A CAT RANCHE by WILLIAM BURNETT
“Gentlemen, said the seedy Stranger, holding a scrap of paper upon which he had been scribbling, “ this is the new American Fake now first exhibited to a British public.” “Look,” and he held up the writing against a gas jet. “ I calkilate there’s not man here as’ll read this ”
“Why, heny fool could read that!’’ sneered a British workman—a British workman in his natural habitat is inclined to be scornful.—“ W-h-a-t--will you—t-a-k-e? “
“Thankye,” replied the American blandly, I’ll take beer.” There was a general laugh, after which the British workman had to stand treat.
“That gentleman,” remarked the seedy stranger over his beer, “was the first worm. I “ —he smiled benevolently—“ the early bird. You Britishers think you’re darnation cute, but when you want to raise the wind you whistle, whereas we Americans blow. When you’re hard up you go round looking for a job of work, which you don’t get. We Americans ain’t hunting around for a job, because we know that when trade’s down at one end it’s up the other—and we’re mostly at the other end. When I’m hard up I get out and rustle - Don’t know what that means, eh? Wall, I’ll explain.”
“I’d lost a lot of money selling lightning rods. Started in right enough, I calkilate—began by getting awful yarns into the local papers. ‘Horrible tragedy ! struck by lightning ! five infants burnt to a crisp ! Mother in madhouse —Pa off on a drunk—happy home all broke up ! ‘
“ That fetched ’em ! Every farmhouse I went to they brought me that newspaper and just begged me to put up a lightning rod to save their innocent babes. That’s all right, but then you see there were sewing machine men around who got jealous of my luck and took to warning folks against wasting their substance on riotous lightning rods which just polarised the sewing machines, magnetised the clock, and put little baby’s works all wrong entirely with electrolysis metempsychosis. After that the mothers would say, ‘I think not, don’t want any new-fangled diseases cavorting around here.’ It ruined me !
“So that’s how I came to start a cat factory. What are ye laughing at, anyways where do you imagine the fur comes from? Do you believe that the sable, the marten, the mink, the royal ermine, the stately fixings of the aristocracy, come off in wild animals ? No, sirree, you stroke the fur sacque of the dowager Porkpackeress, and that 'ere sacque Hudson’s Bay and Siberian sables ? Pshaw, go and cool your head ! The Phoenix Domestic Cuss, commonly known as the domestic cat, is responsible for the winter splendours of your rampant beerage and porterage ; while even the tyrant Czar and his deluded missus wear sables trapped in the back areas or on the midnight tiles of distracted Metropolis. Yes, sir, when the lightning racket wouldn’t delude any more public, I pranced out into the boundless West and started a cat factory.
“You see, a maiden aunt happened to pass in her checks about that time—she’d been taking patent medicines, poor thing ! —and as she left me a couple of thousand dollars in trust for missions to the unoffending heathen, I was pretty well fixed. I located, gentlemen, in Southern Oregon, and bought me a forty acre lot situated on the bank of a river. At the back of the meadow was steep bluffs flat on top, which reached back a hundred yards or so to the mountain side. Now, the left of my land was down in the meadow flat, but one comer reached back on top of the bluff, and took in a boiling spring just at the foot of the mountain —which the same I used to bathe in every few months, the habit of bathing, gentlemen, being uncommon good for the health, whatever may be said to the contrary.
“Now, by winter I’d got the place well fixed up for a cat ranche, and was away in Portland advertising around for suitable animals, when I heard that an insinuating stranger had happened along and annexed my boiling spring. Back I comes hot foot with my car load of pussies, and calculating to shoot that same stranger, when what should I find but a large hotel building on the beach, my hot spring turned into a sanatorium and a clerk with diamond shirt studs and a large eyeglass to order off the premises ! Swear ? I swore until that beach land just quivered, but what could I do? The hotel folks showed a clear title from the late owner of the ranche. Of course I started out to plug a hole through the late owner ; but when I came to smell around after his tracks I found that he’d suddenly got religious, and hit out for foreign parts. In fact, he’d done me up just as if I was a mere tender foot, and I was plumb disheartened.
“Now, I don’t want to disparage the works of Nature, but that air hotspring didn’t have any medicinal qualities in my time. Time enough a gentleman—Faro Bill his name was—had died in the bath once, but then he’d had his mouth under water at the time, so, medicine or no medicine, he’d have been drowned anyway. Fact is, I was well acquainted with the ‘drummer’ as supplied the chemical ingredients for the spring. Gentlemen, that sanatorium grieved me—for it was a fraud.
“The land? What’s the use of a hundred-dollar stranger litigating with millionaires ? I seen a little rat once backing agin a hog, but when they got through fighting there was no rat. No justice for me, you bet—unless I kin buy up the jury. I sot down at the foot of that bluff, to make them bloated summer hotel plutocrats wishful that they’d never been born. Cats, when they’re left to themselves, breed at much the same rate as mosquitoes, curates, and southern Irish ; which means that if they weren’t occasionally throwed out by an exasperated public, the piling up of the creatures would disturb the terrestrial gravity and spin the whole blooming planet into the adjacent infinitudes. Wall, one car-load of cats multiplied by itself three times a year makes total of sixteen carloads.
“How did I feed ’em? Oh, that didn’t bother me a little bit. There was a United States cavalry post only two miles away so I was able to buy up all the dead horses. What killed the horses Well—fact is, partner, that they’d so little to do they ate their heads off. But to continue. Sixteen car-loads of cats well, what’s the matter now ? Market ? Why, of course there’s a market. A good black tom-cat pelt fetches eight shillings of your money, while the imperfect skins is dyed into bear, musk, marmot, ermine—and, in fact, all wild animals in general, except snake skins, which is manufactured in Birmingham.
“Well, to resume—sixteen car-loads of black pussies multiplied by itself three times for the second year’s increase pretty well stocked up my cat factory. You couldn’t hear yourself speak for miles around, while as to the sanatorium, they had to pay a caretaker three dollars day and his ear plugs to induce him to stop in the hotel. Them capitalists came to me on their bended knees—but think I’d sell out ? No, I ain’t party to any sanatorium that steals a poor man’s bath to defraud invalids. My cat factory continued to be a howling protest against the tortuous immorality of the speculator— besides, they didn’t offer me enough.
“Them capitalists was so hostile that you could track them across country by the blue streaks they left in the air. They couldn’t prosecute me for nuisance, because I started my cat ranche before ever they were heard of in them parts. As for me, I just threw an extra cavalry charger to my little pets, so that they yelled that night one horse-power louder than ever.
“The hotel folks got desperate. Their sanatorium had been shut up two whole years, like a baronial castle with a bad attack of the ghosts. The whole State of Oregon was laughing at them ; they couldn’t have me shot for fear of offending the tourist interest. While, as I’d told a dozen reporters how the hot spring was drugged, it had already cost the directors fifteen thousand dollars to prove it was natural medicine. So I beat them ? Now, stranger, that’s how you jump at a rash contusion. The moment them directors found out that their investment was no good to them, they bought water rights in the mountains, built a flume, turned on giant hose, washed out a deep trench at the back of the sanatorium, and one fine night, while I lay in my little bed in the cottage by the river, down came that gravel terrace three hundred feet high, including the sanatorium and the fee simple of the estate, with a horrible roaring smash, slap bang on top of my cat ranche. There wasn’t kitten left to howl. Gentlemen, the rest is silence,
“ What did I do Wall, now, what a question! Why can’t you see that the sanatorium was trespassing on my ranche—that the said trespass had done grievous bodily harm to pussies, having wiped them out as aforesaid ? The newspapers suggested a repussification ; but no, after the catastrophe I’d had forbearance enough. I just turned right round on that hotel company, and got judgment agin them with damages more than the full appraised value the cat factory !”