This is Part 2 of 4, of The Golden Outhouse, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For Part 1, click on the link below:
The Golden Outhouse (Continued)
Philander made sure that the engagement was of short duration. Lucinda was just so repulsively filthy and ugly, as well as so lacking in the finer mannerisms of most wealthy ladies of the day, that Philander didn’t think he could bear to keep up the dissimulation of romance for very long. He had to marry her quick.
So, after just four months (four lifetimes for Philander), a wedding took place in the finest church of Portland. Philander and Lucinda became attached together in marriage. Or perhaps it was the slimy grime of her body that attached them together, when they hugged upon the altar.
And Ardmoore Bruckles did what Philander had dearly hoped. That fine, magnanimous father-in-law gifted his daughter with a dowry more astronomical than all the pimples that had ever popped upon her blemished chin. He greased her palms with a package of packets containing 5,000 dollars in bundled up banknotes.
It was money that Philander coveted.
There was a honeymoon planned, to Tillamook Bay. The newlyweds were going to travel to the coast and spend some time together by the sea. And they were going to travel alone, by surrey. Kind of a novel approach to honeymooning, but most thought it would be very romantic. And no one was suspicious.
They should have been. It was Philander’s idea.
The night of their wedding they camped together in the mountains, partway through their journey to Tillamook. They pitched a tent beneath a pine tree, and rolled out a bed inside. A bed for them to spend the night together, to consummate their marriage. It was a sacrifice Philander was reluctantly willing to make.
But the next morning Lucinda woke up in the tent, and she was all alone. Her husband was gone. Philander had deserted her from her bed.
It took her two days and two million tears before she was able to traipse back to Portland and alert her doting dad. But by that time Philander was well down the trail, southward to California. And in his saddlebags was 5,000 dollars in beautiful green spending cash.
Sacramento was a fine looking town to Philander, so he decided to stay awhile and live it up. He checked into one of the most opulent hotels and began to frequent the restaurants of the affluent. And he started having a glorious good time.
But glorious good times have a way of coming to some glorious quick endings. And when Philander spotted three of Ardmoore Bruckles’ henchmen in town, he knew that some kind of quick end to the good times was just about to arrive. So rather than die, he decided that he would pull the curtain down on Act One first.
Soon he had checked out of his hotel room and was aboard a fleet-footed horse out of town. He carried with him 4,716 dollars in remaining unspent dowry funds.
And now he was way up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, heading for the silver-mining boomtown of Virginia City. The wind was blowing, and the snow was falling, and all Philander could think of was that warm hotel room that he had left back in Sacramento.
But turning back would be suicidal. At least one of Ardmoore’s henchmen would be waiting. And he would be eager to enforce the law upon him. Of course, not the law of the land, but the law of the lumberman, Ardmoore Bruckles. A far more menacing and deadly law for any man to face.
Up and into the white-bedecked Sierras his horse plodded. Knifing through the snow, through the wind, through the shivering cold.
And the white stuff was getting deeper. At first there were just a few inches covering the trail. But then there were six inches. Then a foot. And it was drifting even deeper in some spots.
Philander’s horse was having a harder and harder time of it. Sometimes it would stumble over rocks and branches beneath the snow, that it could not see. Several times already his mount had fallen to its knees and had to struggle back to its feet.
Darkness was coming. It would be a long night. Perhaps the last night. Philander shook the despairing thought from his head. No, he would make it, he vowed. All he needed was a place to hole up. His eyes began to search for a cave or an overhang to camp, out of the blizzard.
The trail got darker and filled with tenebrous shadows. And the shadows made it even harder for the floundering equine to navigate down the trail. Philander felt a shock wave of panic pound his midsection. But he quickly fought it back. He would not panic—he could not panic. Or he would die. There had to be a place to hole up. He had to keep searching.
Then he came around a bend in the trail and saw something that looked better than the gates of heaven to a lonely lost soul. It was a cabin. A cabin with lantern light gleaming through a window. A cabin with life in it. A promise of a warm place to spend the night and, hopefully, of a warm meal, too.
A senescent man opened the door of the cabin and glowered at him. “Who are you, and what the hell do you want?!” he yelled.
Philander Crook felt desperately cold. Too cold and numb to yank his revolver out and use it on the man. So he had to talk his way into the cabin.
“I’m jus’ a friendly stranger passin’ through, old man,” he smiled through freezing lips that almost made him wince with pain. “I don’ mean no harm. I jus’ need a place to spen’ the night ’till this storm passes through. I’ll pay you for your trouble.”
The old man looked at the horse, glanced at the bulging saddlebags, then steadied his eyes on Philander. He finally smiled. Slightly.
“Well, light and set. You don’t have to pay me nothin’. Go tie your horse up and come on inside.” The old man turned around, then turned back. He pointed a propelling finger at Philander and said, “But there’s one rule you have to follow here. I don’t want you usin’ my outhouse. I don’t let no strangers use my outhouse. You’ll have to use the bushes out there.”
It seemed kind of weird, but Philander wasn’t going to question it. He was just grateful to have a nice warm place to get into. He’d use the bushes anytime, as long as he could sleep under a roof.
He tied his horse and did, indeed, use a bush before going inside. Maladroit, fumbling work when all your extremities are half frost-bit. But Philander was able to accomplish this necessary task of nature without too many inappropriate places on his clothes being soiled.
The old man was waiting for him when he came in. He was sitting at a table with a bottle of whiskey and two glasses. An empty chair invited the worn traveler to rest, at the other side of the table. He poured a shot of whiskey in a glass and placed it in front of the chair. “Siddown an’ drink up,” he smiled like a cherub. “This stuff’l warm you up right quick.”
Philander walked on over, and the old man stretched his hand out. “I’m Hargrove Hinsterman—gold miner. All the folks ’round here just call me Grover.”
“I’m John Smith,” Philander shook hands, “travelin’ up to Virginia City.” Philander could care less that the old man was a gold miner. The gold strike had petered out pretty bad in California, and most of the few small-time miners who still had claims were just barely scraping by. By the looks of the tiny little cabin, it seemed like this miner was no exception when it came to penury. It was just a tiny little dugout in the side of a hill, with three walls of dirt and one wall of pole logs.
And there wasn’t much furniture in the cabin. Just a rusty little woodstove, a wood frame bed, a table and two chairs, and a few slabwood shelves and cupboards.
Philander scowled at his destitute surroundings. This place seemed unfit for a rich man like himself. He vowed to move on just as soon as the storm quit and traveling got easy again. Philander deserved the favors of a city hotel room, not the hardships of a rickety little miner’s cabin.
“John Smith, John Smith,” said the old man. “Say, you wouldn’t happen to be related to that feller who was saved by Pocahontas?”
The old man tilted back in his chair and cackled. “All right,” he said, “you don’t have to tell me what your real name is. But I’d choose a better fake alias than John Smith. These hills are full of all kinds of bad varmints by name of John Smith. Someone may mistake you for one of ’em.”
The old man chuckled, but Philander wouldn’t join in the humor. Philander was fatigued, and all he wanted to do was go to bed. But the senior citizen wouldn’t pay any attention to his yawns and other hints of somnolence. He wanted to open his mouth and talk, and this was the first person he’d seen in a month of Tuesdays. So he started to yak at him.
And he talked and he yakked, and he gabbed and he chatted. Philander was squirming in his chair, literally aching to just get up and unroll his bedroll and stretch out on the floor for some deep, fatigue-killing slumber. But the old man would have none of it. He made Philander sit there and listen to his garrulous monologue about life in the mountains, the art of panning gold, beautiful women of his past, where he was born, his life story, where he wanted to retire after he struck it rich, and other such stale, sentimental ribaldry.
About the stroke of every ten minutes the old man would pour a shot of whiskey for himself, and offer one to Philander too. But Philander usually declined. He liked to keep his wits about him when he was carrying 4,716 dollars in cash in his saddlebags. It was no time for imbibing.
End of Part 2. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 3.
Categories: Series (Stories): Go West Or Go Weird