Disclaimer: The characters and situations of the TV program "Big Valley" are the creations of Four Star/Republic Pictures and have been used without permission. No copyright infringement is intended by the author. The ideas expressed in this story are copyrighted to the author.
(*All utter archaisms defined at the end. )
“Well, madam, you are no rigmutton,” said the gentleman in a rather superior, educated, mannered tone after assisting the lady to the ground from the stage.
“Well, I never! Insulting me the whole trip with them fancy words!” She huffed away. Jarrod looked about and awkwardly stepped forward, looking at the man he’d been asked to entertain for the afternoon between the legs of his journey.
“Excuse me, sir?”
“Yes?” the stranger answered disinterestedly.
“Sir, are you Mr. Witherspoon? Mr. Abel Witherspoon?”
“I would that I am, yes. And who addresses me?”
“Barkley, Jarrod Barkley. I was wired to pick you, er, fetch you to the house from the stage. I hope your ride was enjoyable.”
“I daresay it was no basket of chips. Oh, well. Shall we disembark?”
“Yes, of course. The surrey is this way, May I take your bag?” Witherspoon handed it to him they were soon on their way.
Jarrod tried to point out the beautiful features of the ranch on the ride, but his guest had not said much, and when he did say something it invariable was negative. Or atleast Jarrod thought it was. Generally, his own vocabulary was the largest in the area, but this man’s stunned him. He couldn’t understand just about any word longer than six letters. It was beginning to unnerve him and he was never so relieved to see the big white house looming before them.
“Well, here we are at the house. My mother is waiting for us, no doubt.”
“It seems to me that you have a great many ox-skins here,” he said as he dismounted.
“Yes.... it seems we have, haven’t we.” The front door opened and Victoria walked out. SHe approached them and noted Jarrod’s seeming discomfort.
“Hello,” she began brightly. “You must be Mr. Witherspoon. Please, come in.”
“At your behest, madam, I shall alight.” If Victoria was puzzled by his ornate language, she hid it well as she led him inside and offered him refreshment. After they had settled, she tried to engage in conversation, casting glances at Jarrod to join them.
“So, have you been to a working ranch, before, Mr. Witherspoon?”
“No, Mrs. Barkley, I have not. Shall I be treated to a hippomachie?”
“No, I am sorry, but it takes a great deal of time to operate a ranch this size and we can’t spare it for hip-po-ma-chies.” She tried pronouncing it carefully.
“I noticed how large it is. Mr. Barkley, perhaps you can explain to me how you manage the cow-sharen?” Jarrod was at a loss again.
“Uh, manage it?” he stumbled. “Well, I guess... that is, there’s only one way to manage it.... and that is, to, well, simply, you just have to manage it.” His words became quicker as he went along. Something wasn’t right. How could his mother handle it so well? There was little chance she understood it any more than he did, but she was definitely more at ease. Who ever heard of a hippomachie? Witherspoon looked disappointed at his response. “Perhaps you might ask one of my brothers. They run the ranch and are better suited to explain it to you. They should be in shortly.”
“Well, I shall just have to remember to ask them. I was hoping for an amusing, even dungeonable response, but I see it is not to be had at this time.”
Nick and Audra came walking in after an uneasy moment of silence. They were laughing and Audra was dressed in a lovely blue day dress, having just returned from the orphanage. They saw the guest and walked into the den.
“Heath’ll be in in a minute.”
“That’s fine, Nick. Nick, Audra, this is our guest, Mr. Witherspoon.” Nick extended his hand.
“Pleased to meet ya.”
“The sentiment is reciprocated. You would not mind were I to kiss the hand of your lovely copulative?” Jarrod thought he knew what that meant and inserted himself to save Nick.
“Of course you may kiss her hand, though you may send our sister into flights of fancy at such gallantry.” Heath chose that moment to walk in.
“So I take it you are the other rancher brother?”
“Yes, sir. Name’s Heath.”
“So I’ve been told. I’ve also been told that you and your brother may be able to answer a question of mine.”
“Shoot.” Jarrod was amazed at Heath’s ease in dealing with someone like Witherspoon.
“Ah, shoot..... Well, I was wondering what you do with all the cow-sharen.” He looked to Nick.
“Well, Heath knows more about that than I do.” Witherspoon shifted his gaze. Jarrod looked at Heath, trying to figure out what he was going to say. Heath looked down and, after a moment, he replied.
“Not a problem. The ranch is very large.”
“Of course! I should have thought of it. You are much more intelligent than I believed initially.” Heath glared at him for a moment before returning to silence. Victoria broke the ice.
“Well, I believe lunch should be ready now. Why don’t we all eat?”
“I do hope you have a lithermon’s load of sustenance, madam.”
The meal was barely tolerable for Jarrod. The other family members put up a good front, but the man was incomprehensible. Jarrod dreaded the thought of another ride with the man. It bothered him so much as to give his face an almost grey appearance. Towards the end of the meal, Victoria took note of it.
“Jarrod, are you feeling well? Perhaps it would be best for you to rest. I can get one of the hands to take Mr. Witherspoon back to town. Is that acceptable?”
“No need, Mother; I’ll take Mr. Witherspoon to town,” Heath volunteered. Everyone tried to hide their shock at his offer. He was always uncomfortable with strangers, and this man was downright odd. Jarrod welcomed an opportunity when he saw one.
“That would be great, Heath,” Jarrod thanked. “I do feel a bit peaked. Please excuse me.”
Jarrod watched Heath depart with Witherspoon and felt little guilty over his shy, quiet, considerate brother taking the most singularly annoying guest he could remember. He’d have to find a way to make it up to him.
* * * * * * * *
He handed his friend a twenty-dollar gold piece and shook his hand.
“Good work, Abel. That was priceless.” He chuckled
“Well, next time you want to play with his mind, it just might cost you a little more, buddy. That lawyer looked so sick by the time I finished talking I almost burst out laughing.”
“Me, too. Thanks.”
“See you around, Heath.”
WORDS-found in “Forgotten English- A 365-Day Calendar” by Jeffrey Kacirk This little thing is a gem and good for many laughs. I’ve shortened and sometimes adapted the definitions to take up less space.
rigmutton- n. a wanton wench that is ready to ride upon men’s backs, or else passively to be their rompstall. ----Frederick Elworthy’s [i]Devonshire Glossary[/i], 1879
basket of chips- an enjoyable experience
ox-skin- the equivalent of a hide, which was five square yards of land.
hippomachie- A fight on hors[ e ]-back. Edward Phillips’ [i]New World of English Words[/i], 1658
cow-sharen- The leavings of a cow.. .--John Brockett’s [i]Glossary of North Country Words[/i], 1825
dungeonable- Shrewd, or as the vulgar express it, devilish.--from the same as above.
copulative- created by Shakespeare; used usually in the plural to refer to a couple which is courting.
lithermon’s load- a load that is too large but that is undertaken to save the bearer from making another trip.