This is Part 3 of 4, of The Golden Outhouse, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier parts, click on the links below:
The Golden Outhouse (Continued)
The loquacious stories continued on into the night, while the old man got drunker and drunker and Philander got sicker and tireder. Crook hoped Hargrove would soon pass out from drunkenness, but all that happened was his speech just got more and more slurred, and his stories got more and more preposterous.
There was a pause when the old man went outside to answer one of nature’s calls. After a few minutes of droopy-eyed waiting, a lantern lit up inside his head. Philander seized the opportunity and decided to go outside, himself, and fetch his bedroll off his horse. He hoped it would give the geezer a definite hint. But as he walked out the cabin door he noticed something strange. He caught sight of his host just stepping out of the bushes. And he was fastening his belt buckle.
That was peculiar, since his outhouse was right there in plain sight in the front yard. But Philander pretended not to notice. Instead he went back inside without his bedroll and sat down at the table. He remembered how he had been warned not use the outhouse himself. So what was it about that outhouse, that not even the owner would use it? He decided the geriatric might be drunk enough to pry it out of him. Curious things sometimes hide huge rewards, so he figured it might be worth a try.
When the old man sat back down, Philander casually brought up the subject of the outhouse. He smiled sideways at him, chuckled, and said, “Well, I hope you didn’t freeze to the seat.”
Hargrove looked perplexed. Then he said, “Well, no, ah, heh, heh, oh yeah! No—ah been dringkin’ du muj red-eye t’freeze. Ha! Ha!”
Philander pointed at the whiskey bottle. “How does a poor old gold miner like you afford all that whiskey, anyway?”
The miner concentrated on the bottle. “Thiz?! Shood, ah don’ min’ thiz. Pennies! T’aint nothin’. Ah gods da dringk cuz yure mah guest!” He snapped his head up, gazed at Philander, laughed, then crookedly hoisted the bottle up and drank straight out of it.
Then he started talking about butterflies and dogs and prostitutes and rainy days and anything else that came up to his inebriated mind.
Philander yawned again, deciding it would be best to make another attempt at going to bed.
But then the old man stopped talking, and looked Philander straight in the eye with a face that, for an eyewink, looked sober as an owl. Then he breathed a low alcoholic whisper and said with a surreptitious but still slurred voice, “Lemme tell ya a story, John Smit’. A goddamned drue story. Druer’n fried chicken on a church bicnic. Ah swear d’God it’s d’druth.”
Philander leaned forward. Could this be the secret to the outhouse? He would listen. He would find out.
The old man pointed his finger at the cabin wall on the far end. “Raughd oudside dere is m’river. Mah river! Ah stagked a claim on id an’ buildt dis cabin las’ Spring. Ah panned d’river, after dad. Mah river! An’ ah god color. Jis’ a liddle bid, but id was color. A few months an’ a few hunnerd dollers an’ ah was magin’ a good livin’.” The old man pointed again. “But raughd oud dere un’er a bangk of dirdt ah god some color lahk no miner has god color in all miner hist’ry. Ah mean, ah god color!”
Philander’s eyes were gaping green, and he was leaning forward into the old man’s pointing finger. He was suddenly wide awake with an alert interest in all the miner was saying.
“Color!!” yelled the old man. He poured himself another shot of whiskey and quickly threw it down his throat. “Color,” he gasped through the last droplets of falling red liquid. Then in a painstaking monologue he described it with reverence. “Id was thigk as a blizzard a bullets. Id t’was gold. All gold. Ah jis’ dipped m’pan in d’river boddom, sweeshed a leedle—an a cloud a gold dus’ floadin’ ‘roun in dere. Ah god an ounce a gold adatime. A whole by-God ounce. Ah dipped an’ sweeshed, an’ dipped an sweeshed. Didit fer a weegk. God a hunnerd poun’s a by-God gold dus’ in’a weegk. A hunnerd poun’s a pure gold! Know wuz tha’s wurth? Forchins! A forchin a forchins! Ah was richer’n all mah frien’s on d’river dad weegk. ‘N all mah inimies, doo.”
The old man got silent and placid all of a sudden, so Philander shot in a good question. “Well, what did you do with all that gold?”
The old drunk snickered. “You won’ bahlieve id. Bud you asgked! So ah’ll tell ya.” He paused and cogitated. Then he rubbed his forehead and said, “Ah wanded da dake’id d’Sagramendo ‘n deposidit in’a bank. Mage it safe ferm robbers. Bud ah was worried ‘boud robbers on da drail, doo. So ah dicided ah’d bagke da gold ub inda loaves a bread an’ dake id inda down dad’away.
“So ah bagked da bread. Mixed gold dus’ in da flour an’ bagked da bread.
“Bud ah din’d figger on da Donklin’ Gang.”
Hargrove pounded a finalizing fist on the table and stared at Philander as if that was the end of the tale.
“Who’s the Donkling Gang?” Philander asked. For once, he wanted to keep the old man talking. This was sounding like it could be true. And if it was there could be a treasure nearby. A treasure of gold just waiting for Philander.
“Das raughd, you ain’ from here,” the old man said. He hunched his head between his shoulders, craned his neck at Philander, and proclaimed, “Da Donklin’ Gang is’a bunja dieves ‘n robbers. Dey wanded a hide-oud blace, so dey rode on ub an’ said ‘Well, we usin’ yo’ cabin now.’ Dere was ten uv’em. Ah had da agree.
“Din dey saw m’bread, an’ dey was a-a-a-l-l-l a’hungry. Dey made me cud d’bread ubp an’ serve id du ’em. Ah din’d dell’em wud dey was eadin’, bud dey all said id t’was da riches’ dastin’ bread dey evah ade. Bud if dey only knew jis’ how rich id t’was.” The old man chuckled, then began to sob drunkenly. “Dey ade all mah gold!” He put his hands over his face and cried some more.
Philander leaned back in his chair and thought about the ridiculous story he had just heard. He didn’t know whether to believe it or not, but the damned dotard sure seemed to be sincere when he told it. Then a thought struck him. So he asked, “Well, why didn’t you just shoot ’em all and cut the gold out of their bellies?”
The drunk opened up his wrinkled hands and looked out between them at Philander. Then he guffawed so hard he teetered backward and almost fell out of his chair. He said, “Thad was d’Donklin Gang, boy! Ah’m jis’ one man. How do ah go an shood d’Donklin Gang?”
He got a straight look on his face then, and said, “Bud ah god mah gold bagk. Oh, yeah. Alluvid. Ah goddid raughd bagk. Y’see, da whole month dey stayed here dey all used mah oudhouse. Alluvem. Ah god mah gold bagk.”
The old man swayed up out of his chair with a grunt in his breath and a look of victory on his face. Philander looked up at him, his mouth gaping open. He steadied himself with hands fumbling on the table, and leaned over, peering straight down Philander’s throat. “Ah god mah gold bagk,” he said, with a supreme drunken smirk on his face. “Ah god alluvid. All hunnerd poun’s uvid. Id’s all raughd down dere in d’boddom a mah oudhouse. So you dell me, Misduh John Smit’. Now how d’hell do ah gid all dadt gold bagk oudt?”
The old drunk collapsed face first on the table with a whump and a rattle. He was floodgate drunk, and all that sudden exertion of standing up made him pass out. He began to sleep as sound as a dead pine tree.
Philander shook his head. He didn’t know what to believe, but the story sounded so different from anything he’d ever heard before, he decided that it just might be true. He decided that it just might be worth looking into. A hundred pounds of gold dust. Now that right there was quite a temptation.
There was a lantern on a shelf, so Philander decided he would check the story out right then. The drunk was so intoxicated and so sound asleep that there was no chance he would wake up and catch him.
He lit the lantern and exited out of the cabin. The outhouse was only a dozen steps away. The door was unlocked and swung easily open. Philander stepped inside, holding the flickering yellow flame in front of him.
He held the lantern over his head and peered down the commode hole. But there were too many mingling shadows, and he could not see well. So he unstrapped his belt from his waist and wrapped a leather loop around the lantern handle. Then he lowered the lantern down the hole, feeding it into position with his hands on the other end of the belt. Now he poked his head down the hole for another view.
This time he could see it well.
And it was scintillating.
The gold dust was down there, gleaming and glistening and sparkling up at him, like a host of smiling angels.
It was covered with dust! Gold dust all over the bottom of this outhouse! It looked like a miniature night sky, with millions of glistening golden points of astral light reflecting off the yellow flame of the lantern.
It was a dream-fortune in gold! Lusty, levitating, luscious gold!
Gold! The icon of the civilizations! Gold! The philter of the females! Gold! That sweat-inducing, prosperity-producing, humanity-reducing mineral of the moguls! Gold! Enamoring gold! Hypertensiating gold! Tempting gold! Sin-seducing gold!
And all in the bottom of a drunken miner’s outhouse.
And all thoroughly mixed with human excrement.
Philander caught a sour whiff from the bottom of the hole, wrinkled his nose, and almost retched.
He quickly whipped his head out of the hole and lifted the lantern out with him. He couldn’t take that kind of smell. But it was gold! A hundred pounds of gold! There must be some way, he mused, to get it out.
His mind started rambling. How could he get all that gold out? But he couldn’t make any ingenious ideas come to him.
Well, he was tired. So he reasoned the best thing to do was to sleep on it. In the morning perhaps some fresh thoughts would come to mind.
He glanced back down the hole and made a vow. He made a vow to recover every last glistening dusty speck of gold that was down there. He would recover it and become a prosperous man. Far, far more prosperous than he was even now. He would make his fortune in gold off the bottom of an outhouse. And then he would begin living in opulence. But first he would sleep, then wait for any ideas to come to him in the morning, when his mental powers would be fresh.
End of Part 3. Come on back tomorrow, for Part 4, and the conclusion to this tall tale.
Categories: Series (Stories): Go West Or Go Weird