'Garnet Creek's Big Day'
By Phineas Redux
Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers and Deputy's in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, attend the funerary rites for a well-known local roustabout.
Note 1:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of Alfred Henry Lewis.
Note 2:— The basic theme of this present tale is taken from 'Wolfville's First Funeral', by Alfred Henry Lewis.
Copyright:— All characters are copyright ©2020 to the author, and are wholly fictitious representations: the overall local geography may be questionable, too.
"The trouble with Parley Roberts was his inate belief that, when playing poker, he could make up his own rules." Henrietta Knappe, famed bear-hunter, was relating to her boss Sheriff Charles Donaldson just how the sad event now under discussion had come to pass. "So, two days ago, Sal was over to Garnet Creek on a mission of mercy t'the local sheriff there—"
"Bart Campbell; I knows, it bein' me as sent her there."
"Just so," Henrietta giving her superior a dark glance, not liking much being cut short in the telling of a good story. "And, findin' she was gon'na have t'spend the night there a'fore returning t'these more salubrious climes now surrounding us in Red Flume as we speaks, she took it in'ta her head ter employ the evenin' playin' poker with the boys down at Garnet's Flyin' Kestrel—"
"What was thet, Sheriff?"
"Nuthin', jes' –uum, is all."
Henrietta paused to consider the ramifications of this off-the-cuff remark; but, finding nothing clearly actionable in it, let it pass—her story still champing at the bit as it was.
"So,—er, where was I?"
"The Flyin' Kestrel."
"Ah, right." Henrietta nodded determinedly, as if wholly on the ball. "So, she enters the hostel, sees a couple o'pals she knows, gets in'ta the game an', with her usual good luck—though God knows how she does it—I sincerely hope not by dealin' off the bottom o'the deck—she digs in fer the evenin' ter mulct her companions of every bent cent they owns."
"Some people jes' has thet golden touch, like thet Old Time King—now, what was his name?"
"Was it Causis, or Cressy, or meb'be Hanni—what, what?"
"I'm tellin' a story here."
"Oh-ah, yeah, by all means—don't mind me, jes' carry straight on, I'm sure." Charles now with something else obviously disturbing his brain cells. "His name'll come ter me eventual. What, go right ahead, young 'un; I'm listenin'—I am!"
"Ruu-uurh." Henrietta coming close to the end of her tether, which never stretched far at the best of times. "About an hour later, when Sal was doin' jes' fine, an' her compatriots were beginnin' ter take sharper notice of just what her nimble fingers were up to—jes' in a sense of moral interest, ya unnnerstan's; well, then Parley comes crashin' through the flaps o'the main door, some took with drink.—"
"Never known him sober."
"Sorry, no more interruptions—go to it, ma'am."
Henrietta eyed her commander with what anyone else would certainly have described later, if they survived the experience, as the Evil Eye incarnate. But Charles Donaldson had long since, being an old bosom friend of both Henrietta and Sally Nichols, developed an imperviousness to such which now served him well.
"First thing he does, on arrivin'," Henrietta, defeated, carrying on gallantly. "is catch the card game out'ta the corner o'his red eye, slopes over, grabs a spare chair from another table an', bold as brass, confides he's now in charge o'the pot; grabbin' the cards without so much as showin' a silver dollar to back his play."
"Parley, when took bad with drink, is another person whole." Donaldson, having forgotten his promise, shaking his head sadly. "Sober, so I'm told by old-timers who remembers him in sich a condition—hard as it may be t'believe—says he was the gentlest nicest person you could possibly share glasses o'nose paint with. But now, well, he don't improve the quality o'air o'any township he may haunt at any given time. I opines it was Red Flume's good fortin' Sal sent him cavortin' on the trail ter Heaven over to Garnet Creek, an' not here."
Henrietta, having lost it altogether, sat back on her chair in the poky room which served both her as Deputy and Donaldson as Sheriff in the way of Office. She sighed deeply, raised a hand to fiddle with the broken edge of her wide-brimmed hat, looked at the dusty ceiling, then lowered her gaze to observe with an unusual degree of sharpness the man sitting on the other side of the scrubby desk.
"Can I get on with the sorry tale of Parley's demise now, Sheriff—or does ya have somthin' o'greater interest which, as we sits here doin' dam' all, holds yer attention?"
Seeing his Deputy was indeed at the end of her patience, and knowing full well what an excellent shot she was—even if, admittedly, at five hundred yards with a Sharps .50—he took the wiser course of those on offer.
"The floor, Harry, is wholly yours from now on. Feel free ter discourse on the unhappy end o'Parley ter yer heart's content—from me ye'll have no further disruption."
Henrietta, however, harboured doubts on this score.
"Ya sure, Charlie?"
Here, clearly wishing to make his promise absolute and irrevocable, Donaldson solemnly raised his hand to cross himself; holding, the while, a look that would have done a Protestant minister proud. Henrietta, on the receiving end of this performance, shook her head agan, then proceeded with her report of newly past events in Garnet Creek.
"From the idle chat thet always accompanies a game o'poker between friends, Sal had already discovered thet the main talkin' point o'the community over the past week was Parley himself." She paused to glance at Donaldson, who appeared to be giving his subordinate all the attention she could possibly wish. Still doubtful, but with no other course open, she carried on. "Apparently he'd shown up ten days previous ter the evenin' we now have under consideration. He'd come roustin' around, from who knows where, gettin' under everyone's heels, pickin' quarrels out'ta the air, tryin' ter start fights with little old ladies fer standin' in front o'him at the grocery store, or jes' drinkin' like a fish late havin' crossed the Sahara on a camel an' now wishin' ter make better acquaintance with its nat'ral environment—though, in this case thet bein' whisky an' not plain water; a liquid which I don't think has passed Parley's lips these twenty year or more."
Finding she needed to take a breath Henrietta paused in her recital, not looking directly at Donaldson but, they both knew, just waiting for another interjection. Donaldson, being intelligent in his way, remained as silent as an Egyptian mummy; constraining Henrietta to take up the reins of her tale once more unopposed.
"By the time he slid in'ta the hot seat at Sal's game he'd previous, the night a'fore, done the same thing." She frowning at the memory of what her inamorata had earlier told her. "Having, then, the cold impropriety ter final announce he'd won a game with his plain flush over a straight flush, Hearts up; offered, some happily, by his opponent. It seems, knowin' his attitude ter bein' called out in sich circumstances, and seein' he was packin' a mighty large revolver in his waistband, the other sports round the table allowed he was in the right, an' all ended happily, for Parley, anyways."
By this point the drama of the tale had caught her listener's attention and, looking over at him, Henrietta saw only an interested spectator hanging on her every word. Hoping this attitude would stay the course, she continued.
"Some doubtful of the imminent course o'events, but actin' wholly in the way of open sportsmanship, Sal let the id-yeet carry on, fer a while, at least." Henrietta, now approaching the climax, searched for the right words to best sketch what had eventually occurred. "About half an hour in'ta the game, an' at the conclusion of a pretty round o'cardplay by Sal they, she an' Parley, laid their cards on the table in a showdown—she spreadin' as mighty fine a seven-up four of a kind as could well be imagined; whiles Parley, bold as Betty Martin, throws down a two-pair, Jacks an' sixes—cryin' out ter all an' sundry within hearin' thet he'd won clear as aces, no complainin' ter the referee."
Donaldson, some astonished at this level of brazen-ness raised his own eyebrows at Henrietta who, delighted with the attention she was now receiving, started into the climax with refreshed strength of will.
"Sal wantin', as she gen'rally does ter all an' their husbands, ter go handsome an' take everyone fer a close friend till proven wrong, now looks at her opponent in the card-playin' line with some interest. 'Parley', she addresses him, some cold. 'What fer d'ya mean? A two-pair, Jacks an' sixes, don't hold diddley-squat ter a seven-up four o'a kind; every six year old gal an' her brother knows thet. You lose; Daniels, shuffle the deck if yer pleases, I'll jes' pull this pile o'dollars over in'ta my field o'influence, an' the game continues."
Impelled by the horrible tension of the unfolding tragedy Donaldson couldn't hold back.
Seeing her audience was caught, like pilchards in a fishing-net, Henrietta grinned evilly in reply.
"What for d'ya think happened?" She shaking her head at the pure senselessness of the situation. "Enraged out'ta all understandin', an' more'n half-seas over with rotgut whisky, Parley staggers ter his feet, roars defiance at his supposed assailant, an' goes fer his revolver like a flash, even bein' so much in drink."
"Jes' so." Henrietta nodding in agreement. "Snappy as he certin was Sal, as yer knows, can draw both her point thirty-eights so fast even a photograph wouldn't catch her play an' show it stopped in motion. Parley's revolver cleared his waistband, which was a hindrance anyways, an' got off one shot—his trigger havin' fouled some part o'his clothin' an' gone off promiscus a'fore he could really get a bead on Sal; whiles she, cold an' efficient as always, aimed straight at his gut an' got off five shots a'fore he gave up his play an' fell ter the floor, a spent item in the battle fer Life. Dead a'fore hitting the pine boards, so Doc Beardsley later opined, he havin' been called ter make the passin' o'the fool official, as it were. An' thet, as they say, was thet."
"Jes' so." Henrietta acknowledging the unquestionable truth of this statement on her boss's part.
The small community of Garnet Creek lay some twenty miles east of Red Flume, in a rolling landscape of green grass flowing to the horizon all round the environs of the town; this being a land of cattle in their thousands, managed by a handful of well-set-up ranches. In size it was probably some two-thirds that of its near neighbour; though harbouring many more saloons and hotels—the preponderance of transitory ranch-hands at any one time making this a viable business practice.
Though having had their patience and goodwill to one and all sorely tried over the last ten years by the less than ephemeral presence of Parley Roberts during this period of time, the citizens of the upstanding community were in no mood to let his passing go off unnoticed, in social terms at least. Rogue and wastrel as he undoubted was Garnet Creek had decided in its heart that, no loss as he might be, they were going to send-off Parley Roberts to his next level of being frustrating to those in charge of the local social attributes there—ie, St Peter—by way of the best set of funerary rites ever seen in the small town heretofore—to which end both Sal and Henrietta had been duly invited.
Three days after Henrietta's dramatic recitation of the demise of Parley to Sheriff Donaldson she and Sal rode into the town which, if not exactly festooned with ribbons and bunting, still showed an understated but visible atmosphere of Holiday and Carouse.
"Looks like everyone's gettin' ready fer the big event." Sal performing an intricate facial expression combining smiling, smirking, and looking sad but bravely determined to get on with Life, all at once. "Which hotel will we offend with our combined presence, lover?"
"The Parthenon, I fancy." Henrietta having strong views on this topic. "Remember what happened three month since, when we polluted the locality o'Golightly's Hotel?"
"God, don't remind me." Sal shaking her head contemptuously at the memory. "Right, here we be—and don't let Jake, inside, roll yer out'ta more'n three dollars a day. I bet, with these upcoming funerary delights, he's aiming t'boost his prices through the roof."
"I'm on it, sis, no worries."
Half an hour later, now safely assured of a roof over their heads, at a fair price, for the next two days, the ladies sauntered out into the crowded streets—they having one particular destination in view.
"Davidson's Funerary Parlour, Paterson Street, wherever the Hell that is." Sal looking at the letter they had received from Sheriff Campbell giving details of the day's schedule. "View the remains, praise the mortician fer painting Parley up larger than Life, and sliding out'ta any attempt at his tryin' ter land us, pertikler me, with the expences o'same."
Ten minutes later, after one false turn, they discovered the last resting-place but one of the dear departed though not unsung late citizen, and passed through to the main viewing-room, where a host of the town's big-wigs were already assembled.
"God—depressing joint!" Sall not taken by the walls hung with black crepe, the bare floorboards, the coffin on its trestle, and the soberly dressed retainers present. "Ah, hallo, Sheriff."
"Nice ter see ya managed t'make it back fer the obsequies, Sal,-Harry."
"So, here he lies lookin', I got'ta admit, more sober than he's done these ten year past; so dam' like a school-teacher it takes yer breath away." Campbell having escorted them over to stand looking down into the open coffin where all that was of the late reprobate now lay. "Don't look like butter'd melt in his mouth, do he?"
Sal, nothing loth, took due cognisance of the end result of her five shots,—all nicely grouped in the mid-upper gut, now hidden by the first clean shirt the deceased had worn in the last five years,—that had placed the victim in his present predicament.
"Yeah, the undertaker's done a fine job, I got'ta say." Sal nodding with all due praise. "Looks, if'n I give him a poke, he'd rise right up an' sock me on my jaw, still."
"Got me some bran' new mixes, from Phoenix." A tall dark, and darkly dressed, man stood beside Henrietta; having arrived softly and quietly like a lost soul in the night, with almost the same level of disruption to his audience's nerves. "I must say they've allowed of a level of resemblance to Life I've never before managed. My enduring achievement, you may say;—Mr Godfrey, Funerary Undertaker Supreme; ladies, your servant."
Sal, still being paralysed by the shock of the unexpected encounter, Henrietta grasped the necessity of upholding the social graces.
"Yeah, we was jes' sayin' as much." She studying the man with a sharp eye, not much liking what she saw. "So, what's, er, next on the schedule?"
"Funeral later this afternoon; everyone assembling out at the Craile Cemetery north o'the town." Davidson, as was only reasonable, being on top of these details. "As you can see I've provided the late, er, gentleman, with our best item—the Coronal Embellished, cost twenty dollars; it bein' lead-lined, y'know. I can guarantee, if dug up a hundred year in the future, Mr Roberts won't look any different from how he does now, that's a fact."
Having just been handed a statistic she had no use or wish for Henrietta strove to change the subject to something more salubrious.
"Who's the local sky-pilot?" She generally not having much liking for these gentlemen at the best of times. "Or did ya lasso-in someone important from Phoenix?"
"The Reverend Potter, David." Mr Godfrey suppling this information with the expression of a Preying Mantis about to strike. "By the way, about the, uum, costs; I reckon it up, considering my total outlay, to twenty-three dollars an' seventeen cents."
After making this report he gazed, with a sad expression, straight at Sally, though making no further attempt to pin the tail to the donkey outright. Sally, seeing clearly where this was leading, put a stop to the Undertaker's hopes witrh cold finality.
Pinned himself in this manner Godfrey began to realise he was on shaky ground.
"I saw the sign, as I came in the front entrance." Sally's tone one of calm but icy composure. "View Parley Roberts; price ten cents. How much've ya made, over the last three days as a result?"
Caught short Godfrey found himself in a conumdrum; whether to admit here and now he was richer by some eighty dollars, pretend ignorance of the question's meaning, or fall back on silence—he eventually choosing the latter. Sally nodded, satisfied he had gotten her message.
"Reckon we can ferget about any further monetary claims on innocent citizens, yeah? Yeah, just so." She smiling broadly, but with meaning, at the unhappy Undertaker. "So, who'd ya say the sky-pilot in command fer the comin' games was?"
"Ah, the Reverend David Potter." A short rotund man, with thinning white hair and an appearance of being very well to do indeed, spoke up. "I'm, er, Mayor Rannigan,—er, Terrence Rannigan."
Both Henrietta and Sally turned as one to take note of this further member of the present obsequies; Henrietta with the cold stare of a seasoned bear-hunter, Sally with the glance of a short-tempered free spirit who never took prisoners: Mr Rannigan, staggering under this attention, stepped back a pace, paling noticeably in doing so.
"Wa-al, Mayor," Henrietta talking slow and quietly; her tone imbued with a vague menace. "Tell us about this here Potter guy."
"He's,—he's,—er, he's the minister over t'the United Free General Schism Church, on Tanner Avenue, a coupl'a blocks from here." Rannigan beginning to stutter under the pressure of this unwanted conversation with two women he now realised were close relatives to wild and untamed rattlesnakes. "He'll do very well, I assure you. He bein', er, bein', er, a very religious person, taken all in all, thet is."
"I takes same fer granted." Sally dismissing this with the contempt it deserved. "Gon'na be a big crowd there—up at the cemetery?"
Here Mayor Rannigan was on home ground, he having had more than a little to do with portraying the coming event as something important in Garnet Creek's social calender, not to mention its honorable future chronicles.
"Hundreds, perhaps even a coupl'a hundred over a thousand—a big occasion altogether."
"Glad ter here same." Henrietta curling a lip in something not much like a smile. "Wouldn't a'expected Garnet Creek t'have spread fer anythin' less, considerin' everythin'."
"Yes, yes," Rannigan searching desperately for neutral ground. "Well-known sun'na-a-bi—, er, thet is, unfortinat' sozzled ol',—er, no, er, gen'ral distressed in Life, as he may have often found hisself, Mr Roberts held a, uum, solid recognition in the town's day ter day existence. An', he now bein' deceased because o'no marked resolve of his own, if'n he'd been sober, anyways; well, the town jes' believes he's a clear exemplar fer the comin' Honor which the town finds it right ter duly bestow ter-day on his remains."
Having listened to this nonsense Henrietta gave reply by making a curious noise in her throat which could have been taken as meaning almost anything; then there was a disturbance as yet another high-rolling citizen entered the dark confines of the viewing-room.
"Ah, hallo, Reverend Potter; we was jes' talkin' about yer." Rannigan mighty relieved to pass the focus of attention on to other shoulders than his own. "These here is Deputies from Red Flume—this here bein' Henrietta Knappe, an' her partner Sally Nichols. Miss Nichols bein' the, er, prime instigator of Mr Roberts present, ah, difficulty. Ladies—Reverend Potter, who'll be in charge o'the comin' obsequies out at the Craile Cemetery."
The Reverend, straight-off, could be read as one of those ministers who thought well of themselves, and very little of anyone else; particularly those who, ill-advisedly and for better or worse, had joined his congregation: they, eventually, often coming to the conclusion it was the latter. He stood six feet tall, exaggerating this proclivity by wearing a short-rimmed top hat eighteen inches in height. He was clean-shaven, with a sharp chin, tight thin lips, high almost jagged cheek-bones, and small eyes of virtually pure black which pinned his victim like a hungry side-winder. His voice, on breaking forth in speech, held the dominant tone with the fervour of a religious fanatic. He now choosing to disgorge these unassuming aspects of his formidable character on the two ladies just introduced.
"I would have found it far more agreeable if ladies, for so I give you credit, were more inclined to allow of their sex, and not childishly represent themselves as anything other: particularly in the presence of a member of the cloth."
Henrietta, and Sally in her time also, had been harangued in various ways about the way they chose to live their lives, wearing male attire as the norm—but never by a Minister, in Public, in front of witnesses. Both women, however, being very well aware that due to the present circumstances it would hardly be playing the game to draw their weapons and shoot him full of holes with no further discussion. But they still had the power of speech, and Sally was first to make use of this exceptionally useful tool.
"What?" Potter affecting the manner of someone who had just seen someone else urinate in public. "Are you addressing me?"
"Yeah; look Mister, you may be all'a a minister, useful in yer own place o'business; but Harry here, an' I, don't take kindly ter anyone—anyone—miscallin' us fer being alive an' beneficial members o'Society." Sally's eyes, brown as a peat stream in Scotland, pierced the minister with a cold aura straight from the Arctic. "We dresses as we does 'cause thet's the way we've al'lus done. We don't wear dresses 'cause we don't find it convenient nor useful; but we ain't any the less fer so doin'. Perhaps ya ought'a think about bein' a trifle more easy-goin' in yer opinions in futur'; ye'll find ya makes more friends thet way, jes' sayin'."
Staggered to his foundations by this mutinous attitude, and on the part of a woman withal, Potter stood motionless for an appreciable time; then a minor detail concerning his verbal attacker sprang to mind; he, erroneously, thinking it a battle-winner.
"Miss Nichols?" He affecting an attitude, and expression, of deep thought. "Are you not the one who was responsible for Mr Roberts' presently, ahh, standing his trial in the presence of Our Lord?"
"What?" Sally missing his meaning completely.
"You are the one who murdered Mr Roberts." Potter coming out with his show-stopper with a snarl of officious rage. "Mayor Rannigan, why is a murderess present at this sad occasion? Should she not be in chains in a cell, awaiting condign punishment for her awful sin?"
Everyone around, in the tightly packed room, shuffled in discomfiture at this shocking mis-representation of the facts surrounding the taking-off of the nearby, though silent, object of the on-going conversation. Even Mayor Rannigan, troubled as he was, realised that clarification was immediately necessary if even worse was to be avoided.
"I await a suitable answer to my request." Potter in no mood to listen to reason.
"Reverend Potter," Rannigan bravely carrying on as if never having heard this remark. "Our friend here, now lying in state in his physical frame whilst his immaterial presence is, ah, elsewhere, was a low-down lyin' drunken boor. Sufficient to the moment thet he's gon'na be missed by no-one in or around the vicinity o'Garnet Creek fer all time ter come. It merely bein' our simple friendly duty, as upstandin' citizens, ter send him off with as fine a set o'obsequies as we can muster at short notice; he, after all said an' done, not bein' mean at heart in person, but jes' a sozzled id'yeet all round. His goin'-off, at the behest o'Sal here's sidearms, was all accordin' ter Hoyle, as everyone then present spectatin' at his demise can say fer sure an' certin. In short Sal defended hersel' as the aggressee, an' not the aggressor, in the late stand-off in the Flyin' Kestrel—an' thet's sure as fried onions."
Standing tall, Potter raked the assembled gathering with his best Prophet With A Point To Make glance; metaphorically showering salt, ashes, and boiling brimstone on all those present, then turned to make a Regal exit.
"I shall see you all at the cemetery for the internment, later this afternoon; and shall be expecting my usual emolument afterwards, if you please."
And then he was gone.
"If'n he was the minister at any church I was forced ter attend, I wouldn't."
A general low-pitched murmer broke out, all there appearing to very much agree with Sally's remark.
"When's the hoe-down commence?" Henrietta getting down to the important details.
"Two-thirty this afternoon." Mr Godfrey speaking-up after a lengthy silence; he, previously, having felt pretty much subjugated by the minister's ironclad presence.
"Time fer lunch." Henrietta making this public announcement with all the authority of one who knew she was in the right.
The Craile Cemetery, located half a mile west of the town limits, laboured under a cloud of historical dubiety; it not being known who it was named after, or why. Some said it was because of an old-time shootist called John Craile, out of New Hampshire, reputed buried there; but no-one could locate the particular site. Others opined it was after an ancient Mayor of Garnet Creek; but, again, no evidence for this character's existence had ever been discovered, rake through the pages of old nespapers as much as you would. A long-held geographical theory was that it was named after a low mound a mile off, otherwise anonymous on maps, masquerading as the nearest thing to a mountain near the town; but as this was a mere conjecture, and no other hills near were individually named either, not many took cognisance of this theory. Finally the most widespread opinion on its nomenclature was that proffered to Henrietta when she and Sally showed up, amongst the accompanying crowd, for the main event.
"Why's this here place o'burial called what it is?"
Instantly, from several throats came the generally accepted answer—
In overall terms the median total of mourners usually attending any single funeral at the cemetery would not out-number half a dozen; though sometimes, on rare occasions, some local dignitary might pull in forty or so of those sad, or happy, to see the back of the deceased. However, on this momentous occasion, the town felt under moral constrictions to do the best for their late resident—that best which, in life, they had conspicuously failed to contribute when most needed—so the wide avenues cutting through the rickety lines of markers were thronged by a large selection of those citizens who either had nothing better to do or were harassed by particularly guilty consciences: in short, the local Garnet News, two days later, reported the attendance as being two hundred and thirty-eight; though whether this figure was genuine, or pulled out of the office hat, was left to consider; there certainly being a large crowd there, anyway.
When Henrietta and Sally arrived the hearse—long, black, with glass windows showng the interior, and pulled by six horses accoutered in black head feathers and silver harness—was already on station by the grave side. Standing by the newly placed wood marker Reverend Potter looked all the part required; his expression one of sad misery at the loss of one of his flock—though, of course, Roberts had never soiled the entrance to a church meeting in twenty years. The pall-bearers, hastily flung together from eight of the strongest citizens arbitrarily present, had taken the coffin out of the hearse and placed it on the boards over the open grave, while everyone else crowded close to hear Potter's funerary peroration on the late departed; wondering what on earth he was going to find uplifting to say about the unredeemed old soak.
"This's gon'na be interestin'."
"Dear friends, citizens, and members of the United Free General Schism Church," Potter not hesitating to get in a free advertisement for his place of business; after all, what were funerals for. "We are gathered here today to give thanks for, and salutations in the departure of, the life of our respected fellow wayfarer through the vales and valleys of this conterminous existence called Life."
Here he paused to glance quickly around, analysing the mood of the outdoor congregation—much like that of one of his ancestors at a windy rainy outdoor secret conventicle on the draughty moors of Scotland. Finding as yet no truly obvious positive response he carried on; hoping, like his ancestors again, to bring the heathen throng round with strong words and snappy quotes from the Good Book; he being one of those who believed everything therein, uncritically, without argument, and with the deepest regard and acceptance; anyone of lesser belief being, as by right condemned, scheduled for the Hot Place for ever and ever, plus whatever length of Time carried on from there. In short, on the religious line, Reverend Potter took no prisoners.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, here is a poor individual, one Parley James Houston Roberts by name," Potter letting everyone know he had done his homework. "who, given a fair chance, may have contributed much to the community; though who is to say that, even so, he failed in this commendable enterprise?—"
"I got'ta idee this's gon'na go on fer some time." Sal whispering to her sweetheart. "Figure he's firin' up fer the long haul. How long're his Sunday sermons, usual?"
"Never under the half-hour." A man standing next to the ladies contributed this information with a wry smile. "Someone once timed his discourse with a stopwatch, an' recorded forty-two minutes an' ten seconds—the longest sermon ever heard in these parts—record still standin' as we speaks."
"Hm, thanks." Sally always grateful for local gossip. "Harry?"
"This cain't be allowed t'go on."
"Wha' d'ya mean, yep?"
"Nope. Nope's what I meant."
"Harry, what in hell—oh, sorry,—what are you talkin' about?" Sally all at sea, having lost her place in the conversation. "What? What? Oh; yeah, lem'me put it another way—are we gon'na let this sky-pilot gibber fer the next hour, or are we gon'na do something ter call a halt ter his tirade. God, listen t'this—"
"—and, you will all recall the horrible trials of Job in similar circumstances? What can we, ordinary sinners as we all certainly are, learn from this present situation to give us all hope fer the future of the Human Race, never mind our own worthless lives? Eh? Eh?" Potter gathering his forces for the big denouncement. "I ask you all to consider your lives, your attitudes, your beliefs and moral principles to one and all, and repent before wholesale damnation tears you all asunder—"
"Jeez, he's gone off his head—thet didn't take long." Sally astonished by Reverend Potter's remarkably quick descent into berating the crowd. "We better do something, fast. He's gone berserk."
On the far side of the open grave stood a line of three trumpeters; all shabbily dressed having been dragged to serve at short order, though one was attired in a military uniform not seen in public these ten years past,—no-one however, considering the present occasion, finding it quite the right thing to criticise this. Now, Sally gestured imperiously to them, making her wish clear to all. With one concerted motion, glad to be found useful in time of need, the trio put their instruments to their lips and, across the wide garth of the cemetery, the loud peal of what sounded suspiciously like the Call to Arms rang out, drowning Potter's tirade instantly.
Henrietta, taking up the strain of rescue, gestured on her part to the men standing by the planks and ropes necessary to lowering the coffin into its last position. They knowing well when a duty was a duty, and somewhat horrified themselves by the direction Potter was taking in his clearly deranged sermon, sprang to it with a will. Before Potter, only now realising activities opposed to his continuing peroration were in progress, could make any viable refutal the planks were removed and the mortal remains of Parley Roberts descended out of sight forever. Determined that the Reverend Potter had given his last, unwanted and unrequired, condemnation of the assorted morals of the attending crowd Sally gave loud voice to the final episode in the celebrations.
"Yee-hah! An' thet's how we, here in Garnet Creek, sez g'bye t'old friends. How's about a last volley, in honor of the ol' repro—I means, old comrade?"
Nothing loth, and quite au fait with what Sally was doing, a remarkable percentage of the crowd pulled out sidearms, and some rifles, from who knows what hiding-places—even considering the nature of the present assemblage. And suddenly it sounded, even if only for a mere few seconds, as if the Battle of Appomattox was once more in full swing—the trumpeter in the uniform, wholly carried away by the atmosphere, even giving forth with a Rebel yell. Potter, defeated across the board, slunk away tail between his legs; lowered tophat clutched in hand as a further sign of his overthrow.
"Now, this's what I calls a right-down funeral!"
Henrietta, looking at her partner, shook her head.
The gathering, later in the evening, at the Quail and Goose Restaurant on Hanover Street, was attended by Henrietta, Sally, Sheriff Campbell, and Mayor Rannigan; all expressing happiness at the conclusion of the earlier obsequies.
"Went off fairly well, considerin'." Sally making free with her own opinion.
"Seen worse, sure." Campbell offering some recollections of times past. "I was present when 'Potshot' Bill Sykes was laid below the cornflowers, twelve year since. God, thet was a show, an' no mistakin'; four people wounded, three fist-fights resultin' in holidays in the cells fer several therein engaged, an' the Reverend in attendance nearly bein' lynched outright. God, ol' times; we'll never see the like agin'."
Somewhat astonished by these rememberances everyone, instead, settled down to their meal with all due diligence towards the excellent cuisine placed before them.
"I got'ta say," Sally having tasted the fare on her own plate and found its contents satisfactory. "there's roast chicken an' there's roast chicken. This here's roast chicken."
Everyone round the table paused, considering this almost Socratic declaration; Henrietta coming to their rescue.
"Sal surely loves roast chicken, when it's done jes' the way she likes."
Sally, in her turn, regarded this remark with haughty suspicion.
"You got somthin' against me eating dam' roast chicken, lady?"
"Nah, not in the least, pard." Henrietta knowing, from long experience how to handle this little contretremps. "Say, thet was some quick thinkin' on your part, earlier, when Rev Potter took ter castigatin' everyone in sight fer bein' alive an' enjoyin' a fine funeral."
"Huh! He's the sort'a guy who, come everythin' fine in Life an' garnished with roses fallin' in his lap, he'd still complain o'the inconvenience o'bein' happy." Sally speared a potato on her plate with cold efficiency. "I bet his lady-love turned him down, back when he was a young Lothario, an' it's nibbled at his reflection of himself ever since. Takin' it out on everyone in his later life, y'see."
No-one at the table quite following Sally's line of thought, they instead bent over their plates with renewed interest.
"My steak's done jes' the way I likes." Mayor Rannigan giving praise where due.
"My pork ain't bad in its way." Sheriff Campbell allowing there was some good in his own victuals.
"It were a fine funeral, all the same." Sally reverting to the good times. "Corpse makin' a fine show; funerary arrangements all accordin' t'Hoyle; the mourners turnin' out in their hundreds—"
"Prob'ly jes' ter make dam' sure Parley was really deceased fer real, is all." Henrietta harbouring less than charitable thoughts about the citizens of Garnet Creek, and their past relationship towards the dearly departed.
"Har, something in that, pardon yer presences, Mayor an' Sheriff." Sally tickled pink by this idea. "Anyway's, he's bin disposed off, with all due ceremonial appurtenances in the way o'High Style. Bet his funeral's remembered fer years ter come, in Garnet Creek. Ya got any other town worthies, pollutin' the place, likely ter benefit by the same grand designs an' outlay, Sheriff?"
Under the impression Sally was more than half serious Campbell paled, almost choked on a forkful of mashed turnip, and took immediate defensive measures to allay the danger.
"Leavin' us, fer Red Flume, sometime ter'morrer mornin', Sally?"
"Sure thing, Sheriff." Sally all gaiety, after the Ball. "We'd like fine ter stay, an' make deeper acquaintance with other o'yer local citizens, but Harry an' I have work ter do over ter Red Flume, all the same, thanks."
"Thank Go—, er, I means, well, nice ter have met yer both, agin."
"Sal?" Henrietta breaking in here, to take the pressure off both the Sheriff and Mayor together. "Yer gettin' some o'thet there sauce on yer shirt sleeve—ain't yer got any idee o'polite table manners, at all?"
"So I likes my grub, an' gets carried away some over it—so what?"
Henrietta, however, had a perfect rejoinder to this carping criticism.
"First Parley gets his'self carried away—ha-ha;—then you do the same, more'n less,—ha-ha!"
Sally paused in raising a forkful of mashed potatoes to her lips; stared at her inamorata for several seconds; then parried this fine example of verbal tergiversation with the swift precision of an expert.
"Harry, y'must'a suffered a mite o'sunstroke, some, out at the cemetery earlier; cain't think what's made me miss the symptoms till now. Sheriff, you know where we's can find a good Doctor ter minister ter this poor soul sufferin' a'fore us as we takes our victuals here?"
"Sal, y're a muggins, is what y'are." Henrietta more amused than otherwise.
"Harry, ye'll do fer me too, in the meantime, I allows." Sally smiling with unaffected love and good humour.
"God, eat yer grub, lady—an' be nice about it."
Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.