The telegraph operator at Yank’s Station was aiming a cocked Colt’s Navy Revolver at me and his tone was firm.
But I did not sit down to ‘wait for the Law’ as he suggested.
Instead, I feinted to the left, dodged to the right, grabbed the rickety straight-backed chair on my side of the desk & swung at the Telegraph Operator with what I hoped was a blood-curdling Lakota war cry. ‘Aiiieeee!’
Normally you should not attack someone who is pointing a loaded firearm at you.
But I was riled.
I was riled at Ping.
I was riled at my dead & bogus Pa.
I was riled at Mr. Ray G. Tempest.
I would search out the Truth and have my Revenge.
And I was d-mned if anybody was going to get in my way.
THUMP! I knocked the gun out of his hand.
CLONK! It hit the raw plank wall and rebounded back onto the floor my side of the desk.
CRASH! I smashed his telegraph machine with the chair.
The gun was still spinning on the floor at my feet. I threw down the broken chair and had the revolver in my hand before he could react.
‘God d-mn,’ he said. ‘You busted my machine.’
‘Tear out the rest of those wires,’ I commanded. ‘And use them to tie your feet to the chair.’
He opened his mouth to protest.
‘Do it!’ Using both hands, I cocked the pistol & raised it & pointed it at his heart.
He tore out the wires & tied his ankles to the chair legs with trembling fingers.
‘Take off your belt,’ I commanded.
‘Stick your arms through the back slats of the chair,’ I added.
And finally, ‘Wedge them in real good.’
When he had wedged his arms in real good, I went around behind him. Once I was out of his sight, I quickly uncocked the Colt’s Navy & stuck it in a pocket of my bogus pa’s greatcoat & used his own belt to tie his already wedged arms to the back of the chair. Then I came round to the front of the desk again & pulled the revolver out of my pocket.
‘Close your eyes and count to one hundred,’ I commanded.
Outside I heard the sound of a cavalry bugle sounding charge.
‘What is that noise?’ I said, re-cocking the Navy. ‘Is it the cavalry come to rescue you?’
‘No,’ he said, his eyes still closed. ‘That is the 10 o’clock stage on its way to Virginia City. Major Micky is the driver. He always blows his trumpet when he is about to arrive or depart.’
‘Will they stop for lunch?’
‘They will stop for coffee, and stew if any passengers want it. Shall I carry on or start again?’
‘Carry on what?’
‘Counting to one hundred.’
‘Start again,’ I said. ‘And keep your eyes shut. I am going to stand right here. I will shoot you if you open your eyes before you reach one hundred.’
But as soon as he started counting again, I backed outside & dropped the revolver into a rain-barrel so he would not find it in a hurry.
I glanced around to make sure nobody had seen me. Then I ran for the pine-woods. Once again I heard the blare of the bugle & also the jingle of harness & clop of hooves & knew the Virginia-bound Stage was pulling up in front of Yank’s Station.
Soon they would all know about the half Injun fugitive, viz: ME!
I went into the silent & dappled pine forest & circled west, going where the pine needles were thickest in case there were any trackers on my trail. I found a hiding place behind some big pine trees near the top of a rise in the road near where any Sacramento-bound coach would have to slow down on account of the steep grade.
My plan was to jump onto the back of a stagecoach while it was going slow, and then slip inside the rear boot which is a big pouch of waterproof leather where they carry parcels & mail. I reckoned I was small enough to fit in. Unless I wanted to foot it one hundred miles or steal a horse, it was the only way I could get to Sacramento now that I was a WANTED desperado with a price on my head.
The pine forest was still chilly in the shadows, but it was real quiet with no noise apart from the echoing knocks of woodpeckers deep in the forest and the occasional squitter of chickadees. I put up the collar of my bogus pa’s coat and took stock of my position.
From my skin out, I was dressed in bloomers & chemise & 1 petticoat, and over that a gaudy yellow & green dress, and over that a purple velvet sacque trimmed with white ermine & cinched by a whang leather belt with a yellow velvet reticule tied to it, and over all that my bogus pa’s greatcoat, with the cuffs folded back & the hem pinned up so it did not drag on the ground. I had two guns that both took .32 caliber rimfire cartridges. In the pockets of my bogus pa’s greatcoat was his Smith & Wesson No. 2, a few coins, some greenbacks, a lion-head meerschaum pipe, tobacco, matches, this ledger book & a couple of pencils. In the medicine bag around my neck were my Muff Deringer, 5 spare rimfire cartridges, 3 Lucifers, my original ma’s flint knife, a silk butterfly, a $20 gold coin & my genuine pa’s Detective Button.
Finally, I had my black button-up boots & a flat-crowned gray hat that had belonged to that murdering varmint Ray G. Tempest.
It was a useful hat, but it had been described in the WANTED poster. That meant people might be on the lookout for a hat like that. Without a hat, my short hair would make me look like a boy. So I spun the hat up into a pine tree and watched it stick in some of the high branches above me.
Then I sat still to wait for a lift to Sacto.
I must have dozed for I woke with a start to the sound of whip cracks coming from the east and a rough voice yelling ‘Come on you beauties!’ Up the hill came six fine horses pulling a Concord Stage.
They were heading the right direction, but I was dismayed to see not only a driver & conductor but about half a dozen people sitting on top. Some of them were facing out and two were facing back! Also, the mail boot at the rear was crammed full to bursting.
A few moments later I heard another stage-coach. This one was coming from the west. It was the original Decoy Stage that had set out 24 hours before, with Icy riding shotgun but a new driver and a team of horses I did not recognize. They must have heard the telegraphed news that Dizzy was hurt & the silver stage wrecked. I reckoned they were heading back to investigate the scene of the crime.
I caught a glimpse of Icy on his conductor’s seat as the stage raced downhill. His hat & little blue goggles hid his eyes but the rest of his face was ‘set like flint’.
I thought As soon as they find the wreck and/or those horses they will come back this way. They will be looking for me!
I was about to have a bad case of the Mulligrubs when I heard another whip crack.
This stagecoach was going my way and it was not as crowded as the previous one.
The conductor was dozing in the noontime sunshine and so were the two skull-capped, pigtailed Chinamen sitting on top among the luggage. I gathered myself and as it rumbled past I jumped onto the back like a tick on a deer. There was a gap in the fastening of the leather ‘boot’ and I wormed my way through just as the team topped the rise & we started to speed down the next hill.
The inside of the mail boot smelled strongly of leather & faintly of ink. It was dark & warm. I spent the next half hour burrowing behind all the letter-sacks & canvas bags of printed matter. Some of the canvas bags were a bit spiky where corners of books & magazines were poking, but I had four layers of clothes including my bogus pa’s woolen greatcoat to protect me. I took a strange pleasure in being squished tight between the weight of the mailbags and the leather at the back of the stagecoach. I felt like a mole in its burrow: snug and safe.
It must have been one of them new Concord coaches for the thoroughbrace made it rock like a cradle. I reckoned I had found the best place to ride in a stagecoach, viz: the hidden depths of the mail boot!
I settled back & closed my eyes & offered up a prayer to the Good Lord.
‘Lord,’ I said. ‘If you help me get to Frisco so I catch Mr. Ray G. Tempest and find out why he and Chauncy Pridhaume involved me in this crime, I promise I will not kill the lying varmint myself but will hand him over to the Law so that he can be hanged by the neck until dead. Amen.’