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Authors: Joe R. Lansdale

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Black Hat Jack (7 page)

BOOK: Black Hat Jack
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“That’s crazy, Jack,” I said.

“Yeah, it is, but what other plan you got?” he said.

“They’ll get tired and go on.”

“Might, but they are pretty moved to kill somebody after how things worked out. They’d like to take our scalps back to all them others, and say, boys, you done slid out of there when the doings was still good, and we got the scalps to show it. It would put them in good with their fellows if they killed us and maybe brought Millie in for further activities, such as they are. Maybe they’ll just want to rape and kill her here.”

“Neither is appealing,” Millie said.

“You take that Winchester, saddle bags of ammo, and while I’m up and about my business, whistle up that horse. He don’t come, you just keep running. It’s a long ways, but you just might get away if luck is on your side and they go blind in both eyes and their legs break and their horses won’t mind them.”

“Hardly sounds hopeful,” I said.

“It isn’t. Satan is your best chance, and then you still got to get on him and get out of here riding double. It’s all we got, Nat. It’s what we’re going to do. You two get ready to run.”

“Jack,” I said. “You know I don’t want to leave you.”

“I do, and if it was just you, I’d still ask you to do this, cause I’ll be dead in an hour or two, if I make it that long, and you’ll still be in the same spot. But it’s not just you. It’s her too. Now here I go.”

“Take my Winchester,” I said.

“No, you’ll need that. I’ll be in too close a quarters to use it. We rode some good roads and some bad ones together, you dusky demon, but we rode them like men, didn’t we?”

“Reckon so,” I said.

“All right, then. You may have to help me up and hope you don’t take a bullet. I’ve gathered myself as much as I can. Soon as I’m over the lip and making noise, you two go for Satan. Go fast as you can. My heart is with you. Help me up now, Nat. I’m going to surprise the shit out of them, but first I got to cinch up this jacket with my belt so my guts don’t fall out. That shot has made one hell of a hole.”

 

10 

 

“I am going to let the pain have me,” Jack said. “I been holding in a yell something terrible, and I am about to let it out, so when you hear it, don’t piss yourselves. I am going now.”

I grabbed his arm and helped him up. My hand brushed against his hand as he let go of me. It was cold as ice. He stepped up on that horse in a lively manner, as if he was a young’n and full of piss and vinegar. He was one game rooster. Out of the wallow he went, and then he was running, that jacket belted up tight around him at the bottom. He let out with a blood-curdling scream, fired into that grass with the Sharps, threw it aside, and drew his pistol.

Me and Millie was already moving then. I wasn’t looking at Jack anymore. We came out of the wallow on the side, me with them saddle bags full of ammunition thrown over my shoulder, the dead horse’s bridle there too, carrying my Winchester. We ran toward Satan, who stood in his spot, tossing his head. He had gone to nickering too, and I hadn’t gone but a few steps when I tried to whistle, but my mouth was too dry. I didn’t stop though, just kept running, Millie beside me. Any moment I expected Satan to bolt, and there we’d be, out of what protection the wallow offered and on foot.

Behind us Jack’s pistol was popping something furious. I heard gunfire from the Kiowa too. I glanced back once, and them Kiowa was all over Jack, like coyotes trying to take down an old buffalo bull. They was swinging hatchets and clubs and knifes, but Jack, bad off as he was, was making a hell of a stand of it. He had lost that black buffalo hat, no longer had his pistol, but was gripping his skinning knife instead. It flashed in the starlight as it went up and down and slashed right and left.

When I turned back to what was at hand, here come Satan, trotting toward us like he had just been waiting on us. He come right up to me and nickered. I gave Millie my Winchester to hold, patted his nose, then put that bridle on him. I swung up on his back, stuck out my hand, and pulled Millie up behind me.

We was facing the Kiowa then, and I felt mounted I could do Jack some good, come swooping down on them, but it was too late. I saw him fall beneath a rain of blows. But I’ll say this for Jack, their numbers was thinner now. Jack had killed three of them that I could see. The live ones was shoving at one another now, competing for who was going to take Jack’s scalp.

Turning Satan with a touch of the reins, I put my heels to him and he began to fly.

Millie said, “They’re coming.”

I turned to look. Four of those Kiowa was coming after us, having lost interest in Jack now, and maybe lost the tussle over his scalp. They was excited and whooping and really urging their horses.

I hooked my right heel into Satan, swung out to my left so that I was hanging way out from him, him at a full gallop. I had the reins in my teeth. I hung out there in the wind and cocked my Winchester. I didn’t have the baffle down, so I cocked and took my time. I aimed and squeezed off easy, and though the world was jumping, my timing was right on. I shot one of them off his horse, and then the others began to slow, and then they was dots way back behind us. I swung back in position, and away we did ride.

Pegasus his ownself couldn’t have caught us.

 

11 

 

We stopped at the creek by Adobe Walls, got my saddle, couple of canteens from the store, filled them from the creek. We got jerky out of there too, blankets, some odds and ends, and continued on, still double on Satan.

As we rode along I wasn’t thinking about getting scalped as much as before, and I became aware of Millie’s arms around my waist. She leaned her body and head into my back. I could feel her warmth and her breath on the back of my neck. Even with all we had been through, and her in those dirty clothes, she smelled sweeter than a spring flower.

That night we camped and she cried and I just lay on my bed roll across the way and let her do so without saying anything. Finally she got cried out and said, “I wanted to be a tom boy until yesterday. I was good at it. I ran off to go hunting with my brother. I shot buffalo and skinned them, and I went dirty and nasty for weeks at a time. I fought off men who wanted to get in my britches, or fought off those thought I ought not wear men’s clothing. I did all that and I was fine with it until Zeke got killed. That took the starch out of my drawers, right there, that’s what I’ve got to tell you.”

“That’s understandable,” I said.

“Do you think I did wrong as a woman to go out west with my brother and do things like I’ve done?”

“I hadn’t given it any thought,” I said. “I think it’s fine whatever you do, long as you don’t steal something or kill somebody doesn’t have it coming, be mean to animals, unless you have to kill and hide behind them or eat them. I think you do okay. You got sand. I can say that for you. You got more guts than a lot of men I known. Back there in that wallow, you was strong, girl, strong. You don’t buckle down and hope for the best. You fight your way out.”

“You have saved me twice, Nat. Both times I was being attacked by Indians and was with a dead horse. Once two of them.”

“Jack saved you the second time, saved me too.”

“I didn’t mean to sound like I’d forgotten him.”

“I know you haven’t. How could you? How could anyone?”

“He was brave,” she said.

“I’d have died behind that horse,” I said. “I’d have just bled out before I’d have done what he done. That took guts.”

“I think you’d have done it had it been you shot, Nat. I think you would have.”

“That makes one of us.”

She got quiet for awhile, said, “Do you think it’s wrong for whites and Indians to be together, you know, to marry?”

“I got nothing against it,” I said. “Jack had an Indian wife. I never met her, but he held her dear to him. Digging Wolf she was called. They wasn’t never married in an American way, but in an Indian way they was. She died of some kind of white man disease. He missed her everyday, talked about her all the time. I reckon he liked her just fine, and she was Indian. Course, I’m not sure if Jack might have been part Indian, or even colored. I don’t know.”

“Do you think it’s okay colored and Indians mix up like that?”

“You mean be together?”

“Yeah.”

“I can’t see no difference in that than in a white and an Indian or a mixed up blood like Jack. He once told me that somewhere along the line all our blood has mingled.”

“How about colored and whites, what you think about that?”

“It don’t bother me none, but it sure bothers some, you can count on that.”

“What about me and you?” she said.

“I’m going to ask you to explain that one.”

“What if I was to take off my pants and come over there and get under your blankets with you?”

“I think I’d have a hard time keeping my own pants on.”

“That’s what I was hoping for,” she said.

She got up then, standing there in the starlight, already barefoot, her boots beside her blankets. She went to unbuttoning her pants. I started to tell her I hadn’t meant what I said, and she ought to stop. I knew that was the right thing to say, cause no matter how much the color line didn’t bother me, it would damn sure bother whites. But I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. My heart was in my mouth.

Well, she slipped off her pants, and her shirt hung down over her womanhood, and then she unbuttoned that and threw it open. I could see her breasts and I could see the darkness between her legs, and then she came to me. I threw back my blanket and she laid down. As I had predicted, my pants came off.

The next few days was a delight, and I remember them as clearly as if they happened this morning. Sometimes I think I can smell her. She had that sweet smell I talked about, and she smelled even better when she was hot and at it. That kind of wild animal smell dipped in mint and lilac water.

We traveled slow, moving everyday farther away from Indian country. That’s not to say we dropped our guard, but it is to say we frequently dropped our pants. I worried about getting her with child, and was careful as I could be not to, cause if ever I would have been creating a sad little bastard, it would have been that poor, little fellow. Half white and half black and not too popular with either crowd.

Considering all that happened to us, we was reasonably festive. Or more likely, we was that way on account of what had happened to us. I knew that was what most of Millie’s interest was about. We had come close to death, and now we was celebrating life, and doing it with all our abilities.

When we come to a town, there was some men who come up to us right quick, looking angry, wanting to know what a nigger was doing with a white gal snuggled up behind him. Nothing sets a white Texan off his feed quicker than the thought that a colored might be dipping his rope in a white woman’s well, which as I said before was one of my great worries. Things could have got testy, but when they started asking, rumbling about what we was doing, Millie slid down off Satan, praised the lord, said how glad she was to see them, said how I had been kind enough to help her, had given her a ride back from the Battle of Adobe Walls and fought Indians for her.

At first they didn’t believe her, but she went to telling about her brother, and how things had gone for us, about Billy Dixon’s shot. By this time all that news had already been heard, and they took her story to be true, which it was for the most part.

Millie told them too about the fight at the buffalo wallow, and how Jack had died. When she come to that part she tossed in some sniffles, which I like to think was sincere. If not, they was damn well convincing, cause men took off their hats, and women, who had gathered around us, wept. A young boy wanted to know if we got to see Jack scalped. I wanted to scalp that little shit, but held my tongue and held my piece.

She didn’t mention what we had been doing under our blankets the last few days. I was just a colored man who had been at the fight and helped her out. I was immediately branded a good nigger, got some pats on the back, and was offered a dinner, as long as I didn’t come in the house to eat it. It was a long shot from being out there on the prairie with men who lived by gun and knife. Coming back into civilization I found it had less civilized behavior. Them old boys out there in the wilds could be rude and smelly, forget to wash their hands now and again, but they at least stood back a bit and was willing to take a man’s measure. Here, though they took off their hats and didn’t spit in public and cleaned under their nails at least once a week, I was already measured, cut and folded. I was a colored man, and though I had done good, I was still a colored. Had I reached out and touched Millie, even on the arm, in a familiar way, I’d have had done to me pretty much what those Comanche had done to that hunter me and Jack found.

Millie got taken to a couple’s house to clean up. I had to take my horse to the livery, and then I was blessed to sit on the front porch where the family that had taken her in lived. I sat there watching the sun set with a yellow cat for a companion.

A woman brought me out a supper of cold cornbread and some warm beans. A moment later she came out with a saucer and a bottle of milk, and poured the cat some of it in the saucer. Now both animals were fed.

From the porch I could look through the windows. The lamps gave the rooms inside a nice glow. Millie sat at the dinner table with the family. She now wore a fine white dress, her black hair washed and combed, mounded up on her head and pinned. Her neck was long and slim, her shoulders narrow and straight. The light lay on her smooth face as if it was a thin coat of gold paint. She was very lovely.

When she moved her hands, shifted in her chair as she talked, she did so in a delicate way, like a woman that had never stepped one foot out of a parlor. Like a woman who had never shot a buffalo or skinned one, had never fought Indians, or nearly died in a wallow out on the prairie.

I could hear them talking. I heard the man and woman asking her about her family, and Millie telling them her brother had been all she had, and now he was dead and she was all alone. She talked about how she had to survive on the trail because that’s what her brother wanted. He was the one had her dress like a man so she wouldn’t be noticed as a woman right off. He had her do it as a form of protection. She said it was a hard thing, but her brother was all she had, and she had to do his bidding. She didn’t mention what she had told me on the trail, about how she had gone off to be different. She damn sure didn’t mention what me and her did under them blankets. She spoke kindly of me, the way you might a stray dog.

I knew what she was doing. All that time in pants with a six-gun had worn thin to her. She was trying to find her way back into feminine graces and polite society. Some place where it didn’t rain on your head and the wind didn’t blow cold and you didn’t need to go hunting for your supper and maybe fight a bear or an Indian over it.

I looked at her for a long time, and then she happened to look toward the window. I think she could see me sitting out there in the dark. She looked briefly, then looked away, like she had seen something disturbing, and in a way she had. Now that she was among white people, and I was no longer a warm comfort on a cold, dark night, she felt she had to look at things different. I didn’t blame her. There was nothing to come of it, me and her, even if it had meant anything to her, and maybe it had at the time. She had been brave about the color line out there on the plains under the stars with no one to see us but the wildlife, but she couldn’t be like that now, not here in a well-lit house, wearing a nice, clean dress. Not where a couple might take her in and make her days more pleasant.

I didn’t know exactly how to feel, but in a strange way, I think I wished I was back in that wallow, fighting it out with them Kiowa. I realized I felt more at home there than here.

I finished up eating and left the plate on the porch, gave the cat a pat, and walked over to what served as the livery, which is where I had left Satan. It was one small building and looked to have been put up in a windstorm, way it sagged. It could house three horses and a couple of men if they didn’t swing their arms any. There was some covered sheds out to the side, and that’s where Satan had ended up. I had wanted to shoot him and eat him before, but now I was glad to have him back.

The livery operator asked that I tell him about the fight out there on the prairie, as he had missed the story first hand. I did the best I could to not be impatient. I told it, and I was sure to build up the white boys more than myself. He let me have my horse for free, including the grain Satan had eaten, and even gave me a bit for the road. He told me that the couple Millie was with had lost their daughter to the influenza. I told him they might well have found another daughter this very night.

I mounted up and rode away, and I never saw Millie again, though along the trail for many days after, I would think of her and our blankets out there on the trail, and those thoughts made me feel good.

BOOK: Black Hat Jack
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