“Carlyle said a lie cannot live. Which shows that he did not know how to tell them.” — Mark Twain
Well sir, Old Man Winter’s sure enough left his footprints on Plumtree Crossin’, and he weren’t wearin’ his lightweight city shoes, neither. In point of fact, it’s been so dadblamed intemperate here of late that Ott Bartlett has plumb give up spittin’ terbaccy juice in the out-of-doors; seems he jist can’t tolerate the way it freezes up in midstream and shatters as soon as the air gets to it.
But folks here don’t spend too much time strugglin’ with the inclement weather, anyhow. Leastwise, most of us have the God-given sense to put our backsides near somethin’ warm and wait till a feller can step outside without dressin’ up like a three-year stack of feed sacks.
Which is why–nigh onto two weeks ago–a goodly number of the local notables was gathered in the back room of the Plumtree Crossin’ General Store. Actually, “gathered” don’t exactly describe it right. We was huddled so close around the potbellied stove that Lem Tucker swore he was lookin’ at the world through Doc Thromberg’s glasses. It were one of those days where, if called on to help find a lost friend, it jist might cross your mind to stay in and let a grown man fend for hisself.
Anyway, about the time we was gettin’ all warmed and ready fer some upliftin’ conversation, Lafe Higgins and Skeeter Ridges come bustin’ through the front door like January 1929.
“We got to form a rescue party,” Lafe said, after he’d thawed enough to sneak the words between the clatterin’ of his teeth. “Fletcher Roebuck’s boy, Clovis, has gone and got hisself lost down along Wishful Crick.”
“And jist what is that no-count ward heeler doin’ in them woods in the dead of winter, anyway?” Doc wanted to know.
“Freezin’, most likely,” chimed in Skeeter. “You see, it’s like this: Ol’ Clovis is home from the state capital visitin’ his widdered momma. And yisterday, it seems, he got a bit advanced into some leftover eggnog and set to braggin’ about his huntin’ and trappin’ prowess. Clovis went on fer some time, and finally Cleedy McCannon—-who was callin’ socially—-spoke up … sayin’ that from what he’d heered, Clovis could take the wrong direction in a one-seat privy and stood in danger of freezin’ to death ev’ry time he opened an icebox.
“Well, Clovis got riled at that so–tipsy as he was–he managed to wrestle some gear into that silly-lookin’ four-wheel drive of his’n, grabbed Fletcher’s old 30-30 off the wall, and announced that he’d be draggin’ a big buck white tail outta the Wishful Crick wilderness before sunset. That was 24 hours ago and he ain’t come back yet.”
Now as you can imagine, most of the boys weren’t exactly overjoyed at the idea of sloggin’ through them cold woods—-especially to fetch out the likes of Clovis Roebuck–but we all ended up puttin’ on our heavy-weather clothes and pilin’ into Skeeter’s pickup and Doc’s old Hudson anyway … along with a few bottles of Purvis Jacob’s corn-squeezed antifreeze fer enny medical emergencies that might occur.
Well, as you know, it ain’t a long drive to the turnoff above Wishful. But them roads were slipperier than a Congressional Committee, so it was nigh onto mid-afternoon afore we slithered to a stop a few feet from Clovis’s parked jeep. That vehicle had tires as big as a John Deere’s and was all gussied up with gold–painted eagles and the like. Ott managed to untangle hisself from the crowded car first, and–while the rest of us rescuers took one last swaller of abominable snowman repellent from the jug–he ambled over to see if Clovis mighta showed enough sense to leave a note in his jeep as to whether he’d be goin’ upstream or down.
After no more’n a peek into Clovis’s car, though, Ott came tippytoein’ back makin’ shushin’ motions with his finger and lookin’ like a schoolboy who’d jist discovered spitwads.
“You fellers got to see this fer yerselves,” he cackled. “But set yer feet down real soft. Opportunity don’t knock this hard but once.”
Well sir, we all filed over to that decked-out jeep, and there across the seat–lookin’ fer all the world like the biggest danged cattypillar in creation–was the poor lost soul snuggled up safe as a baby in one of them $300 goose down sleepin’ bags.
“I’ll be a suck-egg mule,” Doc whispered. “The orn’ry critter never even tried to git outta his car!”
And that seemed to be the case, too, ’cause they was an empty five dollar whiskey bottle on the vehicle’s floor. And there wasn’t enny footprints–‘ceptin’ ours–in the vicinity, neither, though it hadn’t snowed fer a good three days.
Doc kinda pondered fer a while before speakin’ up. “Gimme a hand with sleepin’ beauty,” he said after a bit. “This feller needs to be learnt a little lesson.”
So, ev’rybody pitched in and we hauled ol’ Clovis–who didn’t react other than to let loose a few snorts that woulda done a bull moose proud–out inta the woods a piece, where we nestled him down in the middle of a snowbank.
Then Doc took one of them jugs of corn squeezin’s and dabbed the likker over Clovis’s sticky-out ears and freckled nose. As cold as the air was, that alcohol musta made it a dern sight colder, ’cause Clovis commenced to wrigglin’ and mutterin’ directly. And ol’ Doc kneeled down next to him and got to talkin’ in real sorrowful tones.
“It’s frostbite fer sure,” was his expressed opinion. “I don’t know if the nose will have to go, but them big ol’ ears look like goners to me.” All of this was beginnin’ to sink into Clovis’s mornin’-after brain. He opened his eyes ‘n’ looked around–not knowin’ where he was nor how he’d come to be there–and started to sit up.
“Don’t move, or you’ll crack like a china teacup!” Doc bellered in a voice that woulda give an undertaker the frights. At that, Clovis widened his eyes so big you could see air around the whites of ’em and went stiff as a seasoned board.
“The way I see it, he’s only got but one chance.” (This was Lafe speakin’ now.) “His frostbit face has gotta be rubbed with snow.” So, we all set about that pleasant task and bounced Clovis around as much as possible while we was at it. By the time we decided to let the patient up and help him to his car, he was a lick away from sobbin’ and about as sorry lookin’ a sight as I’ve ever seen.
Once Doc figured that the prank had gone on long enough, he announced that Clovis was the luckiest man since Lazarus and that a miraculous recov’ry had taken place.
At that Clovis fell to blubberin’ in earnest. He thanked us all fer savin’ his hide and swore he’d never fergit what we’d done fer him till his dyin’ day.”
‘Twern’t nothin’,” Ott told him. “You jist rest yerself up a spell and then I’ll take you huntin’ with me. We’ll git you a big ol’ buck deer yet! ” Well sir, Clovis seemed to develop a case of the tremblin’ shivers about then and climbed–hurried like–into his jeep. He allowed as how the huntin’ trip sounded fine, but it seemed that he had some pressin’ govermint bizniss to attend to. In fact, Clovis was so danged dedicated to servin’ the state that he was afraid it’d be quite a spell before he’d be able to git back to Plumtree Crossin.
Maybe not till, say … July?
“No victor believes in chance.” — Nietzsche
“Give me health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous” — Emerson
“As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too” — Dostoevsky