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The Girl Who Got Rattled
by [?]

This is one of the stories of Alfred. There are many of them still floating around the West, for Alfred was in his time very well known. He was a little man, and he was bashful. That is the most that can be said against him; but he was very little and very bashful. When on horseback his legs hardly reached the lower body-line of his mount, and only his extreme agility enabled him to get on successfully. When on foot, strangers were inclined to call him “sonny.” In company he never advanced an opinion. If things did not go according to his ideas, he reconstructed the ideas, and made the best of it–only he could make the most efficient best of the poorest ideas of any man on the plains. His attitude was a perpetual sidling apology. It has been said that Alfred killed his men diffidently, without enthusiasm, as though loth to take the responsibility, and this in the pioneer days on the plains was either frivolous affectation, or else–Alfred. With women he was lost. Men would have staked their last ounce of dust at odds that he had never in his life made a definite assertion of fact to one of the opposite sex. When it became absolutely necessary to change a woman’s preconceived notions as to what she should do–as, for instance, discouraging her riding through quicksand–he would persuade somebody else to issue the advice. And he would cower in the background blushing his absurd little blushes at his second-hand temerity. Add to this narrow, sloping shoulders, a soft voice, and a diminutive pink-and-white face.

But Alfred could read the prairie like a book. He could ride anything, shoot accurately, was at heart afraid of nothing, and could fight like a little catamount when occasion for it really arose. Among those who knew, Alfred was considered one of the best scouts on the plains. That is why Caldwell, the capitalist, engaged him when he took his daughter out to Deadwood.

Miss Caldwell was determined to go to Deadwood. A limited experience of the lady’s sort, where they have wooden floors to the tents, towels to the tent-poles, and expert cooks to the delectation of the campers, had convinced her that “roughing it” was her favorite recreation. So, of course, Caldwell senior had, sooner or later, to take her across the plains on his annual trip. This was at the time when wagon-trains went by way of Pierre on the north, and the South Fork on the south. Incidental Indians, of homicidal tendencies and undeveloped ideas as to the propriety of doing what they were told, made things interesting occasionally, but not often. There was really no danger to a good-sized train.

The daughter had a fiance named Allen who liked roughing it, too; so he went along. He and Miss Caldwell rigged themselves out bountifully, and prepared to enjoy the trip.

At Pierre the train of eight wagons was made up, and they were joined by Alfred and Billy Knapp. These two men were interesting, but tyrannical on one or two points–such as getting out of sight of the train, for instance. They were also deficient in reasons for their tyranny. The young people chafed, and, finding Billy Knapp either imperturbable or thick-skinned, they turned their attention to Alfred. Allen annoyed Alfred, and Miss Caldwell thoughtlessly approved of Allen. Between them they succeeded often in shocking fearfully all the little man’s finer sensibilities. If it had been a question of Allen alone, the annoyance would soon have ceased. Alfred would simply have bashfully killed him. But because of his innate courtesy, which so saturated him that his philosophy of life was thoroughly tinged by it, he was silent and inactive.

There is a great deal to recommend a plains journey at first. Later, there is nothing at all to recommend it. It has the same monotony as a voyage at sea, only there is less living room, and, instead of being carried, you must progress to a great extent by your own volition. Also the food is coarse, the water poor, and you cannot bathe. To a plainsman, or a man who has the instinct, these things are as nothing in comparison with the charm of the outdoor life, and the pleasing tingling of adventure. But woman is a creature wedded to comfort. She also has a strange instinctive desire to be entirely alone every once in a while, probably because her experiences, while not less numerous than man’s, are mainly psychical, and she needs occasionally time to get “thought up to date.” So Miss Caldwell began to get very impatient.