The Life and Crimes of Lockhart and Doppler
An Illustrated journal of amusement, adventure and instruction
A Special Relationship
I stared vacantly at the table top, one palm flat besides the half-empty tankard the other listless in my pocket. I vaguely noted the circular stains, spillages, wood grain, various carved initials –ye Gods I was bored! It had been so long since I’d had some ‘work’ or pleasure for that matter! Yes we had the new house, necessary after I had returned from Prussia to discover the rear blown out of ours. Doppler claimed she had been experimenting with explosives. Chemicals, drugs, poisons and insects, yes – but explosives? Doppler? She wanted a kiln and a smelter and forge. Why on earth, I asked, would she need with that sort of thing?
Anyway, as an Arabian chappy, Sheik actually, once told me;
“Does it matter whether the cow ate it or not now that it’s gone?”
It happened, no point moaning. I had managed to acquire a three story detached in the Anglo-American style whose previous owner, Lydia Thompson aka Turnstile Totty, whose all-female Burlesque troop had gone down well in New York had let me have it for a snip- literally, I gave her cheating husband a ‘trim’. We named it ‘Erewhon’. Situated on a small rise overlooking the Irish Sea, its nearest neighbours far away enough to allow some privacy. We also had in our service a new House-keeper, one Mrs McClivity, Mrs Figgin had apparently upped and left, no explanation, damn the woman. Mrs McClivity was dour, stolid, disinclined to humour, recalcitrant, but fantastically organised, a good cook and financially astute. I liked Mrs McClivity, I think she liked us.
Anyhow, life was becoming torpid. I was bored of my books, bored of my collection of jade, silver and gold. I was bored by myself and boring company. My consumption of gin and absinthe had doubled in the past few months. I had, unbeknownst to Doppler, availed myself of some concoctions from her laboratory, chosen without due care, by colour alone. I have passed some interesting nights! I had occasionally imbibed ether, but it left me with the most roaring of headaches the whole day after. I was ordering coloured cocktail cigarettes from Paris, simply to make smoking more interesting.
Ennui had me in its grip.
A kick to the leg brought me blearily to. Doppler and Mrs McClivity stood over me where I was slumped in my green leather armchair. Mr De Sade knew how to make leather really comfortable. The two women stood over me, arms crossed like school marms.
“Look at you.” Chided Doppler, “You haven’t moved for two days, you’ve got to pull yourself together.”
“And ye need a bath!” added Mrs McClivity, “The room stinks lady.”
She bustled about whipping back drapes, causing me to squeeze my eyes shut like some creature of the night, opening windows and collecting dishes with mouldy, partially consumed food on them.
“Well, thank you for that Mrs Mc, but maybe I want to smell.” I sniffed, “Like a damp dog.” I wrinkled my nose.
“More like a dead dog lady. Should be ashamed o yersel. Letting a young woman alone to do, God knows what in that room up there, the smells coming oot are nearly as bad as in here.”
She continued to move about, collecting dishes, making an awful racket and yapping away.
“Anyway, ye have a guest, I suggest you get yersel cleaned up, and dinnae be long!”
And with that she exited balancing a piled tray. I looked up at Doppler, she was not pleased with me in the slightest.
“Who’s here?” I moped.
“Senor Manuel Empuje. I contacted him, I thought he might wake you up. You’re getting slack Lockhart, you need to keep on top of your training.”
At the door she turned, adding,
“And do make an effort. You look bloody awful. Pull yourself together! I’m almost ashamed.”
“Almost, not quite.”
I mumbled, pulling a face at the door as she closed it upon leaving. So what if I wanted to sleep for two days at a time. And what if I did want to smell like, well, the way I smelt. Almost ashamed. I’d done some things in my time and Doppler had never once, never, told me she was ashamed of me. Thinking about some of these exploits, a vision of Rene de Cavellier rose in my mind’s eye, what on earth would he make of me if he saw me like this?! Would a man like that want a tumble with a rancid dope fiend – dear Lord what had I become?! And now the Spaniard was here to give lessons. I dragged myself up and to the bathroom. I physically and mentally roused myself. I berated myself in the bath, I castigated myself as I dressed and gave my reflection a jolly good talking to. Down the stairs I came; fresh, ready (well as much as I could be considering the recent bender I’d been on) and prepared to train.
Señor Manuel Empuje bowed like a courtier to a Lady (ha!), one foot forward slightly, toe pointed, one arm out wide. We lunged, parried, counter-parried and thrust.
“Señora you must retreat when you want to advance and advance when you want to retreat, dance like the ballerina, like the wind, like…like,” he wafted his arms hoping to capture a noun.
“Like a fairy?” I archly responded.
He inclined his head, black curls tumbling across his brow and shoulders.
“Si, as you say, like the fairy.”
Señor Manuel Empuje, fencing master, was permanently tanned, darkly handsome, muscled like a puma, his looks would make angels weep. However, angel or not, Manuel preferred to play blanket hornpipe with his own gender. I had discovered this fact after making an attempt to sully his honour, we had become very good friends, and he still made my heart sigh when I looked into his eyes. He was also a friend and teacher of Rene de Cavellier, my other sparring partner.
“You should dance around on swiftly moving feet. Practice your lunges fifty times a day. Or you will not make a firm engagement. Señora Lucy, you have been letting your lessons fall by the way, I am sad, you break my heart.”
He placed his bronzed hand on the left side of his chest. Looking into the twin dusky pools like melted chocolate, I felt something akin to shame, well maybe minor ignominy, well, maybe not. The point is, it re-awoke in me the desire to be on the top of my game, I was invigorated, I was no longer adrift. It was time for a beautiful adventure.
Maybe just one more snifter…
News of the Gold Rush in America had reached the English shores three years previously. I reckoned by this time some serious amounts must have been found and when people have gold, they need somewhere to keep it, those places called Banks and I would bet the life of my new House Keeper that they were not the stately, secure structures of England!
Foregoing use of The Professor Selwyn, we chartered a passenger steamer to Washington D.C. Doppler wanted to ride the steam train and I preferred to travel west by stage coach. The stage had six horses and we had to stop every fifteen miles or so at what they call ‘swing stations’ to change the beasts for a new set, we saw many a change of passenger. From Washington we headed through Indiana and into Illinois. Doppler was quite ill for the first part of the journey poor thing. The food, if you can call it that, consisted of rancid bacon, stale bread and bitter coffee and we had paid two hundred dollars for this!
We had been told that there may be “injuns” about on this part of our journey, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect to be held up by some New World highwayman! Damn this country, they can’t speak the Queen’s English correctly and they still have highwaymen, England got rid of these scoundrels years ago. The portly gentleman and his vinegary wife travelling with us were horrified when the thief made to grab a watch tubby had at his waist. Tubby pulled a small gun, but the robber blithely knocked it away. He held out his hand to the woman, making a gesture to hand over the necklace she was wearing, he gave a cheeky wink in my direction as she placed it into his palm, I returned the gesture. However, I shouldn’t complain too much; although we lost some of our coin (Doppler keeps most of hers secured in her drawers, I keep mine distributed about inner pockets in my corset), the scoundrel was quite decent, he really wanted the ‘box’, some valuables I understand that were being transported to a bank, and left us with a poem!
“Ive labored long and hard for bread
For honor and for riches
But on my corns too long you’ve tred
You fine haired sons of bitches”
And it was signed ‘Black Bart PO 8’. I’ve heard of chasing the rhyme, but rhyming PO 8 with poet is stretching it a bit. The spelling is atrocious, but what can I say, I’ve never been called a fine haired son of a bitch before, how thrilling. Doppler didn’t seem as tickled as I was, she just wanted this journey to end. I think she may have even been sick a little on Bart’s boot.
Blurted the mugged missus, the accent was Southern, dropped Rs and la-di-das,
“You just let him walk all over you! How could you let him take my jewellery? Really! That was my grand mama’s. That ring was your gift to me on our anniversary. I cannot believe you just let him take it!”
“Clara. In case you hadn’t noticed my dearest darlin’, the fella had a fine pair of Virginian flintlock pistols to hand and in case you hadn’t noticed, my flower of the desert, despite the fact my Colt is a far superior weapon, I no longer have it.”
He rolled his eyes after our gazes met. I smiled politely.
“And you!” she was having a go at me now, “You and your smirkin’ and a winkin. I saw you, fixin’ him with those eyes.”
“They’re the only eyes I have madam.” I responded.
“We were robbed too.” Piped up Doppler.
“Yes.” She sneered, looking us both up and down like we were spoiled meat, “And a whole lotta nothin’ you had. I have lost property the value of which you could not begin to imagine, the diamonds in that ring alone would buy and sell you ten times over.”
She peered down her nose at us.
“My imagination is quite ingenious I assure you, however, those diamonds weren’t worth anything ma’am. They were paste.”
Her bosom heaved, her mouth opened to pour scorn on my accusation. Her husband had closed his eyes with a pained expression, as she inflated he appeared to deflate. I crossed my legs, sat back and watched the fireworks. But we had many hot miles to go and when, after an hour, she was still railing against her husband I had no option. I proffered round a small flask of whiskey, copiously laced with Dopplers sleeping draught.
The landscape is amazing, but repetitive. And so Doppler and I passed the time until our next stop by stripping the snoozing Mr and Mrs to their underwear and rearranging their outer wear. Upon arrival, I had all our luggage transferred to a fresh mail coach. The couple were outraged, humiliated and could not account to locals why they were wearing their clothing back to front. As Doppler and I cheerily waved to them as we departed, the Southern bell flung extremely loud unladylike phrases at us – good for her!
Eventually after weeks of sleeping on hard ground or on rickety cot-beds we arrived at our destination. Sierra Villa compared to Liverpool was a mere shanty town, but this is what passed for civilisation in this country. The majority of buildings were constructed of wood and there weren’t that many of them.
We were deposited outside a hotel, the name Bates painted in curly letters on the façade. A young Chinese male hurried out and proceeded to gather our luggage, we resisted at first, insisting we were capable of carrying our own things, but through various gestures and occasional English word, he let us know that the owner expected him to work and work hard. So we let him. The owner stood behind a polished counter with a shiny brass bell on it, a ledger laid before him. I rented two rooms, double and paid in advance for all the services they offered; laundry, shoe-shine, breakfast and evening meals. Hiram Bates introduced us to a young man, his son who was learning his father’s trade and told us that we were to ask the son should we require anything else.
“So, you must be Master Bates.” I beamed at the pink face. “I’m sure we shall rub along fine.”
Doppler rolled her eyes.
“You just can’t leave it alone can you?!”
Once settled we decided on a tour of the area. A mechanical sign pouring beer into a tankard proclaimed that we had arrived at a bar, or as it is called here, a saloon. A noisy place filled with dusty males and dusky females. The latter being on what passed for a stage, kicking up their heels and raising their skirts to the delight of the male clientele. I ordered drinks and we found a couple of free stools. A card game close by was becoming contentious. Accusations flew, then suddenly chairs flew back and fell as two fellows stood quickly. Some clients dropped to the floor, the dancing girls ceased, the piano in the corner fell silent.
“There’s no way ya had that King Mr Fancy Pants.” Accused the younger fellow, who wore drab browns, a red sash tied around his waist, leather chaps and had his hand hovering over the handle of a pistol.
“Well now boy.”
Replied the older one, in a southern drawl, who did indeed have fancy pants. His clothing was very fine, looked like imported fabric. His almost white hair smoothed back and curled about his collar.
“Are you accusin’ me of cheatin’? I know what you're thinkin’ boy. You're thinking "did he play one King or two?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being as I find myself to be the fastest draw, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya boy?”
He struck a match with his left thumbnail and lit the brown thin stick that perched between his lips.
I barely saw what happened next. There was a sudden explosion of noise, the ‘boy’, with a startled expression put his hand to his belly, brilliant ruby oozed between his fingers, then fell heavily to the floor. Mr Fancy Pants re-holstered his pearl handled gun, sucked on his cigar and sat back down. The noise resumed as someone dragged the body out through the doors, the piano struck up a cheery tune and the girls began a new set. It was as if nothing had happened. I decided to introduce myself, so sat in the now vacant seat at the card table. The remaining four men stared openly, apart from the southern gent, who removed his hat, stood and made a small bow then sat.
“Well, it’s a rare pleasure to have a lady at the table, ma’am. I personally do not have an issue and will gladly relieve you of your cash, as long as these other gen’lemen do not mind your presence.”
He looked around the table, smiling, the faces that looked back were a mix of nervousness, apprehension and loathing. One threw his cards down and stood up,
“I ain’t playin’ with no fee-male.”
He divided the last word up emphasising his contempt for my kind, and stalked out. The two remaining looked at each other, one shook his head and left.
“Well now. Looks like we got ourselves a twosome.” Drawled the fancy gambler.
“Is there anything particular you would like to play ma’am?”
I tried for something he may not be familiar with, well I needed some advantage. I suggested Faro, Cribbage and Hearts, he knew them all and won every game. He was very polite about taking my money, I’ll give him that. I finally asked if he knew the game Bezique. He hadn’t heard of it. I was taught it by Rene de Cavellier and considered myself quite the Bezique maven. I explained the rules and we played. Around us a small crowd had gathered, to see an English woman play a southern gentleman. He was a quick learner. Our audience was appreciative and I am proud to say, I won the game. I took my winnings. He stood and bowed,
“A pleasure ma’am.”
As I made to return to Doppler, I saw a weasly looking fellow leering over her. She told him where to go and he grabbed her wrist saying,
“You think you’re better than us, eh? You an’ your fancy ways, your fancy accent and your fancy pants man.”
“I’m not with him” she sharply retorted, “I’m with her.”
She nodded at me as I came and stood close.
“Unhand her you villain.” I spoke sharply.
He burst out laughing, as did a couple of his cronies, revealing blackened or missing teeth. Doppler recoiled from his rancid breath. She moved her free hand to her pouch. Catching her eye, I gave a small shake of my head. I did not think injecting anyone, no matter how hideous his teeth, was a great idea in this place.
“Unhand her you villain!” he parroted in a high pitched voice in a dreadful imitation of an English accent,
“Or what?!” he sneered at me.
He really was a dreadful fellow. I pulled out my lightning gun. It’s small, very small, especially compared to the long barrelled piece he pulled from his belt. He looked around nodding and grinning at his cronies, they all grinned back gap toothed. They all seemed to be wearing a similar red sash to the fellow that the gambler had shot.
“You call that a gun? This is a gun. You English with your teeny weeny guns, an’ your teeny weeny voices and…”
I shot him. There were gasps and scraping of furniture as chairs fell, people stood and backed off. Doppler had risen to stand beside me. The leery fellow twitched as tiny blue sparks crawled over his body, then he fell unconscious. I heard a number of hammers cocked and looked around to see weapons pointed in mine and Doppler’s direction. Oh great. A figure stepped close to use, the gambler had his weapon out covering us.
“Well now. Seems to me that you’re outnumbered.”
He smiled at the six gunmen who had levelled their weapons.
“How you figure that?” snarled one.
“You gen’lemen have already seen my good self in action. I believe this fine lady here is quite capable too. As to her young companion, well no-body knows, she may be worse than both of us, she may be better, an’ I’m a thinkin’, the unknown is more dangerous. I see a gun that shoots sparks an’ I figure these ladies have more to them than any of you’ll ever know. Even if y’all get a shot off, how many of you will hit anything? I myself am one hun’red percent certain I could at least maim five o’ you. Now, which five will it be?”
The sound of a match striking on a nail filled the saloon. No-one moved a muscle. I stared hard into the eyes of the man closest to me, he looked like a cornered rat, and cornered rats were dangerous. Sweat trickled down his greasy cheek. His eyes shifting quickly between me and Doppler. She had pulled her flintlock out and had it held at arm’s length, supporting her right elbow with her left hand. The man she was aiming at looked uncertain, his jaw muscles clenched and unclenched repeatedly.
A loud bang caused all to jump as the saloon doors swung violently open.
“Everybody!” a loud bellow, “Put down your guns. Now!”
A couple of guns lowered, including the gambler, who I noticed kept his hand ready. A space had appeared behind the gunmen and a large figure in black stood there, his starry badge glinting in the sunlight flooding through the doorway. Doppler and I put our weapons away hastily, arranging our faces to look suitably innocent. As the town Marshall strode towards us the leery fellow regained consciousness, stood up slightly wobbly, bent to pick his gun from the floor all unaware of the arrival of the law and pointed it at me. I raised my hands in mock defeat and whimpered in my most pretty, feminine voice,
“Oh please don’t shoot me sir. You have all my money already.” He looked puzzled, “Please, I beg of you.”
And that was when the pistol muzzle pressed against his temple. I lowered my hands and winked at him.
“OK Colin, raise ‘em.” Snarled the Marshall. “You red sashes causing trouble in my town again?”
Colin?! I looked at the sun-baked, greasy, moustachioed face before me. Metal cuffs were slapped around his wrists. His cronies were attempting to melt away into the crowd.
“Now ladies,” said the lawman turning to myself and Doppler, “I apologise for the most inhospitable welcome you have been unfortunate to experience. Please try not to judge our town by these miscreants. I will remove Colin to the jail, please, do come and reclaim your stolen coin at your convenience.”
He tipped his hat with his free hand. Colin began to protest, screaming what I took to be insults at us as he was dragged off by the Marshall and his deputy. We followed to watch Colin dragged kicking and cursing across the street. Outside, the gambler gent joined us, removing his hat he said,
“Allow me to introduce myself to you fine ladies. My name is Samuel Alardyce Bellefleur and I am at your service.”
I introduced Doppler and myself under the pseudonyms of Victoria Kent and my niece Jane.
“Might I congratulate you on a fine hand at the table Miss Kent? And a fine hand with that weapon you have there, most unusual. Can I take you two ladies to lunch? I know the owner of the Old Raymond Hotel, it is but a short ride and I have a small carriage at my disposal and I would be most delighted for you to join me.”
We agreed and accompanied the charming Mr Bellefleur to the hotel, which seemed to be out in the middle of nowhere. A huge structure surrounded by planted grounds then, well, nothing. Rocks and cacti for miles. Bellefleur relayed to us the history of his family, how he had trained as a doctor before discovering his flair for gambling had led to him spending long months on the casinos on the river boats. He had been living in the Hotel for two weeks now, hoping for business prospects to set up his own place out west. I told him that I was a journalist for the Royal Geographic Society and was writing a report on the American West. My niece was here for educational purposes as well as providing companionship. During the meal ‘Jane’ excused herself as she was feeling a little tired and hot. Bellefleur stood as she stood saying,
“Might I suggest a light application of the eau de toilette they have in the restroom here? I hope you are not too unwell Miss Jane.”
With a small curtsey (!) she tottered off. Bellefleur and I continued our meal in good conversation. He was a real southern gentleman; attentive, polite and pleasant company. When I felt it was time to take our leave, Doppler having returned after about forty minutes, we bid Bellefleur goodbye and rode back to town in the carriage.
“So, what did you find out?” I eagerly asked Doppler once we were on the road.
She had managed to get a peek at the hotel ledger, found Bellefleurs’ room and picked her way in easily. He had a huge amount of luggage, travelling wardrobes, trunks and so forth. All embellished with his monogram. He had a set of seven gun belts made in various colours, the leather tooled most handsomely. Land claims, business agreements and other deeds and papers were in a drawer of one case. Doppler had pilfered a most unusual device; a very small Derringer attached to a slide that fitted onto the forearm under the sleeve – very nice. Plus, a mining claim for someplace in Arizona. Doppler felt positive that she could remove the name written on it. And so when we reached Bates’ Hotel that was the first thing she began working on. I left her to it whilst I played with my new toy, the slide draw pistol. I could take this to a gunsmith in Lancashire and have him make another so Doppler had one too. It was probably time to move on, as soon as Bellefleur found he had been robbed it wouldn’t take long for him to put two and two together and come up with, us!
We arrived at Graverock, a smaller town than the last one, and holed up in the only hotel there, the front painted with the imaginative name, Hotel. On the way in I had pointed out to Doppler the massive graveyard on a hill overlooking the town, as we crossed the town line there was a figure hanging limply from a scaffold, looking like beef jerky. Outside the sheriff’s office was a ghastly display; the body of a man in an open coffin, the coffin stood on end so all could see. He had a dark hole above his left eye. Punishment here was swift and permanent then.
The first thing we did was to buy a couple of horses then head out to the mine. Bellefleur, as I suspected, had a team of men working it. We observed from a rise. There were five tents, numerous pieces of equipment scattered about and men busily occupied in various tasks. Four mules tethered to a shrub did what mules do best, nothing. At the edge of the tented area were crates with the word dynamite written on the sides. From an opening in the side of a rock-face, a man emerged pushing a cart on tracks. Another, who appeared to be the overseer, gave directions to two others. They were laying a line, a fuse, from another small crevice. It all seemed a bit haphazard as one man lit the fuse end, shouted a warning and ran for cover. The rest were expected to get a move on, no waiting around until people were actually clear. An explosion threw rocks into the air and across the ground. As the dust cloud settled the workers clumped over to begin clearing the debris. About fifty feet from the mine entrance ran a trickle of a stream, coming from the hills to the north, here another two men were panning. There were no women and no children, which should make things easier. We waited until around midnight before advancing nearer. Then Doppler let out an almighty scream.
“What in God’s name?” cried a terrified voice.
From around the camp fire, awash with the odour of second hand beans, six men stood clutching rifle, pistol and pick-axes.
“Coyote?” Declared one nervously.
“That weren’t no coyote Tod.” Shouted another.
“Well bobcat then, I dunno.” Said Tod.
Doppler shrieked again.
“Christ Almighty! Sounds like a woman, what in God’s name is a woman doin’ out here an’ in the dark?!”
“Ain’t no women out here, Chucky, it’ll be some injured animal.”
They clustered together, clearly disturbed. The overseer cocked his rifle, holding it at the ready.
“Okay men, I’m gonna go take a look. Y’all keep quiet and alert.”
“No way, Anderson, could be anythin’.” Wailed another.
As Anderson stepped away from the fire, Doppler wailed mournfully,
“Tod! Tod! Help me!”
Anderson threw his rifle wildly into the dark, Tod and a couple of others threw up their arms letting lose various cries of “Oh my Lord!” “Whaaa!” and “Mummy!” the men ran for the mules, haphazardly grabbing at items off the ground. Anderson was the first away, kicking his mule in fright as a shrieking workmate ran alongside, trying to jump onto the back behind the overseer. The miners fled into the night screaming and squealing like alarmed piglets. When all fell quiet, I smiled at Doppler,
“And no-one was hurt.”
“For a change.” She observed.
“It’s not quite the same is it?” I mused.
We stood in silent contemplation for a few moments. There was something missing, I don’t know what it is, call me old fashioned, but a good bit of heart pumping action just can’t be beat.
The mine was situated between Graverock and a very small, beyond poor village that had no name I could discern. We spent some time observing the daily activities and character of the locals. The peoples of this village were a disparate group, Mexicans, Indians, Argentinians even a couple of Europeans who had fallen on hard times. We spoke to various inhabitants, ate at the tiny inn. And finally, in due course, had ourselves a business deal. The villagers would be the ‘caretakers’ of the mine, work it, secure it and keep it running for as long as it yielded. They would build houses close by from the initial takings, so the miners could live on site comfortably. They would buy whatever they needed to make their village work. I only had three rules; I was to be sent reports on the progress every four months. Fifty percent of the takings were mine, the rest was theirs. Women to be employed equally to men. Authority was shared between four people; Joaquin Murrieta, Aiyanna Running Bear, Kara Schultz and Alfredo Alvarez. I then drew up letters that stated they were partners in the mine owned by Victoria Kent, an agreement signed by all. We all retained copies of this agreement then copies were sent to the Gold Commissioner of Arizona, the US Bureau of Land Management and another to be kept by the newly appointed sheriff of this village, which they now named Kent. Has a certain familiarity don’t you think?!
Back at Graverock we cased the local bank. Simple, one night guard outside, one inside. Only the manger had keys. I went and spoke to a teller about making a deposit of jewellery, claiming it was extremely valuable, I persuaded him to show me the safety deposit box, and the room they were kept in. Acting the naïve English lady, I asked what was beyond that barred area.
“Well ma’am, that’s where we keep our bullion.”
“Yes ma’am, gold and silver ingots, you know, bars, so as to transport easier.”
“Indeed?” says I wide eyed and impressed.
Two nights later we went to it. Dressed top to toe in dark attire, Doppler and I meandered through the buildings towards the bank. We had a waxed canvas each. The town was in darkness. When the guard passed by us, Doppler shot him full of sedative. He fell quickly and quietly. I gagged and tied him, then rolled him under the elevated walkway. The door had a decent lock but it eventually released itself to the charms of my betty. We moved inside quietly. The guard was sitting behind the tellers counter with his feet up on a table, I couldn’t tell if he was awake or not. Doppler and I sneaked cautiously around opposite ends, she further away from him with another dart ready. As I crept close up behind him a creak of floorboard made him sit up startled, Doppler couldn’t get a decent aim from her position, so I had no alternative, I grabbed his head in both hands and yanked it firmly, there was a grinding snap and he slumped.
“Apologies old bean” I whispered.
Hurrying to the barred area through the safety deposit room, Doppler made ready her phials of acid. We covered our noses and mouths as the acrid application hissed and smoked away. Inside was a beautiful sight, there was no time to adore, we set to piling ingots onto the canvases. We collected around forty ingots each, weighing approximately ten ounces each, easy. Keeping a sharp eye on the deserted street, we pulled our haul outside and bit by bit, slowly but surely made our way back to our lodgings and stuffed both bundles under the wooden walkway. Then we went to bed. I for one slept soundly.
The following day brought panic and alarm for the residents of Graverock. The bank manager had alerted the sheriff, who having inspected the dead man sent out a posse to fetch the missing guard. It was presumed he had killed his fellow worker and made off with the gold, he must have had an accomplice because no horses were missing, and so they reasoned that a second man had ridden in, helped with the robbery and made off with the gold. Little did they realise he lay beneath their feet as they talked. Whilst the townsfolk were on the street speculating, we were accumulating. We were able to move the bundles from the hiding place and secure them in two trunks of clothing. I next attached address labels and paid to have our ‘personal belongings’ transported by mail coach to the coast and from there by sea to England. Job done.
Or so I thought.
As we sat having our early evening coffee in the hotel dining room, the Marshall and one of his deputy’s rolled up before us.
“Miss Victoria Kent?”
“Who’s asking?” I responded.
“I’m Town Marshall John Teacher and this here is my Deputy Pusely Marshall.”
“Marshall, Marshall, must get confusing.” I joshed.
They looked blank.
“Ma’am, we have received a telegram from California that may be best discussed in private.”
I felt my heart beat an extra pulse. Doppler kept her face Poker straight, good girl. I dabbed my mouth with the napkin, smoothed my skirt and stood up. Turning to Doppler I said,
“I shan’t be long my dear. Do carry on with your education until I return.” At the doorway I turned, adding,
“Oh, and if I should be late, you will remember to feed the horses won’t you?”
“Yes aunty.” Doppler replied like a dutiful niece. If I was late, meaning I was arrested, she was to ready the horses and break me out, I hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
At Marshall Teacher’s office, I was shown the telegram. It had been sent by Samuel Alardyce Bellefleur and stated that an English lady named Victoria Kent had stolen from him, to hold onto her until he could arrive to confirm identity and reclaim his documents. She was in the company of a younger female, also English. Marshall Teacher and Deputy Marshal waited for my response. Of course I denied it! Wouldn’t you? Besides, what did they have? A piece of paper with some strangers’ accusation on it? Oh, he wasn’t a stranger, Teacher knew him, a man of honour. Well, maybe there was another woman going about calling herself Victoria Kent I suggested, weakly. I could see both lawmen felt uncomfortable, so I decided to try the water works. My chin quivered as I assured them, I promised them it wasn’t me, there had been some terrible mistake, someone had stolen my name and had committed this crime – but not me officer – honest. I even managed a tiny tear.
“I should by all rights keep you in a cell until Mr Bellefleur arrives.”
“Oh, a cell? How dreadful” I wept.
“Please, stop cryin’ ma’am. It’s not helping any.”
“Oh please may I go back to my niece, she will be ever so worried. She shouldn’t be left alone in a strange country, it is not proper that a young lady be unaccompanied.”
“Well. I don’t know, it’s an odd situation I have to admit. I ain’t never had a lady in my cells before…”
“And you don’t want to start now do you sir?” I spoke gently, I put my hand on his and looked up tearfully into his face, “Please, I can see you’re a gentleman, if you let me return to my rooms, I will stay there and await the arrival of this Mr…Belleville was it?”
“Bellefleur, apologies. I shall sit tight until his arrival, cross my heart, then you will see there has been a mistake. On my word of honour Marshall… John.” I added pressing gently onto his arm.
“Aw shucks! Marshal, escort the lady back to her hotel. I will, however, have to keep a man on the door, just for appearances, you understand ma’am.”
“Of course Marshall, and thank you.”
I headed back to the hotel, my arm linked with Deputy Marshal, he seemed disinclined to refuse, and told him how proud his mother must be of him. If I had sons I hoped they would grow up just like him, tall, strong and honest. He thanked me, smiled and delivered me to the door giving an awkward smile and half raising his hat, unsure how to behave in the presence of what appeared to be a lady, but was accused of theft, yet spoke so nicely. His boots shuffled about on the wooden walkway as I went inside. I raced up the stairs and burst in to see Doppler sitting on the bed, dressed for travelling, bags packed. I leant my back against the door, wiped the remaining dew from my eyes and began to change clothing. She looked up from the book she was reading,
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord; Proverbs Chapter twelve, Verse twenty two” she said in an exaggerated American accent, right hand raised.
“Lying’s the least of my worries, Bellefleurs on his way. And you don’t believe in God.”
“I know, but it passes the time.” She placed the book on the bedside table.
“We need to get out, unseen, collect the horses from the hold, unseen and get out of here. It won’t take Bellefleur long. Now, have you got everything ready?”
“Yes ma’am” she mock saluted.
It was starting to go dark by now, we waited a while longer until it was quiet downstairs. There was music coming from the saloon down the street. An owl screeched from nearby. Behind us we left a trail of snoozing staff and guests, oh they would be fine in the morning. I pride myself on Doppler’s knowledge of these things. The Deputy was nowhere to be seen. Keeping close to the buildings we made for the ‘Reasonable Ranch’. I could hear the occasional stamp and snort of a horse. We snuck through the gates and began the search for our horses. We had the saddles on and saddle bags secured when a familiar click made us stop and turn. The Deputy was about fifteen feet away with his pistol pointed at us.
“Miss Kent, I believe you made a promise. I shall have to ask you to accompany me back to the Marshalls office.”
Doppler and I had our hands raised to our shoulders, (you should never raise them too high, it’s further to travel back down in a hurry)
“Now Deputy, I thought you liked me.” I lowered my arms imperceptibly.
“Oh, I like you well enough Miss Kent, but ye see, I gotta job to do and you look like you’re runnin’ out on us. Now come towards me, slowly, slower! Ouch!”
Bang! His gun went off. Damn, the noise will have drawn attention. As I was pulling the Deputy’s recumbent form away from the gates, Doppler ran to the horses and mounted. I turned on my heel and,
“Hold it right there little lady.”
I raised my hands for the second time that evening, it was becoming an objectionable habit, turned slowly to look at Marshall Teacher.
“Marshall, I know how this must look but…”
“And how does it look Miss Victoria Kent, if that is your name?” came a familiar drawl.
Samuel Alardyce Bellefleur rounded the corner. The moonlight twinkled off the butt of his pearl handled revolver. I knew there was no way I could compete with this man, he was fast and accurate. Alongside him stood another figure, this one I did not recognise.
“Who’s your friend?” I nodded towards the new chap.
“Sheriff Leyland ma’am, come to return you to the state of California to be tried. Now if you’ll just dismount miss.” He called to Doppler. “You’re under arrest for the theft…”
I heard a faint fizzing behind me, now it was time. I slowly lowered my hands and opened my coat, the trio of men took a good, long step backwards seeing the interior of my coat lined with dynamite. I heard the horses approaching, Doppler dropped the reins into my hands, I climbed up then she passed me a lit stick of dynamite. I smiled down as we slowly walked the animals towards the gateway. My gaze caught that of Bellefleurs, I knew that look, he was sure he could chance it, I could almost see his finger twitch in anticipation.
“Now Mr Bellefleur, would you really shoot a lady? Tut tut, I am surprised.”
Generations of deep ingraining of the southern gentleman made him stay his hand. Doppler waggled the dynamite she held, they stepped away from the opening and we were through. I halted the horse about ten feet away.
“Well now, gentlemen, I do hate awkward goodbyes. I believe you have a rather unusual custom in this country. Is it true that if a wanted criminal crosses a state border you cannot follow? Amazing. So all I’m asking you fine fellows is that you allow, hmm, forty eight hours before pursuing us. I think this dynamite is about to go so…” backing the horse up towards Doppler, “…as always gentlemen, a pleasure.”
I gave a tip of the hat, lobbed the stick as did Doppler and we galloped off into the darkest night. A small detonation at the Reasonable Ranch resounded behind us.
As soon as we were away from the town and rising, we slowed down to a walk. It would be stupid to race across this landscape at night, potentially breaking a horse’s leg. No we would take it easy tonight, keep moving but carefully. We rested for an hour at early dawn then continued. I wanted to get as much distance as possible between us and the posse that would inevitably be assembling soon.
The following day seemed the hottest I’d ever known, hotter even than West Africa. We slept in turns and only briefly, it had become too dangerous to ride during the dark, the horses had no idea where they were stepping and the terrain was rocky. We were heading into the Sonoran Desert. Climbing onto a rocky rise, I viewed the way we had come, and I saw what I was looking for, what looked like smoke, but this ‘smoke’ was moving. Time was short and I did not know how far it was to the border.
We needed to find a water supply, Doppler and I were carrying canteens, but the horses would need a lot more than us. Back home in green and rainy Britain there was plenty of opportunity to drink, but here, in this arid, blistering landscape, we could easily die in days and our bodies lie like husks, nibbled by coyotes, vultures and Gods knew what. I couldn’t die like that! Not me! I envisioned something more dramatic, more becoming to someone of my repute, falling into the arms of a dashingly handsome admirer as he shed beautiful tears, me clutching his white shirt and whispering…”
“What’s that look on your face?” Doppler asked.
I cast a glance towards her as we galloped along. Her face was wind and sun burnt, the hats we were wearing were useless. We were cooking like lobsters.
“Hmm? Oh nothing.”
“Actually, I was wondering how on earth we were going to survive out here if we don’t find water soon. I have nothing left in my canteen, how about you? And, they’re on our tail.”
She glanced over her shoulder.
“Well maybe we should hole up somewhere?”
“You’re kidding?! Where on earth could we hole up out here?”
“I don’t know!” she shouted back, “It’s just a suggestion.”
We had entered a fairly levelled plain between rocky hills and cacti. I pulled the horse to a halt, Doppler did the same a few feet in front, turning about to face me.
“Look” I panted, “We need a plan, at the moment we’re just racing away from those behind us.”
“I thought that was the plan?” she harrumphed.
I noticed a movement over her shoulder, something fabric clad.
“Yes. But we need to look around us, check the immediate surrounds.” I retorted, tying the reins around the pommel.
“OK, I agree, give it one minute though.” She replied, unfastening her jacket.
“One? I thought two.”
Boots scraped on stone.
Doppler’s flintlock came out and fired over my right shoulder, at the same time I activated the Derringer with my right hand and the Lightning gun with my left. Firing either side of Doppler. A return shot was fired, my horse whinnied and reared in fright. I would like to say that my athletic lessons at Fanny Adams’ School for Young Ladies and Bartitsu classes had left me able to tumble and leap like an acrobat, but an unexpectedly rearing horse when one is not holding the reins can only have one outcome. I fell off, backwards. Doppler fired again, I rolled onto my stomach and aimed at the startled bandit whom I had merely wounded in the leg.
He was grunting and threatening in some pidgin Spanish about what he was going to do to me and what he was going to do after that and…I planted a bullet in his forehead. Rising to my feet I saw Doppler had ridden off to catch my skittish mount. I checked the bodies and discovered the one I had shot with the Lightning gun was still alive, unconscious, but alive. I tied him up and searched the other two. One had a rather practical, wide-brimmed, slouch hat that I took and a long grubby duster that would serve well out here, better than my own somewhat heavy affair. I collected their weapons and ammo. By the time Doppler returned I was sartorially Westernised. Our captive had come to and so I questioned him,
“Where is this place? Where do we find water?”
I shook the groggy bandit by his shoulder. He grinned a brown toothed grin and spat at me. I punched him hard on the nose.
“Once more,” I persisted, wiping chewing tobacco and spittle from my face, “Water. Where?”
I made a fist, pulled back my arm,
“No muy lejos, no muy lejos, el Viejo hombre por los caídos rocas hay un riachuelo!” he gabbled. I dragged him up by his lapels.
“Now my friend, where are you boys hiding out? You’re not townies, so you must be surviving somewhere.”
I threw him across my horses back, mounted and indicated to Doppler where we were going. There was, he had said, a creek nearby past the Old Man. I knew Old Man to be a name for the large cacti in America. It took little time at all to find the water. The horses drank their fill, we drank, washed our faces and filled our canteens. Our new companion, Chiquito Jalapeno, had no option but to assist, if he wanted to stay alive. We stayed in a small cave occupied by Chiquito and his pals. It had a small fire pit, animal hides for sleeping and a pathetically small amount of food supplies. Chiquito spoke very little English, so we spoke together in Spanish. He asked that I untie him, he wouldn’t run after all, we had all their weapons,
“Really?” I marvelled, “So what do you call this?!”
I dramatically whipped back a poncho in the farthest corner, revealing three rifles. He slumped, defeated.
Chiquito Jalapeno informed us that the border to Mexico was only a day’s ride. Should we go now or wait until the posse had passed? We had no idea where they would be at this point. I decided we would spend one night here then try to reach the border before we were detected. We ate rattlesnake and dried pig that night. Chiquito sang a Mexican lullaby his mother used to sing to him when he was a tiny boy, he cried. Doppler and I looked away. We spent a fairly comfortable night, considering the smell of the hides and the occasional whimpering coming from the sad Mexican.
Early in the morning we set out, a rifle each slung across our backs, after releasing Chiquito first (we’re not heartless, well, I’m not sure about Doppler) and headed south. We had only been riding for half an hour when a shot rang out, I ducked in my saddle. Looking behind and to my right I could see a single figure on a slight hill raise a rifle. Doppler and I raced left and right, criss-crossing each other in an attempt to hinder the shooters aim. Another shot rang out, someone was shouting but I couldn’t make out what they were saying.
A small posse of four figures were giving chase. I could only hope that they had not had the opportunity to rest their horses as well as we had. We speeded onwards.
“Come on bastard!” screamed Doppler as she thrashed either side of her mount with the reins.
All we could do was keep our heads down and ride like the wind. Ahead was a small farmstead, should we take cover? Keep riding? Empuje’s words came to me,
“Retreat when you want to advance”. I decided to keep running away. I was hoping these homesteaders were Mexican, at least Spanish speakers and so I shouted to Doppler,
“Get the bandits guns ready to throw!”
She glanced at me quickly, brow creased in a frown, but began pulling the spare from her belt. As we galloped through the centre of the crop field I yelled loudly in Spanish,
“My friends! Protect yourselves, the men following are Mexican killers!”
At the same time flinging the three pistols we took from the bandits onto the ground near them. The straw hatted figures stared in shock as we sped by, but I did see one elderly guy stoop to the gun at his feet. We could only hope. Within a short time we could hear a distant gunshot, then another, that would slow them down. Maybe some of the farmers would be killed but; some are born great, some achieve greatness and then there are those that are fodder for the rest of us.
We pulled the horses to a halt and scanned the way we had come. I couldn’t see any dust cloud. The horses were foam flecked and panting, I was foam flecked and panting. Keeping our eyes peeled, we drank, chewed jerky and watered the horses from our cupped hands. My body was aching and burning in all the wrong places. We headed off at a trot. All of a sudden, Doppler gave a cry of alarm, twisting in my seat, I saw, not a small dust cloud but distant figures on horseback, they had closed in and we, fools that we were, had been taking our time. I did notice that there were three, not four, perhaps the farmers had been useful after all. Once again we began pushing the horses for all they were worth. An eerie hoot sounded somewhere ahead, but I was concentrating so hard on saving my hide that its origin didn’t register.
We galloped single file through a small gap between fallen boulders, zig-zagged up a wild animal trail and down a dodgy incline with lose stones and rocks, both beasts slithered and slipped then we were back on level ground and definitely not sparing the horses as a single rider appeared far to our left, he had taken the smoother, but longer way round, another to our right was farther behind, that meant that one followed the route we took.
But before us was a glorious sight, running east to west about a quarter of a mile away were twin shining lines and the eerie hoot became a welcoming call. We spurred the horses on, desperately willing them forwards. I could hear calling from behind, a shot fired, a whistle. We were catching up with the rear of the train as it thundered like a bran new shiny charger.
“You go first!” I commanded Doppler.
She kicked her horse’s flanks, hard. I could see the poor beast was at its limit, head straining forwards, foam flew backwards from its gaping mouth as Doppler released her feet from the stirrups. She grasped the end handrail and hauled herself on board. My heart relaxed. Her horse drifted off sideways into the oncoming posse. I pressed forward as Doppler had. A shot rang out. Doppler ducked. Pain seared across my upper arm.
“Give me your hand!” she cried
I reached out, our fingertips grazed. I noticed a kind of pipe sticking out the top of the rear end of the car, I began to unclip my whip.
“Don’t you dare!” shouted Doppler.
My horse was not able to keep up, I was losing ground. I cracked the bullwhip, it hit the window hard and a bespectacled old face peeked out in astonishment. I tried again. It caught, and I was lifted, at speed from my saddle. I began pulling hand over frantic hand until I was lying across the hot, metal roof. Gasping and wheezing, I raised my head to see the three remaining riders slowly reduce in size. I managed a salute come wave.
We disembarked in Chicago. Relaxed for a couple of days in the Windy City before heading to New York where we boarded a steamer for good old Blighty I wanted to get out of the country, just in case that odd little rule regarding boundaries was breached!
Finally home, our travelling trunks were in the hallway,
“Cluttering up the place.” Scolded Mrs McClivity.
I calculated we had around five thousand dollars in ingots, there was an interesting assayer’s mark on them that would be traceable.
I would have to get that smelter built for Doppler.