Tales of Trail and Town
The Strange Experience Of Alkali Dick
He was a "cowboy." A reckless and dashing rider, yet mindful of his horse's
needs; good-humored by nature, but quick in quarrel; independent of
circumstance, yet shy and sensitive of opinion; abstemious by education and
general habit, yet intemperate in amusement; self-centred, yet possessed of a
childish vanity,—taken altogether, a characteristic product of the Western plains,
which he never should have left.
But reckless adventure after adventure had brought him into difficulties, from
which there was only one equally adventurous escape: he joined a company of
Indians engaged by Buffalo Bill to simulate before civilized communities the
sports and customs of the uncivilized. In divers Christian arenas of the nineteenth
century he rode as a northern barbarian of the first might have disported before
the Roman populace, but harmlessly, of his own free will, and of some little profit
to himself. He threw his lasso under the curious eyes of languid men and women
of the world, eager for some new sensation, with admiring plaudits from them
and a half contemptuous egotism of his own. But outside of the arena he was
lonely, lost, and impatient for excitement.
An ingenious attempt to "paint the town red" did not commend itself as a
spectacle to the householders who lived in the vicinity of Earl's Court, London,
and Alkali Dick was haled before a respectable magistrate by a serious
policeman, and fined as if he had been only a drunken coster. A later attempt at
Paris to "incarnadine" the neighborhood of the Champs de Mars, and "round up"
a number of boulevardiers, met with a more disastrous result,—the gleam of
steel from mounted gendarmes, and a mandate to his employers.
So it came that one night, after the conclusion of the performance, Alkali Dick
rode out of the corral gate of the Hippodrome with his last week's salary in his
pocket and an imprecation on his lips. He had shaken the sawdust of the sham
arena from his high, tight-fitting boots; he would shake off the white dust of
France, and the effeminate soil of all Europe also, and embark at once for his
own country and the Far West!
A more practical and experienced man would have sold his horse at the nearest
market and taken train to Havre, but Alkali Dick felt himself incomplete on terra
firma without his mustang,—it would be hard enough to part from it on
embarking,—and he had determined to ride to the seaport.
The spectacle of a lithe horseman, clad in a Rembrandt sombrero, velvet jacket,
turnover collar, almost Van Dyke in its proportions, white trousers and high boots,
with long curling hair falling over his shoulders, and a pointed beard and
mustache, was a picturesque one, but still not a novelty to the late-supping
Parisians who looked up under the midnight gas as he passed, and only
recognized one of those men whom Paris had agreed to designate as "Booflo-
bils," going home.
At three o'clock he pulled up at a wayside cabaret, preferring it to the publicity of
a larger hotel, and lay there till morning. The slight consternation of the cabaret-
keeper and his wife over this long-haired phantom, with glittering, deep-set eyes,