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   Chapter 14 No.14

Wolfville Nights By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 14777

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


The Troubles of Dan Boggs.

"This yere," remarked the Old Cattleman, at the heel of a half-hour lecture on life and its philosophy, "this yere is a evenin' when they gets to discussin' about luck. It's doorin' the progress of this dispoote when Cherokee Hall allows that luck don't alternate none, first good an' then bad, but travels in bunches like cattle or in flocks like birds. 'Whichever way she comes,' says Cherokee, 'good or bad, luck avalanches itse'f on a gent. That's straight!' goes on Cherokee. 'You bet! I speaks from a voloominous experience an' a life that, whether up or down, white or black, ain't been nothin' but luck. Which nacherally, bein' a kyard sharp that a-way, I studies luck the same as Peets yere studies drugs; an' my discov'ries teaches that luck is plumb gregar'ous. Like misery in that proverb, luck loves company; it shore despises to be lonesome.'

"'Cherokee, I delights to hear you talk,' says Old Man Enright, as he signs up Black Jack for the Valley Tan. 'Them eloocidations is meant to stiffen a gent's nerve an' do him good. Shore; no one needs encouragement nor has to train for a conflict with good luck; but it's when he's out ag'inst the iron an' the bad luck's swoopin' an' stoopin' at him, beak an' claw like forty hawks, that your remarks is doo to come to his aid an' uplift his sperits some. An' as you says a moment back, thar's bound in the long run to be a equilibr'um. The lower your bad luck, the taller your good luck when it strikes camp. It's the same with the old Rockies, an' wherever you goes it's ever a never-failin' case of the deeper the valley, the higher the hill!

"'As is frequent with me,' says Dan Boggs, after we sets quiet a moment, meanwhiles tastin' our nosepaint thoughtful-for these outbursts of Cherokee's an' Enright's calls for consid'rations,-'as is frequent with me,' says Dan, 'I reckons I'll string my chips with Cherokee. The more ready since throughout my own checkered c'reer-an' I've done most everything 'cept sing in the choir,-luck has ever happened bunched like he asserts. Which I gets notice of these pecooliarities of fortune early. While I'm simply doin' nothin' to provoke it, a gust of bad luck prounces on me an' thwarts me in a noble ambition, rooins my social standin' an busts two of my nigh ribs all in one week.

"'I'm a colt at the time, an' jest about big enough to break. My folks is livin' in Missouri over back of the Sni-a-bar Hills. By nacher I'm a heap moosical; so I ups-givin' that genius for harmony expression-an' yoonites myse'f with the "Sni-a-bar Silver Cornet Band." Old Hickey is leader, an' he puts me in to play the snare drum, the same bein' the second rung on the ladder of moosical fame, an' one rung above the big drum. Old Hickey su'gests that I start with the snare drum an' work up. Gents, you-all should have heard me with that instrooment! I'd shore light into her like a storm of hail!

"'For a spell the "Sni-a-bar Silver Cornet Band" used to play in the woods. This yere Sni-a-bar commoonity is a mighty nervous neighbourhood, an' thar's folks whose word is above reproach who sends us notice they'll shoot us up if we don't; so at first we practises in the woods. But as time goes on we improves an' plays well enough so we don't scare children; an' then the Sni-a-bar people consents to let us play now an' then along the road. All of us virchewosoes is locoed to do good work, so that Sni-a-bar would get reeconciled, an' recognise us as a commoonal factor.

"'Well do I recall the day of our first public appearance. It's at a political meetin' an' everything, so far as we're concerned at least, depends on the impression we-all makes. If we goes to a balk or a break-down, the "Sni-a-bar Silver Cornet Band's" got to go back an' play in the woods.

"'It's not needed that I tells you gents, how we-all is on aige. Old Hickey gets so perturbed he shifts me onto the big drum; an' Catfish Edwards, yeretofore custodian of that instrooment, is given the snare. This play comes mighty clost to breakin' my heart; for I'm ambitious, an' it galls my soul to see myse'f goin' back'ards that a-way. It's the beginnin' of my bad luck, too. Thar's no chance to duck the play, however, as old Hickey's word is law, so I sadly buckles on the giant drum.

"'We're jest turnin' into the picnic ground where this meetin's bein' held an' I've got thoughts of nothin' but my art-as we moosicians says-an' elevatin' the local opinion of an' concernin' the meelodious merits of the band. We're playin' "Number Eighteen" at the time, an' I've got my eagle eye on the paper that tells me when to welt her; an' I'm shorely leatherin' away to beat a ace-flush.

"'Bein' I'm new to the big drum, an' onduly eager to succeed, I've got all my eyes picketed on the notes. It would have been as well if I'd reeserved at least one for scenery. But I don't; an' so it befalls that when we-all is in the very heart of the toone, an' at what it's no exaggeration to call a crisis in our destinies, I walks straddle of a stump. An' sech is my fatal momentum that the drum rolls up on the stump, an' I rolls up on the drum. That's the finish; next day the Silver Cornet Band by edict of the Sni-a-bar pop'lace is re-exiled to them woods. But I don't go; old Hickey excloodes me, an' my hopes of moosical eminence rots down right thar.

"'It's mebby two days later when I'm over by the postoffice gettin' the weekly paper for my old gent. Thar's goin' to be a Gander-Pullin' by torchlight that evenin' over to Hickman's Mills with a dance at the heel of the hunt. But I ain't allowin' to be present none. I'm too deeply chagrined about my failure with that big drum; an' then ag'in, I'm scared to ask a girl to go. You-all most likely has missed noticin' it a heap-for I frequent forces myse'f to be gala an' festive in company-but jest the same, deep down onder my belt, I'm bashful. An' when I'm younger I'm worse. I'm bashful speshul of girls; for I soon discovers that it's easier to face a gun than a girl, an' the glance of her eye is more terrifyin' than the glimmer of a bowie. That's the way I feels. It's a fact; I remembers a time when my mother, gettin' plumb desp'rate over my hoomility, offers me a runnin' hoss if I'd go co't a girl; on which o'casion I feebly urges that I'd rather walk.

"'On the evenin' of this yer dance an' Gander-Pullin' I'm pirootin' about the Center when I meets up with Jule James;-Jule bein' the village belle. "Goin' to the dance?" says Jule. "No," says I. "Why ever don't you go?" asks Jule. "Thar ain't no girl weak-minded enough to go with me," I replies; "I makes a bid for two or three but gets the mitten." This yere last is a bluff. "Which I reckons now," says Jule, givin' me a look, "if you'd asked me, I'd been fool enough to go." Of course, with that I'm treed; I couldn't flicker, so I allows that if Jule'll caper back to the house with me I'll take her yet.

"'We-all gets back to my old gent's an' I proceeds to hitch up a Dobbin hoss we has to a side-bar buggy. It's dark by now, an' we don't go to the house nor indulge in any ranikaboo uproar about it, as I figgers it's better not to notify the folks. Not that they'd be out to put the kybosh on this enterprize; but they're powerful fond of talk my folks is, an' their long suit is never wantin' you to do whatever you're out to execoote. Wher

efore, as I ain't got no time for a j'int debate with my fam'ly over technicalities I puts Jule into the side-bar where it's standin' in the dark onder a shed; an' then, hookin' up old Dobbin a heap surreptitious, I gathers the reins an' we goes softly p'intin' forth for Hickman's.

"'As we-all is sailin' thoughtlessly along the trail, Dobbin ups an' bolts. Sech flights is onpreeceedented in the case of Dobbin-who's that sedate he's jest alive-an' I'm shore amazed; but I yanks him up an' starts anew. It's twenty rods when Dobbin bolts ag'in. This time I hears a flutter, an' reaches 'round Jule some to see if her petticoats is whippin' the wheel. They ain't; but Jule-who esteems said gesture in the nacher of a caress-seemin' to favour the idee, I lets my arm stay 'round. A moment later an' this yere villain Dobbin bolts the third time, an' as I've sort o' got my one arm tangled up with Jule, he lams into a oak tree.

"'It's then, when we're plumb to a halt, I does hear a flutter. At that I gets down to investigate. Gents, you-all may onderstand my horror when I finds 'leven of my shawl-neck game chickens roostin' on that side-bar's reach! They're thar when we pulls out. They've retired from the world an' its cares for the night an', in our ignorance of them chicken's domestic arrangements, we blindly takes 'em with us. Now an' then, as we goes rackin' along, one of 'em gets jolted off. Then he'd hang by his chin an' beat his wings; an' it's these frenzied efforts he makes to stay with the game that evolves them alarmin' flutterin's.

"'Jule-who don't own chickens an' who ain't no patron of cockfights neither-is for settin' the shawl-necks on the fence an' pickin' 'em up as we trails back from the Gander-Pullin'.

"'"As long as it's dark," says Jule, "they'll stay planted; an' we rounds 'em up on our return."

"'But I ain't that optimistic. I knows these chickens an' they ain't so somnolent as all that. Besides it's a cinch that a mink or a fox comes squanderin' 'round an' takes 'em in like gooseberries. 'Leven shawl-necks! Why, it would be a pick-up for a fox!

"'"You're a fine Injun to take a girl to a dance!" says Jule at last, an' she's full of scorn.

"'"Injun or no Injun," I retorts a heap sullen, "thar ain't no Gander-Pullin' goin' to jestify me in abandonin' my 'leven shawl-necks an' me with a main to fight next month over on the Little Bloo!"

"'At that I corrals the chickens an' imprisons 'em in the r'ar of the side-bar an' goes a-weavin' back for camp, an' I picks up three more shawl-necks where they sets battin' their he'pless eyes in the road.

"'But I shore hears Jule's views of me as a beau! They're hot enough to fry meat! Moreover, Jule tells all Sni-a-bar an' I'm at once a scoff an' jeer from the Kaw to the Gasconade. Jule's old pap washes out his rifle an' signs a pledge to plug me if ever ag'in I puts my hand on his front gate. As I su'gests, it rooins my social c'reer in Sni-a-bar.

"'While I'm ground like a toad that a-way beneath the harrow of this double setback of the drum an' Jule, thar's a circus shows up an' pitches its merry tent in Sni-a-bar. I knows this caravan of yore-for I'm a master-hand for shows in my yooth an' allers goes-an' bein' by virchoo of my troubles ready to plunge into dissipation's mad an' swirlin' midst, I sa'nters down the moment the waggons shows up; an' after that, while that circus stays, folks who wants to see me, day or night, has to come to the show.

"'The outfit is one of them little old jim-crow shows that charges two-bits an' stays a month; an' by the end of the first day, me an' the clown gets wropped up like brothers; which I'm like one of the fam'iy! I fetches water an' he'ps rub hosses an', speakin' gen'ral, does more nigger work than I ever crosses up with prior endoorin' my entire life. But knowin' the clown pays for all; sech trivial considerations as pullin' on tent ropes an' spreadin' sawdust disappears before the honour of his a'quaintance. It's my knowin' the clown that leads to disaster.

"'This merrymaker, who's a "jocund wight" as Colonel Sterett says, gets a heap drunk one evenin' 'an' sleeps out in the rain, an' he awakes as hoarse as bull-frogs. He ain't able to sing his song in the ring. It's jest before they begins.

"'"Dan," he croaks, plenty dejected, "I wish you'd clown up an' go in an' sing that song."

"'This cantata he alloodes to, is easy; it's "Roll Jurdan, Roll," an' I hears it so much at nigger camp meetin's an' sim'lar distractions, that I carols it in my sleep. As the clown throws out his bluff I considers awhile some ser'ous. I feels like mebby I've cut the trail of a cunnin' idee. When Jule an' old Hickey an' the balance of them Sni-a-bar outcasts sees me in a clown's yooniform, tyrannisin' about, singin' songs an' leadin' up the war-jig gen'ral, they'll regret the opinions they so freely expresses an' take to standin' about, hopin' I'll bow. They'll regyard knowin' me as a boon. With that, I tells the clown to be of good cheer. I'll prance in an' render that lay an' his hoarseness won't prove no setback to the gaiety of nations.

"'But I don't sing after all; an' I don't pile up Jule an' old Hickey an' the sports of Sni-a-bar neither in any all 'round jumble of amazement at my genius.

"'"Dan," says the ring master when we're in the dressin' room, "when the leapin' begins, you-all go on with the others an' do a somersault or two?"

"'"Shore!" I says.

"'I feels as confidant as a kangaroo! Which I never does try it none; but I supposes that all you has to do is hit the springboard an' let the springboard do the rest. That's where I'm barkin' at a knot!

"'This yere leapin' comes first on the bill. I ain't been in the ring yet; the tumblin' business is where I makes my deeboo. I've got on a white clown soote with big red spots, an' my face is all flour. I'm as certain of my comin' pop'larity as a wet dog. I shore allows that when Jule an' old Hickey observes my graceful agility an' then hears me warble "Roll Jurdan, Roll," I'll make 'em hang their heads.

"'The tumblin' is about to begin; the band's playin', an' all us athletes is ranged Injun file along a plank down which we're to run. I'm the last chicken on the roost.

"'Even unto this day it's a subject of contention in circus cirkles as to where I hits that springboard. Some claims I hits her too high up; an' some says too low; for myse'f, I concedes I'm ignorant on the p'int. I flies down the plank like a antelope! I hears the snarl of the drums! I jumps an' strikes the springboard!

"'It's at this juncture things goes queer. To my wonder I don't turn no flip-flap, but performs like a draw-shot in billiards. I plants my moccasins on the springboard; an' then instead of goin' on an' over a cayouse who's standin' thar awaitin' sech events, I shoots back'ard about fifteen foot an' lands in a ondistinguishable heap. An' as I strikes a plank it smashes a brace of my ribs.

"'For a second I'm blurred in my intellects. Then I recovers; an' as I'm bein' herded back into the dressin' room by the fosterin' hands of the ring master an' my pard, the clown, over in the audience I hears Jule's silvery laugh an' her old pap allowin' he'd give a hoss if I'd only broke my neck. Also, I catches a remark of old Hickey; "Which that Boggs boy allers was a ediot!" says old Hickey.'"

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