No less strange and visionary to them seemed the real transitions they noted from the moving train. How one morning they missed the changeless, motionless, low, dark line along the horizon, and before noon found themselves among the rocks and trees and a swiftly rushing river. How there suddenly appeared beside them a few days later a great gray cloud-covered ridge of mountains that they were convinced was that same dark line that they had seen so often. How the men laughed at them, and said that for the last three days they had been crossing that dark line, and that it was higher than the great gray-clouded range before them, which it had always hidden from their view! How Susy firmly believed that these changes took place in her sleep, when she always “kinder felt they were crawlin’ up,” and how Clarence, in the happy depreciation of extreme youth, expressed his conviction that they “weren’t a bit high, after all.” How the weather became cold, though it was already summer, and at night the camp fire was a necessity, and there was a stove in the tent with Susy; and yet how all this faded away, and they were again upon a dazzling, burnt, and sun-dried plain! But always as in a dream!
More real were the persons who composed the party—whom they seemed to have always known—and who, in the innocent caprice of children, had become to them more actual than the dead had even been. There was Mr. Peyton, who they now knew owned the train, and who was so rich that he “needn’t go to California if he didn’t want to, and was going to buy a great deal of it if he liked it,” and who was also a lawyer and “policeman”—which was Susy’s rendering of “politician”—and was called “Squire” and “Judge” at the frontier outpost, and could order anybody to be “took up if he wanted to,” and who knew everybody by their Christian names; and Mrs. Peyton, who had been delicate and was ordered by the doctor to live in the open air for six months, and “never go into a house or a town agin,” and who was going to adopt Susy as soon as her husband could arrange with Susy’s relatives, and draw up the papers! How “Harry” was Henry Benham, Mrs. Peyton’s brother, and a kind of partner of Mr. Peyton. And how the scout’s name was Gus Gildersleeve, or the “White Crow,” and how, through his recognized intrepidity, an attack upon their train was no doubt averted. Then there was “Bill,” the stock herder, and “Texas Jim,” the vaquero—the latter marvelous and unprecedented in horsemanship. Such were their companions, as appeared through the gossip of the train and their own inexperienced consciousness. To them, they were all astounding and important personages. But, either from boyish curiosity or some sense of being misunderstood, Clarence was more attracted by the two individuals of the party who were least kind to him—namely, Mrs. Peyton and her brother Harry. I fear that, after the fashion of most children, and some grown-up people, he thought less of the steady kindness of Mr. Peyton and the others than of the rare tolerance of Harry or the polite concessions of his sister. Miserably conscious of this at times, he quite convinced himself that if he could only win a word of approbation from Harry, or a smile from Mrs. Peyton, he would afterwards revenge himself by “running away.” Whether he would or not, I cannot say. I am writing of a foolish, growing, impressionable boy of eleven, of whose sentiments nothing could be safely predicted but uncertainty.
It was at this time that he became fascinated by another member of the party whose position had been too humble and unimportant to be included in the group already noted. Of the same appearance as the other teamsters in size, habits, and apparel, he had not at first exhibited to Clarence any claim to sympathy. But it appeared that he was actually a youth of only sixteen—a hopeless incorrigible of St. Joseph, whose parents had prevailed on Peyton to allow him to join the party, by way of removing him from evil associations and as a method of reform. Of this Clarence was at first ignorant, not from any want of frankness on the part of the youth, for that ingenious young gentleman later informed him that he had killed three men in St. Louis, two in St. Jo, and that the officers of justice were after him. But it was evident that to precocious habits of drinking, smoking, chewing, and card-playing this overgrown youth added a strong tendency to exaggeration of statement. Indeed, he was known as “Lying Jim Hooker,” and his various qualities presented a problem to Clarence that was attractive and inspiring, doubtful, but always fascinating. With the hoarse voice of early wickedness and a contempt for ordinary courtesy, he had a round, perfectly good-humored face, and a disposition that when not called upon to act up to his self-imposed rôle of reckless wickedness, was not unkindly.
It was only a few days after the massacre, and while the children were still wrapped in the gloomy interest and frightened reticence which followed it, that “Jim Hooker” first characteristically flashed upon Clarence’s perceptions. Hanging half on and half off the saddle of an Indian pony, the lank Jim suddenly made his appearance, dashing violently up and down the track, and around the wagon in which Clarence was sitting, tugging desperately at the reins, with every indication of being furiously run away with, and retaining his seat only with the most dauntless courage and skill. Round and round they went, the helpless rider at times hanging by a single stirrup near the ground, and again recovering himself by—as it seemed to Clarence—almost superhuman effort. Clarence sat open-mouthed with anxiety and excitement, and yet a few of the other teamsters laughed. Then the voice of Mr. Peyton, from the window of his car, said quietly,—
“There, that will do, Jim. Quit it!”
The furious horse and rider instantly disappeared. A few moments after, the bewildered Clarence saw the redoubted horseman trotting along quietly in the dust of the rear, on the same fiery steed, who in that prosaic light bore an astounding resemblance to an ordinary team horse. Later in the day he sought an explanation from the rider.
“You see,” answered Jim gloomily, “thar ain’t a galoot in this yer crowd ez knows jist what’s in that hoss! And them ez suspecks daren’t say! It wouldn’t do for to hev it let out that the Judge hez a Morgan-Mexican plug that’s killed two men afore he got him, and is bound to kill another afore he gets through! Why, on’y the week afore we kem up to you, that thar hoss bolted with me at camping! Bucked and throwed me, but I kept my holt o’ the stirrups with my foot—so! Dragged me a matter of two miles, head down, and me keepin’ away rocks with my hand—so!”
“Why didn’t you loose your foot and let go?” asked Clarence breathlessly.
“You might,” said Jim, with deep scorn; “that ain’t my style. I just laid low till we kem to a steep pitched hill, and goin’ down when the hoss was, so to speak, kinder below me, I just turned a hand spring, so, and that landed me onter his back again.”
This action, though vividly illustrated by Jim’s throwing his hands down like feet beneath him, and indicating the parabola of a spring in the air, proving altogether too much for Clarence’s mind to grasp, he timidly turned to a less difficult detail.
“What made the horse bolt first, Mr. Hooker?”
“Smelt Injins!” said Jim, carelessly expectorating tobacco juice in a curving jet from the side of his mouth—a singularly fascinating accomplishment, peculiarly his own, “’n’ likely your Injins.”
“But,” argued Clarence hesitatingly, “you said it was a week before—and—”
“Er Mexican plug kin smell Injins fifty, yes, a hundred miles away,” said Jim, with scornful deliberation; “’n’ if Judge Peyton had took my advice, and hadn’t been so mighty feared about the character of his hoss gettin’ out he’d hev played roots on them Injins afore they tetched ye. But,” he added, with gloomy dejection, “there ain’t no sand in this yer crowd, thar ain’t no vim, thar ain’t nothin’; and thar kan’t be ez long ez thar’s women and babies, and women and baby fixin’s, mixed up with it. I’d hev cut the whole blamed gang ef it weren’t for one or two things,” he added darkly.
Clarence, impressed by Jim’s mysterious manner, for the moment forgot his contemptuous allusion to Mr. Peyton, and the evident implication of Susy and himself, and asked hurriedly, “What things?”
Jim, as if forgetful of the boy’s presence in his fitful mood, abstractedly half drew a glittering bowie knife from his bootleg, and then slowly put it back again. “Thar’s one or two old scores,” he continued, in a low voice, although no one was in hearing distance of them, “one or two private accounts,” he went on tragically, averting his eyes as if watched by some one, “thet hev to be wiped out with blood afore I leave. Thar’s one or two men too many alive and breathin’ in this yer crowd. Mebbee it’s Gus Gildersleeve; mebbee it’s Harry Benham; mebbee,” he added, with a dark yet noble disinterestedness, “it’s me.”
“Oh, no,” said Clarence, with polite deprecation.
Far from placating the gloomy Jim, this seemed only to awake his suspicions. “Mebbee,” he said, dancing suddenly away from Clarence, “mebbee you think I’m lyin’. Mebbee you think, because you’re Colonel Brant’s son, yer kin run me with this yer train. Mebbee,” he continued, dancing violently back again, “ye kalkilate, because ye run off ’n’ stampeded a baby, ye kin tote me round too, sonny. Mebbee,” he went on, executing a double shuffle in the dust and alternately striking his hands on the sides of his boots, “mebbee you’re spyin’ round and reportin’ to the Judge.”
Firmly convinced that Jim was working himself up by an Indian war-dance to some desperate assault on himself, but resenting the last unjust accusation, Clarence had recourse to one of his old dogged silences. Happily at this moment an authoritative voice called out, “Now, then, you Jim Hooker!” and the desperate Hooker, as usual, vanished instantly. Nevertheless, he appeared an hour or two later beside the wagon in which Susy and Clarence were seated, with an expression of satiated vengeance and remorseful bloodguiltiness in his face, and his hair combed Indian fashion over his eyes. As he generously contented himself with only passing a gloomy and disparaging criticism on the game of cards that the children were playing, it struck Clarence for the first time that a great deal of his real wickedness resided in his hair. This set him to thinking that it was strange that Mr. Peyton did not try to reform him with a pair of scissors, but not until Clarence himself had for at least four days attempted to imitate Jim by combing his own hair in that fashion.
A few days later, Jim again casually favored him with a confidential interview. Clarence had been allowed to bestride one of the team leaders postillionwise, and was correspondingly elevated, when Jim joined him, on the Mexican plug, which appeared—no doubt a part of its wicked art—heavily docile, and even slightly lame.
“How much,” said Jim, in a tone of gloomy confidence,—“how much did you reckon to make by stealin’ that gal-baby, sonny?”
“Nothing,” replied Clarence with a smile. Perhaps it was an evidence of the marked influence that Jim was beginning to exert over him that he already did not attempt to resent this fascinating implication of grownup guilt.
“It orter bin a good job, if it warn’t revenge,” continued Jim moodily.
“No, it wasn’t revenge,” said Clarence hurriedly.
“Then ye kalkilated ter get er hundred dollars reward ef the old man and old woman hadn’t bin scelped afore yet got up to ’em?” said Jim. “That’s your blamed dodgasted luck, eh! Enyhow, you’ll make Mrs. Peyton plank down suthin’ if she adopts the babby. Look yer, young feller,” he said, starting suddenly and throwing his face forward, glaring fiendishly through his matted side-locks, “d’ye mean ter tell me it wasn’t a plant—a skin game—the hull thing?”
“A what?” said Clarence.
“D’ye mean to say”—it was wonderful how gratuitously husky his voice became at this moment—“d’ye mean ter tell me ye didn’t set on them Injins to wipe out the Silsbees, so that ye could hev an out-an’-out gal orfen on hand fer Mrs. Peyton ter adopt—eh?”
But here Clarence was forced to protest, and strongly, although Jim contemptuously ignored it. “Don’t lie ter me,” he repeated mysteriously, “I’m fly. I’m dark, young fel. We’re cahoots in this thing?” And with this artful suggestion of being in possession of Clarence’s guilty secret he departed in time to elude the usual objurgation of his superior, “Phil,” the head teamster.
Nor was his baleful fascination exercised entirely on Clarence. In spite of Mrs. Peyton’s jealously affectionate care, Clarence’s frequent companionship, and the little circle of admiring courtiers that always surrounded Susy, it became evident that this small Eve had been secretly approached and tempted by the Satanic Jim. She was found one day to have a few heron’s feathers in her possession with which she adorned her curls, and at another time was discovered to have rubbed her face and arms with yellow and red ochre, confessedly the free gift of Jim Hooker. It was to Clarence alone that she admitted the significance and purport of these offerings. “Jim gived ’em to me,” she said, “and Jim’s a kind of Injin hisself that won’t hurt me; and when bad Injins come, they’ll think I’m his Injin baby and run away. And Jim said if I’d just told the Injins when they came to kill papa and mamma, that I b’longed to him, they’d hev runned away.”
“But,” said the practical Clarence, “you could not; you know you were with Mrs. Peyton all the time.”
“Kla’uns,” said Susy, shaking her head and fixing her round blue eyes with calm mendacity on the boy, “don’t you tell me. I was there!”
Clarence started back, and nearly fell over the wagon in hopeless dismay at this dreadful revelation of Susy’s powers of exaggeration. “But,” he gasped, “you know, Susy, you and me left before—”
“Kla’uns,” said Susy calmly, making a little pleat in the skirt of her dress with her small thumb and fingers, “don’t you talk to me. I was there. I’se a seriver! The men at the fort said so! The serivers is allus, allus there, and allus allus knows everythin’.”
Clarence was too dumfounded to reply. He had a vague recollection of having noticed before that Susy was very much fascinated by the reputation given to her at Fort Ridge as a “survivor,” and was trying in an infantile way to live up to it. This the wicked Jim had evidently encouraged. For a day or two Clarence felt a little afraid of her, and more lonely than ever.
It was in this state, and while he was doggedly conscious that his association with Jim did not prepossess Mrs. Peyton or her brother in his favor, and that the former even believed him responsible for Susy’s unhallowed acquaintance with Jim, that he drifted into one of those youthful escapades on which elders are apt to sit in severe but not always considerate judgment. Believing, like many other children, that nobody cared particularly for him, except to restrain him, discovering, as children do, much sooner than we complacently imagine, that love and preference have no logical connection with desert or character, Clarence became boyishly reckless. But when, one day, it was rumored that a herd of buffalo was in the vicinity, and that the train would be delayed the next morning in order that a hunt might be organized, by Gildersleeve, Benham, and a few others, Clarence listened willingly to Jim’s proposition that they should secretly follow it.
To effect their unhallowed purpose required boldness and duplicity. It was arranged that shortly after the departure of the hunting party Clarence should ask permission to mount and exercise one of the team horses—a favor that had been frequently granted him; that in the outskirts of the camp he should pretend that the horse ran away with him, and Jim would start in pursuit. The absence of the shooting party with so large a contingent of horses and men would preclude any further detachment from the camp to assist them. Once clear, they would follow the track of the hunters, and, if discovered by them, would offer the same excuse, with the addition that they had lost their way to the camp. The plan was successful. The details were carried out with almost too perfect effect; as it appeared that Jim, in order to give dramatic intensity to the fractiousness of Clarence’s horse, had inserted a thorn apple under the neck of his saddle, which Clarence only discovered in time to prevent himself from being unseated. Urged forward by ostentatious “Whoas!” and surreptitious cuts in the rear from Jim, pursuer and pursued presently found themselves safely beyond the half-dry stream and fringe of alder bushes that skirted the camp. They were not followed. Whether the teamsters suspected and winked at this design, or believed that the boys could take care of themselves, and ran no risk of being lost in the proximity of the hunting party, there was no general alarm.
Thus reassured, and having a general idea of the direction of the hunt, the boys pushed hilariously forward. Before them opened a vast expanse of bottom land, slightly sloping on the right to a distant half-filled lagoon, formed by the main river overflow, on whose tributary they had encamped. The lagoon was partly hidden by straggling timber and “brush,” and beyond that again stretched the unlimitable plains—the pasture of their mighty game. Hither, Jim hoarsely informed his companion, the buffaloes came to water. A few rods further on, he started dramatically, and, alighting, proceeded to slowly examine the ground. It seemed to be scattered over with half-circular patches, which he pointed out mysteriously as “buffalo chip.” To Clarence’s inexperienced perception the plain bore a singular resemblance to the surface of an ordinary unromantic cattle pasture that somewhat chilled his heroic fancy. However, the two companions halted and professionally examined their arms and equipments.
These, I grieve to say, though varied, were scarcely full or satisfactory. The necessities of their flight had restricted Jim to an old double-barreled fowling-piece, which he usually carried slung across his shoulders; an old-fashioned “six-shooter,” whose barrels revolved occasionally and unexpectedly, known as “Allen’s Pepper Box” on account of its culinary resemblance; and a bowie-knife. Clarence carried an Indian bow and arrow with which he had been exercising, and a hatchet which he had concealed under the flanks of his saddle. To this Jim generously added the six-shooter, taking the hatchet in exchange—a transfer that at first delighted Clarence, until, seeing the warlike and picturesque effect of the hatchet in Jim’s belt, he regretted the transfer. The gun, Jim meantime explained “extry charged,” “chuck up” to the middle with slugs and revolver bullets, could only be fired by himself, and even then he darkly added, not without danger. This poverty of equipment was, however, compensated by opposite statements from Jim of the extraordinary results obtained by these simple weapons from “fellers I knew:” how he himself had once brought down a “bull” by a bold shot with a revolver through its open bellowing mouth that pierced his “innards;” how a friend of his—an intimate in fact—now in jail at Louisville for killing a sheriff’s deputy, had once found himself alone and dismounted with a simple clasp-knife and a lariat among a herd of buffaloes; how, leaping calmly upon the shaggy shoulders of the biggest bull, he lashed himself with the lariat firmly to its horns, goading it onward with his clasp-knife, and subsisting for days upon the flesh cut from its living body, until, abandoned by its fellows and exhausted by the loss of blood, it finally succumbed to its victor at the very outskirts of the camp to which he had artfully driven it! It must be confessed that this recital somewhat took away Clarence’s breath, and he would have liked to ask a few questions. But they were alone on the prairie, and linked by a common transgression; the glorious sun was coming up victoriously, the pure, crisp air was intoxicating their nerves; in the bright forecast of youth everything was possible!
The surface of the bottom land that they were crossing was here and there broken up by fissures and “potholes,” and some circumspection in their progress became necessary. In one of these halts, Clarence was struck by a dull, monotonous jarring that sounded like the heavy regular fall of water over a dam. Each time that they slackened their pace the sound would become more audible, and was at last accompanied by that slight but unmistakable tremor of the earth that betrayed the vicinity of a waterfall. Hesitating over the phenomenon, which seemed to imply that their topography was wrong and that they had blundered from the track, they were presently startled by the fact that the sound was actually approaching them! With a sudden instinct they both galloped towards the lagoon. As the timber opened before them Jim uttered a long ecstatic shout. “Why, it’s them!”
At a first glance it seemed to Clarence as if the whole plain beyond was broken up and rolling in tumbling waves or furrows towards them. A second glance showed the tossing fronts of a vast herd of buffaloes, and here and there, darting in and out and among them, or emerging from the cloud of dust behind, wild figures and flashes of fire. With the idea of water still in his mind, it seemed as if some tumultuous tidal wave were sweeping unseen towards the lagoon, carrying everything before it. He turned with eager eyes, in speechless expectancy, to his companion.
Alack! that redoubtable hero and mighty hunter was, to all appearances, equally speechless and astonished. It was true that he remained rooted to the saddle, a lank, still heroic figure, alternately grasping his hatchet and gun with a kind of spasmodic regularity. How long he would have continued this would never be known, for the next moment, with a deafening crash, the herd broke through the brush, and, swerving at the right of the lagoon, bore down directly upon them. All further doubt or hesitation on their part was stopped. The farseeing, sagacious Mexican plug with a terrific snort wheeled and fled furiously with his rider. Moved, no doubt, by touching fidelity, Clarence’s humbler team-horse instantly followed. In a few moments those devoted animals struggled neck to neck in noble emulation.
“What are we goin’ off this way for?” gasped the simple Clarence.
“Peyton and Gildersleeve are back there—and they’ll see us,” gasped Jim in reply. It struck Clarence that the buffaloes were much nearer them than the hunting party, and that the trampling hoofs of a dozen bulls were close behind them, but with another gasp he shouted,
“When are we going to hunt ’em?”
“Hunt them!” screamed Jim, with a hysterical outburst of truth; “why, they’re huntin’ us—dash it!”
Indeed, there was no doubt that their frenzied horses were flying before the equally frenzied herd behind them. They gained a momentary advantage by riding into one of the fissures, and out again on the other side, while their pursuers were obliged to make a detour. But in a few minutes they were overtaken by that part of the herd who had taken the other and nearer side of the lagoon, and were now fairly in the midst of them. The ground shook with their trampling hoofs; their steaming breath, mingling with the stinging dust that filled the air, half choked and blinded Clarence. He was dimly conscious that Jim had wildly thrown his hatchet at a cow buffalo pressing close upon his flanks. As they swept down into another gully he saw him raise his fateful gun with utter desperation. Clarence crouched low on his horse’s outstretched neck. There was a blinding flash, a single stunning report of both barrels; Jim reeled in one way half out of the saddle, while the smoking gun seemed to leap in another over his head, and then rider and horse vanished in a choking cloud of dust and gunpowder. A moment after Clarence’s horse stopped with a sudden check, and the boy felt himself hurled over its head into the gully, alighting on something that seemed to be a bounding cushion of curled and twisted hair. It was the shaggy shoulder of an enormous buffalo! For Jim’s desperate random shot and double charge had taken effect on the near hind leg of a preceding bull, tearing away the flesh and ham-stringing the animal, who had dropped in the gully just in front of Clarence’s horse.
Dazed but unhurt, the boy rolled from the lifted fore quarters of the struggling brute to the ground. When he staggered to his feet again, not only his horse was gone but the whole herd of buffaloes seemed to have passed too, and he could hear the shouts of unseen hunters now ahead of him. They had evidently overlooked his fall, and the gully had concealed him. The sides before him were too steep for his aching limbs to climb; the slope by which he and the bull had descended when the collision occurred was behind the wounded animal. Clarence was staggering towards it when the bull, by a supreme effort, lifted itself on three legs, half turned, and faced him.
These events had passed too quickly for the inexperienced boy to have felt any active fear, or indeed anything but wild excitement and confusion. But the spectacle of that shaggy and enormous front, that seemed to fill the whole gully, rising with awful deliberation between him and escape, sent a thrill of terror through his frame. The great, dull, bloodshot eyes glared at him with a dumb, wondering fury; the large wet nostrils were so near that their first snort of inarticulate rage made him reel backwards as from a blow. The gully was only a narrow and short fissure or subsidence of the plain; a few paces more of retreat and he would be at its end, against an almost perpendicular bank fifteen feet high. If he attempted to climb its crumbling sides and fell, there would be those short but terrible horns waiting to impale him! It seemed too terrible, too cruel! He was so small beside this overgrown monster. It wasn’t fair! The tears started to his eyes, and then, in a rage at the injustice of Fate, he stood doggedly still with clenched fists. He fixed his gaze with half-hysterical, childish fury on those lurid eyes; he did not know that, owing to the strange magnifying power of the bull’s convex pupils, he, Clarence, appeared much bigger than he really was to the brute’s heavy consciousness, the distance from him most deceptive, and that it was to this fact that hunters so often owed their escape. He only thought of some desperate means of attack. Ah! the six-shooter. It was still in his pocket. He drew it nervously, hopelessly—it looked so small compared with his large enemy!
He presented it with flashing eyes, and pulled the trigger. A feeble click followed, another, and again! Even this had mocked him. He pulled the trigger once more, wildly; there was a sudden explosion, and another. He stepped back; the balls had apparently flattened themselves harmlessly on the bull’s forehead. He pulled again, hopelessly; there was another report, a sudden furious bellow, and the enormous brute threw his head savagely to one side, burying his left horn deep in the crumbling bank beside him. Again and again he charged the bank, driving his left horn home, and bringing down the stones and earth in showers. It was some seconds before Clarence saw in a single glimpse of that wildly tossing crest the reason of this fury. The blood was pouring from his left eye, penetrated by the last bullet; the bull was blinded! A terrible revulsion of feeling, a sudden sense of remorse that was for the moment more awful than even his previous fear, overcame him. He had done that thing! As much to fly from the dreadful spectacle as any instinct of self-preservation, he took advantage of the next mad paroxysms of pain and blindness, that always impelled the suffering beast towards the left, to slip past him on the right, reach the incline, and scramble wildly up to the plain again. Here he ran confusedly forward, not knowing whither—only caring to escape that agonized bellowing, to shut out forever the accusing look of that huge blood-weltering eye.
Suddenly he heard a distant angry shout. To his first hurried glance the plain had seemed empty, but, looking up, he saw two horsemen rapidly advancing with a led horse behind them—his own. With the blessed sense of relief that overtook him now came the fevered desire for sympathy and to tell them all. But as they came nearer he saw that they were Gildersleeve, the scout, and Henry Benham, and that, far from sharing any delight in his deliverance, their faces only exhibited irascible impatience. Overcome by this new defeat, the boy stopped, again dumb and dogged.
“Now, then, blank it all, will you get up and come along, or do you reckon to keep the train waiting another hour over your blanked foolishness?” said Gildersleeve savagely.
The boy hesitated, and then mounted mechanically, without a word.
“’Twould have served ’em right to have gone and left ’em,” muttered Benham vindictively.
For one wild instant Clarence thought of throwing himself from his horse and bidding them go on and leave him. But before he could put his thought into action the two men were galloping forward, with his horse led by a lariat fastened to the horn of Gildersleeve’s saddle.
In two hours more they had overtaken the train, already on the march, and were in the midst of the group of outriders. Judge Peyton’s face, albeit a trifle perplexed, turned towards Clarence with a kindly, half-tolerant look of welcome. The boy’s heart instantly melted with forgiveness.
“Well, my boy, let’s hear your story. What happened?”
Clarence cast a hurried glance around, and saw Jim, with face averted, riding gloomily behind. Then nervously and hurriedly he told how he had been thrown into the gully on the back of the wounded buffalo, and the manner of his escape. An audible titter ran through the cavalcade. Mr. Peyton regarded him gravely. “But how did the buffalo get so conveniently into the gully?” he asked.
“Jim Hooker lamed him with a shotgun, and he fell over,” said Clarence timidly.
A roar of Homeric laughter went up from the party. Clarence looked up, stung and startled, but caught a single glimpse of Jim Hooker’s face that made him forget his own mortification. In its hopeless, heart-sick, and utterly beaten dejection—the first and only real expression he had seen on it—he read the dreadful truth. Jim’s reputation had ruined him! The one genuine and striking episode of his life, the one trustworthy account he had given of it, had been unanimously accepted as the biggest and most consummate lie of his record!