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   Chapter 4 THE WASHWOMAN'S WAR.

Wolfville By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 16701

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


It was evening. The first dark foreshadowing of the coming night clothed all in half obscurity. But I knew the way; I could have travelled the little path at midnight. There he was, the Old Cattleman, under a favorite tree, the better to avoid the heavy dew. He sat motionless and seemed to be soaking himself, as one might say, in the balmy weather of that hour.

My wisdom had ordered Jim, my black man, to attend my steps. The laconic, half-sad salutation of my old friend at once gave Black Jim a mission. He was dispatched in quest of stimulants. After certain exact and almost elaborate commands to Black Jim, and that useful African's departure, I gently probed my companion with a question.

"No, thar's nothin' the matter of me; sorter pensive, that's all," was my return.

The Old Cattleman appeared silent and out of sorts. Following the coming of Black Jim, however, who brought a lusty toddy, he yielded to a better mood.

"It simply means I'm gettin' old; my settin' 'round balky this a- way. Thar's some seventy wrinkles on my horns; nothin' young or recent about that. Which now it often happens to me, like it does to old folks general, that jest when it begins to grow night, I gets moody an' bad. Looks like my thoughts has been out on some mental feed-ground all day, an' they comes stringin' in like cattle to get bedded down for the night. Nacheral, I s'pose they sorter mills an' stands 'round oneasy like for a while before they lies down all comfortable. Old people partic'lar gets dissatisfied. If they's single-footers like me an' ain't wedded none; campin' 'round at taverns an' findin' of 'em mockeries; they wishes they has a wife a whole lot. If they be, they wish she'd go visit her folks. Gettin' old that a-way an' lonely makes folks frequent mighty contrary.

"No, as I imparts to you yeretofore,-mebby it's a month,-I never marries nothin'. I reckons too, I'm in love one round-up an' another mighty near a dozen times. But somehow I allers lose the trail an' never does run up with none of 'em once.

"Down in the Brazos country thar was a little blue-eyed girl,-back forty years it is,-an' the way I adores her plumb tires people. I reckons I ropes at her more'n fifty times, but I never could fasten. Thar comes a time when it looks powerful like I'm goin' to run my brand onto her; but she learns that Bill Jenks marks 150 calves the last spring round-up, an' me only forty, an' that settles it; she takes Jenks.

"It's astonishin' how little I deems of this yere maiden after Bill gets her. Two months before, I'd rode my pony to death to look once in her eyes. She's like sunshine in the woods to me, an' I dotes on every word she utters like it's a roast apple. But after she gets to be Bill's wife I cools complete.

"Not that lovin' Bill's wife, with his genius for shootin' a pistol, is goin' to prove a picnic,-an' him sorter peevish an' hostile nacheral. But lettin' that go in the discard, I shore don't care nothin' about her nohow when she's Bill's.

"I recalls that prior to them nuptials with Bill I gets that locoed lovin' this girl I goes bulgin' out to make some poetry over her. I compiles one stanza; an' I'm yere to remark it's harder work than a June day in a brandin' pen. Ropin' an' flankin' calves an' standin' off an old cow with one hand while you irons up her offspring with t'other, from sun-up till dark, is sedentary compared to makin' stanzas. What was the on I makes? Well, you can bet a hoss I ain't forgot it none.

"'A beautiful woman is shorely a moon, The nights of your life to illoomine; She's all that is graceful, guileful an' soon, Is woman, lovely woman.'

"I'm plumb tangled up in my rope when I gets this far, an' I takes a lay-off. Before I gathers strength to tackle it ag'in, Jenks gets her; so bein' thar's no longer nothin' tharin I never makes a finish. I allers allowed it would have been a powerful good poem if I'd stampeded along cl'ar through.

"Yes, son; women that a-way is shorely rangy cattle an' allers on the move. Thar's a time once when two of 'em comes mighty near splittin' Wolfville wide open an' leavin' it on both sides of the trail. All that ever saves the day is the ca'm jedgement an' promptitood of Old Man Enright.

"This is how Wolfville walks into this petticoat ambush. The camp is gettin' along all peaceful an' serene an' man-fashion. Thar's the post-office for our letters; thar's the Red Light for our bug-juice; thar's the O. K. Restauraw for our grub; an' thar's the stage an' our ponies to pull our freight with when Wolfville life begins to pull on us as too pastoral, an' we thirsts for the meetropolitan gayety of Tucson.

"As I says we alls has all that heart can hunger for; that is hunger on the squar'.

"Among other things, thar's a Chink runnin' a laundry an' a-doin' of our washin'. This yere tub-trundler's name is Lung, which, however. brands no cattle yere.

"It's one afternoon when Doc Peets gets a letter from a barkeep over

in Tucson sayin': Dear Doc:

Thar's an esteemable lady due in Wolfville on to-morrer's stage. She's p'intin' out to run a laundry. Please back her play. If thar's a Chinaman in town, run him out.

And obleege, yours,

Dick.

"'Whatever do you think, Enright?' says Doc Peets after readin' us the letter.

"'That's all right,' says Enright, 'the Chink goes. It's onbecomin' as a spectacle for a Caucasian woman of full blood to be contendin' for foul shirts with a slothful Mongol. Wolfville permits no sech debasin' exhibitions, an' Lung must vamos. Jack,' he says, turnin' to Jack Moore, 'take your gun an' sa'nter over an' stampede this yere opium-slave. Tell him if he's visible to the naked eye in the scenery yere-abouts to-morrow when this lady jumps into camp, he's shore asked the price of soap the last time he ever will in this vale of tears.'

"'What's the matter of lynchin' this yere Chink?' says Dan Boggs. 'The camp's deadly dull, an' it would cheer up things a whole lot, besides bein' compliments to this young female Old Monte's bringin' in on the stage.'

"'Oh no,' says Enright, 'no need of stringin him none. On second thought, Jack, I don't reckon I'd run him out neither. It dignifies him too much. S'pose you canter up to his tub-camp an' bring him over, an' we'll reveal this upheaval in his shirt-burnin' destinies by word of mouth. If he grows reluctant jest rope him 'round the neck with his queue, an' yank him. It impresses 'em an' shows 'em they're up ag'in the law. I s'pose, Peets, I voices your sentiments in this?'

"'Shore,'" says Doc Peets-which this Peets is the finest-eddicated man I ever meets. 'This Chinaman must pull his freight. We-alls owes it not only to this Tucson lady, but to the lovely sex she represents. Woman, woman, what has she not done for man! As Johanna of Arc she frees the sensuous vine-clad hills of far-off Switzerland. As Grace Darling she smooths the fever-heated pillow of the Crimea. In reecompense she asks one little, puny boon-to fire from our midst a heathen from the Orient. Gents, thar's but one answer: We plays the return game with woman. This Chinaman must go.'

"When Jack comes back with Lung, which he does prompt, Enright starts in to deal the game.

"'It ain't no use, Lung,' says Enright, 'tryin' to explain to you- all what's up. Your weak Asiatic intellect couldn't get the drop onto it no-how. You've been brought to a show-down ag'in a woman, an' you're out-held. You've got to quit; savey? Don't let us find you yere to-morrow. By third-drink time we'll be a-scoutin' for you with somethin' besides an op'ry glass, an' if you're noticed as part of the landscape you're goin' to have a heap of bad luck. I'd advise you to p'int for Red Dog, but as to that you plays your hand yourse'f."

"Next day that old drunkard Monte comes swingin' in with the stage; the six hosses on the jump, same as he allers does with a woman along. Over at the post-office, where he stops, a lady gets out, an' of course we-alls bows p'lite an' hopes she's well an' frisky. She allows she is, an' heads for the O. K. House.

"It floats over pretty soon that her name's Annie, an' as none of us wants to call her jest 'Annie'-the same bein' too free a play-an' hearin' she lives a year or two at Benson, we concloods to call her Benson Annie, an' let it go at tha

t.

"'The same bein' musical an' expressive,' says Doc Peets, as we all lines up ag'in the Red Light bar, 'I su'gests we baptize this lady "Benson Annie," an' yere's to her success.'

"So we-alls turns up our glasses, an' Benson Annie it is.

"The next day the fetid Lung is a thing of the past, an' Benson Annie has the game to herse'f. Two days later she raises the tariff to fifty cents on shirts, instead of twenty-five, as previous with the Chink. But no one renigs.

"'A gent,' says Doc Peets, 'as holds that a Caucasian woman is goin' to wash a shirt for the miserable stipend of a slave of the Orient must be plumb locoed. Wolfville pays fifty cents for shirts an' is proud tharof.'

"Things goes along for mighty like a month, an' then this yere

Benson Annie allows she'll have a visitor.

"'I'm plumb, clean sick,' she says, 'of seein' nothin' but a lot of drunken, good-for-nothin' sots a-pesterin' 'round, an' I done reckons I'll have my friend Sal come over from Tombstone an' see me a whole lot. It'll be some relaxation.'

"Mebby it's four days after when this yere Sal hops outen the stage, an' for the next week thar ain't no washin' done whatever, while Benson Annie an' Sal works the wire aige offen their visit.

"`A gent as would begretch two pore, hard-workin' girls a lay-off of a week,' says Enright, 'ain't clean strain, an' I don't want to know sech a hoss-thief nohow'; an' we-alls feels likewise.

"But slap on the heels of all this yere gregar'ousness on the part of Benson Annie an' Sal, the deal begins to come queer. At the end of the week the two girls has a row, an' in the turn Sal goes to t'other end of camp an' opens a laundry. That does settle it. Benson Annie gives Sal fits, an' Sal shorely sends 'em back. Then they quits speakin', an when they meets on the street they concocts snoots at each other. This scares Enright, but he does his level best an' tries to keep the boys from takin' sides.

"'In a play like this yere,' he says, 'this camp don't take no kyards. For the first time Wolfville passes out, an' offers to make it a jack'

"But as one day an' the next trails by, the boys sorter gets lined up one way an' t'other; some for Benson Annie an' some for Sal, an' things is shorely gettin' hot. Hamilton, over at the dance-hall, ups an' names his place the 'Sal Saloon,' an' Burns takes down the sign on the Red Light an' calls it the 'Benson Annie House.' Finally things sorter culminates.

"Dan Boggs, who's a open, voylent Annie man, comes a-prancin' into the Red Light one night, an' after stampin' an' rappin' his horns 'round a whole lot, allows his shirt is cleaner than Dave Tutt's.

"Tutt says he don't care nothin' for himse'f, an' none whatever for the shirt; an' while he an' Dan's allers been friends an' crossed the plains together, still he don't allow he'll stand 'round much an' see a pore ondefended female, like Sal, maligned. So Tutt outs with his gun an' gets Boggs in the laig.

"This yere brings things down to cases. Enright is worried sick at it. But he's been thinkin' mighty arduous for quite a spell, an' when Boggs gets creased, he sees somethin' must be done, an' begins to line himse'f for a play for out.

"It's the next day after Boggs gets ag'in Tutt, an' Doc Peets has plugged up the hole, when Enright rounds up the whole passel of us in the Red Light. He looks that dignified an' what you-alls calls impressive, that the barkeep, yieldin' to the gravity of the situation, allows the drinks is on the house. We-alls gets our forty drops, an' sorter stands pat tharon in silence, waitin' for Enright to onfold his game. We shore knows if thar's a trail he'll find it.

"'I Gents,' he says at last,-an' it seems like he's sorry an' hurt that a-way,-'I'll not drift into them harrowin' differences which has rent asunder what was aforetimes the peacefullest camp in Arizona. I wants you-alls, however, to take note of my remarks, for what I says is shorely goin' to go.'

"Yere Enright pauses to take a small drink by himse'f, while we-alls tarries about, some oneasy an' anxious as to what kyards falls next. At last Enright p'ints out on the trail of his remarks ag'in.

"'It is with pain an' mortification,' he says-an' yere he fixes his eye some hard an' delib'rate on a young tenderfoot named French, who's been lost from the States somethin' like six months-'it is with pain an' mortification, I says, that I notes for a week past our young friend an' townsman, Willyum French, payin' marked an' ondiscreet attentions to Benson Annie, a female person whom we all respects. At all times, day an' night, when he could escape his dooties as book-keep for the stage company, he has pitched camp in her s'ciety. Wolfville has been shocked, an' a pure lady compromised. Standin' as we-alls does in the light of a parent to this pore young female, we have determined the wrong must be made right, an' Mister French must marry the girl. I have submitted these yere views to Benson Annie, an' she concurs. I've took the trouble to bring a gospel-sharp over from Tucson to do the marryin', an' I've set the happy event for to-night, to conclood with a blow-out in the dance-hall at my expense. We will, of course, yereby lose Benson Annie in them industrial walks she now adorns, for I pauses to give Mister French a p'inter; the sentiments of this camp is ag'in a married female takin' in washin'. Not to play it too low down on Mister French, who, while performin' a private dooty, is also workin' for a public good, I heads a subscription with fifty dollars for a present for the bride. I'd say in closin' that if I was Mister French I wouldn't care to object to this union. The lady is good-lookin', the subscription is cash, an' in the present heated condition of the public mind, an' with the heart of the camp set on this weddin', I wouldn't be responsible if he does. Now, gents, who'll follow my fifty dollars with fifty more? Barkeep, do your dooty while the subscription-paper goes 'round.'

"The biddin' is mighty lively, an' in ten minutes seven hundred dollars is raised for a dowry. Then French, who has been settin' in a sort of daze, gets up:

"'Mister Enright an' gents,' he says, `this yere is a s'prise-party to me, but it goes. It's a hoss on me, but I stands it. I sees how it is, an' as a forced play I marries Benson Annie in the interests of peace. Which the same bein' settled, if Benson Annie is yere, whirl her up an' I'll come flutterin' from my perch like a pan of milk from a top shelf, an' put an end to this onhealthful excitement.

"We-alls applauds French an' is proud to note he's game.

"`An' to be free an' open with you, French,' says Texas Thompson, so as to make him feel he's ahead on the deal; which he shore is, for this yere Benson Annie is corn-fed, 'if it ain't for a high-sperited lady back in Laredo who relies on me, I'd be playin' your hand myse'f.'

"Well, no one delays the game. Enright brings over Benson Annie, who's blushin' some, but ain't holdin' back; an' she an' French fronts up for business. This yere preacher-sharp Enright's roped up is jest shufflin' for the deal, when, whatever do you reckon takes place? I'm a Mexican if this yere Sal don't come wanderin' in, a- cryin' an' a-mournin' powerful. She allows with sobs if her dear friend Annie's goin' to get married she wants in on the game as bridesmaid.

"'Which you-all shorely gets a hand as sech,' says Doc Peets, who's actin' lookout for the deal; an' so he stakes out Sal over by the nigh side of Benson Annie, who kisses her quite frantic, an' unites her wails to Sal's. Both of 'em weepin' that a-way shorely makes the occasion mighty sympathetic an' damp. But Peets says it's the reg'lar caper, an' you can gamble Peets knows. "'Thar,' says Enright, when the last kyard's out an' the French fam'ly is receivin' congratulations, 'I reckons that now, with only one laundry, Wolfville sees a season of peace. It's all right, but I'm yere to remark that the next lady as dazzles this camp with her deebut, an' onfurls a purpose to plunge into work, ain't goin' to keep a laundry none. Gents, the bridle's plumb off the hoss. We'll now repair to the dance-hall, if so be meets your tastes, an' take the first steps in a debauch from which, when it's over, this yere camp of Wolfville dates time.'"

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