The 112th Birthday of Robert E. Howard

Today is the anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard, the Texas author who is best known for creating the character Conan the Barbarian.

I owe a great debt to Howard for inspiring my own work, and so, as every year, I celebrate here on the blog with an excerpt from the man’s writing.

This year I decide to eschew the usual blood and thunder and post a bit of Howard’s humorous work, something I don’t think people recognize as much.

I used to read this aloud to my wife while she was pregnant, and it used to induce such belly laughs I would momentarily fear an early trip to the hospital.

This is from A Gent From Bear Creek, which features Howard’s Lil Abner-esque character Breckenridge Elkins. In this excerpt you get a bit of Howard’s trademark action, but his sense of folksy humor’s really on display here. I love the various turns of phrase – reminds me of Mark Twain at times.

Serape 2

After I’d gone maybe a mile I heard somebody in the trail ahead of me, and peeking through the bushes, I seen a most pecooliar sight. It was a man on foot, going the same direction as me, and he had on what I instinctly guessed was city clothes. They warn’t buckskin nor homespun, nor yet like the duds Mister Wilkinson had on, but they were very beautiful, with big checks and stripes all over ’em. He had on a round hat with a narrer brim, and shoes like I hadn’t never seen before, being neither boots nor moccasins. He was dusty, and he cussed considerable as he limped along. Ahead of him I seen the trail made a hoss-shoe bend, so I cut straight across and got ahead of him, and as he come along, I come out of the bresh and throwed down on him with my cap-and-ball.

He throwed up his hands and hollered: “Don’t shoot!”

“I don’t want to, mister,” I said, “but I got to have clothes!”

He shook his head like he couldn’t believe I was so, and he said: “You ain’t the color of a Injun, but–what kind of people live in these hills, anyway?”

“Most of ’em’s Democrats,” I said. “But I ain’t got no time to talk politics. You climb out of them riggin’s.”

“My God!” he wailed. “My horse threw me off and ran away, and I’ve bin walkin’ for hours, expecting to get scalped by Injuns any minute, and now a naked lunatic on a mule demands my clothes! It’s too dern much!”

“I cain’t argy, mister,” I said; “somebody’s liable to come up the trail any minute. Hustle!” So saying I shot his hat off to encourage him.

He give a howl and shucked his duds in a hurry.

“My underclothes, too?” he demanded, shivering though it was very hot.

“Is that what them things is?” I demanded, shocked. “I never heard of a man wearin’ such womanish things. The country is goin’ to the dogs, just like pap says. You better git goin’. Take my mule. When I git to where I can git some regular clothes, we’ll swap back.”

He clumb onto Alexander kind of dubious, and says to me, despairful: “Will you tell me one thing–how do I get to Tomahawk?”

“Take the next turn to the right,” I said, “and–”

Jest then Alexander turned his head and seen them underclothes on his back, and he give a loud and ringing bray and sot sail down the trail at full speed with the stranger hanging on with both hands. Before they was out of sight they come to where the trail forked, and Alexander taken the left branch instead of the right, and vanished amongst the ridges.

I put on the clothes, and they scratched my hide something fierce. I thinks, well, I got store-bought clothes quicker’n I hoped to. But I didn’t think much of ’em. The coat split down the back, and the pants was too short, but the shoes was the wust; they pinched all over. I throwed away the socks, having never wore none, but put on what was left of the hat.

I went on down the trail, and taken the right-hand fork, and in a mile or so I come out on a flat, and heard hosses running. The next thing a mob of men on hosses bust into view. One of ’em yelled: “There he is!” and they all come for me full tilt. Instantly I decided that the stranger had got to Tomahawk after all, somehow, and had sot his friends onto me for stealing his clothes.

So I left the trail and took out across the sage grass, and they all charged after me, yelling stop. Well, them dern shoes pinched my feet so bad I couldn’t make much speed, so after I had run maybe a quarter of a mile I perceived that the hosses were beginning to gain on me. So I wheeled with my cap-and-ball in my hand, but I was going so fast, when I turned, them dern shoes slipped and I went over backwards into a cactus bed just as I pulled the trigger. So I only knocked the hat off of the first hossman. He yelled and pulled up his hoss, right over me nearly, and as I drawed another bead on him, I seen he had a bright shiny star on to his shirt. I dropped my gun and stuck up my hands.

They swarmed around me–cowboys, from their looks. The man with the star got off his hoss and picked up my gun and cussed.

“What did you lead us this chase through this heat and shoot at me for?” he demanded.

“I didn’t know you was a officer,” I said.

“Hell, McVey,” said one of ’em, “you know how jumpy tenderfeet is. Likely he thought we was Santry’s outlaws. Where’s yore hoss?”

“I ain’t got none,” I said.

“Got away from you, hey?” said McVey. “Well, climb up behind Kirby here, and let’s git goin’.”

To my surprise, the sheriff stuck my gun back in the scabbard, and so I clumb up behind Kirby, and away we went. Kirby kept telling me not to fall off, and it made me mad, but I said nothing. After an hour or so we come to a bunch of houses they said was Tomahawk. I got panicky when I seen all them houses, and would have jumped down and run for the mountains, only I knowed they’d catch me, with them dern pinchy shoes on.

I hadn’t never seen such houses before. They was made out of boards, mostly, and some was two stories high. To the north-west and west the hills riz up a few hundred yards from the backs of the houses, and on the other sides there was plains, with bresh and timber on them.

“You boys ride into town and tell the folks that the shebang starts soon,” said McVey. “Me and Kirby and Richards will take him to the ring.”

I could see people milling around in the streets, and I never had no idee they was that many folks in the world. The sheriff and the other two fellers rode around the north end of the town and stopped at a old barn and told me to get off. So I did, and we went in and they had a kind of room fixed up in there with benches and a lot of towels and water buckets, and the sheriff said: “This ain’t much of a dressin’ room, but it’ll have to do. Us boys don’t know much about this game, but we’ll second you as good as we can. One thing–the other feller ain’t got no manager nor seconds neither. How do you feel?”

“Fine,” I said, “but I’m kind of hungry.”

“Go git him somethin’, Richards,” said the sheriff.

“I didn’t think they et just before a bout,” said Richards.

“Aw, I reckon he knows what he’s doin’,” said McVey. “Gwan.”

So Richards pulled out, and the sheriff and Kirby walked around me like I was a prize bull, and felt my muscles, and the sheriff said: “By golly, if size means anything, our dough is as good as in our britches right now!”

I pulled my dollar out of my scabbard and said I would pay for my keep, and they haw-hawed and slapped me on the back and said I was a great joker. Then Richards come back with a platter of grub, with a lot of men wearing boots and guns and whiskers, and they stomped in and gawped at me, and McVey said: “Look him over, boys! Tomahawk stands or falls with him today!”

They started walking around me like him and Kirby done, and I was embarrassed and et three or four pounds of beef and a quart of mashed pertaters, and a big hunk of white bread, and drunk about a gallon of water, because I was purty thirsty. Then they all gaped like they was surprised about something, and one of ’em said: “How come he didn’t arrive on the stagecoach yesterday?”

“Well,” said the sheriff, “the driver told me he was so drunk they left him at Bisney, and come on with his luggage, which is over there in the corner. They got a hoss and left it there with instructions for him to ride on to Tomahawk as soon as he sobered up. Me and the boys got nervous today when he didn’t show up, so we went out lookin’ for him, and met him hoofin’ it down the trail.”

“I bet them Perdition _hombres_ starts somethin’,” said Kirby. “Ain’t a one of ’em showed up yet. They’re settin’ over at Perdition soakin’ up bad licker and broodin’ on their wrongs. They shore wanted this show staged over there. They claimed that since Tomahawk was furnishin’ one-half of the attraction, and Gunstock the other half, the razee ought to be throwed at Perdition.”

“Nothin’ to it,” said McVey. “It laid between Tomahawk and Gunstock, and we throwed a coin and won it. If Perdition wants trouble she can git it. Is the boys r’arin’ to go?”

“Is they!” says Richards. “Every bar in Tomahawk is crowded with hombres full of licker and civic pride. They’re bettin’ their shirts, and they has been nine fights already. Everybody in Gunstock’s here.”

“Well, le’s git goin’,” says McVey, getting nervous. “The quicker it’s over, the less blood there’s likely to be spilt.”

The first thing I knowed, they had laid hold of me and was pulling my clothes off, so it dawned on me that I must be under arrest for stealing that stranger’s clothes. Kirby dug into the baggage which was in one corner of the stall, and dragged out a funny looking pair of pants; I know now they was white silk. I put ’em on because I didn’t have nothing else to put on, and they fitted me like my skin. Richards tied a American flag around my waist, and they put some spiked shoes onto my feet.

I let ’em do like they wanted to, remembering what pap said about not resisting no officer. Whilst so employed I begun to hear a noise outside, like a lot of people whooping and cheering. Purty soon in come a skinny old gink with whiskers and two guns on, and he hollered: “Lissen here, Mac, dern it, a big shipment of gold is down there waitin’ to be took off by the evenin’ stage, and the whole blame town is deserted on account of this dern foolishness. Suppose Comanche Santry and his gang gits wind of it?”

“Well,” said McVey, “I’ll send Kirby here to help you guard it.”

“You will like hell,” says Kirby. “I’ll resign as deputy first. I got every cent of my dough on this scrap, and I aim to see it.”

“Well, send somebody!” says the old codger. “I got enough to do runnin’ my store, and the stage stand, and the post office, without–”

He left, mumbling in his whiskers, and I said: “Who’s that?”

“Aw,” said Kirby, “that’s old man Brenton that runs the store down at the other end of town, on the east side of the street. The post office is in there, too.”

“I got to see him,” I says. “There’s a letter–”

Just then another man come surging in and hollered: “Hey, is yore man ready? Folks is gittin’ impatient!”

“All right,” says McVey, throwing over me a thing he called a bathrobe. Him and Kirby and Richards picked up towels and buckets and things, and we went out the oppersite door from what we come in, and they was a big crowd of people there, and they whooped and shot off their pistols. I would have bolted back into the barn, only they grabbed me and said it was all right. We pushed through the crowd, and I never seen so many boots and pistols in my life, and we come to a square corral made out of four posts sot in the ground, and ropes stretched between. They called this a ring and told me to get in. I done so, and they had turf packed down so the ground was level as a floor and hard and solid. They told me to set down on a stool in one corner, and I did, and wrapped my robe around me like a Injun.

Then everybody yelled, and some men, from Gunstock, McVey said, clumb through the ropes on the other side. One of ’em was dressed like I was, and I never seen such a funny-looking human. His ears looked like cabbages, and his nose was plumb flat, and his head was shaved and looked right smart like a bullet. He sot down in a oppersite corner.

Then a feller got up and waved his arms, and hollered: “Gents, you all know the occasion of this here suspicious event. Mister Bat O’Tool, happenin’ to be passin’ through Gunstock, consented to fight anybody which would meet him. Tomahawk riz to the occasion by sendin’ all the way to Denver to procure the services of Mister Bruiser McGoorty, formerly of San Francisco!”

He p’inted at me, and everybody cheered and shot off their pistols, and I was embarrassed and bust out in a cold sweat.

“This fight,” said the feller, “will be fit accordin’ to London Prize Ring Rules, same as in a champeenship go. Bare fists, round ends when one of ’em’s knocked down or throwed down. Fight lasts till one or t’other ain’t able to come up to the scratch when time’s called. I, Yucca Blaine, have been selected as referee because, bein’ from Chawed Ear, I got no prejudices either way. Air you all ready? Time!”

McVey hauled me off my stool and pulled off my bathrobe and pushed me out into the ring. I nearly died with embarrassment, but I seen the feller they called O’Tool didn’t have on no more clothes than me. He approached and held out his hand like he wanted to shake hands, so I held out mine. We shook hands, and then without no warning he hit me a awful lick on the jaw with his left. It was like being kicked by a mule. The first part of me which hit the turf was the back of my head. O’Tool stalked back to his corner, and the Gunstock boys was dancing and hugging each other, and the Tomahawk fellers was growling in their whiskers and fumbling with their guns and bowie knives.

McVey and his deperties rushed into the ring before I could get up and dragged me to my corner and began pouring water on me.

“Air you hurt much?” yelled McVey.

“How can a man’s fist hurt anybody?” I ast. “I wouldn’t of fell down, only I was caught off-guard. I didn’t know he was goin’ to hit me. I never played no game like this here’n before.”

Elkins_02_webMcVey dropped the towel he was beating me in the face with, and turned pale. “Ain’t you Bruiser McGoorty of San Francisco?” he hollered.

“Naw,” I said. “I’m Breckinridge Elkins, from up in the Humbolt Mountains. I come here to git a letter for pap.”

“But the stagecoach driver described them clothes–” he begun wildly.

“A Injun stole my clothes,” I explained, “so I taken some off’n a stranger. Maybe that was Mister McGoorty.”

“What’s the matter?” ast Kirby, coming up with another bucket of water. “Time’s about ready to be called.”

“We’re sunk!” bawled McVey. “This ain’t McGoorty! This is a derned hillbilly which murdered McGoorty and stole his clothes!”

“We’re rooint!” exclaimed Richards, aghast. “Everybody’s bet their dough without even seein’ our man, they was that full of trust and civic pride. We cain’t call it off now. Tomahawk is rooint! What’ll we do?”

“He’s goin’ to git in there and fight his derndest,” said McVey, pulling his gun and jamming it into my back. “We’ll hang him after the fight.”

“But he cain’t box!” wailed Richards.

“No matter,” said McVey; “the fair name of our town is at stake; Tomahawk promised to supply a fighter to fight O’Tool, and–”

“Oh!” I said, suddenly seeing light. “This here is a fight then, ain’t it?”

McVey give a low moan, and Kirby reched for his gun, but just then the referee hollered time, and I jumped up and run at O’Tool. If a fight was all they wanted, I was satisfied. All that talk about rules, and the yelling of the crowd and all had had me so confused I hadn’t knowed what it was all about. I hit at O’Tool and he ducked and hit me in the belly and on the nose and in the eye and on the ear. The blood spurted, and the crowd hollered, and he looked plumb dumbfounded and gritted betwixt his teeth: “Are you human? Why don’t you fall?”

I spit out a mouthful of blood and got my hands on him and started chawing his ear, and he squalled like a catamount. Yucca run in and tried to pull me loose and I give him a slap under the ear and he turned a somersault into the ropes.

“Yore man’s fightin’ foul!” he squalled, and Kirby said: “Yo’re crazy! Do you see this gun? You holler ‘foul’ just once more, and it’ll go off!”

Meanwhile O’Tool had broke loose from me and caved in his knuckles on my jaw, and I come for him again, because I was beginning to lose my temper. He gasped: “If you want to make an alley-fight out of it, all right. I wasn’t raised in Five Points for nothing!” He then rammed his knee into my groin, and groped for my eye, but I got his thumb in my teeth and begun masticating it, and the way he howled was a caution.

By this time the crowd was crazy, and I throwed O’Tool and begun to stomp him, when somebody let bang at me from the crowd and the bullet cut my silk belt and my pants started to fall down.

I grabbed ’em with both hands, and O’Tool riz up and rushed at me, bloody and bellering, and I didn’t dare let go my pants to defend myself. I whirled and bent over and lashed out backwards with my right heel like a mule, and I caught him under the chin. He done a cartwheel in the air, his head hit the turf, and he bounced on over and landed on his back with his knees hooked over the lower rope. There warn’t no question about him being out. The only question was, was he dead?

A roar of “Foul!” went up from the Gunstock men, and guns bristled all around the ring.

The Tomahawk men was cheering and yelling that I’d won fair and square, and the Gunstock men was cussing and threatening me, when somebody hollered: “Leave it to the referee!”

“Sure,” said Kirby. “He knows our man won fair, and if he don’t say so, I’ll blow his head off!”

“That’s a lie!” bellered a Gunstock man. “He knows it war a foul, and if he says it warn’t, I’ll kyarve his gizzard with this here bowie knife!”

At them words Yucca fainted, and then a clatter of hoofs sounded above the din, and out of the timber that hid the trail from the east a gang of hossmen rode at a run. Everybody yelled: “Look out, here comes them Perdition illegitimates!”

Instantly a hundred guns covered ’em, and McVey demanded: “Come ye in peace or in war?”

“We come to unmask a fraud!” roared a big man with a red bandanner around his neck. “McGoorty, come forth!”

A familiar figger, now dressed in cowboy togs, pushed forward on my mule. “There he is!” this figger yelled, p’inting a accusing finger at me. “That’s the desperado that robbed me! Them’s my tights he’s got on!”

“What is this?” roared the crowd.

“A cussed fake!” bellered the man with the red bandanner. “This here is Bruiser McGoorty!”

“Then who’s he?” somebody bawled, p’inting at me.

“I’m Breckinridge Elkins and I can lick any man here!” I roared, getting mad. I brandished my fists in defiance, but my britches started sliding down again, so I had to shut up and grab ’em.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 11:45 am  Comments (1)  
Tags: ,

The URI to TrackBack this entry is: https://emerdelac.wordpress.com/2018/01/22/the-112th-birthday-of-robert-e-howard/trackback/

RSS feed for comments on this post.

One CommentLeave a comment

  1. I realized a couple years ago that the Breckenridge Elkins stories were probably my favorites. Close behind are El Borak and Solomon Kane. Hell, his historical fiction is as good as any of his stuff. Hard to go wrong with Robert E. Howard.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: