The Secret of Sagebrush Creek

Chapter 1 - Sagebrush Creek

The sun was just dipping down below the tops of the distant mountains and spreading a red and orange glow over the landscape. The mountains appeared purple and blue against the sky. The silhouette of a passenger train could be seen in the distance and its melodious, yet lonely-sounding whistle blew one long blast as it approached the station in the tiny town of Sagebrush Creek.

Stopping at the tiny railway station, a number of passengers alit from the train, including one from under a passenger coach where he had been riding the rod. The "rod" connected the trucks (four wheels joined together giving the cars flexibility on curves). Riding the rod was a risky business, not only for the chance of being caught, but the worse fate of dropping off the rod and onto the tracks under a moving train. The lone figure who emerged from this infamous place glanced quickly in both directions, and satisfied that he hadn't been seen, disappeared behind the tiny railway station, carrying a bed roll on his back and a carpet bag in his hand. He pulled a bamboo cane from under his jacket and twirled it jauntily as if he were an elegant gentleman who had just alit from the first class coach on the train.

He saw the sign on the station "Sagebrush Creek." He wondered where the creek was; there was no sign of it in the town. There was only one street in the town, and stores, a hotel, a saloon and other places of business lined both sides of the street.

The little traveller looked like a tramp. Probably in his late 20's, he wore clothes that were dusty and worn. His trousers were extremely large and sported ragged, tattered hems. He wore a battered derby and a little black moustache.

The tramp pulled out a map and consulted it, squinting in the receding sunlight. He folded it up again, continuing in the direction he had been going. There was a moderate breeze tonight on the plain, displacing some of the hot dry air. Tumbleweeds blew hesitantly, even down the main street, and stirred up a bit of dust in their wake.

As the darkness grew more oppressive, the tramp saw a light up ahead that beckoned welcomingly. As he drew closer to the light, the weary little man could see that it came from a saloon and dance hall from which loud piano music was emanating. The man stepped up to the swinging doors and stood on tip-toe to see what was going on inside. He quietly stepped in and sidled up to the bar. He checked his pockets for money and there wasn't a cent. He stood nonchalantly next to a tall man who was watching the dancing girls on a stage up in front. In a flash, the little tramp quickly took the other man's drink and swallowed half of it before putting it back where it had been. The tall man turned back to his drink and stared at it strangely. He turned to see if there was someone standing behind him, but there wasn't. The tramp had gone.

The little tramp put down his carpetbag and bedroll on the floor and sat down at a nearby table. Two men sitting there were watching the dancing intently and clapping to the music. The tramp took out a clothes brush and began to brush his dusty clothes vigorously, and the dust settled on the other men's food.

"Hey, cut that out," said one of the men, a tall red-haired fellow.

The tramp smiled, tipping his hat and sat down. He put away the clothes brush. The other man turned his attention back to the girls. The little man surreptitiously grabbed some food from the men's plates and chewed furiously. He washed it down with a drink from a bottle of beer sitting on the table. He grabbed some more food and shoved it in his pockets.

The other man, shorter and blond, turned to look at his plate and gave the tramp a strange look when he saw some of the food mysteriously gone.

The little tramp tipped his hat and stood up, smiling again. He picked up his bedroll and carpet bag and left the way he had come in. There was a hotel across the street and he hesitantly went in. The hotel's old desk clerk was sleeping, his chair tipped against the numbered mailboxes. There was a key board on the wall next to the sleeping man. The tramp took some large, very quiet steps over to the board and pulled a key off of it. Since the key was still there, there was obviously no one in that room. He turned and took some large steps away from the desk.

The tramp was halfway up the stairs when a voice said, "Where do you think you're going?"

He turned to see the desk clerk standing at the bottom of the stairs with a rifle pointed at him. There was a large man standing near the door watching the scenario, and twirling his black moustache menacingly. He was wearing a star on his vest; obviously the sheriff.

The tramp smiled nervously and started backing up the stairs, right into another man who pushed him back down the stairs. Rolling down the steps, the tramp ended up on his behind on the landing, then jumped up quickly and headed for the door. He was stopped by the sheriff who grabbed him by the lapels.

"Are you gonna pay for a room or not?" demanded the big man.

The tramp checked his pockets again, hoping he had missed some money, but only finding the map. He pulled the pockets all inside out…not a cent. He grinned sheepishly and shrugged his shoulders. The sheriff chuckled gleefully as he tossed the little tramp out the door. He landed in a heap on the wooden sidewalk, hitting his head on a lamp post. The sheriff threw the tramp's hat and cane out the door after him, along with the carpetbag. The tramp lay there, his eyes closed, stunned.

A young man walking by saw the tramp come flying out of the hotel door. He stopped and stared. He walked around the tramp and peered closer. Then he stood up straight and stared again, hesitantly. He didn't seem to know what to do. Finally he knelt down and waved his hand in front of the tramp's face but he didn't respond. He cautiously poked a finger into the tramp's upper arm. Still no response.

"Are you all right?" he said softly. At that, the tramp started coming to, his eyelids flickering. The young man stood up and backed away. The tramp rubbed the back of his head and stood up, still a little stunned. He held on to the lamp post. He was suddenly aware of the young man standing in front of him, holding something in his hand.

The tramp felt his pockets, not for money this time, but for his map. He couldn't find his map! He looked over at the young man. "What've you go' in yer 'and, kid?" he asked.

"What?" replied the young man.

The tramp went over to the boy and pulled the paper roughly from his hand. He looked at it. "It's me map…"

"I found it laying there…" (he pointed one finger down at the dirt road) "did you get thrown out of the hotel?"

"Yeah. They don't like lettin' blokes stay at the 'otel fer free." He looked at the boy. "Ge' lost, kid."

The tramp started walking down the dark street, looking for a place to sleep. He still had his bedroll and his carpet bag. He walked to the end of the street, but felt someone following him. He turned to see the same young man. When he turned and stopped, the boy stopped in his tracks as if he were a statue. The tramp continued walking. He turned again and the boy was closer, but standing like a statue again.

"Didn't I tell y' t' ge' lost?" said the tramp.

The boy nodded. He smiled. "Yes, sir. You did."

The tramp continued walking. He found a large shed near the train station. The door was ajar and he went inside. He saw the boy still following. He closed the door and opened his bedroll on the floor of the shed, putting his carpet bag on one end for a pillow. He took off his coat, vest, tie and hat, laying them on a crate and topped it with his bamboo cane. He loosened his collar and lay down on his makeshift bed and closed his eyes. But he couldn't sleep. He felt like someone was watching him. He pushed open the door of the shed a crack and peered out. Sure enough, the young man was still standing there like a statue, watching the door.

When the young man saw the tramp, he smiled and raised a hand in greeting.

"Ain't y' go' no place t' go?" said the tramp.

The boy shook his head.

"Aw roigh' come in 'ere then. I can't sleep wi' y' watchin' me door loike tha'…"

The young man entered the dark shed. The tramp lit a candle that he took from his carpet bag. "Didja eat supper?"

The boy shook his head. The tramp pulled out several slices of bread, cheese and salt pork from his pocket that he had pilfered earlier at the saloon and handed half of it to the boy. "All I go' roigh' now…" He stared as the boy tore into the food. Apparently he hadn't eaten for a while. The tramp decided to eat his portion too.

"Wha's yer name, kid?" asked the tramp.

"Harry. Harry Logan."

"I'm Charlie. Jus' Charlie. Ain't y' go' no 'ome, 'Arry?"

"Ran away. To make my fortune…"

The tramp laughed. The boy looked like a teenager…maybe 18…but it was hard to tell. He acted younger. He had a round cherubic face with huge innocent looking blue eyes and a very sweet smile. He had curly red hair under his battered soft grey bowler that sported a rounded edge. His jacket was tattered as were his trousers. He looked like a tramp too.

"I'm 'ere t' make me fortune too, 'Arry. Wha' are y' plannin' t' do?"

Harry shrugged his shoulders.

"I need me sleep roigh' now." The tramp rummaged in his carpet bag and pulled out a threadbare blanket.

"'Ere. Pu' this under yer 'ead and go t' sleep. Now don't bother me no more!"