The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky by Stephen Crane
The great passenger train was moving fast and smoothly over the plains of Texas, heading west, back to Yellow Sky, carrying Sheriff Potter and his new bride back home. The newly married couple in the luxurious Pullman coach had boarded the train at San Antonio. The man’s face was red from many days in the wind and sun. Because he was used to wearing jeans and a cotton shirt, his stiff new black suit made him uncomfortable. He sat with a hand on each knee, nervously. The glances he gave other passengers were furtive and shy.
‘The sheriff’s bride sat next to him. Despite the fancy dress that she wore, she was not very pretty. She appeared to be about thirty years old, of a working- class background. Now that she had married, she could look forward to many years of cooking and cleaning for her new husband.
Neither of the newlyweds was accustomed to such luxurious travel, so they were very happy, even though many of the other passengers were staring and grinning at the obviously out-of-place couple.
“Ever been on a train before?” he asked her, smiling with delight.
“No,” she answered; “I never was. It’s fine, isn’t it?”
“It’s great! After a while we’ll go forward to the dining car and get a big feed. They charge a whole dollar, because it’s the finest meal in the world.”
“Oh, do they?” cried the bride. “Charge a dollar? Why, that’s too much for us, isn’t it, Jack?”
“Not this trip, anyhow” he answered bravely. “We’re going to go the whole way.”
Later he explained to her about the trains. ‘’You see, it’s a thousand miles from one end of Texas to the other; and this train runs right across it, and never stops but four times.” Because Potter had traveled on the train before, it made him proud to display this knowledge to his bride.
“We are due in Yellow Sky at 3:42,” he said, looking tenderly into her eyes.
At last they went to the dining car, and ate a grand meal. Then they returned to the coach to watch the endless miles of Texas roll by.
But as the distance from Yellow Sky grew shorter, the husband grew more restless. As a matter of fact Jack Potter was beginning to get very nervous. He, the sheriff of Yellow Sky, a man known, liked, and feared, a well-respected person, had gone to San Antonio to meet a girl he believed he loved, and there, after the usual prayers, had actually married her, without telling anyone in Yellow Sky. Because he knew everyone in the community would be surprised and shocked, he was not looking forward to bringing his bride back home.
Of course, people in Yellow Sky were free to marry, and the town often celebrated their marriages, but Potter, a bachelor of long standing, thought of his duty to his friends. He had promised them he would remain a bachelor forever, but face to face with this woman in San Antonio, he had gone head over heels. Because no one knew him in San Antonio, he had found it easy to get married. But now they were approaching Yellow Sky.
He knew full well that his marriage was an important thing in his town. The men in town would not forgive him. Frequently he had thought of telling them by telegraph, but even though as sheriff he had often faced the guns of outlaws without fear, he was afraid to do it. And now the train was hurrying him toward his friends, who would laugh at him, curse him, and never drink with him again.
Knowing that soon the train would leave them standing by the tracks in Yellow Sky, he planned the trip from the station to his house. They would get to his home as fast as possible, so no one would see them.
Then, once home, he would quietly go out alone, tell someone — anyone — the awful news, and retreat to his house to hide until the citizens got tired of talking about him and his new bride.
The bride looked anxiously at him. “What’s worrying you. Jack?” Her voice reminded him that he was still on the train, so he laughed. “I’m not worryin’, girl; I’m only thinkin’ of Yellow Sky.” She blushed in comprehension.
The porter came and told the sheriff the train was nearing Yellow Sky. He brushed his new clothes, and then helped the bride get her suitcase from under the seat. Because he had seen others do it, the old cowboy fumbled out a coin to give the porter. The newlyweds were now ready to meet the town.
The Bride Comes to Yellow Sky by Stephen Crane
Meanwhile, as the train neared town, six men stood at the bar of the Yellow Sky Saloon. One was a traveling salesman who talked a great deal and rapidly; three were Texans who did not care to talk at that time because they were concentrating on a poker game; and two were sheepherders who never talked when they were in the Yellow Sky Saloon. An old dog lay sleeping on the board sidewalk outside the saloon’s door. The sandy main street, baking in the midday sun, was empty. Except for the men in the saloon, Yellow Sky was dozing.
The traveling salesman was telling a story when he was interrupted by a young man who suddenly appeared in the open door. He cried: “Scratchy Wilson is drunk, and he’s shooting up the town!” The shepherds at once set down their glasses and ran out the rear door.
The friendly salesman answered the newcomer at the door: “All right, my friend, so what? Come in and have a drink.”
The young man only frowned. The room had suddenly become very quiet. Because the warning had made such an obvious impression on everyone, even the salesman became worried. “Say, what is this?” he asked.
“It means, my friend,” the newcomer answered, as he came into the saloon, “that for the next two hours this town won’t be a healthy place.”
The barkeeper went to the door and locked it; reaching out the window, he pulled in the heavy wooden shutters and barred them.
“But say,” the salesman cried, “what is this, anyhow? You don’t mean there is going to be a gunfight?”
“I don’t know whether there’ll be a fight or not,” answered one man grimly; “but there’ll be some shootin’ — some good shootin’!”
The young man who had warned them waved his hand. “Oh, there’ll be a fight soon enough, if anyone wants it. Anybody can get a fight out there in the street. There’s a fight just waiting.” “What did you say his name was?” the salesman asked. “Scratchy
Wilson,” they answered in chorus. “And will he kill anybody? What are you going to do? Does this happen often? Does he do this once a week or so? Can he break in that door?”
“No, he can’t break down that door,” replied the barkeeper. “He’s tried it three times. But when he comes you’d better lie down on the floor, because he’s sure to shoot at the door, and a bullet may come through.”
With one eye on the door, the salesman moved closer to the wall. “Will he kill anybody?” he asked. The men laughed at the question.
“He’s out to shoot, and he’s out for trouble. He’ll kill anybody that gets in his way.”
“But what do you do in a case like this?” A man responded: “Why, Jack Potter will take care of him” “But,” the other men interrupted in chorus, “Jack Potter’s in San Antonio.”
“Well, who is he? What’s he got to do with it?” “Oh, he’s the sheriff. He goes out and fights Scratchy when he gets wild.’
“Wow!” said the salesman, mopping his brow. “Nice job he’s got!” The barkeeper took a Winchester rifle from beneath the bar. He looked at the worried salesman. “You’d better come behind the bar with me.” “No, thanks,” said the salesman, perspiring. “I’d rather be where I can run for the back door.”
“You see,” the barkeeper explained, “Scratchy Wilson is an expert with a gun; and when he goes on the warpath, we hide — naturally. He’s about the last one of the old gang that used to hang out along the river here. He’s a terror when he’s drunk. When he’s sober he’s all right — kind of simple — wouldn’t hurt a fly — the nicest fellow in town. But when he’s drunk —he’s a killer.”
There was a period of silence. Then the barkeeper said, “I wish Jack Potter was back from San Antonio. He shot Wilson once — in the leg — and he would straighten him out now”
Then they heard from a distance the sound of a gunshot, followed by three wild yells. The men in the darkened saloon looked at each other. “Here he comes,” they said.
Wilson was drunk. He stood in the middle of the main street, waving a long, heavy, blue-black revolver in each hand. He yelled loudly, and his cries echoed off the closed and locked houses of the village. He shot both guns into the air, yelling again, challenging anyone to fight him. But only the silence of the Western plains answered his war-cry, so he staggered down the street, heading for the Yellow Sky Saloon.
Wilson looked like a wild man. Because he had been drinking all day, his eyes rolled around in his head, his knees buckled as he walked, and his mouth spat out a steady stream of curses. As he walked down the middle of the street, he pointed his guns into each doorway, but because the people of the town were used to his rampages, no one came out to meet him. There was no offer of fight. The man called to the sky. There was no answer. He yelled and screamed and pointed his revolvers here and everywhere.
Finally Wilson got to the closed front of the Yellow Sky Saloon. He went up to it and, hammering the door with a revolver, demanded drink.
The door would not open, so he walked back across the street, turned quickly, and fired six shots, all hitting within inches of the big brass door- knob that had offended him. He swore to himself and went away. Later, he went to the house of his best friend, who would not come outside, and casually shot out all his windows.
Still there was no one who dared to fight him. Then he remembered his arch-enemy. Jack Potter, and staggered off to his house. He was sure that if he shot at the sheriff’s house, Potter would come out to fight him.
When he arrived at Potter’s house, it was as quiet as the rest of the town. Standing behind a big oak tree, he fired a shot at the door.
“Come out and fight. Potter! I plan to pay you back for shootin’ up my leg!” he yelled.
But the house was silent. No door opened; no sound was heard. Wilson went into a rage, cursing, yelling, and firing bullet after bullet into the windows. Because Potter was the sheriff, the drunken cowboy felt that Potter had a duty to fight him. He was outraged at the silence that answered his gunfire. Finally, because he had emptied both his guns, he was forced to stop shooting and take a rest. Cursing the absent sheriff, Wilson sat down in the shade of the tree to reload his revolvers.
Meanwhile, as Wilson was resting under the tree in front of Potter’s house, the express train had left the sheriff and the bride at the station. Relieved that there had been no one there to meet him. Potter led his wife down the street toward his small house. “Next corner, dear,” he said finally.
They walked together, hand in hand, looking forward to getting home at last. Potter was about to point to the new home when, as they turned the corner, they came face to face with a man who was pushing cartridges into a large revolver. Immediately the man dropped his revolver to the ground and, like lightning, whipped another from its holster. The second gun was aimed at the bridegroom’s chest.
There was a silence. Potter’s mouth hung open. He quickly let go of his new wife’s hand and dropped the suitcase he had been carrying. As for the bride, her face had turned yellow. She stood, frozen at his side, staring into the end of Wilson’s gun.
The two men stood only six feet apart. Wilson, holding the gun on the sheriff, smiled with joy and confidence.
“Tried to sneak up on me,” he said. “Tried to sneak up on me!” His eyes grew more serious. As Potter made a slight movement, the man stuck his revolver forward. “No; don’t you do it, Jack Potter. Don’t you move a finger toward a gun just yet. Don’t you move an eyelash. The time has come for me to settle with you, and I’m goin’ to do it my own way. I’m the boss now, so if you don’t want a bullet in you, just do what I tell you.”
Potter looked at his enemy. “I don’t got a gun on me. Scratchy,” he said. “Honest, I don’t. You know I fight when it comes to fighting, Scratchy Wilson; but I don’t got a gun on me, so you’ll have to do all the shooting yourself.”
Wilson’s face went red. He stepped forward and pushed his weapon into Potter’s chest. “Don’t you tell me you don’t got no gun on you, you skunk. Don’t tell me no lie like that. There isn’t a man in Texas ever seen you without no gun. Don’t take me for a kid.” His eyes burned with light, and his gun shook in his hand.
“I amn’t sayin’ you’re a kid,” answered Potter. His heels had not moved an inch backward. “I’m takin’ you for a damn fool. I tell you I don’t got a gun, and I don’t. If you’re going to shoot me, you’d better begin now; you’ll never get another chance like this.”
Because he was totally confused, Wilson didn’t know what to do. He thought for a moment before asking, “If you don’t got a gun, why don’t you got a gun?” He laughed, “Have you been to Sunday school?”
“I don’t got a gun because I’ve just come from San Antonio with my wife. I’m married.” said Potter. “And if I’d thought there was going to be any skunks like you running around when I brought my wife home. I’d have had a gun, and don’t you forget it.” “Married!” said Scratchy, not at all understanding. “Yes, married. I’m married.” said Potter, clearly. “Married?” said Scratchy. For the first time, he saw the frightened woman at the sheriffs side. “No!” It seemed incredible to Wilson that the sheriff would take a bride. He moved a foot backward, and his arm, with the revolver, dropped to his side. “Is this the lady?” he asked. “Yes,” answered Potter. “Pleased to meet you,” Wilson said shyly. There was another period of silence.
“Well,” said Wilson at last, slowly, “I suppose it’s all off now. I can’t kill a man standing next to his new bride. You coward, Potter! It isn’t fair.”
“It’s all off if you say so, Scratchy. You know I didn’t make the trouble.” Potter picked up the suitcase.
“Well, I guess it’s over. Jack,” said Wilson. He was looking at the ground. “Married!” Because he was not used to the company of married ladies, he felt uncomfortable. “Uh, goodbye, ma’am,” he stammered, now suddenly sober. He picked up his other revolver and placed both weapons in their holsters. He hung his head as he walked away, shuffling along the sandy street.