A Newport Aquarelle/Chapter 10

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search


 

CHAPTER X.


The journey from Leadville to Cheyenne is not without interest, nor did it so prove to Charles Farwell. To all intelligent travellers there is much to be learned in the course of a long journey, both from observation of the country through which they pass, and in conversation with their fellow-travellers.

At Cheyenne, the point where the great transcontinental railroad crosses the local line of travel, Farwell arrived early one September morning. Awaiting the advent of the Eastward-bound train forty or fifty men were assembled at the small wooden station-house. Every variety of costume was worn, from the conventional suit of American morning dress to the picturesque garb of the Mongolian. Long-haired, red-shirted herders conversed familiarly with gentlemen whose clothes might have been forwarded them to this remote spot by Poole. A Mexican ranchero with a wide sombrero and high boots paced up and down the narrow plank platform, talking earnestly with a smart-looking man of the Teutonic race.

From the scraps of their conversation, Farwell gathered that the Mexican was consulting the German professionally, on the subject of his wife's health. Farwell learned from a loquacious Jew, a commercial traveller who entered into conversation with him, that the Mexican lived fifty miles distant, and had ridden over to procure medicine for his ailing wife from the medical practitioner of Cheyenne. The same obliging personage gave Farwell brief sketches of the most prominent of the individuals who stood about the platform, leaning against the station or sitting on the steps.

"That little fellow there with the red beard is an Englishman; calls himself at home Lord Archie Alvesworth, at Cheyenne he drops the title. He owns a great cattle ranch, ten miles from here, which he manages himself. He has lots of friends visiting him, and they have a pretty gay time of it at his shanty."

"Who is the old man with the long white hair?" asked Farwell, pointing to a tall figure wrapped in a long loose gray cloak.

"That is the Frenchman. He is rather light in the upper story. That young girl upon whose arm he is leaning is his daughter. I can't tell you their real names; they have only been here a few months, and they are a queer, silent lot. The old fellow fancies he has found a diamond mine, and he and the daughter, with an old servant they brought with them, are always searching and digging for the wonderful mine that will make their fortune."

The face of the Frenchman was that of an enthusiast. The white hair and furrowed brow were all the signs of age which he showed. The bright eyes, alert step, and the expectant expression of the face indicated a sanguine and volatile nature. The girl who walked by his side had nothing remarkable in her appearance, save in the pathos of her eyes, which haunted Farwell for months after.

Inside the comfortless wooden building was a long bare room which served for a restaurant. Here all was bustle and hurry. The keeper of the establishment was overlooking half a dozen men, who were arranging the tables. His wife, a lank, raw-boned New Englander, was making thick sandwiches with heavy saleratus bread and large wedges of ham, cut from a still smoking joint. In an adjoining apartment the two bar-tenders, in the lightest possible costumes, were busy mixing drinks for the thirsty multitude of loungers. The grated ice rang musically in the tumblers, and the sound of the julep was pleasant to the ears of those who were anticipating a refreshing draught, while it recalled to those who had already partaken, the agreeable sensation of the cool liquid trembling down the parched throat.

It was terribly hot. Even the dogs seemed to suffer, for they crouched within the shadow of the long building. The men bore the extreme heat with resignation; they spoke on every subject of conversation save the weather,—as if by common consent this topic was avoided.

A smart covered wagon drawn by a pair of strong mules rattled up to the station. From the vehicle a man descended, carrying a child of two years of age in his arms. He placed the little creature on the platform, and turned to assist its mother from the wagon. She was a healthy, strapping young woman, dressed in a neat silk gown, and wearing a bonnet which must have come from New York. The husband made fast his mules, and the couple entered the express office, where they were hospitably received by the agent.

"That man is Dick Parsons, the stage-driver. His wife is going to Maine to stop with her folks. He came down to put her on board the train."

Harwell's informant, as they passed the door of the bar-room, made a slight pause, as if more from habit than from any thought of entering the room. Farwell, who had been too much absorbed in watching the motley crowd of people, and listening to the brief but comprehensive accounts of them given by his new friend, to remember the etiquette of the country, took the gentle hint, and invited his new acquaintance "to take something." The invitation was accepted, and the two men entered the bar room.

The commercial traveller and the bar-tender exchanged a wink as the stranger ordered for himself a plain lemonade. The Ganymede of Cheyenne station was rather a sinister-looking fellow, with one eye. His right hand boasted a thumb and two fingers only, but the airy skill with which he tossed the icy fluid from the tin tumbler to the glass one showed that this physical defect did not unfit him for his profession.

As the commercial traveller drained the last drop of his whiskey cocktail, a faint rumbling was heard along the rails, and a few moments after the Eastward train came in sight. Every car window had an earnest face behind it, and the platforms were crowded with the passengers, who hardly waited the stopping of the train, to dash into the restaurant, where the preparations for dinner were now completed. Farwell entered the room with the crowd, and watched the already familiar sight of the hungry beings vainly endeavoring to satisfy themselves with the indifferent food provided for them.

There is bad management somewhere. Whose fault is it? The prices charged by the railroads are so high, that the traveller has a right to demand comfortable meals at a just cost The patience of the American people is phenomenal. They are plundered by railroad corporations who neglect their comfort, and whose parsimony often endangers their lives; and they bear this patiently, not even, save on rare occasions, making the public complaints which are to be found against like abuses in every issue of the "London Daily News."

"It is a great virtue,—patience," sighed Farwell, as he left the table where his healthy appetite had been somewhat appeased by a plate of cold pork and beans and a bottle of warm beer. His cigarette consoled him for his bad dinner, and he paced up and down, looking at the various people from Cheyenne and its vicinity who, in his two hours waiting at the station, had so greatly interested him. The young French girl had made friends with one of the passengers, a mother who had four children tagging about her. She was carrying the youngest of these, while the woman and her other children walked up and down, stretching their cramped limbs. The English lord was talking to the engineer of the train,—an intelligent Scot; and the stage-driver was introducing his pretty wife to the Pullman-car conductor, an important personage in the society of the Pacific Railroad.

This half-hour's chat with the officials on the train, and those among the passengers who are desirous of deriving information or willing to impart the latest news from either coast, is one of the most important events in the day to many of the dwellers by the iron roadway. This link betwixt them and the civilization in which there was no room for them lessens immeasurably their sense of isolation.

But now the whistle of the engine warned the travellers that the time had come when they must again take up the thread of their journey.

Farwell bade farewell to the commercial gentleman, thanking him for his information. He stepped upon the back platform of the rear car, and looked his last upon the little desolate station and its crowd of habitués.

The old French gentleman was already climbing into a rickety vehicle, while his daughter unfastened the hitching-rein. The stage-driver was waving a last adieu to his wife and his little child, wailing at the grief of a first parting. Inside the restaurant its proprietor was seen locking a cash-box which had been filled at the cost of the pockets and digestion of the travellers. The one-eyed bar-tender was the only member of the group of people who was still busy, and his skilled fingers tossed a red liquid from the tin to the crystal tumbler accurately. His task was never done, day or night.

On sped the train, and in a brief space Cheyenne station was lost to view.

As the day waned, the intense heat moderated, and the passengers on the Eastward train revived a little from the wilted condition they had experienced. They could look out now over the wide plains of sunburnt prairie, whose lines were broken at rare intervals by the farm of some courageous settler. Near one of these green oases the train stopped for some trifling repair. Farwell, standing upon the platform, looked with interest at the well-built adobe house and outbuildings, the green trees, and the well-planted garden. The group of cattle, the dogs, and feathered creatures of the barnyard were the only friends whose company the family of this settler could claim. The grounds were enclosed by a curious fence of woven twigs; wood and stone are materials little used on these frontier farms, owing to the great difficulty and expense of transporting them.

What heroism is shown by these men and women, who taking each other by the hand turn from the luxuries of the Eastern civilization and go out to conquer the savage luxuriance of the West! Courage, patience, self-reliance, must he possess who would succeed in this struggle for wealth in the Western wilderness.

As night drew near, trains of emigrants were passed, three or four wagons usually travelling together, for mutual protection. The great white-hooded vehicles, drawn by heavy cattle, moved slowly along. The family, with all their household goods, are packed away in the wagon, which is almost invariably attended by a pair of dogs and several cows. It is a weary road which they must travel over. Long lines of nodding sunflowers at intervals mark out the path of the overland trail.

To Farwell their golden beauty was an intense pleasure; he asked a fellow-traveller how they came to be so regularly planted, and learned a curious fact from the man whom he had questioned.

In the early days when Brigham Young and his fellow-prophets led out the band of saints to the New Jerusalem of Salt Lake City, across the wide prairies, many hardships were endured. In that first almost heroic journey the emigrants suffered severely from the want of fuel. Young, on his return to the East, provided himself with enormous quantities of the seeds of the sunflower, which the second band of emigrants sowed by the way, for the benefit of the next party of deluded fanatics who should be enticed from their homes by the wily prophet. The path over which the Mormons passed is marked by a golden line, and the camp-fires of the emigrants to-day are lighted by the fibrous stalks of the sunflowers which the Mormon saints sowed forty years ago.

When they reached the station where supper was awaiting the travellers, Farwell decided not to venture a second time that day into a railway restaurant. From his capacious lunch-basket he drew rations of crackers and cheese, with a bottle of claret. His never-failing comfort, the cigarette, was the only light save that of the stars, as he sat in his favorite place on the rear platform.

As the train sped on once more through the night, Farwell sat thinking of Newport, and all that might have happened there since his departure. He wondered if Gladys had missed him, and then he smiled at the thought. He knew that she must have grieved over his departure. He knew that she loved him now; he had never doubted it since that night when they rode home together through the sweet country lanes of Newport, the very evening before his departure. Then he thought again, and with a sudden pain, of her voice as he had heard it calling him, heavy with distress, full of passionate entreaty. What could it have meant? If any ill had befallen her, he certainly would have learned it by telegraph. He was coming to her now with all the speed of steam and iron, yet the journey seemed so long!

The dark prairie was all about him, before,—behind, on either side,—and the train sped on rapidly. Suddenly, far off, a spark of light broke the blackness of the night. It grew brighter and clearer, as the train approached it, and he now saw that it came from a fire. Not a chance flame lit by a wayward spark, but a neatly built camp-fire, cheerful and comfortable. The flames crackled about a gypsy kettle, and shone on a great white wagon standing tenantless by the wayside. The tired oxen were lying near by, their noses hidden by their bags of fodder. A group of people sat at a short distance from the blaze, just where their figures were lighted by the flame. A woman seated on the ground, an infant in her arms, looking up into the face of the man who stood behind her, erect, and in the uncertain light seeming to be of a heroic build. These three, all alone in the midst of the vast prairie, with hope for their guide, and love for their companion. This was a home, though the next evening would see the trio far on their journey, and the kettle would swing over a fire some twenty miles nearer its final destination.

For one moment was the life picture before Farwell, warm, happy, full of a deep significance, and then the train carried him past it away into the night. The cheerful blaze grew dim again in the distance, and finally was lost in the darkness. The remembrance of that camp-fire, and the group seen by its light, remained with Charles Farwell when many friends had been forgotten, in the lapse of time.

At last the journey was accomplished, and though it had been full of color and interest, it was with a feeling of intense relief that Charles Farwell stepped from the train at Jersey City. Five minutes later, our traveller found himself on the ferry-boat which conveys the passengers from the railroad terminus in Jersey to the metropolis of New York.

It was late in the afternoon, and Farwell, standing in the open part of the boat, looked out over the busy scene which spread itself on either hand. The tangle of the shipping spread across the heaven like an enormous cobweb. The cool, green waters of the bay were churned into a hundred streaks of white foam by the furrowing paddle-wheels of the ferry-boats which ply to and fro between the great centre and its outlying dependencies. The boats themselves were laden with such dense crowds of human beings that it seemed impossible to fancy that there were any men and women left in the city.

On reaching the landing, Farwell, giving his checks to the minion of the express, mounted the stairs of the Elevated Railroad. He entered the train, and in a breathless haste was whirled up town by that wonderful line of travel which hangs, like the coffin of Mahomet, 'twixt earth and heaven. It had never struck him before that the Elevated Railroad was a particularly noticeable feature of New York. After his sojourn in Colorado, every detail which goes to make the vast convenience of the city of Manhattan impressed him.

"We are too civilized," sighed our traveller, as he stepped from the train at the Twenty-third Street Station. As he walked down the long flight of stairs, he smiled at the thought which passed through his mind. He had invented a plan for transporting the passengers of the Elevated Railroad up and down the long stairs which lead to the stations by means of a slide, in the very moment when he had protested against the ultra convenience of the Elevated Road.

At Delmonico's the great dining-room was crowded with the same set of people he had left dining there on the night when he had started for Leadville. After Farwell had ordered his dinner with a certain care,—it was many weeks since he had dined,—he leaned back in his chair and looked about the brilliantly lighted apartments.

At the table on his right sat Hewson, the coolest speculator in Wall Street. His shadow, Hangon, a man triple his size, had just given his directions to the servant for dinner. The speculator looked careworn, his thin face was flushed, and his hand shook as he raised his glass to his lips. The client Hangon addressed some remark to the great man, who answered him shortly and rudely. The face of the mighty parasite flushed at the rebuff, but his vexation was cooled and soothed in the beaker of wine which he drained at the expense of his patron.

Presently Hewson spoke, rapidly and earnestly. Farwell could not hear the conversation, but he doubted not its import. A heavy fall in stocks had shaken the market that morning, and the evening paper hinted that Hewson, the great stock-gambler, had, in the phrase of the street, "gone up." The next day would prove how the fall in the stock market had affected him.

Had the prediction of failure been with or without foundation? Farwell wondered, and watched the operator closely. He was a keen observer of character, and he had a reason for wishing to ascertain whether Hewson had lost or gained in the day's gambling.

The eager face of the financier wore its usual anxious expression. The lines about the nose were rather deeper than usual, and his hands fidgeted nervously with his bread. His appetite was not so good as it had been on the occasion when Farwell had last observed him, but the unusually hot day might account for that.

Farwell enjoyed his dinner. After the long period in which he had lived on the most ordinary diet, the well-cooked dishes of the chef were very agreeable. He was something of a Sybarite, and the few dainties prepared by his order would have tempted the most languid appetite. A certain pilaf served with boiled truffles, made from a receipt Farwell had obtained from a well-known gastronome, attracted the attention of Hewson from his own untasted dinner to the table of his neighbor. Farwell noted the look of interest in the tired face of the speculator, and without a moment's hesitation directed the waiter to present the dish of pilaf to Mr. Hewson, with his compliments.

It was a happy move; for the bored, worn expression of Mr. Hewson's face changed to one of pleasure, and the pilaf was fully appreciated by him. He ate it with evident enjoyment, and with nothing of the mechanical manner which often characterized him while at table.

Farwell now knew what he wanted to. The speculator was still a "financier," and had not made a false throw. While success attends the great operators they are given the high-sounding title of "financier." An unsuccessful attempt at "a corner," or a "rush" in stocks which beggars them, wins them the title of "gambler," long ago deserved, but only granted when the game is up.

From Farwell's knowledge of the character and manner of Hewson, the appetite with which he ate the pilaf and truffles convinced him that whoever else had suffered from that day's operations, Hewson had escaped unscathed. Once convinced of this fact, Farwell's next action was to leave the dining-room quietly and hurriedly. His movement did not escape the keen eyes of his neighbor, and while he was lighting his cigarette in the outer hall, Hangon the parasite followed him and asked him to join Mr. Hewson over a bottle of famous old Burgundy.

Farwell returned to the dining-room and joined the two men over their wine. They asked him about his journey with a certain curiosity as to its end. Farwell gave them a humorous account of his trip, with a graphic picture of the life and manners in the town he had lately visited. He was an excellent talker at all times, and this evening he seemed at his best; both men listened to him with attention and interest.

Hewson, worn and wearied with the terrible ferment and worry of his life in the exciting atmosphere of Wall Street, was glad to be taken out of himself and his own thoughts by this bright and magnetic young man, whose slightly bronzed face and hands spoke of a long absence from the city. Hangon, tired with the long and close attendance upon the peevish patron, was thankful at so pleasant an addition to the tête-à-tête which had lasted for several days.

When Farwell finally rose to go, the two men followed his example, and the trio left the restaurant in company. Mr. Hewson's trap stood at the door awaiting him.

"Which way are you going, Farwell? Can I not give you a lift?"

The offer was made in a manner which showed that it was meant seriously, and not out of compliment.

"Thank you. I am bound on rather a wild-goose chase. I want to find Graball, and I have no idea whether he is at his house in Fifth Avenue or at Long Branch. Do you happen to know?"

"No. But get in and I will drive you up to his house; it is on my way. You will look in this evening, Hangon, about eleven o'clock?"

The mighty parasite nodded a reply, lifted his hat, and with a sigh of relief at the two hours of liberty granted him, walked off in the opposite direction. Farvvell and Hewson drove up the long wide avenue past the empty houses with closed blinds.

"How utterly desolate the city looks! People are coming back later and later every season." Farwell was the speaker.

"It's not wonderful," answered his companion in his peevish, fevered voice. "How can any one be anxious, or even willing, to come back to this cursed city a day before they are obliged to?"

"How many days have you been out of town this summer?"

"Every Sunday, and on the Fourth of July."

"You have taken no vacation?"

"Not a day."

"How long is it since you have taken a leave of absence from the city?"

"Not since I had the typhoid fever, three years ago."

"In all that time you have not missed a single business day in the street?"

"Not one."

For a few moments Farwell was silent. He was registering a vow that he would never allow himself to become so utterly demoralized, body and soul, by the demon of play, as was this poor nervous human being at his side. Hewson's millions at that moment numbered a score or more; his name was in the mouths of the whole army of gamblers, by whom be was envied, admired, and feared. It seemed to Charles Farwell that of all the unhappy human beings with whom he had been thrown in contact, Hewson, the great stock operator, was the most to be pitied.

Mr. Graball was not at home, the flunkey who answered the summons of the bell informed them. He had gone down to Long Branch, and would not be back that night. Farwell was disappointed, or he appeared to be so.

"Will you take a turn on the Park?" asked Mr. Hewson.

"Yes, thanks. Are you not afraid of malaria? I am so much braced up by my long vacation that I should enjoy it, but is it wise for you to run the risk?"

"Yes; I am used to it. Do you think of returning to Colorado?"

"Yes, it is possible. I have an interest in a claim there. It was apropos of that business that I wanted to see Graball."

"Is he interested in the scheme?"

"No; but I need the backing of Graball, or some such man, in the affair."

"Silver?"

"Yes."

"Who owns the claim?"

"A man named Cartwright, and myself."

"You want a company formed?"

"In which I shall retain the controlling shares."

"Come round to my house and talk it over. If it is a good thing, perhaps I will take an interest in it."

This was what Farwell had hoped for. Of all the men he knew who could help him in the affairs of the Little Quickgain Mine, Hewson was the best to deal with, notwithstanding his crusty manner. Farwell's was a cautious, not over-sanguine nature, and he was sure of the value of the mine, and was moreover certain that he could convince Hewson of its value, once having roused his interest.

"Come to my rooms, if you will, Hewson. I have the papers and certificates of ore; you can look them over there."

He knew the advantage of being on his own ground, and preferred, in dealing with this man, to be the host rather than the guest.