Our return to duty with Backland Mining seemed quite staid after our adventure with Cynthia Carstairs, and Mr Backland, a perceptive man, perceived this. He recommended us to his acquaintance, Rutherford Dillinger, esquire.
Mr Dillinger (of the Canterbury Dillingers) is a man of the most exquisite taste and refinement. He is a philanthropist of the highest order and has brought some exquisite artworks to the colonies for the edification of the common people. His collection includes a Titian, a First Folio (Shakespeare) and an exquisite necklace which, we learnt later, he acquired in Cairo, among other things of great beauty and value.
We are to guide him through the country, assist his passage and manage the local men and women that he has hired to assist him.
After meeting Mr Dillinger, we assisted him with the selection of six other local men and a showgirl Miss Minerva de Salle. We screened the large group of applicants, weeding out drunks and undesirables and promoting some aspiring candidates.
Mr Dillinger chose, besides the showgirl, one priest, Rev Isaiah Watkins, a man of some learning, and four general hands: Butch Exton; Tex Pearson; John Brown; and Vance Huxtable (a Negro).
After enjoying a wonderful dinner (Mr Dillinger travels with his own man, Wrigley, and his own chef), I was just dropping off to sleep when five of the undesirables that we had screened earlier in the day decided to return for a second interview.
I discovered them in the process of climbing in a window and gave one a jolly good biff on the nose when the bounder took a shot at me. Imagine my surprise! My companions, who had been playing poker with Miss de Salle, soon frightened the ruffians off.
As they were escaping, I tackled the last man. To my horror, he cracked his head on the way down and was dead before he hit the floor. I was devastated! How could he be dead? I saw his face when I bopped him - a vital, healthy man. Then, after shooting at me and being shot in turn, he was dead. It shook me, I can tell you. Everything over here is so sudden: life, death, everything. No time, no time at all.
I hardly listened as the other apprehended villain told his story. Some nonsense about wanting to rob Dillinger and being paid $10 by a hooded Indian who wanted none of the profits. We wouldn't have credited his story, except that the tomahawk in his shoulder seemed to be causing him some pain, especially when Miss Lu Lu Belle twisted it.
Worried that it might have been a diversion we check that the train had not been tampered with or sabotaged. It hadn't. On the way back through the darkened streets, the savage said that he had seen a hooded Indian down a side alley. There was nothing there but a strange footprint and I believe that was nothing more than a weak mind and an ignorant native's superstition.
In my bed, I dreamed of boxing bouts at Cambridge where the spectators fired at me, and rugger games at Rugby where I tackled friends who did not rise again. As you can imagine, I did not sleep again that night.
The next morning, we loaded Mr Dillinger's objects d'art onto the train that he has commissioned for the tour. He plans to tour through the Western states, displaying his treasures and using them as a wellspring to educate the common folk. Imagine my pleasure when he agreed to display my portraits of 'Lady' Carstairs alongside his own beautiful pictures.
It was at this time that we came to understand the true worth of the collection. Dwaine immediately hired on four extra men: Milli van Sant, Arnold Breen, Red Rogan and a Mexican national, Sancho Gonzales. I asked Wrigley to provide us with 20 tomahawks, 20 rifles, 10 cases of ammunition and an extra box of shotgun shells. It was at this point that I learnt that Rutherford, like myself, likes to hunt grouse. I hope that we have a chance to flush a few birds.
During the morning, the savage asked Mr Dillinger if he knew any hooded foreigners or people that might hate him. The only person that he could think of was James Oberon, who, it seems, headed up a secret society at Oxford. Is James Oberon the Hooded Coyote? Rutherford couldn't think why Mr Oberon would be following him but I dispatched a telegram to New Scotland Yard to find his whereabouts, just in case. I arranged for it to be forwarded to Red Rock, our first destination. As it turned out, we only had to wait until that afternoon to discover the identity of our mysterious adversary. The savage discovered him watching our busy activities and shot him, point blank in the chest. And people seek to make Christians out of these barbarians.
As it turned out the man in the hooded cloak was almost as much of a barbarian. He was an Arab, with a strange tattoo on his chest (see diagram of Arabic tattoo & dagger symbol). We got him to the surgery in time, but as soon is he was alone, he seized a scalpel and cut his own throat. A terrible sight. What desperate thoughts drove this crazed man to travel half the world, only to die in Denver? Mr Dillinger believes he may have been after the necklace. He purchased it in Cairo, from a man who claimed that King Solomon had used it to conjure demons. Whatever its history, it is obviously a valuable jewel. We redoubled our guard.
After an uneventful night, we build up a head of steam and. with a single toot on the whistle, headed for Red Rock.
Oh, there was one small incident before we left. When Mr Dillinger arrived at the train, he had a sorry tale to tell. Apparently, Dillinger and Wrigley had taken a turn about the town before leaving. A few local ruffians accosted them. Even though Wrigley acquitted himself like an Englishman, it required the intervention of one Hank Devlin to see the crowd off. By way of reward, Mr Dillinger hired Mr Devlin on the spot.
Besides that minor fracas, the first day passed peacefully. While we chose teams of guards, I sketched the jewel necklace that Dillinger has on display (see enclosed). I am on duty between 6 p.m. and midnight with Elroy Q Higgins, Millie van Sant and Tex Pearson. My team are as fine a bunch of men as I could ever wish to work with.
As we were choosing 'sides', a strange thing happened. Someone asked Tex where he was from. Apparently he gets ragged by people claiming that he is from Texas. 'Arizona', he said. 'Well then,' jibed Lu Lu Belle, 'you should be called "Harry".' And it stuck. Tex Pearson is now Tex "Harry" Pearson.
It served a timely reminder of how young this country is. Even the nicknames are still being invented. At Rugby, every boy had a 'name', even before you met him. They were all good old English nicknames. 'Names your fathers had laughed at, and their fathers before them.
But here, there are no old nicknames yet. There hasn't been time for that. Each one is new. And if Tex "Harry" Pearson makes a name for himself, possibly every Tex from Arizona will be called Harry from now on. It is a strange new country.
And a beautiful, old one as well. We are travelling with the Rocky Mountains to our left, and the hills and plains of Colorado to our right. It is late Winter, and there is snow all around us. Sometimes, it feels as though we are the only living, moving thing in au the wilderness. Then a crow lands on a nearby stump with a screech, reminding me that there is life all around, just waiting for Spring. Even the Rocky Mountains are full of quiet life, geologically speaking...
I spent a lot of time gazing out of the window.
After an uneventful night, we reached our first destination - a water tower between Denver and Red Rock.
For some reason, this lonely place excited the curiosity of my companions. The water tank had not been refilled and a fight had taken place in the deserted hut. They spent a considerable time investigating the poultry enclosure (also 'deserted'). Why the possibility of purloined poultry rated more attention than resupplying the train defied my logic. The story here was plain for any man to read: no one could stand this terrible loneliness for long. The previous incumbent had loaded his poultry onto the train and departed for fairer climes. And good luck to him in his new endeavours.
What really puzzled me was the aberrant behaviour of our new companion, Hank Devlin. When we stopped at the water tower, I asked Elroy to help me with the water. He refused, claiming that it was not his 'watch'. Wishing to remind Elroy that he was a commoner, I playfully pushed him towards the door. He responded, in the same spirit of jocularity, by pushing his pistol up my nostril. And them for no apparent reason, Mr Devlin fired his pistol between us. The bullet passed right in front of my eyes, no more than a breath from my face. I was stunned (and deafened - you cannot imagine how loud an explosion is in a train carriage). What could he possibly have been thinking? It just goes to show, you never can tell.
Dazed. I stumbled from the train. Elroy, who I suspect is not overly used to gunfire (he is what they call over here a 'dandy gunslinger' whatever that means), was too overcome to follow.
That evening, we puffed into Red Rock, a small mining community. Mr Dillinger's eloquence won over the sheriff immediately and we made arrangements for the exhibition the next day.
Before we left the train Elroy took leave of our company. Apparently, he objected to taking orders from a lady and a native, which I can understand. The others maligned him but I was sorry to see him go. My team is one man short now.
With the official business out of the way, the whole company, including Mr Dillinger, made our way to the central tavern. There, Mr Dillinger again turned on his charm, inviting all and sundry to view his exhibition on the morrow. Unfortunately, the evening was marred by a bit of an incident involving the patrons of the tavern. As in Merry Olde England, each regular has his traditional appointed place at table. There was no room for Mr Dillinger to partake of refreshments. When Dwaine offered to exchange our places at the bar with a table of regulars, they unfortunately took offence. A brawl erupted.
You cannot imagine what these common brawls are like. The nearest thing that I have seen is one of those tricks where you tip one domino and all the others turn over in turn. I bopped one chap and he fell on a table. The patrons at that table took offence and attacked him. He knocked one of them into another patron, who joined in the fight, et cetera ad bellum. In one minute, every single person was involved, with the exception of Mr Dillinger and Miss de Salle, who wisely sought the door.
Mr Dillinger thought that it was a huge joke, which was useful when it come to bailing Tom Tom, Dwaine and Hank out of the local police station the next morning.
With Tom Tom under lock and key for the night, Lu Lu Belle and I offered to take his watch. And a lucky thing that we did to.
I was circling the train at a distance, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Gulper, a Mojave Ratter. We had heard the locals talk of this 'monster' earlier in the day. Apparently they believe it to be a still extant species of dinosaur which burrows through the ground and swallows men and horses whole.
Al the mention of dinosaurs, I became quite excited. However, on calmer reflection, I have realised that this Gulper is obviously a folk tale. It probably accounts for people who fall down mine shafts. At best, it is an undocumented type of desert quicksand, possibly caused by mine cave-ins. I have included some sketches of how I think these events might be triggered.
However, as it happened, I was some distance from the train when shots rang out. Lu Lu Belle had perceived an assailant trying to wrench the iron bars from the windows of the museum car. Two shots and he was dead - his arm mangled and his facial features destroyed beyond recognition. She is a pretty lass, but deadly when roused.
I believe that he may have been under the influence of powerful narcotics. There was very little blood from his head wound, which usually bleed profusely. I suspect that this was because his blood was super-oxygenated to increase his strength. He had managed to bend the iron bars before he was shot and even stood up after receiving the first wound to his arm.
Unfortunately, a hasty graveside examination later that day did not provide any conclusive evidence. I was disappointed, as I wished to write a letter to the Royal Society about the incident. It is not to be. I may obtained better results if I had not been distracted by my companions' maundering about a disturbed gave nearby and the feeding habits of coyotes, a type of native dog.
It is difficult to do good work here.
Mr Dillinger, I am happy to say, had done his work most excellently well. The whole town turned out to view his wonderful exhibition and gain the educational benefits therein. Mr Dillinger spoke most eloquently of his travels through Egypt and surrounds, and Rev Watkins spoke of the Bible lands. I followed up with a lecture on the archaeology being done in those regions and Ms de Salle, displaying a surprising degree of culture, closed with a set from Wagner's opera, 'Moses'. The whole event was a huge success, marred only by a suspected attempt to filch a small Ming vase. We tightened security, although I conceive that Miss Star, who ejected the culprit, may have simply been trying to upstage Miss de Salle.
As part of our increased security precautions, I set out for the local store early the next morning to obtain some fine wire. Emerging with a spool, I heard gunshots from the bank across the way. Two men emerged, post haste, apparently having just attempted to negotiate an excessive withdrawal at gunpoint.
What came over me? Guilt for recently killing a man? Casual disregard for pistolry (after a day with Devlin)? Did I go 'native'?
No. I think that it ran deeper, on a more fundamental level than that. These men affronted me.
Here was a member of the Canterbury Dillingers, risking life, limb and a great deal of irreplaceable artwork to bring a tiny piece of civilisation to Red Rock. And the citizenry had responded in kind, drinking in the art, hanging on the lectures, weeping at the opera - clinging to the nobility of it all. Yet these two sought to tear all that down, to do violence to Red Rock while it still glowed, softly, with enlightenment.
With a grand old Cambridge 'Tally Ho!', I charged them. Emerging unscathed from a fog of gunfire, I used the patented Rugby 'Dead Man's Tackle' to drop one and employ him as a shield. While I subdued him, my companions executed his companion who turned out to be his brother. Miguel and Roberto Camerez were known to the law, with a $90- reward for their capture. Tom Tom and Hank divided this blood money between them, along with the contents of the fraters' pockets (an odd custom). While they smirked at their good fortune, I secretly gloated over my greater treasure. The sheriff (who, for some reason, is responsible for law and order here) gifted me with the notice advertising their reward (see attached), which I will treasure always.
Not as many people visited the exhibition today, which was to be expected. However, I was heartened to see several people return for a second visit.
That evening, while I was on watch, Lu Lu Belle and Dwaine went out walking together. Near the graveyard, several Arabs, whom they dispatched, attacked them.
Mr Dillinger asked that, for the sake of the exhibition, these heathens be buried quickly and without fuss. Since I am familiar with spadework, I swapped my watch with Tom Tom and Hank and accompanied the two would-be vergers.
At the cemetery, we found that the graves of the Camerez brothers had been covered with some phosphorescent dust. I took a sample, said a few words over the bodies, inscribing what I thought was a Muslim holy symbol on their foreheads with some of the phosphorescent dust. Then we opened the Camerez grave to add the Arab corpses. To introduce culture to a raw young land, such expediencies are necessary.
As we left after our exertions, we saw that the glow had returned, but stronger. We started back to investigate. Then a strange thing happened: spooked by shadows in the graveyards, we all turned tail and fled. I have had some suspicions about Dwaine for some time, and Lu Lu Belle is of the weaker sex, after all. But I am a Cambridge graduate, forsooth!
Still, I will not prevaricate, nor dance around the truth. We all turned tail and fled back to the train, running and screaming as we went.
Back at the train, we all agreed that we thought we had seen movement at the gravesite. The others let their imagination run away with them, but here is my hypothesis: The Arabs were fond of the Camerez brothers (in some strange Arab way). They were taking their last leave at the graveside when disturbed by Lu Lu Belle and Dwaine. Quick to anger, as Arabs are, they attacked the killers of their friends and were themselves, dispatched.
To my mind, that is the only explanation that fits with what happened next. Bear with me: the remaining Arabs in the vicinity came to take their brethren's remains back to the Holy Land. As soon as we finished burying them, they began exhuming them. This would explain the activity at the graveyard that spooked us so badly.
When they exhumed the bodies of their brethren, they found not a Muslim holy symbol on their foreheads, but a Jewish Star of David. I always did get those two confused.
Whatever the reason, we soon perceived a small group of determined and angry looking Arabs approaching the train from the direction of the graveyard. I called on them to identify themselves, but as I did so, tragedy struck. Mr Hank Devlin, nerves stretched taunt by the events of the night, began firing. Soon, a huge volley of shots rang out into the night. The Muslims proved themselves to be brave golliwogs as they marched forward into the hail of undisciplined gunfire. Most of the fire missed until they got to close range. Then, I am afraid to say, they were literally cut to pieces. RIP. I will refrain from describing the glee of my companions at this wasted, hollow victory. Suffice to say that Lu Lu Belle proved that the old adage about 'women becoming savages on the battlefield' to be true, God help her.
The gunfire had attracted the doughty Marshall and some men from the town. Thence ensued a great debate about how best to honour our fallen foe. Slowly, consensus emerged that we should burn them on the pyre, as is their custom.
While they were talking, I examined the dead. One face leapt out at me - Bellamy Jones, my fag from Cambridge. Of course, it was just the night and the strain playing tricks on my mind. Still, it gave me quite a shock until the others convinced me to see sense.
That night I did not steep well at all, as you can imagine. On question kept nagging me: is it the custom of Araby to burn the dead, or that of the Indian sub-continent. I was to find out soon enough on the morrow.
The next day brought sleepy heads from the train and curious gawkers from the village. We soon had the exhibition up and running again, with good crowds coming into the carriage.
After a time, I thought I saw some hooded figures in town. I approached the spot and found that I was correct. There were more Arabs in town. In addition, I realised that I had been incorrect the night before: Arabs don't burn their dead, Indians do.
Full realisation burst upon me when a very large number of highly incensed people of Arab persuasion rode towards the train, screaming and brandishing (not very ceremonial) scimitars.
At least, I assume that they were angered by our recurrent breaches of their funerary etiquette. What else would cause a large number of men to attack a well-defended train?
It was a close thing for some time, as the golliwogs were using poison on their swords and darts. It did not kill, but made people dizzy and groggy. Soon the battle had closed to close quarters.
Then, with an extraordinary tremor, the ground literally opened up under the Arabs. A monstrous wyrm emerged and swallowed two of our assailants whole. Here then was the first scientific proof of the existence of an entirely new breed of burrower, the Mojave Rattler. I wall extremely excited, as you can imagine.
It was a huge, magnificent monster, covered in chitinous skin, which made it extremely resistant to our bullets. Its musculature must be concentrated in its head and neck, as it demonstrated when it burst through the side of my carriage. Its teeth are large and curve back into its mouth, which means that when it grasped my leg, I was in imminent danger of being dragged down its gullet. Thankfully, a nearby bed proved to be more suited to its palette.
And so, thrashing about in the ruins of the carriage, it died. I paused to bandage my wounds and then proceeded to dissect the monster for samples. The Fellows at the Royal Society will be excited! I immediately fell to, carefully preparing specimens for transport to London. As I sketched and sliced the beast, I was already laying out the bare bones of my paper. What a triumph!
It was lucky that I did begin my scientific task immediately, as it turned out. The townsfolk also fell upon the beast post haste and began taking pieces as souvenirs. They paid no heed to my desperate requests for scientific method: it was every man for himself, as they say out here.
One of the people involved in this desecration was the storeowner that I had dealt with earlier in the day (it seemed like an aeon ago). I called upon him to provide me with some preserving fluid, but he replied that there wasn't a "saw-bones" in town. He suggested rum but I remembered the Nelson precedent and politely declined. Nor was there a trained taxidermist in town, as it turned out. How can I be expected to do effective work under such conditions?
As I was puzzling as to how to preserve my precious specimens, Rutherford alerted me to the fact that several people had been injured during the proceedings. Indeed, my own foot was aching mightily. So I took some precious minutes from my vital task to attend to the wounded. One of the worst was Dwaine, who had tumbled from the top of the train and been trodden on by a horse. I dressed his wound and told him to be more careful in future. Miss Lu Lu Belle has taken a strange reaction to golliwog poison: she has a high fever with glazed eyes and will require some extra attention. I press-ganged Wrigley into service, with broth and cold compresses. Good man, Wrigley.
In checking the others, I discovered that we had lost two good men in the fight. God rest the souls of Tex Pearson and .... I guess that all the men from Arizona won't be called 'Harry' after all. They were fine men, and deserved better than to die at the hands of incensed golliwogs. The funeral was set for 9.00 am the next day.
By an extraordinary coincidence, none of the Arabs had been wounded. They had either fled or died. However, I soon realised that some had been wounded and then murdered by their fleeing companions, as they had had their throats cut. Even the noble savage realised that these infidel were not proper enemies: he did not claim scalp on any of them.
During all of this activity, suddenly I realised that the answer to my dilemma was all around me.
Sand! Clean dry sand will preserve my specimens, all the way to London. As long as I clean them thoroughly, and pack them in watertight chests, they should survive the journey quite well. That revelation improved my mood immensely.
Once I had packed up my precious cargo, I slipped into town and cabled the Royal Society. "Amazing new Chilopod discovered [stop] Shipping specimens and paper ASAP [stop] If you are preparing next issue, [stop]." Then I sat down to write my paper. I think I'll name thre creature "Dillinger's Gulper".
All through the night I wrote: my pen was incandescent. With each new expression, I realised how much we did not know. We would have to explore the tunnel, weigh the carcass...
Boom! There is simply no other way to express it. Boom! The absolute presence of noise, accompanied by a stunning concussive burst, which shattered both my concentration and the windows around me.
You can imagine my surprise when, with an almighty boom, the golliwogs dynamited the remains of the carcass - all 100 feet or so of it. You can especially imagine my surprise when they did it right outside my carriage window, at three o'clock in the morning. Dead o' night has always been the hour of the anarchist, the skulk and the thief.
Of course, confusion reigned supreme. People poured out of the train, the town and all parts in between. The train was covered in detritus, much of which had been blown through windows. And the stench!
We set to work to clean it up and had just about finished our labours when Rutherford emerged, pale faced. "It's gone!" was all that he could say for some time. The exquisite necklace, the centrepiece of his collection, had been stolen.
So the demolition of the Rattler had been a ruse, a diversion. Those cunning Arabs had snuck into the locked museum car, smashed the lock on the case, stolen the necklace, left everything else, and departed, carefully locking the museum car behind them. What guile!
The next morning we checked with the sheriff to see that it hadn't been a local naer-do-well. While the sheriff admitted that Red Rock did harbour the odd light-fingered citizen, he had not come across the necklace. While discussing the theft, though, he did mention that some people had noticed a camp up in the hills to the north. "Aha!" I thought, "now the mountain will have its chance to come to Mohamed."
After the funeral, a dismal affair where we buried our men and packed the golliwogs into a mass grave, we set off into the hills. By nightfall, we had found no trace of them. I rallied the men and we camped in the light snow. Similar to camping out at home, really. We continued the recce at dawn, but drew a blank.
Upon returning to the train about lunchtime, we found that it wasn't just the Arabs who were proving elusive. During the night, Miss Lu Lu Belle Star had dragged herself out of bed, dressed, taken her guns and disappeared.
We checked the train, then the saloon, then (for some odd reason) the graveyard. There was nothing there except for some scuffling where the remaining golliwogs had paid their last respects during the night. No wonder we couldn't track them down!
My companions are highly excitable chaps. They immediately set off in pursuit of the midnight mourners mournful marks, following them up the train line and then north into the hills.
Soon we heard gunfire ahead of us and spurred our horses forward. An amazing sight met our eyes. Miss Lu Lu Belle had obviously been using her rest time to piece together the crime. She had arrived here ahead of us and was calmly dispatching the Muslims. They were attacking her in waves and she had literally built a wall of bodies in front of her.
As you can imagine, we lost no time in riding to her rescue.
For those of you who have not had the experience of discharging a fowling piece from horseback, I have one simple piece of advice: Don't. It's easy enough to draw a bead, providing you have a good seat, but the recoil is a dratted nuisance. Without saying too much, let me say that I am no mean rider. Yet my first shot landed me on my fundament, without any trouble at all. As you can imagine, I felt ridiculous, especially since there was a fierce battle all around us. It soon emerged that the Arabs, as is there wont, had fallen prey to factionalism and were attacking one another, as well as us. Such is ever the weakness of inferior races.
The battle ended when, in a desperate rearguard action, one of them employed 'mad bomber' tactics and lobbed a stick of dynamite into our forces. Cowards! The trick, of course, backfired (as is always the case when unchivalrous tactics are employed against a righteous foe). They effectively killed the last of their men. However, Lu Lu Belle, Dwaine and Tom Tom were almost killed as well. If I hadn't stepped in immediately, we would have had quiet a tragedy on our hands.
As it was, our grief was almost as great. That exquisite necklace, beautiful and ancient, had been destroyed in the blast. How can I ever face Dillinger again?
Is there any news of James Oberon at the telegraph office, I wonder?