By Phineas Redux
Summary:— Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe and Sally 'Snapshot' Nichols, lovers and Deputies in 1870's Red Flume, Arizona Territory, USA, are mired in the back-stabbing activities surrounding a local election and the dire results thereafter.
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.
"A new Sheriff? Pendleton needs a Sheriff?" Sally, sitting on the edge of the wide bed in their room in the MacDonald Hotel, Red Flume, frowned at her partner and lover, Henrietta 'Harry' Knappe. "Would'a thought a Mayor an' a deal more Councilors' be nearer the mark. Sure, the place spreads itself wide, but there ain't much ter it overall, as we both knows well enough."
"Not up t'us, dear." Henrietta, standing by the bed checking her Henry .50 rifle, shook her head. "Pendleton's ruling Council, what little there is o't, came t'the decision a matter of a week ago. Now, what Charlie wants from us is t'swan over there makin' sure the citizenry don't assassinate each other over the question of who gets the said top job."
"Awful kind o' Donaldson t'rope us in'ta the likely fray." Sally grumbling, as was her usual wont of a morning struggling, meanwhile, to pull her boots on. "Jest ordinary work-hosses is all we is, babe."
Sheriff Charles Donaldson having only an hour earlier ordered them both to invade Pendleton's environs in order to clear up any rumour or possibility of scally-wagging groups of unruly supporters of rival factions for the post of Sheriff creating mayhem in the streets; it being well-known neither party or its supporters felt the local general Rules of Law and Order were anything other than simple suggestions rather than inherent Decrees—Pendleton not having a sheriff of its own at present; the last having died suddenly of the gripe some three months since and another not yet having been voted into place by the till now somewhat lethargic citizenry.
"Pull it at the back, behind the heel, gal." Henrietta doing her best to help her loved partner. "Yeah, see? Right, let's get on our way; take all'a three hours t'ride over t'Pendleton; who knows who's a'ready layin' in'ta each other there with fists, or bits o' wood, or pistols. Ya ready, yet?"
"No, I ain't." In a cold distant tone.
"Hell, warm up, fer God's sake, gal." Henrietta not having any of this passive resistance. "Donaldson's payin' us the goin' rate fer our time, ain't he? Dollars in the pocket, leddy, money in the purse. Come on, we ain't got time fer breakfast; get something later in the mornin'."
"Jeez—a'right, a'right, I'm a'hind ya. Gods, women."
"Nuthin', lover, nuthin'; make it snappy, I'm a'trippin' over yer heels as is, baby."
The town of Pendleton, a small community of approximately 450 citizens, lay some seventeen miles to the south-west of Red Flume. The town had the aspect of being hunched far too close together, with remarkably narrow streets lined by many buildings of two-storeys alongside a sprinkling of three-storeys'. The close proximity of as much wood as the aspiring house-builder could wish for in the forest clothing the foothills of the nearby McGiver Hills helping citizens to build as and when they required; in fact visitors, at first glance, were often fooled into thinking they had arrived in a fair city rather than a medium-sized township.
As with many small communities in the Territory of Arizona Pendleton's original raison d'être had been silver; discovered thirty years earlier and sought after ever since by a mixture of professional companies and an ever-changing horde of drifters and so-called prospectors; though, as Sally Nichols opined on first seeing a group of these gentlemen in the town's Main Street, they generally looked as if prospecting for their socks of a morning would about use up their capabilities in that line pretty quickly.
"Now, now, let's not be nasty so early in the morning, dear."
Henrietta Knappe, famous bear hunter in her spare time and usually referred to by the friendly moniker 'Harry', smiled at her partner as they strolled down Pendleton's Main Street on this morning of July 187-; it seemingly more or less barren of any human activity in both directions.
Both women were dressed, as they always were, in men's attire—shirt, dark blue cotton trousers, boots, and wide-brimmed hats which had seen far better days. Round their waists, echoing their duties, they wore gunbelts; Sally's showing her favoured weapons, Smith and Wesson .38's; Henrietta's weapon being a single Colt .45, though it was well-known her particular favourite was a Henry repeating rifle with which she could shoot a bear at six hundred yards. So, not being fools more than was necessary, most people on meeting the female deputies remained polite and stood warily in their presence.
"God, looks like a ghost town." Sally still bemoaning her lost breakfast as they adjusted the brims of their hats on stepping out on the sidewalk after arrival just before noon. "Everybody else got better sense than t'walk the streets in this dam' heat. When's the dam' election takin' place, did ya say, lover?"
"Day after t'morrow." Henrietta hoping her terse reply would hold her companion for a while.
"An' our actil duties is—what, exactly?" Sally, never short of a pithy question, happily going on her conversational way regardless.
Walking by her side Henrietta glanced at her partner, sighing gently—but what was to be done when you loved the lady so much it hurt?
"T'stop general mayhem, bloodlust, an' associated animal feelings o'the lower sort breakin' free an' runnin' rampant in the streets o'this here fair metropolis, is all, lover."
Sally stopped in her track so suddenly Henrietta walked three paces further before she could react.
"Good God, woman, what in tarnation's this?" Sally grinned up at her inamorata. "Say, ye've been readin' Shakespeare, agin', haven't ye? Ye have, I kin see it in yer baby blues. Gods!"
Four months previously a travelling drama company had astonished the more intellectually inclined populace of Red Flume—via the Aherne Theatre on Holroyd Drive—with renditions of not only MacBeth, but also King Richard the Third and Hamlet; the latter, especially the last act, really waking the spectators up. As a result there had been a rush to buy every example of the till now unregarded Bard's works anywhere available. The fact that Henrietta had not joined this rush, or read so much as one word of the famous playwright's works, having no significant impact on Sally's opinion.
"Very funny, young 'un." Henrietta, beset on all sides, strode on like the brave tall Amazon she was in reality. "Come on, let's go round t'the Square, an' see what's goin' on."
Pendleton, as a result of the intermittent way it had grown over the years, was rather more disheveled in its layout than not; it tending to sprawl across the landscape with no particular street-plan obvious to the searching eye: though its houses were rather more than normally tightly packed together—the main streets being visibly narrower than they ought to be, and the side roads hardly more than lanes; alleys being nothing more than shoulder-wide spaces between sets of buildings. But it did have something more or less answering to the nature of a centre—Lammle Road came in from a general eastern direction, James Street from a vaguely western approach, and Diamond Drive from the north, all meeting together in a wide space which, over the years, had come to be known as The Square—though having no geometrical appearance of said shape in any form or bearing, it being just a,—just,—well, just a meandering space in pretty much the centre of town.
On reaching their destination Sally was moved to low sarcasm.
"Har! Two buckboards, a single buggy, an' what is it, three people walkin' about. My, jest like Chicago on a Saturday Fair day."
But it was indeed just as Sally had noted; the whole area was deserted of all human activity, even though it was now certifiably midday.
"What day's this, youngster?"
"Wednesday—yeah, I'm sure, Wednesday."
Henrietta sniffed with some disdain as they continued into the wide environs of the Square, kicking up dust as they walked.
"Well, if this's a busy day, I'd hate t'see a slow 'un."
But all was not lost; twenty yards to their right the covered sidewalk ran along, allowing passing pedestrians to sashay past a row of shops, the most imposing being Hammond's Dry Goods—the proprietor, Sol Hammond in person, occupying his usual rocking chair on the shaded sidewalk; a man the deputies had, over the last few years, come to know and respect on their infrequent visits to the metropolis that was Pendleton.
"Hey, gals, come on over an' share what-all's doin'."
Sol being an old friend they did as asked and a few seconds later stood in the shade of the slanted wooden plank roof preparing for that most comfortable and enjoyable of social activities, an idle chat.
"What yer up to, these days, leddies?"
Sol, somewhere in his mid-fifties, sported a shaggy beard to his chest, grey as an old wolves' mane. His hair was just as unkempt, but his penetrating blue eyes seemed to cut into a persons' very soul as he looked at you.
"We've bin corralled by ol' Donaldson ter visit an' keep the citizenry from annihilatin' each other, over an' aroun' this here upcomin' Sheriff's vote." Sally nearly snarling in disgust as she passed on the happy news. "So here we is—an', what I want's ter know is, where's the dam' populace? Has the whole town bin deserted, or what? Some awful disease broken out, an' nobody bothered t'tell Harry here, nor I?"
"Don' know about awful diseases' or no," Sol shaking his head, grinning widely though no-one could see this behind his thick beard. "We'nes'day never bein' much of a shoppin' day best o'times, y'knows."
"Oh?" From Sally, interested in all and every form of gossip. "Why so?"
"Waal, y'see's," Sol, so fueled, settling back comfortably on his chair for the long run. "There's days—an' then there's day's, y'see's."
The women looked at each other, with the same result.
"No." Sally searching for light in the darkness of the bright sunny morning.
"What?" Sol put off his track by this unexpected interjection.
"No, we doesn't see what yer gettin' at, old 'un." Henrietta coming in with the logic of hard reality.
For answer Sol gazed sadly at the women from under brows thicker than a pine forest, eased himself sideways to spit tobacco juice on the sidewalk, away from his companions then, more comfortable than ever, returned to his story.
"We'nes'day mornin's ain't ever bin pop'lr with the citizens—allus bin thet way, long as I recalls. Jes' one o'they unanswerable things, is all."
Henrietta, however, wasn't having any of this sloppy thinking.
"There's always a reason, Sol." She scratching her chin in cogitation. "Nuthin' happens without someone sets it in motion. So, why the Doldrums on Wednesday?"
Sol, something of a deep thinker in his own quiet way, immediately saw the metaphysical pothole in this question.
"Yer not thinkin' quite on form, Harry—a mite more logic'll see yer right." He grasping the lax rationale straight-off. "It's because Mondays an' Tuesdays is allus busy; after which the 'uman body requires a period o'rest ter build up its energy agin'. See? Thinks I recalls, from my idle readin', Spinoza touchin' on the same topic, sum'mers."
What both Henrietta and Sally clearly saw was the morass they would inevitably sink into if this conversation continued; Sally stepping forward with evasive action.
"Well, nice chattin' with yer, old 'un—don't pull a muscle doin' anythin' energetic the rest o'the day will ya? Come on, Harry, we got places ter be, an' what-all. Bye."
"Bye, leddies; mind the hoss-shit on the street." Sol still mindful of the priorities of Life. "What this town needs is a really good hoss-shit sweeper-upper Department—but does anyone on the Council ever think o'sich? No, they doesn't. Meb'be this new election on Friday'll bring change thetaway—but I doubts' it. Bye."
The Player's Theatre, on Garstone Avenue, was one of two such edifices in Pendleton catering to the intellectual education of the local masses. It had the capacity to seat over two hundred patrons, with a large stage where the actors or lecturers held sway over the audience's feelings. Today it was host to one of the two suppliants working towards becoming the next Sheriff; one Jake Belling, owner of a large dry-goods emporium in the town. He was six feet tall, athletic, and muscular. Anyone trying to browbeat him found, when they tried to escalate the argument to the physical, they were the ones who got more than simply browbeaten in reality.
Jake's great enemy at the present moment was his opponent for official rank, Greg Falliote; a man of some wealth, from cattle-ranching on a wide scale. Jake was a Democrat, while his adversary was of the Republican faith—and, as every American knows from birth, never the twain shall meet; a moral Jake was at present instilling into the eighty or so listeners in the stalls of the theatre as he harangued them with verve, passion, drive, rage, calls to defend the country through the Democrat Party against all comers, and chits for three free drinks at the Golden Apple on Texerkana Street, if said tickets were redeemed within the next two days. Quite what this all-embracing free gratis for all attitude had to do with becoming Sheriff of Pendleton he left to consider. All that need be said was that, as his diatribe progressed to its zenith, and the drinks' tickets were distributed like wildfire, the hearty roars of approval from his listeners could be heard out in the street.
"What the Hell?"
"Sounds like the Boston Tea Party, redivivus." Henrietta coming it the literary blue-stocking, from no real foundation.
"What?" Sally stopping in her tracks to gaze at her partner. "What the hell?"
"Which What the hell?" Henrietta highly amused. "The noise from the theatre, or my little joke?"
"Harry, you try me sorely."
"Uumph, come on, let's see what th—er, what's goin' on in the Player's." Henrietta focusing on the main theme, finally. "Must be good, whatever it is."
Inside there was standing room only to the rear of the auditorium, but at least Sally and Henrietta could see and hear the candidate on stage, declaiming like a Roman Emperor in front of his citizens.
" . . . and therefore I say Mr Falliote, for all his worth, is a fool and a lackadaisical student of politics, if he believes that his, and his Party's, stance on these several important topics reflects the wishes or standpoints of the majority of you in search of a responsible person to administer the law as Sheriff over the informed and intelligent citizens of this fair domicile of Pendleton, Territory of Arizona. Thank you,-Thank you."
The resulting roar of what must be taken as approval by the attendant audience, as the lecturer finished his peroration, was overpowering in its intensity—free drinks' tickets doing that to an always thirsty populace.
"Jeez, what a dam' noise." Sally covering her ears rather melodramatically. "Say, what're these guys doin', walkin' up an' down the aisles handin' things out?"
"Them's the free drinks tickets purveyors', ma'am." A nearby grizzled old-timer glanced round with a large grin, showing awful teeth through the herbage of an unruly scraggly beard covering most of his face. "You allows ye'll vote fer Jake there, an' yer gets free tickets ter soak up the nose paint over t'the Golden Apple over the next two days. Mighty pleasant Democratic way o'advancin' Democracy, don't yer think, leddies'?"
"So much for the secret ballot." Henrietta focused on the prime background problem in this situation. "Nuthin' like a democracy fer fair votin', sure enuff!"
"Let's get out'ta here afore we're squashed." Sally taking a more pragmatic view of their circumstances. "Think the rush fer the Golden Apple's jes' about ter get underway."
"Yeah, OK. Wouldn't want ter stand in the way of political progress." Henrietta making a move to head for the exit door. "Hey, ya grottlin' squab? Stand aside, afore I flattens yer, yer ape!"
The man, tall dark and powerfully built while also showing a mean expression only free drinks in large quantities would clearly ameliorate, paused to assess his latest opponent. Taking a close look at the tall dark woman who had so expressed her disapproval of his pushing and shoving he, rather unexpectedly, did the sensible thing turning away with a silent shrug to disappear in the milling throng as quickly as he had appeared from same.
"Some people just don't know the meanin' o'manners." Henrietta still aiming to exit the theatre without physical injury, to her or her lover. "Come on, laddie, you got lead boots on or what? Make a dam' move—thanks."
Finally they were out in daylight once again, Sally taking her partner's arm and dragging her unceremoniously away along the sidewalk to the left, out of the stream of those making a rush for refreshment without the painful necessity of paying for it.
"God, safe at last." Sally expressing her feelings with a wide scowl that would have made the very Fates, if they had seen it, step back and reconsider their actions.
"Phew!" Henrietta just glad they both were still on their feet, untouched. "What a bloody day!"
The problem for the two upholders of the Law in the town was, what to do now; it being Sally who proposed the most logical course of action.
"We've just seen how Jake Belling, as Democratic candidate, can rally his troops; what about Greg Falliote? Is he doing the same, as we speak?"
Henrietta considered this supposition, taking on board its likelihood, and came to the same decision her partner had already adopted.
"Where's Green's Playhouse from here?"
"Along Main Street, here, then down Greengage Avenue." Sally being well versed on the geography of the town's layout.
"Right, let's go," Henrietta harbouring dark thoughts of what the other half of the town's populace might be up to. "though God knows what's goin' on there."
A three minute walk, over to the eastern district of the town, found them standing outside the large theatre and lecture hall; again, there was the sound of a multitude energised to the highest degree resounding from the interior.
"Looks like Falliote's doin' the same as Belling." Henrietta voicing her blackest judgement on the echoing sounds from within. "Bet ya anything ya like he's handin' out free tickets fer beer the same as Belling. Such seemin' a standard method of influencing the voters, hereaways."
As they spoke the door opened and a thin peaky looking individual sidled out clutching something in his hand. Surprised by the two women standing guard he froze in place, like a rabbit in lantern light.
So addressed by Henrietta, the man gazed fearfully at this representative, so it seemed to his yellow-stained eyes, of the Gorgon brought to life.
"What's thet you're clutchin' in yer hand?"
The man, obviously searching for a believable excuse finally settled for the truth.
"It's my ticket for free beer an' one whisky, at Riordan's Saloon."
"And why do you have sich, may I ask—in my station of bein' by way of a town Depity?" Sally getting her ten cents in straight away.
The man looked even more confused and uncertain but, clearly not having the imagination to work up a convincing alternative, again simply put his faith in the truth.
"Falliote told us, the audience in there, thet given we vote fer him we can get tickets fer free drink over the next two days." The man shrugging as at a foregone conclusion. "Who's gon'na pass on free drink, I asks yer both? Over at Riordan's, like I said. There ain't no law agin' sich, is there?"
"No, but there dam' well ought'a be." Sally putting forth her view on the matter with force and verve. "Get lost."
Seeing he wasn't going to be dragged along to the Sheriff's office and cast in a cell the man hopped to one side and passed by his interlocutors like a ballet dancer performing a pas de deux. In another instant he had disappeared round a corner, leaving the women in command of the empty sidewalk outside the theatre.
"So, what now?" Sally growling this question like a grizzly with a headache.
"Hear that?" Henrietta still focused on the noise from inside the large Hall. "Sounds like the audience have received their presents an' are presently on their way t'cash in same fer liquid refreshment."
"Fancy we better clear the area then." Sally perfectly aware of their dangerous position. "We stand here much longer we'll be squished underfoot."
"Jeez, OK; right, follow me."
"Where we headed?" Sally meanwhile shuffling along beside her loved partner.
"T'the Square." Henrietta obviously with a plan formed in her mind. "What're these opposin' parties goin' ter be up to fer the next few hours, as we speak, darlin'?"
Sally was up for this easy question.
"Drinkin' like there was no tomorrow, in their respective drinkin' dens; thet's easy."
"An' what's the outcome of sich extended no-holds barred refreshment goin' ter be, overall?"
Sally thought about this for a few seconds, then came to the inevitable conclusion.
"They're, both parties, gon'na get theirsel's stinkin' drunk, then come out in the street lookin' fer trouble."
"An' where're they gon'na find same, may I ask?"
Sally thought about this too, but the answer was clear as daylight.
"In the town Square." She nodding at her perspicacity. "They'll come howlin' an' harassin' along Main an' Greengage, till they meet in the Square; then it'll be like the Battle of Harpers Ferry all over agin'."
"Jes' so, darlin'." Henrietta clearly of the same opinion. "An', meanwhile, where'll we both be, d'ya think?"
For the third time in less than a minute Sally again brought the full force of her intellect to bear on the matter.
The history of the ensuing riot with its cataclysmic conclusion, on the afternoon and accompanying evening of July 19th, 187-, later filled three consecutive issues of the local 'Red Flume Enquirer', across a two week period; the newspaper naming without reserve several culprits, on both sides, who had been at the forefront of the iniquitous activities undertaken by the baying crowd: for it was certainly a case of Democrat against Republican in the most derogatory manner possible. Fists flew, stones flew, bodies flew, and people were injured and wounded in a variety of ways not seen since the late Conflict between the States; this taking no notice of the following event which brought a firm, conclusively terminal, conclusion to the town's opposing views on the new Sheriff's identity.
Having first retired to the at present vacant Sheriff's office on Main Street to settle what they meant to do, and load several shotguns for bear, the ladies' finally made their way to the Square just as the two political parties came in from opposing directions, shouting what were primarily meant as political rallying cries, but which were soon lost in the ensuing general pandemonium. It taking a mere thirty seconds for the two separate parties to stand shouting slogans and obscenities at each other before racing across the bare earth of the Square to join battle.
Henrietta and Sally had been standing on the sidewalk where Greengage and Main met, with the salutary object of berating the crowd and sending them home with their tails between their legs; but the intake of raw alcohol imbibed by the individual components of each party had been so massive and beyond even their usual daily standard, that all that could be expected was Armageddon on the grand scale—which is just what occurred.
When two disparate crowds, both heavily under the influence, meet as one that one becomes a monster—dust is raised like a sandstorm in the desert, fists fly arbitrarily against all comers regardless of original party affiliates, no excuse needed, and a kind of sweltering heat wave glimmers over all, like the mists of hatred taking physical form. The noise is also frightening, becoming a reverberating over-arching growl as if some unseen monster from Hades had assumed ringmaster duties for the occasion.
"They're out'ta control, a'ready!" Sally taking a panoramic view of the suddenly crowded Square and not liking what she saw.
"Hey you, Big boy, put thet pickaxe handle down, or I'll dam' shoot yer!" Henrietta, moving out into the fray, taking swift control of at least one small aspect of the fight.
The man in question, medium height, solidly built with a mean expression which pretty clearly reflected his underlying character, paused to glare at the representative of the Law, thought about his options, then threw the offending weapon away with a violent curse before being absorbed in the milling throng, lost to view in seconds.
"Hoi!" Sally, with laudable determination, joining in this attempt to control the clearly uncontrollable. "You with the red hat, dump the Bowie, or by God I'll dump you with a scattergun load. Now!"
The man so addressed, lean, slim, nervous and jittery through more drink in one day than he had ever before put down in a week, jerked round at this threat to his health; took a single glance at Sally showing all of her meanest nature and, with a smooth flowing movement that would have made a professional dancer proud, disappeared in the surrounding crowd like a stone in a pond.
"F-ck! Lost him." Sally more riled at this than over the ongoing mayhem all round.
"Sal, keep by me." Henrietta, realising they were in the throbbing heart of a raging animal, as the surrounding multitude of drunken specimens had certainly now transmogrified into, looked to the safety of her lover first of all important things. "We need'ta get some space an' take back control, somehow."
"How, there's dam' hundreds all round?" Sally seeing the difficulty of following her heartmate's plan. "What? We should start shootin' people?"
"Hell, no. Thet'd start a real riot, an' we'd be the prey." Henrietta seeing the danger involved in such a cold-blooded action. "Try shootin' in the air—warnin' shots. Make 'em take notice of us—take their minds off punching the lights out'ta their neighbours. It'll meb'be work."
Sally only replied to this with a grimace, then raised her shotgun in the air letting off both barrels one after the other. However, just as she did so, a more sustained level of gunfire made its presence felt as various persons, lost in the wildly milling crowd, took it unto themselves to fire in the air too; a crackling banging discharge of light artillery being the end result over which Sally's shotgun made little impression.
"Let's hope they're only firin' in the air, like us." Henrietta recognising the alternative with a scowl of her own. "If they ain't, it's gon'na be a field day at the Lock-up, later. Watch out, Sal—t'yer left!"
A movement in the general mass had allowed several individuals, caught up amongst each other's arms and bodies, to push sideways like a sentient single organism; Henrietta's hand, grabbing her lover by the shoulder and hauling her off to the side being the only thing saving Sally from being trampled underfoot as the crowd surged closer all round.
"Sheesh! Thanks, pard; nearly a dam' goner, there."
"Nuthin' to it, sweets'." Henrietta brushing off her good deed like a hero. "Come on, lets get over here a'ways."
While the crowd was massed compactly as one there was still room left over for specific singular fights; one of which suddenly erupted in front of the Deputies. Two men, equally matched in size, weight, and staying power, rolled across the dusty earth at the feet of the struggling Deputies, arms flailing like windmills in a storm. Whether either of the opponents were actually capable of landing a useful blow amongst all the whirling and threshing was debatable; but what was of prime concern was their capacity of getting under everyone else's boots. Indeed, as Henrietta and Sally watched, two men to their left were caught up in the fighters' flailing legs and went down like sinking ships, only much quicker—Henrietta once again having to act swiftly to save her inamorata from yet another potential squashing.
"You OK, doll?"
"Yeah, yeah." Sally getting both her breath and legs back in commission as they hastened aside again. "God, ya gon'na make a career out'ta savin' me from imminent destruction, lover?"
"Looks mighty like same, dear, sure thing. What're we gon'na do?"
"God knows; 'cause, lover, I sure as Charlie Dickens don't." Sally wiping her now perspiring forehead with the back of her hand. "No, wait—yeah, I do."
"Do what, young 'un?" Henrietta's attention being elsewhere amongst the visibly thriving battle. "Jes' make it snappy."
"We got'ta defend the fort, don't you see." Sally's intellects seemingly having been a trifle unstrung by the surrounding mayhem. "Stop them in their tracks, somehow."
"Oh, got a plan, t'save us all, has yer?"
"Nah, thet's your department, lover; just offering suggestions, is all." Sally abandoning her partner to her fate without quibble. "Just, if you can, make it quick; these bunches o'thugs is gettin' madder than a posse of sidewinders with a communal headache."
The riot, for such a state it had now incontrovertibly attained, had broken-up into a series of ongoing separate confrontations, all happening alongside each other in the clouds of dust which had rapidly risen to obscure much of the panoramic fray. The sound of bodies hitting the dirt, of curses in a variety of languages rending the air, of thumps and cracks as several home-made weapons came into contact with varying parts of the human body, and a general almost chorus-like ululation echoing from several hundred throats, all contributed to the vision of a battle of huge proportions in full swing, energetically pursued by both opposing parties.
"Jeez, we better go back t'the Sheriff's office, an' get the other depities on the move." Sally taking a step back from the immediate annihilation going on all round.
"Cain't? Why not?"
"—'cause there ain't any."
"The last Sheriff, him as went down with the gripe, he only had the one depity." Henrietta passing on the good news. "An' he, on findin' himself alone in the big city, sold up an' went t'Phoenix."
Sally, foiled in the easy answer, gazed around at the continuing battle, now going well.
"Well, we got'ta do something, sure."
"Look around," Henrietta waving an arm in a half circle. "what can we do? Dam' all. I fancy we'll have'ta wait till they murder each other, an' there's only one last man standin'. Then we can get a grip, agin'."
"God, ya call thet a plan?"
"You got a better, lover?"
At this point another aspect of the fracas began to clarify itself in the immediate offing. Towards the south-west a plume of smoke, of a dirty dark grey tone and thick as soup, began to rise in the air; the fighting throng taking, of course, no immediate account, their focus being on more imminent concerns.
"Sal, there's a fire over there."
"Where? Oh, sh-t!"
Moving back from the fighting multitude, all uncaring of the presence of the two deputies, Henrietta and Sally ran to the sidewalk running along Greengage Street, following it for a hundred yards or so away from the battle till they had a clear view of the source of the fire.
"God, two buildings goin' up t'gether."
"Yeah." Henrietta nodding as they looked at the rising smoke on the other side of the street. "It's a'ready well alight. What can we do?"
"Get a line o'men with buckets." Sally taking the pragmatic line, though disregarding present circumstances.
"How'd we do thet, young 'un?" Henrietta seeing the flaw in this answer. "Everyone's presently wholly taken with knockin' seven bells out'ta each other, only sayin'."
Sally thought about this for a couple of seconds.
Henrietta looked both ways along the street.
"Where's the nearest well?"
Sally glanced at her companion, furrowing her brow.
"Who knows, not me." She shrugging dismissively. "Even if we found it, what could we do alone? That there fire's gon'na go on its merry way, unobstructed."
"If we let thet happen the whole dam' town'll go up fer sure," Henrietta sounding more than a little worried. "We cain't let that happen. How the hell can we stop these id'yeets fightin', an' get organised fer this fire? God, look, it's spread t'the next building t'the left!"
Sally twisted round, taking in each end of the street as they spoke.
"Everybody in the town cain't be engaged in the Square, throwin' punches." She shaking her head. "There must be hundreds o'others around somewhere. How can we get them goin'?"
Henrietta took less than a second to reply to this query.
"We cain't." She sighing softly. "Wherever they be, an' whatever they be doin', there's no way we can corral 'em in'ta helpin'."
"Ya sayin' this fire's gon'na go on its way unhindered?" Sally looking horrified at this prospect.
"What else?" Henrietta glancing towards the Square once again. "That there riot ain't gon'na come t'any conclusion this side o'dark—not thet there'll be much o'thet tonight; the whole town goin' up in flames, meanwhile, all round us. Meb'be then."
"There won't be anything g-d'd-m left t'rescue by thet time." Sally only echoing the inevitable.
At this juncture the heavy thumping of boots approaching at a rate of knots sounded on the sidewalk boards, heralding the appearance of a thin middle-aged man with grey hair and an agitated manner, who came to a skidding halt by the deputies.
"Sheriff—Depity, there's a fire! See? See!"
"We had kind'a noticed same, mister." Henrietta taking command with an authoritarian air. "An' we're both depities' by the by. So, come ter lend a hand, have yer? That'll be mighty helpful, fer sure. Jeez, look over there, mister; what're three people gon'na do ter stop thet ragin' inferno?"
"The house on the other side's goin' up now." Sally glanced at the two standing by her side. "—er, only sayin', is all. It's spreadin', is what I meant ter say—like wildfire!"
"I can bring the rest of the prayer-meeting ter help."
Henrietta and Sally paused, eyeing the man with sharp intensity.
"What?" From Sally, astonished beyond endurance.
"We're holdin' our usual meetin' in the church," The still anonymous man nodding positively. "Around thirty of us."
"What for you're holdin' a prayer-meeting?" Henrietta, against her better nature, intrigued all the same. "This here bein', ter the best o'my knowledge, only We'nes'day?"
"Cain't we decide ourselves when ter meet?" The man, present circumstances notwithstanding, taking umbrage. "What's it ter ye, may I ask?"
"Oh, nuthin', nuthin'." Henrietta retreating on her last statement like a tried and true politician. "How many'd ye say ye had in reserve?"
"Thirty-two men, an' seven women."
"It's a start." Sally not holding back from looking a gift horse in the mouth. "Where's the nearest well?"
"I can send someone ter hunt up the fire squad."
Again the deputies, somewhat amazed, paused to take stock of what the man had just told them.
"A fire squad?" Sally now wholly out of her depth.
"Yeah, we got a fine upstanding fire-house, jes' over ter Juniper Road." The man almost visibly expanding with pride. "Cain't think why they ain't here a'ready"
It was Henrietta who provided the answer to this inane question.
"Take a glance along ter the Square, ol'timer—see anythin' thet kind'a takes the eye?"
The man, clearly astonished at the turn the conversation had taken, did as commanded, and was duly informed of the present state of the social niceties within the boundaries of Pendleton.
"What the hell!"
"Never mind—jes' go an' get yer congregation, with buckets or whatever, an' send a handful o'men ter roust out the fire-wagon on their own account." Henrietta giving orders like a General on the battlefield. "An' make it dam' snappy."
"Any other groups o'cits we can call on, apart from those id'yeets fightin' backaways?" Sally covering another angle.
The man had turned to retrace his steps, but halted long enough to consider this query.
"Mister Rawlins, Patrick Rawlins, is holdin' a meetin' o'ranch owners an' farmers over ter the Flyin' Cy'ote on Naidle Street. He al'lus takin' a private room on the upper storey once every two month ter acquaint the local owners what's happenin' in the Territory thet way. He'll be there now—they all bein' respectable an' solid citizens, an' all."
"How many?" Sally only interested in the important details.
"Oh, some thirty, agin'; yeah, definitely thet, fer sure."
"Bang on their door, when yer has a minute." Henrietta nodding in agreement with her partner's questions. "Roust 'em all out, an' tell 'em ter get here quicker than not, got thet?"
"Sure thing, ma'am."
A second later he could be seen retracing his steps at a speed that did him honour, considering everything.
"Well, we may yet save some o'the town, I'm thinkin'." Henrietta proposing a level of enthusiasm that was otherwise to look for; her partner certainly taking this latter course.
"Har, some hope." Sally shaking her head sadly. "Look, thet whole line o'houses, some five or six's, a'fire now. It's gon'na take more'n a single fire-wagon an' a handful o'volunteers ter stop it now."
"Surely ter God those id'yeets in the Square have figured out what's happenin' by now?" Henrietta showing her utter contempt for the persons in question.
"Hey, look, there's a passel o'folks comin' from there, sure; some bloodied but all still on their feet an' pretty much mobile." Sally gesturing excitedly. "Yeah, the fightin's pretty much finished, now they've got somethin' more dramatic ter take notice of. D'ya think we have a chance?"
"Time, lover, only Time will tell." Henrietta going out onto the dirt street ahead of her soul-mate to face the oncoming throng. "We can but hope."
"Let's hope some o'these fools knows where the nearest wells is, at least." Sally remaining pragmatic under pressure.
The ensuing disaster, as reported in fiery headlines in the 'Red Flume Enquirer', the respected newspaper of note for the whole of the southern part of the Territory, made for exciting reading—the pages of the paper echoing in fiery lines of black text what the fiery flames of the actual incident must have seemed to those most closely involved.
"We acclaim," The Enquirer loudly commended its readers. "the bravery and fortitude of the fair town's citizens; they coming to the rescue the moment the fire broke out, they having at the time nothing more important to take notice of."
A sentiment which, if delightful to those involved, hardly seemed trustworthy as to the actual affairs of the town prior to the conflagration.
"Over there, line-up over there." Sally desperately trying to instill organisation into the preliminary activities of the mixture of ex-rioters, prayer-meeting attendants, and ranchers. "Wait fer the buckets ter come from the well, then try'n throw the water in'ta the ground floors. Got thet? Don't try'n soak the walls or roofs; thet's jes' a waste o'time. Get as close as yer can, an' throw the water inside the ground floors."
"The town's own private fire-guard," The Enquirer reported in solemn tones. "proved themselves masters of their environment, even judging by the horrible circumstances under which they, by Natural Law, operated."
"Where'n hell's thet dam' fire-wagon?" Henrietta burning up at around the same rate as the houses on both sides of the street, the flames from which now all but surrounded the fire-fighters.
"Here it comes." Sally taking a moment to glance along the length of Greengage Street. "Mighty slow, though. Ha, no hosses, they're pullin' it by hand."
"Jeez!" Henrietta appalled by this quaint manner of progress. "I revises my last idee straight; there ain't no hope, whatever."
"God, woman, get a grip." Sally instilling confidence where it was evidently direly needed. "The town ain't lost yet; well some o'it, anyway."
"We are proud to relate the individual actions of several citizens," The Enquirer proceeded; taking little note of reality, if only its readers had known. "who held their own safety as nothing compared to saving the bodily structure of their town. Nathan Garfield, for one, striding heroically into a blazing house to rescue a fair maiden trapped therein; they both exiting the fire ravaged premises unharmed, even though Nathan sadly lost most of his hair to the flames."
"Hey, get out'ta my way, woman!"
Henrietta, not usually being habitually addressed in this manner by those who knew her, turned to inspect the tall heavy-built man now hopping from foot to foot beside her.
"What'd ya jes' say, sonny?"
"Look over there, at the Mornin' Glory, it's dam' goin' up in flames." He seeming to have some personal interest in the named saloon over the road, now well alight and burning fiercely from every window. "Why ain't yer doin' anythin' about it? I left my best shotgun in thar, a while back."
"Is thet so?" Henrietta failing to understand the man's interest. "There's a town-wide fire goin' on, if ye hadn't yet noticed."
"My shotgun's in there!" The man sticking to his principals, for no obvious good reason.
"Yer shotgun's melted by now." Sally putting in her oar. "No way o'rescuin' it now. Get a bucket an' fall in line; there's a mite o'other buildings' need our attention."
The man looked from Henrietta to Sally, then made his decision. Turning from the Deputies he strode across the road straight for the saloon, ignoring both swirling flames shooting from the windows and the thick clouds of smoke; nor taking note of the milling people now doing their best to quell the ever-extending flames all round. In five more strides he disappeared inside the main door, it not yet spouting flames though the room inside was obviously wrapped in thick grey smoke.
"Jay-sus!" Sally taken completely by surprise. "What'n hell's he think he's doin'?"
At the same moment a house to their left began sprouting flames from its upper storey, spreading the fire further along the street, causing even more distress and problems for the fire-fighters. This extension took the attention of everyone in the vicinity, trying desperately to spread a certain amount of water over an ever-expanding area of fire; Henrietta and Sally to the fore in this effort.
Henrietta glanced in the direction Sally was gazing, stopping in her tracks at what she saw.
From the now cloud-emitting entrance of the saloon appeared the form of the tall young man, only now encumbered by a shotgun in his left hand and the inert form of a woman over his right shoulder. Smoke was rising from his clothes and, to some extent his head, the hair of which had been reduced to a black ash; he striding into the centre of the street before bending to lay the motionless woman on the ground.
Henrietta and Sally ran over to investigate this amazing turn of events, Sally crouching low to turn the woman face-up.
"She's alive, an' not hurt, even. Where'd ya find her?"
"She was jes' there, when I went over ter the corner where I'd left my gun." The man straightening to run a hand over his decimated head of hair. "Hey, what's happened t'my hair? Dam'!"
"It'll grow back." Henrietta taking the main road. "Ya saved this gal, sure as eggs, though. Thet's something."
"At least I got my gun, sure." The man seeming more justly happy with this outcome than anything else.
"Yeah, sure." Sally, still administering to the recovering woman. "Go an' join the bucket-line, now. This gal's gon'na be alright, Harry, when she coughs up most'a the smoke she's swallered."
"Glad ter hear it, lover."
"The whole extent of the town of Pendleton, once the fairest in the southern Territory," The Enquirer valiantly reported, waxing lyrical with little factual foundation. "was swiftly reduced to ashes, like unto those cities of the Plain in the Good Book. In the morning a great township, full of life and activity; in the evening, a waste of ashes. What moral can we take from such a tragedy? For this let us turn to the words of the Reverend—"
At which point the Enquirer, obviously lacking faith in its own capacity to further more comprehensively report or describe the whole awful panorama of the late disaster, passed the buck to a local minister.
"What the hell happened?" Sally, later in the evening, standing on the sandy bare ground outside the furthest environs of the town, looking around at the crowd of former citizens still milling about in some confusion.
"The town—the whole dam' place—burned t'the ground. Nuthin' left." Henrietta merely passing on what was obvious to everyone.
"But how?" Sally wanting answers to the all-encompassing catastrophe. "How'd it burn so quick? Hell, it ain't but, what, ten hours, an' there ain't nuthin' left but black ash, anywhere. Look at the clouds o'smoke still wafting out'ta the ruins all over."
"Wood," Henrietta sounding enigmatic as she surveyed the outcome of the fire. "dry wood, very dry wood. And a populace thet had other things on it's collective mind at entire the wrong moment."
"The riots concernin' the Sheriff's office?" Sally, though tired, still on top of the situation. "Well, thet's a pint thet'll not need any thinkin' about from now on. No dam' town, no dam' Sheriff."
"Thet about covers it, babe."
"Anyone injured?" Sally coming down to basics, entirely because of the reports she knew Sheriff Donaldson back in Red Flume would be requiring about the disaster.
"From the fire? No." Henrietta having earlier taken a head-count of the survivors. "Everyone known ter have bin in the town havin' come for'rard as still bein' in the land o'the livin', wholesale."
"Well, thank God fer thet."
"The rioters, on the other hand—"
"What about 'em?" Sally seeing rocks ahead in her clearly busy days to come. "Look, it's comin' on fer eleven at night. The ruins'll still be smokin' when we wakes in the mornin', if anyone actil sleeps at all. What say we ferget the dam' riot? The fire takin' up a mite o'attention in itself, no?"
"Well, there's thet, sure."
"Yeah, lover; jes' ferget anyone ever traded blows or harsh words over the dam' Sheriff's office." Sally knowing full well when something should be brushed under the nearest carpet. "Who's ter say the riot had anythin' ter do with the outbreak o'the fire in the first place? Could'a been any number o'extraneous actions started it."
"Yeah, sure, baby."
Henrietta, seeing the glowing flame smouldering in the dark recesses of her lover's eyes, broke like a dry twig.
"Great, leddy." Sally rescuing something positive from the wreckage after all. "Now all we need'ta address is—where're all these folks gon'na spend the next few days, there bein' absolutely nuthin' left o'their individual houses or property whatever; how're they gon'na be fed; an' where're we gon'na find enough water ter provide drinkin' material fer same cits'?"
"Don't want much, does yer, lover?"
"Only tryin' ter think ahead, is all."
"Uum, well, suppose we needs ter ride back ter Red Flume," Henrietta's tone lacking in any level of satisfaction. "Tell Donaldson there ain't a Pendleton anymore, see what he has ter say. Somethin' comprehensive, no doubt. An' take things from there."
"Ain't much of a plan, not thet I'm throwin' aspersions, dearest."
"Ha!" Henrietta grinning for the first time in several hours. "Come up with somethin' better, can yer; I'll be first ter kiss yer if so, leddy."
"You'll be the only one ter kiss me, love o'my heart."
Another 'Red Flume' story will arrive shortly.