The Fighting Coward
Down the Mississippi —
From the verandas of Magnolia Mansion three generations of Rumfords have watched the great river sweeping past their broad plantation.
To General Rumford and his wife the past month has brought great happiness.
Their only son, Tom, reared from childhood by a step-uncle in Philadelphia, has come home to stay.
"Elvira, it seems like a dream! Home–real parents—and you—my promised wife!"
"You are so strong and brave, Tom, I just couldn't help loving you."
To fifteen-year-old Lucy, younger of the General's two wards, the engagement of her sister is both thrilling and romantic.
"Tom has one serious fault and it worries me — he doesn't drink!"
"Isn't he a beautiful, delicate, little fellow?"
"That houn' dog flinched under fire yesterday. Take her out and shoot her!"
"I won't tolerate anything cowardly about the place!"
"It's Majah Pattuhson and his brother, Joe—they are out of jail!"
"We're gunnin' fo' Mistah Willie Jones. It's a matter of honor, suh! He violated the code — havin' us jailed fo' three months just because we killed his brother!"
"Just the end of a cowardly old houn' dog."
"It must be the Pattuhson-Jones feud—they're always killing one another."
"Majah Pattuhson was courting Elvira–until they sent him to jail."
"Mistah Willie Jones heard we were free and he's fixin' to take the 'Winfield Scott' down the river — "
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky.
"'Fair as a star, when only one is shining in the sky'."
"Tom—when you marry Elvira, you'll be my brother, so it's all right to tell you that I love you, isn't it?"
"I love you because you are so gentle—and—and—peaceful — not like the others."
"Why, Missus Willie Jones–this is a surprise! You-all goin' down the river?"
"The Pattuhsons are out of jail–and are gunnin' fo' my husband."
"My husband is goin' to give them the slip. He'll row out and boa'd the boat on the other side."
"There goes his wife!"
"Don't go to the river, Tom! Never mind the shooting — let's find another butterfly."
"Now that my honor has been avenged, I thought it a proper time to ask Miss Elvira a very important question. Have I your consent?"
"Stop, Majah—I am engaged to marry Tom Rumford!"
"After killin' Mistah Willie Jones, I thought I could come to you—for my reward like."
"Where is this Tom? I'll fight him—I'll kill him as I killed Willie Jones!"
"Tom may have somethin' to say about that."
"Call your son — he shall meet me, suh!"
"You can't blame Tom. You weren't here—and it was a case of love at sight!"
"Tom, can you fight?"
"Joe, present my card to the gentleman. You will act as my second."
"Don't do it, Tom! Don't let them make you fight!"
"He's unarmed! He was raised in the no'th — and he doesn't know the code!"
"The insult to my card is enough—we can leave the lady's name out of this! Name your second!"
"But I—I—don't want to fight!"
"You refuse to fight for the woman you love?"
"Why should I risk my life fighting a disappointed suitor — for a woman I've already won?"
"The worst case of coward I have ever seen in these parts."
"It's all right with me, Miss Elvira, if you want to marry somethin' like that."
"You mustn't mind them, dear — they've been drinking!"
"Don't ever dare speak to me again, suh! Our engagement is at an end!"
"I won't tolerate anything cowardly about the place! You miserable houn' dog—get out!"
"Don't mind what they say, Tom! You did right — you did right!"
Near the river front is a famous gambling resort owned by General Orlando Jackson.
Mexico, the General's octoroon slave, has a set welcome for all.
"Massa Gen'l O'lando Jackson supremely delighted to have yo' fo' his guests."
General Orlando Jackson, gambler and killer — afraid of no one except —
—Captain Blackie, river gambler—with eighteen successful duels to his credit.
"Sit — down!"
"Here's your I.O.U.'s fo' twenty-four thousand dollars won at your tables last night. Can you pay?"
"I've taken a fancy to this here place–an' to your wench, Mexico—I'll trade the I.O.U.'s fo' them."
"You're getting old! It's time you went back on the river and left the place to a better man."
"I'm goin' to do yo' a favor. I happen to know those queer-lookin' strangers intend to start some shootin' and grab all the money in sight."
"Wait—and get 'em in the act!"
"I'm afraid I've made a mistake. I thought this was a restaurant."
"You doan' need take youah hat off to me, honey—I'se black."
"Put away youah money! Eve'ything is free heah."
"That's Cap'in Blackie! The notorious killah!"
"And yeah comes the ownah of dis place — Gen'l O'lando Jackson–th' no-tor-ious fightah!"
"My name — er — "
" — I'm the notorious Colonel Blake!"
"I haven't any home or any prospects — but I have an ambition! I want to be brave—I want to be desperate—I want to be a fighter like you!"
"So they said I hadn't any honor—that I was a coward — and turned me out."
"A little feller like yo' don't stand much chance unless he can make people believe he's dangerous—then he don't need to fight!"
"Excuse me, Cap'n Blackie—I didn't see who it was."
"When yo' can make a man sit down, yo've got him!"
"You are the quickest man with your hands in the world. Make you a fighter? Why, suh, I'll make you a demon!"
"Drag the bodies out into the alley!"
"Now, dang you, bring me some ham and eggs!"
"You've just killed two men—and you are going to eat?"
"I've got to go back on the river and I can use a greenho'n like you. I'll take you with me!"
"Captain Blackie, this is my friend, the notorious Cunnel Blake."
"Don't you dare laugh at me!"
"I'm the wildest orangoutang in the twenty-four United States!"
"I'm the unchained alligator of the great dismal Florida swamps!"
"He doesn't know who you are! He's a stranger—just a greenho'n that I'm goin' to take with me on the river!"
"So, you've decided to go back on the river and leave this place to me?"
"As for you, Mistah notorious Cunnel Blake—when you get out of town tonight, stay out! You ornery—little—houn' pup!"
"Did you see what he did? Did you hear what he called me?"
"He can call me what he likes—he's killed eighteen men!"
"I'm not going to be a coward any longer! I'm going to get my honor back!"
"Massa Cunnel done gone to fight Cap'n Blackie wid youah empty guns."
"I'm the wildest alligator in the twenty-four United States! I'm a Florida baboon!"
"You ornery—little—hound pup, don't you ever kick my valise again!"
"Now, dang you, bring me some ham and eggs!"
"Elvira — will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"
Though nothing can bring back
Of splendor in the grass, or glory
in the flower
And so, with the passing years, the name of Tom Rumford, coward and outcast, fades into a dim memory — while the Mississippi thrills to the deeds of a mysterious gambler and fighter—"the notorious Colonel Blake".
"That's the notorious Cunnel Blake."
"Don't tell anyone—but that's Cunnel Blake!"
"The notorious killer—Blake!"
To Magnolia, once the pride of the river, time has brought the shabbiness that follows long neglect.
"I do hope Lucy will be sensible and accept Joe this time."
"The river ova'flowed again—an' the cotton crop is ruined."
"Why didn't you have the levee fixed after it broke last year?"
"I hope you will respect our wishes regarding Joe."
"I won't marry Joe—I won't! And you can't make me!"
"I suppose Lucy will die an old maid—waitin' fo' Tom to come sneakin' back."
"Tom, the butterfly hunter! Now, if I were single, I'd go after someone like that dashing river gambler we hear so much about—Cunnel Blake!"
"Gentlemen, we've broken a shaft. We'll be laid up here at 'Magnolia' fo' some time."
"Yes, we'll be here 'til evenin'."
"My name's Joe Pattuhson — of 'Magnolia'."
"My brother is overseer at 'Magnolia'. He married one of old Rumford's wards — Elvira."
" — and I have some notion of marrying the other one — Lucy."
"With the crop ruined again, you'll have to borrow mo'e money from the bank."
"The bank won't loan any more—I couldn't take up my last year's notes!"
"This trash is not enough — I'll trouble you for your coat."
"Don't show your anger—he's the notorious Cunnel Blake — smile!"
"Perhaps you think some one else could have managed the place bettah."
"Bring me a wench's gown to cover this hound dog—and throw his clothes overboard."
"You see, suh, he lost his money in a little poker game on the boat—then he lost his jewel'y, and, when I left, suh, he was rapidly losing his ga'ments."
"The gentleman I represent says that if you don't send money, he will drive your brother up here naked."
"I think the ladies had better retire."
"Who dares put this indignity on my brother?"
"The notorious — Cunnel—Blake!"
"You never was so near death in your life!"
"Never speak unless the Cunnel addresses you."
"He won't tolerate unnecessary conversation."
"I understand now why this plantation is run down — an incompetent overseer — "
"—and an owner who drinks too much."
"Well, you see, I made him overseer after he married my ward, Elvira — "
"Married? Well, I suppose it was all right with you, if Miss Elvira wanted to marry something like that!"
"You — wish to meet me?"
"Why, I'm the wildest orangoutang in the twenty-seven United States!"
"I'm the unchained alligator of the dismal Florida swamps!"
"Why, you white-livered hound dog—you haven't the courage to kill me, even if I gave you the chance."
"Almost a bull's-eye!"
"Merely a coin tied in one corner—it makes a very effective weapon."
"Missus Pattuhson —— I have the honor to present the notorious Cunnel Blake!"
"Attend to your child!"
"Don't go near him—it's the notorious killer!"
"I adore a man who is brave—reckless—romantic! A fighter—a killer!"
"I could give up home—everything—and follow such a man to the ends of the earth!"
"Jackson, this lady says she is willing to leave her home and follow you to the ends of the earth."
"Tom Rumford! By the Lo'd it is! We drove you, a coward, from 'Magnolia'—and you dare come back and humiliate me?"
"You haven't any doubts about who's the better man, have you, Major?"
"My boy — my boy!"
" — sit down!"
"This man, at a public gambling-table, boasted that he could marry you, if he so desired."
"My object in coming here is to find out if he spoke the truth."
"May I call in the neighbors? I want them all to know you have vindicated your honor!"
"When my father returns, tell him the bank will let him have what money he needs."
"Tell him the old hound dog that he killed for cowardice came to life and chewed up his notes."
"This is all I have to remind me of the gentle Tom I loved. You are a bully — you take advantage of the fact that everyone is afraid of you."
"The only chance a little man has is to make people afraid of him."
"How many men did you kill with this?"
"I never killed any one—I never had but one fight. I only learned to make men fear me."
"And now I'm through with it all—I want to be the Tom you loved."
"Not a word—the Cunnel doesn't like unnecessary conversation!"
"Looks funny—a deadly killer chasin' butterflies!"
"I'll tell you a secret! That's the way my boy trained to become a fighter!"
"Isn't he a pretty little fellow?"
This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published in 1924, before the cutoff of January 1, 1928.
The longest-living author of this work died in 1976, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 46 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.
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