Doc was slicker’n peeled willow, but a strong-minded woman outsmarted him tale of Jake and the kid

W. O. MITCHELL June 1 1946


Doc was slicker’n peeled willow, but a strong-minded woman outsmarted him tale of Jake and the kid

W. O. MITCHELL June 1 1946




EVER SINCE Maw quit cutting my hair for me, I go in to Repeat Golightly’s. He lets me sit right on the chair; he doesn’t put that board across any more. Most of the time Jake, our hired man, takes me to town in the democrat, and he was in the barbershop the afternoon Doc Toovey got to talking how his paint horse, Spider, could run the gizzard out of Auction Fever.

Fever is my colt. He s the color of ripe wheat with the sun lying on top of it. It w*s Jake got Fever for me, and it was him showed me how to break the colt last spring.

The afternoon the argument with Doc Toovey started, Jake had got his shave and was sitting next to Old Man Gatenby whilst Repeat cut my hair. I had my head tilted, with my chin on my chest, and was looking up from under, the way you do, when Repeat swung me around. Then I could see myself over the tonic bottles and the clock with its numbers all backward and Doc Toovey just in the doorway.

Doc runs the Crocus Hay and Feed and Livery. He is a horse and cattle vet, and he has very white hair and a very red face that is all the time smiling. His eyes will put you in mind of oat seeds, sort of.

Anybody ahead of me? ’ he asked. His voice is kind of smily too.

There s four shaves waitin’,” Repeat said; “there’s four fellas waitin’ to git their shave.”

“That’s fine,” Doc said, and he sat down in the chair between old Man Gatenby and Jake. Jake slid over a little; he isn’t so fussy about Doc Toovey; Doc would steal the well out of a person’s yard when they weren t looking, Jake says. Jake has old-timer eyes that are squinty from looking into the sun an awful lot. He is pretty near always right.

Repeat went back to work on my hair. “She was

smart,” he said. “She was a smart little mare ” He was talking about Dish Face, the black hackney he used to have in the early days.

knew a real smart horse once,” Jake said. Wasn t no hot blood neither—just an ordinary work horse. He run for Parliament on the Lib’ral ticket ” Doc stopped with a plug of tobacco halfway to his mouth. “That’s plum foolish.” He bit a corner off The heck it is,” said Jake. “He was a real bright horse, an when he seen all the combines an’ tractors cornin’ West he—what else was there fer him to do but go into politics?”

“Well—” Doc leaned sideways in his chair and spit into the spittoon. “I ain’t interested in smart horses. But you take running horses, like my paint. He can run.”

“ ’Bout as fast as a one-arm fella on a handcar ” said Jake. ’

Doc Toovey smiled at Jake. “Ain’t nothing around here can beat him.”

‘‘That right?” said Jake.

The kid here has got a nice-looking horse,” saic Repeat. “I say this here kid’s horse is a nice look—”

• I Ve,,S€r^.n kim, ’ said Doc. “He ain’t no match for Spider. He smiled at me.

Ble can nail Spider’s hide to a fence post,” I said Recess time out at Rabbit Hill he—”

You wasn t int rested in findin’ out, was you“?’ Jake asked Doc real polite.

“Might be.” Doc spit again. “Might even put a little bet on it.”

t How much?” Jake asked him.

“Whatever you want.”

Fifty dollars, said Jake, “and Repeat holds the


I 11 hold her,” said Repeat, letting me down out of the chair. “You fellas can give her to me and I’ll hold

her fer you.”

“Fine,” said Doc. Both him and Jake reached into

their pockets.

Doc was slicker’n peeled willow, but a strong-minded woman outsmarted him tale of Jake and the kid

They worked it out we were going to hold the race next Saturday along the CPR tracks behind Hig Wheeler’s lumberyards. When they were done Docclimbed into the barber chair.

“You ain’t next,” said Repeat. “I say you ain’t the—”

“That’s all right,” said Doc. “Those others ain’t in a hurry.”

“I’m in a hell of a hurry,” said Old Man Gatenby.

“I don’t really need a four-bit haircut, Repeat.” Doc smiled up at him. “Just give her a sort of a neck trim. Fifteen cents.”

Going out home I sat with Jake in the democrat, watching Baldy’s hindquarters tipping first one side then the other, real regular but sort of jerky, like Miss Henchbaw when she leads the singing at Rabbit Hill with her stick. Jake didn’t say anything for a long way. By the road a meadow lark spilled some notes off of a strawstack. A jack rabbit next the bar pit undid himself for a few hops then sat startled, with his black-tipped ears straight up.

Jake spit curvy into the breeze. “I wouldn’t say nothin’ to yer maw.”

“About Fever racin’ Doc’s paint, Spider?”


The rabbit went bouncing to beat anything over the bald-headed prairie. Over to the right of the road a goshawk came sliding down real quiet, slipping his black shadow over the stubble.

“Way yer maw looks at it, bettin’ ain’t right. I guess next to eatin’ tobacco, yer maw hates gamblin’.

I wouldn’t say nothin’ to her—ain’t like you was doing the bettin’. All you’re doin’ is racing.” Jake turned to me. “Like she’s always sayin’, ‘Gents don’t bet, an’ gents don’t chaw.’ ” He spit, and slapped the reins. “Git yer nose out of it, Baldy.”

Jake turned to me again. “Fever’s gonna run that there long-geared Spider right into the ground!”

ALL THAT week I raced Fever—at recess—after . four; and like he always does, he beat everything at Rabbit Hill. At home Jake worked on him till he started dandy nine times out of ten. When he finished the distance he wasn’t blowing hardly at all, and stepped away all dancy, like he was walking on eggs. “He’ll do,” Jake said.

Then maw found out. She came out to the shed whilst I was washing up for supper.

“I was talking with Mrs. Fotheringham today, son.” She waited like she wanted me to say something. I pretended I was getting soap out of my ears. “On the phone,” maw said.

I poured out the basin into the slop pail.

“Mrs. Fotheringham was talking to Doctor Fotheringham. He was talking with Mr. Golightly. She told me there was to be a race Saturday.”

“Did she?” 1 said.

“Yes.” Maw’s dark eyes were looking right at me. “Between Fever and Dr. Toovey’s horse.”

I could feel my face getting burny.

“There is some money involved. Fifty dollars. Is that right?”

I jerked my head.

“Why did you do it, son?”

I didn’t get any answer out.

“You knew I wouldn’t approve. You know what I think of that sort of thing. You know it’s wrong, don’t


I said, yes, I guessed I did.

“I blame you just as much as I do Jake. I’m beginning to think Auction Fever’s not good for you.”

“Oh yes he is, maw!”

“Not if he’s going to get you mixed up in—in— gambling.”

I looked down at my boots.

“I honestly think I’d just as soon see you chewing tobacco, son!” maw turned away. At the kitchen door she swung around again. “There’s not to be a race Saturday or any day. Not with Doctor Toovey’s horse or any horse!”

She gave it to Jake too. She told him to call the race off because it was immoral. That means bad. Jake kicked, but it didn’t do him any good.

We found Doc Toovey leaning against his livery stable. His tobacco cud had bulged out the side of his face, so his smile was sort of lopsided. “All set to get beat in that race?” he called.

“Ain’t gonna be no race,” Jake said.


“Kid’s maw won’t let him.”

“Well—” Doc smiled down to me—“that’s just too bad.”

“It is,” Jake said.

“’Course, you’d have lost your 50 dollars anyway.” “Huh!”

“This way you don’t prolong the agony.”

“What you mean?”

“You called off the race,” said Doc. “I didn’t. Don’t expect to get your money back, do you?”

“I shore as hell do!”

Doc spit, and a little puff of dust came up. “Well, you ain’t getting it.”

Jake looked at Doc all smily; he looked at the manure fork leaning against the stable wall; he looked back at Doc Toovey again. Real quiet, he said, “You’d look awful funny with that there stickin’ outa yer wishbone^Doc.”

“Would I?” Doc kept right on smiling.

Later when Jake told Repeat Golightly, Repeat said:

“Ain’t much you can do, Jake. I say if he don’t want to leave you have the money there ain’t much you can—”

Jake slammed out of the barbershop, me right behind.

Maw 'didn’t give an inch. She’s sure set against betting—and chewing tobacco.

The next time we were in to Crocus we met Doc Toovey in front of the Royal Bank.

“Got a new critter today, Jake,” he said. “Bent Golly sold him to me. Figgered you might like to race the kid’s buckskin against him.”

Jake pushed on past.

“I’d have to get odds,” Doc called after us. “He’s a mule!”

The next time was in Snelgrove’s bakery, when Doc saw me and Jake through the window, eating ice cream. He came in and he said he had a ja^k rabbit he wanted to put up against Fever. A week later he asked Jake if he thought Fever might give a prairie chicken a good run. Jake mumbled something under his breath.

“ ’Course you might be scared, same as you were the time before, and want to back out of it,” Doc said. “If you haven’t got the guts—”

“Guts!” Jake yelled. “We got ’em all right! We’ll show you! That there race is on again! Same

place, same distance, and double the bet, you scroungin’, stubble-jumpin’, smily-faced son of a hardtail!” Afterward I said to Jake:

“What’ll maw—”

“We’re racin’,” Jake said.

“But, maw won’t—”

“Yer maw figgers ’tain’t right, but what that there— what that—what he’s doin’ to us is plum immortal too, an’ if I got to take my pick between two kinds of a sinner, I know which kind I’m takin’!”

AND THAT was how come we ended up behind . Hig Wheeler’s the next Saturday, all set to race Fever and the paint. Jake and me brought fever in behind the democrat. At the last moment maw decided to come with us. Jake told her we were getting Fever’s hind shoes fixed.

We left maw at Mrs. Fotheringham’s, then we headed for the race.

Half the folks from Crocus were there, and nearly everyone from Rabbit Hill district. Jake and Doc Toovey weren’t the only ones betting.

Mr. MacTaggart, that is mayor of Crocus, he was the starter and he sent Johnny Totcoal down to the Western Grain FJevator, where we had to make the turn. That turn had bothered Jake a lot when we were working out Fever. Spider was a cow horst; and could turn on a dime. “He’s got you there,” «lake had said to me, “but I got a little trick to even that up.” Then he’d showed me how to grab the horn with both hands and up into the saddle without touching a foot to the stirrup. Doc hadn’t kicked when Jake told him the race ought to be from a standing start beside the horses. I guess he figured a small kid couldn’t get up as fast as he could with his longer legs.

“Now, fellas,” Mr. MacTaggart was saying, “you start from here, each one beside his horse. When I say ‘go,’ into the saddle and down to the stake by the Western Grain Elevator, then around an’ back.”

Doc nodded and smiled; he had a chew of tobacco the size of a turkey hen’s egg. Looking at the paint horse I felt sort of grasshoppery to my stomach; my knees weren’t so good either. Doc’s Spider was long in the leg, and he looked like he could line out if he wanted to.

“Real pretty.” Doc had his hand on Fever’s neck, stroking his gold hide and running his fingers through his silver mane. “But that don’t make ’em run any faster.”

If being ugly made a horse fast, I was thinking that jug head of Doc’s must be a whirlwind!

“How old is he?” Doc was up at Fever’s head now.

“Two and a half.”

Doc lifted Fever’s lip and looked inside.

“Let that there horse alone!” Jake had left Mr. MacTaggart and come up.

“Just looking at his teeth,” said Doc.

“Only ones he’s got,” said Jake. “Keep yer han’s off that horse!”

“Ready, fellas?” Mr. MacTaggart called.

Doc jumped back beside Spider. I put both hands on top of the saddle horn.


I into that saddle like a toad off a hot stove, and I dug my heels into Fever and gave him the leather both sides. He jumped straight into a gallop. Looking back I saw Doc’s leg just coming down over the saddle.

Fever had his head up and was fighting like anything. “Come on, Fever!” I yelled at him. His head came down again and he threw his shoulders into it. Then Spider and Doc were beside us, and Fever had his head up again. Doc passed us, and Fever wasn’t running at all! He was trying, but I d seen old Baldy do better.

“Please, Fever —please!” I leaned down over his neck. “Come on, boy!” He threw back his head, and I felt something wet on my cheek—foam blowing back.

Spider reached the stake Continued on page 30

Continued from page 11

five lengths ahead of us. He made the turn like you snap your fingers. We were halfway down the second lap when the paint went across the finish line. Doc was over by Repeat Golightly when I climbed down from Fever.

Poor Fever’s sides were heaving, and he was still tossing his head, and me, I wished I wasn’t a human being at all.

“He didn’t run, Jake! He didn’t run a bit.”

“Some horses are like that,” said Doc. He watched Jake feeling Fever’s front legs. “When they get up against something good they quit.”

“This horse ain’t no quitter!” Jake had straightened up. “There’s somethin’ fishy about this——”

“Jake!” Thatwasmaw, with her face all red and her eyes brighter than anything. Ja ke saw maw and be swallowed and kind of ducked. She grabbed me by the arm, hard. “You’ve deliberately disobeyed me, son! You’ve— Jake!”

Jake had hold of Fever’s nose and was sticking his finger in it. “I’m lookin’ fer somethin’,” Jake said.

“Somebody went an’--”

“1 forbade you to race that horse and you went ahead, against my wishes! I—it—” Maw had got so

tangled up in her britching she couldn’t talk.

“Mebbe a sponge,” Jake said. “Cuts off their wind.”

“Maw, Auction Fever he didn’t run

“That’s enough!” Maw yanked on my arm. “I know now' that I can’t—” She stared at me, and it was like her face froze over all of a sudden.

“What have you got in your mouth?” I didn’t have anything in my mouth. She jerked around to Jake. “The most despicable thing I’ve ever seen!” “They claim wrnter in their ear—” “Teaching my son to chew tobacco!” “Chew tobacco!” Jake’s mouth dropped open and his eyes bugged.

Maw stepped forward and she stuck out her finger. It came aw'ay from the corner of my mouth, all brown. “There!”

“Now jist a minnit,” said Jake. “Take it easy.”

“Betting is bad enough—but— chew'ing—”

“Don’t give him that money!” Jake’s face was all lit up like he’d eaten a sunset. Repeat looked over at him, with the money he’d been going to give Doc still in his hand.

Jake walked across to Fever. He pulled out Fever’s underlip. He looked, then he lifted the lip, grunted, and stuck his crooked finger in. It came out with the biggest jag of chewing tobacco 1 ever saw.

“Well, now,” Jake said as he walked toward Doc, “ain’t that interestin’? Horse that’s fussy about chewin’ tobacco. Wouldn’t be Black Stag like you had in your mouth before the race —before you took a look at Fever’s teeth?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Doc was smiling, but it was a pretty sick-looking smile.

“The hell you don’t!”

“Doctor Toovey!” That was maw,


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and the way she was looking at Doc you coüld easy tell she used to be a schoolteacher. “Did you or did you not put a—a—cud of chewing tobacco in my—in that horse’s mouth?”

1 knew how Doc felt-—like when the whole room gets quiet and Miss Henchbaw is looking right at you and you know you’re in for it.

“Makes ’em slobber,” said Jake. “Then they swallow it down an’ it cuts their wind.”

“Will the horse he all right, Jake?” Maw asked.

“Shore,” said Jake. “Won’t hurt him none. ’Fact he’s all right now.”

Maw’s face sort of tightened. She whirled back to Doc. “You are going to race! You will climb up on that horse and run an honest race against my son! Don’t interrupt, Doctor Toovey.”

“I ain’t—that kid don’t weigh more’n a grasshopper--”

“He hasn’t put on any weight since you first arranged the race,” Maw snapped.

Doc looked at Jake and the other folks around him; folks from our section aren’t so fussy about seeing a kid and his horse get diddled.

You should of felt Fever under me that second race! He ran smooth, with his silver mane flying and his neck laid out. He ran like the wind over the edge of the prairie coming to tell everybody they can’t live forever—slick as the wind through a field of wheat— slicker than peeled saskatoons. He’s the only horse living, Jake says, with three gears in high. He’s the only horse can make my throat plug up that way and my chest nearly bust.

Doc Toovey ought to have known better. My Fever is a Gent. And Gents don’t chaw!