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IT did seem strange enough to see a town again after what
appeared to us such a long acquaintance with deep, still,
almost lifeless and houseless solitude! We tumbled out into the
busy street feeling like meteoric people crumbled off the corner
of some other world, and wakened up suddenly in this. For an
hour we took as much interest in Overland City as if we had
never seen a town before. The reason we had an hour to spare
was because we had to change our stage (for a less sumptuous
affair, called a “mud-wagon”) and transfer our freight of mails.

Presently we got under way again. We came to the
shallow, yellow, muddy South Platte, with its low banks and
its scattering flat sand-bars and pigmy islands—a melancholy
stream straggling through the centre of the enormous flat
plain, and only saved from being impossible to find with the
naked eye by its sentinel rank of scattering trees standing on
either bank. The Platte was “up,” they said—which made
me wish I could see it when it was down, if it could look any
sicker and sorrier. They said it was a dangerous stream to
cross, now, because its quicksands were liable to swallow up
horses, coach and passengers if an attempt was made to ford
it. But the mails had to go, and we made the attempt. Once
or twice in midstream the wheels sunk into the yielding sands
so threateningly that we half believed we had dreaded and
avoided the sea all our lives to be shipwrecked in a “mud-wagon”
in the middle of a desert at last. But we dragged
through and sped away toward the setting sun.


Page 61



[Description: 504EAF. Page 061. In-line image of a landscape scene. The scene includes a river and a mountain, with several flying birds.]

Next morning, just before dawn, when about five hundred
and fifty miles from St. Joseph,
our mud-wagon broke down.
We were to be delayed five or
six hours, and therefore we
took horses, by invitation, and
joined a party who were just
starting on a buffalo hunt. It
was noble sport galloping over
the plain in the dewy freshness
of the morning, but our
part of the hunt ended in
disaster and disgrace, for a
wounded buffalo bull chased
the passenger Bemis nearly
two miles, and then he forsook
his horse and took to a lone
tree. He was very sullen
about the matter for some
twenty-four hours, but at last
he began to soften little by little,
and finally he said:

“Well, it was not funny,
and there was no sense in those
gawks making themselves so
facetious over it. I tell you
I was angry in earnest for
awhile. I should have shot
that long gangly lubber they
called Hank, if I could have
done it without crippling six
or seven other people—but of
course I couldn't, the old `Allen's'
so confounded comprehensive.
I wish those loafers
had been up in the tree; they
wouldn't have wanted to laugh so. If I had had a horse


Page 62


[Description: 504EAF. Page 062. In-line image of a boar charging a man small man on a white horse. The man looks very worried as he is about to lose his hat.]
worth a cent—but no, the minute he saw that buffalo bull
wheel on him and give a bellow, he raised straight up in the
air and stood on his heels. The saddle began to slip, and I
took him round the neck and laid close to him, and began
to pray. Then he came down and stood up on the other
end awhile, and the bull actually stopped pawing sand and
bellowing to contemplate the inhuman spectacle. Then the
bull made a pass at him and uttered a bellow that sounded
perfectly frightful, it was so close to me, and that seemed
to literally prostrate my horse's reason, and make a raving
distracted maniac of him, and I wish I may die if he didn't
stand on his head for a quarter of a minute and shed tears.
He was absolutely out of his mind—he was, as sure as truth
itself, and he really didn't know what he was doing. Then
the bull came charging at us, and my horse dropped down
on all fours and took a fresh start—and then for the next


Page 63


[Description: 504EAF. Page 063. In-line image of a boar chasing the man on a horse out of the wilderness. The boar has a cloud of dust behind him.]
ten minutes he would actually throw one hand-spring after
another so fast that the bull began to get unsettled, too, and
didn't know where to start in—and so he stood there sneezing,
and shovelling dust over his back, and bellowing every now
and then, and thinking he had got a fifteen-hundred dollar
circus horse for breakfast, certain. Well, I was first out on
his neck—the horse's, not the bull's—and then underneath,
and next on his rump, and sometimes head up, and sometimes
heels—but I tell you it seemed solemn and awful to be ripping
and tearing and carrying on so in the presence of death,
as you might say. Pretty soon the bull made a snatch for us
and brought away some of my horse's tail (I suppose, but do
not know, being pretty busy at the time), but something made
him hungry for solitude and suggested to him to get up and
hunt for it. And then you ought to have seen that spider-legged
old skeleton go! and you ought to have seen the bull
cut out after him, too—head down, tongue out, tail up, bellowing
like everything, and actually mowing down the weeds, and
tearing up the earth, and boosting up the sand like a whirlwind!
By George, it was a hot race! I and the saddle were
back on the rump, and I had the bridle in my teeth and holding


Page 64
on to the pommel with both hands. First we left the
dogs behind; then we passed a jackass rabbit; then we overtook
a cayote, and were gaining on an antelope when the
rotten girth let go and threw me about thirty yards off to the
left, and as the saddle went down over the horse's rump he
gave it a lift with his heels that sent it more than four hundred
yards up in the air, I wish I may die in a minute if he
didn't. I fell at the foot of the only solitary tree there was
in nine counties adjacent (as any creature could see with the
naked eye), and the next second I had hold of the bark with
four sets of nails and my teeth, and the next second after that
I was astraddle of the main limb and blaspheming my luck in
a way that made my breath smell of brimstone. I had the
bull, now, if he did not think of one thing. But that one
thing I dreaded. I dreaded it very seriously. There was a
possibility that the bull might not think of it, but there were
greater chances that he would. I made up my mind what I
would do in case he did. It was a little over forty feet to
the ground from where I sat. I cautiously unwound the
lariat from the pommel of my saddle—”

“Your saddle? Did you take your saddle up in the tree
with you?”

“Take it up in the tree with me? Why, how you talk.
Of course I didn't. No man could do that. It fell in the
tree when it came down.”


“Certainly. I unwound the lariat, and fastened one end
of it to the limb. It was the very best green raw-hide, and
capable of sustaining tons. I made a slip-noose in the other
end, and then hung it down to see the length. It reached
down twenty-two feet—half way to the ground. I then
loaded every barrel of the Allen with a double charge. I felt
satisfied. I said to myself, if he never thinks of that one
thing that I dread, all right—but if he does, all right anyhow—I
am fixed for him. But don't you know that the very
thing a man dreads is the thing that always happens? Indeed
it is so. I watched the bull, now, with anxiety—anxiety


Page 65


[Description: 504EAF. Page 065. In-line image of a man in the top of a tree dangling down to try and shoot the boar that is trying to kill him. The boar is also climbing up the tree, even though it has hooves.]
which no one can conceive of who has not been in such a
situation and felt that at any moment death might come.
Presently a thought came into the bull's eye. I knew it! said
I—if my nerve fails now, I am lost. Sure enough, it was
just as I had dreaded, he started in to climb the tree—”

“What, the

“Of course—
who else?”

“But a bull
can't climb a tree.”

“He can't,
can't he? Since
you know so much
about it, did you
ever see a bull

“No! I never
dreamt of such a

“Well, then,
what is the use
of your talking
that way, then?
Because you never
saw a thing done,
is that any reason
why it can't be

“Well, all
right—go on.
What did you

“The bull
started up, and got along well for about ten feet, then slipped
and slid back. I breathed easier. He tried it again—got


Page 66
up a little higher—slipped again. But he came at it once
more, and this time he was careful. He got gradually
higher and higher, and my spirits went down more and
more. Up he came—an inch at a time—with his eyes
hot, and his tongue hanging out. Higher and higher—
hitched his foot over the stump of a limb, and looked up, as
much as to say, `You are my meat, friend.' Up again—
higher and higher, and getting more excited the closer he got.
He was within ten feet of me! I took a long breath,—and
then said I, `It is now or never.' I had the coil of the
lariat all ready; I paid it out slowly, till it hung right over
his head; all of a sudden I let go of the slack, and the slip-noose
fell fairly round his neck! Quicker than lightning I
out with the Allen and let him have it in the face. It was an
awful roar, and must have scared the bull out of his senses.
When the smoke cleared away, there he was, dangling in the
air, twenty foot from the ground, and going out of one convulsion
into another faster than you could count! I didn't
stop to count, anyhow—I shinned down the tree and shot for

“Bemis, is all that true, just as you have stated it?”

“I wish I may rot in my tracks and die the death of a dog
if it isn't.”

“Well, we can't refuse to believe it, and we don't. But
if there were some proofs—”

“Proofs! Did I bring back my lariat?”


“Did I bring back my horse?”


“Did you ever see the bull again?”


“Well, then, what more do you want? I never saw anybody
as particular as you are about a little thing like that.”

I made up my mind that if this man was not a liar he only
missed it by the skin of his teeth. This episode reminds me
of an incident of my brief sojourn in Siam, years afterward.
The European citizens of a town in the neighborhood of Bangkok


Page 67
had a prodigy among them by the name of Eckert, an
Englishman—a person famous for the number, ingenuity and
imposing magnitude of his lies. They were always repeating
his most celebrated falsehoods, and always trying to “draw
him out” before strangers; but they seldom succeeded. Twice
he was invited to the house where I was visiting, but nothing
could seduce him into a specimen lie. One day a planter
named Bascom, an influential man, and a proud and sometimes
irascible one, invited me to ride over with him and call on
Eckert. As we jogged along, said he:

“Now, do you know where the fault lies? It lies in putting
Eckert on his guard. The minute the boys go to pumping at
Eckert he knows perfectly well what they are after, and of
course he shuts up his shell. Anybody might know he would.
But when we get there, we must play him finer than that.
Let him shape the conversation to suit himself—let him drop
it or change it whenever he wants to. Let him see that nobody
is trying to draw him out. Just let him have his own
way. He will soon forget himself and begin to grind out lies
like a mill. Don't get impatient—just keep quiet, and let me
play him. I will make him lie. It does seem to me that the
boys must be blind to overlook such an obvious and simple
trick as that.”

Eckert received us heartily—a pleasant-spoken, gentle-mannered
creature. We sat in the veranda an hour, sipping
English ale, and talking about the king, and the sacred white
elephant, the Sleeping Idol, and all manner of things; and I
noticed that my comrade never led the conversation himself
or shaped it, but simply followed Eckert's lead, and betrayed
no solicitude and no anxiety about anything. The effect was
shortly perceptible. Eckert began to grow communicative;
he grew more and more at his ease, and more and more talkative
and sociable. Another hour passed in the same way, and
then all of a sudden Eckert said:

“Oh, by the way! I came near forgetting. I have got a
thing here to astonish you. Such a thing as neither you nor
any other man ever heard of—I've got a cat that will eat cocoanut!


Page 68


[Description: 504EAF. Page 068. In-line image of three men talking. One standing, one sitting, and one is on the ground. Between the three men is a white cat. ]
Common green cocoanut—and not only eat the meat,
but drink the milk. It is so—I'll swear to it.”

A quick glance from Bascom—a glance that I understood—then:

“Why, bless my soul, I never heard of such a thing.
Man, it is impossible.”

“I knew you would say it. I'll fetch the cat.”

He went in the house. Bascom said:

“There—what did I tell you? Now, that is the way to
handle Eckert. You see, I have petted him along patiently,
and put his suspicions to sleep. I am glad we came. You
tell the boys about it when you go back. Cat eat a cocoanut
—oh, my! Now, that is just his way, exactly—he will tell the
absurdest lie, and trust to luck to get out of it again. Cat eat
a cocoanut—the innocent fool!”

Eckert approached with his cat, sure enough.

Bascom smiled. Said he:

“I'll hold the cat—you bring a cocoanut.”


Page 69

[ILLUSTRATION] [Description: 504EAF. Page 069. Tail-piece image of two men walking down a path in the wilderness. They are flanked by trees on both sides.]

Eckert split one open, and chopped up some pieces. Bascom
smuggled a wink to me, and proffered a slice of the fruit
to puss. She snatched it, swallowed it ravenously, and asked
for more!

We rode our two miles in silence, and wide apart. At
least I was silent, though Bascom cuffed his horse and cursed
him a good deal, notwithstanding the horse was behaving well
enough. When I branched off homeward, Bascom said:

“Keep the horse till morning. And—you need not speak
of this — foolishness to the boys.”