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Wolfville By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 21900

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03

It was sweet and cool after the rain, and the Old Cattleman and I, moved by an admiration for the open air which was mutual, found ourselves together on the porch.

As in part recompense for his reminiscences of the several days before, I regaled my old friend with the history of a bank-failure, the details as well as the causes of which were just then forcing themselves upon me in the guise of business.

"The fact is," I said, as I came to the end of my story, "the fact is, the true cause of this bank's downfall was a rivalry-what one might call a business feud-which grew into being between it and a similar institution which had opened as its neighbor. In the competition which fell out they fairly cut each other's throat. They both failed."

"An' I takes it," remarked the Old Cattleman in comment, "one of these yere trade dooels that a-way goes on vindictive an' remorseless, same as if it's a personal fight between cow-folks over cattle."

"Quite right," I said. "Money is often more cruel than men; and a business vendetta is frequently mere murder without the incident of blood. I don't suppose the life of your Arizona town would show these trade wars. It would take Eastern-that is, older-conditions, to provoke and carry one on."

"No," replied the old gentleman, with an air of retrospection, "I don't recall nothin' of the sort in Wolfville. We're too much in a huddle, anyway; thar ain't room for no sech fracas, no how. Now the nearest we-alls comes to anythin' of the kind is when the new dance- hall starts that time.

"Which I reckons," continued the Old Cattle. man, as he began arranging a smoke, "which I now reckons this yere is the only catyclism in trade Wolfville suffers; the only time it comes to what you-all Eastern sports would call a showdown in commerce. Of course thar's the laundry war, but that's between females an' don't count. Females-while it's no sorter doubt they's the noblest an' most exhilaratin' work of their Redeemer-is nervous that a-way, an' due any time to let their ha'r down their backs, emit a screech, an' claw an' lay for each other for luck. An', as I says, if you confines the festivities to them females engaged, an' prevents the men standin' in on the play, it's shore to wind up in sobs an' forgiveness, an' tharfore it don't go.

"As I says, what I now relates is the only industrial trouble I recalls in Wolfville. I allers remembers it, 'cause, bein' as how I knows the party who's the aggravatin' cause tharof, it mortifies me the way he jumps into camp an' carries on.

"When I sees him first is ages before, when I freights with eight mules over the Old Fort Bascome trail from Vegas to the Panhandle. This sharp-which he's a tenderfoot at the time, but plumb wolf by nacher-trails up to me in the Early Rose Saloon in Vegas one day, an' allows he'd like to make a deal an' go projectin' over into the Panhandle country with me for a trip. "Freightin' that a-way three weeks alone on the trail is some harrowin' to the sperits of a gent who loves company like me, so I agrees, an' no delay to it.

"Which I'm yere to mention I regrets later I'm that easy I takes this person along. Not that he turns hostile, but he's allers havin' adventures, an' things keeps happenin' to him; an' final, I thinks he's shorely dead an' gone complete-the same, as I afterward learns, bein' error; an', takin' it up one trail an' down another, that trip breaks me offen foolin' with shorthorns complete, an' I don't go near 'em for years, more'n if they's stingin' lizards.

"Whatever does this yere maverick do to me? Well, nothin' much to me personal; but he keeps a-breedin' of events which pesters me.

"We're out about four days when them mishaps begins. I camps over one sun on the Concha to rest my mules. I'm loaded some heavy with six thousand pounds in the lead, an' mebby four thousand pounds in the trail wagon; an' I stops a day to give my stock a chance to roll an' breathe an' brace up. My off-wheel mule-a reg'lar shave-tail- is bad med'cine. Which he's not only eager to kick towerists an' others he takes a notion ag'inst; but he's likewise what you-alls calls a kleptomaniac, an' is out to steal an' sim'lar low-down plays.

"I warns this yere tenderfoot-his name's Smith, but I pulls on him when conversin' as 'Colonel'-I warns this shorthorn not to fuss 'round my Jerry mule, bein', as I states, a mule whose mood is ornery.

"'Don't go near him, Colonel,' says I; 'an' partic'lar don't go crowdin' 'round to get no r'ar views of him. You-all has no idee of the radius of that mule; what you might call his sweep. You never will till he's kicked you once or twice, an' the information ain't worth no sech price. So I don't reckon I'd fool with him, none whatever.

"'An' speshul, Colonel,' I goes on, for I shore aims to do my dooty by him, 'don't lay nothin' 'round loose where this yere Jerry mule can grab it off. I'm the last freighter on the Plains to go slanderin' an' detractin' of a pore he'pless mule onless it's straight; but if you-all takes to leavin' keepsakes an' mementoes layin' about casooal an' careless that a-way, Jerry'll eat 'em; an' the first you saveys your keepsakes is within Jerry's interior, an' thar you be.

"'The fact is, stranger, this Jerry mule's a thief,' I says. 'If he's a human, Jerry would be lynched. But otherwise he's a sincere, earnest mule; an up hill or at a quicksand crossin' Jerry goes into his collar like a lion; so I forgives him bein' a thief an' allows it's a peccadillo."

"'Well, you bet!' says this tenderfoot Colonel, 'this yere Jerry better not come no peccadillos on me.'

"'If you-all maintains about twenty feet,' I replies, 'between Jerry's hind-Hocks an' you; an' if you keeps your bric-a-brac in your war-bags, you an' Jerry'll get along like lambs. Now, I warns you, an' that's got to do. If Jerry an' you gets tangled up yereafter you-all ain't goin' to harbor no revenges ag'in him, nor make no ranikaboo plays to get even.'

"As I states, I'm camped on the Concha, an` the Colonel, who's allers out to try experiments an' new deals, puts it up he'll go down to the river an' take a swim. Tharupon he lines out for the water.

"Jerry's hangin' about camp-for he's sorter a pet mule-allowin' mebby I submits a ham-rind or some sech delicacy to him to chew on; an' he hears the Colonel su'gest he'll swim some. So when the Colonel p'ints for the Concha, Jerry sa'nters along after, figgerin', mighty likely, as how he'll pass the hour a-watchin' the Colonel swim.

"I'm busy on flapjacks at the time-which flapjacks is shore good food-an' I don't observe nothln' of Jerry nor the Colonel neither. They's away half an hour when I overhears ejac'lations, though I can't make out no words. I don't have to get caught in no landslide to tumble to a game, an' I'm aware at once that Jerry an' the Colonel has got their destinies mixed.

"Nacherally, I goes over to the held of strife, aimin' to save Jerry, or save the Colonel, whichever has the other down. When I bursts on the scene, the Colonel starts for me, splutterin' an' makin' noises an' p'intin' at Jerry, who stands thar with an air of innocence. The Colonel's upper lip hangs down queer, like an ant- eater's, an' he can't talk. It's all mighty amazin'.

"'What's all this toomult about?' I says.

"The short of the riot is this: The Colonel goes in for a swim, an' he lays out his false teeth that a-way on a stone. When he comes for his teeth they's shorely gone, an' thar stands Jerry puttin' it on he's asleep. Them teeth is filed away in Jerry.

"Which the Colonel raves 'round frightful, an' wants to kill Jerry an' amputate him, an' scout for the teeth. But I won't have it. I'm goin' to need Jerry down further on the quicksand fords of the Canadian; an', as I explains, them teeth is a wreck by now, an' no good if he get's 'em ag'in; Jerry munchin' of his food powerful.

"After a while I rounds up the Colonel an' herds him back to camp. Jerry has shore sawed off a sore affliction on that tenderfoot when he takes in them teeth; I can see that. His lip hangs like a blacksmith's apron, an' he can't talk a little bit; jest makes signs or motions, like he's Injun or deef.

"It's mebby two weeks later when Jerry gets another shot at the Colonel. It's the evenin' after the night Jerry sneaks into camp, soft-foot as a coyote, noses open the grub-box, an' eats five bottles of whiskey; all we has. We've pitched camp, an' I've hobbled this Jerry mule an' his mate-the other wheeler-an' throwed 'em loose, an' is busy hobblin' my nigh-swing mule, when trouble begins fomentin' between my tenderfoot an' Jerry.

"The fact is it's done fomented. This Colonel, bein' some heated about that whiskey, an' plumb sore on Jerry on account of them teeth, allows to himse'f he'll take a trace-chain an' warp Jerry once for luck.

"If this yere tenderfoot had been free with me, an' invited me into his confidence touchin' his designs, I'd took a lariat an' roped an' throwed Jerry for him, an' tied the felon down, an' let the Colonel wallop him an hour or so: but the Colonel's full of variety that a- way, or mebby he thinks I'll side with Jerry. Anyhow, he selects a trace-chain, an', without sayin' a word, dances all cautious towards his prey. Which this is relaxation for Jerry.

[drawing of Jerry kicking the Colonel with caption: "That he'pless shorthorn stops both heels.]

"While that Colonel tenderfoot is a rod away, Jerry turns his tail some sudden in his direction, an' the next instant that he'pless shorthorn stops both heels some'ers about the second button of his shirt. That settles it; the Colonel's an invalid immediate. I shorely has a time with him that night.

"The next day he can't walk, an' he can't ride in the wagon 'cause of the jolts. It all touches my heart, an' at last I ups an' make a hammock outen a Navajo blanket, which is good an' strong, an' swings the Colonel to the reach of the trail wagon.

"It's mostly a good scheme. Where the ground's level the Colonel comes on all right; but now an' then, when a wheel slumps into a rut, the Colonel can't he'p none but smite the ground where he's the lowest, an' it all draws groans an' laments from him a heap.

"One time, when the Colonel's agony makes him groan speshul strong, I sees Jerry bat his eyes like he enjoys it; an' then Jerry mentions somethin' to his mate over the chain. We're trottin' along the trail at the time, an', bein' he's the nigh-wheeler-which is the saddle- mule of a team-I'm ridin' Jerry's compadre, an' when I notes how Jerry is that joyous about it I reaches across an' belts him some abrupt between the y'ears with the butt of a shot-filled black- snake. It rather lets the whey outen Jerry's glee, an' he don't get so much bliss from that tenderfoot's misfortunes as he did.

"It goes along all right ontil I swings down to the crossin' of the Canadian. It's about

fourth-drink time in the afternoon, an' I'm allowin' to ford the Canadian that evenin' an' camp on t'other side. The river is high an' rapid from rain some'ers back on its head waters, an' it's wide an' ugly. It ain't more'n four foot deep, but the bottom is quicksand, an' that false, if I lets my wagons stop ten seconds anywhere between bank an' bank, I'm goin' to be shy wagons at the close. I'll be lucky if I win out the mules. It's shore a hard, swift crossin'.

"I swings down, as I says, to the river's aige with my mind filled up about the rush I've got to make. It's go through on the run or bog down. First I settles in my saddle, gives the outfit the word, an' then, pourin' the whip into the two leaders, I sends the whole eight into the water on the jump. The river is runnin' like a scared wolf, an' the little lead mules hardly touches bottom.

"As the trail wagon takes the water, an' the two leaders is plumb in to the y'ears, a howl develops to the r'ar. It's my pore tenderfoot in his hammock onder the trail wagon. He shrieks as the water gets to him; an' it all hits me like a bullet, for I plumb overlooks him, thinkin' of that quicksand crossin'.

"It's shore too late now; I'm in, an' I can't stop. To make things more complex, as the water cuts off the tenderfoot's yell like puffin' out a candle, a little old black mule, which is my off- p'inter, loses his feet an' goes down. I pours the leather into the team the harder, an' the others soars into their collars an' drug my black p'inter with 'em; only he's onder water. Of course I allows both the black p'inter an' the Colonel's shorely due to drown a whole lot.

"We gets across, the seven other mules an' me; an' the second he's skated out on the sand on his side, the drowned mule gets up an' sings as triumphant as I ever hears. Swimmin' onder the river don't wear on him a bit.

"Then I goes scoutin' for the Colonel, but he's vanished complete. Nacherally, I takes him for a dead-an'-gone gent; an' figgers if some eddy or counter-current don't get him, or he don't go aground on no sand-bar, his fellow-men will fish him out some'ers between me an' New Orleans, an' plant him an' hold services over him.

"Bein' as I can't be of no use where it's a clean-sweep play like this, I dismisses the Colonel from my mind. After hobblin' an' throwin' loose my team, I lugs out the grub-box all sorrowful an' goes into camp.

"Which I should allers have played the Colonel for dead, if it ain't that years later he one day comes wanderin' into Wolfville. He ain't tender now; he's as hard as moss-agates, an' as worthless.

"I renews my acquaintance with him, an' he tells how he gets outen the Canadian that day; but beyond that we consoomes a drink or two together, I rather passes him up. Thar's a heap about him I don't take to.

"The Colonel lays 'round Wolfville mebby it's a week, peerin' an' spyin' about. He says he's lookin' for an openin'. An' I reckons he is, for at the end of a week he slaps up a joint outen tent-cloth an' fence-boards, an' opens a dance-hall squar' ag'inst Jim Hamilton's which is already thar.

"This yere alone is likely to brood an' hatch trouble; but, as if takin' a straight header into Hamilton's game ain't enough, this Colonel of mine don't get no pianer; don't round-up no music of his own; but stands pat an' pulls off reels, an' quadrilles, an' green- corn dances to Hamilton's music goin' on next door.

"I'm through the Lincoln County war, an' has been romancin' about the frontier for years; but I never tracks up on no sech outrage in my life as this disgraceful Colonel openin' a hurdy-gurdy ag'in Hamilton's, an' maverickin' his music that a-way, an' dancin' tharunto.

"It's the second night, an' Hamilton concloods he'll see about it some. He comes into the Colonel's joint, ca'm an' considerate, an' gives it out thar's goin' to be trouble if the Colonel don't close his game or play in his own fiddlers.

"'Which if you-all don't close your game or hunt out your own music,' says Hamilton, 'I'm mighty likely to get my six-shooter an' close it for you.'

"'See yere,' says my Colonel-which he's shore been learnin' since I parts with him on the Canadian-'the first hold-up who comes foolin' 'round to break up a baile of mine, I'll shorely make him hard to find. What business you got fillin' up my place with your melodies? You rolls your tunes in yere like you owns the ranch; an' then you comes curvin' over an' talks of a gun-play 'cause, instead of layin' for you for that you disturbs my peace with them harmonies, I'm that good-nachered I yields the p'int an' dances to 'em. You-all pull your freight,' says the Colonel, 'or I'll fill you full of lead.'

"This argument of the Colonel's dazzles Hamilton to that degree he don't know whether he's got the high hand or not. He thinks a minute, an' then p'ints over to the Red Light for Enright an' Doc Peets. As he leaves the rival dance-hall, the Colonel, who's callin' off his dances, turns to the quadrille, which is pausin pendin' the dispoote, an' shouts:

"'You bet I knows my business! Right hand to your partner; grand right an' left!'

"When Hamilton turns away they's shore makin' things rock an' tremble; an' all to the strains of 'The Arkansaw Traveller,' which is bein' evolved next door at Hamilton's expense.

"Which somethin's goin' to pop; says Hamilton, mighty ugly to Enright an' the rest of us, as he pours a drink into his neck. 'I allows in the interests of peace that I canters over an' sees you- alls first. I ain't out to shake up Wolfville, nor give Red Dog a chance to criticise us none as a disorderly camp; but I asks you gents, as citizens an' members of the vig'lance committee, whether I'm to stand an' let this yere sharp round-up my music to hold his revels by, an' put it all over me nightly?'

"'I don't see no difference,' says Dan Boggs, 'between this convict a-stealin' of Hamilton's music, than if he goes an' stands up Old Monte an' the stage.'

"'The same bein' my idee exact,' says Texas Thompson. 'Yere's Hamilton caterin' to this camp with a dance-hall. It's a public good thing. If a gent's morose, an' his whiskey's slow placin' itse'f, he goes over to Hamilton's hurdy-gurdy an' finds relaxation an' relief. Now yere comes this stranger-an' I makes it fifty dollars even he's from Massachusetts-an' what does he do? Never antes nor sticks in a white chip, but purloins Hamilton's strains, an' pulls off his dances tharby. It's plumb wrong, an' what this party needs is hangin'.'

"'Oh, I don't know,' says Cherokee Hall, who's in on the talk. 'Hamilton's all right, an' a squar' man. All he wants is jestice. Now, while I deems the conduct of this stranger low an' ornery; still, comin' down to the turn, he's on his trail all right. As this sharp says: Who gives Hamilton any license to go fillin' his hurdy- gurdy full of dance-music? S'pose this gent would come caperin' over an' set in a stack ag'in Hamilton for overloadin' his joint with pianer an' fiddle noises without his consent; an' puttin' it up he's out to drag the camp if Hamilton don't cease? The only way Hamilton gets 'round that kind of complaint is, he don't own them walses an' quadrilles after they fetches loose from his fiddle; that they ain't his quadrilles no more, an' he's not responsible after they stampedes off into space.'

"'That's straight,' says Dave Tutt, 'you-alls can't run no brand on melodies. A gent can't own no music after he cuts it loose that a- way. The minute it leaves the bosoms of his fiddles, that's where he lets go. After that it belongs to any gent to dance by, cry by, set by, or fight by, as he deems meet an' pleasant at the time.'

"'What do you-alls say?' says Hamilton to Enright an' Peets. 'Does this yere piece of oppression on a leadin' citizen, perpetrated by a rank outsider, go? I shore waits for your reply with impatience, for I eetches to go back an' shoot up this new hurdy-gurdy from now till sun-up.'

"Enright takes Doc Peets down by the end of the bar-an' thar's no doubt about it, that Peets is the wisest longhorn west of the Missoury-an' they has a deep consultation. We-alls is waitin'. some interested, to see what they says. It's shore a fine p'int this Colonel's makin' to jestify an' back his game.

"'Get a move on you, Enright!' at last says Dan Boggs, who is a hasty, eager man, who likes action; 'get a move on you, you an' Peets, an' settle this. You're queerin' the kyards an' delayin' the play.'

"'Well, gents,' says Enright at last, comin' back where we-alls is by the door, 'Peets an' me sees no need decidin' on them questions about who owns a tune after said tune has been played. But thar is a subject, that a-way, which requires consideration; an' which most likely solves this dance-hall deadlock. In all trade matters in a growin' camp like Wolfville, it's better to preserve a equilibrium. It's ag'in public interest to have two or three dance-halls, or two or three saloons, all in a bunch that a-way. It's better they be spraddled 'round wide apart, which is more convenient. So Peets an' me proposes as a roole for this yere camp that two hurdy-gurdies be forbid to be carried on within five hundred feet of each other. As it looks like nobody objects, we concloods it's adopted. Nacherally, the last hurdy-gurdy up has to move, which disposes of this yere trouble.'

"'Before I ends what I has to say,' goes on Enright, 'I wants to thank our townsman, Mister Hamilton, for consultin' of the Stranglers prior to a killin'. It shows he's a law-abidin' gent an' a credit to the camp. An' mighty likely he prolongs his stay on earth. If he'd pranced in an' skelped this maraudin' stranger, I don't reckon we could avoid swingin' him at the end of a lariat without makin' a dangerous preceedent. As it is, his rival will be routed an' his life made sereen as yeretofore.'

"'As to the execution of this new roole,' concloods Enright, 'we leaves that to Jack Moore. He will wait on this party an' explain the play. He must up stakes an' move his camp; an' if he calls on another shindig after he's warned, we-alls takes our ponies an' our ropes an' yanks his outfit up by the roots. A gent of his enterprise, however, will come to a dead halt; an' his persecutions of Hamilton will cease.'

"'An' you-all calls this yere a free American outfit!' says my Colonel, mighty scornful, when Jack Moore notifies him. 'If I don't line out for t'other end of camp you-alls is allowin' to rope my joint an' pull it down! Well, that lets me out; I quits you. I'd be shorely degraded to put in my time with any sech low-flung passel of sports. You-all may go back an' tell your folks that as you leaves you hears me give the call to my guests, "All promenade to the bar"; an' the dancin' is done. To-morrow I departs for Red Dog to begin life anew. Wolfville is too slow a camp for any gent with any swiftness to him.'"

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