Typesetter On His Own: A Carbons Creek on line Short Story
I was setting up type for the coming edition of the Carbons Creek Sentinel when two men walked in. They hinted that I should be careful what I write or I may regret it. They said it would be a shame if anything happened to that pretty boss of mine.
I knew it was about the editorial I had written last week about the consequences of letting Carbons Creek become a cow town like Abilene. Sarah, the owner and publisher of the paper left me in charge while she was away.
I thought I would have to move on after her Uncle Jake died from a fire set by his enemies. Fortunately for me, Sarah stayed to continue publication. That was good for the town and good for me, since I kept my job. I had a good working relationship with Jake and it continued under Sarah. Anyhow, she trusts me and when she is gone I do everything, including editorials, which I clearly sign as John Neilson.
There was a big political dispute over where a new rail line should go. The proposed route would take it near Carbons Creek. For some that would be a great boon to the town, with more business, including prostitution. Now there is some of that everywhere but it would be worse if we got to be a cow town. I had served an apprenticeship near Abilene and I really don’t think folks here really want to be like that town.
Generally this is not an area for long distance cattle drives. Some cattlemen bring their cattle to places like this where the cattle can feed on corn and grass. The cattle gain weight that had been lost on long drives and get a better price when sold. Of course, a few cowboys come into town but not like in a trail town where whole crews who have been on the trail for a long time and want to bust loose. Generally they don’t mean any harm, it’s just that they are young, worked hard for a long time and figure they need a break. That’s understandable but it can make for some unpleasant aspects in a town. Of coarse there is money to be made, for our business as well.
I certainly wouldn’t want anything to happen to Sarah. Not only is she my boss but I find her personally attractive. However, I wouldn’t win any praise from her by ducking a fight. She left me in charge while she took Sandy, our part time worker, to check out a school. Frankly I think it would have been better to offer Sandy an apprenticeship. Well, she’s a city gal and believes in schoolroom study. She has also sent back letters telling about some adventures they had. It gave me plenty of copy to print. The town really likes Sarah and can’t wait to read her stories. It helps sell papers too. When she is gone though, she leaves editorial decisions to me.
You might think it dumb, but my response to the visit was to write another editorial. I was pretty sure that Jason Taylor, our current Sheriff would stand by us if any trouble erupted. He didn’t always get along with Sarah as they rub each other the wrong way. He is suspicious of women working in responsible jobs and his attitude ruffles her. Anyhow he is honest and maybe the newspaper and sheriffs office shouldn’t be too friendly with each other. We keep each other honest.
The purpose of the second editorial was more to smoke out who we are up against. I was hoping it would make them tip their hand. Those men didn’t say who they represented. It could be any group that has something to gain by getting the railroad through here. Among the possibilities as, I saw it, was the railroad itself that wanted to get a contract for the railhead, yards stock pens and so on. Could be cattle people who wanted first in on the markets for their beef? My bet is some sharpers running some sort of investment scam. Did it matter? Probably not. What mattered is not to let whoever they are get the upper hand
What bothered me was the threat to Sarah. I know. She has handled some bad situations and come out on top, but these people may have powerful interests behind them. I decided it would be a good idea to alert the sheriff. I outlined what the situation was. “Why do you and that boss woman of yours keep looking for trouble?”
“Well, Jason, we don’t look for trouble but we don’t run from it either. You and us are a bit alike. We both think it is our job to look out for the people. You do it by enforcing the law, we do it by holding a light up to the things people do. Especially people in power. If we break the law, you have to hold us accountable. On the other hand if you don’t do your job, we hold you accountable. Just remember the constitution. We feel it is the job of the press to see that government doesn’t abuse power.
“O.K.,” Jason said. “From what I heard that’s what got your old boss killed.”
“Well, I hope it doesn’t get me killed too, but I’ll find another job if I can’t help carry on what he did .I’m sure that’s why Sarah stayed on. She didn’t like what happened to her uncle and decided to carry on what he started. Don’t you doubt for a minute that she is tough as leather”
As I said, the sheriff is a good guy but a bit nervous around women like Sarah. Women who talk back to him. I went back to the office and took a scattergun and a Colt Walker revolver with an engraving of stagecoach hold-up on it. This was an army model that Jake picked up in the war. The stagecoach scene was put on a pocket size revolver Jake told me. Now I don’t ordinarily mess with guns but sometimes it pays to be prepared for trouble. I spent the next hours cleaning and oiling both weapons. I had a feeling that my bait should land a fish, so to speak.
I was working on the revolver when Red Eagle the Indian chief from the nearby Indian land came in. He walked so quietly that I would not know he was there if I wasn’t more or less expecting him.
He pointed at me and called me the man of magic words. He meant the lead type that made up the newspaper pages. Well, maybe more. He might also mean the effect of the words. “So you saw my editorial. You got news for me?”
“Maybe. Some men, maybe government, want to buy up Indian land. Not say what for. “
“Do you know what land? Where?”
“Think they want to go through reservation. Maybe place for Iron Horse to run through.”
“You think it’s a good idea?” I asked.
Red Eagle looked like he was about to get literally red. “Cut through our traditional home. Hasn’t white man taken enough already? You been friend. We help if you decide to fight these people.” He was looking at the guns and He knew I didn’t generally go armed. I thanked him and went on polishing the pistol.It was two days before the two men gave me another visit. “We been keeping an eye on where your boss lady is. We know when she will get back into town. You don’t want anything to happen to her do you?”
“Like what would that be?” I kicked back in a casual manner and looked at them in a humble sort of way.
“A woman really shouldn’t travel by herself in this country. No telling what could happen. I’m sure we could sort of protect her if you quit writing those editorials with all them lies about the railroad. We really don’t want anything o happen to such a pretty lady.”
I tried not to show my feelings. I was boiling inside but I kept kind of a lazy posture. “So you boys work for the railroad?” I knew they didn’t but I wanted to throw them off a bit.
“Yeah, that’s it. We’re with the trains. We might lose our jobs if the train can’t go through here. You wouldn’t want us to lose our jobs now, would you.”
That wasn’t all I wanted them to lose, but I kept a straight face. They left and hoped they thought they had me fooled. I knew Red Eagle or one of his men would show up soon. It wasn’t too long. When Red Eagle came in I told him that I didn’t think those men were Railroad men. I asked him if he could have some of his braves keep an eye on them and sort of act as escort for Sarah when she got close to town.
My next editorial was about land speculators. I figured that some sort of syndicate was trying to get the government to work a deal to do the Indians out of a portion of land they didn’t want to sell. They in turn would sell the land to the Railroad providing they could get the right of way and acceptance of the Carbons Creek officials.
When Sarah got back I almost didn’t recognize her. She had on a man's shirt and a slouch hat, unlike the sunbonnet she usually wore. She picked up a copy of the paper with my last editorial and I filled her in on things. She said,” Oh, good. I could use some excitement. You know I think I saw some Indians following me the last few miles.”
We settled down and waited. Sure enough the same two men showed up, this time with guns and a few more friends. “Come on in Gents. We been kind of expecting you.”
“Well, inkslinger we got your girlfriend. We picked her up on the trail and we won’t let her go until you retract your editorials.”
The scene was sort of spoiled when Sarah started to giggle. Then she took off the slouch hat and let her hair fall to her shoulders and took a little derringer from her pocket. I’d brought out the scattergun I’d stashed under the desk.
The men must have given a signal of some sort and were joined by a few more of their kind. It was kind of a standoff. There were more of them than us. The scattergun could do some damage to some, especially close up. Sarah could get one of them but then what?
At this point one of them leveled his gun at Sarah and I could see his finger start to squeeze. It was almost a reflex action that I pulled the trigger and let loose a load of buckshot. “Will you boys drop your weapons? I’m kind of tired from a trip and don’t feel awfully patient with stupidity,” Sarah declared.
One of them made a grab for my scattergun and knocked it out of my hand. Luckily I still had the Colt in my pocket and brought it out.
“Gentlemen,” I said, “lets go have a talk with the sheriff.”