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   Chapter 15 SLIM JIM'S SISTER.

Wolfville By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 26019

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


"Which thar's folks in this caravansary I don't like none," remarked the Old Cattleman, as I joined him one afternoon on the lawn. His tone was as of one half sullen, half hurt, and as he jerked his thumb toward the hotel behind us, it was a gesture full of scorn. "Thar's folks thar, takin' 'em up an' down, horns, hide, tallow, an' beef, who ain't worth heatin' a runnin'-iron to brand."

"What's the trouble?" I inquired, as I organized for comfort with my back against the elm-tree which shadowed us.

"No trouble at all," replied my old friend sourly, "leastwise nothin' poignant. It's that yoothful party in the black surtoot who comes pesterin' me a moment ago about the West bein', as he says, a roode an' irreligious outfit."

"He's a young preacher," I explained. "Possibly he was moved by an anxiety touching your soul's welfare."

"Well, if he's out to save souls," retorted the old gentleman, "he oughter whirl a bigger loop. No, no, he won't do,"he continued, shaking his head with an air of mournful yet resentful decision, "this yere gent's too narrow; which his head is built too much the shape of a quail-trap. He may do to chase jack-rabbits an' sech, but he's a size too small for game like me. Save souls, says you! Why, if that onp'lite young person was to meet a soul like mine comin' up the trail, he'd shorely omit what to do entire; he'd be that stampeded. He'd be some hard to locate, I takes it, after he meets up with a soul like mine a whole lot."

The Old Cattleman made this proclamation rather to himself than me, but I could detect an air of pride. Then he went on:

"'This yere West you emanates from,' says this young preacher-sharp to me that a-way, 'this yere West you hails from is roode, an' don't yield none to religious inflooences.'

"'Well,' I says back to him, fillin' my pipe at the same time, 'I reckons you shorely can c'llect more with a gun than a contreebution box in the West, if that's what you-all is aimin' at. But if you figgers we don't make our own little religious breaks out in Arizona, stranger, you figgers a heap wrong. You oughter have heard Short Creek Dave that time when he turns 'vangelist an' prances into the warehouse back of the New York Store, an' shows Wolfville she's shore h'ar-hung an' breeze-shaken over hell that a-way. Short Creek has the camp all spraddled out before he turns his deal-box up an' closes his game.'

"'But this yere Short Creek Dave,' he remonstrates to me, 'ain't no reg'lar licensed divine. He ain't workin' in conjunctions with no shore 'nough' sociation, I takes it. This Short Creek person is most likely one of them irrelevant exhortin' folks, an' that makes a difference. He don't belong to no reg'lar denom'nation.'

"'That's troo, too,' I says. 'Short Creek ain't workin' with no reg'lar religious round-up; he's sorter runnin' a floatin' outfit, criss-crossin' the range, prowlin' for mavericks an' strays on his own game. But what of that? He's shorely tyin' 'em down an' brandin' 'em right along.'

"'Oh, I don't dispoote none the efficacy of your friend's work that a-way,' replies the young preacher-sharp, 'but it's irreg'lar; it's plumb out of line. Now what you-alls needs in the West is real churches, same as we-alls has in the East.'

"`I ain't none shore of that.' I says, 'an' I'm gettin' a little warm onder the collar some with them frills he puts on; 'I ain't none shore. The East needn't deem itse'f the only king in the deck; none whatever. The West can afford the usual rooles an' let all bets go as they lays, an' still get up winner on the deal. I takes it you-alls never notes the West sendin' East for he'p?'

"'But that ain't the idee,' he urges. 'Churches that a-way is the right thing. They molds a commoonity, churches does. You b'ars witness yourse'f that where churches exists the commoonity is the most orderly an' fuller of quietood an' peace.'

"'Not necessarily I don't,' I replies back, for I'm goin' to play my hand out if it gets my last chip, 'not necessarily. What I b'ars witness to is that where the commoonity is the most orderly that a- way an' fuller of quietood an' peace, the churches exists.'

"'Which I'm shorely some afraid,' he says,-an' his looks shows he's gettin' a horror of me,-'you belongs to a perverse generation. You- all is vain of your own evil-doin'. Look at them murders that reddens the West, an' then sit yere an' tell me it don't need no inflooences.'

"'Them ain't murders,' I answers; them's killin's. An' as for inflooenccs, if you-all don't reckon the presence of a vig'lance committee in a camp don't cause a gent to pause an' ponder none before he pulls his gun, you dwells in ignorance. However, I'm yere to admit, I don't discern no sech sin-encrusted play in a killin' when the parties breaks even at the start, an' both gents is workin' to the same end unanimous. It does some folks a heap of good to kill 'em a lot.'

"It's at this p'int the young preacher-sharp pulls his freight, an' I observes, by the way he stacks me up with his eyes that a-way, he allows mebby I'm locoed."

The Old Cattleman said no more for a moment, but puffed at his cob pipe in thought and silence. I had no notion of involving myself in any combat of morals or theology, so I did not invade his mood. At last I suggested in a half-tone of inoffensive sympathy that the West was no doubt much misunderstood.

"Life there," I remarked, "amid new and rough conditions must be full of hardship and tragedy."

This vague arrow in the air had the effect of sending the old fellow off at a tangent. His bent was evidently discursive, and all thoughts of his late religious controversy seemed to pass from his mind.

"Full of hardship an' tragedy is your remark," he retorted, "an' I joins you tharin. Take them disasters that pounces on Slim Jim. What happens in the case of this yere Slim Jim tenderfoot," the old fellow continued as a damp gleam of sympathy shone in his eye,"is both hardship an' tragedy. Which of course thar's a mighty sight of difference. A hardship a gent lives through; but it's a tragedy when his light's put out. An' as Slim Jim don't live through this none, it's nacherally a tragedy that a-way.

"I frequent sees bad luck to other folks, as well as comin' to me personal, in the years I inhabits the grass country, but this was shorely the toughest. It even overplays anythin' Rainbow Sam ever is ag'inst; an' the hard luck of Rainbow Sam is a proverb of Arizona.

"'Which I reckons I was foaled with a copper on me,' says this Rainbow Sam to Enright one day. 'In all my born days I never makes a killin'-never gets up winner once. I was foaled a loser, an' I'll keep a-losin' ontil this yere malady-which it's consumption-which has me in charge delivers me to the angels an' gets its receipt.'

"It's a mockery what transpires touchin' this Rainbow Sam. Jest as he states, the consumption's got him treed an' out on a limb. Doc Peets says, himse'f, nothin' can he'p him; an' when Peets quits a little thing like consumption an' shoves his chair back, you-alls can gamble a gent's health, that a-way, is on a dead kyard.

"I recalls how Rainbow Sam dies; which he rides out into eternity easy an' painless. We-alls is into a poker-game nne night-that is, five of us-when Doc Peets is called away.

"'See yere, Rainbow,' says Peets to Rainbow Sam, who's penniless an' tharfore lookin' on; 'you never has a morsel of luck in your life. Now, yere: You play my hand an' chips awhile. I'm on velvet for three hundred an' fifty, an' I'd as soon you'd lose it into the game as any sport I knows. An' to rouse your moral nacher I wants to tell you, whatever you rakes in you keeps. Now thar's luck at the jump; you can't lose an' you may win, so set in yere. Napoleon never has half the show.'

"Peets goes away for an hour about somethin', an' Rainbow Sam takes his seat; an', merely to show how one gent outlucks another, while Peets has had the luck of dogs it's that profuse an' good, it looks like the best Rainbow can get is an even break. For half an hour he wins an' he loses about equal; an' he's shore tryin' hard to win, too.

"'If I takes in a couple of hundred or so,' says this Rainbow to me,

'I allows I'll visit my folks in the States once for luck.'

"But he never visits them folks he adverts to. It's on Boggs's deal, an' he's throwin' the kyards 'round when Rainbow's took bad. His consumption sorter mutinies onto him all at once. He's got the seat on the left of Boggs, too,-got the age.

"'Play my hand,' he says to Hamilton, who's stepped in from the dance-hall; 'play my hand, Jim, till I feels a little better. I'll be all right in a moment. Barkeep, deal me some whiskey.'

"So Rainbow walks over to the bar, an' Hamilton picks up his kyards. I notes that Rainbow steps off that time some tottersome; but he's so plumb weak that a-way, cats is robust to him; an' so I deems nothin' tharof. I'm skinnin' my kyards a bit interested anyhow, bein' in the hole myse'f.

"Everybody comes in this deal, an' when the chips is in the center- this yere's before the draw-Hamilton, speakin' up for Rainbow, says:

"'These yere's Doc Peets's chips anyhow?'

"'Which they shorely be,' says Boggs, 'so play 'em merciless, 'cause

Peets is rich.'

"'That's what I asks for,' says Hamilton, 'for I don't aim to make no mistakes with pore Rainbow's money.'

"'That's all right,' says Boggs, 'dump 'em in. If you-all lose, it's

Peets's; if you win, it's Rainbow's.'

"'Play 'em game an' liberal, Old Man,' says Rainbow over by the bar,-an' it strikes me at the time his tones is weak an' queer; but bein' as I jest then notes a third queen in my hand, I don't have no chance to dwell on the fact. 'Play 'em game an' free,' says Rainbow ag'in. 'Free as the waters of life. Win or lose, she's all the same a hundred year from now.'

"Hamilton takes another look an' then raises the ante a hundred dollars. This yere is table stakes; this game was; an' the stakes is five hundred.

"'Which I plays this,' says Hamilton, as he comes up with the hundred raise, 'the same as I would for myse'f, which the same means plenteous an' free as a king.'

"Thar's three of us who stays, one of the same bein' me. I allers recalls it easy, 'cause it frost-bites my three queens for over three hundred dollars before the excitement dies away. Boggs, who's so vociferous recent about Hamilton playin' wide open, stays out; not havin' as good as nine-high.

"On the draw Hamilton allows Rainbow's hand needs one kyard, an' he gets it. I takes one also; the same bein' futile, so far as he'pin' my hand goes; an' the others takes kyards various.

"Thar's only one raise, an' that's when it gets to Hamilton. He sets in a little over two hundred dollars, bein' the balance of the stake; an' two of us is feeble-minded enough to call. What does he have? Well, it's ample for our ondoin' that a-way. It's a straight flush of diamonds; jack at the head of the class. It shorely carries off the pot like it's a whirlwind. As near as I can measure, Hamilton claws off with about six hundred dollars for Rainbow on that one hand.

"'Yere you be, Rainbow!' shouts Boggs. 'Come a-runnin'! It's now you visits them relations; you makes a killin' at last.'

"It turns out some late for Rainbow though. Thar's no reply to Boggs's talk, an' when we-alls goes over to him where he's set down by the end of the bar thar, with his arm on a monte-table, an' his chin on his shirt, Rainbow Sam is dead.

"'Which I regrets,' says Doc Peets when he returns, 'that Rainbow don't stay long enough to onderstand how luck sets his way at last. It most likely comforts him an' makes his goin' out more cheerful.'

"'It's a good sign, though,' says Cherokee Hall, 'that straight flush is. Which it shows Rainbow strikes a streak of luck; an' mebby it lasts long enough to get him by the gates above all right. That's all I asks when my time comes; that I dies when I'm commencin' a run of luck.'

"Oh! about this Slim Jim tenderfoot an' his tragedy! Do you know I plumb overlooks him. I gets trailed off that a-way after pore old Rainbow Sam, an' Slim Jim escapes my mem'ry complete.

"Which the story of this gent, even the little we-alls knows, is a heap onusual. No one, onless he's the postmaster, ever does hear his name. He sorter ha'nts about Red Dog an' Wolfville indiscriminate for mighty nigh a year; an' they calls him 'Slim Jim' with us, an' 'The Tenderfoot' in Red Dog; but, as I says, what's his real name never does poke up its head.

"Whatever brings this yere Slim Jim into the cow country is too boggy a crossin' for me. Thar ain't a thing he can do or learn to. We-alls has him on one round-up, an' it's cl'ar from the jump he ain't meant by Providence for the cattle business. The meekest bronco in the bunch bucks him off; an' actooally he's that timid he's plumb afraid of ponies an' cattle both.

"We-alls fixes Slim Jim's saddle with buckin'-

straps; an' even fastens a roll of blankets across the saddle-horn; but it ain't enough. Nothin' bar tyin' Slim Jim into the saddle, like the hoss- back Injuns does to papooses, could save him.

"An' aside from nacheral awk'ardness an' a light an' fitful seat in a saddle, it looks like this Slim Jim has baleful effects on a bronco. To show you: One mornin' we ropes up for him a pony which has renown for its low sperits. It acts, this yere pony does, like it's suffered some disapp'intment which blights it an' breaks its heart; an' no amount of tightenin' of the back cinch; not even spurrin' of it in the shoulder an' neck like playful people who's out for a circus does, is ever known to evolve a buck-jump outen him, he's that sad. Which this is so well known, the pony's name is 'Remorse.'

"As I says, merely to show the malignant spell this yere Slim Jim casts over a bronco, we-alls throws him onto this Remorse pony one mornin'.

"'Which if you can't get along with that cayouse,' remarks Jack Moore at the time, 'I reckons it's foreordained you-all has to go afoot.'

"An' that's how it turns out. No sooner is Slim Jim in the saddle than that Remorse pony arches his back like a hoop, sticks his nose between his knees, an' gives way to sech a fit of real old worm- fence buckin' as lands Slim Jim on his sombrero, an' makes expert ponies simply stand an' admire.

"That's the last round-up Slim Jim attempts; workin' cattle he says himse'f is too deep a game for him, an' he never does try no more. So he hangs about Wolfville an' Red Dog alternate, turnin' little jim-crow tricks for the express company, or he'pin' over to the stage company's corrals, an' sorter manages to live.

"Now an' then some party who's busy drinkin', an' tharfore hasn't time for faro, an' yet is desirous the same be played, stakes Slim Jim ag'inst the game; an' it happens at times he makes a small pick- up that a-way. But his means of livelihood is shorely what you-alls would call precar'ous.

"An' yet, as I sends my mind back over the trail, I never knows of nothin' bad this yere Slim Jim does. You needn't go inferrin' none, from his havin' a terror of steers an' broncos that a-way, that he's timid plumb through. Thar's reason to deem him game when he's up ag'inst mere man.

"Once, so they tells the story, Curly Bill rounds up this Slim Jim in a Red Dog hurdy-gurdy an' concloods to have some entertainment with him.

"'Dance, you shorthorn!' says this yere Curly Bill, yankin' out his six-shooter an' p'intin' it mighty sudden at Slim Jim's foot; 'shuffle somethin' right peart now, or you-all emerges shy a toe.'

"Does this Slim Jim dance? Never cavorts a step. At the first move he swarms all over this Curly Bill like a wild-cat, makes him drop his gun, an' sends him out of the hurdy-gurdy on a canter. That's straight; that's the painful fact in the case of Curly Bill, who makes overgay with the wrong gent.

"Later, mebby an hour, so the party says who relates it to me, Curly Bill sends back word into the hurdy-gurdy, tellin' the barkeep, if his credit's good after sech vicissitoodes, to treat the house. He allows the drinks is on him, an' that a committee can find him settin' on the post office steps sorter goin' over himse'f for fractures, if it's held necessary for him to be present when the drinks is took.

"Which of course any gent's credit is good at the bar that a-way; an' so a small delegation of three ropes up this yere Curly Bill an' brings him back to the hurdy-gurdy, where he gets his gun ag'in, an' Slim Jim an' him makes up.

"'Which I renounces all idee of ever seein' you dance some,' says Curly Bill, when he an' Jim shakes; 'an' I yereby marks your moccasins plumb off my list of targets.'

"Everybody's pleased at this; an' the barkeep is delighted speshul, as one of them reeconciliations that a-way is mighty condoosive to the sale of nose-paint. I'm yere to remark, if thar ain't no more reeconciliations on earth, an' everybody stands pat on them hatreds an' enmities of his, whiskey-drinkin' falls off half.

"I only su'gest this turn-up with Curly Bill to 'lustrate that it's about as I says, an' that while Slim Jim's reluctant an' hesitatin' in the presence of wild steers, an' can't adhere to a pony much, this yere girlishness don't extend to men none; which last he faces prompt an' willin' as a lion.

"Thar's times when I shorely ponders the case of this Slim Jim a mighty sight, 'cause he keeps strikin' me as a good gent gone bad, an' as bein' the right gent in the wrong place.

"'This pore maverick is plumb Eastern, that's all,' says Enright one day, while he's discussin' of this Slim Jim. 'He ain't to blame, but he ain't never goin' to do, none whatever, out yere. He can't no more get used to Arizona than one of the Disciples, an' he might camp 'round for years.'

"It's mebby hard onto a year when along comes the beginnin' of the end as far as this Slim Jim's concerned, only we-alls don't know it. The postmaster says afterward he gets a letter; an' by what's found on the remainder it looks like the postmaster's right, an' this letter sets him goin' wrong. I allers allows, after he gets this missive, that he sees the need of money that a-way an' plenty of it; an' that it's got to come quick.

"Most likely he's been bluffin' some parties in the East about how rich he is an' how lucrative he's doin',-sech bluffs bein' common in the West,-an' now along comes events an' folks he's fooled, an' his bluff is called.

"When it arrives, none of us knows of this yere letter the postmaster mentions, an' which is later read by all; but it's about that time Slim Jim acts queer an' locoed. He's flustered an' stampeded about somethin', we-alls notes that; an' Dave Tutt even forgets himse'f as a gent so far as to ask Slim Jim what's up.

"`Which you looks oneasy these autumn days,' says Tutt to Slim Jim.

'What's wrong?'

"'Nothin',' says Slim Jim, lookin' a bit woozy, 'nothin' wrong. A friend of mine is likely to show up yere; that's all.'

"'Which he has the air of a fugitive from jestice when he says it,' observes Tutt, when he speaks of it after all's over; 'though jedgin' by the party who's on his trail that time I don't reckon he's done nothin' neither.'

"It's shorely the need of money drives this Slim Jim to turnin' route-agent an' go holdin' up the stage, for the evenin' he quits camp he says to Cherokee Hall: 'S'pose I asks you-all to lend me money, quite a bundle, say, would you do it?'

"'I turns faro for my money,' says Cherokee; 'which I merely mentions it to show I comes honestly by my roll. As to borrowin' of me, you-all or any gent in hard lines can get my money by showin' he needs it worse than I do; an' to encourage you I might say I don't need money much. So, go on an' tell me the news about yourse'f, an' if it's as bad as the way you looks, I reckons I'll have to stake you, even if it takes half my pile.' Tharupon Cherokee urges Slim Jim to onfold his story.

"But Slim Jim gets shy an' won't talk or tell Cherokee what's pesterin' him, or how much money he needs.

"'No,' he says, after thinkin' a little, 'I never begs a stake yet, an' I never will. Anyhow I sees another way which is better.'

"Countin' noses afterwards, it's probably this talk with Cherokee is the last Slim Jim has before he breaks over into the hills on the hunt for money. He goes afoot, too; for he don't own no pony, an' he couldn't, as I explains previous, stay on him if he does.

"But he fixes himse'f with a Winchester which he gets from the stage-company people themse'fs on a talk he makes about takin' some reecreation with the coyotes, an' p'ints straight over into Rawhide Canyon,-mebby it's six miles from camp. When the stage gets along an hour later, this Slim Jim's made himse'f a mask with a handkerchief, an' is a full-fledged hold-up which any express company could be proud to down. Old Monte relates what happens in the canyon, 'cause from where he's stuck up on the box he gets a better view.

"'Yere's how this happens,' says Old Monte, while renooin' his yooth with Red Light licker after he's got in. 'It's a little hazy in the canyon, comin' evenin' that a-way, an' my eyes is watery with the shootin' goin' on, an' I tharfore don't say I notes things none minoote; but as near as I can, you gets the story.

"`Thar's only one passenger, an' she's a woman. Which for that matter she's a beautiful girl, with eyes like a buck antelope's; but bein' she's layin' over to the stage station defunct right now, along with this yere Slim Jim, I don't dwell none on how she looks.'

"'When I pulls out from Tucson I has this yere young female inside; an' the company puts two Wells-Fargo gyards on top of the coach, the same bein' the first time in months. These Wells-Fargo parties ain't along for hold-ups, but jest 'cause they has business over yere, an' so comes by stage same as other gents.

"`It all goes smooth ontil I'm rattlin' along in Rawhide Canyon not half-a-dozen miles from where we-alls is now drinkin' all free an' amiable, like life's nothin' but sunshine.

"'The first p'inter I has that I'm up ag'inst it, bang! goes a Winchester, an' throws my off leader dead ag'inst the trail. Thar's no goin' 'round the dead hoss, an' bar the nacheral rarin' an' pitchin' of the other five on beholdin' of the ontimely end of their companion that a-way, the whole business comes to a dead stop.

"'"Hold up your hands!" says a voice up the rocks on one side.

"'My hands is already up, for I'm an old stage-driver, gents, an' you-alls can gamble I knows my trade. I'm hired to drive. It ain't no part of my game to fight hold-ups an' stand off route-agents that a-way, an' get shot dead for it by their pards the next trip; so, as I says, the moment that Winchester goes off, I clamps my fingers back of my head an' sets thar. Of course I talks back at this hold- up a heap profane, for I don't aim to have the name of allowin' any gent to rustle my stage an' me not cuss him out. "'But these yere Wells-Fargo sharps, they never holds up their hands. That's nacheral enough, for them gents is hired to fight, an' this partic'lar trip thar's full six thousand dollars to go to war over.

"With the first shot the Wells-Fargo gents-they was game as goats both of 'em-slides offen the coach an' takes to shootin'. The guns is makin' a high old rattle of it, an' I'm hopin' the hold-up won't get to over-shootin' an' drill me, when the first casooalty occurs. One of the Wells-Fargo sports gets a bullet plumb through his frame, an' is dead an' out in the crack of a whip.

"'It looks like the hold-up sees him tumble, for it's then he cuts loose a whoop, jumps down onto the trail an' charges. He comes a- shootin', too, an' the way the lead an' fire fetches forth from that Winchester he's managin' shore reminds me of them Roman candles last July.

"'All this yere don't take ten seconds. An' it don't last ten seconds more. As my hold-up comes chargin' an' shootin' towards the stage, I overhears a scream inside, an' the next moment that young female passenger opens the door an' comes scamperin' out.

"'If she tries she couldn't have selected no worse epock. She hits the ground, an' the second she does-for I'm lookin' over at her at the time-she stops one of that hold-up's bullets an' goes down with a great cry.

"'It's on me, gents, at this p'int to take all resks an' go down an' look-out the play for the girl. But I never gets a chance, an' it's as well I don't; for towards the last the shootin' of the remainin' Wells-Fargo person is reckless an' inordinate. It's plumb reedundant; that shootin' is. But as I remarks, I never has no occasion to go to the girl; for as I feels the impulse I hears the hold-up shout:

"'"God! it's Mary! It's my sister!"

"'Thar's a letter on him we finds later, which shows this statement about my passenger bein' his sister is troo; an' that she's p'intin' out when downed, now they's orphans-which the letter states their father's jest cashed in-to come an' keep house for him. As the hold-up makes this yere exclamation about the girl bein' his relative that a-way, his Winchester goes a-rattlin' onto the trail an' he gathers her in his arms. However, he don't last longer than a drink of whiskey now. He don't no more'n lift her up, before even he kisses her, the remainin' Wells-Fargo gent downs him, an' the riot's over complete.

"'Three killed an' none wounded is how results stacks up; an' after me an' the live Wells-Fargo gent cl'ars the dead leader outen the trail, we-alls lays out the remainders inside all peaceful, an' comes a-curvin' on to Wolfville. It's then, as we puts 'em in the coach, I sees that my hold-up's that onfortunate felon, Slim Jim. Which I was shorely astonished. I says to the Wells-Fargo gent, as we looks at Slim Jim:

"'"Pard, the drinks is due from me on this. If I has a week to guess in, I'd never said 'Slim Jim.'"

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