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Legend of the Golden Coyote, Page 2

Max Brand

  I felt much the same about it, because there was distilled essence of poison in that Shorty. He meant mean work, and I didn’t doubt that he would find some way of harming all of us. I never guessed, though, the way that he would choose. None of us could do that, it was so roundabout and clever.

  After Shorty left, things settled down in the camp and went along extra fine and smooth. Almayer and Clarges had had a lesson that did them good, and, from that time on, they didn’t rough the boys or shoulder them out of the way at all. They seemed to understand that mere bulk was not all that there was to a man. In the meantime, they worked harder than ever. They had picked up a lot of the tricks of the lumber trade by this time. How much they added to the good cheer of that camp it would be hard to say. For one thing, there was no lack of men in the camp that season. Usually the boys fell away when the cold weather hit us, but this season there was a steady drift of gents up to the camp, eager and anxious to have a chance to see the two giants. And, after they came, they stayed, because it was a sight to see Almayer and Clarges, or to hear them sing, or to watch them eating more like a pair of horses than a pair of men.

  In fact, we had to be turning hands away all of the time, and the work was pushed ahead with a vim that surprised me. I had been five years on that job, and I’d never heard of such progress as was being made now. The big boss laid it all to Almayer and Clarges. Of course, we got a nickname for them. Saying their names, one by one, was too hard work for a Western memory. And one day, when they were singing in the distance, with the chime of their axes clinking in between the rhythm, a lumberjack sang out: “Listen to thunder and lightning!” It did make you think of that—the bumbling and rumbling of Clarges’s bass, and the higher, cleaner-cut ring of the voice of Almayer.

  After that, we called them Thunder and Lightning, and a good name it was for them. It hitched them up proper, and, from that time, they were never known in any other way through the lumber camps and over the whole spread of the cow camps in the lower hills. So we went along with everything as merry as you please until, all at once, the trouble hit us. No, not all at once, but gradually.

  Who ever heard of an invitation to a dance being the start of fighting? That was the way of it, however. Because one day at lunch time an old chap rode a pony into camp and sang out that down in the town there was a dance the next Saturday night and would us boys come down? They were bringing up a lot of extra girls from all over the range, and it was thought that there would be two hundred couples dancing in the assembly room of the old town hall. It sounded good to us. It sounded terrible good. And, from that time on, there wasn’t much except waiting for the day of the dance, you can bet.

  And Almayer and big Clarges? You would think that they would never dream of stepping out like a couple of elephants on a dance floor and two-stepping or waltzing with a girl. But that’s where you would be wrong, as we were all wrong. No really little man seems to know just how foolish and small he is, and no really big man seems to know just how foolish and big he is.


  Saturday evening there was a rush through dinner. Nobody seemed to care much what sort of nourishment he got. And, when we were all turned out for the dance, we got a sensation that staggered us a mite. When we were all tumbling into the buckboards that the big boss had supplied to cart us down to the dance, out came big Soapy Almayer and Jimmy Clarges, side-by-side, and they were dressed up like a pair of bandwagons. Jimmy had on golden-red corduroys, while his trousers were shoved into red boots. It looked like there must have been a whole calfskin used for the making of each of those boots. He had a great blue silk sash around his waist, a shirt of yellow silk, too, and a red-and-blue necktie. When Jimmy stepped out in that outfit, you could see him clear enough. You didn’t have to have him pointed out to you, as that being the man. You could have seen him through a fog. You could have heard him like a church bell, he was that loud.

  But everything goes by comparison and, compared with Soapy, I got to admit that Clarges was sort of pale and insignificant. I would hate to say that he didn’t amount to nothing, but the fact is that it was pretty hard to see Jimmy at all, when he was walking along there with his friend. For one thing, there was a lot more of Soapy. I mean, looking up and down, there was. There was just as many square yards of surface on Jimmy to take your attention. Soapy was loftier. He could carry his flag higher, as you might say.

  Well, on the top of that head of his, set onto the pale golden hair that he had and wore long, Soapy had a purple cap, round and sort of woolly, and there was a long yellow tassel to set it off and flop around, when he talked or shook his head, or anything like that. That was just the beginning of what Soapy had on. He wasn’t wearing long boots, like Jimmy. But somebody had come up through the mountains selling shoes made of a kind of soft yellow leather. They were comfortable and fitted fine, but they didn’t last long. Soapy had polished up those boots of his and worked over them, until they shone like they had been varnished. And almost the first thing that you would see about him would be the two spots of yellow—one on top of his head, and the other on his feet. Not that there wasn’t other things to see in between his head and his feet. Soapy had a dead-black suit. It was the blackest and the deadest-looking thing that you ever saw, and, under the coat, by way of a belt, he wore a broad, orange scarf. Since he always kept his coat open, the thing that you saw all the time was sure to be the orange scarf. I never saw such a color. There was a blue shirt on Soapy that was pretty intense. You could see it by its own light, so to speak. And there was a scarlet tie around his neck that talked for itself, too. But nothing seemed to matter, somehow, except that flaring, flaming, burning sash of orange that he wore around his middle. It was just as though you had picked up a great big banner of living fire and knotted it around the middle of big Soapy Almayer.

  They were pretty conscious that they were magnificent. The pair of them looked down very kindly and patronizing on all of the rest of us. It seemed like Soapy had some more finery left in his bedding roll. He was a good-natured gent, with a heart as big as a mountain, and he just couldn’t stand seeing the boys of his own camp fixed out so cheap and poor as we were. He wanted us to go right over to his roll and there to help ourselves to anything that we could find. Clarges offered the same.

  I managed to duck them by saying that it was late already, and that we’d better start. So off we rolled down the mountain, along what was called a road by the grace of God and a sense of humor.

  Jimmy and Soapy were, of course, sitting side-by-side. I was behind them and could watch what was going on. They loved each other better than brothers, you had better believe. But, just now, they were envying each other so bad that they could hardly stand it. What would make them jealous? Why, there was one thing on each of them that seemed to bust up his pal. The fine, shining boots of Jimmy Clarges was what made Soapy groan. And Jimmy, when he looked at that orange-colored belt of Soapy’s, could hardly stand it. He just shook his head and looked sick.

  “I cottoned to that sash the first time that I saw it,” Clarges said finally. “I might have known that I needed it. But who will look at a sawed-off runt like me, unless I got something to set me off and catch the eye? But I left you to buy that scarf, Soapy, because it got your eye.”

  “H-m-m” said Soapy.

  There was a long silence, so gloomy that pretty soon I thought that there would be a smash between the two of them, and it made me hang onto the edges of my seat, fearing that that pair of giants might grab one another and manage to wreck us all in their struggles.

  But soon Soapy said: “I would sort of be ashamed, Jimmy, to envy another gent some little thing that he might happen to have. I would sort of be ashamed, if I had what you got.”

  “What have I got?” asked Jimmy.

  “Now,” said Soapy, “you are leading me on, and all the time you’re pretending that you don’t know. But you do know. And this here dodge won’t work.”

  “Soapy, old man,” said Clarges, “I
give you my word that I dunno what you’re speaking about. I never was fixed up so miserable for a long time, when going to a party.”

  “Bah!” Soapy said. “I suppose that those boots of yours ain’t anything at all?”

  “These?” asked Clarges. He stuck out his leg, big and thick as the trunk of a tree and hard as iron with muscle. “These little old boots?” continued Clarges, wondering. “I dunno that anyone would notice them.”

  “They’ve got the world beat, those boots,” said Soapy, and he sighed again.

  Pretty soon there was a sudden start from Jimmy. Then he leaned over and worked for a minute. After a while he sat up with a grunt. He had peeled off his boots, and now he handed them across to Soapy.

  “Here, kid,” he said. “I couldn’t get no happiness out of them boots now that you’ve taken to hankering after them.”

  It amazed me a good deal to hear that. And Soapy, he was like a sick man.

  “What you doing, Jim?” he asked. “Put them boots back on, will you? Put them back on. Why, darned if you ain’t shaming me, Jimmy. How could I be taking the shoes off of your own feet?”

  “I’ll wear yours, and glad to have ‘em. I always had a hankering after yellow, old boy.”

  “Do you mean that?”

  “I give you my word.”

  “Solemn and faithful, kid?”


  “I think you’re a liar, Jimmy.”

  “Soapy, old heart, I mean it. I would be the happiest man in the camp, if you was to let me have them yellow shoes of yours.”

  “I’m a mean, low skunk to do this,” said Soapy. “But if you really think that maybe you would just as soon wear these yellow shoes tonight … why, here they are.”

  He yanked off his shoes on the double-quick, and Jimmy put them on. Soapy jerked on the red boots, and he sat and admired them for a long while. The gent that was sitting next to me in the buckboard, behind the pair of giants, he beat me black and blue, to keep me from busting out laughing.

  “Wait a minute,” Soapy said a bit later as we was sliding in a broadside skid around the edge of the road and hanging on the rim of a precipice. “Wait a minute. Dog-gone me if I didn’t forget something.”

  “What is it, Soapy?”

  “I forgot that you were admiring this here sash that I’m wearing. Here, Jimmy, you take this, will you?”

  “Hey, Soapy, what’re you doing? Don’t you be a fool. That there scarf is about the finest-looking thing that I ever seen you have on.”

  “Is it?” Soapy said with a sort of a groan. “Well, I don’t believe you. I never liked this here thing … never give a hang for this sash. But it might look fine on you with your get-up, Jimmy. Here. You try it.”

  “Soapy, if I was to get my hands on that scarf, I dunno that it would be at all easy for me to give it up ag’in.”

  “Who would be asking it from you? No, you take that scarf and keep it.”

  “I’m a mean hound if I do, Soapy.”

  “You ain’t nothing of the kind.”

  So soon Jimmy Clarges took the orange-colored scarf and gave Soapy his own big, blue sash. They knotted those scarves around themselves, and they drove on very happy and hunky-dory, and before long they felt so good—one about the scarf, and one about the shoes—that they couldn’t help busting into a song, each with his monster big arm thrown around the shoulders of the other.

  Down that mountainside we went with the thunder of that music around us, till we seen the lights of the town twinkle and then rise up before us. Then we were rolling through the streets of the little village, and gents were shouting to us from the sidewalks, and riders were swishing by, and rigs were rolling up and down, and you could just feel by the nip in the air that one of the best times that you ever heard about was coming up


  The town hall was a corker. It had been built when folks had an idea that Elk’s Crossing was going to grow up into a real city, and so the miners were real forehanded, as you might say, and they arranged to have a hall that would be able to house the most bang-up city government that ever was heard about. They started right at the bottom and went up. At the bottom they had laid out a fine big lawn that covered the whole square, and in the lawn they had planted palms and such like things. Then, in the middle of the lawn, they had laid out sites for two big fountain bowls, and in between the fountain bowls stood the building. It was square, and it had in front of it columns of real white marble that was taken out from the marble quarry up back in the hills.

  Well, the lawn was only working in patches, now. And the fountains were busted, and their bowls were filled with drift and blow-sand. The palm trees, they looked pretty meager, their heads were like a cabbage that a chicken has scratched to pieces. Just the same, with the night to cover things up, and with the lights flaring in the entrance, and the tall, white columns standing up big and grand before the house, it was a fine thing to see. But then you got closer, and you seen the places where the plaster had peeled off, and you seen the cracks in the wall, and the ornery-looking people that were going in and out and standing smoking and laughing around the door, and you knew that, after all, this was where you belonged.

  It made quite some considerable sensation when Thunder and Lightning arrived. Everybody turned and stared at them, and, when the lights flashed over ‘em, you had better believe that they were worth staring at. They walked into that courthouse like two pillars of fire, and the small boys of the town were out, watching the folks come and go at the dance. Those boys made a rush and piled in after the pair of them and followed Thunder and Lightning up the stairs. It was a great show. Nobody was mean tempered about the kids breaking in. They just laughed and let it go, and kicked the kids out as hard as they could kick.

  There were Thunder and Lightning standing at last in the middle of the assembly room in the courthouse of Elk’s Crossing. It was a whopping big room with a huge, high ceiling. The walls were so high that the ceiling looked hardly more than half as big as the floor. It was funny to stand and look at them. Around the walls there were the chairs with the girls sitting in them. Some folks like the girls along the seashore—the sailor girls, and such—and some take to the girls on the plains and the farms, and some have a fancy for the girls off of the cow range. But me, speaking personally, I say, gimme every time the girls from the mountains … where a girl grows up tall and straight and not too talky … where, when she smiles, it means something … and when she laughs it pretty near stops your heart … and where every girl you meet don’t look as if you could tell her that you loved her and get away with it. You know what I mean. Not that they were offish, but that they had some dignity. They weren’t mulish. No, they were downright pleasant, but they had sense. In a word, they weren’t just wall decorations—they were women.

  I looked them over. There was a stirring and whirling around of men in front of them, men asking for dances and getting acquainted. There were the floor managers hiking around and making introductions as fast as they could talk. When I looked over that open square of girls’ faces, I leaned against the wall with one hand and I fanned myself with the other. I felt like a kid that is brought before a Christmas tree all loaded down with wonderful things and told to take his pick. Because they all looked so fine—those girls, I mean.

  Just at that minute, as though they had been waiting for the arrival of Thunder and Lightning before starting, the orchestra hit up the first dance. That was some orchestra. I wish that you could have heard it. The fat man in the corner was the drummer. And he had more noise-making contraptions than you ever heard in your life. Wonderful how he could work them, too. He could hit a bass drum with his heel, a gong with his toe, and a cymbal with his elbow all at the same time, while he was ringing a bell with one hand and beating a snare drum with the other and blowing a train whistle that was fixed between his teeth. You see, there are some that can get to be musicians by a lot of hard work. And I admire them for their hard work, and all. But you take a fell
ow like that drummer, it was just plain genius. I got to take my hat off to a man like that. He was pretty fat, and so, when he got sort of tired, he had a boy along with him to strike in and work the traps. The kid was clever, too, and had a fine teacher in the fat man. But work as he would, that kid didn’t have the genius. He couldn’t get the bursts of noise in on the right spots to help you around the corner with your girl, or to make you spin at the right time.

  I wouldn’t let you think, though, that orchestra was made up of a drummer and nothing else. No, sir, that was really a mighty refined orchestra, as anybody could tell, because nothing but really swell orchestras have a violin and a flute in ‘em. But this one did. Besides that, it had five other instruments, which was two real, hang-up sliding trombones and a saxophone that would send a shudder right down your spine, and a wonderful tenor cornet that you hear right over everything except the trombones. In addition, there was a great big bass horn that made the floor tremble and turn to water under your feet. That was the orchestra that struck up just as we entered and got a good look around us.

  When, the music started, you could hear a roar of feet on the stairs, as the boys all started on the rush to claim the girls that they had booked dances with. I didn’t wait for that tidal wave to hit me. I ducked in fast. There wasn’t much time for picking and choosing, but what was the need when they was all so fine? I seen a girl with a blue dress on and freckles across her nose, and I sashayed up to her and said: “Your brother says that I’m to dance this one with you, Miss Gulliver.”

  “My name ain’t Gulliver,” she said. “And besides….”

  “All right,” I responded. “No matter about a little thing like a name. I got to be seen by your brother doing my duty and dancing with a girl.”

  “But I ain’t got a brother.”