We reached Genoa about an hour after we set out from Carson, for we had been going at a fair clip through the sage-brushy desert and flat marshes. It felt satisfying to have control of six powerful beasts and a stage worth $50,000 dollars.
‘I’d better take them there ribbons now,’ said Dizzy, ‘lessen someone sees a girl in black ringlets and a yaller bonnet driving.’
As we pulled in front of a Livery Stable, the door of an outhouse partly opened and a voice shouted. ‘Be right out!’
Dizzy pulled pushed the footbrake forward & tossed the reins to the ground. He stayed in his seat so I did, too.
It was now about 5 in the afternoon. We were in the shadow of the mountains & it was chilly. I could hear the throaty coo of a dove from the Genoa oak trees and in the cottonwoods some birds were having a lively conversation. Some folk standing in front of the General Store were also conversing & they hardly even glanced at us.
The hostler came out of the outhouse.
‘Howdy, Dizzy!’ he called up to us. ‘I got a fresh team all ready for you. Little Ben?’ A towheaded boy came out, leading a fresh team of six horses, all harnessed and strapped to their pole.
‘That there wooden stick is called a “whippletree”,’ said Dizzy, pointing down at a kind of plank the hostler was releasing from the front of the coach. ‘See there? The traces are all passed through and ready so you can be ready to go at a moment’s notice if’n you want.’
‘From what Icy said, I thought you would have been here sooner,’ said the stableman as led our starting team away from the coach.
‘We was a mite delayed,’ said Dizzy. ‘How long ago did he come through?’
‘Half an hour maybe,’ said the hostler. He stopped to watch the boy fit the new team’s whippletree to the front of our coach. ‘No more than forty minutes.’
‘Dang!’ cursed Dizzy. He spat some tobacco juice onto the ground. ‘Any other travellers pass by?’
‘Just a man on a gray and three miners footing it,’ said the Stableman. ‘Carson City Stage is due in around an hour. Evenin’, ma’am,’ he said to the window. ‘Would you care to stretch your legs?’
When he got no response he shielded his mouth with his hand and whispered to Dizzy, ‘Something wrong with that lady in there? She don’t seem very friendly.’
‘Why, Al,’ said Dizzy. ‘That lady is real friendly. In fact, she is so friendly that you could give her a kiss and she would not object.’ He gave a wheezy laugh.
‘Don’t take no notice of Dizzy, ma’am,’ said Al, tipping his hat at the open window. ‘He can be rude and– Dang!’ he leaped back as if bit by a snake. ‘There is something wrong with her face. It looks like an unripe watermelon.’
‘Hee, hee,’ said Dizzy. ‘It is. She is a dummy with a watermelon head. She is meant to mislead those Reb Road Agents into thinking we have passengers,’ he added.
‘You watch out for them,’ said Al. ‘Latest news is they was spotted between Yank’s Station and Strawberry. They tried to rob a passenger stage but O’Riley started blasting at them with his scattergun and they skedaddled.’
Little Ben had hitched the new team to our coach. He handed Al the hostler the reins of the fresh team and led off the old team.
Dizzy spat a brown squirt of tobacco juice down onto the dirt. ‘That stiff lady ain’t the only one riding today,’ he said. ‘Got a Pinkerton Detective of our own in there, too. But I don’t think those bandits will bother with us. Not after Icy & his men have got hold of them.’
‘Well, God go with you!’ cried Al the hostler, holding the bunch of reins aloft.
Dizzy took them and released the footbrake. ‘Amen,’ he said, and to the horses, ‘G’lang! G’lang there you sons of blanks!’
That fresh team pulled us along a flat, straight road at the foot of the mountains for a spell.
We passed Van Sickles Station which is a white two-story wooden house with a grand porch and corrals & stables all on its lonesome with those barren mountain rearing up almost perpendicular behind it.
I knew the road doubled back a few miles up ahead to become the Kingsbury Grade. I turned my head to search for Pa but I only saw a stagecoach coming down, not going up.
I said, ‘I see a stagecoach coming down the mountain.’
Dizzy said, ‘That’ll be the Pioneer stage from Placerville on its way to Carson and Virginee.’
We came to that sharp switchback & started to climb up the side of the mountain.
Dizzy was using his whip now, pulling it back & then flicking it forward to make it uncoil like a big black snake & crack like the report of a pistol right over the horses’ heads. But he did not have to do too much blacksnaking. Those horses knew it would be uphill now but downhill on their way home so they pulled bravely.
As we got higher & higher I could see back the way we had come. Over to my right – to the east – I could see vast empty sky & far below a flat plain like a patchwork quilt of green & sage & buff & brown. The sight of that much sky and that far a drop made my stomach do a handspring and all the blood sank down to my toes.
If I looked almost straight down I could see the ribbon of a road with Van Sickles House & Stables looking like a little pair of white and brown dice from that height. A humpy part of the mountain prevented me from seeing Carson City or even Genoa to the north. As we climbed it felt like my ears were getting fuller & fuller of cotton lint. Then something went pop and my head was empty & light.
We were now so high that it made me feel queer to look over the side. So I kept my gaze straight ahead.
Presently the Pioneer Stage from Placerville appeared around a bend. It was pulled by a strange-looking team of bays and grays. The three starboard horses (as Dizzy called them) were dark and the other three were light. Also, it had about six people riding up on top behind the Driver and his Conductor.
As they came closer both coaches slowed down a little. The driver was a slight man with a flat-brimmed hat and billy-goat beard.
‘Evening, Dizzy!’ he called.
‘Evening, Hank!’ Dizzy replied. ‘Any sign of them Reb Road Agents?’
‘Nope,’ said driver. ‘Like we told Mr. Blue, we ain’t seen ’em. Where’s your conductor?’
‘This little lady here is riding shotgun.’ Dizzy gave a wheezy chuckle.
‘You must have got some weighty passengers in there today,’ called the driver over his shoulder. ‘Your team are struggling to pull it.’
‘Dang!’ swore Dizzy after the stage had gone past. ‘I hope those Reb Road Agents ain’t as perspicacious as that there Hank Monk.’
But as I will shortly relate, they were.