This is the conclusion of The Golden Outhouse, from my book, Go West or Go Weird. For earlier parts, click on the links below:
The Golden Outhouse (Conclusion)
The old man hadn’t budged a single muscle. He was still where he lay on the table the night before. And he was hard fast asleep, snoring louder than a hurricane.
Philander Crook stood up and got dressed. He rolled up his bedroll, then sat on the miner’s bed (which he had used, since his host had already decided on the table) and pondered.
An idea had come to him in the middle of the night. He had spent the rest of the night kind of half-awake, half-asleep, mulling over this idea.
In the freshness of the morning the idea still made sense, so he decided he’d give it a try. He knew that the old man wouldn’t want to give up his gold, but he also knew that he couldn’t murder him. There were probably too many miner friends of his living in the area, and they wouldn’t take kindly to one of their friends coming up missing under suspicious circumstances.
And it wasn’t a matter of just shooting Hargrove surreptitiously, then fleeing with the loot. He would first have to spend considerable time extracting and separating the loot from the excrement in the outhouse hole. This would give the miner’s friends plenty of time to organize a necktie party, with Philander as the guest of honor. So murder was succinctly out of the question.
But Philander did have an inspiration he thought would work. He picked up his saddlebags—that he had been keeping next to him in bed—and opened them up. He then dumped all of his 4,716 dollars in remaining dowry money on top of the bed. Then he waited.
It was late in the morning when the somnistreporous old man finally stopped snoring and woke up. He was a bit slow crawling off the table, and looked a bit confused about his choice of a bed. He put the palm of a hand to his forehead and rubbed hard. Trying to relieve the pressure. And speaking of relief, he walked outside without even noticing Philander on his bed, and sought out a prospective bush.
But when he came back inside he saw Philander. And he saw the packets of banded cash piled next to him. He put his hands on his hips.
“Good morning,” he said, but he had a perplexed look on his face.
Philander looked up and smiled. “Good morning, Grover,” he said. There was expectation in his eyes.
The old man looked around the cabin, then back at the cash. He pointed his finger at it, then said, “What’s this about, young man?”
Philander stood up and crossed his arms, tobacco-store Indian style. And his expression was just as woody. “This is an offer,” he said, cocking his solemn head toward the money. “It’s an offer for gold. All that gold you’ve got rotting in the bottom of your outhouse.”
The old miner appeared startled. His eyes opened wide as a frightened frog’s. He croaked, “How’d you- – – -,” then he saw the empty whiskey bottle lying on the floor next to the table. He looked back into Philander’s gloating face. “Damned!” he yelled.
Then he proceeded to cuss himself up one side and down the other. He cussed his stupidity for getting drunk. He cussed whiskey. He cussed the sellers of whiskey. He calumniated the makers of whiskey. He cussed the idea of whiskey. Then he turned on Philander and yelled, “No! I’m not sellin’ out all my gold to some young whippersnapper! Now you jist pack all that money back where it came from and get the hell out of here! You’re not welcome here. You’ve got five minutes to leave, mister stranger—whoever you are.”
Philander just smiled and brazenly said, “No, I’m not leaving. You don’t want me to leave.” Hargrove looked confounded. “You don’t want me to leave, Grover, because if I do I’m going to tell every living, breathing human soul on this river about your outhouse full of gold. And they’re going to descend upon your claim like grasshoppers in a garden. And if you don’t have the stomach to take that gold out, they will. Believe me, Grover, they will. I might even tell the Donkling Gang.”
The old man’s face turned a dark, carnelian red at the mention of the Donkling Gang. He began to stutter. He began to stammer. He was over a barrel, and Philander knew it.
“I’ll give you an hour, Grover. I’ll give you an hour to think about it. But you better think hard. Long and hard. I’ve got 4,716 dollars in cash here, so you better consider that that’s worth it. You’ve got an hour.”
The old man bent his head down and slowly trudged out of the cabin. He had an hour to think, but already he knew he was defeated. He disappeared into the woods, his head bent down, his hands in his pockets, and his spirit somewhere in the snow-covered ground below.
An hour later he relented and a deal was struck. He wrote a bill of sale for his claim, making it out to the stranger who called himself “John Smith.” He reluctantly accepted the 4,716 dollars and stuffed it into his own saddlebags. Then he packed up a few of his personal belongings—some tools, some clothes, some food, and some odds and ends—and threw them onto a packhorse.
By mid-afternoon he was off. Abandoning his claim that he had worked so hard. Abandoning his cabin, that he had built himself. And abandoning his golden outhouse, that contained his life-dream’s fortune. His shoulders were sagging. His head was bent low. And his horse and packhorse were taking slow, doleful steps—away. Farther and farther away, down the pine-shadowed trail.
But about five miles down the mountain his sad shoulders began to take on new spirit. His low-bent head began to rise and look alertly about. And a bit of suppressed laughter began to filter out from between his once-melancholy lips. And the laughter began to catch hold of him like sparks taking to punk. It started to come out in punctuated drumrolls. His whole body began to rock back and forth and shake like a Quaker with the Spirit.
He fell off his horse and lay helpless in the snow, laughing like a delirious maniac. For about ten minutes he was paralyzed with this seizure of hilarity. But finally he regained control of himself and climbed back onto the dismayed horse. He nudged it forward and continued down the trail, packhorse in tow, still twitching now and then from minor eruptions of the powerful mirth.
A few more miles down the trail he came by an abandoned old buckboard wagon. It was lying, collapsed from age and weather, off the edge of the path, abandoned long ago by some luckless pioneer. But its iron-rimmed wheels were still in place, and they were covered with a thick coating of orange rust.
The old man recognized a habit of his, that had made him plenty of good money in the past. He jumped off his horse and fetched an old tin can from the saddlebags of his packhorse. He pulled out a carving knife, then trudged through the snow, over to the broken buckboard. And for the next half hour he spent his time patiently scraping the thick coat of rust off the iron-rimmed wheels and into his tin can.
He only filled the tin can up halfway, but it was a start. In a few more months he would probably have about a dozen or so cans, full of rust, in his new rust collection. For there were plenty of other old, abandoned metal things by the sides of trails that he could scrape lots of corroding rust from in the future.
He looked down inside his half-full can of rust. When the sun hit it, he gave a sinister snicker. He noticed how it gleamed and glistened and glittered in the sun’s rays. And he noticed how it gave off a golden aura.
That’s a funny thing about rust. When it’s way down inside something, and light hits it, it gleams. It gleams and glistens and glitters just like—well—just like gold dust would gleam and glisten and glitter. And with the same golden color, too. Yes, the miner reminded himself. The rust certainly did gleam and glisten and glitter just like gold dust would. He cackled diabolically. Just like gold dust would.
Yes, just like gold dust would.
Perhaps now you can guess what I saw that night, when I shined my flashlight down the hole of my outhouse. Of course one thing I saw was a tall pillar of dried up excrement. That wasn’t the glorious part. The glorious part was all the rust that had flaked off the bottom of the water tank and into the hole.
The light from the flashlight made the rust gleam and glisten and glitter. It was a beautiful sight to behold, as it coruscated and sparkled and twinkled back at me. And it reminded me of gold dust. So much so, that I felt tempted to jump right down there with my pickax and start mining. Until I realized that it was just rust, and had a laugh at my own expense.
And that’s when I was hit with the inspiration to write this story.