The Coming of Cassidy/Jimmy visits Sharpsville
JIMMY VISITS SHARPSVILLE
BILL CASSIDY rode slowly into Sharpsville and dismounted in front of Carter's Emporium, nodding carelessly to the loungers hugging the shade of the store. "Howd'y," he said. "Seen anything of Jimmy Price—a kid, but about my height, with brown hair and a devilish disposition?"
Carter stretched and yawned, a signal for a salvo of yawns. "Nope, thank God. You need n't describe nothin' about that Price cub to none of us. We know him. He spent three days here about a year ago, an' th' town 's been sorta restin' up ever since. You don't mean for to tell us he 's comin' here again!" he exclaimed, sitting up with a jerk.
Bill laughed at the expression. "As long as you yearn for him so powerful hard, why I gotta tell you he 's on his way, anyhow. I had to go east for a day's ride an' he headed this way. He 's to meet me here."
Carter turned and looked at the others blankly. Old Dad Johnson nervously stroked his chin. "Well, then he 'll git here, all right," he prophesied pessimistically. "He usually gets where he starts for; an' I 'm plumb glad I 'm goin' on to-morrow."
"Ha, ha!" laughed George Bruce. "So 'm I goin' on, by Scott!"
Grunts and envious looks came from the group and Carter squirmed uneasily. "That 's just like you fellers, runnin' away an' leavin' me to face it. An' it was you fellers what played most of th' tricks on him last time he was here. Huh! now I gotta pay for 'em," he growled.
Bill glanced over the gloomy circle and laughed heartily. Two faces out of seven were bright, Dad's particularly so. "Well, he seems to be quite a favorite around here," he grinned. Carter snorted. "Huh! Seems to be nothin'."
"He ain't exactly a favorite," muttered Dawson. "He 's a—a—an event; that 's what he is!" Carter nodded. "Yep; that's what he is, 'though you just can't help likin' th' cub, he 's that cheerful in his devilment."
Charley Logan stretched and yawned. "Did n't hear nothin' about no Injuns, did you? A feller rid through here yesterday an' said they was out again."
Bill nodded. "Yes; I did. An' there 's a lot of rumors goin' around. They 've been over in th' Crazy Butte country an' I heard they raided through th' Little Mountain Valley last week. Anyhow, th' Seventh is out after 'em, in four sections."
"Th' Seventh is a regiment," asserted George Bruce. "Leastawise it was when I was in it. It is th' best in th' Service."
Dad snorted. "Listen to him! It was when he was in it! Lordy, Lordy, Lordy!" he chuckled. "There hain't no cavalry slick enough to ketch Apaches," declared Hank, dogmatically. "Troops has too many fixin's an' sech. You gotta travel light an' live without eatin' an' drinkin' to ketch them Injuns; an' then you never hardly sometimes see 'em, at that."
"Lemme tell you, Mosshead, th' Seventh can lick all th' Injuns ever spawned!" asserted Bruce with heat. "It wiped out Black Kettle's camp, in th' dead of winter, too!"
"That was Custer as did that," snorted Carter.
"Well, he was leadin' th' Seventh, same as he is now!"
Charley Logan shook his head. "We are talking about ketchin' 'em, not fightin' 'em. An' no cavalry in th' hull country can ketch 'Paches in this country—it's too rough. 'Paches are only scared of punchers."
"Shore," asserted Carter. "Apaches laugh at troops, less 'n it's a pitched battle, when they don't. Cavalry chases 'em so fur an' no farther; punchers chase 'em inter h—l, out of it an' back again."
"They shore is 'lusive," cogitated Lefty Dawson, carefully deluging a fly ten feet away and shifting his cud for another shot. "An' I, for one, admits I ain't hankerin' for to chase 'em close."
"Wish we could get that cub Jimmy to chase some," exclaimed Carter. "Afore he gits here," he explained, thoughtfully.
"Oh, he 's all right, Carter," spoke up Lefty. "We was all of us young and playful onct."
"But we all war n't he-devils workin' day an' night tryin' to make our betters miserable!"
"Oh, he 's a good kid," remarked Dad. "I sorta hates to miss him. Anyhow, we got th' best of him, last time."
Bill finished rolling a cigarette, lit it and slowly addressed them. "Well, all I got to say is that he suits me right plumb down to th' ground. Now, just lemme tell you somethin' about Jimmy," and he gave them the story of Jimmy's part in the happenings on Tortilla Range, to the great delight of his audience.
"By Scott, it 's just like him!" chuckled George Bruce.
"That's shore Jimmy, all right," laughed Lefty.
"What did I tell you?" beamed Dad. "He 's a heller, he is. He 's all right!"
"Then why don't you stay an' see him?" demanded Carter.
"I gotta go on, or I would. Yessir, I would!"
"Reckon them Injuns won't git so fur north as here," suggested Carter hopefully, and harking back to the subject which lay heaviest on his mind. "They 've only been here twict in ten years."
"Which was twice too often," asserted Lefty.
"Th' last time they was here," remarked Dad, reminiscently, "they didn't stop long; though where they went to I dunno. We gave 'em more 'n they could handle. That was th' time I just bought that new Sharps rifle, an' what I done with that gun was turrible." He paused to gather the facts in the right order before he told the story, and when he looked around again he flushed and swore. The audience had silently faded away to escape the moth-eaten story they knew by heart. The fact that Dad usually improved it and his part in it, each time he told it, did not lure them. "Cussed ingrates!" he swore, turning to Bill. "They 're plumb jealous!"
"They act like it, anyhow," agreed Bill soberly. "I 'd like to hear it, but I 'm too thirsty. Come in an' have one with me?" The story was indefinitely postponed.
An accordion wheezed down the street and a mouth-organ tried desperately to join in from the saloon next door, but, owing to a great difference in memory, did not harmonize. A roar of laughter from Dawson's, and the loud clink of glasses told where Dad's would-have-been audience then was. Carter walked around his counter and seated himself in his favorite place against the door jamb. Bill, having eluded Dad, sat on a keg of edibles and smoked in silence and content, occasionally slapping at the flies which buzzed persistently around his head. Knocking the ashes from the cigarette he leaned back lazily and looked at Carter. "Wonder where he is?" he muttered.
"Huh?" grunted the proprietor, glancing around. "Oh, you worryin' about that yearlin'? Well, you needn't! Nothin' never sidetracks Jimmy."
A fusillade of shots made Bill stand up, and Carter leaped to his feet and dashed toward the counter. But he paused and looked around foolishly. "That 's his yell," he explained. "Did n't I tell you? He 's arrove, same as usual."
The drumming of hoofs came rapidly nearer and heads popped out of windows and doors, each head flanked by a rifle barrel. Above a swirling cloud of dust glinted a spurting Colt and thrust through the smudge was a hand waving a strange collection of articles.
"Hullo, Kid!" shouted Dawson. "What you got? See any Injuns?"
"It's a G-string an' a medicine-bag, by all that's holy!" cried Dad from the harness shop. "Where 'd you git 'em, Jimmy?"
Jimmy drew rein and slid to a stand, pricking his nettlesome "Calico" until it pranced to suit him. Waving the Apache breech-cloth, the medicine-bag and a stocking-shaped moccasin in one hand, he proudly held up an old, dirty, battered Winchester repeater in the other and whooped a war-cry.
"Blame my hide!" shouted Dad, running out into the street. "It is a G-string! He 's gone an' got one of 'em! He 's gone an' got a 'Pache! Good boy, Kid! An' how 'd you do it?"
Carter plodded through the dust with Bill close behind. "Where 'd you do it?" demanded the proprietor eagerly. To Carter location meant more than method. He was plainly nervous. When he reached the crowd he, in turn, examined the trophies. They were genuine, and on the G-string was a splotch of crimson, muddy with dust.
"What 's in the war-bag, Kid?" demanded Lefty, preparing to see for himself. Jimmy snatched it from his hands. "You never mind what 's in it, Freckle-face!" he snapped. "That 's my bag, now. Want to spoil my luck?"
"How 'd you do it?" demanded Dad breathlessly.
"Where 'd you do it?" snapped Carter. He glanced hurriedly around the horizon and repeated the question with vehemence. "Where 'd you get him?"
"In th' groin, first. Then through th'—"
"I don't mean where, I mean where—near here?" interrupted Carter.
"Oh, fifteen mile east," answered Jimmy. "He was crawlin' down on a bunch of cattle. He saw me just as I saw him. But he missed an' I did n't," he gloated proudly. "I met a Pawnee scout just afterward an' he near got shot before he signaled. He says hell 's a-poppin'. Th' 'Paches are raidin' all over th' country, down—"
"I knowed it!" shouted Carter. "Yessir, I knowed it! I felt it all along! Where you finds one you finds a bunch!"
"We'll give 'em blazes, like th' last time!" cried Dad, hurrying away to the harness shop where he had left his rifle.
"I 've been needin' some excitement for a long time," laughed Dawson. "I shore hope they come."
Carter paused long enough to retort over his shoulder: "An' I hopes you drop dead! You never did have no sense! Not nohow!"
Bill smiled at the sudden awakening and watched the scrambling for weapons. "Why, there 's enough men here to wipe out a tribe. I reckon we 'll stay an' see th' fun. Anyhow, it 'll be a whole lot safer here than fightin' by ourselves out in th' open somewhere. What you say?"
"You could n't drag me away from this town right now with a cayuse," Jimmy replied, gravely hanging the medicine-bag around his neck and then stuffing the gory G-string in the folds of the slicker he carried strapped behind the cantle of the saddle. "We 'll see it out right here. But I do wish that 'Pache owned a better gun than this thing. It 's most fallin' apart an' ain't worth nothin'."
Bill took it and examined the rifling and the breech-block. He laughed as he handed it back. "You oughta be glad it was n't a better gun, Kid. I don't reckon he could put two in the same place at two hundred paces with this thing. I ain't even anxious to shoot it off on a bet."
Jimmy gasped suddenly and grinned until the safety of his ears was threatened. "Would you look at Carter?" he chuckled, pointing. Bill turned and saw the proprietor of Carter's Emporium carrying water into his store, and with a speed that would lead one to infer that he was doing it on a wager. Emerging again he saw the punchers looking at him and, dropping the buckets, he wiped his face on his sleeve and shook his head. "I 'm fillin' everything," he called. "I reckon we better stand 'em off from my store—th' walls are thicker."
Bill smiled at the excuse and looked down the street at the adobe buildings. "What about th' 'dobes, Carter?" he asked. The walls of some of them were more than two feet thick. Carter scowled, scratched his head and made a gesture of impatience. "They ain't big enough to hold us all," he replied, with triumph. "This here store is th' best place. An', besides, it 's all stocked with water an' grub, an' everything."
Jimmy nodded. "Yo 're right, Carter; it 's th' best place." To Bill he said in an aside, "He 's plumb anxious to protect that shack, now ain't he?"
Lefty Dawson came sauntering up. "Wonder if Carter 'll let us hold out in his store?"
"He 'll pay you to," laughed Bill.
"It 's loop-holed. Been so since th' last raid," explained Lefty. "An' it 's chock full of grub," he grinned.
They heard Dad's voice around the corner. "Just like last time," he was saying. "We oughta put four men in Dick's 'dobe acrost th' street. Then we 'd have a strategy position. You see—oh, hullo," he said as he rounded the corner ahead of George Bruce. "Who 's goin' on picket duty?" he demanded.
Under the blazing sun a yellow dog wandered aimlessly down the deserted street, his main interest in life centered on his skin, which he frequently sat down to chew. During the brief respites he lounged in the doors of deserted buildings, frequently exploring the quiet interiors for food. Emerging from the "hotel" he looked across the street at the Emporium and barked tentatively at the man sitting on its flat roof. Wriggling apologetically, he slowly gained the middle of the street and then sat down to investigate a sharp attack. A can sailed out of the open door and a flurry of yellow streaked around the corner of the "hotel" and vanished.
In the Emporium grave men played poker for nails, Bill Cassidy having corralled all the available cash long before this, and conversed in low tones. The walls, reinforced breast high by boxes, barrels and bags, were divided into regular intervals by the open loopholes, each opening further indicated by a leaning rifle or two and generous piles of cartridges. Two tubs and half a dozen buckets filled with water stood in the center of the room, carefully covered over with boards and wrapping paper. Clouds of tobacco smoke lay in filmy stratums in the heated air and drifted up the resin-streaked sides of the building. The shimmering, gray sand stretched away in a glare of sunlight and seemed to writhe under the heated air, while droning flies flitted lazily through the windows and held caucuses on the sugar barrel. A slight, grating sound overhead caused several of the more irritable or energetic men to glance up lazily, grateful they were not in Hank's place. It was hot enough under the roof, and they stretched ecstatically as they thought of Hank. Three days' vigil and anxiety had become trying even to the most stolid.
John Carter fretfully damned solitaire and pushed the cards away to pick up pencil and paper and figure thoughtfully. This seemed to furnish him with even less amusement, for he scowled and turned to watch the poker game. "Huh," he sniffed, "playin' poker for nails! An' you don't even own th' nails," he grinned facetiously, and glanced around to see if his point was taken. He suddenly stiffened when he noticed the man who sat on his counter and labored patiently and zealously with a pocket knife. "Hey, you!" he exclaimed excitedly, his wrath quickly aroused. "Ain't you never had no bringin' up? If yo 're so plumb sot on whittlin', you tackle that sugar barrel!"
Jimmy looked the barrel over critically and then regarded the peeved proprietor, shaking his head sorrowfully. "This here is a better medjum for the ex-position of my art," he replied gravely. "An' as for bringin' up, lemme observe to these gents here assembled that you ain't never had no artistic trainin'. Yore skimpy soul is dwarfed an' narrowed by false weights and dented measures. You can look a sunset in th' face an' not see it for countin' yore profits." Carter glanced instinctively at the figures as Jimmy continued. "An' you can't see no beauty in a daisy's grace—which last is from a book. I 'm here carvin' th' very image of my cayuse an' givin' you a work of art, free an' gratis. I 'm timid an' sensitive, I am; an' I 'll feel hurt if—"
"Stop that noise," snorted a man in the corner, turning over to try again. "Sensitive an' timid? Yes; as a mule! Shut up an' lemme get a little sleep."
"A-men," sighed a poker-player. "An' let him sleep—he 's a cussed nuisance when he 's awake."
"Two mules," amended the dealer. "Which is worse than one," he added thoughtfully.
"We oughta put four men in that 'dobe—" began Dad persistently.
"An' will you shut up about that 'dobe an' yore four men?" snapped Lefty. "Can't you say nothin' less 'n it's about that mud hut?"
Jimmy smiled maddeningly at the irritated crowd. "As I was sayin' before you all interrupted me, I 'll feel hurt—"
"You will; an' quick!" snapped Carter. "You quit gougin' that counter!"
Bill craned his neck to examine the carving, and forthwith held out a derisively pointing forefinger.
"Cayuse?" he inquired sarcastically. "Looks more like th' map of th' United States, with some almost necessary parts missin'. Your geography musta been different from mine."
The artist smiled brightly. "Here 's a man with imagination, th' emancipator of thought. It's crude an' untrained, but it's there. Imagination is a hopeful sign, for it is only given to human bein's. From this we surmise an' must conclude that Bill is human."
"Will somebody be liar enough to say th' same of you?" politely inquired the dealer.
"Will you fools shut up?" demanded the man who would sleep. He had been on guard half the night.
"But you oughta label it, Jimmy," said Bill. "You 've got California bulgin' too high up, an' Florida sticks out th' wrong way. Th' Great Lakes is all wrong—looks like a kidney slippin' off of Canada. An' where's Texas?"
"Huh! It 'd have to be a cow to show Texas," grinned Dad Johnson, who, it appeared, also had an imagination and wanted people to know it.
"You cuttin' in on this teet-a-teet?" demanded Jimmy, dodging the compliments of the sleepy individual.
"As a map it is no good," decided Bill decisively.
"It is no map," retorted Jimmy. "I know where California bulges an' how Florida sticks out. What you call California is th' south end of th' cayuse, above which I 'm goin' to put th' tail—"
"Not if I'm man enough, you ain't!" interposed Carter, with no regard for politeness.
"—where I 'm goin' to put th' tail," repeated Jimmy. "Florida is one front laig raised off th' ground—"
"Trick cayuse, by Scott!" grunted George Bruce. "No wonder it looks like a map."
"Th' Great Lakes is th' saddle, an' Maine is where th' mane goes—Ouch!"
"Mangy pun," grinned Bill.
"Kentucky ought to be under th' saddle," laughed Dad, smacking his lips. "Pass th' bottle, John."
"You take too much an' we'll all be Ill-o'-noise," said Charley Logan alertly.
"Them Injuns can't come too soon to suit me," growled Fred Thomas. "Who started this, anyhow?"
The sleepy man arose on one elbow, his eyes glinting. "After th' fight, you ask me th' same thing! Th' answer will be ME!" he snapped. "I 'm goin' to clean house in about two minutes, an' fire you all out in th' street!"
Jimmy smiled down at him. "Well, you need n't be so sweepin' an' extensive in yore cleanin' operations," he retorted. "All you gotta do is go outside an' roll in th' dust like a chicken." The crowd roared its appreciation and the sleepy individual turned over again, growling sweeping opinions.
"But if them Injuns are comin' I shore wish they 'd hurry up an' do it," asserted Dad. "I ought to 'a' been home three days ago."
"Wish to G—d you was!" came from the floor.
Bill tossed away his half-smoked cigarette, Carter promptly plunging into the sugar barrel after it. "They ain't comin'," Bill asserted. "Every time some drunk Injun gets in a fight or beats his squaw th' rumor starts. An' by th' time it gets to us it says that all th' Apaches are out follerin' old Geronimo on th' war trail. He can be more places at once than anybody I ever heard of. I 'm ridin' on tomorrow morning, 'Paches or no 'Paches."
"Good!" exclaimed Jimmy, glancing at Carter. "I 'll have this here carving all done by then."
There was a sudden scrambling and thumping overhead and hot exclamations zephyred down to them. Carter dashed to the door, while the others reached for rifles and began to take up positions.
"See 'em, Hank?" cried Carter anxiously.
"See what?" came a growl from above.
"Injuns, of course, you d—d fool!"
"Naw," snorted Hank. "There ain't no Injuns out at all, not after Jimmy got that one."
"Then what 's th' matter?"
"My dawg's lickin' yore dawg. Sic him, Pete! Hi, there! Don't you run!"
"My dawg still gettin' licked?" grinned Carter.
"I 'll swap you," offered Hank promptly. "Mine can lick yourn, anyhow."
"In a race, mebby."
"H—l!" growled Hank, cautiously separating himself from a patch of hot resin that had exuded generously from a pine knot. "I 'm purty nigh cooked an' I 'm comin' down, Injuns or no Injuns. If they was comin' this way they'd 'a' been here long afore this."
"But that Pawnee told Price they was out," objected Carter. "Cassidy heard th' same thing, too. An' didn't Jimmy get one!" he finished triumphantly.
"Th' Pawnee was drunk!" retorted Hank, collecting splinters as he slipped a little down the roof. "Great Mavericks! This here is awful!" He grabbed a protruding nail and checked himself. "Price might 'a' shot a 'Pache, or he might not. I don't take him serious no more. An' that feller Cassidy can't help what scared folks tells him. Sufferin' toads, what a roof!"
Carter turned and looked back in the store. "Jimmy, you shore they are out? An' will you quit cuttin' that counter!"
Jimmy slid off the counter and closed the knife. "That 's what th' Pawnee said. When I told you fellers about it, you was so plumb anxious to fight, an' eager to interrupt an' ask fool questions that I shore hated to spoil it all. What that scout says was that th' 'Paches was out raidin' down Colby way, an' was headin' south when last re—"
"Colby!" yelled Lefty Dawson, as the others stared foolishly. "Colby! Why, that's three hundred miles south of here! An' you let us make fools of ourselves for three days! I 'll bust you open!" and he arose to carry out his threat. "Where 'd you git them trophies?" shouted Dad angrily. "Them was genuine!" Jimmy slipped through the door as Dawson leaped and he fled at top speed to the corral, mounted in one bound and dashed off a short distance. "Why, I got them trophies in a poker game from that same Pawnee scout, you Mosshead! He could n't play th' game no better 'n you fellers. An' th' blood is snake's blood, fresh put on. You will drive me out of town, hey?" he jeered, and, wheeling, forthwith rode for his life. Back in the store Bill knocked aside the rifle barrel that Carter shoved through a loop hole. "A joke 's a joke, Carter," he said sternly. "You don't aim to hit him, but you might," and Carter, surprised at the strength of the twist, grinned, muttered something and went to the door without his rifle, which Bill suddenly recognized. It was the weapon that had made up Jimmy's "trophies"!
"Blame his hide!" spluttered Lefty, not knowing whether to shoot or laugh. A queer noise behind him made him turn, a movement imitated by the rest. They saw Bill rolling over and over on the floor in an agony of mirth. One by one the enraged garrison caught the infection and one by one lay down on the floor and wept. Lefty, propping himself against the sugar barrel, swayed to and fro, senselessly gasping. "They allus are raidin' down Colby way! Blame my hide, oh, blame my hide! Ha-ha-ha! Ha-ha-ha! They allus are raidin' down Colby way!"
"Three days, an' Hank on th' roof!" gurgled George Bruce. "Three days, by Scott!"
"Hank on th' roof," sobbed Carter, "settin' on splinters an hot rosim! Whee-hee-hee! Three-hee-hee days hatchin' pine knots an' rosim!"
"Gimme a drink! Gimme a drink!" whispered Dad, doubled up in a corner. "Gimme a ho-ho-ho!" he roared in a fresh paroxysm of mirth. "Lefty an' George settin' up nights watchin' th' shadders! Ho-ho-ho!"
"An' Carter boardin' us free!" yelled Baldy; Martin. "Oh, my G—d! He 'll never get over it!"
"Yessir!" squeaked Dad. "Free; an' scared we 'd let 'em burn his store. 'Better stand 'em off in my place,' he says. 'It 's full of grub,' he says. He-he-he!"
"An' did you see Hank squattin' on th' roof like a horned toad waitin' for his dinner?" shouted Dickinson. "I 'm goin' to die! I 'm goin' to die!" he sobbed.
"No sich luck!" snorted Hank belligerently. "I 'll skin him alive! Yessir; alive!"
Carter paused in his calculations of his loss in food and tobacco. "Better let him alone, Hank," he warned earnestly. "Anyhow, we pestered him nigh to death las' time, an' he 's shore come back at us. Better let him alone!"
Up the street Jimmy stood beside his horse and thumped and scratched the yellow dog until its rolling eyes bespoke a bliss unutterable and its tail could not wag because of sheer ecstasy.
"Purp," he said gravely, "never play jokes on a pore unfortunate an' git careless. Don't never forget it. Last time I was here they abused me shameful. Now that th' storm has busted an' this is gettin' calm-like, you an' me 'll go back an' get a good look at th' asylum," he suggested, vaulting into the saddle and starting toward the store. No invitation was needed because the dog had adopted him on the spot. And the next morning, when Jimmy and Bill, loaded with poker-gained wealth, rode out of town and headed south, the dog trotted along in the shadow made by Jimmy's horse and glanced up from time to time in hopeful expectancy and great affection.
A distant, flat pistol shot made them turn around in the saddle and look back. A group of the leading citizens of Sharpsville stood in front of the Emporium and waved hats in one last, and glad farewell. Now that Jimmy had left town, they altered their sudden plans and decided to continue to populate the town of Sharpsville.