Out of the wilderness had come a painter. Genius, whose coronations
alone are democratic, had woven a chaplet of chaparral for the brow of
Lonny Briscoe. Art, whose divine expression flows impartially from the
fingertips of a cowboy or a dilettante emperor, had chosen for a
medium the Boy Artist of the San Saba. The outcome, seven feet by
twelve of besmeared canvas, stood, gilt-framed, in the lobby of the
The legislature was in session; the capital city of that great Western
state was enjoying the season of activity and profit that the
congregation of the solons bestowed. The boarding-houses were
corralling the easy dollars of the gamesome law-makers. The greatest
state in the West, an empire in area and resources, had arisen and
repudiated the old libel or barbarism, lawbreaking, and bloodshed.
Order reigned within her borders. Life and property were as safe
there, sir, as anywhere among the corrupt cities of the effete East.
Pillow-shams, churches, strawberry feasts and /habeas corpus/
flourished. With impunity might the tenderfoot ventilate his
"stovepipe" or his theories of culture. The arts and sciences received
nurture and subsidy. And, therefore, it behooved the legislature of
this great state to make appropriation for the purchase of Lonny
Briscoe's immortal painting.
Rarely has the San Saba country contributed to the spread of the fine
arts. Its sons have excelled in the solider graces, in the throw of
the lariat, the manipulation of the esteemed .45, the intrepidity of
the one-card draw, and the nocturnal stimulation of towns from undue
lethargy; but, hitherto, it had not been famed as a stronghold of
aesthetics. Lonny Briscoe's brush had removed that disability. Here,
among the limestone rocks, the succulent cactus, and the drought-
parched grass of that arid valley, had been born the Boy Artist. Why
he came to woo art is beyond postulation. Beyond doubt, some spore of
the afflatus must have sprung up within him in spite of the desert
soil of San Saba. The tricksy spirit of creation must have incited him
to attempted expression and then have sat hilarious among the white-
hot sands of the valley, watching its mischievous work. For Lonny's
picture, viewed as a thing of art, was something to have driven away
dull care from the bosoms of the critics.
The painting--one might almost say panorama--was designed to portray a
typical Western scene, interest culminating in a central animal
figure, that of a stampeding steer, life-size, wild-eyed, fiery,
breaking away in a mad rush from the herd that, close-ridden by a
typical cowpuncher, occupied a position somewhat in the right
background of the picture. The landscape presented fitting and
faithful accessories. Chaparral, mesquit, and pear were distributed in
just proportions. A Spanish dagger-plant, with its waxen blossoms in a
creamy aggregation as large as a water-bucket, contributed floral
beauty and variety. The distance was undulating prairie, bisected by
stretches of the intermittent streams peculiar to the region lined
with the rich green of live-oak and water-elm. A richly mottled
rattlesnake lay coiled beneath a pale green clump of prickly pear in
the foreground. A third of the canvas was ultramarine and lake white--
the typical Western sky and the flying clouds, rainless and feathery.
Between two plastered pillars in the commodious hallway near the door
of the chamber of representatives stood the painting. Citizens and
lawmakers passed there by twos and groups and sometimes crowds to gaze
upon it. Many--perhaps a majority of them--had lived the prairie life
and recalled easily the familiar scene. Old cattlemen stood,
reminiscent and candidly pleased, chatting with brothers of former
camps and trails of the days it brought back to mind. Art critics were
few in the town, and there was heard none of that jargon of colour,
perspective, and feeling such as the East loves to use as a curb and a
rod to the pretensions of the artist. 'Twas a great picture, most of
them agreed, admiring the gilt frame--larger than any they had ever
Senator Kinney was the picture's champion and sponsor. It was he who
so often stepped forward and asserted, with the voice of a bronco-
buster, that it would be a lasting blot, sir, upon the name of this
great state if it should decline to recognize in a proper manner the
genius that had so brilliantly transferred to imperishable canvas a
scene so typical of the great sources of our state's wealth and
Senator Kinney represented a section of the state in the extreme West
--400 miles from the San Saba country--but the true lover of art is
not limited by metes and bounds. Nor was Senator Mullens, representing
the San Saba country, lukewarm in his belief that the state should
purchase the painting of his constituent. He was advised that the San
Saba country was unanimous in its admiration of the great painting by
one of its own denizens. Hundreds of connoisseurs had straddled their
broncos and ridden miles to view it before its removal to the capital.
Senator Mullens desired reelection, and he knew the importance of the
San Saba vote. He also knew that with the help of Senator Kinney--who
was a power in the legislature--the thing could be put through. Now,
Senator Kinney had an irrigation bill that he wanted passed for the
benefit of his own section, and he knew Senator Mullens could render
him valuable aid and information, the San Saba country already
enjoying the benefits of similar legislation. With these interests
happily dovetailed, wonder at the sudden interest in art at the state
capital must, necessarily, be small. Few artists have uncovered their
first picture to the world under happier auspices than did Lonny
Senators Kinney and Mullens came to an understanding in the matter of
irrigation and art while partaking of long drinks in the cafe of the
"H'm!" said Senator Kinney, "I don't know. I'm no art critic, but it
seems to me the thing won't work. It looks like the worst kind of a
chromo to me. I don't want to cast any reflections upon the artistic
talent of your constituent, Senator, but I, myself, wouldn't give six
bits for the picture--without the frame. How are you going to cram a
thing like that down the throat of a legislature that kicks about a
little item in the expense bill of six hundred and eighty-one dollars
for rubber erasers for only one term? It's wasting time. I'd like to
help you, Mullens, but they'd laugh us out of the Senate chamber if we
were to try it."
"But you don't get the point," said Senator Mullens, in his deliberate
tones, tapping Kinney's glass with his long forefinger. "I have my own
doubts as to what the picture is intended to represent, a bullfight or
a Japanese allegory, but I want this legislature to make an
appropriation to purchase. Of course, the subject of the picture
should have been in the state historical line, but it's too late to
have the paint scraped off and changed. The state won't miss the money
and the picture can be stowed away in a lumber-room where it won't
annoy any one. Now, here's the point to work on, leaving art to look
after itself--the chap that painted the picture is the grandson of
"Say it again," said Kinney, leaning his head thoughtfully. "Of the
old, original Lucien Briscoe?"
"Of him. 'The man who,' you know. The man who carved the state out of
the wilderness. The man who settled the Indians. The man who cleaned
out the horse thieves. The man who refused the crown. The state's
favourite son. Do you see the point now?"
"Wrap up the picture," said Kinney. "It's as good as sold. Why didn't
you say that at first, instead of philandering along about art. I'll
resign my seat in the Senate and go back to chain-carrying for the
county surveyor the day I can't make this state buy a picture
calcimined by a grandson of Lucien Briscoe. Did you ever hear of a
special appropriation for the purchase of a home for the daughter of
One-Eyed Smothers? Well, that went through like a motion to adjourn,
and old One-Eyed never killed half as many Indians as Briscoe did.
About what figure had you and the calciminer agreed upon to sandbag
the treasury for?"
"I thought," said Mullens, "that maybe five hundred--"
"Five hundred!" interrupted Kinney, as he hammered on his glass for a
lead pencil and looked around for a waiter. "Only five hundred for a
red steer on the hoof delivered by a grandson of Lucien Briscoe!
Where's your state pride, man? Two thousand is what it'll be. You'll
introduce the bill and I'll get up on the floor of the Senate and wave
the scalp of every Indian old Lucien ever murdered. Let's see, there
was something else proud and foolish he did, wasn't there? Oh, yes; he
declined all emoluments and benefits he was entitled to. Refused his
head-right and veteran donation certificates. Could have been
governor, but wouldn't. Declined a pension. Now's the state's chance
to pay up. It'll have to take the picture, but then it deserves some
punishment for keeping the Briscoe family waiting so long. We'll bring
this thing up about the middle of the month, after the tax bill is
settled. Now, Mullens, you send over, as soon as you can, and get me
the figures on the cost of those irrigation ditches and the statistics
about the increased production per acre. I'm going to need you when
that bill of mine comes up. I reckon we'll be able to pull along
pretty well together this session and maybe others to come, eh,
Thus did fortune elect to smile upon the Boy Artist of the San Saba.
Fate had already done her share when she arranged his atoms in the
cosmogony of creation as the grandson of Lucien Briscoe.
The original Briscoe had been a pioneer both as to territorial
occupation and in certain acts prompted by a great and simple heart.
He had been one of the first settlers and crusaders against the wild
forces of nature, the savage and the shallow politician. His name and
memory were revered, equally with any upon the list comprising
Houston, Boone, Crockett, Clark, and Green. He had lived simply,
independently, and unvexed by ambition. Even a less shrewd man than
Senator Kinney could have prophesied that his state would hasten to
honour and reward his grandson, come out of the chaparral at even so
late a day.
And so, before the great picture by the door of the chamber of
representatives at frequent times for many days could be found the
breezy, robust form of Senator Kinney and be heard his clarion voice
reciting the past deeds of Lucien Briscoe in connection with the
handiwork of his grandson. Senator Mullens's work was more subdued in
sight and sound, but directed along identical lines.
Then, as the day for the introduction of the bill for appropriation
draws nigh, up from the San Saba country rides Lonny Briscoe and a
loyal lobby of cowpunchers, bronco-back, to boost the cause of art and
glorify the name of friendship, for Lonny is one of them, a knight of
stirrup and chaparreras, as handy with the lariat and .45 as he is
with brush and palette.
On a March afternoon the lobby dashed, with a whoop, into town. The
cowpunchers had adjusted their garb suitably from that prescribed for
the range to the more conventional requirements of town. They had
conceded their leather chaparreras and transferred their six-shooters
and belts from their persons to the horns of their saddles. Among them
rode Lonny, a youth of twenty-three, brown, solemn-faced, ingenuous,
bowlegged, reticent, bestriding Hot Tamales, the most sagacious cow
pony west of the Mississippi. Senator Mullens had informed him of the
bright prospects of the situation; had even mentioned--so great was
his confidence in the capable Kinney--the price that the state would,
in all likelihood, pay. It seemed to Lonny that fame and fortune were
in his hands. Certainly, a spark of the divine fire was in the little
brown centaur's breast, for he was counting the two thousand dollars
as but a means to future development of his talent. Some day he would
paint a picture even greater than this--one, say, twelve feet by
twenty, full of scope and atmosphere and action.
During the three days that yet intervened before the coming of the
date fixed for the introduction of the bill, the centaur lobby did
valiant service. Coatless, spurred, weather-tanned, full of enthusiasm
expressed in bizarre terms, they loafed in front of the painting with
tireless zeal. Reasoning not unshrewdly, they estimated that their
comments upon its fidelity to nature would be received as expert
evidence. Loudly they praised the skill of the painter whenever there
were ears near to which such evidence might be profitably addressed.
Lem Perry, the leader of the claque, had a somewhat set speech, being
uninventive in the construction of new phrases.
"Look at that two-year-old, now," he would say, waving a cinnamon-
brown hand toward the salient point of the picture. "Why, dang my
hide, the critter's alive. I can jest hear him, 'lumpety-lump,'
a-cuttin' away from the herd, pretendin' he's skeered. He's a mean
scamp, that there steer. Look at his eyes a-wailin' and his tail
a-wavin'. He's true and nat'ral to life. He's jest hankerin' fur a cow
pony to round him up and send him scootin' back to the bunch. Dang my
hide! jest look at that tail of his'n a-wavin'. Never knowed a steer
to wave his tail any other way, dang my hide ef I did."
Jud Shelby, while admitting the excellence of the steer, resolutely
confined himself to open admiration of the landscape, to the end that
the entire picture receive its meed of praise.
"That piece of range," he declared, "is a dead ringer for Dead Hoss
Valley. Same grass, same lay of land, same old Whipperwill Creek
skallyhootin' in and out of them motts of timber. Them buzzards on the
left is circlin' 'round over Sam Kildrake's old paint hoss that killed
hisself over-drinkin' on a hot day. You can't see the hoss for that
mott of ellums on the creek, but he's thar. Anybody that was goin' to
look for Dead Hoss Valley and come across this picture, why, he'd just
light off'n his bronco and hunt a place to camp."
Skinny Rogers, wedded to comedy, conceived a complimentary little
piece of acting that never failed to make an impression. Edging quite
near to the picture, he would suddenly, at favourable moments emit a
piercing and awful "Yi-yi!" leap high and away, coming down with a
great stamp of heels and whirring of rowels upon the stone-flagged
"Jeeming Cristopher!"--so ran his lines--"thought that rattler was a
gin-u-ine one. Ding baste my skin if I didn't. Seemed to me I heard
him rattle. Look at the blamed, unconverted insect a-layin' under that
pear. Little more, and somebody would a-been snake-bit."
With these artful dodges, contributed by Lonney's faithful coterie,
with the sonorous Kinney perpetually sounding the picture's merits,
and with the solvent prestige of the pioneer Briscoe covering it like
a precious varnish, it seemed that the San Saba country could not fail
to add a reputation as an art centre to its well-known superiority in
steer-roping contests and achievements with the precarious busted
flush. Thus was created for the picture an atmosphere, due rather to
externals than to the artist's brush, but through it the people seemed
to gaze with more of admiration. There was a magic in the name of
Briscoe that counted high against faulty technique and crude
colouring. The old Indian fighter and wolf slayer would have smiled
grimly in his happy hunting grounds had he known that his dilettante
ghost was thus figuring as an art patron two generations after his
Came the day when the Senate was expected to pass the bill of Senator
Mullens appropriating two thousand dollars for the purchase of the
picture. The gallery of the Senate chamber was early preempted by
Lonny and the San Saba lobby. In the front row of chairs they sat,
wild-haired, self-conscious, jingling, creaking, and rattling, subdued
by the majesty of the council hall.
The bill was introduced, went to the second reading, and then Senator
Mullens spoke for it dryly, tediously, and at length. Senator Kinney
then arose, and the welkin seized the bellrope preparatory to ringing.
Oratory was at that time a living thing; the world had not quite time
to measure its questions by geometry and the multiplication table. It
was the day of the silver tongue, the sweeping gesture, the decorative
apostrophe, the moving peroration.
The Senator spoke. The San Saba contingent sat, breathing hard, in the
gallery, its disordered hair hanging down to its eyes, its sixteen-
ounce hats shifted restlessly from knee to knee. Below, the
distinguished Senators either lounged at their desks with the abandon
of proven statesmanship or maintained correct attitudes indicative of
a first term.
Senator Kinney spoke for an hour. History was his theme--history
mitigated by patriotism and sentiment. He referred casually to the
picture in the outer hall--it was unnecessary, he said, to dilate upon
its merits--the Senators had seen for themselves. The painter of the
picture was the grandson of Lucien Briscoe. Then came the word-
pictures of Briscoe's life set forth in thrilling colours. His rude
and venturesome life, his simple-minded love for the commonwealth he
helped to upbuild, his contempt for rewards and praise, his extreme
and sturdy independence, and the great services he had rendered the
state. The subject of the oration was Lucien Briscoe; the painting
stood in the background serving simply as a means, now happily brought
forward, through which the state might bestow a tardy recompense upon
the descendent of its favourite son. Frequent enthusiastic applause
from the Senators testified to the well reception of the sentiment.
The bill passed without an opening vote. To-morrow it would be taken
up by the House. Already was it fixed to glide through that body on
rubber tires. Blandford, Grayson, and Plummer, all wheel-horses and
orators, and provided with plentiful memoranda concerning the deeds of
pioneer Briscoe, had agreed to furnish the motive power.
The San Saba lobby and its /protege/ stumbled awkwardly down the
stairs and out into the Capitol yard. Then they herded closely and
gave one yell of triumph. But one of them--Buck-Kneed Simmers it was--
hit the key with the thoughtful remark:
"She cut the mustard," he said, "all right. I reckon they're goin' to
buy Lon's steer. I ain't right much on the parlyment'ry, but I gather
that's what the signs added up. But she seems to me, Lonny, the
argyment ran principal to grandfather, instead of paint. It's
reasonable calculatin' that you want to be glad you got the Briscoe
brand on you, my son."
That remarked clinched in Lonny's mind an unpleasant, vague suspicion
to the same effect. His reticence increased, and he gathered grass
from the ground, chewing it pensively. The picture as a picture had
been humiliatingly absent from the Senator's arguments. The painter
had been held up as a grandson, pure and simple. While this was
gratifying on certain lines, it made art look little and slab-sided.
The Boy Artist was thinking.
The hotel Lonny stopped at was near the Capitol. It was near to the
one o'clock dinner hour when the appropriation had been passed by the
Senate. The hotel clerk told Lonny that a famous artist from New York
had arrived in town that day and was in the hotel. He was on his way
westward to New Mexico to study the effect of sunlight upon the
ancient walls of the Zunis. Modern stones reflect light. Those ancient
building materials absorb it. The artist wanted this effect in a
picture he was painting, and was traveling two thousand miles to get
Lonny sought this man out after dinner and told his story. The artist
was an unhealthy man, kept alive by genius and indifference to life.
He went with Lonny to the Capitol and stood there before the picture.
The artist pulled his beard and looked unhappy.
"Should like to have your sentiments," said Lonny, "just as they run
out of the pen."
"It's the way they'll come," said the painter man. "I took three
different kinds of medicine before dinner--by the tablespoonful. The
taste still lingers. I am primed for telling the truth. You want to
know if the picture is, or if it isn't?"
"Right," said Lonny. "Is it wool or cotton? Should I paint some more
or cut it out and ride herd a-plenty?"
"I heard a rumour during pie," said the artist, "that the state is
about to pay you two thousand dollars for this picture."
"It's passed the Senate," said Lonny, "and the House rounds it up
"That's lucky," said the pale man. "Do you carry a rabbit's foot?"
"No," said Lonny, "but it seems I had a grandfather. He's considerable
mixed up in the colour scheme. It took me a year to paint that
picture. Is she entirely awful or not? Some says, now, that the
steer's tail ain't badly drawed. They think it's proportioned nice.
The artist glanced at Lonny's wiry figure and nut-brown skin.
Something stirred him to a passing irritation.
"For Art's sake, son," he said, fractiously, "don't spend any more
money for paint. It isn't a picture at all. It's a gun. You hold up
the state with it, if you like, and get your two thousand, but don't
get in front of any more canvas. Live under it. Buy a couple of
hundred ponies with the money--I'm told they're that cheap--and ride,
ride, ride. Fill your lungs and eat and sleep and be happy. No more
pictures. You look healthy. That's genius. Cultivate it." He looked at
his watch. "Twenty minutes to three. Four capsules and one tablet at
three. That's all you wanted to know, isn't it?"
At three o'clock the cowpunchers rode up for Lonny, bringing Hot
Tamales, saddled. Traditions must be observed. To celebrate the
passage of the bill by the Senate the gang must ride wildly through
the town, creating uproar and excitement. Liquor must be partaken of,
the suburbs shot up, and the glory of the San Saba country
vociferously proclaimed. A part of the programme had been carried out
in the saloons on the way up.
Lonny mounted Hot Tamales, the accomplished little beast prancing with
fire and intelligence. He was glad to feel Lonny's bowlegged grip
against his ribs again. Lonny was his friend, and he was willing to do
things for him.
"Come on, boys," said Lonny, urging Hot Tomales into a gallop with his
knees. With a whoop, the inspired lobby tore after him through the
dust. Lonny led his cohorts straight for the Capitol. With a wild
yell, the gang endorsed his now evident intention of riding into it.
Hooray for San Saba!
Up the six broad, limestone steps clattered the broncos of the
cowpunchers. Into the resounding hallway they pattered, scattering in
dismay those passing on foot. Lonny, in the lead, shoved Hot Tamales
direct for the great picture. At that hour a downpouring, soft light
from the second-story windows bathed the big canvas. Against the
darker background of the hall the painting stood out with valuable
effect. In spite of the defects of the art you could almost fancy that
you gazed out upon a landscape. You might well flinch a step from the
convincing figure of the life-size steer stampeding across the grass.
Perhaps it seemed thus to Hot Tamales. The scene was in his line.
Perhaps he only obeyed the will of his rider. His ears pricked up; he
snorted. Lonny leaned forward in the saddle and elevated his elbows,
wing-like. Thus signals the cowpuncher to his steed to launch himself
full speed ahead. Did Hot Tamales fancy he saw a steer, red and
cavorting, that should be headed off and driven back to the herd?
There was a fierce clatter of hoofs, a rush, a gathering of steely
flank muscles, a leap to the jerk of the bridle rein, and Hot Tamales,
with Lonny bending low in the saddle to dodge the top of the frame,
ripped through the great canvas like a shell from a mortar, leaving
the cloth hanging in ragged sheds about a monstrous hole.
Quickly Lonny pulled up his pony, and rounded the pillars. Spectators
came running, too astounded to add speech to the commotion. The
sergeant-at-arms of the House came forth, frowned, looked ominous, and
then grinned. Many of the legislators crowded out to observe the
tumult. Lonny's cowpunchers were stricken to silent horror by his mad
Senator Kinney happened to be among the earliest to emerge. Before he
could speak Lonny leaned in his saddle as Hot Tamales pranced, pointed
his quirt at the Senator, and said, calmly:
"That was a fine speech you made to-day, mister, but you might as well
let up on that 'propriation business. I ain't askin' the state to give
me nothin'. I thought I had a picture to sell to it, but it wasn't
one. You said a heap of things about Grandfather Briscoe that makes me
kind of proud I'm his grandson. Well, the Briscoes ain't takin'
presents from the state yet. Anybody can have the frame that wants it.
Hit her up, boys."
Away scuttled the San Saba delegation out of the hall, down the steps,
along the dusty street.
Halfway to the San Saba country they camped that night. At bedtime
Lonny stole away from the campfire and sought Hot Tamales, placidly
eating grass at the end of his stake rope. Lonny hung upon his neck,
and his art aspirations went forth forever in one long, regretful
sigh. But as he thus made renunciation his breath formed a word or
"You was the only one, Tamales, what seen anything in it. It /did/
look like a steer, didn't it, old hoss?"