Claudie's Cosmic Vibrations

A native Texan, DILLON ANDERSON established himself as one of the ablest young lawyers in Houston before he took time off for his fiction. This September has seen the publication of his first book, I and Claudie, a salty Texas narrative of two happy hobos who fortunately do not take themselves or their victims too seriously. Clint Hightower and his oxlike companion, Claudie, have adventured their way in and out of the oil country, Texas politics, hurricanes, revivals, and state fairsand we hope there is no stopping them for some time to come.


THERE is a big brindle depot in Cleveland, Texas, where two railroads cross, the B. & W. and the H. E. & W. T. Now B. & W. stands for Beaumont and Western, while H. E. & W. T. stands for Houston, East and West Texas; but in Cleveland they call the first one the Boll Weevil and the second one Hell Either Way Took.

In one corner of the depot, over next to the black pothellied stove, there is a penny weighing machine that tells your fortune along with your weight — at least there was that morning when I and Claudie drifted into the depot to use the public part of it.

Well, Claudie could no more pass up one of those weighing machines than he could a shooting gallery or a place where they handed out tree samples. So he stepped on the scales, put his penny in the slot, and pulled the silver-looking lever. The machine grunted and coughed out a little card with his weight &emdasg; 196 pounds — stamped on one side and his fortune on the other. From the tight frown on his face as he studied the words, I could tell that Claudie had the throttle wide open; but he finally gave up and passed me the card. It said: —

“If you would prosper you must get in tune with your cosmic vibrations. Stand up for your rights. Be aggressive.”

I do not care a whit about fortunes told in such a cheap, corny way as that; but I figured I would humor Claudie, so I explained his fortune to him. “Cosmic vibrations are about the most important ones of all,” I said. “Understand?”

He said he was beginning to, and I went on: “Also, a man that is aggressive will not miss the main chance. He will step right up.”

He nodded and allowed I ought to get my weight and fortune told while we were at it, but I said, “No, Claudie, I know about my vibrations already. I just play all bunches.

My present hunch was that we should get a move on. We were down to no more than four or five dollars between us, and that meant we were very close to one of us going to work unless something turned up. So we bought some gasoline and a pint of cylinder oil for our old flivver and drove east toward the Louisiana border.

It was a warm April day, and all the signs of spring were thick about us. Birds were singing, clean little flowers in several pale colors were growing along the side of the road, and the dogwood blooms in the woods seemed like white velvet.

As we drove along, Claudie kept throwing his shoulders back and slicking his chin forward like a man standing up for his rights. He was doing the part of his fortune that he’d understood all by himself. I found I was feeling pretty good, too, breathing scents of new buds and wild onions. We rode on in happy silence until, just as we were passing a side road marked by a sign that said “BURDENVILLE 5 Miles,” Claudie yelled, “That’s it; that’s the name of the town.” He pulled the emergency and we stopped in a cloud of dust.

“What the hell’s up?” I asked. “You’ve wrecked some of the finest thoughts I’ve had all morning.”

“Burdenville,” Claudie went on. “It’s the name of the town I’ve been trying to remember ever since we come to Texas. It’s where Cousin Lafe Brim lives. He’s my rich Texas kinfolks. We’ll go visit Lafe.” As he said this he backed up and turned into the side road toward Burdenville. He didn’t even wait for me to agree.

It was a very poor road, sandy, crooked, and rutted, but we made it. Just as the one o’clock whistle on the sawmill was blowing, we pulled into Burdenville and saw that it wasn’t much of a town at that. Claudie wanted to rush right out and find Lafe. “No, Claudie,” I said. “That is hardly the way to go about it.”

“Why not?” he wanted to know, and I told him: “There is more to the art of visiting kinfolks than you’d think, Claudie. You don’t just throw yourself at kinfolks. That’s the way poor relations would do, and poor relations are poison. You’ve got to make kinfolks wonder if you haven’t maybe done better than they thought. Let them suspect you might die first and leave them something. Kinfolks in such a frame of mind will kill the fatted calf for you.”

Claudie gave in on this, but said he was bothered some about the way our old car would look to Lafe. I told him to forget it. “It’s exactly the kind of car that a thrifty relative would be driving so he could hoard up his money,” I explained.

“I guess so,” Claudie allowed. “But what do we do next?

“In the first place,” I told him, “you can’t let Lafe see you with that hungry look on your face.” Claudie always looks hungry except right after he’s eaten.

“But we’re down to about four dollars, Clint,” he argued. “ We can’t let ourselves run plumb out.”

“Okay. But I think we can do a lot for about thirty cents. Look right there across the street,” I said and pointed to a sign that read: “STEVE STEWART’S CAFÉ — Chili 15 Cents.” We went in and asked for two chilis with crackers.


THE noon hour was over, and we didn’t see anybody in the café but the fellow behind the counter that took our order. He was a big, heavy-set citizen with a fat face and droopy eyes. He quit picking his teeth and yelled “Medium twice” as he started walking back toward the rear of the café. By the time he got there, a big hand stuck two bowls of chili through a hole in the wall, and Steve slid them down the counter toward us.

The crackers were in a round blue bowl in front of us, and we went to work on the chili. After we’d eaten about half our chilis and all the crackers, I asked Steve for more crackers and some tomato ketchup. “Please,” I said. His face clouded up a little, but he dipped the cracker bowl into a barrel under the counter and set it out again, full. Then he went back and opened a ketchup bottle that he slid down the counter until it came to a stop right in front of us.

I filled my chili bowl with ketchup, and so did Claudie. It took the whole bottle, and I could see Steve watching us out of the corner of his eye. By this time he wasn’t picking his teeth any more. He was gouging himself with the toothpick.

When our chili bowls were half empty again and the crackers were all gone, I spoke to Steve and asked for some more ketchup and crackers — in a nice way, too.

‟Oh, no, you don’t,” Steve said. “Not today. You’ve done et a quarter’s worth of crackers, and that ketchup costs me twenty-three cents a bottle wholesale. What the devil do you fellers expect with two fifteen-cent bowls of chili?”

“Crackers and ketchup,” I answered. “Do you furnish them with chili or not?”

“Yes, but —” Steve started.

“All right, then,” I went on; “please pass the crackers and ketchup.”

By this time Steve was right across the counter from us, with his hands on his hips and his legs spread apart. He stood just like a man that was not going to pass us anything else,

“Kindly remember, Steve,” I said, “we have not paid you yet. Please pass the things that go with chili.”

Steve said he’d see that we paid, all right, and I said we would stand up for our rights. This seemed to ring a bell with Claudie, and he stood up, threw his shoulders back, and stuck his chin out at Steve. But there was something about Claudie, with his face hanging there over the counter, that Steve couldn’t stand, and he let Claudie have it on the point of his chin. That was about the worst thing Steve could have done, because it caught Claudie right in the middle of standing up for his rights, and it fretted him.

He reeled and staggered back from Steve’s lick, then he reached for Steve’s collar. It was loose enough for Claudie to get his left hand inside the front of it, so he pulled Steve forward and bent him clear over the counter. Then, with his right hand, Claudie slapped Steve’s face five or six times until Steve sagged and yelled, ‟Sonny, Sonny, come here! Help!”

A big fat boy about eighteen or nineteen came running through a swinging door in the back of the café and made for us. Claudie turned Steve loose and got ready for Sonny. While Steve panted and rubbed his face, Claudie and Sonny squared off. Sonny put his fists up before his face and started to weave and shadowbox. I could see he’d fought before, but he didn’t have time to go far into his act before Claudie grabbed him by the shoulders and started to shake him. He was very rough about it, like a terrier will shake a rat, and pretty soon Sonny’s tongue was hanging out; his face turned fire-engine red, and he was down on his knees. It all happened before I had a chance to hit anybody.

Steve and Sonny were done; they’d had enough, I could tell, so I put fifteen cents on the counter. “This is for half of two chilis,” I said to Steve. “The other half of both chilis is there in the bowls.” Then I and Claudie walked out and let the screen door to Steve’s café slam hard.

“Come on now, Claudie,” I said, “let’s find the hotel before we go to see Lafe. A relative that is registered in a hotel looks a damn sight better than one with a wicker suitcase at the front gate.”

Claudie was ready. Also, he was a little ruffled from the fight and in need of sprucing himself up before meeting any kinfolks. It cost us a dollar apiece in advance for a room at the Ritz Hotel, a painted two-story affair across the street from the railroad freight station. The room clerk that was also the depot agent came over and took our money; he told us that Lafe Brim lived a mile or so out of town on the road we’d just come over. Then he went back across the street to his other job.

We washed up and shaved and got into the cleanest clothes we had, but Claudie fussed some about the two dollars.

“It’s like bread, Claudie,” I kept telling him, “that’s been cast upon the water. It’ll come back in sandwiches, and maybe dessert with whipped cream.”

Claudie laced his shoes all the way up and said he was ready to go. In fact, he was in such a hurry that we left our razor, hair oil, comb, our other clothes, and about everything we owned in the world, except the car, scattered around that room at the Ritz Hotel.


LAFE BRIM’S house was paint ed yellow, and it had two chimneys, one at each end. Several big cedar and magnolia trees shaded the front porch. The fences around the place were all up, the hay was stacked in even ricks, and the stock in the pasture looked fat and well-fed. From these signs and the big barn in the rear I could tell that a visit with Lafe would be worth while if we handled it right.

We waited outside the yard gate until a colored man came from behind the house and called the dogs oft. Then Lafe came up from the barn and Claudie recognized him. “Hello, Lafe; it’s me, your Cousin Claudie,” he yelled.

“Hello, Claudie,” he said. At first Lafe did not seem to be as joyful as Claudie was, but when I let it drop that we were staying at the Ritz Hotel in Burdenville, Lafe asked us if we wouldn’t like to come in and have a bite to eat; he thought there would be some cheese and crackers for us. I told him no, thanks, we’d just eaten our fill and weren’t much hungry. This made a big hit with Lafe, and he urged us to kindly come into the parlor so we could meet the missus.

As we went into the house I thought I did not know when I had seen such a scrawny-looking man as Claudie’s Cousin Lafe — living there on a place, too, where the stock seemed so well-fed. Lafe wouldn’t have weighed over 115 pounds wringing wet, his face was thin and gaunt, and his eyes were no bigger than green peas. About the same color, too.

Lafe’s wife, Eunice, would have made three of him, anyhow. She was built like four pillows, and it seemed she was the one that owned the place where they lived. It had belonged to Enman, her first husband, Eunice let us know pretty soon; and after he’d wasted away and died, she’d married Lafe. She brought us some lemonade in the parlor and showed us several pictures of this first husband of hers. She went on to tell us the whole story of how she’d waited on Enman day and night for nearly five years while he was losing weight and getting weaker before he finally passed on to his reward. Then she pointed out that Lafe, himself, had lost twenty-two pounds in the three years he’d been married to her. Lafe nodded his head in very solemn agreement.

Eunice spoke next, with feeling and pride, I thought, about how sick one of the neighbors was that very afternoon. ‟She is very low,” Eunice stated, “and if you ask me, she will not last through the night.” Nobody asked anybody anything, but Eunice added that as soon as the milk was put away she was going down the road to sit at the sick bedside all night long.

It was about sundown when the colored man came up to the house with the night’s milking — two big foamy pails. Eunice went back to strain the milk, and Lafe asked us if we could stay to supper. I agreed that we would stay to eat and keep him company; so when Eunice came in to tell us good-by, Lafe told her that I and Claudie would stay to have a bite of cheese and crackers with him. At this second mention of cheese and crackers, Claudie looked like a man that had lost his last coon dog. I knew his mind was wandering back to the two dollars we’d wasted at the Ritz Hotel.

Now I have seen big changes come over people in my time, like when they get religion or snakebit; but I never saw anything before to match what happened to Claudie’s Cousin Lafe as soon as Eunice left for the night. Lafe’s hospitality boiled over. First he brought out a brown jug full of strong red whiskey and gave us each a big swig. Then he look one himself, blew out a big breath, smacked his lips, and actually seemed to gain ten or fifteen pounds in weight. Lafe stated that his mention of cheese and crackers had been only for Eunice’s ears, There was a cold roast in the oven, he told us, and we’d divide it three ways as soon as we gave the liquor a better chance to whet up our appetites. While Lafe was gone to get some water to wash the next drink down with, I spoke to Claudie. “See what I mean?” I said. “With your kinfolks we are now right in the groove.”

Lafe had no sooner come back with the pitcher of water than the phone on the wall started ringing fast and fierce. It jangled out a short, a long and three shorts, and Lafe jumped for it. “That’s our ring,” he said.

After he’d said hello, Lafe listened for a long time and then said, “Well, I’ll be durned. The Kommanding Kleagle himself.” He listened some more and went on, “Why, the dirty bastards! They must not have known that Steve was the Ku Klux Kleagle or that Sonny was Kleagle of the Ku Klux Kubs.”

The rest of what Lafe said came in a blur until I heard him hang up. But his last words rang in my ears. “Sure; eight o’clock in front of the Ritz.”

Lafe turned back to us and his eyes were all ablaze. He looked as if he’d gained another eight or ten pounds.

“I’ve got to go to a meeting,” he said. “I’ve got to be at the Ku Klux Klan meeting at eight,” he went on. “Two tramps come to Burdenville today and beat up the Kommanding Kleagle of the Klan, Steve Stewart. Right in his own place of business, too. Then they beat up his boy, Sonny. We’re gonna tar and feather them both and ride them out of town on a rail.”

As I watched Claudie’s face go blinky, I found the mixed taste of chili and crackers and whiskey boil up in the back of my mouth; then I heard Lafe saying, “It’ll be a lot of fun. You fellers want to come along?” Claudie sat there squirming like a catfish as Lafe went on: “I’ve got a spare hood here in the chifforobe, and there’s another one upstairs. It used to belong to Enman. There are plenty of sheets around here, too.”

“When do we suit up?” I asked, quick as lightning, and Lafe’s answer was to run upstairs to get Enman’s hood.

As soon as Lafe was gone, Claudie jumped out of his chair and said, “That’s us they’re after, Clint. Let’s get out of here; let’s beat it.”

“Wait a minute, Claudie; hold it. I know it’s us they’re after, but you’re way out of tune with your cosmic vibrations. Where could we be safer than in a hood?”

Before Claudie could think up an answer, Lafe was back with the dead man’s hood. It was a nice fit for Claudie, but it took him a few minutes to get used to it. We found that Lafe’s own spare hood was a perfect fit for me, and since sheets will fit anybody, we were soon macked out for the night. Then, just before we took off, I said, “Do you suppose we have time for one more swig from that jug before we go, Lafe? I believe Claudie needs it.” Lafe looked at the clock on the mantel and said we had just about enough time.


BY the time we got to town, we could see the big fiery cross in the middle of the street that ran between the railroad station and the Ritz Hotel. Fifty or sixty sheets were gathered there, and others were coming up from all sides. As we joined the crowd we saw a three-legged washpot there beside the fiery cross. It was full of tar, and it had live coals of fire under it so the tar wouldn’t get too sticky. Alongside was a duckin sack they said was full of goose and guinea feathers.

Pretty soon one of the sheets climbed up in the rear end of a touring car and started talking. It was Steve Stewart, the Kleagle, all right; I could tell his was the same voice as the one that had lost the argument with us about the tomato ketchup that afternoon. First he was saying something about the sacred unfailing bond of the Ku Klux Klan, and next he was saying some very mean things about me and Claudie — mainly about Claudie. I nudged Claudie and started to ask him to hold his temper, but it was not Claudie I nudged. I stopped myself just in time, though; then I looked everywhere for him. But they all looked big, and they all looked so much alike that I knew I had lost Claudie. Made me feel right lonesome for a minute.

“The tramps are in Room No. 3 on the second floor,” I heard the Kleagle say, and I knew he had that part right. “That brings us,” he went on, “to the business part of the meeting.” The time had come, the Kleagle pointed out, for somebody to go inside and bring the tramps out.

Everything got graveyard quiet at that statement, and I could hear the crackle of the flames on the fiery cross that the Kleagle was holding up above his head. A heavy voice from one of the sheets said, “Why don’t you go in, Steve?” but Steve answered that that was no part of the job for the Kleagle himself. Then he called for silence and said, “Once more, in the sacred, unfailing bond, is there nobody who is going to step inside and bring them tramps out?”

About this time two sheets moved, one from way over to the left, and the other from somewhere in the center of the crowd. They came together below the fiery cross at about the same time, and the Kleagle picked out the biggest one to go on this mission for the Klan. He thanked the sheet he hadn’t picked, while the other went in. I felt sure that I and Claudie were the only ones that night that knew what the report would be — I mean about the tramps being gone. And when the Kleagle got the report, he really lost his temper. He said, by God we’d wait until the tramps came back. So, while we waited I tried again to find Claudie, but still it was no use. One sheet that I thought was Claudie was not; it was a fellow that took me for his brother. He spoke of a Jersey cow he wanted bred to my registered bull. “Any time,” I said and moved away as fast as a man in a sheet can move.

I don’t know how long we’d have waited if the hotel clerk hadn’t come across the street from his depot job and told the Kleagle that the tramps had left the Ritz that afternoon to go to Lafe Brim’s place. Bight away a lot of loud talk ripped and snorted through the crowd. The Kleagle spoke up about running the tramps down at Lafe’s place and showed he was a real leader; he stated that we would run them down at Lafe’s place. He pointed out there was a short cut; we could follow the railroad track and go through the back gate to Lafe’s pasture if Lafe would go in the lead to show us the way. That way, the Kleagle said, we should slip up on the tramps from the rear. At this, the sheet with Lafe in it went forward and said, “Okay, Steve, let’s go,” so the Kleagle handed him the fiery cross and we took off.

As we marched single file down the railroad track, I turned my mind on Lafe. I figured he was bound to know by that time what I and Claudie knew. But whose side was Lafe on? Blood, I calculated, was thicker than water, but who knew how it would stack up against hot tar and feathers with the whole Burdenville Chapter of the Ku Klux Klan thrown in on the side of water? I didn’t know the answer to this, but one thing was clear: I belonged as close to the head of the line with Claudie’s Cousin Lafe as I could get. The closer I got, the fewer sheets there’d be between me and Lafe’s place where our car was. So I scrambled ahead along the rough, uneven ballast on the sides of the railroad track; and when we passed a siding where there was more room, I moved ahead until I was right behind Lafe. By this time the fiery cross had burned plumb out, and my eyes were getting used to the pitchdark.

When we got to the turning-off place Lafe yelled back and started down the dump. I was right alongside him as he walked through the muddy burrow pit to the wire gap that led into his pasture. Ahead I could barely see the outline of a little clump of trees and, beyond, Lafe’s big barn.

Lafe said he had the cross on his hands and needed some help with the barbed-wire gap. I tried it, but it was too tight a gap for a man of my weight, so, while the rest came toward us from the railroad track, another sheet came up and opened the gap fast. “Ouch! Durn that barbed wire,” the other sheet said, and it was Claudie. It made me downright proud of him — a man that I’d seen baffled by many a loose, easy gap in broad-open daylight.

“Claudie,” I said in a low voice, “it’s me, Clint. Let’s stay right behind Lafe and we might be able to make a break for the car. ”

“Not,” Lafe cut in, “until after you fellers get beyond that elm mott there ahead of us. It’s pretty thick. Let me go first and show you the way through it.” I thought I’d never heard even my own kinfolks sound so good as Lafe did.

Next we were in the pitch-dark of the narrow path that led through the trees, and the only noise was the clump, clump of all the sheets walking along behind us. The black muggy air was crammed and jammed with the heavy vibration of something about to happen; then the still scary corner of the world in the elm mott blew up. It exploded!

I am sure that no lions and tigers fighting over a carcass in Africa ever raised a ruckus so fierce or furious as the one that boiled up in the mott. Roars and growls and screams cut through the night-quiet like a thousand dull saws on a knotty log, and the sheets shot out in all directions. People ran into trees, they ran into each other, and they ran right out of the sheets. But they all got away, and in a few minutes nothing was left but empty sheets on the trees and along the barbed wire around Lafe’s pasture.

When I ran, I ran toward Lafe’s house where our car was parked. Claudie was there beside the car, and he was out of his sheet. Lafe was standing there, too, and he was about the calmest man in his talk I’d ever heard. He said, “I’d plumb forgot about Samantha, the old brood sow. She had a big litter down in the mott night before last, and you know how fractious a sow with a young litter can be. You fellers like a little drink?”

“No, Lafe, I believe not,” I told him as I stepped on the starter. “I and Claudie better move along, I expect. It’s getting a little late.”

When we got to the Cleveland road where we’d turned off that morning I spoke to Claudie in a very serious way. “Claudie,” I said, “we’d better travel as far tonight as our gasoline will take us. We haven’t lost a thing in Burdenville. Except what we left at the Rilz,” I added. “But we can’t go back.” Then I saw that Claudie had something in his hand. It was our razor. He dug around some more in his clothes, and I soon saw that he had on, or in his pockets, everything we’d left at the Ritz Hotel.

“Remember, Clint,” Claudie said, “the card said, ‘Be aggressive.’ You told me that meant ‘Step right up,’ and that’s what I done when the Kleagle wanted somebody to go to our room.”

“What I don’t understand,” I said, “is why the Kleagle picked you instead of the other sheet that Stepped right up at the same time. Wonder who that was.”

Claudie chuckled, “You can’t fool me, Clint. I knowed you was the other one.”

It made me almost sorry I hadn’t been, but something big and fine rose up in me the way it always does in a pinch. I couldn’t let him down, so I said, “You are a hard man to fool, Claudie.”