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Monty's Friend





The discovery of gold at Thompson's Flat, near the northern boundary of
Montana, had been promptly followed by the expected rush of bold and
needy adventurers. But disappointment awaited them. Undoubtedly there
was gold a few feet below the surface, but it was not found in
quantities sufficient to compensate for the labour, privation, and
danger, which the miners were compelled to undergo.

It is true that the first discoverer of gold, who had given his name to
the Flat, had found a "pocket," which had made him a rich man; but his
luck remained unique, and as Big Simpson sarcastically remarked, "A man
might as well try to find a pocket in a woman's dress as to search for a
second pocket in Thompson's Flat." For eight months of the year the
ground was frozen deep and hard, and during the brief summer the heat
was intense. There were hostile Indians in the vicinity of the camp, and
although little danger was to be apprehended from them while the camp
swarmed with armed miners, there was every probability that they would
sooner or later attack the handful of men who had remained, after the
great majority of the miners had abandoned their claims and gone in
search of more promising fields.

In the early part of the summer following Thompson's discovery of gold
there were but thirty men left in the camp, with only a single combined
grocery and saloon to minister to their wants. Partly because of
obstinacy, and partly because of a want of energy to repeat the
experiment of searching for gold in some other unprofitable place, these
thirty men remained, and daily prosecuted their nearly hopeless search
for fortune. Their evenings were spent in the saloon, but there was a
conspicuous absence of anything like jollity. The men were too poor to
gamble with any zest, and the whiskey of the saloon keeper was bad and
dear.

The one gleam of good fortune which had come to the camp was the fact
that the Indians had disappeared, having, as it was believed, gone
hundreds of miles south to attack another tribe. Gradually the miners
relaxed the precautions which had at first been maintained against an
attack, and although every man went armed to his work, sentinels were no
longer posted either by day or night, and the Gatling gun that had been
bought by public subscription in the prosperous days of the camp
remained in the storeroom of the saloon without ammunition, and with its
mechanism rusty and immovable.

Only one miner had arrived at Thompson's Flat that summer. He was a
middle-aged man who said that his name was Montgomery Carleton--a name
which instantly awoke the resentment of the camp, and was speedily
converted into "Monte Carlo" by the resentful miners, who intimated very
plainly that no man could carry a fifteen-inch name in that camp and
live. Monte Carlo, or Monty, as he was usually called, had the further
distinction of being the ugliest man in the entire north-west. He had,
at some unspecified time, been kicked in the face by a mule, with the
result that his features were converted into a hideous mask. He seemed
to be of a social disposition, and would have joined freely in the
conversation which went on at the saloon, but his advances were coldly
received.

Instead of pitying the man's misfortune, and avoiding all allusion to
it, the miners bluntly informed him that he was too ugly to associate
with gentlemen, and that a modest and retiring attitude was what public
sentiment required of him. Monty took the rebuff quietly, and thereafter
rarely spoke unless he was spoken to. He continued to frequent the
saloon, sitting in the darkest corner, where he smoked his pipe, drank
his solitary whisky, and answered with pathetic pleasure any remark that
might be flung at him, even when it partook of the nature of a coarse
jest at his expense.

One gloomy evening Monty entered the saloon half an hour later than
usual. It had been raining all day, and the spirits of the camp had gone
down with the barometer. The men were more than ever conscious of their
bad luck, and having only themselves to blame for persistently remaining
at Thompson's Flat, were ready to cast the guilt of their folly on the
nearest available scapegoat. Monty was accustomed to entering the room
unnoticed, but on the present occasion he saw that instead of
contemptuously ignoring his presence, the other occupants of the saloon
were unmistakably scowling at him. Scarcely had he made his timid way to
his accustomed seat when Big Simpson said in a loud voice:

"Gentlemen, have you noticed that our luck has been more particularly
low down ever since that there beauty in the corner had the cheek to
sneak in among us?"

"That's so!" exclaimed Slippery Jim. "Monty is ugly enough to spoil the
luck of a blind nigger."

"You see," continued Simpson, "thishyer beauty is like the Apostle
Jonah. While he was aboard ship there wasn't any sort of luck, and at
last the crew took and hove him overboard, and served him right. There's
a mighty lot of wisdom in the Scriptures if you only take hold of 'em in
the right way. My dad was a preacher, and I know what I'm talking
about."

"That's more than the rest of us does," retorted Slippery Jim. "We ain't
no ship's crew and Monty ain't no apostle. If you mean we ought to heave
him into the creek, why don't you say so?"

"It wouldn't do him any harm," replied Simpson. "He's a dirty beast, and
this camp hasn't no call to associate with men that's afraid of water,
except, of course, when it comes to drinking it."

"I'm as clean as any man here," said Monty, stirred for the moment to
indignation. "Mining ain't the cleanest sort of work, and I don't find
no fault with Simpson nor any other man if he happens to carry a little
of his claim around with him."

"That'll do," said Simpson severely. "We don't allow no such cuss as you
to make reflections on gentlemen. We've put up with your ugly mug
altogether too long, and I for one ain't going to do it no longer. What
do you say, gentlemen?" he continued, turning to his companions, "shall
we trifle with our luck, and lower our self-respect any longer by
tolerating the company of that there disreputable, low-down, miserable
coyote? I go for boycotting him. Let him work his own claim and sleep in
his own cabin if he wants to, but don't let him intrude himself into
this saloon or into our society anywhere else."

The proposal met with unanimous approval. The men wanted something on
which to wreak their spite against adverse fortune, and as Monty was
unpopular and friendless he was made the victim. Simpson ordered him to
withdraw from the saloon and never again to enter it at an hour when
other gentlemen were there. "What's more," he added, "you'll not venture
to speak to anybody; and if any gentleman chances to heave a remark at
you you'll answer him at your peril. We're a law-abiding camp, and we
don't want to use violence against no man; but if you don't conform to
the kind and reasonable regulations that I've just mentioned to you,
there'll be a funeral, and you'll be required to furnish the corpse. You
hear me?"

"I hear you," said Monty. "I hear a man what's got no more feelings than
a ledge of quartz rock. What harm have I ever done to any man in the
camp? I know I ain't handsome, but there's some among you that ain't
exactly Pauls and Apolloses. If you don't want me here why don't you
take me and shoot me? It would be a sight kinder and more decent than
the way you say you mean to treat me."

"Better dry up!" said Simpson, warningly. "We don't want none of your
lip. We've had enough of you, and that's all about it."

"I've no more to say," replied Monty, rising and moving to the door.
"If you've had enough of me I've had enough of you. I've been treated
worse than a dog, and I ain't going to lick no man's hand. Good evening,
gentlemen. The day may come when some of you will be ashamed of this
day's work, that is if you've heart enough to be ashamed of anything."

So saying Monty walked slowly out, closing the door ostentatiously
behind him. His departure was greeted by a burst of laughter, and the
cheerfulness of the assembled miners having been restored by the
sacrifice of Monte Carlo, a subdued gaiety once more reigned in the
saloon.

Monty returned to his desolate cabin, and after lighting his candle
threw himself into his bunk. The man was coarse and ignorant, but he was
capable of keenly feeling the insult that had been put upon him. He knew
that he was hideously ugly, but he had never dreamed that the fact would
be made a pretext for thrusting him from the society of his kind.
Strange to say he felt little anger against his persecutors. No thoughts
of revenge came to him as he lay in the silence and loneliness of his
cabin. For the time being the sense of utter isolation crowded out all
other sensations. He felt infinitely more alone when the sound of voices
reached him from the saloon than he would have felt had he been lost in
the great North forest.

Before coming to Thompson's Flat he had lived in one of the large towns
of Michigan, where decent and civilized people had not been ashamed to
associate with him. Here, in this wretched mining camp, a gang of men,
guiltless of washing, foul in language, and brutal in instinct, had
informed him that he was unfit to associate with them. There had never
been any one among the miners for whom he had felt the slightest liking;
but it had been a comfort to exchange an occasional word with a
fellow-being. Now that he was sentenced to complete isolation he felt as
a shipwrecked man feels who has been cast alone on an uninhabited
island. If the men would only retract their sentence of banishment, and
would permit him to sit in his accustomed corner of the saloon he would
not care how coarsely they might insult him--if only he could feel that
his existence was recognized.

But no! There was no hope for him. The men hated him because of his
maimed and distorted face. They despised him, possibly because he did
not permit himself to resent their conduct with his revolver, and thus
give them an excuse for killing him. He could not leave the camp and
make his way without supplies to the nearest civilized community. There
was nothing for him to do but to work his miserable claim, and bear the
immense and awful loneliness of his lot. As Monty thought over the
situation and saw the hopelessness of it, his breath came in quick gasps
until he broke into a sob, and the tears flowed down his scarred and
grimy cheeks.

A low, inquiring mew drew his attention for a moment from his woes. The
camp cat--a ragged, disreputable animal, who owned no master, and
rejected all friendly advances--stood in the door of Monty's cabin, with
an interrogative tail pointing to the zenith and a friendly arch in his
shabby back.

Monty had often tried to make friends with the cat, but Tom had repulsed
him as coldly as the miners themselves. Now in his loneliness the man
was glad to be spoken to, even by the camp cat; and he called it to him,
though without any expectation that the animal would come to him. But
Tom, stalking slowly into the cabin, sprang after a moment's hesitation
into Monty's bunk, and purring loudly in a hoarse voice, as one by whom
the accomplishment of purring had long been neglected, gently and
tentatively licked the man's face, and kneaded his throat with two soft
and caressing paws. A vast sob shook both Monty and the cat. The man put
his arms around the animal, and hugging him closely, kissed his head.
The cat purred louder than ever, and presently laying his head against
Monty's cheek, he drew a long breath and sank into a peaceful slumber.

Monty was himself again. He was no longer alone. Tom, the cat, had come
to him in the hour of his agony and had brought the solace of a love
that did not heed his ugliness. Henceforth he would never be wholly
alone, no matter how strictly the men might enforce their boycott
against him. He no longer cared what they might do or say. He felt the
warm breath of the friendly animal on his cheek. The remnant of its
right ear twitched from time to time and tickled his lip. The long
sinewy paws pressed against his neck trembled nervously, as the cat
dreamed of stalking fat sparrows, or of stealing fried fish. Its hoarse
croupy purr sounded like the sweetest music to the lonely man. "There's
you and me, and me and you, Tom!" said Monty, stroking the cat's ragged
and crumpled fur. "We'll stick together, and neither of us won't care a
cuss what them low-down fellows says or does. You and me'll be all the
world to one another. God bless you forever for coming to me this
night."

From that time onward, Monte Carlo and Tom were the most intimate of
friends. Wherever the man went the cat followed. When he was working in
the shallow trench, where the sparse gold dust was found, Tom sat or
slept on the edge of the trench, and occasionally reminded Monty of the
presence of a friend, by the soft crooning sound which a mother cat
makes to her newborn kittens. The two shared their noon meal together;
and it was said by those who professed to have watched them that the cat
always had the first choice of food, while the man contented himself
with what his comrade rejected. In the evening Monty and Tom sat
together at the door of the cabin, and conversed in low tones of any
subject that happened to interest them for the time being. Monty set
forth his political and social views, and the cat, listening with
attention, mewed assent, or more rarely expressed an opposite opinion by
the short, sharp mew, or an unmistakable oath.

Once or twice a week Monty was compelled to visit the saloon for
groceries and other necessities. He always made these visits when the
men of the camp were working in their claims; and he was invariably
accompanied by Tom, who trotted by his side, and sprang on his shoulder
while he made his purchases. The saloon keeper declared that when once
by accident he gave Monty the wrong change, Tom loudly called his
friend's attention to the error and insisted that it should be
rectified. "That there cat," said the saloon keeper to his assembled
guests on the following evening, "ain't no ordinary cat, for it stands
to reason that if he was he wouldn't chum with Monty. A cat that takes
up with such a pal, and that talks pretty near as well as you or me, or
any other Christian is, according to what I learned at Sunday School,
possessed with the devil. You mark my word, Monty sold his soul to that
pretended cat, and presently he'll be shown a pocket chuck full of
nuggets, and will go home with his ill-gotten gains while we stay here
and starve."

The feeling that there was something uncanny in the relations that
existed between Monte Carlo and the cat gradually spread through the
camp. While no man condescended to speak to the boycotted Monty, a close
watch was kept upon him. Slippery Jim asserted that he had heard Monty
and Tom discuss the characters of nearly every man in the camp, while he
was concealed one evening in the tall grass near Monty's cabin.

"First," said Jim, "Monty asked kind o' careless like, 'What may be your
opinion of that there Big Simpson?' The cat, he just swears sort of
contemptuous, and then Monty says, 'Jest so! That's what I've always
said about him; and I calculated that a cat of your intelligence would
say the same thing.' By and by Monty says, 'What's that you're saying
about Red-haired Dick? You think he'd steal mice from a blind cat, and
then lay it on the dog? Well! my son! I don't say he wouldn't. He's
about as mean as they make 'em, and if I was you I wouldn't trust him
with a last year's bone!' Then they kept on jawing to each other about
this and that, and exchanging views about politics and religion, till
after a while Tom lets out a yowl that sounded as if it was meant for a
big laugh. Monty, he laughed too; and then he says, 'I never thought you
would have noticed it, but that's exactly what Slippery Jim does every
time he gets a chance.'

"I don't know," continued Jim, "what they were referring to, but I do
know that Monty and the cat talk together just as easy as you and me
could talk, and I say that if it's come to this, that we're going to
allow an idiot of a man and a devil of a cat to take away the characters
of respectable gentlemen, we'd better knuckle down and beg Monty to take
charge of this camp and to treat us like so many Injun squaws."

Other miners followed Slippery Jim's example, in watching and listening
to his conversations with the cat, and the indignation against the
animal and his companion grew deep and bitter. It was decided that the
scandal of an ostentatious friendship between a boycotted man and a cat
that was unquestionably possessed by the devil must be ended. The
suggestion that the cat should be shot would undoubtedly have been
carried out, had it not been that Boston, who was a spiritualist,
asserted that the animal could be hit only by a silver bullet. The camp
would gladly have expended a silver bullet in so good a cause, but there
was not a particle of silver in the camp, except what was contained in
two or three silver watches.

After several earnest discussions of the subject it was resolved that
the cat should be hung on a stout witch-hazel bush, growing within a few
yards of Simpson's cabin. It was recognized that hanging was an
eminently proper method of treatment in the case of a cat of such
malevolent character; and as for Monty himself, more than one man openly
said that if he made any trouble about the disposal of the cat, he would
instantly be strung up to a convenient pine tree which stood close to
the witch-hazel bush.

The next morning a committee of six, led by Big Simpson, cautiously
approached the trench in which Monty was working. There was nearly an
eighth of a mile between Monty's claim and those of the other miners.
The latter had taken possession of that part of Thompson's Flat which
seemed to hold out the best promise for gold, and Monty, partly because
of his unprepossessing appearance, had been compelled to content himself
with what was considered to be the least valuable claim in the camp.

The committee made its way through the long coarse grass, which had
sprung up under the fierce heat of summer, and was already as parched
and dry as tinder. They had intended to seize the cat before Monty had
become aware of their presence; and they were somewhat disconcerted when
Monty, with the cat clasped tightly in his arms, came running towards
them. "There's Injuns just over there in the woods," he cried. "Tom
sighted them first, and after he'd called me I looked and see three
devils sneaking along towards your end of the camp. You boys, rush and
get your Winchesters, and I'll be with you in a couple of minutes."

The men did not stop to question the accuracy of Monty's story. They
forgot their designs against the cat, and no longer thought of their
promise to shoot the boycotted man if he ventured to address them. They
ran to their cabins, and seizing their rifles, rallied at the saloon,
which was the only building capable of affording shelter. It was built
of stout logs, and its one door was immensely thick and strong. By
firing through the windows the garrison could keep at bay, at least for
a time, the cautious Indian warriors, who would not charge through the
open, so long as they could harass the miners from the shelter of the
wood.

After Monty had placed his cat in his bunk he took his rifle, and
carefully closing the door of his cabin, joined his late enemies in the
saloon. Several of them nodded genially to him as he entered, and
Simpson, who was arranging the plan of defence, told him to take a
position by one of the rear windows. The men understood perfectly well
that Monty's warning had saved them from a surprise in which they would
have been cruelly massacred. Perhaps they felt somewhat ashamed of their
previous treatment of the man, but they offered no word of apology.

However Monty thought little of their manner. Although he knew that in
all probability the siege would be prolonged until not a single miner
was left alive, his thoughts were not on himself or his companions.
Would the Indians overlook his cabin, or in case they found it, would
they offer violence to Tom? These were the questions that occupied his
mind as he watched through the window for the gleam of a rifle barrel in
the edge of the forest and answered every puff of smoke with an
instantaneous shot from his Winchester. The enemy kept carefully under
cover, and devoted their efforts to firing at the windows of the saloon.
Already three shots had taken effect. Two dead bodies lay on the floor,
and a wounded man sat in the corner, leaning against the wall, and
slowly bleeding to death. Suddenly a cloud of smoke shot up in the
direction of Monty's cabin. The Indians had set fire to the dry grass,
and the flames were sweeping towards the cabin in which the cat was
imprisoned.

Monty took in the situation and came to a decision with the same
swiftness and certainty with which he pulled the trigger. "You'll have
to excuse me, boys, for a few minutes," he said, rising from his
crouched attitude and throwing his rifle into the hollow of his arm.

"What's the matter with you?" growled Simpson. "Have you turned coward
all of a sudden, or are you thinking of scaring the Injuns by giving
them a sight of your countenance?"

"That there cabin of mine will be blazing inside of five minutes, and
I've left Tom in it with the door fastened," replied Monty, ignoring the
insulting suggestions of Simpson, and beginning to unbar the door.

"Here! Come back, you blamed lunatic!" roared Simpson. "Do you call
yourself a white man, and then throw your life away for a measly,
rascally cat?"

"I am going to help my friend if I kin," said Monty. "He stood by me
when thishyer camp throwed me over, and I'll stand by him now he's in
trouble."

So saying he quietly passed out and vanished from the sight of the
astonished miners.

"I told you," said Slippery Jim, "that Monty was bewitched by that there
cat. Who ever heard of a man that was a man who cared whether a cat got
burned to death or not?"

"You shut up!" exclaimed Simpson. "You haven't got sand enough to stand
by your own brother--let alone standing by a cat."

"What's the matter with you?" retorted Jim. "You was the one who
proposed boycotting Monty, and now you're talking as if he was a tin
saint on wheels."

"Monty's acted like a man in this business," replied Simpson, "and it's
my opinion that we've all treated him pretty particular mean. If we pull
through this scrimmage Monty's my friend, and don't you forget it."

Monte Carlo lost none of his habitual caution, although he was engaged
in what he knew to be a desperate and nearly hopeless enterprise. On
leaving the saloon he threw himself flat on the ground, and slowly drew
himself along until he reached the shelter of the high grass. Then
rising to his hands and knees he crept rapidly and steadily in the
direction of his cabin.

His course soon brought him between the fire of the miners and that of
the Indians, but as neither could see him he fancied he was safe for the
moment. He was drawing steadily closer to his goal, and was already
beginning to feel the thrill of success, when a sharp blow on the right
knee brought him headlong to the ground. A stray shot, fired possibly by
some nervous miner who had taken his place at the saloon window, had
struck him and smashed his leg.

He could no longer creep on his hands and knees, but with indomitable
resolution he dragged himself onward by clutching at the strong roots of
the grass. His disabled leg gave him exquisite pain as it trailed behind
him, and he knew that the wound was bleeding freely; but he still hoped
to reach his cabin before faintness or death should put a stop to his
progress. He felt sure that the shot which had struck him had not been
aimed at him by an Indian, for if it had been he would already have felt
the scalping knife. The nearer he drew to his cabin the less danger
there was that the Indians would perceive him. If he could only endure
the pain and the hemorrhage a few minutes longer he could reach and push
open the door of his cabin, and give his imprisoned friend a chance for
life. He dragged himself on with unfaltering resolution, and with his
silent lips closed tightly. Not a groan nor a curse nor a prayer escaped
him. He stuck to his task with the grim fortitude of the wolf who gnaws
his leg free from the trap. All his thoughts and all his fast-vanishing
strength were concentrated on the effort to save the creature that had
loved him.

After an eternity of anguish he reached the open space in front of the
cabin, where the thick smoke hid him completely from the sight of both
friends and foes. The flames had just caught the roof, and the heat was
so intense that for an instant it made him forget the pain of his wound,
as his choked lungs gasped for air. The wail of the frightened animal
within the cabin gave him new energy. Digging his fingers into the
ground he dragged himself across the few yards that separated him from
the door. He reached it at last, pushed it open, and with a smile on his
face lost consciousness as the cat bounded out and fled like a mad
creature into the grass.

Two hours later a troop of Mounted Police, who had illegally and
generously crossed the border in time to drive off the Indians and to
rescue the few surviving members of the camp, found, close to the
smouldering embers of Monty's cabin, a scorched and blackened corpse, by
the side of which sat a bristling black cat. The animal ceased to lick
the maimed features of the dead man, and turned fiercely on the
approaching troopers. When one of them dismounted and attempted to touch
the corpse the cat flew at him with such fury that he hurriedly
remounted his horse, amid the jeers of his comrades. The cat resumed the
effort to recall the dead man to life with its rough caresses, and the
men sat silently in their saddles watching the strange sight.

"We can't bury the man without first shooting the cat," said one of the
troopers.

"Then we'll let him lie," said the sergeant in command. "We can stop
here on our way back from the Fort, and maybe by that time the cat'll
listen to reason. I'd as soon shoot my best friend as shoot the poor
beast now."

And the troop passed on, leaving Tom alone in the wilderness with his
silent friend.

WILLIAM LIVINGSTON ALDEN.





Next: The Queen's Cat

Previous: A Friendly Rat



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