I was outnumbered and outgunned. There were two Reb Road Agents & only one me. They each had a big revolver and at least one rifle. I only had a Muff Deringer.
But I had the advantage of not being dead like they probably thought I was.
And I had my Indian skills. Using these skills, I scanned the camp and spotted the Henry rifle leaning against the trunk of a pine tree not too far from the fire. Dizzy’s double-barrelled shotgun was there, too. Ray must have left it inside the coach when he climbed up to help me.
I put my little four-shooter back in the inner pocket of my sacque & made my way carefully back into the darkness of the pine forest & circled round real stealthy & slow, so as not to alarm the horses.
When I came up behind the leaning gun pine, I reached my hand around kind of groping-like & took first the Henry & then the double-barrelled shotgun. Tucking both guns under my arm, I melted back into the darkness of the forest and returned to my first vantage point.
By now the Rebs were tipping letters out of the leather sacks and filling the empty bags with silver ingots. There were letters scattered everywhere but at least they had stopped burning them.
I was about to step forward & throw down on them, when I remembered I was wearing a velvet sacque and a wig of swinging ringlets beneath a lighthouse bonnet. I would not make a very imposing figure thus attired. At least I could take of the danged wig & silly bonnet.
I took off the danged wig & silly bonnet.
As I was about to toss away those two hated objects, I saw something that made my blood run cold as snowmelt.
There was a bullet hole in the sticking-up part of the bonnet! A hole made by a .44 caliber ball, I reckoned. I remembered how something had knocked my bonnet forward when they had been shooting at us.
‘Dang!’ I said to myself. ‘They were shooting to kill.’
They were pretty drunk by now. I could tell because they were weaving around as they lugged leathern sacks full of silver bricks over to the horses. I reckoned I might as well wait until they finished loading the silver on the horses. Otherwise I would have to do a lot of heavy lifting myself.
The moon was high now and I judged it to be around 10 pm. My stomach was growling but my last few pieces of jerky were in my yellow velvet purse which I had left hanging on the front rail of the stagecoach. I peered at the ruined coach and thought I saw something yellow in the moonlight.
While they were busy loading the last of the silver onto the stage horses, I snuck over to the wrecked body of the stagecoach & got my yellow velvet bag and fished out a piece of jerky. Then I looked inside the coach. I saw Ray’s flat brimmed gray hat lying on top of a letter-sack that was half spilling out its letters. There were also some lengths of whang leather that had bound the mouths of the mail sacks.
I lowered myself down through the open window of the door & I put on Ray’s hat. It was a mite too big so I stuffed a few loose letters in the crown to make it fit. But what to do about my puffy sacque with its bell-like outline?
Then I had another idea. I took one of those strips of whang leather & tied it around my waist over the sacque. In the darkness they might take me for a short man in a belted coat. I also tied my yellow velvet purse to the belt of whang leather, but I made sure it was hanging down behind me.
Quiet as a bug on burlap, I climbed out of the ruined stagecoach & lowered myself onto the moon-dappled ground & melted back into the inky shadows of the pines.
Over by the horses, Kepi stretched & yawned. ‘Toting those silver ingots has tuckered me out,’ he said to his pard. ‘Can’t we take a little kip?’
‘Nope,’ said Slouch. ‘We gotta put some distance between us and the wreck while the moon is still up. If Chauncy or Jonas find us slacking there will be h-ll to pay.’
‘They ain’t the boss of us,’ said Kepi.
‘No, but they promised us a good piece of the pie for our help,’ said Slouch.
‘H-ll,’ said Kepi. ‘We got about seventy-five pieces of silver pie right here on these horses. We ought to keep the booty and skedaddle to Frisco. Or we could lay low in Angel’s Camp.’
‘Better not,’ said Slouch. ‘They would hunt us down and kill us dead if we betrayed ’em.’
‘Aw,’ said Kepi. ‘I could take ’em easy.’
‘You could maybe take Chauncy,’ said Slouch. ‘But not Jonas. He is as cold-blooded as a rattler.’
‘He is most likely dead of a busted neck,’ said Kepi.
‘Maybe,’ said Slouch. ‘Maybe not. You willing to take that chance?’
‘Nah,’ said Kepi, ‘I reckon not. Where was we supposed to meet em?’
‘Grizzly Gulch,’ said Slouch. ‘Where we stashed the booty. We can make it back to our shebang easy before the moon sets. I reckon it is less than a mile.’
‘Better mount up, then,’ said Kepi, starting towards their horses.
My heart was pounding in my chest. It was now or never. I could not show any fear or they might throw down on me.
I picked up the double-barrelled shotgun & checked it was capped & loaded.
I took a deep breath & stepped out into the firelight.
‘You ain’t going nowhere,’ I said, making my voice as deep as I could. ‘Throw down your sidearms and reach for the sky.’