Wolfville/Chapter 23

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CHAPTER XXIII.

Piñon Bill's Bluff.

"This narrative is what you-all might call some widespread," said the Old Cattleman, as he beamed upon me, evidently in the best of humors. "It tells how Piñon Bill gets a hoss on Jack Moore; leaves the camp bogged up to the saddle-girths in doubt about who downs Burke; an' stakes the Deef Woman so she pulls her freight for the States.

"Piñon Bill is reckoned a hard game. He's only in Wolfville now an' then, an' ain't cuttin' no figger in public calc'lations more'n it's regarded as sagacious to pack your gun while Piñon Bill's about.

"No; he don't down no white men no one ever hears of, but thar's stories about how he smuggles freight an' plunder various from Mexico, an' drives off Mexican cattle, an' once in awhile stretches a Mexican himse'f who objects to them enterprises of Piñon Bill's; but thar's nothin' in sech tales to interest Americans, more'n to hear 'em an' comment on 'em as plays.

"But while Piñon Bill never turns his talents to American, them liberties he takes with Greasers gives him a heap of bad repoote, as a mighty ornery an' oneasy person; an' most of us sorter keeps tab on him whenever he favors Wolfville with his presence.

"'This time he collides with Jack Moore, an' so to speak, leaves the drinks on Jack, he's been trackin' 'round camp mebby it's six weeks.

"'Likewise thar's an old longhorn they calls the 'Major'; he's been hangin' about for even longer yet. Don't go to figgerin' on no hostilities between this Piñon Bill an' the Major, for their trails never does cross once. Another thing' Piñon Bill ain't nacheraliy hostile neither; ain't what you-all calls trailin' trouble; whereas the Major's also a heap too drunk to give way to war, bein' tanked that a-way continuous.

"Which I don't reckon thar's the slightest doubt but the Major's a bigger sot than Old Monte, though the same is in dispoote; Cherokee Hall an' Boggs a-holdin' he is; an' Doc Peets an' Tutt playin' the other end; Enright an' Jack Moore, ondecided.

"Peets confides in me of an' concernin' the Major that thar's a time—an' no further up the trail than five years—when the Major is shore-'nough a Major; bein' quartermaster or some sech bluff in the army.

"But one day Uncle Sam comes along an' wants to cash in; an' thar this yere crazy-hoss Major is with ten times as many chips out as he's got bank-roll to meet, an' it all fatigues the gov'ment to that extent the Major's cashiered, an' told to vamos the army for good.

"I allers allows it's whiskey an' kyards gets the Major's roll that time. Peets says he sees him 'way back once over some'ers near the Mohave Desert—Wingate, mebby—an' whiskey an' poker has the Major roped; one by the horns, the other by the hoofs; an' they jest throws him an' drug him, an' drug him an' throws him, alternate. The Major never shakes loose from the loops of them vices; none whatever.

"An' that's mighty likely, jest as I says, how the Major finds himse'f cashiered an' afoot; an' nothin' but disgrace to get rid of an' whiskey to get, to fill the future with.

"So it comes when I trails up on the Major he's a drunkard complete, hangin' 'round with a tin-horn an' a handful of dice, tryin' to get Mexicans or Chinamen to go ag'in 'em for any small thing they names.

"It's on account of this yere drunkard the Major that the Deef Woman comes stagin' it in with Old Monte one day. Got a papoose with her, the Deef Woman has, a boy comin' three, an' it's my firm belief, which this view is common an' frequent with all Wolfville, as how the Deef Woman's the Major's wife.

"It ain't no cinch play that this female's deef, neither; which it's allers plain she hears the most feeblesome yelp of that infant, all the way from the dance-hall to the O. K. House, an' that means across the camp complete.

"Boggs puts it up she merely gives it out she's deef that a-way to cut off debate with the camp, an' decline all confidences goin' an' comin'.

"Thar's no reason to say the Deef Woman's the Major's wife, more'n she tumbles into camp as onlooked for as Old Monte sober, an' it's easy to note she s'prises an' dismays the Major a lot, even drunk an' soaked with nose paint as he shorely is.

"The Deef Woman has a brief pow-wow with him alone over at the O. K. House, followin' of which the Major appears the whitiest an' the shakiest I ever beholds him—the last bein' some strong as a statement—an' after beggin' a drink at the Red Light, p'ints out afoot for Red Dog, an' is seen no more.

"What the Deef Woman says to the Major, or him to her; or what makes him hit the trail for Red Dog that a-way no one learns. The Deef Woman ain't seemin' to regard the Major's jumpin' the outfit as no loss, however. Wherein she's plenty accurate, for that Major shorely ain't worth ropin' to brand.

"After he's gone—an' the Major's moccasin track ain't never seen in Wolfville no more, he's gone that good—the next we-alls hears of the deal, this yere Deef Woman's playin' the piano at the dance-hall.

"Doc Peets an' Enright, likewise the rest, don't like this none whatever, for she don't show dance-hall y'ear marks, an' ain't the dance-hall brand; but it looks like they's powerless to interfere.

"Peets tries to talk to her, but she blushes an' can't hear him; while Enright an' Missis Rucker—which the last bein' a female herse'f is rung in on the play—don't win out nothin' more. Looks like all the Deef Woman wants is to be let alone, while she makes a play the best she can for a home-stake.

"I pauses to mention, however, that durin' the week the Deef Woman turns her game at the piano—for she don't stay only a week as the play runs out—she comes mighty near killin' the dance-hall business. The fact is this were Deef Woman plays that remarkable sweet no one dances at all; jest nacherally sets'round hungerin' for them melodies, an' cadences to that extent they actooally overlooks drinks.

"That's right; an' you can gamble your deepest chip when folks begins to overlook drinks, an' a glass of whiskey lasts energetic people half an hour, they's shorely some rapt.

"Even the coyotes cashes in an' quits their howls whenever the Deef Woman drug her chair up to that piano an' throws loose. An' them coyotes afterward, when she turns up her box an' stops dealin', gets that bashful an' taciturn they ain't sayin' a word; but jest withholds all yells entire the rest of the night.

"But thar's no use talkin' hours about the Deef Woman's music. It only lasts a week; even if Wolfville does brag of it yet.

"It's this a-way: It's while Piñon Bill is romancin' round the time I mentions, that we-alls rolls outen our blankets one mornin' an' picks up a party whose name's Burke. This yere Burke is shot in the back; plumb dead, an' is camped when we finds him all cold an' stiff out back of the New York store.

"The day before, Burke, who's a miner, diggin' an' projectin' 'round over in the Floridas, is in camp layin' in powder an' fuse a whole lot, with which he means to keep on shootin' up the he'pless bosoms of the hills like them locoed miner people does.

"At night he's drunk; an' while thar's gents as sees Burke as late, mebby it's two hours after the last walse at the dance-hall, thar's nobody who ups an' imparts how Burke gets plugged. All Wolfville knows is that at first-drink time in the mornin', thar this Burke is plumb petered that a-way.

"An' the worst feature shorely is that the bullet goes in his back, which makes it murder plain. Thar ain't a moccasin track to he'p tell who drops this yere Burke. Nacrerally, everybody's deeply taken to know who does it; for if thar's a party in camp who's out to shoot when your back's turned, findin' of him an' hangin' him can't be too pop'lar an' needful as a play. But, as I remarks, we're baffled, an' up ag'inst it absoloote. No one has the least notion who gets this yere Burke. It's money as is the object of the murder, for Burke's war-bags don't disclose not a single centouse when the committee goes through 'em prior to the obsequies.

"It's two days the camp is talkin' over who does this crime, when Texas Thompson begins to shed a beam of light. This last was onlooked for, an' tharfore all the more interestin'.

"Texas Thompson is a jedge of whiskey sech as any gent might tie to. He's a middlin' shot with a Colt's .44 an' can protect himse'f at poker. But nobody ever reckons before that Texas can think. Which I even yet deems this partic'lar time a inspiration, in which event Texas Thompson don't have to think.

"It's over in the Red Light the second after. noon when Texas turns loose a whole lot.

"'Enright,' he says, 'I shore has a preemonition this yere Burke gets plugged by Piñon Bill.'

"'How does the kyards run so as to deal s'picions on Piñon Bill?' says Enright.

"'This a-way,' says Texas, some confident an' cl'ar; 'somebody downs Burke; that's dead certain. Burke don't put that hole in the middle of his back himse'f; no matter how much he reckons it improves him. Then, when it's someone else who is it? Now,' goes on Texas, as glib as wolves, 'yere's how I argues: You-all don't do it; Peets don't do it; Boggs don't do it; thar's not one of us who does it. An' thar you be plumb down to Piñon Bill. In the very nacher of the deal, when no one else does it an' it's done, Piñon Bill's got to do it. I tells you as shore as my former wife at Laredo's writin' insultin' letters to me right now, this yere Piñon Bill's the party who shoots up that miner gent Burke.'

"What Texas Thompson says makes an impression; which it's about the first thoughtful remark he ever makes, an' tharfore we're prone to give it more'n usual attention.

"We imbibes on it an' talks it up an' down, mebby it's half an hour; an' the more we drinks an' the harder we thinks, the cl'arer it keeps gettin' that mighty likely this yere Texas has struck the trail. At last Jack Moore, who's, as I often says, prompt an' vig'lant that a-way, lines out to hunt this yere Piñon Bill.

"Whyever do they call him Piñon Bill? Nothin' much; only once he comes into camp drunk an' locoed; an' bein' in the dark an' him hawg-hungry, he b'iles a kettle of Piñon-nuts, a-holdin' of 'em erroneous to be beans, an' as sech aimin' to get some food outen 'em a whole lot. He goes to sleep while he's pesterin' with 'em, an' when the others tumbles to his game in the mornin', he's branded as 'Piñon Bill' ever more.

"When Jack hops out to round-up Piñon Bill, all he does is go into the street. The first thing he notes is this yere Piñon Bill's pony standin' saddled over by the O. K. House, like he plans to pull his freight.

"'Which that bronco standin' thar,' says Jack to Enright, 'makes it look like Texas calls the turn with them surmises.' An' it shorely does.

"This pony makes Jack's play plenty simple; all he does now is to sa'nter 'round the pony casooal like an' lay for Piñon Bill.

"Jack's too well brought up to go surgin' into rooms lookin' for Piñon Bill, where Jack's eyes comin' in outen the sun that a-way, can't see for a minute nohow, an' where Piñon Bill has advantages. It's better to wait for him outside.

"You-all saveys how it's done in the West. When a gent's needed you allers opens the game with a gun-play.

"'Hold up your hands!' says you, sorter indicatin' a whole lot at your prey with a gun.

"Which, by the way, if he don't enter into the sperit of the thing prompt an' p'int his paws heavenward an' no delay, you-all mustn't fall into no abstractions an' forget to shoot some. When you observes to a fellow-bein' that a-way: Hold up your hands!' you must be partic'lar an' see he does it. Which if you grows lax on this p'int he's mighty likely to put your light out right thar.

"An' jest as Jack Moore tells me once when we're puttin' in some leesure hours an' whiskey mingled, you don't want to go too close to standup your gent. Over in the Gunnison country, Jack says, a marshal he knows gets inadvertent that a-way, an' thoughtless, an' goes up close.

"'Throw up your hands' says this yere marshal.

"His tone shows he's ennuied; he has so many of these yere blazers to run; that's why he's careless, mebby. When the party throws up his hands, he is careful an knocks the marshal's gun one side with his left hand, bein' he's too close as I says, at the same time pullin' his own wherewith he then sends that marshal to the happy huntin' grounds in one motion. Before ever that Gunnison offishul gets it outen his head that that sport's holdin' up his hands, he's receivin' notice on high to hustle 'round an' find his harp an' stand in on the eternal chorus for all he's worth.

"'Which the public,' says Jack Moore, the time he relates about this yere Gunnison marshal bein over-played that time, 'takes an' hangs the killer in a minute. An' he's shorely a bad man.

"'Does you-all want to pray?" says one of the gents who's stringin' of him.

"'No, Ed," he says that a-way, "prayin's a blind trail to my eyes an' I can't run it a inch."

"‘"What for a racket," says this yere Ed, "would it be to pick out a sport to pray for you a whole lot; sorter play your hand?"

"‘"That's all right," says this culprit. "Nominate your sharp an' tell him to wade in an' roll his game. I reckons it's a good hedge, an' a little prayin' mebby does me good."

"'Tharupon the committee puts for'ard a gent who's a good talker; but not takin' an interest much, he makes a mighty weak orison, that a-way. Thar's nohody likes it, from the culprit, who's standin' thar with the lariat 'round his neck, to the last gent who's come up. This party blunders along, mebby it's a minute, when the culprit, who's plumb disgusted, breaks in.

"‘"That's a hell of a pra'r," he says, "an' I don't want no more of it in mine. Gimme a drink of whiskey, gents, an' swing me off."

"'The committee, whose sympathies is all with this yere party who's to hang, calls down the gent a heap who's prayin', gives the other his forty drops, an' cinches him up some free of the ground; which the same bein' ample for strang'lation.

"'But,' concloods Jack, 'while they hangs him all right an' proper, that don't put off the funeral of the marshal none, who gets careless an' goes too close.' An' you bet Jack's right.

"But goin' back: As I remarks, Jack stands round loose an' indifferent with his eye on the pony of Piñon Bill's, which it looks now like this yere Bill is aware of Jack's little game. He comes out shore-'nough, but he's organized. He's got his gun in his hand; an' also he's packin' the Deef Woman's yearlin' in front of his breast an' face.

"Jack gives him the word, but Piñon Bill only laughs. Then Jack makes a bluff with his gun like he's goin' to shoot Piñon Bill, the infant, an' all involved tharin. This yere last move rattles Piñon Bill, an' he ups an' slams loose at Jack. But the baby's in his way as much mebby as it is in Jack's, an' he only grazes Jack's frame a whole lot, which amounts to some blood an' no deep harm.

"'Down his pony, Jack!' shouts Dave Tutt, jumpin' outen the Red Light like he aims to get in on the deal.

"But this yere Piñon Bill shifts the cut on 'em.

"'If one of you-alls so much as cracks a cap,' he says, 'I blows the head offen this yere blessed child.'

"An' tharupon he shoves his gun up agin that baby's left y'ear that a-way, so it shore curdles your blood. He does it as readily as if it's grown-up folks. It shore sends a chill through me; an' Dan Boggs is that 'fected he turns plumb sick. Boggs ain't eatin' a thing, leastwise nothin' but whiskey, for two days after he sees Piñon Bill do it.

"'That's on the level,' says this Piñon Bill ag'in.—The first vestich of a gun-play I witnesses, or if any gent starts to follow me ontil I'm a mile away, I'll send this yearlin' scoutin' after Burke. An' you-alls hears me say it.'

"Thar it is; a squar' case of stand-off. Thar ain't a gent who's game to make a move. Seein' we ain't got a kyard left to play, this yere Piñon Bill grins wide an' satisfactory, an' swings into the saddle.

"All this time—which, after all, it ain't so long—the baby ain't sayin' nothin', and takes the deal in plumb silence. But jest as Piñon Bill lands in the saddle it onfurls a yell like a wronged panther. That's what brings the Deef Woman stampedin' to the scene. She don't hear a morsel of all this riot Jack an' Tutt an' Piñon Bill kicks up; never even gets a hint of Piñon Bill's six-shooter. But with the earliest squeak of that infant that a-way, you bet! she comes a-runnin'.

"The second she sees where her baby's at, up in the saddle along with Piñon Bill, she makes a spring for the whole outfit. We-alls stands lookin' on. Thar ain't one of us dares crook a finger, for this Piñon Bill is cool an' ca'm plumb through. He's still got the drop on the kid, while he's holdin' baby an' bridle both with the other arm an' hand. His sharp eyes is on the Deef Woman, too.

"She springs, but she never makes it. Piñon Bill jumps his pony sideways out of her reach, an' at that the Deef Woman c'lapses on her face an' shoulder in a dead swoon.

"'Adios!' says Piñon Bill, to the rest of us, backin' an' sidlin' his pony up the street so he don't lose sight of the play. 'Ten minutes from now you-alls finds this yere infant a mile from camp as safe an' solid as a sod house.'

"'Bill,' says Enright, all at once, 'I makes you a prop'sition. Restore the baby to me, an' thar ain't a gent in camp who follows you a foot. I gives you the word of Wolfville.'

"'Does that go?' demands Piñon Bill, turnin to Jack, who's shakin' the blood offen his fingers where it runs down his arm.

"'It goes,' says Jack; 'goes wherever Enright sets it. I makes good his bluffs at all times on foot or in the stirrups.'

"'An' I takes your promise,' says Piñon Bill with a laugh, 'an' yere's the baby. Which now I'm goin', I don't mind confidin' in you-alls,' goes on this Piñon Bill, 'that I never intends to hurt that infant nohow.'

"Enright gets the child, an' in no time later that Piñon Bill is fled from sight. You can believe it; it takes a load offen the public mind about that infant when the kyards comes that a-way.

"Which the story's soon told now. It's three days later, an', seein' it's refreshed in our thoughts, Enright an' the rest of us is resoomed op'rations touchin' this Deef Woman, about gettin' her outen camp, an' she's beginnin' to recover her obduracy about not sayin' or hearin' nothin', when in comes a package by Old Monte an' the stage. It's for Enright from that hoss. thief, Piñon Bill. Thar's a letter an' $500 for the baby.

"'Tell that Decf Woman,' says this yere Piñon Bill, 'that I has an even thousand dollars in my war-bags, when I stacks in her offspring ag'inst the camp to win; an' I deems it only squar' to divide the pot with the baby. The kid an' me's partners in the play that a-way, an' the enclosed is the kid's share. Saw this yere dinero off on her somehow; an' make her pull her freight. Wolfville's no good place to raise that baby.'

"'Which this Piñon Bill ain't so bad neither,' says Dan Boggs, when he hears it. 'Gents, I proposes the health of this outlaw. Barkeep, see what they takes in behalf of Piñon Bill.'

"The letter an' the money's dead straight, an' the Deef Woman can't dodge or go 'round. All of which Missis Rucker takes a day off an' beats it into her by makin' signs. It's like two Injuns talkin'. It all winds up by the Deef Woman p'intin' out on her way some'ers East, an' thar ain't one of us ever sees the Major, the Deef Woman, the kid, nor yet this Piñon Bill, no more. Which this last, however, is not regarded as food for deep regrets,"