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   Chapter 1 No.1

Wolfville Days By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 26445

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:04


The Great Wolfville Strike.

"No, sir, even onder spur an' quirt, my mem'ry can only canter back to one uprisin' of labor in Wolfville; that was printers."

At this the Old Cattleman looked unduly sagacious, refreshed himself with a puff or two at his pipe, and all with the air of one who might, did he see fit, consider the grave questions of capital and labor with an ability equal to their solution. His remark was growth of the strike story of some mill workmen, told glaringly in the newspaper he held in his hands.

"Wolfville is not at that time," he continued, "what you-all East would call a swirlin' vortex of trade; still she has her marts. Thar's the copper mines, the Bird Cafe Op'ry House, the Red Light, the O. K. Restauraw, the Dance Hall, the New York Store an' sim'lar hives of commerce. Which ondoubted the barkeeps is the hardest worked folks in camp, an' yet none of 'em ever goes on the warpath for shorter hours or longer pay, so far as I has notice. Barkeeps that a-way is a light-hearted band an' cheerful onder their burdens. Once when Old Monte brings the stage in late because of some boggin' down he does over at a quicksand ford in the foothills, a shorthorn who arrives with him as a passenger comes edgin' into the Red Light. Bein' it's four o'clock in the mornin', the tenderfoot seems amazed at sech activities as faro-bank, an' high-ball, said devices bein' in full career; to say nothin' of the Dance Hall, which 'Temple of Mirth,' as Hamilton who is proprietor tharof names it, is whoopin' it up across the street.

"'Ain't you open rather late?' says the shorthorn. His tones is apol'getic an' no offence is took.

"That's one of them gratefyin' things about the Southwest. That temperate region don't go pirootin' 'round strivin' to run its brand onto things as insults where none ain't meant. The Southwest ropes only at the intention. You may even go so far as to shoot the wrong gent in a darkened way, an' as long as you pulls off the play in a sperit of honesty, an' the party plugged don't happen to be a pop'lar idol, about the worst you'd get would be a caution from the Stranglers to be more acc'rate in your feuds, sech is the fairmindedness an' toleration of Southwest sentiment.

"As I su'gests, the barkeep, realizin' that the stranger's bluff arises from cur'osity rather than any notion of what booksports calls 'captious criticism,' feels no ombrage.

"'What was you-all pleased to remark?' retorts the barkeep as he slams his nose-paint where the shorthorn can get action.

"'Nothin',' replies the shorthorn, imbibin' of his forty drops, "only it sort o' looks to my onaccustomed eye like this deadfall is open rather late."

"'Which she is some late,' admits the barkeep, as he softly swabs the counter; 'which it is some late for night before last, but it's jest the shank of the evenin' for to-night.'

"But, as I observes a bit back on the trail, I never do hear of any murmur of resentment on the part of the toilin' masses of the town, save in the one instance when that bunch of locoed printers capers out an' defies the editor an' publisher of the Wolfville COYOTE, the same bein' the daily paper of the outfit.

"This yere imprint, the COYOTE, is done owned an' run by Colonel William Greene Sterett. An' I'll pause right yere for the double purpose of takin' a drink an' sympathisin' with you a whole lot in not knowin' the Colonel. You nacherally ain't as acootely aware of the fact as I be, but you can gamble a bloo stack that not knowin' Colonel Sterett borders on a deeprivation. He is shore wise, the Colonel is, an' when it comes to bein' fully informed on every p'int, from the valyoo of queensup before the draw to the political effect of the Declaration of Independence, he's an even break with Doc Peets. An' as I've asserted frequent-an' I don't pinch down a chip-Doc Peet's is the finest eddicated sharp in Arizona.

"We-all will pass up the tale at this crisis, but I'll tell you later about how Colonel Sterett comes a-weavin' into Wolfville that time an' founds the Coyote. It's enough now to know that when these yere printers takes to ghost-dancin' that time, the Colonel has been in our midst crowdin' hard on the hocks of a year, an' is held in high regyard by Old Alan Enright, Doc Peets, Jack Moore, Boggs, Tutt, Cherokee Hall, Faro Nell, and other molders of local opinion, an' sort o' trails in next after Enright an' Peets in public esteem. The Colonel is shore listened to an' heeded at sech epocks as Wolfville sets down serious to think.

"Them printers of the Colonel's stampedes themse'fs jest followin' the latter's misonderstandin' with Huggins, who conducts the Bird Cage Op'ry House, an' who as I've allers maintained, incites them mechanics, private, to rebellion, as a scheme of revenge on the Colonel. The trouble which bears its final froote in this labor uprisin' is like this. Huggins, as noted, holds down the Bird Cage Op'ry House as manager, an' when lie's drunk-which, seein' that Huggins is a bigger sot than Old Monte, is right along he allows he's a 'Impressario.' Mebby you saveys 'Impressario,' an' experiences no difficulty with the same as a term, but Boggs an' Tutt goes to the fringe of a gun play dispootin' about its meanin' the time Huggins plays it on the camp first as deescriptif of his game.

"'A Impressario is a fiddler,' says Boggs; `I cuts the trail of one in the States once, ropes him up, an' we has a shore enough time.'

"'Sech observations,' observes Tutt, to whom Boggs vouchsafes this information, 'sech observations make me tired. They displays the onlimited ability for ignorance of the hooman mind. Boggs, I don't want to be deemed insultin', but you-all oughter go to night-school some'ers ontil you learns the roodiments of the American language."

"When this yore colloquy ensooes, I'm away on the spring round-up, an' tharfor not present tharat; but as good a jedge as Jack Moore, insists that the remainder of the conversation would have come off in the smoke if he hadn't, in his capacity of marshal, pulled his six-shooter an' invoked Boggs an' Tutt to a ca'mer mood.

"But speakin' of this Huggins party, I never likes him. Aside from his bein' mostly drunk, which, no matter what some may say or think, I holds impairs a gent's valyoo as a social factor, Huggins is avaricious an' dotes on money to the p'int of bein' sordid. He'd gloat over a dollar like it was a charlotte roose, Huggins would. So, as I says, I ain't fond of Huggins, an' takes no more pleasure of his company than if he's a wet dog. Still, thar's sech a thing as dooty; so, when Huggins comes wanderin' wild-eyed into the Red Light about first drink time one evenin', an' confides to me in a whisper that thar's a jack rabbit outside which has sworn to take his life, an' is right then bushwhackin' about the door waitin' to execoote the threat, I calls Doc Peets, an' aids in tyin' Huggins down so that his visions can be met an' coped with medical.

"Peets rides herd on Huggins for about a week, an' at last effects his rescoo from that hostile jack rabbit an' them crimson rattlesnakes an' blue-winged bats that has j'ined dogs with it in its attempts ag'in Huggins. Later, when Peets sends his charges, this yere ingrate Huggins-lovin' money as I states-wants to squar' it with a quart or two of whiskey checks on the Bird Cage bar. Nacherally, Peets waves aside sech ignoble proffers as insults to his professional standin'.

"'An' you all don't owe me a splinter, Huggins,' says Peets, as he turns down the prop'sition to take whiskey checks as his reward. 'We'll jest call them services of mine in subdooin' your delirium treemors a contreebution. It should shorely be remooneration enough to know that I've preserved you to the Wolfville public, an' that the camp can still boast the possession of the meanest sport an' profoundest drunkard outside of the Texas Panhandle.'

"Bar none, Doc Peets is the bitterest gent, verbal, that ever makes a moccasin track in the South-west. An' while Huggins ain't pleased none, them strictures has to go. To take to pawin' 'round for turmoil with Peets would be encroachin' onto the ediotic. Even if he emerges alive from sech controversies-an' it's four to one he wouldn't; for Peets, who's allers framed up with a brace of derringers, is about as vivid an enterprise as Wolfville affords- the Stranglers would convene with Old Man Enright in the cha'r, an' Huggins wouldn't last as long as a drink of whiskey. As it is, Huggins gulps his feelin's an' offers nothin' in return to Peets's remarks.

"No; of course Doc Peets ain't that diffusive in his confidences as to go surgin' about tellin' this story to every gent he meets. It's ag'in roole for physicians that a-way to go draggin' their lariats 'round permiscus an' impartin' all they knows. You-all can see yourse'f that if physicians is that ingenuous, it would prodooce all sorts of troubles in the most onlooked-for places an' most onexpected forms. No; Peets wouldn't give way to conduct so onbecomin' a medicine man an' a sport. But rooles has their exceptions; an so Feets, in one of them moments of sympathy an' confidence, which two highly eddicated gents after the eighth drink is bound to feel for each other, relates to Colonel Sterett concernin' Huggins an' his perfidy with them Bird Cage checks.

"This yere onbosomin' of himse'f to the Colonel ain't none discreet of Peets. The Colonel has many excellencies, but keepin' secrets ain't among 'em; none whatever. The Colonel is deevoid of talents for secrets, an' so the next day he prints this yere outrage onder a derisive headline touchin' Huggins' froogality.

"Huggins don't grade over-high for nerve an' is a long way from bein' clean strain game; but he figgers, so I allers reckons, that the Colonel ain't no thunderbolt of war himse'f, so when he reads as to him an' Peets an' them treemors an' the whiskey checks, he starts in to drink an' discuss about his honor, an' gives it out he'll have revenge.

"It's the barkeep at the Red Light posts Colonel Sterett as to them perils. A Mexican comes trackin' along into the Colonel's room in the second story-what he calls his 'sanctum'-with a note. It's from the barkeep an' reads like this:

RED LIGHT SALOON.

DEAR COLONEL:-

Huggins is in here tankin' up an' makin' war medicine. He's packin' two guns. He says he's going to plug you for that piece. I can keep him here an hour. Meanwhile, heel yourse'f. I'll have him so drunk by the time he leaves that he ought to be easy.

Yours sincerely,

BLACK JACK.

P. S. Better send over to the Express Company for one of them shot- guns. Buckshot, that a-way, is a cinch; an' if you're a leetle nervous it don't make no difference. B. J.

"About the time the 10-gauge comes over to the Colonel, with the compliments of the Wells-Fargo Express, an' twenty shells holdin' twenty-one buck-shot to the shell, Doc Peets himse'f comes sa'nterin' into the sanctum.

"'You-all ought never to have printed it, Colonel,' says Peets; 'I'm plumb chagrined over that exposure of Huggins.'

"'Don't you reckon, Doc,' says the Colonel, sort o' coaxin' the play, 'if you was to go down to the Red Light an' say to this inebriated miscreant that you makes good, it would steady him down a whole lot?'

"'If I was to take sech steps as you urges, Colonel,' says Peets, 'it would come out how I gives away the secrets of my patients; it would hurt my p'sition. On the level! Colonel, I'd a mighty sight sooner you'd beef Huggins.'

"'But see yere, Doc,' remonstrates the Colonel, wipin' off the water on his fore'ead, 'murder is new to me, an' I shrinks from it. Another thing-I don't thirst to do no five or ten years at Leavenworth for downin' Huggins, an' all on account of you declinin' whiskey chips as a honorarium for them services.'

"'It ain't no question of Leavenworth,' argues Peets; 'sech thoughts is figments. Yere's how it'll be. Huggins comes chargin' up, hungerin' for blood. You-all is r'ared back yere with that 10-gauge, all organized, an' you coldly downs him. Thar ain't no jury, an' thar ain't no Vigilance Committee, in Arizona, who's goin' to carp at that a little bit. Besides, he's that ornery, the game law is out on Huggins an' has been for some time. As for any resk to yourse'f, personal, from Huggins; why! Colonel, you snaps your fingers tharat. You hears Huggins on the stairs; an' you gives him both barrels the second he shows in the door. It's as plain as monte. Before Huggins can declar' himse'f, Colonel, he's yours, too dead to skin. It's sech a shore thing,' concloodes Peets, 'that, after all, since you're merely out for safety, I'd get him in the wing, an' let it go at that. Once his arm is gone, it won't be no trouble to reason with Huggins.'

"'Don't talk to me about no arms,' retorts the Colonel, still moppin' his feachers plenty desperate. 'I ain't goin' to do no fancy shootin'. If Huggins shows up yere, you can put down a yellow stack on it, I'll bust him where he looks biggest. Huggins is goin' to take all the chances of this embroglio.'

"But Huggins never arrives. It's Dan Boggs who abates him an' assoomes the

pressure for the Colonel. Boggs is grateful over some compliments the Colonel pays him in the Coyote the week previous. It's right in the midst of Huggins' prep'rations for blood that Boggs happens up on him in the Red Light.

"'See yere, Huggins,' says Boggs, as soon as ever he gets the Impressario's grievance straight in his mind, 'you-all is followin' off the wrong wagon track. The Colonel ain't your proper prey at all; it's me. I contreebutes that piece in the Coyote about you playin' it low on Peets myse'f.'

"Huggins gazes at Boggs an' never utters a word; Boggs is too many for him.

"'Which I'm the last sport,' observes Boggs after a pause, `to put a limit on the reccreations or meddle with the picnics of any gent, but this yere voylence of yours, Huggins, has gone too far. I'm obleeged to say, tharfore, that onless you aims to furnish the painful spectacle of me bendin' a gun over your head, you had better sink into silence an' pull your freight. I'm a slow, hard team to start, Huggins,' says Boggs, 'but once I goes into the collar, I'm irresist'ble.'

"Huggins don't know much, but he knows Boggs; an' so, followin' Boggs' remarks, Huggins ups an' ceases to clamor for the Colonel right thar. Lambs is bellig'rent compared with Huggins. The barkeep, in the interests of peace, cuts in on the play with the news that the drinks is on the house, an' with that the eepisode comes to a close.

"Now you-all has most likely begun to marvel where them labor struggles comes buttin' in. We're within ropin' distance now. It's not made cl'ar, but, as I remarks prior, I allers felt like Huggins is the bug onder the chip when them printers gets hostile that time an' leaves the agency. Huggins ain't feeble enough mental to believe for a moment Boggs writes that piece. The fact that Boggs can't even write his own name-bein' onfortunately wantin' utterly in eddication-is of itse'f enough to breed doubts. Still, I don't ondervalue Huggins none in layin' down to Boggs, that time Boggs allows he's the author. With nothin' at stake more than a fact, an' no money up nor nothin', he shorely wouldn't be jestified in contendin' with a gent of Boggs' extravagant impulses, an' who is born with the theery that six-shooters is argyments.

"But, as I was observin', Huggins is no more misled by them bluffs of Boggs than he is likely to give up his thoughts of revenge on the Colonel. Bein' headed off from layin' for the Colonel direct-for Boggs reminds him at closin' that, havin' asserted his personal respons'bility for that piece, he'll take it as affronts if Huggins persists in goin' projectin' 'round for Colonel Sterett-thar's no doubt in my mind that Huggins goes to slyin' about, an' jumpin' sideways at them printers on the quiet, an fillin' 'em up with nose- paint an' notions that they're wronged in equal quantities. An' Huggins gets results.

"Which the Colonel pays off his five printers every week. It's mebby the second Saturday after the Huggins trouble, an' the Colonel is jest finished measurin' up the 'strings,' as he calls 'em, an' disbursin' the dinero. At the finish, the head-printer stiffens up, an' the four others falls back a pace an' looks plenty hard.

"'Colonel,' says the head-printer, 'we-all sends on to the national council, wins out a charter, an' organizes ourse'fs into a union. You're yereby notified we claims union wages, the same bein' forty- five centouse a thousand ems from now ontil further orders.'

"'Jim,' retorts the Colonel, 'what you an' your noble assistants demands at my hands, goes. From now I pays the union schedoole, the same bein' five cents a thousand ems more than former. The Coyote as yet is not self-supportin', but that shall not affect this play. I have so far made up deeficiencies by draw-poker, which I finds to be fairly soft an' certain in this camp, an' your su'gestions of a raise merely means that I've got to set up a leetle later in a game, an' be a trifle more remorseless on a shore hand. Wharfore I yields to your requests with pleasure, as I says prior.'

"It's mighty likely Colonel Sterett acquiesces in them demands too quick; the printers is led to the thought that he's as simple to work as a Winchester. It's hooman nature to brand as many calves as you can, an' so no one's surprised when, two weeks later, them voracious printers comes frontin' up for more. The head-printer stiffens up, an' the four others assoomes eyes of iron, same as before, an' the pow wow re-opens as follows:

"'Colonel,' says the range boss for the printers, while the others stands lookin' an' listenin' like cattle with their y'ears all for'ard, 'Colonel, the chapel's had a meetin', an' we-all has decided that you've got to make back payments at union rates for the last six months, which is when we sends back to the States for that charter. The whole throw is twelve hundred dollars, or two hundred and forty a gent. No one wants to crowd your hand, Colonel, an' if you don't jest happen to have said twelve hundred in your war-bags, we allows you one week to jump 'round an' rustle it.'

"But the Colonel turns out bad, an' shows he can protect himse'f at printin' same as he can at poker. He whirls on them sharps like a mountain lion.

"'Gents,' says the Colonel, 'you-all is up ag'inst it. I don't care none if the cathedral's had a meetin', I declines to bow to your claims. As I states before, I obtains the money to conduct this yere journal by playin' poker. Now I can't play no ex post facto poker, nor get in on any rectroactive hands, which of itse'f displays your attitoode on this o'casion as onjust. What you-all asks is refoosed.'

"'See yere, Colonel,' says the head-printer, beginnin' to arch his back like he's goin' to buck some, 'don't put on no spurs to converse with us; an' don't think to stampede us none with them Latin bluffs you makes. You either pays union rates since February, or we goes p'intin' out for a strike.'

"'Strike!' says the Colonel, an' his tones is decisive, 'strike, says you! Which if you-all will wait till I gets my coat, I'll strike with you.'

"Tharupon the entire passel, the Colonel an' them five printers, comes over to the Red Light, takes a drink on the Colonel, an' disperses themse'fs on the strike. Of course Wolfville looks on some amazed at this yere labor movement, but declar's itse'f nootral.

"'Let every gent skin his own eel,' says Enright; 'the same bein' a fav'rite proverb back in Tennessee when I'm a yooth. This collision between Colonel Sterett an' them free an' independent printers he has in his herd is shorely what may be called a private game. Thar's no reason an' no call for the camp to be heard. What's your idea, Doc?'

"'I yoonites with you in them statements,' says Peets. 'While my personal symp'thies is with Colonel Sterett in this involvement, as yet the sityooation offers no reason for the public to saddle up an' go to ridin' 'round tharin.'

"'Don't you-all think,' says Boggs, appealin' to Enright, 'don't you reckon now if me an' Tutt an' Jack Moore, all casooal like, was to take our guns an' go cuttin' up the dust about the moccasins of them malcontent printers-merely in our private capacity, I means-it would he'p solve this yere deadlock a whole lot?' Boggs is a heap headlong that a-way, an' likin' the Colonel, nacherally he's eager to take his end.

"'Boggs,' replies Enright, an' his tones is stern to the verge of being ferocious; 'Boggs, onless you wants the law-abidin' element to hang you in hobbles, you had better hold yourse'f in more subjection. Moreover, what you proposes is childish. If you was to appear in the midst of this industr'al excitement, an' take to romancin' 'round as you su'gests, you'd chase every one of these yere printers plumb off the range. Which they'd hit a few high places in the landscape an' be gone for good. Then the Colonel never could get out that Coyote paper no more. Let the Colonel fill his hand an' play it his own way. I'll bet, an' go as far as you like, that if we-all turns our backs on this, an' don't take to pesterin' either side, the Colonel has them parties all back in the corral ag'in inside of a week.'

"Old Man Enright is right, same as he ever is. It's about fourth drink time in the evenin' of the second day. Colonel Sterett, who's been consoomin' his licker at intervals not too long apart, is seated in the Red Light in a reelaxed mood. He's sayin' to Boggs, who has been faithful at his elbow from the first, so as to keep up his sperits, that he looks on this strike as affordin' him a much- needed rest.

"'An' from the standp'int of rest, Dan,' observes the Colonel to Boggs as the barkeep brings them fresh glasses, 'I really welcomes this difference with them blacksmiths of mine. I shorely needs this lay-off; literatoor that a-way, Dan, an' partic'lar daily paper literatoor of the elevated character I've been sawin' off on this camp in the Coyote, is fa-tiguin' to the limit. When them misguided parties surrenders their absurd demands-an' between us, Dan, I smells Huggins in this an' expects to lay for him later tharfor-I say, when these obtoose printers gives up, an' returns to their 'llegiance, I'll assoome the tripod like a giant refreshed.'

"'That's whatever!' says Boggs, coincidin' with the Colonel, though he ain't none shore as to his drift.

"'I'll be recooperated,' continues the Colonel, sloppin' out another drink; 'I'll be a new man when I takes hold ag'in, an' will make the Coyote, ever the leadin' medium of the Southwest, as strong an' invincible as four kings an' a ace.'

"It's at this p'int the five who's on the warpath comes into the Red

Light. The head-printer, lookin' apol'getic an' dejected, j'ins

Boggs an' the Colonel where they sits.

"'Colonel,' observes the head-printer, 'the chapel's had another meetin'; an' the short an' the long is, the boys kind o' figger they're onjust in them demands for back pay-sort o' overplays their hands, They've decided, Colonel, that you're dead right; an' I'm yere now to say we're sorry, an' we'll all go back an' open up an' get the Coyote out ag'in in old-time form.'

"'Have a drink, Jim,' says the Colonel, an' his face has a cloud of regrets onto it; 'take four fingers of this red-eye an' cheer up. You-all assoomes too sombre a view of this contention.'

"'I'm obleeged to you, Colonel,' replies the head-printer; 'but I don't much care to drink none before the boys. They ain't got no bank-roll an' no credit like you has, Colonel-that's what makes them see their errors-an' the plain trooth is they ain't had nothin' to drink for twenty-four hours. That's why I don't take nothin'. It would shore seem invidious for me to be settin' yere h'istin' in my nose-paint, an' my pore comrades lookin' he'plessly on; that's whatever! I'm too much a friend of labor to do it, Colonel.'

"'What!' says Boggs, quite wrought up; 'do you-all mean to tell me them onhappy sports ain't had a drink since yesterday? It's a stain on the camp! Whoopee, barkeep! see what them gents will have; an' keep seein' what they'll have endoorin' this conference.'

"'Jim,' says the Colonel, mighty reluctant, 'ain't you-all abandonin' your p'sition prematoor? Thar's somethin' doo to a principle, Jim. I'd rather looked for a continyooation of this estrangement for a while at least. I'd shore take time to consider it before ever I'd let this strike c'llapse.'

"'That's all right, Colonel,' says the head-printer, 'about c'llapsin'; an' I onderstands your feelin's an' symp'thises tharwith. But I've explained to you the financial condition of this movement. Thar stands the boys, pourin' in the first fire-water that has passed their lips for a day. An' you knows, Colonel, no gent, nor set of gents, can conduct strikes to a successful issue without whiskey.'

"'But, Jim,' pleads the Colonel, who hates to come off his vacation, 'if I fixes the Red Light say for fifteen drinks all 'round each day, don't you reckon you can prevail on them recalcitrant printers to put this reeconciliation off a week?'

"However, Enright, who at this p'int comes trailin' in, takes up the head-printer's side, an' shows the Colonel it's his dooty.

"'You owes it to the Wolfville public, Colonel,' says Enright. 'The Coyote has now been suppressed two days. We-all has been deprived of our daily enlightenment an' our intellects is boggin' down. For two entire days Wolfville has been in darkness as to worldly events, an' is right now knockin' 'round in the problem of existence like a blind dog in a meat shop. Your attitoode of delay, Colonel, is impossible; the public requests your return. If you ain't back at the Coyote office to-morry mornin' by second drink time, dealin' your wonted game, I wouldn't ondertake to state what shape a jest pop'lar resentment will assoome.'

"'An', of course,' observes the Colonel with a sigh, 'when you-all puts it in that loocid an' convincin' way, Enright, thar's no more to be said. The strike is now over an' the last kyard dealt. Jim, you an' me an' them printers will return to the vineyard of our efforts. This over-work may be onderminin' me, but Wolfville shall not call to me in vain.'"

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