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   Chapter 18 No.18

Wolfville Nights By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 14687

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Colonel Sterett Relates Marvels.

"As I asserts frequent," observed the Old Cattleman, the while delicately pruning a bit of wood he'd picked up on his walk, "the funds of information, gen'ral an' speshul, which Colonel William Greene Sterett packs about would freight a eight-mule team. It's even money which of 'em saveys the most, him or Doc Peets. For myself, after careful study, I inclines to the theery that Colonel Sterett's knowledge is the widest, while Peets's is the most exact. Both is college gents; an' yet they differs as to the valyoo of sech sem'naries. The Colonel coppers colleges, while Peets plays 'em to win.

"'Them temples of learnin',' says the Colonel, 'is a heap ornate; but they don't make good.' This is doubted by Peets.

"One evenin' Dan Boggs, who's allers tantalisin' 'round askin' questions-it looks like a sleepless cur'osity is proned into Dan-ropes at Peets concernin' this topic:

"'Whatever do they teach in colleges, Doc?' asks Dan.

"'They teaches all of the branches," retorts Peets.

"'An' none of the roots,' adds Colonel Sterett, 'as a cunnin' Yank once remarks on a o'casion sim'lar.'

"No, the Colonel an' Peets don't go lockin' horns in these differences. Both is a mighty sight too well brought up for that; moreover, they don't allow to set the camp no sech examples. They entertains too high a regyard for each other to take to pawin' about pugnacious, verbal or otherwise.

"The Colonel's information is as wide flung as a buzzard's wing. Thar's mighty few mysteries he ain't authorised to eloocidate. An' from time to time, accordin' as the Colonel's more or less in licker, he enlightens Wolfville on a multitoode of topics. Which the Colonel is a profound eddicational innocence; that's whatever!

"It's one evenin' an' the moon is swingin' high in the bloo-black heavens an' looks like a gold doorknob to the portals of the eternal beyond. Texas Thompson fixes his eyes tharon, meditative an' pensive, an' then he wonders:

"'Do you-all reckon, now, that folks is livin' up thar?'

"'Whatever do you think yourse'f, Colonel?' says Enright, passin' the conundrum over to the editor of the Coyote. 'Do you think thar's folks on the moon?'

"'Do I think thar's folks on the moon?' repeats the Colonel as ca'mly confident as a club flush. 'I don't think,-I knows.'

"'Whichever is it then?' asks Dan Boggs, whose ha'r already begins to bristle, he's that inquisitive. 'Simply takin' a ignorant shot in the dark that away, I says, "No." That moon looks like a mighty lonesome loominary to me.'

"'Jest the same,' retorts the Colonel, an' he's a lot dogmatic, 'that planet's fairly speckled with people. An' if some gent will recall the errant fancies of Black Jack to a sense of dooty, I'll onfold how I knows.

"'It's when I'm crowdin' twenty,' goes on the Colonel, followin' the ministrations of Black Jack, 'an' I'm visitin' about the meetropolis of Looeyville. I've been sellin' a passel of runnin' hosses; an' as I rounds up a full peck of doubloons for the fourteen I disposes of, I'm feelin' too contentedly cunnin' to live. It's evenin' an' the moon is shinin' same as now. I jest pays six bits for my supper at the Galt House, an' lights a ten cent seegyar-Oh! I has the bridle off all right!-an' I'm romancin' leesurly along the street, when I encounters a party who's ridin' herd on one of these yere telescopes, the same bein' p'inted at the effulgent moon. Gents, she's shorely a giant spy-glass, that instrooment is; bigger an' longer than the smokestack of any steamboat between Looeyville an' Noo Orleans. She's swung on a pa'r of shears; each stick a cl'ar ninety foot of Norway pine. As I goes pirootin' by, this gent with the telescope pipes briskly up.

"'"Take a look at the moon?"

"'"No," I replies, wavin' him off some haughty, for that bag of doubloons has done puffed me up. "No, I don't take no interest in the moon."

"'As I'm comin' back, mebby it's a hour later, this astronomer is still swingin' an' rattlin' with the queen of night. He pitches his lariat ag'in an' now he fastens.

"'"You-all better take a look; they're havin' the time of their c'reers up thar."

"'"Whatever be they doin'?"

"'"Tellin' wouldn't do no good," says the savant; "it's one of them rackets a gent has to see to savey."

"'"What's the ante?" I asks, for the fires of my cur'osity begins to burn.

"'"Four bits! An' considerin' the onusual doin's goin' for'ard, it's cheaper than corn whiskey."

"'No; I don't stand dallyin' 'round, tryin' to beat this philosopher down in his price. That ain't my style. When I'm ready to commit myse'f to a enterprise, I butts my way in, makes good the tariff, an' no delays. Tharfore, when this gent names four bits, I onpouches the dinero an' prepares to take a astronomic peek.

"'"How long do I gaze for four bits?" I asks, battin' my right eye to get it into piercin' shape.

"'"Go as far as you likes," retorts the philosopher; "thar's no limit."

"'Gents,' says the Colonel, pausin' to renoo his Valley Tan, while Dan an' Texas an' even Old Man Enright hitches their cha'rs a bit nearer, the interest is that intense; 'gents, you-all should have took a squint with me through them lenses. Which if you enjoys said privilege, you can gamble Dan an' Texas wouldn't be camped 'round yere none tonight, exposin' their ignorance an' lettin' fly croode views concernin' astronomy. That telescope actooally brings the moon plumb into Kaintucky;-brings her within the reach of all. You could stretch to her with your hand, she's that clost.'

"'But is thar folks thar?' says Dan, who's excited by the Colonel's disclosures. 'Board the kyard, Colonel, an' don't hold us in suspense."

"'Folks!' returns the Colonel. 'I wishes I has two-bit pieces for every one of 'em! The face of that orb is simply festered with folks! She teems with life; ant-hills on election day means desertion by compar'son. Thar's thousands an' thousands of people, mobbin' about indiscrim'nate; I sees 'em as near an' plain as I sees Dan.'

"'An' whatever be they doin'?' asks Dan.

"'They're pullin' off a hoss race,' says the Colonel, lookin' steady in

Dan's eye. 'An' you hears me! I never sees sech bettin' in my life.'

"Nacherally we-all feels refreshed with these experiences of Colonel Sterett's, for as Enright observes, it's by virchoo of sech casooal chunks of information that a party rounds out a eddication.

"'It ain't what a gent learns in schools,' says Enright, 'that broadens him an' stiffens his mental grip; it's knowledge like this yere moon story from trustworthy sources that augments him an' fills him full. Go on, Colonel, an' onload another marvel or two. You-all must shore have witnessed a heap!'

"'Them few sparse facts touchin' the moon,' returns Colonel Sterett, 'cannot be deemed wonders in any proper sense. They're merely interestin' details which any gent gets onto who brings science to his aid. But usin' the word "wonders," I does once blunder upon a mir'cle which still waits to be explained. That's a shore-enough marvel! An' to this day, all I can state is that I sees it with these yere eyes.'

"'Let her roll!' says Texas Thompson. 'That moon story prepares us for anything.'

"'Texas,' observes the Colonel, a heap severe, 'I'd hate to feel that your o

bservations is the jeerin' offspring of distrust.'

"'Me distrust!' replies Texas, hasty to squar' himse'f. 'I'd as soon think of distrustin' that Laredo divorce of my former he'pmeet! An' as the sheriff drives off two hundred head of my cattle by way of alimony, I deems the fact of that sep'ration as fixed beyond cavil. No, Colonel, you has my fullest confidence. I'd go doubtin' the evenhanded jestice of Cherokee's faro game quicker than distrustin' you.'

"'An' I'm present to say,' returns the Colonel mighty complacent, 'that I looks on sech assoorances as complimentary. To show which I onhesitatin'ly reels off that eepisode to which I adverts.

"'I'm only a child; but I retains my impressions as sharp cut an' cl'ar as though she happens yesterday. It's a time when one of these legerdemain sharps pastes up his bills in our village an' lets on he'll give a show in Liberty Hall on the comin' Saturday evenin'. An' gents, to simply read of the feats he threatens to perform would loco you! Besides, thar's a picture of Satan, black an' fiery an' frightful, where he's he'pin' this gifted person to foist said mir'cles upon the age. I don't exaggerate none when I asserts that the moment our village gets its eye on these three-sheets it comes to a dead halt.

"'Old Squar' Alexanders is the war chief of the hamlet, an' him an' the two other selectmen c'llects themse'fs over their toddies an' canvasses whether they permits this wizard to give his fiendish exhibitions in our midst. They has it pro an' con ontil the thirteenth drink, when Squar' Alexanders who's ag'in the wizard brings the others to his views; an' as they staggers forth from the tavern it's the yoonanimous decision to bar that Satan-aided show.

"'"Witches, wizards, elves, gnomes, bull-beggars, fiends, an' devils is debarred the Bloo Grass Country," says Squar' Alexanders, speakin' for himse'f an' his fellow selectmen, "an' they're not goin' to be allowed to hold their black an' sulphurous mass meetin's yere."

"'It comes Saturday evenin' an' the necromancer is in the tavern eatin' his supper. Shore! he looks like common folks at that! Squar' Alexanders is waitin' for him in the bar. When he shows up, carelessly pickin' his teeth, it's mebby half a hour before the show, Squar' Alexanders don't fritter away no time, but rounds up the wizard.

"'"Thar's no show which has Satan for a silent partner goin' to cut itse'f loose in this village," says Squar' Alexanders.

"'"What's this talk about Satan?" responds the wizard. "I don't savey no more about Satan than I does about you."

"'"Look at them bills," says Squar' Alexanders, an' he p'ints to where one is hangin' on the barroom wall. It gives a picture of the foul fiend, with pitchfork, spear-head tail an' all. "Whatever do you call that?"

"'"That's a bluff," says the wizard. "If Kaintucky don't get tangled up with Satan ontil I imports him to her fertile shores, you cimmarons may regyard yourse'fs as saved."

"'"Be you-all goin' to do the sundry deeds you sets forth in the programmes?" asks Squar' Alexanders after a pause.

"'"Which I shorely be!" says the wizard, "an' if I falls down or fails you can call me a ab'litionist."

"'"Then all I has to say is this," returns Squar' Alexanders; "no gent could do them feats an' do 'em on the level. You'd have to have the he'p of demons to pull em off. An' that brings us back to my first announcement; an' stranger, your show don't go."

"'At this the wizard lets on he's lost patience with Squar' Alexanders an' declares he won't discuss with him no more. Also, he gives it out that, Satan, or no Satan, he'll begin to deal his game at eight o'clock.

"'"Very well!" rejoins Squar' Alexanders. "Since you refooses to be warned I shall shore instruct the constable to collar you on the steps of Liberty Hall." As he says this, Squar' Alexanders p'ints across to Chet Kishler, who's the constable, where he's restin' hhnse'f in front of Baxter's store.

"'This yere Chet is a giant an' clost onto eight foot high. It's a warm evenin', an' as the wizard glances over at Chet, he notices how that offishul is lazily fannin' himse'f with a barn-door which he's done lifted off the hinges for that coolin' purpose. The wizard don't say nothin', but he does turn a mite pale; he sees with half a eye that Satan himse'f would be he'pless once Chet gets his two paws on him. However, he assoomes that he's out to give the show as per schedoole.

"'It's makin' toward eight when the wizard lights a seegyar, drinks four fingers of Willow Run, an' goes p'intin' out for Liberty Hall. Chet gets up, hangs the barn-door back on its hinges, an' sa'nters after. Squar' Alexanders has posted Chet as to his dooties an' his orders is to prounce on the necromancer if he offers to enter the hall. That's how the cavalcade lines up: first, the wizard; twenty foot behind is Chet; an' twenty foot behind our constable comes the public in a body.

"'About half way to Liberty Hall the wizard begins to show nervous an' oncertain. He keeps lookin' back at Chet; an' even in my childish simplicity I sees that he ain't pleased with the outlook. At last he weakens an' abandons his idee of a show. Gents, as I fills my glass, I asks you-all however now do you reckon that wizard beats a retreat?'

"Thar's no reply. Dan, Texas, an' the others, while Colonel Sterett acquires his licker, shakes their heads dumbly as showin' they gives it up.

"'Which you'd shorely never guess!' retorts the Colonel, wipin' his lips. 'Of a sudden, this wizard tugs somethin' outen his pocket that looks like a ball of kyarpet-rags. Holdin' one end, quick as thought he tosses the ball of kyarpet-rags into the air. It goes straight up ontil lost to view, onwindin' itse'f in its flight because of the wizard holdin' on.

"'Gents, that ball of kyarpet-rags never does come down no-more! An' it's all done as easy as a set-lock rifle! The wizard climbs the danglin' string of kyarpet-rags, hand over hand; then he drifts off an' up'ards ontil he don't look bigger than a bumble-bee; an' then he's lost in the gatherin' shadows of the Jooly night.

"'Squar' Alexanders, Chet, an' the village stands strainin' their eyes for twenty minutes. But the wizard's vamosed; an' at last, when each is convinced tharof, the grown folks led by Squar' Alexanders reepairs back into the tavern an' takes another drink.'

"'That's a mighty marvellous feat your necromancer performs, Colonel,' remarks Enright, an' the old chief is grave as becomes the Colonel's revelations; 'he's a shore-enough wonder-worker, that wizard is!'

"But I ain't got to the wonders none as yet,' reemonstrates the Colonel, who spunks up a bit peevish for him. 'An' from the frequent way wherein I'm interrupted, it don't look much like I will. Goin' sailin' away into darklin' space with that ball of enchanted kyarpet-rags,-that ain't the sooper-nacheral part at all! Shore! ondoubted it's some hard to do as a feat, but still thar's other feachers which from the standp'int of the marvellous overpowers it like four kings an' a ace. That wonder is this: It's quarter to eight when the wizard takes his flight by means of the kyarpet-rags. Gents, at eight o'clock sharp the same evenin' he walks on the stage an' gives a show at St. Looey, hundreds of miles away.'"

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