Hobble-Frank and Aunty Droll’s Grand Entrance
Excerpt from: The Oil Baron
Fateful meeting at Forner’s Rancho …
Two riders came riding along the near bank of the river. They were well mounted. One could have confused them from afar with Old Shatterhand, the famous prairie hunter, and for Winnetou, the just as famous chief of the Apache—if their physiques had been of different shapes. But both were too short for that; one of them was rotund, and the other skinny.
The slender one wore leather leggings with fringes, a fringed leather hunting shirt, and long boots the shafts of which he had pulled up over his knees. On his head sat a felt hat with a very wide brim. The broad belt, which had been woven from a number of individual leather strips, held two revolvers and a bowie knife. He wore a lasso draped from his left shoulder to his right hip, and on a silken string around his neck an Indian peace pipe. Across his back he had slung two guns, a long one and a short one. Old Shatterhand used to dress just like it. The famous hunter also possessed two firearms: The feared Henry rifle, and the world-famous, long, heavy bear killer.
While the skinny, short man seemed to make every effort to deliver a likeness, or image, of Old Shatterhand, the other had gone to a lot of trouble to imitate Winnetou. He wore a white-tanned hunting shirt with Indian embroidery in red. The leggings were fashioned from the same material, and studded with hair along the seams; but it was doubtful that it was human scalp hair. His feet were clad in pearl-decorated moccasins, adorned with porcupine quills. He also carried a peace pipe on a string around his neck, and a leather sac, which was supposed to represent an Indian medicine pouch. The broad belt wound around his fat waist consisted of a Saltillo blanket. The grips of a knife and two revolvers peeked out from it. His head was uncovered; he had grown his hair long and tied it back in a tall chignon. Across his back he carried a double-barrelled gun the wooden parts of which were studded with silver nails—an imitation of the famous silver rifle belonging to the Apache chief Winnetou.
Someone who knew Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, and then spotted the two short men, would have been unable to fend off a smile when comparing the cleanly shaven, good-natured, and somewhat cheeky face of the skinny rider, to the cerebral, imperious features of Old Shatterhand; and the glowing-red, round cheeks, the guileless eyes, and friendly lips of the rotund fellow, to the serious, bronzed face of the Apache!
And yet the two men weren’t individuals who would have given anyone cause to laugh at them. Of course, they possessed certain conspicuous peculiarities, but they were men of honour, gentlemen through and through, and had looked many great and unusual dangers courageously and fearlessly into the eye. In short: The rotund fellow was the well-known Westerner Aunty Droll, and the slim one was his friend and cousin Hobble-Frank.
Their admiration of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou was so great that they dressed like them, which gave them a peculiar appearance, of course. Their outfits were new, and would have cost quite a bit of money; and they had not pinched pennies with regard to their horses, either.
The rancho was their destination, too, and they rode through the gate. When they entered the yard, they attracted a fair amount of attention, the reason being the contrast between their war-like equipment, and their good-natured appearance. They didn’t stand on ceremony, dismounted, gave short greetings, and then sat on two vacant rocks without asking whether or not that bothered anyone.
Forner scrutinized the two arrivals with curious gazes. He was an experienced man, and yet didn’t know what to make of them. The only means to get to the end was to pose questions; hence he enquired:
“Will the gentlemen perhaps wish to eat something?”
“Not now,” Droll replied.
“Later, in that case. How long do you intend to stay here?”
“That depends on the circumstances, if that’s necessary.”
“Are you referring to the local circumstances?”
“I can tell you that you are safe here with me.”
“In other places, too!”
“Do you think so? You probably don’t know yet that the Navajo have raised their war hatchets, do you?”
“We know it.”
“And that the Moqui and Nijora are also in a nervous uprising?”
“And yet you feel safe?”
“And why should we not feel safe, if that’s necessary?”
It is an entirely peculiar, and timeworn understanding that there rarely is a genuine Westerner who has not acquired a particular stock phrase. Sam Hawkens, for example, frequently said: “If I’m not mistaken.” Aunty Droll had adopted the habit of saying: “If that’s necessary.” Often, the phrases were used during occasions in which they seemed utterly ridiculous, and probably also expressed the opposite of what the man had wanted to say. That was the case there, too. That’s why Forner looked at the rotund fellow with some astonishment, but nevertheless continued in all seriousness:
“Do you know these tribes, sir?”
“That does not suffice. One has to be friends with them, and even then it may be possible that one loses one’s scalp if they have decided to wage war on the Whites. If your route leads north, perchance, I’d advice against continuing; things are definitely not trustworthy up there. You seem to be equipped well, but I can see from your outfits that you’re fresh from the East, and that your faces aren’t those of unafraid Westerners.”
“So! That’s very honest. You therefore judge the people by their faces, if that’s necessary?”
“You ought to get out of that habit as soon as you can. One shoots with the gun, and stabs with the knife, but not with one’s face, remember that! Someone can easily have very warlike and fierce features, and yet be a coward.”
“I won’t argue against that; but you, hm. May I perhaps learn what you do, gentlemen?”
“I don’t see why not!”
“Alright; tell me, please!”
“We are…well, we are actually what you would call, men of private means, or gentlemen of leisure.”
“Oh, my! In that case you’ve come west for your pleasure?”
“Of course, we haven’t done so for a heartache!”
“If that’s so, sir, then you ought to immediately turn around; otherwise, you’ll be extinguished here like one blows out a candle. From what you say, I can glean that you have no idea about the dangers that await you in this region, Mr…Mr…what was your name?”
Droll calmly reached into his pocket, pulled out a calling card, and handed it to Forner. The ranchero made a great effort to keep a straight face, and read out aloud:
“Sebastian Melchior Pampel.”
Hobble-Frank had also reached into his pocket to hand a card to him. Forner read:
“Heliogabalus Morpheus Edeward Franke.”
He paused for a moment, and then erupted in laughter:
“But, gents, what peculiar names are they, and what peculiar men are you? Do you perhaps think that the rebellious Indians will run away from your names? I tell you that…”
Rollins, the banker, interrupted him:
“Please, Mr Forner don’t say anything that could insult these gentlemen. Although I don’t have the honour of being personally acquainted with them, I nevertheless know that you must respect them.”
Then, he turned to Hobble-Frank, and continued:
“Sir, your name is so unusual that I committed it to my memory. I am banker Rollins from Brownsville in Arkansas. Was there not a sizeable amount of money deposited in my bank on your behalf?”
“Yes, sir, that’s correct,” Frank nodded. “I entrusted it to a good friend, who was tasked with depositing it with you, because Old Shatterhand described you as trustworthy. Later, I was unable to withdraw it in person, and so I had it sent to New York for me.”
“That’s correct, that’s correct!” Rollins zealously interjected. “Old Shatterhand, yes, yes! At that time you found a large mass of gold up there near Fillmore City, at Silver-Lake, I believe. Isn’t it so, sir?”
“Yes,” Frank merrily laughed. “It was a few thimbles full.”
At that point, Forner jumped off his seat, and exclaimed:
“Thunderstorm! Is that true? Is this possible? You were up there at Silver-Lake?”
“Certainly. And my cousin here was there as well.”
“Truly? The newspapers were full of the extraordinary story. The famous fellows, Old Firehand, Old Shatterhand, and Winnetou were part of it. Then there was Fat Jemmy, Long Davy, Hobble-Frank, and Aunty Droll! In that case you know those men, sir?”
“Of course, I know them. Here sits Aunty Droll, right next to me, if you kindly permit it.”
Frank pointed at his companion, and Droll pointed at him, and explained:
“And here you have our Hobble-Frank, if that’s necessary. Do you still think we’re men who do not know the West yet?”
“Unbelievable, really unbelievable! But that cannot be! Aunty Droll has never been seen wearing anything else than a very peculiar outfit, and everyone always thought she was a lady. And Hobble-Frank wears a blue tailcoat with shiny buttons, and on his head a large feather hat!”
“Must it always be so? Aren’t we permitted to dress any other way? Do you think that a suit is indestructible, and that it can be worn for centuries in the Wild West? As the friends of Old Shatterhand and Winnetou, we now like to dress like those two men. If you don’t believe us, then that’s your problem; we have no objections.”