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Title:  The Finish
Author: Rex Beach
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Language: English
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The Finish
As The Bridegroom Told It

by
Rex Beach

The Saturday Evening Post, May 28, 1904
Illustrated by Martin Justice

“KINK” MARTIN’S Odyssey is neither epical nor of record, yet the snatches I had gleaned at camp-fire and round-up interested me demoralizingly. Now, after two years, I came upon him again, crowding the edge of the frontier, pioneer by habit, pirate by instinct; lax of morals, lusty of heart.

I had walked the eight miles from camp, hoping, yet doubting, that this Diogenes Martin, Paragon, was my old pal of the vagabond days. It was so, but I marked a great change in the man. Reminiscence is dear to my heart, however, and I spoke of the past.

“Say, do you remember that salted mine in Sonora, that time we took—”

He interrupted me hastily, flushing a painful red, and shifting uneasy glances at the Jap cook.

“Come on outside in the sun,” he said awkwardly; “I can talk better in the open,” and I followed, marveling, to a seat where below us stretched the gravelly creek-bed, ripped and furrowed by the sluices. There floated to us softly the rush of waters, the rattle of pick and shovel, and the bountiful language of men in a tail-race.

“Say, don’t mention them old days in company,” he began. “You know I’m respectable now.” He paused, and I knew that within him was the telling of a strange tale —removed, perhaps, from the paths of propriety, but true, and as I listened it grew upon me that morals are mainly a matter of latitude and longitude, anyway.

I felt that he lacked the ancient rippling depravity, seeming burdened by a shamed and hesitating rectitude.

“I was run out by rats,” said he. “Yes, sir, they run me from Kansas to ’Frisco, and then off the map—so I came to Alaska.”

“You’re safe here,” I remarked; “there aren’t any in this country.”

“There wasn’t any back there, either: that was the trouble. You see, me and a man misdignified by the appellation of Percival Pillie evolved something unique in the way of procuring the ‘panga,’”

“What?”

“‘Mazuma,’ money. This here Pillie don’t act like he sounds—not largely. He’s been affiliated with colleges, horse-racin’ and patent-medicine shows till he’s infested and overrun with poetry, politeness and peculiar modes of gettin’ the goods. He’s united to the idea that the Pillie family lost all the money in the world and folks are forcin’ it back on him as legatee. His gray pulp ain’t never curdled on him yet, and he realized about this date that rats afforded a virgin field of profit, unsullied by the touch of commerce; hence the Pillie Patent Rat Eradicator.

“It comprised a piece of atmosphere surrounded by wire in such proportions that once havin’ blindfolded and backed a rat into it he’d stay there; otherwise, its ingenuities wasn’t much. We made up a wagon load of ’em, also a zinc tank that fitted the bed of my covered wagon, and hit the trail out into the ruralities—at least, I did. Pillie was a week ahead sellin’ cologne, lightnin’ rods, and Happy Hints to the Housewife, in calf, five volumes, includin’ one ladies’ solid chased gold watch—that is, the watches was solid, clean through, and Pillie was chased quite frequent.

“Here was our Moody-operandus: Pill traveled on schedule. At a foreordained spot our routes intersected, so ’bout dark I’d drive up in my prairie schooner to the farmhouse where he stabled his sample-case, and camp in the road out front. After supper Percy and the farmer would wander forth and into conversations with me, during which symposium Pillie would make sarcastic allusions at my rat-traps.

“I would claim it was an invention that seduced sick rats out of bed and into captivity; no matter what strength of character they had my trap would go out an’ get ’em. Such statements connived to aggravate acute incredulities in Pillie, complicated with controversy, and infectious to the hay-digger.

“I’d offer demonstration, also the laying on of wagers; the farmer would claim a foul, because he’d never seen a rat on the ranch, and didn’t like me to get the worst of a bet. I’d state that absence made the trap work stronger, and if there wasn’t any rats on hand it would breed ’em. I assured ’em, however, that rats was omnipresent, like mortgages.

“We’d place some traps in the barn and go to sleep, with the money in the old man’s hands.

“It was a nickel-plated scheme, all right — all I kicked on was havin’ my rest broke by gettin’ up at midnight to fill the traps with nice live rats out of the zinc tank in the wagon.

“We had no trouble sellin’ all the eradicators we cared about on a small margin—say five hundred percent.; but that was too measly slow, so we put the patent on the market.

“Pillie would conspire with the farmer to take advantage of my ignorance and “job” me out of the patent; they’d go in on halves. Patents brought from two hundred up, accordin’ to Pillie’s ideas of what the man had —we let her go once for twenty dollars, as a mark of affection for a friend. We didn’t care much what we got as long as we sold enough of ’em; there was patents for everybody.

“Other drawbacks was the long drives after a deal, and our inability to work the same territory twice. We did good, legitimate business, though, gettin’ ahead slowly, till we sold a man whose brother, back at Fort Scott, had bought the patent a month before.

“It transpired that Pillie’s Patent Rat Eradicator had a patentee in seventeen adjoining counties, and so, as I stated, I came West. The rat odor stuck to me, however. I was ratified so thorough I found it advisable to keep moving.

“One day I recognized the sheriff of Fort Scott on the street, and as there was only one steamer leaving ’Frisco that afternoon I happened into Alaska. I’d have preferred Honolulu. There’s inspiring openings for high-class Christian graft among the Kanakas,”

Kink’s eyes gleamed with the fire of rhapsody.

He bore on his person the unmistakable marks of prosperity. They showed in the neatness of his open-necked flannel shirt and the splendor of his wide, wide Stetson, He displayed no wealth of fringed “chaps” and ornate spurs, as of old, for in the mud country hip-boots are ubiquitous; but his thighs were brown in corduroy, unfailing symptom of success.

“You look like a winner,” I remarked,

“Ain’t you heard about me? No? Well, say, I’m a Swede for luck. It was this way: You know, stowaways ain’t generally overburdened with financial resource, and when I was drug out of the hold of that ship they put me to work as cabin-boy, makin’ beds, Lord! me, thirty-five years young, jugglin’ sheets, when all I know along them lines is beddin’ down horses and the ‘cowboy tuck.’ Ever try the ‘cowboy tuck’? You and your bunky lay flat on your backs; when you count three you lift your legs up high and lower ’em together, so the blanket folds underneath your feet.

“Well, amongst my clienteel was a sad eyed little woman that I took a shine to.

“‘Madam,’ says I one day, speakin’ through the environments of a nude feather pillow I had between my teeth, ‘I’m only a workin’ girl, but in spite of the difference in our stations I want to say that if you’re in trouble and need a friend just push that button once and you’ll have two hundred-weight of gristle and cow-puncher at your service. Don’t ring twice; that means ice water.’

‘‘Say! she broke down and told me a pitiful story, how she’d put all her money in a minin’ scheme of one Abramski. The thief claimed he had a lot of rich ground at Nome and had organized The Promised Land Placer and Prospecting Company, gettin’ her in on the ground floor, or through the basement window. At the last minute she decided to come along on her own account for fear she’d be buncoed, and she’d just begun to see indications that her aspirations was goin’ to be realized. I’d have coppered her investment myself, because I was sure Abramski hadn’t ever been as close to Alaska as he was at that minute.

“I was sure of it, too, when we landed, but I helped her pitch her tent and get settled. Then I took a pasear out into the hills prospecting, I was gone a week, and when I got back I was handicapped with two dollars in currency and the kind of an appetite you remember as a boy: one that makes brass filings taste like a breakfast food. I investigated the odors emanatin’ from the North Star restaurant till I decided to get rid of all this money, so as to start fresh and unhampered. I took a private box, and ordered a double sirloin, with fittings complete, ready for installation,

“As I was diminishin’ my last visible means of support, under a pressure of about three pounds to the square mouthful, two Swedes come into the next box and ordered supper. From their talk I knew there was something big in the air. One of them was too excited to pronunciate; just gummed his language up and snowballed his partner with it.

“I gathered that they’d been out prospecting and struck it rich, on located ground. They’d looked up the records, and found the claim belonged to a Riley Murtagh, so now they were scourin’ the camp to hand him a mess of potash for his birthright, if you choose to look at it scripturally. Neither one knew him by sight.

“I recalled the poet’s words, ‘There is a knot tied in the affairs of men which taken in time saves nine,’ and I thinks: ‘Kink, you’re a blamed idiot to go bustin’ over the hills for gold when kind Swedes bring it to you at meals.’ After I’d got my two dollars loaded F. O. B. I stepped out and accosts the cashier. He was a little Irishman with pugnacities enrolled amongst his facial habiliments:

“‘Those Laplanders in the next box have been castin’ aspersions at me, not knowing I could hear,’ says I. ‘In the interest of Ireland and the Marquis of Queensberry rules would you mind introducin’ me when they come out? My name is Riley Murtagh.’

“‘Sure not,’ says he. ‘Tis a graand name. You take your choice, leavin’ me the little one.’ He began appropriatin’ munitions of war in the nature of cups and crockery. ‘Put some in your pockets,’ says he; ‘they’ll come handy.’

“When they appeared he remarks, full of insultments:

“Hey, Riley Murtagh, it’s the fine job for an Irishman I have, takin’ money away from Swedes.’

“‘Is your name Murtagh?’ says one of ’em in the disembowled dialects of Sweden.

“‘It is,’ says the cashier; ‘Riley Murtagh, me old friend.’

“‘Then come with us,’ and out we went, leavin’ my sponsor burdened with bile and ballasted with dishes.

“After considerable elocution on weather and prospects one of ’em says:

“‘Have you got any mining claims?’

“‘Sure! lots of ’em.’

“‘Where ’bouts?’

“I named over several creeks.

“‘Got anything on Glacier Creek you’d like to sell?’

“‘Aha,’ thinks I; ‘it’s on Glacier, eh?’

“‘Yes, I’ll sell.’

“‘How much do you want?’

“‘Hundred.’ says I.

“I thought he’d tear his pants gettin’ the money. After he’d counted out ten banknotes I says:

“‘Where’s the balance: the other ninety-nine thousand one hundred?’

“‘What d’ you mean?’ They got excited, and their language began to sour on ’em again like clabber.

“‘Why, a hundred thousand dollars, of course,’ I says.

“They went up in the air so that I had to stand on a chair and hook ’em down with the poker.

“‘See here, gents,’ says I, ‘you can’t flim-flam Riley Murtagh. I was in the next box to you in the restaurant to-night, and heard all you said. Now, give me the full particulars and maybe I’ll let you have a “lay” on the claim.’

“They were pretty decent when they saw it was all off, and took me into a back room. I came out of there a half-hour later, my knees weak as the fold in a napkin, and my optics protrudin’ like the Aunt-Annie’s of a crab. It was big—so big it scared me and made me sick, sick at the spot I’d squandered the two dollars on.

“I wabbled down street and claimed sanctuary in Joe Deacon’s place, leanin’ agin’ the bar pale and disfiggered.

“‘Joe,’ says I, ‘do you know a Riley Murtagh?’

“‘Sure! that’s him now,’ indicatin’ the sweeper, who was wettin’ down the sawdust an the floor.

“‘Mr. Murtagh,’ says I. ‘I see a location notice of yours up on Glacier Creek the other day. I’m a tenderfoot lookin’ for a place to prospect, What’ll you take for your claim?’

“‘Thousan’ dollars.’

“‘You must be injured to the head.’ says I. ‘I’ll give you five hundred.’

“‘Take you! Cash deal, of course?’

“‘Why, cert.,’ says I, fingerin’ a brass key, all I had in the world. ‘Pay you this evenin’. Just give me an option till dark.’

“‘Op—nothin’.’ says he; ‘money don’t talk with me—it shouts. This sellin’ claims on conversation money don’t tickle my funnybone. If nobody else takes her first she’s yours.’

“Realizin’ the situation offered opportunities for reflection, I took a walk. First thing I knew I’d landed at the little lady’s tent. She was full of homesickness and joy at seein’ me.

“‘I’m going to fail,’ she says, her lip trembling, and little rainstorms comin’ into her vision. ‘Mr. Abramski laughs at me. He says he’s forgotten what he did with his mine; thinks he must have misplaced them—now he’s going to buy a town lot and build a drygoods store. I’ll never get my money back. I know it.’ She had cold feet right.

“‘Don’t worry; I’ll take you in partners with me,’ says I. ‘You’re in on all I’ve got little pal.’ If she’d a’ called me I’d been forced to give her half my clothes. ‘I’m goin’ to close a big deal to-night,’ says I, kind of sang fraudulently, and before leavin’ I’d hot-aired her spirits up considerable.

“I went back to Deacons.

“‘Joe, have you got a town lot?’

“‘Sure! the one next door.’

‘“Let me borrow it this afternoon, will you? There’s a Jew up street with a roll that pains him like a bad tooth. I won’t hurt the lot.’

“‘Go to it.’ says he with animations. ‘Bury him deep enough so I won’t be bothered, that’s all.’

“Well. Abramski didn’t remember me, and I had no difficulty sellin’ him the lot, also three thousand feet of Oregon Pine, for six hundred cash. We examined the records to see everything was straight. It was—‘Lot thirteen, block C, Front Street, Joseph O Donnell Deacon, locator’—my name.

“I paid Murtagh at three o’clock, with a hundred to the good.

“‘Look a-here.’ said Deacon when I’d explained the lot transaction. ‘The Jew is legitimate prey, of course, and I don’t object to lettin’ him own the ground for a while to help you, but I don’t want him sawin’ up them boards.’

“‘Enough said!’ says I, so after dark I packs the lumber around back of Joe’s saloon, and piles it up.

“‘Next morning, before day, I’m hittin’ the trail to Glacier Creek, incumbered with a bill of sale of The Honest Injun bench claim, likewise a pick, pan and shovel. As I pass the lady’s tent I yells:

“I’m off for our mine, partner. You’ll find two twenties and a ten under the door — your share of the first cleanup.’

“Have you ever made a strike, kid? It’s a wonderful sensation, dreamy and Edmond Danteslike. I’d been so wrapped up in financiering the enterprise I hadn’t rightly allowed my realizations to soak in, but as I got close to the claim my courage oozed out of me. I had to button my suspenders to my spirits to keep ’em up; I was the Heavy-Hearted Kid.

“‘It’s a fake,’ I kept sayin’, prepared for a disappointment. ‘Fortune ain’t addicted to favorin’ the upright this way; some scoundrelly Swede’ll get the goods while the honest miner works his hands to the bone tradin’ real estate, and grows moral callouses toting lumber.’

“I found the Swedes’ shaft all right, and give up hope. It wasn’t five foot deep, and consisted of poverty-stricken red dirt, lookin’ like the ground blushed for me. Anybody that had placer mined a minute could tell that gold had more self-respect than to be incriminated in such a layout. I didn’t need to pan it for a test.

“Says I, ‘By diggin’ two feet more off of one end it’ll be big enough to bury ’em both. If I ain’t a successful miner I’m a terrible bit as a grave-digger.’ and I commenced the visible indications of a double Swede funeral.

“I was pickin’ away close to the bed-rock when something gleamed in the dirt. It’s a sensation you don’t get but once in a lifetime, and I knew I was a rich man before I had grabbed the dirt up. The colors lay in the clay like currants in a pudding. After I’d jabbed the pick in my foot to see I wasn’t somnambalatin’ I stood shoulder deep in that hole and swore, while the sweat dreened off of me in little freshets.

“My excitements had sort of coagulated when I got back to town, and I was ready for business when I see Abramski make a run at me with a weapon in his hand. He’d found out about the lot, and ran amuck. It was a shiny little popgun he’d borrowed, and bein’ a hammerless it didn’t discommode his epiglottis like a real gun would when I rammed it down his throat.

“I pinned him agin’ a door, mellering up his Adam’s apple, and inserted my knee amongst his dyspepsia kind of casual. At the same time I explained I was Miss Walling’s attorney in fact and fiction, and had took a change of venue with her investments, liquidatin’ her stock in The Promised Land Placer and Prospecting Company, investin’ it for a half interest in The Honest Injun bench claim instead. I said that if he wanted to make trouble I’d get her permission to nail his hide up on the wall and let the sun dry it. Strange how domesticated he got; due in part, perhaps, to a diet of Smith and Wesson.

“That’s how the play came up,” said Kink, “The Honest Injun, as you see, is workin’ night and day, a livin’ example of merited success and the application of modern methods.” He indicated the rows of laboring men beneath us.

As he ceased speaking he consulted a huge silver watch.

“I’m goin’ to meet the little lady in town at three o’clock; then we’re goin’ to select a diamond the size of a mud-turtle. If you’re here Saturday I’d like you to stand up with me and give me away. First time I was ever married, and I get took with gooseflesh horrible every time I think of it.”

I squeezed his brown hand, and he added with a strain of anxiety;

“You needn’t mind tellin’ her the biography of this deal, nor anything about the old days on the range. She’s from Boston, you know—back where my mother come from — and she thinks I’m decent. Somehow I feel different about rat-trapping the American farmer and such things now. I ain’t proud of myself, and if she ever found it out—” His big face burned redly under its tan.

“She’s romantic, too; she’s changed the name of The Honest Injun to The White Knight in my honor. Do you s’pose anybody could have told her about my old habit of turning night into daytime? She’s got a sign nailed over the bunk-house yonder, too, with this motto: Sans père and sans reproche, which I gather means without father or mother—you see, we’re both orphans.”


THE END

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