No Man to Trifle With
by K.G. McAbee
All rights reserved.
Copyright © K.G. McAbee 2015
Cover art: Old Western Town. Public domain.
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No Man to Trifle With
Offered with the deepest admiration for Robert E. Howard and his Breckinridge Elkins stories
Bein’ the runt of the litter, and havin’ a passel of brothers and sisters what towered over me, me bein’ only a mite over six and a half feet at my full growth, it ain’t no wonder that my mamma took special care of me.
In Grizzly Branch, just where the Pecos runs into the Rio Grande, we Wellkins has lived for a considerable amount of time. My mamma met my pa there, when they was both no more’n younguns theyselves, and when they was old enough to get hitched, they proceeded to produce one a the healthiest, if contrariest, bunch a offspring that’s ever been heard of west of the Mississippi. My brother Breck was the biggest, but brother Rutledge was near as large, and our sisters Sarah and Charity didn’t lag behind much themselves; Sar and Char was both able to whup most a the neighbor boys by the time they was six or seven, and if they hadn’t both also been as purty as a pair of speckled pups, they might not’a been able to catch no beaux. A course, catchin’ ‘em warn’t never no problem, since both them girls could run like mustangs, but a hold’n ‘em coulda been problems if, as I done stated, they wasn’t might near the purtiest thangs in five days’ ride. Besides, weren’t no men stupid enough to turn Sar and Char down when they decided it was time to wed, and both of ‘em set into having babies as comfortable as my mamma had.
But anyhow, I was a’speakin’ of my own insignificant height, amongst a family of sech astoundin’ proportions. Me—Archibald Wellkins, that is—was jest a little ole thang, runt of the litter as I done said, no bigger’n one a them brown bears what lives in the eastern mountains they calls the Smokies.
“Archie,” my mamma would say as she dished out the supper and we all fell to, “you just eat up your vittles like a good boy. Mind you, I don’t want to see nuthin’ but bones left of them two chickens on yore plate, you hear me, boy?”
So naturally, bein’ a lovin’ son and wishing to ketch up with my larger siblings, I did my best, gobbling down chickens like they was biscuits, and the odd cow leg or whole hog, whenever mamma slapped ‘em in front of me. But try as I did, and even though my mamma set the finest table in Grizzly Branch, I never did attain the growth of my brothers or sisters.
But this story ain’t about that, but about the proven fact that even a small man like yours truly got a heart as big as any man’s, and it hurts like pizen to get it broke.
So, when I got to be about eighteen, more or less—ain’t none of us Wellkins real good at arithmetic, so I’m just guessin’—I decided that I couldn’t stay in Grizzly Branch my whole life. Desirin’ to see the world, I took up a couple a butcher knives what I had sharpened, my gun, a bag a trail rations, and proceeded to the front door of our cabin, fixin’ to inform my mamma that I was a goin’ to wander over to the Rio Grande to take me a swim and maybe bring back a couple dozen jackrabbits for a stew, not wantin’ to worry her at all or have her decide that I warn’t big enough to be allowed out alone.
“Now, Archie,” said my mamma, her hands on her hips as she eyed me, “you be careful, now, you hear me? Don’t go wrassling with none of them buffaloes, cause them holes they tear in yore shirts is pure hell to mend. And don’t visit them Comanches and be a borrowin’ of their horses and breakin’ their pore little old scrawny backs, like last time. You know yourself, there ain’t no decent mount for none a the Wellkins ‘cept a pair a mules what got strong backs. And another thing…”
Well, as you can see, it woulda took me some days to get away from my mamma, iffen there hadn’t been a most convenient yell and whoop about then, sounding like the whole Indian Nations was on the warpath all at once.
“Tarnation!” snapped my mamma. “If that ain’t yore pa and the grandbabies a startin’ of a stampede, then my name ain’t Isabella Coralinda Wellkins! Do you get yerself along, there’s a good boy, and don’t come back all dirty and tore to pieces, mind.”
Well, as you can imagine, I took off like a ghost was after me, whistling up my dog Biter to go with me. My laigs, though they weren’t as long as some I could name, was still a mighty good way to travel, and it was all Biter could do to keep up, even if he did have it on me in the laig department.
We traveled for some days acrost the desert towards the Territories, livin’ offa the land and not seeing nobody for the longest stretch, ceptin’ only buzzards and buffalo. But one morning early, I seed a town in the distance and says to Biter, “There we go, boy! Adventure at last!” Cause you understand, we hadn’t had anyone to exchange the time of day with, bar the occasional rattlesnake or scorpion, for ever so long, and we was both sociable kinds of beings.
Anyway, as I was sayin’, we saw this here town in the distance, not more’n five or six mile away—say a half hour’s walk. So’s we set off for it, Biter with a little old buffalo leg in his mouth, what he had been a chawin’ on for some time, and me with what musta been a kinda silly grin, cause I hadn’t been to too many places, unlike my older brothers what had done lots of traveling.
The town was called Dry Gulch Station—I could read it plain as day on a sign when we was about two mile away—and it was a small, dusty kind of a place. Still, it was my first strange town, after spending all my short life in Grizzly Branch, so’s I was a mite excited to be there. I stopped on a little rise and just gazed at it for a spell so’s I could always remember it, before I proceeded into town, Biter just on my heels.
The first building we reached was a saloon, as was clear from the swinging doors and the fumes that come out of ‘em, reminiscent of Pa’s best moonshine. I’d stopped outside for a second, a’wonderin’ iffen I should go in and get me something to settle the trail dust in my throat, when there was a whoop and a holler and a small man come flying out them swinging doors, his heels flipping over his head as he rolled to a stop almost at my feet.
Biter growled and dropped his buffalo leg, then slapped one foot on the poor feller’s chest, what was a heavin’ and a gaspin’ for breath, as was in no way surprisin’ after his sudden and unexpected departure from the saloon.
“Down, Biter. Howdy, mister,” I says politely, raising my hat—my mamma didn’t raise no savages, you understand, and besides, this feller warn’t no bigger than my cousin Lukey, who’d just had his eighth birthday three days afore I left Grizzly Branch. I reached down and hauled him to his feet, then dusted his coat off for him. He musta been weakened by his trip through them swinging doors, cause he fell back to the ground after I’d took no more’n a couple of swipes at him. Biter picked the feller’s hat up and sat back on his haunches, holdin’ that hat as particular as you please until the man might be ready to take it.
“Well,” says the feller from the middle of the street where he’d fell, “ain’t you the big’un?”
“Oh, shoot, mister,” I says, feeling myself blush, “I’m just the runt of the litter.” I didn’t wish to say more, see’in as how he was considerable smaller than me, not wishin’ to embarrass him none. “You should see my brothers.”
“Scout,” says he, getting gingerly to his feet and keeping a careful eye on Biter, “I don’t got no desire to see anyone what’s bigger than you. Though I did hear tell that over to War Whoop they was a big man what broke a couple of fellers’ laigs for ‘em without even breathing hard.”
“Musta been one a my brothers,” I comments, taking his hat from Biter and handin’ it to the feller. “They’s both got tempers when they’s riled.”
“I just bet they do,” said the feller, still keepin’ a close watch on Biter, who’d resumed his chawin’ on that ole buffalo laig. “So tell me, friend, what brings you to Dry Gulch Station? If so be’s that you’re lookin’ for a game of cards, well then, I might be able to rustle one up for you.”
“Naw,” I shakes my head, “I’m just a traveling to broaden my education. I could use a mite of dinner, though, seein’ as how I ain’t et for an hour or so. Do you know where I could get me a couple dozen bottles of beer and a slab of meat, with maybe four-five pounds of taters and onions and a loaf a bread, just to hold me until supper?”
“Brother, I don’t know if she can fill you up, but I know a lady who’ll be tickled to try,” he says, holding out his hand.
I took it, right gingerly, and give it a soft kinda shake. He gave a sort of gasp and shook it when I let it go—I put that down to politeness, him not wantin’ me to think on how weak I was and all. I took it right kindly of him.
“My name is Archibald Wellkins,” I says.
“Shorty Powell,” he replies, all the time eyeing me and Biter. “And the lady I’m taking you to see, for a light lunch, is name of Miss Arabella Smithers. She runs the local eatin’ place, and just loves to feed trail-hungry hombres. Come along, Mr. Wellkins.”
“I’d be pleased iffen you’d call me Archie,” I says.
“Archie it is, then,” says my new friend and we proceeds down the street, with Biter on our tails.
Well, it warn’t no more than a little piece until we reached the Red Rooster, just about the purtiest little shack that I’d ever seen, with the roof all painted a bright red and with lace curtains at the winders. I followed Shorty inside, after givin’ Biter stern warning not to eat no passing horses—he settled hisself on the porch and commenced to chewin’ on a fence post instead, his buffalo laig bein’ long gone. “I’ll send you out a bite to eat,” I promised him.
Inside the Red Rooster, they was a few tables with chairs around ‘em, and the most delicious smells comin’ from the back that I ever had the pleasure to smell—and if you recall, my own mamma was the finest cook for miles around at Grizzly Branch. The place was might near empty, and for some unknown reason, the couple of fellers what was there got up and took off, leavin’ perfectly good food a’laying on their plates. Outside, they give out with the strangest squeals and squawks, and I could hear ‘em runnin’ as fast as they could up the sidewalks towards t’other side a town.
“Now, what coulda got into them fellers?” I asked Shorty.
Shorty looked me up and down. “I couldn’t say, Archie,” he says in the strangest tone. “I couldn’t say.”
Just then, the without-a-doubt purtiest little woman what I ever done see in all my born days sashayed into the room. Her hair was as gold as a Texas sunset, and her eyes was that blue-green that some cactuses gets along about that same time a day, and her dress was a pale yellow like squash blossoms, and her bosom…well, they weren’t nothing that I could see that could stand improving on her, and that’s a fact.
“Howdy, gentlemen,” she says, and I’ll be hornswoggled iffen her voice weren’t as purty as her face. “What can I do for you?”
“Howdy, Miss Arabella,” says Shorty, a’takin’ off his hat. I took my own off in a powerful hurry, blushin’ that I’d not already done it afore now—but that was how she struck me, all of a heap at once, as you might say.
“This here’s my new friend, Mr. Archibald Wellkins,” continues Shorty, waving his hand in an airy kind a fashion that I purely admired. “Me and Archie, why we’re a mite hungry, and would appreciate some of your fine vittles.”
“Why, certainly, and what would you care to partake of, Mr. Wellkins?” says Miss Arabella, her eyes all a’twinklin’ and her little mouth all drawn up in the pertest little bow you could imagine.
“Why, whatever might be most convenient,” I says, “and I’d be powerful pleased iffen you could see your way clear to call me Archie, ma’am.”
“Why, it’d be my pleasure,” says Miss Arabella, and she stroked my arm with one of her dainty little fingers. “My, ain’t you the one? I don’t believe I ever seen anyone like you in my place.”
“Well, ma’am,” and I could feel myself blushing, “I ain’t never been in an establishment near as nice and pleasant as this, so that makes us even, I’d say.”
Miss Arabella give a purty little laugh and disappeared into the back through a red-checked curtain that swayed behind her. I could catch a faint whiff of something that smelled better’n a pan of catfish fryin’, and I believe it musta been her.
“Well, whataya think of Miss Arabella?” asked Shorty as he sat hisself down at one a the little table that were dotted around the room. Then, before I could say a word, he jumps up and races over to the table where them gents had been a sittin’ when we walked in. Seizing their plates, which was still almost full of food, he give me a wink and took the plates outside so’s Biter could have him a little bit to eat too.
I took it right kindly of him.
When he’d come back, I’d sat myself down on a stout kinda bench what ran down one side a the room, seein’ as how the little chairs didn’t look like they was up to my weight. I was wonderin’ how I’d had the luck to reach a town full of little people like myself on my first try, so’s not to feel too out a place, me bein’ so runty and all.
Just as Shorty seats hisself acrost the table from me, that checked curtain swayed again, and Miss Arabella arrived with a tray in her two hands. The most delicious smells wafted from the plates that was on it, and I could feel my mouth fill up with water, seein’ as how it’d been three-four hours since I’d et.
“Here you go, gentlemen,” says Miss Arabella, setting the tray down, “and I’ve got a big ole pot of coffee brewin’ too. Just you tuck into these vittles for a spell, and I’ll see what I can round up for dessert.”
“Thankee, ma’am,” I says and took her at her word.
Well, it didn’t take no time atall to clear away that food, nor the next four trays full that she brought out neither. I saved all the steak bones and, in between tray deliveries, passed ‘em out the winder to Biter to gnaw on. Miss Arabella finished up our lunch with a dish pan full a peach cobbler swimmin’ with butter, over which she poured a pitcher a milk. I swear to goodness, that was the best meal I’d had in my life, and not least cause a the pretty lady what cooked and served it to me.
When Miss Arabella had disappeared to fetch our coffee, I gets up my nerve and asks Shorty, “I reckon Miss Arabella’s got all kinds a fellers a’courtin’ of her, her bein’ sech a cook and so purty and all?”
“Well, now, I tells you this, Archie,” says Shorty. “It’s a sad story. Miss Arabella had her a beau, but he took up with some scarlet woman two towns over, and Miss Arabella ain’t never got over it.”
“Took up with some other woman?” I asks, amazed—and a mite confused, not knowing that women came in scarlet, having only seen the usual shades. “What kinda fool would do something like that, to a purty little lady what can cook like a angel?”
Shorty shook his head in disbelief. “Ain’t it the truth? But left her he did, and she ain’t been happy since. Why, I wish she could find herself a new beau, someone who’d take care of her and appreciate her and all.”
Well, I didn’t say nothing, but my mind was a’workin’, I can tell you. Here was I, not a big feller, but not too bad a catch, and I’d purely love to soothe the broken heart of that purty little lady, yep, and eat her cookin’ too.
I opened my mouth to say so to Shorty, but shut it agin with a snap when Miss Arabella arrived back with our coffee. “Well, gentlemen, did you have a plenty?”
“It was the best meal I ever put tooth to, ma’am,” I says, digging in my pocket for a silver dollar and tossin’ it on the table so that it rang like a bell. “And I’d purely love to eat like that all the days of my life,” I continued with a meaningful look.
Miss Arabella gave a tinkly little laugh and scooped up the dollar. “Let me fetch you yore change,” she says, turning away to that goldarned curtain agin.
“No change necessary, ma’am, for a fine meal like that,” I says, and she turns around right quick like.
“Why, thank you, Mr…Archie,” says she, and gives me a smile. “You just come on in and eat whenever you like, you hear me?”
“Yes’m, I hear,” I says, feeling the blush rise up my face for about the dozenth time that day. “I’ll be proud to do it.”
Just then, a noise outside in the street made her purty little face go pale. It was a voice, a shoutin’ and a yellin’ at the top of its lungs.
“Arabella!” cries the voice. “Arabella!”
“Tarnation,” whispers Miss Arabella, “if that ain’t Buster Braddock!”
I cast a quick look at Shorty, who gives me a nod.
“That’s him,” he mouthed.
Well, I wasn’t going to let my new lady—for I’d already decided in my mind that I was a goin’ to court Miss Arabella—be insulted by some man who liked his women scarlet. I took her little hand and give it a squeeze.
“Don’t you worry none, ma’am,” I whispered. “Biter won’t let nobody in who you don’t want in, and even iffen he does, I’ll be right happy to pound any man what might want to insult you.”
Miss Arabella drew herself up like a peacock, and the color came into her pretty cheeks.
“Mister Wellkins,” she says, right cold, “I choose who comes into my establishment, and who don’t. I’ll thank you to leave my business to me, if you please.”
Well. I could feel my heart near to bustin’ inside my chest. Here was I, ready to leap to her defense, and Miss Arabella was a tellin’ me to leave her business alone. What could I do, I asks myself? Orders from a lady is orders what has to be obeyed, as my mamma had always pounded into my head, more’n once with a sledge hammer.
I took my hat, grabbed Shorty by one arm, ignorin’ the squeak a protest he give me, and gathering up what was left a my dignity, stalked out of the Red Rooster.
Outside, Biter was a growlin’ at a tallish man with green eyes. “Down, boy,” I ordered. “We know when we’re not wanted, don’t we?”
So me and Biter and Shorty proceeded down the street, to the Silver Dollar Saloon, where I commenced to drink away my sorrows. Them what says that in the process, I broke a number of arms and laigs, as well as coming near to destroying the entire establishment, is wrong. I can’t help it if I gets a mite rowdy when my heart is broke, and them fellers shouldn’t a been teasin’ of me in my condition.
But I will admit, by the time I left town to resume my travels, Dry Gulch Station had found out that Archibald Wellkins weren’t no man to trifle with.
About the author of No Man to Trifle With
K.G. McAbee has had several books and nearly a hundred short stories published, some of them quite readable. She takes her geekdom seriously, never misses a sci-fi con, loves dogs and iced tea, and believes the words ‘Stan Lee’ are interchangeable with ‘The Almighty.’ She writes steampunk, fantasy, science fiction, horror, pulp, westerns and, most recently, comics. She’s a member of Horror Writers Association and International Thriller Writers and is an Artist in Residence with the South Carolina Arts Commission. Her steampunk/zombie novella, BLACKTHORNE AND ROSE: AGENTS OF D.I.R.E. recently received an honorable mention in the 2013 3rd quarter Writers of the Future contest and was published by Pulp Literature Press. Her first mystery novella, DYED TO DEATH, won the prestigious Black Orchid Novella Award and was published by Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.
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An homage to the brilliant Robert E. Howard and his humorous Westerns. Archibald Welkins is leaving the family ranch for the first time. He and his dog Biter are heading into town when Archie falls in love with the best little cook in town. But is she already spoken for?