Big Bill’s Second Term
“You kin cut my laigs off and I’ll run on my han’s.’’ This sentence from the lips of Big Bill will give the reader an index to the character of this story by Mr. Cahn. It is a true occurrence, so he informs us, that came under his notice in one of his trips to the Southern States, where conditions of law and order have not reached the same degree of certainty as they have in Canada. Mr. Cahn’s stories, which have appeared in MacLean’s Magazine recently, have been well received, and his intimate association with his fellow men and his keen observation especially fit him for this work.
THE blinding, boiling sun of a little more than midday glared through door and windows into the smoky atmosphere of the Silver Star saloon which occupied the commanding position in San Felipe. By no possibility could the traveler miss the Silver Star, did he arrive by stage, burro or bronco, in dead of night or broad day. San Felipe had originally proposed to have two streets running at right angles, but the Silver Star disposed of that idea by planting itself firmly in the middle of things, and so, San Felipe had obligingly arranged itself into a straggling circle around the Silver Star.
The trail which led back to the railroad and on to the open range, and from there over the Divide, made a complete loop around the Star, a thing it did for no other saloon as Christmas Barrett often pointed out. Just now he had finished scrubbing his rude bar and glanced around. Texas, small, slender, sleek of hair, black of eye and furtive in expression, and above all other things, nimble of wit and fingers, sat at a far table rattling the dice for a bored cowboy.
Two other cowboys sat at another table trying to outplay Big Smith and his silent partner Morrey Juda. The untouched glasses beside them made Christmas hesitate about raising his voice, at least until that hand was played, and so he contented himself with swearing softly at the Chinaman sweep-
ing impassively around the legs of both chairs and patrons with equal care. Sweet peace reigned undisturbed, and peace was a thing that Barrett hated with a deep and abiding hatred and did all in his power, which was considerable, to banish from the Silver Star insofar as it influenced his guests to habits of temperance. He served a drink or two now and then but for the most part things were as quiet and as dull as a duck pond when the ducks are not about.
The craps ceased to interest the lone cowboy and he presently shambled up to the bar, Texas bringing up in the rear, flashed a significant wink to Christmas, whereupon that gentleman suddenly became the genial host.
“What’ll you have Briner? Nane your pizen! Name ut! This here potashun is on the house you bet. You, too, Texas. Hi there everybuddy what ain’t too busy, line up fer one on me.”
The invitation was accepted with dispatch by every lounging smoker, every napper, every idle talker, but the poker players neither looked up nor answered.
The drinkers were inspecting the ceiling by means of the bottoms of their glasses when an old man drew rein at the door.
“Howdy everybody!” He called as he clambered somewhat stiffly out of the saddle and entered.
“It’s Richard the Three himself,”
said Christmas heartily. “You’re a little bit late, but here’s how.”
The old man accepted the drink and removed his hat to dry the sweat that glistened on his white hair. Then he tilted his head far back, opened his mouth and poured the fiery liquid down his throat. He certainly could not be accused of being a drinker, for he did not drink, he simply poured it down.
“Awful swell liquor, Barrett, awful swell. As Checkspere says, ‘let’s have another.’ ” He waved his hand to include the company and while the bartender was filling the glasses he noticed the cardplayers. “Say, boys. Come on an’ join us.” Receiving no reply whatever he raised his voice a little, “Kyant you and Juda stop business long nuff fer to drink?” he asked Big Smith the gambler.
The cowboys laughed and rose, stretching stiffly. “We kin. Taint everybody what gits a chancst to drink with Richard the Three.”
The gamblers laughed with the others and followed their victims to partake of Richard’s hospitality.
“Boys, me lads, I’m feeling fine today,” the old man laughed, “Bill is going to run fer Jestice of the Peace agin. More words from his Had, is useless, superfluous and onnecessary.”
“Hurrah!” cried everyone but Big Smith and his right and left hand men, Morry Juda and Texas. They merely Smiled slyly or spat emphatically, a circumstance which did not escape Bill’s proud Papa.
“I’m sure free to remark,” said Squint Anderson as he discharged a volley of tobacco juice through the window,” that Bill o’ yourn is a mighty fine Justice of the Peace, judgin’ from this here term he’s just about finishin’.”
“Yaas, what I like about Bill is he is plump durable. San Felipe never had a Justice afore that lived to serve out his term. Ho'ldin’ office is always yeretofore been a sickly business round these parts. Yes sir-ee.”
“And it’s going to be also sickly heretocome,” growled Big Smith banging down a gold piece and demanding
“Slow Heath” from. Christmas Barrett for the crowd.
“Now,” said he, raising his glass, “Here’s to the next Justice of the Peace of San Felipe.” They drank, and then he added, “but he ain’t going to be Bill.”
“Why ain’t he?” demanded Pronto instantly.
“Because, he’s too dog-gone fresh about buttin’ into other folks’ business. Because me an’ some others is for a Justice who’s satisfied to be a Justice and not a Sunday School teacher and
Heap plenty pleeples come.” remarked the Chinaman from the doorway where he was testing from his labors upon the broom. This served to divert the attention of the crowd and to the bartender’s deep disgust the drinkers straggled away to the door.
The travelers proved to be an assortment of cowpunchers returning from a journey to the railroad and though it was far from pay-day they had a few dollars to spend. They shuffled and jostled at the bar and it was some time before they noticed Richard the Three sitting apart, his lined old face set into a poker expression but his fingers nervously fingering his hat.
“Well, what does Shakespere say about your having a jolt with me?” cried one of the new arrivals cordially.
“My boy, Checkspere never mentioned you and I just got one jolt to-day but—I reckon I kin stan’ another. My boy Bill’s going to run fer office agin.”
“Y-e up 0—-wow ! !” cheered
the crowd. Bill’s the stuff.”
Big Smith showed his handsome teeth in a leer. “So you think Bill is going to run, eh? Run, I should smile. He’d better, if he knows what’s good for him.” And he laughed sardonically.
Richard the Three stiffened. There was a general hush as everyone noted that Big Bill had the old man covered from the hip and Richard the Three’s hand dropped away too late.
“What’s this here party about? Pop, are you an’ Big Smith a janglin’ again’ about Checkspere?”
All eyes turned to the open window from whence the voice came, and beheld Bill himself leaning in, and resting his loosely folded arms upon the sill.
There was a general laugh and the tension relaxed. Bill swung himself in, a great loose-jointed giant who towered over every man in the room, not excepting Big Smith, who stood six feet high without his boots. Bill’s hair was red, his eyes a mild blue; his skin tanned brown. He had a ringing laugh that was often heard, a thirst for fun, but none for liquor, and a willingness to buy it for those who cared for it, only limited by his means.
Juda induced his partner to turn his mind to business, which in their case was cards, and once Big Smith was seated before the green table he forgot even his animosities apparently.
Most of the punchers let Bill know their intention to vote for him, but several advised him not to further risk his life.
“Y’ know, Bill,” said Pronto, “Big Smith is down on you. He's a layin' fer vou. He’s sure figurin’ on evaporatin’ you out’n this yere country plumb entire. An’ if he kvant do it by scarin’ you or makin’ that passel o' mavericks down below vote again you an* put in Pete ’stead of you. he may crease you or git you creased.”
“Oh, vou kin haw. haw and show the linin’ o’ your gullet to the publiek gaze but I’m arisin’ fer to say I’d a heap drather have you buvin’ me drinks than be buvin’ you posies for yore lonely grave.”
Bill laughed again.
“Laugh, you dern gas-bag, laugh. I reckon vou don’t know perfessional card shams like Big Smith and Morrey Juda has been knowed to pull a iron on a Jestice what’s showed hisself too all fired strong on jestice?”
“That’s so,” put in another. “We don’t need Pete, nohow, Bill. Sposing vou let him be it this next term an’ let him git killed.”
Bill answered by buying further refreshment. “Boys T ain’t here soliciting no votes. If you think Pete’s the best man fer the job, why you want to slide
him in. I guess maybe if I keep myself bundled up good and don’t ketch no cold I’ll live through a second term. I said I’d run agin and I’ll run, you bet.”
Smith heard the last few words and he turned around in his chair and watched Bill and his father mount their horses and ride away. The expression in his cold gray eyes was anything but kindly.
Seeing this, Pronto and Squint Anderson withdrew to a far corner together and had a serious conversation about the forthcoming election to which they invited one or two others, and which was carried on in jerks between plays with the pasteboards, partly out of mere habit, and partly to deceive the gimleteyed gamblers.
“Perfesshionals is bad,” observed Pronto by way of a beginning.
“They shore is,” agreed Long Jim.
“All of ’em,” added Squint at the end of a hand.
“Yep,” came tersely from the two consulting friends, and they repeated it most heartily as they noticed Pronto’s glance at Juda, and heard Squint voice his extreme dislike of the name Smith.
It took four hands to decide upon the thing to do, and three to arrange the details, another game to silently consider same, and a drink to ratify the agreement. By the time they had mounted and gone their several wavs Big Smith and Juda had succeeded in separating the dollars from their opponents, Christmas Barrett had added considerably to his till and Bill and Richard the Three were just finishing their argument.
The old man had been urging his son to reconsider and not run for a second term, and Bill had said, “Pop. I’m a goin’ to run! You kin cut my lai.gs off and I’ll ran on mv han’s. That crooked gambler and his pack o’ outlaws don’t scare me. But I’m a heap sorrv to go again you. Pop, I sure am.”
Richard the Three frowned vigorousIv in order to keep the proud smile out face and swore horribly to keen the tremor out of his voice. “Billy .1 ain’t too old to larrup you good—and I will
too whenever you need it.” Which ended all talk of Bill's leaving the race.
Time passed, and as the day of election drew near, it became apparent that Bill would be elected. Big Smith and his friends indulged in some ugly talk and there was a general feeling that, as Christmas Barrett expressed it, “Something was due to drop if that Bill gits in.”
The great day came and San Felipe was filled to overflowing with cattlemen and noise and dust and excitement, for rumors of trouble in the event of Pete’s defeat had spread far and wide and Big Smith was known to make things surprisingly interesting for every one whenever he felt irritated. But in spite of the unusual circumstances, it was no great task to count the ballots in San Felipe, for it was the last outpost of civilization, and a very new one at that.
The sun was showing signs of setting, things had progressed smoothly, there had been no trouble worthy the name all day, for Big Smith was missing and his absence seemed to deprive his sattelites of all desire for war. It was apparent that Bill was winning by a handsome majority, and his friends took time to inquire more particularly as to the whereabouts of Big Smith.
Nobody had seen him since the night before, nobody could discover his hiding place, and all sorts of things began to be whispered about. He was off rallying the bad men to shoot up the town ; he was too chagrined at the defeat of his candidate to show his face ; he was drunk; he was dead; and, there was a rumor to the effect that he had sent Texas with a message to Bill to the dire effect that if he was elected, Big Smith would see to it personally, that Bill was killed the next morning at eight o'clock sharp. The supposition was that, since Bill had insisted upon being elected, Big Smith was lying in ambush waiting to make good his threat. This explanation of his strange disappearance seemed to be the right one, for Big Smith was a man of very few threats, but those few he never failed to carry out. But, since nobody knew, nobody worried, least of all Bill.
There was not the least sign of trouble that night when the ballots were counted in the Silver Star, and Bill was declared elected by a handsome majority, and started off the celebration by making one of his graceful if ungrammatical speeches, which was cut short by Squint Anderson, who offered to treat the crowd in honor of the New Justice.
Bill being modest and above all, temperate, contrived to slip away early and started for home. He was half way there and passing Pronto’s place when he thought he heard some one groaning. He stopped his horse and listened. Yes, there it was again. He shouted and then proceeded to trail the groans, and soon discovered that they came out of Pronto's well.
Bill dug the spurs into his horse and galloped back to the Silver Star for help. He had a little trouble in persuading anyone to listen to him, but succeeded at last, and hurried back. As they approached the well, they could hear first a groan, then a little smothered profanity, and then, a prayer,"—Oh —Oh! Lord! I'm Big Smith. You know me, I don't pester you much— Perform a miracle and take me out of this yere damn well and I'll be cussed if I'll ever bother you again. Oh—oo !” The words came faintly toward the last and as if forced through chattering teeth.
“Is that you down there, Big?” called Bill. #
“Yes, it's me, ding bust you. Get me out of here, quick, Bill,” responded Smith.
Someone ran for a rope to rig the windlass and a bucket was let down, but Big Smith was too weak to hold onto it. He had been in the icy water for eighteen hours and was half dead.
When Bill saw that he could not be hoisted out by means of the bucket, he climbed into the well and slid down the rope to the rescue. The water came up to his shoulders.
“Got a popper?” he demanded.
“Nope,” replied Big Smith.
“Got a knife?”
“Yep, but I'm too far gone to use it on you Bill, so hustle me out of here.”
Bill clambered into the bucket and lifted Smith in his arms, clutching the rope for dear life, and the others at the top hauled them up. Big Smith tumbled over in a faint.
Just then Squint and Pronto dashed up and began to berate Bill for hauling the gambler out. “You-all shore do annoy me. After all our work ! Kaint ou tend to yore own affairs? Just ecause you-all is ’lected have you-all got to go lookin’ into everybody’s well? Put that there anemile back afore he ups and lets the daylight into you-all.” “That’s right. He needs to be drowned. Let’s put ’im in again.”
“Let him alone!” growled Bill, as they stooped to put this idea into immediate execution.
“Yore locoed if you let him live, Bill. He said he’s a goin’ to kill you shore, an’ he shore keeps his word always.
He’ll kill you to-morrow, without no doubt about it a tall. He was going to do it to-day but we got him ’fore daylight an’ slung him down here this morning. Gosh, but it takes a long time to settle him. He oughter be dead now. You better shoot him right away.”
Big Smith opend his eyes. “Thanks, Bill, thanks. You are safe from me to-morrow. I’m not figuring on killing you until the next day. Maybe I won’t kill you at all. Get re-elected?”
“Ÿes, bet your neck I did, Big.”
“The Hell you say! Pshaw! Well, I reckon the Lord has performed two miracles to-day. He got me out of that blamed well, and re-elected the peskiest, oryneriest, finest damn Justice San Felipe ever had. I’ll call it off, Bill. You got the Lord on your side, and I got my hands up. You can live.”
FORCE IS BRUTAL
Too often persons who have the training of children are cempted to use corporal punishment for the misbehaviour of those under their charge. The average natural mind is liable to resort to this means of correction in the first instant, but on sober second thoughts the reflective mind points out the more excellent way. This phase has been brought out in a reminiscence by Dr. Crane on the Dayton flood disaster.
When John H. Patterson built the first shops for manufacturing his Cash Register at Dayton, he made them with many windows. They were, however, in a section where a host of bad boys dftvelt. These boys amused themselves and exercised their destructive propensities by breaking the windows.
The average fool logic would have sent these boys to prison in order to frighten them into obedience to the law. But punishment has never abated crime since the foundation of the world. Mr. Patterson did not arrest the young hoodlums but sat down and thought. He decided that the boys wrecked windows because they had nothing else to do. He determined to give them something to do. He gave a plot of ground to the boys and hired an expert gardener to show the boys how to raise things. And the boys took to gardening as a monkey takes to sugar.
This is the way Mr. Patterson “killed off” the bad boy pests in Dayton. Tact and forethought and belief in the in-born goodness of human nature is the gist of the whole matter.