ADMEH DRAKE

“I expeck yer cut off yer own nose, all right,” said Coffee John. “If
the sperits of the dead do return, an’ I was to come along with ’em, it
seems to me I’d plye Mrs. ’Iggin’s gyme, an’ run abart a million o’
shyster ghost-raisers art o’ business in this city. I see their notices
in the dyly pypers, an’ it feerly mykes a man sick. The more you show
’em up, the more the people come to be gulled. ’Uman nychur is certingly
rum. Lord love yer, I’ve been to ’em, an’ I’ve been told my nyme was
Peter, wa’nt it? an’ if not Peter, Hennery; an’ didn’t I ’ave a
gryte-gran’father wot died? So I did, an’ I’m jolly glad ’e ain’t lived
to be a hundred an’ forty neither! W’y is it thet the sperit of a decent
Gawd-fearink woman wants to get familiar with a bloke wot wipes ’is nose
on ’is arm-sleeve an’ chews terbacker? It’s agin reason an’ nature, an’
I don’t go a cent on it. It’s enough to myke a man commit murder coupled
with improper lengwidge!”

He turned to the third man, who had made no comments on the stories.
“You’re one as ’as loved an’ lost,” he said. “Yer look like one as is a
lion with men an’ a bloomin’ mouse with women. You don’t cyre w’ether
school keeps or not, you don’t, an’ I’m wonderin’ why. I don’t just like
yer turnin’ yer back on Dewey, though plenty o’ Spanishers ’ave felt the
syme wye. Yer gort a fist as could grip a gun-stock, an’ an eye wot
ain’t afryde to look a man in the fyce, if yer do keep ’em behind specs.
If yer can give a good reason for turnin’ Dewey to the wall, nar’s the
charnce!”

The man with glasses had not winced at the plain language, nor
apologised as the medium had done. He looked up and said:

“All right, pardner, if you’ll stand for it, I’ll tell you the truth,
right out.” And with this he began

THE STORY OF THE HERO OF PAGO BRIDGE

My name is Admeh Drake. Mine ain’t a story-book yarn like yours,
pardner, or a tale of spooks and phantoms, like yours. You can get away
from ghosts when there’s other people around or it’s daylight, but
there’s some things that you can’t get away from in a thousand years,
daylight or dark.

A fellow that I knew from the PL outfit loaned me a story-book once by
“The Duchess,” that said something like this, only in story-book
language:

“A woman is the start and finish of all our troubles.”

I always remembered that. It was a right nice idea. Many and many’s the
time that, thinking over my troubles and what brought me to this elegant
feed—say, I could drink a washtub full of that new-fangled coffee—I’ve
remembered those sentiments. Susie Latham, that is the finest lady in
the White River country, she was the start and finish of my troubles.

Ever since we were both old enough to chew hay, Susie and I travelled as
a team. The first time that ever I shone in society, I did it with Susie
by my side. It was right good of her to go with me, seeing that I was
only bound-boy to old man Mullins, who brought me up and educated me,
and Susie’s father kept a store. But then we were too little to care
about such things, me being eleven and Susie nine. It was the mum social
of the First Baptist Church that I took her to. You know the sort? When
the boss Sunday-school man gives the signal, you clap the stopper on
your jaw-tackle and get fined a cent a word if you peep. Susie knew well
enough that I had only five cents left after I got in, so what does she
do but go out and sit on the porch while the talk is turned off, so that
she wouldn’t put me in the hole. When they passed the grab-bag, I blew
in the nickel. I got a kid brass ring with a red glass front and gave it
to her. I said that it was for us to get married when we grew up.

“Why, Admeh Drake, I like your gall,” she said, but she took it just the
same. After that, Susie was my best girl, and I was her beau. I licked
every fellow that said she wasn’t pretty, and she stuck out her tongue
to every girl that tried to joke me because I was old Mullins’s
bound-boy. We graduated from Striped Rock Union High-school together.
That was where I spent the happy hours running wild among the flowers in
my boyhood’s happy home down on the farm. After that, she went to
teaching school, and I struck first principles and punched cattle down
on old Mullins’s XQX ranch. Says I to myself, I’ll have an interest here
myself some time, and then married I’ll be to Susie if she’ll but name
the day. I had only six months before I was to be out of bound to old
Mullins.

Being a darn-fool kid, I let it go at that, and wrote to her once in a
while and got busy learning to punch cattle. Lord love you, I didn’t
have much to learn, because I was raised in the saddle. There were none
of them better than me if I did have a High-School education. My eyes
had gone bad along back while I was in the High-school, calling for
spectacles. When I first rode in gig-lamps, they used to josh me, but
when I got good with the rope and shot off-hand with the best and took
first prize for busting broncos Fourth of July at Range City, they
called me the “Four-eyed Cow-puncher,” and I was real proud of it. I
wish it was all the nickname I ever had. “The Hero of Pago Bridge”—I
wish to God——

The XQX is seventy miles down the river from Striped Rock. Seventy miles
ain’t such a distance in Colorado, only I never went back for pretty
near two years and a half. Then, one Christmas when we were riding
fences—keeping the line up against the snow, and running the cattle back
if they broke the wires and got across—I got to thinking of the holiday
dances at Striped Rock, and says I: “Here’s for a Christmas as near home
as I can get, and a sight of Susie.”

The boss let me off, and I made it in on Christmas Eve. The dance was
going on down at Foresters’ Hall. I fixed up and took it in.

And there she was—I didn’t know her for the start she’d got. Her
hair—that she used to wear in two molassesy-coloured braids hanging down
her back, and shining in the sun the way candy shines when you pull
it—was done up all over her head. She was all pinky and whitey in the
face the way she used to be when she was a little girl. She had on a
sort of pink dress, mighty pretty, with green wassets down the front and
a green dingbat around the bottom, and long—not the way it was when I
saw her before. She was rushed to the corner with every geezer in the
place piled in front of her. I broke into the bunch. Everybody seemed to
see me except Susie. She treated me like any other maverick in the herd.
She hadn’t even a dance left for me. Once, in “Old Dan Tucker,” she
called me out, but she’d called out every other tarantula in the White
River country, so there was no hope in that. If ever a man didn’t know
where he was at, I was the candidate.

All that winter, riding the fence, I thought and thought. I’d been so
dead sure of her that I was letting her go. Here was the principal of
the High-school, and young Mullins that worked in the Rancher’s Bank,
and Biles that owned stock in the P L, all after her, like broncos after
a marked steer, and I was only the “Four-eyed Cow-puncher,” thirty
dollars and found. And I got bluer than the light on the snow. And then
says I to myself, if she ain’t married when spring melts, by the Lord,
I’ll have her.

I’m one of those that ain’t forgetting the sixteenth of February, 1898.
Storm over, and me mighty glad of it. Snow all around, except where the
line of fence-rails peeked through, and the sun just blinding. I on the
bronco breaking through the crust, feeling mighty good both of us. Down
in a little _arroyo_, where a creek ran in summer, was the end of my
run. Away off in the snow, I saw Billy Taylor, my side-partner, waving
his hand like he was excited. I pounded my mule on the back.

“The Maine’s blown up,” he yells. “The Maine’s blown up!”

“The what?” says I, not understanding.

“The Maine—Havana Harbour—war sure!” he says. I tumbled off in the snow
while he chucked me down a bunch of Denver papers. There it was. I went
as _loco_ as Billy. Before I got back to camp, I had it all figured
out—what I ought to do. I got to the foreman before noon and drew my
pay, and left him cussing. Lickety-split, the cayuse—he was mine—got me
to the station. I figured that the National Guard would be the first to
go, and I figured right. So I telegraphed to old Captain Fletcher of
Company N at Range City: “Have you got room for me?” And he answered me,
knowing just how I stood on the ranches, “Yes. Can you raise me twenty
men to fill my company?” He didn’t need to ask for men; there were
plenty of them anxious enough to go, but he did need the sort of men I’d
get him. Snow be darned, I rode for four days signing up twenty
hellaroos that would leave the Rough Riders standing. Into Range City I
hustled them. There we waited on the town, doing nothing but live on our
back pay and drill while we waited, nineteen for glory and Spanish
blood, and me for glory and the girl.

Congress got a move on at last, though we thought it never would, and
the Colorado National Guard was accepted, enlisting as a body. When we
were in camp together and the medical inspector went around thumping
chests, the captain gave him a little song about my eyes. “He can’t see
without his glasses,” says Captain Fletcher, “but he can shoot all right
with them on. And he raised my extra men, and he’s a soldier.”

The doctor says, “Well, I’m getting forgetful in my age, and maybe I’ll
forget the eye-test.” Which he did as he said.

After that was Dewey and Manila Bay, and the news that the Colorado
Volunteers were going to be sent to the Philippines, which everybody had
studied about in the geography but nobody remembered, except that they
were full of Spaniards just dying to be lambasted.

We got going at last, muster at Denver, and they gave us a Sunday off to
see our folks. You better believe I took an early train for Striped
Rock—and Susie. A hundred and five miles it was, and the trains running
so that I had just two hours and twenty-five minutes in the place.

Susie wasn’t at home, nor any of the Lathams. They were all in church at
the Baptist meetinghouse where I gave her the grab-bag ring for kid fun.
I went over there and peeked in the door. A new sky-pilot was in the
pulpit, just turned loose on his remarks. Sizing him up, I saw that he
was a stem-winding, quarter-hour striking, eight-day talker that would
swell up and bust if he wasn’t allowed to run down. In the third row, I
saw Susie’s hair. There I’d come a hundred miles and more to say good-by
to her, and only two hours to spare; and there that preacher was taking
my time, the time that I’d enlisted to fight three years for. It was
against nature, so I signalled to the usher and told him that Miss Susie
Latham was wanted at home on important business.

The usher was one of the people that are born clumsy. The darn fool,
instead of going up and prodding her shoulder and getting her out sort
of quiet, went up and told the regular exhorter who was sitting up on
the platform; and the regular, instead of putting him on, told the
visiting preacher. The old geezer was deaf.

“How thankful we should be, my brethren, that this hopeless eternity—”
he was saying, when the regular parson broke out of his high-back chair
and tapped him on the broadcloth and began to whisper.

“Hey?” says the stranger.

“Miss Susie Latham,” says the regular preacher, between a whisper and a
holler.

“What about her?”

“Wanted at home,” so that you could hear him all through the church.

“Oh!” says the parson. “Brothers and sisters, I am requested to announce
that Miss Susie Latham is wanted at home on important business—that this
hopeless eternity is set as a guide to our feet—” and all the rest of
the spiel. And me feeling as comfortable as a lost heifer in a
blizzard—forty kinds of a fool.

She came down the aisle, looking red and white by turns, with all the
people necking her way. Before I’d got time to explain why I did it, her
mother got nervous, thinking there must be some trouble, and came
trailing out after her. Then her kid sister couldn’t stand the strain,
and followed suit.

That family reunion on the porch spoiled all the chance that I had to
see Susie alone, because when they heard why I came, and how I was going
to be Striped Rock’s hero, they were for giving me a Red Cross reception
then and there. Only two hours more until train time, and the old lady
had to rush me down to the house for lunch—and me with the rest of my
life to eat in!

But I shook her and the kid sister at last, and got Susie alone. I tried
to tell her—and I couldn’t. I could say that I was going to do my best
and maybe die for my country, and there I stalled and balked, her
looking the other way all pretty and pink, and giving me not a word
either way to bless myself with. Says I finally:

“And if I come back, I suppose that you’ll be married, Susie?” and she
says:

“No, I don’t think that I’ll be married when you come back; I don’t
think that I’ll ever marry unless he’s a man that I can be proud of.”

Then she looked at me, her big eyes filling—her big eyes, coloured like
the edge of the mountains after sunset. I’ve figured it out since that
she was more than half proud of me already—me, in a clean, blue suit,
and the buttons shiny; me, a ten-cent, camp volunteer. And then the old
woman broke in with a bottle of Eilman’s Embrocation for use in camp.

Never another chance had I that side of the station. Of course, she
kissed good-by, but that’s only politeness for soldiers. They all did
that. So, although it was just like heaven, I knew that it didn’t mean
anything particular from her, because her mother did it and her sister,
and pretty darned near every other girl in Striped Rock, seeing that the
news about having a real hero in town had spread.

Only, when we pulled away and I was leaning out of the window blowing
kisses, being afraid to blow at Susie in special because I didn’t like
to give myself away, she ran out of the crowd a ways and held up her
little finger to show me something over the knuckle, and pulled her hand
in quick as if nothing had happened. It was the play kid-ring that I
gave her out of the grab-bag, to show that I was going to marry her when
I grew up.

That was the last sight of Striped Rock that I got—Susie waving at the
station as far as I could see her. It made you feel queer to ride past
the fences and the bunch-grass and the foot-hills getting grayey-green
with sage-brush, and the mountains away off, all snowy on top, and know
that chances were you’d never see them again grayey. And I won’t, I
won’t—never again.

Muster at Denver, and the train, and away we went, packed like a herd
around salt, and the towns just black, like a steer in fly-time, with
people coming out to see us pass, and Red Cross lunches every time the
train had to stop for water; next ’Frisco and Camp Merritt. The first
time that I saw this town, gray all over like a sage-hill, made out of
crazy bay-window houses with fancy-work down the front, I knew that
something was going skewgee.

The night before we went up for our final medical examination by the
regular army surgeon, Captain Fletcher called me into his tent.

“Drake, how about your eyes?” says he.




I hadn’t thought of that, supposing that it could be fixed the same as
it was at Range City. I told him so, and he said it couldn’t, not with
the regular army surgeons. But says he:

“You’re a good soldier, and I got you to raise my reserves. They won’t
let you in if you can’t pass the eye-test, glasses or no glasses. If it
should happen that you learned a little formula that tallies with the
eye-card, you wouldn’t let on that I gave it to you, I suppose?”

“I’m good at forgetting,” I says.

“Burn it when you’ve learned it,” he says, and he gave me a paper with
long strings of letter on it. I learned it backward and forward, and so
on that I could begin in the middle and go both ways. I lay awake half
the night saying it over.

Naked as I was born, I floated in on the examiners for my physicals.
Lungs, as they make them in the cow-country; weight, first-class;
hearing, O. K. They whirled me and began to point. Taking a tight
squint—you see better that way—I ripped through the formula:
P V X C L M N H—I can see it yet. I could just see what line on the card
he was pointing at, and never a darned bit more.

They make that sort of a doctor in hell. He saw me squint—and he began
skipping from letter to letter all over the card. No use—I guessed and
guessed dead wrong. “Rejected!” just businesslike, as if it was a little
matter like a job on a hay-press. I went out and sat all naked on my
soldier-clothes—my soldier-clothes that I was never going to wear any
more—and covered up my head. It was the hardest jolt that I ever
got—except one.

Captain Fletcher hadn’t any pull; he couldn’t do anything. Some of the
twenty that I rounded into Range City talked about striking, they were
so mad, but that wouldn’t do any good. I watched them sworn in next day,
shuffling into the armory in new overall clothes. I stood around camp
and saw them drill. I saw them go down the streets to the
transport—flowers in their gun-barrels, wreaths on their hats, and the
people just whooping. I sneaked after them onto the transport, and there
I broke out and cussed the regular army and everything else. Old
Fletcher saw it. He wasn’t sore; he understood. But I wish I had killed
him before I let him do what he did next. He said:

“He can’t be with us, boys, and it ain’t his fault. But Striped Rock is
going to have its hero. I am going to be correspondent for the Striped
Rock _Leader_. If we have the luck to get into a fight, he’ll be the
hero in my piece in the paper, and the man that gives away the snap
ain’t square with Company N. Here’s three cheers for Admeh Drake, the
hero of Company N!” he said. When they pulled out, people were cheering
them and they cheering me. It heartened me up considerably, or else I
couldn’t have stood to see them sliding past Telegraph Hill into the
stream and me not there with them.

First, I was for writing to Susie and telling her all about it, but I
just couldn’t. I put it off, saying that I’d go back and tell her all
about it myself, and I went to mooning around camp like a ghost. And
then along came a copy of the _Leader_ that settled it. All about the
big feed that they gave the regiment at Honolulu, and how Admeh Drake
had responded for the men of Company N. Captain Fletcher was getting in
his deadly work. It said that I was justly popular, and my engagement to
one of Striped Rock’s fairest daughters was whispered. It treated me
like I was running for Congress on the _Leader_ ticket. I began to
wonder if I saw a way to Susie.

After they got to the Islands, I dragged the cascos through the surf and
rescued a squad of Company N from drowning. All that was in the
_Leader_. The night they scrapped in front of the town, I stood and
cheered on a detachment when they faltered before the foe. After they
got to Manila and did nothing but lay around, Captain Fletcher had me
rescue a man from a fire.

After that, I began to get next to myself, knowing that I’d have done
best to stop it at the start and go straight back to Striped Rock. I’d
been a darned fool to put it off so long. Now I could never go back and
face the joshing. I wrote the captain a letter about it, and he never
paid any attention. Instead of that, he sent me back a bunch of her
letters. Knowing how things stood, what I was doing and what she thought
that I was doing, I could hardly open them. They made me feel as small
as buckshot in a barrel. They hinted about being proud of me—and prayed
that I’d come home alive—and I knew, in spite of being ashamed, that I
had her.

Next thing, the natives got off the reservation. There’s where Captain
Fletcher went clean, plumb _loco_. One day the _Leader_ came out with
circus scare-heads about the “Hero of Pago Bridge.” They printed my
biography and a picture of me. It didn’t look like me, but it was a nice
picture. I’d broke through a withering fire and carried a Kansas
lieutenant across to safety after he had been helplessly wounded—and
never turned a hair.

What was I doing all that time? Laying pretty low. I was afraid to leave
town because I wanted to keep an eye on the _Leader_, which was coming
regularly to the Public Library, and afraid to get a regular daylight
job for fear that somebody from Striped Rock would come along and see
me. I was nearly busted when I ran onto old Doctor Morgan, the Indian
Root Specialist. He gave me a job as his outside man. All I had to do
was to hang around watching for sick-looking strays from the country.
You know the lay. I told them how Doctor Morgan had cured me of the same
lingering disease and how I was a well man, thanks to his secrets,
babying them along kind of easy until they went to the doctor. He did
the rest, and I collected twenty-five per cent.

Striped Rock acted as though I was the mayor. They named their new
boulevard Drake Way. Come Fourth of July, they set me up alongside of
Lincoln. They talked about running me for the Assembly. There came
another bunch of her letters—I had answered the last lot that Cap sent,
mailed them all the way to the Philippines, to be forwarded just to gain
time—they were heaven mixed with hell.

The regiment was coming back in a week, and then I began to think it
over and cuss myself harder than ever for a natural-born fool that
didn’t have enough sand to throw up the game at first and go home and
face the music. It was too late then, and I couldn’t go back to Striped
Rock and take all the glory that was coming to me and face Susie knowing
that I was a fake. Besides, I knew the boys from Range City were liable
to go up to Striped Rock any time and tell the whole story, and it froze
me, inside. I didn’t know what to do, but the first thing that I had on
hand was to catch them at the dock and tell them all that it meant to me
and get them to promise that they wouldn’t tell. Whether I’d dare to go
back and try to get Susie, I couldn’t even think.

I threw up my job with the doctor and went down to the transport office
to see just when they expected the boys. Little house on the dock;
little hole rooms that you could scarcely turn around in. They said that
the boss transport man was in the next room. I walked in.

There—face to face—was Susie—Susie, pinky and whitey, her eyes just
growing and growing. I couldn’t turn, I couldn’t run, I could just hang
tight onto the door-knob and study the floor. The transport man went out
and left us alone.

And she said:

“Admeh Drake, _what_ are you?”

My inwards, me saying nothing all the time, said that I was a fool and a
thief and a liar. I could have lied, told her that I came home ahead of
the regiment, if it had been anyone but Susie. But I told her the truth,
bellowed it out,—because my soul was burned paper.

“I came out to see you come back,” she said, and then:

“I thought that I could be proud of you.” Never another word she said,
and she never looked at me again, but she threw out her hand all of a
sudden and something dropped. It was the play kid-ring I gave her the
night that I wish I had died.

I tried to talk; I tried to hold the door; I might as well have tried to
talk to the wall. The last I saw of her, the last that ever I will see,
was her molassesy-gold hair going out of the big gate.

I spilled out over the transport man and—O God—how I cried! I ain’t
ashamed of it. You’d have cried, too. After that—I don’t know what I
did. I walked over a bigger patch of hell than any man ever did alone.
But the regiment’s come and gone and never found me, and I don’t know
why I ain’t dead along with my insides.

And they mustered out at Denver, and the boys split up and went home.
Company N went back to Range City—cottonwoods shedding along the creeks,
ranges all white on top, sagey smell off the foot-hills, people riding
and driving in from the ranches by hundreds to see them and cheer them
and feed them and hug them—but there wasn’t any hero for Striped Rock,
because he had bad eyes and was a darn fool—a darn fool!

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