The Trefoil

The Trefoil


This novel, The Oil Baron, represents the final of my Winnetou translations, stories that were originally written by Karl May between 1875 and 1910; in it, Sam Hawkens and his two friends, Dick Stone and Will Parker make the first chapter their own.

Excerpt from: The Oil Baron

All of a sudden, the noise in front of the liquor hut abated, and everyone gazed at three new arrivals. The exterior of the men justified the perplexed looks of anyone who saw them for the first time. They stopped their animals, jumped out of the saddles, and then headed for one of the empty tables, without paying attention to the company already present, so it seemed.

The one at the front was a short, and fairly stout fellow. Beneath the melancholy drooping brim of a felt hat, the colour, age and shape of which would have caused a headache to the most astute thinker, a nose that could have served a sun dial as its gnomon peeked out from a forest of messy, black-grey beard hair. Because of the mighty beard, and the over-endowed olfactory organ, only the two small, smart eyes were noticeable of the other facial parts. They seemed to have an extraordinary talent for agility, and seemed to inspect the ‘poison hut’ of the Irishman with mischievous astuteness, while the hidden glance was actually meant for the twelve Finders.

His head rested on a body that was invisible down to his knees, because it was cloaked in an old buckskin coat, which had evidently been made for a significantly taller person. The piece had been mended countless times; it consisted of patch upon patch and splotch upon splotch and gave the short man the appearance of a child that had donned his grandfather’s housecoat just for fun. From below the more than ample wrap, two thin, bowed legs in fringed leggings peeked out. The latter were so old that the wearer had no doubt out-grown them decades earlier; they permitted a good look at a pair of Indian boots so large that their wearer could also find room in one of them if need be. His feet were of a dimension that in Germany would elicit the expression: ‘Over the Rhine bridge in five paces.’ In his hand the man held a shooting iron that looked like an old cudgel cut in the forest. The weapons that would be seated in his belt were not visible, because the hunting coat covered them.

And his horse? It was a mule, but evidently old enough for its parents to have lived just after the biblical deluge. The long ears, which it rotated like wind mill blades, were bald; the mane had long since gone; the tail consisted of a naked stump where a few bored strands of hair kept each other company. And the animal was frightfully scrawny. However, its eyes were as bright as those of a young filly, and of a lively expression that would have demanded respect from an expert.

The short fellow’s two companions, who followed him to the table, were no less originals. One of them held his endlessly long, terribly skinny, desiccated body in a stooped posture, so that it seemed there was no other perspective for him than that of his two feet, which were appended to two legs the length of which could shock anyone who looked at them. Over his robust boots he had strapped a couple of leather gaiters that also covered a good part of his thighs; a tight jacket, held together by a wide belt, clothed his body. A knife, as well as a revolver and diverse other necessities were placed in the belt, or suspended from it. A woollen blanket, the threads of which were permitted to unravel in all directions, hung from his shoulders, and on his short-cropped hair sat an item that was neither cloth, nor cap, nor hat—it was impossible to describe. Over one of his shoulders sat the strap of an old, long rifle, which from afar looked like a waterskin attached to a stick.

The third of the men was just as tall and skinny as the stooped one; he had wound a large, dark piece of fabric around his head, like a turban, and across his shoulders had draped a red hussar jacket that somehow had found its way into the Far West. He wore long linen trousers and Wellington boots with huge spurs. Two revolvers, and a knife made from the best Kingfield steel were sitting in his belt; his gun was a double-barrelled Kentucky rifle of the type that never misfires, and never misses a target in the hands of its owner. The man’s conspicuous mouth was the one peculiarity in his physiognomy. The two corners seemed to have a particular fondness for his earlobes, and were approaching them in a most friendly manner. At the same time, his face displayed an expression of honest loyalty; the man was definitely without falsehood.

The short man’s two companions were riding horses, which had obviously experienced many trials and tribulations, yet looked as though they would be able to weather much more adversity in the future.