Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Wagon Master's Daughter (Loved by the Mule Boy)

The Wagon Master's daughter was named Pumphrey. She was the rarest of beauties in a scorched and lonely land.

Now I was just the Mule Boy. I tended to the mules. But from my lowly station I fell in love with Pumphrey, the Wagon Master's daughter. I loved her with calm frenzy--the kind that makes you stare at things much longer than you should, and causes your head to ache with the fury of thoughts you'd rather scream.

We had just crossed the Missouri River when I finally found the courage to speak to her.

"That water sure felt good after weeks of burning prairie, didn't it Miss Pumphrey?"

"Hmm?" She said, glancing over at me, a bit surprised that I'd addressed her.

"That is, I know my mules liked it, they smiled as they swam."
I stared at the ground and felt blood rush hot to my neck and ears.
"Anyway, I have to go over here now."
I ran away with my mules in tow.

************

Pumphrey didn't drive a wagon. Her father said it wasn't lady-like. Pumphrey countered every morning by choosing the wildest horse and riding ahead for miles--into the dangerous land; the land without tracks or mercy.

"Damn it Pumphrey, that isn't lady-like either!!!" Her father would scream at the ever-diminishing dust cloud.

"Reap it Father." Would drift her faint reply. "I guess you shouldn't have named me Pumphrey."

The Wagon Master would smile and sigh. For he had. He had. He had named her Pumphrey. He'd chuckle then and turn to me if I happened to be close by. Which of course, I usually was, watching her go and dying inside.

"Did you ever see such a girl, Mule Boy? Such a girl as my Pumphrey?"

And of course I had not.

************

We were cursed that summer, though we didn't know until it was too late. Like all true curses it hid itself until nothing to change it could be done.

First sickness hit our oxen, then renegades stole most of the rest. We lost our preacher in a river crossing, and weevils got into the grain. Our old, brave Wagon Master lost his way and the rain we needed never came.

"Where are the mountains Wagon Master?! We should have hit them by now."

The question was asked viciously and the furious mob surged forward as one. Most of them had been decent men, but decent men no longer. They had been made unholy by the agonies of the frontier.

"We know the mountains are that way." The Wagon Master replied, pointing to the setting sun. "They can lay no place else. We must push on as friends and men and see these troubles through."

"See this through!" Someone shouted and several shots rang out.

The Wagon Master died that night, cradled in his daughter’s arms.
"Don't worry." He whispered to Pumphrey, when no one but her and the mules and me could hear.
"Every day since your birth has been extra time. A joy I'm befuddled to find I deserved."

"I love you Father." She replied.

"And I you, Pumphrey."

I knew then that I'd lost her, as sure as if it had been her that died. Ugly men of the prairie had killed her father. And I was a man, and this was the prairie.

I stood by her side with my mules and a gun as she brought vengeance to those who had murdered her father. And in time she came to trust me--but trust and nothing more.

Pumphrey gave me a kiss on the cheek after the killing was done.

"Thank you Mule Boy." She whispered, and then leapt upon the wildest horse and rode away into a dangerous land; a land without tracks or mercy.

I sat down in the sand and decided to die. Perhaps she'll have me in the next life.

...

...

...

The mules... the mules need water.

I rose and postponed my death; I am, after all, the Mule Boy, and they need me even if she does not.

Goodnight Pumphrey, wherever you are. Goodnight fury. Goodnight love.

14 Comments:

At 2:08 AM, Anonymous Nicolas Papaconstantinou said...

Oh, my, Latigo, that was pretty and sad...

Kind of makes up for the piece of shit I dropped on the blogosphere last night.

In this, as in all else, there is balance...

Uh... sorry, when I said "all else", I was thinking specifically of those high-wire guys at the circus. And Harold Lloyd.

 
At 7:31 AM, Blogger 12 Crumble Ave said...

Latigo, you have a way with words that makes my bottom lip quiver more fequently than that of a coward trapped in a gunfight with your good self on a cold winters morning.

I didn't even cry when I lost my family to that mountainslide or my dear goat to my ravishing apetite but I'll be darned if I didn't just bawl like a baby.

Bless you Latigo for those moments of pure poetry in life you manage to capture and release to the world like the rarest of all rare butterflies.

- Mr Winston

 
At 10:31 AM, Blogger Ghost Dog said...

Kinda makes your eyes get a little more squinty and your gaze linger just a little longer on the horizon. Just lookin'...and thinkin'...


...about who the hell would name a girl "Pumphrey".

 
At 12:12 PM, Blogger OldHorsetailSnake said...

Too bad you didn't get a chance to marry up with her, Latigo. Then she coulda become Mrs. Flint and nobody would be hootin' about her Pumphrey.

 
At 4:56 PM, Anonymous Strange Forces said...

I loved her with calm frenzy--the kind that makes you stare at things much longer than you should, and causes your head to ache with the fury of thoughts you'd rather scream.

Yes.

 
At 8:15 PM, Blogger Ari said...

"Reap it Father." Would drift her faint reply.

You are sublime.

 
At 6:42 AM, Blogger Peter said...

Very mellow Latigo, hope your not goin' all soft on us.

 
At 9:07 AM, Blogger Cindy-Lou said...

Latigo, I saw Lyle Lovett in concert again last night and when he played "Walk Through the Bottomland" I thought of you.

 
At 9:35 AM, Blogger Helga von porno said...

I wish I had Mules to feed and water

 
At 10:02 AM, Anonymous MrVisible said...

I'll never have children. And now I'm glad, because I would have had to name one Pumphrey.

 
At 12:36 PM, Blogger Teaspoon said...

I was disappointed. Nobody got their faces ate off by bobcats or nothin

 
At 4:58 PM, Blogger Amandarama said...

I'd like to believe that Pumphrey would eventually realize the mistake she made in hardening her heart to all things "men of prairie". But there are lots of things I'd like to believe. And until there is definitive proof that David Hasselhoff is an agent of Cthulu, I'm just going to be left to wonder.

 
At 1:56 AM, Blogger Latigo Flint said...

Thank you Nicolas Papaconstantinou. Kind of like me, right? Pretty and Sad...
Um, anyhoo... I'm really more of a Buster Keaton man myself--I never did like giant clocks.

You arrange letters mighty fine yourself Mr. Winston, mighty fine if I do say. I'm sorry my story turned you into a sissy, if only for a short time.

The Wagon Master, Ghost Dog, that's who. 'Course he's dead now. So maybe it wasn't such a good plan.

That wasn't me Old Hoss, that was just some Mule Boy. I'm Latigo Flint. I'm not just some Mule Boy.

I'm very glad you liked it Strange Forces--you mysterious, untraceable Force you.

Aw, g'wan Ari. You're makin' me blush you know.

Hmm, I disagree Peter. I didn't find it mellow at all--I found it muted, uneasy and savage.
(Of course I typed most of it with one hand while the other held a pistol to my head, so, you know... I guess it's all about perspective and stuff.)

God I love that song Cindy-Lou. I'll sing you a blues anytime.

Mules are very American Helga Von Porno... Your family might disown you.

Where is it written Mr. Visable, that the tyke must be yours for you to name it?
I vote you start walking up to expectant mothers on the street and whispering "Hello Pumphrey." To their extended bellies. That's my vote.

Oh TSP... Just because I didn't write of it tonight, doesn't mean someone, somewhere, didn't have his or her face ate off by a savage bobcat!

Yes Amandarama, well... Perhaps there's not enough wonder in the world anymore.
And perhaps I'm about to rediscover what my carpet smells like.
(Carpet-pattern-face... the red badge of inebriate courage.)

 
At 6:54 AM, Blogger randommoments said...

I liked this one so much I printed it at the office computer and nuzzled my face into the faintly warm paper on which it was printed.

Today is going to be a good day. Thank you, Latigo.

 

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