Kings of the Missouri/Chapter 4

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Chapter IV


THE hamlet of St. Charles was lazily bestirring itself along its one straggling street when Lander rode his tired mule down to the river and signaled for the ferry-man to come and take him across. After some delay the man showed up and with much mumbling and grumbling set his passenger and the mule across.

Passing down the one street Lander followed the shore till he came to a seventy-five-foot keelboat, the cargo box filling the body with the exception of some ten feet at each end. The thousand feet of towing rope was coiled in the bow as the steamer from St. Louis would arrive during the day and tow it as far as Lexington. From there Bridger's boatman under the crisp direction of Etienne Prevost would cordelle and pole it to Fort Pierre, near the mouth of the Teton, or Bad River. Once they got above the mouth of the James the boating would be easier than on the lower river.

Lander was decided to stick to the boat as the long reaches of the mighty stream fascinated him. In the fall of the previous year Kenneth McKenzie, the greatest trader ever employed by the A. F. C., whose name will always be associated with the Upper Missouri outfit stationed at Fort Union above the Yellowstone, wrote to the New York headquarters of the company that the steamboat "would permit of their keeping their men in the Indian country and paying the greater part of their wages in merchandise instead of in cash." In other words the company planned to pay wages in merchandise at three and four hundred per cent. advance on the cost. Lander had heard this plan talked over at the store and might have hesitated to go up-river as an engagé for the company. But going by boat up-river to Fort Pierre and ultimately joining Bridger in the mountains was a different proposition and his soul kindled to it.

Could he have but known it Lander was two years inside the beginning of that period of invasion of the great trans-Mississippi territory. Of course there had been journeyings to the mountains and back and several government exploring parties prior to 1829. There also had grown up a brisk trade with Santa Fé. But the epoch of great travel was made possible by the coming of steam to the Missouri as a permanent factor in 1829.

The New Englanders required two hundred years to reach the Mississippi. Even at that they passed through immense areas without pausing to explore thoroughly, let alone settle them. Yet within eighteen years from the morning Lander rode his borrowed mule into sleepy St. Charles, the steamboat on the Missouri was to be responsible for a quarter of a million square miles of the Oregon country being settled. Within the same period more than half a million square miles were to be sliced off from Mexico, with Americans occupying a thousand miles of the Pacific coast. This expansion was even to surpass the overrunning of Europe by eastern hordes.

Lander tarried by the boat although the mountain men and boatmen were camped near by. Two thoughts now popped into his mind, and neither had to do with migrations: his love for Susette and a commercial inspiration. Although a mountain man only in embryo he had no vision of a mighty people flooding the West. If he became a mountain man a settled condition would be the last destiny he would wish for his country. Trappers were one with the Indians in wishing the land to remain as it was with wild life flourishing and multiplying.

Lander thought tenderly of Susette, then jumped from his mule to examine the keelboat more critically and to wonder why such craft must be made in Cincinnati, Louisville or Pittsburgh. It now came home to him that had he not mixed up in the duel and killed his man he might have secured a little capital and from his own "navy yard" turned out keelboats and taken a rare profit.

"But if not for the fight I'd probably hung round town, somebody's hired man," he morosely told himself as he led his mule over the slight ridge to where Bridger's men were camped.

A chorus of yells accelerated his pace and he soon beheld some twenty men singing and dancing around their morning fires while nearly as many more were crawling from their blankets and cursing the hilarity of their mates. A slim, wiry-built man walked among them, counting off on his fingers to check them up.

"Where is Long Simons? Is the fool still in St. Louis? Then he stays there, and we shall have to elect a new bully for this trip," remarked the slim man.

"Bah! That Long Simons don't rare on his hind-legs when I go by," growled a big hulk of a fellow.

"Ye never did go fo' to give him no battle, Porker," drawled a lazy southern voice, and a young man with deep marks of dissipation on his face raised himself from his blankets and threw back his long black hair.

"I'll give ye a battle, ye whelp!" roared Porker, rushing at the prostrate youth.

The other came to his feet like a cat, a knife flashing in his hand, his white teeth gleaming wolfishly.

"Hold, hold! I, Etienne Prevost, will shoot the man who makes the first move." And Lander knew he was gazing at a celebrated mountain man, one of the galaxy which had graduated under Ashley while a mere youth. "You shall all have a chance to show your mettle. We'll settle the question before we start. The red belt is in my pack; but no knife-play. Hunter, put up that knife."

"Go to ——!" snarled Hunter, bending half double and beginning to circle about the mighty Porker who now showed signs of fear.

"Put up that knife, you fool! Haven't you sweat the rum out of you yet?" cried Prevost.

With a snarl Hunter ducked forward. Porker turned to run and secure a weapon and sprawled on his face. Hunter was astride of him in a second with the knife raised. Lander felt his stomach revolting at the sight of murder all but committed. Then Prevost fired, and with a yelp of pain and rage Hunter tottered to his feet, clasping his right wrist.

"Go back to St. Louis, you trouble-maker. Go join the A. F. C. We don't want you," coldly advised Prevost as he began reloading his pistol.

"Etienne Prevost, I'll kill you for this," screamed Hunter.

"Mebbe. But go back to St. Louis and wait for your broken wrist to mend. If you will come with me I'll fix it up until you can get treated in town."

"If I step aside with you it'll be fo' to knife you with my left hand," gritted Hunter, tying his handkerchief around his neck for a sling and walking away.

"Good riddance!" growled Prevost. Then he turned and beheld Lander staring wide-eyed on the scene.

"Who are you? What do you want?" Prevost roughly demanded, walking up to him and surveying him sharply. "You don't belong to this outfit."

"Mr. Bridger sent me here to join it," explained Lander. "Said I could go with the boat or with the land party at Lexington."

"Who are you?"

Lander told him and added that he had been employed by the A. F. C. until the day before.

"If Jim Bridger knew that he never would 'a' sent you. We don't want any A. F. C. spies with us."

The men began crowding forward ominously. One man suggested they duck him in the river. Another advised tying him to his mule and driving the animal into the river. Lander laid his rifle across the saddle and reaching down pulled his knife from his boot.

"I may not be very welcome here," he said. "But some one is going to get killed before I'm ducked or tied to any mule."

Porker, who now recovered something of his former aplomb and fearing he had lost caste because of his mishap with Hunter, swaggered forward with a camp-ax in his hand and loudly called out:

"Ev'ry one step aside. I'll cut this young rooster's comb.… Gawdfrey!"

He came to an abrupt halt and rubbed his chin and grinned foolishly. To Prevost he explained:

"This hyar younker is th' one what did for Mal Phinny of th' A. F. C. outfit. Killed him las' night in a fight on Bloody Island. All St. Louis heard about it just as I was leavin' Tilton's bar to git here on time."

"Then he done a mighty good job. Wish he'd done for ol' Parker," shouted one of the men, relaxing into a peaceful attitude. "If ye done that Malcom skunk ye needn't bother to keep yer gun p'inted this way, Mister Doolest."

"Jim Bridger know about the fight?" inquired Prevost, his voice shading off into courtesy.

"He gave the word for us to fire," replied Lander without shifting his rifle or relaxing his watchfulness.

"Then we've had enough of this hoss-play," said Prevost. "S'long as Bridger sent you, then you must belong. But I want to say right now that there's altogether too much cock-a-doodle-dooing here to suit me. I reckon you all need to be blooded a bit. I ain't heard nothing for forty-eight hours except fighting talk. We've just about time to settle this business before the steam-boat gits here. One of you is best man and is to carry the pipe and wear the bully's red belt. Hurry up and put your weapons one side. Keelboat style, except biting and eye-gouging. Every man who's shot off his yawp is going to be licked or be a champion."

Lander restored the knife to his boot, dropped the rifle in the hollow of his arm and said:

"You can count me out. I ain't any hankering to wear your red belt."

"You'll fight when it comes your turn," Prevost coldly warned. "I never started for the mountains yet without first gitting all the bile out of a man's system. And you're too quick to stand folks off with guns and knives. Right now, before the steamer comes, we're going to decide who's who for this whole trip. Porker, seeing as you're 'lowed to be champion in place of Long Simons——"

"Whoopee!" bawled a heavy voice back in the village street.

The group turned and beheld a rangy-built man riding toward them on a vicious-looking mule. The newcomer waved his arms and loudly announced:

"Here I be. More 'gator than man. Stronger'n a buf'ler in a pushin' match. Hungry as a grizzly for a huggin' match. I've got panther blood in my body, an' th' teeth of a mountain lion. I've come to hurt somebody powerful bad. I wore th' red belt to th' mountains on th' last trip, an' I'll wear it again."

Porker stared at him uneasily, then brightened as he observed the champion was swerving from side to side as if half drunk.

"So you did manage to make it, eh?" growled Prevost. "A little more and it would have been your last trip with the Rocky Mountain Fur outfit."

"Ye couldn't keep me back any more'n yer bare hands could hold a buf'ler bull back from water," drunkenly boasted Long Simons, dismounting and standing unsteadily. "I'd 'a' been here sooner but I met Hunter who'd had trouble with his arm. Stopped to fix his sling for him. He hit for St. Louis, leavin' a trail o' brimstun an' sulfur behind him. Boss, don't tell me th' red belt's been fit for an' won. If it has I'll scrunch th' man that has it."

"You're in time," snapped Prevost. "That's more'n I can say of your condition."

He then counted the men and found the tally satisfactory. The question of physical superiority was usually settled and the red belt awarded at the start of the trip. This absorbed the fighting spirit of the men and allowed them to stick to their work without bickerings. With Prevost these annual battles meant more efficiency during the long trip to the mountains and back, a sort of clearing-house for distemper and private feuds. Glancing over the company he said:

"As it seems to lay between Long Simons and Porker you other boys can git ready and find out who's the two best among you. Hurry it along. Any feller showing the white feather will be booted into the river. All belts and weapons back there by my tent. No biting or eye-digging. No bone-breaking after a man's beat."

Lander had heard of these contests but had never been brought face to face with the facts. His eyes opened widely as two men clinched the minute Prevost ceased speaking and rolled over the grass fighting like tiger cats. Obviously there was bad blood between the two and they had waited hungrily until the boss gave the word; now fought to hurt, to maim, all but to kill.

Lander had seen street fights in St. Louis but none that were so cold-bloodedly ferocious as this. It impressed him as being more deadly than an exchange of shots on Bloody Island. As he followed the wheel of legs and arms another couple fell to.

In this abrupt fashion, with no preliminaries to gloss the proceedings, those men who had antipathies to settle immediately came to blows and clinches. Then more slowly followed those who had no grievances to settle. Once committed to battle the latter quickly discovered their blood was hot and responded to the primitive lust.

Inside of ten minutes only Prevost, Long Simons, Porker and Lander were left standing. It was brutal work. Prevost glided among the combatants, pulling one off his man to prevent murder, urging another to a greater resistance, kicking a jaw that was endeavoring to bite into a bronzed neck, stabilizing the mêlée so his loss of man-power would be the minimum and involve nothing more serious than a broken bone.

After twenty minutes the defeated were crawling or staggering to the river to wash their wounds, and the victors were panting and eying one another wolfishly.

"Ten minutes' rest, then you what's left double up and go at it," ruled Prevost.

"I'll take on this new feller," spoke up one of the victors, and he leered malevolently at Lander.

"He's your meat," promptly ruled Prevost. "First come, first served." It was an old game for him, this umpiring of forty fighting men all in action at the same time. He supervised it with the same precision and unconcern he would exhibit in tying up a pack of beaver.

"But I don't hanker to figure as a champion," said Lander.

"Ye won't be no champion, or anywhere near it," chuckled the man who had challenged him. "Don't ye fret any."

Prevost's thin face wrinkled in disgust as he turned on Lander.

"If that's your style, if you're afeared of a little scrimmage among your friends, you ain't no man to go into the Blackfoot country, not even if Jim Bridger did send you," he grunted. "Hook on to Rummy there or hit the trail for St. Louis."

Lander felt a sudden rage boiling up in his heart against the leering Rummy. The brutality of the spectacle coming on top of the duel and the night's hard ride had sapped his fighting spirit. But Prevost's disdain was a spur that dug him cruelly. While the time-honored custom of fighting the fight out of the men was a sound one he could not see how it should apply to him, a stranger, who had evidenced no desire to bully any one.

"Time's up! Make it sharp!" ordered Prevost.

The man called Rummy grinned exultingly, revealing several blanks where front teeth had been, and dived into Lander before the latter could set himself. At first Lander was propelled backward and with difficulty kept his feet. Prevost watched him with contempt. Then he caught his balance, dug a heel into the sward and brought Rummy's rush to an abrupt halt. The man instantly shifted his hold and had him by the throat. Almost as quick Lander's two hands shot up inside his opponent's arms and with an outward fling easily broke the hold and began hammering his man unmercifully.

Rummy had scant knowledge of fisticuffs and, like most of his mates, depended on close quarters for success, his technique consisting of kicking, choking and bone-breaking.

With a terrific smack Lander's left caught him between the eyes and jolted the thick head back. Rummy grunted and shook his head and gamely bored in again.

With a swinging upper-cut Lander's right went to his jaw, straightening him out in the air. When he struck the turf he remained very quiet.

"This is all foolishness!" Lander fumed at Prevost.

Prevost smiled crookedly, his eyes twinkling.

"It's the kind of foolishness that keeps you from digging back to St. Louis where they might make it hot for you along of what you done to a A. F. C. man," he said.

There had been five couples in the last bout, and Lander and his man had been the first to finish.

"Pretty nifty work, younker," chuckled Long Simons. "But ye can pound my head all day without botherin' me any, less ye git so tarnal careless as to bust my pipe. Then I would git mad."

Prevost leaped among the fighters and pulled a couple apart and warned:

"That's enough. You two been chewing each other. If I see any more biting I'll spoil the biter's teeth for good."

The two got to their feet, both claiming the victory. Prevost motioned them to retire, saying, "Neither of you is any good." Turning to the remaining three couples he soon had the winners standing apart; these with Lander made four survivors from the mill.

"Send 'em along. I'm gittin' sleepy from waitin'," growled Porker.

"Ye big hog!" snorted Long Simons. "Want to fight 'em when they can't toddle? Mister Prevost, some of 'em oughter be matched ag'in' us two now afore they git any tireder."

"Shut up," snapped Prevost. Then to the four men: "Match up. The winners go against Porker and Simons."

"I'll take this A. F. C. killer," promptly spoke up a man with long sandy mustaches and light blue eyes. The other two instantly fell upon each other.

Lander's challenger stepped backward, saying:

"Let's have plenty of room to operate in, young feller. Seein' as how ye fight a new-fangled way I don't want to be crowded."

Lander felt no hostility toward this chap. The sandy hair and blue eyes and grinning mouth suggested good nature. He held his hands ready to foil a rush, and as Prevost became busy overseeing the other couple he took time to murmur:

"D'ye want to fight that Porker or Long Simons?"

"I'll fight anything," coldly answered Lander, striking a pawing hand aside.

"Wal, I won't." The confession was accompanied by a chuckle. "So ye needn't be hoggish in mountin' me, for ye're goin' to win mighty easy."

As he said this he deftly secured a grip on Lander's right wrist, dodged a drive of the left, and closed in. With both arms about Lander's waist and his head burrowing into his chest he proceeded to give a demonstration of striving to lift Lander off his feet. For a few moments Lander feared being thrown and struggled viciously, using his left against the head with short-armed jabs.

"What'n —— ye tryin' to do?" came the muffled query. "Tryin' to git me mad? I ain't hurtin' ye any, be I?"

Then Lander realized his opponent was content to cling to him. With a sour grin Lander accepted the proposition and displayed great activity in swirling about. Once they went down with Lander underneath, but the other dexterously threw himself on his side, and with a spurt of strength pulled Lander on top. Then with a groan he relaxed his hold and lay still.

Lander got to his feet and stared in dismay. He had played the other fellow's game, yet by some accident the man was unconscious, or worse. Picking up a camp kettle Lander ran to the river and brought water and doused it over the silent figure.

"Young man, you git 'em quick. No doubt about that," called out Prevost.

Lander threw more water. With the celerity of a Jack-in-the-box the man bobbed to a sitting posture and cunningly winked an eye. In deep relief Lander dropped the kettle. Prevost was calling out:

"New man wins. Perkins wins. Rest up and go against Simons and Porker."

Lander was still fresh, but for the sake of the quitter's good name he simulated fatigue and took time to study Porker. The man was so named because of his bulk. To grapple with him would be useless as the man's sheer weight would carry any ordinary antagonist down to defeat. Nor did Lander believe his sturdiest blows could register any effect on the round, shaggy head. He eyed the waistline speculatively. That man's abdomen was laced with muscles built up during long mountain trips. So far as Lander could perceive there was no vulnerable point, neither jaw nor wind. But because of the man's height he decided to play for the wind.

"Do you feel fit?" Prevost kindly inquired after ten minutes had elapsed.

Lander nodded and stepped quickly forward to meet Porker. The latter eyed him sardonically and waited for him to come within reach, and then flung out his flail of a hand. Lander passed under it and drove his right into the pit of the bully's stomach, and as he delivered the blow he realized he was adapting the pose of a knife-fighter, and he remembered Papa Clair's parting advice to "keep behind the point."

The blow resounded loudly and drove a grunt from Porker. Some of the men set up a cheer but Lander felt the resilient muscles give and come back under his fist and knew that mode of attack was as useless as to beat a buffalo with the bare hands. He was out of reach of the long arms and circling about for another jab almost before Porker knew he had been hit.

Porker's eyes grew lurid. His pride was hurt.

"Ye bug!" he roared. "Tryin' to make fun o' me, eh? Wal, I'll l'arn ye from childhood up."

Simons had his man tucked comfortably away under one arm and was refraining from inflicting punishment. A wide grin cracked his face as he watched Lander.

"All he makes me think of is a knife-fighter," he bawled out, "an' he do make me think o' that most dingly. Hit him ag'in, ye weasel! Give him one in th' snoot!"

Lander maneuvered warily, his left hand out at one side, his right hand advanced with the elbow almost touching the hip. Porker lurched toward him, vilely berating him for running away after "takin' a man by s'prise." Lander evaded the clawing hands and sent his right under the chin just as he would have lunged with the point, with his whole body behind the blow. The massive jaw might be impervious to the bare fist, just as the strongly muscled abdomen could ignore anything short of a mule's kick, but as he happened to be holding his tongue between his teeth he bit it cruelly.

"Curse you!" he roared, spitting blood and rushing frantically to grapple his tormentor.

"Bully for ye, younker! Bleed him some more! Lawd, a big fool like that lettin' a child lick him!" howled Long Simons, shaking his man up and down in a paroxysm of joy.

"Wait'll I git my hooks into ye!" snarled Porker.

Lander swung both fists, the double smack landing on nose and eye. The nose began to bleed and the eye grew puffy.

"Haw haw! I'm waitin'!" yelled Simons, letting his man drop to the ground and crawl away while he pounded his huge hands together in delight.

"Good fighting!" applauded Prevost.

But the contest was too unequal to continue in Lander's favor. His agility and audacity in taking the fight to Porker had dazed the bully and won a temporary advantage. He had a theory of offense that might have worked out successfully could he have kept clear of the madly swinging arms. The brawny throat was sensitive, he concluded. He proved it by leaping forward and landing a stiff jab. No great damage was done yet Porker was taken with a fit of coughing, and could Lander have hammered in more blows on the throat it is possible he would have downed his man.

Porker now threw all discretion aside and rushed at his nimble adversary with the ferocity of a mad bull, swinging his long arms and ponderous fists in a thoroughly unscientific manner. It was useless to guard against such an onslaught. For a minute or two Lander ducked and dodged or slipped away, with no opportunity to take the offensive. Then he caught a buffet on the head that knocked him violently on to his back, the wind driven from his body. With a howl of triumph Porker jumped forward to stamp on him.

Prevost's pistol cracked and the lead fanned the infuriated man's face, and the leader's voice was warning: "Through your thick skull, Porker, if you don't pull up."

"He's my meat," gasped Porker, turning his bloody visage toward Prevost.

"I'll shoot you and stick you in a tree to dry if you don't come away. You won the fight. That's all."

"But he blooded me," protested Porker.

"Shucks! It ain't nothin' to what I'm goin' to do with ye once ye git over pumpin' for wind," bellowed Long Simons, lounging nearer, his hamlike hands held before him, half closed like a gorilla's, his huge shoulders sagging and rising.

With a husky bleat Porker turned to clinch him, but Simons waved him back, warning:

"Take yer time. Ye'll need lots of wind to buck ag'in' me. Git yer breath. I don't want no one sayin' I ran foul o' ye while ye was tuckered out. I've heard th' talk ye've been makin' an' I'm goin' to make ye eat yer words. This row atween ye 'n' me is goin' to be a real fight, I reckon."

Calmed by his realization of the desperate game ahead of him, and disquieted by observing that Simons seemed to have sobered off quite thoroughly, Porker walked to the river bank and splashed the cold water over his head and shoulders. Prevost helped Lander sit up and the sandy-haired chap who had quit brought water and bathed his head. For a minute Lander could not identify himself and stared foolishly at the rough men and wondered why they were so bruised and battered. They grinned at him sympathetically, and by degrees the details of the fight came back to him.

Long Simons came up, his hairy face suggesting a grizzly bear learning to smile, and endorsed:

"Younker, yer shore some game-cock. When ye grow up ye'll be some fighter. Shake!"

Lander gave a limp hand, then glimpsed Porker reclining in the grass and hotly declared:

"I can kill him with a knife inside of sixty seconds."

"Did you kill Phinny with a knife?" dryly asked Prevost.

"With a pistol," was the faint answer; and the lust to kill deserted him.

"Being such a master hand for blood-lettin' you'll do fine to let loose in the Blackfoot country butcher-shop when we git there," Prevost ironically observed. "You also could murder Porker with a gun. You don't seem to understand that this is a friendly fight to see who shall wear the red belt. All bad blood is s'posed to be spilled right here. If you go to the mountains with me I don't want to hear any more threats against any of my men. Not even if you was Jim Bridger's brother."

Lander burned hotly under the rebuke. He recognized the justice of it and apologized.

"That crack over the head made me see red. I'm not looking to fight any one with a knife. I told you I didn't want to fight any of the men. I knew Porker would best me when I went against him. I just tried to make it a good one while it lasted."

"Said handsome enough to suit a Quaker," chuckled Prevost. "And you made it a good one and plenty more.… Hi, Porker! How's the breathing?"

"Good!" growled Porker, clambering to his feet and pulling off his buckskin shirt and standing forth a hairy behemoth of a man. "An' if that child 'lows his little dancin' lesson with me was a good fight jest let him watch me chaw up Long Simons as easy as a 'gator chaws a puppy."

"Ye'd feel a heap better, Porky, if yer heart was ahind them bold words," said Long Simons laughingly as he peeled to the buff. "Now I'm comin' to make a call on ye."

"Th' latch-string is out!"

With monstrous impact they crashed together; and Lander forgot his aching head in watching the two Titans. Their barrel-like chests came together until it did not seem that bone and sinew could withstand the shock. Then they secured
P 104--Kings of Missouri.jpg

With monstrous impact they came together.

grips and scarcely moving their feet began straining and lifting and pulling, seeking an advantage whereby an arm would snap or a muscle tear loose. They were primitive forces, eschewing all man-made rules except the embargo laid down by Prevost.

The boss watched them anxiously, fearful of losing the services of one, and yet knowing the two must fight it out now or be fighting later on, and fighting perhaps with something besides their bare strength.

Evenly matched in weight and seemingly of equal strength and experience, there seemed no choice between them at first. But as they slowly revolved about and Lander saw the wide, contented grin on Simon's face and the deep scowl on Porker's brow he wisely suspected the former was very confident and that the latter was much worried. At that, within the first minute Porker got his man at a decided disadvantage, and had he not lusted too prematurely to end It then and there he might have scored a triumph. But he worked too hard and fast and within another minute the odds vanished and they were breast to breast again.

The struggle both sickened and fascinated Lander. On the faces of the other men he beheld only a breathless interest. Observing the expression on Lander's face Prevost smiled grimly and said:

"The man who has the guts to go after beaver where we're going looks on this rassling as just play. You think they'll kill each other. No such thing. They'll maul and pound each other, and if I wasn't here they'd bite and claw each other. Worst that can come of it is a bu'sted leg or arm, and one of them out of it for the season. That's all that worries me."

He was interrupted by a mighty spank! Porker had loosed a hand and had dealt Long Simons a terrific clout on the head. Simons' head rocked back, and Porker, with visions of a clear title to the red belt, gave a whoop and sought to follow up his advantage. Then Simons' apish arms closed about him.

There followed a convulsive struggle. Porker tearing at his opponent's bearded face to force him to release his crushing hold. Then a moment of weakening, and Porker found himself over his opponent's hip. The next moment he crashed headlong to the ground and lay there insensible.

Throwing back his shoulders Long Simons flapped his arms and sounded the cock's crow of triumph. Prevost examined the unconscious man, then curtly announced:

"He'll do. Nothing broken. The red belt is yours for another trip, Simons. That is, unless this newcomer wants a try for it."

He pointed toward the village, where a man on a mule was quitting the street to ride toward the camp.

"Papa Clair!" cried Lander. "Lord! What does he want here? And riding so fast." And a nameless chill gripped his heart as he watched the old man flog the mule to greater efforts.

"There comes th' steamboat! See her smoke below th' bend!" excitedly yelled Rummy.