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"Well, that's too bad, Jim. Is there anythin' I can do fer yuh?"
"Oh, Mist' Leagan, you go Hollista' you gettee l'il China med'cine?"
"Well no, I'm not goin' but the boy is and he'll get yuh what yuh need."
"You no go, Mist' Leagan?"
"That's all right Jim, you tell me what yuh want and I'll see to it yuh get it."
"Aw li', me fixum li'l paper, you gettee med'cine, China med'cine."
So he shuffled around inside and presently appeared with a much folded bit of brown wrapping paper.
"Oh, Mist' Leagan, you sabe China boy med'cine man Hollista, you givum paper, you no losum?"
He showed plainly his reluctance to relinquish the paper until given additional assurance that the errand would be faithfully executed, and I appreciated the gentleness and understanding when the Old Timer patiently replied: "I sabe the feller, Jim, and 'course I won't lose it. Good bye Jim."
We started away, but before we had reached the stile Jim shouted: "Oh, Mist' Leagan come, you come."
We both went back and this time Jim came out of the shack. "Oh, Mist' Leagan me forglet China boy no home today. Gimmee paper, Fliday he home, you come Fliday Misf Leagan?"
"All right, Jim, all right."
"Poor duffer," said the Old Timer, as we went! out to the machine, "he was afraid I'd lose that note or the boy'd forget the medicine, and that's the only excuse he could think of to get it back. Oh, well, I'll come again Friday."
I thought and said as much, emphatically, that a quarrelous old heathen seemed to expect people to go to considerable trouble to dance attendance on one who would not be generally considered exactly in a position to command attention, and why did he propose returning Friday when he knew it was only anxiety over the note's safety that prompted Jim to call us back. The Old Timer paused in the act of
luxuriously rolling his much-chewed cigar to the opposite side of his mouth, removed it, spat calm and eloquent forbearance of my total lack or comprehension, and with ready candor admitted that p'raps it might do some good if he told me Jim's story and so began.
"Yuh see, Jim's alwa's lived here and alwa's been called 'Poison Jim,' and how come he got that name was like this:
"'Bout forty years back they was sheep in some parts of this country, cattle in others and all the valley land was in grain, solid stuff miles of it, pretty say to look out over thousands of acres of it on a mornin' when the sun was jes turnin' the heads, and the mountain breeze was makin' it wave like the little ripples yuh see on Monterey Bay when it's good fishin' yuh know, say it jes made yuh feel good.
"It was a happy place to live in them days, they was Spanish rancheros here and there, and they'd have barbecues and dances, fandangoes they called 'em, and I can remember on their fiesta days the ranch owners ridin' in to town on big black horses, their vaqueros on their ponies cuttin' didoes and shown' off before the women folks who'd be in the surreys and carryalls, and then the weddins' they'd have, days of feastin' and good times from one ranchero to another. Then in harvest time they all got in and helped each other 'stead of cuttin' throats like they do nowadays, and they'd make a fiesta out of the harvest.
"Then the Indians would come stragglin' back to town from the ranches where they worked; they had a reg'lar village down where Fourth Street is now, and they'd store the grain and stuff that served as wages, in the old Mission buildin' here and some of 'em worked 'round the Mission and so on.
"Oh, it used to be more like livin' them days.
"Now I was goin' to tell yuh how 'Poison Jim' got that name wasn't I?
"Well, it seems he had more luck than anyone else 'round here mixin' poisoned grain to kill off ground squirrels. Them Chinese have more up their sleeves 'bout everythin' than we know anyway, so Jim earned a pretty good livin' poisin' squirrels. That is how he got the name of 'Poison Jim.'
"Then one spring came the mustard and it seemed to spring up over night all over the valley, and it began to look bad for the grain.
"These old Spaniards didn't use to be savin', they lived along in as much comfort as they could and generally without any thought for the morrow, 'manana,' as they called it, except as a time to do what they didn't want to do today.
"So this mustard had 'em worryin,' some called it a sort of a visitation and others argued 'bout a story they'd heard that the fathers goin' on foot from one Mission to another had scattered the mustard seed along the trails so they could find their way easier next year, and some of it had blowed over this way and got a start.
"Well, when it looked like this mustard was goin' to mean ruin to so many it was old 'Poison Jim' that stepped to the front, first off he seemed mildly surprised when the folks didn't do somethin' to rid the mustard offn the land and then one day he learned that they didn't know how. Bright and early the next mornin' Jim climbs onto a pinto horse he'd got from an Indian here in town, and started makin' the rounds of the rancheros.
"By sometime the next day Jim had seen all the ranchers and got their consent to his cleanin' up their fields in his own way. He asked them all if he could have all the mustard seed. Well, the ranchers didn't know whether he was crazy or they was, when they heard that kind of talk, but they all says 'Go ahead, and pleese Jeem go queek.'
"The next day Jim had disappeared and the ranchers did some tall speculatin' on his whereabouts and prob'le plans, until a little over a week later
the whole town turned out, Indians, dogs and all to witness what was prob'ly the queerest procession ever seen in San Juan.
"It was 'Poison Jim' leadin' ninety or a hundred Chinamen he'd corralled over near Monterey somewheres, they was crab fishin' or somethin'—I've forgot now what it was, and he'd brought 'em over here to clean up the mustard. Well Jim marches 'em out to the nearest ranchero, dumps all their stuff in an old corral and there they camped and rested that day.
"The next mornin' they went at it, and what d'ye think they was doin'?
"Cuttin' off the heads of the mustard and carryin' them to a sort of central place they'd cleared off in the field, and when they finished one field they'd take all the mustard to the corral they was campin' in and spread it out to dry, then on to the next field and so on.
"Well, they worked along like troopers, and when they got through there wasn't any mustard left in this whole valley, 'course the crop was gone for that year, but the mustard couldn't get a start next year 'cause the seed was gone, so the ranchers was all satisfied.
"Now I s'pose you'll wonder what Jim wanted with all that seed. Well, sir, them Chinamen turned in with hand flails and flailed the seed out of the pods, and sacked it up and stored it away and then one mornin' we woke up to find that we had only one Chinaman in town again, our 'Poison Jim.'
"Yuh know some people say all the Chinese race, now what d'ye call it, les see, syck or sickic, what do you call it now, huh? Oh, yes, phsycic, that's the word, well they say they know things ahead of time anyway— now I never did take much stock in that sort of thing, but jes the same I had a feel in' all along that Jim knew what he was doin' and he sure must have, for that fall, one day in October, I brought a man in in my stage, a Frenchman he was, who was in the condiment business in South Africa— made peppers and mustard and things into condiment. He had come all the way from Africa to California to look for mustard, because the crop had failed down there, mustard crop failed mind yuh, and landin' in San Francisco some one told him they'd heard about some mustard bein' threshed down here and here he was. Can yuh beat that, huh?
"Well, the long and short of it is, I took him to 'Poison Jim' and believe me, young man, Jim drove the allfiredest bargain I ever heard of. He got thirty-three thousand dollars from that poor misguided Frenchie, who started movin' the mustard right away. I met a man once who saw it on the docks at Panama. They must have packed it 'cross country down there.
"Jim bought the little ranch yuh saw jes now and started raisin' flax, all that money didn't seem to bother him any; he jes come and went 'bout his business like he alwa's done, but that deal was the talk of the whole country for a good long while.
"Things went along 'bout as usual for several years and then gradually things seemed to go 'topsy-turvy', first there were the two dry years and then the few things that did get above the ground burned up with the hot winds, and grain was a total loss.
"Then the sheep and cattle that were out in the hills on the thousands of acres of pasture were dyin' off in bunches—no grazin' for 'em yuh know, so the owners banded together and sent droves of cattle and sheep into the mountains in charge of some of the most trustworthy of the Indians.
"There were some of the old fellows who argued that all this hard luck came on account of the burning of the cross on the hill yuh see over yonder, yuh see they's another one there now, over there on that high hill to'ard ole Gabilan.
"Well, the fathers had put it up there as a sort of inspiring object for the Indians, and one stormy night a herder had burned it to keep warm, and then being scared, came in and
confessed and had to put up another as a penance.
"Father Ubeck, he's the one described in 'Ramona' as the priest who married Ramona. Well sir, he had a use for that cross I bet yuh never heard of; yuh know he'd see Indians setten' 'round the Mission or somewheres, as all young folks will, yuh know, huh. Well he'd summon 'em before him and talk to 'em nice about the sacredness of love and the married state and all that, and then send 'em on a jaunt to this cross to sort of meditate, yuh know.
"Yuh see, they's a spring half way up, see that level space up there? Well, very few of 'em got clean to the top, they knew what to expect when they got back anyway, so they'd jes go back and Father Ubeck'd marry 'em, get the idear?
"So now things looked pretty blue and the ones that suffered the most were the poor whites and the Indians right here in town who had no work and no money and soon nothing to eat.
"Down in the Indian village conditions was awful, they was beginnin' to get sick and die off—God! I've seen little babies at the squaws breasts stiffen out and the squaws fall over with weakness—tryin' to dig the little graves.
"Yuh know the Indians never was treated very elegant as yuh might say, their lives didn't amount to much around here, 'specially with the early settlers, but we did what we could and that didn't go far, so then the state took a hand and built a sort of poorhouse and hospital for 'em.
"Now about fifteen years back there had been an epidemic of smallpox with the Indians, and one of 'em, a big buck, was bein' hauled out to be buried. However, he didn't happen to be dead, some sort of trance, I s'pose and he came to and o'.awin' his way out of the rags they wrap 'em in got his finger in his eye and lost the sight of it, so they called him 'One Eyed Jim.'
"And it so happened that this 'One Eyed Jim' and an ole squaw they called 'Cross Eyed Mary' for a very good reason, were the first to be taken starvin' and sick tp the new poor farm and they died within a week there.
"Well, sir, there wasn't another Indian would go there, they thought d'ye see, that it was a new scheme to get rid of the poor beggars and they'd hide out, to keep from bein' sent there and yuh can see that only added to their misery.
"Then came that day in October, a day I think I'll always remember— and I'd like to ferget it if I could.
"One of the inspectors out to the poor farm had come into town and gone down among the Indians to try and round up a few of the poor old feeble ones and one or two that had fever bad, and the Indians were scared of him, they were yellin' and dartin' in and out of their shacks, the squaws screamin' and dogs yelpin' so a lot of us went down to see the ructions.
"A little before this there had been a general row in one of the bigger shacks over a sheep one of the old fellers had swiped somewheres, and even then when I got there I could hear grunts and blows and see a buck come tearin' out with what was prob'ly a bigger piece of mutton than the owner thought was his share, and say it sure was pitiful to see them poor devils go for the feller that had the meat and try and tear a piece off while he was holdin' it up over his head and I never saw dogs go for anything like them poor beggars did, runnin' and tryin' to shove it all in their mouths to once.
"'Poison Jim' had come to town that mornin' to see me about gettin' him some new harness on my next trip out and he follered me down to the rumpus and was standin' a little to one side, takin' it all in and his face was as calm and steady like as a wood statue. I remember thinkin' he didn't have much of a heart, because that scene was kinda—well, yuh know, ugly.
"I started over towards Jim when I see a rancher, a Spaniard he was—I
never did have much use for that feller—who had been in town all night playin' and drinkin'. Well I see him comin' on a wabbly run 'hell bent for election' and roarin' drunk. We found out afterwards that a greaser, a hired man he was, on this rancher's place, had jes rode in to report that an old Indian had run off with a pet sheep that belonged to the Spaniard's little girl—so the rancher hearin' of the cause of the row in the Indian village, and his sheep, put two and two together and here he was comin' fightin' mad and follered by his man Friday.
"The inspector had gone into the back lane by this time lookin for the sick, and if he'd been out where we was, what came out of that mess might) not have happened.
"The Spaniard came plowin' his way through the crowd that was there by this time, roarin' in Spanish for the son of a dog that dared to steal from him to come out, jes as the old Indian who stole the sheep succeeded in gettin' rid of the ones who was botherin' him, and shovin' the last one through the door with a shove that well nigh threw him — stood there in the doorway with the foreleg of a sheep in his hand.
"'It is he Senor! he is the one that you seek' yells that little Mex to his employer, 'it is he.'
"We was all watchin' the Spaniard, we knew what was comin' all right, but yuh couldn't a'done anythin' 'specially for an Indian in those days, yuh know, well he didn't make any ado about it, — jes reached in under his coat they carried 'em under their arm pits, generally, and drew a long-barrelled army gun."
"Indian girl in the crowd screamed, every one else was holdin' in, somehow in the face of things like that people get so still it gives yuh the creeps and I recognized her as the old, Indian's daughter, — she was holdin' her baby in her arms—and straight as an arrow she went to that poor old feller standin' there, not quite understandin' the things that was goin' on —jes as that gun roared!"
"That heavy slug hit the girl first, turnin' her before she fell, and passed through to her father and tore a hole in his neck big as a dollar—they both jes crumpled up and sank where they stood, the baby rollin' to one side!"
"Then we saw what 'Poison Jim' was made of, the first sign of life in that crowd came from him. He very quietiy walked up, lookin' straight ahead, and pickin' up the baby, went into the shack and closed the door."
"A few days later when that harness came for Jim, I took it down to that ranch of his but no one was home and nobody knew where he was, so I brought it up to the stable thinkin' he'd show up in a few days."
"Well, sir, he sure did show up! Four days later I seen somethin' on the road behind me comin' up from Sargent, but didn't see what it was 'till after I reached town and unhitched and I see it comin' up the road here."
"And then I saw 'Poison Jim' — a comin' along in a two-wheeled rig,
and leadin' a string of twelve freight wagons each one with four hosses and a driver and in them wagons, Sir, was fifteen thousands dollars worth of provisions he'd bought in San Jose, 'bout cleaned the town out, I reckon, well old Jim went straight to that Indian village and stopped."
"Our old 'Poison Jim' was about the biggest thing in town that day, he'd drive up to a shack and say to the driver, 'you leavem sack bacon, sack floua, sack corn, and so on to the next shack, and all through, not only the Indian camp but the whole countryside, wherever help was needed."
"It was 'Poison Jim' and his money that kept those who couldn't help themselves, goin' till the rains came and the cattle and sheep come back and the whole country came back to itself, and since that time, it has alwa's been our old 'Poison Jim' the down and outs go to for help — and they get it!"
"D'ye see, young man why I'm goin' back there Friday?"
IN THE SUNSETS GLOW
Let me watch the blushing river,
Watch the waters gleam and quiver
With my oars both resting idly
While its fading glory o'er me,
With that rosy light before me,
Painting every cloud I view; With that smile of heaven o'er me,
Let me drift and dream with you.
Washington Van Dusen.