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   Chapter 16 JAYBIRD BOB'S JOKE.

Wolfville By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 18467

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


"Whatever makes this yere jaybird Bob believe he's a humorist," said the Old Cattleman one afternoon as we slowly returned from a walk, "whatever it is misleads him to so deem himself is shorely too many for me. Doc Peets tells him himse'f one day he's plumb wrong.

"'You-all's nacherally a somber, morose party,' says Doc Peets this time, 'an' nothin' jocose or jocund about you. Your disp'sition, Jaybird, don't no more run to jokes than a prairie-dog's."

"'Which I would admire to know why not?' says Jaybird Bob.

"'Well,' goes on Doc Peets, 'you thinks too slow-too much like a cow in a swamp. Your mind moves sluggish that a-way, an' sorter sinks to the hocks each step. If you was born to be funny your intellects would be limber an' frivolous.'

"'Bein' all this is personal to me,' says Jaybird Bob, 'I takes leave to regard you as wrong. My jokes is good, high-grade jokes; an' when you-all talks of me bein' morose, it's a mere case of bluff.' An' so Jaybird goes on a-holdin of himse'f funny ontil we- alls has him to bury.

"No; Jaybird ain't his shore-'nough name; it's jest a handle to his 'dentity, so we-alls picks it up handy and easy. Jaybird's real name is Graingerford,-Poindexter Graingerford. But the same is cumbersom an' onwieldy a whole lot; so when he first trails into Wolfville we- alls considers among ourse'fs an' settles it's a short cut to call him 'Jaybird Bob,' that a-way. An' we does.

"It's on the spring round-up this yere Jaybird first develops that he regards himse'f witty. It's in the morning as we-alls has saddled up an' lines out to comb the range roundabout for cattle. Thar's a tenderfoot along whose name is Todd, an', as he's canterin' off, Jaybird comes a-curvin' up on his bronco an' reaches over an' tails this shorthorn's pony.

"What's tailin' a pony? It's ridin' up from the r'ar an' takin' a half-hitch on your saddle. horn with the tail of another gent's pony, an' then spurrin' by an' swappin' ends with the whole outfit,- -gent, hoss, an' all.

"It's really too toomultuous for a joke, an' mebby breaks the pony's neck, mebby the rider's. But whether he saves his neck or no, the party whose pony is thus tailed allers emergers tharfrom deshevelled an' wrought-up, an' hotter than a wolf. So no one plays this yere joke much; not till he's ready to get shot at.

"As I says, this Jaybird watches Todd as he rides off. Bein' new on the range that a-way, Todd don't ride easy. A cow saddle ain't built like these yere Eastern hulls, nohow. The stirrup is set two inches further back for one thing, an' it's compiled a heap different other ways. Bein' onused to cow saddles, an' for that matter cow ponies, this Todd lops over for'ard an' beats with his elbows like he's a curlew or somethin' flyin', an' I reckons it's sech proceedin's makes Jaybird allow he's goin' to be funny an' tail Todd's pony.

"As I explains, he capers along after Todd an' reaches over an' gets a handful of the pony's tail; an' then, wroppin' it 'round his saddle-horn, he goes by on the jump an' spreads Todd an' his bronco permiscus about the scene. This yere Todd goes along the grass on all fours like a jack-rabbit.

"Which Todd, I reckons, is the hostilest gent in south-east Arizona. Before ever he offers to get up, he lugs out his six-shooter an' makes some mighty sincere gestures that a-way to shoot up Jaybird. But he's slow with his weepon, bein' spraddled out on the grass, an' it gives Dave Tutt an' Enright a chance to jump in between an' stop the deal.

"We-alls picks Todd up, an' rounds up his pony,-which scrambles to its feet an' is now cavortin' about like its mind is overturned,- an' explains to him this yere is a joke. But he's surly an' relentless about it; an' it don't take no hawk to see he don't forgive Jaybird a little bit.

"'Tailin' a gent's pony,' says Todd, 'is no doubt thrillin' amoosement for folks lookin' on, but thar's nothin' of a redeemin' nature in it from the standp'int of the party whose pony's upheaved that a-way. Not to be misonderstood at this yere crisis,' goes on this Todd, 'I wants to announce that from now for'ard life will have but one purpose with me, which'll be to down the next gent whoever tails a pony of mine. The present incident goes as a witticism; but you can gamble the next won't be so regarded.'

"That sorter ends the talk, an' all of us but the cook an' the hoss- hustlers bein' in the saddle by now, we disperses ourse'fs through the scenery to work the cattle an' proceed with the round-up we-alls is on. We notes, though, that tailin' Todd's pony don't go ag'in with safety.

"It's when we-alls rides away that Doc Peets-who's out with the round-up, though he ain't got no cattle-brand himse'f-tells Jaybird he's not a humorist, like I already repeats.

"But, as I su'gests, this Jaybird Bob can't believe it none. He's mighty shore about his jokes bein' excellent good jokes; an' while it's plain Todd ain't got no confidence in him an' distrusts him complete since he tips over his bronco that mornin', it looks like Jaybird can't let him alone. An' them misdeeds of Jaybird's keeps goin' on, ontil by the merest mistake-for it's shore an accident if ever one happens in the cow country-this yere tenderfoot shoots up Jaybird an' kills him for good.

"It looks to us like it's a speshul Providence to warn folks not to go projectin' about, engaged in what you might call physical jests none. Still, this yere removal of Jaybird don't take place till mighty near the close of the round-up; an' intervenin', he's pirootin' 'round, stockin' the kyards an' settin' up hands on the pore shorthorn continuous.

"One of Jaybird's jokes-'one of his best,' Jaybird calls it- results in stampedin' the herd of cattle we-alls is bringin' along at the time-bein' all cows an' their calves-to a brandin'-pen. Which thar's two thousand, big an' little, in the bunch; an' Jaybird's humor puts 'em to flight like so many blackbirds; an' it takes two days hard ridin' for the whole outfit to bring 'em together ag'in.

"Among other weaknesses this Todd imports from the States is, he's afraid of snakes. Rattlesnakes is his abhorrence, an' if each is a disembodied sperit he can't want 'em further off. He's allers alarmed that mebby, somehow, a rattlesnake will come pokin' in onder his blankets nights, an' camp with him while he's asleep. An' this yere wretched Jaybird fosters them delusions.

"'About them serpents,' I overhears Jaybird say to him one evenin' while we-alls is settin' 'round;-all but Moore an' Tutt, who's ridin' herd; ''bout them serpents; a gent can't be too partic'lar. It looks like they has but one hope, which it's to crawl into a gent's blankets an' sleep some with him. Which, if he moves or turns over, they simply emits a buzz an' grabs him I knows of forty folks who's bit that a-way by snakes, an' nary a one lives to explain the game.'

"'Be rattlesnakes thick in Arizona?' I hears Todd say to this

Jaybird.

"'Be they thick?' answers Jaybird. 'Well, I shore wishes I had whiskey for all the rattlesnakes thar is yereabouts. I don't want to go overstatin' the census to a gent who is out playin' for information, an' who's learnin' fast, but I s'pose now thar ain't none less than a billion snakes in southeast Arizona alone. If I could saw off the little passel of cattle I has on this range, you can gamble I'd pull my freight to-morrow. It's all right for sech old Cimmarons as Enright, an' sech parties as that sawbones Peets, to go bluffin' about thar' bein' no rattlesnakes to speak of, an' that they couldn't p'ison you to death no how; but you bet I ain't seen forty of my nearest friends cash in of snake-bites, an' not learn nothin'. An' almost every time it's a rattlesnake as comes slidin' into bed with 'em while they's locked in dreams, an' who gets hot an' goes to chewin' of 'em, because they wants to turn out before the snake does. Rattlesnakes that a-way wants to sleep till it's fourth-drink time an' the sun's 'way up yonder. An' when a gent goes to rollin' out of his blankets say at sun-up, it makes 'em monstrous angry to be disturbed; an' the first he knows of where they be an' how they looks on early risin', their teeth's in him up to the gyard, an' before night thar's one less gent to cook for, an' an extra saddle rides along in the grub-wagon with the blankets when they next moves camp.'

"Of course all this is a heap impressive to Todd; an' while Enright an' Peets both tells him Jaybird's havin' fun with him, you can see he's mortal afraid every night when he spreads his blankets, an' he makes a cirele about where he sleeps at with a horse-ha'r lariat he's got from a Mexican, an' who tells him it'll tickle the snakes' necks when they goes to crawl across it, an' make 'em keep away.

"The way this yere Jaybird manages to stampede the bunch that time is this a-way. Jaybird comes ridin' in from the cattle about three hours before sun-up, to turn out Tutt, who is due to take his place on herd. Jaybird's got a rawhide rope that he's drugged about in the grass, which makes it damp an' cold. As Jaybird rides up to camp he sees this Todd rolled in his blankets, snorin' to beat four of a kind.

"Nacheral

ly Jaybird's out to be joyous in a second. He rides up close to this he'pless shorthorn as he lays asleep, an' tosses a loop of his wet rawhide across his countenance where it's turned up in the moonlight. As it settles down cold an' startlin' on Todd's skin, Jaybird yells:

"Snake, Todd! Thar's a rattlesnake on you bigger'n a dog.'

"Jaybird says later as how this Todd behaves tremendous. He b'iles up into the atmosphere with a howl like a wolf; an', grabbin' a blanket in each hand, he starts out over the plains in a state of frenzy. Which the worst is he charges headlong toward the herd; an' what with them shrieks he volunteers, an' the blankets flappin' an' wavin', thar ain't a cow in the bunch who stays in her right mind a moment. Which she springs to her feet, an takin' her offspring along, goes surgin' off into the hills for good. You couldn't head or stop 'em then. It's the completest case of stampede I ever turns out to behold.

"No; this yere Todd never gathers the rights of the eepisode. He's that peevish an' voylent by nacher no one tells him it's Jaybird; an' onless, in the light of knowin' more, he has since figgered out the trooth, he allows to this day a rattlesnake as big as a roll of blankets tries to recline on his face that time.

"To keep peace in camp an' not let him go to pawin' 'round for real trouble with the festive Jaybird, Enright stands in to cap the game himse'f; an' puts it up in confab with this Todd the next day as how he sees the rattlesnake, an' that it's mighty near bein' a whopper.

"'It's shore,' says Enright, when he an' Todd is conversin' tharon, 'the most giant serpent I ever sees without the aid of licker. An' when he goes streakin' off into the gloom, bein' amazed an' rattled by your cries, he leaves, so far as I'm concerned, a trail of relief behind. You-all can gamble, I wasn't interruptin' of no sech snake, nor makin' of no pretexts for his detainment.

"'What for was his rattles like?' says Todd; an' he gets pale at the mere sound of Enright's talk.

"'As to them rattles,' says Enright, like he's mighty thoughtful tryin' to recall 'em to mind, 'as to this reptile's rattles, it's that dark that while I sees 'em I couldn't but jest. So far as I notes anythin' they looks like a belt full of car-tridges, sorter corrugated an' noomerous.

"Now this yere which I relates, while no doubt burnin' experiences to Todd, is after all harmless enough. An' to people not careful about the basis of their glee it might do some to laugh at. But it all closes up on a play with nothin' gay nor merry in it; leastwise not for Jaybird Bob.

"This yere finish joke of jaybird's transpires one evenin' as the cook's startin' in to rustle some chuck. The grub-wagon's been stopped in the mouth of Peeled Pine Canyon. Every gent's in camp but this yere tenderfoot Todd. Enright, who's actin' as round-up boss for the outfit-for everybody's cattle's bein' worked together that a-way, like we allers does-has sent Todd peerin' 'round for cattle, 'way off up the valley into which the Peeled Pine Canyon opens. This yere shorthorn's due to be back any time now, 'cause it's only a question of how far up the valley does he go. He don't run no show to be lost, for nothin' less aerial than goats could climb out of the canyon he's in, an' tharfore he's bound to find camp.

"Of course, knowin' every gent's station in the day's ridin', we- alls is plenty aware that this tenderfoot Todd is some'ers above us in the valley. None of the rest of us is turnin' our minds to him probably, except Jaybird Bob. It all of a bump like a buckin' pony strikes Jaybird that he's missin' a onusual chance to be buoyant.

"'What for a play would it be,' says Jaybird, rousin' up from where he lays watchin' of the cook slice salt hoss for the fryin'-pan, 'what for a game would it be, I says, for a passel of us to lay out up the draw, an' bush-whack this yere ontaught person Todd as he comes ridin' down to camp? We-alls could hop out at him, a-whoopin' an' shoutin', an' bein' wropped up in blankets, he allows it's shore Injuns an' goes plumb locoed.'

"`You-all will keep harrowin' away at this Todd party, Jaybird,' says Enright, 'ontil you arises from the game loser. Now I don't reckon none I'd play Apache if I'm you. Thar's too much effort in bein' an Apache that a-way. I'd lay yere an' think up some joke which don't demand so much industry, an' ain't calc'lated to scare an innocent gent to death.'

"But Jaybird won't listen. He falls into admiration of his scheme; an' at last Tutt an' Jack Moore allows they'll go along an' play they's aborigines with Jaybird an' note how the tenderfoot stands the racket.

"'As long as this yere Jaybird's bound to make the play,' says Jack Moore to Enright, talkin' one side, 'it's a heap better to have the conserv'tive element represented in the deal. So I puts it up, it's a good sage move for me an' Tutts to stand in. We-alls will come handy to pull Jaybird an' this shorthorn apart if they gets their horns locked in the course of them gaities.'

"Enright takes the same view; so Jaybird an' Moore an' Tutt wanders off up the canyon a mile, an' lays in wait surreptitious to head off Todd. Jack tells me the story when him an' Tutt comes ridin' back with the corpse.

"'This is how we does,' says Jack. 'Me an' Tutt an' deceased-which last is Jaybird all right enough-is ensconced behind a p'int of rocks. Jaybird's got his blanket wropped, 'round him so he looks like a savage. It ain't long when we-alls hears the tenderfoot comin' down the canyon; it's likely he's half-mile away. He's runnin' onto us at a road-gait; an' when he's about two hundred yards off Jaybird turns out a yell to make you shiver, shakes a load or two outen his gun, goes surgin' out from 'round the p'int of rocks, an' charges straight at this onthinkin' tenderfoot. It is due to trooth to say, me an' Tutt follows this Jaybird's suit, only not so voylent as to whoops.

"'Does it scare up the tenderfoot? Well, it shorely alarms him a heap. He takes Jaybird for an Injun an' makes no question; which the same is nowise strange; I'd took him for a savage myse'f, only, bein' in the deal that a-way I knows it's Jaybird. So, as I remarks, it horrifies the tenderfoot on end, an' at the first sight of Jaybird he whirls his pony an' lights out up that valley like antelope.

"'Nacherally we-alls follows; Jaybird leadin', a-whoopin', an' a- shootin', an' throwin' no end of sperit into it. It's a success, this piece of wit is, up to this juncture, an' Jaybird puts a heap of zest into it.

"'The weak spot in all this yere humor grows out of the idees this tenderfoot's been gainin', an' the improvements he's been makin', while stragglin' about in our s'ciety. I onhesitatin'ly states that if this yere joke is pulled off by Jaybird when Todd first enters our midst, it might have been the vict'ry of his life. But Jaybird defers it too long. This tenderfoot has acquired a few Western ways; enough to spoil the fun an' send pore Jaybird a-curvin' to his home on high.

"'This is what that shorthorn does which teaches me he's learnin'. While he's humpin' off up the canyon, an' me an' Jaybird an' Tutt is stampedin' along in pursoot, the fugitive throws loose his six- shooter, an' without even turnin' his head or lookin' back at us, he onhooks the entire bundle of lead our way.

"Which the worst feature of it is, this backhanded, blind shootin' is a winner. The very first shot smites Jaybird plumb through the hat, an' he goes off his pony without even mentionin' about it to either Tutt or me.

"`That's all thar is to the report. Dave an' me pulls up our broncos, abandons the joke, lays Jaybird across his saddle like a sack of corn, an' returns to state the case.'

"'Whatever did you-alls do with this frightened stranger?' asks

Enright.

"'Which we never does nothin',' says Jack. 'The last I beholds, he's flyin' up the valley, hittin' nothin' but the high places. An' assoomin' his project is to get away, he's succeedin' admirable. As he vanishes, I should jedge from his motions he's reloadin' his gun; an' from the luck he has with Jaybird, Tutt an' me is led to believe thar's no real object in followin' him no further. I don't press my s'ciety on no gent; shorely not on some locoed tenderfoot that a-way who's pulled his gun an' is done blazin' away erratic, without purpose or aim.'

"'Don't you an' Tutt know where he is at?' demands Enright.

"'Which we shorely don't,' says Jack. 'If his hoss holds, an' he don't swerve none from the direction he's p'inting out in when he fades from view, he's goin' to be over in the San Simon country by to-morrow mornin' when we eats our grub; an' that's half way to the Borax desert. If you yearns for my impressions,' concloods Jack, 'drawn from a-seein' of him depart, I'm free to say I don't reckon you-alls is goin' to meet this yere tenderfoot none soon.'

"An' that's about the size of it. Jack calls the turn. Jaybird's last joke alarms this tenderfoot Todd plumb outen Arizona, an' thar ain't none of us ever sees ha'r, horn, nor hoof mark of him no more. An' he takes with him, this Todd does, the boss pony in our bunch."

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