Jack and the ole man got into a little game, an’ they was makin’ it all right, till at last the ole man he seed two king o’ hearts, an’ he knowed right off there was somethin’ wrong. He wa’n’t much of a man to fuss about a little thing, ole Buster wa’n’t, but when he did go into a fuss he went in mighty sudden. So he says to Jack, ‘ Why, Jack, you ain’t tryin’ to knock down on me that way, air you ? ’
“ ‘ What way ? ’ says Jack.
“ ‘ Why, ringin’ in a cold deck,’ says the ole man.
“ Then Jack, he remarked that the ole man lied. That settled the business right off, for ole Buster, he jerked his six-shooter and blowed a hole through Jack’s head. That’s his grave there.”
“Whose grave?” I asked, considerably startled by the tragic termination of the little game.
“ Jack’s. So ole Buster, he skinned out the same night, and the boys, they shied off from the place, an’ bimeby the roof fell in and the house went to rack, and that’s all, — let’s go.”
And Buckshot having thus concluded we arose and wended our way, thoughtfully and in silence. In due time we arrived at the stream, and proceeded at once to business. We found the water fairly alive with trout, and we became so absorbed in the sport, and followed the creek so far, that the waning day and an approaching shower found us a long way from home.
I discovered, during my short stay in Colorado, that a very brief space of time is essential for the preparation of a first-class storm ; and the one in question was not destined to be an exception to the rule. Its first mutterings were hardly over before we were sensible of its swift approach by the advance guard of great drops that beat into our faces. Here was a pickle. But Buckshot hurried us off to a house which he said was near at hand, where we could pass the night, and go home in the morning ; for he cheerfully informed us that it was his opinion that the rain would last all night.
A brisk walk of ten or fifteen minutes brought us to a substantial-looking log house, with evidences of cultivation in a field that lay behind; but without waiting to observe things very closely, we hurried to the door and knocked. It was opened by a tall, rawboned woman, who stared at us in no very hospitable manner, as Algernon civilly inquired if we could obtain shelter until morning.
The woman hesitated; in fact, she waited so long that Buckshot, who was busying himself with the string of trout, suddenly made his way to the front, at a little distance, and, eying the woman with amazement, exclaimed, —
“ Look here, young woman, we ‘ve got to stay! — that’s all about it. D’ye think we are goin’ to camp out in the rain ? ”
“ Who is it ? ” queried a voice from the interior.
“It’s that there young Buckshot,” answered the woman, with a grin. “ That boy’s got more impiddence ! Come in then, you young limb ! ”
Thus invited the young limb walked coolly in, and we followed meekly in his wake. As soon as we were inside, the woman excused her seeming want of hospitality on the score of having a sick husband and being all alone. It was a large, square room into which we were admitted, and on a bed in the corner lay a sick man, whose pain-distorted face, lighted by a pair of lustrous black eyes, was turned toward us.
Evidently he and Buckshot were acquainted, for the boy nodded to him with easy nonchalance, and addressed him as “ pardner.”
“ Aha ! Buckshot! So it’s you, is it ? Come, shake hands. By the lovely, it does a feller good to see you ! ”
“ What ails ye, anyhow ? ” inquired the boy, as he approached the bed and took the sufferer’s quivering hand in his own.
“ Rheumatiz, ole man, —rheumatiz,” replied the other, with a feeble smile. “ I rastled with it all summer, but it fetched me at last. How’s times with you ? ”
To which Buckshot made answer that times were “loomin’ up” with him; then he proceeded to inform the sick man that the carrying of potatoes in one’s pocket was held to be efficacious in attacks of rheumatism, by those best informed on the subject; and he enjoined upon the sufferer the advisability of giving that novel remedy a trial, — all of which was listened to with ludicrous gravity by the patient, and with a succession of grins on the part of his wife.
After he had thus prescribed for the man, Buckshot turned to the woman, and gave her to understand that it would be about the correct thing for her to “ fly around ” and get supper, and he even volunteered his own services toward the accomplishment of that end ; and, as a result of their joint efforts, a delicious meal of trout and hot biscuit and fragrant coffee was soon smoking on the board.
After supper, as the storm still held on its way, roaring down the cañons and driving against the door in windy gusts of rain, we sat about the fire, and endeavored to draw our hostess into conversation. It must be admitted, however, that all our efforts would have been in vain, without the aid of Buckshot, who kept up such a fusillade of small talk, that Algernon and I were glad to drop into silence and play the part of listeners.
Bright and early next morning we were called to breakfast. Bright and early it literally was, for the valley was still in shadow, and only the mountains were glowing in the light of the rising sun. Bidding good by to our entertainers, we set off gayly on our homeward journey. Every tree and shrub, and every blade of grass sparkled and flashed like diamonds in the early light. A cool fresh wind came bowling out of the west, and far below us the mist was rolling away before it.
Thus, with various adventures, for the narration of which this brief chronicle affords not sufficient space, day by day, like the leaves of a book, the summer folded itself up and vanished away, and the early mountain autumn was at hand, with hazy, dreamy days, and cool, crisp, starry nights, and the Appointed Time came on apace.
In the Rocky Mountain regions the clouds sometimes indulge in certain freaks which are known to the dwellers in the hills as “ cloud-bursts ” or “ waterspouts.” In other words, great masses of vapor come into close proximity, apparently, to the high table-lands, or to the foot-hills, and the consequence is a literal deluge down the cañons. More curious still, the people far below in the valley are likely to be startled and appalled by the sudden rush and roar of water down dry arroyos, leading from the hills, when the sky above is clear and the sun is shining, and only the distant mountains are shaded by dense black clouds. I do not propose here to advance any theory of my own in regard to these phenomena, nor yet to argue for or against the theories of others. Some people believe that these “ cloud-bursts ” are cloud-bursts literally, while others claim that the sudden floods which follow these nebulous eccentricities are due solely to an accumulation of water from extraordinarily severe rainfalls within a given circumference. However the case may be, this record has naught to do with the probabilities or possibilities of either theory. My object is simply to describe, as far as in me lies, what I really saw myself; for here upon the Monument we were destined to witness one of these wonderful sights, and the picture of its awful grandeur must remain with us as long as life.
I have already hinted that the Monument was a beautiful stream ; its banks were grassy and green in places, and steep and rocky in others, and it brawled along with a pleasant sound one always liked to hear. But we were yet to look upon it in its wrath, to see the little stream transformed, as if by magic, into an angry, rushing river.
Amongst the many rocks that strove to bar its rippling currents was one of a dull red color, torn from the womb of the mountain when laboring with volcanic throes, and hurled far below into the valley, while yet, may be, the world was young. It lay in the middle of the stream, and its top was smooth and level; on the lower side was a ledge, wide enough for a comfortable seat, the side of the rock forming a good support for the back. Here, on either bank of the river, grew tall aspens ; and their outstretched limbs, rustling with green and silver leaves, barred out the noonday heat, and threw a cool and pleasant shadow on the rock. At some former time there had been a foot-bridge at this place, part of which yet remained, from the shore to the rock. It was a wonderfully primitive foot-bridge, too, consisting, as it did, only of a broad, heavy board, one end resting on the bank, the other end on the ledge. The connection between the rock and the opposite bank was gone, possibly carried away by the water.
This was Mrs. Algernon’s favorite place of resort, in the long, warm afternoons, to read or sketch, sometimes accompanied by her husband or father, but quite often alone; and from this circumstance we had come to dignify the spot with the name of the Red Rock.
And now the shouting of the boys outside is hushed, the dull, gray, wintry sky is blotted out, the creaking of the leafless trees outside my window is stilled, and I lean back in my chair and drift away into the past. How idle to think my old steel pen can ever paint the picture I see before me!
It is the afternoon of a clear day in September. The sky is cloudless overhead, and the sun shines with a mellowed brilliance through the hazy air around us. A black mass of clouds rests upon the far-off mountains ; perhaps a storm is passing down the range. There is no breeze ; the trees that grow beside the river stretch their long arms motionless in the air. The brawling of the water is muffled and deadened by the smoky atmosphere. A bird, chirping in a bush near by, sounds as if he might be miles away. The foot-hills show like pictures painted dimly on the background of the sky. It is the time for day-dreams, and I am dreaming them as the smoke of my pipe curls softly around my head.
On the walk in front of the house the doctor is thoughtfully pacing to and fro ; near by Algernon is seated, lazily talking with Buckshot, who is lying on the grass.
All this I see now as I write, hundreds of miles away, as clearly as I saw it then, standing in the door regarding it.
Presently the doctor pauses in his walk, and says, “ Yet a few more days, and our pleasant rambling holidays are over, and we get back to work. Buckshot goes with us too, of course,” he adds, eying that young gentleman kindly ; “ henceforth our home is his home ; he is to become a rare scholar, and finally develop into a wise and good man.” Buckshot rises to a sitting posture on being thus alluded to, and his eyes brighten as he gazes shyly at the speaker.
With a smile the doctor resumes his walk, and silence falls upon us, broken only by the doctor’s steady tread and the far-off murmur of the waters. Meantime, our thoughts go drifting backward through the happy summer now drawing swiftly to its close, and in the midst of this dreamy stillness we are suddenly startled by a loud, resounding peal of thunder, that breaks from the clouds above the mountains and goes echoing and rumbling down the cañons.
“ Ha ! ” says Algernon, starting, “ we shall have a storm. Hark ! ” he adds, as another peal leaps out upon the quiet air. The doctor pauses again, and all eyes are fixed upon the mountains. Buckshot, reclining on his side, with his head resting on his hands, regards the clouds long and earnestly.
“ I believe,” he says slowly, and in a low tone, “ I believe that’s a cloudburst, and it’s right over the head of Monument Cañon. Look ! ” he cries suddenly, as he rises to his knees, “ look at that! ”
By degrees a low humming sound is wafted toward us, swelling in volume and growing louder as we listen, like the roaring of a mighty wind through the pines.
“ What’s that ? ” cries Algernon, as a heavy white mist comes slowly out of the cañon, waving and rolling like smoke. The booming sound grows louder and louder, and we hear distinctly the noise of rushing water.
“ The White Lady would like to see this,” cries Buckshot excitedly ; “ let’s call the White Lady ! ”
The doctor is under the impression that she is sketching on the Red Rock, and he calmly imparts this fact.
Buckshot leaps to his feet with a shout: “ Where !” he cries. The change in the boy’s face is absolutely startling; his cheeks are aflame, and his great black eyes blaze like lightning. Dropping upon the ground, he tears off his shoes in a jiffy, and leaping to his feet once more, he cries, “ In five minutes that Click ’ll be full from bank to bank ! If ever you did a good thing in your life, come on ! ” and he turns and shoots over the hill like an antelope, swift and steady and strong.
Roused and alarmed by the boy’s wild actions, we call aloud to each other and race madly after him.
Meantime, the White Lady sat upon the Red Rock, half working, half dreaming ; upon her lap lay an unfinished, sketch of a grand and rugged cañon. So absorbed was she, that the dense mass of clouds piled upon the mountain tops failed to attract her attention. The little river rippled along with a musical sound, and broke into foam at her feet. Its steep rocky banks were flecked with alternate patches of shadow and gold, as the sunlight glinted upon them, and danced away on the water. Once, twice, a burst of thunder startled her, but she glanced around and above, the sky was cloudless overhead, and the warning passed unheeded. Presently a low humming sound was audible, but she heard it not, or if she heard it she fancied the wind was rising in the mountains. But it grew louder and louder, and the booming of waters struck upon her ears. Roused at last, she arose slowly to her feet and looked up the stream, and saw a great white cloud waving and rolling like smoke rushing down upon her, and she hurried to the bridge in terror. Too late! The terrible pressure upstream had already forced the water above its usual limits, and it was steadily rising around the rock, and lapping and floating the frail board that alone stood between her and death. She cried aloud for help, and wrung her hands in an agony of despair. Should she trust herself to the board that was already swinging loose from the rock, or should she cling to the ledge ?
The booming noise grew louder and louder, and the great white mist was speeding faster and faster toward her. And yet not so fast as the feet that, through long years of aimless wandering, hither, there, and everywhere, were yet steadily setting in toward this selfsame spot with the tireless persistence of fate.
In this supreme moment she heard a shout, and looked up ; she saw Buckshot come flying down the slope to the river. He ran across the bridge like a squirrel, and leaped lightly on the rock at her side. “ Hurry across,” he gasped, “ while I hold the board down! ”
One look at him, and one at the angry water, and she obeyed. She stepped upon the board, it bent slightly with her weight, and the cold water filled her shoes; but steadily she crossed and stepped upon the shore, and was caught to her husband’s breast. By this time the roar of the waters was absolutely deafening, and the air was filled with spray. But through it all she found courage to look back. She saw Buckshot step upon the already floating board, she saw him midway across, she saw the racing wall of water, with its long trailing veil of mist and foam, leap madly at him and strike him down, and drag him in and under, and whirl him away in the twinkling of an eye.
Not far below, the stream takes a sudden bend to the right, and here on a low, shelving bank we found him, where the water had flung him ashore, senseless, bloody, and dripping. We took him in our arms and bore him up the hill in silence toward the house. Half-way up, the Pioneer met us, bareheaded and breathless with running. He gazed upon the boy’s unconscious form with looks of commiseration, and once or twice I heard him mutter under his breath, “ Poor little cuss ! ” Nothing would do but we must surrender our burden to him, and he bore the senseless boy in his own arms to the house.
By all the means in our power we strove to call back the fluttering spirit to his breast, and presently he gave signs of life ; but it was evident by the dimness of his eyes and the ghastly pallor of his face that he had sustained some internal injury beyond our power to alleviate. The only physician the country could boast lived in the Old Town, twenty miles distant; and it devolved upon me, therefore, to go for him at once. Accordingly, I lost no time in saddling one of the Pioneer’s horses and galloping away.
The sun was already behind the mountains when I started, and by and by the sun went down, and twilight fell, and the stars came out, and the night wind blew keen in my face as I sped along the road. However, I arrived at Old Town at last ; but only to find the lights all out, and the straggling houses looking grim and silent in the darkness. Being a stranger, I was at a loss how to proceed in my search for the doctor, and every moment was a lifetime ; when to my great relief I saw some one coming down the middle of the street. I rode at once to meet him, and a nearer view disclosed, as well as the darkness permitted, a gentleman evidently “deep in his cups,” for he swayed to and fro on his legs, and his voice was gruff and husky.
“ Who sick ? Tha’s wha’ I want er know. Who’ sick ? ” he demanded defiantly, when I addressed him.
“ Buckshot,” I replied briefly.
“ Wha’? No! Little Buckshot sick?
Wha’s matter wi’ little Buckshot? ” he asked again.
Stifling my impatience, I told him of the accident in as few words as possible, and urgently begged him to show me the doctor’s house.
“ Stranger,” he replied with drunken politeness, “ ’scuse me, if you please ; jis come along o’ me, stranger.”
So I dismounted, and, leading my horse, walked alongside of my conductor, who took up much more than his own share of the street.
“ This is ’bout the ’crect locality, sir, I believe; yes, sir,” he said, stopping in front of a small white house, with a huge black patch upon the door, which I took to be the doctor’s sign ; and without further remark my new friend began to hammer the door with his knuckles. After some fruitless efforts in this direction, he turned around and said with tipsy irony, “ Durned ef I don’t think he tuck a pint or two o’ laudnum afore he went to bed. Stop a bit, though ; I ’ll rout him.” Thereupon he fell to kicking the door steadily with his heavy boots. These vigorous means speedily had the desired effect, for a voice from the interior cried, “ You need n’t break that door down ! I’m coming ! ”
“ Oh, you are, are you! ” said my guide briskly; and then as he ceased his attentions to the panels and sat down upon the step, he muttered to himself disgustedly, “Yes, you’re a-comin’, ’n so’s Christmas, ’n it’s mos’ likely to git here fust.”
By this time, however, a light glimmered through the window, the door swung open and the doctor appeared. As briefly as possible I made known my errand ; and in the course of half an hour the doctor and I were driving rapidly out of town, leaving my friend and conductor in peaceful slumber on the doorstep.
The autumn night waned, the stars went out in a gray darkness, the sky began to redden and glow, and at last the sun rolled up and kindled the land into warmth before we arrived at home.
As we crossed the Monument, now reduced to its usual current, and brawling along in the sunshine as musically as ever, I glanced toward the fatal rock with a nervous apprehension of woe. Not a sound broke the stillness as we alighted and walked up the path to the house, and I knew at once that the merry voice that had so often sounded here was hushed and silent now forever. No need, O White Lady ! to meet us silently at the door and lead us to the bed, whereon lay the stiff and rigid form, so changed, yet so familiar. His poor bruised hands were folded meekly upon his breast, a smile was on his lips, and about his head were scattered white wild flowers that perchance his light feet had pressed but yesterday.
Yes, Buckshot was dead ! The only vision of grace, and beauty, and charitable love upon which his poor eyes had ever rested had bent above his dying bed; perhaps her gentle counsel had led him back to that heaven away from which his youthful feet in ignorance were straying ; doubtless, also, his last hours were soothed by the reflection, that he had given his young life that another might live.
“It was after midnight,” said Meta tearfully, “ before he gave the first signs of consciousness. He raised his head and looked around, and strove to speak; and as we listened to catch his words, he suddenly fixed his eyes on me and smiled, and then his head dropped back upon my arm, and so, without a word, he died.”
All the fond hopes we had cherished for his future vanished utterly, as we looked down upon the beautiful face, the lustrous eyes darkened forever, and the features white and still in the serene repose of death.
And now no more remains for me to tell ; save that, when the next day’s sun was wheeling to its rest, all that was mortal of Buckshot was borne by kindly hands up the well-remembered path, out upon the hill; and there, in the shadow of the mountains he had loved so well, we made his grave ; through long years to come to be green and fragrant with the flowers of spring, and white and shining with the snows of winter.
J. Howard Corbyn.