Marcelle the Cowboy
By Phil Edwards
“I’m telling you, right now, I didn’t come out here to be a hero. I came out here to get rich.”
The group laughed at Marcelle, more for what he was doing than the jokes that he was making. In between his teeth was a long piece of grass, but every few seconds it kept falling to the earth, and for some reason, he kept picking it up and putting it right back in his mouth. Each time, he frowned, and almost looked like he was going to break out into tears. After a while, it became like some sort of dance, with a rhythm you could tap your feet to if you weren’t busy laughing at the entire thing altogether.
He was nothing at all like the rest of the camp. Their eyes were permanently squinted from childhood years in long suns, and their voices were like the gravel they kicked with their feet. They had sharp beards beginning to grow on their unshaved faces, while Marcelle had a pointed mustache that could only belong to a pretentious Frenchman, and his accent proved it. That was the other thing that made him so different. While Sam and Jim ordered people to "git on over and hustle them doggies," Marcelle told people to "make way" and "proceed to work." He spoke in nearly perfect English, but his accent was completely European. He had come from France a few weeks before. As far as looks went, if the rest of the men were tall trees, then Marcelle was a stump. They couldn’t help but laugh at the short little man who seemed more like a boy.
So while Marcelle continued to sit, carefully propping his leg up upon a log that was low enough for him to reach, the rest of the group just laughed and pointed. One of the younger boys stole his hat right off of his head, and began to pass it around to everyone else, to make some joke about how Marcelle didn’t deserve to even wear it. The hat ended up in the hands of the best cowpoke there, Old Joe, who said that a "prissy little girl like him didn’t earn no hat.," which made the entire camp start to chant for "Marcelle the Girl." He didn’t even have a tan, it being only his second day on the job. Already he was bragging about what he’d done here in the new frontier, in the country he didn’t have any right to call his own.
"Hey Marcelle!" Tom called out. "Why don’t you tell us bout your Maw and Napoleon?" The whole group erupted into laughter, and the older men leaned on the younger ones to hold themselves up because they were laughing so hard. In the distance, even the neighing horses seemed to be in on the joke. Marcelle ran his hand through his hair.
"Listen to me now everyone," he said, talking through their laughter until he finally got their attention.
"As I was saying, I didn’t come out here to be a hero, I came to be rich. I want to make a quick profit herding whatever it is I’m told that I need to herd, not squander it on ladies and beer like all of you choose to do with the money you make. I however, came out here to get rich. It hasn’t happened yet, but I know it will. As far as the hero part, well, we’ll see how that goes."
"One week ago my boat came in here from Marseilles France, and I was already incredibly sick of the country completely, and the thought that I’d have to trek however many miles it is to this godforsaken prairie made me even more nauseous. I came out here though, and it was a long and bumpy ride, but eventually I made it out."
Marcelle stopped for a moment to dodge a tumbleweed that wasn’t there and look out into the distance at the land.
"It was then I found the body."
The crowd was finally silent and the gang of boys who had dreamed of killing but never had, who had guns with empty chambers, and minds ready to remember battles that hadn’t happened looked to him with a new gleam in their young eyes.
"I had checked into my room above the tavern, but I was alone, despite the fact that I could hear the noise below and around me so clearly it seemed as if I were there. Anyway, I dropped the three or four dollars I had gotten from the exchange under my bed, and since it was the only money I had and what I depended upon to start my life here, I was very nervous about letting it out of my sight. When I knelt down to look under the bed, simple as that, the body was there. The eyes, still open, were staring upward at the bottom of the mattress, and a bit of drool seeped from his face."
The boys got excited.
"What did you do mister? Did you take his money? Did you look for blood? Did you check out his innards?"
"No, at that point I screamed." The group laughed.
"Also at that point, I heard a bang against the top of the bed. It turns out it was the gentleman’s head, and he’d been struggling to get up. ‘Where am I?’ he screamed. ‘I heard some lady yelling for help,’ he said. Now don’t laugh. I’m sure he heard a woman on another floor." Marcelle grimaced for a second, but his audience didn’t make a sound. He continued.
"The gentleman finally figured out that he had to roll out from under the bed, and once he did he began to rub his head. I was waiting for him to tell me that I was the ugliest woman he had ever seen, but instead, he started to tell me exactly how he got there.
‘All right son, I don’t know who you is or how you got into my room, but I’ll tell you right now boy that I ain’t gonna be comin’ to this hotel again. This hotel has let a crazy man into its walls, and I ain’t gonna tolerate it no more. He calls himself the West Wind, and I do believe he got kicked in the head by a mare, because he thinks that everyone is some bandit that he has to chase down.
‘Last night, at about 7:30, I was enjoying myself a drink at the saloon, because I like a little bit of whiskey before I settle down, or before I get going. Anyhoo, some man comes up to me, and you should see him, because he must think he is God’s gift to this green earth. He was all dressed in white from head to toe, and every inch of him was covered by some sort of shiny metals or dirty leather holsters. I tell you, that crazy sunovagun musta’ been rich to be able to put on something like that.
‘He comes up to me, with some sort of silly looking smile on his fat face, and says that he’s seen me on one of them there wanted posters and that he has to enforce some sort of code of the desert. Before I know it, my face is in my drink because he took my glass and splashed it there. He starts polishing his fists on my nose, and before I know it I’m seeing three of the sucker. I musta’ got knocked out and he took me up to my room for the night and tried to hide me or something. Prolly turned in me key too, the polecat. Lemme tell you, if I could get at him…’
"At that point, the gentleman started to flail around the room punching at random objects, but he ended up working himself into such a fervor that he fainted on the floor. The damage done to him by this West Wind must have been incredible. I knew that it was only honorable for me to go and find the man who had so brutally attacked an innocent civilian.
"I went down to the tavern, and the first thing I saw was like a vision of purity. A stranger, cloaked in all white, tall, handsome, and thoroughly insane was tipping his large hat to a lady on the balcony. I walked up to this man, this avenger of unmade laws, and tapped him on the shoulder. He responded, his voice deep and sonorous, seeming to bounce off of the wooden walls and attract the attention of everyone in the room. ‘Sir, I do believe I have seen your graven image upon a poster issued by the government of these United States of America. As a sworn defender of this great nation, I must call you to justice immediately.’
"I ducked his first punch and tried to speak to him, but he wouldn’t let me. As quickly as possible, I shouted out one word. ‘Duel!’ Everything stopped. The entire room was staring at both of us, I shaking nervously and he towering multiple feet above me.
‘Did you say a duel, little man? Fine. So be it. I will meet you at sundown today in front of this very saloon. Then, justice will be served.’
I nodded my head and sat down. He walked, no, sauntered away into the noonday sun.
"At that point, I had no idea of what to do, but from what I understand, the place to go for information is the bartender, and he is the man whom I consulted for some sort of idea about how to defeat my wily opponent. The bartender began to tell me the disturbing information that this man, the West Wind, was really a 42 year old man who had escaped from an insane asylum a few hundred miles away. Before that he had lived with his mother. Now, he had been bothering everyone with his cowboy bravado for almost a month, but unfortunately nobody had enough time to take the man back. In fact, the town worried that I would be the first one he killed.
"The noonday sun slowly set, and as it fell further and further, about to be covered by the horizon, so the time came for our great battle. I was armed and he was armed, and immediately he announced the rules in the booming voice.
‘Listen to me, immigrant. Justice must come to this city. The duel will work like this. 15 paces, and the fire. The winner will walk away. The loser, well, if you live, you won’t be living long. Justice can’t allow it.’
"I stood against him, back to back, and we began to walk, our firearms in our hands, mine shaking. Suddenly, when I had reached about 6 paces, I heard gunfire. He was already shooting! I didn’t know what to do. I leapt and dove and ran and tried to find some sort of escape. I felt the metal whizzing past my ear, and I prayed every time I heard another shot ring out. Finally, six bullets had flown past, but the West Wind kept on pulling his trigger, with nothing coming out the gun. I ran and tackled him to the ground. I started screaming.
‘Why, what’s wrong with you? Why did you start shooting early? We were supposed to walk 15 paces’
He started to frown under my grip.
‘I couldn’t do it," he said. ‘I can’t count.’
I gripped a little tighter around his neck."
The entire crowd of men had gathered close around Marcelle, waiting for what would happen next. One boy, who couldn’t have been over 16, was sweating and shaking with fear, shouted out his questions.
"What’d you do? You shoot that son of a buck? You blow his brains out?"
The camp cheered. Marcelle stood still.
"No. I didn’t. It would have been like killing a child. I know that if the West Wind had been sane, he would have called me unjust if I took his life. I would have been just as dishonorable as he if I had done that deed. "
"So what did you do, huh?" one of the boys questioned.
"That day, I bought two train tickets with my remaining money. It was all I had left of my life savings, but the West Wind and I went 247 and a quarter miles to an insane asylum located in the Middle Western region of the country. They thanked me for his return, and alone and penniless, I returned out west, six bullets still in my gun, and no money in my wallet. But even though I’d lost money, I knew I had honor."
The entire group stared for nearly half a minute, somewhat confused and somewhat honored to be in his presence. Then, Old Joe took Marcelle’s white hat and played with it in his fingers a bit longer. He then got up, his old bones creaking in the dry desert heat, and put the hat upon Marcelle’s head.
"Why are you giving me this back sir, is it another joke."
"Because son, I know that even though you got a queer way of talking, you’re still a true cowboy."
"But I didn’t kill anyone."
"That’s why. I don’t know about being rich son, but you’re already a hero. Even if you are French."
The campfire gang began to clap for Marcelle. Laughter and screaming came from all around the fire, and each and every boy and man raised their hands in applause. Marcelle, the cowboy, chewed the piece of grass in his mouth, and the laughter kept going for so long he had to finally smile. The piece of grass fell out, but this time as he bent down to pick it up, a frown never came across his face.