The Alienation of the General

I FIRST encountered him in the streets of a Montana “ cow-town, ” where he was affording amusement to a crowd of men and boys, while a tipsy musician was attempting the Boulanger March on an antique piano. To save him from further abuse I bought him, and ever afterwards he was known to his little world as “ General Boulanger.”

We grew to look upon the General as an interesting scientific phenomenon. His was a soul saturated with hate for all men. Any amiable qualities he may have possessed in early youth had been killed by abuse. He knew but distrust and fear. We determined to reclaim him, and in our lonely camp the General became the object of such flattering attention that only his unconquerable misanthropy kept him from becoming an arrant snob. For a long time our efforts were unavailing, but as the weeks went by I thought I noticed a little less shrinking, fewer growls, and a faint gleam of recognition in the glassy eyes when I approached. I felt the thrill of conquest, and redoubled my efforts. The heart of stone was at last touched, and my theory in regard to “yaller dogs ” was correct.

We returned to the outskirts of civilization, and one day, driving once more to the town, so filled with painful memories for the General, I was surprised to behold him again in the street, slinking about with others of his kind. The slight results of our patient labors were in peril. It would never do to allow the General’s slowly growing faith in man to be nipped in the bud by further town life, so with infinite pains I secured him and tied him to the back of my wagon. I remonstrated with him gently, as he lay cringing in the dust, for his base desertion of the only friends he had ever known.

The painful journey homeward began. The General betrayed a distinct unwillingness to ride, so he was allowed to follow at the end of a long rope behind. With his usual acumen, he fancied the strength of two half-broken broncos to be as naught compared to his fiery determination to remain in town. So he sat down. With an expression of pained surprise on his countenance he traversed a few hundred yards of the dusty road in this position, and then tried his back. It was quite in keeping with the eccentricities of the General’s mental processes that a simpler method did not occur to him, until, striking a deep rut, he was hurled high into the air, and by some happy chance alighted on the extremities nature had provided for purposes of locomotion. Then, with bowed head, he trotted contentedly along. I turned to look at him occasionally, and flattered myself that I saw in his demeanor evidences of regret at his folly, and a determination to do better in the future. I spoke encouragingly to him, but he was too absorbed in meditation to look up.

A hot afternoon’s ride brought us to an irrigating ditch. After rattling over the few loose planks which served as a bridge, I stopped to repair a break in the harness. The General, hot and dusty, at once dashed into the little stream to drink and bathe. With my back to the tired horses I watched him.

As I looked he performed his colossal act of folly, the final episode in his witless career. After refreshing himself on one side of the tiny bridge, quite unmindful of his connection with my rear axle, he laboriously splashed under the bridge and came out the other side. Cooled by his bath, he came to the side of the wagon and looked sweetly up at me. Immensely impressed by his sagacity, I was on the point of alighting to free him from his dangerous predicament, when the hand of fate, ever turned against him, struck the last blow.

A fly stung my off bronco, and with a squeal he and his startled mate rushed madly down the road. I was hurled to the bottom of the wagon, but not before I saw the General turn a perfect back somersault and shoot toward the stream. In a cloud of dust he disappeared into the water, and then followed a symphony of howls as he traversed the dark and damp nether side of the bridge, to be shot up into daylight once more by the united strength of two frightened broncos. In a shower of spray he struck the road twenty feet from the bridge, and did not gain his feet until I had brought the horses to a standstill. Once more I turned to the General. He was a pitiable sight. Covered with mud and half strangled, he quivered with cold and rage.

As we traversed the short distance to camp I tried to fancy what his reflections were. Knowing him as well as I did, I felt sure that he looked upon the past weeks of kindness as part of an elaborate scheme to win his confidence enough to practice this last insult upon him. I dreaded the consequences of the episode, and planned new blandishments to reinstate myself in his favor.

Arriving in camp, my first thought was to release him from the wagon. But the water and mud made it difficult to unfasten the knot at his collar. Feeling keenly the embarrassment of his position, I untied the rope from the axle and threw it on the ground.

The General watched me sulkily, and when the end of that hated rope fell free he bounded to his feet. With one final snarl of utter hate and disgust he was off like a shot; not in a wild, purposeless circle, but straight as the flight of an arrow across the prairie. Away he went, with the lariat dragging behind him.

With eyes raised to the solitary snow peak a hundred miles away he flew from us, with a heart full of hate and a grim determination to put half a continent, if need be, between himself and tyrant man. As I watched the little cloud of dust, raised by his hurrying feet, disappear on the horizon, I realized the futility of battling against fate.

Then our packer broke the silence: “ There goes the ornriest cur in the world with the best lariat in Montana.”