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Wolfville By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 11815

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

"'Whyever ain't I married?' says you." The Old Cattleman repeated the question after me as he settled himself for one of our many "pow-wows," as he described them. "Looks like you've dealt me that conundrum before. Why ain't I wedded? The answer to that, son, is a long shot an' a limb in the way.

"Now I reckons the reason why I'm allers wifeless a whole lot is mainly due to the wide pop'larity of them females I takes after. Some other gent sorter gets her first each time, an' nacherally that bars me. Bill Jenks's wife on that occasion is a spec'men case. That's one of the disapp'intments I onfolds to you. Now thar's a maiden I not only wants, but needs; jest the same, Bill gets her. An' it's allers sim'lar; I never yet holds better than ace-high when the stake's a lady.

"It's troo," he continued, reflectively puffing his pipe. "I was disp'sitioned for a wife that a-way when I'm a colt. But that's a long time ago; I ain't in line for no sech gymnastics no more; my years is 'way ag'in it.

"You've got to ketch folks young to marry 'em. After they gets to be thirty years they goes slowly to the altar. If you aims to marry a gent after he's thirty you has to blindfold him an' back him in. Females, of course, ain't so obdurate. No; I s'pose this yere bein' married is a heap habit, same as tobacco an' jig-juice. If a gent takes a hand early, it's a good game, I makes no sort of doubt. But let him get to millin' 'round in the thirties or later, an' him not begun none as yet; you bet he don't marry nothin'.

"Bar an onexplainable difference with the girl's old man," he went on with an air of thought, "I s'pose I'd be all married right now. I was twenty, them times. It's 'way back in Tennessee. Her folks lives about 'leven miles from me out on the Pine Knot Pike, an' once in two weeks I saddles up an' sorter sidles over. Thar's jest her old pap an' her mother an' her in the fam'ly, an' it's that far I allers made to stay all night. Thar's only two beds, an' so I'm put to camp along of the old man the times I stays.

"Them days I'm 'way bashful an' behind on all social plays, an' am plenty awe-struck about the old foiks. I never feels happy a minute where they be. The old lady does her best to make me easy an' free, too. Comes out when I rides up, an' lets down the bars for my hoss, an' asks me to rest my hat the second I'm in the door.

"Which matters goes on good enough ontil mebby it's the eighth time I'm thar. I remembers the night all perfect. Me an' the girl sets up awhile, an' then I quits her an' turns in. I gets to sleep a-layin' along the aige of the bed, aimin' to keep 'way from the old man, who's snorln' an' thrashin' 'round an' takin' on over in the middle.

"I don't recall much of nothin' ontil I comes to, a-holdin' to the old man's y'ear with one hand an' a-hammerin' of his features with t'other. I don't know yet, why. I s'pose I'm locoed an' dreamin', an allows he's a b'ar or somethin' in my sleep that a-way, an' tries to kill him. "Son, it's 'way back a long time, but I shudders yet when I reflects on that old man's language. I jumps up when I realizes things, grabs my raiment, an', gettin' my hoss outen the corral, goes p'intin' down the pike more'n a mile 'fore I even stops to dress. The last I sees of the old man lie's buckin' an' pitchin' an' tossin', an' the females a-holdin' of him, an' he reachin' to get a Hawkins's rifle as hangs over the door. I never goes back no more, 'cause he's mighty tindictive about it. He tries to make it a grandjury matter next co't-time.

"Speakin' of nuptials, however, you can't tell much about women. Thar's a girl who shorely s'prises us once in a way out in Wolfville. Missis Rucker, who runs the O. K. Restauraw, gets this female from Tucson to fry flap-jacks an' salt hoss, an' he'p her deal her little gastronomic game. This yere girl's name is Jennie- Tucson Jennie. She looks like she's a nice, good girl, too; one of them which it's easy to love, an' in less'n two weeks thar's half the camp gets smitten. "It affects business, it's that bad. Cherokee Hall tells me thar ain't half the money gets changed in at faro as usual, an' the New York Store reports gents goin' broke ag'in biled shirts, an' sim'lar deadfalls daily. Of course this yere first frenzy subsides a whole lot after a month. "All this time Jennie ain't sayin' a word. She jest shoves them foolish yooths their enchiladas an' ckile con carne, an' ignores all winks an' looks complete.

"Thar's a party named Jim Baxter in camp, an' he sets in to win Jennie hard. Jim tries to crowd the game an' get action. It looks like he's due to make the trip too. Missis Rucker is backin' his play, an' Jennie herse'f sorter lets him set 'round in the kitchen an' watch her work; which this yore is license an' riot itse'f compared with how she treats others. Occasionally some of us sorter tries to stack up for Jim an' figger out where he stands with the the game.

"'How's it goin', Baxter?' Enright asks one day.

"'It's too many for me,' says Jim. 'Some-times I thinks I corrals her, an' then ag'in it looks like I ain't in it. Jest now I'm feelin' some dejected.'

"'Somethin' oughter be schemed to settle this yere,' says Enright.

'It keeps the camp in a fever, an' mebby gets serious an' spreads.'

"'If somebody would only prance in,' says Doc Peets, 'an' shoot Jim up some, you'd have her easy. Females is like a rabbit in a bush- pile; you has to shake things up a lot to make 'em come out. Now, if Jim is dyin' an' she cares for him, she's shorely goin' to show her hand.'

"I wants to pause right yere to observe that Doc Peets is the best- eddicated sharp I ever encounters in my life. An' what he don't know about squaws is valueless as information. But to go on with the deal.

"'That's right,' says Cherokee Hall, 'but of course it ain't goin' to do to shoot Jim up none.'

"'I don'

t know,' says Jim; 'I stands quite a racket if I'm shore it fetches her.'

"'What for a game,' says Cherokee, 'would it be to play like Jim's shot? Wouldn't that make her come a-runnin' same as if it's shore 'nough?'

"'I don't see why not,' says Enright.

"Well, the idee gains ground like an antelope, an' at last gets to be quite a conspir'cy. It's settled we plays it, with Dave Tutt to do the shootin'.

"'An' we makes the game complete,' says Jack Moore, 'by grabbin' Dave immediate an' bringin' of him before the committee, which convenes all reg'lar an' deecorous in the Red Light for said purpose. We-alls must line out like we're goin' to hang Dave for the killin'; otherwise it don't look nacheral nohow, an' the lady detects it's a bluff.'

"We gets things all ready, an' in the middle of the afternoon, when Jennie is draggin' her lariat 'round loose an' nothin' much to do- 'cause we ain't aimin' to disturb her none in her dooties touchin' them flapjacks an' salt hoss-we-alls assembles over in the New York Store. As a preliminary step we lays Jim on some boxes, with a wagon-cover over him, like he's deceased.

"'Cl'ar things out of the way along by Jim's head,' says Jack Moore, who is takin' a big interest. 'We wants to fix things so Jen can swarm in at him easy. You hear me! she's goin' to come stampedin' in yere like wild cattle when she gets the news.'

"When everythin's ready, Tutt an' Jack, who concloods it's well to have a good deal of shootin', bangs away with their guns about four times apiece.

"'Jest shootin' once or twice,' says Jack, 'might arouse her s'picions. It would be a heap too brief for the real thing.'

"The minute the shootin' is ceased we-alls takes Tutt an' surges over to the Red Light to try him; a-pendin' of which Dan Boggs sa'nters across to the O. K. Restauraw an' remarks, all casooal an' careless like:

"'Dave Tutt downs Jim Baxter a minute back; good clean gun-play as ever I sees, too. Mighty big credit to both boys this yere is. No shootin' up the scenery an' the bystanders; no sech slobberin' work; but everythin' carries straight to centers.'

"'Where is he?' says Jennie, lookin' breathless an' sick.

"'Jim's remainder is in the New York Store,' says Dan.

"'Is he hurt?' she gasps.

"'I don't reckon he hurts none now,' says Dan, ''cause he's done cashed in his stack. Why! girl, he's dead; eighteen bullets, caliber forty-five, plumb through him.'

"'No, but Dave! Is Dave shot?' Tucson Jennie says, a-wringin' of her small paws.

"'Now don't you go to feelin' discouraged none,' says Dan, beginnin' to feel sorry for her. 'We fixes the wretch so his murderin' sperit won't be an hour behind Jim's gettin' in. The Stranglers has him in the Red Light, makin' plans to stretch him right now.'

"We-alls has consoomed drinks all 'round, an' Enright is in the chair, an' we're busy settin' up a big front about hearin' the case, when Tucson Jennie, with a scream as scares up surroundin' things to sech a limit that five ponies hops out of the corral an' flies, comes chargin' into the Red Light, an' the next instant she drifts 'round Tutt's neck like so much snow.

"'What for a game do you call this, anyhow?' says Jack Moore, who's a heap scand'lized. 'Is this yere maiden playin' anythin' on this camp?'

"'She's plumb locoed with grief,' says Dan Boggs, who follers her in, 'an' she's done got 'em mixed in her mind. She thinks Dave is Baxter.'

"'That's it,' says Cherokee. 'Her mind's stampeded with the shock. Me an' Jack takes her over to Jim's corpse, an' that's shore to revive her.' An' with that Cherokee an' Jack goes up to lead her away.

"'Save him, Mister Enright; save him!' she pleads, still clingin' to Tutt's neck like the loop of a lariat. 'Don't let 'em hang him! Save him for my sake!'

"'Hold on, Jack,' says Enright, who by now is lookin' some thoughtful. 'Jest everybody stand their hands yere till I counts the pot an' notes who's shy. It looks like we're cinchin' the hull onto the wrong bronco. Let me ask this female a question. Young woman,' he says to Tucson Jennie, 'be you fully informed as to whose neck you're hangin' to?'

"'It's Dave's, ain't it?' she says, lookin' all tearful in his face to make shore.

"Enright an' the rest of us don't say nothin', but gazes at each other. Tutt flushes up an' shows pleased both at once. But all the same he puts his arms 'round her like the dead-game gent he is.

"'What'll you-alls have, gents?" Enright says at last, quiet an' thoughtful. 'The drinks is on me, barkeep.'

"'Excuse me,' says Doc Peets, 'but as the author of this yere plot,

I takes it the p'ison is on me. Barkeep, set out all your bottles.'

"'Gents,' says Jack Moore, 'I'm as peaceful a person as ever jingled a spur or pulled a gun in Wolfville; but as I reflects on the active part I takes in these yere ceremonies, I won't be responsible for results if any citizen comes between me an' payin' for the drinks. Barkeep, I'm doin' this myse'f.'

"Well, it's hard enoomeratin' how many drinks we do have. Jim Baxter throws away the wagon cover an' comes over from the New York Store an' stands in with us. It gets to be a orgy.

"'Of course it's all right,' says Enright, 'the camp wins with Tutt instead of Baxter; that's all. It 'lustrates one of them beautiful characteristics of the gentler sex, too. Yere's Baxter, to say nothin' of twenty others, as besieges an' beleaguers this yere female for six weeks, an' she scorns 'em. Yere's Tutt, who ain't makin' a move, an' she grabs him. It is sech oncertainties, gents, as makes

the love of woman valuable.' "'You-alls should have asked me,' says Faro Nell, who comes in right then an' rounds up close to Cherokee. 'I could tell you two weeks ago Jennie's in love with Tutt. Anybody could see it. Why! she's been feedin' of him twice as good grub as she does anybody else.'"

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