Short Creek Dave's Conversion


By Alfred Henry Lewis (Dan Quin)

A recent convert and would-be preacher endeavors to enforce the precepts of religion and suppress a tendency to argument on the part of his hearers.

Short Creek Dave was a leading citizen of the little camp of Cinnabar. In fact his friends would not scruple at the claim that Short Creek was a leading citizen of Arizona. So when the news came over from Tucson that Short Creek, who had been paying that metropolis a breezy visit, had in an inadvertent moment strolled within the confines of a gospel meeting then and there being waged, and suffered conversion, Cinnabar became a prey to some excitement.

"I told him," said Bill Tutt, who brought back the tidings, "not to go tamperin' 'round this yere meetin'. But he would have it. He jest kept pervading about the 'go in' place, and looks like I can't get him away. Says I: 'Bill, you don't understand this yere game they're turnin' inside, so jest you keep out a whole lot; you'll be safer.' But warnin's warn't no good; not as much as throwin' water on a drowned rat."

"This yere Short Creek was allers speshul obstinate that a-way," said Old Scotty, the driver of the Tucson stage; "and he gets them moods frequent when he jest won't stay whar he is, nor go any whar' else. I don't wonder you don't do nuthin' with him."

"Well," said Rosewood Jim, otherwise James Rosewood, Esquire, "I reckon Short Creek knows his business. I ain't, myse'f, none astonished much by these yere news. I've knowed him to do mighty flighty things, sech as breakin' a good pair to draw to a three flush, and it would seem like he's jest a-pursooin' of his usual system in this yere religious break. However, he'll be in Cinnabar to-morry, and then we'll know a mighty sight more about it; pendin' which, let's licker. Mr. Barkeep, please inquire out the nose paints for the band."

The people of Cinnabar there present saw no reason to pursue the discussion so pleasantly ended, and drew near the bar. The discussion took place in the Gold Mine saloon, so, as one observed on the issuance of Rosewood's invitation, "they were not far from centres." Rosewood himself was a suave courtier of fortune who presided behind his own faro game, and who, being reputed to possess a straight deal-box, held high place in the Cinnabar beast.

The next day came, and Cinnabar began to suffer increased excitement. This feeling grew as the time for the coming of the Tucson stage approached. An outsider might not have detected this warmth. It found its evidences in the unusual activity of monte, highball, stud, and kindred devices, while faro too showed a boom spirit, and white chips, which were a commodity ordinarily disposed of at the rate of two bits per white chip, had, under the heightened pulse of the public, gone in some games to the dizzy pinnacle of twenty-live dollars a stack.

At last out on the gray and heated plain a cloud of dust announced the coming of the stage. Stacks were cashed and games cleaned up, and presently the male population of Cinnabar was in the street to catch as early a glimpse as might be of the newly converted one.

"I don't reckon now he's goin' to look sech a whole lot different, neither," said El Paso Bell, as she stood in front of the dance hall of which institution she was a pronounced ornament.

"I wonder would it do to ask Dave for to drink?" said Tutt, in a tone of vague inquiry.

"Shore," said Old Scotty, "and why not?"

"Oh, nuthin', why not?" replied Tutt, as he watched the stage come up, "only he's nacherally a mighty peevish man that a-way, and I don't suppose now his enterin' the fold has reduced the restlessness of that six-shooter of his'n, none whatever."

"All the same," said Rosewood, who stood near at hand, "politeness 'mong gentlemen should be allers observed, an' I asks this yere Short Creek to drink as soon as ever he comes, and I ain't lookin' to see him take it none invidious, neither."

With a rattling of chains and a creaking of straps the stage and its six high-headed horses pulled up at the post-office door. The mail bags were kicked off, the Wells-Fargo boxes were tumbled into the street, and in the general rattle and crash the eagerly expected Short Creek Dave stepped upon the sidewalk in the midst of his friends. There was possibly a more eager scanning of his person in the thought that the great inward change might have its outward evidences; a more vigorous shaking of his hand, perhaps; but beyond this, curious interest did not go. Not a word nor look touching Short Creek's conversion betrayed the question which was tugging at the Cinnabar heart. Cinnabar was too polite, and then, again, Cinnabar was too cautious. Next to horse-stealing, curiosity is the greatest crime of the frontier, and one most ferociously resented. So Cinnabar just expressed its polite satisfaction in Short Creek Dave's return, and took it out in hand-shaking. The only incident worth a record was when Rosewood Jim said in a tone of bland friendship:

"I don't reckon now, Dave, you're objectin' to whiskey after your ride?"

"I ain't done so usual," said Dave, cheerfully, "but this yere time, Rosewood, I'll have to pass. Jest confidin' the truth to you all; I'm a little off on them beverages jest now, and I'm allowin' to tell you the ins and outs thereof a little later on. And now, if you all will excuse me, I'll canter over to the O. K. House and feed myse'f some."

"I shore reckon he's converted," said Tutt, as he shook his head gloomily. "I wouldn't care none only it's me as gets Dave to go over to Tucson this yere time; and so I feels more or less responsible."

"Well, what of it?" said Old Scotty, with a sudden burst of energy. "I don't see no kick comin' to any one, nor why this yere's to be regarded. If Dave wants to be religious and sing them hymns a heap, you bet that's his American right. I'll jest gamble a hundred dollars Dave comes out all even and protects his game clear through."

The next day the excitement had begun to subside, when a notice posted on the post-office door caused it to rise again. The notice announced that Short Creek Dave would preach that evening in the big warehouse of the New York store.

"I reckon we better all go," said Rosewood Jim. "I'm goin' to turn up my box and close the game at 7:30 sharp; and Benson says he's goin' to shut up the dance hall, seein' as how several of the ladies is due to sing a lot in the choir. We might jest as well turn out and make the thing a universal deal, and give Short Creek the best turn in the wheel, jest to start him along the new trail."

"That's whatever," said Tutt, who had recovered from his first gloom and now entered into the affair with great spirit.

That evening the New York warehouse was as brilliantly lighted as a wild and unstinted abundance of candles could make it. All Cinnabar was there. As a result of a discussion held in private with Short Creek Dave, and by that convert's own request, Rosewood Jim took a seat at the dry-goods box which was to serve as a pulpit, to assist in the conduct of the meeting. The congregation disposed itself about on the improvised benches which the energy of Tutt had provided, and all was ready. At 8 o'clock, Short Creek Dave walked up the space in the centre reserved as an aisle, in company with Rosewood Jim; this latter gentleman carrying a new and giant Bible which he placed on the dry-goods box. Rapping gently on the box for order, Rosewood then addressed the meeting briefly.

"This yere is a public meeting of the camp," said Rosewood, "and I am asked by Dave to preside, which I accordin' do. No one need make any mistake about this yere gatherin' or its purposes, on account of my presence. This yere is a religious meetin'. I am not, myself, given that a-way, but I am allers glad to meet people what is, and see that they have a chance in for their ante and their game is protected. I am one of those, too, who believe a little religion wouldn't hurt this camp much. Next to a lynchin' I don't know of a more excellent influence in a Western camp than these yere meetin's. I ain't expectin' to be in on this play none, myself, and jest set here in the name of order and for the purpose of a square deal. I now introduce to you a gentleman who is liable to be as good a preacher as ever banged a Bible—your townsman, Short Creek Dave."

"Mr. President," said Short Creek Dave, turning to Rosewood.

"Short Creek Dave," said Rosewood Jim, sententiously, at the same time bowing gravely in recognition.

"And ladies and gentlemen of Cinnabar," continued Dave, "I shall open this yere play with a prayer."

The prayer proceeded. It was fervent and earnest and replete with unique expression and personal allusion. In these last the congregation took a breathless interest. Toward the close Dave bent his energies in supplication for the regeneration of Bill Tutt, whom he represented in his orisons as a good man, but living a misguided and vicious life. The audience were listening with a grave and approving attention, when, at this juncture, came an interruption. It was Bill Tutt, who arose and addressed the chair.

"Mr. President," said Tutt, uneasily, "I rise to a p'int of order."

"The gent will state his p'int," responded Rosewood, at the same time rapping gently on the dry-goods box.

"Well," said Tutt, drawing a long breath, "I objects to Dave a-tacklin' of the Redeemer for me, and a-makin' of statements which aims to show I'm nuthin' more'n a felon. This yere talk is liable to queer me up on high, and I objects to it."

"Prayer is a free-for-all game, and thar ain't no limit onto it," said Rosewood. "The chair, therefore, decides ag'in' the p'int of order."

"Well, then," said Tutt, "a-waivin' of the usual appeal to the house, all I've got to say is this: I'm a peaceful man, and have allers been the friend of Short Creek Dave, and I even assists at and promotes this yere meetin'. But I gives notice yere now, if Dave keeps on a-malignin' of me to the Great White Throne as heretofore, I'll shore call on him to make them statements good with his gun as soon as the contreebution-box is passed."

"The chair informs the gent," said Rosewood, with vast dignity, "that Dave, bein' now a' evangelist, can't make no gun plays nor go canterin' out to shoot as of a former day. However, the chair recognizes the rights of the gentleman, and standin', as the chair does, in the position of lookout to this yere game, the chair will be ready to back the play with a 'Colt's 45,' as soon as ever church is out, in person."

"Mr. President," said Dave, "jist let me get a word in yere. I've looked up things a little in the Bible, and I finds that Peter, who was one of the main guys of them days, scrupled not to fight. Now, I follers Peter's lead in this. With all due respect to that excellent apostle, he ain't got none the best of me. I might add, too, that, while it gives me pain to be obliged to shoot up Deacon Tutt in the first half of the first meetin' we holds in Cinnabar, still the path of dooty is cl'ar, and I shall shorely walk tharin, fearin' nuthin'. I tharfore moves we adjourn ten minutes, and as thar's plenty of moon outside, if the chair will lend me its gun—I not packin' sech frivolities no more, a-regardin' of 'em in the light of sinful bluffs—I shall trust to Providence to convince Bill Tutt I know my business, and that he's 'way off in this matter."

"Unless objection is heard, this yere meetin' will stand adjourned for fifteen minutes," said Rosewood, at the same time passing his six-shooter to Dave.

Thirty paces were stepped off, and the men stood up in the moonlit street, while the congregation made a line of admiration on the sidewalk.

"I counts one, two, three, and drops my hat," said Rosewood, "wharupon you all fires and advances at will. Be you all ready?"

The shooting began on the word, and when the smoke cleared away Tutt had a bullet in his shoulder.

"The congregation will now take its seats in the store," said Rosewood, "and the deal will be resoomed. Two of you'll carry Bill over to the hotel and fix him up all right. This yere shows concloosive that Short Creek Dave is licensed from above to pray for whoever he pleases, and I'm mighty glad it occurred. It's shorely goin' to promote public confidence in his ministrations."

The concourse was duly in its seats when Dave again reached the pulpit.

"I will now resoome my intercessions for our onfortunate brother Bill Tutt," said Dave, and he did.

This was Cinnabar's first preaching—albeit it has had many more since—under the instruction of the excellent Rev. Dave. On this first occasion he preached an earnest sermon; the dance-hall girls sang "Rock of Ages," with spirit and effect; and the wounded Tutt sent over five dollars to the contribution-box from the hotel where he lay with his wound.

"I knowed he would," said Rosewood Jim, as he received Tutt's contribution. "Bill Tutt is a reasonable man, and you can gamble religious truths allers assert themselves."

This work was published before January 1, 1925, and is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.