The Duke of Chimney Butte
The Duke of Chimney Butte
Chapter 1 THE ALL-IN-ONE
Down through the Bad Lands the Little Missouri comes in long windings, white, from a distance, as a frozen river between the ash-gray hills. At its margin there are willows; on the small forelands, which flood in June when the mountain waters are released, cottonwoods grow, leaning toward the southwest like captives straining in their bonds, yearning in their way for the sun and winds of kinder latitudes.
Rain comes to that land but seldom in the summer days; in winter the wind sweeps the snow into rocky cañons; buttes, with tops leveled by the drift of the old, earth-making days, break the weary repetition of hill beyond hill.
But to people who dwell in a land a long time and go about the business of getting a living out of what it has to offer, its wonders are no longer notable, its hardships no longer peculiar. So it was with the people who lived in the Bad Lands at the time that we come among them on the vehicle of this tale. To them it was only an ordinary country of toil and disappointment, or of opportunity and profit, according to their station and success.
To Jeremiah Lambert it seemed the land of hopelessness, the last boundary of utter defeat as he labored over the uneven road at the end of a blistering summer day, trundling his bicycle at his side. There was a suit-case strapped to the handlebar of the bicycle, and in that receptacle were the wares which this guileless peddler had come into that land to sell. He had set out from Omaha full of enthusiasm and youthful vigor, incited to the utmost degree of vending fervor by the representations of the general agent for the little instrument which had been the stepping-stone to greater things for many an ambitious young man.
According to the agent, Lambert reflected, as he pushed his punctured, lop-wheeled, disordered, and dejected bicycle along; there had been none of the ambitious business climbers at hand to add his testimony to the general agent's word.
Anyway, he had taken the agency, and the agent had taken his essential twenty-two dollars and turned over to him one hundred of those notable ladders to future greatness and affluence. Lambert had them there in his imitation-leather suit-case-from which the rain had taken the last deceptive gloss-minus seven which he had sold in the course of fifteen days.
In those fifteen days Lambert had traveled five hundred miles, by the power of his own sturdy legs, by the grace of his bicycle, which had held up until this day without protest over the long, sandy, rocky, dismal roads, and he had lived on less than a gopher, day taken by day.
Housekeepers were not pining for the combination potato-parer, apple-corer, can-opener, tack-puller, known as the "All-in-One" in any reasonable proportion.
It did not go. Indisputably it was a good thing, and well built, and finished like two dollars' worth of cutlery. The selling price, retail, was one dollar, and it looked to an unsophisticated young graduate of an agricultural college to be a better opening toward independence and the foundation of a farm than a job in the hay fields. A man must make his start somewhere, and the farther away from competition the better his chance.
This country to which the general agent had sent him was becoming more and more sparsely settled. The chances were stretching out against him with every mile. The farther into that country he should go the smaller would become the need for that marvelous labor-saving invention.
Lambert had passed the last house before noon, when his sixty-five-pound bicycle had suffered a punctured tire, and there had bargained with a Scotch woman at the greasy kitchen door with the smell of curing sheepskins in it for his dinner. It took a good while to convince the woman that the All-in-One was worth it, but she yielded out of pity for his hungry state.