Magick7's Moonlight Stories Index

 

 

 

 

An Arizona Episode

 

Charles B. Cory

 

 

 

I.

Wendell Harrison was a club man with no ambition in life beyond making his small income pay his club fees, and leave enough for him to live in the manner peculiar to young men of his class. His one hope in life, as he often told his particular crony, was to find a rich wife, and it seemed to Harrison that chance had played into his hands when he received an invitation from old John Stiversant to join his party on a trip to the Grand Cañon in Northern Arizona.

Harrison had met old Stiversant on the yacht of a mutual friend a few weeks before, and knowing how to make himself agreeable he had done so to the best of his ability, with the result that he had been asked to make one of a party on this western trip in Mr. Stiversant's private car.

"Good luck to you, old man," said his chum as he was leaving the club on his way to the station. "Go in and win."

"Trust me for that," answered Harrison.

The trip out proved a delightful one. Miss Nellie Stiversant, the young lady who, Harrison had decided, was the most likely catch, did not prove as easy as he imagined. While charming and agreeable, she had evidently seen more or less of the world, and was not to be gathered in by the first man who made up his mind he would like to have her ornament his home. Likewise, she was a girl with common sense, and knowing her position and advantages did not lose her head when a man showed an inclination for her society. In fact, just before the party arrived in Flagstaff she had made it very evident that she did not care for serious attentions from any one. She was, however, of a decidedly romantic nature, and Harrison pondered deep and long as to the best method of gaining her affections. Late that evening he was reading a sensational novel, when suddenly he laid it down and a far-away look came into his eyes.

"By Jove," he muttered, "the very thing—on this very road too. Whether the story is true or not, it is reasonable enough, although a trifle dramatic, but that is what is wanted to attract a girl like Nell. She don't care for me and never will, and all she wants is excitement and novelty, but if she thinks I saved her life or risked my own in protecting her, there might be a chance. In this story the chap had led rather a tough life, but had reformed, and the road-agents recognized him and knew he meant business. He got pretty well shot up, but the whole thing cast a halo around him, which would undoubtedly attract any romantic girl. Damn it, why couldn't I do it? It is that or nothing, the trip will be over in two weeks, and it is pretty evident that I am not in it unless something extraordinary happens."

II.

The saloon was pretty well filled with a sprinkling of miners, Mexicans, and ranchers. Men in blue overalls, flannel shirts, and wide-brimmed hats were playing the different games of chance or standing in groups in front of the bar. A harsh brass-sounding piano on a raised platform at the end of the room was being played by a short-haired individual in a dress suit, and a young lady who evidently did not object to the calsomining process to aid nature was singing a topical song. In the corner stood Wendell Harrison surrounded by four rough-looking men, who seemed very much interested in what he was saying.

"Now I think you understand thoroughly what is required," said Harrison. "I am to pay you five dollars each now, and twenty dollars each when the job is done, likewise if it comes off successfully and the bluff works I am to give you twenty dollars more upon our return to Flagstaff. Don't forget to carry out the plan exactly as we have agreed. When I spring from the coach waving my pistol and firing blank cartridges, one of you is to shout, 'Fighting Harrison, by God!' and shoot two or three times as you run. The thing is easy, but requires a little judgment. I do not care where you stop the stage. Stop it any old place, but not too near Flagstaff. I shall be alone in the coach with an old man and two young girls, so there is not the slightest danger, and I will see that the old man is unarmed."

III.

"Say, Jimmie, I must tell yer something, but let me larf first. Say, I nearly fell down in a fit. I am going to tell yer all about it, but don't call me a liar, or I'll kill yer. What do yer think? Oh, Lord, how my stomach aches!—what do yer think? Wait a minute—I'll tell yer in a minute, let me larf it out now, or I shall drop down right here!

"Say, I sat in that booth over there having a quiet drink, and what do yer think? A dude in the next booth commenced putting up a job with four ducks; one of them is Mexican John and the other is Brady, our assistant bar-keeper here. As far as I can make it out Brady got the three other ducks. Say, wait a minute! I don't believe I ever will stop larfin'. What do yer think? this dude is going up to the Cañon on my next trip, and is going to have these four fellers stop the stage to put up a bluff on his girl to show what a fighter he is, and he is to give um twenty dollars each. He is going to jump out and pull his gun and clean out the crowd, and then go back and bask in the sunshine and admiration of the young girls. Oh, Lord! The skunk don't care how much he scares the girls and the old man who are goin' along, but all he wants is to pose as a fighter from away back. But say, Jimmie, what do yer think? I have been thinkin' this thing over, and I don't believe his little picnic will transpire. He calculates to blow in eighty dollars to make a monkey of himself, and I am thinkin' that we can use that eighty dollars in our business and teach the fellow a good lesson all ter wonce. What breaks me up more than anythin' is that he told Brady to hunt me up and tell me on the quiet that there was a reformed desperado going with me who used to be known by the name of 'Fightin' Harrison.' Worked me into the job too, see? What do yer think?"

IV.

The stage was slowly toiling up a dusty hill some five miles from Flagstaff. The road was rough and the day was warm. The stage-driver let the horses take things easy, and from time to time shook with suppressed emotion. "I hope I may die," said he to himself, "if this ain't the damndest."

In the back seats the two young girls, the old man, and the would-be hero were enjoying the scenery and the novelty of the trip in spite of the dust. Suddenly three men sprang into the road, and a loud voice commanded the stage to "hold up."

"What is the matter?" asked Nellie excitedly.

"Don't be afraid," said Wendell, pressing her hand, "remember I am with you."

A rough-looking man appeared at the side of the stage.

"Is your name Harrison?" he said, addressing Wendell.

"It is," answered Harrison boldly; "what do you want?"

"I have a bill here for eighty dollars against you, which will have to be paid or you will have to get out and go back to town with me."

"What do you mean?" gasped Harrison.

"Just what I say, young man; your name is Wendell Harrison, isn't it? You used to be known here by the name of 'Fighting Harrison,' didn't you?"

"Certainly not, you have the wrong party," answered Harrison indignantly.

"Well, I don't know about that; didn't somebody tell you that this fellow was 'Fighting Harrison,' Bill?"

"They certainly did," answered the stage-driver.

"It is all a mistake," said Harrison.

"Mistake or not, you will have to pay or go back to town with us; that is all there is to it. I believe you are the Harrison I want."

"Oh, Mr. Harrison," said Nell, "do pay this man and let us go on; you can easily recover the money when you go back to town."

"Yes," said Mr. Stiversant, "that certainly is the best way to settle the matter; it is, undoubtedly, a case of mistaken identity, but this man is evidently acting in good faith, and you will have no difficulty in straightening matters upon your return at Flagstaff."

Harrison's face was very red, and he looked and acted ugly; but this man evidently meant business, and there was no way out of it but to pay the money, which he did with a very bad grace, taking a receipt made out to Wendell Harrison, alias "Fighting Harrison of Arizona."

"An exciting incident," said Nell, as the party rode away.

"Yes," said Harrison, "but one that might just as well have been left out of the programme."

The stage moved on, but Harrison seemed uneasy; every few minutes he mopped his face with his handkerchief and pressed his hand to his head as if in pain. Visions of the little reception committee some few miles ahead were constantly in his mind. What would he say and do when the stage was stopped, and he received his cue to spring out and fire off his six-shooter, especially as he had only fifteen dollars left in his pocket. What would these pseudo-gentlemen of the road do to him, if, after his little exhibit of bravery, he failed to wind up the melodrama by settling with the actors? He didn't care to find out, and his mind was bent now in deciding the best way to get back to Flagstaff. He continued mopping his face, and once or twice he groaned.

"What is the matter?" asked Mr. Stiversant; "are you ill?"

"I fear so," answered Harrison faintly. "I have a dull pain in my head and I feel faint."

"Oh, let us go back," said Nell, "it is only five miles, and we can start again to-morrow just as well."

"Perhaps it would be as well," said Harrison weakly; "I fear I am going to be ill."

In the privacy of a room at the hotel Harrison hastily manufactured an urgent telegram calling him at once to San Francisco to see a sick uncle, and had barely time to explain matters and express his deep regret at being forced to leave the party at such short notice.

An hour later he lay back in a luxurious chair in the smoking compartment of the California Limited, and gazed out of the windows at the vast desert plains through which they passed. His eyes had a far-away look in them, and ever and anon he sighed.

Far up the Grand Cañon road late that evening Brady and his three companions still sat watching sadly for the stage which came not. There they had sat in the burning sun without food or water since ten o'clock that morning. They did not speak to each other, but occasionally they cursed, sometimes the birds, sometimes the inanimate things about them. At times they thought of Harrison—but what their thoughts were no one will ever know.