Complete Poetical Works

Jack of the Tules

(Southern California)

Bret Harte

SHREWDLY you question, Senor, and I fancy
You are no novice.    Confess that to little
Of my poor gossip of Mission and Pueblo
         You are a stranger!

Am I not right?    Ah! believe me, that ever
Since we joined company at the posada
I’ve watched you closely, and—pardon an old priest—
         I’ve caught you smiling!

Smiling to hear an old fellow like me talk
Gossip of pillage and robbers, and even
Air his opinion of law and alcaldes
         Like any other!

Now!—by that twist of the wrist on the bridle,
By that straight line from the heel to the shoulder,
By that curt speech,—nay! nay! no offense, son,—
         You are a soldier?

No?    Then a man of affairs?    San Sebastian!
’Twould serve me right if I prattled thus wildly
To—say a sheriff?    No?—just caballero?
         Well, more’s the pity.

Ah! what we want here’s a man of your presence;
Sano, Secreto,—yes, all the four S’s,
Joined with a boldness and dash, when the time comes,
         And—may I say it?—

One not too hard on the poor country people,
Peons and silly vaqueros, who, dazzled
By reckless skill, and, perchance, reckless largesse,
     Wink at some queer things.

No?    You would crush them as well as the robbers,—
Root them out, scatter them?    Ah you are bitter—
And yet—quien sabe, perhaps that’s the one way
         To catch their leader.

As to myself, now, I’d share your displeasure;
For I admit in this Jack of the Tules
Certain good points.    He still comes to confession—
         You’d “like to catch him”?

Ah, if you did at such times, you might lead him
Home by a thread.    Good!    Again you are smiling:
You have no faith in such shrift, and but little
         In priest or penitent.

Bueno!    We take no offense, sir; whatever
It please you to say, it becomes us, for Church sake,
To bear in peace.    Yet, if you were kinder—
         And less suspicious—

I might still prove to you, Jack of the Tules
Shames not our teaching; nay, even might show you,
Hard by this spot, his old comrade, who, wounded,
         Lives on his bounty.

If—ah, you listen!—I see I can trust you;
Then, on your word as a gentleman—follow.
Under that sycamore stands the old cabin;
         There sits his comrade.

Eh!—are you mad?    You would try to arrest him?
You, with a warrant?    Oh, well, take the rest of them:
Pedro, Bill, Murray, Pat Doolan.    Hey!—all of you,
         Tumble out, d—n it!

There!—that’ll do, boys!    Stand back!    Ease his elbows;
Take the gag from his mouth.    Good!    Now scatter like devils
After his posse—four straggling, four drunken—
         At the posada.

You—help me off with these togs, and then vamos!
Now, ole Jeff Dobbs!—Sheriff, Scout, and Detective!
You’re so derned ’cute!    Kinder sick, ain’t ye, bluffing
         Jack of the Tules!

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