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The weather was fine, and Tom Wade found the voyage more pleasant than he had expected. The port-holes were kept open all the way, and the crowded quarters were less uncomfortable than would have been the case had they encountered rough weather. There were some very rough spirits among the party forward, but the great majority were quiet men, and after the first night all talking and larking were sternly repressed after the lights were out. The food was abundant, and although some grumbled at the meat there was no real cause of complaint. A rope across the deck divided the steerage passengers from those aft, and as there were not much more than one-half the emigrants aboard that the Parthia could carry, there was plenty of room on deck.
But few of the passengers suffered from sea-sickness, and the women sat and chatted and sewed in little groups while the children played about, and the men walked up and down or gathered forward and smoked, while a few who had provided themselves with newspapers or books sat in quiet corners and read. Tom was one of these, for he had picked up a few books on the United States at second-hand bookstalls at Portsmouth, and this prevented him from finding the voyage monotonous. When indisposed to read he chatted with Brown the carpenter and his mates, and sometimes getting a party of children round him and telling them stories gathered from the books now standing on the shelves in his room at Southsea. He was glad, however, when the voyage was over; not because he was tired of it, but because he was longing to be on his way west. Before leaving the ship he took a very hearty farewell of his companions on the voyage, and on landing was detained but a few minutes at the custom-house, and then entering an omnibus that was in waiting at the gate, was driven straight to the station of one of the western lines of railway.
From the information he had got up before sailing he had learnt that there were several of these, but that there was very little difference either in their speed or rates of fare, and that their through-rates to Denver were practically the same. He had therefore fixed on the Chicago and Little Rock line, not because its advantages were greater, but in order to be able to go straight from the steamer to the station without having to make up his mind between the competing lines. He found on arrival that the emigrant trains ran to Omaha, where all the lines met, and that beyond that he must proceed by the regular trains. An emigrant train was to leave that evening at six o'clock.
"The train will be made up about four," a good-natured official said to him, "and you had best be here by that time so as to get a corner seat, for I can tell you that makes all the difference on a journey like this. If you like to take your ticket at once you can register that trunk of yours straight on to Denver, and then you won't have any more trouble about it."
"Of course we stop to take our meals on the way?"
"Yes; but if you take my advice you will do as most of them do, get a big basket and lay in a stock of bread and cooked meat, cheese, and anything you fancy, then you will only have to go out and get a cup of tea at the stopping-places. It comes a good bit cheaper, and you get done before those who take their meals, and can slip back into the cars again quick and keep your corner seat. There ain't much ceremony in emigrant trains, and it is first come first served."
"How long shall we be in getting to Denver?"
"It will be fully a week, but there ain't any saying to a day. The emigrant trains just jog along as they can between the freight trains and the fast ones, and get shunted off a bit to let the expresses pass them."
Thanking the official for his advice, Tom took his ticket, registered his trunk, and then went out and strolled about the streets of New York until three o'clock. He took the advice as to provisions, and getting a small hamper laid in a stock of food sufficient for three or four days. The platform from which the train was to start was already occupied by a considerable number of emigrants, but when the train came up he was able to secure a corner seat. The cars were all packed with their full complement of passengers. They were open from end to end, with a passage down the middle. Other cars were added as the train filled up, but not until all the places were already occupied. The majority of the passengers were men, but there were a considerable number of women, and still more children; and Tom congratulated himself on learning from the conversation of those around him that a good many were not going beyond Chicago, and that almost all would leave the train at stations between that place and Omaha.
The journey to Chicago was the most unpleasant experience Tom had ever gone through. The heat, the dust, and the close confinement seemed to tell on the tempers of everyone. The children fidgeted perpetually, the little ones and the babies cried, the women scolded, and the men grumbled and occasionally quarrelled. It was even worse at night than during the day; the children indeed were quieter, for they lay on the floor of the passage and slept in comparative comfort, but for the men and women there was no change of position, no possibility of rest. The backs of the seats were low, and except for the fortunate ones by the windows there was no rest for the head; but all took uneasy naps with their chins leaning forward on their chest, or sometimes with their heads resting on their neighbour's shoulder. Tom did not retain his corner seat, but resigned it a few hours after starting to a weary woman with a baby in her arms who sat next to him. He himself, strong as he was, felt utterly worn out by the fatigue and sleeplessness.
Beyond Chicago there was somewhat more room, and it was possible to make a change of position. Beyond Omaha it was much better; the train was considerably faster and the number of passengers comparatively few. He now generally got a seat to himself and could put his feet up. The people were also, for the most part, acquainted with the country, and he was able to learn a good deal from their conversation. There were but few women or children among them, for except near the stations of the railway, settlements were very rare; and the men were for the most part either miners, ranchemen, or mechanics, going to the rising town of Denver, or bound on the long journey across the plains to Utah or California. It was on the eighth day after starting that Denver was reached.
Before leaving the ship Tom had put on his working clothes and a flannel shirt, and had disposed of his black suit, for a small sum, to a fellow-passenger who intended to remain at New York. This had somewhat lightened his portmanteau, but he was glad when he found that there were vehicles at the station to convey passengers up the hill to Denver, which was some three miles away, and many hundred feet above it. He was too tired to set about finding the Empire Saloon, but put up at the hotel at which the omnibus stopped, took a bath and a hearty meal, and then went straight to bed.
After breakfast the next morning he at once set out. He had no difficulty in finding the whereabouts of the Empire Saloon, which he learned from the clerk of the hotel was a small place frequented almost entirely by miners. Its appearance was not prepossessing. It had been built in the earliest days of Denver, and was a rough erection. The saloon was low, its bare rafters were darkly coloured by smoke, a number of small tables stood on the sanded floor, and across the farther end of the room ran a bar. On shelves behind this stood a number of black bottles, and a man in his shirt sleeves was engaged in washing up glasses. Two or three rough-looking men in coloured flannel shirts, with the bottoms of their trousers tucked into high boots, were seated at the tables smoking and drinking.
"I am expecting a letter for me here," Tom said to the man behind the bar. "My name is Wade."
"The boss is out now," the man said. "He will be here in an hour or so. If there is anything for you he will know about it."
"Thank you. I will come again in an hour," Tom replied. The man nodded shortly, and went on with his work. When Tom returned, the bar-tender said to a man who was sitting at one of the tables talking to the miners, "This is the chap I told you of as was here about the letter."
"Sit right down," the man said to Tom, "I will talk with you presently;" and he continued his conversation in a low tone with the miners. It was nearly half an hour before he concluded it. Then he rose, walked across the room to Tom, and held out his hand.
"Shake, young fellow," he said; "that is, if you are the chap Straight Harry told me might turn up here some day."
"I expect I am the fellow," Tom said with a smile. "My uncle's name is Harry Wade."
"Yes, that is his name; although he is always called Straight Harry. Yes, I have got a letter for you. Come along with me." He led the way into a small room behind the saloon, that served at once as his bed-room and office, and motioned to Tom to sit down on the only chair; then going to a cupboard he took out a tin canister, and opening it shook out half a dozen letters on to the table.
"That is yourn," he said, picking one out.
It was directed to Tom, and contained but a few lines. "If you come I have gone west. Pete Hoskings will tell you all he knows about me and put you on the line. Your affectionate uncle."
"Are you Mr. Hoskings?" he asked the landlord.
"I am Pete Hoskings," the man said. "There ain't been no Mister to my name as ever I can remember."
"My uncle tells me that you will be able to direct me to him, and will put me on the line."
"It would take a darn sight cuter fellow than I am to direct you to him at present," the man said with a laugh. "Straight Harry went away from here three months ago, and he might be just anywhere now. He may be grubbing away in a mine, he may be hunting and trapping, or he may have been wiped out by the Indians. I know where he intended to go, at least in a general sort of way. He did tell me he meant to stay about there, and it may be he has done so. He said if he moved away and got a chance he would send me word; but as there ain't nairy a post-office within about five hundred miles of where he is, his only chance of sending a letter would be by a hunter who chanced to be going down to the settlements, and who, like enough, would put it into his hunting-shirt and never give it another thought. So whether he has stayed there or not is more nor I can say."
"And where is there?" Tom asked. "It is among the hills to the west of the Colorado River, which ain't much, seeing as the Colorado is about two thousand miles long. However, I can put you closer than that, for he showed me on a map the bit of country he intended to work. He said he would be back here in six months from the time he started; and that if you turned up here I was either to tell you the best way of getting there, or to keep you here until he came back. Well, I may say at once that there ain't no best way; there is only one way, and that is to get on a pony and ride there, and a mighty bad way it is. The only thing for you to do is to keep on west along the caravan tract. You have to cross the Green River,--that is the name of the Colorado on its upper course. Fort Bridger is the place for you to start from, but you have got to wait there until you sight some one or other bound south; for as to going by yourself, it would be a sight better to save yourself all trouble by putting that Colt hanging there to your head, and pulling the trigger. It is a bad country, and it is full of bad Indians, and there ain't many, even of the oldest hands, who care to risk their lives by going where Straight Harry has gone.
"I did all I could to keep him from it; but he is just as obstinate as a mule when he has made up his mind to a thing. I know him well, for we worked as mates for over a year down on the Yuba in California. We made a good pile, and as I had got a wife and wanted to settle I came back east. This place had a couple of dozen houses then; but I saw it was likely to boom, so I settled down and set up this saloon and sent for my wife to come west to me. If she had lived I should have been in a sight bigger place by this time; but she died six months after she got here, and then I did not care a continental one way or the other; and I like better to stop here, where I meet my old mates and can do as I like, than to run a big hotel. It ain't much to look at, but it suits me, and I am content to know that I could buy up the biggest place here if I had a fancy to. I don't take much money now, but I did when the place was young; and I bought a few lots of land, and you may bet they have turned out worth having. Well, don't you act rashly in this business. Another three months your uncle will turn up, if he is alive; and if he don't turn up at all I dare say I can put you into a soft thing. If you go on it is about ten to one you get scalped before you find him. Where are you staying?"
"At the Grand. The omnibus stopped there last night."
"Well, you stay there for a week and think it over. You have got to learn about the country west of the Colorado. You had best come here to do that. You might stay a month at the Grand and not find a soul who could tell you anything worth knowing, but there ain't a day when you couldn't meet men here who have either been there themselves or have heard tell of it from men who have."
"Are the natives friendly now?" Tom asked. "In a letter he wrote two years ago to us, my uncle said that he should put off going to a part of the country he wanted to prospect until the Indians were quiet."
"The darned critters are never either friendly or quiet. A red-skin is pizen, take him when you will. The only difference is, that sometimes they go on the war-path and sometimes they don't; but you may bet that they are always ready to take a white man's scalp if they get a chance."
"Well, I am very much obliged to you for your advice, which I will certainly take; that is, I will not decide for a few days, and will come in here and talk to the miners and learn what I can about it."
"You can hear at once," the landlord said. He stepped back into the saloon, and said to the two men with whom he had been talking: "Boys, this young chap is a Britisher, and he has come out all the way to join Straight Harry, who is an uncle of his. Straight Harry is with Ben Gulston and Sam Hicks, and they are prospecting somewhere west of the Colorado. He wants to join them. Now, what do you reckon his chances would be of finding them out and dropping in on their campfire?"
The men looked at Tom with open eyes.
"Waal," one of them drawled, "I should reckon you would have just about the same chance of getting to the North Pole if you started off on foot, as you would of getting to Straight Harry with your hair on."
Tom laughed. "That is not cheering," he said.
"It ain't. I don't say as an old hand on the plains might not manage it. He would know the sort of place Harry and his mates would be likely to be prospecting, he would know the ways of the red-skins and how to travel among them without ever leaving a trail or making a smoke, but even for him it would be risky work, and not many fellows would care to take the chances even if they knew the country well. But for a tenderfoot to start out on such a job would be downright foolishness. There are about six points wanted in a man for such a journey. He has got to be as hard and tough as leather, to be able to go for days without food or drink, to know the country well, to sleep when he does sleep with his ears open, to be up to every red skin trick, to be able to shoot straight enough to hit a man plumb centre at three hundred yards at least, and to hit a dollar at twenty yards sartin with his six-shooter. If you feel as you have got all them qualifications you can start off as soon as you like, and the chances aren't more'n twenty to one agin your finding him."
"I haven't anyone of them," Tom said.
"Waal, it is something if you know that, young chap. It is not every tenderfoot who would own up as much. You stick to it that you don't know anything, and at the same time do your best to learn something, and you will do in time. You look a clean-built young chap, and you could not have a better teacher than Straight Harry. What he don't know, whether it is about prospecting for gold or hunting for beasts, ain't worth knowing, you bet. What is your name, mate?"
"Waal, let us drink. It ain't like you, Pete, to keep a stranger dry as long as you have been doing."
"He ain't up to our customs yet," the landlord said, as he moved off towards the bar.
"It is a custom everywhere," the miner said reprovingly, "for folks to stand drink to a stranger; and good Bourbon hurts no man."
The landlord placed a bottle and four glasses on the counter. Each of the miners filled his glass for himself, and the bottle was then handed to Tom, who followed their example, as did Hoskings.
"Here is luck to you," the miner said, as he lifted his glass. Three glasses were set down empty, but Tom had to stop half-way with his to cough violently.
"It is strong stuff," he said apologetically, "and I never drank spirits without water before. I had a glass of grog-and-water on board a ship sometimes, but it has always been at least two parts of water to one of spirits."
"We mostly drink our liquor straight out here," the miner said. "But I am not saying it is the best way, especially for one who ain't used to it, but you have got to learn to do it if you are going to live long in this country."
"Standing drinks round is a custom here," Pete Hoskings explained, seeing that Tom looked a little puzzled, "and there ain't no worse insult than to refuse to drink with a man. There have been scores of men shot, ay, and hundreds, for doing so. I don't say that you may not put water in, but if you refuse to drink you had best do it with your hand on the butt of your gun, for you will want to get it out quick, I can tell you."
"There is one advantage in such a custom anyhow," Tom said, "it will keep anyone who does not want to drink from entering a saloon at all."
"That is so, lad," Pete Hoskings said heartily. "I keep a saloon, and have made money by it, but for all that I say to every young fellow who hopes to make his way some time, keep out of them altogether. In country places you must go to a saloon to get a square meal, but everyone drinks tea or coffee with their food, and there is no call to stay in the place a minute after you have finished. Calling for drinks round has been the ruin of many a good man; one calls first, then another calls, and no one likes to stand out of it, and though you may only have gone in for one glass, you may find you will have to drink a dozen before you get out."
"Why, you are a downright temperance preacher, Pete," one of the miners laughed.
"I don't preach to a seasoned old hoss like you, Jerry. I keep my preaching for those who may benefit by it, such as the youngster here; but I say to him and to those like him, you keep out of saloons. If you don't do that, you will find yourself no forwarder when you are fifty than you are now, while there are plenty of openings all over the country for any bright young fellow who will keep away from liquor."
"Thank you," Tom said warmly; "I will follow your advice, which will be easy enough. Beyond a glass of beer with my dinner and a tot of grog, perhaps once in three months when I have gone on board a ship, and did not like to say no, I have never touched it, and have no wish to do so."
"Stick to that, lad; stick to that. You will find many temptations, but you set your face hard against them, and except when you come upon a hard man bent on kicking up a muss, you will find folks will think none the worse of you when you say to them straight, 'I am much obliged to you all the same, but I never touch liquor.'"
Tom remained four days at the hotel, spending a good deal of his time at the saloon, where he met many miners, all of whom endorsed what the first he had spoken to had said respecting the country, and the impossibility of anyone but an old hand among the mountains making his way there.
On the fourth evening he said to Pete Hoskings: "I see that your advice was good, and that it would be madness for me to attempt to go by myself, but I don't see why I should not ride to Fort Bridger; not of course by myself, but with one of the caravans going west. It would be a great deal better for me to do that and to learn something of the plains and camping than to stay here for perhaps three months. At Fort Bridger I shall be able to learn more about the country, and might join some hunting party and gain experience that way. I might find other prospectors going up among the hills, and even if it were not near where my uncle is to be found, I should gain by learning something, and should not be quite a greenhorn when I join him."
"Well, that is sensible enough," Pete Hoskings said, "and I don't know as I can say anything against it. You certainly would not be doing any good for yourself here, and I don't say that either an hotel or a saloon is the best place for you. I will think it over, and will let you know when you come round in the morning; maybe I can put you a little in the way of carrying it out."
The next morning when Tom went to the saloon, Jerry Curtis, one of the miners he had first met there, was sitting chatting with Pete Hoskings.
"I had Jerry in my thoughts when I spoke to you last night, Tom," the latter said. "I knew he was just starting west again, and thought I would put the matter to him. He says he has no objection to your travelling with him as far as Fort Bridger, where maybe he will make a stay himself. There ain't no one as knows the plains much better than he does, and he can put you up to more in the course of a month than you would learn in a year just travelling with a caravan with farmers bound west"
"I should be very much obliged indeed," Tom said delightedly. "It would be awfully good of you, Jerry, and I won't be more trouble than I can help."
"I don't reckon you will be any trouble at all" the miner said. "I was never set much on travelling alone as some men are. I ain't much of a talker, but I ain't fond of going two or three months without opening my mouth except to put food and drink into it. So if you think you will like it I shall be glad enough to take you. I know Straight Harry well, and I can see you are teachable, and not set upon your own opinions as many young fellows I have met out here are, but ready to allow that there are some things as men who have been at them all their lives may know a little more about than they do. So you may take it that it is a bargain. Now, what have you got in the way of outfit?"
"I have not got anything beyond flannel shirts, and rough clothes like these."
"They are good enough as far as they go. Two flannel shirts, one on and one off, is enough for any man. Two or three pairs of thick stockings. Them as is very particular can carry an extra pair of breeches in case of getting caught in a storm, though for myself I think it is just as well to let your things dry on you. You want a pair of high boots, a buffalo robe, and a couple of blankets, one with a hole cut in the middle to put your head through; that does as a cloak, and is like what the Mexicans call a poncho. You don't want a coat or waistcoat; there ain't no good in them. All you want to carry you can put in your saddle-bag. Get a pair of the best blankets you can find. I will go with you and choose them for you. You want a thing that will keep you warm when you sleep, and shoot off the rain in bad weather. Common blankets are no better than a sponge.
"Then, of course, you must have a six-shooter and a rifle. No man in his senses would start across the plains without them. It is true there ain't much fear of red-skins between here and Bridger, but there is never any saying when the varmint may be about. Can you shoot?"
"No; I never fired off a rifle or a pistol in my life."
"Well, you had better take a good stock of powder and ball, and you can practise a bit as you go along. A man ain't any use out on these plains if he cannot shoot. I have got a pony; but you must buy one, and a saddle, and fixings. We will buy another between us to carry our swag. But you need not trouble about the things, I will get all that fixed."
"Thank you very much. How much do you suppose it will all come to?"
"Never you mind what it comes to," Pete Hoskings said roughly. "I told your uncle that if you turned up I would see you through. What you have got to get I shall pay for, and when Straight Harry turns up we shall square it. If he don't turn up at all, there is no harm done. This is my business, and you have got nothing to do with it."
Tom saw that he should offend Hoskings if he made any demur, and the kind offer was really a relief to him. He had thirty pounds still in his belt, but he had made a mental calculation of the cost of the things Jerry had considered essential, and found that the cost of a horse and saddle, of half another horse, of the rifle, six-shooter ammunition, blankets, boots, and provisions for the journey, must certainly amount up to more than that sum, and would leave him without any funds to live on till he met his uncle.
He was so anxious to proceed that he would have made no excuse, although he saw that he might find himself in a very difficult position. Pete's insistence, therefore, on taking all expenses upon himself, was a considerable relief to him; for although determined to go, he had had an uneasy consciousness that it was a foolish step. He therefore expressed his warm thanks.
"There, that is enough said about it," the latter growled out. "The money is nothing to me one way or the other, and it would be hard if I couldn't do this little thing for my old mate's nephew. When are you thinking of making a start, Jerry?"
"The sooner the better. I have been four months here already and have not struck a vein, that is, not one really worth working, and the sooner I make a fresh start the better. To-day is Wednesday. There will be plenty of time to get all the things to-day and to-morrow, and we will start at daylight on Friday. You may as well come with me, Tom, and learn something about the prices of things. There are some Indians camped three miles away. We will walk over there first and pick up a couple of ponies. I know they have got a troop of them, that is what they come here to sell. They only arrived yesterday, so we shall have the pick of them."
Before starting there was a short conversation between Jerry and the landlord, and then the former put on his broad-brimmed hat.
"Have you seen any red-skins yet?"
"I saw a few at some of the stations the train stopped at between this and Omaha."
"Those fellows are mostly Indians who have been turned out of their tribes for theft or drunkenness, and they hang about the stations to sell moccasins and other things their squaws make, to fresh arrivals.
"The fellows you are going to see are Navahoes, though not good specimens of the tribe, or they would not be down here to sell ponies. Still, they are a very different sort from those you have seen."
An hour's walking took them to a valley, in which the Indians were encamped. There were eight wigwams. Some women paused in their work and looked round at the newcomers. Their dogs ran up barking furiously, but were driven back by a volley of stones thrown by three or four boys, with so good an aim that they went off with sharp yelps. Jerry strolled along without paying any attention to the dogs or boys towards a party of men seated round a fire. One of them rose as they approached.
"My white brothers are welcome," he said courteously. "There is room by the fire for them," and he motioned to them to sit down by his side. A pipe, composed of a long flat wooden stem studded with brass nails, with a bowl cut out of red pipe-stone, was now handed round, each taking a short puff.
"Does my brother speak the language of the Navahoes?" the chief asked in that tongue.
"I can get along with it," Jerry said, "as I can with most of your Indian dialects."
"It is good," the chief said. "My brother is wise; he must have wandered much."
"I have been a goodish bit among your hills, chief. Have you come from far?"
"The moon was full when we left our village."
"Ah, then you have been a fortnight on the road. Well, chief, I have come here to trade. I want to buy a couple of ponies."
The chief said a word or two to a boy standing near, and he with four or five others at once started up the valley, and in a few minutes returned with a drove of Indian ponies.
"They are not a bad lot," Jerry said to Tom.
"They don't look much, Jerry."
"Indian ponies never look much, but one of those ponies would gallop an eastern-bred horse to a stand-still."
Jerry got up and inspected some of the horses closely, and presently picked out two of them; at a word from the chief two of the lads jumped on their backs and rode off on them at full speed, and then wheeling round returned to the spot from where they started.
"My white brother is a judge of horses," the chief said; "he has picked out the best of the lot."
"There are three or four others quite as good," Jerry said carelessly. "Now, chief, how many blankets, how much powder and lead, and what else do you want for those two horses?"
The chief stated his demands, to which Jerry replied: "You said just now, chief, that I was a wise man; but it seems that you must regard me as a fool."
For half an hour an animated argument went on. Two or three times Jerry got up, and they started as if to quit the village, but each time the chief called them back. So animated were their gestures and talk that Tom had serious fears that they were coming to blows, but their voices soon fell and the talk became amicable again. At last Jerry turned to Tom.
"The bargain is struck," he said; "but he has got the best of me, and has charged an outrageous sum for them," Then, in his own language, he said to the chief:
"At noon to-morrow you will send the ponies down to the town. I will meet them at the big rock, half a mile this side of it, with the trade goods."
"They shall be there," the chief said, "though I am almost giving them to you."
As they walked away, Tom said:
"So you have paid more than you expected, Jerry?"
"No, I have got them a bargain; only it would never have done to let the chief know I thought so, or the horses would not have turned up to-morrow. I expect they have all been stolen from some other tribe. The two I have got are first-rate animals, and the goods will come to about fourteen pounds. I shall ride one of them myself, and put our swag on my own pony. That has been a very good stroke of business; they would never have sold them at that price if they had been honestly come by."
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