THE JIMMYJOHN BOSS AND OTHER STORIES
By Owen Wister
To Messrs. Harper & Bothers and Henry Mills Alden whose friendliness
I am glad of this chance to record
It's very plain that if a thing's the fashion--
Too much the fashion--if the people leap
To do it, or to be it, in a passion
Of haste and crowding, like a herd of sheep,
Why then that thing becomes through imitation
Vulgar, excessive, obvious, and cheap.
No gentleman desires to be pursuing
What every Tom and Dick and Harry's doing.
Stranger, do you write books? I ask the question,
Because I'm told that everybody writes
That what with scribbling, eating, and digestion,
And proper slumber, all our days and nights
filled. It seems an odd suggestion--
But if you do write, stop it, leave the masses,
Read me, and join the small selected classes.
The Jimmyjohn Boss
One day at Nampa, which is in Idaho, a ruddy old massive
stood by the Silver City stage, patting his beard with his left hand,
and with his right the shoulder of a boy who stood beside him. He had
come with the boy on the branch train from Boise, because he was a
careful German and liked to say everything twice--twice at least when it
was a matter of business. This was a matter of very particular business,
and the German had repeated
himself for nineteen miles. Presently the
east-bound on the main line would arrive from Portland; then the Silver
City stage would take the boy south on his new mission, and the man
would journey by the branch train back to Boise. From Boise no one could
say where he might not go, west or east. He was a great and pervasive
cattle man in Oregon, California, and other places. Vogel and Lex--even
to-day you may hear the two ranch partners spoken
of. So the veteran
Vogel was now once more going over his notions and commands to his
during the last precious minutes until the east-bound
"Und if only you haf someding like dis," said the old man, as he tapped
his beard and patted the boy, "it would be five hoondert more dollars
salary in your liddle pants."
The boy winked up at his employer. He had a gray, humorous
eye; he was
slim and alert, like a sparrow-hawk--the sort of boy his father openly
rejoices in and his mother is secretly
in prayer over. Only, this boy
had neither father nor mother. Since the age of twelve he had looked out
for himself, never quite without bread, sometimes attaining champagne,
getting along in his American way variously, on horse or afoot, across
regions of wide plains and mountains, through towns where not a soul
knew his name. He closed one of his gray eyes at his employer, and
beyond this made no remark.
"Vat you mean by dat vink, anyhow?" demanded the elder.
"Say," said the boy, confidentially--"honest now. How about you and me?
Five hundred dollars if I had your beard. You've got a record and I've
got a future. And my bloom's on me rich, without a scratch. How many
dollars you gif me for dat bloom?" The sparrow-hawk sailed into a
of his master.
"You are a liddle rascal!" cried the master, shaking with entertainment.
"Und if der peoples vas to hear you sass old Max Vogel in dis style they
would say, 'Poor old Max, he lose his gr-rip.' But I don't lose it." His
great hand closed suddenly on the boy's shoulder, his voice cut clean
and heavy as an axe, and then no more joking about him. "Haf you
understand that?" he said.
"How old are you, son?"
"Oh my, that is offle young for the job I gif you. Some of dose man you
go to boss might be your father. Und how much do you weigh?"
"About a hundred and thirty."
"Too light, too light. Und I haf keep my eye on you in Boise. You are
not so goot a boy as you might be."
"Well, sir, I guess not."
"But you was not so bad a boy as you might be, neider. You don't lie
about it. Now it must be farewell
to all that foolishness. Haf you
understand? You go to set an example where one is needed very bad. If
those men see you drink a liddle, they drink a big lot. You forbid
they laugh at you. You must not allow one drop of whiskey
at the whole
place. Haf you well understand?"
"Yes, sir. Me and whiskey
are not necessary to each other's happiness."
"It is not you, it is them. How are you mit your gun?"
Vogel took the boy's pistol
from its holster and aimed at an empty
bottle which was sticking in the thin Deceiver snow. "Can you do this?"
he said, carelessly, and fired. The snow struck the bottle, but the
was buried half an inch to the left.
The boy took his pistol
with solemnity. "No," he said. "Guess I can't do
that." He fired, and the glass splintered into shapelessness. "Told you
I couldn't miss as close as you did," said he.
"You are a darling," said Mr. Vogel. "Gif me dat lofely weapon."
store of bottles lay, leaned, or stood about in the white
snow of Nampa, and Mr. Vogel began at them.
"May I ask if anything is the matter?" inquired a mild voice from the
"Stick that lily head in-doors," shouted Vogel; and the face and
again into the stage. "The school-teacher he will
be beautifool virtuous
company for you at Malheur Agency," continued
Vogel, shooting again; and presently
the large old German destroyed a
bottle with a crashing smack. "Ah!" said he, in unison
with the smack.
"Ah-ha! No von shall say der old Max lose his gr-rip. I shoot it efry
time now, but the train she whistle. I hear her."
The boy affected
to listen earnestly.
"Bah! I tell you I hear de whistle
"Did you say there was a whistle?" ventured the occupant
of the stage.
The snow shone white on his glasses as he peered out.
for you," returned the robust
Vogel. "You listen to me,"
he continued to the boy. "You are offle yoong. But I watch you plenty
this long time. I see you work mit my stock on the Owyhee and the
Malheur; I see you mit my oder men. My men they say always more and
more, 'Yoong Drake he is a goot one,' und I think you are a goot one
mine own self. I am the biggest cattle man on the Pacific slope, und I
am also an old devil. I have think a lot, und I like you."
"I'm obliged to you, sir."
"Shut oop. I like you, und therefore
I make you my new sooperintendent
at my Malheur Agency r-ranch, mit a bigger salary as you don't get
before. If you are a sookcess, I r-raise you some more."
"I am satisfied now, sir."
"Bah! Never do you tell any goot business man you are satisfied mit vat
he gif you, for eider he don't believe you or else he think you are a
fool. Und eider ways you go down in his estimation. You make those men
at Malheur Agency behave
themselves und I r-raise you. Only I do vish, I
do certainly vish you had some beard on that yoong chin."
The boy glanced at his pistol.
"No, no, no, my son," said the sharp old German. "I don't want gunpowder
in dis affair. You must act kviet und decisif und keep your liddle shirt
on. What you accomplish shootin'? You kill somebody, und then, pop!
somebody kills you. What goot is all that nonsense
"It would annoy me some, too," retorted the boy, eyeing the capitalist.
"Don't leave me out of the proposition."
"Broposition! Broposition! Now you get hot mit old Max for nothing."
"If you didn't contemplate
trouble," pursued the boy, "what was your
point just now in sampling my marksmanship?" He kicked some snow in the
direction of the shattered bottle. "It's understood no whiskey
that ranch. But if no gunpowder
goes along with me, either, let's call
the deal off. Buy some other fool."
"You haf not understand, my boy. Und you get very hot because I happen
to make that liddle joke about somebody killing you. Was you thinking
maybe old Max not care what happen to you?"
A moment of silence passed before the answer came: "Suppose we talk
"Very well, very well. Only notice this thing. When oder peoples talk
oop to me like you haf done many times, it is not they who does the
getting hot. It is me--old Max. Und when old Max gets hot he slings them
out of his road anywheres. Some haf been very sorry they get so slung.
You invite me to buy some oder fool? Oh, my boy, I will buy no oder fool
except you, for that was just like me when I was yoong Max!" Again the
ruddy and grizzled magnate put his hand on the shoulder of the boy, who
stood looking away at the bottles, at the railroad track, at anything
save his employer.
proceeded: "I was afraid of nobody und noding in those
days. You are afraid of nobody and noding. But those days was different.
No Pullman sleepers, no railroad at all. We come oop the Columbia in
the steamboat, we travel hoonderts of miles by team, we sleep, we eat
nowheres in particular mit many unexpected
interooptions. There was
Indians, there was offle bad white men, und if you was not offle
yourself you vanished quickly. Therefore in those days was Max Vogel
hell und repeat."
The magnate smiled a broad fond smile over the past which he had kicked,
driven, shot, bled, and battled through to present power; and the boy
winked up at him again now.
"I don't propose to vanish, myself," said he.
"Ah-ha! you was no longer mad mit der old Max! Of coorse I care what
happens to you. I was alone in the world myself in those lofely wicked
Reserve again made flinty the boy's face.
"Neider did I talk about my feelings," continued Max Vogel, "but I nefer
show them too quick. If I was injured I wait, and I strike to kill. We
all paddles our own dugout, eh? We ask no favors from nobody; we must
win our spurs! Not so? Now I talk business with you where you interroopt
me. If cow-boys was not so offle scarce
in the country, I would long ago
the lot of those drunken
fellows. But they cannot be spared;
we must get along so. I cannot send Brock, he is needed at Harper's. The
dumb fellow at Alvord Lake is too dumb; he is not quickly courageous.
They would play high jinks mit him. Therefore I send you. Brock he say
to me you haf joodgement. I watch, and I say to myself also, this boy
haf goot joodgement. And when you look at your pistol
so quick, I tell
you quick I don't send you to kill men when they are so scarce
My boy, it is ever the moral, the say-noding strength what gets
there--mit always the liddle pistol
behind, in case--joost in case. Haf
you understand? I ask you to shoot. I see you know how, as Brock told
me. I recommend
you to let them see that aggomplishment in a friendly
way. Maybe a shooting-match mit prizes--I pay for them--pretty soon
after you come. Und joodgement--und joodgement. Here comes that train.
Haf you well understand?"
Upon this the two shook hands, looking square friendship in each other's
eyes. The east-bound, long quiet and dark beneath its flowing clots of
smoke, slowed to a halt. A few valises and legs descended, ascended,
herding and hurrying; a few trunks were thrown resoundingly in and out
of the train; a woolly, crooked
old man came with a box and a bandanna
bundle from the second-class car; the travellers of a thousand miles
looked torpidly at him through the dim, dusty windows of their Pullman,
and settled again for a thousand miles more. Then the east-bound,
shooting heavier clots of smoke laboriously into the air, drew its slow
length out of Nampa, and away.
"Where's that stage?" shrilled the woolly old man. "That's what I'm
"Why, hello!" shouted Vogel. "Hello, Uncle Pasco! I heard you was dead."
Uncle Pasco blinked his small eyes to see who hailed him. "Oh!" said he,
in his light, crusty voice. "Dutchy Vogel. No, I ain't dead. You guessed
wrong. Not dead. Help me up, Dutchy."
smile broadened Vogel's face. "It was ten years since I see
you," said he, carrying the old man's box.
"Shouldn't wonder. Maybe it'll be another ten till you see me next." He
stopped by the stage step, and wheeling nimbly, surveyed his old-time
acquaintance, noting the good hat, the prosperous
watch-chain, the big,
well-blacked boots. "Not seen me for ten years. Hee-hee! No. Usen't to
have a cent more than me. Twins in poverty. That's how Dutchy and me
started. If we was buried to-morrow they'd mark him 'Pecunious' and me
'Impecunious.' That's what. Twins in poverty."
"I stick to von business at a time, Uncle," said good-natured,
of aberration lighted in the old man's eye. "H'm, yes," said
he, pondering. "Stuck to one business. So you did. H'm." Then, suddenly
sly, he chirped: "But I've struck it rich now." He tapped his box.
"Jewelry," he half-whispered. "Miners and cow-boys."
"Yes," said Vogel. "Those poor, deluded fellows, they buy such stuff."
And he laughed at the seedy visionary who had begun frontier
with him on the bottom rung and would end it there. "Do you play that
concertina yet, Uncle?" he inquired.
"Yes, yes. I always play. It's in here with my tooth-brush and socks."
Uncle Pasco held up the bandanna. "Well, he's getting ready to start. I
guess I'll be climbing inside. Holy Gertrude!"
was at sight of the school-master, patient within
the stage. "What business are you in?" demanded Uncle Pasco.
"I am in the spelling
business," replied the teacher, and smiled,
"Hell!" piped Uncle Pasco. "Take this."
He handed in his bandanna to the traveller, who received it politely.
Max Vogel lifted the box of cheap jewelry; and both he and the boy came
behind to boost the old man up on the stage step. But with a nettled
look he leaped up to evade them, tottered half-way, and then, light as a
husk of grain, got himself to his seat and scowled at the schoolmaster.
After a brief inspection
of that pale, spectacled
face, "Dutchy," he
called out of the door, "this country is not what it was."
But old Max Vogel was inattentive. He was speaking
to the boy, Dean
Drake, and held a flask in his hand. He reached the flask to his new
superintendent. "Drink hearty," said he. "There, son! Don't be shy. Haf
you forgot it is forbidden
fruit after now?"
"Kid sworn off?" inquired Uncle Pasco of the school-master.
"I understand," replied this person, "that Mr. Vogel will not allow
his cow-boys at the Malheur Agency to have any whiskey
Personally, I feel gratified." And Mr. Bolles, the new school-master,
gave his faint smile.
"Oh," muttered Uncle Pasco. "Forbidden to bring whiskey
on the ranch?
H'm." His eyes wandered to the jewelry-box. "H'm," said he again; and
becoming thoughtful, he laid back his moth-eaten sly head, and spoke no
further with Mr. Bolles.
Dean Drake climbed into the stage and the vehicle
"Goot luck, goot luck, my son!" shouted the hearty
Max, and opened and
waved both his big arms at the departing boy: He stood looking after the
stage. "I hope he come back," said he. "I think he come back. If he come