'The Lady From East 39th'
By Phineas Redux
Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, are given the task of showing a fine lady from the East and her daughter what the real Wild West is actually like.
Note:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.
Copyright:— All characters are copyright ©2018 to the author, and are wholly fictitious representations: the overall local geography may be questionable, too.
The main street of the small township of Red Flume, Arizona Territory, appropriately named Main Street, was dusty, empty, and unsurfaced; simply an open dirt trail from one side of the town to the other; with a few hotels and saloons thrown in for good measure, just to add a certain atmosphere—not counting a handful of shops, the livery stables, and a couple of dry goods emporiums. That about accounting for the majority of the business quarter of the community, apart from the private dwellings scattered wholesale everywhere.
There was also, of course, the Sheriff's Office, that pole and centre of Law and Order; though the two latter were more often apparent by their overall absence than otherwise. In the small square office at the moment, on this bright morning in May, 187-, were three people. The Sheriff, as by tenure bound; and two women. Well, I say women, but—
"Harry, when was the last time any varmint called ye a Lady? Jest askin' from a purely educat'nal angle, y'understands." Sheriff Donaldson carrying his long friendship with the women to its extreme limits.
Henrietta Knappe, most feared and downright deadliest bear hunter in the state and easily riled, considered the middle-aged white-haired man from under the wide brim of her hat speculatively; chewing on a pecan nut the while—this being a habit of hers.
"Sheriff, I tries t'be ladylike with most every miserable specimen o'humanity I meets, during the course o'my daily perambulations hereabouts." She grinned evilly as she continued. "It's only them as gets under my Sunday bonnet that finds out I ain't. What's echoing around in that empty drum ye calls yer head, Sheriff?"
Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, long-time partner of Henrietta's, slouched away from the window looking on the street where she had been idly watching the passing parade, limping slightly the while. On reaching the edge of the desk where the upholder of all that was right in Red Flume sat, she sneered gently—this being more or less her usual expression.
"Yeah, I'm surprised ye've woken up so early in the day, Donaldson." She having always been of a decidedly atrabilarious temperament. "What for ye're bein' mean t'Harry? An' anyway, how's about shellin' out that two thousand dollars fer ol' Laredo, jest on account, y'understands, till we both, Harry here an' I, actilly meet the cold-hearted mean daughter-uv-a—"
"Har-har. Thet there's rich." Donaldson laughed heartily, grinning widely as he slapped his desktop with an open palm. "Thet's jest mighty fine, comin from a gal who managed t'lose all trace o'said varmint, up in the Mitchell Ridge; an' who's only memorial t'said disaster is frostbite in her left little toe. Does it still hurt, bye-n-bye's? Jest bein' polite, an' all."
"The fac' Doc Heminge chopped said item off with a blunt hacksaw two weeks agone, an' now proudly displays it in a bottle o'formaldehyde fer all t'see an' admire, ain't neither here nor there, Sheriff." Sally now showing signs of mild irritation. "What Harry an' I'd like fine t'knock in'ta that wooden noggin where ye opines the centre o'yer intellects lays is, we're both the best hunters in the state, it's only a mere matter o'time till we catches up with said female reprobate, so why not give us the reward money in advance? Save so much paperwork in the long run, don't ye agree?"
While this discussion had been proceeding to its inevitable conclusion, a hearty refusal to co-operate on the Sheriff's part, Donaldson had been fingering a sheet of writing paper laying on the desk in front of him; a letter from foreign parts, in fact. Now he picked it up, waving it casually in the air before the womens' eyes.
"Horse feathers an' tar, young 'un." He ignoring the girl's request with the contempt it deserved. "See this here letter, ladies?"
"Y'got a sweetheart, somewhere's far over the horizon, Sheriff?" Henrietta being sarcastic, her strong point. "Ain't that nice? When's the weddin'? Jest so's Sal here, an' I, kin avoid same."
"Very funny." Donaldson being well-used to the natures of his two friends. "The contents may be of interest, all the same; you two bein' on yer uppers an' gaspin' fer sustenance in the shape o' silver dollars in large quantities, from any source whatever."
"I wouldn't put our state o'degradation quite that low, Sheriff." Henrietta casting a thoughtful eye on the seated man. "But, still, ye interests us both mightily—so spit it out, whatever the dam' it is. Some o' us hereabouts havin' places t'go of a mornin'."
Donaldson unfolded the letter and bent forward to read from it.
"—'Dear Sheriff Donaldson, my name is Susan Claremont Carlsonn. I live in New York and have a fancy for widening my horizons in this new age of womens' freedom of choice.'—" He paused to tilt his hat and scratch his head. "Cain't figure what in hell she means,—however,—'As a result I have chosen to encroach on the good citizens of your community, Red Flume, Territory of Arizona, in order to apprehend and taste the atmosphere of what I believe is called the Wild West. Being a Lady of some strength of will, a great deal of inherited money, and two Smith and Wesson point forty-fives, I trusts this will find you all in good health; and someone of good moral upstandingness, and general capability, ready waiting to attend my orders and wishes in the matter. Payment for same to be one thousand dollars over three weeks, or extra for as long as I choose to stay in your vicinity. Yours, Susan Claremont Carlsonn.'—then she gives her address in the Big City; which, I can tell ye both, is in a mighty posh district, where the layabouts reclining there is absolutely drowning in double eagles, if'n same interests either o'ye at all?"
"Any idee who the leddy might be?" Sally being inquisitive, as by nature bound.
"Nah, never heerd o'the gal afore." Donaldson wholly neutral in the matter. "But I'd a'thought a thousand dollars over three weeks was, well, a thousand dollars over three weeks? Reckon either, or both, o'ye're up t'the concept?"
Sally frowned severely, like a schoolma'am contemplating a pupil's ill-done work. Henrietta, equally thoughtful, raised her left eyebrow meaningfully, finally glancing at her paramour. Together they shrugged their shoulders in loving unison.
"Suppose it wouldn't put us out none t'see what the lie o'the land might be." Sally affecting an innocence she had in reality left behind long years before. "When's the dame rollin' up t'these here parts?"
Donaldson contemplated the letter once more, peering closely at the handwriting.
"From what I kin make out—dam', her writing's worse'n mine—she'll be here, whether anyone wants her or not, the day after tomorrow."
"Oh, well." Henrietta stumped for anything more interesting to say.
"Yeah, I suppose, yeah." Sally, sounding as enthusiastic as her lover.
"Well, ain't I glad that niggly little detail's all hammered out t'everyone's satisfaction." Donaldson, being sarcastic because, after all, he was the Sheriff and every perk mattered.
The stagecoach had rolled in, on time as usual, with a full complement of passengers. Sally and Henrietta, standing on the sidewalk nearby, immediately knew there were women aboard, even before the doors were flung wide, by the fancy leather cases tied down on the roof. Buster Halstead, the regular driver, grinned at his old friends, then got down to the business of off-loading his cargo, both live and inanimate. Two men, of nondescript nature came out first, but only with the intention of being well-placed to offer gentlemanly support to the two women who followed.
One was in her mid-thirties, relatively tall with light brown hair tied in ringlets; her companion was much younger, around sixteen or so, and by the close resemblance it took no great intellect to recognise a daughter travelling with her mother. As the ladies stepped onto the roofed sidewalk in front of the Stage Office Henrietta and Sally came forward.
"Miss, er, Missus Carlson?"
"Carlsonn, with two n's, thank you." Her refined ear having detected the lack of the extra consonant with the swiftness of an owl. "Who're you two?"
"Missus Carlsonn." Henrietta correcting herself, and already thinking perhaps this wasn't a good idea, after all. "Sal here, an' I, we're, well, er,—Sheriff Donaldson told us of yer appearance t'day, an' seemed t'think we might, um, offer our services; gen'rally speakin', that is."
Susan Carlsonn stood in the shade, contemplating the two women before her, and a fine sight they were, if you weren't looking for the classic female of polite Society. Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols was all of five foot seven in height, with dark brunette hair that rolled onto her shoulders under her wide-brimmed stetson. Her face was slightly narrow in form, with a faintly pointed chin; her complexion was strongly tanned, almost dark in fact, which had caused some confrontations in the past with those who had taken altogether the wrong attitude as a result of misunderstandings thereby. Her eyes were deep honey-brown, with a tendency to darken almost to black when riled; her voice was medium tenor, with a note as of silver bells ringing at a distance. Her temper, when sorely tried, tended to give way quickly; and her prowess with her .38 Smith and Wesson pistols, presently worn on a double gunbelt round her slim waist, was renowned throughout the Territory of Arizona, and even further afield. The fact that by way of outfit she was dressed in a man's shirt, which might have benefited from a wash, slightly aged and crumpled short jacket, yellowish in colour, or perhaps it was merely ingrained dirt; and blue denim trousers of the new jean material, topped-off by a broken-brimmed stetson, and bottomed-off by heavy leather boots,—this whole ensemble not substantially contributing meaningfully to any kind of feminine charisma.
Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe stood six feet in her socks, black hair flowing like an ocean around her shoulders, while her deep-blue eyes studied her subject of interest with cold arrogance. Her face was square, strong-chinned, her complexion lighter than her companion's, though still tanned, and her voice was far deeper, growlingly mezzo-soprano in tone. She controlled her temper far better than Sally, but was also known to be the best bear-hunter, with her Sharps .50 rifle this side of the Pecos River. People, those with any level of sense anyway, steered clear of the women as a regular habit, while those who had business of any sort with them tended to speak in short sentences and make a quick getaway. Her dress, if the term might be used in the circumstances, being roughly similar to her companions', with the exception she wore only one gun-belt, harbouring a .45 Colt, while in her left hand resided the stock of her legendary Sharps .50, guaranteed to kill anything or anyone at any range whatsoever,—including oft-times over the far horizon, according to her.
"Either o'ye shoot any?" Susan making this unusual, perhaps redundant, query with a raised eyebrow, seemingly not put out in the least by the women's attitudes or attire.
"Some." Henrietta frowning slightly, trying to search for meaning in the lady's expression. "What for ye wants t'know sich?"
"I'm thinking of buying a small ranch, some ways outside this here community." Susan glanced around the bare more or less empty street, now the stagecoach was unloaded. "Not exactly a metropolis, is it?"
"Should'a thought sich'd be a fine change from the Big City?" Sally putting her mote in, just to let everyone know she was still there. "Ain't been introduced ter yer daughter, yet."
Something akin to the ghost of a smile flickered round the corners of Susan's mouth, before she turned to the girl at her side.
"Penelope Carlsonn, my daughter." She gave the young girl a look of pride as she turned to the two women again. "And you are—?"
"Sally Nichols; this here's my partner and companion, Harr-er, Henrietta Knappe." Sally waved a gloved hand vaguely in the direction of her loved paramour. "We does, ye'll find, most things together; bein' that way minded. If'n ye finds ye doesn't agree with us bein' so closely, er, tied, well ye can jest take a—"
"What Sal means is, glad ter make both yer acquaintance, an' is there anythin' we can do fer ye?" Henrietta grasping the arm of her wayward friend, whilst attempting a grin that would not be too terrifying to the uninitiated. "Sal havin', ye'll agree, a short fiery temper that's way too easy riled. Y'got a Hotel in mind, yet, fer yer convenience, ma'am?"
"No, I was thinking of paying the Sheriff a visit, and asking him to arrange such." Susan took her daughter's hand as the foursome moved off along the covered sidewalk. "Is there a good quality place we could take a room in for a week or so?"
"Sure thing, ma'am." Sally having regained her composure as quickly as she had mis-placed it. "The 'MacDonald Hotel', run by James Campbell. Apparently he picked the name because it amused him, though so far no-one's figured out why sich should've. This way, ladies."
Susan had taken a set of rooms in the establishment of Mr Campbell, at a fair rate, inviting Sally and Henrietta to visit her in the new temporary quarters.
"A very nice clean room." Susan gave the surroundings a contented examination. "Well, while Penelope changes and refreshes herself in the bedroom and bathroom beyond, perhaps we can undertake some business. So, you two wish to take up my offer of paid assistants?"
"Knowing the town, an' surroundin' country as well as anyone," Henrietta hoisting the burden of setting out their stance. "an' bein' women, too, we thought we'd meb'be be more t'your way o'thinkin' than some man or men, thetaways."
"Yes, I see that, certainly." Susan contemplating the two with a sharp eye.
"An' we can shoot." Sally taking up the harness of the argument. "Boy, can we shoot—er, what I mean is, I can hit a bucket at forty yards with my Smith and Wessons, the which many cain't; while Harry here,—I calls her thet, y'see—can hit a running target with her Sharps point fifty at eight hundred yards; I tells no lie, ma'am, jest ask her."
"Well, I have no plans to go bear-hunting in the immediate future." Susan smiled at the women. "Not that I'm sure you wouldn't be the best hosts if I did so. Hmm, I like your style, and I fancy Penny likes you too, so you're hired. A thousand dollars over three weeks; if I need your assistance longer we'll re-negotiate, OK?"
Henrietta, though ever willing to pocket any amount of cash at the drop of a hat, still had her principles, which now made their unwelcome appearance, do what she may.
"—er, ain't that rather high? Jest fer three weeks, I mean?" Henrietta coming as close to blushing as was possible for her; which is to say, not much. "I mean, fif-er, one hundred dollars a week would be perfectly acceptable, y'know."
But Susan was having none of this prevarication.
"I have my reasons; er, may I call you Harry, too?" She smiling confidently. "Oh, here's Penny again. Penny, what do you think of our new friends? They'll be accompanying us around this, um, township, and various other places, tomorrow."
Penny, aged sixt-nearly seventeen, stood five foot four inches in height, her long wavy hair was slightly blonder than her mother's, while her features were almost Grecian in their planes. Eyes light brown, with a tendency to smile apparent at the corners of her mouth. Her gaze was straight, and her smile wide and pleasant. Her clothes savoured of a good stylist in New York; a short waist-length Garibaldi shirt-blouse, of the appropriate colour; a tight waist held by a wide black leather belt with a large silver buckle; and an ankle-length light brown skirt of thick well-wearing material; her footwear being flat black boots. Altogether, a very confident young lady.
The extraordinarily wide, hooped and crinolined, skirts of the previous decade had given way—at this period in the early '70's—to lighter, unhooped, skirts, though they still carried a certain width; a mass of material held at the top of the waist, at the wearer's back, by a small bustle; many with trailing trains. The styles worn, however, by Mrs and Miss Carlsonn were of a slightly moderner style yet, removing the somewhat unnecessary bustle and train, giving a generally thinner silhouette. Both women also seemed to have abandoned the harshly restrictive full-boned corset for some moderner lighter specimen which hardly made its presence felt to the eye at all; clearly, also, far more comfortable for the wearer.
"Pleased to meet you."
Penny regarded the two Western ladies; resplendent in male attire from booted feet, jean-trouser covered lower extremities, to male shirts of brightly coloured square pattern, with open necks. Around both Sally's and Henrietta's waists hung blatantly visible gunbelts with holsters occupied by revolvers; Sally sporting one on each hip, while her partner made do with a single example.
Realising they must make something of a spectacle to an uninformed innocent mind, Sally made haste to calm the troubled waters.
"This's how Harry an' I always dresses; jest a habit we got into way back." She smiled encouragingly at the young girl. "A matter of comfort, an' necessity, y'see. Harry bein' out in the wilds most a lot o'the time, huntin' bear. An' me hun—er, goin' about my own business pretty much all over the state. Nobody minds; at least, not now; but I don't suppose it'll ever become a gen'ral trend, women's fashion-like, y'know."
At this point Susan chose to change the subject, coming back to the area she had started with previously.
"What I told Sheriff Donaldson, in my earlier letter, was that I wanted, along with Penny, to see the sights, to tour the state, see what it had to offer. Go about the town, to gain a general idea of what living in the western states, among cow-men and, er, others of the sort, was truly like." She looked from Henrietta to Sally with a confident air. "Perambulating about New York, amidst its rows and rows of tall heavy buildings can often seem like being trapped in a series of dry steep-sided canyons from which you can never escape. Well, I intend to escape; hence this journey, and my presence here today. Speaking of which, how far away is the fabled Grand Canyon, and how long would it take to travel there, if required?"
Sally and Henrietta, staggered into silence by this request, stared at each other; before Henrietta regained her breath, trying not to sound as shocked as she felt.
"Put that idee right out'ta yer mind, lady." Henrietta shook her head firmly, well-knowing when to put her foot down. "I don't knows of anyone local who's ever bin there, an' thet includes both Sal an' I. It ain't a day's picnic outing, if'n thet's what ye thought. Right up in the north o'the state."
"Yeah," Sally coming to the rescue of her lover. "It'd mean a full-blown expedition; maybe fifty or so strong; a hundred mules an' hosses, several wagons fer supplies an', hell, all sort's a'things. Ain't no way it can be done, lady, like my partner says."
"Oh well, let it be so, then." Susan being a lady who knew when she had bitten off more than she could chew. "No Grand Canyon, I'm afraid, Penny. So, where else of geographical interest is there to see, in the vicinity. Somewhere not too far off, I'll agree."
This question stumped both women as much as the first. Essentially, what was there of interest in South Arizona worth going out of your way to inspect?
"Well, er,—" Henrietta felt like scratching her head, but didn't want to show ignorant.
"Aah,—" Sally as much in the dark as her lover.
"Come along, ladies." Susan coming it the Countess, a bad habit of hers she was forever striving to control. "What am I paying you as assistants for, if you cannot assist me in this trifling request? There must be some interesting place, some location of geographical, geological, or, damn me, social interest about the place? What about the Indians? Have they reservations? Can I travel to and inspect them? How friendly are they? Not wild and violent, I hope? The Army keeping them well under control, I expect? Well?"
Sally and Henrietta, while not being anything in the way of out and out apologists for the several tribes across the state, did have a solid respectful association with the members of the few tribes they had met in their travels. So, this question of using the Indians as objects of interest to passing travellers, for their mere amusement, hung heavy on their consciences. It was Sally who came up with the bare bones of the plan she and Henrietta would follow through with for the rest of their association with the two Eastern women.
"Well, ye strike's a sore point, there, Mrs Carlsonn." Sally, being an inveterate liar as if from the very cradle, took stock of her listeners, then broke free with her imagination. "There's bin some harsh words a'tween the Indians an' some locals hereabouts, as it happens. Nuthin ter do, you understands, with the various tribes' on their own account; more of a kind'a a accountin' kerfuffle, t'do with, er, benefits an' payments politically owed t'them all in gen'ral. It's all ended, recent like, in some hot words bein' exchanged between American an' Indian political representatives; so, I'd say it'd be a good plan if'n we'all jest left the local Indians ter their own devices fer the present, if'n ye don't mind, Mrs Carlsonn—better, that way, fer all concerned."
It was at this point that Henrietta first began to truly believe that, obviously lovely physically and loveable in character, her amour was also pretty well a bona-fide genius to boot.
"Yeah, that's right, Mrs Carlsonn." Henrietta backing up her paramour to the hilt, with a straight face she would later in the evening blush over. "The subjec' o'the Indians ain't a passable proposition at present, ma'am, I'm afraid. Better t'leave 'em in peace, an' the Army an' the Government agents t'their political machinations."
"We could take yer both t'the vicinity o' Mount Baldy, if'n ye wants?" Sally had just had this brainwave. "It's some ways off, east-ways; but it's set in a wild wooded canyon landscape with lots of wide views. Chances of all sort's a'wildlife there. The peak's aroun' eleven thousand feet an' more, so I hear's. Not thet I means ye should go ter the very pinnacle o'the thing, o'course. Meb'be view it from a few miles off, whiles huntin' bear an' antelope an' all sorts?"
This way out of their predicament sounded in Henrietta's ears like silver trumpets in the wind.
"Yeah, thet's a great idee." She nodded enthusiastically. "Woods, canyons not to difficult t'traverse, rivers we might canoe along, an' as much wildlife, as Sal says, as ye could ever wish fer. How's about it, leddies?"
It turned out Mrs Carlsonn wasn't a hunter, having absolutely no interest in decimating the local wildlife, be they in an astonishingly beautiful natural wilderness or no. Which kind of put Henrietta and Sally at a standstill for the nonce; but they rallied.
Their modest expedition, put together with Sally's usual determined efficiency, consisted of four riding horses and three pack horses. As usual Sally and Henrietta wore men's clothes, particularly trousers; whilst Mrs Carlsonn and daughter wore lighter skirts than they had originally appeared in, having bought these in Phoenix on their way through at their female guides' insistence. Mrs Carlsonn and daughter also using side-saddles, much to Sally's and Henrietta's amusement, and some anxiety considering the terrain to be covered.
The idea of canoeing along a few stretches of river had ben abandoned as being too complicated, coupled with their horses and equipment. Instead Sally and Henrietta, acting as scout-guides, had taken the Eastern ladies deep into the rolling White Mountains; an unpopulated wilderness interspersed with a multitude of heavily wooded valleys and canyons, each with its own shallow river. The general area was covered in thick tall forest with wide open patches between the clumps of trees affording splendid views across country. All in all Mrs Carlsonn expressed herself as being very well pleased; though, of course, there were remaining minor problems or questions to be ironed out.
On their fourth night in the wild, camped by a shallow river in a low valley surrounded by thick copses of trees, Susan brought her major criticism to the fore.
"No water-closets, with porcelain pans? Not even earth-closets? You expect us to dig a hole in the ground, behind a convenient bush, crouch over it and, er, and, er, operate in that manner?" She looked as disgusted as she sounded, as they all sat round the campfire eating their supper. "I mean to say, it isn't civilised."
"This ain't civilisation, round about us now, Mrs Carlsonn." Sally diplomatically hiding an incipient smile. "No modern, er, conveniences out here. No bathrooms; if'n ye want t'bathe there's any number o'rivers an' pools available. No laundries; if'n ye wants t'wash ye're, er, things, then ditto the rivers an' pools. No, er, houses o'easement either; if'n, an' when, ye feel the need a spade an' a convenient bush's all accordin' t'Hoyle. Thet's simply the way things is, out here, ma'am."
"Good God, when I think of dear old East Thirty-Ninth Street." Susan sighed deeply, with meaning. "I quite begin to miss the old house. Dear, dear."
"What about these bugs, Harry?" Penny, though more willing to go with the flow than her mother, had her boundaries, also. "They're everywhere; crawling over the ground, in the trees, bushes, grass. Every time I sit down something with too many legs crawls over my skirt, or up the arm of my blouse. And as for lying in these blankets round the fire at night; well, it's like as if a whole mixed nation had decided to go walkabout and end up in the blankets with me. Is there nothing to be done?"
"Bugs is bugs, leddy." Henrietta having none of this whining on her watch. "There's no gettin' away from 'em; they's, as ye say, every bloody where. If'n we set t'squelching every single bug thet annoyed ye we'd be here, right on this spot, fer the next month, makin' a spectacle o'oursel's t'the local Indians, is all. Live with the bugs, likes they simply wishes ter live with ye; it's the only way o'stayin' sane, take my word fer it."
A little later that night, in the dark, Sally and Henrietta, having told the Carlsonn's they were taking a walk round the perimeters of the camp, took themselves some way off out of earshot; standing by the banks of the tinkling stream for extra security from prying ears, thin moonlight reflecting in silvery streaks on the water.
"Wha'd'ya think so far, Harry?"
"They's both comin' along pretty well, I fancy." Henrietta nodding in the dark, satisfied with life. "Cain't escape a few silly notions, here an' there, but they're beginnin' t'learn the way o'things, OK."
"Thought, fer a while, we was bogged down entire, back in Phoenix." Sally shook her head sorrowfully, remembering. "Mrs Carlsonn took t'the place so energetically I thought she was gon'na insist on settlin' down fer life, there an' then. Jest dam' good luck we managed t'pry her loose in the end, or we'd a'bin there yet."
"Yeah, she seems some susceptible t'new horizons, thetaways." Henrietta agreeing with her paramour on this point without argument; it, indeed, having been a close call. "Hopes she don't react the same t'all this wilderness round us, right now. Can ye see her insistin' on campin' somewhere's, nowhere's about the place, an' swearing blue murder she ain't gon'na leave fer Love or Indians?"
"Har-har-har." Sally quite taken with this suggestion. "O'course, if'n we did leave 'em both to it, it'd be about two days an' she'd be racin' on our heels, shoutin' she'd changed her mind an' fer us t'come back."
"No doubt, gal, no doubt." Henrietta grinning unseen in the dark. "Come on, I needs my beauty sleep, y'know. Ye jest needs rest, little gal."
"Oh-ho, I'll get yer back fer thet there swipe, leddy, don't yer worry."
Two days later the White Mountains had worked their magic on the two ladies from the East; Susan was delighted by the rolling sweep of rising plains, largely covered in woodland, whereas Penny was enchanted by the numerous small tinkling streams running gaily through little valleys in every direction: the whole seeming, to uninitiated eyes at least, a paradise on earth.
"Y'got'ta realise we're in Indian country now, leddies." Sally trying to instil some element of caution in the happy travellers. "Some Navajo, but mostly Apache. Not violent as such; but better t'steer clear, 'special in these here circumstances. Let's jest keep ridin' on through, is what I'm meanin' t'say."
"Should we expect any trouble from the Indians, then?" Susan turning to her guides as they sat by the edge of a small stream at midday. "Are they dangerous?"
"Not as sich." Henrietta stroked her chin in thought. "But best not t'give any o'them the wrong idee, y'know. If'n we encounters any number of 'em Sal an' I'll jest waggle our artillery in plain sight, lettin' 'em take their own meanin' from our actions thereby. Thet should see things alright."
"That's right, leddies." Sally putting her ten cents in cheerfully. "When they sees Harry's Sharps' layin' across her saddle they'll take note an' reconsider their intentions, fer certin."
"Oh well, in that case we have nothing to worry about." Susan nodding happily and bending to refill her coffee-mug by the camp-fire. "What's Penny up to, over there?"
Penny, while her peers engaged in boring conversation, had borrowed the groups pair of field-glasses, with Henrietta's permission, and climbed the opposite slope of the little wooded valley they were presently sitting in. The slope was no more than fifty feet high, with a rolling low incline heavily wooded, so was easy to ascend. Penny had spent some minutes viewing the distant landscape opened up by her new high standpoint and now turned to descend back to the camp, waving an arm the while.
"Looks as if she's seen somethin' of interest." Sally gazed at the approaching girl with a raised eyebrow. "Seems some excited; maybe spotted a bear or somethin'. Don't worry none, ma'am; if'n it is a bear Harry'll take care of it without breakin' sweat."
"Mother, ladies." She stopped before the women, gasping for breath, grinning as she did so. "Yo-you-oh, I'm out of breath. You can see for miles, up there. Just the same sort of country as we've already ridden through; this wooded valley and hill terrain seems to go on unlimited. Anyway, what I wanted to tell you is—I saw someone else, over in the next valley. A woman, with a horse; she seemed to be doing just what we're doing now—sitting by a camp-fire by a stream, taking her ease. Do you think we shoud make our presence known, and make friends with her? Another woman out travelling, you know?"
Sally and Henrietta exchanged glances, while Susan smiled at her excited daughter.
"Seems a good idea, ladies." Susan giving her own thoughts on the unexpected situation. "Who would have thought we'd find another civilised lady out in these parts? I'm sure she'll be glad to see comforting familiar faces, don't you?"
Again Sally and Henrietta looked at each other, before Sally extended an arm towards the returned look-out.
"Can ye spare those glasses, Penny?" She taking them with a nod of thanks. "Think I'll jest go an' take a look myself; no sense in walkin' into a sity-atin' without first seein' how the land lies. Jest a precaution, ma'am."
"What did this here lady look like, Penny?" Henrietta joining the discussion, as doubtful as her partner. "Sure she was a woman? How'd ye tell? Was she alone, fer certin'?"
Coming up against this barrier of doubt on the part of the woman guides Penny began to frown herself.
"Is something wrong?" She turned from the women to her mother. "Well, she's alone, certainly, as far as I could tell. She's wearing men's attire, like you ladies; but I recognised her, er, being a woman because of her way of moving, if you see what I mean. Just her and a horse, is all; don't think there were any more. Dark clothes, but wearing a large-brimmed white stetson; long blonde hair, I think—though she was, is around a mile off, over the crest there."
Sally's and Henrietta's worst fears had, meanwhile, been realised.
"G-dd-m." Sally saying it like it was.
"Excuse me, madam." Susan, shocked at such inappropriate language in front of her daughter. "I'll trouble you—"
"We know who thet there travelin' woman is, ma'am." Henrietta breaking in unhesitatingly. "Penny's described her t'a tee; it's a woman by the name of Laredo Dawes. She's a well-known outlaw; here, in the Territory."
"Outlaw?" Susan showed all her incomprehension. "What do you mean?"
"Laredo Dawes is a murderer, a cattle thief, a bank robber, a downright bad dog, taken from every direction." Sally growled low as she brought all the woman's worst aspects to light. "She'd as soon shoot yer as shake hands, an' she ain't a nice person t'meet in the wilderness, on any day o'the week. We got ourselves some kind'a a problem, Mrs Carlsonn."
Henrietta had left Susan and Penny in the streamside camp, with strict orders to stay there till she and Sally returned. On her part Henrietta was now scrambling up the far slope of the stream, in Penny's footsteps, alongside Sally.
"Thanks fer lettin' me haul these dam' glasses, they're heavy as hell."
"Quit squawkin', gal." Henrietta showing all her renowned disregard for those in need. "Your eyes is a mite sharper'n mine; you'll be able t'see more clear if the dam b-tch is Dawes, after all."
Crouching low as they reached the ridge-line they lay in the grass, parting the stems to peer over into the next small valley or vale. As expected it had all the same aspects as that they were already in; with the solitary difference that, indeed, in the distance a single individual could be made out, by the edge of another shallow stream. Squirming into a more comfortable position Sally raised the field-glasses to her eyes, supported by her arms resting on elbows. She taking some time to study the scene in front of her.
After a couple of silent minutes Henrietta's patience broke under the strain.
"Come on, ya must'a seen enough by now. Is it her, or ain't it?"
"Wha'd'yer mean, yeah?"
"Yeah, it is dam' Dawes; I kin see her clear as daylight."
"Ain't I jest said as much?" Sally lowered the glasses to turn scowling features on her partner. "Doubting my word, are ya now, leddy?"
"Nah, nah. Sh-t. Dawes?"
"Absolutely,—none other,—Laredo in person; live an', dammit, kickin' like a good 'un. What d'we do?"
"Oh, great." It was now Henrietta's turn to kick against the spurs. "I'm the one has ter come up with a plan, out'ta the blue, eh? Yer doesn't want much, does yer?"
"Well, I was sort'a hopin', at least." Sally being mean, because she could and it was such a splendid opportunity. "There she lies, live as all get-out; we got'ta do somethin'. Cain't jest go on our ways, meb'be waving a friendly hand towards her as we passes her by, later ter-day or tomorrow. Sheriff Donaldson havin' a standin' reward awaitin' us when we brings the reprobate in ter face Justice, an' all thet crap. This here could be our great chance; meetin' Dawes hidin' out in Indian country, like this. Given some good trailin' an' huntin' we could catch her unawares easy as pie. You could drop her in her tracks with yer Sharps' from near half a mile off, she knowin' nuthin' of it till yer bullet hits her. I kind'a likes thet scenario—all the joy o'success, with none o'the danger o'close fightin'. Ye up fer it, gal?"
Henrietta's opposition to this quite delightful plan of action took her all of three seconds to make known to her cold-blooded associate.
"I ain't a bloody bushwhacker, fer God's sake." She leaned over and dug her elbow into the ribs of her loved but dam' disquieting partner. "Stop squealin', it didn't hurt. Nah, if we has ter have a dam' stand-off, it'll be face ter face, Hoyle's rules prevailin'—"
"Shut up." Henrietta shuffled around in the long grass, growling and mumbling to herself the while. "What we got'ta think about is the leddies, down there behind us. What're we gon'na do with them, whiles we faces-off dam' Dawes?"
"More ter the point, lover," Sally meeting a salient fact her partner had missed. "what d'we do with the body, afterwards? Haul Dawes' remains back ter Phoenix, the leddies accompanyin' same with a light heart an' a merry song the whiles? I don't somehow think thet'll be their reaction."
"Sh-t an' b-gg-ry."
"Very nice, but does that get us anywhere?"
"Gim'me a break; lem'me think, gal."
But this was too good a chance to let go by, Sally jumping on it like a cat on an unwary mouse.
"Is that wise, in this sun?" Sally milking her opportunity for all it was worth. "Mightn't thet bring on a brain-fever, or somethin'?"
"Idy-eet, come on, let's get back down t'the leddies. Jeez, what're ye like, gal?"
The upshot of Mrs Carlsonn being given the bad news was something akin to General Blücher's appearance at Waterloo, his forces helping to finally break Napoleon's army; she standing firm and immovable against Henrietta's proposed plan of attack on the invisible outlaw in the next valley.
"With Penny here, exposed to whatever may happen? I think not, madam."
Henrietta not liking being called madam in that tone of voice, she was backing up to reply in kind when Sally, realising defeat was inevitable, struggled between the opposing duo bringing sweetness and light, or their near equivalents, to the situation.
"Let's not get in'ta a argument, leddies." Sally being an old hand at de-escalating fiery stand-off's of this nature. "Dawes is over t'the next valley, right enough; but we can side-step her, by takin' the ridge someways along ter the nor-west. Thet'll bring us out in'ta another valley altogether—easy, eh? Right, leddies?"
"Oh, alright." Henrietta gave in with surly contempt, as was her nature; additionally fueled by the likely loss of a fine reward. "Dammit."
"OK, let's get our hosses t'gether an' get the hell out'ta here, pronto." Sally leading Henrietta away with a firm hand on her arm. "An' don't give me thet look, partner, or yer won't be gettin' any soft an' lovin' kisses in yer bed-roll these next few nights ter come."
Things, in Henrietta's eyes, could only get worse and, the Fates nothing loth, this is what came to pass in the next two hours.
The four riders had traversed the valley they had originally wandered into, taken the distant ridge, easily riding up its low incline, and descended into the valley to the north of the one containing the so-desired outlaw. This valley presented an appearance of being exactly like the one they had just left; and, indeed most of those they had ridden through over the last few days, even the obligatory shallow stream being in evidence; and it was here that they met their first stumbling block.
This new stream, winding its way along the bottom of the narrow small valley, was more of a swamp than a free-flowing river. It seemed to consist of numerous wide shallow pools, interspersed with low-lying patches of only slightly higher grass-covered ground. The far side of the stream lay, wood-covered as usual, perhaps half a mile to the east, the ground between being composed of a series of these pools and low grassy islands. The women came to a halt on the edge of the first of the pools, while Henrietta and Sally considered their options.
"Jeez, what a mess."
"Thet's helpful, dear." Sally being morose, because that was the way she felt; the loss of their reward being as much of a blow to her as her partner. "Any other helpful hints, lover?"
"Will ya, fer God's sake, give over?" Henrietta reverting to her natural scathing tone. "What I thinks we shou—"
"What, Mrs Carlsonn?" Sally turning to regard the woman, as they all sat on horseback at the edge of the slow-running stream. "What?"
"Over there, about three hundred yards off, to the west—see?"
And, indeed, the women did see. In the distance, separated by several of the streams convolutions amd low islands, sat a group of some seven Indians, all on horseback and studying the women as comprehensively as the women were now studying them.
"Navajo." From Sally, sure of her ground.
"Apache." Henrietta just as confident in her own appraisal of the rapidly deteriorating situation. "Chr-st-a'mighty."
"There's only seven of them." Susan taking the innocent outlook, being inexperienced in these matters.
"Seven's enough." Sally giving the bad news in a low tone. "There bein' only four of us, an' you two not bein' experienced Indian-fighters. It all tells, y'know."
There now played out a lengthening silence, as both parties sat on horseback taking note of their opposition. Susan and Penny, beginning to feel some form of fright coming on, looked from one to the other and then to their guides; while the Indians in the distance, like a group of immobile statues, regarded the women; only the manes of their mounts wafting in the light breeze.
"What do we do?" This in a low tone from Mrs Carlsonn.
"Steady, if we does anythin' sharpish they'll go fer their guns." Henrietta glancing slowly at the two women. "We don't want ter let 'em think we're anxioua or gettin' agitated by 'em. Jest sit still fer a bit. How long'll it take yer t'hoist yer Sharps', Sal?"
"Probably all'a half a minute." Sally clutching her reins in her gauntleted hands as she gazed across the stream at the Indians. "Still think they're Navajo. My rifle's strapped in its leather holster; take me all'a eternity 't get it in'ta action. G-dd-m, it ain't even loaded, now's I remembers. You?"
"F-ck, thet's mighty helpful." Henrietta making free with her language because the situation allowed of such. "We better try'n get closer, if anythin' happens, an' rely on our pistols."
"Harry, look? Over to our right, just coming out of the bank of trees on the stream shore." This from Penny, her attention having been drawn to the position on their other side.
Sally and Henrietta turned in their saddles and so saw an extraordinary sight. From the stand of high thick trees on the far edge of the wandering stream a further group of horse-riders had appeared. These numbered around half a dozen or more, and seemed to be all white men in dark cloaks and jackets; the one at their head wearing a white stetson that gave both Sally and Henrietta chills as they recognised the person under it.
"Oh, God-a'mighty." Sally overawed by circumstances, and so rendered almost speechless.
"F-ck me." Henrietta being more utilitarian.
"What? What's going on here?" Mrs Carlsonn searching for an answer.
After having experienced a feeling of never being able to speak again Sally regained the power with a deep gasp.
"It ain't nobody but bloody Dawes, in person." Sally gazed at the outlaw, accompanied by what appeared to be her whole gang, in awe. "Where'n hell they all come from? There must be, what, eight-ten of 'em. Jeez."
But Henrietta had recognised the important matter of the moment.
"It's made those Apache stop ter take notice, anyway." She looked over to her left, at the distant figures. "Four women, they'd have taken on, no doubts,—an' I wouldn't have given much fer our chances. But ten or so men, fully armed, as well as us? Nah, they'll back off an' go their ways, fer sure."
Even as Henrietta spoke the Indians, without undue haste or appearance of being put out by the changing circumstances, quietly turned their mounts and in an amazingly short space of time disappeared back into the stand of trees from which they had emerged so little time before.
"What now?" Mrs Carlsonn being fully au fait with a sea-change in their position.
"Now we waits fer Dawes an' her associates ter come across an' spend the time o'day with us, is what." Henrietta knowing when the Fates were against her. "Hope's she's in a good mood."
The following meeting had all the poignancy yet drama of that other earlier assembly in Appomattox, some few years in the immediate past, when Generals' Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant had their famous congress. Laredo Dawes, riding at the head of her companions, had all the confident air of the victor; she grinning widely, as experiencing a fine day. Henrietta and Sally, meanwhile, sitting their horses and awaiting events with a morose mien.
"Ill-met by moonlight, fair Titania." Dawes showing away like a good 'un.
"What?" Henrietta, to whom this mysterious greeting had been addressed, all at sea.
"Oh, forgot ye weren't a readin' leddy." Dawes smiling broadly, none put out by the failure of her literary quote. "Miss Nichols, Miss Knappe. Out on a jaunt, are we? Takin' some travellers on a tour o'the local sights? Would'a thought ye'd have had enough sense not ter bring 'em in'ta Indian territory, all the same?"
"We have our reasons." Sally growling, like a mountain lion denied its breakfast. "What fer you're here? Hidin' away from the Law, o'course; not wantin' yer neck gripped by a hemp necklace, eh?"
"Now, why're ye so nasty, thet-aways?" Laredo enjoying herself hugely. "Look around, leddies. Seems ter me my boys an' I have all'a the high ground around here, morally speakin'. There was me, some time since, up on the ridge watchin' you ride in'ta as fine a Indian ambush as I've seen in a good while. What should I do, I asked myself? Leave ye all to it, t'be scalped at the Indians' convenience? Or come down on y'all, like the Assyrian on the fold—no, don't ask, it's Literature agin', ye wouldn't know. So here I be's—who's gon'na say thank'ee, leddy, first then?"
There was a long silence, only the insects in the long grass buzzing in the scented air and the tinkle of the stream over the pebbles to be heard; then Susan spoke up.
"Are we to understand you, and your numerous confreres, have saved our lives?" Mrs Carlsonn invoking all the superior accent of her East New York forbears. "I don't believe we have been introduced?"
Laredo folded her arms across her saddle-bow, regarding the Lady from the East as if she were a foreign species never before seen by civilisation; then she grinned.
"Laredo Dawes, ma'am." Laredo nodded, wholly at ease; as well she should be with her whole gang behind her. "Noted outlaw, bank-robber, and general bad egg throughout the Territory. There's a reward out on my head, y'know. What is it, at the moment, Harry? I kind'a have lost track, recently."
"Three thousand five hundred dollars. Sheriff Donaldon's gettin' mighty riled with you."
"Is he, by God?" Laredo laughed loud and unrestrained, before remembering her manners. "Excuse me, ladies; you bein' from the East, y'ain't probable used ter sich unrestrained language—I apologises complete. Well, suppose we better be on our several ways. Those Indians'll have beaten a retreat fer pastures new by now. They won't present a problem in the future fer ye, at all. Meanwhile, me an' the boys here'll be on our way, too. I likes this region; but I thinks I likes it even better some way ter the north. Be seein' y'all, g'bye."
She turned her mount's head, raised an arm for her gang to follow, then quietly crossed over the shallow stream to go on her way. In another few minutes, she had disappeared into the stands of trees on the other side of the stream, leaving Henrietta, Sally, Susan and Penny by themselves once more.
"Well, that was altogether very strange, while it lasted." Susan regaining her composure first. "Am I to take it that something strange has just occurred, Harry?"
"That you have, leddy, that you have." Henrietta sighed low and deep, knowing when it was time to retreat. "We're goin' home now; turnin' around an' goin' back the way we came. This here trek's at an end; Phoenix, here we come."
"Oh, for the best, I have no doubt." Susan waxing philosophical.
"Oh, just when I was really beginning to enjoy myself." Penny, sighing for lost chances. "Gosh, I'll be able to tell my girlfriends, back home, I met real live Indians. They'll be so jealous; when are we going home, mother?"
"In a week or two, darling, a week or two." Mrs Carlsonn, too, knowing when she was beat. "Well, Sal, you're in the lead, take us home, if you please."
"Sure thing, ma'am."
Henrietta merely bringing up the rear, looking as dammed fed-up as all get-out.
"She gave ya both how much?" Sheriff Donaldson couldn't believe his ears.
"A thousand dollars each, over an' above the thousand she'd already set out fer our services." Sally giving the information with a happy smile, dollars always meaning a lot to her.
"Jeez. An' she didn't even complain about bein' nearly scalped, up in the White Mountains?" Donaldson shaking his head.
"She thought it was the most dramatic thing'd ever happened to her." Henrietta shook her head, still wholly uncomprehending of the ways of Eastern ladies. "Must'a led a bloody boring life previous, is all I has ter say."
"An' she's gone back to New York, y'say?" The Sheriff raising an enquiring eyebrow. "Seen the last of her, have we?"
"Nah," Sally knocking this hope on the head with disdain. "She's bought a huge house in Phoenix; means ter go on sampling the air o'the Territory from there, seemingly."
Donaldson, filing the mysterious ways of foreign women away in a pigeon-hole for future reference, turned to more important matters.
"So, yer both final met Laredo Dawes in person?" He offering the two embarassed women his most evil smile. "Have a nice conversation, did we? Discussed the weather; the state of the Territory; how the dollars' holding up in the financial markets? Didn't enter in'ta either o'yer heads ter plug the b-tch an' bring her cold dead body back fer me ter gloat over, eh?"
Both Sally and Henrietta had reached the nadir of their hopes over the last week or so; and now were in no mood for sarcasm. Henrietta being first to attempt a defence.
"We was some otherwise engaged at the time, y'll recall from what Mrs Carlsonn told yer yester'n." Henrietta's voice falling as she spoke, from a mild tenor to a low mezzo-soprano growl. "Dam' Indians everywhere; what was me an' Sal here t'do? We were caught in a trap, is what. If'n it hadn't been fer dam' Laredo we'd a'all been done fer, so there. Take it as yer like; me an' Sal's goin' off ter spend our hard-earned cash doin' ourselves proud. Meantime, what're ye goin' ter be spendin' yer day doin', Sheriff? Oh, filling in all those official forms on yer desk—have fun, whiles me an' Sal's havin' our own fun. See ya; want we should bring yer a candy-stick from the grocery store?"
"Ladies, don't ferget you got that bonus from Mrs Carlsoon, but ye didn't get the reward fer Laredo, mind. Now be nice, piss-off, both o'yer. I got official business to complete. The door's thet-away."
"Huh. Bye, Donaldson." Henrietta, standing on her honour with a sniff.
"Bye, Sheriff." Sally opening the door for her loved partner, grinning widely. "Plenty o'time t'track Laredo t'her lair yet. Meb'be if you upped the reward to, say, four thousand it might give my partner here, an' me, an incentive?"
"The only incentive y'll get from me is a boot in both yer backsides if'n yer not both out'ta here in five seconds." Donaldson ostentatiously producing a silver pocket-watch from his waistcoat. "I'm countin'."
Then the door closed behind their parting silhouettes.
Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.