'Slanty Brown's Cache'

By Phineas Redux

—OOO—

Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, search in the hills for silver and find more than they expected.

Note:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.

Copyright:— All characters are copyright ©2019 to the author, and are wholly fictitious representations: the overall local geography may be questionable, too.

—O—

The Dantedar Hills, a rugged outcrop of jagged peaks some miles north of Red Flume, Arizona Territory were hardly renowned for anything useful; except for dying of thirst therein or breaking a leg on the rough piled rocks and dying even more awfully. But there had been a recurring suggestion amongst local legend that somewhere amongst the harsh uplands there was silver to be had, if only it could be found. So, emboldened by this idea and a great deal of probably ill-placed confidence,—as well as at the same time undertaking a small service for their friend Sheriff Charles Donaldson—Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols and her inamorata Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe this sunny morning of June, 187-, found themselves in the high peaks of the wide range searching for, well, anything.

"Three pack-horses, not includin' these here steeds we're ridin'." Sally, for the umpteenth time bemoaning her outcast state. "All needin' hay an' oats an' water, an' everythin'. And what d'we have? No hay, dam little oats, no water since yestern mornin', an' no sign of reaching any of the aforesaid anytime soon. Jeez, why'd I allow myself to be taken in by your soft words and embellishments? Silver in these dam' Hills? There ain't any dam' thing in these g-dd-m rocks an' peaks but dry gulches an' geckoes, thet's fer sure."

Sally herself held a wide reputation as one of the best pistol shots in the Territory, while her hard done by companion was respected as the best bear hunter, with her Sharps .50 rifle, west of the Pecos. But neither attributes were much use in their present surroundings; the Dantedar Hills consisting of bare rocks from plain to peak, vertical cliffs and dangerous arroyos; all just generally a dam' struggle to negotiate. The ladies had already spent three days heading ever further into the interior of the long range, climbing steadily through pass after pass until now they were well and truly in situ, if either woman had known the term.

"So, where're we headin' in this godforsaken landscape, then?" Sally continuing her critical diatribe with some relish. "Rocks behind us, rocks t'our left, rocks t'our right, an' what're those things I see ahead? Dam' right, bloody more rocks."

"More bloody rocks."

"Wha'sat?"

"I said, more bloody rocks; not bloody more rocks, is all."

"Harry, I think the sun's finally a'gettin' at yer brains."

"Jest tryin' t'instil some idea o'grammar in'ta yer head, lover."

"Oh, thanks mightily." Sally making a face at this double-edged remark. "Fancy I knows jest as much grammar as'll do me fer day ter day acquaintance with folks, thanks all the same."

A quiet stillness descended on the two riders at this point; not cold enough to be called a stony silence, though dam' near. But another ten minutes brought a break in the routine. They rode to the top of a long boulder-ridden slope and found themselves the mistresses of a wide panorama.

"Hah, made it at last, the top o'the Glede Ridge."

"So, this's it, eh?" Sally sat her mount, looking over the wide horizon revealed from their high standpoint. "Jest as I thought, mind you. More barren rocky hills, in every dam' direction; interspersed with rocky arroyos, dried-up river beds, and simple plains of boulders. Ain't there a dam' single blade o'grass, or sagebrush anywhere? Never been here a'fore; an' cert'nly don't wan'na ever come agin, thank'ee muchly."

"Get a grip, woman."

Coming down the far side of the ridge needed some delicate work, the ground being covered in loose rock, from small pebbles to body-sized boulders; but they eventually cantered out onto a fairly level area some 500 hundred feet lower than the high ridgeline they had started from.

"Where to, now?"

"Ful'la questions, ain't'cher?"

"Only askin'." Sally curled her lip in the ghost of a sneer. "Where was thet place Sheriff Donaldson talked about, a'fore we started out—the Pass?"

"Conneger Pass?" Henrietta shrugged as she headed her mount along the trail, kicking up light dust clouds from the sandy ground. "That's where Slanty Brown's supposed t'have his headquarters, accordin' ter the last information Charlie received; jest a flimsy wood hut, he sez."

"A log cabin?" Saly was all ears. "Where'n hell Slanty get the wood? There ain't a dam' tree anywhere's within at least fifteen mile circumference o'here."

"Must'a hauled it in by wagon or sumthin'; how'd I know, I wasn't here t'watch him."

"Keep your shirt on, gal." Sally leant forward in her saddle, took a glance behind to see the three pack-horses were following her steed, the lead horse attached to her saddle by a long rein; then she raised her arm to point ahead. "Is that the mouth of a Pass, some mile or so over t'the right?"

"Yeah, could be. If'n it is it must be the Conneger, nuthin' larger round these parts, or so I've bin led t'believe."

"Well, what's holdin' ye up, leddy? Let's get these mounts movin'; I wan'na spend the night under cover, if'n you don't."

"Har."

—O—

The head or mouth of the Pass, when they rode up an hour later, was around half a mile broad. The hills on either hand not being particularly inspiring, simply low ridges bearing slightly west of north and appearing to run in an open sunny valley some three miles or so before a curving bend took its further depths out of sight. The ridges being only around fifteen hundred feet in height with gentle slopes.

"Not much of a pass." Sally bringing her expertise in such matters to the fore. "Seen better examples, well, almost anywhere y'care t'name. Sure it's the Conneger Pass?"

"No, I ain't." Henrietta brought her horse to a halt while they studied the local terrain. "But as it seems t'be the only one of its kind hereabouts I'm willin' t'lay money on it."

"More fool you."

"Wha'sat?"

"Nuthin', dearest." Sally well knowing when to prevaricate like a good 'un. "Come on, let's go on in an' see what there is ter see, if anythin'."

Having asked around the general populace of Red Flume about Slanty Brown before setting-out on this expedition the sum total of ascertainable fact the women had discovered relating to the old silver-miner still amounted to very little.

"So, we're lookin' fer a broken-down log cabin?" Sally going over these facts as they cantered on. "It's situate around half a mile inside the western mouth of the Pass, so Donaldson understands, which is where we are now?"

"Yep."

"There is, or at least is supposedly, a small pebbly stream runnin' off the opposite ridge just behind this cabin." Sally scratched her chin and pulled the wide brim of her hat lower to shield her eyes. "There's a small copse of trees and some grass in the area; and some way behind his cabin Slanty's supposed t'have opened a tunnel into the ridge side. He obviously imaginin' there was a lode close t'hand?"

"That's about the size of it, gal." Henrietta, herself hardly believing this, sounded dubious. "What I expec's the cas—Jee-sus."

As they had penetrated deeper into the Pass the ridges on either hand had subtly begun to raise their peaks higher until they now scraped the 2,000 foot mark. As a result their slopes had become ever steeper and more dramatic; it now being obvious that to escape the Pass the riders would either have to continue through to the further end, or turn back the way they had come—climbing either ridge on each side being out of the question, especially with five horses. But this alone had not surprised Henrietta and Sally; what had was the appearance, three hundred yards ahead as they topped a low rise, of the actual remains of what must once have been a fairly substantial log cabin, across to one side well under the shadow of the eastern ridge of the Pass. Behind the semi-ruin, which seemed in bad repair overall, not to say almost total collapse, the light twinkled off the surface of a shallow stream that seemed to have its fount back over on the high ridge. Also close to the water a stand of trees, well in leaf, stood together, a wide expanse of green grass spreading under and all round them. For an instant the women halted, almost expecting to see smoke rising from the single chimney and someone coming out the front door to welcome the visitors.

"Well, I will be dam'med." Sally admitting her astonishment unashamedly. "Who'd have thought—"

"Not me, neither, but there it is." Henrietta equally surprised, but willing to take things as she found them. "Suppose the dry atmosphere round these parts has kept it fresh—"

"Like one o'they Egyptian mummies?"

"Hardly, come on. Slanty must'a bin in residence till quite recently, an' last I enquired he wasn't no mummy." Henrietta set her mount to canter towards the cabin. "Last one there makes the coffee an' bacon'n'beans."

"Oh, sh-t."

—O—

The interior of the cabin, of which the main room was still standing and roofed, held some further surprises also; not least, after the obvious fact that the tenant was not at home, that the door was still hale and hearty, fitting the frame to a nicety—which tickled Henrietta right away.

"Keeps the place in good order, seemingly, after all the years he's been here; what is it, maybe twenty or so?"

"So?" Sally always a mine of interest for delving into other people's affairs.

"So, jes' sayin'; a good house-keeper bodes a good character all round, don't yer think?" Henrietta mused on the subject as they threw their possessions on the waist-high wooden table that took up the centre of the main room. "Everything's in the same condition; the table, the chairs, the window shutters, that door over there, must give onto a bedroom or sich; but all covered in dust an' decrepy'f'yin' as we speaks."

"Hah, thet word in the dictioneery, dear? An' look at the fire-grate." Sally had moved across to the far wall where the only stone feature, the chimney, stood. "These ashes've bin here fer months, fer sure. Slanty ain't in residence no more, I'll lay my next month's salary."

"Har!"

"This Slanty Brown?" Sally frowning as she contemplated the problem. "Why's he so-called? Strange moniker, don't you think?"

But Henrietta was up for this probing question.

"Seems he arrived in San Francisco along with the original 'Forty-Niners; he was crew on a three-master that came round the Horn from New York, an' when they delivered the gold-hungry passengers he jumped ship an' joined 'em."

"Ah, but that doesn't answer my question does it?" Sally's intellects, this early in the morning, still being sharp as a tack.

Henrietta sighed softly, faced with this determined probing attack on her scant knowledge.

"Like I told ya, he was crew on a clipper; he was a sailor."

"So what?"

"Dear Go—, me." Henrietta now shook her head, eyeing her compatriot with a gentle expression, as of a school-ma'am teaching a young unwilling pupil. "Because he'd been a sailor fer so long he walked all aslant—you know, like sailors do."

"Oh."

"So he fairly quickly became known as Slanty Brown, because of the manner of his perambulation—y'see?"

"Yeah, I get it. Pretty boring, when you know the facts, though."

"Jee-sus—why'd ya bother botherin' me about him, then?" Henrietta outraged by this attitude. "Cain't ya jes' leave me be, woman?"

"Easy, lady, easy—t'ain't the end o'the world yet a'ways. Want some coffee?"

"Yeah, figure I do—calm me down, meb'be."

"Right, I'll get right on it. Once I've unloaded our pack-horses. You wan'na start a fire in that there grate, lover?"

"Oh, alright, but hurry it along, I'm thirsty."

"Hrrph."

—O—

The imbibement of two full tin mugs of strong steaming black coffee, Sally not knowing how to make it any other way, found Henrietta more in tune with the world again, and sharp-eyed as a rattlesnake.

"I bin lookin' around me, gal."

"Have ye indeed," Sally busy with the coffee-pot and her own mug. "an' what's the outcome o'thet unnecessary action, then?"

Henrietta merely buried her nose in her mug once more, finding this the easiest way to avoid an unseemly repartee.

"Well, look fer yersel'."

"At what?" Sally put the pot down by the crackling fire and turned to her partner with raised eyebrows. "We're in an old run-down cabin, a ruin, in fac'; what's ter say about thet?"

"The state o'the place, dear."

Sally paused to frown as she took this proposal in.

"What about—oh, lem'me see," She obviously deciding to humour her lover. "There's a table, an' a fireplace, an' small bits o'wood ter use as fuel therein. The place's covered in dust an' certin hasn't bin lived in by so much as a passin' c'yote fer months. So, what?"

"The windows ain't got no glass, jest wooden shutters—"

"I knows, leddy, I opened 'em, didn't I?"

"—an' there's a mighty fine layer o'dust on the floorboards." Henrietta here coming to the sharp end of her conclusions. "Which ain't bin disturbed none, not until we entered, anyway. This place's bin abandoned fer months at least, meb'be as long's six whole month, even."

"Figure Slanty's upped sticks an' gone off ter pastures new, without tellin' anyone?" Sally frowning once more. "Where, d'ye suppose?"

"I got my suspicions he left here under the impression he was a'gon'na return by the same nightfall." Henrietta nodded at her own astuteness. "Only, obviously, he didn't."

Sally glanced around the main room of the cabin again, taking in the state of the floor, walls, and few pieces of furniture visible.

"Yeah, ye might have somethin' there, right enough." She rose to her feet in a smooth flowing movement. "Let's go take a look at the other room, the bedroom."

Following the now interested small form of the woman she loved most in all the world Henrietta looked over her partner's shoulder when Sally pushed the door open. At first there was nothing to be seen in the darkness, the only window having its shutters tight shut. Then their eyes became used to the gloom and they walked into the room.

"A small table, a trunk, a light single bed, with a metal-sprung mattress with a cloth cover, blankets an' sheets ter same, an' a wooden hard-backed chair thet don't look any too safe ter sit on." Sally concluded her catalogue of the room's contents by putting a hand to her nose and sneezing loudly. "God, g-dd-m dust—it's thicker in here than the main room."

"No-one's slept here in a long while, thet's fer sure. But at least it's only the other side o'the cabin thet's fallin' apart; this side's pretty near in one piece still."

"Not had any tenant since ol' Slanty left fer the last time, eh, Harry?"

"Thet's about it, young 'un."

Sally walked further into the small room, next to the bed—standing by the small table that still sat by the left hand side of the bed. It was only just over knee-high, with a single drawer under its flat top. She gripped the handle and pulled, then pulled harder, finally dragging the drawer open with a dry screech of wood.

"Hah, lookee here."

"What, gal? Oh, thet's surely jest a bible."

"No it ain't, anyways." Sally picking the volume out of its long-time resting place and blowing a fine coating of the ever present dust from its surface. "Let's get a look inside—why, it's a journal—no printing, jest bare pages fer writin' in."

"An' has anyone wrote anythin', dear?"

"Reckon so, lover." Sally held the book out to her partner. "See?"

Henrietta whistled gently between her teeth as she held the proferred volume in her hand, glancing over a few of the preliminary pages.

"Yer right, looks like ol' Slanty's personal jottings on life, love, an' the pursuit o'happiness."

Sally was up for this side trail into the murky waters of philosophy.

"Happiness seems t'have evaded him, from all the citizens o'Red Flume have ter say in the matter." She snorted censoriously as she watched Henrietta reading. "As ter love, who knows, but probably not. An' as fer Life, well, we knows he's bin domiciled in these here hills fer decades an' has never bin seen in wider society since—so much fer Life."

"Y'quite finished, leddy?"

"More nor less, yeah."

"OK, wan'na hear what Slanty has ter say about his life an' silver minin', an' what-all?"

"If it's actilly wrote down there in his own hand, an' yer not jest makin' it all up fer fun, yeah, I does."

"Dam' funny, ain't'cher?"

"I tries,—so get on with the recital—what's he got ter tell us, over the expanse o'his lifetime hereabouts?"

—O—

Evening was coming on, the horses had found accommodation in a small barn behind the cabin; meanwhile the cabin's shutters and door were firmly closed and Henrietta and Sally sat on chairs either side of the small fire-grate where a wood-fueled blaze was warming their toes. Henrietta had been reading the notes left behind by the old miner and now had news for her eager companion.

"Seems he left here sometime five month since—"

"Uh-hu?"

"—up till which he was nose t'the grindstone about discovering the Carlsson Lode—"

"Which no-one else has ever found, jest by way o'true fact, sis; if'n it exists at all, outside o'drunkard's dreams."

"—an' what he's left us here is a sort'a log of his daily activitees, day by day, as it were.—"

"You was always top with the logic, gal; day by day, in a daily log,—who'd a'guessed?"

"Will ya fer Chr-st's sake quit interruptin', ye're gettin' on my nerves—cain't a gal read from a book in peace now, or what?"

By way of apology Sally waved a condescending hand in the air and gave her lover a wide grin, thus taking all the annoyance out of her previous remarks.

"Right, so he says here he'd been washing fer gold an' silver in the local streams fer the last three year, with no tangible result. What?"

"Jest, I ain't seen sight nor sound o'any stream since we hit the high slopes o'this here dam' range." Sally really irritated by this fact. "Cause why? Cause there ain't none, not within ten mile, I bets. Streams, my ass. He's tellin' porky-pies, like the old salt he used ter be; don't believe a word o'what's wrote there, if'n ye wants my honest opinion."

A pause ensued, during which Henrietta considered the politest way to bring her partner's attention to a nearby natural phenomenon.

"Sal, love o'my life, what about the stream out back o'this cabin—you know, where the grass meadow an' stand o'trees sits as we speaks here?"

"Oh, f-ck."

"Quite—so, where was I? Oh, yeah,—washing fer gold in the local streams; he'd found a few traces o'gold, an' signs o'possible silver, but not on any industrial scale, he admits."

This was too much for the still critical listener to these tall tales.

"Yeah, I believes ye there, leddy." Sally nodding with all the authority of someone who could generally separate truth from fiction. "Which is why what probable happened is, one day at the start o'the year he rises with the larks, takes a look through an open shutter at the natur' o'the day, strips off complete t'his skin, then goes dancin' off into the wide blue yonder, singin' ol' sea-shanties from his younger happier days, an' as a result very probably falls down one o'these far too numerous dry arroyos all round these parts. Bones picked clean by c'yotes an' buzzards long since—end o'Slanty Brown an' his daft notions."

As the last echoes of this sarcastic diatribe died away in the small room Henrietta closed her eyes and contemplated happier things—lambs dancing in Spring meadows, being given a huge reward for capturing a notorious renegade, watching Sally taking that last step off a staircase which didn't actually exist, the last step that is, not the staircase.—ah, happy dreams.

"Sal, I feels yer not exactly en accord, as the Frenchies say, with this whole deal, are ye?"

"Well,—"

"No, thought not." Henrietta nodded sadly, brushing some dust off the page of the old journal she had just turned. "But here's the deal fer real—we're here, here bein' as far up the Dantedar Range as anyone in livin' memory has ever bin.—"

"—only 'cause o'the mournful pleadin' o'Sheriff Donaldson, who's promised us a pretty fair reward if'n we can find out anythin' o'the miscreant's doin's, or present status—"

"We hopin'," Henrietta carrying on regardless, well used to being interrupted by her loved partner. "ter find evidence o'the Carlsson Lode, which I admits may be a opium dream. An' here we are, in Slanty Brown's own mountain cabin, what's left o'it anyway's, reading his own personal journal. Now, there's two ways we can do this, lady—one, we shut up shop, ferget Slanty, an' ride out back ter Red Flume in the mornin', never t'return here. Two, we sits tight, reads what he's got ter tell us in his g-dd-m journal, an' takes intelligent logical steps thenceforward ter locate—whatever's here ter locate, OK?"

Seeing she was outnumbered, one sassy woman to a mere tenderfoot, Sally sighed heavily and gave in, as by honour bound—after all, you had to keep your inamorata happy at all costs, hadn't you?

"Oh, OK." She gave another, rather melodramatic sigh, then settled back on her chair. "So, don't let me stop yer, carry on yer recital; what-all more's Slanty got in store fer us?"

—O—

"He spends the next page bitchin' about the natur' o' the general landscape all round." Henrietta leaning over the journal with a keen eye. "How he allus has ter take extra water wherever he goes; how stony the ground is; what the type o'rock is, regardin' gold lodes an' sich; wishes it was easier t'locate an' recognise a silver lode; wishes he was back at sea, on a three-master goin' round the Horn—dam' sight easier an' less dangerous than this here prospectin' lay, in his mind; final, the last pages here collapse in'ta incoherency—"

"—they what, darlin'?"

Henrietta peered across the fireplace at her companion with the expression of a lady school-teacher sadly disappointed with her pupil.

"Incoherent—confused, rambling—no longer focusing on reality—"

"Oh, y'mean he'd finally gotten too much sun an' consequent lost his marbles? Why don't yer jes' say so, darlin'?" Sally now clear about the issue under discussion. "Hardly unexpected; I mean, all at sea, if you'll pardon the expression, out here in the mountains with nothing nor nobody ter connect with—well, yer jes' certin' ter go crazy in the end, ain't yer, stands ter reason?"

Henrietta sighed heavily at this pragmatic, even hard-bitten, reading of the situation.

"Well, whatever," She again glanced at the last page with writing on it. "the last post he set down is all in some kind'a code—letters an' numbers, an' sich-like. Cain't make head or the other out'ta it. Guess he'd really lost it when he set pen ter paper, here. Thet's the lot, there ain't no more."

There was a silent pause, then Sally leant forward, hand outstretched—Henrietta, being au fait with the situation, sighed again and handed over the thin volume. Sally crossed one ankle over the other, she having long since taken off her boots so her red-socked feet could embrace the warmth of the crackling wood-fire in the grate then, after some cogitations of her own, surprisingly came up with the goods.

"Compass bearings, clear as daylight; compass bearings, not so far from where we are right now, as it happens. Got yer hand compass, Harry?"

Both the women having ridden over a fair extent of the Territory of Arizona in their time, knowing various parts like the backs of their hands, they were still even now, notwithstanding, not fool enough to head off into the wilderness without a compass. Henrietta, some year or so since, had invested an enormous amount of money in the very best travelling compass on the market; a scientific instrument which she tenderly looked after like as if it were a year old baby, much to her partner's annoyance—but even Sally had to admit it had come in handy on several occasions.

"In my saddle-bag, over there. Ye really think?" She took the book back and studied the text with renewed interest. "Dam', yer right enough, babe. Why didn't I see it, straight off?"

Faced with a position where several pithy, not to say outrageous and even mean, replies sprung readily to mind, Sally was faced with one of those philosophical stand-offs where Love and Cruelty oppose each other—Love, of course, won hands down.

"Yer wouldn't, nat'ral, think a man on his last legs'd still be thinkin' half-way rational, is all, dear." Sally reached across to grasp her lover's hand in a warm embrace. "What sez we go out, tomorrow mornin', an' try'n see if'n we can track these co-ordinates to a definite place, among all these dam' arroyos, cliffs, an' ridges? Give us somethin' ter fill our day, at least—an' who knows, we might find the Carlsson Lode at the end o' it, too."

"Some chance, lover." Henrietta leaned over to turn down the wick on the oil-fed storm lantern which had been providing light in the small room. "Come on, let's wrap ourselves in our blankets an' get some shut-eye; looks like we're gon'na be busy tomorrow."

"How many blankets does it take t'wrap two people in, my beauty?"

"One, I figure." Henrietta rising and holding out a helping hand to her companion. "We can take care o' the rest, I'm sure. Ya think?"

"Oh, yeah—I think, babe—come on, time's a'wastin'."

"Har!"

—O—

The next day dawning as hot cloudless and calm as its immediate predecessors the women took a hurried breakfast of bacon n'beans and coffee, the old stand-by in fact, then scribbled Slanty's co-ordinates from his journal on a piece of loose paper, loaded their steeds and set out on their expedition of discovery—Henrietta guarding her compass, in its wooden box, like all the treasures of the Indies.

Four hours later, and some three mile or so further up the canyon with the shallow tinkling stream still running on their right hand under the shadow of the ragged cliffs, they came to their destination. Under the right-hand cliff, rising high and vertically over the scene, Henrietta and Sally found Slanty's mine—or what was left of same.

A small area had been cleared, more or less, of stones and boulders in front of part of the cliff-face. Scattered about were several pieces of wood, crates, and boxes which had severally once held equipment, tools, food, and cans. A wheel-barrow, upturned, lay to one side while against the cliff could be seen the outline of what had certainly once been the entrance to a small standard horizontal mine-shaft. Had been, because there had obviously been a cave-in not so very far in the immediate past, closing the whole thing off and spilling in an angled slope of gravel, dirt, and boulders out onto the level ground before the former mine.

"It's collapsed." Sally making what was, under the circumstances, an easy interpretation of recent events. "Some months since, by the looks of it."

"Yeah." Henrietta dismounted, tied her horse by its reins to a nearby piece of wood, and proceeded to silently contemplate the scene.

"Yeah, well." Sally standing by her side, taking off her wide-brimmed hat to scratch her fair hair. "This don't look good, in any way, whatever. Reckon he's still in there, some'er's?"

"Mighty likely, I'd say."

"Figure'd sich." Sally's voice taking on that low sad intonation of someone who's last card had fallen on the wrong number on the faro table. "What d'ya say, gal? Any chance of our diggin' in an' gettin' through this heap o'dirt? By way o'rescue an' aid, an' what-all?"

Henrietta continued assessing the situation for another minute, both women silent the while; then she came to a decision.

"If'n we had three month t'spare." She shook her head in acknowledgement of the reality of the situation. "If'n we had enough stores an' food ter let us stay here so long. Maybe then. Still take us weeks, probably, t'break through in'ta the tunnel—supposin' there's any intact open tunnel in there still t'find."

"The whole inside's collapsed, y'mean?" Sally on top of the likely possibilities. "Yeah, mighty likely, as yer sez, lover. What about we heads back ter Red Flume, organises a rescue party, stores an' equipment an' all; then makes our way back here an' goes ter work like a well-founded organisation?"

Henrietta shook her head straight away, sighing quietly as she turned to look at her partner.

"No hope there, ducks." Pursing her lips as she considered the various points. "First, it'll take us what, four days t'reach Red Flume agin. Then another two, three days ter organise the necessaries; then another four days ter return here. After which it'll still take us how long, with maybe ten men, ter dig our way in'ta this heap o'confusion? How long's thet, sister?"

Sally being, surprisingly, something wicked with numbers, was on top of this minor calculation.

"Fourteen days, sis." She in turn shaking her head at the hopeless nature of the proposed action. "An' meanwhile, all with the unspoken understandin' the only things o'substance left o'poor Slanty as we stands here argi'fyin's a pile o'broken bones. Thet certin'ly bein' his present position, as things goes."

Henrietta had been taking something else into consideration, too.

"What about the mine; as it is, I mean's?"

"Don't get yer, sweetheart."

"I mean's, is it the Carlson Lode right an' proper? Or jest another dry arroyo?"

Having this choice put before her Sally quickly came to the only possible conclusion.

"Dry as the rest o'the dam' terrain all round, leddy." Sally being able to face defeat when there was no other course. "The chance o'it bein' an actil gold or silver lode is so far off the rails as ter be a pipe dream, in my opinion; considerin' the state o'poor Slanty's mind in his journal back at the cabin. Yer want's my opinion on the matter, lover?"

"In course, wouldn't move without same, always." Henrietta's resolute tone adding point to her words. "So, what's the plan now?"

The women stood for another couple of minutes taking in the shattered abandoned nature of the site; then they both turned as one to their horses.

"Come on, gal, let's shake the dust o'this place off'n our boots, an' head back ter Red Flume an' ceevil'ashin'." Henrietta putting a comforting hand on her lover's shoulder as they tended to their steeds. "Slanty obviously broke down, final, an' went back ter his days goin' round the Horn; the shaft collapsed on him; an' now there's nuthin', nuthin' at all, ter do about the whole dam' sity'atin. Carlsson Lode be dammed."

A minute later the site of the former shaft was once again silent; the only mark of human presence being the rapidly diminishing cloud of dust showing in which direction Henrietta and Sally had taken their departure. In a few months the wood and pieces of metal and crates would have melted into the general landscape; the mine-shaft settled down and taken on the general tone of the rest of the cliff-face round-about; and so all evidence of the presence of the former shaft, and the last resting-place of Slanty Brown, been absorbed and dissolved into the surrounding landscape, lost to all knowledge for ever.

—O—

"So, yer found nuthin'?"

Sheriff Charles Donaldson, the face of Law in Red Flume, nodding wisely as he sat in his chair in his office on Main Street discussing the matter a week later with the women after their return. "Allus said it was a lost cause, searchin' fer thet recluse an' madman. Think's, on contemplation, I only ever set eyes on him once, thet bein more'n ten year since. So, yer never found anythin', in or round the abandoned ruin o'what must'a bin his cabin?"

"Took us most o'a week ter get right up in'ta the Dantedar Hills, Sheriff." Henrietta lying through her teeth, as she and Sally had earlier discussed before the present interview. "Missed our way, an' went in'ta the wrong canyon once; thet took some time out'ta our schedule—"

"Then we pin-pointed the right canyon, eventual." Sally putting in her two cents, for the benefit of the company; Henrietta keeping a sharp eye on her to see she stayed true to the story they had worked up earlier in the day. "The cabin, as yer sez, was jes' a ruin; wholly collapsed, a pile o'debris. Nuthin' left at all. No sign o'Slanty anywhere's. Harry here, figures he lost what little was left o'his mind, wandered off in'ta the surroundin' arroyos, an' far as we kin figur' left his bones some'er's out there in the sand an' boulders an' scrub."

"So, no Slanty Brown." Donaldson, as was his way, detailing the facts preparatory to writing a report on the matter. "No cabin as sich, far's ye can find? No shaft an', in keepin' with sich lack, no Carlsson Lode?"

"There ain't no Carlsson Lode, anywhere's, Charlie." Henrietta stating what she and Sally had determined to be the public face of the tale. "Never was, never will be—all a fairy-tale fer kids an' sich, thet's all."

Scribbling some lines on a sheet of paper with his steel-nibbed pen Donaldson nodded, accepting what he had been told unconditionally. Then he reached into a drawer of his desk.

"Well, thet seems t'set things ter rights; as much as can be done, anyway's." He leaning over to offer a small bundle of bills to Sally, who grabbed them with unseemly speed. "Hey, I'm kind'a attached ter my fingers, gal. Thanks fer yer trouble in givin' a helpin' hand all round, both o'yer. Sorry there wasn't a happier conclusion, but there yer goes, sich bein' Life, an' all."

"Any time, Charlie." Henrietta taking her companion's arm and steering her unceremoniously towards the street door. "We got'ta say adieu now; places ter be, an' all. Glad we could help; give us a call if'n anythin' o'the same natur' arises in future—allus glad ter do our ceevil duty, an' what-not. See yer."

" 'Bye, Charlie."

"Yeah, thanks, now get out, I'm a busy man, yer knows."

"Yer are?" Sally breaking under the strain and coming back with an insolent answer as her ordinary, and or'nery, nature determined. "Who'd a'thought sich, lookin' around at this tumbleweed-strewn desert yer calls yer office?"

"Hit the trail leddy, afore I determines ter lock yer up in one o'the cells backaways down thet there corridor, fer insolence in the face o'authority, or some sich. Take a hike."

"Oo-er, 'bye Sheriff." Sally no whit embarassed.

"— 'bye, Charlie." Henrietta sighing as she took her loved partner in hand. "I'll look after her, don't worry; it's jes' a touch o'sun, after all thet ridin' about in the dam' Dantedar Hills under the blazin' sky all day. A lie down in a dark room an' she'll be right as rain in no time."

"Hey, thet ain't nice. You sayin' I'm off my head jes' 'cause I—"

"Bite it, gal; see ya tomorrow, Sheriff. Ain't love wonderful; come on, Sal?"

"Haar!"

The End

—O—

Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.