Upon the frontier, which is a wild and dangerous land, it is not uncommon to request rest and vigor at the first home one may stumble upon. Such was it like back then. Such was the Nature of the wildland, and the scarcity of Man’s works yet there.
So was I marching my way through what is now called Alma Colorado, under the shadow of the mountain which is now called Mt. Lincoln.
It was dusk and the light was losing so I set my feet towards a light upon a hill which was of a log cabin, chimney a’puffing stove a’glowing, daring the Fall to outdo it.
Knocking on the door I made my polite pleas to its occupant, an old widow, some 70 years young, who had come to this place long ago, who I’d heard of rumor to be named Miss Mapple, and suspected of witchery by the nearest enlightened townsfolk.
The only spell was her generous hospitality. For I warmed my feet by the enchanted fire, my stomach by the enchanted biscuit, my heart with talk.
But soon enough another knock rapped against the door.
Enter, Jesse James, followed by his brother, Frank James.
They tipped their hats as I’d done, and spoke honeyly, and entreated and were granted, the leave that I now enjoyed – their feet by the fire, their mouths to the biscuit, Frank gave me a hard eye, mutelike, but Jesse he just jawed and jawed at the widow and me.
We had black coffee the widow gave us. Which was thick like mud. She had served her most in the cup. I think she knew it was he, and was frightened of he, as any reasonable widow would be. Jesse asked me all about who I was and where I’d come from. I lied and yarned well. Perhaps he saw through that like a cut, for he looked at me for a straight minute and said real slow:
Are thee my foe or friend? I ask you this.
I am a friend to friends, mister.
Do you suggest that yer friendship has a demarcatin’ ?
Aye, as all do so. Reason with me in this
Way sir, if I a friend to you am and
You to myself are not, then there unbalance
Does tip from throw to throw overboard.
You see, mister, friendship has parts two.
Which be what, sir?
Why, the friend and the ship!
Ha ha ha ha !
Jesse clapped me on the back as he guffawed and I spilt quite a bit of the mud on the rug. Frank James did not jaw nor laugh with us but spat upon his occasion into the fire – the black plugs hissin and sputterin and smelling something awful. Then I noticed the widow was weeping.
Madam! I feel awful bad about
the spilt coffee on your fine fur rug.
(Jesse was eying me madly now I thought he’d shoot me right there)
Please don’t weep it’s a sin to do something
Bad enough and a-make a widow weep…
Whatcha crying about now ol’ darling?
Oh it aint the coffee sir it aint that.
(Now Jesse had taken his hand of his piece and he winked at me like a friend)
What be your weepin’ for then my mama-near?
(Strange talk he had this outlaw jawer)
Fifteen real rough years its done been since I
Have had a single man in this log cabin.
Not word or talk or laugh or smirk then since…
Haha… old dear that’s a sad story…
But now I need ya to me tell the real
Reason for your weeping and wailing true.
The fire crackled quiet now. Like it wanted to listen in too. Even Frank stopped hockin his plugs.
This home I’ve opened to y’all fine gentlemen
I do not yet full own, no bank mortgage
I’ve yet satisfied. It aint as easy to pay
A bank as tis to feed a gentleman,
At my old age sir it is impossible.
Jesse James now grinned wide his white wolfish teeth. Frank went back to pluggin.
Do you know who I am old mama-near?
Yes s-sir, I suspect I-I do
Say so. Say so then my name I do have.
Now his face was real hard like mean flint. It was never wise to name an outlaw. No matter one’s station. The pitcher of the coffee in her hand did tremble and tip. I feared for us all.
We’d hid ourselves in the sagebrush. They covered the plain like silver hills. They covered our black-garbed bodies. Jesse James, and Frank James, and me myself. We were watching the road, and we’d been watching the road for some hours four. We were waiting for the Man we meant to rob. The Colorado sagebrush has a strong scent. It lulled me. I remembered.
There Jesse was in the kitchen with the Widow. She was standing just by the knife, and I think she meant to raise it should he move in bad manner. I remember Jesse’s words.
I mean to fix you reasonably mam.
And then the fireplace had cracked and James had spat and the Widow she gulped the frog deep down her throat and asked, so pityingly:
Of what do’ya mean to fix of me Jesse James?
He smiled and from his back pocket pulled a wide wad of greenback bills, the quantity a robbery would get you, and no good deed would never get you. And he unloosed the strong band from them and counted them upon his licked finger, counting some five hundred dollars, a sum that seemed so small to the quantity he held.
Now this I offer is a sum rich in green,
A power in paper, got in arm and powder,
In blood of ill folk and White folk, from
Indian and Amerikan, from Slave and Widow
Too; yes, indeed I done that deed, mama-near.
And now I mean to give this grafted gift to
You if you would but pluck the greenback…
He held it out to her. And she, trembling, pale before that gift that was not such a gift, raising her arm, reaching her hand, out, and further out beyond the knife, she plucked, she take.
Then Jesse James smiled wide and white and let that of himself go to her and he doffed his hat and tipped it and walked to the door where Frank was who’d plucked me up from where I’d sat and took me out the door and I heard Jesse say one thing more.
With this the gift of me myself I’d have
You pay what you owe, and as justice to
The me you’ve took you’ll tell, of no blemish
Nor blur nor besmirched portrait of him
The man you owe this of me to; his hat,
His color flesh, his horse and carriage, his
Force of arms or fists or quirting whip,
His boot and print, his talk and tongue and place
Of rest, of business, of love and life
You’ll tell to the devil of prairie and plain,
Of mountain and river, you’ll talk to Jesse James
These things of Man to whom you owe and will
Not long owe, everything of he I mean to know.
Of bond, then, I see I’ve lost yet got; of gift,
I’ve gained a home, and lost the heart within,
As though the fire from its place is plucked…
I’ll tell you all of him.
And so we waited for him to cross the road, I enlisted to this wicked task, on account of chance, and no more. I did not know how long I’d had then to live, but, I suspected, twas still more than the man in the white hat which now ascended the rib of the road, heading heedless into the crosshairs of Jesse James.
The picture of Him, talked of by the Widow, did this unassuming and gentle man match. For upon his bosom he’d perched the creamy larkspur, new plucked fresh as the morning and precious its life in this the Fall, the coming white Winter.
These were not his only signs of his Peace. He rode also upon a gentle Donkey, humble, his back bowed by bags. The man was in good spirits. He whistled a happy tune.
Frank James’ rifle rang out, and its bullet cracked into the Donkey – its frightened whiney was its last sound, it toppled to the ground, pinning and breaking the man’s leg underneath, He whose song had ceased, on the cold earth he moaned and weeped.
Manalive! He’ll smell brimstone through a nailhole!
So he said, racing to the fallen man, whipping him with the butt of his gun to silence. Searching the saddlebags of the dead Donkey, he finds gold rocks, some jewels and effects, and the Widow’s cash.
Flamdoozledum! This fallen patroon
Has pelfs a’plenty! A crack pottin swinks much
Doesn’t it Frank? Sooth what a site! Sooth!
Frank of course the quiet man said nothing, but pulled the dead donkey off the fallen man, continuing to search Him, and finding personal effects – a letter to his loving wife, a doll made of flour sack and straw, a red apple, a bouquet of flowers of the mountain, a silver locket, a patched child’s shoe.
The fallen man groaned, red bubbles and tooth shatters seeped up out of his caved mouth, he clutched and tore the greying grass under him, he opened his eyes and saw his Life-Taker there jawing and laughing above him, and He saw me now by my watching, just as in league.
Who are you, sir?
I’m the catamount, the lariat, the pizen
That burns through the skin of yer toddy,
I am the fust that turns all food a’mold,
The crimp that takes the child from hearth of home,
The treacherous massasauga that slithers
In sage for heel of Man in His walk creative,
And upon that heel I latch my venom and vile
Putting his gun upon the lip of the Victim, his hammer readies a’click.
I am he, outlaw, the Jesse James.
I know you, I wasn’t asking you, I asked him.
For He was looking on me and did not a-take his gaze away a moment.
Before I could answer there was a bang, and his face was gone from me forever.
That’ll teach you not to steal from Widows, husher.
Then Jesse and Frank, their stolen good upon their shoulders, turned their guns on me.
Now that you’ve known my real name, I’ve made
My plans for you, and you will see them now
In fruit, for a fellow you’ve been to me in this
The clipping of the white gull I’ve swived.
So as accomplice I’d indite you well
As you in me. For you did fear your Life
To lose, for in brotherhood we’ve been,
And in brotherhood will always be.
I’d like to bury him, Jesse, that an
Go on my way away from you and Frank.
He smiled and left the silver locket with me as a chipping. I buried the man. His donkey beside him. I erected a cross from lightning struck wood, in the Christian manner, though I did not know if he was so, for no answer I could make to him but now upon his grave. Which I proceeded to do in this manner:
I eulogy for fallen Man I could
Not answer, I monody a song for Stranger,
I bury you under the Earth and the sage,
Under the greying grass, the mountains I love,
Under all creatures and the created stage,
I bury you in the Fall of Colorado,
Beneath the Aspen’s retreat of its power,
The closing of the bird song and the flower,
I cover you in the blanket of the Earth, to keep
You warm under the white fallings of the sky,
I bury You for You to die.
I long for Spring, I weep, and remember,
And burn my fire and stoke, restoke, my ember,
I race my hands, one palm upon the other palm,
And flow my breath to them, and give my heat
To them, O’ were they your hands I’d sigh, and sigh
Long and lend what breath I had to warm
Them, those cold palms, for them with my breath warm
And warm all Winter into Man’s creative Spring!
A wind picked up from the West. This wind was cold, and it chilled me. So I turned and left.
From the locket I saw his daughter, and their address, and to them I turned with this sentiment, and souvenir of their father, and make clear my apologies and amends.
I kept the larkspur upon my own breast, it was creamy white with stained red , painted in the color of Colorado Fall.
Cheers to your Sunday morning…