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.





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