Page 11


boy who got the habit of visiting a Mexican woman when her husband was out looking after the cattle. On one such occasion the husband returned at the wrong time. “Queeck!” said Dolores. “Under the bed. Tony will keel you!” The cowboy managed to get under the bed just as Tony came in the door. The ruse promised to be a complete success until a goose,. sleeping under the bed, was awakened by a foot under his wing and suddenly began to hiss. “To hell with that Aztec!” shouted the cowboy, bursting out of hiding and running out of the door in his underwear. “I’m snake bit!” Later on, having left the university, I saw Dr. Webb less frequently, although I managed to find a pretext for going by once every six months or so to visit with him. He always found time to talk to me and always manifested the same thoughtful interest in my affairs, as if they were really important. I was working on a book on trees and asked him what he thought about its chances for success. “Don’t plan on getting rich off the book,” he said, giving me the same melancholy advice J. Frank Dobie had given me earlier. “It’s easy to exaggerate the money to be made from a book. You can make more money cutting down trees than by writing about them.” Several years later when I actually had an offer from a publisher, I again went to see him to discuss the terms, with which, by now considering myself quite a businessman, I was not at all satisfied. “I told you not to expect much money,” he began. “The ideal is to break even. Lots of books lose money; some have to be subsidized. You write the book because you have it in you. If you make any money, that’s incidental and so much to the good.” “But what about the seven years I’ve spent working on this thing?” I protested. “I would have been better off in a barroom.” “That’s not the way to look at it,” he answered quietly. “You are now an authority on the subject. You will be asked to speak here and there, and the book will bring you new friends and new contacts. The royalty checks don’t tell the whole story. There are by-products in books as well as in beef.” DR. WEBB was the most profound and original thinker I have ever encountered in person. I have known other men wittier, cleverer, with more superficial brilliance, but none comparable to him in depth, range, and balance. More than for his intellect, however, Dr. Webb was admired and loved for his humanity. Here was a man always sensitive to the plight of the unfortunate, always ready with help and guidance, always disposed to extend a hand to beginners, to the dispossessed, the misunderstood, the unrecognized. In some men intellect exists as a cold and independent faculty, unaccompanied by personal warmth. Not so with Dr. Webb: in him the reach of his intellect was matched by the breadth of his humanity. I spent quite a bit of time around Walter Webb between 1947 and 1955, much of it “shading” under those big trees in Pancho Dobie’s back yard drinking Dobie’s fine red whisky. At least Pancho and I were drinking it. Webb usually drank nothing, a failing I set out later to remedy. I didn’t get one-tenth the pleasure I should have from Webb’s conversation. The reason: I talk too damn much myself. It’s a fault I haven’t been able to cure any more than Webb could cure his withdrawal from the wonderful world of sin. And here I give the word “sin” its Puritan meaninganything calculated to give somebody else a kind of pleasure denied you. Included in, as Mr. Goldwyn might put it, are, of course, drinking, poker playing, cussing, dancing, and that old bugaboo, sex. From all that I could put together, I judged that Webb denied himself the joys of all sins. I don’t recall his ever saying “damn.” On one occasion Joe Small and Fred Gipson and I were sitting in a hotel room with Webb, and the talk turned to the Puritan ethic, which is, of course, the determining moral force in our attitudes, even though it may not control our actions. All four of us sort of took turns at a frontal assault on the Puritan concept, berating it for the abnormal frustrations it has caused, and I derived my customary satisfaction from explaining with what exhiliration I busted the bind all to pieces, way back there. . Webb more or less went along with us in the opinion that the bind was pretty doggone tight, considering the basic drives of the human animal. But he said, a bit wistfully, I thought, that he had accepted the bind. Well, we may have failed miserably in our later efforts to teach Walter Webb how to drink booze, but we did take him by the hand and lead him into one form of sinpoker. I can rightfully claim credit for a major part of the leading, since the poker games were played at my apartment in Austin at a time when I was living alone. I mean by that, I wasn’t married. Of course Joe Small was the catalyst, which you would expect, since he and Webb were real close friends for many years, and I saw Webb seldom except during the time we were trying to teach him how to sin. Hart Stilwell is a writer of several books, as well as countless articles on hunting, fishing, and politics. He had never played poker for money before that first session at my apartment. Long before, when he was gathering material for his book on the Texas Rangers, he and Frank Hamer and some others, including rich bankers, played poker quite often, Webb said. They’d make huge wagers, ten thousand bucks. And they felt perfectly at ease wagering that amount for the privilege of drawing to an inside straight. For they used play money. We used real money, even though most poker players would be amused at the thought, the stakes were so small. We played nickel ante. I figured up later, after I moved from Austin to Houston, and discovered that teaching Walter Webb to play poker cost me $347.50. It seems incredible, since there was seldom a swing of more than twenty bucks at one of those sessions. At least few of us ever lost more than that, although one lucky person might accumulate forty bucks or more from the gathering. Webb became a real tough poker player later, Joe tells me. “Any time you could beat him, you had to be doggone lucky or pull some smart onesand most of the time the smart ones backfired.” Well, I wonder, in view of that, how Webb might have fared in the other areas of sin. I conclude he would have done real fine. We did manage to talk him into drinking a highball now and then, but he never would take more than two in an entire evening. And usually he would stick to wine, drinking only two or three small glasses during a long poker session. Anyway, he sure didn’t make much headway toward what I call first rate, enjoyable sin. But is there anyone among us who can say that Walter Webb didn’t lead a full life? I think not. August 9, 1963 1.3 #rigitz Since 1866 The Place in Austin CC … the students and the professors, the politicians and the lobbyists, dine or drink beer in rather unfamiliar proximity.” Willie Morris in Harper’s. 1607 San Jacinto GR 7-.4171 Webb As a Sinner Hart Stilwell