"SOMETHIN'S GOTTA GO!"
W. O. MITCHELL
YOU COULD say the poster started it, the yellow one with the oxen and the Red River cart running along the top, hung up in MacTaggart’s store. Jake stood there whilst Mr. MacTaggart, that’s mayor of Crocus, waited on Old Man Gatenby. Jake's mouth was sort of moving, the way it does when he reads to himself. Miss Henchbaw, my teacher, gets after a person for doing that.
“ ‘Crocus Frontier Day,’ ” he read off. “Whose idee was that?’’
Mr. MacTaggart sliced off some meat with a shove of his knife. “Mine in a way, «Jake. Now we got a community committee handlin’ it. Miss Henchbaw...” “Her!” «Jake snorted. “ ‘Competitions fer young an’ old. Fight Imnderd dollars in prizes.’ ” He turned to Mr. MacTaggart. “ ‘Frontier Day,’ it says. What’s she know about thuh early days?”
“The old-timer idea that was hers,” said Mr. MacTaggart, snapping the string off and shoving the parcel across the counter lo Gate.
Mr. MacTaggart leaned across and showed along the middle of the poster with his finger, “There.”
‘Mammoth puhrade starts east a t huh CPR depot
11 a.m......headed by Crocus's oldest old-timer.”’
Old Man Gatenby had come over and he had his neck out squinting at the poster. Gate is all wrinkled up; he will put you in mind of a prune. He is old. “Oldest old-timer,” said Jake, “an’ who is he when he’s home?” “Yeah,” said Gate. “Who’s the oldest old-timer?” “He hasn’t been picked out vet,” said Mr. MacTaggart. “Miss Henchbaw . . .”
. . couldn’t tell a old-timer from a CPR strawberry,” said Jake. «Jake isn’t so fussy about Miss Henchbaw. She knows all about the way «Jake claims he wrassled I,ooie Riel and made Chief Poundmaker
hand over his bow and arrows at Cut Knife crick. She goes around all the time saying you can’t change history around just to please anybody’s hired man. She is the kind that has to be right all the time.
“Miss Henchbaw is at the head of the old-timer committee,” said Mr. MacTaggart.
“Is that right?” said «Jake. “Is that right?”
“Gee, -Jake,” 1 said, “they’re holding refreshments under the Indies’ Auxiliary, an’ there’s going to be a democrat race. What’s that like?”
“Like a stampede chuck-wagon race,” Mr. MacTaggart said, “only with democrats. There’s two barrels, and they go around them in a figure eight, then out and the length of the track.”
I turned to «Jake. “»Jake—we got Baldy an’ Queen— Queen’s got part ...”
^TPHAT THERE oldest old-timer business shouldn’t 1 be so hard tuh figger out.” said »Jake.
“Shouldn’t it?” said Mr. MacTaggart.
“Nope ain’t gonna haftuh look fur.”
“They shore ain't,” piped up Gate. “I’m him.” “You!” said «Jake sort of startled.
“Yep. Come through Crocus distric’ in . . .”
“. . .Ninety-two,” said »Jake.
“Eighty-eight. I come . . .”
”... ’Bout five years after I did.”
“You come in oh one.”
“Time I homesteaded,” said «Jake, “in a buckboard with a bandanny hankerchiff tied round thuh rim tuh measure off thuh miles tuh thuh homestead stakes. But that wasn’t my first time. That was thuh second time. Why when 1 come here there wasn’t no town— jist «Joe Cooney’s sod hut spang up «»gin thuh Brokenshell river.”
“Whut sod hut?” said Gate. “Wasn’t no hut when l come through jist bald-headed prairie an’ little green frogs jumpin’ up an’ down on thuh river bank. »Joe come a good year after I . . .”
“Jake,” I said, “there’s a $50 war bond that’s
first prize for that democrat race. Tt says . . . ” “Mebbe ho did. Mebbe lie did. But I keep tellin’ yuh that was my second time out here. First time was scoutin’ durin’ thuh rebellion—five dollars a day an’ feed fer my horse—service a thuh Queen—steel liad jist reached Moosomin. Why, they wasn’t even . . .” “When I come,” said Gate, “they had a holt of Regina only they didn’t know where tuh set her down yet.”
“An’ when I corne Sir Wilfrid Laurier was still in a britch clout.”
“You ain’t that old!” Gate yelled. “You couldn’t be in thuh Rebellion an’ thuh Boor War an’ still be young enough tuh make the World War too!”
“l shore was!”
“No -you wasn’t! You ain’t old enough tuh be thuh . . .”
“I shore am!” «Jake shouted back at Jiim. “1 was horned growed-up! I'm older than sin! Got rheumatizm in alia my joints—grey hair on my gizzard ...” “I take it,” said Mr. MacTaggart, “you two boys is int’rested in takin’ a fling at this here oldest old . . .” “Dang right!” said Gate. “I come here . . .”
“.. . Five years after what I did! Put me down too.”
YOU WOULDN’T believe what that poster did to «lake. Two days later he commenced to grow a beard. It sprung out of his face, straight out, all patchy and bristly. She was thickest on his chin and at the corners of his mouth, real skimpy along the sides of his face to the corners of his jaw. There was a bald spot right in the middle of his upper lip. «Jake’s whiskers couldn’t seem to make up their mind to come out all at the same time.
And that wasn’t all. Every night he was in the kitchen, rubbing goose grease into his shoulder and bis back. His rheumatism was getting real bad, he said. That limpy way he walks, it got worse. A couple of weeks after that argument with Gate, we noticed he was getting kind of deaf, a funny way, where some-
times he could hear you and sometimes he couldn't. The times he could you didn't want him to.
Just about 10 days before Dominion Day, when they were to hold the Crocus Frontier Day, Jake came into the kitchen for breakfast. He was looking real sour. Ma asked him what was the matter, Jake; and he said it was his birthday.
“Well,” Ma said, “many happy returns of the day, Jake.” She stopped stirring the mush on the stove. “I thought your birthday was sometime in August.” Jake sat down at the table. “Ain’t any too sure. Had so many'of ’em I lost track.”
“How many, Jake?” I asked him.
“Ohno—Jake!” Ma said, standing there with his plate of mush. She set it down in front of him. “You—you’re not—I thought you were somewhere near 66.”
“Nope.” Jake started spooning up his mush. “Seventy-six tuhday.” He looked up, with his jaw going like an uneasy porcupine. “Er is she 78? Gits kinda foggy sometimes.”
“Jake,” Ma said, “you’re not nearly . . .”
“Ef I was 18 in thuh Rebellion—-78. Sixteen—76. Jist goes sorta foggy on me now an’ agin—like thuh hinges in my mind was . . .”
“Then that means you were . . .”
“. . . kinda rusty like. In ’85 I had me ci roan horse— real blocky little fella witha blaze . . .”
“But you couldn’t have been 51 in the . . .”
“Had a choppy canter on him an’ a real comical waya ...”
“If you’re 76, Jake,” Ma kept at him, “then you were 51 at the end of the last war.”
“Name was Buttermilk. There was me an’ Buttermilk an’ a coupla fellas . . .”
“Ma says you must have been 51 last war, Jake!” I said it real loud.
“There was Billie Riley an’ One-an’-ai L L u half-step Wincup. Some folks called him Spring-heel Wincup, but I . . .”
“Fifty-one, Jake!” I hollered. “FIFTYONE YEARS!”
“Thuh heck, you say!” Jake set his spoon down on the oilcloth and reached for a piece of bread. “Don’t look a day over -10.”
“Who?” I said.
Jake started in smearing butter over the bread. “Yer Maw.”
“I didn’t say she was . . .”
“Looks jist as pretty as thuh day when I first ...”
“I didn’t say Ma was 51. What I said was . . .”
Jake folded the bread in half and shoved it in his mouth. “Ain’t bearin’ so good I know mcbbe it was 41 yuh said. Why— she ain’t a day over . . .”
“I wasn’t talkin’ about Ma! WE WERE TALKIN’ . . .”
“Don’t hafta shout,” said Jake. “I ain’t all that deef. ’Tain’t polite—-I’m 76 an’
I don’t care who you was talkin’ about.”
He got up. At the kitchen door he turned around. “Er is it 78?” He went out.
I looked at Ma. I’m not sure, but I think she was smiling some. “Don’t worry too much about it, son. Isn’t it tonight they’re picking the oldest old-timer?”
That afternoon, before I went in with Jake to the town hall in Crocus where they were going to pick the oldest old-timer, I said, to Jake:
“Don’t you figure Baldy and Queen— they’re pretty fast, Jake?”
“Mebbe,” Jake said.
“Queen—she’s got hot blood into her.”
“She’s snuffy enough anyway,” said Jake.
“1 bet Baldy and Queen could round those barrels like—couldn’t you drive?”
“Nope,” Jake said. “Ten years ago I mighta. Not now. Seventy-six a fella’s bones is brittle, kid. Too old fer that sorta stuff.”
Jake he had really got old.
WHEN Jake and me got to the town hall we found more old people than I thought there was in Crocus district. Moy, that runs the Maple Leaf Café, he was there.
He claimed he was the oldest there was because he drove spikes on the CPR when it came through. Old Man MacLachlin said he was here before Moy because he cut the poles for Moy’s first café, so he was here first. That was when Miss Henchbaw, up front at a table with Mr. MacTaggart,
looked over at Jake and said: “Next.”
Jake stood up.
“If yuh kin spare a few minutes fer a man won’t see 70 agin,” he said, “I'd like tuh tell yuh there’s no need lookin' no further fer yer . . .”
“When did you first come here, Mr. Trum per?” Miss Henchbaw had a different voice for Jake. It is a special voice.
“ Eighty-five,” said Jake. Miss Henchbaw’s eyebrows flew up. 1 saw her mouth tighten. “Yep ’85—I kin remember her jist like she was Thursday. Sun was shinin’ an’ thuh meada larks was . . .”
“I believe,” said Miss Henchbaw, “that you and Louis Riel were well acquainted.”
“Grass stood high as thuh belly on yore . . .”
“You wrestled with Louis Riel,” said Miss Henchbaw. Her voice was cold as a dipper of well water. “And I understand it was you who made Chief Poundmaker—uh—say uncle on the banks of Cut Knife Creek.”
“He—I—we . . .” Jake sort of stuttered.
“Are you not on record that Louis Riel was a tall, hungry-looking individual who wore gold cuff links, a rabbit foot watch fob— that he chewed Black Judas tobacco?”
“Who—me—I—could yuh speak a mite louder?— My bearin’ ain’t . . .”
“You’re going to have to substantiate your claim, Mr. Trumper.”
“But-—I—what kinda fella . . .”
“I don’t think you will find it easy to prove your wild statement.”
“Yes. Anything that you . . .”
“I’ll tell yuh one thing fer sure, an’ it don’t need no proof neither. Looie put me in mind of you.”
“Why—whatever are you saying?”
A Red River cart lost Jake one Frontier Day race . . . but a democrat and a team of snuffy broncs won him another
“Buhfore he commenced tuh kick over thuh britehin’, he was a w’ild-eved, half-baked schoolteacher, crazier’n a cow in fly lime!”
Miss Henchbaw's face got. real red. She took in her breath quick. “Sit down!”
“An’ that ain’t all . . .”
“Take your seat!”
Jake’s knees sort of went from under him, and he sat. Miss Henchbaw she’s had a lot of practice making people sit down.
Old Gate stood up. “Well,” Jake muttered, “she ain’t gonna believe him no more’n what she did me.” That was where Jake was wrong.
Gate had proof. He told Miss Henchbaw he came in ’88, and he turned and went out the door, and in a minute he was back. The thing he had over his shoulder was made out of old grey wood, all worn smooth. The iron loops that hung down from each end were all rusted and eaten away. Gate set her down, and he stood for a minute with one foot out and his hands in his hip pockets. He
MERS looked UP-
“There,” he said, “she is.”
“But—what—why . . .” Mr. MacTaggart sort of spluttered.
"That there,” said Gate, “is a yoke a ox yoke. Thuh very same yoke 1 had ontuh my oxen when first I come tuh Crocus.” “Red River carl.” breathed Miss Henchbaw, like she was saying something wonderful.
“I’d a brung lier loo," said Gate, “if I coulda carried her.”
"Have you a Kerl River cart?" Her voice was pitched high, like she couldn't believe what she heard.
“Not exac’ly,” Gate said quick. “Twen’yoight. had her too clos«* tuh a stack we was burnin’ on’y saved thuh left-han’ wheel.” Miss Henchbaw was staring at, the yoke like a gopher at a weasel, her eyes bugging right, out. "Can't seem tuh find that," went, on Gate. “High winds—musta got berried up with thuh blow flirt .”
“Well, Mr. Gatenby,” said Miss Henchbaw, “it looks as though . . .”
“That don't prove nothin’!” Jake was up on his feet. “How do yuh know that there yoke belongs tuh . . .”
“That’s thuh yoke!” yelled Gate. “That’s her! I come here . . .”
“In a pig’s ear! You come here . . .”
“That will do, Mr. Trumper!”
“If will not! That yoke wasn’t on no oxen he ever...”
“She hung aroun’ thuh necks a thuh finest oxen yuh ever see. Sodom an’ Go-More, that was their . . .”
“Mr. Gatenby,” said Miss Henchbaw, with her eves fixed on the yoke, “is our oldest old-timer.”
“If he’s our oldest. . .”
“You, Mr. Trumper, are not our oldest old-timer.”
JAKE TOOK it pretty hard. He shaved off his beard in disgust. He is not, the mean kind but he was not acting so sweet by the time Dominion Day rolled around. He said he wasn’t going. He’cl hang around, he said, and look after things whilst we went.
“But, Jake,” Ma said, “I thought you had. your heart set on going.”
“Not no more,” said Jake. “No fun—• standin’ aroun’ all hot an’ sweaty an’ dusty—• kids yellin’ — half-chokin’ on that there mud thuh Ladies’ Auxiliary . . .”
“Jake—that isn’t like you.”
“I’ll jist stay here—-all alone—an’—•
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Continued from page 21
I’ll jist stay here. You jist go ahead an’ have yuh a good time—don’t bother me none. I won’t miss seein’ Old Gate settin’ up there—primpin’ an’ preenin’ hisself like a banty rooster. I’ll jist stay here all by myself—I won’t git lonely—I . . .”
•“It isn’t like you to indulge in self-pity, Jake!”
“Who said I was?”
“I did! Show you’re a good loser.” “I ain’t no pore loser!”
“Then you’re coming,” Ma said. Queen was real snuffy and jumpy whilst Jake and me hitched her and Baldy to the democrat. All the way to Crocus Jake just sat with his shoulders hunched up and his head down. He looked real broken up. It wouldn’t have been so bad if anybody else but Gate had been picked, or Miss Henchbaw that picked him.
We had missed the parade, so we went right out to the fair grounds. There were cars parked all around, and buggies and grain wagons with teams tied to the back of them. She was a real nice Dominion Day with just a high puff of a cloud in the sky. Jake drove right up to where they had the barrels for the democrat race. He didn’t unhitch.
They had built a special stand by the track; the old-timer stand, I guess you could call it. Gate was up there between Miss Henchbaw and Mr. MacTaggart and Mrs. Abercrombie and the town secretary, Mr. Moore. He had an afghan wrapped around him. Whilst we watched, Miss Henchbaw leaned over to him and said something. She stood up and grabbed Gate by the arm like she was going to help him. He pushed her hand away, but she kept right on helping him while he changed his seat.
Miss Henchbaw stepped up to the front, and she commenced to tell about this pioneer coming over the plains, with the wheels of the Red River cart creaking and the sun high in the sky. To hear her tell it, you’d think Gate pulled the cart with his bare hands. Then she talked about seasons that had come and gone over the face of the prairie, and she said that fall was the sad time of the year, for it was the season when the green things withered on the branch and on the stalk, and fall was the season of old age. It was a shame, she said, that these fine old people, who were our links with the glorious past, would not be with us long.
Gate he wasn’t looking so pleased. He looked like his teeth were hurting him. I wouldn’t be so fussy about anybody telling everybody I was ready to fall to pieces.
“I give you,” said Miss Henchbaw, # “the spirit of the old and dying West!” She turned to help Gate up. He shoved her hand away, got up himself, and tripped in one corner of the afghan. Everybody leaned forward, but Miss Henchbaw was there first.
“Dangit!” yelled Gate. “Leave me be! 1 ain’t ready fer no shiny box! I ain’t all that old!”
“Sit down!” said Miss Henchbaw. Gate sat. He didn’t object whilst she arranged the afghan around him.
JAKE HAD a fnnny look on his face, like he didn’t know whether to be pleased or not. He had it all the while Mr. MacTaggart was announcing the democrat race, and after Ma had left to visit my Aunt Margaret and the baby that are staying in town with Mrs. Giggs.
“Ed Drinkwater of Broomhead!” Mr. MacTaggart was yelling. “Johnny Totcoal—south of town!”
“Gee, Jake,” I said. “I wished we’d gone in this democrat race. I wish ...”
“Yuh know, kid, seein’ pore Old Gate with that there shawl wrapped ’roun’ him, I got thuh same wish cornin’ on.”
“She’s too late now, Jake . . .”
The folks started yelling and the car horns cut loose. Queen reared up on her hind legs and jumped into her collar. Jake grabbed for the lines. Baldy went ahead like a frog touched off of a log. Whilst Jake fumbled for the lines we passed the first barrel about 20 yards behind the other democrats. Me, I was hanging on with both hands and watching the ground go by.
“Hang on!” Jake yelled. He was standing up, and he wasn’t leaning back on any lines. He had the ends in one hand, laying on heavier than Miss Henchbaw in Rabbit Hill. As I heard the folks yelling from a long way off, we took the second barrel on two wheels and headed back to make the loop on the first one again, the horses’ necks stretched right out and their manes flying.
“Hip — eeee — eye — ow!” screeched Jake, with his chin out and his right arm laying on the lines. “Cuuuuuuhmence tuh run, yuh black, long-geared, sons-a-prairie wolves!” He reached up his hand like he was pulling the cord on a train whistle. “Whaaaah—hah—eye —ooooouh!”
We hit the last barrel. The horses spread out in their harness, and the next thing we knew we were taking the barrel right along with us, rumbling and grumbling and grinding hollow, the horses’ hoofs banging.
“Somethin’s gotta go!” yelled Jake. “Singletree er a pole! Dish a wheel ef she don’t ride over ...”
He grabbed the front as she came up. The rumble of the barrel went to the back, stayed there, then the back end flipped up and you could feel the democrat scoot ahead as the horses felt the pull of the barrel leave them.
We passed Johnny Totcoal, with his eyes staring white as he looked back over his shoulder. We passed Ed Drinkwater standing by his overturned democrat just before the stand.
Jake pulled on one line then the other, trying to saw Baldy and Queen down. It wasn’t any use.
I saw folks scattering away from the Ladies’ Auxiliary booth all red and white and blue, Mrs. Tincher coming out like a gopher drowned from a hole.
Next thing I knew everything was real calm and peacful. The democrat had dished both hind wheels. A coffee pot was tipped up over one of Baldy’s hames. Queen’s sides were dark with sweat; strings of slaver hung down from her bit, a link of wieners from her right blinker.
Kind of dazed looking, part of a Union Jack draped around his neck, Jake got down from the democrat, folks slapping him on the back, telling him what a humdinger of a race she’d been.
“Not bad,” he said, “fer a fella my age—56.” He looked up at the stand where Old Gate still sat between Miss Henchbaw and Mr. MacTaggart, the afghan around him. “Thuh spirit of thuh old an’ dyin’ West,” said Jake.
He gave a hitch to his Boss of the Road pants and started walking to the judges’ stand.
Y ou could hardly tell he limped at all.