Thursday, November 29, 2012

"A Fair Exchange" by Anonymous

A Fair Exchange

Sheriff John Nutley was not the type of man to flinch before danger. The big six-footer with square set jaw and deep brown eyes just didn't know what the word "fear" meant. Folks in Blake City still talk about the time he fought four Sioux braves with the butt of his useless rifle, and another time when he killed a mad buffalo right at his feet.

But this time the sheriff knew he was on the losing side of the deal. Bravery and courage had nothing to do with it. What man can get a woman to change her mind once she had made it up?

Mrs. Emma Russel was determined to ride the stage from Blake City to Carson Junction. She was a stoutish woman in her late fifties and, with her gray hair and black dress, she looked every inch a grandmother. "I must get to St. Louis before the end of the month," she insisted. "I can't wait here for next week's stage."

"But Ma'am," protested the sheriff, "that owl-hoot, Bart Burrows and his side kick, Hank Lemmens, are the two most desperate road agents in the territory. They're reported to be in the hills and like as not, they may hold up this coach. With those sparklers on your fingers, ma'am. You'd shore be temptin' fate."

Emma Russel gazed at the large rings on the fingers of her right hand. "Any man can have them," she ripled, "but he's got to pay my price! And don't worry, Sheriff—I've managed to take care of myself all these years and I see no reason why I can't continue doing so."

Lou Callaghan, driver of the stage was getting a bit impatient at the delay. He swung his whip at a large fly and missed it. Then he talked to his team of mules. "You critters got to do some steep climbin' and fast trottin'. Don't fret! We'll be on our way soon."

The sheriff took the hint and realized it would be best to concede defeat, so he helped Mrs. Russel into the stage and closed the door. Lou Callaghan released the brake and the impatient little mules found they had no difficult task with a light coach and one female passenger.

As the stage turned off main street onto the highway the sheriff scratched his head. "Funny thing about that woman," he said half aloud to himself. "Sort of reminds me of some woman I once knew." What he didn't realize was that the face of Emma Russel, alias Jane Higarty, alias Tessie Burrows had decorated the "Wanted" notices of many a sheriff's office.

A product of the east, Emma had taken with her to the West her amazing talent for extracting wallets from coats and trousers. And when wallets weren't thick or handy, her agile brain would concoct some sort of blackmail or fraud to enrich her thin purse.

Onwards the stage rolled with Lou Callaghan at the reins. Once he stopped the coach and Emma felt for her little derringer. She poked her head out and inquired, "Are we being held up now?" The way she asked the question sort of startled Lou. He could sense a glint of disappointment in his passenger's eye as he answered, "No ma'am. Just checkin' up on my lead mule's harness. Pullin' too tight." Then, to reassure the female, he lightly tapped the .45 he carried in his holster and said, "Nary a road agent in sight. Besides nobody's goin' to do anythin' while I got my Colt with me."

Sitting lazily in his saddle atop Sundown Mesa, Bart Burrows could see every inch of the road from Blake City for miles. "The coach is a-comin'," he remarked to his partner Hank Lemmens, "and we soon oughta have a little more than we had before."

Hank needed no instructions about his part in the planned hold-up. He went into action as an experienced road agent in his own right. With Bart following he rode down the mesa and moved a fallen mesquite tree into the road. Then they sat down on a convenient rock so await the stage coach.

Lou Callaghan spotted the tree in time to apply his brake and get his stubborn mules to a stop. Then he descended from the coach to look over the scene and figure out whether or not he would need some help to remove the tree.

"Hello, Lou!" said a familiar voice. The driver didn't bat an eye as he saw Hank with a six-shooter in his hand. "Again?" was the only comment the tired driver of the stage coach could bring to his lips. "Again!" repeated Bart who now took command of the situation. "Git out of that coach, passenger!" ordered Bart.

Emma stuck her head out and sized up the situation at once. No need to use her derringer. "Mind your manners, young man!" she demanded as she stepped to the ground. "Now explain why you're impeding the progress of this coach." It was the word "impeding" that sort of puzzled Bart. It was on the tip of his tongue to explain that any fool could see he and his partner were engaged in the time-honored practice of holding up the stage. He stroked his chin twice and had just about decided to search her when his eyes spotted the diamond rings on Emma's fingers.

"Them rings, ma'am!" that was all he said; but enough for Emma to understand a change in ownership was soon to take place.

"These rings are gifts from my late lamented husband, Colonel Russel of the Third Cavalry. He was killed fighting Chief Spotted Tail. You would take his gifts away from me, would you? Oh, how could you do such a thing!"

Bart advanced and started to reach for Emma's hand. This was too much for Lou Callaghan. He went for his six-shooter. But he never made it, for a bullet from Hank's gun grazed his arm. He felt the warm blood trickling down his arm.

"Look here, Lou!" protested Hank. "We don't want to kill you! Throw down your gun!" Lou obeyed.

One by one, Emma slowly took off each ring from her finger. Mentally Bart was making calculations as to their worth. Seemed to him that diamonds ought to bring a lot of money. Emma handed him the jewelry and then slipped to the ground in a dead faint. However, the chivalry in Bart was not entirely lost. He helped her to her feet and was not conscious at the time that her left hand was dipping into his left rear trousers pocket. With the air of a French dandy Bart helped Emma back into the coach.

"We're not carrying any mail or valuables, so if you want to search you can go right ahead," said Lou. The two road agents either believed him or were satisfied with the day's haul. They ordered him to go ahead.

Lou had driven hardly more than a mile when a voice inside ordered him to stop. "Better let me see that wound of yours," Emma said. She examined the arm and then, from one of her many petticoats, tore the cloth for a very expert bandage.

The coach continued on its journey. Emma sat back on the none too comfortable seat. She examined the wallet she had extracted from Bart's trouser pocket. Her eyes almost popped out of their sockets as she saw a half inch of new hundred dollar bills. "Hmm," she mentally remarked, "A fair exchange is no robbery."

About five hours later Bart put his hand into his trousers pocket and discovered the wallet was missing. "I must've lost it somewhere on the road from Sundown Mesa. I'll go back and look for it in a couple o' weeks after the heat's off!"

At the next stage station Lou made a report of what had happened while the mules were being changed. "She was pretty cool over it," he said. "Think an old lady like her would burst out in tears and start screamin' like a catamount." I hope the sheriff gets them two outlaws. Imagine taking away them rings what was left to her by her dead husband!"

The rest of the journey to Carson Junction was uneventful. They pulled in at the stage headquarters only about an hour off schedule. Lou helped his passenger down and she seemed to know where she was going. "Sorry it had to happen to you, ma'am" apologized Lou as she walked away. "Keep yore chin up. There'll be a posse ridin' out soon an' they might git back your rings for you."

The teller at the Carson Junction National Bank carefully examined the one hundred dollar bill handed to him by the old lady.

"Got more of these on you?" he inquired. "Many more," said Emma, grinning proudly. Then she faced a six-shooter in the hands of the teller. "You better come with me to the marshal. This bill is counterfeit!"

The jeweler on the Main Street of Lardsville carefully examined the rings that Bart handed to him. Then his hand went under the counter and came up with a six-shooter. "You thieven' crook," he snarled. "Tryin' to pass off phoney diamond rings eh? The sheriff'll know what to do with you, mister. Get goin'!"

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