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Billy’s Tenderfoot
by [?]

During one spring of the early seventies Billy Knapp ran a species of road-house and hotel at the crossing of the Deadwood and Big Horn trails through Custer Valley. Travellers changing from one to the other frequently stopped there over night. He sold accommodations for man and beast, the former comprising plenty of whiskey, the latter plenty of hay. That was the best anyone could say of it. The hotel was of logs, two-storied, with partitions of sheeting to insure a certain privacy of sight if not of sound; had three beds and a number of bunks; and boasted of a woman cook–one of the first in the Hills. Billy did not run it long. He was too restless. For the time being, however, he was interested and satisfied.

The personnel of the establishment consisted of Billy and the woman, already mentioned, and an ancient Pistol of the name of Charley. The latter wore many firearms, and had a good deal to say, but had never, as Billy expressed it, “made good.” This in the West could not be for lack of opportunity. His functions were those of general factotum.

One evening Billy sat chair-tilted against the walls of the hotel waiting for the stage. By and by it drew in. Charley hobbled out, carrying buckets of water for the horses. The driver flung the reins from him with the lordly insolence of his privileged class, descended slowly, and swaggered to the bar-room for his drink. Billy followed to serve it.

“Luck,” said the driver, and crooked his elbow.

“Anything new?” queried Billy.


“Held up?”

“Nope. Black Hank’s over in th’ limestone.”

That exhausted the situation. The two men puffed silently for a moment at their pipes. In an instant the driver turned to go.

“I got you a tenderfoot,” he remarked then, casually; “I reckon he’s outside.”

“Guess I ambles forth and sees what fer a tenderfoot it is,” replied Billy, hastening from behind the bar.

The tenderfoot was seated on a small trunk just outside the door. As he held his hat in his hand, Billy could see his dome-like bald head. Beneath the dome was a little pink-and-white face, and below that narrow, sloping shoulders, a flat chest, and bandy legs. He wore a light check suit, and a flannel shirt whose collar was much too large for him. Billy took this all in while passing. As the driver climbed to the seat, the hotel-keeper commented.

“Say, Hen,” said he, “would you stuff it or put it under a glass case?”

“I’d serve it, a lay Tooloose,” replied the driver, briefly, and brought his long lash 8-shaped across the four startled backs of his horses.

Billy turned to the reinspection of his guest, and met a deprecating smile.

“Can I get a room here fer to-night?” he inquired in a high, piping voice.

“You kin,” said Billy, shortly, and began to howl for Charley.

That patriarch appeared around the corner, as did likewise the cook, a black-eyed, red-cheeked creature, afterward counted by Billy as one of his eight matrimonial ventures.

“Snake this stranger’s war-bag into th’ shack,” commanded Billy, “and, Nell, jest nat’rally rustle a few grub.”

The stranger picked up a small hand-satchel and followed Charley into the building. When, a little later, he reappeared for supper, he carried the hand-bag with him, and placed it under the bench which flanked the table. Afterward he deposited it near his hand while enjoying a pipe outside. Naturally, all this did not escape Billy.

“Stranger,” said he, “yo’ seems mighty wedded to that thar satchel.”

“Yes, sir,” piped the stranger. Billy snorted at the title. “I has some personal belongin’s which is valuable to me.” He opened the bag and produced a cheap portrait of a rather cheap-looking woman. “My mother that was,” said he.

Billy snorted again and went inside. He hated sentiment of all kinds.

The two men sat opposite each other and ate supper, which was served by the red-cheeked girl. The stranger kept his eyes on his plate while she was in the room. He perched on the edge of the bench with his feet tucked under him and resting on the toes. When she approached, the muscles of his shoulders and upper arms grew rigid with embarrassment, causing strange awkward movements of the hands. He answered in monosyllables.