The Girl Who Got Rattled
This is one of the stories of Alfred. There are many of them still floating around the West, for Alfred was in his time very well known.
He was a little man, and he was bashful. That is the most that can be said against him; but he was very little and very bashful.
When on horseback his legs hardly reached the lower body-line of his mount, and only his extreme agility enabled him to get on successfully.
When on foot, strangers were inclined to call him "sonny." In company he never advanced an opinion.
If things did not go according to his ideas, he reconstructed the ideas, and made the best of it--only he could make the most efficient best of the poorest ideas of any man on the plains.
His attitude was a perpetual sidling apology. It has been said that Alfred killed his men diffidently, without enthusiasm, as though loth to take the responsibility, and this in the pioneer days on the plains was either frivolous affectation, or else--Alfred.
With women he was lost. Men would have staked their last ounce of dust at odds that he had never in his life made a definite assertion of fact to one of the opposite sex.
When it became absolutely necessary to change a woman's preconceived notions as to what she should do--as, for instance, discouraging her riding through quicksand--he would persuade somebody else to issue the advice.
And he would cower in the background blushing his absurd little blushes at his second-hand temerity. Add to this narrow, sloping shoulders, a soft voice, and a diminutive pink-and-white face.
But Alfred could read the prairie like a book. He could ride anything, shoot accurately, was at heart afraid of nothing, and could fight like a little catamount when occasion for it really arose.
Among those who knew, Alfred was considered one of the best scouts on the plains.
That is why Caldwell, the capitalist, engaged him when he took his daughter out to Deadwood.
Miss Caldwell was determined to go to Deadwood. A limited experience of the lady's sort, where they have wooden floors to the tents, towels to the tent-poles, and expert cooks to the delectation of the campers, had convinced her that "roughing it" was her favorite recreation.
So, of course, Caldwell senior had, sooner or later, to take her across the plains on his annual trip.
This was at the time when wagon-trains went by way of Pierre on the north, and the South Fork on the south.
Incidental Indians, of homicidal tendencies and undeveloped ideas as to the propriety of doing what they were told, made things interesting occasionally, but not often.
There was really no danger to a good-sized train.
The daughter had a fiance named Allen who liked roughing it, too; so he went along.
He and Miss Caldwell rigged themselves out bountifully, and prepared to enjoy the trip.
At Pierre the train of eight wagons was made up, and they were joined by Alfred and Billy Knapp.
These two men were interesting, but tyrannical on one or two points--such as getting out of sight of the train, for instance.
They were also deficient in reasons for their tyranny. The young people chafed, and, finding Billy Knapp either imperturbable or thick-skinned, they turned their attention to Alfred.
Allen annoyed Alfred, and Miss Caldwell thoughtlessly approved of Allen.
Between them they succeeded often in shocking fearfully all the little man's finer sensibilities.
If it had been a question of Allen alone, the annoyance would soon have ceased.
Alfred would simply have bashfully killed him. But because of his innate courtesy, which so saturated him that his philosophy of life was thoroughly tinged by it, he was silent and inactive.
There is a great deal to recommend a plains journey at first. Later, there is nothing at all to recommend it.
It has the same monotony as a voyage at sea, only there is less living room, and, instead of being carried, you must progress to a great extent by your own volition.
Also the food is coarse, the water poor, and you cannot bathe. To a plainsman, or a man who has the instinct, these things are as nothing in comparison with the charm of the outdoor life, and the pleasing tingling of adventure.
But woman is a creature wedded to comfort. She also has a strange instinctive desire to be entirely alone every once in a while, probably because her experiences, while not less numerous than man's, are mainly psychical, and she needs occasionally time to get "thought up to date." So Miss Caldwell began to get very impatient.
The afternoon of the sixth day Alfred, Miss Caldwell, and Allen rode along side by side.
Alfred was telling a self-effacing story of adventure, and Miss Caldwell was listening carelessly because she had nothing else to do.
Allen chaffed lazily when the fancy took him.
"I happened to have a limb broken at the time," Alfred was observing, parenthetically, in his soft tones,
"What kind of a limb?" asked the young Easterner, with direct brutality.
He glanced with a half-humourous aside at the girl, to whom the little man had been mainly addressing himself.
Alfred hesitated, blushed, lost the thread of his tale, and finally in great confusion reined back his horse by the harsh Spanish bit.
He fell to the rear of the little wagon-train, where he hung his head, and went hot and cold by turns in thinking of such an indiscretion before a lady.
The young Easterner spurred up on the right of the girl's mount.
"He's the queerest little fellow I ever saw!" he observed, with a laugh. "Sorry to spoil his story. Was it a good one?"
"It might have been if you hadn't spoiled it," answered the girl, flicking her horse's ears mischievously. The animal danced. "What did you do it for?"
"Oh, just to see him squirm. He'll think about that all the rest of the afternoon, and will hardly dare look you in the face next time you meet."
"I know. Isn't he funny? The other morning he came around the corner of the wagon and caught me with my hair down. I wish you could have seen him!"
She laughed gayly at the memory.
"Let's get ahead of the dust," she suggested.
They drew aside to the firm turf of the prairie and put their horses to a slow lope.
Once well ahead of the canvas-covered schooners they slowed down to a walk again.
"Alfred says we'll see them to-morrow," said the girl.
"Why, the Hills! They'll show like a dark streak, down past that butte there--what's its name?"
"Oh, yes. And after that it's only three days. Are you glad?"
"Yes, I believe I am. This life is fun at first, but there's a certain monotony in making your toilet where you have to duck your head because you haven't room to raise your hands, and this barrelled water palls after a time. I think I'll be glad to see a house again. People like camping about so long----"
"It hasn't gone back on me yet."
"Well, you're a man and can do things."
"Can't you do things?"
"You know I can't. What do you suppose they'd say if I were to ride out just that way for two miles? They'd have a fit."
"Who'd have a fit? Nobody but Alfred, and I didn't know you'd gotten afraid of him yet! I say, just let's! We'll have a race, and then come right back." The young man looked boyishly eager.
"It would be nice," she mused. They gazed into each other's eyes like a pair of children, and laughed.
"Why shouldn't we?" urged the young man. "I'm dead sick of staying in the moving circle of these confounded wagons. What's the sense of it all, anyway?"
"Why, Indians, I suppose," said the girl, doubtfully.
"Indians!" he replied, with contempt. "Indians! We haven't seen a sign of one since we left Pierre.
I don't believe there's one in the whole blasted country. Besides, you know what Alfred said at our last camp?"
"What did Alfred say?"
"Alfred said he hadn't seen even a teepee-trail, and that they must be all up hunting buffalo.
Besides that, you don't imagine for a moment that your father would take you all this way to Deadwood just for a lark, if there was the slightest danger, do you?"
"I don't know; I made him."
We'd get lost," she said, finally.
"Oh, no, we wouldn't!" he asserted with all the eagerness of the amateur plainsman. "I've got that all figured out.
You see, our train is going on a line with that butte behind us and the sun.
So if we go ahead, and keep our shadows just pointing to the butte, we'll be right in their line of march."
He looked to her for admiration of his cleverness. She seemed convinced. She agreed, and sent him back to her wagon for some article of invented necessity.
While he was gone she slipped softly over the little hill to the right, cantered rapidly over two more, and slowed down with a sigh of satisfaction.
One alone could watch the directing shadow as well as two. She was free and alone.
It was the one thing she had desired for the last six days of the long plains journey, and she enjoyed it now to the full.
No one had seen her go. The drivers droned stupidly along, as was their wont; the occupants of the wagons slept, as was their wont; and the diminutive Alfred was hiding his blushes behind clouds of dust in the rear, as was not his wont at all.
He had been severely shocked, and he might have brooded over it all the afternoon, if a discovery had not startled him to activity.The Girl Who Got Rattled 1The Girl Who Got Rattled 2The Girl Who Got Rattled 3 Powerful Motivational Quotes for Students