Some of the Characters of Selbyville
Never Under-estimate the Children
Uploaded May 24, 1998
He was born Archibald Vanderbilt Hotel Clark in the hamlet of Rowel at the beginning of the 20th. Century. His mother was called Florence Golightly, a former seamstress from Seattle who had settled in the valley at the instigation of Emmett Selby back in the boom days. As the area developed and legitimized she had had to forgo her seamstress activities and in fact had taken up sewing to make a living. Archibald came as a bit of a surprise to her, as she had for many years been convinced that she was not able to fall pregnant, and God knows she had had the opportunity. She had settled into a quiet semi-retirement in Selbyville, mending clothes for miners and carpet-baggers and spending the occasional interesting night in the hotel when a big spender hit the town with a nugget burning a hole in his pocket. It was in fact the result of one of these interesting nights that led Florence to the state of motherhood. The big spender had long gone when she came to the inescapable conclusion that he had sown his seed in fertile ground. She remembered that he had said in passing that before he had found gold he had worked in a Nebraska bank as a clerk, so Clark is what she called her son. Archibald after the Duke in Europe that she had read about in the Toenail Ridge Examiner, and Vanderbilt Hotel because that was the name of the man who owned the biggest building in Seattle and it might bring her son good luck in later life to be named with such a title of distinction.
Archie grew up in the usual way of those days, constantly in his mother's company until he began lessons at the little school under the tutilage of Miss Daykey, the strict and fierce injector of education into little minds. Miss Daykey had been originally hired as a private tutor to the children of one of the town's successful men, but the bank had foreclosed on his business and she had found herself at a loose end until starting the school in one of the derelict cottages originally built by Emmett Selby back in the 70's for quite different purposes.
It rapidly became apparent that Archie did not possess one of the world's great intellects. Education in those times involved equal parts of repetition, writing and rod. This latter was never spared, following the Biblical directive of not spoiling the child. But regardless of the dedication with which Miss Daykey wielded the rod, Archie was not able to absorb the most rudimentary facts. He grew up happy and unlettered, with no mathematic skills beyond the rudimentary "one, two, many".
His after school hours, when not absorbed by getting in firewood for his mother, were spent in the company of his peers, boys of his own age and older, who had long wearied of teasing Archie and now just accepted him as he was, although this did not stop the occasional practical joke with the permanently smiling Archie on the receiving end. Many was the time that he was sent to the blacksmith for a handful of left-handed horse-shoe nails, or to the General Store to exchange matches for some with the heads on the other end. But he sometimes had his moments. Once, when teasingly told that some of the nails he was using to repair his mother's garden fence had the heads on the wrong end, he paused and then replied with his gentle smile "No, those nails are for the other side".
One of the main summer occupations for school-boys was the lake.
Just outside the limits of Selbyville was Lake Wallace, clear and clean and fed by streams from high in the Olympics, so it was cold! Summer life revolved around swimming naked, and fishing, and just lying on the bank talking about life in general. One of the men that Emmett Selby had put out of business by his injudicious raising of bank rates was a former baker called Dick Sexton, who loved to fish for the trout that thrived in the icy waters of Lake Wallace. To this end he had built a pier out into the water and there he moored his fishing boat, a rowing skiff that had been brought in on the Toenail Ridge Shortline from Portland via Rowel.
This boat was the pride of his life and God help any of the local boys who were caught anywhere within a mile of it. Once Sexton had tarred a young fellow he had caught on his dock and the boy had to eat supper standing up for two weeks. So it was an irresistible lure to each generation of boys as they became old enough to hang around at the lake. That boat called to them, it's very untouchability a lure of the strongest kind.
One day the word went around the boys that Dick Sexton had been seen to board the morning varnish to travel to Toenail Ridge. The earliest he could return was the afternoon local and that meant that the boys had all of a glorious Saturday without the Nemesis hanging over the skiff. It was the work of only seconds and the boat was away from its mooring at the jetty and being energetically if inexpertly rowed towards the middle of the lake by a half-a-dozen lads.
They ran it aground firmly on the bank of the little island a few
hundred yards out, the island that had for years been the subject of
their conjecture. Finally they stood on it.
Did it contain the ghost of an old Indian who was murdered at the saloon back in the boom days?
Was pirate treasure buried on it, just like in that Treasure Island book that Seth Woodard had told them about around a campfire while they shivered themselves warm after swimming in the frigid waters?
Was there an outlaw living there, still hiding out after escaping a lynching party from Rowel when the depot was held up?
With whispers and exagerated care they set out to explore the
heavily wooded site. The understory was un-disturbed by paths, and
briar made the passage between the trees difficult and scratchy. The
area never got quite cold enough to allow the lake to freeze over in
Winter, so few animals had ever visited the site, to trample down
the bushes and establish their paths. Birds used its trees as a
natural reserve, free from the rocks and slingshots of boys. One of
the lads had recently read the new book by Mark Twain, about a boy
their own age called Tom, and he whispered to his companions that
they might find a cave wth Indian Joe inside, waiting with a
What they did find was not a lot. The little island had no mysteries for young boys, no skeletons, no murderers, no ghosts. The only sign of previous visits was a small shed, hidden under brush. It was protected by a large and freshly oiled padlock.
What the little island did have was a very muddy, slippery bank where the boat was moored, so that under the action of the occasionally gusty breeze,it had slipped from its hold on the land and gently drifted away to the distant western shore.
The area around Selbyville is typical of that part of the Pacific
Northwest in that if it hasn't rained today it just means that it
hasn't rained yet.
Two days without rain is a drought.
With the result that no dry twigs were to be found even if one of them could rub two together hard enough to strike an ember. They had nothing to eat, no way to make a fire and no possibility of raising the alarm on shore.
It so happened that that day, Archie Clark had had to stay home to
help his mother with Saturday chores. He had split and stacked
firewood for the stove, drawn water and carried it into the
cistern in the lean-to kitchen, helped her hang out clothes to dry
in the sun before the inevitable shower.
When finally he was released from her orders he sprinted to the lake shore to join his compatriots in an afternoon of Saturday. And found no-one. Then he noticed that Dick Sexton's skiff was missing from it's accustomed place at the end of the little pier. Archie, as we have seen, wasn't blessed with the most conniving mind, but it didn't take him very long to understand exactly where the boat had gone. If Dick Sexton had gone fishing in it, his fishing tackle would have gone too, and there on the dock sat his creel and sack. Using his mathematic skills to their utmost, Archie came to the conclusion that one plus one equals two and that the missing boat and the missing boys were missing together.
Lake Wallace is about a mile in diameter, roughly circular and
wooded around its shores so that numerous small inlets and bays were
not immediately visible. And in the middle of the lake sat the
glowing jewel of temptation to all the boys, the island. Archie set
off around the shore, his eyes roaming for movement on the water.
Animals and twenty years of civilisation had worn rough paths around the lake, from hunters and fishermen and people returning to their outlying homes after shopping expeditions to Selbyville or train travel on the Shortline. Archie half-ran from vantage point to vantage point, searching for his friends and the skiff.
And then he saw the boat, bobbing in the slight chop that the wind had raised, close in to one of the little bays that were surrounded by cliffs.
The boat was far enough out that he couldn't wade for it, but one of
the few things that Archie Clark excelled at was swimming. This
awkward and backward boy had the grace of an otter and the speed of
a seal in the water, the envy of every other boy who lived in
Selbyville. Without hesitation he removed his shirt and trousers and
slipped into the chilly water. In a few moments he had reached the
skiff and, grasping its painter, he struck back for the shore where
he had left his clothes.
In a half an hour, Archie had sculled the skiff back to its dock. He had not seen any evidence of the other boys and because the daily rain was beginning to make its presence felt, he hadn't gone out of his way to look. He tied up the boat next to Dick Sexton's creel and sack and then lit out for home, chilled and hungry after his exertions and unexpected swim. His mother had gone visiting over the way to another of Emmett Selby's former employees so Archie toweled himself off, changed into his other pants and shirt and then set out for the train depot, the other source of endless entertainment for the Selbyville boys.
The depot wasn't right in town, Selbyville having been bypassed by
the surveyors of the line because of its supposed lack of
importance. However ,as the town grew it spread along Main St. in
the general direction of the station, becoming one of the first
examples of urban sprawl.
Unlike similar settlements that clustered around a Town Square and formed regimented blocks, Selbyville had one street that gradually became longer and longer and longer, lined with houses and businesses, and the distance to the Toenail Ridge tracks decreased as the town crept closer.
To the local lads, the railway depot had excitement, activity, a
water tank to climb until Joe Dempsey - the surly station-master-
chased them off, a sanding house that offered all the fun of the
beach, idle rolling-stock to play games in and around. The engine
house was cluttered with old driver wheels and crank pins and
journal boxes and was the domain of the yardmaster, Grant Alexander.
Alexander had arrived in Selbyville after a forced move from a cold place to the north. He had originally planned on taking over one of Selbyville's old hospitality establishments, but had been co-opted into working for a living on the railroad instead, finally making it to the position he now held.
He found after a few years on the Shortline that his eventual career didn't differ that much from his original chosen one, in that he was dealing with charges that needed a firm hand, responded well to understanding and caressing plus regular feeding, and occasionally needed a blow with a well-aimed boot.
Grant didn't mind the local lads hanging around and getting filthy. Maybe he had a clearer recollection of his youth than his associate, Joe, up in the depot.
Archie arrived in the railway yard just as the little Porter was
backing a rake of reefers down the siding to the cheese factory
that had re-located from Fenster before the big war. Even a little
Porter is a mammoth of noise and energy and power to a small boy
with a simple grasp on the world. He ran beside the tender as the
loco pushed its charges along, shouting and cheering as each
wheelset cleared the frog of the spur switch. Leaning out of his
cab window, Tony, the Porter engineer, chuckled to himself as he
watched the boy cavort beside the train. Tony was the only one in
recent years who had been able to keep the little locomotive under
steam, having perfected the method of keeping a fire in her by a
judicious balance of coddling and profanity.
The brake-man Gary cut the reefers from the back of the tender and gave the high-sign to Tony to pull forward. The engineer leaned out of the back of the cab beside the brake-wheel and called "Hey, Archie. We goin' down to Toenail Ridge for the tanker. Wanna ride? Be back by supper!"
It's hard to believe in this day and age of safety guards and fences
and policies of protecting people from themselves that back in those
days it was a fact of life that the responsibility to look after
yourself was yours alone.
If you were silly enough to walk between a reversing locomotive and its cars, or stand too close to operating machinery, well, be it on your own head.
Life in the railway was very Biblical, you were either quick or you were dead.
So with no other thought than an opportunity like this was not to be
missed, Archie clambered up the stirrup steps of the tender of the
slowly moving locomotive and took position on the footboard just out
of the way of Ken, Tony's fireman. The Porter blew its whistle and
rumbled with its typical rock-&-rolling motion out of the spur and
onto the single track mainline, heading for Toenail Ridge 15 miles
down the line. Archie craned to see everything and his mind was full
of the excitement of riding in the cab of the engine. His mind was
so full of excitement that it had no room for recollection of his
friends or the rescue of the boat.
And so the only person who knew that Dick Sexton's skiff had been on an outing was being slowly transported from the valley at a sedate and lurching 12 miles per hour.
Around about late afternoon, parents begin to wonder where their
kids are. Especially when wood hasn't been brought in or little
brothers haven't been baby-sat, and so a murmuring began to
circulate around Selbyville, from house to house, about the
whereabouts of a number of male offspring. A mother would send a
little daughter to Jimmy's house to fetch home Billy, and the
message would come back that neither of them had been seen all day.
Well, as these things gain momentum in a hurry, within an hour the whole town of Selbyville knew that every boy in town was gonna get a whoopin' as soon as he set foot in the door that night. "Time for that boy to learn some responsibility" was the stern edict uttered in houses all the way up and down the Main street.
The afternoon varnish pulled in at the depot, among its passenger Dick Sexton, back from his excursion to Toenail Ridge. He went down to his shanty by the lake, bypassing the town. He glanced toward the pier as was his habit, noticed nothing amiss, and settled down inside with his can of beans and bottle of whiskey.
Out on the island, the six boys had discovered that their tranport had tranported itself away and was nowhere in sight.
The boat escaped, no-one knew where they had gone,
Dick Sexton due back from Toenail Ridge.
At first they suspected each other of playing a not-very-funny practical joke, and accusations and counter-claims flew thick and fast.
The breeze was blowing from the direction of the dock and Selbyville, so shouting for help was a waste of breathe, never mind that they could never call over such a long distance anyway. The only sign they had found of human contact on the island was the little shed hidden under the bushes and it looked like it hadn't seen attention for years, although the freshly oiled padlock securing its door perhaps belied that.
They were hungry, increasingly so as the afternoon crept on to dusk, and the breeze across the lake began to have a chill edge as the shadows of the surrounding mountains began to creep across the water. Carried on the breeze was the smell of Selbyville preparing for supper, the aroma of ham and beans, fresh bread, coffee. it looked like it was going to be a long, hungry, cold night for the adventurers.
Folks in Selbyville were starting to express concern to each other
about the whereabouts of their offspring by about this time. The
mystery deepened when parents heard that Archie was also not home
and that he hadn't left home until hours after the rest of the boys
had gone off for the day. Rumors began about an Indian kidnapping
plot, or those no-account miners still up in the hills up to no
good, or even the intervention of the supernatural.
In his cabin down by Lake Wallace, Dick Sexton was preparing for a clandestine journey.
He had been to Toenail Ridge on the train that day to buy sugar as well as other consumables. Dick had a reputation as a taciturn man, a loner, but Oh, what a sweet tooth! The man bought more sugar for his own use than any five houses in Selbyville.
He never seemed to gain weight or complain of his teeth.
He took the new 20 lb. bag of sugar out to his skiff as the sun set after having checked for prying eyes first. Into the skiff went his creel and his old sugarbag of fishing tackle. He untied the painter and pushed off, rowing steadily for the opposite shore. Once he was well away from his landing and the gloom of dusk had deepened, he slowly brought the bow of the boat around to point to the island in the middle of the lake. With steady and silent strokes of the oars, Dick approached the ait from the opposite side from Selbyville and then beached the little boat into over-hanging bushes. He stepped ashore with the bag of sugar under one arm and the tackle bag in the other, and made his way through the undergrowth to the small shed hidden under the brush. He set his bags down and produced a key to undo the padlock, then swung his bags inside the shed. A struck match soon put flame to the kerosene lantern hanging from the roof support and in its glow the purpose of the shed and the reason for the secrecy were exposed.
There had been a brewery in Selbyville almost from the first year
that Emmet Selby had founded the little community, but anything in
the way of hard liquor had to be imported from outside the valley by
the Toenail Ridge Shortline, with subsequent transport charges and
various re-imbursements to middle-men, with the result that a good
bottle of Kentucky whiskey could quadruple in price before it was
available to slake the thirst of its final recipient.
Also the legislature of the State had decreed that home-made booze was not an option, in fact supplying employment to a squad of revenuers to enforce the regulations.
But like all regulations, they exist purely so that men of strong will can circumvent them, and that is exactly what Dick Sexton had done. His secret in the shed on the island was a still, producing the finest applejack available for many miles around. He had received the recipe from a relative and namesake in the Mid-West and the origins of the beverage could be traced back to the apple brandy served in England in the Middle Ages. And all it required was regular input of sugar and of course apples, which he had by the dozen in his tackle bag.
Having the only means of water transport on Lake Wallace had been a boon to Sexton, for although the state revenue men knew that Selbyville was the center of supply for the famous Valley applejack, they had never been able to locate its source or find anybody who knew anything about its manufacture. As the principal, in fact only means of egress to the valley was via the Toenail Ridge Shortline, the word went around about snoopers before they were off the train, with the result that regardless of what time they arrived, Dick was in his boat fishing, in full view of the town, engaged in innocent pursuits and definitely not available to offer his boat to the investigators.
Dick Sexton pulled the door of the little shed closed behind him and
prepared to stoke the coal fire for the next batch. Meanwhile, the
boys, having given up hope of attracting attention from the shore,
were scouring the island for dry brush to make a shelter for the
And what did they find?
Great was the delight! Their means of escape was at hand! How it came to be moored firmly in a completely different place, and that it contained Dick's creel, did not cross their minds. They were cold, damp, and above all, hungry. They knew that they were really going to get it when they got home but at least it would be on a full stomach and in a warm room. With no hestitation, they climbed aboard and cast off, rowing rapidly in a semi-straight line for the little jetty outside Sexton's shack, where they tied up the little skiff and ran for their homes.
Great was the welcome and loud was the recriminations as each of
them attained their habitual abodes!
And about the same time, young Archie, in his own little world, was delivered back to Selbyville after his adventure on the train, so all was well again with the little community.
Apart from Dick.
Before anybody has a panic attack about the fate of Dick Sexton, who
was marooned on the island in the middle of Lake Wallace by the
escaping boys of Selbyville, Let it be known that the following
morning he was rescued by men from the town.
The boys were not able to attract attention by making a fire, but they did not have at hand twenty gallons of mature applejack to persuade the damp tinder to combust.
He, of course, had no option but to use all of his stock in the signal fire, as he couldn't leave evidence that any had existed at all.
It was an awkward time for Dick. He couldn't explain what he was doing on the island, and it was obvious that he wasn't using it as a fishing base as his pole was still on the dock. He was able to get rid of the sugar bags in his signal fire but wasn't able to offer an explanation as to how half of a damp island could go up in flames from a small signal fire.
He was left with so many un-answered questions that within days his shack was empty and his boat was gone. He had come to the inescapable conclusion that Absence makes the hard questions go wander, so absent himself he did, packing his belongings into his skiff and departing across the lake to the little river Ankh that drained the snow melt down towards Puget Sound. Word came back to the valley eventually that he had established himself in the little town of Mineral in Washington, running a bar on the banks of Lake Cushman.
Chapter 4 in the story of the Toenail Ridge Shortline!
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