Chapter 3 – Strange Bedfellows
* * *
A historical romance is the only kind of book where chastity really counts.
How quick come the reasons for approving what we like!
After Annawest got to Beaver, she rented a room at the Lowe Hotel, changed her sooty clothes, freshened up, and admired the herringbone chisel pattern on the hotel stonework. Then she set out with Waypatoo to find Snakeskin. She found him and a few others shooting at tin cans on a distant log. As she came up, Snakeskin fired and knocked a can off the log.
She saw Snakeskin straighten up. "Anybody else want a shot?" he said.
Annawest took a deep breath, straightened her back, removed her left glove, lifted up her left hand, and twiddled her fingers. "Hello Husband," she called out, "surprised to see your little wife? This wedding ring was jis too new. It kept pulling me in my husband's direction and the impulse was plumb ineluctable. That means you can not get rid of it."
"Uhh," said Snakeskin.
"You know a funny thing that happened in Leadville? They were calling for 'Mrs. McMurtry, Mrs. McMurtry' and I jis sat there wonderin' what your mother was doing in Leadville. If Waypatoo hadn't nudged me, I wouldn't have claimed my tickets. Isn't that plum risible? That means funny."
"I would imagine that being Snakeskin McMurtry's wife would take a bit of getting used to," said a voice she knew, "and hello Mrs. McMurtry."
"Oh! Uhh . . . Good afternoon Doctor Holliday, what brings you here?"
"Your brand-new husband. Who seems to be having a bit of trouble getting over his surprise."
"Well," said Snakeskin," I've been seeing you in my dreams so much I thought I was still asleep. Annawest, this is ElPaso Hairyton of the Texas Rangers. He was up here on business and dropped by."
"Mrs. McMurtry," said Doc Holliday, "this is Kate Horony my boon companion in good times and bad. Kate, this is Snakeskin and Annawest McMurtry, old friends of mine."
"Pleased to meet you."
They heard raised voices. Men and Waypatoo. "Oh Luddy Mussy," said Snakeskin, "we better get Waypatoo back to the hotel or there's going to be trouble. There's been a difficulty with the Navajo," he said. "There's been shooting and men killed. It looks bad. The only safe place now for Waypatoo is the reservation. We'll get horses and go over there."
They hurried back to the hotel. Snakeskin walked the women up to their room and excused himself. "I'll send a kid for horses," he said, "meantime I got to go up to my room for my guns."
Snakeskin was in his room when there was a knock on the door. He opened it and in came Annawest and a porter with her trunk. He tipped the porter and turned to Annawest.
"I told them we were married," she said, "any other way, it would look funny."
"Oh" said Snakeskin. He looked at her. "You want to . . . share the bed.
"Yes. I've got to know what it's like to be married to you. Before I take the chance." She sighed and put both hands on his chest, half closed her eyes, tilted her head back, and turned it slightly sideways so their noses wouldn't bump. There was a knock on the door.
Waypatoo entered. "I came to say the horses is ready."
"All right," said Snakeskin, "we better go now. I'll take Cherokee Bill and his shotgun and both of my rifles. We'll be all right. It isn't far. I'll be back for supper."
Annawest watched them ride away. Then she unpacked her trunk, hung up her dresses and got out a nightgown that she thought Snakeskin would like. Then she went down to see about dinner. They had no ice, but the champagne could be cooled in the well. It took a while, but she made them understand about serving dinner in courses.
Then she went back up, got out an iron and started in on her evening dress. It was satin dyed dusky rose. The top of the dress was tight-fitting to her hips, sleeveless, and had a deep, round décolletage with a puff of cream lace at the center, three bows in the front, two on the shoulders, and narrow lace ruffles for sleeves. The skirt measured fourteen feet around the bottom and had a train. The dress came with appropriate spars so that it could be used, in emergencies, as a boat sail. Annawest laid the spars aside and got out long cream-colored gloves with pearl buttons that matched her earrings.
Snakeskin came back in time to dress for dinner and they went down. The pop of the champagne cork startled some of the buscaderos into drawing their guns and the flying cork hit one in the eye. The waiter also soaked his sleeve with champagne but no serious harm was done. All the guns were quickly holstered again, the pain in the cowboy's eye assuaged with a shot of the O-be-Joyful, and the waiter's sleeve was as good as new after the cook wrung it out into a small dishpan. He then fetched a funnel from the kitchen and offered to put the wringings back into the champagne bottle, but Annawest talked him out of it.
In the middle of the soup course, Snakeskin stopped with the spoon halfway to his mouth. "Dang," he said.
"What is it dear?" The phrase came naturally.
"Pony Dahl. In the bar." Snakeskin casually drew one gun and held it on his left knee and calmly went on eating with his right hand.
Annawest saw a huge cowboy standing in the doorway between the bar and the restaurant. He had muscular shoulders and his neck was so short that he had trouble turning his head. His body was powerful but twisted. He had a strong chin, but it sagged and the corner of his mouth hung open revealing a big yellow dogtooth. His hat was thrown back and Annawest could see a broad, white scar starting on the left side of his forehead and running back through his reddish hair. He had tried to disguise the scar by combing his hair over it. He had tarnished silver conchos on his vest, his holster, and his hatband. His clothes were of good quality, but needed washing. A lot of washing. He spotted Snakeskin and shambled over, leading with his left shoulder and dragging his right foot a little. "Evenin' Snakeskin," he said.
"Evenin' Pony," said Snakeskin "You might take your hat off to the lady."
"Lady? Oh sure." Pony took off his hat with a smile that was half a leer and bowed more deeply than was necessary. " Ma'am. " he said. Then he straightened up and put his hat back on. "Heered you were hirin' buscaderos. Thought I'd come an' apply. You owe me that much for this," he touched the scar on this forehead. "And the time I spent in jail."
"Well Pony," said Snakeskin, "I'm a little short right now."
"Looks like you got plenty dinero t'me," said Pony nodding sideways in Annawest's direction.
"The lady bought her own dress," said Snakeskin. His smile was late and did not reach his eyes. Annawest moved her feet so that she could easily jump out of her chair. "I did have some money but I hadta spent most of it on land and cattle," said Snakeskin.
"Take your note," said Pony.
"Don't like doing business like that in this sort of situation. You end up settling' accounts with lead. Look. Lemme think about it; maybe I kin git some more cash. Meantime, here's a silver dollar. Have a drink or two on me."
"Well thanks," said Pony. "Don't mind if I do. But y'know I could really use the money. I don't have a tail feather left."
"Do what I can," said Snakeskin shortly. Pony started towards the bar door.
"Nice to have met you," said Annawest.
Pony turned around and said, with the same exaggerated bow and leer, "Likewise I'm sure, mam."
Pony went through into the bar. In a moment he reappeared in the open bar door carrying a shot of whisky. He raised it towards Snakeskin in a gesture that carried a slight, but unmistakable threat. Snakeskin and Annawest raised their champagne glasses in response and drank politely. Pony turned back to the bar.
"Pony Dahl. If I don't hire him on, he might shoot me and if I do hire him on, he might shoot me. Maybe I could send him on some kind of an errand out of town." Snakeskin rubbed his chin with the handle of his fork. "Well let's enjoy this boss supper of yours."
Between courses, Snakeskin excused himself, went over to Pony and spoke to him. Pony grinned, nodded, and rode out.
After dinner was over, Annawest waved goodbye to the crowd admiring her dress outside the window and the couple went up to their hotel room. And closed the door.
The breakfast was wonderful. The eggs, the blueberry compote, and the flour used in the pancakes were all fresh from Mormon farms. The high point of the meal was the region's famous cantaloupe.
* * *
"Luddy Mussy," said Snakeskin, "I've had good times before but nothing like this. If my usual good time was a ride to the top of Mount Elbert, this one would be a flight to heaven in a chariot pulled by wild swans."
Annawest smiled at him. "Yes, that . . . cantaloupe was a daisy. It's a good thing we both have hearty appetites."
"You know, we got to keep the hands busy or they'll start shooting one another."
"Oh, dances and horse races would do."
Annawest rounded up some women and arranged a dance. She had to use all her charm, dignity, and imperiousness to stop trouble, but she did it. She was exhausted afterwards. The horse race was easier due to the arrival of a cheerful old man called Dave Blonger who said his tired old brown gelding, Tornado, could beat any horse In Utah. On the morning of the race, Annawest looked closely at Blonger's brown. She couldn't understand the way it was acting for a while, but then suspicion dawned.
"Oh poor Tornado," she said, "nobody is bettin' on you. I'm sure you feel terrible. I'll bet on you. Who's man enough to give me odds?" Several did.
Just before the race started Pony Dahl rode in. He dismounted and shambled over to Snakeskin and said, "Going to pan out. The cattle will be here in two-three days."
"What's going on?" said Dahl.
"Just a horse race."
"Yeah?" said Dahl. "Maybe I'll put a little money down." He joined the crowd. After a little palaver he came over to Annawest and insisted on betting his five-dollar gold piece on Blonger's brown at odds of three to one.
Tornado crossed the finish line an easy three lengths ahead. Annawest and Blonger were the only ones shouting. They turned to collect their bets from a mostly dumbfounded crowd.
The buscaderos headed for the bar to console themselves with the Oh-be-Joyful. Snakeskin and Annawest went back up to their hotel room.
"Well," said Snakeskin some time later, "let's get up and get dressed and go down to supper. Say, before we go down, how did you know that Tornado would win?"
"Well," said Annawest, "I have never seen such a change in a horse. The old Tornado was about the laziest horse I ever saw. The horse that came up to the startin' line looked like Tornado but didn't act like him. He was prancin', holdin' his tail up, and his coat jis gleamed. There was only one possibility. It wasn't the same horse."
"Hah. No wonder Blonger left town so fast. Congratulations. Maybe you don't want to try to collect from Pony Dahl, though. He just isn't right in the head."
"Oh he won't shoot me."
"Annawest . . .
"Oh let's go down to supper. I'm hungry." On the way down the stairs she asked, "Why are you using those funny-looking bullets with the holes in the end?"
"Hollow points?" said Snakeskin. "I don't usually use them because they make a terrible mess, but they're better in the kind of a crowd we have here because they don't go through the man you're shooting at and hit somebody else."
Annawest frowned, but said nothing.
Their evening passed pleasantly but uneventfully. They woke up early next morning and had a late breakfast. After breakfast, Snakeskin went down to the saloon to play poker. Annawest and Kate Horony involved themselves in tea and commiseration.
Afterwards, Kate went upstairs for a nap. Annawest went down to the Maw Cheryl's saloon to look in on Snakeskin. He was playing poker with Doc Holiday and some men she did not know. She was about to pass on, but noticed that Pony Dahl was a member of the party. Ladies did not go into saloons, but that man owed her money! She pushed aside the swinging doors and marched in. "Mr. Dahl," she said, "you owe me fifteen dollars."
Pony Dahl did not look up from his cards. "Now what makes you think I would give fifteen dollars to a two-bit whore?" He looked at her body. "You'd have to work for three days in a bed with silk sheets for me to give you a dime."
Annawest was speechless with fury. The cowboys gave Dahl angry looks and looked at Snakeskin. Dahl didn't notice. He was looking at his cards with muzzy concentration.
Snakeskin didn't react. He looked at his cards and said, "Well I guess you got to play the hand you're dealt no matter how bad it is. Change seats with me Pony, maybe that'll change my luck." Pony obliviously complied. Now Pony was sitting on the right side of the table. To shoot down the long barroom toward the door, he would have to swing his pistol across his body.
Snakeskin sat down, looked at Doc Holiday, and nodded sideways at Annawest who had not moved. Holiday put his cards down on the table and waited. The other card players, except Dahl, slid their feet back under their chairs.
Then Snakeskin said. "Ahh there's only one way to play this." He threw in his cards, unfastened the thongs on his pistols said, "Excuse me, gents," and walked toward the door, carefully watching Dahl in the mirror behind the bar. He took ten steps and turned around. Holliday took Annawest firmly by the arm and drew her to one side. The other card players put their cards in their vest pockets and backed away from the table. The young bartender finally noticed something was happening, but did nothing except goggle, his huge Adam's apple moving up and down.
Pony Dahl raised his eyes from his cards and looked around in a puzzled way. His eye lit on Snakeskin. "Wha . . . ?" he said.
"I tried to tell you that was a lady, Pony," said Snakeskin, "but you wouldn't listen. Am I going to have to count three? One . . . "
Pony dropped his cards and jerked his gun out of its holster. As he tried to swing it across his body, the barrel hit the table. Then it was too late. One of Snakeskin's bullets hit him above the eye and one just below his breastbone. They threw him back up against the wall and he landed limp on the floor. One booted foot landed on his chair.
Maw Cheryl stuck her head out of the back room. "No other way he was going to end up," she said. "What a mess. Wall too. She stepped back into the back room and came out with a mop and a pail. "Better get it cleaned up when it's fresh," she said.
"Ahh, Ahh!" said Annawest. "Oh! Oh!"
Maw Cheryl dropped the pail, "Oh you poor child. Don't stand there looking at it. Come into the back room and sit down. Tea might help." Still Annawest stood there. Maw took her arm and drew her away. Annawest moved stiffly as if she had forgotten how to walk.
Later, Snakeskin took Annawest up to their hotel room. She stood facing the wall and refused to look at him. "I can not stand this," she said. "I can not this. You said it almost never happened and this is three times. I can not stand this."
"Look, Annawest . . . "
"It was my fault he thought I was a prostitute. I was dressed too fancy. And he was drunk and crazy and had no idea what was goin' on and you killed him anyway."
"I know, but those cowboys really like you and respect you and half of them are half in love with you," said Snakeskin.
Snakeskin spread his arms, palms out. "So Pony was dead just as soon as he called you a whore. If I hadn't shot him somebody else would of."
"Well you didn't have to do it."
"If I hadn't, they would of figured I was a coward."
"You men and your cultus pride," snapped Annawest.
"An' then," Snakeskin went on, "they'd of tried to take you away from me. Men would of died then. Me for one. Me for almost sure. Look Annawest, the West is calming down. Few years, your waddies probably won't even be wearing six-guns. All you got to be is patient."
"Patient!" She made fists of her hands and pressed them to her forehead. She gulped and ground her teeth. She set her jaw and turned around. She did not sob, but the tears were pouring down her cheeks.
"IF I married you," she said. "I don't think I can now. I want to, but I don't think I can. Bein' married to you would be wonderful but I jis can not stand . . . Oh it was awful seein' that."
"Acgh," said Snakeskin, hooked the chamber pot out from under the bed and vomited into it. "Oh Gawd," said Snakeskin who never swore in the presence of women. "Drunk and crazy. And it was me that creased his head like that in the first place. Acgh." He vomited again.
Annawest turned back as Snakeskin got the dry heaves, "Oh! It's happenin' again isn't it?"
Snakeskin was kneeling on the floor facing the chamber pot. He clutched the right side of his head. "Oh Luddy," he said, "Oh Luddy. Here comes the headache. This is going to be a bad one. Worse than being shot. AAAch." He heaved again.
"Oh dear," said Annawest, "here, drink some water."
"I . . . I can't see it very well. My vision is fading out. It starts from the middle and spreads." Annawest caught his hand and put the glass into it. Snakeskin drank it, but it came right back up again. "Oh Luddy," he said. "Close the drapes and talk quiet. This is going to be a bad one. Drunk and crazy."
"Oh no," said Annawest, "I made it worse, didn't I."
"Oh Luddy," said Snakeskin. "The world has started spinning on me. Help me to the bed. Bring the chamber pot. You might have to help me throw up." Pain's worst when I throw up. It's never been so bad. Ah, give me my pistol, please, please."
Annawest started to give him the pistol. Then she jerked it back, "NO!" she said. She opened the loading gate and took all the bullets out, dropping half of them on the floor. Then she did the other pistol.
"It . . . it would just be for comfort," said Snakeskin.
Just then there was a knock on the door. "Oh no," said Annawest. "Who is it?"
"Doc and Kate. How's Snakeskin?"
"Well I . . . Could you come back later?" said Annawest.
"It's bad, isn't it," said Doc.
"It's awful," replied Annawest.
"Well," said Doc, "if it's that bad, you're going to need help. Begging your pardon, but we're coming in." There wasn't much that they could do. Snakeskin lay on the bed half comatose with his hand pressed to his head, sweating, vomiting, and snarling at anybody who made a noise.
After the second day, Annawest found it difficult to keep calm. She said to a gathering in their hotel room, "Jis listen. He was raised with the Navajo. On a tradin' post. He got their religion enough so that an Enemy Way Dance will bring him out of it. That's the only thing that will. We have got to take him into the Navajo reservation."
"Do whut now?" said ElPaso. "Yore talking wild. You cain't do that. The Navajo is on the warpath. They'd chop you up inta little pieces and make you eat 'em."
"What he says is true," said Doc Holliday. "The Navajo are in a blind fury over a killing and . . . other violence. Snakeskin told me that he came close to being shot himself when he took Waypatoo to the reservation."
Annawest put her hands on her hips and gave the gathering a hard stare. "Well I don't care. I'm going anyway. I can not stand to see him sufferin'. He tried to kill himself, it was so bad."
"Annawest," said Kate, "the Navajo are very angry over the . . . mistreatment of some of their women. They want to pay the white man back in his own coin."
"You mean rape. I'm still goin'," said Annawest.
"You try, we're liable to hog-tie ye," said ElPaso.
Annawest opened her eyes wide and eyebrows came together and down. She thrust her chin out, her lips became thin, and a line of teeth showed between them. Her hands doubled into fists at her waist and she took a step toward ElPaso. ElPaso stepped back.
Snakeskin lifted his head and one shoulder from the bed. "Don't . . . don't . . . Annawest don't go," he croaked and fell back. "Oh Luddy . . . " he said.
Annawest closed her mouth firmly and left the room. Ten minutes later she was renting a buckboard and team from the livery stable. Fifteen minutes after that, she was in the general store. Her purchases included brown shoe polish, two narrow Navajo blankets, hair dye, a wide leather belt, a wash basin, and a big canteen.
She was introducing herself to the horses, blowing into their noses, when she noticed a small crowd coming. It included ElPaso, Doc Holiday, Kate, and the sheriff. In the lead was Maw Cheryl with her sleeves rolled up over her powerful arms. She was wearing her business face. Fifteen minutes later Annawest was inside a jail cell protesting at the top of her voice. All except Annawest expressed their thanks to Maw Cheryl who refused payment but accepted Kate's offer to treat the bruises on her shins.
"By Dang!" said Maw Cheryl, walking out, "I've had less trouble with two-hundred pound drunks."
"You can not keep me in here without charges!" shouted Annawest.
"Suspicion of cattle rustlin'," said the sheriff, sitting down at his desk.
It was some time before Annawest quieted down, but the sheriff might have been deaf for all the effect it had on him. Annawest sat down on the bunk with a thump. She folded her arms and stared at the floor.
After a good while she looked up. "Sheriff," she said in her sweetest and most ladylike voice, "it is so dull in here with nothin' to do. Could you please bring me my handbag? It has my sewin' things in it. You may remove the revolver, if you wish. Also, could you bring me the Navajo blankets from the buckboard? I wish to make myself a raincoat."
"Yes, Navajo blankets shed water you know. And they are très stainchable. That means plum durable."
"You can buy a raincoat."
"I know, but a woman doesn't want to look like every other woman, does she? It jis isn't chic."
"Well, you got a point there, I guess. OK, I'll send somebody."
"By the way," said Annawest, "what did you do with my goods?"
"They're in the livery stable. I can have them run up to your room if you want."
"No thank you," she said. "Jis leave them there."
Anna spent the afternoon sewing the blankets together. She sewed the bottom sides of the blankets together to make a skirt. Next she sewed just the top corners of the blankets together. She tried it on. She put her head through the gap in the top of the blankets and her arms out the sides. The fit was reasonable. When she put on the blankets and the belt, she would be wearing a Navajo woman's dress. She took it off and laid it aside.
In the early evening, the sheriff went out for supper and old an swamper came in. She introduced herself and after some very cordial conversation she said, "I wonder if you could do me a favor," she said. "I don't have my Butterick sewin' patterns with me. I left them in Snakeskin's Gladstone bag. Things are so dull in here. Could you please get that bag for me? Here's the room key."
The swamper scratched his hairy ear. "Well, Uhh . . . "
"I give you my word, there aren't any weapons in there," she said, giving him here sweetest smile.
"Well, Uhh . . . "
"I'll give you a dollar for a few drinks."
When the swamper came back Annawest turned her back to him and put the bag on the bunk. She bent over from the waist so that her skirt lifted to expose her ankles. She thought the swamper would be sufficiently distracted to not see what she was taking out of the Gladstone bag and hiding under the mattress.
"Oh dear," she said, "they're not in here. Where could I have put them?"
"Well," said the swamper, "you could look in your handbag, there."
"Oh of course," she said and found them there. "How silly. Sorry to have troubled you."
"Pshaw, 'tain't no trouble at all."
Annawest was diligently sewing when the sheriff came in. "Well Ma'am. is there anythin' you want before I go home?"
"No thank you."
As soon as the door closed, Annawest pulled Snakeskin's locksmithing book from under her mattress and opened the book to the chapter on lock picking. She had found the description of the jailhouse lock, selected the proper picks
She soon got the lock open, wedged the door with a knitting needle, then lay down and slept. Three hours before dawn she got up, put her revolver and her bag in Snakeskin's valise, opened the door, and ran down to the livery stable. In half an hour she had the horses harnessed and all her goods loaded.
She led the horses to the back of the hotel. She unlocked the back door with a simple skeleton key and went up the stairs as quietly as she could. She drew her pistol and entered her room.
Snakeskin lay muttering and twitching on the bed. Kate sat dozing in a chair. As Annawest came in, Kate roused, looked at Annawest, down at her revolver, and up at her face again. Annawest lowered her pistol.
"You have to help me get him downstairs," she said, "Please."
Kate looked at Snakeskin, bit her lips, and arose. The two of them got Snakeskin down to the buckboard without making too much noise. He hardly seemed to know what was happening. She covered Snakeskin with the blankets and drove away as quietly as she could. Once out of town, she whipped the horses to a trot.
The eastern horizon was turning white and making silhouettes of the mountains as she drove up to the borders of the reservation. She pulled up, set the brake, and tied the reins to a piñon tree. She removed her traveling dress, folded it, and carefully put it in the valise. She tied a short white cape around her shoulders, and poured water into a wash basin and added the contents of a bottle. She took a comb, dipped it into the basin and drew it through her hair starting at the roots. As she combed, her hair turned darker and darker until it was black. Next, she removed her cape and her chemise and applied brown shoe polish it to her face, arms, and shoulders. She put on the blanket dress and the belt with the silver conchos. Then she put her hair into a bun, and climbed into the seat of the buckboard. She snapped the reins and said "Giddyap!"
Annawest was careful to keep her voice calm and her hands steady on the reins. She sang to the horses as she drove. Every few minutes, she looked back at Snakeskin. He was much the same, sweating, muttering, and half-conscious. She resisted the urge to hurry. She did not want to tire the horses.
She topped a rise and saw a dead cottonwood tree with a sign on it. The sign was white with black lettering, but the light of dawn made it look blood-red. She noticed several objects fastened to the sign that looked like small swatches of cloth.
Flies rose up and swarmed around her when she reached the sign. "Navajo Reservation," the sign said. "The territory beyond this sign is not within federal or state jurisdiction. Any entering here are not protected by either federal or state authority. Pass at your own risk." She looked and saw that what she had taken for swatches of cloth were not cloth at all, but scalps. The red hair on one was long and whipped back and forth in the wind. It could have been a woman's scalp. She hesitated. Snakeskin gave a gasp and a groan. She looked back, set her jaw, and snapped the reins, "Giddyap," she said.