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VIII vengeance They made a camp Well up above the crawling valley damp, And where no prowling beast might chance to come. There was no fuel; but a flask of rum, Thanks to the buckskin, dulled the evening chill. And both grew mellow. Memories of Bill And other nights possessed the little man; And on and on his reminiscence ran, As ’twere the babble of a brook of tears Gone groping for the ocean of dead years Too far away to reach. And by and by The low voice sharpened to an anguished cry: “O Mike! I said you couldn’t miss the cup!” Then something snapped in Fink and, leaping up, He seized Talbeau and shook him as a rat Is shaken by a dog. “Enough of that!” He yelled; “And, ’faith, I’ll sind ye afther Bill Fer wan more wurrd! Ye fool! I mint to kill! And, moind me now, ye’d better howld yer lip!” Talbeau felt murder shudder in the grip That choked and shook and flung him. Faint and dazed, He sprawled upon the ground. And anger blazed Within him, like the leaping Northern Light That gives no heat. He wished to rise and fight, But could not for the horror of it all. Wild voices thronged the further canyon wall As Fink raved on; and every word he said Was like a mutilation of the dead By some demonic mob. And when at length He heard Mike snoring yonder, still the strength To rise and kill came not upon Talbeau. So many moments of the Long Ago Came pleading; and the gentle might thereof United with the habit of old love To weave a spell about the sleeping man. Then drowsily the pondered facts began To merge and group, as running colors will, In new and vaguer patterns. Mike and Bill Were bickering again. And someone said: “Let’s flip a copper; it it’s tails, he’s dead; If heads, he’s living. That’s the way to tell!” A spinning copper jangled like a bell. But even as he stooped to pick it up, Behold! the coin became a whisky cup Bored smoothly through the center! “Look at this!” He seemed to shout: “I knew Mike couldn’t miss! Bill only played at dying for a joke!” Then laughter filled his dream, and he awoke. The dawn was like a stranger’s cold regard Across the lifeless land, grotesquely scarred As by old sorrow; and the man’s dull sense Of woe, become objective and immense, Seemed waiting there to crush him. 89 Vengeance Fink still slept; And even now, it seemed, his loose mouth kept A shape for shameless words, as though a breath, Deep drawn, might set it gloating o’er the death Of one who loved its jesting and its song. And while Talbeau sat pondering the wrong So foully done, and all that had been killed, And how the laughter of the world was stilled And all its wine poured out, he seemed to hear As though a spirit whispered in his ear: You won’t forget I gave my gun to you! And instantly the deep conviction grew That ’twas a plea for justice from the slain. Ah, not without a hand upon the rein, Nor with an empty saddle, had the mare Outrun the flame that she might carry there The means of vengeance! Yet—if Mike were dead! He shuddered, gazing where the gray sky bled With morning, like a wound. He couldn’t kill; Nor did it seem to be the way of Bill To bid him do it. Yet the gun was sent. For what?—To make Mike suffer and repent? But how? Awhile his apathetic gaze Explored yon thirst- and hunger-haunted maze, As though he might surprise the answer there. The answer came. That region of despair Should be Mike’s Purgatory!1 More than Chance Had fitted circumstance to circumstance That this should be! He knew it! And the plan, 90 the song of three friends Thus suddenly conceived, possessed the man. It seemed the might of Bill had been reborn In him. He took the gun and powder horn, The water flasks and sun-dried bison meat The panniers gave; then climbing to a seat Above the sleeper, shouted down to him: “Get up!” Along the further canyon rim A multitude of voices swelled the shout. Fink started up and yawned and looked about, Bewildered. Once again the...


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