Every now and then, in these days, the boys used to tell me I ought to
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get one Jim Blaine to tell me the stirring story of his grandfather's old
ram--but they always added that I must not mention the matter unless Jim
was drunk at the time--just comfortably and sociably drunk. They kept
this up until my curiosity was on the rack to hear the story. I got to
haunting Blaine; but it was of no use, the boys always found fault with
his condition; he was often moderately but never satisfactorily drunk.
I never watched a man's condition with such absorbing interest, such
anxious solicitude; I never so pined to see a man uncompromisingly drunk
before. At last, one evening I hurried to his cabin, for I learned that
this time his situation was such that even the most fastidious could find
no fault with it--he was tranquilly, serenely, symmetrically drunk--not a
hiccup to mar his voice, not a cloud upon his brain thick enough to
obscure his memory. As I entered, he was sitting upon an empty powder-
keg, with a clay pipe in one hand and the other raised to command
silence. His face was round, red, and very serious; his throat was bare
and his hair tumbled; in general appearance and costume he was a stalwart
miner of the period. On the pine table stood a candle, and its dim light
revealed "the boys" sitting here and there on bunks, candle-boxes,
powder-kegs, etc. They said:
"Sh--! Don't speak--he's going to commence."
THE STORY OF THE OLD RAM.
I found a seat at once, and Blaine said:
'I don't reckon them times will ever come again. There never was a more
bullier old ram than what he was. Grandfather fetched him from Illinois
--got him of a man by the name of Yates--Bill Yates--maybe you might have
heard of him; his father was a deacon--Baptist--and he was a rustler,
too; a man had to get up ruther early to get the start of old Thankful
Yates; it was him that put the Greens up to jining teams with my
grandfather when he moved west.
'Seth Green was prob'ly the pick of the flock; he married a Wilkerson--
Sarah Wilkerson--good cretur, she was--one of the likeliest heifers that
was ever raised in old Stoddard, everybody said that knowed her. She
could heft a bar'l of flour as easy as I can flirt a flapjack. And spin?
Don't mention it! Independent? Humph! When Sile Hawkins come a
browsing around her, she let him know that for all his tin he couldn't
trot in harness alongside of her. You see, Sile Hawkins was--no, it
warn't Sile Hawkins, after all--it was a galoot by the name of Filkins--
I disremember his first name; but he was a stump--come into pra'r meeting
drunk, one night, hooraying for Nixon, becuz he thought it was a primary;
and old deacon Ferguson up and scooted him through the window and he lit
on old Miss Jefferson's head, poor old filly. She was a good soul--had a
glass eye and used to lend it to old Miss Wagner, that hadn't any, to
receive company in; it warn't big enough, and when Miss Wagner warn't
noticing, it would get twisted around in the socket, and look up, maybe,
or out to one side, and every which way, while t' other one was looking
as straight ahead as a spy-glass.
'Grown people didn't mind it, but it most always made the children cry, it
was so sort of scary. She tried packing it in raw cotton, but it
wouldn't work, somehow--the cotton would get loose and stick out and look
so kind of awful that the children couldn't stand it no way. She was
always dropping it out, and turning up her old dead-light on the company
empty, and making them oncomfortable, becuz she never could tell when it
hopped out, being blind on that side, you see. So somebody would have to
hunch her and say, "Your game eye has fetched loose. Miss Wagner dear"--
and then all of them would have to sit and wait till she jammed it in
again--wrong side before, as a general thing, and green as a bird's egg,
being a bashful cretur and easy sot back before company. But being wrong
side before warn't much difference, anyway; becuz her own eye was sky-
blue and the glass one was yaller on the front side, so whichever way she
turned it it didn't match nohow.
'Old Miss Wagner was considerable on the borrow, she was. When she had a
quilting, or Dorcas S'iety at her house she gen'ally borrowed Miss
Higgins's wooden leg to stump around on; it was considerable shorter than
her other pin, but much she minded that. She said she couldn't abide
crutches when she had company, becuz they were so slow; said when she had
company and things had to be done, she wanted to get up and hump herself.
She was as bald as a jug, and so she used to borrow Miss Jacops's wig--
Miss Jacops was the coffin-peddler's wife--a ratty old buzzard, he was,
that used to go roosting around where people was sick, waiting for 'em;
and there that old rip would sit all day, in the shade, on a coffin that
he judged would fit the can'idate; and if it was a slow customer and kind
of uncertain, he'd fetch his rations and a blanket along and sleep in the
coffin nights. He was anchored out that way, in frosty weather, for
about three weeks, once, before old Robbins's place, waiting for him; and
after that, for as much as two years, Jacops was not on speaking terms
with the old man, on account of his disapp'inting him. He got one of his
feet froze, and lost money, too, becuz old Robbins took a favorable turn
and got well. The next time Robbins got sick, Jacops tried to make up
with him, and varnished up the same old coffin and fetched it along; but
old Robbins was too many for him; he had him in, and 'peared to be
powerful weak; he bought the coffin for ten dollars and Jacops was to pay
it back and twenty-five more besides if Robbins didn't like the coffin
after he'd tried it. And then Robbins died, and at the funeral he
bursted off the lid and riz up in his shroud and told the parson to let
up on the performances, becuz he could not stand such a coffin as that.
You see he had been in a trance once before, when he was young, and he
took the chances on another, cal'lating that if he made the trip it was
money in his pocket, and if he missed fire he couldn't lose a cent. And
by George he sued Jacops for the rhino and got jedgment; and he set up
the coffin in his back parlor and said he 'lowed to take his time, now.
It was always an aggravation to Jacops, the way that miserable old thing
acted. He moved back to Indiany pretty soon--went to Wellsville--
Wellsville was the place the Hogadorns was from. Mighty fine family.
Old Maryland stock. Old Squire Hogadorn could carry around more mixed
licker, and cuss better than most any man I ever see. His second wife
was the widder Billings--she that was Becky Martin; her dam was deacon
Dunlap's first wife. Her oldest child, Maria, married a missionary and
died in grace--et up by the savages. They et him, too, poor feller--
biled him. It warn't the custom, so they say, but they explained to
friends of his'n that went down there to bring away his things, that
they'd tried missionaries every other way and never could get any good
out of 'em--and so it annoyed all his relations to find out that that
man's life was fooled away just out of a dern'd experiment, so to speak.
But mind you, there ain't anything ever reely lost; everything that
people can't understand and don't see the reason of does good if you only
hold on and give it a fair shake; Prov'dence don't fire no blank
ca'tridges, boys. That there missionary's substance, unbeknowns to
himself, actu'ly converted every last one of them heathens that took a
chance at the barbacue. Nothing ever fetched them but that. Don't tell
me it was an accident that he was biled. There ain't no such a thing as
'When my uncle Lem was leaning up agin a scaffolding once, sick, or drunk,
or suthin, an Irishman with a hod full of bricks fell on him out of the
third story and broke the old man's back in two places. People said it
was an accident. Much accident there was about that. He didn't know
what he was there for, but he was there for a good object. If he hadn't
been there the Irishman would have been killed. Nobody can ever make me
believe anything different from that. Uncle Lem's dog was there. Why
didn't the Irishman fall on the dog? Becuz the dog would a seen him a
coming and stood from under. That's the reason the dog warn't appinted.
A dog can't be depended on to carry out a special providence. Mark my
words it was a put-up thing. Accidents don't happen, boys. Uncle Lem's
dog--I wish you could a seen that dog. He was a reglar shepherd--or
ruther he was part bull and part shepherd--splendid animal; belonged to
parson Hagar before Uncle Lem got him. Parson Hagar belonged to the
Western Reserve Hagars; prime family; his mother was a Watson; one of his
sisters married a Wheeler; they settled in Morgan county, and he got
nipped by the machinery in a carpet factory and went through in less than
a quarter of a minute; his widder bought the piece of carpet that had his
remains wove in, and people come a hundred mile to 'tend the funeral.
There was fourteen yards in the piece.
'She wouldn't let them roll him up, but planted him just so--full length.
The church was middling small where they preached the funeral, and they
had to let one end of the coffin stick out of the window. They didn't
bury him--they planted one end, and let him stand up, same as a monument.
And they nailed a sign on it and put--put on--put on it --sacred to--the
m-e-m-o-r-y--of fourteen y-a-r-d-s--of three-ply--car---pet--containing
all that was--m-o-r-t-a-l--of--of--W-i-l-l-i-a-m--W-h-e--"'
Jim Blaine had been growing gradually drowsy and drowsier--his head
nodded, once, twice, three times--dropped peacefully upon his breast, and
he fell tranquilly asleep. The tears were running down the boys' cheeks
--they were suffocating with suppressed laughter--and had been from the
start, though I had never noticed it. I perceived that I was "sold."
I learned then that Jim Blaine's peculiarity was that whenever he reached
a certain stage of intoxication, no human power could keep him from
setting out, with impressive unction, to tell about a wonderful adventure
which he had once had with his grandfather's old ram--and the mention of
the ram in the first sentence was as far as any man had ever heard him
get, concerning it. He always maundered off, interminably, from one
thing to another, till his whisky got the best of him and he fell asleep.
What the thing was that happened to him and his grandfather's old ram is
a dark mystery to this day, for nobody has ever yet found out.