'Helpful Evans' Carouse'
By Phineas Redux
Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers and deputies in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, interact with someone whose innocent nickname belies their true nature towards all concerned.
Note:— Influenced by the 'Wolfville' stories of 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.
"Har-har-har!—ain't it jes so!"
Henrietta, sitting listlessly like her partner at the desk in the Sheriff's Office this fine morning of August 187- in Red Flume, Territory of Arizona, there being nothing of official concern on the stocks at the moment, glanced across at Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols enjoying herself.
"What'cha readin', leddy?"
Sally, still giggling quietly, looked up in her turn.
"Jes' a verse, is all."
Henrietta, considered this reply for some seconds before finding it lacking in the matter that mattered—facts.
"There's poems, an' then there's poems o'all shapes an' sizes, dear—which is thet you're readin' as we speak, out'ta gen'ral interest?"
Being so determinedly interrogated, and having finished the short series of verses to her satisfaction anyway, Sally allowed she would answer at length—at length for her, that is.
"Jes' a piece in this here magazine; found it lyin' lone an' abandoned in the 'Yellow Tiger' yestern; some good stuff in it, babe."
Once started on a quest or hunt, Henrietta's major hobby or pastime being shooting bear in the mountains, she never stopped till the kill was lying at her feet, duly shot. This conversation now reaching that point Henrietta came out fighting for the fifth round.
"Yer sayin' a lot without tellin' me anythin', dear." Henrietta's bump of Sarcasm well to the fore. "What's the gen'ral intent of this here poem? What does it say? Where does it go? What style's it in? Is it meaningful in any sense o'the term? In short, what the dam's it about?"
Seeing her revered, loved, and usually respected, partner was not going to take no for an answer, Sally sighed and came clean.
"It's called 'Truthful James', by some guy by the name o' Harte." She glancing down at the page to ensure her facts. "Doesn't take up a page,—short, y'know.—"
"Nuthin' lover; continue, please, I'm all ears."
Frowning slightly, unsure whether her lover was pulling her leg or not, Sally finally did as directed, though not without a doubtful mien.
"So, it's the tale of a poker game—no, wait, euchre—that's it—euchre."
"Sure I'm sure—sez it right here, in the poem." Sally, back on track, continued her recital of the plot. "There's three men, two Yanks an' a Chinee, who're playin' euchre. One o'the Yanks is the guy tellin' the story—"
"That's what I said—stop interruptin', will ya?"
"Right—anyway, where the dam' was I?"
"Euchre—two Yanks—one Chinee—Yank tellin'—"
"OK! OK! I got'cha." Sally by now miffed up to her collarbone, and showing it. "God, wish I hadn't started, now. Anyways', so, the game goes on, but there's a catch—"
"Thought ya said this was a short poem?"
"God, give me strength!" Sally now completely out of the social nicety known as patience. "Will you jes' clam up, an' let me tell you what the dam' poem's about—or shall I jes' throw the mag over an' let you read it fer yourself? Always allowin' y'can read, in the first place, dear."
Seeing her loved companion was clearly at the far shores of her tolerance Henrietta gave in with a gentle smile which, if she only realized, only made matters worse.
"Carry on, darlin'. Not another word, I promises."
"You bloody better, or there'll be consequences." Sally looking every iota of the famed sharpshooter she was in real life. "OK, so, they've settled t'the game, these three—one tellin' the tale so's we readers can see what the hell's goin' for'rard. But the catch is the narrator's partner's playin' dirty, with cards stuffed up his sleeve, which he brings in'ta play promiscus', as the flow of the game requires. The narrator bein' some distasteful an' standoffish around this behavior of his friend, but lettin' things ride 'cause they was only playin' aginst a Chinee.—"
"—not very nice—"
"Sorry, pretend I didn't say anythin'. Continue."
Sally, looking meaner than a whole bunch of rattlers, took time-out to recover what little reserve of tranquility she could press into service, then went on with her recital.
"The Yanks started by gettin' along famously, curtesy of the underhand dealin's of the narrator's pard; but final, they found themselves bein' knocked fer six all ways ter Phoenix an' back; the Chinee, even though he'd allowed at the start he didn't understand the game, seemin' nonetheless t'be playin' like a Guardian Angel. Then the climax came!"
A pause ensued, Sally taking advantage of this obvious moment to build the tension of the drama to unbearable heights. Finally Henrietta couldn't take the strain any longer.
"Ya intend ter finish this here tall tale some time this year; or shall we jes' put on our badges an' set ter doin' our mornin' rounds, or what?"
"Some folks jes' don't have any idee of the flow of a drama, is all." Having got this off her chest Sally set-to with greater enthusiasm, now nearing the end of the poem's tale. "The Chinee, all unknowing, dealt the narrator a Joker trump the which the narrator had jes' been dealt the same by his partner. This act of downright devilry bringin' everything t'a head fisticuffs, of course, broke out—the result bein' thet it was found the Chinee had twenty-four packs in the flowin' sleeves of his robe, an' obvious knew a deal more about the game of euchre than the two Yanks, probable. Har-har!—ain't thet jes' my eye an' Betty Martin, or what?"
Overwhelmed by this turn of events Henrietta, who had a coldly logical mind when pressed, could only take the straight road to truth.
"So, what'd they do? Lynch the Chinee, or what?"
"Do? What d'you mean, do, lover?"
"Do!" Henrietta straining to make herself quite clear. "The Yank may have been bendin' the rules a touch, sure; but, twenty-four packs, thet's jes' takin' advantage altogether! What happened t'the Chinee? Lynched? Beaten ter pulp? Slapped on the wrist, an' told not ter be naughty in future? What?"
"It don't say." Sally, against her better judgement, coming clean.
"It don't say!" Henrietta unable to understand this climactic conclusion. "It's got'ta say! Ya don't indulge in cheatin' at euchre, an' get off Scot-free without consequences, even t'a Chinee. What happened?"
Sally, she having known from the start this would prove a contentious point, sighed mournfully.
"Harry, darlin', the poem ain't about what the ending was—it's simply about the incident itself, is all. The climax don't matter. Anyway, there was a dramatic conclusion; a fight exposing the Chinee as a bigger cheat than the Yank himself—thet bein' the whole point of the poem—what the absolute conclusion may have been afterwards, not havin' any relevance ter the tale, is all."
Henrietta gave this explanation the benefit of two seconds consideration.
"Don't think much of thet as a poem—as a story at all, in fac'. Come on, gal, throw thet dam' mag away; we're ten minutes late fer our rounds, as it is."
The trouble with Tom 'Helpful' Evans was Tom 'Helpful' Evans; in short he was his own, and everyone else's, worst enemy; find him early on a Monday morning, drunk as a skunk; find him on a Tuesday ditto, half seas-over before breakfast; find him on a Wednesday, sozzled by mid-morning; find him on a Thursday, blotto as a Switzer on holiday; find him on a Friday, splashed as a newt; find him on a Saturday, literally painting the town red, he having a constant order with the local merchant for five quarts of the brightest scarlet every month; find him on a Sunday, laid flat in his dis-ordered bunk, suffering the woes of the dam'med viv-a-vis an extended hangover—well, it has to catch up with even the best at some point; Evans, like us all, only being human, after all.
There was a local legend in Red Flume, that someone had once discovered him sober and, having talked with him, found him erudite, pleasant and of good humour; but this extraordinary event had never been repeated in recent times, and had come to be considered merely someone's pipe-dream. And now, on this pleasant morning of June 187-, Henrietta and Sally, hardly started on their morning round of the town's streets, were walking along Main Street while Evans, unknown to them, was advancing ever closer towards them from the opposite direction.
"Sheriff Donaldson any idee yet who broke in Mrs Hubbard's house?"
"Nah, could'a been anyone." Sally shrugging dispassionately. "Three days ago, now. We've already collared the usual suspects—Nicky March, George Robbins, Ted Vernon! All their stories of where they were at the time holdin' water. What d'you think about thet bank robbery over t'Covington? Any chance the culprits'll head this way?"
"Prob'ly not—easier fer them ter go north fer Phoenix than here. OK, anythin' else of import on yer mind, young 'un?"
"Yeah, which's the nearest escape route from where we are at the moment?"
"Escape rou—what're ye babblin' about?" Henrietta lost for any context. "What d'ya wan'na run from, anyway'?"
"Evans? Helpful Evans? What brought thet drunken ne'er-do-well t'mind, ducks, if'n ye don't mind my askin'?
"Dead ahead, two points ter port."
"What? What?—Oh, Jee-sus Chr-st." Henrietta finally sighting the reef in the middle of the Windward Passage. "Bear t'starboard, lover; quick, this here dry-goods store'll hide us, with any luck."
Taking her partner's advice without question, there being dangerous times when action took precedence over discussion, Sally allowed herself to be hastily pulled into the dark interior of the shadowy premises—but it was too late, the shark had smelt blood in the water.
"Holla, ladies, well met by Sunlight, eh? Fancy findin' ye both in this here rag merchant's; lookin' fer new togs ter prance aroun' in, an' spite everyone's eye, bi'god?"
Tom was a tall well-built man habitually wearing a wide-brimmed high-crowned hat like to those worn by the old-time Puritans; this giving him a presence generally over and above his actual being—this allied to a sad tendency to lash out with his fists at the slightest hint of disagreement with his own opinions in converse on any interlocutor's part resulting in the natural conclusion that he could count his true and tried friends on several fingers of one hand—and they were mostly far-flung across the Territory. The fact he spoke with a deep Irish brogue hard to understand at the best of times, and impossible to replicate in these present historical records, not helping matters.
"What for're ye takin' the air yersel', hereabouts, Helpful?" Sally quick with the repartee, though still searching with an eagle eye for a safe route away from danger. "An' are you a'ready half-sea's over as we speaks? It bein' only halfway through the forenoon watch, nowhere near the heels o'eleven of a mornin', yet."
"I may be well-oiled, I admits." Tom, coming it the hoity-toity, stepping back a pace in the crowded confines of the smelly shop. "But that's how breakfast al'lus takes me, ye'll find."
"If'n it's always whisky pure an' unsullied, sure." Henrietta critiquing this choice of early sustenance in a sneery tone.
"Try it yersel', fer once, an' see." Tom not to be put off by mere sarcasm on this topic of all others. "Anyway, what was it I had a mind ter talk ter ye both on?"
Henrietta looked at her loved partner for assistance, but found there only the wrinkled brow of disinterest.
"What, then?" She becoming somewhat terse as her patience began to run short with the old sailor—he having washed up on the shores of San Francisco during the '49 Gold Rush and since finding haven in Arizona for no known perceptible reason. "You bein' the very person who'd know best, surely."
"Ah, it comes ter me!" Tom, all fifty plus years of him back on a safe shore, after running close to the unseen reef of sobriety. "I be in the way of holdin' a carouse at the Yeller Tiger later this afternoon, startin' sometime aroun' first dog watch. Hopes ye both'll visit, jes' fer a small celebration an' swillin' of wine, ale, or' grog, promiscus', as one's taste allows?"
Sighting no safer way of escape Henrietta made the first bad decision of the day, concerning her and her partner's schedule.
"Oh, well, sure an' why not!" She summoning up a broad grin from somewhere. "We'll be there, sure as the Governor o'New Mexico's a jackass. If'n thet's all we'll be on our way, then; heavy business in the foreground, y'unnerstan's. Bye!"
Two minutes later she and Sally found themselves safely immersed in the morning throng by this time happily crowding Main Street, though they were still searching for a narrow alley to disappear down.
"Here, this way, lover." Sally being first to pinpoint such an escape route.
Some seconds later they were well along the dingy dirty smelly alley which, to the escaping deputies, contained all the spices and perfumes of the Indies compared to spending even half a minute longer near Tom Evans. Though finally, as all alleys do, they found themselves eventually spewed out into a small square surrounded by tall buildings with a little circular well in the centre.
"If we takes thet corner over there I thinks we'll find ourselves back in Carter Road." Sally bucking up no end.
"Thank God fer sich." Henrietta gladly agreeing, following her partner like a schoolgirl after her mother. "Look, the Gold Escutcheon's over there, fancy a coolin' shot o'nosepaint?"
The interior of the saloon was, as such places went, rather cleaner and well-set out than the ordinary specimen of its kind; even the house whisky being of a higher quality than usual.
"Mmm, that hits the right spot." Sally sighing happily as she downed her first swallow of the morning.
"Did we finish makin' out our list of other suspect's? For the Hubbard robbery?" Henrietta attempting to bring the topic back to one of the more important issues of their morning's official business. "She allowin' the thief'd taken some three hundred dollars in paper money—some few, don't ask me why, ol' Confederate notes."
"Yeah, pretty much." Sally nodding in agreement. "Muchly, anyway; ye knowin' full well however, whenever we works from a long-pondered list, we always finds we've forgot someone, after all. Confederate dollars? Hah! They'll be useful, I'm sure."
Henrietta lifted her own glass to her lips, taking a long satisfying swill before replying.
"Meeting Helpful not helping matters." She shaking her head at the memory. "We actilly gon'na trail along t'the Yeller Tiger, later?"
"Hell, no." Sally opening her eyes wide as she stared at her lover. "What made you think that? We'll be far busier with important matters o'the day, appertainin' t'the robbery."
"An' when we meets dam' Helpful in the street, afterwards?" Henrietta pondering on the embarrassment that might well be produced thereby.
Sally, however, could read the woman she loved above everything like an open book.
"Ye're thinkin' o'the embarrassment o'the sity'atin? Don't worry, lover; we meets Evans, sometime—anytime—in the future, pollutin' the streets o'Red Flume, he'll be so drunk he'll have fergotten the whole thing, complete."
"Yeah, suppose so." Henrietta admitting the truth of this position. "So, who've we missed out on the list, then?"
"Ha! Now, that's a question worth considerin'."
The facts in the case of Evans' carouse in the Yellow Tiger saloon made themselves known to Henrietta and Sally the very next morning, when a whole posse of citizens came directly to the Sheriff's Office to register a flood of complaints on the matter. Sally, at least, facing this influx of complainees with a glum expression foreboding no good end.
"Mrs Gargieston, if you please, Miss Nichols."
"Yeah, certainly—Mrs Gargieston, sure. What can we do fer you—an' all these other friends you've brought along? Crowdin' the office a mite, if'n I may say sich."
"All alarmed citizens, as I am, Miss."
Sally, by great strength of will not looking at her partner beside her, instead raised an enquiring eyebrow.
"So, what's the complaint?"
Both Henrietta and Sally considered this Sphinx-like utterance, though neither found any clarity in it.
"What about the ol' sot?"
"Sot is right, Miss!" Mrs Gargieston clearly having so been given the trigger to her grievance. "He spent the whole afternoon and evening of yesterday in the Yellow Tiger saloon, only four houses down from my own establishment and private dwelling—Gargieston's Clothing Emporium, you know."
Henrietta, knowing no good could possibly come of it but feeling it her official duty, came to the fore with a question.
"He gave offence somehow, did he?"
"Offence, Ha!" Mrs Gargieston outraged by this dismissively minor key taken about her complaint. "He wrecked the public saloon, accompanied by those who chose to assume the cloak of friendship with him, for their own purposes of receiving free drink for the evening; though where he got so much money to continue his-his-his revels for so long I do not know! They finally making a terrible mess of the saloon, going out in the street and annoying passing citizens, including women of which I was one! And finally carousing away about their several businesses along Main Street like a line of pirates out on a spree. I, and my companions here, want him taken in durance vile right now, and held for trial as soon as possible. These sort of doings may be a mainstay of places like San Francisco, but here in Red Flume I hope we can all allow of a higher degree of social intercourse being the order of the day altogether!"
Having listened to this discourse, and realising they had wholly missed this ongoing series of public disorder events as they had occurred, and so feeling a little less than competent as a result, both Henrietta and Sally now looked speculatively at each other with the same course of action flowing through each's mind.
"So, a whole passel o'folks were carousing along with Helpful Evans in the Yeller Tiger last night? And, 'cause of their actions, a certain amount of destruction an' public disorder took place at thet time?"
"Precisely so." Mrs Gargieston no whit relaxing her military stance, like the vanguard at a battle.
"Ah, well, ladies—an' gents'—we'll take it from here." Henrietta coming it the proficient server of all that consisted of Law in Red Flume. "My partner an' I—Sheriff Donaldson bein' away at a trial in Tucson t'day—will see to this incident. Don't worry none; we'll take care of Helpful's activities once an' fer all, thet's sure as apple pie. Sal, open the door fer these fine citizens, will ya?"
"This way, jes' file out in an orderly manner, if you will." Sally's tone that of an unctuous floor-walker in a big Phoenix store. "That's right—goodbye, Mrs Gargieston; don't worry, we have everything well in hand from here on in."
When they had all left, and the small office was again host to only the two deputies, Henrietta gave a long heartfelt sigh.
"God, what a day!" She sitting back in relief on her chair at the desk. "Jes' knew dam' Helpful was gon'na be a problem yesterday—jes' didn't think it'd be so big a dam' problem. What d'we do, gal?"
Sally merely snorted at this cowardly plaint for help.
"Well, let's see. We could go to his hovel, Morgraine Street ain't it? Shoot him whiles he's still asleep in bed; explainin' after he threatened us with a gun—we can easy sort thet minor detail out at the scene. How's thet show, ducks?"
"Shakespeare his'self couldn't have put it better, lover." Henrietta grinning broadly at this example of how her revered partner might settle difficult problems with ease and common-sense, if given a free hand. "Only trouble—it'd be straight agin the Law, wholesale; we, fer our previous sins, bein' wholly certificated representatives of said item. What we'll have'ta do, instead, is simply haul Evans' ass in'ta our comfortable cells here, an' make him eat an' drink bread an' water fer the next two weeks till his trial."
"Hiirph, two weeks drinkin' water?" Sally seeing the inevitable outcome of this dietary plan. "Helpful'll be dead of malnutrition or drownin' of the liver days a'fore his trial, certin'."
"Question is, do we care, ducks?"
The Yellow Tiger was a popular saloon of its type, to those who worked for their living in the lower echelons of society anyway. Consisting of a single-storey, the long public room reflecting the ordinary layout of such business premises—wide open sanded floor with many round tables, a bar taking up most of the left-hand side behind which were high shelves of assorted bottles and mirrors. The walls almost hidden by cheap oil paintings of doubtful quality as well as content; and a team of barmen well able, through years of experience, to cater to the heavy through-traffic of drinkers ambling in at all times of the day in search of that which soothes bodily needs whilst at the same time revivifying the mind.
When Henrietta and Sally pushed through the swing doors around eleven that morning there was, however, little sign of the normal press of daily life to be seen. What did strike the eye was the general shambolic nature of the whole room, looking as if a herd of runaway steers had rampaged through leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. Many of the tables were overturned; some, indeed, broken into not much more than shattered firewood. Behind the bar two of the three long mirrors were cracked from side to side, whilst the central rack of shelves holding a display of bottles had been torn down; the remnants of their contents now a pile of shattered glass in a pile on the floor of the saloon, presently overseen by Mick Jamieson, proprietor of the establishment.
"How's the drinking business holding up, Mick?" Sally sinking her fangs in straight away.
"Huh!" Mick allowing from the start he was not a happy member of his tribe. "I wants ter bring a complaint—aginst thet dam' soak Helpful Evans. Sooner yer collars the idyeet the better, an' I'll happily bring an evidence aginst him'll see him stockaded in Phoenix Penn fer the next decade, easy."
"OK, soldier, give us the works." Henrietta sighing heavily as they all sat at one of the few remaining stable tables. "Let it all out, as it happened."
Having so been given free reign Jamieson did as requested, with verve and animosity.
"He comes a'hollerin' in round about fifth drink time yester' afternoon, high as a kite with happiness to all an' sundry." Jamieson's tone increasingly disgusted as he recalled the events. "Throws down a wad consistin' o'some fifty dollars in paper money, shouts out ter let him know when he'd reached thet limit, then proceeds ter drinkin' the house dry by his'self. As happens in these cases, I havin' seen sich too many times a'fore, he's pretty quick joined by hangers-on an' passin' strangers eyein' a free drink. A'fore ye could rightly say if'n he'd, Helpful thet is, been in the joint more'n an hour he was the sole cynosure of all eyes; dispensin' drink like he held the only recipe an' patent fer sich in all Arizony."
"Out fer a good time, obvious?"
"Ya said it, Harry." Jamieson nodding in agreement. "Come dinner-time I shouts out his fifty's up, an' he waddles over t'the bar, some breachin' at the bow I allows though not yet absolutely drunk, an' throws down another wad o'the same amount. Grins in my eye, turns on his heel usin' the bar as support, an' staggers back ter his table, roarin' a sea-shanty on the way, jes' fer the hell'a it."
"Jolly type, by all accounts." Sally sneering wholesale, disgusted already.
"Yeah-yeah." Jamieson agreeing with his audience entirely. "By this time he's drawn a whole lot'ta deadbeats round him, they all beginnin' ter be some rambunctious, as people does in these circumstances. Anyways, later on towards tenth drink time, the whole rout descended in'ta a minor riot; people in drink findin' their close companions, the which they'd never set eyes on a'fore this evenin', were deadly enemies o'their'n from way back. Words were expressed, sentiments taken umbrage against, then a few pushes an' shoves—final escalatin' in'ta yer full-on donnybrook."
"Didn't yer see same comin'?" Henrietta pursing her lips censoriously. "With all yer experience, an' all?"
"See it comin'? 'course I did, but what was there t'do?" Jamieson astounded by this inane query. "There bein' jes' me, George, Liam, an' Dave t'hand, aginst a whole passel o'drunks, fists flyin' every which way like to the Battle o'Waterloo all over agin', in livin' color."
"So you jes' let 'em wreck your joint, from stem t'stern, not puttin' up any resistance whatever?" Sally hardly believing this particular aspect of the unfolding tale. "Why the hell didn't yer send someone fer us? We could'a brought the whole thing ter a halt right away—with the use of a coupl'a cudgels used in the proper manner."
"Well, the Law, er,—I got'ta sort'a anxiety complex about callin' in the Law, unless there's an actil nation-wide War on, y'know—jes' my Irish natur', ye unnerstan's. I did haul out my shotgun from under the bar," Jamieson at least admitting to this simple act of self-defence. "but, Liam, he grabbed my arm an' said he'd give me in charge fer murder straight-out if'n I pulled the trigger, so what could I do?"
"Hmmph!" Sally not much impressed.
"Anyways, by thet time I had other things on my mind."
"Oh, yeah, What, fer instance?" Henrietta pricking her ears, watching Jamieson's expression.
"Fer one, I was flickin' through the wad Helpful'd thrown down, wonderin' whether it'd cover the damages, when I sees most o'the dam' notes was ol' Confederate money from back in the day; no use whatever in our times—but by then it was far too late, the fight really bein' all-encompassin' at thet point. Took us, my boys an' I, almos' an hour ter bring peace an' tranquility back ter the sity'atin, though not with much o'the latter, I allows. Final got 'em all ter vacate the premises, what was left of it anyway, as yer see's all roun' fer yer'sel's. By which time, some clearin' up havin' ter be put in train by mere necessity, it was near on midnight. I was meanin' ter stroll roun' ter the Sheriff's Office some soon an' lay charges aginst one an' all, but here yer both is, as it breaks."
Henrietta and Sally, having both listened to this saga of the Trojan Wars redux with rounded eyes, now glanced at each other, both thinking exactly the same thought.
"Let's see these Confederate notes, Mick." Henrietta coming to the crux of the matter in few words.
"And why didn't you grab Helpful when the chance offered?" Sally, somewhat ambiguously, looking for reasons why the citizen hadn't acted like a professional law-maker.
"He squirreled out with the masses, when I final got 'em ter hit the sidewalk." Jamieson frowning darkly at this recalled mischance. "Among the crowd; by the time I got ter thinkin' it wouldn't be uninterestin' ter have words with the ol' soak, he'd long gone—God knows where to."
Henrietta, meanwhile, had been examining the bundle of notes handed to her by the distracted barman.
"See here, Sal, the edges o'these Confederate notes is stained with red ink."
"Jes' as Mrs Hubbard said; she havin' spilt a bottle of same on her desk a coupl'a weeks since; the notes, whiles, lyin' in a pile close by. These is from her robbery, certin."
"Sheds a whole different light on ol' Helpful." Henrietta nodding in delight at this good news. "It ain't jes' a matter of criminal damage no more—robbery'll see him goin' down fer a far longer stretch."
"All we needs is to find the ol' reprobate." Sally hitting the red centre of the target first shot. "Where'd he go, Mick?"
"Said I didn't know—an' I don't, sorry."
"Let's head back t'the office." Henrietta harbouring a plan. "We've got his address in the files there fer sure. Then we can hit his hidey-hole right an' proper."
"With ya there, dear; let's go, then; every minute countin', y'know."
"Right, babe, right."
But all was not to be so easily sorted, as the ladies found out when, having found their prey's address in the files as expected, they took their horses for speed and turned up at the boarding-house in Morgraine Street where they expected to grab their victim.
"Oh, he went off, payin' his bill a'fore so doin', oh, some two hours since." Mrs Garrow, the housekeeper, nodding with satisfaction. "Glad ter get my week's rent, an' be rid o'bad rubbish all in the one, as you might say. Took the Tucson trail, far as I noticed."
"Come on," Henrietta being made of sterner stuff than her partner. "we got our steeds, we can follow his trail. Shouldn't take us more'n till mid-afternoon t'catch up with the dam'med fool out Tucson way."
"OK-OK, let's get to it, then. Jeez, depities, what a dam' life we leads."
Henrietta forbore to reply directly to this complaint, having more sense.
"Follow my lead, Sal, I knows a shortcut'll get us out on the Tucson trail quicker than you'd believe."
"Go to it, gal; I'm right with you."
The Tucson trail, leading north from the outskirts of Red Flume, passed through a mixture of scrub and grassland over rolling terrain only allowing of seeing some mile or so ahead at any particular point.
"We'll need t'rise Montaigne's Ridge a'fore we' sees far enough ahead t'spot anyone on the trail distant t'any extent."
"Thet's another two mile yet, lover." Sally complaining already, as was her common reaction to journeys she had not personally planned or equipped herself against. "Should we jog along a mite quicker, d'yer think?"
Henrietta pulled her wide-brimmed hat off, brushing her forehead with the back of her gauntleted hand as they both rode along, therewith also creating their own dust-cloud in doing so, replacing her hat before replying.
"Nah, we're fine as we are. If Helpful's ridin' his usual animaal I'll be dam' surprised if'n he can ever kick it in'ta anything other than a mild canter, never mind an all-out gallop. We'll catch up with him easy."
Just as they were negotiating the gradual incline of Montaigne's Ridge, it taking riders another two hundred feet skywards in so ascending, the ladies hauled back on their reins, seeing a buckboard racing towards them from the crest in front of them—the light carriage just that moment having so appeared from the Tucson direction.
"Their haulin' ass mitey quick, look at the dust rollin' back from their wheels." Sally dabbing her own face with her soft leather glove as they waited for the rig to approach them.
"Folks goin' thet quick usual has a good reason." Henrietta harbouring strong doubts about the unfolding scene. "Let's get over t'the side o'the track; stop 'em from runnin' us down, complete. Wave yer hat, along'a me, ter make 'em stop, leddy."
As the buckboard came within twenty yards of the two lone riders there was a puff of white smoke from its passenger side, the deputies feeling and hearing the accompanying buckshot passing far too close to their ears for comfort.
"What in damnation!" Sally hauling out her right-hand Smith and Wesson .38 in half a second.
"Hold it, gal, don't fire. Look, he's wavin' some lively. Think he's made a mistake."
"He may have, but I bloody won't!" Sally not to be appeased so easily. "Gim'me room t'take aim, will ya?"
"Hold it!" Henrietta reaching sideways to grab her partner's gun-hand with more bravery than common-sense. "There's been some sort'a mistake; he didn't mean ter shoot, I'm sure. Let's hear what they has ter say, eh?"
"I'll reserve judgement, allowin' shootin' the dog ain't yet off the menu, darlin'." Sally meanwhile frowning melodramatically enough to have scared the Medusa herself into changing her plans.
The buckboard came to a halt beside the women in a cloud of dust and flying pebbles and stones thick enough to make Henrietta and Sally cover their mouths till the worst had passed; after which they were able to see the rig's passenger and driver were two young men, probably ranchers by their outfits.
"Hi, you're depities from Red Flume, ain't yer?" The dark-haired driver, in his thirties, spoke with a high-pitched tenor voice, obviously much shaken-up by something.
"We is thet." Henrietta taking command with an authoritarian tone to show she meant business. "What's up? An' why-for ye takes ter shootin' at us, so free an' easy?"
"We've jes' bin robbed." The passenger, still holding his shotgun rather embarrassedly, took his turn to enter the conversation. "About two miles back over the Ridge. A man on horseback waved us down, then held us at gunpoint whiles he took our money."
"Be kind enough t'describe the sun'na-a-b-tch, if you will?" Sally looking even meaner than before, an amazing accomplishment even for her.
"Tall, long-jawed, spoke like he was a sailor—sort'a nautical langwidge y'know; with an Irish accent." The driver coming back into the fray. "hauled-off fer a few seconds, as he dam' robbed us, ter refresh his'self from a bottle stashed in his jacket pocket. He seeming ter like the nosepaint some awful by the looks o'his face."
"Helpful!" Sally making the obvious conclusion.
"Glad I could be so." The driver, on his part, making entirely the wrong assumption about Sally's remark. "So, what should we do now, ladies'?"
"Go on ter Red Flume, wait at the Sheriff's Office till we returns, then we'll talk some more on what's t'be done—OK?"
"Yeah, sure, if'n thet's the way yer wants it played." The driver nodding his assent. "What'll you be doin' meanwhile, if'n I may ask?"
Henrietta answered this without hesitation.
"Ridin' down some local scum, is what, boys. See ya both later—Adieu!"
The top of Montaigne's Ridge allowed of a spectator, sitting their saddle there, taking in a panorama way out to the far horizon some twelve miles distant. The Tucson trail itself being easily identified by the scar it made in the virgin desert bush and scrub. Some three miles off they could easily see a dust-cloud rising in the air from the trail as some as yet unknown rider rode away from the stationary observers.
"Thet's Helpful, fer certin'." Henrietta making no bones about identifying the unseen rider. "Cain't be any other."
"With you, babe, all the way." Sally nodding happily before reaching down to her belt to retrieve one of her pistols. "You sure your Henry's loaded, dear? Fancy we'll be huntin' raccoon some soon."
Henrietta gave her partner a scornful look which simply washed off Sally's immune shoulders without effect.
"My Henry's never unloaded, as yer very well knows from years o'experience. You may be after raccoon, but I'm itchin' ter shoot bear."
"If'n we rides down now we could be up on the varmint in half an hour."
"Let's do so; ride off ter my left some, will ya—don't want ya eatin' my dust all the way—yee-ha!"
Just under the half hour promised they were well within half a mile of their prey, but events had moved on there as well, causing the ladies to bring their steeds to a halt on the trail to observe the changed circumstances.
"Jee-sus!" Sally hardly believing her eyes, as she shaded them with a gauntleted hand to see clearer ahead. "If'n he ain't but holdin' up another buckboard. Ain't he got any sense of his own safety?"
"The man's a drunken sot, baby." Henrietta having the comprehensive answer to this question to hand. "Probably far more'n half-sea's-over as we speak. I'm amazed he has a steady enough hand ter hold his dam weapon, yet. D'yer know, I fancy we should ride, oh, aroun' another hundred an' fifty yards closer, thet should be jes' about right."
Puzzled, Sally leaned on her saddle-horn regarding her compatriot with interest.
"Why not jes' forge right ahead an' beard the dam' rascal in his den, nose ter nose? Won't take but another five minutes?"
In answer Henrietta lent back to unship her long-barreled Henry repeater from its holster behind her left leg.
"Because sich might endanger those in the buckboard, some unnecessary; an 'cause I'm a bear hunter of renown, if I says so myself." She taking quick note that her weapon was indeed fully loaded. "Me bein' known capable of shootin' a bear at six hundred yards an' we, as we sits here, a mere four hundred maximum from thet ol' sot presently brandishing what looks mighty like an ol' horse pistol at they innocent victims on thet buckboard. Gim'me some room, leddy, I'm gon'na shoot me a bear."
True to her word Henrietta sat straight, raised the formidable weapon to her shoulder sighting carefully, having taken her hat off for the purpose. Two slow deep breaths then she quietly pulled the trigger. An almighty bang and cloud of thick white smoke encompassed the two riders for a few seconds, the rifle being charged with black-powder, then on its dispersal they were just in time to see the figure on the horse by the stationary buckboard gradually lean to the right, hold that position for all of ten seconds then slowly fall sideways onto the ground by his steed's hooves, no further movement following from the now prone body.
"Yee-hah!" Sally delightedly waving her own hat in the air. "Dead on, first go. Harry, you outdoes yourself, every which way."
The buckboard's passengers, on Henrietta and Sally riding up, turned out to be two females, one mature twenty-something woman and a young twelvish-aged girl.
"You both alright, leddies?" Henrietta coming it the hostess with all due respect and politeness.
"Oh, I'm so glad you did for that terrible man." The lady smiling in relief at her rescuers. "He was so obnoxious and threatening. He said if I didn't give him all my money he'd shoot us both. I was so afraid for my daughter, Netta, here."
"All's well now, leddy." Sally descending from her mount to approach the buckboard and put a hand out to the young girl sitting on her side. "Don't worry no more gal, it's all over. Thet varmint's threatened his last leddy, fer sure. My pard here, Henrietta, never misses at long range, as she's jes' done proved yet agin. Take your time, leddies, the sky's blue an' the breeze's freshenin' once more."
"If'n ye jes' gives Sal here, an' I, a coupl'a minutes ter load the late dross on'ta his hoss an' tie him in place, we'll accompany ye both ter Red Flume." Henrietta touching her hat to the two women. "We bein' depities there, presently out on our lawful occasions. You fit ter drive this rig, leddy?"
"Sure thing, ma'am. Lead the way; I'm just so grateful to you both."
"Only doin' our job, ma'am." Sally grinning in her turn as she regained her seat in the saddle; stationing herself on the opposite side of the buckboard to Henrietta, who had just finished laying the remnants of Helpful Evans over his saddle and tying him in place. "OK, let's go—Red Flume an' a cup of coffee all round jes' under an hour away."
The Sheriff's Office back in Red Flume, still sans Sheriff Donaldson himself, was somewhat packed with visitors late that same afternoon. The usual attendances on the deceased having duly taken place; the undertaker and Doctor having made their preliminary examinations, both happy that the object under discussion was indeed safely dead in all due respects of the term. Present were Mrs Hubbard, amazed to be within coughing distance of her money so quickly again—even if a certain proportion of it was Confederate and therefore worthless in pecuniary terms; Mick Jamieson from the Yellow Tiger, just glad that the cause of his earlier confusion and expense was no longer a danger to anyone; the two young men from the first buckboard to face the late Helpful's unlawful ministrations; Mrs Barclay, from the second held-up buckboard, now all smiles at her and her daughter's escape from danger; and Mrs Gargieston representing the local worried citizens' corps, herself amazed and ready to regard the two female deputies with a stronger belief in their capabilities than ever before.
"So thet's the lay o'the land, ladies an' gents." Sally having just finished bringing everyone up to date on the unfolding events of the day. "The town seems t'have been through some of a rambunctious twenty-four hours, but it's all in the past now."
"Pertik'ler Helpful Evans." Henrietta unable to hide her delight at this snippet of local news. "Won't be helpin' anyone in the future, from now on—not thet he ever did, anyhow."
"Cain't think how he got thet moniker, in the first place." Sally scratching her chin in thought. "Must'a followed him from his early days on those schooners thet rounded the Horn, or some sich likely explanation."
"Who gives a dam'." Henrietta saying out loud what she thought internally. "Sorry, leddies, jes' my way o'expressin' my feelin's."
"And quite right, too." Mrs Barclay nodding determinedly, wholly under the sway of regarding both Henrietta and Sally as her own personal heroines. "The Hot Place's where he should'a been a long time since; and I'm just glad you've been the key to his presently finding new lodgings with Auld Nick—He, no doubt, being happy to have his new lodger under His hand at long last, too—if that's not irreligious, at least?"
"Not in my book, ma'am." Sally grinning broadly at the lady. "Jes' about sketches out my own opinion, sure."
"Here, I'll hold the door fer y'all." Henrietta doing as she said as the visitors all filed out in turn; Mick, in gentlemanly manner, bringing up the rear. "G'bye—G'bye."
"Sheesh!" Sally sitting by the desk again once they were alone once more. "Glad thet's all over."
"Feelin' the heat, young 'un?"
"Ha! Feeling like a long bath an' the rest of the evenin' in bed beneath cool sheets—wan'na join me, sis?"
Henrietta took time to consider all the ramifications to this request, then grinned.
"You askin', lover?"
"You dancin', leddy o'my heart?"
"Believe I am, my dear gal, believe I am."
Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.