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Dud Qualifies As Court Jester

From: The Fighting Edge

It was still dark when Dud Hollister and Bob Dillon waded through the
snow to the corral and saddled their horses.

They jogged across the mesa through the white drifts.

Bob's pony stumbled into a burrow, but pulled out again without damage.

In the years when cattle first came to the Rio Blanco the danger from
falls was greater than it is now, even if the riding had not been harder.
A long thick grass often covered the badger holes.

"How does a fellow look out for badger and prairie-dog holes?" Bob asked
his companion as they jogged along at a road gait. "I mean when he's
chasin' dogies across a hill on the jump."

"He don't," Dud answered ungrammatically but promptly. "His bronc 'tends
to that. If you try to guide you're sure enough liable to take a fall."

"But when the hole's covered with grass?"

"You gotta take a chance," Dud said. "They're sure-footed, these
cowponies are. A fellow gets to thinkin' they can't fall. Then down he
goes. He jumps clear if he can an' lights loose."

"And if he can't?"

"He's liable to get stove up. I seen five waddies yesterday in Bear Cat
with busted legs or arms. Doc's fixin' 'em up good as new. In a week or
two they'll be ridin' again."

Bob had seen those same crippled cowboys and he could not quite get them
out of his mind. He knew of two punchers killed within the year from

"Ridin' for a dogie outfit ain't no sin-cure, as Blister told you while
he was splicin' you 'n' Miss Tolliver," Dud went on. "It's a man-size
job. There's ol' Charley Mason now. He's had his ribs stove in, busted an
arm, shot hisself by accident, got rheumatism, had his nose bit off by a
railroad guy while he was b'iled, an' finally married a female
battle-axe, all inside o' two years. He's the hard luck champeen, though,
Charley is."

It had snowed heavily during the night. The day was "soft," in the phrase
of the pioneer. In places the ground was almost clear. In others the
drifts were deep. From a hillside they looked down into a grove of
cottonwoods that filled a small draw. Here the snow had blown in and was
heavy. Three elk were floundering in the white banks.

Dud waded in and shot two with his revolver. The third was a doe. The
cowponies snaked them out to the open.

"We'll take 'em with us to 'Leven Mile camp," Dud said. "Then we'll carry
'em back to the ranch to-morrow. The Slash Lazy D is needin' meat."

Harshaw had given orders that they were to spend the night at Eleven Mile
camp. The place was a deserted log cabin built by a trapper. Supplies
were kept there for the use of Slash Lazy D riders. Usually some of them
were there at least two or three nights a week. Often punchers from other
outfits put up at the shack. Range favors of this sort were taken as a
matter of course. If the cabin was empty the visiting cowboy helped
himself to food, fire, and shelter. It was expected of him that he would
cut a fresh supply of fuel to take the place of that he had used.

It was getting on toward dusk when they reached Eleven Mile. Bob made a
fire in the tin stove while Dud took care of the horses. He found flour
and lard[2] hanging in pails from the rafters. Coffee was in a tin under
the bunk.

Soon Dud joined him. They made their supper of venison, biscuits, and
coffee. Hollister had just lit a pipe and stretched himself on the bed
when the door opened and sixteen Ute bucks filed gravely in.

Colorow was the spokesman. "Hungry! Heap hungry!" he announced.

Hollister rolled out of the bunk promptly. "Here's where we go into the
barbecue business an' the Slash ranch loses them elk," he told Bob under
cover of replenishing the fire in the stove. "An' I can name two lads
who'll be lucky if they don't lose their scalps. These birds have been

It took no wiseacre to divine the condition of the Indians. Their whiskey
breaths polluted the air of the cabin. Some of them swayed as they stood
or clutched at one another for support. Fortunately they were for the
moment in a cheerful rather than a murderous frame of mind. They chanted
what was gibberish to the two whites while the latter made their
preparations swiftly. Dud took charge of affairs. He noticed that his
companion was white to the lips.

"I'll knock together a batch of biscuits while you fry the steaks. Brace
up, kid. Throw out yore chest. We better play we're drunk too," he said
in a murmur that reached only Bob.

While Bob sliced the steaks from the elk hanging from pegs fastened in
the mud mortar between the logs of the wall, Dud was busy whipping up a
batch of biscuits. The Indians, packed tight as sardines in the room,
crowded close to see how it was done. Hollister had two big frying-pans
on the stove with lard heating in them. He slapped the dough in,
spattering boiling grease right and left. One pockmarked brave gave an
anguished howl of pain. A stream of sizzling lard had spurted into his

The other Utes roared with glee. The aboriginal sense of humor may not be
highly developed, but it is easily aroused. The friends of the outraged
brave stamped up and down the dirt floor in spasms of mirth. They clapped
him on the back and jabbered ironic inquiries as to his well-being. For
the moment, at least, Dud was as popular as a funny clown in a sawdust

Colorow and his companions were fed. The stove roared. The frying-pans
were kept full of meat and biscuits. The two white men discarded coats,
vests, and almost their shirts. Sweat poured down their faces. They stood
over the red-hot cook stove, hour after hour, while the Utes gorged. The
steaks of the elk, the hind quarters, the fore quarters, all vanished
into the sixteen distended stomachs. Still the Indians ate, voraciously,
wolfishly, as though they could never get enough. It was not a meal but
an endurance contest.

Occasionally some wag would push forward the pockmarked brave and demand
of Dud that he baptize him again, and always the puncher made motions of
going through the performance a second time. The joke never staled. It
always got a hand, no matter how often it was repeated. At each encore
the Utes stamped their flatfooted way round the room in a kind of
impromptu and mirthful dance. The baptismal jest never ceased to be a

Dud grinned at Dillon. "These wooden heads are so fond of chestnuts I'm
figurin' on springin' on them the old one about why a hen crosses the
road. Bet it would go big. If they got the point. But I don't reckon they
would unless I had a hen here to show 'em."

The feast ended only when the supplies gave out. Two and a half sacks of
flour disappeared. About fifteen pounds of potatoes went into the pot and
from it into the openings of copper-colored faces. Nothing was left of
the elk but the bones.

"The party's mighty nigh over," Dud murmured. "Wonder what our guests aim
to do now."

"Can't we feed 'em anything more?" asked Bob anxiously.

"Not unless we finish cookin' the pockmarked gent for 'em. I'm kinda
hopin' old Colorow will have sabe enough not to wear his welcome out.
It'd make a ten-strike with me if he'd say 'Much obliged' an' hit the

Bob had not the heart to jest about the subject, and his attempt to back
up his companion's drunken playacting was a sad travesty. He did not know
much about Indians anyhow, and he was sick through and through with
apprehension. Would they finish by scalping their hosts, as Dud had
suggested early in the evening?

It was close to midnight when the clown of Colorow's party invented a new
and rib-tickling joke. Bob was stooping over the stove dishing up the
last remnants of the potatoes when this buck slipped up behind with the
carving-knife and gathered into his fist the boy's flaming topknot. He
let out a horrifying yell and brandished the knife.

In a panic of terror Bob collapsed to the floor. There was a moment when
the slapstick comedy grazed red tragedy. The pitiable condition of the
boy startled the Ute, who still clutched his hair. An embryonic idea was
finding birth in the drunken brain. In another moment it would have
developed into a well-defined lust to kill.

With one sweeping gesture Dud lifted a frying-pan from the red-hot stove
and clapped it against the rump of the jester. The redskin's head hit the
roof. His shriek of agony could have been heard half a mile. He clapped
hands to the afflicted part and did a humped-up dance of woe. The
carving-knife lay forgotten on the floor. It was quite certain that he
would take no pleasure in sitting down for some few days.

Again a series of spasms of turbulent mirth seized upon his friends. They
doubled up with glee. They wept tears of joy. They howled down his
anguish with approving acclaim while they did a double hop around him as
a vent to their enthusiasm. The biter had been bit. The joke had been
turned against the joker, and in the most primitive and direct way. This
was the most humorous event in the history of the Rio Blanco Utes. It was
destined to become the stock tribal joke.

Dud, now tremendously popular, joined in the dance. As he shuffled past
Bob he growled an order at him.

"Get up on yore hind laigs an' dance. I got these guys going my way. Hop
to it!"

Bob danced, at first feebly and with a heart of water. He need not have
worried. If Dud had asked to be made a blood member of the tribe he would
have been elected by fourteen out of the sixteen votes present.

The first faint streaks of day were in the sky when the Utes mounted
their ponies and vanished over the hill. From the door Dud watched them
go. It had been a strenuous night, and he was glad it was over. But he
wouldn't have missed it for a thousand dollars. He would not have
admitted it. Nevertheless he was immensely proud of himself in the role
of court jester.

Bob sat down on the bunk. He was a limp rag of humanity. In the reaction
from fear he was inclined to be hysterical.

"You saved my life--when--when that fellow--" He stopped, gulping down a
lump in the throat.

The man leaning against the door-jamb stretched his arms and his mouth in
a relaxing yawn. "Say, fellow, I wasn't worryin' none about yore life. I
was plumb anxious for a moment about Dud Hollister's. If old Colorow's
gang had begun on you they certainly wouldn't 'a' quit without takin' my
topknot for a souvenir of an evenin' when a pleasant time was had by
all." He yawned a second time. "What say? Let's hit the hay. I don't aim
for to do no ridin' this mornin'."

A faint sniffling sound came from the bunk.

Dud turned. "What's ailin' you now?" he wanted to know.

Bob's face was buried in his hands. The slender body of the boy was
shaken with sobs.


"Cut out the weeps, Miss Roberta," snapped Hollister. "What in Mexico 's
eatin' you anyhow?"

"I--I've had a horrible night."

"Don't I know it? Do you reckon it was a picnic for me?"

"You--laughed an' cut up."

"Some one had to throw a bluff. If they'd guessed we were scared stiff
them b'iled Utes sure enough would have massacreed us. You got to learn
to keep yore grin workin', fellow."

"I know, but--" Bob stopped. Dry sobs were still shaking him.

"Quit that," Dud commanded. "I'll be darned if I'll stand for it. You
shut off the waterworks or I'll whale you proper."

He walked out to look at the horses. It had suddenly occurred to him that
perhaps their guests might have found and taken them. The broncos were
still grazing in the draw where he had left them the previous night.

When Dud returned to the cabin young Dillon had recovered his composure.
He lay on the bunk, face to the wall, and pretended to be asleep.


[2] The lard in the White River country was all made in those days of
bear grease and deer tallow mixed.

Next: The Bigger The Hat The Smaller The Herd

Previous: The First Day

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