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The continuing saga of Emmett Selby and The Toenail Ridge Shortline.

Chapter 4

Hell hath no Fury like a Store-keeper scorned

Written March 6,1998
Uploaded May 26,1998

Any resemblance to any person living or dead is probably intentional, but probably not malicious.

Bart Shay was the son of a man from Georgia who had followed the lure of gold to the Pacific Northwest. His father, Clay, had drifted into the Toenail Ridge valley and settled in Selbyville about the time that the railroad had finally made its way as far as Rowell. He earned a living initially as a track foreman on the new right-of-way and then when the track had reached its railhead at Toenail Ridge he became one of the yardmen employed at the engine yards at Rowel. Clay married one of the former seamstresses from Seattle after he had lived in the valley for a few years and Bart was the third of their eleven children. His mother used to joke that having had to avoid them for so long for professional reasons, once she got the hang of it she got carried away.

Bart grew up in the little community with many kids his age. He attended the small school run by Miss Daykey and managed to avoid too many contacts with the oft-wielded rod, studying just enough to avoid punishment but not enough to impinge on his leisure time. His friends included Archie Clark as well as all the boys who used to hang around the lake. The lake lost a lot of its attraction once Dick Sexton had left the area with his skiff, but there was still fishing and swimming and trapping, as well as the usual games involving getting dirty and wrestling and telling stories and lies.

Most of the kids that Bart spent time with had home chores to steal part of their time, but Bart was lucky. His two older siblings were girls and of course the bulk of the housework fell to them, including fetching water into the kitchen cistern and splitting kindling for the stove. Occasionally he had to cut wood or help dig a new cesspit for the outhouse but mostly he was a free agent. And it was with Bart in mind that the ancient philosopher had stated "The Devil finds work for idle hands to do". Bart attracted trouble like horses attract flies, not with any evil intent but just as a side-effect of their normal activites.

All the other boys busy with chores? Bart could always entertain himself with his slingshot, practicing his aim in preparation for rabbit hunting. Never mind that his practice target happened to be the rear end of the travelling preacher's horse, or that the preacher was on it at the time, or that this particular horse was skitish at any time, or that the preacher was at best a nervous horseman. Lots of local folks got a kick out of the preacher having to be revived after baptizing himself in the muck-heap out the back of the livery stable when his horse tried to climb the six foot rails after a taste of Bart's slingshot in the rear-end. God knew the preacher hadn't been too choosey when he had dunked a few of them in Spring-melt water in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

But there are always those particular people who can find a cloud wrapped around every silver lining and they thought that the preacher had every right to be mighty peeved at his mud-bath, especially since most of what he got bathed in wasn't mud. A delegation of these right-thinking folk had in fact recently made an offer to this preacher to set up permanant habitation in Selbyville, to cater to the souls of the local folks and legitimize a few of the convenient couplings that had occured over the years. These same upright citizens didn't take kindly to their selected God contact being brought low by that no-good Bart, son of that no-good Clay and his fancy woman from Seattle mother. And it wasn't as if this was the first time that young Bart had come to their attention. Remember that time when that no-good child had led those boys to hide and scare the good folks half to death, and then lied about being on the island in the lake all the time when everybody knew that Dick Sexton had been on the island the whole time, having been kidnapped by those no-good Indians and dumped there to starve, and he hadn't seen the boys. He'd prove it, too, just you ask him, if he hadn't left town real soon after that and sure haven't seen too many Indians in this area for a good few years either.

(To read Chapter 3, the story of the lake escapade, Click here)

Well, this time, those town-folks had had enough, so after they were sure that the preacher was revived alright and with enough hot water was going to smell fine again, they decided a delegation needed to attend on Bart's parents to see to sorting out the boy.

Now Bart's father, Clay, he'd been a bit of an adventurer in his time. Came from Georgia originally, saw enough of the war with the North to know that he didn't want a whole lot of it, and travelled the Seven Seas for a few years keeping out of most folks way. One thing that a sailor on a sailing ship learns pretty soon, is react real fast to a situation as you might not get time to re-consider. He also learnt that the best method of defence is attack, what is known politically as pre-emptive retaliation.
So when the good towns-folk's delegation came knocking on the door of his cabin, right about when he was in the middle of his beans and bacon, he summed up real quick that he wasn't about to be presented with some civic award. He'd already heard about that preacher taking a nose-dive into the rakings from the stables and he approved thoroughly, even going so far as to give his son a pat on the head.
It wasn't unusual for Bart to get a pat on the head but they were usually delivered with considerably more force.

Michael Cotton was the local store-keeper and about as close to a mayor that Selbyville had at that time, and he had been elected -from a field of one- to head the delegation. Michael wasn't a big man, in fact, he stood about shoulder height to most of his companions and he would have weighed one hundred pounds in his Sunday suit. Being a small man isn't necessarily an impediment to a man of good will, but couple his stature with a sharp voice and pursed lips raised in a semi-smile that in a later age would immediately suggest 'Parking Inspector' and it will be seen that he was perhaps not the best person to open the door on.

There are a number of good ways to initiate a conversation with someone, especially if you have differences of opinion with them. "Now see here, Shay.." is not one of them. Bart's father grinned through his tobacco-stained moustache and laid Michael Cotton out flat on his back with a left upper-cut that started about down by his knees and finished halfway through Cotton's back teeth. In the process of finishing up flat on his back, Michael Cotton passed through the ranks of like-minded folks behind him, with the result that when he finally came to rest on the muddy path he was laid out with half-a-dozen others like sardines in a freshly opened can.

It's comforting to children to grow up in the knowledge that they have the support of their families and in this regard, Bart was well at ease. He had watched this intercourse from the kitchen table and was impressed by the force of his father's argument. The coup de gras was his father taking down the old Winchester from its pegs above the door and inviting the delegation to kindly leave his patch of land before he admitted air into various parts of their anatomies.

Now most folks when presented with the choice between a rock and a hard place will choose to be in the spectators seats instead, but in every crowd there is always one whose mouth is several seconds ahead of his brain. Such was the case here. Jack Olson was a thin Swede who had become a member of the preacher's flock after forceful and convincing argument from his wife, the strongest of her arguments being the with-holding of all marital privileges from non-members of the preacher's flock. This argument has been used with great effect down through the ages and is best summed up by a former US President when he said that when you have them by the regenerative appendages their hearts and minds will follow. Olson saw what had befallen the spokesman for their group and without further thought stepped forward to remonstrate with the recalcitrant Clay Shay. Now Clay had been the victim of a classical education in his youth, and so without delay he placed the business end of the Winchester to the place between Jack Olson's nostrils and uttered the Latin motto of his family,- FABRICATI DIEM, PUNC.
This may be loosely translated as- Go ahead, Make my day, being of a lower order. At this stage even Swedes gain deep philosophical insights and with the speed granted to those whose visions of eternity include millennia spent in the company of his wife and the preacher, Olson back-pedalled with alacrity and grace until he had cleared the fence and was halfway back to town.

Forceful argument has a powerful effect on sensible people so rapidly the rest of the delegation followed Jack town-ward, bearing the limp form of Michael Cotton between them.

Did the confrontation end there?

It did not.

The preacher was a tall, gangly red-headed Iowan by the name of Jeremiah Little. Reverend Little had had numerous occupations in his lifetime, from selling insurance to painting houses, but he had heard the call of the Lord in his middle years and had travelled to the Far West in pursuit of God's Will. Incidentally leaving three wives in three different Mid-West towns and three unserviced overdrafts. There are preachers of God's love and there are preachers of fire and brimstone, and Jeremiah Little was definitely of the latter category. He roared of an eye for an eye and enemies smitten and generally, in the words of the classically educated Clay Shay, exercized the jawbone of an ass.

On hearing of the fate that had befallen Michael Cotton, great was the wrath and ire of Reverend Little. Loud was his oration damning the Shay clan unto the third and fourth generations. Mighty was the vehemence of his righteous anger over the afront to his Servant and therfore of course, to God Almighty Himself!

Little had taken as his chapel the derelict bank that Emmett Selby had abandoned years before when he absconded with the contents of its safe and the life savings of most of the inhabitants of the valley.See Chapter 2
Being the only building in Selbyville that was built of bricks, it was still in good repair and the ladies of the parson's flock - known as Little's women - soon had their other halves busy with paint and mortar and woodworking tools restoring the bank to some semblance of its former glory. From the confines of this chapel, Little raised his voice to his congregation, exhorting them to drive from their midst the ungodly, the sinful, and above all, the Shays.

Like most congregations, the real believers were of the female sex and their men attended purely to maintain peace and harmony in their abodes. Bitter in its chill is the cold shoulder of the wife whose husband will not accompany her to prayer meeting on Sunday! Cold is the Sunday dinner of the man who would rather go fishing while the godly are about their weekly duties! The head of the family may have stood strong in his pants, but the power in the family was the one that could boycott access to the pants. So it was that Little's imprecations were repeated in kitchens all over the valley and around the perimeter of the lake. Conversation over supper dwelt on the evil in the community. Pillow talk after the lamp was extinguished and the children asleep was not of hearts and flowers, or even birds and bees, but rather Sodom and Gomorrah and the ill effects that certain families were having on their neighbors.

And so, over a period of a few weeks, even those men of good cheer who had had a good cheer when the Reverend had been deposited face-first in the livery stable left-overs, found themselves being indoctrinated towards bearing hard thoughts to the Shays and some of the other folk who had lived in their midst for decades.

Like most young boys, Bart was largely unaware of the feelings flowing around him. His friends were still his friends and his town was still his town. A couple of the boys had received stern commands from those who must be obeyed that they were not to fraternise with that no-good Bart Shay, but they didn't know what that word meant so not a lot changed there. Older sisters sneered down their noses when they saw young Bart, for there is nothing in the world more self-righteous than a pre-pubescent teenage female, unless it's a preacher from Iowa, or any politician, but none of it impinged directly on our young man. He attended Miss Daykey's class at the school-house and spent his leisure time with his compatriots at the train yards or the lake.

On the odd occasion that he found himself in possession of a nickel and entered the General Store to boost the local economy, it didn't impinge on his consciousness particularly that Michael Cotton didn't speak to him or serve him directly, rather that worthy retreated behind his roll-top desk and with hand signs directed one of his brood to part his money from the young Shay. These hand signals were not only because he didn't want to draw Bart's attention, but also since his close personal communication with Bart's father, Michael had found that even with numerous consultations with the dentist over in Rowell, his teeth still didn't quite fit his face the way that God had originally intended and this mis-match in his chewing equipment lent to his usually waspish voice a sibilance that sounded like air escaping from the blacksmith's bellows. Naturally Cotton found this annoying as he knew he was a born orator, but it also irked him greatly that the boys of the town seemed to develop stomach cramps and difficulty breathing whenever he addressed them directly. They would clasp their stomachs and gasp with rapidly reddening faces as his every "S" sent a spray of saliva swiftly soaring skyward.

Some people can find laughter in the most melancholy of subjects, others couldn't find humor in a dictionary.
One of these latter was Michael Cotton. He looked at life from the dark corridors of a man who resented his fellow men for being taller and stronger.
He disapproved of womenfolk because they had forbidden fruits that were always at his eyelevel and he knew he wasn't allowed to look.
He frowned on children because they had a joy of life he had never experienced, and he loathed achievers in any field because he was a bureaucratic cog born in an age where no bureaucracy existed to take him in.
In a later age this man would have made employee of the month in any Taxation Department in the world. So in his heart of hearts burned a hate and drive for revenge that even eclipsed that of the God-botherer Jeremiah Little.

And the target of his hate was Clay Shay.

Now Cotton was a realist in this sense, he knew that he had no hope of besting Clay Shay physically, and because Shay worked for the Toenail Ridge Shortline, Cotton couldn't intimidate him financially.
So that left vicarious revenge.

And that meant the target shifted to Bart.

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