Posts : 181
Join date : 2013-08-25
Age : 63
|Subject: Dead Man's Bluff Sun Sep 27, 2015 8:08 am|| |
Dead Man's Bluff Well, Father, I jest can’t bring myself to answer yer question to yer face. Ya know I can read some, but I shore don’t write too good, so I found me somebody who would write my words jest like I say ‘em. They promised. And I read ‘em over, best I could, and I reckon they done a fair job of it. Ya asked me how I can be shore there’s forgiveness and mercy in a world gone dark as coal tar and twice as bitter. That’s simple, Father. I know it ‘cuz I seen it. Hell, I lived it. One thing I’s learned is that God Almighty ain’t too particular ‘bout who he uses to spread that there mercy. But I best get to tellin’ the story ya asked for.Ya knows that I growed up hard. When I came nosin’ 'round yer church, lookin’ for work and a quiet place to live, ya seen it then. Ya told me, I needed sanctuary. I got that word right’ cuz I learned it once ya said it. Sanctuary is what I wanted. Ya gave me that, Father, and I need to thank ya agin, ‘cuz it’s a gift more precious than any other I ever got. Ceptin’ that there forgiveness and mercy ya wuz askin’ 'bout.I can’t remember my Pa. Ma died when I was twelve. I wuz sent to my uncle’s place. Folks said I wuz real lucky seein’ as how my uncle wuz a preacher and willin’ to take me in and all, but them folks shore didn’t know what went on in that man’s house. They say “charity begins at home.” Seems my uncle thought that hellfire and damnation started there too. I still got a few scars to remind me of that hard man. My cousin, Jude, felt the worst of it, though. His Pa wuz bound and determined to beat, cut, and burn the devil outta us two young ‘uns. Jude carried three burn marks on his face ‘til his dyin' day. Made Jude real memorable, those three scars did.Jude used to protect me seein’ as I was smaller and meeker. Maybe that’s why I put up with somma the terrible things we done and seen, on account of Jude helpin’ me when we wuz kids. Leastways, that’s what I told myself when the shame would take me. Things started goin’ bad when we wuz ridin’ with Captain Quantrill. Jude was chock full a hate and churnin’ anger. When we rode through Lawrence—ya know, up yonder in Kansas—I reckoned the killin’ would be enough even for Jude. But I wuz wrong. Somehow, after we run off and left his Pa, Jude started blamin’ the slave folk, and thems that helped ‘em, for all his troubles. I ain’t shore why, but Jude just turned darker and darker towards them folk. When Captain Quantrill wouldn’t let Jude, or no other man either, kill women or children in Lawrence, Jude decided the Captain was jest too yella. My cousin got some like-minded boys together, and we all skedaddled. He said he knew a spot not too far away, where some folks wuz helpin’ slaves run off, and robbin’ God-fearin’ men of their rightful property. He wuz fixin’ to put a stop to it. I told him I wuz thinkin’ a goin’ somwheres else. Jude, well, he jest laughed. He said I wuz too yella to leave him and would do as I wuz told. I reckon there wuz some truth to that, cuz I stayed with ‘em.When we reached the place we wuz headin’, I seen that it wuz jest two small farms. Folks with women and children were scratchin’ out a livin’ in the Kansas sun. I wuz shore that Jude wuz mistook, and we wuz gonna be leavin’. Boy howdy, wuz I wrong. I don’t remember much a that day. I guess my mind can’t take it in. I know there wuz screamin’. And men laughin’. Ya know the wicked kinda laughin’ when a man takes his pleasure in some other folks’ pain. I remember blood, and a knife cuttin’ white skin, and a pitchfork pumpin’ in and outta dead meat. Tears and gunshots. Prayin’and cursin’. Hopes and fears a dyin’. Whole parts a that time are done gone from me. I don’t know to this day if I helped with the killin’ or jest wandered around aimless-like.
When I came to myself, I wuz standin’ behind the corner of a barn. A bird of a woman with red curls wuz sprawled agin the wall with her dress ripped and bloody. I think the others thought she wuz a goner, but I heard her whisperin’ to a boy shiverin’ behind a woodpile. All I could see of him was blond curls and big blue eyes. His face was blotchy from cryin', but he wuz keepin’ real still.When I started listenin’, I wuz shore I wuz hearin’ an angel sent from the Lord Hisself. Ya gotta understand that Jude’s Pa wuz a preacher who believed in scarin’ a body into heaven. He learned me my Bible verses, but they wuz all yammerin’ on 'bout God’s judgement and hellfire. After a bit, I cottoned on that this lady wuz quotin’ scripture, but scripture I ain’t never heard before.I ain’t too book-learned, but I remember stuff I hear real good, and I can tell ya exact what she said. “And he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God hisself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor cryin', neither shall there be anymore pain.”* I found out later that, that there passage was from the Revealin' a John.
Then she started tellin’ her young ‘un that hate and revenge jest hurts them as done the hatin’. She had a funny way a talkin’. I’m thinkin’ that she wuz from Ireland, like ya, Father. She told her boy that all the killin’ and hatin’ over religion that she’d growed up with, had learned her that the only way to stop the killin’ wuz to let the hate go. Revenge jest keeps the killin’ goin’. She said that forgivin’ wuz best, but barrin’ that, walk away. Then she made her boy promise to walk away iffen he ever seen one of us agin. “No revenge, Jed,” she said. “It’ll eat ya up. Leave the reckonin’ to God. Promise me.” Then that young ‘un mumbled his Ma a promise. After that, she started quotin’ the Good Book agin. She said, “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”**God’s love? Now that wuz a new idea for me. I ain’t never heard of God lovin’ before. And comin’ from this dyin’ woman—her body all torn and broke, she who wuz a lyin' there comfortin’ her scared son—it was mighty powerful. But to my shame, it weren’t powerful enough for me to step up and help her—or leave Jude. By this time, I wuz near as scared a my cousin as I been of his Pa. So I stayed hid. And when Jude and the others rode out, I rode with ‘em.
For fifteen more years I rode with my cousin. He jest got angrier and crazier. I did try to leave Jude sometimes. He used to hit me some, kinda like his Pa had when I was a young ‘un. Ever’ now and then, I’d tell Jude he wuz crazy mean and I wuz gonna leave. He told me that if I tried, he jest shoot me as I walked, so I‘d hafta kill ‘em first, iffen I wanted to go. I’d always back down, and Jude, well, he would laugh that mean and wicked laugh a his. I had a six-shooter Jude got for me, and he made shore it was cleaned and loaded. But he jest told me that I didn’t have the guts to shoot em. And I would stay. Guess maybe he wuz right. Jude went for bounty huntin’. Said he was doin’ the Lord’s work bringin’ in thieves and murderers. He kept track of the things we’d done and explained that we wuz helpin’ to clear the West of sinners. He remembered them two farms in Kansas. He told me that we had missed two of the critters livin’ on them farms. Said they growed up to be Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry. Heyes and Curry were still famous outlaws back then. He told me that he knew we’d done God’s work when we wuz in Kansas, 'cuz the two critters we missed turned out to be big-time outlaws. He decided to track ‘em down and finish the job. We caught up with the Devil’s Hole Gang at some no account town called Moonshine. They didn’t have no sheriff. The gang wuz celebratin’ after robbin’ some bank. I remember wonderin’ how the son of that saintly woman had turned out to be a thief and a gunnie. By this time I wuz pretty shore that he couldn’t be any worse than Jude and me, no matter what he’d done. So, anyway, in Moonshine we found Heyes and Curry. I didn’t know what Jude thought he wuz gonna do agin the whole Devil’s Hole Gang. My cousin fancied hisself a skilled gunmen, but I can’t believe he really thought he could take on Kid Curry and win. Sometimes I think he wuz tryin' to end it all in his own way.
Before I knew what wuz goin’ on, Jude wuz facin’ Curry in the street. The dark-haired fella, that Hannibal Heyes, he wuz standin’ a few feet behind his partner. The Kid was talkin’ real soft and quiet, like ya talk to a spooked hoss. I saw the moment, exact, when he recognized Jude. His eyes went wide and his mouth dropped open. For jest a second, a tremblin’ and cryin’ little boy peered out of the clear blue eyes. Then, quick as a lick, like the closin’ of a shutter, the little boy wuz gone, and there stood the icy gunnie. Jude wuz goin’ on 'bout finishin’ the job, and clearin’ the land of vermin. That Hannibal Heyes wuz talkin' to Curry real fast and urgent-like. I don’t know if he cottoned on to who his partner wuz facin’. We hadn’t seen Heyes that day in Kansas, but that don’t mean he didn’t see us. Curry jest kept starin’ at Jude. Real sudden-like, Jude went for his gun. Quick as lightenin', Curry had a shiny Colt in his hand. His gun barked once, and Jude’s shootin’-iron skittered across the dirt. Jude waited for the finishin’ shot, but Curry put his gun away. One of his men ran over and picked up Jude’s six-shooter. Somethin’ broke in Jude. He started bellerin' and cursin’ like a rabid critter. He told Curry he was yella for not avengin’ his family. He started goin’ on 'bout what we’d done to his Ma and his sisters. Iffen Heyes didn’t know who Jude and I wuz afore, he shore figured it out then. That there outlaw with the dark hair started toward us, pullin’ his gun outta the holster. Curry grabbed his arm and swung em 'round. They talked real urgent-like for a while. That fella, Heyes, he yanked his arm outta his friend’s grip. I heard Curry shout, “Let it go, Heyes. He ain’t worth it.”That’s when I saw Jude reach into his boot and pull out his Derringer. Then and there, I reached the end of my rope. I didn’t think. I jest saw red. Next thing I knew, my six-shooter was in my hand, and Jude was bleedin’ in the street from a whole in the side of his head. Them outlaws stopped arguin’ and stared at me. Curry walked over, and his partner followed. I looked at the gun in my hand and didn’t know what to do. Jude had called my bluff. He weren’t aware he wuz doin’ it, but he finally pushed hard enough for me to leave ‘em. “He wuz my cousin,” I said when Curry and Heyes stood in front of me. “You were there,” Curry said real hard-like. “Shore wuz. Heard yer Ma, too. Yer a lucky man, Mr. Curry.”“What does that mean?” asked Mr. Heyes.“I heard his Ma the day she died. Any man has a Ma like that, even for a short time, is blessed by God Almighty.”That’s when Hannibal Heyes slugged me in the face. Gave me a split lip, and I lost two teeth. His partner settled him down. Told him to let me be. Curry stared at me lyin' there on the ground. “Why?” he asked.“The killin’ needed to stop. Ya kept yer promise to yer Ma, but the killin’ needed to stop. So I stopped it.”I expected him to do somethin’ to me then, don’t know what, but somethin’. Instead he helped me to my feet and told me to leave town. Said that he and his men would see things cleared up 'bout Jude bein’ dead.It wuz then that I understood that forgiveness and mercy weren’t some fancy tale. They’s real. Forgiveness ain’t findin' a soft warm feelin’ 'bout some fella that done ya wrong. Forgiveness and mercy, they’s a decision to let the bad stuff go. And for some reason, I ain’t never gonna understand, forgiveness heals.* Revelation 21:3-4
** Romans 8:38-39
When you put your hand in a flowing stream, you touch the last that has gone before and the first of what is still to come.
- Leonardo DaVinci