The Game and the Nation--Act First

There can be no doubt of this:All America is divided into two classes,--the qualify and the equality.

The latter will always recognize the former when mistaken for it. Both will be with us until our women bear nothing but hangs.

It was through the Declaration of Independence that we Americans acknowledged the eternal equality of man. For by it we abolished a cut-and-dried aristocracy. We had seen little mere artificially held up in high places, and great men artificially held down in low places, and our own justice-loving hearts abhorred this violence to human nature. Therefore, we decreed that every man should thenceforth have equal liberty to find his own level. By this very decree we acknowledged and gave freedom to true aristocracy, saying, “Let the best man win, whoever he is.” Let the best man win! That is America’s word. That is true democracy. And true democracy and true aristocracy are one and the same thing. If anybody cannot see this, so much the worse for his eyesight.

The above reflections occurred to me before reaching Billings, Montana, some three weeks after I had unexpectedly met the Virginian at Omaha, Nebraska. I had not known of that trust given to him by Judge Henry, which was taking him East. I was looking to ride with him before long among the clean hills of Sunk Creek. I supposed he was there. But I came upon him one morning in Colonel Cyrus Jones’s eating palace.

Did you know the palace? It stood in Omaha, near the trains, and it was ten years old (which is middle- aged in Omaha) when I first saw it. It was a shell of wood, painted with golden emblems,--the steamboat, the eagle, the Yosemite,--and a live bear ate gratuities at its entrance. Weather permitting, it opened upon the world as a stage upon the audience. You sat in Omaha’s whole sight and dined, while Omaha’s dust came and settled upon the refreshments. It is gone the way of the Indian and the buffalo, for the West is growing old. You should have seen the palace and sat there. In front of you passed rainbows of men,--Chinese, Indian chiefs, Africans, General Miles, younger sons, Austrian nobility, wide females in pink. Our continent drained prismatically through Omaha once.

So I was passing that way also, walking for the sake of ventilation from a sleeping-car toward a bath, when the language of Colonel Cyrus Jones came out to me. The actual colonel I had never seen before. He stood at the rear of his palace in gray flowery mustaches and a Confederate uniform, telling the wishes of his guests to the cook through a hole. You always bought meal tickets at once, else you became unwelcome. Guests here had foibles at times, and a rapid exit was too easy. Therefore I bought a ticket. It was spring and summer since I had heard anything like the colonel. The Missouri had not yet flowed into New York dialect freely, and his vocabulary met me like the breeze of the plains. So I went in to be fanned by it, and there sat the Virginian at a table, alone.

His greeting was up to the code of indifference proper on the plains; but he presently remarked, “I’m right glad to see somebody,” which was a good deal to say. “Them that comes hyeh,” he observed next, “don’t eat. They feed.” And he considered the guests with a sombre attention. “D’ yu’ reckon they find joyful digestion in this swallo’-an’-get-out trough?” “What are you doing here, then?” said I.

“Oh, pshaw! When yu’ can’t have what you choose, yu’ just choose what you have.” And he took the bill-of-fare. I began to know that he had something on his mind, so I did not trouble him further.

Meanwhile he sat studying the bill-of-fare.

“Ever heard o’ them?” he inquired, shoving me the spotted document.

Most improbable dishes were there,--salmis, canapes, supremes,--all perfectly spelt and absolutely transparent. It was the old trick of copying some metropolitan menu to catch travellers of the third and last dimension of innocence; and whenever this is done the food is of the third and last dimension of awfulness, which the cow-puncher knew as well as anybody.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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