Read CHAPTER XV of Wolfville Nights, free online book, by Alfred Lewis, on

Bowlegs and Major Ben.

“Which this yere Major Ben,” remarked the Old Cattleman, “taken in conjunction with his bosom pard, Billy Bowlaigs, frames up the only casooalty which gets inaug’rated in Wolfville.”

“What!” I interjected; “don’t you consider the divers killings, the death of the Stinging Lizard and the Dismissal of Silver Phil, to say nothing of the taking off of the Man from Red Dog don’t you, I say, consider such bloody matters casualties?”

“No, sir,” retorted my friend, emitting the while sundry stubborn puffs of smoke, “no, sir; I regyards them as results. Tharfore, I reiterates that this yere Major Ben an’ Bowlaigs accomplishes between ’em the only troo casooalty whereof Wolfville has a record.”

At this he paused and surveyed me with an eye of challenge; after a bit, perceiving that I proposed no further contradiction, he went on:

“This Billy Bowlaigs at first is a cub b’ar a black cub b’ar: an’ when he grows up to manhood, so to speak, he’s as big, an’ mighty near as strong physical, as Dan Boggs. Nacherally, however, Dan lays over Bowlaigs mental like a ace-full.

“It’s Dave Tutt who makes Bowlaigs captive; Dave rounds Bowlaigs up in his infancy one time when he’s pesterin’ about over in the foothills of the Floridas lookin’ for blacktail deer. Dave meets up with Bowlaigs an’ the latter’s mother who’s out, evident, on a scout for grub. Bowlaig’s mother has jest upturned a rotten pine-log to give little Bowlaigs a chance to rustle some of these yere egreegious white worms which looks like bald catapillars, that a-way, when all at once around a p’int of rocks Dave heaves in view. This parent of Bowlaigs is as besotted about her son as many hooman mothers; for while Bowlaigs stands almost as high as she does an’ weighs clost onto two hundred pounds, the mother b’ar still has the idée tangled up in her intelligence that Bowlaigs is that small an’ he’pless, day-old kittens is se’f-sustainin’ citizens by compar’son to him. Actin’ on these yere errors, Bowlaig’s mother the moment she glimpses Dave grabs young Bowlaigs by the scruff of the neck an’ goes caperin’ off up hill with him. An’ to give that parent b’ar full credit, she’s gettin’ along all right an’ conductin’ herse’f as though Bowlaigs don’t heft no more than one of them gooseha’r pillows, when, accidental, she bats pore Bowlaigs ag’in the bole of a tree him hangin’ outen her mouth about three foot an’ while the collision shakes that monarch of the forest some, Bowlaigs gets knocked free of her grip an’ goes rollin’ down the mountain-side ag’in like a sack of bran. It puts quite a crimp in Bowlaigs. The mother b’ar, full of s’licitoode to save her offspring turns, an’ charges Dave; tharupon Dave downs her, an’ young Bowlaigs becomes a orphan an’ a pris’ner on the spot.

“Followin’ the demise of Bowlaig’s mother, Dave sort o’ feels reesponsible for the cub’s bringin’ up an’ he ties him hand an’ foot, an’ after peelin’ the pelt from the old mother b’ar, packs the entire outfit into camp. Dave’s pony protests with green eyes ag’in carryin’ sech a freight, but Dave has his way as he usually does with everything except Tucson Jennie.

“At first Dave allows he’ll let Bowlaigs live with him a whole lot an’ keep him ontil he grows up, an’ construct a pet of him. But as I more than once makes plain, Dave proposes but Tucson Jennie disposes; an’ so it befalls that on the third day after the cub takes up his residence with her an’ Dave, Jennie arms herse’f with a broom an’ harasses the onfortunate Bowlaigs from her wickeyup. Jennie declar’s that she discovers Bowlaigs organisin’ to devour her child Enright Peets Tutt, who’s at that epock comin’ three the next spring round-up.

“‘I could read it in that Bowlaigs b’ar’s eyes,’ says Jennie, ‘an’ it’s mighty lucky a parent’s faculties is plumb keen. If I hadn’t got in on the play with my broom, you can bet that inordinate Bowlaigs would have done eat little Enright Peets all up.

“Shore, no one credits these yere apprehensions of Jennie’s; Bowlaigs would no more have chewed up Enright Peets than he’d played table-stakes with him; but a fond mother’s fears once stampeded is not to be headed off or ca’med, an’ Bowlaigs has to shift his camp a heap.

“Bowlaigs takes up his abode on the heels of him bein’ run out by Tucson Jennie, over to the corral; that is, he bunks in thar temp’rary at least. An’ he shore grows amazin’, an’ enlarges doorin’ the next three months to sech a degree that when he stands up to the counter in the Red Light, acceptin’ of some proffered drink, Bowlaigs comes clost to bein’ as tall as folks. He early learns throughout his wakeful moments what I’d deescribe as his business hours to make the Red Light a hang-out; it’s the nosepaint he’s hankerin’ after, for in no time at all Bowlaigs accoomulates a appetite for rum that’s a fa’r match for that of either Huggins or Old Monte, an’ them two sots is for long known as far west as the Colorado an’ as far no’th as the Needles as the offishul drunkards of Arizona. No; Bowlaigs ain’t equal to pourin’ down the raw nosepaint; but Black Jack humours his weakness an’ Bowlaigs is wont to take off his libations about two parts water to one of whiskey an’ a lump of sugar in the bottom, outen one of these big tumbler glasses; meanwhiles standin’ at the bar an’ holdin’ the glass between his two paws an’ all as ackerate an’ steady as the most talented inebriate.

“‘An’ Bowlaigs has this distinction,’ says Black Jack, alloodin’ to the sugar an’ water; ’he’s shore the only gent for whom I so far onbends from reg’lar rools as to mix drinks.’

“Existence goes flowin’ onward like some glad sweet song for Bowlaigs for mighty likely it’s two months an’ nothin’ remarkable eventuates. He camps in over to the corral, an’ except that new ponies, who ain’t onto Bowlaigs, commonly has heart-failure at the sight of him, he don’t found no disturbances nor get in anybody’s way. Throughout his wakin’ hours, as I su’gests former, Bowlaigs ha’nts about the Red Light, layin’ guileful an’ cunnin’ for invites to drink; an’ he execootes besides small excursions to the O.K. Restauraw for chuck, with now an’ then a brief journey to the Post Office or the New York store. These visits of Bowlaigs to the last two places, both because he don’t get no letters at the post office an’ don’t demand no clothes at the store, I attribootes to motives of morbid cur’osity, that a-way.

“The first real trouble that meets up with Bowlaigs who’s got to be a y’ar old by now since Jennie fights the dooel with him with that broom, overtakes him at the O.K. Restauraw. Missis Rucker for one thing ain’t over fond of Bowlaigs, allegin’ as he grows older day by day he looks more an’ more like Rucker. Of course, sech views is figments as much as the alarms of Tucson Jennie about Bowlaigs meditatin’ gettin’ away with little Enright Peets; but Missis Rucker, in spite of whatever we gent folks can say in Bowlaigs’s behalf, believes firm in her own slanders. She asserts that Bowlaigs as he onfolds looks like Rucker; an’ for her at least that settles the subject an’ she assoomes towards Bowlaigs attitoodes which, would perhaps have been proper had her charge been troo.

“Still, I’ll say for that most esteemable lady, that Missis Rucker never lays for Bowlaigs or assaults him ontil one afternoon when he catches the dinin’-room deserted an’ off its gyard an’ goes romancin’ over, cat-foot an’ surreptitious, an’ cleans up the tables of what chuck has been placed thar in antic’pation of supper. The first news Missis Rucker has of the raid is when Bowlaigs gets a half-hitch on the tablecloth an’ winds up his play by yankin’ the entire outfit of spoons, tin plates an’ crockery off onto the floor. It’s then Missis Rucker sallies from the kitchen an’ puts Bowlaigs to flight.

“Bowlaigs, who’s plumb scared, comes lumberin’ over to the Red Light an’ puts himse’f onder our protection. Enright squar’s it for him; for when Missis Rucker appears subsequent with a Winchester an’ a knife an’ gives it out cold she’s goin’ to get Bowlaig’s hide an’ tallow an’ sell ’em to pay even for that dinin’-room desolation of which he’s the architect, Enright counts up the damage an’ pays over twenty-three dollars in full settlement. Does Bowlaigs know it? You can gamble the limit he knows it; for all the time Missis Rucker is prancin’ about the Red Light denouncin’ him, he secretes himse’f, shiverin’, behind the bar; an’ when that lady withdraws, mollified an’ subdooed by the money, he creeps out, Bowlaigs does, an’ cries an’ licks Enright’s hand. Oh, he’s a mighty appreciative b’ar, pore Bowlaigs is; but his nerves is that onstrung by the perils he passes through with Missis Rucker it takes two big drinks to recover his sperits an’ make him feel like the same b’ar. It’s Texas Thompson who buys the drinks:

“‘For I, of all gents, Bowlaigs,’ says Texas, as he invites the foogitive to the bar, ’onderstands what you-all’s been through. It may be imagination, but jest the same thar’s them times when Missis Rucker goes on the warpath when she reminds me a lot of my divorced Laredo wife.’ With that Texas pours a couple of hookers of Willow Run into Bowlaigs, an’ the latter is a heap cheered an’ his pulse declines to normal.

“It’s rum, however, which final is the deestruction of Bowlaigs, same as it is of plenty of other good people who would have else lived in honour an’ died respected an’ been tearfully planted in manner an’ form to do ’em proud.

“Excloosive of that casooalty which marks his wind-up, an’ which he combines with Major Ben to commit, thar’s but one action of Bowlaigs a enemy might call a crime. He does prounce on a mail bag one evenin’ when the post-master ain’t lookin’, an’ shore rends an’ worrits them letters scand’lous.

“Yes, Bowlaigs gets arrested, an’ the Stranglers sort o’ convenes informal to consider it. I allers remembers that session of the Stranglers on account of Doc Peets an’ Colonel William Greene Sterett entertain’ opp’site views an’ the awful language they indulges in as they expresses an’ sets ’em forth.

“‘Which I claims that this Bowlaigs b’ar,’ says Peets, combatin’ a suggestion of Dan Boggs who’s sympathisin’ with an’ urges that Bowlaigs is ‘ignorant of law an’ tharfore innocent of offence,’ ’which I claims that this Bowlaig b’ar is guilty of rustlin’ the mails an’ must an’ should be hanged. His ignorance is no defences, for don’t each gent present know of that aphorism of the law, Ignoratis legia non excusat!’

“Dan, nacherally, is enable to combat sech profound bluffs as this, an’ I’m free to confess if it ain’t for Colonel Sterett buttin’ in with more Latin, the same bein’ of equal cogency with that of Peet’s, the footure would have turned plenty dark an’ doobious for Bowlaigs. As Dan sinks back speechless an’ played from Peet’s shot, the Colonel, who bein’ eddicated like Peets to a feather aige is ondismayed an’ cool, comes to the rescoo.

“‘That law proverb you quotes, Doc,’ says the Colonel, ’is dead c’rrect, an’ if argyment was to pitch its last camp thar, your deductions that this benighted Bowlaigs must swing, would be ondeniable. But thar’s a element lackin’ in this affair without which no offence is feasible. The question is, an’ I slams it at you, Doc, as a thoughtful eddicated sharp does this yere Bowlaigs open them letters an’ bust into that mail bag causa lucrae? I puts this query up to you-all, Doc, for answer. It’s obv’ous that Bowlaigs ain’t got no notion of money bein’ in them missives an’ tharfore he couldn’t have been moved by no thoughts of gain. Wherefore I asserts that the deed is not done causa lucrae, an’ that the case ag’in this he’pless Bowlaigs falls to the ground.’

“Followin’ this yere collision of the classics between two sech scientists as Peets an’ the Colonel, we-all can be considered as hangin’ mighty anxious on what reply Doc Peets is goin’ to make. But after some thought, Peets agrees with the Colonel. He admits that this causa lucrae is a bet he overlooks, an’ that now the Colonel draws his attention to it, he’s bound to say he believes the Colonel to be right, an’ that Bowlaigs should be made a free onfettered b’ar ag’in. We breathes easier at this, for the tension has been great, an’ Dan himse’f is that relieved he comes a heap clost to sheddin’ tears. The trial closes with the customary drinks; Bowlaigs gettin’ his forty drops with the rest, on the hocks of which he signalises his reestoration to his rights an’ freedom as a citizen by quilin’ up in his corner an’ goin’ to sleep.

“But the end is on its lowerin’ way for Bowlaigs. Thar’s a senile party who’s packed his blankets into camp an’ who’s called ‘Major Ben.’ The Major, so the whisper goes, used to be quartermaster over to Fort Craig or Fort Apache, or mebby now it’s Fort Cummings or some’ers; an’ he gets himse’f dismissed for makin’ away with the bank-roll. Be that as it may, the Major’s plenty drunk an’ military while he lasts among us; an’ he likewise has dinero for whatever nosepaint an’ food an’ farobank he sees fit to go ag’inst. From the jump the Major makes up to Bowlaigs an’ the two become pards. The Major allows he likes Bowlaigs because he can’t talk.

“‘Which if all my friends,’ says the Major, no doubt alloodin’ to them witnesses ag’in him when he’s cashiered, ’couldn’t have talked no more than Bowlaigs, I’d been happy yet.’

“The Major’s got a diminyootive wickeyup out to the r’ar of the corral, an’ him an’ Bowlaigs resides tharin. This habitat of the Major an’ Bowlaigs ain’t much bigger than a seegyar box; it’s only eight foot by ten, is made of barn-boards an’ has a canvas roof. That’s the kind of ranch Bowlaigs an’ the Major calls ‘home’; the latter spreadin’ his blankets on one side while Bowlaigs sleeps on t’other on the board floor, needin’ no blankets, havin’ advantage over the Major seein’ he’s got fur.

“The dispoote between Bowlaigs an’ the Major which results in both of ‘em cashin’ in, gets started erroneous. The Major who’s sometimes too indolent an’ sometimes too drunk to make the play himse’f instructs Bowlaig how to go over to the Red Light an’ fetch a bottle of rum. The Major would chuck a silver dollar in a little basket, an’ Bowlaigs would take it in his mouth same as you-all has seen dogs, an’ report with the layout to Black Jack. That gent would make the shift, bottle for dollar, an’ Bowlaigs would reepair back ag’in to the Major, when they’d both tank up ecstatic.

“One mornin’ after Bowlaigs an’ the Major’s been campin’ together about four months, they wakes up mighty jaded. They’ve had a onusual spree the evenin’ prior an’ they feels like a couple of sore-head dogs. The Major who needs a drink to line up for the day, gropes about in his blankets, gets a dollar, pitches it into the basket an’ requests Bowlaigs to caper over for the Willow Run. Bowlaigs is nothin’ loth; but as he’s about to pick up the basket, he observes that the dollar has done bounced out an’ fell through a crack in the floor. Bowlaigs sees it through the same crack where it’s layin’ shinin’ onder the house.

“Now this yere Bowlaigs is a mighty sagacious b’ar, also froogal, an’ so he goes wallowin’ forth plenty prompt to recover the dollar. The Major, who’s ignorant of what’s happened, still lays thar groanin’ in his blankets, feelin’ like a loser an’ nursin’ his remorse.

“The first p’inter the Major gets of a new deal in his destinies is a grand crash as the entire teepee upheaves an’ goes over, kerwallop! on its side, hurlin’ the Major out through the canvas. It’s the thoughtless Bowlaigs does it.

“When Bowlaigs gets outside, he finds he can’t crawl onder the teepee none, seein’ it’s settin’ too clost to the ground; an’ tharupon, bein’ a one-ideed b’ar, he sort o’ runs his right arm in beneath that edifice an’ up-ends the entire shebang, same as his old mother would a log when she’s grub-huntin’ in the hills. Bowlaigs is pickin’ up the dollar when the Major comes swarmin’ ’round the ruins of his outfit, a bowie in his hand, an’ him fairly locoed with rage.

“Shore, thar’s a fight, an’ the Major gets the knife plumb to Bowlaigs’s honest heart with the first motion. But Bowlaigs quits game; he turns with a warwhoop an’ confers on the Major a swat that would have broke the back of a bronco; an’ then he dies with his teeth in the Major’s neck.

“The Major only lives a half hour after we gets thar. An’ it’s to his credit that he makes a statement exoneratin’ Bowlaigs. ’I don’t want you-all gents,’ says the Major, ‘to go deemin’ hard of this innocent b’ar, for whatever fault thar is, is mine. Since Texas Thompson picks up that dollar, this thing is made plain. What I takes for gratooitous wickedness on Bowlaigs’ part is nothin’ but his efforts to execoote my desires. Pore Bowlaigs! it embitters my last moments as I pictures what must have been his opinions of me when I lams loose at him with that knife! Bury us in one grave, gents; it’ll save trouble an’ show besides that thar’s no hard feelin’s between me an’ Bowlaigs over what an’ give it the worst name ain’t nothin’ but a onfortunate mistake.’”