From the Juvenile Instructor, January 1909 –
My brother and I had been spending our summer vacation in a little town high up in the Uintah Mountains, and now that the summer was over, we were returning to our winter’s work in the city. Between us and the railway station lay a stretch of one hundred and twenty miles of desert country, with no signs of life except a lonely ranch house here and there along the way; and near the point where the Duchesne and Uintah rivers joined their waters stood a military fort, where Uncle Sam kept a company of soldiers to guard the wretched remnant of a once mighty Indian nation.
With a great show of cheerfulness we were far from feeling, my brother and I turned our backs on the pretty little village in the mountains. The road was rough, and the scenery uninteresting, so we drove along in almost absolute silence.
After about three hours we saw a man trudging along in the sand ahead of us.
“Surely,” said I, “there is no one insane enough to start walking over such a road.”
“It appears so,” said my brother.
We soon overtook the pedestrian, and as we passed him, he looked up at us out of a pair of the handsomest black eyes I ever saw. I was struck by his youth and rather unusual appearance; he seemed not more than twenty-one years of age, and though his clothes were threadbare, they were neat and well fitted.
What a handsome boy,” I said. “What can he be doing here? Oughtn’t we to try and find out something about him? He probably knows nothing about the country ahead of him.”
“Captured by a handsome pair of eyes as usual,” laughed my brother, who knew my weaknesses. Nevertheless he drew up the horses and waited until the boy came up.
“Are you afoot over the road, friend?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” answered the boy, looking up at us somewhat defiantly.
“There’s room up here if you care to ride with us,” said my brother.
The lad’s expression changed to one of sheer surprise, then flushing with pleasure and stammering something about our kindness he climbed into the rig.
From behind the shelter of my thick veil I looked hard at the stranger; he was certainly worth looking at, with a figure lithe and well proportioned, a face almost classic in the regularity of its lines. The skin was a pale olive, with a deep tinge of red in the cheeks; his hair was a very dark brown, and wavy; but his eyes baffle description, they were large and black with an expression indescribable. When looking at them one felt that young as he appeared, the boy had a history.
My brother entered into conversation with him, and we soon learned that he was a miner from Colorado, who, though not a striker, had been thrown out of work on account of the miners’ strike in that state. He also told us that he had served three years as a volunteer soldier in the Philippines. I began to be very curious about him, to wonder who and what the boy really was. He spoke freely of his experiences as a soldier, and as he had a very strong sense of humor, the remainder of the morning’s ride was very pleasant. When we stopped for lunch, it was decided that the stranger should travel with us until we reached the station. My brother and I both felt that he would help to make the long ride a little less dreary.
The first night out, we sat around the camp fire until a late hour, enjoying his tales of life in a mining camp. He spoke with that soft drawl peculiar to the southerner, but his accent seemed that of the Middle East. When deeply interested, he dropped his southern drawl, and his words fell clear cut and concise.
The second night out we camped on the bank of the Argyle. It was one of those glorious nights – all white with moonlight, when the whole earth seems holding its breath in rapt admiration. After supper we let the fire die down and sat in the moonlight. My brother and I sang our college songs, then some of the popular airs, in which our guest joined us. He had a fairly well cultivated tenor voice of rare sweetness. We sang song after song, and when at last we all joined in the strains of that dear old song of the heart, “Home, Sweet Home,” the very rocks and trees around us seemed to join in, and the river rippled a soft accompaniment. In the brilliant moonlight I distinctly saw tears glistening in the eyes of our guest, and found myself wondering what kind of home he had known.
The next morning we were all rather silent during our drive, but when camp was made at lunch time our cheerfulness returned, and the meal was enlivened by jests and laughter. Our guest took up a bright tin soup spoon and scratched something in the bowl with his pen-knife, then passed the spoon to me. I read “Rollin S. Lorne,” written in bold characters.
“Why, that name is music itself,” I said.
“That is what I am called,” he answered, smiling. Then handing me the knife he asked me to write my name. I did so and passed the spoon to my brother. He wrote his name, and returned the spoon to our guest, who, after adding the date and the name of the canyon in which we were camped, placed the spoon in an inner breast pocket.]
I think we were all rather sorry when we reached the station, about four o’clock that afternoon, for my brother and I had become rather fond of our stranger guest. Our train did not leave until seven o’clock, so we went to the hotel to get what rest was possible before that time, our friend promising to see us at the station.
About six o’clock my brother went up to the depot to purchase our tickets and came back with the boy. We sat chatting on the hotel porch, and I asked him if he expected to take the train out that night. He said that he had decided to wait until tomorrow. At parting he wrung our hands and said that he hoped to meet us under more auspicious circumstances. When we were on the train I asked my brother why the boy was waiting at the station until the next day, instead of going out that night.
“Because he’s too confounded proud to accept a loan from me. He’s dead broke, too. He will hang around here until he gets a chance to beat his way out.”
“He’s probably on this train,” I said.
“There is no doubt of it,” replied my brother.
About ten o’clock that night we stopped at a little station up in the mountains, and there seemed to be a great deal of noise and shouting outside. My brother went out.
“Putting off a gang of hoboes,” he said, when he returned. “No, I don’t think Lorne is among them,” he continued, in answer to my look.
I opened the window and sat looking out at the excited train officials and the three or four men they had found “beating” their way. In a few minutes we started on, and as we neared the yard limits, a familiar figure darted out from behind a box car and sprang at the train. He grasped the iron rail and tried to draw himself up, but for some reason he missed the step; his grasp on the rail loosened, and he was thrown under the car. I uttered a wild shriek, for in the bright moonlight I had recognized in the victim our late traveling companion.
The conductor, who had been watching from the rear platform, saw the tragedy, and ordered the train to stop and back up. almost before it had stopped, I was on my knees beside the boy and had raised his head. The boy was conscious, and looked up in my face with a bright smile, though he was suffering mortal agony, his lower limbs and the lower part of his body being frightfully mangled.
“Mother,” he gasped, “in pocket – with – spoon.” I put my hand in his pocket and drew out a small photograph and held it before him. His lips moved, but no sound came from them; then a great shudder passed over him – he tried to raise his head, but fell back in my arms, a dead weight. The train men carried him away.
My brother put his arm about me and led me to the station; there I sat down staring at the photograph with unseeing eyes. Suddenly I became conscious of something written underneath the picture. “Mother, 7482 West Walnut Street, Philadelphia,” I read. I showed it to my brother, and we decided to telegraph. In the morning an answer came; his brother would come at once. We waited until he came, heartbroken over the tragedy, and then we learned the boy’s story.
He belonged to an old and very aristocratic family in Philadelphia. While a student of the Boys’ High School he, with others of his class, had through thoughtless hazing caused the serious illness of a fellow-student. Rollin fled from home in fear and remorse, and though his friends had used every possible means of finding him, they had been unable to get any trace whatever until our telegram came.
We did what we could to comfort the grief-stricken brother, and remained with him until the body of the unfortunate boy was ready to be shipped to his home.
Of all my possessions, most sacred to me are the mementos given me by our poor boy’s brother at parting. They are the tin soup spoon, the mother’s picture, for which the boy asked with his last breath, and last, but dearest of all, a photograph of Rollin when a happy school boy, before thoughtlessness and love of fun had made him a wanderer on the face of the earth.