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   Chapter 2 No.2

I Conquered"" By Harold Titus Characters: 18978

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


A Young Man Goes West

From the upper four hundreds on Riverside Drive to Broadway where the lower thirties slash through is a long walk. Danny Lenox walked it this June day. As he left the house his stride was long and nervously eager, but before he covered many blocks his gait moderated and the going took hours.

Physical fatigue did not slow down his progress. The demands upon his mental machinery retarded his going. He needed time to think, to plan, to bring order out of the chaos into which he had been plunged. Danny had suddenly found that many things in life are to be considered seriously. An hour ago they could have been numbered on his fingers; now they were legion. It was a newly recognized fact, but one so suddenly obvious that the tardiness of his realization became of portentous significance.

Through all the hurt and shame and rage the great truth that his father had hammered home became crystal clear. He had been merely a waster, and a sharp bitterness was in him as he strode along, hands deep in pockets.

The first flash of his resentment had given birth to the childish desire to "show 'em," and as he crowded his brain against the host of strange facts he found this impulse becoming stronger, growing into a healthy determination to adjust his standard of values so that he could, even with this beginning, justify his existence.

Oh, the will to do was strong in his heart, but about it was a clammy, oppressive something. He wondered at it-then traced it back directly to the place in his throat that cried out for quenching. As he approached a familiar haunt that urge became more insistent and the palms of his hands commenced to sweat. He crossed the street and made on down the other side. He had wasted his ability to do, had let this desire sap his will. He needed every jot of strength now. He would begin at the bottom and call back that frittered vitality. He shut his teeth together and doggedly stuck his head forward just a trifle.

The boy had no plan; there had not been time to become so specific. His whole philosophy had been stood on its head with bewildering suddenness. He knew, though, that the first thing to do was to cut his environment, to get away, off anywhere, to a place where he could build anew. The idea of getting away associated itself with one thing in his mind: means of transportation. So, when his eyes without conscious motive stared at the poster advertising a railroad system that crosses the continent, Danny Lenox stopped and let the crowd surge past him.

A man behind the counter approached the tall, broad-shouldered chap who fumbled in his pockets and dumped out their contents. He looked with a whimsical smile at the stuff produced: handkerchiefs, pocket-knife, gold pencil, tobacco pouch, watch, cigarette case, a couple of hat checks, opened letters, and all through it money-money in bills and in coins.

The operation completed, Danny commenced picking out the money. He tossed the crumpled bills together in a pile and stacked the coins. That done, he swept up the rest of his property, crammed it into his coat pockets, and commenced smoothing the bills.

The other man, meanwhile, stood and smiled.

"Cleaning up a bit?" he asked.

Danny raised his eyes.

"That's the idea," he said soberly. "To clean up-a bit."

The seriousness of his own voice actually startled him.

"How far will that take me over your line?" he asked, indicating the money.

The man stared hard; then smiled.

"You mean you want that much worth of ticket?"

"Yes, ticket and berth-upper berth. Less this." He took out a ten-dollar bill. "I'll eat on the way," he explained gravely.

The other counted the bills, turning them over with the eraser end of his pencil, then counted the silver and made a note of the total.

"Which way-by St. Louis or Chicago?" he asked. "We can send you through either place."

Danny lifted a dollar from the stack on the counter and flipped it in the air. Catching it, he looked at the side which came up and said:

"St. Louis."

Again the clerk calculated, referring to time-tables and a map.

"Denver," he muttered, as though to himself. Then to Danny: "Out of Denver I can give you the Union Pacific, Denver and Rio Grande, or Santa Fé."

"The middle course."

"All right-D. and R.G."

Then more referring to maps and time-tables, more figuring, more glances at the pile of money.

"Let's see-that will land you at-at-" as he ran his finger down the tabulation-"at Colt, Colorado."

Danny moved along the counter to the glass-covered map, a new interest in his face.

"Where's that-Colt, Colorado?" he asked, leaning his elbows on the counter.

"See?" The other indicated with his pencil.

"You go south from Denver to Colorado Springs; then on through Pueblo, through the Royal Gorge here, and right in here-" he put the lead point down on the red line of the railroad and Danny's head came close to his-"is where you get off."

The boy gazed lingeringly at the white dot in the red line and then looked up to meet the other's smile.

"Mountains and more mountains," he said with no hint of lightness. "That's a long way from this place."

He gazed out on to flowing Broadway with a look somewhat akin to pleading, and heard the man mutter: "Yes, beyond easy walking from downtown, at least."

Danny straightened and sighed. That much was settled. He was going to Colt, Colorado. He looked back at the map again, possessed with an uneasy foreboding.

Colt, Colorado!

"Well, when can I leave?" he asked, as he commenced putting his property back into the proper pockets.

"You can scarcely catch the next train," said the clerk, glancing at the clock, "because it leaves the Grand Central in nineteen min-"

"Yes, I can!" broke in Danny. "Get me a ticket and I'll get there!" Then, as though to himself, but still in the normal speaking tone: "I'm through putting things off."

Eighteen and three-quarters minutes later a tall, young man trotted through the Grand Central train shed to where his Pullman waited. The porter looked at the length of the ticket Danny handed the conductor.

"Ain't y'll carryin' nothin', boss?" he asked.

"Yes, George," Danny muttered as he passed into the vestibule, "but nothing you can help me with."

With the grinding of the car wheels under him Danny's mind commenced going round and round his knotty problem. His plan had called for nothing more than a start. And now-Colt, Colorado!

Behind him he was leaving everything of which he was certain, sordid though it might be. He was going into the unknown, ignorant of his own capabilities, realizing only that he was weak. He thought of those burned bridges, of the uncertainty that lay ahead, of the tumbling of the old temple about his ears-

And doubt came up from the ache in his throat, from the call of his nerves. He had not had a drink since early last evening. He needed-No! That was the last thing he needed.

He sat erect in his seat with the determination and strove to fight down the demands which his wasting had made so steely strong. He felt for his cigarette case. It was empty, but the tobacco pouch held a supply, and as he walked toward the smoking compartment he dusted some of the weed into a rice paper.

Danny pushed aside the curtain to enter, and a fat man bumped him with a violent jolt.

"Oh, excuse me!" he begged, backing off. "Sorry. I'll be back in a jiffy with more substantial apologies."

Three others in the compartment made room for Danny, who lighted his cigarette and drew a great gasp of smoke into his lungs.

In a moment the fat man was back, his eyes dancing. In his hand was a silver whisky flask.

"Now if you don't say this is the finest booze ever turned out of a gin mill, I'll go plumb!" he declared. "Drink, friend, drink!"

He handed the flask to one of the others.

"Here's to you!" the man saluted, raising the flask high and then putting its neck to his mouth.

Danny's tongue went again to his lips; his breath quickened and the light in his eyes became a greedy glitter. He could hear the gurgle of the liquid; his own throat responded in movement as he watched the swallowing. He squeezed his cigarette until the thin paper burst and the tobacco sifted out.

"Great!" declared the man with a sigh as he lowered the flask. "Great!"

He smacked his lips and winked. "Ah! No whisky's bad, but this's better'n most of it!"

Then, extending the flask toward Danny, he said: "Try it, brother; it's good for a soul."

But Danny, rising to his feet with a suddenness that was almost a spring, strode past him to the door. His face suddenly had become tight and white and harried. He paused at the entry, holding the curtain aside, and turned to see the other, flask still extended, staring at him in bewilderment.

"I'm not drinking, you know," said Danny weakly, "not drinking."

Then he went out, and the fat man who had produced the liquor said soberly:

"Not drinking, and havin' a time staying off it. But say-ain't that some booze?"

Long disuse of the power to plan concretely, to think seriously of serious facts, had left it weak. Danny strove to route himself through to that new life he knew was so necessary, but he could not call back the ability of tense thinking with a word or a wish. And while he tried for that end the boy commenced to realize that perhaps he had not so far to seek for his fresh start. Perhaps

it was not waiting for him in Colt, Colorado. Perhaps it was right here in his throat, in his nerves. Perhaps the creature in him was not a thing to be cleared away before he could begin to fight-perhaps it was the proper object at which to direct his whole attack.

Enforced idleness was an added handicap. Physical activity would have made the beginning much easier, for before he realized it Danny was in the thick of battle. A system that had been stimulated by poison in increasing proportion to its years almost from boyhood began to make unequivocal demands for the stuff that had held it to high pitch. Tantalizingly at first, with the thirsting throat and jumping muscles; then with thundering assertions that warped the vision and numbed the intellect and toyed with the will. He gave up trying to think ahead. His entire mental force went into the grapple with that desire. Where he had thought to find possible distress in the land out yonder, it had come to meet him-and of a sort more fearful, more tremendous, than any which he had been able to conceive.

Through the rise of that fevered fighting the words of his father rang constantly in Danny's mind.

"He was right-right, right!" the boy declared over and over. "It was brutal; but he was right! I've wasted, I've gone the limit. And he doesn't think I can come back!"

While faith would have been as a helping hand stretched down to pull him upward, the denial of it served as a stinging goad, driving him on. A chord deep within him had been touched by the raining blows from his father, and the vibrations of that chord became quicker and sharper as the battle crescendoed. The unbelief had stirred a retaliating determination.

It was this that sent a growl of defiance into Danny's throat at sight of a whisky sign; it was the cause of his cursing when, walking up and down a station platform at a stop, he saw men in the buffet car lift glasses to their lips and smile at one other. It was this that drew him away from an unfinished meal in the diner when a man across the table ordered liquor and Danny's eyes ached for the sight of it, his nostrils begged for the smell.

So on every hand came the suggestions that made demands upon his resistance, that made the weakness gnaw the harder at his will. But he fought against it, on and on across a country, out into the mountains, toward the end of his ride.

The unfolding of the marvels of a continent's vitals had a peculiar effect on Danny.

Before that trip he had held the vaguest notions of the West, but with the realization of the grandeur of it all he was torn between a glorified inspiration and a suffocating sense of his own smallness.

He had known only cities, and cities are, by comparison, such puny things. They froth and ferment and clatter and clang and boast, and yet they are merely flecks, despoiled spots, on an expanse so vast that it seems utterly unconscious of their presence. The boy realized this as the big cities were left behind, as the stretches between stations became longer, the towns more flimsy, newer. A species of terror filled him as he gazed moodily from his Pullman window out across that panorama to the north. Why, he could see as far as to the Canadian boundary, it seemed! On and on, rising gently, ever flowing, never ending, went the prairie. Here and there a fence; now a string of telephone poles marching out sturdily, bravely, to reduce distance by countless hours. There a house, alone, unshaded, with a woman standing in the door watching his speeding train. Yonder a man shacking along on a rough little horse, head down, listless-a crawling jot under that endless sky.

Even his train, thing of steel and steam, was such a paltry particle, screaming to a heaven that heard not, driving at a distance that cared not.

Then the mountains!

Danny awoke in Denver, to step from his car and look at noble Evans raising its craggy, hoary head into the salmon pink of morning, defiant, ignoring men who fussed and puttered down there in its eternal shadow; at Long's Peak, piercing the sky as though striving to be away from humans; at Pike, shimmering proudly through its sixty miles of crystal distance, taking a heavy, giant delight in watching beings worry their way through its hundred-mile dooryard.

Then along the foothills the train tore with the might of which men are so proud; yet it only crawled past those mountains.

Stock country now, more and more cattle in sight. Blasé, white-faced Herefords lifted their heads momentarily toward the cars. They heeded little more than did the mountains.

Then, to the right and into the ranges, twisting, turning, climbing, sliding through the narrow defiles at the grace of the towering heights which-so alive did they seem-could have whiffed out that thing, those lives, by a mere stirring on their complacent bases.

And Danny commenced to draw parallels. Just as his life had been artificial, so had his environment. Manhattan-and this! Its complaining cars, its popping pavements, its echoing buildings-it had all seemed so big, so great, so mighty! And yet it was merely a little mud village, the work of a prattling child, as compared with this country. The subway, backed by its millions in bonds, planned by constructive genius, executed by master minds, a thing to write into the history of all time, was a mole-passage compared to this gorge! The Woolworth, labor of years, girders mined on Superior, stones quarried elsewhere, concrete, tiling, cables, woods, all manner of fixtures contributed by continents; donkey engines puffing, petulant whistles screaming, men of a dozen tongues crawling and worming and dying for it; a nation standing agape at its ivory and gold attainments! And what was it? Put it down here and it would be lost in the rolling of the prairie as it swelled upward to meet honest heights!

No wonder Danny Lenox felt inconsequential. And yet he sensed a friendly something in that grandeur, an element which reached down for him like a helping hand and offered to draw him out of his cramped, mean little life and put him up with stalwart men.

"If this rotten carcass of mine, with its dry throat and fluttering hands, will only stick by me I'll show 'em yet!" he declared, and held up one of those hands to watch its uncertainty.

And in the midst of one of those bitter, griping struggles to keep his vagrant mind from running into vinous paths, the brakes clamped down and the porter, superlatively polite, announced:

"This is Colt, sah."

A quick interest fired Danny. He hurried to the platform, stood on the lowest step, and watched the little clump of buildings swell to natural size. He reached into his pocket, grasped the few coins remaining there, and gave them to the colored boy.

The train stopped with a jolt, and Danny stepped off. The conductor, who had dropped off from the first coach as it passed the station, ran out of the depot, waved his hand, and the grind of wheels commenced again.

As the last car passed, Danny Lenox stared at it, and for many minutes his gaze followed its departure. After it had disappeared around the distant curve he retained a picture of the white-clad servant, leaning forward and pouring some liquid from a bottle.

The roar of the cars died to a murmur, a muttering, and was swallowed in the ca?on. The sun beat down on the squat, green depot and cinder platform, sending the quivering heat rays back to distort the outlines of objects. Everywhere was a white, blinding light.

From behind came a sound of waters, and Danny turned about to gaze far down into a ragged gorge where a river tumbled and protested through the rocky way.

Beyond the stream was stretching mesa, quiet and flat and smooth looking in the crystal distance, dotted with pine, shimmering under the heat.

For five minutes he stared almost stupidly at that grand sweep of still country, failing to comprehend the fact of arrival. Then he walked to the end of the little station and gazed up at the town.

A dozen buildings with false fronts, some painted, some without pretense of such nicety, faced one another across a thoroughfare four times as wide as Broadway. Sleeping saddle ponies stood, each with a hip slumped and nose low to the yellow ground. A scattering of houses with their clumps of outbuildings and fenced areas straggled off behind the stores.

Scraggly, struggling pine stood here and there among the rocks, but shade was scant.

Behind the station were acres of stock pens, with high and unpainted fences. Desolation! Desolation supreme!

Danny felt a sickening, a revulsion. But lo! his eyes, lifting blindly for hope, for comfort, found the thing which raised him above the depression of the rude little town.

A string of cliffs, ranging in color from the bright pink of the nearest to the soft violet of those which might be ten or a hundred miles away, stretched in mighty columns, their varied pigments telling of the magnificent distances to which they reached. All were plastered up against a sky so blue that it seemed thick, and as though the color must soon begin to drip. Glory! The majesty of the earth's ragged crust, the exquisite harmony of that glorified gaudiness! Danny pulled a great chestful of the rare air into his lungs. He threw up his arms in a little gesture that indicated an acceptance of things as they were, and in his mind flickered the question:

"The beginning-or the end?"

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