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   Chapter 20 A WOLFVILLE THANKSGIVING.

Wolfville By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 22302

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


It was in the earlier days of autumn. Summer had gone, and there was already a crisp sentiment of coming cold in the air. The Old Cattleman and I had given way to a taste for pedestrianism that had lain dormant through the hot months. It was at the close of our walk, and we were slowly making our way homeward.

"An' now the year's got into what hoss-folks calls the last quarter," remarked the old gentleman musingly. "You can feel the frost in the atmosphere; you can see where it's bit the leaves a lot, an' some of 'em's pale with the pain, an' others is blood-red from the wound. "Which I don't regard winter much, say twenty years ago. Thar's many a night when I spreads my blankets in the Colorado hills, flakes of snow a-fallin' as soft an' big an' white as a woman's hand, an' never heeds 'em a little bit. But them days is gone. Thar's no roof needed in my destinies then. An' as for bed, a slicker an' a pair of hobbles is sumptuous.

"When a gent rounds up seventy years he's mighty likely to get a heap interested in weather. It's the heel of the hunt with him then, an' he's worn an' tired, and turns nacherally to rest an' fire."

We plodded forward as he talked. To his sage comments on the seasons, and as well the old age of men, I offered nothing. My silence, however, seemed always to meet with his tacit approval; nor did he allow it to impede his conversational flow.

"Well," observed the old fellow, after a pause, "I reckons I'll see the winter through all right; likewise the fall. I'm a mighty sight like that old longhorn who allows he's allers noticed if he lives through the month of March he lives through the rest of the year; so I figgers I'll hold together that a-way ontil shorely March comin'. Anyhow I regards it as an even break I does.

"Thar's one thing about fall an' winter which removes the dreariness some. I alloods to them festivals sech as Thanksgivin' an' Christmas an' New Year. Do we-alls cel'brate these yere events in Wolfville? Which we shorely does. Take Christmas: You-all couldn't find a sober gent in Wolfville on that holy occasion with a search-warrant; the feelin' to cel'brate is that wide-spread an' fervid.

"Thanksgivin' ain't so much lotted on; which for one thing we frequent forgets it arrives that a-way. Thar's once, though, when we takes note of its approach, an' nacherally, bein' organized, we ketches it squar' in the door. Them Thanksgivin' doin's is shorely great festivities that time. It's certainly a whirl.

"Old Man Enright makes the first break; he sorter arranges the game. But before all is over, the food we eats, the whiskey we drinks, an' the lies we tells an' listens to, is a shock an' a shame to Arizona.

"Thar's a passel of us prowlin' 'round in the Red Light one day, when along comes Enright. He's got a paper in his hand, an' from the air he assooms it's shore plain he's on the brink of somethin'.

"'What I'm thinkin' of, gents, is this,' says Enright, final. 'I observes to-morrow to be Thanksgivin' by this yere paper Old Monte packs in from Tucson. The Great Father sets to-morrow for a national blow-out, a-puttin' of it in his message on the broad ground that everybody's lucky who escapes death. Now, the question is, be we in this? an' if so, what form the saturnalia takes?'

What's the matter of us hoppin' over an' shootin' up Red Dog?" says Dan Boggs. 'That bunch of tarrapins ain't been shook up none for three months.'

"'Technical speakin',' says Doc Peets-which Peets, he shorely is the longest-headed sharp I ever sees, an' the galiest-'shootin' up Red Dog, while it's all right as a prop'sition an' highly creditable to Boggs, is not a Thanksgivin' play. The game, turned strict, confines itse'f to eatin', drinkin', an' lyin'.'

"'Thar's plenty of whiskey in camp,' says Jack Moore, meditative- like, 'whereby that drinkin' part comes easy.'

"'I assooms it's the will of all to pull off a proper Thanksgivin' caper,' says Enright, 'an' tharfore I su'gests that Doc Peets and Boggs waits on Missis Rucker at the O. K. restauraw an' learns what for a banquet she can rustle an' go the limit. Pendin' the return of Peets an' Boggs I allows the balance of this devoted band better imbibe some. Barkeep, sort out some bottles.'

"The committee comes back after a little, an' allows Missis Rucker reports herse'f shy on viands on account of the freighters bein' back'ard comin' in.

"'But,' says Peets, 'she's upholstered to make a strong play on salt hoss an' baked beans, with coffee an' biscuits for games on the side.'

"'That's good enough for a dog,' says Jack Moore, 'to say nothin' of mere people. Any gent who thinks he wants more is the effect victim of whims.'

"While we-alls is discussin' the ground plans for this yere feast, thar's a clatter of pony-hoofs an' a wild yell outside, an' next thar's a big, shaggy-lookin' vagrant, a-settin' on his hoss in front of the Red Light's door.

"'Get an axe, somebody,' he shouts, 'an' widen this yere portal some. I aims to come in on my hoss.'

"`Hands up, thar!' says Jack Moore, reachin' for his six-shooter. 'Hands up! I'll jest fool you up about comin' in on your hoss. You work in one wink too many now, an' I puts a hole in your face right over the eye.'

"'Go slow, Jack,' says Enright. 'Who may you-all be?' he goes on to the locoed man on the hoss.

"'Me?' says the locoed man. 'I'm Red Dog Bill. Tell that sot,' he continues, p'intin' at Jack, ' to put down his gun an' not offer it at me no more. He's a heap too vivid with that weepon. Only I'm a white-winged harbinger of peace, I shore ups an' makes him eat the muzzle offen it.'

"'Well, whatever be you thirstin' for, anyhow?' says Enright. 'You comes ridin' in yere like you ain't got no regards for nothin'. Is this a friendly call, or be you present on a theery that you runs the town?'

"'I'm the Red Dog committee on invitations,' he says. 'Red Dog sends its comps, an' asks Wolfville to bury the hatchet for one day in honor of to-morrow bein' Thanksgivin', an' come feed with us.'

"'Let's go him,' says Dan Boggs.

"'Now stand your hand a second,' says Enright, 'don't let's overlook no bets. Whatever has you Red Dog hold-ups got to eat, anyhow?'

"'Ain't got nothin' to eat much-maybe some can stuff-what you-alls calls air-tights,' says the Red Dog man. 'But we has liquid, no limit.'

"'Got any can tomatters?' says Boggs.

"'Can tomatters we-alls is 'speshul strong on,' says the Red Dog man. 'It's where we-alls lives at; can tomatters is.'

"'I tells you what you-all do,' says Enright, 'an' when I speaks, I represents for this yere camp.'

"'Which he shore does,' says Jack. 'He's the Big Gray Wolf yere, you can gamble. If he don't say "go slow" when you comes a-yellin' up, your remains would a-been coverin' half an acre right now. It would look like it's beef-day at this yere agency, shore.'

"'You-all go back to Red Dog,' says Enright, payin' no notice to Jack's interruptions, 'an' tell 'em we plants the war-axe for one day, an' to come over an' smoke ponies with us, instead of we-alls come thar. We're goin' to have baked beans an' salt hoss, an' we looks for Red Dog in a body. Next Thanksgivin' we eats in Red Dog. Does this yere go?'

"`It goes,' says the Red Dog gent; 'but be you-alls shore thar's s'fficient whiskey in your camp? Red Dog folks is a dry an' burnin' outfit an' is due to need a heap.'

"'The liquid's all right,' says Boggs. 'If you alls wants to do yourse'f proud, freight in a hundred-weight of them can tomatters. Which we runs out entire.'

The next day Missis Rucker sets tables all over her dinin'-room an' brings on her beans. Eighteen Red Dog gents is thar, each totin' of a can of tomatters. An' let me impart right yere, son, we never has a more free an' peacefuller day than said Thanksgivin'.

"'Them beans is a little hard, ain't they?' says Doc Peets, while we-alls is eatin', bein' p'lite an' elegant like. 'Mebby they don't get b'iled s'fficient?'

"'Them beans is all right,' says the War Chief of the Red Dogs. 'They be some hard, but you can't he'p it none. It's the altitood; the higher up you gets, the lower heat it takes to b'ile water. So it don't mush up beans like it should.'

"'That's c'rrect every time,' says Enright; 'I mind bein' over back of Prescott once, an' up near timber-line, an' I can't b'ile no beans at all. I'm up that high the water is so cold when it b'iles that ice forms on it some. I b'iles an' b'iles on some beans four days, an' it don't have no more effect than throwin' water on a drowned rat. After persistent b'ilin', I skims out a hand. ful an' drops 'em onto a tin plate to test 'em, an' it sounds like buckshot. As you says, it's the altitood.'

"'Gents,' says the boss of Red Dog, all of a sudden, an' standin' up by Enright, 'I offers the toast: "Wolfville an' Red Dog, now an' yereafter."'

"Of course we-alls drinks, an' Doc Peets makes a talk. He speaks mighty high of every gent present; which compliments gets big action in sech a game. The Red Dog chief-an' he's a mighty civilized- lookin' gent-he talks back, an' calls Wolfville an' Red Dog great commercial centers, which they sore be. He says, 'We-alls is friendly to-day, an' fights the rest of the year,' which we-alls agrees to cordial. He says fightin'. or, as he calls it, 'a generous rivalry,' does camps good, an' I reckons he's right, too, 'cause it shore results in the cashin' in of some mighty bad an' disturbin' elements. When he sets down, thar's thunders of applause.

"It's by this time that the drinkin' becomes frequent an' common. The talk gets general, an' the lies them people evolves an' saws off on each other would stampede stock.

"Any day but Thanksgivin' sech tales would shore lead to reecriminations an' blood; but as it is, every gent seems relaxed an' onbuckled that a-way in honor of the hour, an' it looks like lyin' is expected.

"How mendacious be them people? If I recalls them scenes c'rrectly, it's Texas Thompson begins the campaign ag'in trooth.

"This yere Texas Thompson tells, all careless-like, how 'way back in the forties, when he's a boy, he puts in a Thanksgivin' in the Great Salt Lake valley with Old Jim Bridger. This is before the Mormons opens their little game thar.

"'An' the snow falls to that extent, mebby it's six foot deep,' says Texas. 'Bridger an' me makes snow-shoes an' goes slidin' an' pesterin' 'round all fine enough. But the pore animals in the valley gets a rough time.

"'It's a fact; Bridger an' me finds a drove of buffalos bogged down in the snow,-I reckons now thar's twenty thousand of 'em,-and never a buffalo can move a wheel or turn a kyard. Thar they be planted in the snow, an' only can jest wag their y'ears an' bat their eyes.

"'Well, to cut it brief, Bridger an' me goes projectin' 'round an' cuts the throats of them twenty-thousand buffalo; which we-alls is out for them robes a whole lot. Of course we don't skin 'em none while they's stuck in the snow; but when the snow melts in the spring, we capers forth an' peels off the hides like shuckin' peas. They's froze stiff

at the time, for the sun ain't got 'round to thaw the beef none yet; an' so the meat's as good as the day we downs 'em.

"'An' that brings us to the cur'ous part. As fast as we-alls peels a buffalo, we rolls his carcass down hill into Salt Lake, an' what do you-alls reckons takes place? The water's that briny, it pickles said buffalo-meat plumb through, an' every year after, when Bridger an' me is back thar-we're trappin' an' huntin' them times,-all we has to do is haul one of them twenty thousand pickled buffalos ashore an' eat him.

"'When the Mormons comes wanderin' along, bein' short on grub that a-way, they nacherally jumps in an' consooms up the whole outfit in one season, which is why you-alls don't find pickled buffalo in Salt Lake no more.

"'Bridger an' me starts in, when we learns about it, to fuss with them polygamists that a-way for gettin' away with our salt buffalos. But they's too noomerous for us, an' we done quits 'em at last an' lets it go.'

"Nobody says much when Texas Thompson is through. We merely sets 'round an' drinks. But I sees the Red Dog folks feels mortified. After a minute they calls on their leadin' prevaricator for a yarn. His name's Lyin' Jim Riley, which the people who baptizes him shorely tumbles to his talents.

"This yere Lyin' Jim fills a tin cup with nose-paint, an' leans back listless-like an' looks at Enright.

"'I never tells you-alls,' he says, 'about how the Ratons gets afire mighty pecooliar, an' comes near a-roastin' of me up some, do I? It's this a-way: I'm pervadin' 'round one afternoon tryin' to compass a wild turkey, which thar's bands of 'em that Fall in the Ratons a-eatin' of the pinyon-nuts. I've got a Sharp's with me, which the same, as you-alls knows, is a single-shot, but I don't see no turks, none whatever. Now an' then I hears some little old gobbler, 'cross a canyon, a-makin' of sland'rous remarks about other gobblers to some hen he's deloodin', but I never manages a shot. As I'm comin' back to camp-I'm strollin' down a draw at the time where thar's no trees nor nothin'-thar emanates a black-tail buck from over among the bushes on the hill, an' starts to headin' my way a whole lot. His horns is jest gettin' over bein' velvet, an' he's feelin' plenty good an' sassy. I sees that buck-his horns eetches is what makes him-jump eighteen feet into the air an' comb them antlers of his'n through the hangin' pine limbs. Does it to stop the eetchin' an' rub the velvet off. Of course I cuts down on him with the Sharp's. It's a new gun that a-way, an' the sights is too coarse-you drags a dog through the hind sights easy-an' I holds high. The bullet goes plumb through the base of his horn, close into the ha'r, an' all nacheral fetches him sprawlin'. I ain't waitin' to load my gun none, which not waitin' to load, I'm yere to mention, is erroneous. I'm yere to say thar oughter be an act of Congress ag'in not loadin' your gun. They oughter teach it to the yearlin's in the schools, an' likewise in the class on the Sabbath. Allers load your gun. Who is that sharp, Mister Peets, who says, "Be shore you're right, then go ahead"? He once ranches some'ers down on the Glorieta. But what he oughter say is: "Be shore your gun's loaded, then go ahead."'

"'That's whatever!' says Dan Boggs, he'pin' himse'f an' startin' the bottle; 'an' if he has a lick of sense, that's what he would say.'

"'Which I lays down my empty gun,' goes on this Lyin' Jim, ' an' starts for my buck to bootcher his neck a lot. When I gets within ten feet he springs to his hoofs an' stands glarin'. You can gamble, I ain't tamperin' 'round no wounded buck. I'd sooner go pesterin' 'round a widow woman.'

"'I gets mingled up with a wounded buck once,' says Dave Tutt, takin' a dab of paint, 'an' I nacherally wrastles him down an' lops one of his front laigs over his antlers, an' thar I has him; no more harm left in him than a chamber-maid. Mine's a white-tailed deer over on the Careese.'

"'This yere's a black-tail, which is different; says Lyin' Jim; 'it's exactly them front laigs you talks of so lightly I'm 'fraid of.

"`The buck he stands thar sorter dazed an' battin' of his eyes. I ain't no time to go back for my Sharp's, an' my six-shooter is left in camp. Right near is a high rock with a steep face about fifteen feet straight up an' down. I scrambles on to this an' breathes ag'in, 'cause I knows no deer is ever compiled yet who makes the trip. The buck's come to complete by now, an' when he observes me on the rock, his rage is as boundless as the glory of Texas.'

"'Gents, we-alls takes another cow-swaller, right yere,' shouts Texas Thompson. 'It's a rool with me to drink every time I hears the sacred name of Texas.'

"When we-alls conceals our forty drops in the usual place, Lyin' Jim proceeds:

"'When this buck notes me, he's that frenzied he backs off an' jumps ag'in the face of the rock stiff-laiged, an' strikes it with them hoofs of him. Which he does this noomerous times, an' every hoof cuts like a cold-chisel. It makes the sparks go spittin' an' flyin' like it's a blacksmith-shop.

"'I'm takin' it ca'm enough, only I'm wonderin' how I'm goin' to fetch loose, when I notices them sparks from his hoofs sets the pine twigs an' needles a-blazin' down by the base of the rock.

"'That's what comes to my relief. In two minutes this yere spreads to a general conflagration, and the last I sees of my deer he's flyin' over the Divide into the next canyon with his tail a-blazin' an' him utterin' shrieks. I has only time to make camp, saddle up, an' line out of thar, to keep from bein' burned before my time.

"'This yere fire rages for two months, an' burns up a billion dollars worth of mountains, I'm a coyote if some folks don't talk of lawin' me about it.'

"'That's a yarn which has the year-marks of trooth, but all the same it's deer as saves my life once,' says Doc Peets, sorter trailin' in innocent-like when this Lyin' Jim gets through; 'leastwise their meat saves it. I'm out huntin' same as you is, this time to which I alloods.

"'I'm camped on upper Red River; up where the river is only about twelve feet wide. It ain't deep none, only a few inches, but it's dug its banks down about four feet. The river runs along the center of a mile-wide valley, which they ain't no trees in it, but all cl'ar an' open. It's snowin' powerful hard one, evenin' about 3 o'clock when I comes back along the ridge towards my camp onder the pines. While I'm ridin' along I crosses the trail of nineteen deer. I takes it too quick, 'cause I needs deer in my business, an' I knows these is close or their tracks would be covered, the way it snows.

"'I runs the trail out into the open, headin' for the other ridge. The snow is plenty deep out from onder the pines, but I keeps on. Final, jest in the mouth of a canyon, over the other side where the pines begins ag'in, up jumps a black. tail from behind a yaller-pine log, and I drops him.

"'My pony's plumb broke down by now, so I makes up my mind to camp. It's a 'way good site. Thar's water comin' down the canyon; thar's a big, flat floor of rocks-big as the dance-hall floor-an' all protected by a high rock-faced bluff, so no snow don't get thar none; an' out in front, some twelve feet, is a big pitch-pine log. Which I couldn't a-fixed things better if I works a year.

"'I sets fire to the log, cuts up my deer, an' sorter camps over between the log an' bluff, an' takes things as ba'my as summer. I has my saddle-blanket an' a slicker, an' that's all I needs.

"'Thar ain't no grass none for the little hoss, but I peels him about a bushel of quakin'-ash bark, an' he's doin' well 'nough. Lord! how it snows outside! When I peers out in the mornin' it scares me. I saddles up, 'cause my proper camp is in the pines t'other side of this yere open stretch, an' I've got to make it.

"'My pony is weak, an' can only push through the snow, which is five feet deep. I'm walkin' along all comfortable, a-holdin' of his tail, when "swish" he goes plumb outen sight. I peers into the orifice which ketches him, an' finds he's done slumped off that four-foot bank into Red River, kerslop! Which he's at once swept from view; the river runnin' in ondcr the snow like a tunnel.

"That settles it; I goes pirootin' back. I lives in that canyon two months. It snows a heap after I gets back, an' makes things deeper'n ever. I has my deer to eat, not loadin' my pony with it when I starts, an' I peels some sugar-pines, like I sees Injuns, an' scrapes off the white skin next the trees, an' makes a pasty kind of bread of it, an' I'm all right.

"'One mornin', jest before I gets out of meat, I sees trouble out in the snow. Them eighteen deer-thar's nineteen, but I c'llects one, as I says-comes sa'nterin' down my canyon while I'm asleep, an' goes out an' gets stuck in the snow. I allows mebby they dresses about sixty pounds each, an' wallers after 'em with my knife an' kills six.

"'This yere gives me meat for seventy-two days-five pounds a day, which with the pine bark is shore enough, The other twelve I turns 'round an' he'ps out into the canyon ag'in, an' do you know, them deer's that grateful they won't leave none? It's a fact, they simply hangs 'round all the time I'm snowed in.

"'In two months the snow melts down, an' I says adios to my twelve deer an' starts for camp. Which you-alls mebby imagines my s'prise when I beholds my pony a-grazin' out in the open, saddle on an' right. Yere's how it is: He's been paradin' up an' down the bed of Red River onder that snow tunnel for two months. Oh! he feeds easy enough. Jest bites the yerbage along the banks. This snow tunnel is four feet high, an' he's got plenty of room.

"'I'm some glad to meet up with my pony that a-way, you bet! an' ketches him up an' rides over to my camp. An' I'm followed by my twelve deer, which comes cavortin' along all genial an' cordial an' never leaves me. No, my hoss is sound, only his feet is a little water-soaked an' tender; an' his eyes, bein' so long in that half. dark place onder the snow, is some weak an' sore.'

"As no one seems desirous to lie no more after Doc Peets gets through, we-alls eats an' drinks all we can, an' then goes over to the dance-hall an' whoops her up in honor of Red Dog. Nothin' could go smoother.

"When it comes time to quit, we has a little trouble gettin' sep'rate from 'em, but not much. We-alls starts out to 'scort 'em to Red Dog as a guard of honor, an' then they, bustin' with p'liteness, 'scorts us back to Wolfville. Then we-alls, not to be raised out, sees 'em to Red Dog ag'in, an' not to have the odd hoss onto 'em in the matter, back they comes with us.

"I don't know how often we makes this yere round trip from one camp to t'other, cause my mem'ry is some dark on the later events of that Thanksgivin'. My pony gets tired of it about the third time back, an' humps himse'f an' bucks me off a whole lot, whereupon I don't go with them Red Dog folks no further, but nacherally camps down back of the mesquite I lights into, an, sleeps till mornin'. You bet! it's a great Thanksgivin'.'

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