A Novel of the American West
New York Times-bestselling author of The Last Gunfight, Jeff Guinn turns his eye for evocative detail and history to a sweeping novel of the Old West, weaving a compelling tale of life in the Arizona Territory in 1872.
We’ve all got mistakes in our past we’d rather forget.
Cash McLendon has always had an instinct for self-preservation, one that was honed by an impoverished childhood and life with an alcoholic father barely scraping by on the streets of Saint Louis in 1872. He’s always had a knack for finding and capitalizing on the slightest opportunities, choosing the path of financial security over happiness or real friends. He eventually builds himself up from a Saint Louis street urchin to the son-in-law and heir apparent to industrial mogul Rupert Douglass. Though it lacks passion, his life seems securely set: a wife, a career, property, standing.
But when tragedy strikes, all of his plans and his entire future dissolve in an instant. McLendon’s instinct for survival kicks in; he flees Saint Louis, and Douglas assigns his enforcer, an ominous skull-cracker with steel-toed boots, to track him down.
With nothing to lose, McLendon attempts to reconcile with an old flame—a woman he was nearly engaged to but put aside in exchange for the life now in shambles. He heard through the grapevine that she and her father moved their dry-goods store out west, to a speck-on-the-map mining town named Glorious, in the Arizona Territory. There, McLendon tries to win her back, and in the process discovers a new way of life at the edge of the final American frontier. But he can’t outrun his past forever. . . .
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof.***
Copyright © 2014 by 24 Words, LLC
They took Tom Gaumer late in the morning.
He shouldn’t have been out alone. Like all the other prospectors in Glorious, Gaumer knew the area was crawling with Apaches. You didn’t have to see them to know that they were there. In the three weeks since he’d arrived in the tiny town, Gaumer went out on his daily hunt for silver with four other prospectors, all of them frontier veterans who observed the proper precautions: stay together, make as little noise as possible, take turns acting as lookout. The Indians generally didn’t bother well-armed men working in groups. They wanted easier white prey.
But the day before, Gaumer had noticed a particularly promising bit of oxidized, black-lined rock, typical of potentially significant silver content. He and his informal partners—they’d all met on arrival in Glorious— were working about three miles northeast of town along the banks of Queen Creek, in an area where the creek cut around the base of the Pinal Mountains. Bossman Wright was on lookout, and Oafie and Archie and Old Ben and Gaumer were chipping away on a ledge, each no more than ten yards from the others because the Apache could snatch anyone straying too far in an eye blink. When Gaumer’s pick dislodged the first black-lined rock chunks he drew breath to holler out the news to the others, and then thought better of it. None of the others were turning up anything interesting; that was the way of even the widest silver seams, to have surface concentration in one small spot, and it was his luck alone to find it. These men he’d been working with were fine fellows, but Gaumer had a wife and two daughters back in Minnesota who lived in near poverty while he was away trying to strike it rich for them. So Gaumer took a good look to mark the exact place in his mind, then casually said, “Nothing’s here. Let’s try farther downriver.” Much to his relief, the others muttered agreement and moved on.
The next morning in the prospectors’ tent city just beyond the few permanent buildings in Glorious, Gaumer told the other four to go on without him, he had stomach trouble and would rest all day. He lay in his blankets until everyone in the prospectors’ camp was gone, all of them disappearing into the vastness surrounding Glorious. Then Gaumer jumped up and started back toward his secret treasure spot, keeping a sharp eye out for anyone who might be exploring the same general area. But his luck held. By the time he was back on the ledge he felt certain that he was miles away from anyone else. It was risky to be out alone, but Gaumer didn’t care. In all his years of prospecting, he’d never seen such strong silver sign. He soon lost himself chipping away at the black-lined rock, the lines getting tantalizingly thicker and more numerous: my God, there was going to be a fortune in silver here! He’d done it! This was it! As he was exulting, they came quietly up behind him. A rope snared Gaumer’s arms to his sides and just like that he was helpless.
They took their time with the torture and mutilation. First they built a fire and used the brands to burn the soles of Gaumer’s feet. He screamed, but his screams were lost in the cliffs and canyons. They amused themselves for a while removing Gaumer’s fingers one joint at a time, and then there was some skinning, parts of his chest and back. By then he was periodically passing out from the pain, coming to when they briefly stopped, shrieking when they resumed until the agony was too overwhelming and blessed blackness descended on him again.
His captors knew their business. It was almost nightfall when Gaumer finally succumbed. His last sensation was of fresh pain. One of them was dragging a sharp knife along the hairline of his forehead. Gaumer only spoke English, not their language, but he’d been in Arizona Territory long enough to comprehend meaning if not individual words. Gaumer thought one of them was saying, “Stop—Apaches don’t scalp.”
Then the final darkness swallowed him.
Shortly before the morning stage left Florence for the thirty-mile trip to Glorious, Mr. Billings, the depot manager, took Cash McLendon aside.
“I hope you’ve taken advantage of our privy, sir,” Mr. Billings said. “Passage to Glorious is wearying at best. You’ll want to avoid additional discomfort.”
The suggestion surprised McLendon, who replied, “I’m not concerned. Today’s is only a short trip, every depot along the way will have facilities, and in between scheduled stops I can always tap on the stage roof and signal the driver to pull over.”
Mr. Billings, a square-shaped man with muttonchop whiskers, shook his head. “I see from your ticket that you’ve come to us all the way from Texas. Up to now, you’ve followed mostly well-established routes on decent roads. But the way to Glorious is rough travel, very hard going, and there are no depots along the way. You’ll not find another privy between here and there.”
McLendon was bone-weary from riding inside cramped stagecoaches during the three weeks it had taken him to get from Galveston to Florence in Arizona Territory, and he was further discomfited by the memory of why he’d fled St. Louis nearly two months before that. Throughout much of this wretched time, he sustained himself with the belief that if he could only get to Glorious, everything might yet be all right. All he knew about the place was its name, but that was enough. He wanted to board one last stagecoach and find out what was going to happen, one way or the other.
“Even with no depots, the matter of a comfort stop seems simple enough,” McLendon said, hoping to convey through a friendly but firm tone that the subject was closed. “I’ll bang on the roof and the driver will accommodate me.” But Mr. Billings shook his head again.
“We leave the matter of such pauses to the driver’s discretion, and of course you can signal him all you like,” the depot manager said. “But on this route it’s unlikely he’ll rein in on passenger request, and even if he would, as a sensible man you’d not want to step down from the stage and remove yourself even a short distance to take your stance or squat. That’s due to the Apaches, of course. They’re always alert to pick off any white man who foolishly separates himself from his companions.”
“I suspect that you exaggerate,” McLendon said. “I saw no sign of Apache on the journey here from Tucson, and it’s my understanding that most of them ride with Cochise well away to the south and east.” “Please observe the sign,” Mr. Billings said, and pointed to a large poster by the depot door. In all capital letters it warned:
YOU WILL BE TR AVELING THROUGHINDIAN COUNTRY AND THE SAFETYOF YOUR PERSON CANNOT BEVOUCHSAFED BY ANYONE BUT GOD!
“Those are the truest of words,” Mr. Billings said. “You have no idea of how dangerous this country is. I assure you that these savages lurk behind every rock and bit of brush between here and Glorious, and the thing about Apaches is that you don’t see them until they’re upon you. The savages got a prospector just outside of Glorious not two weeks ago, and they butchered him up like a hog. Trust me on this, sir. If you require additional testimony, inquire of your driver or anyone else with some experience in this region. Make use of the privy here, and then remain alert all the way to Glorious, where I doubt you’ll want to linger very long.”
McLendon reminded himself that the man was trying to be helpful. “And why is that, sir?”
“Why, there’s nothing to the place,” Mr. Billings said. “Don’t let the braggardly name deceive you. A few buildings and some prospectors’ tents is all of it. We run this stage once a week because you never know what may happen with these meager little towns. Most vanish right off the map in a matter of months when no significant lodes of ore are discovered. But on those rare occasions when a major strike is made, why, it seems that everyone on earth immediately wants to hurry to the spot, so we have a Glorious route in place just in case. Meaning no disrespect, you seem to me more likely a businessman than a prospector, and someone accustomed to a degree of comfort. There’s none of that in Glorious, I assure you.” Mr. Billings paused, waiting for McLendon to mention his reason for such an unlikely destination. When he didn’t, the depot manager continued: “Well, then, I’ll inform you that the stage and driver will remain in Glorious overnight and return here tomorrow. After that, it’s another week before our next stage arrives. Should you decide to come back in the morning and spare yourself such a long delay, the fare is three dollars, the same as you’re paying to make the Glorious trip today. Just give the money to the driver, as we have no formal depot there. And now I thank you for your business, and wish you the best day possible under the circumstances in which you’ll presently find yourself.”
McLendon waited until Mr. Billings disappeared inside the chinked wood depot before hustling to the rank privy behind the building. Even though the ride to Glorious surely wouldn’t take too long—it was only some thirty miles, and McLendon knew that stages routinely covered ninety or a hundred miles in a day—it was disturbing to learn that there would probably be no relief stops along the way. His digestive system was in a disrupted condition brought on by the meals he’d consumed since Galveston. Depot food was expensive, sometimes as much as a dollar a plate—twice the price of a meal at a decent hotel—and the fare was almost always limited to bacon, beans, biscuits, and foul-tasting coffee or tea, with the occasional substitution of tough, stringy beef or salty sowbelly as the main course. Because depot stops were usually limited to twenty minutes while fresh teams of horses were hitched to the stage, there was never time to wander off in search of more palatable meals. McLendon couldn’t remember the last time he’d eaten a vegetable other than the ubiquitous mushy depot beans. In recent days, the constipation he had endured since the beginning of the trip from Texas was replaced by periodic piercing urges to evacuate that struck without warning. As he closed himself inside the fly-infested outhouse, he reflected that for the moment, at least, he feared the Apache far less than he did ruining his remaining pair of relatively clean trousers.
After McLendon finished his business in the privy, he went back inside the depot and collected his valise. When he’d fled St. Louis, the bag was shiny and redolent of expensive leather. Now it was gashed in several places, and the handle was held in place with twine. Stage travel was hard on luggage. Each passenger was allowed twenty-five pounds of baggage, but McLendon’s battered valise was considerably lighter. It contained only a book, the sheet music for “Shoo Fly, Don’t Bother Me,” four shirts, some drawers, the denim jeans he’d purchased in New Orleans while working on the docks there, a few pairs of socks, some toiletries, and the suit he was saving to wear when he surprised Gabrielle in Glorious. It was an expensive suit, hand-tailored to fit his slender frame, and McLendon hoped the prosperous appearance wearing the suit gave him wouldn’t be offset by any stench acquired from the long-unwashed clothes packed around it. The valise also contained the .36 caliber Navy Colt he bought in Houston after observing that all of the passengers on the westbound stage were armed, including the women, and a box of cartridges he’d purchased at the same time. One handgun was the same as the next to McLendon, who’d never owned or even fired one before. The shop owner assured him that the Navy Colt was popular among frontier travelers, and particularly excellent protection for a beginner marksman—“Just cock, point, and pull the trigger.” For the first few days McLendon concealed the weapon in his coat pocket, but the sagging weight of it was distracting and he decided to carry it in his bag instead. Since he rode with the valise crammed behind his legs underneath the stagecoach bench, he could get to the gun quickly if the need ever arose, which fortunately it so far hadn’t. McLendon’s remaining money, a roll of about eight hundred dollars in greenbacks and a few gold double eagles, was kept in his trousers pocket. He’d left St. Louis in February with nearly two thousand dollars, and now it was May; life on the run was proving expensive.
McLendon carried his valise over to the Glorious stage, which was being loaded by a depot crew. The appearance of the vehicle gave him pause. Until now, the stages he had ridden to Arizona Territory from Texas had been stout, impressive conveyances, with wide wheels and sturdy carriages and varnished sides that glistened in the sun. Their appearances had given a sense of reliability. But this one looked rickety in the extreme. The driver’s bench sagged on one side, and the sides of the carriage were so stained with streaked dirt and dried clots of mud that it was impossible to tell what shade of paint or varnish might lie beneath. McLendon feared that the thing might collapse entirely the moment he stepped aboard, but apparently the fragile-looking vehicle was able to support modest loads. During previous stops on his long journey, he’d seen stages laden with mailbags, but this time there was only a small mail pouch. The citizens of Glorious didn’t receive many letters. The stage roof and boot were being packed with wooden crates. According to labels, these contained mostly canned food—peaches, pears, and tomatoes. He saw several marked SUGAR and COFFEE, while a large crate was mysteriously labeled MISCELLANEOUS. Next to the stage, two wagons were hitched together, and these, too, were being loaded with crates of canned goods. The depot workers also hoisted bulky wooden casks onto one of the wagons. From the sounds of sloshing liquid, McLendon guessed they held whiskey or beer, probably both. Perhaps Glorious had a saloon. He already knew there was a store in town, because Gabrielle and her father, Salvatore, ran it.
The clopping of heavy hooves caught McLendon’s attention. Four Army cavalrymen pulled up alongside the stage and wagons. McLendon knew as little about horses as he did about handguns, but even he could tell that the soldiers’ mounts were the next thing to broken-down. Their coats were dull with age as well as dust, and when their riders dismounted the horses hung their heads listlessly. The cavalrymen were equally unimpressive. Their uniforms were patched and filthy; one appeared to be drunk. Another of the raggedy soldiers ex-changed friendly greetings with the grizzled fellow who was apparently going to drive McLendon’s stage. “An Army wagon is taking supplies and messages from Camp McDowell to Camp Grant, which is southeast of Glorious,” a worker loading cases told McLendon. “As a courtesy to civilian stage operations, the Camp McDowell commander is sending his wagon and some cavalrymen partway with your stage as an escort.”
“Can those sad creatures they’re riding keep up with the stage?” McLendon asked. “I doubt that they can even trot a little, let alone gallop.”
“Sorry as they are, they’ll keep the pace with this team,” the worker said, and gestured to the depot corral, where four rawboned braying mules were being forced into harness. “There’s little opportunity for galloping or trotting on the way to Glorious. The trail’s too rough. Your typical team of horses would all go lame. Mules, though, can pick their way forward. It’s travel slow but sure.”
“How slow?” McLendon asked. “It’s still early morning, and with a trip of just thirty miles I thought that we’d easily reach Glorious by noon.”
“A bit before dark is more likely, and that’s if the stage or one of the wagons don’t throw a wheel,” the man said. “You best get some food for along the way.” McLendon had hoped for a more appealing meal when he reached Glorious, but the worker seemed positive that the trip would take all day. So McLendon bought food from Mr. Billings, tossed his valise up through the open stage door, and clambered inside the carriage. There were only two benches there instead of three; the stages from Galveston to Tucson all seated nine, three to a bench, with facing passengers interlocking knees because of limited space. In several instances there were too many passengers to squeeze onto the benches, so the overflow perched atop baggage tied to the roof or else wedged themselves on the outside bench between the driver and shotgun guard. But besides McLendon, the morning stage to Glorious had only one additional passenger, a tall red-faced fellow in a checked suit who nodded companionably as he sat down on the opposite bench and stowed his own case underneath. The stage rocked as the driver and shotgun guard climbed up to their outside seats. McLendon pushed the cloth window curtain aside and stuck his head out to watch as drivers took the reins of the two wagons, which were also pulled by teams of mules. The four cavalrymen nudged their horses up, two ahead and two behind the three-vehicle convoy. The stage lurched slowly forward with the wagons directly behind. McLendon expected the stage driver to quicken the mules’ pace as soon as they were clear of the Florence depot, but he didn’t. The convoy headed slowly east and a little north; McLendon was certain that if he jumped out and walked, he’d be faster than the mules.
For all Mr. Billings’s dire warnings about rough terrain, the going seemed easy enough. There was very little to look at as the stage crept along except sandy flats speckled with scrubby cactus and brush. It was going to be a long, tedious trip, and McLendon sighed as he pulled his head back inside and tried to settle himself with some minimal degree of comfort on the thinly padded seat. Enjoying elbow room for a change, he pulled a battered book from his bag: James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans. McLendon loved the story’s vivid descriptions of valorous acts and appreciated its unhappy ending, which struck him as truer to real life than a triumphant climax. He’d read the book so often that he had memorized many passages. In recent months, with everything else in his life so desperate and changed, he’d drawn comfort from the familiarity. Now, nerves on edge since his arrival in Glorious was finally imminent, McLendon tried to distract himself again with the exploits of Hawkeye, Uncas, and Chingachgook, but it proved impossible. Even on fairly level ground the stage bumped along, and without being braced on his bench by other passengers McLendon found his head and shoulders bouncing painfully off the cab doors and roof. He sighed and tucked the book back in his valise.
As soon as he did, his lone fellow passenger struck up a conversation. William Clark LeMond identified himself as a salesman of “luxury sundries, scented soaps and lotions, and the like.” He explained that he currently lived in Tucson but made regular trips around the rest of the territory, attempting to place his wares in dry goods stores “mostly in the larger towns like Florence and Prescott and Arizona City out on the California border, but also in the smaller places that could one day prove significant. That’s not to say I linger in any that clearly have little promise. Phoenix, in the Salt River Valley, for example, is nothing but farmers, none of them men of ambition, and so it’s destined for well-deserved oblivion. On the other hand Glorious, where we’re currently bound, has considerable potential.”
“Mr. Billings back at the Florence depot would disagree,” McLendon said.
LeMond straightened his bowler hat, which had just been knocked askew by a particularly violent bump. “Yes, well, that’s Dick Billings. He’s a failed prospector, you know, wandered the territories for years and never found any color to speak of. Men like Dick just plain give up after a while, settle in wherever they happen to be and spend the rest of their days pissing on the ambitions of others. Dick’s not a bad fellow, just a disappointed one. Glorious is all right. There’s silver in the mountains around it, that’s common knowledge since two years ago, when one of General Stoneman’s men found considerable rich rock specimens practically lying on the ground. Up to now fear of the Apaches has kept most people away, and they do pick off a poor soul every now and then, but that won’t last much longer. Someone’s going to make a grand find, word will spread, and so many prospectors will come flooding in that the damned Indians will get brushed aside like flies. The businesspeople and lawyers and whores and the like will be right on their heels, ready to suck up every cent of the money that the prospectors all of a sudden have to spend. Practically overnight, humble little Glorious will have gourmet restaurants and gambling casinos and theaters with shows put on by the finest traveling troupes— high-class civilization. And when it arrives—when folks want to end the workday by cleaning up and going out to enjoy an elegant time— they’ll wash off the dust with my fancy soaps, which will by then be stocked everywhere in town, thanks to the diligence that I currently exercise.”
“You’re a hopeful man,” McLendon said.
“That’s what you’ve got to be, out here in the territories. Hope is what makes the present discomfort tolerable.”
Having told something of himself, LeMond tried to draw out McLendon, who said that he was going to Glorious to see an old friend and didn’t expect an extended stay.
“I hardly blame you for that,” LeMond said. “As much as I’m optimistic for the future of Glorious, at present there’s little in the way of leisure comfort to be found there, only a cramped saloon and a hotel of sorts. Tomorrow morning I’ll call at the town dry goods store, leave some further items for sale if they’ll have them, and then it’s right back to Florence on the stage.”
“Tell me about this store,” McLendon said, trying not to sound too eager. “Does it carry a good variety of wares? Are you familiar with the owners?”
“Like the rest of the town except for the hotel, it’s an adobe structure,” LeMond said. “A man named Tirrito and his daughter Gabrielle are proprietors. He’s Eye-talian with limited English, but pleasant nonetheless. She’s quite delightful, and I might add very sensible for a woman. When I explained how stocking fine soaps would ensure the business of future customers more civilized than your typical hardscrabble prospector, she was forward-thinking enough to take some bars on consignment. I’m hoping they’ve since sold a few and want more. Even if they don’t, I’ll share some conversation and continue building a relationship for future business, so the time spent on this trip won’t be wasted. Now, what friend do you seek in Glorious?”
“I intend to call on a lady,” McLendon said.
“Miss Gabrielle, then,” LeMond observed.
“What makes you so certain?” McLendon asked. “I specified no name.”
LeMond grinned. “If the location is Glorious, the term ‘lady’ can’t as yet be widely applied.” McLendon wasn’t sure how to respond, so he pulled the window curtain aside and stared out at the nondescript countryside. LeMond didn’t seem offended, and they rode in companionable silence.
About three hours into the trip, McLendon felt the stage tip slightly upward. Since he was seated on the inside bench facing forward, by peering out the window he could see that they’d reached a long, gradual incline.
“We’re now almost halfway to Glorious,” LeMond said. “But from here the going gets more difficult, with steeper slopes and finally the mountains. Keep the window curtains drawn from now on if you would, since the higher we go, the stronger the winds, and so more dust will be blown. I prefer to make my sales calls in a clean suit rather than a filthy one.” McLendon initially obliged him, but with the curtains closed the carriage quickly became stifling and he began oozing sweat. Along with perspiration came waves of nausea. LeMond didn’t seem as affected; clearly he was more used to the furnace-like heat. McLendon stood the discomfort as long as he could, then yanked the window curtain open. When he did, the resulting gush of molten air carried with it a thick cloud of dust. McLendon coughed; LeMond covered his nose with a handkerchief, then reached over and tugged the curtain shut.
“The mule team and the cavalry riders in front kick up most of the dust,” LeMond explained. “Our choices are to bake or to choke, and baking is the lesser of these evils. Buck up if you can, for I’m sure they’ll soon call a stop. Then we can eat our lunches and have a pee.”
“Mr. Billings told me there would likely be no rest stop,” McLendon said. “He spoke of near-certain Apache assault.”
“Counting the soldiers and the stage crew and the wagon drivers and ourselves, in all we number ten,” LeMond said. “That should be sufficient to discourage any lurking Indians. They generally attack lone travelers, or those who wander off from a main body. Just make sure that when you relieve yourself, you do your business close and in plain sight. Don’t act modest.”
McLendon’s bowels were rumbling. “I won’t,” he said, and made sure when he bolted from the stage a few minutes later to stop only a few feet away, his urgency such that he truly didn’t care who could see. When he was finished, everyone else took a turn, one at a time, while the others stood guard. Afterward the drivers watered the mules from casks brought for that purpose, and all the men ate lunches. Grateful to be out of the boxy stage carriage and refreshed by the warm breeze in his face, McLendon found that his nausea eased and he had an unexpected appetite for his cold bacon and thick-crusted bread. LeMond produced several tins of sardines and shared the tiny olive-oil-drenched fish among the group. That encouraged one of the wagon drivers to pass around a canteen he promised was full of “special water,” and when McLendon took his swallow he discovered it was wine instead. Despite the heat and dust they passed a friendly half hour before the stage driver announced it was time to be moving on. He added to McLendon, “Prepare for some bumps,” and pointed east. McLendon saw what appeared to be a gigantic lump of some- thing purplish-brown. “Picket Post Mountain,” the driver said. “Monstrous big thing. Then rough ground for some time and the Pintos and the Pinals beyond that.”
As the way grew steeper and more rugged, the stage rocked harder. Inside the passenger carriage, McLendon and LeMond held on as best they could. With the window curtains still pulled tight, McLendon could only imagine the terrain outside. His nausea resumed, more intense this time; the rancid tang of greasy bacon and sardines was thick in his throat, and he particularly regretted the lunchtime gulp of wine. “Are we going up a mountain?” he finally gasped, and LeMond laughed and replied that they were still in the foothills. He suggested that McLendon take slow, deep breaths: “That’ll help settle your belly.” Then the stage came to a lurching halt and they hopped outside. A rear wheel was caught between two rocks; while the stage and wagon drivers struggled to pry it free with metal crowbars, McLendon looked ahead and was astonished to see Picket Post Mountain looming less than a mile away, craggy and intimidating. The huge hunk of rock seemed to have exploded out of the desert floor. Even more amazing was a sprawling mountain range farther east that LeMond identified as the Pinals; compared to them, massive Picket Post was an isolated pebble. It was another two miles from Picket Post to Glorious just before the Pinals, the salesman said.
“The Army had a small camp near the Picket Post lower base before they closed it last year,” LeMond told McLendon. “Sometimes they climbed up near the summit and signaled with mirrors to other camps and patrols many miles away; the heights commanded a wide view.”
“I suppose the residents of Glorious depended on the Army at Picket Post to protect them from the Apaches,” McLendon said. “They must have resented the closing of the camp, even if its soldiers were all as disreputable as those cavalrymen who’ve ridden with us today.”
LeMond snorted. “In the event of an Indian attack, in the hour it would take for cavalry from Camp Picket Post to get word, saddle up, and ride to Glorious, everyone living there would already have been turned into food for buzzards. Apaches swarm in fast and lethal. I noticed you attempting to read that Fenimore Cooper book. I’m a reading man myself, and familiar with the Mohican yarn. Apaches are nothing like Cooper’s made-up Indians, who make long speeches before they strike. The savages out here prefer attacking over talk. There’s also the matter of the Army mounts. You see the cavalrymen with us on the dray draggers the government has issued them to ride. Those Morgans are probably left over from service in the war. It’s cheaper for the Army to send the surviving steeds here to be ridden during the final days before they drop instead of paying for new, fresh stock. In this region, the cavalry presence is mostly for show only, to discourage bandits riding up from Mexico and to at least give the appearance that they’re on the lookout for Apaches.”
“Then what prevents the Indians from falling on a town like Glorious?”
“There’s a large ranch, the Culloden, across the valley, just on the other side of Queen Creek,” LeMond said. “Its owner employs a number of seasoned vaqueros. I guess their presence discourages any full-scale Apache assault, though of course the savages still skulk in the area and present constant danger. To live out here is to accept their proximity. Some of them are certainly watching us now.”
“Mr. Billings at the Florence depot mentioned that a prospector was recently killed by the Indians just outside of Glorious.”
“That’s true. They carved him up and played with the pieces. But he was careless and went out alone. Even the Culloden vaqueros can’t be everywhere at once. Common sense is still the best defense against the Apaches.”
When the wagon wheel was finally freed the trip continued, with the mules maintaining a methodical pace as they skirted rocky inclines and eased through gaps between piles of boulders. McLendon no longer scorned their limited speed; the beasts were amazingly sure-footed. Just southwest of Picket Post, the cavalry and Army wagon veered off toward the southeast, leaving the stage and the remaining wagon to go on alone. There was less dust without the cavalry mounts plodding in front of the stage, so LeMond suggested that McLendon pull back the curtains and take in the view. He did, hopeful of taking his mind off his still-unsettled stomach, but what McLendon saw failed to cheer him. Unlike the rounded summits McLendon previously associated with mountains, the Pinals rose in a series of jagged, jutting peaks that seemed to him like serrated teeth. Menacing saguaro cactus dotted their slopes. The predominant color of the rock was rusty red, similar to dried blood. The Pinals seemed to go on forever; they were too much, too intimidating, and they were still some distance away.
“They do loom, don’t they?” LeMond commented, and waited for McLendon to offer some praise of the scenery. When none was forthcoming, the soap salesman took a watch from his vest pocket, checked the time, and added, “As soon as we top the next rise we come to a long valley, and Glorious will come into sight at the far end of it. If there are no further emergency stops, we’ll arrive right around dinnertime.”
McLendon nodded and began pondering the specifics of his imminent reunion with Gabrielle. He alternated between thinking she’d be thrilled that he’d come and being certain she’d send him packing— which, when he was being honest with himself, he knew that he deserved. When and how should he surprise her for maximum odds of success? As soon as he arrived in Glorious, possibly interrupting the Tirritos’ evening meal? That would be dramatic. But his clothes were saturated with sweat, he suspected both his breath and his body smelled awful, and every inch of his exposed skin was caked with dust. Far better to take a room at the hotel LeMond had mentioned, have a hot bath and a good dinner and a solid night’s sleep between clean sheets, then in the morning don his fine suit and call on Gabrielle feeling and looking his best. McLendon would acknowledge the terrible mistake that he’d made, then point out that he’d come all the long, weary way to Glorious to get her back. He hoped that when he finally spoke to Gabrielle, he’d find the right words; the power of persuasion had always been his greatest gift.
After some time LeMond asked McLendon, “Where will you stay tonight in Glorious?”
“I thought I might take a room in the hotel you mentioned. Is that where you’ll be too?”
“I didn’t mention earlier that the hotel is unfinished,” LeMond said. “On my last trip to town I arranged other accommodations. The livery owner lets me to take my rest wrapped in blankets on soft straw in his stalls. It’s quite comfortable if you don’t mind the rustling and snorting of his mules, which, as a heavy sleeper, I don’t. The stage and wagon driver will sleep there too. I imagine that Bob Pugh, the owner, would let you join us. He’s a friendly fellow.”
“Does the hotel have real beds?” McLendon asked. “If it does, that’s my preference. I’ve spent far too many recent nights trying to sleep on moving stages, or else curled on a rough pallet in the corner of some depot. I want sheets and a pillow if I can get them.”
“Oh, you can get those at the hotel, but there are other considerations,” LeMond said. “I’ll let you discover them, and if you pick the livery stable instead, it won’t be hard to find.”
“I appreciate the suggestion, but I’m sure I’ll choose a pillow and sheets over straw,” McLendon said. “However, I’ll ask a favor of you. Should you encounter Miss Gabrielle before I do, could you please not mention me? I hope to surprise her tomorrow.”
“Glad to oblige,” LeMond said. “I expect to call on her and her father at their store quite early in the morning. They have to be open by dawn; that’s when the prospectors begin their treks out of town in search of color, and most stop by the store to buy their necessaries for the day. I’ll be done there by nine, and ready to board the stage for Florence. It usually departs about ten. Perhaps if your visit with Miss Gabrielle is concluded promptly, you’ll be joining me on the return journey?”
“I think not,” McLendon said. “I expect I’ll have some things to arrange.”
“Well, fine,” LeMond mumbled, and looked down at his hands. “Arrangements can be confounding. I wish you well.”
McLendon, adept at interpreting gestures and tone, wondered why the man seemed doubtful.. . .
The battered little stage rocked along; after another half hour the ride again leveled out. McLendon tugged the curtain aside to peer out the window and was startled to see, about a half mile in the distance, two armed riders seemingly trailing the stage.
“There may be bandits,” he said to LeMond, who leaned over him to look.
“No, those are Culloden vaqueros,” the drummer said. “They’re out on patrol. Nothing coming into or out of the valley escapes their scrutiny. Say, put your face right out and look straight ahead, just below the Pinals. You may have to squint a bit.”
McLendon craned his head out the window and blinked against the blowing dust. He raised his hand to shield his eyes and stared until his eyes burned and watered.
“Nothing,” he called in to LeMond.
“Study the base of the mountains, not the mountains themselves,” the salesman said, and McLendon tried. After several moments he noticed what appeared to be smudges at the far end of the valley. These gradually came into sharper focus: a few very low buildings, lighter in color than the bloody Pinals, and also flapping shapes that he recognized as tents. McLendon kept staring, waiting for the actual town to come into view, something considerably more substantial than what he’d seen so far. When nothing did, he sat back in the carriage and wiped his eyes, which ached from the strain.
“There are some outskirts, but I failed to sight the town,” he said. “There must be another rise or two remaining for us to climb.”
LeMond chuckled. “No, what you saw is what there is. That’s all of it. That’s Glorious.”
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