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James Whitcomb Riley's "The Champion Checker-Player of Ameriky"

The following is the complete text of James Whitcomb Riley's "The Champion Checker-Player of Ameriky." Our presentation of this classic short story comes from The Wit and Humor of America: Vol. I (1911). The various books, short stories and poems we offer are presented free of charge with absolutely no advertising as a public service from Internet Accuracy Project.

Visit these other works by James Whitcomb Riley
"The Bear Story"
"Chairley Burke's in Town"
"A Child's Home Long Ago"
"Christine Braibry"
A Large Collection of his Short Poems
"Das Krist Kindel"
"Dead Selves"
"Doc Sifers"
"Dot Leedle Boy"
"Down to the Capital"
"Erasmus Wilson"
"Ezra House"
"Farmer Whipple--Bachelor"
"Grandfather Squeers"
"He Called Her In"
"The Hoosier Folk-Child"
"How John Quit the Farm"
"Jack the Giant-Killer"
"Kingry's Mill"
"Last Christmas Was a Year Ago"
"Little Johnts's Chris'mus"
"Little Mandy's Christmas Tree"

"Maymie's Story of Red Riding-Hood"
"Mr. What's-His-Name"
"My Philosofy"
"Mylo Jones's Wife"
"A Nest-Egg"
"A New Year's Time at Willards's"
"Old John Clevenger on Buckeyes"
"An Old Sweetheart"
"The Old Swimmin'-Hole"
"On the Banks o' Deer Crick"
"The Pathos of Applause"
Poems from "Rhymes of Childhood"
"The Preacher's Boy"
"Regardin' Terry Hut"
"The Rossville Lecture Course"
"The Runaway Boy"
"That-Air Young-Un"
"This Man Jones"
"Thoughts fer the Discuraged Farmer"
"To My Old Friend, William Leachman"
"Tradin' Joe"
"What Chris'mas Fetched the Wigginses"

To see all available titles by other authors, drop by our index of free books alphabetized by author or arranged alphabetically by title.

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NOTE: We try to present these classic literary works as they originally appeared in print. As such, they sometimes contain adult themes, offensive language, typographical errors, and often utilize unconventional, older, obsolete or intentionally incorrect spelling and/or punctuation conventions.

"The Champion Checker-Player of Ameriky" by James Whitcomb Riley



Of course as fur as Checker-playin's concerned, you can't jest adzackly claim 'at lots makes fortunes and lots gits bu'sted at it--but still, it's on'y simple jestice to acknowledge 'at there're absolute p'ints in the game 'at takes scientific principles to figger out, and a mighty level-headed feller to dimonstrate, don't you understand!

Checkers is a' old enough game, ef age is any rickommendation; and it's a' evident fact, too, 'at "the tooth of time," as the feller says, which fer the last six thousand years has gained some reputation fer a-eatin' up things in giner'l, don't 'pear to 'a' gnawed much of a hole in Checkers--jedgin' from the checker-board of to-day and the ones 'at they're uccasionally shovellin' out at Pomp'y-i, er whatever its name is. Turned up a checker-board there not long ago, I wuz readin' 'bout, 'at still had the spots on--as plain and fresh as the modern white-pine board o' our'n, squared off with pencil-marks and pokeberry-juice. These is facts 'at history herself has dug out, and of course it ain't fer me ner you to turn our nose up at Checkers, whuther we ever tamper with the fool-game er not. Fur's that's concerned, I don't p'tend to be no checker-player myse'f,--but I know'd a feller onc't 'at could play, and sorto' made a business of it; and that man, in my opinion, was a geenyus! Name wuz Wesley Cotterl--John Wesley Cotterl--jest plain Wes, as us fellers round the Shoe-Shop ust to call him; ust to allus make the Shoe-Shop his headquarters-like; and, rain er shine, wet er dry, you'd allus find Wes on hands, ready to banter some feller fer a game, er jest a-settin' humped up there over the checker-board all alone, a-cipher'n' out some new move er 'nuther, and whistlin' low and solem' to hisse'f-like and a-payin' no attention to nobody.

And I'll tell you, Wes Cotterl wuz no man's fool, as sly as you keep it! He wuz a deep thinker, Wes wuz; and ef he'd 'a' jest turned that mind o' his loose on preachin', fer instunce, and the 'terpertation o' the Bible, don't you know, Wes 'ud 'a' worked p'ints out o' there 'at no livin' expounderers ever got in gunshot of!

But Wes he didn't 'pear to be cut out fer nothin' much but jest Checker-playin'. Oh, of course, he could knock round his own woodpile some, and garden a little, more er less; and the neighbers ust to find Wes purty handy 'bout trimmin' fruit-trees, you understand, and workin' in among the worms and cattapillers in the vines and shrubbery, and the like. And handlin' bees!--They wuzn't no man under the heavens 'at knowed more 'bout handlin' bees'n Wes Cotterl!--"Settlin'" the blame' things when they wuz a-swarmin'; and a-robbin' hives, and all sich fool-resks. W'y, I've saw Wes Cotterl, 'fore now, when a swarm of bees 'ud settle in a' orchard,--like they will sometimes, you know,--I've saw Wes Cotterl jest roll up his shirt-sleeves and bend down a' apple tree limb 'at wuz jest kivvered with the pesky things, and scrape 'em back into the hive with his naked hands, by the quart and gallon, and never git a scratch! You couldn't hire a bee to sting Wes Cotterl! But lazy?--I think that man had railly ort to 'a' been a' Injun! He wuz the fust and on'y man 'at ever I laid eyes on 'at wuz too lazy to drap a checker-man to p'int out the right road fer a feller 'at ast him onc't the way to Burke's Mill; and Wes, 'ithout ever a-liftin' eye er finger, jest sorto' crooked out that mouth o' his'n in the direction the feller wanted, and says: "H-yonder!" and went on with his whistlin'. But all this hain't Checkers, and that's what I started out to tell ye.

Wes had a way o' jest natchurly a-cleanin' out anybody and ever'body 'at 'ud he'p hold up a checker-board! Wes wuzn't what you'd call a lively player at all, ner a competiter 'at talked much 'crost the board er made much furse over a game whilse he wuz a-playin'. He had his faults, o' course, and would take back moves 'casion'ly, er inch up on you ef you didn't watch him, mebby. But, as a rule, Wes had the insight to grasp the idy of whoever wuz a-playin' ag'in' him, and his style o' game, you understand, and wuz on the lookout continual'; and under sich circumstances could play as honest a game o' Checkers as the babe unborn.

One thing in Wes's favor allus wuz the feller's temper.--Nothin' 'peared to aggervate Wes, and nothin' on earth could break his slow and lazy way o' takin' his own time fer ever'thing. You jest couldn't crowd Wes er git him rattled anyway.--Jest 'peared to have one fixed principle, and that wuz to take plenty o' time, and never make no move 'ithout a-ciphern'n' ahead on the prob'ble consequences, don't you understand! "Be shore you're right," Wes 'ud say, a-lettin' up fer a second on that low and sorry-like little wind-through-the-keyhole whistle o' his, and a-nosin' out a place whur he could swap one man fer two.--"Be shore you're right"--and somep'n' after this style wuz Wes's way: "Be shore you're right"--(whistling a long, lonesome bar of "Barbara Allen")--"and then"--(another long, retarded bar)--"go ahead!"--and by the time the feller 'ud git through with his whistlin', and a-stoppin' and a-startin' in ag'in, he'd be about three men ahead to your one. And then he'd jest go on with his whistlin' 'sef nothin' had happened, and mebby you a-jest a-rearin' and a-callin' him all the mean, outlandish, ornry names 'at you could lay tongue to.

But Wes's good nature, I reckon, was the thing 'at he'ped him out as much as any other p'ints the feller had. And Wes 'ud allus win, in the long run!--I don't keer who played ag'inst him! It was on'y a question o' time with Wes o' waxin' it to the best of 'em. Lots o' players has tackled Wes, and right at the start 'ud mebby give him trouble,--but in the long run, now mind ye--in the long run, no mortal man, I reckon, had any business o' rubbin' knees with Wes Cotterl under no airthly checker-board in all this vale o' tears!

I mind onc't th' come along a high-toned feller from in around In'i'nop'lus somers.--Wuz a lawyer, er some p'fessional kind o' man. Had a big yaller, luther-kivvered book under his arm, and a bunch o' these-'ere big envelop's and a lot o' suppeenies stickin' out o' his breastpocket. Mighty slick-lookin' feller he wuz; wore a stovepipe hat, sorto' set 'way back on his head--so's to show off his Giner'l Jackson forr'ed, don't you know! Well-sir, this feller struck the place, on some business er other, and then missed the hack 'at ort to 'a' tuk him out o' here sooner'n it did take him out!--And whilse he wuz a-loafin' round, sorto' lonesome--like a feller allus is in a strange place, you know--he kindo' drapped in on our crowd at the Shoe-Shop, ostenchably to git a boot-strop stitched on, but I knowed, the minute he set foot in the door, 'at that feller wanted comp'ny wuss'n cobblin'.

Well, as good luck would have it, there set Wes, as usual, with the checker-board in his lap, a-playin' all by hisse'f, and a-whistlin' so low and solem'-like and sad it railly made the crowd seem like a religious getherun' o' some kind er other, we wuz all so quiet and still-like, as the man come in.

Well, the stranger stated his business, set down, tuk off his boot, and set there nussin' his foot and talkin' weather fer ten minutes, I reckon, 'fore he ever 'peared to notice Wes at all. We wuz all back'ard, anyhow, 'bout talkin' much; besides, we knowed, long afore he come in, all about how hot the weather wuz, and the pore chance there wuz o' rain, and all that; and so the subject had purty well died out, when jest then the feller's eyes struck Wes and the checker-board,--and I'll never fergit the warm, salvation smile 'at flashed over him at the promisin' discovery. "What!" says he, a-grinnin' like a' angel and a-edgin' his cheer to'rds Wes, "have we a checker-board and checkers here?"

"We hev," says I, knowin' 'at Wes wouldn't let go o' that whistle long enough to answer--more'n to mebby nod his head.

"And who is your best player?" says the feller, kindo' pitiful-like, with another inquirin' look at Wes.

"Him," says I, a-pokin' Wes with a peg-float. But Wes on'y spit kindo' absent-like, and went on with his whistlin'.

"Much of a player, is he?" says the feller, with a sorto' doubtful smile at Wes ag'in.

"Plays a purty good hick'ry," says I, a-pokin' Wes ag'in. "Wes," says I, "here's a gentleman 'at 'ud mebby like to take a hand with you there, and give you a few idys," says I.

"Yes," says the stranger, eager-like, a-settin' his plug-hat keerful' up in the empty shelvin', and a-rubbin' his hands and smilin' as confident-like as old Hoyle hisse'f,--"Yes, indeed, I'd be glad to give the gentleman" (meanin' Wes) "a' idy er two about Checkers--ef he'd jest as lief,--'cause I reckon ef there're any one thing 'at I do know more about 'an another, it's Checkers," says he; "and there're no game 'at delights me more--pervidin', o' course, I find a competiter 'at kin make it anyways interestin'."

"Got much of a rickord on Checkers?" says I.

"Well," says the feller, "I don't like to brag, but I've never ben beat--in any legitimut contest," says he, "and I've played more'n one o' them," he says, "here and there round the country. Of course, your friend here," he went on, smilin' sociable at Wes, "he'll take it all in good part ef I should happen to lead him a little--jest as I'd do," he says, "ef it wuz possible fer him to lead me."

"Wes," says I, "has warmed the wax in the yeers of some mighty good checker-players," says I, as he squared the board around, still a-whistlin' to hisse'f-like, as the stranger tuk his place, a-smilin'-like and roachin' back his hair.

"Move," says Wes.

"No," says the feller, with a polite flourish of his hand; "the first move shall be your'n." And, by jucks! fer all he wouldn't take even the advantage of a starter, he flaxed it to Wes the fust game in less'n fifteen minutes.

"Right shore you've give' me your best player?" he says, smilin' round at the crowd, as Wes set squarin' the board fer another game and whistlin' as onconcerned-like as ef nothin' had happened more'n ordinary.

"'S your move," says Wes, a-squintin' out into the game 'bout forty foot from shore, and a-whistlin' purt' nigh in a whisper.

Well-sir, it 'peared-like the feller railly didn't try to play; and you could see, too, 'at Wes knowed he'd about met his match, and played accordin'. He didn't make no move at all 'at he didn't give keerful thought to; whilse the feller--! well, as I wuz sayin', it jest 'peared-like Checkers wuz child's-play fer him! Putt in most o' the time 'long through the game a-sayin' things calkilated to kindo' bore a' ordinary man. But Wes helt hisse'f purty level, and didn't show no signs, and kep' up his whistlin', mighty well--considerin'.

"Reckon you play the fiddle, too, as well as Checkers?" says the feller, laughin', as Wes come a-whistlin' out of the little end of the second game and went on a-fixin' fer the next round.

"'S my move!" says Wes, 'thout seemin' to notice the feller's tantalizin' words whatsomever.

"'L! this time," thinks I, "Mr. Smarty from the metrolopin deestricts, you're liable to git waxed--shore!" But the feller didn't 'pear to think so at all, and played right ahead as glib-like and keerless as ever--'casion'ly a-throwin' in them sircastic remarks o' his'n,--'bout bein' "slow and shore" 'bout things in gineral--"Liked to see that," he said:--"Liked to see fellers do things with plenty o' deliberation, and even ef a feller wuzn't much of a checker-player, liked to see him die slow anyhow!--and then 'tend his own funeral," he says,--"and march in the p'session--to his own music," says he.--And jest then his remarks wuz brung to a close by Wes a-jumpin' two men, and a-lightin' square in the king-row.... "Crown that," says Wes, a-droppin' back into his old tune. And fer the rest o'that game Wes helt the feller purty level, but had to finally knock under--but by jest the clos'test kind o' shave o' winnin'.

"They ain't much use," says the feller, "o' keepin' this thing up--'less I could manage, some way er other, to git beat onc't 'n a while!"

"Move," says Wes, a-drappin' back into the same old whistle and a-settlin' there.

"'Music has charms,' as the Good Book tells us," says the feller, kindo' nervous-like, and a-roachin' his hair back as ef some sort o' p'tracted headache wuz a-settin' in.

"Never wuz 'skunked,' wuz ye?" says Wes, kindo' suddent-like, with a fur-off look in them big white eyes o' his--and then a-whistlin' right on 'sef he hadn't said nothin'.

"Not much!" says the feller, sorto' s'prised-like, as ef such a' idy as that had never struck him afore.--"Never was 'skunked' myse'f: but I've saw fellers in my time 'at wuz!" says he.

But from that time on I noticed the feller 'peared to play more keerful, and railly la'nched into the game with somepin' like inter'st. Wes he seemed to be jest a-limber-in'-up-like; and-sir, blame me! ef he didn't walk the feller's log fer him that time, 'thout no 'pearent trouble at all!

"And, now," says Wes, all quiet-like, a-squarin' the board fer another'n,--"we're kindo' gittin' at things right. Move." And away went that little unconcerned whistle o' his ag'in, and Mr. Cityman jest gittin' white and sweaty too--he wuz so nervous. Ner he didn't 'pear to find much to laugh at in the next game--ner the next two games nuther! Things wuz a-gettin' mighty interestin' 'bout them times, and I guess the feller wuz ser'ous-like a-wakin' up to the solem' fact 'at it tuk 'bout all his spare time to keep up his end o' the row, and even that state o' pore satisfaction wuz a-creepin' furder and furder away from him ever' new turn he undertook. Whilse Wes jest peared to git more deliber't' and certain ever' game; and that unendin' se'f-satisfied and comfortin' little whistle o' his never drapped a stitch, but toed out ever' game alike,--to'rds the last, and, fer the most part, disasterss to the feller 'at had started in with sich confidence and actchul promise, don't you know.

Well-sir, the feller stuck the whole forenoon out, and then the afternoon; and then knuckled down to it 'way into the night--yes, and plum midnight!--And he buckled into the thing bright and airly next morning! And-sir, fer two long days and nights, a-hardly a-stoppin' long enough to eat, the feller stuck it out,--and Wes a-jest a-warpin' it to him hand-over-fist, and leavin' him furder behind, ever' game!--till finally, to'rds the last, the feller got so blamedon worked up and excited-like, he jes' 'peared actchully purt' nigh plum crazy and histurical as a woman!

It was a-gittin' late into the shank of the second day, and the boys hed jest lit a candle fer 'em to finish out one of the clost'est games the feller'd played Wes fer some time. But Wes wuz jest as cool and ca'm as ever, and still a-whistlin' consolin' to hisse'f-like, whilse the feller jest 'peared wore out and ready to drap right in his tracks any minute.

"Durn you!" he snarled out at Wes, "hain't you never goern to move?" And there set Wes, a-balancin' a checker-man above the board, a-studyin' whur to set it, and a-fillin' in the time with that-air whistle.

"Flames and flashes!" says the feller ag'in, "will you ever stop that death-seducin' tune o' your'n long enough to move?"--And as Wes deliber't'ly set his man down whur the feller see he'd haf to jump it and lose two men and a king, Wes wuz a-singin', low and sad-like, as ef all to hisse'f:

"O we'll move that man, and leave him there.--
Fer the love of B-a-r-b--bry Al-len!"

Well-sir! the feller jest jumped to his feet, upset the board, and tore out o' the shop stark-starin' crazy--blame ef he wuzn't!--'cause some of us putt out after him and overtook him 'way beyent the 'pike-bridge, and hollered to him;--and he shuk his fist at us and hollered back and says, says he: "Ef you fellers over here," says he, "'ll agree to muzzle that durn checker-player o' your'n, I'll bet fifteen hunderd dollars to fifteen cents 'at I kin beat him 'leven games out of ever' dozent!--But there're no money," he says, "'at kin hire me to play him ag'in, on this aboundin' airth, on'y on them conditions--'cause that durn, eternal, infernal, dad-blasted whistle o' his 'ud beat the oldest man in Ameriky!"

~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~

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