Archie Ledbetter heads off to Montana in search of a friend named France Wah, who helped him get out of a deadly situation when he was in Omaha trying to solve "the crime a the century." His best friend, Percy Larson, begins the journey with him, but leaves after a few days to go back home to his newfound girl friend.
Archie then hooks up with an Indian named Oapsdofiad, who is on a quest to become a man. Together, they face the harsh journey from Nebraska to Montana, overcoming weather, mountains, Indians, prejudiced white people, and their own lack of experience and skills.
It is Oapsdofiad's own wisdom, courage, and abilities which get them to their destination, along the way earning the name Woyer out of respect and admiration from Archie.
A course, like most things in my life, I didn’t get to goin on my way to Montana quite as quick as I could of. Several things accounted for that, and none a them was my fault.
The first thing was that even though Judge Monroe and Harold Prater was in jail, and Emily Prater was run off with her fancy dressed man headin to San Francisco, and Mrs. Prater was already married to Willie Dan McCarty, it seemed I couldn’t shake the results a the poem I had singed at school what seems like a lifetime ago. Ever where I went, people was askin me did I done this or did I done that, and even though it wasn’t none a their business, I would found myself answerin a question, and then another, until they all seemed the same to me, so I started makin stuff up, which ain’t exactly new for me, but some a the things I made up was, well, I will admit it, pretty made up.
Even though Willie Dan wasn’t Emily’s daddy, once he married her Mama, he taken to defendin Emily like she was his family nevertheless. He knuckled me on the head once right on the street in downtown, dizzyin both my sights and my thoughts, and said he was goin to do it ever time he sawed me until I went to see Reverend O’Shaunessey and confessored all a my sins to him, and got myself forgived for it and changed my ways. It didn’t do no good to tell him that I already talked to the Reverend months ago, and was cleaned right up back then, and since then I hadn’t kissed no girls or tole no lies, which neither was exactly correct, but not enough to be called outright lies.
So, I didn’t go to see the reverend, and the next time Willie Dan sees me, he grabs me by the shirt collar and drags me right off a my feet right over to the church, where Reverend O’Shaunessey is preparin for his sermon on Sunday and tryin hard to find a different way to tell ever one they is goin to hell unless they ups the ante on what they give to the offferin, so he don’t seem pleased to see either one a us.
“This here boy got somethin to say to you,” Willie Dan says, with his hand still locked onto my shirt.
The reverend looks up from his ponderatin about the sermon, and looks over his glasses at us before takin them off, and he says back, “And what might that be?”
Well, I ain’t for sure whether he is talkin to Willie Dan or me, so I stay quiet, tryin not to get into any more than I already got into.
Finally, after a silence that goes on way too long, Willie Dan knuckles me on the head again, and says to me, “Well?”
By that time, my senses is real circlin around my head, so I says to the Reverend that there is a small possibility that I have gotten a few particles a dust on me since he cleansed me and got me scrubbed off the last time we talked, which was far too long ago, but I know he has got plenty a people who need cleansed more than me, so I didn’t want to bother him about the dust I might a collected.
The reverend then says to Willie Dan that he will take it from here, and he can let me go now, so Willie Dan does, and says to me, “Don’t make me half to come get you again, boy.”
“Oh, no sir,” I says to him. “I won’t be doin nothin that might cause you to hurt your knuckles on my head again no more.”
When Willie Dan leaves, the Reverend motions with his arm for me to go into one a the boxes he has set up for cleansin people, so I naturally walk into his box instead a the one for sinners. He don’t take real kindly to it, but tells me to please use the other stall.
“This one’s just fine,” I says.
“Use the other one,” he says in his most sternest voice. It is the same one he uses to tell all the people they is goin to hell.
So, I goes to the other stall and sits there real quiet, waitin to hear how long he will go before he starts to try to get all a my sins out a me, and it don’t take long.
“Do you have anything to say, Mr. Ledbetter?” he asks, now much calmlier than he was when I was in his box.
“Do you want me to try to think a all the things I done one at a time, or do you want to just give me a full cleansin shower and save us both some time?” I ask.
“You tell me. Is there anything in particular which you have done which bothers you?”
“Well a course there is,” I say. “I never knowed anyone who wouldn’t a done this or that different if he could a saw the end before he got to it. Like the time I had Percy bite off that chicken head and keep it in his mouth for a hour before he spit it out into the still. If I’d a knowed he could a kept it for another hour, I’d a had him do it, tellin him that it had to fester real good in his juices to have a good effect on the liquor. It was real fun, watchin him near gag all that time.”
Well, the Reverend says to stop right there, and that we must talk about all that has happened with Emily Prater, sayin that the stigmanation of my poem, and some a the things I might a did since then is still hauntin around me and need to be washed away.
I can’t think a nothin that needs talkin about, so I ask him again if he has anythin in particular he is referrin to.
I can tell he is tryin to gather his words just right, clearin his throat and coughin a couple times before he finally asks me if I done any formulatin with her.
“A course,” I says.
He starts right off talkin in that roman numeral language he uses when he is gettin on to people, and then asks, “And how many times might that have happened?”
“I couldn’t rightful tell you, Reverend,” I say, “but most ever time we was together, I’d say.”
“Do you realize what you have done to both of your souls?” he asks.
“Well, sometimes, when we was formulatin about gettin married, our souls was real pleasant, and sometimes when we was formulatin about how to find our who killed her Daddy, our souls wasn’t so fine, so I’d say it about evened out.”
Since most a the people who come to the Reverend and sit in the box is old people who don’t hear so well any more, he sometimes mumbles under his breath and they can’t hear him, but I did when he says to himself, “Lord, please help me…”
“I feel real cleansed now that I confessored to the formulatin I done with Emily Prater,” I says, “so I’ll be goin now.”
He don’t try to stop me, and don’t even come out a his box to send me on my way.
The other thing that caused me to be slow in my leavin was that Ruthie Spracklin, who is way older than me, I’d say sixteen at least, started showin interest in me, and with Emily gone, I a course taked a better look at her, and liked what I seen, and what with all the kissin I didn’t get when Emily was upset about her Daddy gettin murdered, even though he didn’t really, we didn’t get to do much, and my lips was feelin pretty lonely until Ruthie come along and we started to kissin right off. I had to figure that I probally wasn’t goin to get much a that on my way to Montana, so I stayed around for a bit to get all stocked up, and Ruthie near got me to thinkin about marryin her before I come to my senses about leavin. So, a person can see right off that bein late for my trip warn’t all my fault after all.
I still had most a the two hundred dollars that Judge Thomas gived me from the money Judge Monroe stoled from ever one, and was spendin it at a real slow pace even though people was always comin up to me with reasons to give them some a it. Ruthie Spracklin once tole me that with that much money I could get anythin I wanted, if I knowed what she means, but I tole her that right now I couldn’t think a nothin I wanted, which caused her to say she couldn’t believe how naive I was about some things. I says back to her that oh, well, nigh eve is way better than nigh mornin, since I didn’t see too many mornins, and then she says I’m also full a ignorants and there’s no hope at all for me, so don’t come a callin no more.
So, with all a them things causin me to stay in Jadeville instead a headin out, and then gettin resolved in their own ways, I determines that I’m goin to leave for Montana in three days. That will give me time for Ruthie Spracklin to change her mind a time or two, and for me to talk Percy into comin with me even though he is workin a steady job for Willie Dan.
Gettin with Percy has been much harder than it ever was before. Miss Martin, on account a how he handled hisself at the trials, and that he was doin so well in his fourth grade school books, even though he should a been clear a school already, decides that now that he is away from my regular influence on him, is well on his way to bein educated, and since there is too many kids in the school who should be there, that she will say he is educated, and give him the certificate anyway. Then, he gets the job with Willie Dan right off, and gets Annie Bolston, who has had a soft spot for him since they was kids, as a girl friend, so that don’t leave a lot a time for me.
I manage to catch him one day when he is walkin from his job to home before he goes to courtin Annie again, and he seems almost growed up, except he still is missin some parts a the whole picture.
“You ready to go to Montana?” I ask. “It’s a waitin for us. I can hear it.”
He puts his hand to his ear like he’s listenin for somethin, and then says, “I don’t hear nothin, Archie. I don’t hear nothin at all, except Annie Bolston talkin sweet things to me.”
“Well, then you ain’t listenin right,” I says. “I can hear her too, and she’s a sayin that you should go to make your fortune and then come back to marry her when you is rich instead a when you’s broke.”
He puts his hand to his ear again, and a quizzy look gets on his face, and he asks, “Is she really sayin that, Archie? Don’t be lyin to me now. Is she really sayin that?”
“Well a course she is. She’s a sayin it in her thoughts, which I can hear loud and clear, on account a I can hear women real good, always knowin what they’s thinkin. You can only hear what she’s sayin, which with a woman ain’t always what they’s thinkin.”
“What’s she thinkin?” he asks, now curious as a one legged cat.
“If you’ll just hush up a bit, I’ll tell you. I can’t hear her when you’re jabberin away like you always does.” I close my eyes real tight, and cocks my ear, and start to say real quiet, yes, hmmm, yes, yes, until Percy can’t stand it no more and he jumps in and asks what’s she thinkin”
“She’s a thinkin about a nice house with a white picket fence, and kids a runnin all around, and curtains on the windows and paint on the walls, and havin her own servants and a covered buggy. And some other things.”
“What’s the other things?” he begs.
“Just natural things girls thinks of, like a garden full a watermelons and corn, and havin a big gold necklace hangin off her neck, and not havin to wear the same dress ever day. Just things like that.
“She never said none a that to me,” he says. “I’d think she would a tole me them things.”
“You ain’t listenin to me. She ain’t ever goin to say things like that, and if you ask her, she probally will say she ain’t thought a nothin like that in her life, a course wantin to spare your feelins about it. Girls is nice that way, but they still harbor all a them thoughts. By the way, in your current state of a fairs, how long is it goin to take you to make all a that money?”
Well, you’d a thought I popped a hole in him and all a the air came right out, and he withered up like a dead cat right there in front a my eyes. His face drooped, and the tears started to well up in his eyes, some a them makin it right down his cheeks before he could stop it. For once in my life, I didn’t have nothin to say right then, feelin so bad for him at findin out how womenfolk work and think.
“Are you lyin to me, Archie?” he ast, more of in a hopeful way than in a accusationary way.
“I swear I ain’t, Percy. That’s the way they is. You might as well a knowed it now as later. That’s why I tole you, not to make you feel bad or nothin.”
“What am I goin to do then?” he asks. “If it’s inedible that she is goin to want them things and I can’t get them, then what am I goin to do?”
“For once, you’re goin to listen to me. First, we’s goin to go up to Sioux City, and I’m goin to turn the money I have into enough of a fortune to get us tickets all the way to Montana, first class, you understand, and when we get there, we’s goin to find France Wah, who I know won’t mind another partner, and then we’s goin to start roundin up outlaws and collectin the bounties, and make ourselfs a fortune right quick. Then, you can come back here, pockets not even able to hold all a your money, puffin on a expensive cigar, and you’re goin to walk right up to Annie Bolston and say to her we’s gettin married— yep, that’s right, you’re goin to tell her, and not ask her— and she’s goin to throw herself at you and say let’s do it right now, on account a I can’t wait.”
All a the air that had drained out a him come right back in, and he puffs hisself out and starts to talkin about the new house that Annie was a dreamin about that he didn’t know of until I tole him, and me and him buildin the white pickin fence, and a course namin their first child Archie in honor a all I done for him. I let him go on for a spell, and finally get a chance to interrupt, and I say to him we ought to get started quick as we can so he can get back quick as he can, and he runs right off without even sayin see you bright and early tomorrow.
We still didn’t get goin the next day, because he had to go tell Willie Dan that he warn’t goin to be workin for him for a spell, but thanks a lot for givin him a job for these two weeks. He also had to tell his Mama, who didn’t take it so well, not bein a fan a mine at all, and his Pa, who said it’s about time you got out a my hair. I also had to go to home to gather all a my money that was left from what the judge gived me for solvin the murder, and to pick up my suit a clothes that I hadn’t been wearin except for struttin around town when there warn’t nothin else to do. I packed it up, along with the shirt and some clean socks in some waxed paper so it wouldn’t get wet even if we runned into some rain or somethin, and a course, I had to go to Ruthie Spracklin for one last try at some kissin, and to tell her what I was goin to did, and tell her if she waited, I’d have enough money to build her one a them castles like they have in Alabama and the rest a Europe, and she would be wearin silk clothes and gold shoes. You’d a thought that someone bein tole all they was goin to get would be happy and thankful for it, but Ruthie just says that’s real good, and if she ain’t already married when I get back, maybe she’ll think a it more, but seein as how I never really done nothin except crime solvin, and there ain’t all that much crime in Jadeville, she will wait and see.
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