The Pimienta Pancakes

by O. Henry

 

While we were round­ing up a bunch of the Tri­an­gle-O cat­tle in the Frio bot­toms a pro­ject­ing branch of a dead mes­quite caught my wooden stir­rup and gave my ankle a wrench that laid me up in camp for a week.On the third day of my com­pul­sory idle­ness I crawled out near the grub wag­on, and re­clined help­less un­der the con­ver­sa­tion­al fire of Jud­son Odom, the camp cook. Jud was a mo­nolo­gist by na­ture, whom Des­tiny, with cus­tom­ary blun­der­ing, had set in a pro­fes­sion wherein he was be­reaved, for the great­er por­tion of his time, of an au­di­en­ce.There­fore, I was manna in the desert of Jud’s ob­mutes­cence.Be­times I was stirred by in­val­id long­ings for some­thing to eat that did not come un­der the cap­tion of "grub." I had vi­sions of the ma­ter­nal pantry "deep as first love, and wild with all re­gret," and then I asked:"Jud, can you make pan­cakes?"Jud laid down his six-shoot­er, with which he was pre­par­ing to pound an an­te­lope steak, and stood over me in what I felt to be a men­ac­ing at­ti­tude. He fur­ther en­dorsed my im­pres­sion that his pose was re­sent­ful by fix­ing upon me with his light blue eyes a look of cold sus­pi­cion."Say, you," he said, with can­did, though not ex­ces­sive, chol­er, "did you mean that straight, or was you try­ing to throw the gaff in­to me? Some of the boys been telling you about me and that pan­cake rack­et?""No, Jud," I said, sin­cerely, "I meant it. It seems to me I’d swap my pony and sad­dle for a stack of but­tered brown pan­cakes with some first crop, open ket­tle, New Or­leans sweet­en­ing. Was there a story about pan­cakes?"Jud was mol­li­fied at once when he saw that I had not been deal­ing in al­lu­sions. He brought some mys­te­ri­ous bags and tin boxes from the grub wag­on and set them in the shade of the hack­berry where I lay re­clined. I watched him as he began to ar­range them leis­urely and un­tie their many strings."No, not a story," said Jud, as he worked, "but just the log­i­cal dis­clo­sures in the case of me and that pink-eyed snooz­er from Mired Mule Canada and Miss Wil­lella Learight. I don’t mind telling you."I was punch­ing then for old Bill Toomey, on the San Miguel. One day I gets all en­snared up in as­pi­ra­tions for to eat some canned grub that hasn’t ever mooed or baaed or grunted or been in peck mea­sures. So, I gets on my bronc and pushes the wind for Uncle Em­s­ley Tel­fair’s store at the Pi­mi­enta Cross­ing on the Nue­ces."About three in the af­ter­noon I throwed my bri­dle rein over a mes­quite limb and walked the last twenty yards in­to Uncle Em­s­ley’s store. I got up on the counter and told Uncle Em­s­ley that the signs poin­ted to the dev­as­ta­tion of the fruit crop of the world. In a minute I had a bag of crack­ers and a long-han­dled spoon, with an open can each of apri­cots and pineap­ples and cher­ries and green­gages be­side of me with Uncle Em­s­ley busy chop­ping away with the hatchet at the yel­low clings. I was feel­ing like Adam be­fore the apple stam­pede, and was dig­ging my spurs in­to the side of the counter and work­ing with my twenty-four-inch spoon when I hap­pened to look out of the win­dow in­to the yard of Uncle Em­s­ley’s house, which was next to the store."There was a girl stand­ing there–an im­por­ted girl with fix­ings on– phi­lan­der­ing with a cro­quet maul and amus­ing her­self by watch­ing my style of en­cour­ag­ing the fruit can­ning in­dus­try."I slid off the counter and de­liv­ered up my shovel to Uncle Em­s­ley."’That’s my niece,’ says he; ‘Miss Wil­lella Learight, down from Pales­tine on a vis­it. Do you want that I should make you ac­quain­ted?’"’The Holy Land,’ I says to my­self, my thoughts milling some as I tried to run ’em in­to the cor­ral. ‘Why not? There was sure an­gels in Pales–Why, yes, Uncle Em­s­ley,’ I says out loud, ‘I’d be aw­ful ed­i­fied to meet Miss Learight.’"So Uncle Em­s­ley took me out in the yard and gave us each oth­er’s en­ti­tle­ments."I nev­er was shy about wo­men. I nev­er could un­der­stand why some men who can break a mus­tang be­fore break­fast and shave in the dark, get all left-handed and full of per­spi­ra­tion and ex­cuses when they see a bold of cal­ico draped around what be­longs to it. In­side of eight min­utes me and Miss Wil­lella was ag­gra­vat­ing the cro­quet balls around as ami­able as sec­ond cous­ins. She gave me a dig about the quan­tity of canned fruit I had eaten, and I got back at her, flat-footed, about how a cer­tain lady named Eve star­ted the fruit trou­ble in the first free-grass pas­ture–‘Over in Pales­tine, wasn’t it?’ says I, as easy and pat as rop­ing a one-year-old."That was how I ac­quired cor­dial­ity for the prox­im­i­ties of Miss Wil­lella Learight; and the dis­po­si­tion grew lar­ger as time passed. She was stop­ping at Pi­mi­enta Cross­ing for her health, which was very good, and for the cli­mate, which was forty per cent. hot­ter than Pales­tine. I rode over to see her once every week for a while; and then I fig­ured it out that if I dou­bled the num­ber of trips I would see her twice as of­ten."One week I slipped in a third trip; and that’s where the pan­cakes and the pink-eyed snooz­er bus­ted in­to the game."That even­ing, while I set on the counter with a peach and two dam­sons in my mouth, I asked Uncle Em­s­ley how Miss Wil­lella was."’Why,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley, ‘she’s gone rid­ing with Jack­son Bird, the sheep man from over at Mired Mule Canada.’"I sw­al­lowed the peach seed and the two dam­son seeds. I guess some­body held the counter by the bri­dle while I got off; and then I walked out straight ahead till I but­ted against the mes­quite where my roan was tied."’She’s gone rid­ing,’ I whis­per in my bronc’s ear, ‘with Bird­stone Jack, the hired mule from Sheep Man’s Canada. Did you get that, old Leath­er-and-Gal­lops?’"That bronc of mine wept, in his way. He’d been raised a cow pony and he didn’t care for snooz­ers."I went back and said to Uncle Em­s­ley: ‘Did you say a sheep man?’"’I said a sheep man,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley again. ‘You must have heard tell of Jack­son Bird. He’s got eight sec­tions of graz­ing and four thou­sand head of the finest Meri­nos south of the Arc­tic Cir­cle.’"I went out and sat on the ground in the shade of the store and leaned against a prickly pear. I sifted sand in­to my boots with un­think­ing hands while I so­lil­o­quised a quan­tity about this bird with the Jack­son plumage to his name."I nev­er had be­lieved in harm­ing sheep men. I see one, one day, read­ing a Lat­in gram­mar on hoss­back, and I nev­er touched him! They nev­er ir­ri­tated me like they do most cow­men. You wouldn’t go to work now, and im­pair and dis­fig­ure snooz­ers, would you, that eat on ta­bles and wear lit­tle shoes and speak to you on sub­jects? I had al­ways let ’em pass, just as you would a jack-rab­bit; with a po­lite word and a guess about the weath­er, but no stop­ping to swap can­teens. I nev­er thought it was worth while to be hos­tile with a snooz­er. And be­cause I’d been le­ni­ent, and let ’em live, here was one go­ing around rid­ing with Miss Wil­lella Learight!"An hour by sun they come lop­ing back, and stopped at Uncle Em­s­ley’s gate. The sheep per­son helped her off; and they stood throw­ing each oth­er sen­tences all spright­ful and saga­cious for a while. And then this feath­ered Jack­son flies up in his sad­dle and raises his lit­tle stew­pot of a hat, and trots off in the di­rec­tion of his mut­ton ranch. By this time I had turned the sand out of my boots and un­pinned my­self from the prickly pear; and by the time he gets half a mile out of Pi­mi­enta, I sin­gle­foots up be­side him on my bronc."I said that snooz­er was pink-eyed, but he wasn’t. His see­ing ar­range­ment was grey enough, but his eye-lashes was pink and his hair was sandy, and that gave you the idea. Sheep man?–he wasn’t more than a lamb man, any­how–a lit­tle thing with his neck in­volved in a yel­low silk hand­ker­chief, and shoes tied up in bowknots."’Af­ter­noon!’ says I to him. ‘You now ride with a eques­tri­an who is com­monly called Dead-Mor­al-Cer­tainty Jud­son, on ac­count of the way I shoot. When I want a stranger to know me I al­ways in­tro­duce my­self be­fore the draw, for I nev­er did like to shake hands with ghosts.’"’Ah,’ says he, just like that–‘Ah, I’m glad to know you, Mr. Jud­son. I’m Jack­son Bird, from over at Mired Mule Ranch.’"Just then one of my eyes saw a road­run­ner skip­ping down the hill with a young taran­tula in his bill, and the oth­er eye no­ticed a rab­bit-hawk sit­ting on a dead limb in a wa­ter-elm. I popped over one after the oth­er with my forty-five, just to show him. ‘Two out of three,’ says I. ‘Birds just nat­u­rally seem to draw my fire wher­ever I go.’"’Nice shoot­ing,’ says the sheep man, with­out a flut­ter. ‘But don’t you some­times ever miss the third shot? El­e­gant fine rain that was last week for the young grass, Mr. Jud­son?’ says he."’Wil­lie,’ says I, rid­ing over close to his pal­frey, ‘your in­fat­u­ated par­ents may have de­nounced you by the name of Jack­son, but you sure moulted in­to a twit­ter­ing Wil­lie–let us slough off this here analy­sis of rain and the el­e­ments, and get down to talk that is out­side the vo­cab­u­lary of par­rots. That is a bad habit you have got of rid­ing with young ladies over at Pi­mi­enta. I’ve known birds,’ says I, ‘to be served on toast for less than that. Miss Wil­lella,’ says I, ‘don’t ever want any nest made out of sheep’s wool by a tomtit of the Jack­son­ian branch of or­ni­thol­ogy. Now, are you go­ing to quit, or do you wish for to gal­lop up against this Dead-Mor­al-Cer­tainty at­tach­ment to my name, which is good for two hy­phens and at least one set of fu­ner­al ob­se­quies?’"Jack­son Bird flushed up some, and then he laughed."’Why, Mr. Jud­son,’ says he, ‘you’ve got the wrong idea. I’ve called on Miss Learight a few times; but not for the pur­pose you imag­ine. My ob­ject is purely a gas­tro­nom­i­cal one.’"I reached for my gun."’Any coy­ote,’ says I, ‘that would boast of dis­hon­our­able–‘"’Wait a minute,’ says this Bird, ’till I ex­plain. What would I do with a wife? If you ever saw that ranch of mine! I do my own cook­ing and mend­ing. Eat­ing–that’s all the plea­sure I get out of sheep rais­ing. Mr. Jud­son, did you ever taste the pan­cakes that Miss Learight makes?’"’Me? No,’ I told him. ‘I nev­er was ad­vised that she was up to any culi­nary ma­noeu­vres.’"’They’re golden sun­shine,’ says he, ‘honey-browned by the am­bro­sial fires of Epi­cu­rus. I’d give two years of my life to get the re­cipe for mak­ing them pan­cakes. That’s what I went to see Miss Learight for,’ says Jack­son Bird, ‘but I haven’t been able to get it from her. It’s an old re­cipe that’s been in the fam­ily for sev­enty-five years. They hand it down from one gen­er­a­tion to an­oth­er, but they don’t give it away to out­siders. If I could get that re­cipe, so I could make them pan­cakes for my­self on my ranch, I’d be a happy man,’ says Bird."’Are you sure,’ I says to him, ‘that it ain’t the hand that mixes the pan­cakes that you’re after?’"’Sure,’ says Jack­son. ‘Miss Learight is a mighty nice girl, but I can as­sure you my in­ten­tions go no fur­ther than the gas­tro–‘ but he seen my hand go­ing down to my hol­ster and he changed his simil­i­tude–‘than the de­sire to pro­cure a copy of the pan­cake re­cipe,’ he fin­ishes."’You ain’t such a bad lit­tle man,’ says I, try­ing to be fair. ‘I was think­ing some of mak­ing or­phans of your sheep, but I’ll let you fly away this time. But you stick to pan­cakes,’ says I, ‘as close as the mid­dle one of a stack; and don’t go and mis­take sen­ti­ments for syr­up, or there’ll be singing at your ranch, and you won’t hear it.’"’To con­vince you that I am sin­cere,’ says the sheep man, ‘I’ll ask you to help me. Miss Learight and you be­ing closer friends, maybe she would do for you what she wouldn’t for me. If you will get me a copy of that pan­cake re­cipe, I give you my word that I’ll nev­er call upon her again.’"’That’s fair,’ I says, and I shook hands with Jack­son Bird. ‘I’ll get it for you if I can, and glad to ob­lige.’ And he turned off down the big pear flat on the Piedra, in the di­rec­tion of Mired Mule; and I steered north­west for old Bill Toomey’s ranch."It was five days af­ter­ward when I got an­oth­er chance to ride over to Pi­mi­enta. Miss Wil­lella and me passed a grat­i­fy­ing even­ing at Uncle Em­s­ley’s. She sang some, and ex­as­per­ated the pi­ano quite a lot with quo­ta­tions from the op­eras. I gave im­i­ta­tions of a rat­tlesnake, and told her about Snaky McFee’s new way of skin­ning cows, and de­scribed the trip I made to Saint Louis once. We was get­ting along in one an­oth­er’s es­ti­ma­tions fine. Thinks I, if Jack­son Bird can now be per­suaded to mi­grate, I win. I rec­ol­lect his prom­ise about the pan­cake re­ceipt, and I thinks I will per­suade it from Miss Wil­lella and give it to him; and then if I catches Bird­ie off of Mired Mule again, I’ll make him hop the twig."So, along about ten o’clock, I put on a wheed­ling smile and says to Miss Wil­lella: ‘Now, if there’s any­thing I do like bet­ter than the sight of a red steer on green grass it’s the taste of a nice hot pan­cake smoth­ered in sug­ar-house mo­lasses.’"Miss Wil­lella gives a lit­tle jump on the pi­ano stool, and looked at me cu­ri­ous."’Yes,’ says she, ‘they’re real nice. What did you say was the name of that street in Saint Louis, Mr. Odom, where you lost your hat?’"’Pan­cake Av­enue,’ says I, with a wink, to show her that I was on about the fam­ily re­ceipt, and couldn’t be side-cor­ralled off of the sub­ject. ‘Come, now, Miss Wil­lella,’ I says; ‘let’s hear how you make ’em. Pan­cakes is just whirl­ing in my head like wag­on wheels. Start her off, now–pound of flour, eight dozen eggs, and so on. How does the cat­a­logue of con­stitu­ents run?’"’Ex­cuse me for a mo­ment, please,’ says Miss Wil­lella, and she gives me a quick kind of side­ways look, and slides off the stool. She am­bled out in­to the oth­er room, and di­rectly Uncle Em­s­ley comes in in his shirt sleeves, with a pitch­er of wa­ter. He turns around to get a glass on the ta­ble, and I see a forty-five in his hip pock­et. ‘Great post- holes!’ thinks I, ‘but here’s a fam­ily thinks a heap of cook­ing re­ceipts, pro­tect­ing it with fire­arms. I’ve known out­fits that wouldn’t do that much by a fam­ily feud.’"’Drink this here down,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley, hand­ing me the glass of wa­ter. ‘You’ve rid too far to-day, Jud, and got your­self over-ex­cited. Try to think about some­thing else now.’"’Do you know how to make them pan­cakes, Uncle Em­s­ley?’ I asked."’Well, I’m not as ap­prised in the ana­tomy of them as some,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley, ‘but I reck­on you take a sifter of plas­ter of Par­is and a lit­tle dough and saler­a­tus and corn meal, and mix ’em with eggs and but­ter­milk as usu­al. Is old Bill go­ing to ship beeves to Kan­sas City again this spring, Jud?’"That was all the pan­cake spec­i­fi­ca­tions I could get that night. I didn’t won­der that Jack­son Bird found it up­hill work. So I dropped the sub­ject and talked with Uncle Em­s­ley for a while about hol­low-horn and cy­clones. And then Miss Wil­lella came and said ‘Good-night,’ and I hit the breeze for the ranch."About a week af­ter­ward I met Jack­son Bird rid­ing out of Pi­mi­enta as I rode in, and we stopped on the road for a few friv­o­lous re­marks."’Got the bill of par­tic­u­lars for them flap­jacks yet?’ I asked him."’Well, no,’ says Jack­son. ‘I don’t seem to have any suc­cess in get­ting hold of it. Did you try?’"’I did,’ says I, ‘and ’twas like try­ing to dig a prair­ie dog out of his hole with a pea­nut hull. That pan­cake re­ceipt must be a jookalo­rum, the way they hold on to it.’"’I’m most ready to give it up,’ says Jack­son, so dis­cour­aged in his pro­nun­ci­a­tions that I felt sorry for him; ‘but I did want to know how to make them pan­cakes to eat on my lonely ranch,’ says he. ‘I lie awake at nights think­ing how good they are.’"’You keep on try­ing for it,’ I tells him, ‘and I’ll do the same. One of us is bound to get a rope over its horns be­fore long. Well, so- long, Jacksy.’"You see, by this time we were on the peace­fullest of terms. When I saw that he wasn’t after Miss Wil­lella, I had more en­dur­able con­tem­pla­tions of that sandy-haired snooz­er. In or­der to help out the am­bi­tions of his ap­petite I kept on try­ing to get that re­ceipt from Miss Wil­lella. But every time I would say ‘pan­cakes’ she would get sort of re­mote and fid­gety about the eye, and try to change the sub­ject. If I held her to it she would slide out and round up Uncle Em­s­ley with his pitch­er of wa­ter and hip-pock­et how­itzer."One day I gal­loped over to the store with a fine bunch of blue ver­be­nas that I cut out of a herd of wild flow­ers over on Poi­soned Dog Prair­ie. Uncle Em­s­ley looked at ’em with one eye shut and says:"’Haven’t ye heard the news?’"’Cat­tle up?’ I asks."’Wil­lella and Jack­son Bird was mar­ried in Pales­tine yes­ter­day,’ says he. ‘Just got a let­ter this morn­ing.’"I dropped them flow­ers in a crack­er-bar­rel, and let the news trickle in my ears and down to­ward my up­per left-hand shirt pock­et un­til it got to my feet."’Would you mind say­ing that over again once more, Uncle Em­s­ley?’ says I. ‘Maybe my hear­ing has got wrong, and you only said that prime heifers was 4.80 on the hoof, or some­thing like that.’"’Mar­ried yes­ter­day,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley, ‘and gone to Waco and Ni­a­gara Falls on a wed­ding tour. Why, didn’t you see none of the signs all along? Jack­son Bird has been court­ing Wil­lella ever since that day he took her out rid­ing.’"’Then,’ says I, in a kind of yell, ‘what was all this ziz­za­pa­roola he gives me about pan­cakes? Tell me /that/.’"When I said ‘pan­cakes’ Uncle Em­s­ley sort of dodged and stepped back."’Some­body’s been deal­ing me pan­cakes from the bot­tom of the deck,’ I says, ‘and I’ll find out. I be­lieve you know. Talk up,’ says I, ‘or we’ll mix a pan­ful of bat­ter right here.’"I slid over the counter after Uncle Em­s­ley. He grabbed at his gun, but it was in a draw­er, and he missed it two inches. I got him by the front of his shirt and shoved him in a cor­ner."’Talk pan­cakes,’ says I, ‘or be made in­to one. Does Miss Wil­lella make ’em?’"’She nev­er made one in her life and I nev­er saw one,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley, sooth­ing. ‘Calm down now, Jud–calm down. You’ve got ex­cited, and that wound in your head is con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing your sense of in­tel­li­gence. Try not to think about pan­cakes.’"’Uncle Em­s­ley,’ says I, ‘I’m not wounded in the head ex­cept so far as my nat­ur­al cog­ni­tive in­stincts run to runts. Jack­son Bird told me he was call­ing on Miss Wil­lella for the pur­pose of find­ing out her sys­tem of pro­duc­ing pan­cakes, and he asked me to help him get the bill of lad­ing of the in­gre­di­ents. I done so, with the re­sults as you see. Have I been sod­ded down with John­son grass by a pink-eyed snooz­er, or what?’"’Slack up your grip in my dress shirt,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley, ‘and I’ll tell you. Yes, it looks like Jack­son Bird has gone and hum­bugged you some. The day after he went rid­ing with Wil­lella he came back and told me and her to watch out for you when­ever you got to talk­ing about pan­cakes. He said you was in camp once where they was cook­ing flap­jacks, and one of the fel­lows cut you over the head with a fry­ing pan. Jack­son said that when­ever you got over­hot or ex­cited that wound hurt you and made you kind of crazy, and you went rav­ing about pan­cakes. He told us to just get you worked off of the sub­ject and soothed down, and you wouldn’t be dan­ger­ous. So, me and Wil­lella done the best by you we knew how. Well, well,’ says Uncle Em­s­ley, ‘that Jack­son Bird is sure a sel­dom kind of a snooz­er.’"Dur­ing the pro­gress of Jud’s story he had been slowly but deftly com­bin­ing cer­tain por­tions of the con­tents of his sacks and cans. To­ward the close of it he set be­fore me the fin­ished prod­uct–a pair of red-hot, rich-hued pan­cakes on a tin plate. From some se­cret hoard­ing he also brought a lump of ex­cel­lent but­ter and a bot­tle of golden syr­up."How long ago did these things hap­pen?" I asked him."Three years," said Jud. "They’re liv­ing on the Mired Mule Ranch now. But I haven’t seen ei­ther of ’em since. They say Jack­son Bird was fix­ing his ranch up fine with rock­ing chairs and win­dow cur­tains all the time he was put­ting me up the pan­cake tree. Oh, I got over it after a while. But the boys kept the rack­et up.""Did you make these cakes by the fa­mous re­cipe?" I asked."Didn’t I tell you there wasn’t no re­ceipt?" said Jud. "The boys hollered pan­cakes till they got pan­cake hun­gry, and I cut this re­cipe out of a news­pa­per. How does the truck taste?""They’re de­li­cious," I an­swered. "Why don’t you have some, too, Jud?"I was sure I heard a sigh."Me?" said Jud. "I don’t ever eat ’em."

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