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   Chapter 10 No.10

Wolfville Nights By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 17642

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The Ghost of the Bar-B-8.

"Spectres? Never! I refooses 'em my beliefs utter"; and with these emphatic words the Old Cattleman tasted his liquor thoughtfully on his tongue. The experiment was not satisfactory; and he despatched his dark retainer Tom for lemons and sugar. "An' you-all might better tote along some hot water, too;" he commanded. "This nosepaint feels raw an' over-fervid; a leetle dilootion won't injure it none."

"But about ghosts?" I persisted.

"Ghosts?" he retorted. "I never does hear of but one; that's a apparition which enlists the attentions of Peets and Old Man Enright a lot. It's a spectre that takes to ha'ntin' about one of Enright's Bar-B-8 sign-camps, an' scarin' up the cattle an' drivin' 'em over a precipice, an' all to Enright's disaster an' loss. Nacherally, Enright don't like this spectral play; an' him an' Peets lays for the wraith with rifles, busts its knee some, an' Peets ampytates its laig. Then they throws it loose; allowin' that now it's only got one lai'g, the visitations will mighty likely cease. Moreover Enright regyards ampytation that a-way, as punishment enough. Which I should shore allow the same myse'f!

"It ain't much of a tale. It turns out like all sperit stories; when you approaches plumb close an' jumps sideways at 'em an' seizes 'em by the antlers, the soopernacheral elements sort o' bogs down.

"It's over mebby fifty miles to the southeast of Wolfville, some'ers in the fringes of the Tres Hermanas that thar's a sign-camp of Enright's brand. Thar's a couple of Enright's riders holdin' down this corner of the Bar-B-8 game, an' one evenin' both of 'em comes squanderin' in,-ponies a-foam an' faces pale as milk,-an' puts it up they don't return to that camp no more.

"'Because she's ha'nted,' says one; 'Jim an' me both encounters this yere banshee an' it's got fire eyes. Also, itse'f and pony is constructed of bloo flames. You can gamble! I don't want none of it in mine; an' that's whatever!'

"Any gent can see that these yooths is mighty scared. Enright elicits their yarn only after pourin' about a quart of nosepaint into 'em.

"It looks like on two several o'casions that a handful of cattle gets run over a steep bluff from the mesa above. The fall is some sixty feet in the cl'ar, an' when them devoted cattle strikes the bottom it's plenty easy to guess they're sech no longer, an' thar's nothin' left of 'em but beef. These beef drives happens each time in the night; an' the cattle must have been stampeded complete to make the trip. Cattle, that a-way, ain't goin' to go chargin' over a high bluff none onless their reason is onhinged. No, the coyotes an' the mountain lions don't do it; they never chases cattle, holdin' 'em in fear an' tremblin.' These mountain lions prounces down on colts like a mink on a settin' hen, but never calves or cattle.

"It's after the second beef killin' when the two riders allows they'll do some night herdin' themse'fs an' see if they solves these pheenomenons that's cuttin' into the Bar-B-8.

"'An' it's mebby second drink time after midnight,' gasps the cow-puncher who's relatin' the adventures, 'an' me an' Jim is experimentin' along the aige of the mesa, when of a suddent thar comes two steers, heads down, tails up, locoed absoloote they be; an' flashin' about in the r'ar of 'em rides this flamin' cow-sperit on its flamin' cayouse. Shore! he heads 'em over the cliff; I hears 'em hit the bottom of the canyon jest as I falls off my bronco in a fit. As soon as ever I comes to an' can scramble into that Texas saddle ag'in, me an' Jim hits the high places in the scenery, in a fervid way, an' yere we-all be! An' you hear me, gents, I don't go back to that Bar-B-8 camp no more. I ain't ridin' herd on apparitions; an' whenever ghosts takes to romancin' about in the cow business, that lets me out.'

"'I reckons,' says Enright, wrinklin' up his brows, 'I'll take a look into this racket myse'f.'

"'An' if you-all don't mind none, Enright,' says Peets, 'I'll get my chips in with yours. Thar's been no one shot for a month in either Red Dog or Wolfville an' I'm reedic'lous free of patients. An' if the boys'll promise to hold themse'fs an' their guns in abeyance for a week or so, an' not go framin' up excooses for my presence abrupt, I figgers that a few days idlin' about the ranges, an' mebby a riot or two roundin' up this cow-demon, will expand me an' do me good.'

"'You're lookin' for trouble, Doc,' says Colonel Sterett, kind o' laughin' at Peets. 'You reminds me of a onhappy sport I encounters long ago in Looeyville.'

"'An' wherein does this Bloo Grass party resemble me?' asks Peets.

"'It's one evenin',' says Colonel Sterett, 'an' a passel of us is settin' about in the Gait House bar, toyin' with our beverages. Thar's a smooth, good-lookin' stranger who's camped at a table near. Final, he yawns like he's shore weary of life an' looks at us sharp an' cur'ous. Then he speaks up gen'ral as though he's addressin' the air. "This is a mighty dull town!" he says. "Which I've been yere a fortnight an' I ain't had no fight as yet." An' he continyoos to look us over plenty mournful.

"'"You-all needn't gaze on us that a-way," says a gent named Granger; "you can set down a stack on it, you ain't goin' to pull on no war with none of us."

"'"Shore, no!" says the onhappy stranger. Then he goes on apol'getic; "Gents, I'm onfort'nately constitootcd. Onless I has trouble at reasonable intervals it preys on me. I've been yere in your town two weeks an' so far ain't seen the sign. Gents, it's beginnin' to tell; an' if any of you-all could direct me where I might get action it would be kindly took."

"'"If you're honin' for a muss," says Granger, "all you has to do is go a couple of blocks to the east, an' then five to the no'th, an' thar on the corner you'll note a mighty prosperous s'loon. You caper in by the side door; it says FAMILY ENTRANCE over this yere portal. Sa'nter up to the bar, call for licker, drink it; an' then you remark to the barkeep, casooal like, that you're thar to maintain that any outcast who'll sell sech whiskey ain't fit to drink with a nigger or eat with a dog. That's all; that barkeep'll relieve you of the load that's burdenin' your nerves in about thirty seconds. You'll be the happiest sport in Looeyville when he gets through."

"'"But can't you come an' p'int out the place," coaxes the onhappy stranger of Granger. He's all wropped up in what Granger tells him. "I don't know my way about good, an' from your deescriptions I shorely wouldn't miss visitin' that resort for gold an' precious stones. Come an' show me, pard; I'll take you thar in a kerriage."

"'At that Granger consents to guide the onhappy stranger. They drives over an' Granger stops the outfit, mebby she's fifty yards from the door. He p'ints it out to the onhappy stranger sport.

"'Come with me," says the onhappy stranger, as he gets outen the kerriage. "Come on; you-all don't have to fight none. I jest wants you to watch me. Which I'm the dandiest warrior for the whole length of the Ohio!"

"'But Granger is firm that he won't; he's not inquisitive, he says, an' will stay planted right thar on the r'ar seat an' await deevelopments. With that, the onhappy stranger sport goes sorrowfully for'ard alone, an' gets into the gin-mill by the said FAMILY ENTRANCE. Granger' sets thar with his head out an' y'ears cocked lookin' an' listenin'.

"'Everything's plenty quiet for a minute. Then slam! bang! bing! crash! the most flagrant hubbub breaks forth! It sounds like that store's comin' down. The racket rages an' grows worse. Thar's a smashin' of glass. The lights goes out, while customers comes boundin' an' skippin' forth from the FAMILY ENTRANCE like frightened fawns. At last the uproars dies down ontil they subsides complete.

"'Granger is beginnin' to upbraid himse'f for not gettin the onhappy stranger's address, so's he could ship home the remainder. In the midst of Granger's se'f-accoosations, the lights in the gin-mill begins to burn ag'in, one by one. After awhile, she's reilloominated an' ablaze with old-time glory. It's then the FAMILY ENTRANCE opens an' the onhappy stranger sport emerges onto the sidewalk. He's in his shirtsleeves, an' a satisfied smile wreathes his face. He shore looks plumb content!

"'"Get out of the kerriage an' come in, pard," he shouts to Granger. "Come on in a whole lot! I'd journey down thar an' get you, but I can't leave; I'm tendin' bar!"'

"'You're shore right, Colonel,' says Peets, when Colonel Sterett ends the anecdote, 'the feelin' of that onhappy stranger sport is parallel to mine. Ghosts is new to me; an' I'm goin' pirootin' off with Enright on this demon hunt an' see if I can't fetch up in the midst of a trifle of nerve-coolin' exc

itement.'

"The ghost tales of the stampeded cow-punchers excites Dan Boggs a heap. After Enright an' Peets has organised an' gone p'inting out for the ha'nted Bar-B-8 sign-camp to investigate the spook, Dan can't talk of nothin' else.

"'Them's mighty dead game gents, Enright an' Doc Peets is!' says Dan. 'I wouldn't go searchin' for no sperits more'n I'd write letters to rattlesnakes! I draws the line at intimacies with fiends.'

"'But mebby this yere is a angel,' says Faro Nell, from her stool alongside of Cherokee Hall.

"'Not criticisin' you none, Nell,' says Dan, 'Cherokee himse'f will tell you sech surmises is reedic'lous. No angel is goin' to visit Arizona for obvious reasons. An' ag'in, no angel's doo to go skally-hootin' about after steers an' stampeedin' 'em over brinks. It's ag'in reason; you bet! That blazin' wraith, that a-way, is a shore-enough demon! An' as for me, personal, I wouldn't cut his trail for a bunch of ponies!

"'Be you-all scared of ghosts, Dan?' asks Faro Nell.

"'Be I scared of ghosts?' says Dan. 'Which I wish, I could see a ghost an' show you! I don't want to brag none, Nellie, but I'll gamble four for one, an' go as far as you likes, that if you was to up an' show me a ghost right now, I wouldn't stop runnin' for a month. But what appals me partic'lar,' goes on Dan, 'about Peets an' Enright, is they takes their guns. Now a ghost waxes onusual indignant if you takes to shootin' him up with guns. No, it don't hurt him; but he regyards sech demonstrations as insults. It's like my old pap says that time about the Yankees. My old pap is a colonel with Gen'ral Price, an' on this evenin' is engaged in leadin' one of the most intrepid retreats of the war. As he's prancin' along at the head of his men where a great commander belongs, he's shore scandalised by hearin' his r'ar gyard firin' on the Yanks. So he rides back, my old pap does, an' he says: "Yere you-all eediots! Whatever do you mean by shootin' at them Yankees? Don't you know it only makes 'em madder?" An' that,' concloods Dan, 'is how I feels about spectres. I wouldn't go lammin' loose at 'em with no guns; it only makes 'em madder.'

"It's the next day, an' Peets an' Enright is organised in the ha'nted sign-camp of the Bar-B-8. Also, they've been lookin' round. By ridin' along onder the face of the precipice, they comes, one after t'other, on what little is left of the dead steers. What strikes 'em as a heap pecooliar is that thar's no bones or horns. Two or three of the hoofs is kickin' about, an' Enright picks up one the coyotes overlooks. It shows it's been cut off at the fetlock j'int by a knife.

"'This spectre,' says Enright, passin' the hoof to Peets, 'packs a bowie; an' he likewise butchers his prey. Also, ondoubted, he freights the meat off some'ers to his camp, which is why we don't notice no big bones layin' 'round loose.' Then Enright scans the grass mighty scroopulous; an' shore enough! thar's plenty of pony tracks printed into the soil. 'That don't look so soopernacheral neither,' says Enright, p'intin' to the hoof-prints.

"'Them's shorely made by a flesh an' blood pony,' says Peets. 'An' from their goin' some deep into the ground, I dedooces that said cayouse is loaded down with what weight of beef an' man it can stagger onder.'

"That evenin' over their grub Enright an' Peets discusses the business. Thar's a jimcrow Mexican plaza not three miles off in the hills. Both of 'em is aware of this hamlet, an' Peets, partic'lar, is well acquainted with a old Mexican sharp who lives thar-he's a kind o' schoolmaster among 'em-who's mighty cunnin' an' learned. His name is Jose Miguel.

"'An' I'm beginnin' to figger,' says Peets, 'that this ghostly rider is the foxy little Jose Miguel. Which I've frequent talked with him; an' he saveys enough about drugs an' chemicals to paint up with phosphorus an' go surgin' about an' stampedin' cattle over bluffs. It's a mighty good idee from his standp'int. He can argue that the cattle kills themse'fs-sort o' commits sooicide inadvertent-an' if we-all trades up on him with the beef, he insists on his innocence, an' puts it up that his cuttin' in on the play after said cattle done slays themse'fs injures nobody but coyotes.'

"'Doc,' coincides Enright, after roominatin' in silence, 'Doc, the longer I ponders, the more them theories seems sagacious. That enterprisin' Greaser is jest about killin' my beef an' sellin' it to the entire plaza. Not only does this ghost play opp'rate to stampede the cattle an' set 'em runnin' cimmaron an' locoed so they'll chase over the cliffs to their ends, but it serves to scare my cow-punchers off the range, which last, ondoubted, this Miguel looks on as a deesideratum. However, it's goin' to be good an' dark to-night, an' if we-all has half luck I reckons that we fixes him.'

"It's full two hours after midnight an' while thar's stars overhead thar's no moon; along the top of the mesa it's as dark as the inside of a jug. Peets an' Enright is Injunin' about on the prowl for the ghost. They don't much reckon it'll be abroad, as mebby the plaza has beef enough.

"'However, by to-morry night,' says Enright in a whisper, 'or at the worst, by the night after, we're shore to meet up with this marauder.'

"'Hesh!' whispers Peets, at the same time stoppin' Enright with his hand, 'he's out to-night!'

"An' thar for shore is something like a dim bloo light movin' across the plains. Now an' then, two brighter lights shows in spots like the blazes of candles; them's the fire eyes the locoed cowboys tells of. Whatever it is, whether spook or Greaser, it's quarterin' the ground like one of these huntin' dogs. Its gait is a slow canter.

"'He's on the scout,' says Enright,' 'tryin' to start a steer or two in the dark; but he ain't located none yet.'

"Enright an' Peets slides to the ground an' hobbles their broncos. They don't aim to have 'em go swarmin' over no bluffs in any blindness of a first surprise. When the ponies is safe, they bends low an' begins makin' up towards the ground on which this bloo-shimmerin' shadow is ha'ntin' about. Things comes their way; they has luck. They've done crope about forty rods when the ghost heads for 'em. They can easy tell he's comin', for the fire eyes shows all the time an' not by fits an' starts as former. As the bloo shimmer draws nearer they makes out the vague shadows of a man on a hoss. Son, she's shore plenty ghostly as a vision, an' Enright allows later, it's no marvel the punchers vamoses sech scenes.

"'How about it,' whispers Peets; 'shall I do the shootin'?'

"'Which your eyes is younger,' says Enright. 'You cut loose; an' I'll stand by to back the play. Only aim plenty low. You can't he'p over-shootin' in the dark. Hold as low as his stirrup.'

"Peets pulls himse'f up straight as a saplin' an' runs his left hand along the bar'l as far as his arm'll reach. An' he hangs long on the aim as shootin' in the dark ain't no cinch. If this ghost is a bright ghost it would be easy. But he ain't; he's bloo an' dim like washed out moonlight, or when it's jest gettin' to be dawn. Enright's twenty yards to one side so as to free himse'f of Peet's smoke in case he has to make a second shot.

"But Peets calls the turn. With the crack of that Sharp's of his, the ghost sets up sech a screech it proves he ain't white an' also that he'll live through the evenin's events. As the spectre yelps, the bloo cayouse goes over on its head an' neck an' then falls dead on its side. The lead which only smashes the spectre's knee to splinters goes plumb through the pony's heart.

"As Peets foresees, the ghost ain't none other than the wise little Jose Miguel, schoolmaster, who's up on drugs an' chemicals. The bloo glimmer is phosphorus; an' the fire eyes is two of these little old lamps like miners packs in their caps.

"Enright an' Peets strolls up; this Miguel is groanin' an' mournin' an' cryin' 'Marie, Madre de Dios!' When he sees who downs him, he drags himse'f to Enright an' begs a heap abject for his life. With that, Enright silently lets down the hammer of his rifle.

"Peets when the sun comes up enjoys himse'f speshul with the opp'ration. Peets is fond of ampytations, that a-way, and he lops off said limb with zest an' gusto.

"'I shore deplores, Jose,' says Peets, 'to go shortenin' up a fellow scientist like this. But thar's no he'pin' it; fate has so decreed. Also, as some comfort to your soul, I'll explain to Sam Enright how you won't ride much when I gets you fairly trimmed. Leastwise, after I'm done prunin' you, thar won't be nothin' but these yere woman's saddles that you'll fit, an' no gent, be he white or be he Greaser, can work cattle from a side-saddle.' An' Peets, hummin' a roundelay, cuts merrily into the wounded member."

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