Fiction

LITTLE PITCHER

A lady in distress, a thrilling race against death in a flood and a different kind of hero —in this story he gets rescued

STEVE FRAZEE February 15 1948
Fiction

LITTLE PITCHER

A lady in distress, a thrilling race against death in a flood and a different kind of hero —in this story he gets rescued

STEVE FRAZEE February 15 1948

LITTLE PITCHER

A lady in distress, a thrilling race against death in a flood and a different kind of hero —in this story he gets rescued

STEVE FRAZEE

MOM ALWAYS was saying that little pitchers had big ears. This time when she said it I took four cookies and went right into the front room to look at the little pitcher Uncle Waldo sent her for Christmas. First I went back to excuse myself when she made me, and then I had to leave two of the cookies, but I had three more in my pocket anyway.

I looked and looked at the little pitcher. There wasn’t one ear on it. Not even on the old duck sitting on its pond and looking silly. The paint was thick and it stuck away from it. Mom said it was oil, but oil was the slippery black stuff t hey had Ín barrels at the Flamingo Mill. Mom should have known the di flere nee because one time I sat down in a whole bucket of that Flamingo stuff and she had to use coal oil to clean me.

There weren’t any big ears on the little pitcher though I looked and looked. Finally Í went hack to the kitchen. Mom and Pop were still talking about how Doctor Bill’s wife was seeing Jack Starrett all the time and what a bad thing it was and What should they do. Mostly it was my Mom who worried about something to do. My Pop always got mad and said the best thing was to shoot Jack Starrett and forget about it. I thought that was pretty good myself, but my Mom always said no, it was not.

I stopped by t he door and said, “Mom, I looked at that little pitcher over the fireplace and there isn’t even one ear on it, and you said ”

My Pop tipjxxl his chair against the wall and laughed and laughed and Mom did a little. When Pop quit, making so much noise Mom said I had been looking at a pict-ure, not a pitcher. She said go look at the little blue pit-eher in the kitchen and see what a big ear it had.

So 1 did. Sure enough the handle looked like an ear if you looked a long time and it was awful big for such ft little pitcher. Then Í wondered what that had to do with Doctor Bill and his pretty wife. So I just looked at the pit-eher and listened.

“I know, I know,” my Pop said. “Everybody hut the Doc knows. She doesn’t belong out here. She just isn’t cut out for a mining camp. And if she

runs off with Jack Starrett it might be a good thing for Bill.”

“A good thing!” Mom sounded mad. “You know the way he worships Elizabeth and that baby. If she leaves him it’ll ruin him.”

I didn’t want to see Doctor Bill ruined. That’s what happened to three of the horses in Joe Hart’s team when the ore wagon rolled off the grade and they had to shoot them. So I began to feel pretty bad about Doctor Bill because I liked him. He always talked to me and once Mugwump hurt his paw and I took him right over to Doctor Bill and he fixed it, even if he did say where he came from people would frown at such things. I thought it must be pretty bad where people frowned when a man fixed a little pup’s hurt leg. But Mom said it wasn’t because she came from there and she told me Doctor Bill was supposed to fix only people. She said not to take Mugwump to him any more but that she would get Doc Barlow from Chaffee City if Mugwump needed fixing because Doc Barlow was supposed to be for dogs and horses and mules and things.

I just kept looking at the little blue pit-cher and sometimes I moved my feet around a little because I knew if I was too quiet Mom would come looking to see what I was doing and then I couldn’t listen any more.

“He’ll not stay here if Elizabeth leaves him,” Mom said. “You know how people used to die up here before a doctor could get through those snowdrifts from Chaffee City. There were at least four children he saved last winter.”

“I know,” Pop said. “He’s a good man and everybody knows it—but if his wife wants to run away with Jack Starrett that’s not my business. And it isn’t yours either!”

“I think it. is,” Mom said and she sounded just like when she told me she was going to have to spank me for being had. “Elizabeth is too fine to throw herself away.”

“You and her are thick enough. Tell her that, not me. I can’t help her.”

“You don’t seem to want to,” Mom said.

“I told you I’d fire Jack Starrett!” Pop yelled.

“Now wouldn’t that be just dandy. Make a martyr of him and he and Elizabeth would leave on the next stage.”

“She isn’t the type for Bill if she runs out. This country’s too rough for her.” Pop grabbed his hat off the elkhorns and started for the door real fast.

“I wasn’t the type either. Remember?” Mom said.

“You’re different!” Pop yelled and he left real fast.

Mom wouldn’t let me go with him because it was raining. It had been raining off and on for a million days and I couldn’t play outside all that time.

IT WASN’T raining very hard now so I asked again if I could go out and play with Wump, but she said it was too wet and that after a while she would show me some more pictures of the big boats that pulled lumber and coal on the big river where she used to live. I wanted to build a boat myself. Down by Joe Keller’s stable was a big thick door by the manure pile. It got kicked off the stable one day when old Doc Barlow was giving one of the horses something for heaves.

Joe Keller said I could have it if I carried it over to the creek. But I couldn’t budge the door, even if it was only a little way to the river.

After Mom washed the dishes she showred me pict-ures of the big boats on a river that was so wide you couldn’t even see all the way across it. It was wider than the Lake. I thought it would be swell to have a boat on a river like that. Maybe if Pop gave me one of the boilers from the Black Tiger Mine and I could get old Hank Saunders to haul it over and put it on the door I’d have a real steamboat. Then if I got the whistle off the Flamingo Mill . . . and the cannon from the park in Chaffee City . . .

It was a lot of fun to think about my boat steaming up and down the creek with my whistle scaring horses and Old Lady Hewitt. All the kids would be with me and we wouldn’t land the boat until we got good and ready.

Just when I had decided to name my boat the Stinkpot Limited, Elizabeth came to our house. She had her little baby all wrapped up and under part of her blue raincoat. She looked kind of funny and I thought she was going to bawl, but she didn’t. She and Mom just looked at each other.

“So it’s finally come,” Mom said.

Elizabeth nodded her head and her eyes were sort of big and scary like the way the horses’ eyes looked once on the Flamingo grade when old Slick Johnson’s rough locks busted and the team acted like they knew that heavy wagon was going to go so fast they’d go off the road and get hurt. And they did.

“When?” Mom asked.

“In about an hour. Jack’s coming by here and we’re going to meet Hank Saunders down by the pump and go to Chaffee City with him. Jack says he can get a superintendent’s job in Arizona.”

“And the baby?” Mom said and she sounded awful tired.

“You said you’d keep her till—”

“I did, and I shall,” Mom said. “Elizabeth, I’ll say for the last time I think you’re making a mistake.”

“I’m going.”

“Then I’ll say no more.” When Mom said that she really meant it. Then I got to thinking I would make my boat into a pirate ship and take all the gold they made, out of rock at the Flamingo Mill and steam to Chaffee City and buy my crew ice cream until we got tired of it. Only we wouldn’t.

They put the baby in my sister’s bed. My sister was visiting Aunt Mamie and Uncle John in Chaffee City. She was always doing that in the summer and I had to stay home. I went over to the window and saw it had stopped raining. Mom and Elizabeth were talking in the bedroom and the baby was laughing and gooing. Pretty soon Mom came out and told me I could go play with Jimmie Belden but not to go near the river. Just as I was ready to go Elizabeth grabbed me and kissed me before I could do anything. I didn’t like it, even if she did smell pretty nice.

Mugwump was awful glad to see me. He tripped me on the way downhill and I got good and muddy right away. Jimmie Belden couldn’t come out and

I didn’t want to play inside like his Mom asked me. I didn’t want to go over to the Black Tiger either because my Pop would watch me pretty close and wouldn’t let me have any fun like climbing down into the big ore bins. Then I thought I’d go see Doctor Bill and tell him about Elizabeth and Jack Starrett and how they were going to run away.

I didn’t like Jack Starrett. He cursed at me once when I shot him in the back of the head with an arrow after the first time I heard Pop say he ought to be shot. I would have told him that only he didn’t catch me. Another time he called me a dirty little brat because I wouldn’t go away when he and Elizabeth were talking by the little table in the trees behind Doctor Bill’s house. Doctor Bill was

up at the Lake taking a bullet out of Gus Olson that day. He showed me the bullet, too. No sir, I didn’t like Jack Starrett even if he was the night-shift boss at the Black Tiger.

Doctor Bill wasn’t anywhere around, so I looked at the insides of a man in a big book on one of the shelves. They were in lots of pretty colors and a lot better than the old duck in the pict-ure. Pretty soon I went to the front door again and looked down the street.

I saw old Hank Saunder’s wagon down by McGregor’s saloon. For a while I thought I’d go down there, but I couldn’t go inside even to put a nickel in one of the machines except when I sneaked in and one of the miners lifted me up to the little holes where you put the nickel in. But 1 didn’t

have a nickel and besides there wasn’t much of a crowd in the daytime so I could get in without old McGregor seeing me. There sure were a lot of things that people wouldn’t let a guy do if they caught him.

I wanted to see old Hank though, because he’d been a cowboy hundreds of years before and still had a rope and a lot of stuff in his wagon and he carried a big gun on a belt with a whole lot of bullets. He even gave me a bullet one day but he took it back just because I pounded it with a rock to make it. go off. He told me about fighting bad men and lions and Indians. He was awful old now and sort of crippled from being shot so much and from getting bucked off horses and wrestling with lions and tigers. Continued on page 24

Continued on page 24

Continued from page 23

I knew old Hank would be in McGregor’s a long time, though, so then I thought maybe Doctor Bill might be out by the little table and chairs in the trees. Sometimes he and Elizabeth ate their dinner there.

Sure enough he was there.

HE WASN’T doing anything but sitting and he looked awful still. He looked like the time he came out of Belden’s house after the horses ran over little Mike Belden.

He said hello to me and Wump and he didn’t even smile. First I started to tell him about my boat and then I remembered about Elizabeth and Jack Starrett and I told him about that. I told him Elizabeth was going to give the baby to my Mom but that. Mom would let him have it back, even if I did like baby girls better than my sister. Baby girls couldn’t hit. as hard as my sister when they got mad. All they could do was get red in the face and cry.

“I know, Buddy,” he said. “But thank you very much for telling me anyway.”

He was sfill sad, so I thought maybe if I told him more about my steamboat he would be happy. I promised him the very first ride with me. He thanked me again but he still wasn’t very happy. Then I told him I knew where my Mom hid Pop’s gun and that I would get it for him and we could go shoot Jack Starrett just as soon as the whistle blew at the Black Tiger.

He smiled just a little. “You certainly are a true son of the West, Buddy,” he said.

That didn’t make much sense to me.

Then I saw Pop coming across the little bridge from t he Black Tiger so I ran over to meet him. We went back to the little table. Doctor Bill still just sat there.

My Pop cleared his throat. “Creek’s awful high and still rising,” he said.

“Yes, I noticed that,” Doctor Bill said, but he didn’t seem to care.

“We’d better let that fishing trip to the Lake slide until a week from this Sunday,” Pop said.

“I suppose so,” Doctor Bill said.

Pop didn’t say any more for a long time. He just stood real still looking at Doctor Bill.

“Jack Starrett drew his time this morning. He’s over in McGregor’s right now. He’s ready to leave.”

“Don’t strain so, Dave,” Doctor Bill said. “I’ve known everything for a long time.”

Pop seemed surprised. He didn’t say anything, but he looked at me like I’d been putting rocks in his sacks of ore samples again.

“No,” Doctor Bill said, “though Buddy was kind enough to tell me what the entire camp thought it was concealing.”

Wump jumped up and pawed at Pop’s legs but. Pop didn’t see him. “I was just going over to McGregor’s for a drink.” Pop took a nice black gun from his pocket and laid it on the table. “But I won’t, need this just to get a drink.”

I reached for the gun and got my hand back just before Pop whacked at; my fingers. You had to be pretty fast around Pop.

“I won’t need it eit her,” Doctor Bill said. “Nothing unfair about, it. He’s got one.” “Suppose I did succeed—which is very unlikely —that still wouldn’t settle the problem. It lies with Betty herself.”

“Great; Scott, Bill! He bragged about taking her with him!” Pop said.

“Maybe she’ll come back, someday . .

“Bet ter if she doesn’t go at all,” Pop said. “Why don’t you stop her?”

Doctor Bill shook his head.

After a while Pop picked up the gun and put it back in his pocket. “I’m sorry, Bill.”

“Thanks, Dave.”

Pop took my hand and we started back toward the little bridge. “I thought you were going to McGregor’s,” I said.

Pop didn’t say anything. He put me under one arm and Wump under the other and carried us across the bridge. Continued on page 26

Continued on page 26

Little Pitcher

Continued from page 24

I could see the water was bouncing over the logs a little.

“Is Doctor Bill scared of Jack Starrett?” I asked.

“No! He’s twice as brave as Starrett.” Pop sounded mad. Then he looked at the sky and said, “You get home before the rain starts again.”

He went up the Black Tiger dump real fast and Wump and I started home. When I came to the big bridge near the livery stable I remembered my boat and thought I’d better go and look at it. It began to rain pretty hard before I got there. Somebody had pushed the door a little ways from the manure pile and it was floating in the water that had come up from the creek almost to the stable doorway. I got on the boat and it quit floating but I thought maybe I could shove it to the creek and go all the way to Chaffee City and see my Aunt Mamie and Uncle John and my sister.

Wump started to bark and got hold of my pants leg and didn’t want me to get on the door. I got an old busted shovel out of Joe Keller’s stable and got back on the boat and pushed with the shovel and the boat moved a little. Wump got awful excited but I kept shoving and pretty soon the boat went a little better and soon I was really floating on the creek.

I let out a big yell at Wump so he could see me go. He barked and ran along the bank and kept acting like he was going to jump in the water. It was pretty swell on the boat and I didn’t even need a boiler to make it go. Pretty soon the muddy water came up through the cracks and the boat began to bounce a little. After the river got past the little level place by Joe Keller’s pigpen it began to go faster and faster and sometimes it whirled clear around. I got hold of a long iron thing that used to hold the lock and hung on.

The water got awful bouncy and began to splash all over me and I got some in my mouth just as I was going to yell at Wump. It choked me for a while and tasted bad. Then my boat began to go faster and the river was roaring a lot. Sometimes my boat bumped on things and jumped around and once one end went clear under water and lifted me way up in the air when we hit a log. I hung tight to my piece of iron and began to get scared. The water was dirty looking and had a lot of foamy stuff on top that tossed and went into the air. There were chips from the timber yard below the Black Tiger and wooden orange boxes and branches and even whole trees.

PRETTY soon I began to wish I hadn’t got on the door. I yelled for Pop but I guess he couldn’t hear me because the river was making such a noise. Wump heard me because he was running as hard as he could along the bank, jumping over logs and climbing rocks and going through willows and brush. Once I came close to the bank and the door swung around slow for a minute and I was going to get off, but just as I started to get up the creek gave the door a big push and it went spinning along hitting on things and jumping up and down so much I was half under water some of the time. I didn’t like it at all.

Then I remembered there were some big falls down in the canyon and that wasn’t very far. I began to wonder if my door could go over them very good and I was afraid it couldn’t. Then I yelled for Mom.

I stopped yelling when the door quit bouncing so much, but it was still going awful fast. Right ahead I saw a place

where the creek made two rivers around a little piece of land in the middle. My door went smack against the little piece of land and slowed down for a minute and I jumped off and waded over to a little tree. There were some other little trees and two stumps. The river was running pretty fast and awful cold against my legs, so I climbed on one stump and sat down and held on to the little tree that was shaking like it was scared too. But I bet it wasn’t as scared as me.

My door went past me and on down the river. Then I saw the little bridge that was a short cut from our house to the pump and the railroad station. The water was splashing over the little bridge and when my door hit there the boards stood on end for a while and then went under and I was glad I wasn’t on it.

It was cold and raining hard. It began to rain so hard it made the river hiss like Joe Keller’s geese. For a while I couldn’t see the bridge because of the rain. Pretty soon I had to stand up on the stump because the water was getting over my feet. The little tree began to shake harder then. Wump was across one of the little rivers and he was barking and putting his front feet in the water. I was afraid he’d get in the water and be pulled under. The way the muddy old stuff went past on both sides of me was scary. It began to get over my shoes, even when I was standing on the stump, and the little tree began to lean away from me farther and farther. I looked behind me at the other stump and it was out of the water a lot more than mine, but it seemed like a long way off.

It wasn’t very far from where I was to where Wump was in the big patch of ferns across the creek, but the water was going very fast and I could hear rocks rolling in the bottom of the river. The water began to get up toward my knees and things bumped against my legs and once a slab almost pushed me off the stump. My legs were shaking and I was crying a little, I guess.

Then I saw a man and woman running through the trees toward Wump. He was still barking as loud as he could and whining sometimes. I thought it must be Mom and Pop so I began to yell as loud as I could. Then I saw it was Elizabeth and Jack Starrett. Wump jumped all over Elizabeth.

“Buddy! Buddy! Don’t cry. We’ll get you off there in a minute!” Elizabeth yelled. “Won’t we, Jack?” She was talking to him but she kept looking at me and the river.

“I don’t know how,” he said.

“We’ll get you, Buddy. Don’t worry!” she yelled.

Jack Starrett used some bad words. Then he said, “A man couldn’t get through that water. It would carry a horse off its feet. Listen to those boulders grinding in the bottom.” He picked up a big rock and tosæd it. “Look!” The rock hit between me and the bank and the river swirled it away real fast.

“Hang on tight, Buddy. We’ll get you!” Elizabeth yelled again.

I wished she’d hurry because my legs were shaking worse than the little tree and the water was coming up farther all the time.

Jack Starrett knocked over a dead tree and threw it in the creek. I guess he was trying to make a bridge, but the water took the tree away in a hurry. He pulled over another dead one and threw it and it almost hit me.

“You fool! Do you want to knock him away from that tree!” Elizabeth yelled.

“Maybe if he let the water carry him down to the bridge I could grab him from there.”

Continued on page 28

Continued from page 26

Elizabeth said something l couldn’t bear, and then she yelled at me, “Hang on, Buddy. Don’t let go!”

1 wouldn’t let go even if the little tree was leaning over so far only my toes were on the edge of the stump.

“Go and get Hank Saunders. Quick!” Elizabeth said to Jack Starrett. “Have him bring his rope.” He didn’t start very fast. Elizabeth yelled at him again. “Run—run!”

Jack Starrett ran across the bridge.

ÏA LIZA BETH kept talking to me and 'j petting Wump, but he was still whining. She asked me what 1 was standing on and how I got there and what would my Mom say when I came home all wet. She asked me how old 1 was and what were we going to have for supper and didn’t I think Wump was a fine pup and a whole lot of things. 1 quit crying but the water was awful cold and the little tree was nearly falling down.

Then old Hank Saunders and Jack Starrett came running. Hank coiled his rope and threw it across the creek and I saw over my shoulder that he was trying to lasso the stump behind me. There was just a little of it sticking out of water and he didn’t catch it. But he pulled the rope back and grinned at me and the next time he caught the stump. Then he pulled hard on his rope and leaned way back and Elizabeth helped him. He tied his end to a tree and then cut a piece off what was left.

He gave the piece to Jack Starrett and said, “Tie it to the stump when you get over so you can use it to go down and get him.”

Jack Starrett just held the rope like he didn’t want it. “I can’t swim a lick, Hank,” he said. “And I weigh so much I might pull that stump loose handing myself across on that rope. Can’t we figure some other way to—”

Old Hank called him a yellow something that caused me to get my mouth washed out with soap and water. “Get down to the bridge then!” old Hank yelled and he grabbed the cut piece of rope from him.

Old Hank took off his gun belt and pulled his hat down real tight on his head and started to tie the short rope around his chest. “I can’t swim a lick neither.”

He was having trouble tying the rope around him because one of his arms was sort of crippled and didn’t work very well. Elizabeth took off her blue raincoat and grabbed the rope from old Hank.

“I’ll go,” she said. “You got so much lead in you you’d sink before you got started.”

Elizabeth tied the rope around her neck and waded out into the river holding on to the lasso. She didn’t wade far because her feet were floating downstream and her hair came down and was floating behind her, but she kept pulling herself along old Hank’s lasso and once she even said to me, “Steady, Buddy!”

She got across all right and the water was up to her waist when she stood up behind the stump. 1 thought she was going to fall down when she was tying the rope to the stump but she leaned way over and tied it. Then she came down to me, holding the rope, and she grabbed me just before the little tree fell over and floated off. Old Hank was yelling, “Good girl!” over and over and Wump was barking.

“Can you hold on tight? Sure you can, can’t you?” she asked me.

1 was holding tight all right. She pulled us along the short rope back to the stump. Then she leaned over and tried to untie the rope, but she staggered a whole lot and almost, fell. Old

Hank yelled for her to hurry and she yelled back that she wanted the short rope to tie me on her back. Old Hank yelled that I’d have to hang on because there was a whole mess of big trees coming down the river and they might come our way and bust the rope. She looked and so did I and there was a great big tree with its roots sticking out of water and it was coming right at us.

“Hold tight as you can, Buddy. Here we go!” she said.

Elizabeth was under water part of the time and sometimes both of us were but she kept pulling along the rope and pretty soon old Hank grabbed us and dragged us up the bank and yelled, “There goes the rope!”

Wump jumped right in the middle of me and licked my face and barked.

Jack Starrett came running and started to help Elizabeth up but cld Hank got in between him and her and helped her get up. She was breathing real fast and she felt her throat.

“Shame on you, Buddy, for tying to choke a lady,” Hank said and he grinned and picked me up. “Wow! you’re cold !” he said.

“I’ll take him right home,” Elizabeth said. “Hank, will you bring my things back to the house?”

“I sure will!” Hank said.

“I suppose you will have to change clothes before we start out again,” Jack Starrett said. He started to take hold of Elizabeth but she looked at him for a minute and didn’t say anything. He didn’t look very funny either, but all at once she laughed at him. Then he looked mad and asked what was so funny. She told him he had a trip planned and he’d better get started but she wasn’t going then or ever.

Jack Starrett got real mad and cursed and started to grab her arm but old Hank pushed him with his shoulder and said, “You heard the lady, Starrett. Start to giftin’!”

“You’re not looking for trouble, old man, are you?” Jack Starrett asked.

Old Hank had his gun belt on and he sort of hitched it up and stepped back a ways and smiled. It wasn’t a happy

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smile and his mustache didn’t move at all the way it usually did when he talked. “Nothing would suit me better, Starrett,” he said in sort of a whisper that scared me.

Jack Starrett walked away across the bridge and old Hank said, “The Docsure will be proud of you and so am I !”

Mom was real surprised when Elizabeth brought me home. Elizabeth ran right into my sister’s bedroom and this time she was laughing and the baby was crying and I was wondering whether it would be Mom or Pop who spanked me for getting in the river.

Mom told me to get in the kitchen and take off my wet things. I was doing that when I saw Elizabeth start for home. She had the baby wrapped up in Mom’s raincoat and she looked pretty happy even if she was awful wet and the baby was yelling its head off’.

After I had a bath and quit shaking and drank hot lemonade and old medicine and stuff Mom sent me to bed. 1 didn’t really care though ’cause I had to figure out where to get another boat. ★