Deadwood Dick's Doom; or, Calamity Jane's Last Adventure

CHAPTER III.
THE STRANGERS SING.

HANK SHAKESPEARE was one of the ruling spirits of Death Notch, inasmuch as he was the bully over all, and always ripe for a quarrel or a spree.

One by one he had worsted each of the residents of the town, down to the captain, Piute Dave, in a fair and square fight, and that fact had by no means lessened his esteem of his own prowess, so that he was never backward about waltzing right into a quarrel.

His word, next to that of Piute Dave, was regarded as law, and the majority of the roughs would have followed him in case of a split rather than the captain, who was of even a worse disposition than his bull-dog companion, for he was ever too ready to draw a weapon and shoot down a fellow at little or no offense.

Therefore when Shakespeare proposed to have a concert from the newly-arrived songsters, no one offered demur thereat, bemuse to arouse the ire of the burly bullwhacker, was to give the signal for a fight, "from the word go."

Therefore after supper, a gang headed by the festive Shakespeare, who had imbibed more "bootlegs" than was good for accurate locomotion, made a precipitate descent into the Poker House, and ordered the drinks, while the poet with his "smile" in hand, mounted the deal table nearest the bar, and addressed the uncouth assemblage around him:

"Feller-citizens! Noble representatives of the moral town o' Death Notch! It becomes my duty ter rise in front o' ye like a bellowin' buff'ler bull ter make an announcement. Ay, my noble guzzlers, I've a great bit o' news fer ye. We're on ther eve o' a great event. We have in our midst a human phenomen-as Shakespeare, Sr., sed:

'A maiden fair wi' voice like a dream-er,
She sings an' she plays -- s'e's a reg'lar screamer.'

Yes, ye long-eared pilgrims, yer 'umble sarvint has jest made the diskivery that Sara Bernhardt Nillson, the famous singer is hyer in Death Notch-she who has appeared afore all ther crowned heads o' Europe an' Ethiopia.

"An' what d're think, my noble councilmen and tax-payers? What d'ye surmise this distinguished singist perposes ter do? Why! thunderation, sirs! she calculates ter give our critical city o' Death Notch ther death shake, an' not open her vocal bugle short o' Hell-ener. Now, then, my prickly pears o' ther desert, I rise to promulgate the extemporaneous question-aire we ter be snubbed like this? Aire we to be cheated out o' heerin ther singist vocalize in our own aristocratic sphere? I say no! -- in clarion notes I scream nay! Sum immortal poet in past ages hez sed very skientifially

'It pleases mortal man ter feast--
Musick alone ter soothe ther savage beast;'

an' hyar's ther very beast as requires music ter anoint ther ragged volcanic edge o' his errupted buzzom. What d'ye ray, galoots- we invite ther gal ter favor us wi' some o' her fu'st class tunes?"

A cheer was the answer.

The idea was favored by all that rough assemblage.

"Then will I fotch forth ther great warbler from her conservatory!" the bullwhacker cried, and leaping from the table, and drawing a pair of revolvers, he left the room.

Up the stairs two steps at a time, he went and rapped at the door of Miss Verner's room, peremptorily.

The young woman opened it in great surprise her face paling as she saw the great gaunt bullwhacker.

"'Scuse me, mum," he said, bowing, "but ye see ther b'yees hev found out they ye're a singist, an' they allow thet ther likeliest thing ye kin do is ter comedown an' sing fer 'em. They're dead for music, and' tho, they're ruther a rough lot, ef ye sing yer purtiest, an' ther nigger too, I opine you'll be all right."

"Oh! sir, you must excuse me," Virgie cried in distress, "I cannot sing, to-night -- really I cannot."

"But you must, mum. Ye see how ther boys aire all on the squi vive ter heer ye vocalize, an' app'inted me as a delegate ter represent 'em an' say ef ye don't waltze down an' sing fer 'em, I am ter shoot ye on ther spot. Ye perseeve we're old business, we daisies o' Death Notch; when a mule gits balky we allus drap him wi'out any prelima'ary parley; thatfore, we allow thet ef ye edify us wi' a few songs, an' the nigger, too, yer safety will be an assured fact, an' ef ye don't, we'll hev ter speck fer a parson ter preech yer funeral sermon, ter-morrer."

"Oh! Nic, what shall we do?" Miss Verner said, turning to the darky, pale and trembling.

"What shall we do?"

"'Spec's de bestest t'ing we can do is to gub 'em some music, rather dan git de top of our heads blowed off. Bress dis yar Chile ef he's qwine to git in trouble when de banjo will git him out. Jos' you git youh gittar, Miss Virgie, an' I'se a raccoon if we can't stir 'em up."

"Perhaps you are right, Nic, but I wish we had never come here!" the girl said, as she procured a handsome guitar from her trunk, and then she and the darky, who was armed with a banjo, followed the bullwhacker down the stairs into the crowded bar-room.

A loud cheer greeted their advent, from the ruffian assemblage among whom were many of the most bold and lawless desperadoes on the border-men who had waded in crime and ruffianism all their lives, and had lost all sense of manliness or feeling, further than for their own gratification.

"Hyar' ther stage, mum!" Shakespeare said, indicating the bar counter. "Shall I help ye up?"

"You need not trouble yourself," Virgie replied, stepping upon a chair, thence upon a table, and then to the bar, where three chairs had been placed.

Nicodemus followed, and likewise the bullwhacker Shakespeare, who had evidently assumed the self-appointed position of master of ceremonies, for he arose when the two singers were seated, and glanced his audience over, with an important "ahem!" as if to call attention to the fact that he was the central figure of the forthcoming entertainment.

"Feller citerzens," he began, "this is an awe-inspiring and sublime occasion, when with swelling bosom of pride, I am enabled to present for your approval ther stars of two countries, Europe and Africa, consolerdated inter one stupendous aggravation. Et does me proud, my noble pack o' guzzlers, ter represent this great phalanx o' talent, and in commemoration o' this great occasion my poetical brain hat conceived a versical offering, which I beg leave ter precipitate at ye, as a prelude o' ther cat-wattling immediately ter foller. Et is entitled 'Ther B'iled Shirt,' an' was founded on true incerdents."

Then clearing big threat, the bullwhacker laid one hand dramatically across his breast and began

"Et war six years ago ter-day
When Deadwood, furst, thar struck,
A tender-fut from Jarsey Cit',
Togged out in spotless duck.
Oh! ye bet he war a gallus pill!
But ov money, run a-muck!

He waltzed inter ther' Flush,' ker-slap-
Ther Flask 'war squar' fer deal,
Tho' that war sum who sed that Pete
War up ter sundry steal.
But I could never quite believe,
Thet Pete would stoop ter 'feel.'

Down by their board ther 'tender' sat;
I see'd 'twer desprit in his eye,
As on his snow-flake kids he spat
An' sed -- Wi' me it's rocks or -- die!'
An' tho' no pig-tail cuss war he
I thort o' poor Bill Nye.

Sez he ter Pete -- his words war low
Old Pards, I'm broke -- I hev no "dirt;"
But I'm so dry-give me a show
Jest, go a V. agin' my shirt
Et's b'iled an' clean, so don't be mean;
Ter lose et, would my feelin's hurt.'

The keerds was split upon ther 'put'
An' dealt-the tender he war low,
Fer Pete he held an orful hand,
An' scooped his jags o' ev'ry show,
He raked a trick
Fer every throw.

We laid the tender-fut ter rest;
O' arsenic he'd tuck a bowl;
He lost ther b'iled shirt from his breast,
An' then hed sought another goal.
We did ther 'white,' ye see, at best-
We chucked him in a 'prospect hole!'"

A tremendous cheer greeted the conclusion of the bullwhacker's recitation, for the sentiment of the rude effusion hit the rough audience in a tender spot. Any man guilty of wearing a b'iled shirt had no sympathy from them, no matter what his troubles.

"Now we'll hear from the nigger!" Shakespeare said, jumping down from his counter, among the crowd. "After ther nigger, the gal."

"I'se no niggah, sah!" Nicodemus retorted, arising and glaring down at his audience. "I'se Nicodemus Johnsing a cullud gentleman."

This elicited a roar of laughter, but when the darky took hold of the banjo and began to pound it in a wonderfully scientific manner, accompanying the music with burlesque songs, he held his audience spellbound.

No such banjo playing had they ever heard or seen, for he would toss the homely instrument and catch it again without interrupting the current of his playing, and besides his songs were laughable and original absurdities, well rendered.

Encore after encore greeted his artistic efforts, and each time he responded with something a little better.

It was during the darky's playing that the door opened and a now- comer strode into the room.

A murmur of "The Captain" and "Piute Dave" passed among those who noticed his entrance, and several nodded to him, and then toward Miss Vernon, who sat beside her sable companion with a pale face, and eyes that flashed with indignation at being thus forced to serve as a staring-block for a crowd of ruffians, who had neither pity nor respect for womankind.

Piute Dave was fully on a part with his townsmen, as far as being villainous-looking was concerned. He was a tall, heavy-set man of some five-and thirty years, and looked like one who it would be hard to handle, in a struggle.

In race he was dark, bloated and sinister, with shaggy brows, cold gray eyes of evil expression, a sensual mouth shaded by a bristling black mustache, and a thick neck and chin, the latter ornamented with a slight goatee.

He was attired in knee-boots, light-colored trowsers, red shirt open at the throat, corduroy jacket, and wide-rimmed hat, while a belt about his waist contained a brace of handsomely trimmed revolvers.

He paused not far from the door, and with his hands thrust in his pockets, fixed his gaze upon the girl upon the bar-a gaze intense in its evil significance.

Virgie felt it, by some instinct, and turned to glance at the man-met the gaze and then shudderingly averted her eyes.

Though terrible to her were the glances of the others, the eyes of this man sent a thrill of horror through her being. She felt that in him she had a designing villain to cope with-and she was not wrong.

Piute Dave was a villain-a fierce, self-willed ruffian, who hesitated at no dark and terrible deed that would further his purpose. More than one of those who had come to Death Notch to avoid Judge Lynch's noose, had fallen by his hand, for a trivial offense, and there was not a man in the town who did not stand in fear of him, even including the poetical Shakespeare.

After his singing nearly a dozen different comic songs, the audience seemed to grow tired of Nicodemus and a call was made for the girl to sing!

"Yes, gal, let's heer frum you," the bullwhacker ordered, rubbing his bands together, greedily. "You're ther very nightingale w'at our ears acheth to hear. Give us a sorter o' Methodist tune-suthin' what'll make us feel solemncolly like. As my late lamented namesake, Shakespeare, has been known on several occasions to remark:

'Ketch a bird on ther wing,
And force it ter sing,
An' all in god time,
You'll hev music sublime.'"

Virgie saw that there was nothing left for her to do but to comply with the demand of her rough audience, as she was alone, with the exception of Nick, among strangers, and without defense.

She had already made up her mind to get through the concert as best she could, and afterward attempt to escape from the town.

Therefore, tuning her guitar, which was a fine-toned instrument, she selected a ballad from her repertory entitled- "My Dear Old Mother Face," and sung it through in a sweet, pathetic voice.

Every man in the room stood in utter silence as though spellbound, until she had finished, when there was a tremendous outburst of applause. Rude and uncouth though the auditors, they could but appreciate the beautiful song, heartily.

"Hip! hip! hooray! three cheers for ther bar schangled spanner! bow! wow! wow!" at this juncture bellowed Bulldog Ben, elbowing forward from the vicinity of a temporary bar, where he had been imbibing numerous "bootlegs." "Thet war splendiferous, old gal thet war a reg'lar old hymn right frum Halifax, harketh I, Bulldog Benjamin, ther majestic mastiff o' Death Notch. Sweeter by far than ary essence o' eslysium war thet old song about my old mother. I can now see her s'archin' fer her inebriate son, along ther shady banks Other Mississippi, you bet, an' ef evyer I did a noble act in my life I'm goin' ter kiss yer fer remindin' ther Bulldog of his old main Bulldog -- bow! wow! wow! barketh I!"

And the ruffian bounded nimbly upon the bar.

Virgie sprung to her feet with a cry of horror, but before the wretch could lay a hand upon her there was the sharp crack of a revolver, and he fell, bleeding, at her feet.

Home Browse Other Texts Full Text Search Table of Contents for This Issue Previous Section Next Section
Home Browse Other Texts Full Text Search Table of Contents for This Issue Previous Section Next Section