Memories of a town called dog.
I remember it was bitterly cold that day. I had awoken on my old camp bed to discover that the flames in my pot-belly-black had gone, and that even the coals had turned grey and life-less. It took an age to relight it, all the time stamping my feet and slapping my sides as I had learnt on cold days at Fredericksburg. I soon discovered not to stamp my feet too hard however, as the floor of the shack where I was temporarily staying was flimsy and seemed at any moment ready to cave in. I spent the next hour or so waiting for my kettle to whistle, and, as a watched pot never boils, I set about patching up the holes in the walls of the shack. It certainly met the definition of a shack: the walls were but saplings lashed together and the gaps filled with mud. The roof was but a single layer of canvass. More and more this town and my surrounding reminded me of the bleak winter I had spent on the line at Fredericksburg, surrounded by mud and ice and lice and dirty, dirty men. I had just sat down to my coffee (without milk. Milk is among the many impossibilities in Daugton) when there was a fervent bashing on the door. I thought the rotted timbers would smash. I leapt up and opened it.
“What is the nature of the medical emergency?” I enquired as a burly figure pushed his way and shut the door hurriedly behind him.
“No emergency, doc,” an Illinois accent declared, “Just a friendly visit. My name is Slim McKenzie. Honest Slim McKenzie.” And to prove the point he shook my hand in a vigorous, but honest, manner.
“And what can I do for you, Mr McKenzie?”
“Call me Slim. Or Honest. Or even Honest Slim. Nothing.”
“You can do nothing for me, Doc. I just came to say a howdy to my neighbour.”
“Neighbour?” I enquired in a curious tone of voice. As far as I could tell I had no immediate neighbours. This shack was the only structure on this block of land. Certainly there was a church to the rear, and the mortuary (more a tent and some holes, really), but there were no other buildings nearby.
“Yes, neighbour. I’m the storekeeper. Edibles to comestibles to commodities, we’ve got the lot.”
“I didn’t realise Daugton had a General Store. I’ve been buying my groceries from the Saloon.”
“The Dirty-Dog? I wouldn’t buy from there. Rumour has it the barkeep slips a little something in each dish that ain’t the most, ah, hygienic things. It isn’t built yet.”
I frowned, a little perplexed. “What isn’t built yet?”
“The General Store. “Honest Slim’s Mega-Mart”. Catchy name, eh?”
I nodded, but had no chance to reply as the curious chap barrelled on with his story.
“The wife and I just moved west from Chicago. Couldn’t make a go it there. The whole place is already developed. I said, “Doris,” that’s my wife, “Doris,” I said, “There’s no money selling things to people who can buy the same things from somewhere else. We gotta go where there ain’t no one selling, and only people buying.” And so, we packed up our things and headed west. Or more South-West, really.”
“So you are a Monopolist?” I interjected.
“I am indeed, and an Honest man at that, thankyou for noticing. We…”
I felt he was about to launch into another tirade, or some tale about one of his inordinate number of children (which I assumed then, but discovered later, that he had) so I interrupted again.
He seemed quite pleased at this, and beamed a toothy grin at me. “Don’t mind if I do.”
I scrabbled in my footlocker in search of a cup as he droned on about the difficulty he was having in getting the lumber and workers necessary to build his Store, which apparently was to go on the block next to my shack.
“I reckon Sampson and Sons are going slow just so they can charge a higher price.”
“That’s monopoly for you.” I agreed.
“A crying shame indeed, and me, an Honest man, having to put up with it.”
I handed him an enamel mug, and he immediately note the ‘US’ stamped underneath. He poured himself some coffee as he regaled me with tales of his days in the 43rd Illinois, a militia regiment, that would have been at Gettysburg, except they were somewhere in Kentucky digging earthworks, and never fired a shot in anger. I was dragged into discussing my time with the 55th Massachusetts, and was starting to tell of the horrors of Fredericksburg when he suddenly perked up his ears.
“Harken to that.” He stood and opened the door, letting in a terrible cold draught. I stood to protest, but then heard the noise. It was hooves, fast, and a clambering, wining voice on the wind.
“I reckon that’s Bruce Macgregor.”
“Macgregor? The Deputy?”
“Ex-Deputy.” Honest Slim corrected me. “He’ll be in strife if the Sheriff catches him.”
Macgregor came roaring into Main Street, whipping his horse viciously, and all the time yelling,
“The Indians are coming! The Indians are coming!”
I turned to mutter a comment about Paul Revere turning in his grave, but Honest Slim was heading out the back door, his six-shooter in hand. “Indians Doc! Gotta close up my shop.”
I watched him go in some surprise, then turned to lock the front door. I dug in my locker and pulled out my Patterson. Five shots and a .37 slug. I grabbed my bandolier and headed after the Honest Monopolist.
He was already gone as I came out the back door. I locked it too, and looked up the street. I was in time to watch the Mortician hurry through the Church gate, his black robes flowing around his enormous frame. “Mr O’Donnell!” I yelled, but he neither turned nor gave indication that he had heard me. All of a sudden there was a whooping and screaming from Main Street, as a band of redskins rode into town. I’d never been in an Indian fight before, but decided I’d better not get stuck on the ground. I clambered up the rear porch pole, and onto the roof. The canvass groaned under my weight, but held. The braves came screaming off Main Street and toward the Church. They whooped a few times and then shot flaming arrows into the main door. I aimed, but couldn’t get a good sight on them.
All of a sudden, shots rang out from below me. I watched as two bright wounds appeared in the nearest brave, and he fell from his steed. I peered over the edge to see the brilliant white teeth set in a grinning white face of Silas P. Trustworthy, attorney at law, and local Negro.
“Good shot, sir!” I cried.
“Yes, well done, boy!” Honest Slim appeared behind him. “Keep it up!”
“Yes boss!” Silas started down the alley, his gun up and ready.
I jumped down and grabbed Slim by the arm. “A bit more respect for Mr. Trustworthy if you will, sir. He is a citizen like you or I.”
Slim was a bit annoyed at this. “I didn’t say anything against him, Doc. He’s a good boy.”
I was about to get angry when Silas reminded us of our task. “Are you Gentlemen coming, or what?”
Abashed, Slim and I took our places beside the Lawyer. Together we advanced down the street. There were yells and shots from behind us, as more Indians attacked towards the mayor’s house. We ignored them and pressed on. There were plenty of armed men in Daugton today. More arrows struck the church, but we couldn’t see a clear shot on any of the redskins. Suddenly a yell came from the bell tower. “My Family! The savages are headed for my family!” I looked up to see Mr O’Donnell, secure in the tower and indicating toward the war-band.
“Come on, men! Forward!” I ordered.
We came around the corner. Honest Slim was a good shot despite his time in the Militia, and brought down a brave. I fired, but the shot went wild. We were in time however to see two braves enter the tent domicile of the O’Donnell family. We kept shooting at the Braves, and they returned our fire, but without much effect. Our gallant threesome were joined by a few locals firing from the roof of the Barber shop to our rear, who managed to knock a brave out of his saddle.
All of a sudden there was a shriek and screaming louder than any Indian braves. Frau Brünhilde, the local schoolmarm, and Mrs O’Donnell, as woman as tall and sombre as her husband, were dragged, kicking and biting from the tent. The Braves were big lads, but were still having a bit of trouble, as the ladies fought hard for their freedom, and, presumably, virtue. Frau Brünhilde (who stays with O’Donnell’s, as there are currently no other women in town, and doesn’t trust the staff at the Dirty Dog (Does anyone?)) was shouting things in her noble German tongue that could only be curses of the foulest kind, out-drowned Mrs O’Donnell, who was yelling similar things in English. Seeing these assault on the women folk of town, we redoubled our efforts.
Silas fan fired his remaining chambers, striking a redskin twice and knocking him to the ground. I took careful aim, but stumbled on a rock, sending the shot wide. A Brave seized this opportunity, and came roaring down on me with his spear, whooping and hollering. I raised my arms to fend him off, but stumbled over the same rock again. I fell out of the way of the vicious spear point, and the Indian steed reared up, unshod hooves swinging viciously in the air. Silas and Slim fired into the melee, but nearly took my head off. The Indian rose up on the horse's back, and was about to puncture my skull, when shots rang out from the Bell tower. The Indian collapsed to the ground as his horse bolted. I scrabbled for my hat and looked up at the church. The Mortician didn’t even give me a nod as he took sight down the barrel of his pistol. The distance of the shot was remarkable, and by rights he shouldn’t have been able to do it. But he did, and I believe fervently that I owe my life to his lucky shot.
I rose to my knees, but had no time to rise further. Silas and Slim, aided by fire from the Barbershop, brought down yet another Brave, with green and black war paint. I snapped a lucky shot off, and struck another in the chest. Smoke was billowing from the church doors by now, as the flames licked higher. I could just make out a rearing horse in the haze, and emptied my remaining chambers in its direction. I was rewarded by a scream and the thud of a body hitting the ground.
It was about this time that Mrs O’Donnell took a bullet in the abdomen, as her would-be defenders attempted to shoot her would-be attackers. Seeing the blood, the brave dropped his victim, before he too was brought low in a volley of bullets from the Barber’s and the Bell tower. It has yet to be ascertained who it was that accidentally (we hope) struck the grim reaper’s wife. Ugly rumours have started that it was Silas Trustworthy, but I believe this is a vicious lie started because Mr Trustworthy is Afro-Hispanic-American. Furthermore, I doubt if Mr Trustworthy or Mr McKenzie could even see what was happen on the other side of the tent. Mrs O’Donnell, though shocked, is recovering well. The bullet passed straight through and left a clean wound. The wound may render her infertile, but I assume she would take this as a Godsend (her brother is the priest) as she has thirteen loud and rambunctious children, aged 16 to 3 months.
But I digress from the tale: Silas grabbed my arm and helped me up, and together we advanced through the haze toward the last brave and the struggling Frau Brünhilde. I tried to reload my Patterson but dropped most of the rounds on the ground. Another fusillade of shots rang out from the Barbershop, and the last warrior fell to the ground, where an irate teacher from Baden-Würtemberg kicked his corpse repeatedly (On examination the Indian had two black eyes, a broken thumb and forefinger. It is my medical advice never to attempt to interfere with a woman from Baden-Würtemberg).
I wiped the sweat from my brow, as Slim went to check the corpses were really dead, and not just playing possum. He was about to put a bullet in one when shots rang out from the Market garden. I dashed for cover behind a handy barrel and reloaded my weapon, occasionally peeping around the corner. Three braves with rifles had appeared amongst the lettuce and were raising hell across the open ground between the barbershop and the Mortician’s tent. I saw Slim and Silas return fire, and watched in horror as that brave lawyer took bullets in the leg and stomach. He fired as he fell, pushing a .37-inch round through the nearest warrior’s head. Suddenly I could remember nothing but my army training. Ignoring the bullets whizzing by I ran from my place of safety to the Negro’s side. I tore his shirt open and inspected the wound, even as slugs hit the dirt near my feet.
The man was swearing. ‘Jeepers Crackers! Mary, mother of God! Joseph, husband of Mary!’
‘Now, Silas, calm yourself! Everything will be alright.’
‘Just my stupid luck!’ he wailed. ‘Born a Black Mexican, twelve years as a slave, I get free and now I been shot and I’m going to die! God have mercy on a poor N*****!’
I forgot myself with rage. I think I may have slapped him. Yes, in fact I’m certain I did.
‘Don’t you damn well talk like that, Mr Trustworthy! You are a citizen like any other, and you’ll act like one, or so help me I’ll shoot you myself. I didn’t fight in the war so you could use that word about yourself or any other man!’
In the silence that followed I realized everything had gone quiet. The Indians had scurried off into the bushes. Honest Slim was standing above us, his face split in a wide grin, apparently at my bedside manner.
‘Don’t just stand there, you damn Monopolist! The church is on fire!’
The rest of the day passed in a blur. Patients were queued up outside the shack as I operated. All told we lost only one man, who had an arrow through the eye. Mrs O’Donnell and Silas were the most seriously injured, although others came in to be treated for burns trying to keep the church from becoming ashes. A few more came in with bullet wounds, which occurred as the townspeople opened fire on a bunch of farmers riding into town.
Partway through the afternoon I looked up from sewing stiches into Mrs O’Donnell to see the face of death staring back. The Mortician stood back to his full height and fixed me with a stare.
‘I saved you from one of my pine boxes. You save her.’