Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Floating Fancies among the Weird and the Occult > HIS FRIEND.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 The two log cabins stood on the grassy slopes of opposite mountains, the dark pi?ons forming a picturesque background; a babbling brook ran between the two, a boundary line of molten silver. Sam Nesterwood’s door faced north, and Phil Boyd’s door looked south; while they were building the cabins Phil remarked that it looked so much more sociable that way.
When Phil came out in the morning to plunge his wind-browned face into the tin wash basin, filled with cold water from the stream below, he usually saw Sam doing the same; or perhaps, taking the grimy towel off the wooden peg just outside the door, with which he scrubbed his face, and even the tiny bald spot on the top of his head, to a shiny red.
Phil came out as usual one still October morning; the cottonwoods were just turning a soft golden color—fairy gold—in a setting of dark green and gray—autumn’s gorgeous mosaic.
A chipmunk darted saucily by, and just beyond reach sat up chattering a comical defiance; a lone bluebell nodded in the wind, swaying from side to side seeking its vanished companions; blood-red leaves peeped out from under dry grasses, or decked the sides of a gray bowlder.
197Phil looked cheerfully around; he snapped his fingers at the saucy squirrel, and laughed at the blinking, black eyes; looking across at the opposite cabin he bawled, “Hello, Sam!”
“Hello yourself!” retorted Sam. This had been the morning salutation, never varied, though all the summer months. Each evening after their day’s work they met at one or the other cabin to compare rock; to talk over a lucky strike, or the mishap of a mutual acquaintance, not that much sympathy was expended or needed.
“Jim’s claim has petered out; he’s out about six months’ work, and all his money.”
“You don’t say! Oh, well, Jim won’t stay broke very long; he’s a hustler.” It was not from want of sympathy, but because of a confidence begotten of this hard life, much as the sparrow might argue, “having never wanted for food, I shall be always fed.”
Later in the morning Phil climbed the steep trail which led to his claim high upon the mountain side. The days were perceptibly growing shorter, and it was quite dark when he came down this October evening. Halfway down the trail he thought he heard a groan.
His halting foot dislodged a stone, and sent it crashing down the mountain side; the rushing sound of a night hawk overhead; the melancholy hoot of an owl in the pi?ons; the bark of a coyote in the distance, all seemed but to accentuate the silence.
As I have said, night had fallen, coming suddenly, as it ever does in the mountains; no 198dewy, tender twilight as in lower altitudes; the sun hanging low in the western sky seems phantasm-like to drop behind the distant peaks; a chill wind whistles through the pi?ons like a softly sung dirge; darkness settles down like a pall—and it is night.
Phil thought that he must be mistaken, and again started on his homeward way; the groaning was repeated almost at his very feet.
He searched vainly, but could find no person, nothing to account for the sound.
Dead silence had fallen again. Phil shivered, “This wind is mighty cold!” he muttered, his hand shaking, his teeth inclined to chatter. He took off his hat to wipe the perspiration from his brow, which had gathered in great drops notwithstanding the chill wind; he cast a furtive glance behind him; it was all so terribly uncanny. “Oh! O—h!” came again at his very feet; he gave a frightened start, and an involuntary ejaculation: “Great God!” then gathered himself together and renewed his search, this time rewarded by finding Sam lying under the shelter of a rock badly wounded.
It was a hard task to carry him down that steep trail, and Phil said, pityingly, many times, “It’s awful rough, pard, but there’s no help for it.”
He carried him into the cabin, and laying him on his bed, built a fire, and with a touch gentle as that of a woman bathed and dressed his wound.
He found that a bullet had plowed a ragged furrow down his leg, and shattered the smaller bone halfway between the knee and the ankle.
199Phil had a little knowledge of surgery; these nomads of the hills are often far from surgical aid, and of a necessity attain a degree of skill in such matters. Having made his patient as comfortable as possible, Phil lay down on the floor, rolled in a single blanket, to rest until morning.
The autumn days crept by in drowsy calm—a stillness deeper and more sad than in lower altitudes; the whistle of the late bird as he calls to his mate to hasten their migration is unheard here; the shrill notes of the cicada, which fills the autumn days in the moist, odorous woods is unknown in these barren heights; the dry, stubbly bunch grass, the gray, dusty sage brush harbors no insect life save an occasional lonely cricket, and even these are strangely silent. No birds flit from tree to tree save the magpies, with their gorgeous black and white plumage, and their harsh discordant cries, and these are only seen along the streams. An occasional hawk sails above the pi?ons in graceful curves, or darts downward like an arrow shot from a bow. All else is silent and lifeless.
The sun lies white and brilliant over all; the long shadows lie on the gray ground as though painted there; the tiny streams hurry between their rocky banks, as though in haste to get away from a too cloudless sky.
Long stretches of hills rise and fall away, dry, desolate and gray; a weird loneliness and beauty lies over all—the grandeur of desolation.
The leaves had fluttered down to the bare earth, and a few flakes of snow had been tossed 200about by the nipping wind, ere Sam Nesterwood was able to tell the story of his accident. He was riding up the trail to a claim he thought of relocating; he considered the broncho he rode “all right,” but some reminiscence of his forefathers, some prompting of the wild blood which is never wholly subdued, must have possessed the animal, for without the slightest warning, head down, back arched like an angry cat, he bucked outrageously.
Sam was too good a rider to be easily thrown, but the unexpected movement threw his pistol from his belt; it struck the pommel of the saddle, discharging its contents into his leg, and although it felt as though red-hot iron tore through the flesh, he still retained his seat; then he must have fainted, for he knew no more until near nightfall. When consciousness returned he was lying on the ground; he felt chilled through, and his limb was so stiff and sore that he could scarcely move. He sought to get nearer to a large rock for shelter from the cold wind; it had by this time grown quite dusk, and beneath the rock was so dark that he could not see, thus he rolled into the hole beneath, where Phil found him.
During all the time of Sam’s illness, Phil each day climbed the rugged trail to work for a neighboring miner, letting his own assessment work wait, while he earned the money to pay doctor’s bills, buy medicines, supply Sam with books to read, and delicacies to tempt his appetite. Phil denied himself all but the barest subsistence. Sam smoked cigars, read books, 201and ate the most expensive delicacies, as though such things were no more than his right.
Thus affairs went on until near the beginning of February. Sam was practically well, but he made no effort to get about.
Phil had bought a great easy-chair for him in the first stages of his convalescence, and he sat in the coziest corner, and piled the fireplace high with wood, although Phil had to “snake” it more than half a mile down the steep mountain side.
It was a bitter night; the wind blew bleak over the hills, driving the little snow that had fallen before it, so many needle like points, which left the face stinging with pain. Just at nightfall it had grown warmer, and the scudding clouds began to drop their fleecy burden, a fairy mantle over all the rugged hills.
Phil came home covered with snow, his long mustache ridiculously lengthened by icicles, his eyebrows white as those of Father Time.
He set his lunch pail down moodily, and shook himself much as a spaniel shakes the water from his shaggy coat; he threw himself on a bench before the fire with a tired sigh; and rested his elbows on his knees, his chin dropped in his upturned palms.
Sam shivered as some of the flying particles of snow struck him.
“Can’t you be a little more careful; you’ll give me my death of cold yet!” he grumbled.
“I did not intend to wet you,” answered Philip very gently, not changing his position.
202“You must be down in the dumps! What is the matter with you?” said Sam irritably.
This habit of half-grumbling and fault-finding had become so common with Sam that Phil made no reply. After a minute’s silence, he began again:
“Aren’t we going to have any supper to-night? It’s most infernal monotonous sitting here alone all day with nothing to read, and not even a square meal.”
Phil arose wearily, and began laying the cloth on the table; soon the bacon was sizzling merrily, the teakettle bumping the lid up and down for very joy, and the fragrance of coffee filled the room.
Phil took from the box nailed against the wall a small dish of peaches, a couple of slices of cake, and a little cheese, which he put beside Sam’s plate.
“Supper is ready,” said he gravely.
Sam arose lazily, and Phil wheeled his easy-chair up to the table; then poured out the coffee, and drew up his own rough bench. He offered a slice of the bacon to Sam, before helping himself.
“No,” said Sam testily, “I’m tired of bacon. I hate the very smell of it. I do wish I could have something decent to eat!”
Phil made no reply, but ate his bread and bacon, and drank his coffee in silence. Sam leaned back in his chair, his head resting on the cushion, and looked at Phil from under half-closed eyelids. “Your countenance is an appetizer! You are about as cheerful as a tombstone!” 203a curious anxiety underlying his sneering tone.
As Phil did not reply, he continued: “Can’t you open your clam shell, and spit out your grievance? I suppose I have offended your saintship in some way, ’though what I’ve done except to stay all alone and put up with all sorts of discomforts is more than I know,” the questioning tone in the first part of his speech shading off into a sullen grumbling toward the end.
Phil lifted his gloomy face.
“I have given you no reason for that kind of talk; I can’t grin very much when some galoot has jumped my claim,” he replied slowly.
“You don’t say! Who the deuce——”
“The name marked on the new stake is Jim Redmond, but that don’t count much,” answered Phil despondently.
“I suppose you think I’d be sneak enough to do it,” retorted Sam, the strange, questioning look deepening in his eyes.
“Oh, come off, Sam! What is the use of talking that kind of stuff? I’m not quite so suspicious as that; why, you haven’t been up the trail in months,” answered Phil, with a kindly look.
“No; and my name is not Jim Redmond; but you ought to have done your assessment work; you can’t very well blame him, whoever he may be.”
“No; p’raps not,” said Phil slowly, and it seemed somewhat doubtingly; then he added: “What makes me sore is that it was looking so good. Well, there’s no use in wearing 204mourning, I suppose;” and he tried to laugh cheerfully. After supper, notwithstanding the inclemency of the night Phil trudged patiently the long six miles into town, that Sam might have the coveted books, and a tender steak for his breakfast.
Sam evinced no desire to return to his own cabin; on the contrary he said, in his peculiarly soft tones, “I guess we’d better finish the winter together, hadn’t we, Phil? I’m not very strong yet, and one fire will do for both; of course I’ll put up my share of the grub.”
“Oh, that’s all right; I’m glad of your company,” replied Phil.
Sam must have considered his company a sufficient compensation, for he contributed nothing toward the expense of living; he took the most and the best of everything; the choicest of the food; the only chair; the warmest corner of the fireplace; and the only good bed. If he ever saw Phil’s self denial, he made no sign. If Phil ever thought him selfish, he did not show it; that which he gave he gave royally.
One evening Phil came in from work; it was bitter cold; the stars snapped and twinkled; the frost showed a million gli............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved