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John Brent/Chapter XXII

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Champagne[edit]

How soundly I slept, in my sleeping hours, after our great victory, — Courage over Space, Hope over Time, Love over Brutality, the Heavenly Powers over the Demon Forces!

I sprang up, after my last morning slumber, with vitality enough for my wounded friend and myself. I felt that I could carry double responsibility, as Fulano had carried double weight. God has given me the blessing of a great, vigorous life. My body has always been a perfect machine for my mind’s work, such as that may be; and never a better machine, with every valve, crank, joint, and journal in good order, than on that dawn at Luggernel Springs.

If I had not awaked alive from top to toe, from tip to tip, from end to end, alive in muscle, nerve, and brain, the Luggernel Champagne Spring would have put life into me.

Champagne of Rheims and Epernay! Bah!

Avaunt, Veuve Clicquot, thou elderly Hebe! Avaunt, with thy besugared, begassed, bedeviled, becorked, bewired, propitious manufacture! Some day, at a dull dinner-party, I will think of thee and poison myself with thy poison, that I may become deaf to the voice of the vulgar woman to whom some fatal hostess may consign me. But now let no thought of Champagne, even of that which the Veuve may keep for her moment most lacrymose of “veuvage,” interfere with my remembrance of the Luggernel Spring.

Champagne to that! More justly a Satyr to Hyperion; a stage-moon to Luna herself; an Old-World peach to a peach of New Jersey; a Democratic Platform to the Declaration of Independence; a pinching, varnished boot to a winged sandal of Mercury; Faustina to Charlotte Corday; a senatorial speech to a speech of Wendell Phillips; anything crude, base, and sham to anything fine, fresh, and true.

Ah, poor Kissingen! Alas, unfragrant Sharon! Alack, stale Saratoga! Ichabod! Adieu to you all when the world knows the virtues of Luggernel!

But never when the O-fortunatus-nimium world has come into this new portion of its heritage, — never when Luggernel is renowned and fashion blooms about its brim, — never when gentlemen of the creamiest cream in the next half-century offer to ladies as creamy beakers bubbling full of that hypernectareous tipple, — never will any finer body or fairer soul of a woman be seen there about than her whom I served that morning. And, indeed, among the heroic gentlemen of the riper time to come, I cannot dream that any will surpass in all the virtues and courtesies of the cavalier my friend John Brent, now dismounted and lying there wounded and patient.

Oranges before breakfast are good. There be who on awakening gasp for the cocktail. And others, who, fuddled last night, are limp in their lazy beds, till soda-water lends them its fizzle. Eye-openers these of moderate calibre. But, with all the vigorous vitality I have claimed, perhaps I might still have remembered yesterday with its Gallop of Three, its suspense, its eager dash and its certainty, and remembered them with new anxieties for to-day, except for my morning draught of exhilaration from the unbottled, unmixed sources of Luggernel. Thanks La Grenouille, rover of the wilderness, for thy froggish instinct and this blissful discovery!

I stooped and lapped. Long ago Gideon Barakson recognized the thorough-going braves because they took their water by the throatful, not by the palmful. And when I had lapped enough, and let the great bubbles of laughing gas burst in my face, I took a beaker, — to be sure it was battered tin, and had hung at the belt of a dastard, — a beaker of that “cordial julep” to my friend. He was awake and looking about him, seeking for some one.

“Come to your gruel, old fellow!” said I.

He drank the airy water and sat up revived.

“It is like swallowing the first sunbeam on the crown of a snow-peak,” he said.

Miss Clitheroe dawned upon us with this. She came forth from her lodge, fresh and full of cheer.

Brent stopped looking about for some one. The One had entered upon the scene.

I dipped for her also that poetry in a tin pot.

“This,” said she, “is finer balm than the enchanted cup of Comus; never did lips touch a draught

‘To life so friendly, or so cool to thirst.’

To-day my life is worthy of this nepenthe. My dear friend, this is the first night of peaceful, hopeful rest I have had, since my poor father was betrayed into his delusion. Thank you and God for it!”

And again her eyes filled with happy tears, and she knelt by her patient. While she was tenderly and deftly renewing the bandages, Armstrong stood by, and inspected the wound in silence. Presently he walked off and called me to help him with our camp-fire.

“Pretty well ploughed up, that arm of his’n,” said he.

“I have seen amputation performed for less.”

“Then I’m dum glad there’s no sawbones about. I don’t believe Nater means a man’s leg or arm to go, until she breaks the solid bone, so that it ain’t to be sot nohow. But what do you allow to do? Lamm ahead or squat here?”

“You are the oldest; you have most experience; I will take your advice.”

“October is sweet as the smile of a gal when she hears that her man has made fifteen hundred dollars off the purceeds of a half-acre of onions, to the mines; but these yer fall storms is reg’lar Injuns; they light down ’thout sendin’ on hand-bills. We ought to be p’intin’ for home if we can.”

“But Brent’s wound! Can he travel?”

“Now, about that wound, there’s two ways of lookin’ at it. We ken stop here, or we ken poot for Laramie. I allow that it oughter take that arm of his’n a month to make itself right. Now in a month ther’ll be p’r’aps three feet of snow whar we stand.”

“We must go on.”

“Besides, lookerhere! Accordin’ to me the feelin’s mean suthin’, when a man’s got any. He’ll be all the time worryin’ about the gal till he gets her to her father. It’s my judgment she’d better never see the old man agin; but I wouldn’t want my Ellen to quit me, ef I was an unhealthy gonoph like him. Daughters ought to stick closer ’n twitch-grass to their fathers, and sons to their mothers, and she ain’t one to knock off lovin’ anybody she’s guv herself to love. No, she’s one of the stiddy kind, — stiddy as the stars. He knows that, that there pardener of yourn knows it, and his feelin’s won’t give his arm no rest until she’s got the old man to take care of and follow off on his next streak. So we must poot for Laramie, live or die. Thar’ll be a doctor there. Ef we ken find the way, it shouldn’t take us more ’n ten days. I’ll poot him on Bill’s sorrel, jest as gentle a horse as Bill was that rode him, and we’ll see ef we hain’t worked out the bad luck out of all of us, for one while.”

Armstrong’s opinion was only my own, expressed Oregonly. We went on preparing breakfast.

“That there A. & A. mule,” says Armstrong, “was Bill’s and mine, and this stuff in the packs was ours. I don’t know what the fellers did with the two mean mustangs they was ridin’ when they found us fust on Bear River, — used ’em up, I reckon.”

Here Brent hailed us cheerily.

“Look alive there, you two cooks! We idlers here want to be travelling.”

“I told you so,” said Armstrong. “He understands this business jest as well as we do. He’ll go till he draps. Thar’s grit into him, ef I know grit.”

Yes; but when I saw him sit still with his back against the spruce-tree, and remembered his exuberant life of other days, I desponded. He soon took occasion to speak to me apart.

“Dick,” said he, “you see how it is. I am not good for much. If we were alone, you and I might settle here for a month or so, and write ‘Bubbles from the Brünnen.’ But there is a lady in the case. It is plain where she belongs. I know every inch of the way to Laramie. I can take you through in a week” — he paused and quavered a little, as he continued — “if I live. But don’t look so anxious, I shall.”

“It would be stupid for you to die now, John Brent the Lover, with the obstacles cut away and an heroic basis of operations.”

“A wounded man, perhaps a dying man, has no business with love. I will never present her my services and ask pay. But, Dick, if I should wear out, you will know what to say to her for me.”

At this she joined us, her face so illumined with resolution and hope that we both kindled. All doubt skulked away from her presence. Brent was nerved to rise and walk a few steps to the camp-fire, supported by her arm and mine.

Armstrong had breakfast ready, such as it was. And really, the brace of wood grouse he had shot that morning, not a hundred yards from camp, were not unworthy of a lady’s table, though they had never made journey in a crowded box, over a slow railroad, from Chicago to New York, in a January thaw, and then been bought at half price of a street pedler, a few hours before they dropped to pieces.

We grouped to depart.

“I shall remember all this for scores of sketches,” said Miss Clitheroe.

And indeed there was material. The rocks behind threading away and narrowing into the dim gorge of the Alley; the rushing fountains, one with its cloud of steam; the two great spruces; the greensward; the thickets; and above them a far-away glimpse of a world, all run to top and flinging itself up into heaven, a tumult of crag and pinnacle. So much for the scenery. And for personages, there was Armstrong, with his head turbaned, saddling the white machine; the two mules, packed and taking their last nibbles of verdure; Miss Clitheroe, in her round hat and with a green blanket rigged as riding-skirt, mounted upon the sturdy roan; Brent resting on my shoulder, and stepping on my knee, as he climbed painfully to his seat on the tall sorrel; Don Fulano waiting, proud and eager. And just as we were starting, a stone fell from overhead into the water; and looking up, we saw a bighorn studying us from the crags, wishing, no doubt, that his monster horns were ears to comprehend our dialect.

I gave the party their stirrup-cup from the Champagne Spring. The waters gurgled adieu. Rich sunrise was upon the purple gates of the pass. We struck a trail through the thicket.

Good bye to the Luggernel Springs and Luggernel Alley! to that scene of tragedy and tragedy escaped!