Authors: Robert Lautner
‘You can load all five chambers and keep a cap on four. The hammer will rest on an empty nipple for safety if you so choose but the chamber will be loaded ready.’ I eased the hammer down and put it back in his hand. ‘With spare cylinders you can load fast and have five shots in moments.’
‘For more dollars it comes with a spare and tool, cutter, cartridge maker, nipple picker, and twenty-two-grain loader.’
‘Does it come with pan and brush to pick up the pieces when it chain-fires? I never seen so many screws. Who made this toy?’
‘Mister Samuel Colt of the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company, sir,’ I declared straight up.
‘You paid for this, Chet?’
‘And ordered six more, Henry.’ He winked at me.
‘You shoot it yet?’
‘I only had it a day, Henry.’
‘Do you want to buy a unicorn as well, Chet?’
‘I seen a letter from Jackson affirming it.’
‘I have an affidavit for my unicorn from the same hand. Ink still wet.’ He put his first finger on the mouth of the barrel. ‘I have nothing under a musket-bore. Make me a load, Chet, twenty-two-grain like the boy says. We’ll go out back and see what this Indian gun can do. I can get by with one hand if she goes grenado on me.’
Mister Baker set up a plank of pine against the back fence. This was maybe thirty yards from Henry Stands, who stood, feet apart, playing the pistol back and forth in his hands. I would admit that the gun looked weak in his fists.
‘You clear out now, Chet. No telling what this thing will do.’
Mister Baker dodged back and came beside me. I watched Henry Stands take a breath, which also appeared to move something unpleasant in his chest, which he spat out. He puffed his chest again and I failed to notice mister Baker cover his ears, and a blink later I was deaf.
The gun-smoke was pure white. A waft of copper and hot iron and a puff of sawdust from the plank. I thought of the five shots into my father. Two from Heywood. I had not heard their noise.
Once down from the frame the trigger stayed until the shooter put it back. This allowed for rapid fire and Henry Stands picked up on this a breath later and blasted twice more successively.
He was now in a cloud and I wondered how he could see or even think as my hands were clapped to my ears and I was dizzy.
He shifted his footing and, as there is only one tidy way to empty any firearm, he cracked it twice more into the suffering wood.
Five shots like the ticking of a watch. He stepped out of his cloud.
‘Well.’ He turned the gun over, looking on it. ‘It did not blow to pieces. That is a good thing. It would benefit from a guard for the trigger to rest as you pull for the next shot. I guess palming it with the other hand would make for better accuracy. That makes it useless from a horse.’
I piped up. ‘If you had thinner fingers it would not be a problem. It has no guard or exposed trigger to make its first draw smooth and fast.’
‘And slip from your hand like a fish,’ he said.
Mister Baker was at the plank. ‘You have almost split it, Henry! Five holes in five seconds!’
I looked perhaps too conceitedly at Henry Stands. ‘It is five pistols in the hand, sir!’
‘Is that a fact.’ He did not look at the wood and its holes but I saw that they covered not much more than three fingers. ‘Is that a fact,’ he repeated, and put the gun to his belt and strode back into the store with a pace that did not ask us to follow. The bell on the door went. Mister Baker shrugged at me and walked to my part of the yard. He was about to speak when the bell shook once more and we heard the stomp of Henry’s boots across the boards and he appeared with a rifle under his arm.
‘Mister Baker?’ I asked. ‘Who is this man?’
‘I know he was an Indiana ranger,’ mister Baker whispered.
‘Is he a good man?’
‘Well …’ We watched Henry Stands put the rifle to his shoulder and aim at the wood. ‘He likes the sound of guns.’
The rifle cocked with three clicks and I muffled my ears again. He fired but there was no explosion or white smoke or any other smoke. There was only a crack like dropping a book on a
parquet floor. Then Henry Stands without a pause cocked and fired again and then—
—he fired again, and then again, and once more, at which he stopped, for the plank was now kindling. Without smoke or fire or cannon it seemed as if the action of Henry Stands had no relation to the destruction of the wood. It was his stare that broke it.
He nodded, satisfied, and lowered the magical weapon. He came and glared over me, presented the rifle in front of me like a scepter of office. I saw that it had an oddly bulbous stock.
‘Your Mister Colt has invented the spinning wheel again. This gun is as old as I. I have twenty-two shots. I have an infantry. I need no powder or fulminate and she does not foul. I am alive because of it.’ He swung it back under his arm and tossed the Colt back to mister Baker. ‘Good luck selling those pieces, Chet. Now, we done with business? I will get out before some widow tries to wed me.’ He went back into the store with mister Baker at his heels. I came after, disheartened and amazed equally. My ears were plugged like I was underwater.
The rifle clattered on the counter. Mister Baker was back at his trade, Henry Stands complaining that he had overestimated what he could carry and separating random goods with a swipe of his arm.
‘I have a wagon,’ I said. ‘If you take me to Paterson, New Jersey, you may have use of it.’
‘I carry what I need. I am not a snail to carry my house with me. How much do I owe, Chet? Less the sack of tobacco I will give.’
Mister Baker began to tally up. I did not wish to
harry his pencil but at the bottom of his page was the hope of my leaving.
‘Mister Stands?’ I brought out from my coat the order book. ‘I have a responsibility to return to Mister Samuel Colt the orders my father took. Including six pistols for your friend, good Mister Baker here. Mister Colt will pay on receipt of those orders.’
Mister Baker looked to me to quiet, but I carried on. ‘After my father’s deposit and Mister Colt’s commission, that will be seventy-five dollars owed to me. That is no awful sum for a few days’ work and you are going east anyways.’ I offered over the book but he did not move.
‘This Colt will pay in specie? I ain’t no use for shinplaster.’
I did not know how mister Colt would pay, but that lack of knowledge would not help me. ‘We have a contract.’
‘Is that signed by Jackson too?’ He snorted and pulled out a drawstring bag. ‘How much, Chet?’
Mister Baker looked sorry at me. ‘You can have it gratis if you take the boy, Henry.’
‘You telling me what to do, Chet?’
‘No, Henry. I’m trading. The boy’s no good to me here.’
Henry slammed down three coins. Mexican silver. ‘I’ll get your tobacco.’ He took up his scant goods and his rifle. ‘Open the door, boy.’
I hesitated and he also. Mister Baker indicated the door with a serious glare and I dashed and opened it. The sight of Henry Stands’s big horse gave me an idea about my own. I followed down the porch.
‘I am east and you are east. I could follow you. I’m sure once you split for Cherry Hill I could make my way on my own. I will be no burden.’
He began to load up. ‘You are burdening me now.’
‘You cannot stop me from following you.’
He gave a mean look from over the saddle. ‘I can stop you.’
I needed to change my reasoning. ‘How is it that your gun works?’
He continued tying and tightening the straps and bags of his horse. ‘It is a wind-rifle. It uses air.’
‘I have never seen anything like it.’
‘And you never shall.’ He had stopped looking at me as he spoke.
‘Where did you get it?’
‘I took it from a man.’
‘Mister Baker says you were an Indiana ranger.’
He swung up on his black horse. ‘I was.’
‘What is the name of your horse?’
‘He has none. Would be wrong to be forced to eat something that had a name.’ He reached behind and swung a sack to me. ‘Here. Give that to Chet. Good luck to you, boy.’ He set off slow.
I called to his back, ‘I only want to go home!’
He rolled his head back to me. He was already past the porch. ‘You sure about that?’
I grabbed the stinking bag and ran back inside. I dropped it on the counter, suddenly breathless. ‘Mister Baker, I thank you for your kindness. Is Jude Brown at the hostler?’
‘I will deduct from your order his bill if you will give me one of those Mexican coins for him now.’
‘Hold on, son. What now …?’
I ran for my sack. I would leave my clothes. ‘Mister Stands is going to wait for me there. He has seen the value in escorting me.’
Mister Baker wanted to speak some more. I could tell I was not to get my coin. ‘Never mind.’ I ran but stopped at the door. ‘I will see that you get your guns, Mister Baker.’
‘No mind. I ain’t in a hurry to settle bills.’
He called out after me but I did not hear what his concern was. I ran to the hostler with the sack banging at my knees. Henry Stands was shrinking along the road. The white bedroll at his back gleamed in the sun. I could follow that.
Jude Brown was pleased to see me and was still hitched to the Brewster.
The hostler was a bald free black man in a leather apron and wicker hat. I thought of lying to him that mister Baker would pay him later but I did not know what powers black men have to tell when boys are lying. I went into my sack. I had the wooden gun and the one real and my father’s spectacles. They were gold-rimmed, worth four dollars anywhere. They still had his finger smudges.
The hostler was happy enough to take the real gun and so he should! A pistol for some green grain and water!
I cracked Jude Brown out of there and rattled up the road. I could not see Henry Stands but that would change. I was defenseless without that gun but considered I would not have been able to use it anyways
bar to hurt myself; besides, leaving it had reason. I would now need company to be secure on the trail home. If I had sold the spectacles for the grain I might have been mistaken that the gun could protect, eased a little with its counterfeit confidence, and not chased Henry Stands so
As it was I had no money, no habiliments, some food, and a wooden gun to the good when I came across some wooden Indians.
I left that part of the Appalachians having never crossed them. The west still a mystery and you can keep it. Jude Brown and I were leaving.
I rolled past the tents of the poor folks waiting for something better to come. They studied me like pale memorials, the dogs nipping at Jude Brown’s heels. I had lost sight of Henry Stands but knew there was little road between here and Berwick for him to eat up without me. Yet I came to a meadow and saw no sight.
I pulled Jude Brown up slower as if walking a cemetery but I knew what was coming. Henry Stands was waiting at a defile in the trail with his horse as a shield. He did not have a loosed gun, which I took as politeness and deferment to our previous encounter, but he hailed me like a common roadman all the same.
‘Stay where you are!’ he hollered.
‘It is me, Mister Stands!’ I called. ‘Thomas Walker!’
‘You are to desist following me!’
I was not for turning. ‘I am not following. I am walking the road.’ I grew bolder. ‘You do not own it.’
‘The hell you know I don’t!’ He came out from behind his big horse. ‘Go home, boy!’
‘I am trying to!’ I moved Jude Brown on.
He mumbled some grievance and lumbered toward and I braked up. I thought about getting down from my seat to meet him but then I would be conversing into his chest. Here we would be eye to eye. He came alongside.
‘Are we to do this?’
‘Round and round like whatever this is! You to discommode me again and again!’
‘I am merely going home.’
‘Then go! I will not stop you. Let me see you go!’
I looked up the road. ‘Are you not going along?’
‘No.’ He smiled at me and it was ugly. ‘No. I am to stay here a smart piece! This is my favorite set in the whole world!’
‘I am feeling tired myself, Mister Stands. I will go about the side of the road and rest awhile.’
He glared and wished to side-winder me, I am sure. ‘Then I will go so you may rest the easier!’ He stormed back to his horse and almost pulled it over with his weight as he went up. He looked back at me once and set off.
He would strain his neck the way he kept turning it on me. I let him go and then cracked on. We came against each other again down the road. The same as before. Him waiting for me.
‘I can hear you coming like a railroad. That cart of yours squawks louder than you do! I thought you were to rest?’
‘A moment’s respite is like a winter to me.’
He came at me again. ‘I will tie you to a tree!’
‘You will not!’ But he grabbed me and hoisted me off like a sack of flour. ‘You will not leave me to starve!’
He dragged me. ‘Someone will be along soon enough.’
‘And I will tell them to take me back to Milton. And I will tell Mister Baker that Henry Stands tied me to a tree and left me to nature!’
He stalled. ‘What manner of boy are you?’
‘A good one if you would but know it!’
He shook me free and paced around, looking at the jury of the trees and mumbling curses. He had unhappily decided.
‘If I am damned to be with company it will be on my terms and you will stand up to it.’
He did not give me the grace of concede or question but went straight for my wagon.
‘I will work on how far and how long I am to take you, but it will not be with this carryall of yours.’ He clumsily worked out the way that Jude Brown was hitched and I guessed that such sophistication was new to him. I protested but he would have none of it. He bounced the body up and down and the springs complained all around the trees.
‘It is slow,’ he declared. ‘It has wood for iron. It will break and you will cry for your mother.’
He did not know what he said, I am sure. This wagon was bought when my mother gained color. It was true it was more to promenade than transport and was sprung for city streets, but it had been hers. She had ridden in it.