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   Chapter 19 No.19

Wolfville Nights By Alfred Henry Lewis Characters: 26806

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The Luck of Hardrobe.

"Which I tells this yere narrative first, back in one of them good old

Red Light evenin's when it's my turn to talk."

The Old Cattleman following this remark, considered me for a moment in silence. I had myself been holding the floor of discussion in a way both rambling and pointless for some time. I had spoken of the national fortune of Indians, their superstitions, their ill-luck, and other savage subjects various and sundry. My discourse had been remarkable perhaps for emphasis rather than accuracy; and this too held a purpose. It was calculated to rouse my raconteur and draw him to a story. Did what I say lack energy, he might go to sleep in his chair; he had done this more than once when I failed of interest. Also, if what I told were wholly true and wanting in ripple of romantic error, even though my friend did me the compliment of wakefulness, he would make no comment. Neither was he likely to be provoked to any recital of counter experiences. At last, however, he gave forth the observation which I quote above and I saw that I had brought him out. I became at once wordless and, lighting a cigar, leaned back to listen.

"As I observes," he resumed, following a considerable pause which I was jealous to guard against word or question of my own; "I tells this tale to Colonel Sterett, Old Man Enright, an' the others one time when we're restin' from them Wolfville labours of ours an' renooin' our strength with nosepaint in the Red Light bar. Jest as you does now, Dan Boggs takes up this question of luck where Cherokee Hall abandons it, an' likewise the subject of savages where Texas Thompson lays 'em down, an' after conj'inin' the two in fashions I deems a heap weak, allows that luck is confined strictly to the paleface; aborigines not knowin' sufficient to become the target of vicissitoodes, excellent or otherwise.

"'Injuns is too ignorant to have what you-all calls "luck,"' says Dan. 'That gent who's to be affected either up or down by "luck" has got to have some mental cap'bilities. An' as Injuns don't answer sech deescriptions, they ain't no more open to "luck" than to enlight'ment. "Luck" an' Injuns when took together, is preepost'rous! It's like talkin' of a sycamore tree havin' luck. Gents, it ain't in the deck!' An' tharupon Dan seals his views by demandin' of Black Jack the bottle with glasses all 'round.

"'When it comes to that, Boggs,' says Colonel Sterett, as he does Dan honour in four fingers of Valley Tan, 'an' talkin' of luck, I'm yere to offer odds that the most poignant hard-luck story on the list is the story of Injuns as a race. An' I won't back-track their game none further than Columbus at that. The savages may have found life a summer's dream prior to the arrival of that Eytalian mariner an' the ornery Spainiards he surrounds himse'f with. But from the looks of the tabs, the deal since then has gone ag'inst 'em. The Injuns don't win once. White folks, that a-way, is of themse'fs bad luck incarnate to Injuns. The savage never so much as touches 'em or listens to 'em or imitates 'em, but he rots down right thar. Which the pale-face shorely kills said Injuns on the nest! as my old grand-dad used to say.'

"'When I recalls the finish of Hardrobe,' I remarks, sort o' cuttin' into the argyment, the same bein' free an' open to all, 'an' I might add by way of a gratootity in lines of proof, the finish of his boy, Bloojacket, I inclines to string my chips with Colonel Sterett.'

"'Give us the details concernin' this Hardrobe,' says Doc Peets. 'For myse'f, I'm prone an' eager to add to my information touchin' Injuns at every openin'.'

"As Enright an' the rest makes expression sim'lar, I proceeds to onbuckle. I don't claim much for the tale neither. Still, I wouldn't copper it none for it's the trooth, an' the trooth should allers be played 'open' every time. I'll tell you-all this Hardrobe story as I onfolds it to them."

It was here my friend began looking about with a vaguely anxious eye. I saw his need and pressed the button.

"I was aimin' to summon my black boy, Tom," he said.

When a moment later his favourite decanter appeared in the hands of one of the bar-boys of the hostelry, who placed it on a little table at his elbow and withdrew, the necessity for "Tom" seemed to disappear, and recurring to Hardrobe, he went on.

"Hardrobe is a Injun-a Osage buck an' belongs to the war clan of his

tribe. He's been eddicated East an' can read in books, an' pow-wows

American mighty near as flooent as I does myse'f. An' on that last p'int

I'll take a chance that I ain't tongue-tied neither.

"Which this yere is a long time ago. Them is days when I'm young an' lithe an' strong. I can heft a pony an' I'm six foot two in my moccasins. No, I ain't so tall by three inches now; old age shortens a gent up a whole lot.

"My range is on the south bank of Red River-over on the Texas side. Across on the no'th is the Nation-what map folks call the 'Injun Territory.' In them epocks we experiences Injuns free an' frequent, as our drives takes us across the Nation from south to no'th the widest way. We works over the old Jones an' Plummer trail, which thoroughfare I alloodes to once or twice before. I drives cattle over it an' I freights over it,-me an' my eight-mule team. An' I shorely knows where all the grass an' wood an' water is from the Red River to the Flint Hills.

"Speakin' of the Jones an' Plummer trail, I once hears a dance-hall girl who volunteers some songs over in a Tucson hurdygurdy, an' that maiden sort o' dims my sights some. First, she gives us The Dying Ranger, the same bein' enough of itse'f to start a sob or two; speshul when folks is, as Colonel Sterett says, 'a leetle drinkin'.' Then when the public clamours for more she sings something which begins:

"'Thar's many a boy who once follows the herds,

On the Jones an' Plummer trail;

Some dies of drink an' some of lead,

An' some over kyards, an' none in bed;

But they're dead game sports, so with naught but good words,

We gives 'em "Farewell an' hail."'

"Son, this sonnet brings down mem'ries; and they so stirs me I has to vamos that hurdygurdy to keep my emotions from stampedin' into tears. Shore, thar's soft spots in me the same as in oilier gents; an' that melody a-makin' of references to the old Jones an' Plummer days comes mighty clost to meltin' everything about me but my guns an' spurs.

"This yere cattle business ain't what it used to be; no more is cow-punchers. Things is gettin' effete. These day it's a case of chutes an' brandin' pens an' wire fences an' ten-mile pastures, an' thar's so little ropin' that a boy don't have practice enough to know how to catch his pony.

"In the times I'm dreamin' of all this is different. I recalls how we frequent works a month with a beef herd, say of four thousand head, out on the stark an' open plains, ropin' an' throwin' an' runnin' a road-brand onto 'em. Thar's a dozen different range brands in the bunch, mebby, and we needs a road-brand common to 'em all, so in case of stampedes on our trip to the no'th we knows our cattle ag'in an' can pick 'em out from among the local cattle which they takes to minglin' with. It's shorely work, markin' big strong steers that-away! Throwin' a thousand-pound longhorn with a six hundred-pound cayouse is tellin' on all involved an' a gent who's pitchin' his rope industrious will wear down five broncos by sundown.

"It's a sharp winter an' cattle dies that fast they simply defies the best efforts of ravens an' coyotes to get away with the supply. It's been blowin' a blizzard of snow for weeks. The gales is from the no'th an' they lashes the plains from the Bad Lands to the Rio Grande. When the storm first prounces on the cattle up yonder in the Yellowstone country, the he'pless beasts turns their onprotestin' tails and begins to drift. For weeks, as I remarks, that tempest throws itse'f loose, an' night an' day, what cattle keeps their feet an' lives, comes driftin' on.

"Nacherally the boys comes with 'em. Their winter sign-camps breaks up an' the riders turns south with the cattle. No, they can't do nothin'; you-all couldn't turn 'em or hold 'em or drive 'em back while the storm lasts. But it's the dooty of the punchers to keep abreast of their brands an' be thar the moment the blizzard abates.

"It's shore a spectacle! For a wild an' tossin' front of five hundred miles, from west to east, the storm-beat herds comes driftin'. An' ridin' an' sw'arin' an' plungin' about comes with 'em the boys on their broncos. They don't have nothin' more'n the duds on their backs, an' mebby their saddle blankets an' slickers. But they kills beef to eat as they needs it, an' the ponies paws through the snow for grass, an' they exists along all right. For all those snow-filled, wind-swept weeks they're ridin' an' cussin'. They comes spatterin' through the rivers, an' swoopin' an' whoopin' over the divides that lays between. They crosses the Heart an' the Cannon Ball an' the Cheyenne an' the White an' the Niobrara an' the Platte an' the Republican an' the Solomon an' the Smoky an' the Arkansaw, to say nothin' of the hundreds of forks an' branches which flows an' twines an' twists between; an' final, you runs up on boys along the Canadian who's come from the Upper Missouri. An' as for cattle! it looks like it's one onbroken herd from Fort Elliot to where the Canadian opens into the Arkansaw!

"The chuck waggons of a thousand brands ain't two days behind the boys, an' by no time after that blizzard simmers, thar's camp-fires burnin' an' blinkin' between the Canadian an' the Red all along from the Choctaw country as far west as the Panhandle. Shore, every cow-puncher makes for the nearest smoke, feeds up an' recooperates; and then he with the others begins the gatherin' of the cattle an' the slow northern drive of the return. Which the spring overtakes 'em an' passes 'em on it's way to the no'th, an' the grass is green an' deep before ever they're back on their ranges ag'in.

"It's a great ride, says you? Son, I once attends where a lecture sharp holds forth as to Napoleon's retreat from Moscow. As was the proper thing I sets silent through them hardships. But I could, it I'm disposed to become a disturbin' element or goes out to cut loose cantankerous an' dispootatious in another gent's game, have showed him the French experiences that Moscow time is Sunday school excursions compared with these trips the boys makes when on the breath of that blizzard they swings south with their herds. Them yooths, some of 'em, is over eight hundred miles from their home-ranch; an' she's the first an' only time I ever meets up with a Yellowstone brand on the Canadian.

"You-all can put down a bet I'm no idle an' listless looker-on that blizzard time; an' I grows speshul active at the close. It behooves us Red River gents of cattle to stir about. The wild hard-ridin' knight-errants of the rope an' spur who cataracts themse'fs upon us with their driftin' cattle doorin' said tempest looks like they're plenty cap'ble of drivin' our steers no'th with their own, sort o' makin' up the deeficiencies of the storm.

"I brands over four thousand calves the spring before, which means I has at least twenty thousand head,-or five times what I brands-skallihootin' an' hybernatin' about the ranges. An' bein' as you-all notes some strong on cattle, an' not allowin' none for them Yellowstone adventurers to drive any of 'em no'th, I've got about 'leven outfits at work, overhaulin' the herds an' round-ups, an' ridin' round an' through 'em, weedin' out my brand an' throwin' 'em back on my Red River range. I has to do it, or our visitin' Yellowstone guests would have stole me pore as Job's turkey.

"Whatever is a 'outfit' you asks? It's a range boss, a chuck waggon with four mules an' a range cook, two hoss hustlers to hold the ponies, eight riders an' a bunch of about seventy ponies-say seven to a boy. These yere 'leven outfits I speaks of is scattered east an' west mebby she's a-hundred miles along the no'th fringe of my range, a-combin' an' a-searchin' of the bunches an' cuttin' out all specimens of my brand when found. For myse'f, personal, I'm cavortin' about on the loose like, stoppin' some nights at one camp' an' some nights at another, keepin' cases on the deal.

"It's at one of my camps one evenin' when I crosses up first with this yere Hardrobe. His boy, Bloojacket, is with him. Hardrobe himse'f is mebby goin' on fifty, while Bloojacket ain't more'n say twenty-one. Shore, they're out for cattle, too; them savages has a heap of cattle, an' since they finds their brands an' bunches same as the rest of us all tangled up with the Yellowstone aliens doorin' the blizzard, Hardrobe an' his boy Bloojacket rides up an' asks can they work partners with a outfit of mine.

"As I explains previous I'm averse to Injuns, but this Hardrobe is a onusual Injun; an' as he's settin' in ag'inst a stiff game the way things is mixed up, an' bein' only him an' his boy he's too weak to protect himse'f, I yields consent, I yields the more pleasant for fear,-since I drives through the Osage country now an' then-this Hardrobe an' his heir plays even by stampedin' my cattle some evenin' if I don't. Thar's nothin' like a dash of se'f-interest to make a gent urbane, an' so I

invites Hardrobe an' Bloojacket to make my camp their headquarters like I'd been yearnin' for the chance.

"As you-all must have long ago tracked up on the information, it's sooperfluous for me to su'gest that a gent gets used to things. Moreover he gets used frequent to things that he's born with notions ag'inst; an' them aversions will simmer an' subside ontil he's friendly with folks he once honed to shoot on sight. It turns out that a-way about me an' this Hardrobe an' his boy Bloojacket. What he'ps, no doubt, is they're capar'soned like folks, with big hats, bloo shirts, trousers, cow-laiggin's, boots an' spurs, fit an' ready to enter a civilised parlour at the drop of the handkerchief. Ceasin' to rope for reasons, however, it's enough to say these savages an' me waxes as thick as m'lasses. Both of 'em's been eddicated at some Injun school which the gov'ment-allers buckin' the impossible, the gov'ment is,-upholds in its vain endeavours to turn red into white an' make folks of a savage.

"Bloojacket is down from the Bad Land country himself not long prior, bein' he's been servin' his Great Father as one of Gen'ral Crook's scouts in the Sittin' Bull campaign. This young Bloojacket,-who's bubblin' over with sperits-has a heap of interestin' stories about the 'Grey Fox.' It's doo to Bloojacket to say he performs them dooties of his as a scout like a clean-strain sport, an' quits an' p'ints back for the paternal camp of Hardrobe in high repoote. Thar's one feat of fast hard ridin' that Injun performs, which I hears from others, an' which you-all might not find oninterestin' if I saws it onto you.

"Merritt with three hundred cavalry marches twenty-five miles one mornin'. Thar's forty Injun scouts along, among 'em this Bloojacket; said copper-hued auxiliaries bein' onder the command of Gen'ral Stanton, as game an' good a gent as ever packs a gun. It's at noon; Merritt an' his outfit camps at the Rawhide Buttes. Thar's a courier from Crook overtakes 'em. He says that word comes trailin' in that the Cheyennes at the Red Cloud agency is makin' war medicine an' about to go swarmin' off to hook up with Sittin' Bull an' Crazy Hoss in the Sioux croosades. Crook tells Merritt to detach a band of his scouts to go flutterin' over to Red Cloud an' take a look at the Cheyennes's hand.

"Stanton tells off four of his savages an' lines out with them for the Red Cloud agency; Bloojacket bein' one. From the Rawhide Buttes to the Red Cloud agency is one hundred even miles as a bullet travels. What makes it more impressive, them one hundred miles is across a trailless country, the same bein' as rocky as Red Dog whiskey an' rough as the life story of a mule. Which Stanton, Bloojacket an' the others makes her in twelve hours even, an' comes up, a crust of dust an' sweat, to the Red Cloud agency at midnight sharp. The Cheyennes has already been gone eight hours over the Great Northern trail.

"Stanton, who's a big body of a man an' nacherally tharfore some road-weary, camps down the moment he's free of the stirrups an' writes a letter on the agency steps by the light of a lantern. He tells Merritt to push on to the War Bonnet an' he'll head the Cheyennes off. Then he sends the Red Cloud interpreter an' four local Injuns with lead hosses to pack this information back to Merritt who's waitin' the word at the Rawhide Buttes. Bloojacket, for all he's done a hundred miles, declar's himse'f in on this second excursion to show the interpreter the way.

"'But you-all won't last through,' says Stanton, where he sets on the steps, quaffin' whiskey an' reinvig'ratin' himse'f.

"'Which if I don't, I'll turn squaw!' says Bloojacket, an' gettin' fresh hosses with the others he goes squanderin' off into the midnight.

"Son, them savages, havin' lead hosses, rides in on Merritt by fifth drink time or say, 'leven o'clock that mornin';-one hundred miles in 'leven hours! An' Bloojacket some wan an' weary for a savage is a-leadin' up the dance. Mighty fair ridin' that boy Bloojacket does! Two hundred miles in twenty-three hours over a clost country ain't bad! Which it's me who says so: an' one time an' another I shore shoves plenty of scenery onder the hoofs of a cayouse myse'f.

"About the foogitive Cheyennes? Merritt moves up to the War Bonnet like Stanton su'gests, corrals 'em, kills their ponies an' drives 'em back to the agency on foot. Thar's nothin' so lets the whey outen a hoss-back Injun like puttin' him a-foot: an the Cheyennes settles down in sorrow an' peace immediate.

"While Hardrobe an' his boy Bloojacket is with me, I'm impressed partic'lar by the love they b'ars each other. I never does cut the trail of a father an' son who gives themse'fs up to one another like this Hardrobe an' his Bloojacket boy. I can see that Bloojacket regyards old Hardrobe like he's the No'th Star; an' as for Hardrobe himse'f, he can't keep his eyes off that child of his. You'd have had his life long before he'd let you touch a braid of Bloojacket's long ha'r. Both of 'em's plenty handsome for Injuns; tall an' lean an' quick as coyotes, with hands an' feet as little as a woman's.

"While I don't go pryin' 'round this Hardrobe's private affairs-savages is mighty sensitive of sech matters-I learns, incidental, that Hardrobe is fair rich. He's rich even for Osages; an' they're as opulent savages as ever makes a dance or dons a feather. Later, I finds out that Hardrobe's squaw-Bloojacket's mother-is dead.

"'See thar?' says Hardrobe one day. We're in the southern border of the Osage country on the Grayhoss at the time, an' he p'ints to a heap of stones piled up like a oven an' chimley, an' about four foot high. I saveys thar's a defunct Osage inside. You-all will behold these little piles of burial stones on every knoll an' hill in the Osage country. 'See thar,' says this Hardrobe, p'intin'. 'That's my squaw. Mighty good squaw once; but heap dead now.'

"Then Hardrobe an' Bloojacket rides over an' fixes a little flag they've got in their war-bags to a pole which sticks up'ards outen this tomb, flyin' the ensign as Injuns allers does, upside down.

"It's six months later, mebby-an' it's now the hard luck begins-when I hears how Hardrobe weds a dance-hall girl over to Caldwell. This maiden's white; an' as beautiful as a flower an' as wicked as a trant'ler. Hardrobe brings her to his ranch in the Osage country.

"The next tale I gets is that Bloojacket, likewise, becomes a victim to the p'isenous fascinations of this Caldwell dance-hall damsel, an' that him an' Hardrobe falls out; Hardrobe goin' on the warpath an' shootin' Bloojacket up a lot with a Winchester. He don't land the boy at that; Bloojacket gets away with a shattered arm. Also, the word goes that Hardrobe is still gunnin' for Bloojacket, the latter havin' gone onder cover some'ers by virchoo of the injured pinion.

"As Colonel Sterett says, these pore aborigines experiences bad luck the moment ever they takes to braidin' in their personal destinies with a paleface. I don't blame 'em none neither. I sees this Caldwell seraph on one o'casion myse'f; she's shore a beauty! an' whenever she throws the lariat of her loveliness that a-way at a gent, she's due to fasten.

"It's a month followin' this division of the house of Hardrobe when I runs up on him in person. I encounters him in one of the little jim-crow restauraws you-all finds now an' then in the Injun country. Hardrobe an' me shakes, an' then he camps down ag'in at a table where he's feedin' on fried antelope an' bakin' powder biscuit.

"I'm standin' at the counter across the room. Jest as I turns my back, thar's the crack! of a rifle to the r'ar of the j'int, an' Hardrobe pitches onto the floor as dead as ever transpires in that tribe. In the back door, with one arm in a sling, an' a gun that still smokes, ca'm an' onmoved like Injuns allers is, stands Bloojacket.

"'My hand is forced,' he says, as he passes me his gun; 'it's him or me!

One of us wore the death-mark an' had to go.'

"'Couldn't you-all have gone with Crook ag'in?' I says. 'Which you don't have to infest this yere stretch of country. Thar's no hobbles or sidelines on you; none whatever!'

"Bloojacket makes no reply, an' his copper face gets expressionless an' inscrootable. I can see through, however; an' it's the hobbles of that Caldwell beauty's innocence that's holdin' him.

"Bloojacket walks over to where Hardrobe's layin' dead an' straightens him round-laigs an' arms-an' places his big white cow hat over his face. Thar's no more sign of feelin', whether love or hate, in the eyes of Bloojacket while he performs these ceremonies than if Hardrobe's a roll of blankets. But thar's no disrespects neither; jest a great steadiness. When he has composed him out straight, Bloojacket looks at the remainder for mebby a minute. Then he shakes his head.

"'He was a great man,' says Bloojacket, p'intin' at his dead father, with his good hand; 'thar's no more like him among the Osages.'

"Tharupon Bloojacket wheels on the half-breed who runs the deadfall an' who's standin' still an' scared, an' says:

"'How much does he owe?' Then he pays Hardrobe's charges for antelope steaks an' what chuck goes with it, an' at the close of these fiscal op'rations, remarks to the half-breed-who ain't sayin' no more'n he can he'p,-'Don't touch belt nor buckle on him; you-all knows me!' An' I can see that half-breed restauraw party is out to obey Bloojacket's mandates.

"Bloojacket gives himse'f up to the Osages an' is thrown loose on p'role.

But Bloojacket never gets tried.

"A week rides by, an' he's standin' in front of the agency, sort o' makin' up some views concernin' his destinies. He's all alone; though forty foot off four Osage bucks is settin' together onder a cottonwood playin' Injun poker-the table bein' a red blanket spread on the grass,-for two bits a corner. These yere sports in their blankets an' feathers, an' rifflin' their greasy deck, ain't sayin' nothin to Bloojacket an' he ain't sayin' nothin' to them. Which jest the same these children of nacher don't like the idee of downin' your parent none, an' it's apparent Bloojacket's already half exiled.

"As he stands thar roominatin,' with the hot August sun beatin' down, thar's a atmosphere of sadness to go with Bloojacket. But you-all would have to guess at it; his countenance is as ca'm as on that murderin' evenin' in the half-breed's restauraw.

"Bloojacket is still thar, an' the sports onder the cottonwood is still gruntin' joyously over their poker, when thar comes the patter of a bronco's hoofs. Thar's a small dust cloud, an' then up sweeps the Caldwell beauty. She comes to a pull-up in front of Bloojacket. That savage glances up with a inquirin' eye an' the glance is as steady as the hills about him. The Caldwell beauty-it seems she disdains mournin'-is robed like a rainbow; an' she an' Bloojacket, him standin', she on her bronco, looks each other over plenty intent.

"Which five minutes goes by if one goes by, an' thar the two stares into each other's eyes; an' never a word. The poker bucks keeps on with their gamble over onder the cottonwood, an' no one looks at the two or seems like they heeds their existence. The poker savages is onto every move; but they're troo to the Injun idee of p'liteness an' won't interfere with even so much as the treemor of a eyelash with other folks's plays.

"Bloojacket an' the Caldwell beauty is still gazin'. At last the Caldwell beauty's hand goes back, an' slow an' shore, brings to the front a eight-inch six-shooter. Bloojacket, with his eye still on her an' never a flicker of feelin', don't speak or move.

"The Caldwell beauty smiles an' shows her white teeth. Then she lays the gun across her left arm, an' all as solid as a church. Her pony's gone to sleep with his nose between his knees; an' the Caldwell beauty settles herse'f in the saddle so's to be ready for the plunge she knows is comin'. The Caldwell beauty lays out her game as slow an' delib'rate as trees; Bloojacket lookin' on with onwinkin' eye, while the red-blanket bucks plays along an' never a whisper of interest.

"'Which this yere pistol overshoots a bit!' says the Caldwell beauty, as she runs her eye along the sights. 'I must aim low or I'll shore make ragged work.'

"Bloojacket hears her, but offers no retort; he stands moveless as a stachoo. Thar's a flash an' a crash an' a cloud of bloo smoke; the aroused bronco makes a standin' jump of twenty foot. The Caldwell beauty keeps her saddle, an' with never a swerve or curve goes whirlin' away up the brown, burnt August trail, Bloojacket lays thar on his face; an' thar's a bullet as squar' between the eyes as you-all could set your finger-tip. Which he's dead-dead without a motion, while the poker bucks plays ca'mly on."

My venerable friend came to a full stop. After a respectful pause, I ventured an inquiry.

"And the Caldwell beauty?" I said.

"It ain't a week when she's ag'in the star of that Caldwell hurdygurdy where she ropes up Hardrobe first. Her laugh is as loud an' as' free, her beauty as profoundly dazzlin' as before; she swings through twenty quadrilles in a evenin' from 'Bow-to-your-partners' to 'All-take-a-drink-at-the-bar'; an' if she's preyed on by them Osage tragedies you shore can't tell it for whiskey, nor see if for powder an' paint."

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