Frank Bird Linderman.

Lige Mounts: free trapper online

. (page 3 of 21)
Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanLige Mounts: free trapper → online text (page 3 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

I filled my pipe and took a smoke ; but I went sound
asleep setting up straight, with my back against a


hickory; tree. And I dreamed. I thought Bugle
and I was trying to drive something out from be-
hind the fallen tree in Dan's Clearing, and that the
old roots kept moving and was plumb full of squir-
rels. Then all of a sudden something awful seemed
to have happened in Dan's Clearing, and I started
in my sleep and fell over. After that I stretched
out; but I reckon I'd eaten too much, for I didn't
get much sleep. I was glad when I saw that it was
getting daylight, and built up my fire right away.

While it was burning up good, I went off into
the timber a piece and shot a squirrel for my
breakfast. I wondered if the folks in the cabin
would hear the shot; but if they did nobody come
near me.

I soon got the jacket off my squirrel. And long
before it was right good daylight I was making
better'n four miles an hour towards St. Louis. I
kept it up pretty well, passing more and more
cabins and clearings and meeting more and more
people. Some wanted to stop and talk and some
didn't. And I never did see so many different
Kinds of cur-dogs, with only now and again a good
looking hound among them. I saw two mighty
pretty girls in a big clearing 'long about noon.
They was both hoss-back and looked right pert and
fine. They had awful long riding skirts on and
wore hats with feathers in them. They looked
mighty fine and pert, I can tell you. They was a
heap prettier than Polly Hawkins both of them.
And I'd always believed she had them all beat.

The road kept getting better and better and more
used, and by and by it was right dusty and I met a
passel of people afoot and hoss-back all coming
from St. Louis, I reckoned. But I couldn't see


where they could all live unless they was a heap
more houses somewheres along the road than I'd

I passed a man that was dressed up fit to kill. I
reckoned he was mighty well off, for I. never had
seen such fine clothes. He wore a tall beaver hat
that must have set him back a plenty, and he was
packing a cane. I wished I knowed who he was.
Then by and by I passed a carriage. I'd never
seen such a fine team of hosses in my life before
blood bays, a leetle too high-headed, mebby, but full
o' mettle, and young. There was a white haired
old couple in the carriage, laying back and looking
happy, and a nigger driving the rig. The old gen-
tleman waved his hand at me, and I was tickled
plenty and answered. Then the old lady bowed,
and I took off my hat quicker'n a cat can turn
around. I thought it was mighty nice and friendly
of them ; and I did wish I knowed who they was.

But I can't begin to tell you of all the folks I
met that afternoon. I didn't know there was so
many on any road as I saw that day. It was worth
the walking just to see them; and I reckon I could
have stood it for a month, just to get to see them
over again them and others that would come

I turned a bend in the road right where it started
to go down hill pretty fast; and when I looked,
there she was St. Louis!


I knowed quite a lot about St. Louis, or thought
I did. Abner Hastings had been there more'n
once, and he'd told me a good deal. But not half
not even a quarter.

I was glad I knowed what I did. It accounted
for a heap of things I saw that day. I remembered
Abner Hastings had told me that St. Louis was one
of the few cities now under our good flag that was
older'n the Union itse'f. "Her career," he'd said,
"has been as mottled as her population, which,
changing somewhat with her allegiance, has still
left a portion of both good and bad of the peoples
belonging to the three sovereign nations which have
of right possessed her during her fifty-nine years
of existence." I remembered every word of that,
just like he'd said it; and now I knowed it was true
especially the part about the population.

For I never did see such a passel of differences
in my life before not even in a bushel of bad-year
potatoes. Most likely people from the three sover-
eign nations was right there that day. Soon's I
got there I begun to meet up with queer-looking
folks. Trappers and voyageurs, dressed all in buck-
skin with fancy head riggin's ; bull- whackers in reg-
ular old homespun's bad's my own; squaws wear-
ing every bright color I ever did see; half-breeds
with rings in their ears and nothin' on their heads
but their black bobbed hair; Injins all fine in quill
work, and their faces painted fit to scare a varmi't ;
barefoot niggers clear from New Orleans and naked
to the waist; regular dandies from back Boston



way, I reckoned, wearing tall beaver hats and
frilled shirts; regular ladies in carriages and
dressed to kill all happy, or appearing to be, from
the noise they was making.

There was groups of men setting everywhere,
and the taverns was full to busting. Every door
was wide open. I could hardly get past them. And
the noise ! Why, men was singing in every tavern
or I reckoned they thought they was singing.
But it was English and French all jumbled up, and
sounded awful to me. More'n half the noise was
laughing though, loud and rough, but genuine as
pigweed in a garden patch. Everybody seemed to
have a language of their own. I'd never heered
one of them before; and I was willing to bet there
wa'n't another spot on earth where there was so
many different ones spoken among friends. It
seemed to me, too, that there couldn't be any other
place where white folks winked at so many things
done in open daylight, and still reckoned themse'fs
decent. If Joshua Moulds, our circuit rider, had
been there and saw the things I did that day, I
wouldn't have listened to him preach afterward
not for a dollar.

But everybody was happy, and I figured that was
a heap. I had never heered so much laughing.
Everybody wanted to laugh and did all but one
woman, and she was crying. I met up with her
about half way down the street and stopped and
asked her if I could he'p her any. She started to
talk, but I couldn't understand a word she said.
Then she took hold of my arm and wanted me to
go somewheres with her; but not liking the way
she acted I went on about my business.

There was music a-plenty, too, all along the way.


Fiddles was going full tilt in nigh every tavern,
and there was dancing in some of the places. I
had to go around the groups of Injin women from
up the river that was gathered in front of the
doors, looking in at the fun and having a great
time of their own. Most of them was eating
sweets, and all of them wore red or green or yellow
silks on their heads regular bouquets they looked,
bunched close in their anxiety to see.

I never did see such a mixing of colors. Aunt
Lib's flower beds wa'n't a patchin' to it not when
every blossom was out at one time. Colors seemed
to live in St. Louis. Even the cattle in the bull-
teams was every color a critter could be white,
bay, black, roan, or spotted; and sometimes there
was as many as twenty yoke in a team. Cracky!
the loads they was hauling. Wagons piled high
with freight from the levees goods that come from
as far oif as Philadelphia and New York being
hauled to stores or warehouses. Long-lashed bull-
whips popped like rifles, and men cussin' like pir-
ates, with sharp goad-sticks, tortured the cattle to
mighty nigh bust their yokes pulling the loads. I
saw bales and bales of fur and buffalo robes and
dried meat being hauled from the river; and I
knowed some big outfits had come down with the
high water.

I saw men that was rich and men that didn't
have a red cent, nor a place to go. These poor fel-
lers had had money but spent it carousin' in St.
Louis, raising Ned while their pile lasted. Now
they was strapped. But I reckoned from what I'd
seen that St. Louis didn't much care what visitors
did, so long as they spent what they had ; and even
if she was obliged to shut one eye, or even both,


while they was spending, she counted herse'f richer
when they had gone back up the river to get more
to spend.

There was some excuse for the visitors, anyway.
They spent long months in the wilds, always in dan-
ger and having little comfort. It wa'n't much
wonder that when at last they could forget being
careful and come in to St. Louis to rest and sell
their fur, they dipped too deep in the town's civili-
zation if that's what it was. Friends met up
there, and each was sure to have a yarn to tell ; and
in the telling liquor finds a place a big place, some-
times, I reckon.

Directly I saw loads of goods going to the river.
Some outfit was getting ready to start out, sure
enough. So I followed behind the bull-teams to see
what was going on, and mebby get a place for

Then I saw the steamboats, heaps of them,
swarming like bees at the levee. And if I thought
there was noise up street, I was mistaken. It was
like a funeral up there to what it was down by the
river. Steamboats coming and going, chowing and
churning like mad; whistles blowing so it mighty
nigh split my ears; niggers sweatin' and mates a-
swearin' like all get out. Everybody was hurryin'
an' everybody was liftin' or shovin' something up
or down gang planks or on the wharf. There
wa'n't room for the bull-teams. I'll bet I saw
more'n a thousand cattle in less'n a minute.

Clang, clang! jingle, jingle! would go a bell; and
chow-chow-chow! the white steam would spurt out
of stacks, as a steamboat backed out to make room
for another more noisier than herse'f. I saw a
big nigger nigh kill a little one; and I saw a mate


hit another and knock him end-ways. I saw more'n
a dozen drunk men sound asleep right there in the
noise, and two or three women, too, that was tipsy
and making free with niggers like they was white.
I met up with a little white boy with a basket on
his arm winding in and out among that mess alone.
Every minute he'd call out "Sweet cakes! Sweet
cakes!" I reckoned he was selling sweet cakes to
the men down there.

Pretty soon a dog fight started right on the levee.
It was a good one, too a fox hound and a cur-dog.
They made quite a scattering among the men, and
the niggers stopped to watch them, till a mad mate
throwed a bucket of water on the dogs, and they

I didn't see no keel-boats, nor no chance to ask
anybody about them. So I went away, intending
to come back after a spell. I knowed I'd go crazy
if I stayed there. I couldn't stand the noise; and I
crossed the street, to take the other side this time.

And 'twas lucky I did. I hadn't gone far, when
I saw a sign in a window, and stopped to read it.
I remember every word of it to this day. It said:


The subscriber wishes to engage one
hundred young men to ascend the Mis-
souri river to its source, there to be em-
ployed for one, two, or three years. For
particulars inquire of Major Andrew
Henry, who will ascend with and com-
mand the party, or of the subscriber near
St. Louis.



General Ashley! The very man that had the
fight with the Arickaras! Go with Major Henry?
Well, I reckoned I would; and mighty glad to get
the chance. I'd see the General right away.

But where could I find him? "Near St. Louis"
wa'n't all I needed to know. But I'd ask the first
white man I met up with that looked like he was
friendly. I made up my mind to that. Mebby
Major Henry was handier, though. I turned to
read the notice again, careful; and while I was do-
ing it a tall man come up behind me and stopped.
I could see him in the window glass without turning
around. He was a heap taller'n me, and his hair
was light colored like mine but grayed some and
hung down onto his shoulders. He read the notice
over my head, kinder spelling it out slow. Di-
rectly he smiled, and I felt his hand on my shoulder.

"Don't ye do it, son, don't ye do it," he said, slow
and easy, like.

It sounded just like home-folks, and I turned
around quick to look at him. Cracky! I'll never
forget him, nor how he looked to me, a plumb
stranger and mighty nigh hungry. I looked right
at him, and mighty glad to. And he looked right
at my eyes, his'n gray, like, and warm, and not
stirrin' a mite. He was all dressed in buckskin,
feet and all, and had a red silk tied on his head.
His long, fringed buckskin coat-shirt was all
worked with colored quills and hung to his knees,
and he had fringed leggins and a blue breech-clout
made fancy with work.

Directly his smile growed bigger and more wel-
come, and he leaned a little on the longest rifle I
ever did see, but was all of six feet six inches tall,
and straight as a ramrod. His lips was thin and


straight-cut and clean looking, and his face was
smooth-shaved but marked pretty deep and plenty
with straight lines. I couldn't look enough at his
eyes. They twinkled so and seemed to be enjoying
what was going on inside me.

At last I smiled too. I couldn't he'p it, for his
eyes was mighty nigh danein'.

"Why not, Dad?" I says, dropping my bundle.

His eyes keened a little, I thought. "How'd you
know my name, son?" he says, sudden, like.


"Well, by the shot that got the meat! If that
ain't cur'ous. What's yer name, son?"

"Elijah Mounts," I says, and right away I re-
membered I'd never said 'Elijah' before to any-
body, so I says, "But I go by the name of Lige al-

"It's a good name," he says. "Mine's Wash
Lamkin, but folks call me Dad up's far's the Black-
feet country, anyway them that's there."

"But why shouldn't I look up Major Henry or
General Ashley, Dad?" I asked him, itching to get
back to me getting a place and wondering what he
had against them.

"Mostly because it ain't a good plan to be be-
holden to others in a country where yer boss is a
king. If ye're goin' up the river, better go as a
freeman, son, an' make yer own trails, an' sell yer
fur where an' when ye please."

"But I haven't got any money, Dad," I told him.
"Not a red cent."

"Shoo ! that's different, I cal'late," he says. "A
heap different. Best come over to my camp an'
hev a bite to eat. Mebby we kin strike a bargain,
me an' you. What say?"


He started right off like he knowed I'd come.
And I did. I picked up my bundle and away we
went, in and out among the folks in the street, past
taverns and stores and bull-teams, noisier'n ever.
Once he stopped before a tavern. "Hev a little
somethin'?" he says.


"Don't ye drink, son?"

"Nope," I says.

"Glad of it. My camp's up yonder by that grove
of trees," and he pointed to it.

I kept wondering why he'd been so good to me, a
plumb stranger. "Mebby he's lonesome, same's
me," I thought.

And then pretty soon we was at his camp. It
was a little buffalo-skin lodge, and Injin-painted
with queer animals that is, queer-done with colors,
I mean. There was a man inside, and right away
Dad said, "Git a fire goin', Joe, an' we'll eat a bite."

He didn't introduce me, but seemed to be think-
ing while both Joe and him got supper. I saw
everything was ready for moving. There was
bales all made up snug and nice, and piled around
the lodge-wall. And outside was pack-saddles and
Spanish rigs they called aparajos, I found out aft-
erwards. Dad didn't talk none while he fixed to
eat, and I looked around and learned a lot. The
smoke went straight up and out the top of the
lodge, like it was a fireplace ; but it was hotter'n all
time in there for a spell. 'Twa'n't long before Dad
said, "Set up everything's ready." And in no
time at all we was through eating.

Then he says to me, "Do ye smoke?" and I said
I did.

"Well, fire up an' we'll settle this thing quicker'n


scat. I got a pardner none better; an* we're
leavin' in the mornin'. Leastways, I am. But he
ain't finished his spree yit. If he don't come in
to-night I'll leave him to trail me up. It's high
time we was jiggin'. He'll agree to any bargain I
make. And here 'tis: I'll take ye along an* outfit
ye with the understandin* that me an' my pard-
ner's to hev half yer ketch as long's we stay to-
gether. That's short an* sweet, an' accordin' to
right, if I know it. What say?"

Cracky! It was too good to be true. How'd it
come that he was so mighty good an* free with me?
"Mebby he likes me," I thought. And I sure liked
him, so I said, "I agree, Dad. It's heaps more'n
I ever expected, an' I'm obliged to you."

Then we shook hands on it, and he says, "That
bein' settled without blood-lettin', we'd best go back
to town an' git ye some things ye'll need, blankets
an' ammunition, mostly. What ye shootin', son?"

"Twenty-eight to the pound, Dad," I says. "Will
it do, do ye reckon?"

"I reckon. Let's be a-jiggirf. It's gettin' late."

I felt mighty proud I owned my rifle now, more'n

It was plumb dark a'ready, mostly because of the
clouds. Thunder was growling some, and now and
then a pale, zig-zag streak of lightning went scal-
lowaggin' across the west, like it does sometimes
when the weather's hot. Down below us hundreds
and hundreds of little lights like yellow stars
showed where the town was, and even from where
I was I could hear the noise and some of the music;
but 'twas faint and suited me better'n being close.

Directly we was back in the street and 'twas as
lively's when we left it livelier, I reckon. A


group of trappers and rivermen was gathered about
three French voyageurs and a half-breed Injin
dancing to the music of a curious stringed instru-
ment played by a black looking Spaniard, "Of Man-
uel Lisa's crew," Dad said. The feller was squat-
ted in the street with his back against a tavern,
and under the light of a lantern that looked like it
come out of one of Abner Hastings' travel books.
It was hung from an iron hook right over the tav-
ern door. The Spaniard's fingers was mighty nim-
ble, and he picked quick tunes out of the strings
for the dancers. His head was bound up in green
silk, and now and again he'd Yip ! to set 'em goin'
right good.

Dad stopped to watch, grinning like a possum,
and 'twas enough to make a body grin. But just
then there come a gust of wind, damp as frog's
laigs. It swung the iron lantern till its ring
creaked like a stay-chain, and the candle in it flick-
ered like fury and mighty nigh went out. It thun-
dered loud, and right away a rain drop fell on my

"I reckon we'd best be a-jiggin'," Dad said. And
we started, him a'lookin' back like he wished he
could stay a spell.

"I hanker to watch 'em when I can spare the
time," he told me. "They're so devilful an' keer-
less, like," he says.

When we got to a place called Shipman and Com-
pany, Dad says, "Here we be." But just as he was
about to go inside, with me following, somebody
yelled out, "Jest a minute, please!"

We turned around, and a man run right up to
me, pointing his finger. "Is your name Mounts?"
he says taking hold of my arm.


"Yes, sir," I says, wondering if I'd ever seen him

"Well, I want ye f er killin' Caley Byers. Come
along o' me."

My heart just stopped, it seemed. Then it jumped
and I got my breath back. "I reckon you've made
some mistake," I says, trying to hold my voice
stiddy. "I saw Caley Byers four days ago, and "

"Ha, ha, ha!" the feller's laugh cut in. And it
was nasty, like, an' r'iled me. "Yes," he says, "I
reckon ye seen him, bein's how ye're s'posed to hev
shot him dead in Dan's Clearin' back yonder, jest
four days ago. Yer ol' houn' dog was comin' out
of the Clearin' when Byers' nigger found the body."

Then I heered Dad saying, "Don't talk none, son
not a word." He took hold of my other arm and
pinched hard. "Take it cool, like," he says. "Bet-
ter go 'long with the officer 'thout fussin'. Shoo!
we've plumb got to hev law got to hev it," he says,
and I'd swore I saw him wink at the officer, though
I wa'n't dead sure.

They started to lead me away out of the light. I
didn't hold back none, but I couldn't make it out.
Caley Byers shot dead! And in Dan's Clearing!
Who could have done it? I tried to think. Then
the story the old nigger told come into my mind,
the woman part and all, like I'd heered it. And
right away after that I thought of the old root in
Dan's Clearing and the squirrel, and the owl. And
even my curious dream by the hickory tree come
back. But they didn't tell me nothin', and I was
in bad trouble, mighty bad.

I was taken up for murder. And like's not I
couldn't prove I didn't kill Caley Byers. We'd had
words, me and him. And mebby folks knowed


about it. I wondered if they did. I was mighty
glad now I'd never told anybody about rockin' him
in the creek. I reckoned it would look like I'd shot
him easy enough ; me being in at the Crossing same
time as him, and old Bugle coming through the
Clearing just when Byers's nigger was finding the
body. I shore wished now I hadn't got to dream-
ing and let Bugle go trailing off that a-way. It
would a-meant a lot to me now. I was miserable
worried and scared. The world had changed for
me in a minute. A little while back I was happy
so happy I knowed my luck was too good to be true.
I'd wanted so long and so hard to go up the river,
when up steps a plumb stranger and offers me my
chance. 'Twas like a story in one of Abner Hast-
ings' books, but I'd knowed it couldn't last, and
sure enough it hadn't. Things like that is all right
in books. But directly they happen in real life you
get to thinking something's wrong somehow.

I looked about me. It was all dark. We had
left the street and the folks. The noise was all be-
hind, and my shoulders was cold. Then I saw 'twas
raining hard, but I'd never 4 noticed before. Di-
rectly we stopped before a sort of passage-way that
led in between some dark stone buildings covered
with dripping vines.

"Here we be," the officer says, tightening his hold
on my arm. "I'm obleeged to ye, mister, fer yer
company," he says to Dad, "but this is as fer as ye
kin go."

I can't make you know how that left me cold,
then hot, then cold again.

Dad says, cheerful, like, "I reckon 'tis. It's fer's
I'm hankerin' to go, stranger. Good-night, son," he
says, pattin' my shoulder and stepping backward


into the shadow of the stone house. "He's gone
back on me," I thought. And I just wilted.

But right away I heered a THUD ! and the offi-
cer loosened his hold of my arm, and fell in a heap.
Dad's rifle had nigh busted his skull.

"Come, son, let's be a-jiggin'." It was Dad whis-
pering In my ear. But I was stunned by what he'd
done, I reckon.

"Come! this ain't no place to loaf in," he says,
shaking me. And next I knowed we was off
through the driving rain, keeping in the shadows
and runnin' away, like a couple of bad ones, which
I reckoned we was.

Dad knowed where he was going, though. "Here
we be," he says, "as our friend the officer said."
And he was laughing, low, and inside to himse'f .

The lodge was dark as all get out. Dad called
out, "Joe! Joe! Fetch in the line-back buckskin
pony, an' saddle him with the spare rig. Shake

The man come out with a rope, fetched in a hoss,
an' saddled him like lightning.

"Git on, son," says Dad, handing up my rifle,
quick's I climbed into the saddle. Then he tied a
blanket and a sack of dried meat behind me, talk-
ing slow all the time he worked.

"Now then," he says, "git out o' here. Ride due
west till ye strike the river. Then keep off'n the
trail that follers it, an' keep a-ridin' stiddy. Don't
stop much for two days. If nobody shows up be-
hind ye by that time, camp somewheres out o' sight,
an* wait fer me. I'll be along directly. But foller
the river after ye strike it, an* ride due west till
ye do. Understand, son?"

"But how about you, Dad? Won't they come and


get you? I never killed anybody, Dad," I says, half
turning the.hoss around to start off, but beginning
to think a little.

"Shoo ! I know you never killed nobody, son," he
says, laying his hand on my knee. "Don't you fret
about me. They won't never git me. That man,
the officer, never did see me before. An' what's
more he ain't never goin' to see me agin, neither.
Now off with ye, an' ride like I tell ye. I never did
quit a pardner yit, son. Adios!"

Cracky! I felt small and ornery then, and I
made up my mind I'd tell him, so I out with, it.

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryFrank Bird LindermanLige Mounts: free trapper → online text (page 3 of 21)