No. 10.—Admiral Hornswoggle in the Old West, part 1.
THROUGH A SERIES of unusual circumstances too tedious to narrate here, our frigate had been stranded several hundred miles inland just outside the village of Bad Pun, Montana, a lawless town of the Western frontier.
No town ever more deserved the epithet “lawless.” Only the day before we arrived, a man had shot his own brother merely for taking the wrong side in a discussion of Kant’s transcendental unity of apperception. Yet not only did the shooter remain at large, but indeed he shot several more people at his brother’s funeral, on the grounds that, as he put it, he liked to keep in practice.
It happened that one of the victims of his rampage was the sheriff of the village, the forty-eighth man to hold that position since the beginning of the month. I understand that the Sheriffs’ Cemetery outside Bad Pun is, to this day, the largest cemetery in North America devoted exclusively to lawmen, though the town itself has become somewhat more civilized since, some years ago, it became a leading center of the lace antimacassar industry.
It was the custom of the town residents to gather in the Woodrot Saloon on such occasions to choose a new sheriff, and it was just my ill fortune that led me, at that moment, to enter that very establishment in search of a crowbar, a few hundred thousand wood rollers, and a bottle of inexpensive champagne, with which to attempt the relaunching of my ship into the Pacific.
“Be thar any lily-livered jackanapes what dares to put on this badge?” one fellow was demanding as I walked in.
“How ’bout him?” a young lass of seventeen summers and about fifty very hard winters suggested, pointing straight toward me. “He looks lily-livered enough.”
“Our new sheriff!” someone else cried; and before I knew it, I had a five-pointed star pinned to my chest, and I was riding on the shoulders of a boisterous crowd, amidst such whooping and shouting as I had never heard in my life.
The celebrations, however, ended abruptly, and a profound silence fell with astonishing rapidity. I was unceremoniously dropped to the floor, and all eyes turned toward the entrance to the saloon.
“It’s Iago the Kid!” a hoarse whisper to my right informed me.
In the doorway stood a tall, gaunt figure dressed all in black. He stared at me as I stood and dusted myself off; then, while the crowd parted and left a broad space between us, he approached me, his spurs jingling with every step.
“New sheriff?” he inquired, although it appeared to be more of a rhetorical question. “Well, I eat mewling coxcombs like you for breakfast, sheriff. For lunch, too, sometimes, if’n I gets hungry.”
“May I inquire the purpose of your visit, sir?” I asked, hoping to keep a civil tone in the coversation.
“I came to have a few drinks and kill a few mammering dog-hearted sheriffs, that’s the purpose of my visit.” He continued to approach me.
“I would advise you not to attempt it,” I replied calmly.
“Oh you would advise me, you would, you froward flax-wench? That’s a laugh.” He paused. “You people are supposed to be laughing,” he explained to the crowd at large, and the crowd instantly began laughing in a mechanical way.
“That’s enough!” he declared, and the crowd was immediately silent.
By this time, Iago the Kid was right in front of me, “Now, I ain’t partial to addle-pated fustilarians like you,” he drawled, his breath stinking of cheap Gewurztraminer, “but I’m in a generous mood today on account of I just shot my sister Maggie, which improves my life considerable. So I’m givin’ you till sundown. If’n you ain’t out of Bad Pun by then, you better be ready to meet me at Osbert Kline’s corral o’er yonder with yer guns a-blazin’.”
“My dear sir,” I replied, “a captain of the Queen’s Navy is not easily tossed aside like an old disposable contact lens. More than my own honor is at stake. I shall meet you at precisely sunset, and we shall settle our differences. May I inquire as to what weapons you prefer?”
He laughed a mirthless and sinister laugh. “A milk-livered applejohn like you? You can choose your own gun. Whatever you like. I’m bringin’ my trusty six-shooter, and I reckon I’ll still have five shots left when I’m done with you.”
With that he turned his back to me and walked out.
To be continued.