A Few Bars in the Key of G
CLIFTON CARLISLE OSBORNE
IT was two o’clock, and time for the third watch of the night-herd. These two facts gradually impressed themselves on the consciousness of John Talbot Waring, as he was thumped into wakefulness by the Mexican “horse-wrangler.” Disentangling himself from his damp blankets, he sat up and groped for his boots, meanwhile viewing with that strange satisfaction which misery finds in companionship, the rough pounding process which was being repeated upon the mummy-like figure by his side.
The dim light of the smoky lantern swinging from the ridge-pole of the dripping tent revealed the rolled-up forms of a dozen audibly slumbering cow-punchers, crowded together like sardines in a box; it also made visible an expression of disgust on the features of Mr. Waring, while failing completely to disclose the whereabouts of his missing boots. The sense of touch, however, presently located them lying in a little puddle near the tent flap, and their owner was immediately engrossed in the back-breaking task of forcing his swollen feet into the sodden leather.
“Seems to me, Jack, you ought to know enough to take your boots to bed with you,” remarked his neighbor, “Slim” Caywood, as he complacently produced his own high-heeled pair from their dry nest. “That mornin’ last week up on the Pass, when you had to do a war dance in the snow while they was thawin’ out, don’t seem to have learned you nothin'.” Waring paused in his struggle long enough to express, in a few well-chosen words, his opinions of boots in general, and his own wet ones in particular. This relief to his feelings seemed to endow him
with renewed strength, for, after a few more violent contortions, he accomplished his purpose, and unrolling his “slicker,” which had been serving temporarily as a pillow, enveloped himself in its clammy folds, and followed his tall fellow-victim of stern duty out into the drizzling rain.
There was a moon above the heavy clouds, but it might as well have been on the other side of the earth for all the assistance it gave in the operation of saddling two of the picketed horses. The herd lay to the north of the camp, and settling reluctantly into their soggy seats, the drowsy riders turned their horses in that direction, trusting to the instinct of the animals to find the cattle. The darkness was intense, and the wiry little beasts were obliged to pick their way cautiously over the rough ground lying between the camp and the spot where the herd had been “bedded down” for the night.
Presently the sound of a hoarse voice tunefully raised in a dismal minor melody came faintly to their ears, and as they neared the singer, they became aware that he was entreating the public to “take him to the graveyard, and place a sod o’er him,” varying the monotony of this request by begging some one to “bury him not on the lone prairie.” The effect of this mournful music was indescribably gruesome, and Waring found himself wondering with considerable impatience
why cow-punchers invariably choose such gloomy themes for their songs, and then set them to the most funereal tunes imaginable.
Approaching carefully, to avoid startling the cattle, the two riders separated, and relieving the tired watchers, commenced their dreary three hours’ vigil, on opposite sides of the herd. The cattle were unusually quiet, needing little attention, and Waring had ample opportunity to reflect on the disadvantages of a cow-puncher’s life, as he rode slowly along the edge of the black mass of sleeping animals. The rain dripped from the limp brim of his sombrero, and ran in little streams from the skirts of his oilskin coat into his already soaking boots. The chill wind, sweeping down from the mountains, pierced his damp clothes, and made him shiver in the saddle. For the hundredth time within a week, Waring condemned himself as an unutterable ass for relinquishing the comforts of civilization for this hard life among the rough and dangerous slopes of Colorado.
He recalled his arrival on the range six months before, a “tenderfoot,” and the various tribulations he had endured incident to his transformation into a fullfledged cow-puncher. He remembered with a smile, the painful surprise occasioned by his first introduction to a pitching horse. Of the hardships and dangers which come to every rider of the range, he had experienced his share, and faced them bravely, thereby winning the respect of the rough, lion-hearted men among whom he had cast his lot.
But all the weary months had been wasted; he had failed in his object; he could not forget. He was not the first
EDITOR'S Note.—One of the most popular readings presented to any audience teas “a few bars in the key of O,” and a demand grew up to see it put into story form. Mr. Osborne has very successfully done this, and MacLean’s has been fortunate in securing the right to this admirable and unusual story.
to learn that one cannot escape memory merely by crossing the continent. It even seemed to him that, instead of growing more endurable with time, the soreness in his heart and the sting of regret increased with every passing day. He wondered if She felt the separation; if she cared. As his thoughts wandered back over the past two years, he recalled every incident of their acquaintance as distinctly as though it had occurred but yesterday. The day he had first seen her, as she stepped gracefully out beside the piano to sing, at a musicale he had attended,—the song she had sung,—
“The hours I spent with thee, dear heart,
Are as a string of pearls to me.”
the sweet days which followed,—their enjoyment together of symphony, oratorio, and opera, for both being amateurs of no mean ability, they had met (and loved) upon the common ground of their love of divine harmony.
He looked into the blackness of the night, and could see her as she appeared on that wonderful day when he had met her at the altar of Trinity Church, and spoken the words that were to bind them together through life. How beautiful she was, and how proud he had been of her as they walked down the broad aisle and out into the brilliant June sunshine, followed by the grand chords of Mendelssohn’s masterpiece. He looked back at their wedding trip as at a beautiful dream. The noble mountains of New Hampshire seemd to have been created as a setting for their happiness; the great hotels only to cater to their pleasure. How well he remembered the return to the lovely home he had prepared for her, and the first dear days within its walls. How happy they had been, and how he had loved her! Had loved her? He did love her. That was his sorrow. He realized that as long as he had life, his whole heart would be hers.
And then the shadow had come over their home. He asked himself bitterly why he had not been more patient with her, and made allowance for her high spirit and quick temper. She was such a child. He could see now that he had been to blame many times in their quarrels, when at the time he had sincerely believed himself in the right. Should he go back to her, and admit that he had been wrong? Never! The memory of that last day was too clear in his mind. The words she had spoken in the heat of her anger had burned themselves into his soul, and could not be forgotten. Waring straightened in the saddle, and the hot blood rushed to his face. He wondered now that he had been able to answer her so calmly. He recalled every word he had said:
“Your words convince me that we cannot live together any longer. I will neither forget nor forgive them. I am going away. You are at liberty to sue for a'divorce, if you care to do so. Three years, I believe, is the time required to substantiate a plea of desertion.” That was all. Without another word he had left her, standing white and motionless in the centre of her dainty chamber, and
gone from the beautiful home in whitehot rage, to come out here to the wildest spot he could find, and plunge into its perilous life, in the vain effort to forget.
He pulled down the dripping brim of his sombrero to shelter his face from the stinging wind, and resolutely turned his thoughts in other directions. He speculated vaguely on the condition of his considerable property, and wondered indifferently how his agents were managing it. His friends at the clubs,—did they miss him? From them his thoughts strayed to the strange postal card he had received the day previous, and he began to puzzle his brain in the effort to decide who had sent it, and what it could mean. It had been directed in care of his attorney, and forwarded by the lawyer to the remote mountain post-office where Waring received his mail. It was an ordinary postal card, its peculiarity consisting in the fact that the communication on the back was composed not of words, but music—four measures in the key of G. This was the message :
He had hummed the notes over and over, and thought they had a strangely familiar sound, yet he could not place the fragment, nor even determine the composer. His failure to decipher the enigma annoyed him. It had a meaning, of that he was convinced, but what could it be? Who could have sent it? Among his friends were many musicians, any one of whom might have adopted such a method of communicating with him. He began to hum the phrase, as he rode round and round the cattle.
The wind was dying out, and the rain had ceased. On the eastern mountain tops a faint rose tint was dimly visible; another hour of monotonous watching, and then for a hot breakfast beside the camp-fire. Waring, abandoning the riddle of the postal, began to sing to pass the time, and his rich baritone rang out above the sleeping herd. The light stole slowly over the peaks, and chased the shadows from the plain. The camp awoke, and the men crawled shivering from the tent. The cook’s fire whirled showers of sparks aloft. One by one the cattle stirred, rose, and commenced to graze. Waring still sang, carelessly passing from snatches of opera to lines of sacred harmony.
Suddenly, while starting a chorus from one of the great works of a master composer, he stopped short in surprise. He was singing the notes on the card! It had come to him like a flash. He tore open his coat and drew the postal from an inner pocket. There was no mistake. He had solved the mystery. Aimost mechanically he reached for a pencil, and wrote the words under the lines of music, added a signature, and gazed long and earnestly, his face a perfect kaleidoscope of changing expressions; then, with a wild shout, he wheeled and rode furiously to camp.
Pulling up with a jerk that almost lifted the iron-jawed bronco from the ground, he literally hurled himself from the saddle, and reached the Boss in two bounds.
“I must be in Denver to-night! I want your best horse, quick!"
The Boss stared at him in astonishment:
“Why, man, it’s a hundred an’ twenty miles. You’re crazy.”
Waring fairly stamped in his impatience.
“It’s only sixty to Empire,” he cried, “and I can get the train there. It leaves at one o’clock, and I can make, if you’ll lend me Star. I know he’s your pet horse, and you never let any one ride him, but I tell you, Mr. Coberly, this means everything to me. I simply must get there.”
Coberly scowled. “You ought ’o know, Jack, that I won’t lend Star. None o’ the other horses can get you over there in that time, so you might’s well give it up. What in thunder’s the matter with you that you’re in such a confounded rush?"
Waring thought a moment, and then, drawing the Boss beyond earshot of the listening cow-punchers, spoke to him rapidly and earnestly, finally handing him the postal card. Coberly scanned it intently, and a change came over his face. When he looked up, it was with an expression of respect mingled with amazement.
“Why didn’t you show me this at first? O’ course you can have the horse. Hi there! Some o’ you boys round up the horses an’ rope Star for Mr. Waring. Jump lively.”
The men made a rush for their saddles and, in an incredibly short time, several of them were racing across the plain in the direction of the bunch of horses. Waring dived into the tent and began gathering his few possessions. Coberly plunged around outside, giving orders at the top of his voice.
“Roll up some grub for Mr. Waring quick! Nick, you get his canteen an’ fill it out o’ my jug. Fly around now!”
A rush of hoofs announced the arrival of the horse and his escort, just as Waring emerged from the tent with his little bundle. A dozen hands made quick work of saddling, and with a hurried good-bye all around, he swung himself up and astride of the magnificent animal, and was off on his long ride. He looked back and saw the boys in a group around the Boss, who was explaining the cause of his hasty departure. Presently a tremendous yell reached his ears, and he saw hats frantically thrown up. He waved his hand in reply, and settled down in the saddle.
The long, pacing stride of Coberley’s pet covered the ground in a surprising manner, and eight o’clock found twentythree miles behind his nimble feet, and the Bar triangle Ranch in sight. Afiveminute stop, and then on across the gently rising country to the stage station at the foot of the great Continental Divide, fifteen miles away. It lacked twenty minutes of ten o’clock when Waring drew rein in the shadow of the giant pbaks that towered above him. He ununsaddled and turned the big thorough-
bred into the corral. A half-hour’s rest would put new life into him. Twentytwo miles to the railroad, and nearly three hours in which to cover it. It seemed possible; but the great range must be crossed, and Waring knew that the ten miles of steep climbing to the snowy summit of Berthoud Pass meant more than twice that distance on the .flat plain.
At quarter past ten, Star, refreshed by an energetic rubbing and a mouthful of water, was carrying him up the road, with no apparent diminution of power. Up, up they went, mile after mile, until the plain they had left was spread out like a map behind him, and the thick forest had given place to a scattering and scrubby growth of pines. They were nearing timber-line, and the piercing chill of the biting wind testified to the proximity of the snow-covered peaks. Two miles from the top Waring dismounted, and led his panting horse along the icy trail. The r a r i fi e d air seemed to burn his lungs as he struggled up the remaining d i stance to the summit of the Pass twelve thousand feet above the sea.
Twelve o’clock !
He stopped and anxiously e xamined the noble beast that had carried him so far and so well.
The inspection reassured him.
There was plenty of life and energy left in Star yet. Not without reason was he acknowledged the best horse in the country. One hour, and twelve miles to go, the first seven down the steepest road in the State.
Could he make it? He must! A final pull at the cinches, and Waring was again in the saddle, racing down the dangerous path towards the sea of dark green forest that stretched far below.
Down sharp pitches and long slopes, around dizzy curves and through deep canons, slipping, swaying, followed by masses of loose stones and gravel, they went, faster than ever that trail was covered before. The iron-shod hoofs struck fire from the flinty rocks, as, almost sitting on his haunches, Star would slide twenty feet at a time down an unusually steep grade, recovering his footing with a staggering effort at the bottom. It was perilous work. They
reached the timber-line, passed below it, and plunged into the woods. A mile beyond, they flew past the stage at a mad pace, throwing a shower of mud over the astonished passengers.
Down at last to the level road they came, with five miles still to go. Star swung into a strong, easy lope, and his rider drew a long breath. Not till then had he realized the strain of that wild ride. Rounding a turn in the road, he espied a horseman approaching, and turned out to pass him. The stranger eyed him sharply as he drew near, and suddenly whipped out a six-shooter.
“Hold up there. I want to talk to you.”
For a moment Waring considered the chance of riding over the man, but for a moment only. The stranger looked too determined, and his aim was sure. He pulled up, raging.
“I suppose you want my money,” he snarled. “Well, you’re welcome to it if you’ll leave me enough to pay my fare to Denver.”
The other grinned.
“That’s a good bluff, but it won’t go. I’m the sheriff, an’ I want to know where •you’re going with Joe Coberly’s horse.” “Oh, is that all you want?” said Waring, relieved. “Why, I’ve been working for Coberly, and he lent me the horse to ride over here to catch the train.” And he gathered up his reins.
“Hold on, young man,” and the sheriff raised his gun suggestively, “that yarn won’t do. I know old Joe, an’ I happen to
know that he wouldn’t lend that horse to his own brother, let alone one of his cow-punchers. I guess I’ll have to lock you up till the boys come over after you.’’
Waring groaned: “Look here, Mr.
Sheriff, I’m telling you God’s truth. Coberley let me take the horse because it was the only one that could get me over here in time to catch the train, and I had to be in Denver to-night without fail.”
His captor shook his head: “It’s no use, my friend; your story won’t hold water. Why’re you in such a tearin’ hurry, anyway?”
Waring remembered the postal card; he reached into his breast pocket and produced it.
“That is my reason for haste,’ he said, “and that is why Coberly let me take the horse,” and he added a few words.
Keeping his captive carefully covered with the muzzle of the revolver he carried, the officer rode closer and took the card. As he read it, his face lighted up, and he lowered his gun.
Overjoyed at this satisfactory turn of affairs, Waring touched Star with the spur and rode forward, with the repentant sheriff by his side, their horses in a rapid gallop. Mounting a rise, they saw the town before them, a mile distant. The train was at the station! Another touch of the spur, and Star stretched out into a run that gradually left the sheriff behind, well mounted though he was. A half mile yet to go ! — A quarter ! —The black smoke began to come in heavy puffs from the funnel of the engine, and the line of cars moved slowly away from the station. Then it was that Star showed the spirit that was in him. The quirt fell sharply on his flank for the first time that day, and he bounded forward and
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“That’s a 1 1 right, youngster. I’m sorry I stopped you. I don’t wonder Joe lent you the horse ; I’d ’ve done the same, even if I’d had to walk myself. I hope you won’t miss the train. I’ll ride down to the station with you, as some of the boys might want to string you up on account o’ the horse — everybody knows him.”
A Few Bars in the Key of G
Continued from Page 21.
swept down upon the town like a whirlwind.
As the usual crowd of train-time loafers lounged around the corner of the station, their attention was attracted by the two swiftly approaching riders, and they paused to watch the race. Presently one cried:
“Hullo, that first horse is Coberly’s black, an’ he’s sure movin’ too. The other chap ain’t in it. Why, its’ the sheriff! An’ he’s after the other feller. Horse thief, by thunder ! I’ll fix him,” and he reached for his hip.
The others took up the cry of “Horse thief!” and as Waring flashed past the building at Star’s top speed, a volley of shots greeted him, and the bullets sang around his head. Fortunately, they went wild, and before any more could be fired, the sheriff tore into the crowd and roared:
“Stop shootin’, you fools. The man’s all right; he’s only tryin’ to catch the train.” At this there was a laugh, and then a rush to the track, for an unobstructed view of the race.
The road ran for a mile beside the rails, as level as a floor. The train was gathering speed with every revolution of the wheels, but Star was travelling too, and gaining at every jump. The crowd at the station danced and howled in their excitement.
“Will he make it?” “He’s gainin’.” “Look at that horse hump himself.” “Gee, he’s' movin’ !” “Hooray for the black!” “He’ll make it ! ! ” “He’ll make it ! ! !”
Waring, with eyes fixed and jaw set, was riding desparately. Thirty feet!— The spectators in the doorway of the last car gazed breathlessly. Twenty feet— and Star straining every nerve and muscle in his body. Ten feet—and still he gained. Only five feet now! Inch by inch he crawled up. Hé was abreast of the platform ! ! Swerving his flying horse closer to the track, Waring leaned over, and grasping the railings with both hands, lifted himself from the saddle, kicked his feet from the stirrups, and swung over to the steps of the car. The faint sound of a cheer reached him from the distant depot.
After calmly accepting the enthusiastic congratulations of the passengers who had witnessed his dramatic boarding of the train, Waring dropped into a seat with a sigh of relief, and was soon lost in thought. He was roused from his reverie by a touch on the arm, and turned to find the conductor standing beside him. The sight of that official reminded him of the necessity of paying fare, and he reached into his pocket for the required cash. His fingers encountered nothing more valuable than a knife and some matches. The other pockets were equally unproductive. Then he remembered, with a shock, that he had put his
money in the little bundle, at that moment firmly attached to his saddle, some miles to the rear.
It was maddening. There was nothing to do but throw himself on the mercy of the man in the blue uniform. That person heard his excuses with an impassive face, and merely announced that he would have to get off at the next station. This was not at all in accordance with Waring’s plans, and he endeavored to impress upon the conductor the importance of his being in Denver that evening. He might as well have addressed the Sphinx, so far as any effect his words had on the official, who said in answer to his entreaties:
“I’d lose my job if I let you ride free. You’ll have to get off. It’s only ten miles back to Empire, and if you left your money on your saddle, you can soon get it again, that is, if no one has swiped it before you get there.”
Waring grew desparate. Was his ride after all to be fruitless? He remembered his reason for haste, and decided to take the conductor into his confidence. Leaning over, he whispered something quickly into his ear, and ended by showing him the postal card. At first the man looked incredulous, but a glance at Waring’s earnest face reassured him. His expression softened, and he handed back the card with a sigh.
“I reckon I’ll have to fix it for you, but the only way I can do it is to pay your fare out of my own pocket. I’ll do that, and you can send me the money. It’s three-sixty.” He wrote his name and address upon a slip, which he gave to Waring, together with a cash receipt ticket, unheeding the later’s impulsive thanks.
This occurrence reminded Waring of similar difficulties to be overcome in Denver, and he did some hard, rapid thinking as he was being whirled down through Clear Creek Canon, but by the time the train shot past Table Mountain and out to the plain, his face bore a confident smile. The postal card had served him well thus far; perhaps its mission was not yet ended.
The car wheels were still turning when he strode through the big station, jumped into a carriage, and was driven to the nearest drug store, where he consulted a directory.
“Number nine hundred South Seventeenth Street,” he cried, as he re-entered the vehicle. Arriving at his destination, he sprang out and, saying “Wait,” ran up the steps of a palatial residence.
To the dignified butler who opened the door, he said: “I wish to see Mr. Foster. My name is Waring. I haven’t a card with me.”
Instinctively perceiving the gentleman beneath the rough flannel shirt and mudcovered “chaps,” the servant politely ushered him into the reception room, saying that he would see if Mr. Foster was in. Apparently he was, for he appeared almost immediately, the personification of keen-eyed, well-groomed finance.
“What can I do for you, Mr.—er— Waring,”
That young man took in every detail of his appearance, and he realized that he had a hard-headed man of business to deal with.
“Mr. Foster,” he said, “you are the president of the Denver National Bank, which, I believe, handles the Western interests of the Second National Bank of Boston?”
The other bowed, and Waring continued :
“I have an account at the Second, and I want you to cash a check for me. It is after banking hours I know, and even if it were not, I have no immediate means of identification.”
The banker’s features stiffened perceptibly, but Waring went on :
“It is of the greatest importance that I take the eastern express to-night, or I would not come to you in this irregular way—”
“One moment, Mr. Waring. Pardon me for interrupting you, but it will save your time as well as my own if I say that what you ask is impossible, as you should know. My advice to you is to wire your bank for the money.”
Waring broke in impatiently:
“Of course I know that I can do that, but it means a day’s delay, and that is what to avoid. See here, Mr. Foster, I am willing to pay any amount within reason for the accommodation if you will oblige me.”
The president began to look suspicious : “It must be a very urgent matter that requires such haste,” he said sarcastically. “Really, Mr. Waring, I must positively decline to do anything for you.”
“It is an urgent matter,” cried Waring. “I was about to explain it to you,” and he went on and told of the postal card and its purport, adding a brief account of his efforts to get to the city in time to take the train that night.
“Let me see the card,” said the banker. His voice had taken on a different inflection. Waring handed him the bit of pasteboard that had played such an important part in his adventures.
“From what is it taken, did you say?” Upon hearing the answer he left the room, to return in a few minutes with a rather bulky musical score, which he laid upon the table, and turned the pages until he found what he sought. Carefully he compared the music on the card with that of the printed sheet. Then, turning to the younger man, he said in a kindly voice :
“I will assist you, Mr. Waring. It will, of course, be a purely personal accommodation, as it is contrary to all my business methods, but I cannot resist such an appeal as this. Also, I consider myself a good judge of faces, and I feel safe in trusting yours. What amount do you require?”
Waring, beaming with joy, replied, “A hundred dollars will be sufficient,” and the banker motioned towards a desk.
“Make your check for a hundred and fifty. You will need that, unless you care to travel in your present costume.”
The banker exchanged it for a check for a like amount, saying:
“You can cash this at the Brown Palace Hotel. I will ’phone the cashier, so you will have no trouble.”
Waring tried to thank him, but he would not listen.
“You are perfectly welcome, my boy I am glad to be able to help you. I envj you, with all my heart. I would giv< half of all I own to be in your position,’ and his voice trembled a little. “Yot have my best wishes for a pleasant jour ney. Good-bye.” A cordial hand grasp and Waring ran down the steps, and tei minutes later, these words were speed ing over the wire:
“Postal received. Arrive Boston Friday night. See Luke i. 13.
When the Chicago Limited pulled ou of Denver that evening John Talbc Waring, clean shaven, and attired i garments of the most approved cut, wa standing on the rear platform of the las Pullman, softly humming a fragmer from the great oratorio, “The Messiah. There was a tender light in his eyes s he gazed at a postal card he held in b hand. And the words he sang were:
For unto us a child is born;
Unto us a son is given.
At the same moment, two thousar miles away in the East, a pale your wife was holding a telegram close to hi lips. An open Bible lay on the bed besii her. Turning softly on her pillows, si glanced lovingly at the dainty cradl and whispered:
Thou sbalt call hls name John.