Brown as a coffee-berry, rugged, pistoled, spurred, wary,
indefeasible, I saw my old friend, Deputy-Marshal Buck Caperton,
stumble, with jingling rowels, into a chair in the marshal's outer
And because the court-house was almost deserted at that hour, and
because Buck would sometimes relate to me things that were out of
print, I followed him in and tricked him into talk through knowledge
of a weakness he had. For, cigarettes rolled with sweet corn husk were
as honey to Buck's palate; and though he could finger the trigger of a
forty-five with skill and suddenness, he never could learn to roll a
It was through no fault of mine (for I rolled the cigarettes tight and
smooth), but the upshot of some whim of his own, that instead of to an
Odyssey of the chaparral, I listened to--a dissertation upon
matrimony! This from Buck Caperton! But I maintain that the cigarettes
were impeccable, and crave absolution for myself.
"We just brought in Jim and Bud Granberry," said Buck. "Train robbing,
you know. Held up the Aransas Pass last month. We caught 'em in the
Twenty-Mile pear flat, south of the Nueces."
"Have much trouble corralling them?" I asked, for here was the meat
that my hunger for epics craved.
"Some," said Buck; and then, during a little pause, his thoughts
stampeded off the trail. "It's kind of queer about women," he went on,
"and the place they're supposed to occupy in botany. If I was asked to
classify them I'd say they was a human loco weed. Ever see a bronc
that had been chewing loco? Ride him up to a puddle of water two feet
wide, and he'll give a snort and fall back on you. It looks as big as
the Mississippi River to him. Next trip he'd walk into a canon a
thousand feet deep thinking it was a prairie-dog hole. Same way with a
"I was thinking of Perry Rountree, that used to be my sidekicker
before he committed matrimony. In them days me and Perry hated
indisturbances of any kind. We roamed around considerable, stirring up
the echoes and making 'em attend to business. Why, when me and Perry
wanted to have some fun in a town it was a picnic for the census
takers. They just counted the marshal's posse that it took to subdue
us, and there was your population. But then there came along this
Mariana Goodnight girl and looked at Perry sideways, and he was all
bridle-wise and saddle-broke before you could skin a yearling.
"I wasn't even asked to the wedding. I reckon the bride had my
pedigree and the front elevation of my habits all mapped out, and she
decided that Perry would trot better in double harness without any
unconverted mustang like Buck Caperton whickering around on the
matrimonial range. So it was six months before I saw Perry again.
"One day I was passing on the edge of town, and I see something like a
man in a little yard by a little house with a sprinkling-pot squirting
water on a rose-bush. Seemed to me, I'd seen something like it before,
and I stopped at the gate, trying to figure out its brands. 'Twas not
Perry Rountree, but 'twas the kind of a curdled jellyfish matrimony
had made out of him.
"Homicide was what that Mariana had perpetrated. He was looking well
enough, but he had on a white collar and shoes, and you could tell in
a minute that he'd speak polite and pay taxes and stick his little
finger out while drinking, just like a sheep man or a citizen. Great
skyrockets! but I hated to see Perry all corrupted and Willie-ized
"He came out to the gate, and shook hands; and I says, with scorn, and
speaking like a paroquet with the pip: 'Beg pardon--Mr. Rountree, I
believe. Seems to me I sagatiated in your associations once, if I am
"'Oh, go to the devil, Buck,' says Perry, polite, as I was afraid he'd
"'Well, then,' says I, 'you poor, contaminated adjunct of a
sprinkling-pot and degraded household pet, what did you go and do it
for? Look at you, all decent and unriotous, and only fit to sit on
juries and mend the wood-house door. You was a man once. I have
hostility for all such acts. Why don't you go in the house and count
the tidies or set the clock, and not stand out here in the atmosphere?
A jack-rabbit might come along and bite you.'
"'Now, Buck,' says Perry, speaking mild, and some sorrowful, 'you
don't understand. A married man has got to be different. He feels
different from a tough old cloudburst like you. It's sinful to waste
time pulling up towns just to look at their roots, and playing faro
and looking upon red liquor, and such restless policies as them.'
"'There was a time,' I says, and I expect I sighed when I mentioned
it, 'when a certain domesticated little Mary's lamb I could name was
some instructed himself in the line of pernicious sprightliness. I
never expected, Perry, to see you reduced down from a full-grown
pestilence to such a frivolous fraction of a man. Why,' says I,
'you've got a necktie on; and you speak a senseless kind of indoor
drivel that reminds me of a storekeeper or a lady. You look to me like
you might tote an umbrella and wear suspenders, and go home of
"'The little woman,' says Perry, 'has made some improvements, I
believe. You can't understand, Buck. I haven't been away from the
house at night since we was married.'
"We talked on a while, me and Perry, and, as sure as I live, that man
interrupted me in the middle of my talk to tell me about six tomato
plants he had growing in his garden. Shoved his agricultural
degradation right up under my nose while I was telling him about the
fun we had tarring and feathering that faro dealer at California
Pete's layout! But by and by Perry shows a flicker of sense.
"'Buck,' says he, 'I'll have to admit that it is a little dull at
times. Not that I'm not perfectly happy with the little woman, but a
man seems to require some excitement now and then. Now, I'll tell you:
Mariana's gone visiting this afternoon, and she won't be home till
seven o'clock. Neither of us ever stays out a minute after that time
unless we are together. Now, I'm glad you came along, Buck,' says
Perry, 'for I'm feeling just like having one more rip-roaring razoo
with you for the sake of old times. What you say to us putting in the
afternoon having fun--I'd like it fine,' says Perry.
"I slapped that old captive range-rider half across his little garden.
"'Get your hat, you old dried-up alligator,' I shouts, 'you ain't dead
yet. You're part human, anyhow, if you did get all bogged up in
matrimony. We'll take this town to pieces and see what makes it tick.
We'll make all kinds of profligate demands upon the science of cork
pulling. You'll grow horns yet, old muley cow,' says I, punching Perry
in the ribs, 'if you trot around on the trail of vice with your Uncle
"'I'll have to be home by seven, you know,' says Perry again.
"'Oh, yes,' says I, winking to myself, for I knew the kind of seven
o'clocks Perry Rountree got back by after he once got to passing
repartee with the bartenders.
"We goes down to the Gray Mule saloon--that old 'dobe building by the
"'Give it a name,' says I, as soon as we got one hoof on the foot-
"'Sarsaparilla,' says Perry.
"You could have knocked me down with a lemon peeling.
"'Insult me as much as you want to,' I says to Perry, 'but don't
startle the bartender. He may have heart-disease. Come on, now; your
tongue got twisted. The tall glasses,' I orders, 'and the bottle in
the left-hand corner of the ice-chest.'
"'Sarsaparilla,' repeats Perry, and then his eyes get animated, and I
see he's got some great scheme in his mind he wants to emit.
"'Buck,' says he, all interested, 'I'll tell you what! I want to make
this a red-letter day. I've been keeping close at home, and I want to
turn myself a-loose. We'll have the highest old time you ever saw.
We'll go in the back room here and play checkers till half-past six.'
"I leaned against the bar, and I says to Gotch-eared Mike, who was on
"'For God's sake don't mention this. You know what Perry used to be.
He's had the fever, and the doctor says we must humour him.'
"'Give us the checker-board and the men, Mike,' says Perry. 'Come on,
Buck, I'm just wild to have some excitement.'
"I went in the back room with Perry. Before we closed the door, I says
"'Don't ever let it straggle out from under your hat that you seen
Buck Caperton fraternal with sarsaparilla or /persona grata/ with a
checker-board, or I'll make a swallow-fork in your other ear.'
"I locked the door and me and Perry played checkers. To see that poor
old humiliated piece of household bric-a-brac sitting there and
sniggering out loud whenever he jumped a man, and all obnoxious with
animation when he got into my king row, would have made a sheep-dog
sick with mortification. Him that was once satisfied only when he was
pegging six boards at keno or giving the faro dealers nervous
prostration--to see him pushing them checkers about like Sally Louisa
at a school-children's party--why, I was all smothered up with
"And I sits there playing the black men, all sweating for fear
somebody I knew would find it out. And I thinks to myself some about
this marrying business, and how it seems to be the same kind of a game
as that Mrs. Delilah played. She give her old man a hair cut, and
everybody knows what a man's head looks like after a woman cuts his
hair. And then when the Pharisees came around to guy him he was so
'shamed that he went to work and kicked the whole house down on top of
the whole outfit. 'Them married men,' thinks I, 'lose all their spirit
and instinct for riot and foolishness. They won't drink, they won't
buck the tiger, they won't even fight. What do they want to go and
stay married for?' I asks myself.
"But Perry seems to be having hilarity in considerable quantities.
"'Buck old hoss,' says he, 'isn't this just the hell-roaringest time
we ever had in our lives? I don't know when I've been stirred up so.
You see, I've been sticking pretty close to home since I married, and
I haven't been on a spree in a long time.'
"'Spree!' Yes, that's what he called it. Playing checkers in the back
room of the Gray Mule! I suppose it did seem to him a little more
immoral and nearer to a prolonged debauch than standing over six
tomato plants with a sprinkling-pot.
"Every little bit Perry looks at his watch and says:
"'I got to be home, you know, Buck, at seven.'
"'All right,' I'd say. 'Romp along and move. This here excitement's
killing me. If I don't reform some, and loosen up the strain of this
checkered dissipation I won't have a nerve left.'
"It might have been half-past six when commotions began to go on
outside in the street. We heard a yelling and a six-shootering, and a
lot of galloping and manoeuvres.
"'What's that?' I wonders.
"'Oh, some nonsense outside,' says Perry. 'It's your move. We just got
time to play this game.'
"'I'll just take a peep through the window,' says I, 'and see. You
can't expect a mere mortal to stand the excitement of having a king
jumped and listen to an unidentified conflict going on at the same
"The Gray Mule saloon was one of them old Spanish 'dobe buildings, and
the back room only had two little windows a foot wide, with iron bars
in 'em. I looked out one, and I see the cause of the rucus.
"There was the Trimble gang--ten of 'em--the worst outfit of
desperadoes and horse-thieves in Texas, coming up the street shooting
right and left. They was coming right straight for the Gray Mule. Then
they got past the range of my sight, but we heard 'em ride up to the
front door, and then they socked the place full of lead. We heard the
big looking-glass behind the bar knocked all to pieces and the bottles
crashing. We could see Gotch-eared Mike in his apron running across
the plaza like a coyote, with the bullets puffing up dust all around
him. Then the gang went to work in the saloon, drinking what they
wanted and smashing what they didn't.
"Me and Petty both knew that gang, and they knew us. The year before
Perry married, him and me was in the same ranger company--and we
fought that outfit down on the San Miguel, and brought back Ben
Trimble and two others for murder.
"'We can't get out,' says I. 'We'll have to stay in here till they
"Perry looked at his watch.
"'Twenty-five to seven,' says he. 'We can finish that game. I got two
men on you. It's your move, Buck. I got to be home at seven, you
"We sat down and went on playing. The Trimble gang had a roughhouse
for sure. They were getting good and drunk. They'd drink a while and
holler a while, and then they'd shoot up a few bottles and glasses.
Two or three times they came and tried to open our door. Then there
was some more shooting outside, and I looked out the window again. Ham
Gossett, the town marshal, had a posse in the houses and stores across
the street, and was trying to bag a Trimble or two through the
"I lost that game of checkers. I'm free in saying that I lost three
kings that I might have saved if I had been corralled in a more
peaceful pasture. But that drivelling married man sat there and
cackled when he won a man like an unintelligent hen picking up a grain
"When the game was over Perry gets up and looks at his watch.
"'I've had a glorious time, Buck,' says he, 'but I'll have to be going
now. It's a quarter to seven, and I got to be home by seven, you
"I thought he was joking.
"'They'll clear out or be dead drunk in half an hour or an hour,' says
I. 'You ain't that tired of being married that you want to commit any
more sudden suicide, are you?' says I, giving him the laugh.
"'One time,' says Perry, 'I was half an hour late getting home. I met
Mariana on the street looking for me. If you could have seen her, Buck
--but you don't understand. She knows what a wild kind of a snoozer
I've been, and she's afraid something will happen. I'll never be late
getting home again. I'll say good-bye to you now, Buck.'
"I got between him and the door.
"'Married man,' says I, 'I know you was christened a fool the minute
the preacher tangled you up, but don't you never sometimes think one
little think on a human basis? There's ten of that gang in there, and
they're pizen with whisky and desire for murder. They'll drink you up
like a bottle of booze before you get half-way to the door. Be
intelligent, now, and use at least wild-hog sense. Sit down and wait
till we have some chance to get out without being carried in baskets.'
"'I got to be home by seven, Buck,' repeats this hen-pecked thing of
little wisdom, like an unthinking poll parrot. 'Mariana,' says he,
'will be out looking for me.' And he reaches down and pulls a leg out
of the checker table. 'I'll go through this Trimble outfit,' says he,
'like a cottontail through a brush corral. I'm not pestered any more
with a desire to engage in rucuses, but I got to be home by seven. You
lock the door after me, Buck. And don't you forget--I won three out of
them five games. I'd play longer, but Mariana--'
"'Hush up, you old locoed road runner,' I interrupts. 'Did you ever
notice your Uncle Buck locking doors against trouble? I'm not
married,' says I, 'but I'm as big a d----n fool as any Mormon. One
from four leaves three,' says I, and I gathers out another leg of the
table. 'We'll get home by seven,' says I, 'whether it's the heavenly
one or the other. May I see you home?' says I, 'you sarsaparilla-
drinking, checker-playing glutton for death and destruction.'
"We opened the door easy, and then stampeded for the front. Part of
the gang was lined up at the bar; part of 'em was passing over the
drinks, and two or three was peeping out the door and window and
taking shots at the marshal's crowd. The room was so full of smoke we
got half-way to the front door before they noticed us. Then I heard
Berry Trimble's voice somewhere yell out:
"'How'd that Buck Caperton get in here?' and he skinned the side of my
neck with a bullet. I reckon he felt bad over that miss, for Berry's
the best shot south of the Southern Pacific Railroad. But the smoke in
the saloon was some too thick for good shooting.
"Me and Perry smashed over two of the gang with our table legs, which
didn't miss like the guns did, and as we run out the door I grabbed a
Winchester from a fellow who was watching the outside, and I turned
and regulated the account of Mr. Berry.
"Me and Perry got out and around the corner all right. I never much
expected to get out, but I wasn't going to be intimidated by that
married man. According to Perry's idea, checkers was the event of the
day, but if I am any judge of gentle recreations that little table-leg
parade through the Gray Mule saloon deserved the head-lines in the
bill of particulars.
"'Walk fast,' says Perry, 'it's two minutes to seven, and I got to be
"'Oh, shut up,' says I. 'I had an appointment as chief performer at an
inquest at seven, and I'm not kicking about not keeping it.'
"I had to pass by Perry's little house. His Mariana was standing at
the gate. We got there at five minutes past seven. She had on a blue
wrapper, and her hair was pulled back smooth like little girls do when
they want to look grown-folksy. She didn't see us till we got close,
for she was gazing up the other way. Then she backed around, and saw
Perry, and a kind of a look scooted around over her face--danged if I
can describe it. I heard her breathe long, just like a cow when you
turn her calf in the lot, and she says: 'You're late, Perry.'
"'Five minutes,' says Perry, cheerful. 'Me and old Buck was having a
game of checkers.'
"Perry introduces me to Mariana, and they ask me to come in. No,
sir-ee. I'd had enough truck with married folks for that day. I says
I'll be going along, and that I've spent a very pleasant afternoon
with my old partner--'especially,' says I, just to jostle Perry,
'during that game when the table legs came all loose.' But I'd
promised him not to let her know anything.
"I've been worrying over that business ever since it happened,"
continued Buck. "There's one thing about it that's got me all twisted
up, and I can't figure it out."
"What was that?" I asked, as I rolled and handed Buck the last
"Why, I'll tell you: When I saw the look that little woman gave Perry
when she turned round and saw him coming back to the ranch safe--why
was it I got the idea all in a minute that that look of hers was worth
more than the whole caboodle of us--sarsaparilla, checkers, and all,
and that the d----n fool in the game wasn't named Perry Rountree at