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    Chapter 6

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    Chapter 6
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    CHAPTER VI - SOLDIER BOY AND THE MEXICAN PLUG

    "When did you come?"

    "Arrived at sundown."

    "Where from?"

    "Salt Lake."

    "Are you in the service?"

    "No. Trade."

    "Pirate trade, I reckon."

    "What do you know about it?"

    "I saw you when you came. I recognized your master. He is a bad
    sort. Trap-robber, horse-thief, squaw-man, renegado - Hank Butters
    - I know him very well. Stole you, didn't he?"

    "Well, it amounted to that."

    "I thought so. Where is his pard?"

    "He stopped at White Cloud's camp."

    "He is another of the same stripe, is Blake Haskins." (ASIDE.)
    They are laying for Buffalo Bill again, I guess. (ALOUD.) "What
    is your name?"

    "Which one?"

    "Have you got more than one?"

    "I get a new one every time I'm stolen. I used to have an honest
    name, but that was early; I've forgotten it. Since then I've had
    thirteen ALIASES."

    "Aliases? What is alias?"

    "A false name."

    "Alias. It's a fine large word, and is in my line; it has quite a
    learned and cerebrospinal incandescent sound. Are you educated?"

    "Well, no, I can't claim it. I can take down bars, I can
    distinguish oats from shoe-pegs, I can blaspheme a saddle-boil with
    the college-bred, and I know a few other things - not many; I have
    had no chance, I have always had to work; besides, I am of low
    birth and no family. You speak my dialect like a native, but you
    are not a Mexican Plug, you are a gentleman, I can see that; and
    educated, of course."

    "Yes, I am of old family, and not illiterate. I am a fossil."

    "A which?"

    "Fossil. The first horses were fossils. They date back two
    million years."

    "Gr-eat sand and sage-brush! do you mean it?"

    "Yes, it is true. The bones of my ancestors are held in reverence
    and worship, even by men. They do not leave them exposed to the
    weather when they find them, but carry them three thousand miles
    and enshrine them in their temples of learning, and worship them."

    "It is wonderful! I knew you must be a person of distinction, by
    your fine presence and courtly address, and by the fact that you
    are not subjected to the indignity of hobbles, like myself and the
    rest. Would you tell me your name?"

    "You have probably heard of it - Soldier Boy."

    "What! - the renowned, the illustrious?"

    "Even so."

    "It takes my breath! Little did I dream that ever I should stand
    face to face with the possessor of that great name. Buffalo Bill's
    horse! Known from the Canadian border to the deserts of Arizona,
    and from the eastern marches of the Great Plains to the foot-hills
    of the Sierra! Truly this is a memorable day. You still serve the
    celebrated Chief of Scouts?"

    "I am still his property, but he has lent me, for a time, to the
    most noble, the most gracious, the most excellent, her Excellency
    Catherine, Corporal-General Seventh Cavalry and Flag-Lieutenant
    Ninth Dragoons, U.S.A., - on whom be peace!"

    "Amen. Did you say HER Excellency?"

    "The same. A Spanish lady, sweet blossom of a ducal house. And
    truly a wonder; knowing everything, capable of everything; speaking
    all the languages, master of all sciences, a mind without horizons,
    a heart of gold, the glory of her race! On whom be peace!"

    "Amen. It is marvellous!"

    "Verily. I knew many things, she has taught me others. I am
    educated. I will tell you about her."

    "I listen - I am enchanted."

    "I will tell a plain tale, calmly, without excitement, without
    eloquence. When she had been here four or five weeks she was
    already erudite in military things, and they made her an officer -
    a double officer. She rode the drill every day, like any soldier;
    and she could take the bugle and direct the evolutions herself.
    Then, on a day, there was a grand race, for prizes - none to enter
    but the children. Seventeen children entered, and she was the
    youngest. Three girls, fourteen boys - good riders all. It was a
    steeplechase, with four hurdles, all pretty high. The first prize
    was a most cunning half-grown silver bugle, and mighty pretty, with
    red silk cord and tassels. Buffalo Bill was very anxious; for he
    had taught her to ride, and he did most dearly want her to win that
    race, for the glory of it. So he wanted her to ride me, but she
    wouldn't; and she reproached him, and said it was unfair and
    unright, and taking advantage; for what horse in this post or any
    other could stand a chance against me? and she was very severe with
    him, and said, 'You ought to be ashamed - you are proposing to me
    conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.' So he just tossed
    her up in the air about thirty feet and caught her as she came
    down, and said he was ashamed; and put up his handkerchief and
    pretended to cry, which nearly broke her heart, and she petted him,
    and begged him to forgive her, and said she would do anything in
    the world he could ask but that; but he said he ought to go hang
    himself, and he MUST, if he could get a rope; it was nothing but
    right he should, for he never, never could forgive himself; and
    then SHE began to cry, and they both sobbed, the way you could hear
    him a mile, and she clinging around his neck and pleading, till at
    last he was comforted a little, and gave his solemn promise he
    wouldn't hang himself till after the race; and wouldn't do it at
    all if she won it, which made her happy, and she said she would win
    it or die in the saddle; so then everything was pleasant again and
    both of them content. He can't help playing jokes on her, he is so
    fond of her and she is so innocent and unsuspecting; and when she
    finds it out she cuffs him and is in a fury, but presently forgives
    him because it's him; and maybe the very next day she's caught with
    another joke; you see she can't learn any better, because she
    hasn't any deceit in her, and that kind aren't ever expecting it in
    another person.

    "It was a grand race. The whole post was there, and there was such
    another whooping and shouting when the seventeen kids came flying
    down the turf and sailing over the hurdles - oh, beautiful to see!
    Half-way down, it was kind of neck and neck, and anybody's race and
    nobody's. Then, what should happen but a cow steps out and puts
    her head down to munch grass, with her broadside to the battalion,
    and they a-coming like the wind; they split apart to flank her, but
    SHE? - why, she drove the spurs home and soared over that cow like
    a bird! and on she went, and cleared the last hurdle solitary and
    alone, the army letting loose the grand yell, and she skipped from
    the horse the same as if he had been standing still, and made her
    bow, and everybody crowded around to congratulate, and they gave
    her the bugle, and she put it to her lips and blew 'boots and
    saddles' to see how it would go, and BB was as proud as you can't
    think! And he said, 'Take Soldier Boy, and don't pass him back
    till I ask for him!' and I can tell you he wouldn't have said that
    to any other person on this planet. That was two months and more
    ago, and nobody has been on my back since but the Corporal-General
    Seventh Cavalry and Flag-Lieutenant of the Ninth Dragoons, U.S.A.,
    - on whom be peace!"

    "Amen. I listen - tell me more."

    "She set to work and organized the Sixteen, and called it the First
    Battalion Rocky Mountain Rangers, U.S.A., and she wanted to be
    bugler, but they elected her Lieutenant-General and Bugler. So she
    ranks her uncle the commandant, who is only a Brigadier. And
    doesn't she train those little people! Ask the Indians, ask the
    traders, ask the soldiers; they'll tell you. She has been at it
    from the first day. Every morning they go clattering down into the
    plain, and there she sits on my back with her bugle at her mouth
    and sounds the orders and puts them through the evolutions for an
    hour or more; and it is too beautiful for anything to see those
    ponies dissolve from one formation into another, and waltz about,
    and break, and scatter, and form again, always moving, always
    graceful, now trotting, now galloping, and so on, sometimes near
    by, sometimes in the distance, all just like a state ball, you
    know, and sometimes she can't hold herself any longer, but sounds
    the 'charge,' and turns me loose! and you can take my word for it,
    if the battalion hasn't too much of a start we catch up and go over
    the breastworks with the front line.

    "Yes, they are soldiers, those little people; and healthy, too, not
    ailing any more, the way they used to be sometimes. It's because
    of her drill. She's got a fort, now - Fort Fanny Marsh. Major-
    General Tommy Drake planned it out, and the Seventh and Dragoons
    built it. Tommy is the Colonel's son, and is fifteen and the
    oldest in the Battalion; Fanny Marsh is Brigadier-General, and is
    next oldest - over thirteen. She is daughter of Captain Marsh,
    Company B, Seventh Cavalry. Lieutenant-General Alison is the
    youngest by considerable; I think she is about nine and a half or
    three-quarters. Her military rig, as Lieutenant-General, isn't for
    business, it's for dress parade, because the ladies made it. They
    say they got it out of the Middle Ages - out of a book - and it is
    all red and blue and white silks and satins and velvets; tights,
    trunks, sword, doublet with slashed sleeves, short cape, cap with
    just one feather in it; I've heard them name these things; they got
    them out of the book; she's dressed like a page, of old times, they
    say. It's the daintiest outfit that ever was - you will say so,
    when you see it. She's lovely in it - oh, just a dream! In some
    ways she is just her age, but in others she's as old as her uncle,
    I think. She is very learned. She teaches her uncle his book. I
    have seen her sitting by with the book and reciting to him what is
    in it, so that he can learn to do it himself.

    "Every Saturday she hires little Injuns to garrison her fort; then
    she lays siege to it, and makes military approaches by make-believe
    trenches in make-believe night, and finally at make-believe dawn
    she draws her sword and sounds the assault and takes it by storm.
    It is for practice. And she has invented a bugle-call all by
    herself, out of her own head, and it's a stirring one, and the
    prettiest in the service. It's to call ME - it's never used for
    anything else. She taught it to me, and told me what it says: 'IT
    IS I, SOLDIER - COME!' and when those thrilling notes come floating
    down the distance I hear them without fail, even if I am two miles
    away; and then - oh, then you should see my heels get down to
    business!

    "And she has taught me how to say good-morning and good-night to
    her, which is by lifting my right hoof for her to shake; and also
    how to say good-bye; I do that with my left foot - but only for
    practice, because there hasn't been any but make-believe good-
    byeing yet, and I hope there won't ever be. It would make me cry
    if I ever had to put up my left foot in earnest. She has taught me
    how to salute, and I can do it as well as a soldier. I bow my head
    low, and lay my right hoof against my cheek. She taught me that
    because I got into disgrace once, through ignorance. I am
    privileged, because I am known to be honorable and trustworthy, and
    because I have a distinguished record in the service; so they don't
    hobble me nor tie me to stakes or shut me tight in stables, but let
    me wander around to suit myself. Well, trooping the colors is a
    very solemn ceremony, and everybody must stand uncovered when the
    flag goes by, the commandant and all; and once I was there, and
    ignorantly walked across right in front of the band, which was an
    awful disgrace: Ah, the Lieutenant-General was so ashamed, and so
    distressed that I should have done such a thing before all the
    world, that she couldn't keep the tears back; and then she taught
    me the salute, so that if I ever did any other unmilitary act
    through ignorance I could do my salute and she believed everybody
    would think it was apology enough and would not press the matter.
    It is very nice and distinguished; no other horse can do it; often
    the men salute me, and I return it. I am privileged to be present
    when the Rocky Mountain Rangers troop the colors and I stand
    solemn, like the children, and I salute when the flag goes by. Of
    course when she goes to her fort her sentries sing out 'Turn out
    the guard!' and then . . . do you catch that refreshing early-
    morning whiff from the mountain-pines and the wild flowers? The
    night is far spent; we'll hear the bugles before long. Dorcas, the
    black woman, is very good and nice; she takes care of the
    Lieutenant-General, and is Brigadier-General Alison's mother, which
    makes her mother-in-law to the Lieutenant-General. That is what
    Shekels says. At least it is what I think he says, though I never
    can understand him quite clearly. He - "

    "Who is Shekels?"

    "The Seventh Cavalry dog. I mean, if he IS a dog. His father was
    a coyote and his mother was a wild-cat. It doesn't really make a
    dog out of him, does it?"

    "Not a real dog, I should think. Only a kind of a general dog, at
    most, I reckon. Though this is a matter of ichthyology, I suppose;
    and if it is, it is out of my depth, and so my opinion is not
    valuable, and I don't claim much consideration for it."

    "It isn't ichthyology; it is dogmatics, which is still more
    difficult and tangled up. Dogmatics always are."

    "Dogmatics is quite beyond me, quite; so I am not competing. But
    on general principles it is my opinion that a colt out of a coyote
    and a wild-cat is no square dog, but doubtful. That is my hand,
    and I stand pat."

    "Well, it is as far as I can go myself, and be fair and
    conscientious. I have always regarded him as a doubtful dog, and
    so has Potter. Potter is the great Dane. Potter says he is no
    dog, and not even poultry - though I do not go quite so far as
    that.

    "And I wouldn't, myself. Poultry is one of those things which no
    person can get to the bottom of, there is so much of it and such
    variety. It is just wings, and wings, and wings, till you are
    weary: turkeys, and geese, and bats, and butterflies, and angels,
    and grasshoppers, and flying-fish, and - well, there is really no
    end to the tribe; it gives me the heaves just to think of it. But
    this one hasn't any wings, has he?"

    "No."

    "Well, then, in my belief he is more likely to be dog than poultry.
    I have not heard of poultry that hadn't wings. Wings is the SIGN
    of poultry; it is what you tell poultry by. Look at the mosquito."

    "What do you reckon he is, then? He must be something."

    "Why, he could be a reptile; anything that hasn't wings is a
    reptile."

    "Who told you that?"

    "Nobody told me, but I overheard it."

    "Where did you overhear it?"

    "Years ago. I was with the Philadelphia Institute expedition in
    the Bad Lands under Professor Cope, hunting mastodon bones, and I
    overheard him say, his own self, that any plantigrade circumflex
    vertebrate bacterium that hadn't wings and was uncertain was a
    reptile. Well, then, has this dog any wings? No. Is he a
    plantigrade circumflex vertebrate bacterium? Maybe so, maybe not;
    but without ever having seen him, and judging only by his illegal
    and spectacular parentage, I will bet the odds of a bale of hay to
    a bran mash that he looks it. Finally, is he uncertain? That is
    the point - is he uncertain? I will leave it to you if you have
    ever heard of a more uncertainer dog than what this one is?"

    "No, I never have."

    "Well, then, he's a reptile. That's settled."

    "Why, look here, whatsyourname"

    "Last alias, Mongrel."

    "A good one, too. I was going to say, you are better educated than
    you have been pretending to be. I like cultured society, and I
    shall cultivate your acquaintance. Now as to Shekels, whenever you
    want to know about any private thing that is going on at this post
    or in White Cloud's camp or Thunder-Bird's, he can tell you; and if
    you make friends with him he'll be glad to, for he is a born
    gossip, and picks up all the tittle-tattle. Being the whole
    Seventh Cavalry's reptile, he doesn't belong to anybody in
    particular, and hasn't any military duties; so he comes and goes as
    he pleases, and is popular with all the house cats and other
    authentic sources of private information. He understands all the
    languages, and talks them all, too. With an accent like gritting
    your teeth, it is true, and with a grammar that is no improvement
    on blasphemy - still, with practice you get at the meat of what he
    says, and it serves. . . Hark! That's the reveille. . . .

    [THE REVEILLE]

    "Faint and far, but isn't it clear, isn't it sweet? There's no
    music like the bugle to stir the blood, in the still solemnity of
    the morning twilight, with the dim plain stretching away to nothing
    and the spectral mountains slumbering against the sky. You'll hear
    another note in a minute - faint and far and clear, like the other
    one, and sweeter still, you'll notice. Wait . . . listen. There
    it goes! It says, 'IT IS I, SOLDIER - COME!' . . .

    [SOLDIER BOY'S BUGLE CALL]

    . . . Now then, watch me leave a blue streak behind!"
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