Stagecoach to hell (Short Story No. 7)
These short stories will be part of the sequel to my novel The Lady Who Loved Bones. Any suggestions for improvement are welcome.
More comfy than a camel
Anne Hope indicated that she would not ride a horse to Helena. Helen offered to let her ride Joe the camel, but she liked that idea less than riding a horse.
“That camel stinks,” Anne complained.
“Don’t tell him that,” Helen responded. “He bites.”
George Bartholomew, owner of the Great Western Circus, although not pleased that Anne was leaving the circus temporarily, suggested the stagecoach. He advised that there was a way station only a few miles away where the stagecoach stopped to change horses and feed the passengers.
“Who runs the stagecoach?” Helen asked.
“Wells Fargo,” Bartholomew replied. “They bought up Ben Holladay’s Overland Mail and Express Company and other competitors in a consolidation last year. Generally, the service has improved somewhat. Holladay got $1,800,000 for his stagecoach company from Wells Fargo. I tried to convince him to invest in my circus, but he declined. We need some animals besides horses to draw crowds.”
“Do you want to buy a camel?” Helen asked.
“I was thinking more along the lines of lions and tigers,” Bartholomew replied.
“How often does the stagecoach get robbed?” Helen questioned.
“Never robbed,” Bartholomew said. “Not yet, anyway, at least in these parts. They do carry gold and money. The way those bank robberies in Virginia City and Helena happened, it wouldn’t surprise me if the stagecoach is next. J.M. Dunbar, an assayer in Bannack and Charles Rumley, also an assayer and jeweler in Helena send gold and other valuables back and forth.”
Bartholomew had his dwarves Sam Short and Wee Willie Wilson take Anne to the stagecoach stop. Helen followed on Joe.
# # #
Snake oil and more
At the roadhouse, Homer the owner fed the ladies some beans, bacon, and biscuits and told them the stage should arrive in about an hour or so. Anne said she would like to use the facilities, and Homer pointed her to the outhouse out back. Helen nodded her similar desire and followed Anne.
Upon their return Helen snapped rather belligerently, “Don’t you have separate facilities for women?”
Homer replied just as belligerently, “I could write ‘Wimmin’ over one of those holes in the board. Or you could shit in the woods like a bear does. But then, the bear might take a bite out of your ass.”
Anne whispered to Helen, “Not to worry, I won’t tell anyone your secret. Although actually it’s pretty big. Not as big as Seth Morris’ also known as Anaconda best friend, but big enough to get the job done I’m sure.”
Helen smirked, muttered a thank you, kissed Anne on the cheek, and whispered, “You might want to enjoy it while you can. Before I get it chopped off.”
“Chopped off?” Anne blurted in alarm.
“Yes, chopped off,” Helen repeated. “There is a doctor in Germany who says he can make men into women, for a price. A big price. I can’t afford the surgery, not on the salary of a Pinkerton agent. ”
Soon the stagecoach rolled in and the passengers departed. Homer went out to help the driver and the conductor change the six horses that pulled the stage. The passengers came inside and helped themselves to the food and drink that Homer had set out on the large wooden table in the center of the main room.
“So where’s the crapper?” one of the passengers inquired. He was a very fat individual and looked like he weighed over 400 pounds.
“I bet he busts that board,” Anne joked to Helen.
The man overheard the remark and said, “Look who’s talking. A lady with a beard. So where’s the crapper?” he asked again.
“Go out the back door, keep walking straight, and follow your nose,” Helen said. “You can’t miss it.”
“Anybody got anything to read?” the man asked. “I might be a awhile.”
One of the other passengers opened his case and tossed the fat man a pamphlet.
“United States Parmacoepia of 1863?” the fat man questioned. “I already read this in the stagecoach. Now I know how to make that laudanum stuff you got in those bottles: ‘Macerate two-and-a half ounces opium, in moderately fine powder in one pint of water for three days, with frequent agitation. Add one pint of alcohol, and macerate for three days longer. Percolate, and displace two pints of tincture by adding dilute alcohol in the percolator.’ Anybody got anything else to read? Hurry up, before I crap my pants!”
“Here,” Anne said, as she handed him the New York Times newspaper from July 14, 1865, the day after the huge fire at Barnum’s American Museum. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Frank Foster, but they call me Fatty Foster. I don’t mind. I like to eat, a lot.”
Fatty hurried off making funny noises.
“Do you really sell laudanum?” Anne asked the man who gave Fatty the pamphlet.
“Yes indeed,” he said as opened his case and introduced himself as Benjamin Burrows. “It’s good for whatever ails you - insomnia, anxiety, nerves, hysteria, diarrhea, consumption, cramps, pregnancy pains, mood swings, depression, stomach upset, cough, and heart disease.
“Oh, a snake oil salesman,” Helen commented.
Ben ignored her and said as he held up a bottle, “Here we have deodorized tincture of opium. That’s what you know as laudanum. I also have Laird’s Bloom of Youth and Dr. MacKenzie’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers if you like to look pale and beautiful.”
“Or if you like to look like you are dying of tuberculosis,” Helen gibed.
Rules of the road
The other two passengers were an elderly couple who introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. Ezekiel Evans and said they were travelling to Helena for the wedding of their only daughter, Wilhemina.
“How nice,” Anne said. “I’m going to Helena for the hanging of my former fiancé. Who is your daughter marrying?”
“I doubt you know him,” Ezekiel responded. “His name is Leslie Baxter. We don’t know much about him, other than he is short. What did your fiancé do to get himself a date with the hangman?”
Anne replied, “They say he robbed the bank, although I’m sure he is innocent.”
Boss Foss was the driver or whip. He was the nephew of Clark “Old Chieftain” Foss, an infamous driver and now the owner of a stagecoach station that included a post office, farm, and hotel. Ulysses S. Grant, Randolph Hearst, and Tom Thumb were among guests who had lodged at the Fossville Hotel. The conductor was a cranky old geezer named Red, although he had no red hair, or any hair at all.
Red soon herded the passengers into the stagecoach, ranting and raving that they were running late. Fatty came wobbling back from the outhouse, complaining about the lack of medicated papers. “I had to use leaves,” he whined.
Once inside the stagecoach, Red insisted that Fatty read the rules posted therein:
- Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
- If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the gentler sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted, but spit with the wind, not against it.
- Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
- Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort in cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
- Don’t snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger’s shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.
- Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
- In the event of runaway horses remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians, and hungry coyotes.
- Forbidden topics of conversation are: stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
- Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It’s a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.
Hang 'em high
The first thing Fatty did after reading the rules was to light a cigar. “It helps me keep my weight down,” he insisted as he blew smoke into the passenger’s faces.
Not long into the trip, Ezekiel remarked on the ride and how it was like a cradle on wheels.
His wife responded, “That’s because this Concord coach has straps allowing it to swing back and forth to absorb the shock of the road. As opposed to springs like some stages have.”
“This is good,” Fatty said. My bony ass can’t take a whole lot of bouncing around.”
“So what is your occupation, Mr. Fatty Foster?” Helen inquired.
“I hang people,” Fatty said. “It’s a good job, getting rid of humanity’s evil. And I’m good at it. Nobody ever survived one of my hangings. He pulled a rope from his bag. “Used this one for seven hangings. It’s made of the finest hemp and treated to keep it from slipping. You need a big knot like mine so that the man’s neck breaks when he drops. Otherwise the condemned man will strangle, not a pretty sight. He kicks and twists for what seems like forever.”
The smooth ride didn’t last long. Three road agents ambushed the stagecoach about a day’s journey from Helena. They shot the driver and conductor on top and forced the stage to stop.