Tied Up for Tombstone
"LODESTONE, you flea-bitten, long-eared ancestor of a jack-rabbit, take a look at the best place the Lord ever made, and rejoice with me."
Lodestone wiggles his ears, kicks at a hoss-fly, narrowly missing my head, and looks with sad eyes down at the city of Piperock. Then he goes to sleep. Which shows that a burro ain't got no finer feelings.
We been away for quite a while—me and Lodestone. We pilgrims up the Bitter Root range to where old Blue Nose sticks into the clouds, crosses over and pilgrims back the other side, all of which takes up several months, and don't net me nothing but blisters and blasphemy.
I misses "Magpie" Simpkins a heap, and I welcomes the day when I can shake the hand of that long, loose-jointed hombre. Magpie is one of the leading citizens of Piperock, and until a few months ago, my pardner.
When I left to make my fortune he was setting there in his office—Magpie is the sheriff—and wondering how he can square things with the populace to get reelected.
He's of the lodge-pole type, and wears a goodly length of hair on his upper lip. He pleads with me not to leave him but for once in my life I turns a deaf ear to his siren voice, and herds my burro out of hearing.
Piperock ain't what a stranger would call a paradise on earth, and she don't qualify for the milk and honey, but she's a man's town—all up and down the street.
Me and Lodestone pilgrims through the dust up to "Buck" Masterson's saloon, and I goes inside. Buck and "Tellurium" are there, and they welcomes me like a lost brother. Buck salutes me with the proper ingredients, and we exchanges pleasantries. After we sort of gets used to each other again Buck hauls out a sheet of paper, and smooths it out on the bar.
"Take a look at that, Ike," says he. "There's something new."
I sizes her up. It's what resembles a newspaper—in some respects—but I can't seem to read it none to speak of. The label across the top resembles this—
TOLIP KCOREPIP EHT
The rest of the page is smears and blots.
"Looks like a Russian proclamation, Buck," says I. "Where did it come from?"
"Right here, Ike; that ex-pardner of yours published it."
"Magpie?" I asks, and they both nods. "That's his first edition," replies Buck. "He took over the office when a few of the local boys ran the editor across the border for slandering the community. That paper invades this here country about a month after you leaves, and she runs high along until the editor gets a call to uplift the community. Yesterday he beat the posse across the line, and Magpie gets out his maiden sheet. This-here feller speaks feelingly of lawlessness, and even goes so far as to make personal remarks about our morals. What he said about the town of Paradise was awful."
"Is Magpie still sheriff?" I asks.
"Uh-huh," admits Tellurium, who ain't friendly with Magpie. "Abe Anderson was running against him, and had a grand chance to win, but Abe's old weakness crops up and spoils things."
"Abe seen a chance to run off some Circle Star cows," explains Buck. "He runs foul of Magpie and three of the Circle Star punchers, and when they gets through convincing him that, 'Thou shalt not steal,' he ain't in shape to use votes. Magpie races alone and is elected by five votes."
"Well, well," says I, "a few months sure does change the map. I'll go down and see if that benighted son of a lodge-pole don't need some help."
I prods Lodestone down the street to where I sees a sign, which proclaims there's a newspaper office. I hitches my rolling stock and goes inside. Magpie is there. All I can see is the bottom of his boots, the seat of his pants and his elbows—the rest of him is behind a newspaper, as he leans back in a chair, with his feet on the table.
I leans against the table and rolls a smoke. He glances at me, switches his cigaret over to the other side of his mouth, and goes on trying to read. I say "trying to read" for the reason that he's got a paper he printed himself.
Pretty soon he yawns and lays the paper across his knees.
"Ike," says he, "that's some paper."
"Some ink, too, if that's anything to brag about," I replies. "When did you learn to write Russian? Maybe it's Chinook with the blind staggers, Magpie, but anyway she's a terrible language. What does them big letters at the top proclaim?"
"That? Huh! The Piperock Pilot!"
"Won't the letters run the other way, Magpie?"
"I reckon they would, Ike, but how in —— am I going to know what she reads? It's a danged sight easier for the public to read the print backwards than it is for me to read the type thataway. I'm glad to see yuh, Ike."
"Still follering the line of least resistance, eh, Magpie? I'm glad to see you, too."
"Accumulate anything on your trip, Ike?"
"Wood-ticks, fool-hens and a growing conviction that rich rock is scarce. How's things at the sheriff's office?"
"Tolable, Ike. Won by a narrow majority. I reckon if Abe had a lived we'd 'a' needed a recount. Lot of folks voted for him after he was dead."
"They would," I agrees. "Lot of folks around here ain't got no more ambition than to vote for a corpse. How comes it you're a editor? Has all the bad-men died off or has a moral wave hit Piperock?"
"I always been a critter of circumstance, Ike," he states, unfolding his long legs, and easing his gun handy-like. "I always been a disciple of advance, and I've worn all the skin off my shoulder trying to give the wheels of progress a lift. At times them wheels have slipped and sprained my immediate future, but I never peeped.
"When this here misguided editor fades across the horizon, me, being sheriff, appropriates this here plant and opines to run it as a public institution. There's twenty-five sheets of paper left and one can of ink. My first edition takes twelve sheets, and I hereby claims that a man, without no experience, what can rise to the occasion and put out a paper like that is a credit to the community."
"Didn't you have trouble finding all them letters, Magpie?"
"Trouble? Say, the ends of my fingers are so tender I can hold out my hands and feel the sun slide behind the hills. The next publication is problematical, Ike. I'm short of material, but I only figures on one more issue. I got a article set up, and I can't publish until the time is ripe."
"Uh-huh. 'Tombstone' Todd's obituary."
"From Willer Crick?" I asks, and Magpie nods.
"Uh-huh. Him and 'Cactus' Collins comes over here to help elect Abe Anderson, being as Abe was a relative. When Abe departs this here vale of tears they up and proclaims they're a pair of howling wolves, and that they're a permanent fixture around here until such a time as they lays me on my back and gestures over me with a spade. Awful pair of gobblers, Ike."
"Why not an obituary for Cactus, too, Magpie?"
"He's hiding out until such a time as his stummick is normal, Ike. He horns in on me yesterday, and gets pessimistic to my face. I'm busy on that obituary and don't like to be interrupted, so I beats him on the draw, accepts his gun as a subscription and induces him to eat a bucket of paste. Awful smelling mess, Ike. I'd opine that as far as my future horoscope is concerned his lips are sealed."
"Thirteen sheets and one obituary will be something to print," says I. "Has Tombstone made any advances?"
"Once. I was standing over there by the window, holding up one of them dinguses what contains type, when a bullet comes along and hits her plumb center. She collapses right there and ruins things. Some of that lead type enters my bosom, and for the space of a foot square on my manly chest I looks like a smallpox patient. This idea of being a man of letters ain't no prosaic pastime, Ike."
JUST then "Scenery" Sims darkens our doorway. Scenery is knee-high to a short Injun, and his voice hankers for oil. He looks mean-like at me and Magpie, and chaws some industrious. Pretty soon he expectorates copiiously on the floor, and orates—
"Want to quit taking the paper."
Magpie snaps out his gun and covers Scenery.
"Get down on your knees and wipe out that —— spot!" snorts Magpie. "What do yuh think this is—a corral?"
"I—uh—" begins Scenery, but the gun don't waver, so he takes the handkerchief off his neck, and scrubs our floor.
"This is a newspaper-office, Scenery," states Magpie. "You can't start your oration with a cloud-burst in here. Sabe? What you got against the paper, and whyfor don't yuh wish it no more?"
"I can't read her," he squeaks. "She's too backward to suit me. Of course I—uh—well, send her along, and I'll—uh—do the best I can. I got to go now."
He slips out with his hat in his hand, and lopes off up the street.
"That's business, Ike," laughs Magpie. "I'm going to make 'em like it."
"When yuh had the drop on him yuh ought to 'a 'collected in advance for another year," says I. "You sure need a manager, Magpie, for The Piperock Pilot, Limited—to thirteen sheets and a death notice."
"Howdy, gents," states a voice at the door. "Is this the only newspaper in town?"
That person is a novelty in cowland. He stands there, exuding perfume and prosperity from his Sunday clothes. We looks him over, from his shiny shoes to his hard hat, wonders at his pink cheeks, which match his necktie, and both nods.
"You answers your own question, stranger," states Magpie. "We sure got a monopoly on all news hereabouts. Want to subscribe?"
He ambles over and sets down on a stool and looks the place over. He takes off his hat, balances it on his knee, and produces some sheets of paper.
"What's your amusement rates?" he asks. "Half-page—maybe full."
Magpie rolls a fresh smoke and studies the feller.
"Well," he drawls, "the person who operates here ahead of me makes a fixed price of three dollars for six months, but I don't sabe no case in which he split the size. I don't guarantee to amuse nobody. I'll be honest with yuh, though. This here paper is on its last legs, but I'll danged near guarantee one more issue, and if yuh hankers for it I'll put yuh down for one copy at four-bits."
"You misunderstood me," he grins, "I mean advertising rates. I'm ahead of 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.'"
He puts his hat back on his head, and shuffles them sheets of paper:
"We are bringing to your town the greatest aggregation of stars that ever glowed over one set of footlights. Two Evas, two Topsies, three fee-rocious bloodhounds and eight——"
The side window spills its panes over the place, and this person's hat flips off his head, and lands in my lap, while a chunk of lead bores a neat hole in the wall behind the stranger. He freezes right there.
Magpie slips his gun across his lap, settles down a little lower in his chair, and lights his cigaret. I hands the hat back to its owner, and slides my chair a few inches further back.
"Eight what?" asks Magpie.
"Ca-ca-cakes of ice," he quavers, examining his hat. "My ——! Was that a—a—bullet?"
Magpie nods and scratches his chin.
"Bullet?" he wonders again. "Did—did somebody shoot at me?"
"Nope," says Magpie. "At me. What yuh going to do with the ice?"
He looks at Magpie for a minute, and then gasps—
"At a—a time like this?"
He tucks his hat under his arm, sneaks to the door, and goes around the corner so fast his coat simply cracks.
Magpie slips his gun loose and spins the cylinder, hitches up his belt and yawns: "Ike, I ain't got nothing to prove who it was but I has the feeling that Tombstone is going too danged far. There's such a thing as personal animosity, but when yuh bust into a man's business and cause him financial loss it's time to start a probe. That show person was about to help us pay our overhead expenses, but now he's gone gun-shy.
"I hereby deputizes you to operate this here plant, while I fulfils the obligations of my oath concerning public nuisances. You got plenty of ammunition, Ike?"
"I ain't no editor, Magpie," I objects. "I can't even sign my own name so folks can read it."
"Sign mine," says he. "You're editor pro tempore. Sabe?" And then he slips out of the door.
I looks around, casual-like, places my .41 beside me on a chair, and sets down out of line with any window or door. It's warm in there, and there's a funny smell about the place. I had several scoops of gall and wormwood in Buck's place, and the combination woos sleep in copious gobs. My sombrero slips over my face, and I sleep.
Sudden-like I wakes, and believe me she's a rude awakening. Somebody kicks the chair out from under me, and proceeds to knead my abdomen with their knees, toes, fingers, thumbs and head. When that part is over they turns me on my face and rakes me fore and aft with a pair of long-roweled spurs, while they links their hands in my hair and hammers my forehead on the floor. When I ain't got more than a glimmer of light left in my system they seems to draw aside and rest.
"There!" I hears a voice state. "Next time yuh prints your danged newspaper you'll please leave my name out. Sabe? I ain't no shepherd, and my shirt is as clean as yours!"
"'Dirty Shirt' Jones, you're an assassin," says I, weak-like.
He pulls my hat off the bridge of my nose and takes a look at me.
"Ike, I'm glad to see yuh back," says he. "When did yuh get back?"
"Today. Are you the reception committee?"
"Me? Nope. I'm an enraged citizen, Ike. I mistook yuh for the editor."
"No mistake, Dirty, I'm him."
Of course I got that . 41 in my hands when I makes that statement, and Dirty don't make no demonstration.
"Take it easy," I advises. "I ain't the one you're sore at. Magpie is the regular editor but he's down at the jail."
Dirty chaws for a few seconds, and hitches up his pants:
"Much obliged, Ike. Sorry I licked yuh thataway. Yuh see that paper orates that the population ought to get sanitary—whatever that is. He states that a dirty shirt designates a shepherd—dang his hide! Well, Ike, I gives yuh good afternoon."
"Good afternoon ain't much to give a man after you've give him ——," I opines. "But I'll take it, Dirty, old-timer. I reckon I'll need everything I can get before I goes to press."
I sets there and complains bitterly to myself about folks who don't keep up to date on news, wipes the worst of the ink off my face, and goes back to sleep.
"Slim" Hawkins woke me up. Slim would make a good running-mate for Magpie. He's built in the same proportions. He's had a few drinks, and is as serious as a owl.
"Ike," says he, "take a look at my eyes and see if they're all right."
"Little off color but pointing straight, Slim. What's wrong?"
"Somebody drops a paper at the ranch today, and when I tries to peruse same I finds that I'm left-handed and cross-eyed. I've suffered a heap, Ike, and while I hopes for the best I fears the worst. I'd hate to go around looking at things backwards thataway. Might as well learn to read Chinese. Where's the educated party what operates this here newspaper?"
"He's—" I begins, but an apparition which I deciphers to be Dirty Shirt, comes in the door.
He seems to have met disaster. His hair has been pawed down over a pair of black eyes, and over his head and under one arm hangs what is left of a framed map of Montana, which adorned Magpie's office.
HE FEELS painfully in his pockets, takes out three silver dollars, and lays 'em on the table.
"Dirty Shirt Jones—three months," he states, slow and sad-like.
"Your subscription expired?" I asks, and he nods.
"Uh-huh. I reckon. Everything else has."
"Better take back some of it," I advises. "This here paper is about to cease. One more effort cleans the rack."
"I know," nods Dirty Shirt. "Keep the money and send me a copy. If Magpie can edit like he can fight I'll covet that copy."
"Keep that frame to put it in," says I. "You met the editor, did yuh?"
Dirty squints at me, adjusts that frame to a easier position, and rubs his sore eyes.
"Met him!" he snorts. "Met ——! We mingled!"
Dirty weaves out of the door and points up the street. Slim looks at them three dollars and then lays three more beside 'em.
"I don't sabe the game, Ike, but I'm matching Dirty's ante. I don't know what Magpie's argument is, but anybody what can make Dirty Shirt pay three dollars for a left-handed newspaper must have something besides conversation."
"But Dirty Shirt was sore," says I. "He came down to lick the editor."
"Me, too, Ike. I came with malice in my heart but I goes away plumb meek. Dirty Shirt licked thunder out of me once, so I'm three dollars thankful that he met Magpie first. Have a little drink?"
"That's the first United States I've heard spoken since I got home," says I. "But I can't leave the office alone. You go up and have one, and then play editor while I goes up. Sabe?"
Slim comes back in a few minutes, and holds down the place while I pilgrims up to Buck's place. Me and Buck and "Half-Mile" Smith leans on the door and discusses local conditions.
"Show troupe in town," states Half-Mile. "Came in on the stage. Seven or eight people, two colored persons and some dogs. They got a drum and a lot of horns, etcettery. I'd opine we'll have some music."
"I love a good show," says Buck. "The last good one I seen was at Silver Bend. They played Shakespeare. Had a ghost and I was just drunk enough to enjoy it."
"Give me a drink, quick!" pants a voice at the door, and into the place comes "Ricky" Henderson. He takes a long drink out of the bottle, and leans against the bar.
"Suffering surcingles!" he pants. "I've sure had one job! That or'nary hombre, Tombstone Todd, comes into my place a while ago, and climbs into a chair.
"'Young feller,' says he, 'my hair and whiskers are too noticeable, so I admires to see 'em on the floor.' He hauls out a six-gun, lays it across his lap, and leans back in the chair. 'Young feller,' says he again, 'a razor what pulls is an abomination and a barber what uses one is flirting with the undertaker. Let your judgment be your guide.'"
"Was he satisfied?" asks Buck.
"I'm here, ain't I?" grins Ricky. "But I wouldn't do it again for a million dollars."
"And you with a razor in your hand all this time, and his head tilted back?" wonders Half-Mile, aloud.
Ricky stares at Half-Mile and considers the remark.
"I seen a colored brother with a razor once—" began Half-Mile, but he happens to glance towards the door.
We all takes a look.
"Speak of the devil and—" murmurs Buck, but the colored person at the door bursts into profanity that would shame a professor from a mule college.
"Why didn't yuh come back, Ike?" he wails. "Sus-somebody sneaked in, hit me over the head, dud-dragged me into the back room and poured a can of ink all over me! My ——! It won't never come off! He said he wanted to make me eat some paste, but he couldn't find it. Look at me! All inked to ——!"
"Gosh!" exclaims Magpie from the doorway. "Ain't that too danged bad! That's the only can of ink there was left."
"Too bad, eh?" howls Slim. "I wish I knowed the name of that hombre."
"Did he speak feelingly of paste?" asks Magpie.
"Uh-huh," agrees Slim, drawing figures on the bar with his inky finger. "He sort of choked over the word. He——"
"Hey! Sam!" yells a voice at the door, and we observes a stranger in our midst.
It's sort of dark inside, but he seems to know what he wants. He ambles straight up to Slim, and grabs him by the arm.
"You slew-footed, wobble-jointed son of a cannibal!" he yelps. "Where's them pink silk underclothes of mine, eh?"
Slim Hawkins is slow to anger, but when he does get to going he's hard to stop. He climbs under and over and through this stranger like he was searching for something, and when he gets through this feller ain't got nothing on but a look of wonderment and one sleeve of his undershirt. Slim looks over the pile of clothes on the floor, and shakes his head:
"I can't find 'em," he states, serious-like. "Furthermore I don't admire to be called a son of a cannibal, Mister Man!"
The feller braces his hands behind him on the floor, and shakes his head like he was trying to collect his thoughts. He squints at Slim, and then explodes:
"My ——! You ain't Sam!"
"A slight inquiry would have saved us all this search," says Slim. "Who is Sam?"
"One of my company—my Uncle Tom."
"So?" drawled Slim. "You with this here 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' outfit?"
"Yes," says he. "I'm Simon Legree."
Slim picks the gent up by one leg and an arm, carries him out and dumps him right into the street without no clothes on.
"There!" yells Slim, as the stranger hits the dirt. "I've read all about yuh, Mister Legree, and this is one colored person yuh can't run no sandy on. Sabe?"
This Legree person don't linger. It's about two hundred yards to Holt's hotel door, and he negotiates the distance in the time it takes Slim to shoot six shots into the dirt behind him. On his way he meets "Cobalt" Williams. Cobalt steps to one side to let him past, catches his spur in the dirt, and sets down. It spoils his aim, he tears the knob off the door after it shuts behind Legree. Cobalt gets up and comes on down to the saloon, shaking his head.
"What yuh trying to do—kill him? Yuh danged fool!" snorts Slim.
Cobalt had reached for the bottle, but he turns to look at Slim and his hand drops. He pushes his hat back and stares at Slim and seems to swaller with difficulty.
"Ex-cuse me," he says, sort of to himself. "No more Paradise hooch for mine! Mike Pelly said it was a hundred and twenty proof, and this proves it. First I see a naked man running around the main street, and then I meets a colored brother what looks like Slim Hawkins. I'm through! Sabe? I'm going home—me!"
He ducks out, gets his bronc at the rack and points out of town.
"That's what I'd call a temperance lecture in ink," opines Magpie. "As editor and a man of letters I congratulates yuh. We can hereby reverse that old saying, 'He who runs may read' and make it, 'He who reads may run.'"
WE INAUGURATES a poker game and plays until almost dark, when W» sudden-like we hears the sound of music, and stampedes to the door. Here comes that show bunch down the street, and stops in front of the old Mint Hall. They got a banner what proclaims there will be a show tonight, and "Mighty" Jones is packing the banner, with his chest stuck out like a fool-hen after a feed.
We cashes in and goes over to the band.
"When did you start to be a actor, Mighty?" asks Magpie, but the feller what Slim took apart steps between Magpie and Mighty and peers at Magpie's star.
"Pardon me," says he, "I see you're the sheriff."
"You're pardoned, and I congratulates yuh on your eyesight," replies Magpie.
"I've lost my dogs," says he. "Somebody must 'a' stole 'em."
By this time most everybody in Piperock has congregated around. Music sure is a magnet for folks and dogs.
"Pick out what yuh want," says Magpie, indicating any amount of canines, circling around through people's legs. "Losing a few dogs ain't no disaster around here."
"Mine are valuable dogs," states Legree, in a loud tone. "Trained dogs. Our show can't proceed without them dogs."
"Name, age and description," says Magpie, hauling out a little note-book. "Also any distinguishing marks and brands."
"One bloodhound, crossed with St. Bernard and collie; color, yaller; named Violet."
"War-hoo-o-o-o!" howls a dog up the street.
"Yeo-o-o-o-ow!" yells somebody. "Look out!"
There's a sudden movement at the far end of the congregation. I sees a bronc turn a handspring, a pair of cream-colored broncs leaves their halters at the hitch-rack, while they comes over to visit us, and Violet is no longer a lost dog.
Violet is about the size of a he-wolf, and she seems to think she can outrun the string of tomato cans which are tied to her tail. She goes through, under and over that crowd, and what she don't do to us is left for that pair of broncs and the buckboard. A million dog-fights start right there.
Me and Legree are close together and the confusion seems to bring us close to each other. We hits the sidewalk together and I'm underneath. A couple of rotten boards break, and yours truly disappears.
When I recovers sufficient-like to peek out it's about all over. Every bronc that was tied to the rack is gone, and part of one rack is missing. Most of the crowd is on the far side of the street, but our side is still well represented. Two local dogs are still hauling at each other.
Dirty Shirt Jones' head protrudes from the side of that big drum, and his right arm is wedged straight up, making him look like a drownding man what is going down for the last time.
Mighty Jones has got one boot through the mechanical end of a big brass horn, while from inside the other boot protrudes that banner, with the proclamation missing.
Magpie is lying near me, with both feet through Wick Smith's picket fence, and he's still studying that little note-book.
"Was that last one Lucy or Hannibal?" he asks, slow and deliberate.
"It—it don't make no matter," says a weak voice, "they're all gone past anyway," and the man who got his hat punctured in the newspaper office rises up from behind the fence, and tugs at the brim of his hat, which is hanging around his neck.
I goes out and helps to cut Dirty Shirt loose from the drum, when up comes one of Holt's kids.
"Mister," says he to the show feller, "I seen a man tie them cans on your dogs."
"Give the sheriff a description of him," says he, excited-like. "I offers ten dollars reward for the conviction of the persons connected with the dastardly outrage."
"Cheap enough," agrees Magpie. "Did he have a long mustache and long hair?"
"Naw. He didn't have no hair on his face a-tall," replies the kid.
"Must a been an outside job," proclaims Magpie. "All the men in Piperock wear hair on their faces, except Slim Hawkins, and he wears ink."
Me and Magpie pilgrims home and uses up a bottle of hoss liniment.
"When yuh going to get that Tombstone person?" I asks, after we finishes our supper. "There ain't no sense in leaving a critter like him loose, Magpie."
"He's a ornery hombre all right, all right," agrees Magpie. "He ain't so dangerous as he is plumb mean, Ike. He's shot at me several times, but as he ain't hit me yet I reckon he's trying to scare me. Must 'a' been Cactus what painted Slim with the ink. Me and Slim are the same build.
"I sure wish that Tombstone could live long enough to read his obituary, Ike. She's a bird. I sure dug deep into my soul for that stuff, and I surprises myself with what I writes. Them two is sore over the election. They opined to be deputies under Anderson."
"That paper must 'a' printed some truths about folks," I opines, and Magpie grins:
"You said something, Ike. He sure did ride folks. Yuh ought to see what he said about Paradise folks. I reckon they're just about starting to boil over down there."
"Didn't you print yours right soon, Magpie?" I asks. "Seems to me that it's a weekly."
"Uh-huh—comes out on Friday. Yuh see I had to change that day right off the reel, 'cause if I had any hangings to attend to it would interfere with the paper. I looks into the future, Ike."
"Well," says I, "it don't make much difference now, being as the ink is all gone."
"That's so. I wish you'd 'a' stayed there and 'tended to business, Ike."
"And got all inked up, eh? I never did have any luck, and if it had 'a' been me somebody would 'a' come in and helped Cactus find that paste jar. Too bad the show got busted up thataway."
"Uh-huh," yawns Magpie. "We ain't had a good show for a long time, but I don't admire a show what depends on three dogs and eight cakes of ice. Let's hit the hay."
That night somebody comes down and paints a skull and cross bones on our door, and it makes Magpie sore.
"I'm commencing to get riled internally, Ike," he states, when he views said works of art. "You go back and hold down the newspaper, and in a little while I'll show yuh the scalp of this artist. Rustle around and see if there's any ink left.
"I got that obituary all fixed up left-handed, and she's cached under a soap-box behind the printing machine. Don't jiggle it 'cause she's fragile as ——! I left that page just like she was for the other paper, but I got a place in it what fits this here masterpiece of mine. If Tombstone should make a mistake and hit me yuh won't need the obituary. Sabe?"
"Uh-huh, I'll just run the rest, Magpie. It looks like a bundle o' crape anyway."
"And Ike," he reminds me, as I buckles on my gun, "yuh take that type stuff and put it inside the press. Sabe? Then yuh take that roller thing and pour on some ink, roll her over the letters, slap on a sheet of paper and twist that handle down hard."
"You furnish the news, Magpie," says I. "I'll hold the wheels of progress for Tombstone Todd."
I GOES up to Buck's place, and settles some elixir under my belt, while me and Buck talks over the humdrum existence we're leading.
"Dirty Shirt is still going around with his right hand up in the air," laughs Buck. "Reckon he's flagged every one in sight."
"How's the show outfit?" I asks.
"Right miserable, I reckon. All of 'em except one left on the stage this morning. That exception—a colored person—mistakes Slim for a blood-brother, and being as Slim ain't back yet, I'd say they went quite a ways. I never seen fast black fade the way that person did.
"That other colored member didn't have much to say this morning. He was packing one of them slide horns in the band last night, and when the buckboard hit him he sails right into Pete Gonyer. Him and Pete holds about even until Pete gets his hands loose, and then he winds that horn around the feller's neck so many times that we has to lay that colored gent across an anvil and cut it loose with a cold-chisel."
"Seen anything of Tombstone Todd or Cactus Collins?" I asks, but Buck says:
"Nope. Somebody ought to puncture that pair of Jaspers, Ike. I figure there's only one critter what is meaner than Tombstone Todd, and there's a bounty on his hide. I ain't been drunk for six years, Ike, but when Tombstone Todd stops enough lead to make him a spirit I'm going to celebrate. When does Magpie aim to exterminate said human coyote?"
"Magpie suffers from softening of the heart," says I "but him or Tombstone is due to hunt the hereafter right soon."
I leaves there, and pilgrims down to the newspaper office, but I don't walk right inside. Not me. The Harper tribe ain't skittish of trouble, and my nose ain't a stranger to powder smoke, but I'm cautious.
I Injuns up to the back window, flattens my carcass against the wall and peers inside. I ain't taking no chances. Sabe? It's a little too early to open up, and the sunshine is nice and warm. Everything is peaceful-looking around Piperock, so I sets down there on a box against the wall, and communes thusly:
"Ike Harper, you sure do live in the best little town on earth. Peaceful and quiet—no hurry or worry. Plenty of time to live and no questions asked. What if I am a editor? It sure is worth while to live simply and quietly in a community where brotherly love is the motto and where peace doves nest and suckle their young."
Sudden-like I hears the dull rattle of many hoofs, and down the street comes a lot of men on hosses. They completes a picture of a peaceful Western village. There ain't no boisterous or unseemly language as they ambles along through the dust—just the jingle of bit-chains and the squeak of saddles.
They don't look like they was going far, 'cause they don't seem to have no baggage. One of 'em is carrying a big bucket, and another seems to have a bundle in his arms.
They swings down towards me, but I merely yawns. They stops in front of my office, and dismounts. I reckon it's my chore to go out and get 'em to subscribe, but I don't do it. I got enough subscriptions. They must 'a' thought the only way to get into a newspaper office was by main force, so they picks up a piece of lodge-pole, and knocks the door down.
Comes one shot—no more. Out of curiosity, more than anything else, I sort of leans forward on my box and takes note of what I can see. Out in front the crowd sort of surrounds somebody, what ain't got no clothes on. I don't hear much conversation what ain't profane, and pretty soon I sees some feathers drift away on the breeze. Two broncs are linked together with that pole, a bundle what looks like a mighty buzzard is straddled the pole, and they all moves away as quietly as they came.
I watches 'em go away, and then I yawns some more and enters the sacred precincts of The Piperock Pilot. I hunts all over the place until I finds a can with a little ink left in it. I looks under the soap-box and finds that obituary. After considerable trouble I deciphers same, and this is it:
EPITAPH ON TOMBSTONE
He was a bad man from Wilier Crick.
His bluff was good but it didn't stick.
He shot at the sheriff till the sheriff got sore,
Now his boots leave tracks on that beautiful shore.
I wipes the tears off my cheeks when I reads it. Magpie said he had put his soul into it, but I never knowed before how deep Magpie's soul really was. It's a hy-iu composition, but I got a better idea. I takes it over to where them lead letters repose, and reconstructs the thing a bit.
I ain't no poet, but in a time like this a man's spirit guides his fingers. I works for an hour, trying to make the blamed things stand up long enough to be read backwards, and I'm sore enough to kick a baby when Magpie shows up. He looks at me and grins, when he sees what I'm doing, and rolls a smoke.
"One of 'em has left, Ike," he states. "Hank Padden rode in a while ago, and said he met Cactus Collins on his way to Wilier Crick. I'll get Tombstone before night. Sabe?"
"Them is noble resolutions, Magpie. You know how to make this stuff stand up while she leaves her message on paper?"
"Sure. What yuh want to print it for, Ike? We ain't got no paper to waste."
"Magpie," says I, "a editor likes to see his stuff printed. I got a old piece of paper what will do for this."
Magpie sets the stuff in a little oblong affair, rolls on some ink, lays on the piece of paper, and twists down the handle. This is how she looks:
TAR ON TOMBSTONE
He was a bad man from Wilier Crick,
On his birthday suit grows feathers thick.
Feathers and tar instead of a grave,
Mistook for an editor 'cause of a shave.
Magpie reads it all through. He sets down on a box, rolls a smoke, and reads it some more. He walks out to the door, looks around, and comes back.
"Who?" he asks.
"Paradise folks, Magpie."
"Did you see him in here?"
"Uh-huh. He was laying for us."
Magpie takes his gun out and looks it over, sad-like. He stares at the door for a minute, and then—
"What's the notice on the door?"
He walks over and looks. Somebody has printed a notice and pinned it on that busted door, and she reads like this—
THIS PAPER HAS QUIT FOR KEEPS
I went back and got that can of ink, and a stick, and I signs it—
"What for, Ike?" asks Magpie. "What did he have to do with it?"
"Come back here, and I'll show yuh."
I takes him back to the table, and shows him a line of lead letters setting there on the table. It's the biggest in sight, and they reads:
EPITAF FOR MAGPY SIMPKIN. BRAVE
MEN AND DARN FULES DON'T SKARE.
HE WAS A DARN FULE MAY HE
REST IN PIECE
We walks almost to the door, when Magpie goes back and gets that stick and the can of ink.
"I'll give him all the credit coming to him, Ike," says he, and underneath Tombstone's name he prints—
EDITOR PRO TEMPORE