Eventually, Joe Dempsey managed to stutter out enough of his story such that some of the men took to their heels and hot-footed it out to the Selbyville station to see this English invader for themselves.
The young Englishman had had to take advantage
of the coal-scuttle and some of the old waybills as the effect of Joe's
coffee made itself manifest on his intestines, and as it was a warm day
and the storage locker was very small and the ventilation was politely
described as non-existant, he was pretty pleased when the padlocked door
was forced and he was roughly hauled out into the glare of the setting
Most of the men present recognized that this feller was standing there in Norm's clothes and they jumped to the same conclusion as the station-master. This furrin spy has done in our Norm!
So with no hesitation they dragged him over to the water tower and a rope was produced and they made it very clear that he was about to be sent to meet his Maker!
Well, about now the young Englishman decided that discretion was the better part of valour, and shrugging off the guise of a deaf-mute, began with fear and trepidation to exhort the impromptu lynch mob to see common-sense.
He had quickly gathered that he was being accused of the murder of the former inhabitant of his clothing so he stuttered out his story while the rope was slung over the spout of the water tank.
But futile were his explanations and utterances, fruitless his pleas for intelligent arbitration!
The rope was noosed around his neck, his arms were fastened, he was lifted bodily onto a hastily procured table from the front of the station.
He contemplated with a tear in his eye how the news of his demise would affect his dear father in the Old Country, and he prepared his soul to depart its mortal coil.
Well, just about at the very second that that
table was getting tipped away from the split and dirty boots on the young
man's feet, Tony in charge of the Porter rounded the curve from the Lake
Wallace bridge and whistled his arrival to the men standing in the middle
of the line at the water tower. Now there are not too many things in the
world that will make a man move his carcass in a hurry quite as fast as
a twenty-five ton locomotive insisting on taking its share of the space
in which he finds himself standing, so, with remarkable alacrity, those
stalwarts of the lynch mob scattered to the sides of the right-of-way,
leaving their guest of honour teetering on his tip-toes on the top of the
As the Porter slid on protesting brakes right up the English stranger, his toes lost their tenuous grip on the purloined furniture and he plummeted, being brought to a rough halt as his boot heels impacted the coupler protruding from the front pocket on the locomotive.
At the same time his weight on the rope around his neck caused the counter-balanced water spout to pivot downwards, allowing his tether to slide along the tapered body of the delivery tube and drop off the end. Leaving him, arms pinioned, twenty feet of rope dangling from his neck and back over the top of the engine, balanced on badly worn boots on the top of a freshly greased coupler on the front of a sliding behemoth which was being pushed by the weight of the train behind it.
One of the places that the driver doesn't have
good vision on a steam engine is to the front of it.
His line of sight forward is along one side of the boiler, and so, to Tony's horror he saw the dangling body drop down the front of his charge and become lost to his sight. He knew with certainty that at that very second his driver wheels were passing over the body. He grasped the sand lever and pulled hard, dumping traction sand immediately in front of the sliding wheels to improve his braking. The Porter juddered to a halt, Tony steeled himself to look down at the tracks, and the young man, obeying Newton's Second Law of Motion, continued on in a straight line until acted upon by an equal and opposite force.
In this case the close proximity of the ballast twenty feet in front of the engine.
Well, about then Grant Alexander, the yard-master,
was wandering in the general direction of the station, having heard some
of the ruckus while on his way home. As he rounded the station building
he saw the English spy fly through the air and break his fall with his
teeth. He saw the mob begin its approach to their victim, he watched Tony
peering with ashen face under his engine.
Being a fair man he took it upon himself to intervene as the men from town dragged the stranger to his feet. "So what's this young feller done that makes you wanna stretch him?"
It's a fact of life that when a rational man is
asked to explain his actions in an irrational situation he can feel
like a damn fool with very little provocation.
It dawned on a number of the men that they had been acting without too much thought and certainly without too much evidence.
While a couple of the attendees began to pontificate re the stranger's supposed crimes, a number of the otheres started to do the toes-drawing-circles-in-the-dust Aw-Shucks routine while their reasonable minds caught up with their recent actions.
And all the while the English stranger slumped in their grasp, bloodied from his mouthful of ballast and scared to the brink of death, (which would, of course, have saved wear and tear on the rope...)
Alexander was used to being in charge of a team of men, he was well-liked by his crew in the Selbyville railway yards, but well obeyed, too. So with the demeanor of a man used to being obeyed he took charge of the situation, opining that the correct place for the captive was in the charge of Sheriff Dillon, and the correct place for the administration of justice was in the hands of that surly old curmudgeon, Judge Goodson. And with that he took the stranger by his bound arms and marched him away towards town.
Sheriff Dillon received excellent care under the
professional attention of Doc Johnstone but the befuddlement in his head
persisted to the point that, with the exception of knowing what to do once
he got there, he had even forgotten where the closest privy was.
He had been made comfortable in the parlour of old Mrs. Webber over the road from his almost-coming-together with the cart horse, and she had lavished on him the closest attention he had been the recipient of since he's gotten out of diapers.
She wiped his brow, spoon-fed him, even bathed him in her old tin tub in front of the wood stove in the kitchen.
She listened to his incoherent rambling, being somewhat surprised at the scope and reach of his colorful language. He began to heal physically but his mind remained remote from his surroundings. So it was that when Grant Alexander inquired of the whereabouts of the purveyor of law and order and was pointed in the direction of Mrs. Webber's cottage, he found that the sheriff was in no fit state to receive a prisoner in charge.
And that, of course, left him with a bit of a dilemma.
Poor Grant was at that moment sitting on his heels
outside Sheriff Dillon's hoosegow, cheroot in his mouth, puzzled expression
on his face and one eye on the dejected young Englishman who sat slumped
in the gutter in front of him.
He couldn't leave the prisoner in the care of the sheriff if the sheriff wasn't available, mentally or physically. He couldn't keep him himself, God alone knew what Mrs. Alexander would say if he came home with such a bedraggled specimen of humanity, he couldn't turn him back to the good ol' boys who wanted to stretch the stranger's neck.......what to do....
Down at the new Selbyville hotel, New Jersey Jack
Lazacre had just about concluded his session of social intercourse with
Norm, the valley's full-time itinerant. Norm had been fed, coffeed, pumped
for information, threatened, cajoled, wheedled, and finally drained of
any details that had managed to stay in his sieve of a head. With
all this new data to hand, Jack instructed his shift manager to see Norm
safely on his way when he'd finished the last of the hotcakes and then
he donned his hat and stepped out to approach the other town dignitaries
with his new information.
As he headed for Michael Cotton's General Store his path took him past Grant Alexander squatting outside the peace-keeper's office, that worthy wreathed in smoke and frustration. "Who's the heel in the gutter, Alexander?" enquired Lazyacre as he drew level. "You gettin' tough with your crew these days?"
"Nope, Jack, not one of my crew," said Grant, "This here is that English invadin' army we all been hearin' about, I saved him from a necktie party down at the depot but now I got nowhere to put him since Dillon is out of his head. Don't rightly know what I kin do, just about tempted to run him outa town and tell him to git."
And at that moment up teetered, tottered and stumbled Piute John, the sudden exposure to fresh air having exacerbated the alcoholic effects on his equilibrium. He spied Grant Alexander and with out so much as a how-do-ya-do he poured out to the yardmaster the conspiracy talk right then taking place down at the saloon.
Lazyacre, with the acumen given to lawyers who have spent a considerable part of their early maturity in the company of con-men (these people now go on to become elected officials) grasped immediately the whole picture and saw as clear as day the only solution to the dilemma.
"Alexander, you're right! The only safe thing to do to restore sense to this town is to get this feller a long way away. Bring him down to my hotel right now -the back door, please- and we'll get things in hand!"
And with that he spun on his heel and hurried back to his place of business and abode. He hied himself straight through the foyer and dining room and burst into the kitchen, where he collared Norm and dragged him and the carpetbag outside through the back door.
"Norm, as you value your miserable, flea-bitten hide, get outa them fancy clothes right now!"
He hurriedly beckoned Grant and the stranger to him as they rounded the corner of the hotel,
"Hurry, you!" he hissed at the Englishman. "Get into your clothes, grab your valise and get into my back shed there as fast as you can move yourself! Norm! Put on your own clothes, take this five dollars, and if I see you in town in five minutes, or if I see you in town in the next six months, I'm gonna have your guts for garters! Got it?!"
Well, we have said that Lazyacre had more than
a touch of the dramatic about him, over the years he had used his personality
and acting skills to influence just about every level of society. With
a look of dread Norm donned his rags as the young stranger doffed them,
and with a fearful backward stare he took off at a half-run for the woods
behind the back yard of the hotel. The Englishman responded to the tone
of authority as only the product of a British Public school can and immediately
took himself from sight into the shed where he regained his normal attire.
Then, aware that discretion is the better part of valor, he emulated the hapless Norm in making for the cover of the trees and, setting his course by the waning sun, put the town of Selbyville behind him forever.
About then Piute John caught up with Alexander. "What's happenin', Grant ol' boy?" he slurred, closing one eye in a vain effort to bring his companion into focus. Thinking fast, Grant rubbed his lantern jaw and replied "Well, Piute, not too much, I reckon. Don't rightly know what all the fuss is about. Seems that young feller was a cousin of our esteemed town statesman Lazyacre here, and he's just this minute been picked up to go visit the Governor of the State of Oregon on official business. Reckon it's all been a case of mistaken identity. ."
Well, in the discreet hands of Piute, it didn't take long for this little bit of mis-information to circulate pretty widely and within an hour or so everyone who had an interest had heard of the goings-on and the mix-up. A few of the fellows still imbibing down in the saloon felt a little sheepish but it didn't take them too long to rationalise that if they had hanged him it would at least have been an honest mistake, and besides, at some time of their lives everyone has done something for which they deserved to be hung so if the worst had come to the worst, well, shoot, they was just saving some other crowd a whole bunch of trouble later.
Sheriff Dillon gathered his wits about him within
a couple of days, in fact the last few scattered wits gathered pretty fast
when he realised that all that attention Mrs. Webber was lavishing on him
could be interpreted as having another purpose entirely. She'd been a widow-woman
for quite a spell and he decided that while he was mighty grateful for
the care she provided, he had no intention of becoming the permanent resident
of the widow's parlor and boudoir.
New Jersey Jack Lazyacre had a bit of a quiet talk to the sheriff at an opportune time and filled him in on the relevant details, with the result that that worthy law-enforcer slowly dismantled his fortifications and caches of artillery and ammunition, and let the good folks of the valley know that peace had once again settled on the area, seems like them no-good English knew what was good for them and decided not to face inevitable defeat by invading after all.
Dora found that the deep feelings imparted to her by her husband Mac in the bushes on the side of the road had borne fruit and she prepared herself for impending motherhood. Of course, Mac's chest swelled with pride, not only at the prospect of becoming a (legitimate) father, but also because rumors of that other swelling observed after he had exited the bushes in a rage had grown with retelling and he found himself gazed on in awe by his neighbors, men and women alike.
Poor Joe Dempsey never did get too much credit for capturing the English spy, his part in the tale being lost in relivings of his condition after Mac had gotten through with him when he had startled the young newly married couple in their coupling. He retreated to his depot and his bottle and his memories, kept the clock wound, logged arriving and departing trains of the Toenail Ridge Shortline, maintained the flow of passengers and goods through his station and slowly let the whole episode meld into the general rum-induced fog in his head.
Grant Alexander was an honest man and disliked having misled his fellow townsfolk and workers but, he was also pragmatic and realised that a small fib had prevented a huge wrong being perpetrated on an innocent victim, so, with the self-complacence and self-justification that would later lead him to attain high office in the State Legislature he bowed to the inevitable and kept his mouth shut.
Poor old Norm never showed his face around Selbyville again, word eventually reaching a mildly curious Lazyacre that the hobo had been seen detraining in Portland and hitching a slow freight heading south in the direction of California. Years later a man bearing a striking resemblance to the itinerant, and sharing his surname, was featured in moving pictures shown in the church hall in Rowel, in which movies he would declaim to his diminutive companion "...this is another fine mess you've gotten me into, Gerald!" The act never really worked until adopted by another pair of comedians who used it to reach the pinnacles of fame and fortune.
And the young stranger?
AH..now there is another story.