GENERAL TOPICS > Saddlebag Tales

Startin Out

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 It waz a dark 'n stormy nite; Nah, no good thet's already been tol try'nother tack.
Roused myself from a comfortable bed early this morning or rather was roused by some sleepy bird chriping a lonely tune way before sunup. " stupid bird ya couldn't wait til cock crow coud ya?" I muttered as I stumbled to the kitchen. Got the coffee fixins down and brewed me a pot in the old French drip pot I inherited from my Parent, after four or five cups sitting at the white enamled table I began to feel sorta human, so I wipped up a batch of biscuits an ate three hot  and buttery. Man! They was good.
  I glanced out the window, the sun was just peeping over the big oak that stood on the headland near the boundry of my holding. I sighed, heaved myself out of spindle backed chair and crossed to the door.
   The morning breeze was cool, I stepped off the porch and headed for the barn to saddle up Aphrodite my Appaloosa mare and head out to Sorrento a small commuiny to the north west of my Waggaman holding, where I heard they was holding some kind of shooting contest.

 Ah couldn't find mah saddle, searched high an low. It should have been in the tack room with the rest o the gear but it wasn't, Ah looked in all the stalls, no saddle! Heck the only other saddle we had was sidesaddle, and I'd be danged if I was going to ride into Sorrento sidesaddle! I looked throughout the barn again, mah saddle waz nowhere to be found. "Think, think what did ya do Thursday after commin home?" Shoot! can't remember, I recall wakin up in Aphrodite's stall an stumblin into the house tryin to be quiet so as not to wake anybody speechlly the lil woman then gittin up an headin out to the pasture before sunup. Ah ha thet's where mah saddle is Ah put in the wagon!"
    Sure enough that's where Ah found it, throwed in the tailend o the wagon. Now why the He-- did Ah put it there?
Couldn't think o no reason septin thet maybe the beer made me do it
   Anyways the sun was well up by the time Ah waz ready an th lil woman hed mah breakfast on the table so's Ah et, give her a goodbye kiss climbed atop Aphrodite an headed out. This waz goin to be a  two week long trip, wal five days one way an five days back Ah hed beans n corndogers n mah poke, mah Henry,  mah revolver, scattergun an squirrel shot pleny o ammo  fer th rifle an sidearmn, water, bedroll, money; yep all set  Ah leaned over whispered into Aphrodite's ear, gave her a nudge with mah heels an we were off.

Th first three days went by like a breeze, an we needed one, mah duster's kinda off-color like ole Snoopy's jokes--- Ole Snoopy now thet feller's one fer the books, raises goats 'n sheep, got his name when he waz a young'un snoopin round "I'm on Top" the local cat house, wonderin what waz so special thet made it so popular wi th men in th area. Man, it shore is hot fur this time o th year!
   This road, "the Great River Road," one long dust path, heck, what breeze we do git comes directly from the river. an it ain't thet much o a releif. I pull mah bandana away frm mah neck ta wipe the beads o sweat rollin inta mah eyes when I ketch a glimpse o movement out on the batture. Sum river rats lookin fer an easy mark, I kinda shift in th saddle 'n slip the hammer loop off mah revolver, ther's three o them, jest one o me---
  We're commin ta a curve thet beings th road closer ta the river an me closer ta the river rats, ah kin see em plainer now, one wi a scraggly "Jeff Davis" beard, 'n long thin  white hair ridin point an th other two a bit younger, one carrin a double gun in th crook o his arm an th other a long flint rifle.
   Just then, a large body o riders, an people in farm wagons, buggies, surries, men and wimmen,  round the curve laughin an carrin on like they's on a outting or picnic or sum sort a celebration. Ah let out a sigh o releif an glanced ta mah right, the river rats waz gone!  Ah hadn't herd their noise because o the river, 'n bein occupied wi't the river rats.
     Boy! They shore come along at th right time. Ah passed 'em nodding an grinnin exchanged a few words with sum o the men tellin them 'bout the river rats an whar Ah was hedden. One o them suggested thet I git aboard the next steamer goin up river. An said thar waz a landing bout two miles further on.
  "Sounds like a good idea, propbably be a bit safer" I replied. We parted company. Once again It was jest me  Aphrodite an the empty River Road.

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Lik Ah sed, it were jest me 'n Aphrodite, n we waz jest kinda shamblin along takin our time, 'caue th gentleman who tole me 'bout th landin a couple miles upriver sed thet th next steamer wazn't due ta git thar 'til 11:00 clock and it waz jest 9:37. So we waz in no kinda hurry.
   We shoulda been though, cause what do ah stumble into when ah round th next bend, but th three 'river rats' ah'd spotted earlier. what happens in next  three minuites took less time than it takes to set it down on paper.
   They are lined up across the road frum the levee to the ditch there ain't no way to git around them. The smallest one, the one with the old flint longrifle has his mount facing the ditchside o the road with that wicked old flint lock athwart the saddle an pointed toward me, the same with the ugly boy with the double gun. The ole man with the 'Jeff Davis' beard has a Lemat restin across his leg.
  My mind is racing a mile a minuite! "Thank providence I forgot ta slip th loop back over the hammer o mah revolver, what to do can't retreat, then I remember what ole Marse Robert said in one of his classes " When in doubt, do the unexpected." So I did, I let out the ole Rebel Yell, drew mah gun, gave Aphrodite a touch o the spur, n ran straight at them!
   Wal let me tell y'u they waz one surprised set o highwaymen, I fired one shot above their heds as I spurred Aphrodite into a hard gallop.
 They scattered lik a bunch o leaves would scatter in a gust o strong wind, Th ole man tried to raise his Lemat but Ah was on him before he got the gun level, Aphrodite barreled inta his horse's  broadside throwing them into the path o the ugly boy with the double gun. The young 'un with the flint lock tried to turn the gun but it waz so long 'n unwieldy that he durn near unseated hisself tryin git the gun ta bear. By this time I was well beyond them and goin hell fer leather fer that steamboat landin!  By Jing that waz sum kinda fun! By the time them 'river Rats got their horses turned Ah waz close to a quarter mile ahead of them, but still had to get to the steamboat landin I was hoping that there would be other people there that might scare off my pursuers.
   Rounding another bend in the road I had a fleeting thought o crossin the levee but the footing on the batture would be at best uneven so decided to stay on the road. Just then something snapped by me with a low whine, them rats were limberin up their irons Now how's a feller gonea shoot a flint longrifle from the back o a runnin hoss an hope to hit something is beyond my comprehension, I jest touched Aphrodite with my spurs and she streched out her legs soon the River Rats were so far behind that they could never hope to catch me before I reached the landing, I could see their dust but it wasn't getting any closer. I slowed Aphrodite to a slow canter and rounding the next curve saw the river boat landing and a few citizens sitting, standing or just milling around waiting for steamer to come upriver. We still had more than an hour wait.
  "Now, there sits a pretty little thing" I said to myself, looking at a petit woman with honeybrown hair sitting off by herself, "Think I'll seek an introduction---
 As  Ah walked up behind her, two men who had been trying to get her attention scuddled away Thank God Henry" she said, " I thought you would never get here in time for the boat" I looked at her quizzically as I rounded the bench whar she was sitting, removed my hat an made the most caviler bow Ah knew, my hat sweepin th ground at her feet an th toe o mah right boot pointed in her direction leg staright out an body bent properly at the waist.
 "Ah'm sorry Angel Ah pronounced it ANNGhell, but Ah couldn't git away any sooner, you know Ma'mere she has to check everything twice at the least.
  Well let me tell you, she looked at me with her beautiful brown eyes flecked with gold/green glints of light deep in the pupil and smiled.
 Her teeth were not perfect but they were clean, the color of eggshell. She nodded moved a little to the left so that I might sit indecating that she had no objection to my bold move. 
  After Ah had seated mahself next to her she leaned in my direction and whispered, "Thank you  Henry is it?" Ah nodded, "Those two 'gentlemen' over there, have been annoying me."  She said gentlemen, like someone would say 'cottonmouth'
   I looked in the direction she indicated and there stood two 'river rats' slouch hats pulled so low  that all you could see were their chins.
      "Not to worry ma'am, now thet 'Henry" is here Ah don't think they'll bother you anymore."
 She laughed then, a clear bell of a laugh that chimed in my ear and rang in my heart. I was, through no fault of my own, in love!

 Sorrento waz a full day's travel up river frum where we caught the paddle-wheel travelin slow 'n easy on th river, stoppin here 'n thar a small towns and lonesum landins. Angelique, that's her real name, asked how did I know her name, rememberin thet ah had called her Angel when Ah hed so boldly introduced mahself. Ah looked at her, so pretty in her pale green traveling clothes and thet rich brown bonnet set so jauntly on her hed, smilled, shrugged and answered, "Why, ma'am, when Ah saw y'u, Ah saw an angel, an not knowin yer name, Ah jest figgured thet 'Angel ' would be appropraite.
    She blushed a little at the complement. "You're not from here are you?"
"Wal, ma'am ta tell the truth" Ah waz born 'n raised here by th river, spent mah formative years on Poppa's plantation, went ta West Point but didn't graduate thogh due ta th late 'unplesentness,'  headed west afterward by way o Cape Horn, debarked at Guadalajara, headed north 'n ended up in Texas. Ah waz mistaken fer a outlaw by a pack o Texas Ranges out huntin Comanches, an rather than be shot ta peices by a pack o jittery lawdogs Ah surrendered an went with 'em peaceable.

" When we got ta San Antone they locked me in a storeroom back o th general store n went ta consult th town sheriff.
   In the time it takes ta say this, they were back, all apologetic and sayin they's sorry to hav locked me up an would Ah please go with them an hav a drink N ah waz almost a dead ringer fer sum feller by th name o Jim Harbor wanted fer stealin th Major's saddle  n tack.
  Well Angel, it goes without sayin thet Ah waz mighty releived thet things turned out th way they did---
 Just then someone says, "Why's th boat headin for shore?" I looked up and sure enough we were heading back toward the west bank of the river, there was no town or landing in sight just trees and brush lineing the bank and the batture as far as one could see. I glanced toward the pilot house, and there was one of the 'river rats' that had been pestering Angelique. He had a shotgun trained on the pilot---


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