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Hugh McVey left the town of Mudcat Landing in early September of the year
eighteen eighty-six. He was then twenty years old and was six feet and four
inches tall. The whole upper part of his body was immensely strong but his long
legs were ungainly and lifeless. He secured a pass from the railroad company
that had employed him, and rode north along the river in the night train until he
came to a large town named Burlington in the State of Iowa. There a bridge went
over the river, and the railroad tracks joined those of a trunk line and ran
eastward toward Chicago; but Hugh did not continue his journey on that night.
Getting off the train he went to a nearby hotel and took a room for the night.
It was a cool clear evening and Hugh was restless. The town of Burlington, a
prosperous place in the midst of a rich farming country, overwhelmed him with its
stir and bustle. For the first time he saw brick-paved streets and streets lighted
with lamps. Although it was nearly ten o'clock at night when he arrived, people
still walked about in the streets and many stores were open.
The hotel where he had taken a room faced the railroad tracks and stood at the
corner of a brightly lighted street. When he had been shown to his room Hugh sat
for a half hour by an open window, and then as he could not sleep, decided to go
for a walk. For a time he walked in the streets where the people stood about
before the doors of the stores but, as his tall figure attracted attention and he felt
people staring at him, he went presently into a side street.
In a few minutes he became utterly lost. He went through what seemed to him
miles of streets lined with frame and brick houses, and occasionally passed
people, but was too timid and embarrassed to ask his way. The street climbed
upward and after a time he got into open country and followed a road that ran
along a cliff overlooking the Mississippi River. The night was clear and the sky
brilliant with stars. In the open, away from the multitude of houses, he no longer
felt awkward and afraid, and went cheerfully along. After a time he stopped and
stood facing the river. Standing on a high cliff and with a grove of trees at his
back, the stars seemed to have all gathered in the eastern sky. Below him the
water of the river reflected the stars. They seemed to be making a pathway for
him into the East.
The tall Missouri countryman sat down on a log near the edge of the cliff and
tried to see the water in the river below. Nothing was visible but a bed of stars
that danced and twinkled in the darkness. He had made his way to a place far
above the railroad bridge, but presently a through passenger train from the West
passed over it and the lights of the train looked also like stars, stars that moved
and beckoned and that seemed to fly like flocks of birds out of the West into the
For several hours Hugh sat on the log in the darkness. He decided that it was
hopeless for him to find his way back to the hotel, and was glad of the excuse for
staying abroad. His body for the first time in his life felt light and strong and his
mind was feverishly awake. A buggy in which sat a young man and woman went
along the road at his back, and after the voices had died away silence came,