Search This Blog

Saturday, June 6, 2020

The Belle of Eerie, Arizona - Epilogue

Posted 06-07-20

By Christopher Leeson

Chapter 7, Epilogue

Friday, December 29, 1871 Continued

George Severin pitched his last forkful of hay into the chute and let it tumble down to the ground floor, where the barn animals were. He was having trouble keeping his mind on what he was doing, his thoughts always drifting back to the beguiling face of Abigail Myra Olcott.

Who and what was she?

A sound brought his attention back to his surroundings. On the stone balcony outside, kittens – eager and hungry – meowed. That’s what they always sounded like when he or one of his younger siblings brought t hem their table scraps. He saw a silhouette break the slits of light streaming in between the boards of the loft door. As he watched, it opened.

Easy, kitties,” Rosedale was saying. “You'll get all get fed!”

George chuckled. “If those critters weren't so dumb and lazy, they'd be out catching mice and rats, not begging for milk and breadcrusts.”

That's cats for you,” was all the defense that his sister felt like offering on behalf of the feline pack.

The youth threw the fork he held into the clover hay. Driven in deeply, it was left standing straight up. George jumped to the floor and landed on the soft litter underfoot.

The youth crossed over to the exit where Rosedale was filling the rusty kitchen pans that the cats were fed from. “Where are you off to now?” she asked. “You’ve been awfully quit since the Christmas dance.”

He grimaced, as if something were bothering him. “I guess there isn't much to talk about these days.”

His sister smiled. “You were dancing up a storm with Myra. I’d have thought that you’d still be bragging about it.”

His shrugged. “If I felt like bragging, I’d brag to someone whom I’d really wanted to impress.”

So you want to talk boy-talk about Miss Myra?” she asked.

He shrugged again.

You know, Myra’s dancing was really okay,” the girl continued. “She'll be even better next time. All anyone needs is a heap of dancing to get good at it. Did you ask her to come to the New Years hoedown?”

I'm not sure I should.”

Why not?”

Because I’d expect that she'd say no.”

How come?”

She’ll say no just because it was me doing the asking.”

Isn’t she starting to like you?”

That little Eastern gal is a hard one to figure out.”

Maybe she is,” Dale conceded.

Say, Stockings, “does Myra ever strike you as being somehow – outside the ordinary?”

In what way?”

In any way.”

Dale made a thoughtful face. “I guess so. She likes to talk about what she reads, but it’s not the stuff that most girls like. But, like you say, she’s an Easterner. I’m supposing that they have different ways. Funny, I’d have expected an Eastern girls to be trying to impress folks with her nice clothes and manners. But Myra’s not like that; she’s rough and tumble. I think she’d be a terrible tomboy if her aunt ever let her get away with it.”

Yeah,” her brother agreed, “she’s something else down deep.”

Do you suppose she got that way because she’s an only child?”

Maybe,” said George said distractedly.

You know,” continued Rosedale, “I don’t think she had many friends back home.”


"She seems so uneasy around people.”

George met his sister’s glance straight-on. “What do you think about her? Do you like her?”

Well,” the farm girl began thoughtfully,“I guess I do. She's not the warmest young lady that I’ve ever run across, but there's something about her.”

He cocked his head. “What do you mean?”

Something she’s got draws a person to her. I don’t know what it is. She doesn’t come off like most other girls. She's serious-minded. She doesn't gush and giggle. I’m kind of glad that she doesn’t, though. I got enough of that when I was in school.

How about you, Fish Hooks?” Dale asked suddenly. “Do you like her?”

Her brother eased back against the wall. “I’m not sure what I feel. All I know is that Myra doesn’t like me, not from the minute we met.”

Rosedale pursed her lips and nodded. “A lot of girls are shy with boys. Feeling shy sometimes make a person acts like he’s mad. Land sakes! It makes me mad, too, not being able to ask a boy to go walking or to a picnic when I happen to feel like it.”

George smiled. “Better not get too forward with the boys, or else folks are going to start calling you a hussy. But if the shoe fits....”

Oh, you!” his sister exclaimed, scooping up a handful of hay to throw at him. It was never easy to hurl loose hay over a distance and hardly any of it reached her target.

Still grinning, her brother asked, “Which boys do you like? Or are there so many that you can't remember them all?”

She scowled. “A girl can't be telling something like that, not even to a brother. But if you want some advice, your problem with Myra is probably just that you don’t know how to behave around a girl. I could teach you plenty.”

I don’t think so.”

Chicken!” I could so teach you.”

Teach me what? Why most girls act like ninnies?”

She grinned. “I bet you don’t think that Myra is a ninny.”

I don’t know what she is. She's topsy-turvy on everything.”

Dale nodded. “Why do you suppose that is?”

Umm. I've got my theories.”

What sort of theories?”

I’m not telling you anything. You’d just go running off to Miss Olcott to repeat everything that I say.”

I’d be tempted. But here’s a word to make you wise. A good way to get a girl to notice you is to do something that gets her mad at you.”
Young Severin shook his head. “She notices me plenty. And whenever she does, she moves away.”

Dale came a step closer and pretended to sniff for a bad odor. George playfully pushed her away.

Well, if you don’t want to make her mad,” suggested Rosedale, “I’d say that the next best shot is to try being nice. Once she starts feeling easy having you around, she’ll naturally become more friendly.”

George scowled. “I don’t want to be any girl’s friend. If a boy gets to be a girl’s friend, she’ll never let him be anything else.”

You’re silly!”

Oh, yeah, Little Sister, you’re a whole lot sillier than I am.”

Hey, don’t call me that. You're only a year older than me.”

But I'm a lot less silly.”

Oh, pshaw! You're twice as silly as I ever was, even on my worst day!”

Says who?”

Says me!”

The opinions of silly people don't matter!” George answered back.

We'll see which one of us is most silly,” the girl declared, her hands on her hips.

One of these days, I guess we will.” With that, the youth gave his sister a parting nod and pushed the door open to the afternoon light.

He descended from the small balcony via a short ladder. The weather had continued chilly, despite the bright sunlight, and he reflexively adjusted his cap and collar.

George’s chores being done for the moment, he went for a walk across the pasture. His thoughts immediately returned to Myra. The girl had shown up little more than two weeks earlier, but it already felt like he’d known her for much longer. Could there be a reason for that? he wondered.

The young man had a theory, and it was a crazy one. People would have laughed to hear it. Or at least they would have laughed if this was anywhere else except Eerie, Arizona. He had been keeping his suspicions quiet, not just because his idea was a wild one, but also because spreading that kind of talk around might hurt Myra. Especially if it were true.

She had surprised him the first time that he’d laid eyes on her, by naming him on sight. How had she done that? Furthermore, she had shown up on the same day that Thorn Caldwell had gotten shot dead up in the Gap And what about that strange horse that she’d been riding? The saddle on it wasn’t like the one that Mrs. Fanning had kept in the barn. A saddled horse would have had to have run away from somebody, but who? Later, when he’d suggested to Myra that the bay could have been her cousin's horse, she hadn’t seemed the least bit interested. And another thing: she could ride pretty well for a gal who’d just come out of the East.

Beyond that, Myra sometimes referred to Myron as Thorn. She had herself said that she hadn’t been getting any letters from her cousin, and Mrs. Fanning never used that nickname, so why the girl choose to call him that? Moreover, one couldn’t help but notice that the cousins were about the same age and both had been named after the same maternal grandmother. On top of everything else, they apparently liked the same sort of reading material.

And then there was the way that Mrs. Fanning was behaving. Like, why did a church lady like her suddenly become chummy with Molly O'Toole, the wife of the one man in the West who knew how to make a remarkable magical potion? Other proper ladies in town avoided both of the O’Tooles. What had happened to bring the farmer and the saloon-keeper together at exactly the same time that Myra had arrived in Eerie?

Additionally, it seemed strange to him that Myra had come to town with only one dress to her name. She didn’t even have a winter coat. Her aunt said that she‘d lost her luggage in a stage accident. If so, why had every witness he’d questioned sworn that she’d never been on that stage? If the girl hadn’t come in by stagecoach, why were she and Irene trying to make people believe that she had? Mrs. Fanning seldom joked, and never so pointlessly.

Nothing that surrounded Myra made any sense. Why had Deputy Grant allowed a grass-green girl from the East to go with him up to the Gap while he was looking for outlaw loot? Did he think that Myra knew something about the robbery? If she didn’t, how was it that the lawman found the gold in record time?

And how was it that the body of Thorn Caldwell was so deucedly hard to find? The outlaws could have hidden it, sure, but why did they take the trouble to hide it so well?

Then, too, why did Myra have a theory that Thorn wasn't really dead?

Myra was a puzzle with a lot of pieces, but they didn’t fit together. He remembered the funny talk that Mrs. Fanning gave at the memorial. Why had she she suppose that an unrepentant sinner like Myron could still get another chance at Heaven? Was she talking about Purgatory? He didn’t think so. Methodists didn’t believe in any such place.

Beyond that, Myra had been seen speaking to the sheriff at a spot out of earshot of the other party visitors Saturday night. The youth had himself seen her talking to Lydon Kelsey. He knew that Kelsey and Caldwell had been as thick as the thieves until the latter left town. Why would a girl new to the community pick out a roughneck like that to talk to?

George, having certain suspicions, had tested Myra. He had deliberately mentioned Indian Head, a local landmark that a lot of the young people nearabouts liked to visit, mostly to spoon. Myra had replied, “If you hang around up there, I'll have to keep shy of the place.”

It had sounded like she had known what he was referring to. How so, with her being a newcomer? Neither she nor Mrs. Fanning had ever mentioned Myra having taken any sight-seeing excursions into the local woods and ridges during her short time in town.

And then there was the Christmas day visit to his home, when Miss Olcott had been shown all the girlish things that Dale was so proud of. To George’s mind, it seemed like Myra had looked at them with boredom and annoyance, not interest.

It was all a bit too peculiar to ignore but, over the span of two weeks, George had come up with a theory, a theory that he didn’t care for at all.

What if Myron Thornton Caldwell had robbed that stage and gotten shot, just like Mrs. Deeters had witnessed? Then, what if he stayed conscious and had seen the outlaws hiding the gold? Had Myron afterwards been fit enough to ride out of the Gap and meet up with his aunt a couple of miles away? If Thorn had gotten to the farm badly wounded, Mrs. Fanning would naturally have hurried him to Doc Upshaw. As a good friend of the O'Tooles, the doctor would have been able to tell Irene that Thorn had only once chance to stay live – to take the magic potion that Shamus could provide. After all, it had already saved the life of Elmer O’Hanlan. Would Mrs. Fanning have had any other choice but to go along with such a crazy idea?

It seemed to George that if Myron really had become Myra, she probably wouldn’t have wanted to have the whole town laughing at her. It would have been natural enough for the aunt and her nephew – now a niece – to concoct a story about Myra having just come to Eerie. The deception would certainly have needed to involve Shamus, and Molly would probably have pitched in to help, too. Because Myra would have come into existence with no women’s clothes to wear, Molly could very easily have volunteered to go shopping for her. She’d naturally enough to over to Phoenix, where she was less well known and few people would have wondered why a childless woman should be buying clothes for a young person.

Afterwards, George reasoned, Myron would have grudgingly done his best to make a go of things as Myra. Pretty soon, Deputy Grant and Judge Humphreys would have visited the farm, wanting information about the robbery. As Myron, Miss Olcott would had been a witness. The deputy would have asked for her help in finding the lost gold shipment, and Myra wouldn’t have had much choice but to agree.

The youth’s theory, if true, would also explain why Myra had so disliked him from the start. At least it was fortunate that she had. If they’d gotten close, George knew he would be feeling very embarrassed about now. The farm boy shook his head. This was a damned strange town, he had to concede, one haunted by Indian magic, and one where many of its prettiest girls used to be men.

The more he thought about it, the more convinced George became that he was on to the truth. If Myra really was Thorn, her life must really be something, learning how to live a very different sort of life. The thought of Thorn being sentenced a life of wearing corsets and pantaloons should have made him laugh, except that the idea seemed to be such a powerfully strange one.

If George had had his druthers, Myra would have been a natural-born girl. That he had found her to be so interesting and attractive from the word "go" bothered him considerably.

What was making him into a co-conspirator in the keeping of her secret? He couldn’t figure it out. He didn’t want her to be publicly mortified, but why should he care so much?

George looked off in the direction of the Fanning farm. Every time he went over there from now on he would act as a player in one hell of a story. But what sort of story would it be? He hoped it would be a comedy, not a tragedy. A comedy might encourage a certain pretty redhead to start smiling more.

But why should he care how cheerful she was? Myron had been impossible to like. But still, as annoying as he was, George hadn’t hated him -- at least not venomously.

On the other hand, young Severin wouldn't mind at all if Myra ended up living a good life. Miss Olcott was at about Chapter One in her book of life, and he couldn’t help wondering what lay in store for her. But, most of all, he wondered how was he supposed to interact with her from now on.

All these were hard questions – questions that the boy needed to work through very carefully over the long nights of the coming winter.


1 comment:

  1. Well, after 15 months the whole story is finally posted.

    There is always some melancholy in the completion of a project, especially one that has engaged a person for so long as this one has. Still, much sadder is to have started a project and never to have finished it.

    What lies ahead for Myra? Well, as Ellie Dauber and I have last discussed the novel EERIE, ARIZONA: Summer, she probably will not appear there, except in a possible cameo or two. After that, well, I have a couple of ideas that might come together to make another Myra Olcott story.

    As for my further contributions to TFTGS, It's my definite wish to continue. I already have a one-shot story in preparation that might feel at home here as of next month. But in real life I have really gotten busy. I can't offer up something to TFTGS that will take a lot of time, not for a while. To do revisions of older drafts and post them might be possible. We'll see. If I don't appear as regularly as before, don't worry. If I'm still alive I will be doing my best to return as often as possible. Maybe after about a year the crush on my time may be lessened and I can offer something up new and major. Like, I have that collaboration with Aladdin that I definitely want to do, THE TWILIGHT OF THE GODS.