A Prevaricated Parade
"AND for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor."
Hank Padden shifted his seat on the top pole of the corral, and marks the place with his finger.
"Now," says he, "shall I orate the names ©f the men who signed it?"
"Never mind," replies old man Whittaker. "We don't know none of them, personally, so we'll let what you've already read be sufficient and plenty. After listening to all you've read out of that book, Hank, I'm of the impression that she's a fitting day to be celebrated. What do you think, Hen?"
"She's worth a passing memorial," says I, and "Scenery" Sims, the fourth member of our committee, nods his head:
"She sure is, gents. I never cared for kings, except in jack-pots, and our glorious forefathers sure did proclaim their feelings. I'm with yuh from the hondo to the saddle-horn."
That makes it unanimous. The night before there's a meeting in Paradise, and they appoints me and Scenery, Hank Padden and old man Whittaker as a committee to investigate the reasons and so forth of the Fourth of July, and whether, in our own minds, she's of sufficient import to consider a celebration.
We finds that she is. Hank Padden reads us the reasons out of a dictionary, while we sets there on the corral top, at the Cross J.
Old man Whittaker owns the Cross J. Hank Padden the Seven A, and Scenery Sims is the possessor of the Circle S outfit and the squeakiest voice ever anchored in the throat of a human being. Every time I hears Scenery start to talk I pray for cylinder oil or chloroform. Me? I'm Henry Clay Peck. I work for old man Whittaker. I ain't got nothing but a conscience, a heap of respect for the truth and the feeling that I lowers myself when I punches cows.
We has just arrived at our conclusion when "Muley" Bowles saunters down to the corral, climbs up beside us and bends our seat all to pieces. We four moves to the next section for safety. Muley weighs so much that he has to bandage his bronc's legs with splints to keep it from being bow-legged. The world lost a cracking good poet when Muley essayed to punch cows. He don't look the part, not having soulful eyes nor emaciated ribs, but when it comes to making up poetry he's got 'em all lashed to the snubbing-post.
"Has the committee arrived at a satisfactory conclusion?" he asks, puffing hard on his cigaret, and shaking out a new rope.
"When the facts is made public we'll let yuh know with the rest," squeaks Scenery, who dislikes Muley a heap.
"Who's talking to you?" demands Muley. "Scenery, you takes too much upon yourself. I been thinking of a sweet little rhyme what sounds like this, and I gives yuh three guesses who I mean:
"He had a squeaky little voice,
A skinny little frame.
He lived in God's own country,
But the country wa'n't to blame.
Comparing him with growed-up men,
Who rode the Sawtooth Hills,
He looked like a pewter nickel
In a bunch of green-back bills."
"Yah-h-h-h!" shrills Scenery. "You're sore 'cause you wasn't elected to the committee. Lard!"
Scenery puts all the venom in his system into that last word, and at the finish his voice would have split a cigaret paper. As he makes his greasy statement his right boot snaps up to horizontal, and Muley's loop gets him around the ankle.
It sure was one beautiful and speedy piece of rope work, and the next minute Scenery is on his shoulders in the corral, with his right foot snubbed high and handsome to the top of a corral post.
Muley lights his cigaret and climbs down the other side.
"The committee will have to turn him loose," he states. "I won't pollute my hands by touching him. I reckon the acid in his measly little carcass will ruin that metal hondo before he gets loose, but it's worth it."
Muley peers through the poles of the corral and grins at Scenery.
"Next time yuh opines to speak of a by-product of your family, Scenery, don't look at me," he states.
Our nerves are rasped considerable before we gets Scenery calmed down, but we finally pacifies him, and all sets in judgment on the Fourth of July again.
"Now that we've decided to celebrate—how'll we do it?" asks Hank. "She ought to be did befitting the solemnity of the occasion, hadn't it, Whittaker?"
"She deserves it," agrees the old man. "We'll have a salute at sunrise, won't we? Then what'll we do?"
"We got to have a pe-rade," squeaks Scenery. "Them is necessary adjunct to celebrations. I was down to Cottonwood last Fourth, and they sure had a humdinger of a pe-rade. Had a feller all dressed up in a fancy hat and a sash, riding in front, and then comes a lot of dress-up wagons, what they designates as floats. They has a beautiful gal all dressed up to imitate Miss Columbus, and——"
"Who's she?" asks Hank.
"Don't you know who Columbus was?" asked Scenery, and Hank nods.
"Well, don't ask fool questions then," squeaks Scenery. "They has hoss-races, foot-races and——"
"They didn't have nothing that we can't have," pronounces Hank.
"We can have all that. I'll ride at the head of the pe-rade and——"
"That ain't unanimous," interrupts Scenery. "Why you any more than me, Hank? Next thing we know you'll want to be Miss Columbus."
"Hang on to yourselves," advises Whittaker. "You fellers elects yourselves to everything—seems to me. A leading man in a pe-rade ought to dress the part, I reckon. When I lives in Great Falls I'm elected as a ornery member of a organization. It had something to do about woodcraft, and we dresses up like a plush hoss, when we meets. I still got my war-bonnet and pants left. Some son of a gun stole the coat. I still got my ax, too."
"You still got the ax?" squeaks Scenery. "Wonderful! Go home and cut some wood. I think your fire's out."
"While you old spavs are fighting for honors, what's the matter with considering me?" I asks. "You're all so danged old and stove-up that you'd have to lead it in a lumber-wagon. Look at me, and step back in the ranks. I'm young, handsome——"
"Pause!" yelps Scenery. "Pause, Hen. It takes brains to lead a pe-rade."
"Then let's not quarrel," says I. "We ain't elegible. Let's settle these little details later and in a place what ain't so dry. It won't be the Fourth of July until day after tomorrow, so let's adjourn."
₪ THEY AGREES. Scenery and Hank goes home, and I goes up to the bunk-house, where "Telescope" Tolliver and Muley are playing pitch.
"Hen, what has the committee decided to do?" askes Telescope.
I tells him what our plans are, so far, and while I'm telling in comes "Chuck" Warner, the prize liar of Yaller Rock County. Chuck punches cows with us for a living, and carries the greatest assortment of prevarications on earth as a side-line. I been with him so long that at times I shades the truth a little, too.
"They can't all lead the pe-rade, that's a cinch," states Chuck. "I seen a pe-rade down to New York one time that——"
"You never was in New York," states Telescope.
"I was born there," declares Chuck, wiggling his ears.
"In Pima County, Arizona," says Telescope. "I know when, too, Chuck."
"Dates don't count, Telescope. I said I was born in New York, and it's my business if I wants to stick to my statement. Now, Telescope, if you said you was born in a teepee on a Digger reservation I wouldn't argue with you for a minute. I'd take it as Gospel. A feller has a right to a birthplace, and I takes New York."
That argument shows Chuck Warner in his native state. He's got a face like a bronc, shortest legs on earth, and can wiggle his ears like a burro. The only time he can't look yuh square in the eye is when he's telling the truth.
"Yuh ought to get somebody with a little style to lead that pe-rade, Hen," opines Muley.
"Might get 'Pole Cat' Perkins or 'Harelip' Hansen," laughs Telescope. "Have Harelip ride one of his goats, and have Pole Cat walk slow behind him, leading a skunk. Have the goat wear the old man's striped pants, and put Scenery's hat on the skunk."
"You fellers ought to be on the committee," says I, sarcastic-like. "Yuh might get up your own pe-rade."
"That's a good scheme," agrees Chuck. "We'll form a offensive and defensive alliance."
"Offensive is right," says I, and then I goes up to see the old man.
The next morning me and the old man goes to Paradise, and goes into executive session, with Scenery and Hank, in the rear of Dug Chaffin's saloon. Hank pounds on the table with his boot heel, and calls the roll. We're all present
"Gents," asks Hank, "who is going to lead the pe-rade?"
We looks at each other, and then the old man clears his throat.
"I looked up them lodge raiment, and they're dazzlers."
"I still got that hard hat that I wore to a Dimmicrat rally down to Silver Bend ten year ago," orates Scenery. "She looks a heap dignified, and it's too small for any of you fellers. I got a sword, too—in a holster."
"To lead a pe-rade a man ought to look dignified—not his clothes," proclaims Hank.
"This here glory thing is going to cause hard feelings," says I. "I moves that we does like this: we'll all be here before the pe-rade is ready to start, and we'll let some uninterested party pick out the suitable person for to lead it. Dress for the part, and if yuh don't get picked, be a good sport and pe-rade anyway."
"That'll keep the mortality down to a certain extent," agrees Hank, and the other two nods.
"Now," says Hank, "how about this person to be Miss Columbus?"
"I got her picked," states Scenery. "I nominates Miss Eulalie McFee."
"Sheriff's daugher, eh?" laughs Hank. "She's so danged thin that if she stood edgeways yuh couldn't see her, Scenery. I nominates Miss Maggie Smith, niece of 'Doughgod' Smith. Who seconds the motion?"
"Miss Columbus ought to be a danged sight better-looking than Maggie Smith," states the old man. "Who ever heard of Miss Columbus with crossed eyes and freckles? I marks X at the top of my ticket for Miss Clarice Chaffin, daughter of Dug. Do I hear an agreeable voice?"
"Haw! Haw!" roars Hank. "Clarice Chaffin! This contest ain't for no animated flag-pole, Whittaker. How's your sentiments, Hen?"
"I leans toward Mrs. Genevieve Saunders, widder of the late 'Slim' Saunders. She'd fill the part."
"It would be danged small if she didn't," Scenery. "She weighs at least two hundred and——"
"Scenery," says I, "some day I'm going to hang a pebble on your neck, throw yuh into a tin cup of water and drown yuh."
"Let's vote on it," suggests Hank.
"It don't require no vote," replies Whittaker. "If Hen wants to drown Scenery I'm——"
"I mean vote on the lady!" snaps Hank.
We did. We each cast a vote for our choice, and it starts a argument that's a humdinger, and before we leaves the council-chamber we're mentally wallering in each other's gore.
Paradise is busy fixing up floats and decorations, and we're asked a lot of questions that we don't dare to answer.
"Who is going to lead the pe-rade?" whispers Doughgod to me, and I whispers back—"I am."
He follers me for a distance, and whispers once more—
"Hen, who is going to be Miss Columbus?" I answers—
"The widder Saunders."
"Hank told me that my niece, Maggie was going to be her."
"Hank's a liar," says I, and Doughgod nods, and walks away.
I'm over at the rack, cinching up my saddle, when here comes Dug Chaffin.
"Henry, I'm looking for information that I can't seem to get from any of your cohorts. Who is due to be Miss Columbus tomorrow?"
"The widder Saunders. That's settled, Dug."
"Do you know that old man Whittaker is a liar?" he asks, and I nods. "Yes, he's a liar," declares Dug. "He said he'd stick for Clarice 'till hell froze over."
"He got cold feet," says I, and Dug goes back to his palace of sin, in a unhappy mood.
I gets on my bronc and points toward the Cross J. I'm sick of being on a committee, and having to hurt people's feelings. Paradise ain't no safe place to cause discord in. There's a sentiment in that place that leans towards shooting first and asking questions afterwards. There's only one thing the whole place will agree on, and that is this: yuh can't have a royal flush if your opponent has four kings.
"Stuttering" Stevens thought he'd establish a precedent by holding one against kings and sevens in one hand and kings and eights in another. The coroner said that either shot would have been fatal. Stuttering must a been guilty, 'cause no man would steal kings to make up two pair.
I hammers my bronc along down to where the Cross J road forks with the one from Silver Bend, when I hears a peculiar noise. Sounds to me like a threshing machine with St. Vitus dance. My bronc shows signs of nervousness, so I gets off. Pretty soon it comes in sight, and I recognizes it as being an autymobile, the same of which ain't been in this country since the one belonging to Scenery Sims runs over some dynamite at Piperock and evaporates.
₪ MY BRONC drags me off into the mesquite for a ways, until I can get my rope around a bush and stop him, and then I pilgrims back to the road. At first I don't recognize the inhabitant of that carriage. I looks him over, careful-like, and then he grins and betrays himself. It's old "Calamity" Carson. I ain't seen him for five years, and I shakes his hand industrious-like. After we gets through pumping elbows I leans back and surveys his equipage.
"Some vehicle, eh, Henry?" he says, with a dusty grin. "Surprised to see me?"
"Well, not exactly, Calamity. We been expecting yuh."
"Expecting me?" he wonders aloud. "I suppose 'Tellurium' had to go and tell everybody."
"Uh-huh," I agrees. "Tellurium Woods never could keep still."
So far as I know Tellurium ain't been in Paradise for six months, but he's as good as anybody to blame it on. Him and Calamity used to be pardners.
"Well, well!" says Calamity, brushing the dust off his mustache, and giving his cigaret a chance to burn hair freely. "Here I been figuring on surprising the old-timers, and I been told upon by a friend. Henry Peck, I done sold out my property over in the Little Rockies, and now I'm rich.
"I got more money than a dog has fleas, but I ain't enjoyed it none. I opines to throw a surprise into Paradise, so I buys this gasoline buckboard, has her shipped to Silver Bend, and here I am. She's worse than any outlaw bronc that ever flinched under a saddle, Henry, and I'm older by years and years than I was a week ago when a man teached me how to drive it. I don't know what makes her run. All I got to do is put gasoline in her, twist her tail a few times, pull the designated levers, and point her away from the stumps. She sure makes enough noise."
"You figured the time right, Calamity," says I. "Paradise sure is doing itself proud in your honor."
"In my honor? What's the idea, Henry?"
"Well, yuh see it ain't often that a town can have a former inhabitant come home rich and distinguished like you are. The public sure admires a man with a chunk off the root of all evil, Calamity. We've decorated in your honor, and tomorrow we parades before yuh to show our admiration and respect. Sabe?"
"My gosh, Henry!" he snorts. "This is too much."
"It's considerable, Calamity, but look who you are."
"That's a fact, Henry—it sure is. Well, well!"
He sets there, with a far-away look in his eyes, and that cigaret sizzling on his mustache, and sudden-like he reaches under the seat and hauls out a jug.
"Henry Peck, I been saving this for my old friends—Tellurium, Doughgod, 'Half Mike' Smith, et cettry, but you qualifies, Henry. Your oration sure puts joy into my old heart. Go as deep as yuh like."
I sets there in his gas go-devil, and we swears allegiance to each other. We celebrates our new-found friendship, and regales each other with anecdotes. I tells him all the neighborhood gossip, and we toast each and every one. He tells me about his property in the Little Rockies, and we drinks a toast to all the little rocks.
My bronc gets the rope loose, and passes us on his way home. We toasts the Cross J and my pinto.
"Who did yuh say was going to lead the pe-rade in my honor?" asks Calamity.
"I am. Being your best friend, Calamity, I'm elegible. I'll ride that pinto bronc at the head end of that great conglomeration. How'd yuh like that, old-timer?"
"I got a better idea," says he, solemn-like. "I'll teach yuh how to run this here contraption, and you lead her in this. How'd yuh like to do that, Henry?"
"Sounds to me like the voice of angels. What yuh packing in them two cans in the rear?"
"Gasoline. Twenty gallons I shipped with the car. All yuh got to do is to twist that front crank until she starts humming. Sabe? Then yuh get in and let this here brake loose. You get out and give her a twist, Henry. That's the first lesson."
I falls out and ambles around to the front. I grasps the crank in both hands, gives it a man-sized yank, slips with both feet, and that juggernaut runs right across my floating ribs. She sure squashes me a plenty, and I don't more than start to get up when here she comes right back to run over me again. Calamity stops her just in time.
"You forgot the e-mergency," observes Calamity, scared-like, over the back of the seat.
"Maybe," says I. "I forgot my name and address, too, if that's anything to snort over. What are yuh supposed to do—put her against a rock to start her?"
"It's a simple thing, Hen."
"Yes, so is a stick uh dynamite," says I, rubbing the kinks out of my hide. "Let's not call school right now, Calamity. We'll go up to the Cross J, where prying eyes can see us not, and there yuh can show me all things. Anyway yuh don't want to show up in Paradise today. Everybody is busy getting things ready, and if you was to go down there now they'd drop everything. Sabe?"
"Popularity warmeth my cold heart," says he. "Being of the committee, Henry Peck, I bows to superior wisdom. We'll proceed to the old Cross J, and take a lesson."
We stops at the Seeping Springs and has a nice drink—out of the jug. We starts out merrily along the road, when all to once Calamity starts to tell me a story. Calamity must have French blood in his carcass, 'cause he talks with his hands.
At least he might a picked out a flat place to do his gestures in, but as it was we hops off the road, down a hill, and pokes the front end of that machine into a mesquite bush. What part of it didn't plow through the bush jumped over.
I untangles myself from the brush and wanders over to the wagon. She don't seem hurt much, but her heart has quit beating.
"Hyas cultus chuck, chick," states a voice, and I turns to see old Running Wolf, a Piegan, squatting on his haunches, looking at that machine.
He's got a look on his face that Columbus might a had when he first saw the shores of our fair country.
"What did he say?" asks a weak voice, and Calamity appears from the other side of the car.
"He said, 'It's a mighty bad wagon,'" I interprets, and Calamity nods his head:
"That Injun ain't no danged idiot, Henry. Wonder if he'd like to take a ride?"
"Mesika klatawa kopa chick, chick?" I asks, but the old redskin puts his thumb up to his nose and wiggles his fingers at us.
"Nah-h-h-h-h!" he gargles, and points at his moccasins.
We manages to get that wagon back on the road. We drinks a toast to our good luck and to honest and cautious Injuns, and plods on up to the Cross J. I reckon our toasts covers too much territory, 'cause when Calamity opines to have me read his book of rules, all I can do is sing.
₪ IT'S ALMOST dark when I wakes up. Beside me on the bunk is Calamity, snoring like a shepherd, so I sticks my boot into his ribs.
"Thanks," says he, after a look around. "Thanks, Henry. I was having a autymobilemare."
Just then in comes old man Whittaker. He looks around, sort of mad-like, and glares at me and Calamity.
"They don't seem to be here—gol dingle dangle it!" he yelps.
Me and Calamity looks around and shakes our heads.
"No," says I. "They must a left."
"They never went alone!" he howls. "That fancy, lodge war-bonnet and them striped pants never went away alone. I reckon I got to kill somebody!"
He slams the door, as he goes out, and Calamity looks at me.
"What's the matter with him?" he asks. "He never recognized me, and I've knowed Whittaker for years and years."
"Crazy," says I. "He went crazy over fancy clothes. He don't know anybody any more, Calamity."
"Pshaw! I knowed he wasn't——"
We hears a voice at the door, and I yells, "Come in!" and in ambles Pole Cat Perkins. He's got a bundle under his arm, and he sets down on the bunk and grins at me and Calamity.
"Huh-Hen, I'm after your permission," says he.
"You've got it, Pole Cat. What yuh going to do with it?"
He unrolls that bundle and produces a yaller stove-pipe hat, dented and moth-eaten, and an old rusty sword. He balances that old hat on his ball-shaped head, and runs the sword along the palm of his left hand.
"Do I qualify, Mister Peck?" he asks.
"For certain places, Pole Cat. What's the idea?"
"Chuck gives me these habiliments and tells me that I'll have to get your permission to lead the pe-rade tomorrow. I admires the chance so much that I ain't lost no time in coming. Do I get it?"
"Pole Cat," says I, solemn-like, "you probably will. Let your judgment be your guiding star."
"Thanks, Henry. I bids yuh good afternoon."
"Better make it farewell," says I.
"Loco crop must be flourishing up here," observes Calamity. "Some smells worse than others, Henry."
"This one is named after his associates," says I, and just then somebody rides up to the door and I hears Harelip Hansen's voice. "Get behind the bunk!" I hisses at Calamity. "If Harelip sees you up here he never will leave."
"Howdy, Henry," says Harelip. "I'm glad to see yuh."
"I'm pleased to know that the sight of me makes folks glad," says I. "What yuh got on your mind and under your arm?"
He unrolls enough for me to see that he's got Whittaker's lodge clothes.
"Chuck told me I could wear these at the front end of that pe-rade tomorrow, but I'd have to see you first."
"What do yuh reckon to have me do—dress yuh?" I asks, and he grins all over his homely face.
"It'll be all right, will it?" he asks, and I nods and replies:
"You know best, Harelip. There's a divinity that shapes our ends."
"Uh-huh. I gives you thanks, Henry."
"I'll take 'em, Harelip," says I. "I may never have any use for them, but it will be something to remember yuh by, old trailer."
I watches him climb on his flea-bitten cayuse, and jog off down the road. Calamity is looking over my shoulder, and as Harelip drifts out of sight he yelps:
"Where's my autymobile, Henry? We left her right out there didn't we?"
We goes out and looks around. There's the tracks we made when we came in, and there's the tracks where it went out, and back down the road. Calamity scratches his head, and hitches up his pants.
"Henry," says he, "I'm sorry. What yuh going to lead that pe-rade in now?"
I simply shakes my head, and says to myself:
"That's going to be a well-led pe-rade. She's already got two front ends."
"Henry," says Calamity, pointing at the dust, "they just missed that gate-post as they goes out and they didn't get on to the road for a hundred yards. I'd opine that they ain't familiar with the thing."
"Was there anything left under the seat?" I asks.
"One two-gallon jug, Henry—and what was left in ours."
"There is much to look forward to, Calamity," says I. "Maybe we better take a shovel along. I hope they don't bust up your machine."
"Don't let that molest your heart strings, Henry. I been thinking for several days thay maybe she's going to be a fatal fad. Of course it's going to spoil my entry into Paradise. A person of my financial standing hadn't ought to enter his old home town except in a fitting equipage. Ain't I right, Henry?"
"Well," says I, "since the old man left with his buckskin team and rattle wagon, and some heartless hombre has turned loose every bronc on the place, there ain't no mode of locomotion in sight except them two burros up there at the cook-shack. Are yuh too proud to straddle a jackass, Calamity?"
"It'll soon be dark, Henry. Many a man has done things in the dark that he wouldn't do in the light. Let's equip the shameful things and be on our way."
We puts saddles on them long-eared things and pilgrims off down the road in the dusty dusk. When we comes opposite the Saunders place, I pulls up.
"Whow," says I. "I got a mission to perform. We got to have a Miss Columbus for your pe-rade, Calamity, and I got to bear her the news."
We goes up and knocks on her door, and informs her of the fact.
"My gosh, Henry!" says she. "I ain't got nothing to wear!"
"Ma'am," says Calamity, bowing low, "don't you let that worry yuh. A figure like yours don't need no clothes."
The door shuts off the conversation, and we wanders back to our trusty steeds.
"Calamity, you been a lot of help to me this evening," says I. "You sure cut our cinch with the widder Saunders."
"I'm prostrated with grief," orates the old pelican. "Anyway I don't see what Columbus has to do with my home-coming, Henry."
"I can't explain it to yuh, Calamity. You'd have to see it for yourself."
We pilgrims down to Paradise, and ties our steeds on a side street. There's a scarcity of rolling stock in sight, and it makes me wonder a heap. Usually yuh can see broncs tied all over town, when a celebration is in prospect.
We pokes along up the street to Mike Pelly's saloon and goes inside. Mike is alone in there, setting at the end of the bar, with a shotgun beside him.
"What's the matter with Paradise?" I asks.
"Civilization," says Mike.
"Are we welcome?" asks Calamity, taking in the attitude of Mike, and sizing up the place.
"You are," replies Mike. "This place is neutral. I'd advise you to get out of line with that window. The town is divided against itself."
"What causes the divisions?" I asks, taking Mike's advice.
Mike bites off a fresh chew and settles back in his chair.
₪ "NUMEROUS and sundry things, Henry. Old man Whittaker is setting up there in Henderson's barbershop, with a Winchester, swearing he's going to perforate Harelip Hansen, who is across the street in Dug Chaffin's corral, nursing a peeled nose and a six-shooter. The old man swears that Harelip stole his clothes.
"Pole Cat Perkins is behind my place here, trying to jam some lead into Scenery Sims before Scenery can slip some to him. It seems that their trouble grows out of a clothes controversy, too. Pole Cat avers that he's going to slit Scenery with a rusty sword.
"Doughgod Smith seems to be seeking Hank Padden's gore over something about Columbus' daughter, and Dug Chaffin's got the same thing against old man Whittaker and orates his intentions of puncturing the old man's hide for prevarication. Bill McFee refuses to arrest anybody except Scenery Sims, and his feelings seem some rasped over this same Columbus thing. Who in —— is Miss Columbus, Henry?"
"I don't know."
"You don't, eh?" laughs Mike. "The —— yuh don't! You sure ought to, Henry. Yuh sent notes to both of the Mudgett sisters, to Hulda Peterson, cook at the Triangle, Annie Schmidt, at the Seven A, and to Mrs. "Breezy" Benson, asking 'em to fill the part. Every one of them has been down here looking for you today. According to what I can find out there can't more than one be it, and that seems to cause a heap of dissatisfaction, Henry. Abe Mudgett and Breezy was here today, and they are wishful to see yuh."
"Henry," says Calamity, "you've overdone your duty."
"It would look thataway to a innocent bystander," I agrees. "Where's all the broncs, Mike? Did everybody walk in today?"
"That's where the civilization part comes in. A autymobile invades our fair city today, and she swept us clean of hossflesh. Out on them racks is fifteen pieces of rope flopping in the breeze. Old man Whittaker's buckskin team was in the lead the last we seen of the race. That's why nobody is leaving. They'd rather be shot at than walk."
"Who had the autymobile?" asks Calamity.
"Nobody knows. It went too fast for us to see."
"Hoo, hoo!" comes a voice from outside, and we all ducks. "Hoo, hoo!" she comes again, and then we hears a female voice, "Is Mister Peck in there?"
"Go out and see who it is," I whispers to Mike, but he shakes his head:
"Not me. She wants you, Henry."
"She can take it out in wanting. I don't take no chances. You go out, Calamity. Nobody's got a thing against you."
Calamity thinks it over, and then goes out all humped like he was suffering from kidney disease. Me and Mike lays low, and pretty soon Calamity comes sneaking back.
"It was that female person we went up to see," he states. "She wishes to forgive me, and wants me to tell you that she'll take up your offer, Henry. She'll be Miss Columbus."
"Another victim," grunts Mike. "You're a bigger liar than Chuck Warner."
"He done it for me," defends Calamity. "Henry wanted to make my homecoming a complete success, and it ain't all his fault if it don't exactly work out. When a man has a pe-rade given in his honor he can't kick if some of the details do get a little balled up."
"In your honor?" wonders Mike, out loud. "Are you Fourth of July, Mister?"
"Fourth of July?" Calamity looks at me and Mike, and then seems to dig deep-like into his memory for buried information.
While he seems to check off some numbers on his fingers, I edges toward the back door. He nods, sort of agreeable-like, chaws one side of his mustache, and fingers his waistline, where his gun makes a bulge.
"Fourth of July," he mutters. "Uh-huh. That's right. Henry Peck told me——"
I opens the door, easy-like, and misses the rest of the complaint.
"Now," says I to me, "you're branded as a liar, Henry Peck. The best thing you can do is to get your little jackass and go home. Your forefathers never fought for glorious freedom, so there ain't no use of you celebrating the happy event. The men who were responsible for the Pecks' family tree was all hung for lying and stealing long before the Declaration of Independence was signed."
With these few cheering words ringing in my windpipe I ambles around the corner, and down to where we left them burros. I gets there just in time. Scenery Sims is untying one of my trusty animiles, so I quickens my pace and shoves a gun in his ribs.
"Unhand that charger!" I roars in his ear, and Scenery wilts against the hitchrack. "You danged burro thief!" I hisses. "If you wants to lead that pe-rade—go get your own rolling stock."
"I—I— I dud-don't want to le-lead nothing but the sus-simple life," he stutters. "I want to go home, Henry. Pup-Pole Cat shot the back out of my suspenders, and stuck a bullet into the cylinder of my gun so she won't work. I'm through, Hen. You lead it."
Here comes somebody down the street toward us, puffing like a bronc with the heaves. He lopes up to us, sticks his heels into the ground and skids around to the opposite side of the burros. It is old man Whittaker.
"Quick!" he pants. "I'm rushed to death."
Then he begins to fuss with a tie rope.
"Is speed essential?" I asks, and he snorts. "You know it is! I'm out of shells—got more at the ranch. Dang the man what tied this rope!"
Just then somebody fires a shot up the street and I don't hesitate. I hops on to that Rocky Mountain canary, sets my spurs into his hide, and down the street we goes, frog-hopping, high, wide and handsome. A bullet plows under my steed, and he sails out of Paradise faster than any burro ever did before or since.
We keep up that speed for about a mile, and then slows down to a amble. I know where a pack-trail leaves the main road, a mile or so above where the road does, so I opines to take the shortest route to the Cross J. I leads my animile, while I searches for the trail in the dark, and all to once I hears voices down the road. I hears Muley's bass and Chuck's baritone, a cross between a greaseless wheel and pneumonia, raised in song—
"'It was at Aunt Dinah's quilting partee-e-e-e——' "
Then Telescope's tenor rings in—
"'I was see-e-e-e-e-eing Nellie-e-e-e-e home.'"
"Tha's harmonee," I hears Chuck opine. "Le's all shing 'Holy City.' 'Lash night as I lay sheeping—shay, Teleschope, why don't this machine go on, eh?"
"How do I know," replies Telescope. "Shomebody light 'nother match so I can read the reashon in the little book."
"Aw, who cares?" asks Muley. "Let's have more cheer—listen:
"I love a little lager beer,
I love a little wine;
A little bit a alcohol
Makes my heart feel fine.
But when I want a reg'lar drink,
To make my feelings hug,
I take a little snifter
From the old brown jug."
I sets there and listens to that kind of a conversation for a while. They tries to sing another song, but she don't finish, and after a while I wanders down and looks 'em over.
₪ CHUCK is in the bottom of the machine, with his boots hanging over the dashboard, while Telescope is doubled up in the seat, with his feet on Chuck's head. Muley is on the ground, with his head through a space in a front wheel, where some spokes are missing, and he's snoring by note.
I rolls him away from the machine. I gives Telescope a gentle shove, hangs on to his leg so he won't hit too hard and deposits him along with Muley. Chuck is wedged in there pretty tight, and when I opines to loosen him a little he orates something about wanting his maw to wake him up, 'cause he's going to be queen of the May. I never did like to ride alone, so I lets him stay. It pains me to see the flower of young manhood in the gutter of alcohol thataway. I finds the jug, and am glad to see that part of it is still there.
I drinks what would measure about three inches in a wash-tub, before I remembers how Calamity runs that machine, but all to once she comes back to me. I sets that brake, gives her a mighty twist, and away she goes, whirrup, whirrup, whirrup, zuz, zuz, zuz, zuz.
I've rode a lot of broncs that didn't sabe the meaning of a bit, but that thing was less bridlewise than anything I ever seen. We grinds back toward Paradise, smelling of burnt grease, gasoline and so forth. I takes another look into that jug, and feels so elevated that I puts my feet over the dash-board. Somehow that seems to give the critter more freedom, and we goes faster.
I gets so expert right away that I can drive one-handed, and I discovers a little jigger on the handle that will make her prick up her ears at a touch. I gives her a few touches, and marvels at how fast the mesquite goes past, when all to once I hears a yelp, and we hits something or somebody, and when I stops I'm cross ways of the road.
My machine is as dead as a nail. Pretty soon I hears a rustling noise in the dark, and then old man Whittaker's voice:
"Who run into me? Gol dingle dang yuh! Blasted mule couldn't run faster than I could! Hey, you feller with a autymobile! Ain't yuh got no sense? Gol dang your soul, I'll show yuh how yuh can run me down! Bang!"
He cut loose with that six-gun, and I drops out the other side and sneaks behind a tree. I hears the old man cussing some more, and pretty soon he finds the machine and strikes a match. He has to light the second one before he finds what he's looking for. He holds the match above his head for a minute and then wails:
"Gol dang yuh, Chuck! Why didn't yuh speak? Aw——! Chuckie, where did I hit yuh? Can't yuh speak to a feller? Are yuh dead? My——!"
He's silent for a spell, and then he starts again:
"Where's that danged slow-footed mule? Here yuh are, yuh long-eared snail! Got to get a doctor. Self-defense—nope, accident. Whoa! Maybe his neck is broke, too. Aw, this ain't no way to celebrate nohow."
He pilgrims off up the road, complaining about everything and cussing that mule for taking him all over the State instead of straight to the Cross J. I'd opine that the old man was so excited that he'd taken the wrong road out of town.
I hauls the front end of that machine around again, and winds her up. If that front end hadn't been against a rock my obituary would have been written right there in the dusty road, 'cause she's wide open, with no brake set. She's backing and filling when I hops aboard, and we begins our merry ride once more.
I rubs my heel on Chuck's ear and yells:
"Chuck, you're dead! Old man Whittaker shot yuh."
"Tha's good," he replies. "Same to you and many of 'em."
We runs slow-like to Paradise, and I bumps the front end of the machine into McFee's corral to stop her. I gives Chuck an alcoholic anesthetic, and leaves him there. I ambles over to the town, and finds a crowd in front of Mike's place. I moves up closer and hears the conversation.
"It was deplorable," I hears old man Whittaker state, with tears in his voice. "I loved Chuck like he was my own son. It was a accident, Bill—just accidental. You don't think I'd kill him with malice aforethought, do yuh, Bill?"
"We can tell better what yuh killed him with after we sees the re-mains," replies Bill. "I can't help jailing yuh, Whit. It's the law. If you're innocent, yuh ain't got nothing to fear. I got Scenery Sims down there now, so yuh won't get lonesome."
"What did Scenery do?" asks the old man.
"Disturbed the peace. This place is law-abiding, if yuh asks me. Just for the looks of the thing we'll take Doc Milliken along, while we gets your victim's body. Where did yuh say this here dastardly deed was done?"
"It wasn't dastardly!" whoops the old man. "It was accidental, I tell yuh! It happens near where the old pack-trail leaves the main road. You know where that is?"
"I know. Wait a minute, fellers, and I'll be with yuh."
He takes the old man and goes off down toward the jail, and when he comes back they all gets in that wagon and rattles off down the road. The old man must a been rattled, 'cause it happens a long ways this side of the pack-trail end. That's where I leaves Muley and Telescope.
Mike and Calamity stands there on the porch as the wagon leaves, and I hears Mike yell at Bill:
"Hey, Bill! Be sure and get back before sunrise on account of them salutes."
"What salutes is them?" asks Calamity.
"Bill's got 'em down in the jail. He's got five ten-gallon kerosene cans full of water down there, and in each can is six sticks of dynamite, wrapped in canvas and covered with axle-grease. They're all ready to touch off. Some salute, eh? Now, if Bill's late we won't have our sunrise salute."
They goes back inside. I looks at my watch, and sees that it's danged near morning, and at the same time I gets a happy idea. I ambles back to the autymobile, and finds Chuck setting on the seat, holding his head in his hands.
"Henry," says he, "how came I here, and why am I so dry?"
"I brought yuh here, Chuck, and I hid the jug under the wagon."
I gives him a shock and he gets enthusiastic.
"Chuck," says I, "would yuh like to hear a big, big noise?"
"That's the idea, Henry—a great big noise. Can't be too big. Where yuh going to get it?"
I tells him about them loaded cans down at the jail, and he's for me. We enthuses over the jug a little more, and then goes down to the jail. I posts Chuck about a hundred feet from the jail, and tells him to watch for anybody coming from town.
₪ THE Paradise jail ain't much, It's one story, mostly dobe, and stands way out from any other shack, a grim reminder that there still is law and order—at times. A strong man might kick the walls loose if they wasn't afraid the roof would fall on 'em. I takes a rock and busts the padlock. There's only one cell in the place, and when I lights a match I sees the faces of Scenery Sims and the old man. I busts the lock off the cell door, and lets 'em out.
"Vamoose!" I whispers. "Get a-going. We don't want no lynching in Paradise on the Fourth of July."
"But, Henry—" squeaks Scenery.
"No time for argument!" I snaps. "You'll find out later. Go fast and far. Sabe?"
"I'll make this right with you, Henry," says the old man, earnest-like, and I nods in the dark and says to myself—
"You'll likely try."
They slips out together, and in about a minute I hears Chuck come up to the door, and he seems peevish over something.
"Hen!" he whispers. "Aw, Hen! Henry Peck!"
I don't say nothing, and pretty soon he remarks, sad-like:
"Drunk. Saw two Henry Pecks go away from here. Must be drunk as a boiled owl."
He goes out of hearing, complaining to himself about the effects of alcohol on the optic nerves.
I takes the dynamite out of them cans and puts it in one pile on the floor. Bill must a been afraid of that stuff, 'cause he's got about ten minutes' worth of extra fuse.
I runs the fuse out the door, puts the padlock back in place, and touches her off. I goes back up to Mike's place but don't go in. Mike and Calamity are playing cards, while they waits for Chuck's body to arrive, so I goes over and climbs up on the hitch-rack. I gets up there, and gets right down. Comes a rumble and a shake, the town is lit up for a second, and then it begins to rain pieces of jail all over town. Thirty sticks of dynamite is some little dwelling-mover.
Mike and Calamity staggers out on the porch, and gazes at the world.
"What do yuh reckon it was?" gasps Calamity.
"Dynamite!" yells Mike. "There's —— to pay and no pitch hot!"
"Bill McFee insisted on leaving that stuff in the jail until it was time to touch it off, and he done put old man Whittaker and Scenery Sims in there—and—they both smoke!"
"Gosh all hemlock!" wails Calamity. "There ain't a thing we can do, is there, Mike?"
"Nothing. When you're near thirty sticks of dynamite, and she goes off, there ain't nothing that anybody can do—not even the coroner."
They don't much more than get inside, when I hears the rattle of wheels, and into Paradise comes the ambulance. They swings around in front of the place and stops. Out comes Mike and Calamity.
"Was he dead?" asks Mike, and we hears McFee snort:
"Old man Whittaker must be crazy! We couldn't find Chuck nor the autymobile. All we found was Muley and Telescope, setting along the road trying to sing. They don't know about no shooting scrape. Whittaker is a danged old liar!"
"Don't speak disrespectable of the dead," advises Calamity. "No matter how a man acted in this vale of tears yuh hadn't ought to besmirch his memory with recriminations."
"He ain't dead, I tell yuh!" yelps Bill.
"Well," says Mike, "if he ain't he's made of iron. No man can stand a shock like that and ever be the same."
"Shock? Who do yuh mean—Chuck?"
"No," says Mike, sad-like. "I mean Whittaker."
"And Scenery Sims," adds Calamity, removing his hat. "They must a threw a match on to a fuse. The padlock came through the back door, and is sticking in Mike's bar."
There's complete silence for a while, and then McFee gasps—
He yanks the team around, and away he goes, rattlety bang, down toward the jail, while the crowd races along behind him. Muley and Telescope sets there on the steps and finishes up their song.
"Ret-ret-retribution," pronounces Telescope. "The old man kills Chuck, and then gets hoist with his own petard."
"Hoisted," corrects Muley. "I never heard dynamite called petard but a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Some celebration, eh, Telescope. I wonder if anybody has yet killed Henry Peck this fair morning?"
"The day is yet young, so why worry?" says Telescope. "I fain wouldst look upon the red when it is wine. Let's tend a little bar, Muley."
I wanders around back of Mike's place. I feels weary, and when I notices Mike's little barn, I gets an inspiration. Why not sleep until celebration time? I climbs into the loft and sprawls on the hay.
"All the comforts of home," says I out loud.
"Hey, Henry," comes a whisper. "Was Chuck dead?"
"Uh-huh," says I. "Is Scenery with yuh?"
"He is," squeaks Scenery. "What was that explosion, Henry?"
"They say that Harelip and Pole Cat blew up the jail. I don't know how much truth there is in it."
"Henry," quavers the old man, "you was a friend in need. I'll——"
Just then a faint voice begins singing, somewhere in the hay. It's a voice that nobody ever heard and forgot. Cross between a greaseless wheel and pneumonia.
" 'Rockuhvages clef for me-e-e, le' me hide myself——' "
We listens for a few seconds. Old man Whittaker gathers his legs under himself like a rabbit, and shoots out a that hay-loft like a swaller. We hears him hit the ground and gallop out of range. Scenery don't say a word. He yawns, crawls over to the window, and lets himself down, easy-like, and sneaks away.
"Henry," says Chuck, "did I hear your voice?"
"Stop talking to yourself, you shepherd, and let a man sleep. I had a awful dream, Henry. Dreamed that the world blowed up. It hit me and—ho, hum-m-m!"
"Ho, hum-m-m-m!" says I, and goes to sleep, too.
₪ WHEN I woke up the birds were singing, and the sun was shining through the cracks in the loft. Chuck is stiff snoring, so I climbs down alone. I'm as dry as a drouth in Arizona, so I pilgrims into Mike's place regardless of consequences.
The place is fairly filled, and sadness is the prevailing color scheme. On the bar stands Scenery's old stove-pipe hat, with a wide band of black cloth around it, and Mike's mirror is hung with the emblem of mourning.
McFee is standing there with bowed head, and sadness fairly drips from his lips.
"It's a most awful situation," he orates. "If we could only find a single piece of 'em. There ain't nothing left—nothing!"
"There ain't nothing left of poor Chuck either," tolls Muley. "Poor old Chuck. He was a gentleman and a scholar. I'd love to gaze upon his face once more.
"He's went away and left us
In the prime of his young life.
He's gone from this here vale of tears
With all it's joy and strife.
No more we'll see his banty legs,
Nor hear him tell a he.
He's vanished from old Paradise,
And we never said good-by."
"That's a mighty pretty thing, Muley," applauds Pole Cat. "Can't yuh think of something nice to say for old man Whittaker?"
"The rest of you fellers stand back from Pole Cat and Harelip, and old man Whittaker will say something for himself," states a voice at the door, and there stands the old man, with a shotgun which he levels at Pole Cat and Harelip.
The crowd obeys. Bill McFee's legs get so weak that he sets down on the bar-rail where he gasps like a fish out of water.
"You danged pair of dynamiters!" snaps the old man. "With the shadder of the gallows staring me in the eye, and Chuck Warner's ghost haunting my dreams, I comes back to show yuh that your dastardly deed failed. When yuh blowed up that jail yuh didn't get me and Scenery. Sabe? Shut up!" he snaps, as Harelip starts to say something. "Don't try to deny it, Harelip. I can prove it by the heero what let us out. There he stands, gents. Henry Clay Peck. He busted the lock and liberated——"
The crowd turns to look at me, but I don't seem to be the point of interest at that. They looks right past me. Old man Whittaker's gun slips from his hands, and clangs on the floor. I twists my neck and looks behind me, and there stands Chuck. He yawns and leans against the pool-table.
"Well," says Chuck, in a dry voice, "ain't somebody going to set 'em up? Sleeping in timothy makes a feller dry."
Bill McFee looks at Chuck and back at Whittaker and the tears of joy runs out of his eyes. Whittaker leans against the door and tries to laugh, but he can't.
"Haw!" says Harelip, but that's as far as he got.
Chuck ambles up to the bar, and looks 'em over.
"Holy henhawks!" he snorts. "Have yuh all gone loco?"
"Ain't—ain't yuh dead, Chuck?" stutters the old man.
Bill McFee has been looking, steady-like, at me for some time, and when he gets on his feet he sort of starts edging toward me. I edges the other way, sort of unconcerned-like, and bumps into Calamity. He's got a billiard cue in his hands.
"Henry," he whispers, "you lied to me."
I nods, kicks his feet out from under him, and goes out of that back door like a shot. I races around to the front, and runs into something. They're grouped, and I'm into 'em before I has time to think.
There's the two Mudgett sisters, Hulda Peterson, Annie Schmidt, Mrs. Benson, Maggie Smith, Clarice Chaffin and the widder Saunders. The male members of the vigilance committee is Abe Mudgett and Breezy Benson.
"We've been waiting for you, Henry," states the widder, sort of belligerent-like, and the chorus sings the last four words.
"We're looking for a little explanation from you," states Breezy Benson, and Abe nods—
"We desires the same."
"Exactly," says I. "In the course of human e-vents——"
"Grab that dynamiter!" yells McFee, from the front door, and Breezy tried to foller instructions. Anybody that reaches out to grasp old man Peck's loving son Henry, in times of stress, is in continuous danger. Breezy got it on the jaw, and yours truly went away from there with the enraged citizens on the trail.
Never again do I sic a pack of hounds after a coyote. What few broncs are in town are immediate and soon rode after me, and I sure have a plenty to attend to. I got a good start, but I know I can't keep it forever. I'm hopping off down a washout, when I happens to see McFee's corral. I gets an idea right there.
The gang is quite a ways behind me, trying to make me come out of a old shack, so I takes a chance and races for that corral. The autymobile is pointed the wrong way, and I ain't got no time to turn it around. I yanks the front wheels around, sets the brake, grabs the crank and prays. Bingo! She took it the first turn. I yanks off the brake, and away I goes, straight for the posse.
I yanks the little jigger down and we sure hits for Paradise in a hurry. They scatters at my approach, swings in behind me, and up the main street of Paradise we goes, strung out for a quarter of a mile and stretching all the time.
That machine was a humdinger as long as I'm in danger, but when I leaves 'em far behind she lays down and quits like a yaller pup. I sets there and looks around, and out into the road wanders three saddled broncs. I ducks, thinking they're some of the posse, but a second look tells me that they're some of the broncs what left Paradise yesterday, when the autymobile first came in.
One Cross J bronc has a long rope dragging, so I catches him and then ropes the other two. I strings out across the hills toward home, puts 'em in the home corral, and goes to bed. I reckon it's almost morning when the Cross J bunch gets home. Muley, Telescope, Chuck and the old man all comes into the bunk-house, but they don't see me.
"Ho, hum-m-m-m!" yawns the old man. "I'm glad to be home. This has been one strenuous holiday, fellers."
"She sure has," agrees Telescope. "That pe-rade was a humdinger."
I sets up in bed and looks 'em over.
"Pe-rade?" I asks. "Did they have a pe-rade?"
"Yes, little one," replied Muley. "We had a pe-rade that we'll date time from. We had eight Miss Columbuses and——"
"Who—who led it?" I asks.
"You did, you danged fool!" whooped Telescope.