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The Strange Experience Of Alkali Dick
by [?]

He was a “cowboy.” A reckless and dashing rider, yet mindful of his horse’s needs; good-humored by nature, but quick in quarrel; independent of circumstance, yet shy and sensitive of opinion; abstemious by education and general habit, yet intemperate in amusement; self-centred, yet possessed of a childish vanity,–taken altogether, a characteristic product of the Western plains, which he never should have left.

But reckless adventure after adventure had brought him into difficulties, from which there was only one equally adventurous escape: he joined a company of Indians engaged by Buffalo Bill to simulate before civilized communities the sports and customs of the uncivilized. In divers Christian arenas of the nineteenth century he rode as a northern barbarian of the first might have disported before the Roman populace, but harmlessly, of his own free will, and of some little profit to himself. He threw his lasso under the curious eyes of languid men and women of the world, eager for some new sensation, with admiring plaudits from them and a half contemptuous egotism of his own. But outside of the arena he was lonely, lost, and impatient for excitement.

An ingenious attempt to “paint the town red” did not commend itself as a spectacle to the householders who lived in the vicinity of Earl’s Court, London, and Alkali Dick was haled before a respectable magistrate by a serious policeman, and fined as if he had been only a drunken coster. A later attempt at Paris to “incarnadine” the neighborhood of the Champs de Mars, and “round up” a number of boulevardiers, met with a more disastrous result,–the gleam of steel from mounted gendarmes, and a mandate to his employers.

So it came that one night, after the conclusion of the performance, Alkali Dick rode out of the corral gate of the Hippodrome with his last week’s salary in his pocket and an imprecation on his lips. He had shaken the sawdust of the sham arena from his high, tight-fitting boots; he would shake off the white dust of France, and the effeminate soil of all Europe also, and embark at once for his own country and the Far West!

A more practical and experienced man would have sold his horse at the nearest market and taken train to Havre, but Alkali Dick felt himself incomplete on terra firma without his mustang,–it would be hard enough to part from it on embarking,–and he had determined to ride to the seaport.

The spectacle of a lithe horseman, clad in a Rembrandt sombrero, velvet jacket, turnover collar, almost Van Dyke in its proportions, white trousers and high boots, with long curling hair falling over his shoulders, and a pointed beard and mustache, was a picturesque one, but still not a novelty to the late-supping Parisians who looked up under the midnight gas as he passed, and only recognized one of those men whom Paris had agreed to designate as “Booflo-bils,” going home.

At three o’clock he pulled up at a wayside cabaret, preferring it to the publicity of a larger hotel, and lay there till morning. The slight consternation of the cabaret-keeper and his wife over this long-haired phantom, with glittering, deep-set eyes, was soothed by a royally-flung gold coin, and a few words of French slang picked up in the arena, which, with the name of Havre, comprised Dick’s whole knowledge of the language. But he was touched with their ready and intelligent comprehension of his needs, and their genial if not so comprehensive loquacity. Luckily for his quick temper, he did not know that they had taken him for a traveling quack-doctor going to the Fair of Yvetot, and that madame had been on the point of asking him for a magic balsam to prevent migraine.

He was up betimes and away, giving a wide berth to the larger towns; taking byways and cut-offs, yet always with the Western pathfinder’s instinct, even among these alien, poplar-haunted plains, low-banked willow-fringed rivers, and cloverless meadows. The white sun shining everywhere,–on dazzling arbors, summer-houses, and trellises; on light green vines and delicate pea-rows; on the white trousers, jackets, and shoes of smart shopkeepers or holiday makers; on the white headdresses of nurses and the white-winged caps of the Sisters of St. Vincent,–all this grew monotonous to this native of still more monotonous wastes. The long, black shadows of short, blue-skirted, sabotted women and short, blue-bloused, sabotted men slowly working in the fields, with slow oxen, or still slower heavy Norman horses; the same horses gayly bedecked, dragging slowly not only heavy wagons, but their own apparently more monstrous weight over the white road, fretted his nervous Western energy, and made him impatient to get on.