John Brent/Chapter VI
If Heaven’s climate approaches the perfect charm of an American October, I accept my place in advance, and book my lodgings for eternity.
The climate of the best zone in America is transcendent for its purpose. Its purpose is to keep men at their keenest, at high edge and high ardor all the time. Then, for enchanting luxury of repose, when ardent summer has achieved its harvest, and all the measure of the year is full, comes ripe October, with its golden, slumberous air. The atmosphere is visible sunshine. Every leaf in the forest changes to a resplendent blossom. The woods are rich and splendorous, but not glaring. Nothing breaks the tranquil wealthy sentiment of the time. It is the year’s delightful holiday.
In such a season we rode through the bare defiles of the Wasatch Mountains, wall of Utah on the east. We passed Echo Cañon, and the other strait gates and rough ways through which the Latter-Day Saints win an entrance to their Sion.
We met them in throngs, hard at work at such winning. The summer emigration of Mormons was beginning to come in. No one would have admitted their claim to saintship from their appearance. If they had no better passport than their garb, “Avaunt! Procul este profani!” would have cried any trustworthy janitor of Sion. Saints, if I know them, are clean, — are not ragged, are not even patched. Their garments renew themselves, shed rain like Macintosh, repel dust, sweeten unsavoriness. These sham saints needed unlimited scouring, persons and raiment. We passed them, when we could, to windward. Poor creatures! we shall see more of their kindred anon.
We hastened on, for our way was long, and autumn’s hospitable days were few. Just at the foot of those bare, bulky mounds of mountain by which the Wasatch range tones off into the great plains between it and the Rockys, we overtook the Salt Lake mail party going eastward. They were travelling eight or ten men strong, with a four-mule waggon, and several horses and mules driven beside for relays.
“If Jake Shamberlain is the captain of the party,” said Brent, when we caught sight of them upon the open, “we’ll join them.”
“Who is Jake Shamberlain?”
“A happy-go-lucky fellow, whom I have met and recognized all over the world. He has been a London policeman. He was pulling stroke-oar in the captain’s gig that took me ashore from a dinner on board the Firefly, British steamer, at the Piræus. He has been a lay brother in a Carthusian convent. He married a pretty girl in Boston once, went off on a mackerel trip, and when he came back the pretty girl had bigamized. That made Mormon and polygamist of him. He came out two or three years ago, and, being a thriving fellow, has got to himself lands and beeves and wives without number. Biddulph and I stayed several days with him when we came through in the summer. His ranch is down the valley, toward Provo. He owns half the United States mail contract. They told me in the city that he intended to run this trip himself. You will see an odd compound of a fellow.”
“I should think so; policeman, acolyte, man-of-war’s-man, Yankee husband. Mormon! Has he come to his finality?”
“He thinks so. He is a shrewd fellow of many smatterings. He says there are only two logical religions in the civilized world, — the Popish and the Mormon. Those two are the only ones that have any basis in authority. His convent experience disenchanted him with Catholicism. He is quite irreverent, is the estimable Jake. He says monks are a set of snuffy old reprobates. He says that he found celibacy tended to all manner of low vice; that monogamy disappointed him; so he tried the New Revelation, polygamy and all, and has become an ardent propagandist and exhorter. Take the man as he is, and he has plenty of brave, honest qualities.”
We had by this time ridden up to the mail party. They were moving slowly along. The night’s camping-spot was near. It was a bit of grassy level on the bank of a river, galloping over the pebbles with its mountain impetus still in it, — Green River, perhaps; Green, or White, or Big Sandy, or Little Stony. My map of memory is veined with so many such streams, all going in a hurry through barren plains, and no more than drains on a water-shed, that I confuse their undistinguishing names. Such mere business-like water-courses might as well be numbered, after the fashion of the monotonous streets of a city, too new for the consecration of history. Dear New England’s beloved brooks and rivers, slow through the meadows and beneath the elms, tumbling and cascading down the mountain-sides from under the darkling hemlocks into the sparkle of noon, and leaping into white water between the files of Northern birches, — they have their well-remembered titles, friendly and domestic, or of sturdy syllables and wilderness sound. Such waters have spoiled me for gutters, — Colorados, Arkansaws, Plattes, and Missouris.
“Hillo, Shamberlain!” hailed Brent, riding up to the train.
“Howdydo? Howdydo? No swap!” responded Jake, after the Indian fashion. “Bung my eyes! ef you’re not the mate of all mates I’m glad to see. Pax vobiscrum, my filly! You look as fresh as an Aperel shad. Praisèd be the Lord!” continued he, relapsing into Mormon slang, “who has sent thee again, like a brand from the burning, to fall into paths of pleasantness with the Saints, as they wander from the Promised Land to the mean section where the low-lived Gentiles ripen their souls for hell.”
Droll farrago! but just as Jake delivered it. He had the slang and the swearing of all climes and countries at his tongue’s end.
“Hello, stranger!” said he, turning to me. “I allowed you was the Barrownight.”
“It’s my friend, Richard Wade,” said Brent.
“Yours to command. Brother Wade,” Jake says hospitably, “Ef you turn out prime, one of the out and outers, like Brother John Brent, I’ll tip ’em the wink to let you off easy at the Judgment Day, Gentile or not. I’ve booked Brother John fur Paradise; Brother Joseph’s got a white robe fur him, blow high, blow low!”
We rode along beside Shamberlain.
“What did you mean just now?” asked my friend. “You spoke of Wade’s being the baronet.”
“I allowed you wouldn’t leave him behind.”
“I don’t understand. I have not seen him since we left you in the summer. I’ve been on to California and back.”
“The Barrownight’s ben stoppin’ round in the Valley ever since. He seems to have a call to stop. Prehaps his heart is tetched, and he is goan to jine the Lord’s people. I left him down to my ranch, ten days ago, playing with a grizzly cub, what he’s trying to make a gentleman of. A pooty average gentleman it’ll make too.”
“Very odd!” says Brent to me. “Biddulph meant to start for home, at once, when we parted. He had some errand in behalf of the lady he had run away from.”
“Probably he found he could not trust his old wounds under her eyes again. Wants another year’s crust over his scarified heart.”
“Quite likely. Well, I wish we had known he was in the Valley. We would have carried him back with us. A fine fellow! Couldn’t be a better!”
“Not raw, as Englishmen generally are?”
“No; well ripened by a year or so in America.”
“Individuals need that cookery, as the race did.”
“Yes; I wish our social cuisine were a thought more scientific.”
“All in good time. We shall separate sauces by and by, and not compel beef, mutton, and turkey to submit to the same gravy.”
“Meanwhile some of my countrymen are so under-done, and some so over-done, that I have lost my taste for them.”
“Such social dyspepsia is soon cured on the plains. You will go back with a healthy appetite. Did your English friend describe the lady of his love?”
“No; it was evidently too stern a grief to talk about. He could keep up his spirits only by resolutely turning his back on the subject.”
“It must needs have been a weak heart or a mighty passion.”
“The latter. A brave fellow like Biddulph does not take to his heels from what he can overcome.”
By this time we had reached camp.
Horses first, self afterwards, is the law of the plains travel. A camp must have, —
Those are the necessities. Anything else is luxury.
The mail party were a set of jolly roughs. Jake Shamberlain was the type man. To encounter such fellows is good healthy education. As useful in kind, but higher in degree, as going to a bear conversazione or a lion and tiger concert. Civilization mollifies the race. It is not well to have hard knocks and rough usage for mind or body eliminated from our training.
We joined suppers with our new friends. After supper we sat smoking our pipes, and talking horse, Indians, bear-fights, scalping, and other brutal business, such as the world has not outgrown.