Disclaimer: These characters are the sole and exclusive property of Rupert Holmes. I just like to invite them out to play occasionally.

WILD WEST ADVENTURE PART ONE
BY
SUZANNE POPPLEWELL


The first thing Betty noticed as she was helped out of the stagecoach was the dust. It was everywhere. The second thing was that everyone was dressed like they had parts in a western movie. Looking down at herself, she gasped as she realized that she was dressed the same way. Where the heck am I? And why am I dressed in this strange old fashioned outfit?
"Howdy, Ma'am." A strange voice said at her right. "Would you happen to be Miss Elizabeth Robertson, our new schoolteacher?"
"My name is Betty Roberts…" Betty started to say then trailed off as the significance of her situation hit her. "Yes, I'm Elizabeth Robertson. And you are?" She turned and directed her question to the short stocky man who had just spoken.
Tipping his light tan stetson to her, the man replied, "My name is Cornelious McKinley, Miss Robertson, but you can just call me Mackie. I'm the head of the school board here in Wennville. Welcome to our fair city."
"I'm pleased to meet you Mr. McKinley er…Mackie. Are you going to show me the school now?"
"With pleasure Ma'am, if you'll just follow me." The little man told her, picking up her valises and starting off down the plank sidewalk. As they passed each of the many buildings that lined the sidewalk he pointed out what business and who owned each one.
There was Miss Genie, the music teacher. Betty could see her through the lace curtains giving a piano lesson to a skinny little girl with a long brown braid. Right next door, there was Gerta Reed, the dressmaker. She wasn't there, but Betty admired the trio of hats in her front window. Taking up the remainder of the block was Folton's Dry Goods Store. It was obviously the center of town, because she could see several people inside shopping and two elderly men sitting just inside the door hunched over a checker board set up on a large barrel.
"Funny thing about Mr. Folton, Ma'am. He hasn't hardly said a word since I've known him, but he's a real nice man just the same."
As they started across the street, he pointed to a large two story building whose raucous noise immediately told Betty that it was a saloon, and said, "That's Singer's place. Best stay out of there if you know what's right."
Going around the corner, they passed a good-sized brick building standing apart from the rest and that, Betty learned, was the Marshall's office and jail.
"Marshall Cornstalk is away in Capitol City this week, but he'll be back soon. Funny thing though, lately he's been spending a lot of time in Capitol City. Folks are beginning to worry about that."
A minute later, they stopped in front of a large square building with a big center door and two large multi-paned windows on either side. This was the schoolhouse, and the teacherage was around the back. Escorting Betty into the schoolhouse, Mackie pointed out the cloakroom, the desks, and the blackboards before guiding her through the door into the narrow living room of the teacherage.
Leaving her to get settled, Mr. McKinley left and as soon as the door closed behind him, Betty collapsed onto the overstuffed chair covered in worn faded green velvet and laughed out loud. "This must be some kind of really weird dream or maybe it's a nightmare, I don't know which."
Deciding to see what was in the unfamiliar valises, Betty started to unpack. Hanging up the five wrinkled dresses and putting a small mound of underclothes in the slightly warped dresser drawers didn't take very long, so she decided to take a walk through the town again and look around more closely.
I wonder what I'm going to do for supper tonight, she thought as she passed the General store again. I wonder if there's any money in my purse. Maybe I can buy something. Quickly checking the cloth drawstring bag hanging from her wrist, Betty discovered that she was the proud possessor of two dollars and forty three cents, all in change.
Deciding to see what she could buy, Betty went into Folton's and immediately bumped into a large blonde woman standing near the doorway.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, Miss Robertson, I didn't see you there." The woman apologized mopping her face with a dainty lace trimmed hankie.
"That's all right …" Betty started to say then stopped and looked down at the woman in surprise. "How did you know my name? I just arrived today." "Everybody in town has been waiting for you. You no sooner got off the stage when half the people around here knew who you were. My name is Genie Brimmer, by the way, I give music lessons."
"How do you do Miss Brimmer. I was just coming in to see what I could get for supper with my two dollars and forty-three cents."
"Come on, Elizabeth, may I call you Elizabeth? I'll introduce you to Mr. Folton. He's really a darling man once you get to know him. He'll fix you right up." Genie babbled on as she led Betty towards the counter.
"Most people call me Betty instead of Elizabeth;" was the only thing Betty was able to get in as she followed behind her new friend.
Mr. Folton was a tall skinny man of about forty with dark hair and a narrow mustache. When they stopped in front of the counter, he nodded to Genie and reached out to shake Betty's hand.
"Betty here is looking for something to eat, Mr. Folton." Genie said before he could say anything. "But she only has limited funds so do you think you can fix her up with a charge account?"
Nodding, the storekeeper turned and began pulling things off the tall shelves behind the counter.
"Genie!" Betty protested. "I can't afford all of this stuff. I told you, I only have two dollars."
"Then you must allow me to take you out to dinner, Ma'am." A deep voice said from behind them and Betty jumped in surprise. Whirling around, she came face to face with a rather good looking man, muscular with dark black hair and eyes. There was a twinkle in those eyes as he repeated. "May I have the pleasure of your company for dinner this evening?"
Reaching out, he brought her right hand up to his lips and kissed it gently. "My name is Sherman, Shawn Sherman at your service, Miss Robertson."
"My goodness," Betty said "I guess everyone does know who I am already."
"Betty is most certainly not going to have dinner with you, Mr. Sherman." Genie interrupted angrily. "Do you want her to get fired before the school year has even begun? That's what would happen if Mackie found out she was seeing the most notorious gambler from Mr. Singer's saloon."
"I'm sorry Mr. Sherman," Betty told him regretfully. "But Genie's right. I can't risk my job. But thank you for the kind invitation."
After purchasing a tin of tobacco from Mr. Folton, Shawn Sherman took his leave but as he walked through the door, he turned and looked back at Betty with a gleam in his eye.
"Betty, if you know what's good for you, you'll stay as far away from that man as you can get," Genie stated firmly and Mr. Folton nodded his head several times in affirmation.
"But why? He seems like a nice enough man." Betty asked curiously. She signed the ledger card that Mr. Folton held out to her and picked up the small crate of groceries.
"Betty, he's a gambler and a two-bit con artist. I heard he was even in some foreign jail once." The plump piano teacher replied as they crossed the street and started walking back towards the school. "This is Singer's Saloon, where they have drinking and fancy women parading around in short skirts and feathers."
Glancing curiously through the swinging doors, Betty saw a crowd of men at the bar and a buxom red headed saloon hostess making her way across the floor towards the stage. "Who's that," she asked, pointing.
Genie followed her gaze and said "Oh that's just Mabel, one of the saloon hostesses. She sings sometimes too." As they turned the corner and started up the path towards the school, she continued "But the one you really have to watch out for is Miss Hildy. She's married to Mr. Singer, and boy does she have a nasty temper. They fight in the street like cats and dogs sometimes."
"Tell me about the Marshall. Mr. McKinley said he's away right now?" Betty asked as they entered the little teacherage.
"Marshall Cornstalk is really very nice too. The way he talks is over our heads, but an educated teacher like you should be able to understand him easy."
"Is he married?" Betty asked taking the cans Genie handed her and putting them away in the cupboard. Now why did I ask that? I don't care if the man is married or not.
"No, he's too dedicated to his job to worry about a wife." Genie replied as she emptied the box and set it by the door. "Well, I'd better be getting on home. It was very nice talking with you and I'm sure we'll see each other again soon."
After Genie left, Betty was able to make herself some pancakes and bacon for supper before putting on her nightgown and collapsing into bed. Her final thoughts as she fell asleep were Please let me wake up tomorrow in my own bed back in Pittsburgh. I don't know how to teach school.
The bright sun shining in her eyes woke Betty the next morning and she sat up confused. Where am I? My window doesn't face east. My goodness, I'm still in this crazy dream.
Climbing out of bed, she hurried over to the small round mirror on the wall and sighed in relief to see that she at least looked the same. Struggling into a blue gingham dress, and multitudes of petticoats and bloomers, Betty wondered how women in this time period ever managed to get anything done.
Unsure of what to do next, Betty decided to go out into town again and see what she could see. Nobody had told her when school was to start and she wasn't even sure what day of the week it was. As she rounded the corner into town, Betty was surprised to see a large mob of people crowded around the saloon. Pushing her way through the crowd, she was soon at the front and had a clear view of the inside of the building. Not exactly sure what she expected to see, Betty was confused as to why everybody was gawking at three men sitting at the bar drinking beers. Turning to the old man standing on her right she asked curiously "Why is everyone looking at those three men?"
"Well, little, girl those three men are none other than the Harper gang. A nasty group of hooligans and bank robbers too."
"But those men look so ordinary. I can't believe that they're dangerous outlaws," Betty protested.
"Oh but they are bad, young lady, very bad. Now if you'll excuse me, I got to go clean up." With that, the old man turned and shuffled away down the street.
Betty stood at the edge of the mob for another minute or so before continuing her journey down the street. I guess I'd better find out what day it is before I do anything else; she thought, looking around for a familiar face to ask. Unfortunately, the only one she saw was Mr. Sherman lounging against the hitching post in front of the Hotel. When he noticed her, he tipped his hat and smiled. Hurrying across the street, Betty stopped in front of him and asked breathlessly, "Pardon me, Mr. Sherman, but you wouldn't happen to know what day of the week it is?"
"Why certainly I do, its Saturday, September 4," He replied.
"Thank you very much," Betty said then turned to go.
"What's your hurry, Miss Robertson? Wouldn't you care to stay and talk awhile? Or perhaps we could go into the Hotel and have a nice cool glass of lemonade."
"Oh no, I couldn't," she exclaimed then added more quietly, "But thank you just the same." Turning around, she hurried across the street blindly, not bothering to look where she was going and ran smack into someone on the opposite sidewalk.
"Why can't people watch where they are going," a woman's sharp voice broke in over her head.
Looking up, Betty saw that it was Miss Hildy from the saloon standing on the edge of the sidewalk in front of her. "I'm sorry, Miss Hildy," she apologized "I was buried in thought."
"Yes, and I'm sure it was a shallow grave." The woman replied caustically. "You're the new schoolteacher, aren't you?"
"I just arrived yesterday."
"Rather young, aren't we? Well, if you know what's good for you, you'll stay far away from my Jeffy." With those words, the older woman turned and stalked away, a bright green feather bobbing from the hat perched on top of her reddish brown hair.
"What a shrew," Betty exclaimed softly to herself, staring after the woman.
"A viper." A male voice said from behind her and she swung around in shock. "Jeffy Singer at your service, Ma'am," an extremely tall young man said, bowing as he removed his hat.
"How do you do, Mr. Singer. Please accept my apologies for that unseemly remark about your wife. I didn't realize anyone would be able to hear me."
"That is quite all right Miss. Hildy has that effect on most people."
"My name is Betty Robertson. I'm the new teacher;" Betty replied holding out her hand. He shook it solemnly before continuing on his way down the street. Betty spent the rest of the day getting acquainted with her new home and trying desperately to figure out how she was going to go about teaching school the next week.
The next afternoon, Betty decided to take a walk along the outskirts of town. It was a warm and sunny afternoon, much to warm to stay indoors, so she set off. Walking quickly, she soon reached the edge of town and decided to keep going out onto the prairie and pick some late wildflowers for her table.
Not watching where she was going, Betty didn't realize that she was out of sight of the town until she heard hoofbeats and, looking up, saw a man on a horse come to a stop alongside her.
"Well, well, well, what do we have here? Such a pretty little lady. What are you doing out here all alone?"
Looking around frantically, Betty finally realized that she was indeed all alone, that she had wandered much farther than she had intended and couldn't see the town. "I'm not alone," She bluffed nervously.
"If you're not alone, then where is everybody else?" The man sneered looking around at the obviously empty prairie that stretched for miles in all directions.
"They'll be along any minute now."
"I don't think so, little lady. In fact, I think that you'll be just the leverage I need against that stupid Marshall of yours. Come on!" Reaching down, he hauled a surprised Betty up onto the back of his horse and they started to gallop away. Stunned, Betty had to grab hold of his waist to keep from tumbling off again and soon, she found herself coming up on a dilapidated shack that had once been a homestead. Reining in his horse, the man slid down and, pulling her off the horse, pushed her into the building ahead of him.
"I just happened to stumble across the answer to our little problem on the prairie a few minutes ago. This little lady is going to be our ticket to getting that Marshall out of town long enough for us to rob that stagecoach."
The other two men looked up from their card game and grinned. The skinny man on the left said, "Sounds like a good plan, Marcus. That Marshall will be so busy looking for her that he'll leave the coach unguarded and we can get the entire mine payroll."
"Excuse me for interrupting" Betty said in a small voice. "But there's one tiny little flaw in your plan, gentlemen. The Marshall isn't here. He's been in Capitol City for over a week."
"He came back late last night, little lady," the outlaw standing behind her replied, still gripping her arms tightly.
"He also doesn't have the slightest idea who I am, since we've never even met," Betty continued undaunted, as she tried to wriggle herself free of his viselike grip. Turning to look up at him she said, "Do you mind letting go of me? You're really beginning to hurt me."
Loosening his grip slightly, Marcus Harper looked at her and scoffed, "You have an answer for everything, don't you, girlie. Sit down and shut up, will you." He gave her a sudden shove that landed her on the rickety bedstead against the wall.
Drawing her feet up under her skirt, Betty considered her predicament as she watched the three men who were now sitting around the table making plans. Suddenly, she knew why they had seemed so familiar. This is the Harper gang! They plan to rob the stagecoach today. I've got to stop them, but how? She thought to herself frantically. I hope that Marshall Cornstalk stays in town and doesn't come out looking for me.
Unfortunately, Betty's hopes weren't to be realized. Back in Wennville, the entire town was already in an uproar. Genie had discovered her absence when she'd stopped in to the schoolhouse shortly after lunch. Not finding Betty there, she'd started asking around and soon discovered that Mr. Folton had seen her heading out of town towards the west a few hours earlier. Rushing to the Marshall's office, Genie frantically began pounding on the door. "Marshall, Marshall, Betty's missing. You've got to come help."
The door opened, and Marshall Victor Cornstalk stepped out. Looking down at the distraught woman he said, "What's all this about a missing woman? Who's Betty?"
"She's the new schoolteacher, she just got here on Friday and now she's missing. Mr. Folton saw her heading out to the prairie several hours ago and no one's seen her since. She must have been kidnapped. We've got to go and find her."
"Calm down, Miss Brimmer. First let me talk with Mr. Folton, then I'll see what I can do." Turning, he started ambling down the street towards the General store, Genie Brimmer almost running to keep up with his long strides. When he arrived at the store, Shawn Sherman was there as well as Jeffy Singer and they accosted the Marshall as soon as he stepped inside.
"Marshall, what are you going to do about finding Betty Robertson?" Sherman asked brusquely, stepping directly into Cornstalk's path.
"Out of the way, Sherman. As soon as I spend a few minutes conversing with Mr. Folton here I'll have a better idea of what's going on."
A few minutes later, he stepped back out onto the sidewalk and addressed the gathering crowd. "Listen up, everyone. It appears that Miss Robertson may be missing. I'll be riding out to take a look around. I want all of you to stay here and not go wandering around. It also appears that the Harper gang is in the area. They were in town yesterday."
Pushing through the crowd, he mounted his horse and rode off towards the western end of town.
Leaning against the pillar in front of the store, Shawn Sherman said to Singer who was standing next to him "He'd better find her in one piece."
"Why's that, Sherman?" the saloon owner asked.
"Cause I think I love her and want to marry her that's why." The stocky black haired man growled in reply.
As he rode out of town, Marshall Cornstalk contemplated the woman he was looking for. He didn't know who she was, but Genie and some of the others had given him a good description so he felt certain that he would be able to recognize her. Within a few minutes, he came upon the area where she had been picking flowers. Dismounting, he stooped down to examine the ground around the wilting bunches of flowers that were scattered around. Spying a clear fresh set of hoofprints, he mounted his horse again and began following the tracks.
Meanwhile, back at the abandoned homestead, the Harper gang was getting ready to ride back into town and meet the stagecoach. Marcus Harper came over to where Betty was sitting on the bed and said, "I'm really sorry to have to do this, little lady, but if I don't tie you up, you might take it into your head to try and escape before we get back." Pulling her hands tightly behind her back, he wrapped a piece of rope around her wrists several times and tied it securely. He did the same with her ankles then propped her up against the wall before he departed with his two brothers.
Betty banged her feet against the bed, but it was no use, she was stuck but good. Oh why the heck did I wander so far away from the edge of town, anyway? Now I'm tied up here and those awful men are going to rob the stagecoach. There's got to be some way for me to get loose. Next, she tried wiggling her arms to get free of the ropes but they had been tied very tightly. Leaning her head wearily against the rough boards of the wall, Betty closed her eyes and tried to think. Its no use. Even if I could get free somehow, I have no idea how far away from the town I am or if there's anyone out here who could help me. Suddenly, she thought she heard a sound outside. Sitting up straight, she strained her ears and listened. Someone was out there. Someone on horseback who had just ridden up outside.
Betty opened her mouth to call out but then shut it with a snap as she realized that she had no idea who was outside. It could be one of the gang members coming back or someone even worse. She decided to sit back and wait to see who it was. Luckily, she didn't have long to wait. A few minutes later, the door was slowly pushed open and a tall figure stepped cautiously into the cabin.
Victor looked around the dim room and spied the tied up figure on the bed. Hurrying over, he knelt down and began undoing the ropes around Betty's ankles. "Are you all right ma'am? I'll have you freed in just a moment."
"Marshall Cornstalk?" Betty asked. At his nod she continued hurriedly "We've got to hurry. The Harper gang is planning to rob the stagecoach and they kidnapped me to lure you out of town."
Victor finished untying the second rope and pulled Betty to her feet. "Can you ride? Never mind, you'll learn. Come on."
They ran outside and Victor swung himself up on his stallion, pulling Betty up behind him. "Hold on tight." He ordered as they began racing back towards town. Betty took him at his word and grabbed him tightly around the waist. They practically flew across the prairie, going so fast that Betty's hair came loose from its pins and streamed out behind them like a dark cloud. When they reached the schoolhouse, Victor stopped and let Betty slide off. "I want you to go inside and stay there. These men are dangerous and they could do something drastic if they see that you've escaped."
After he'd ridden off, Betty frowned after him and said quietly, "Stay inside, my eye. You may need help and I'm no coward." She only went inside long enough to grab a ribbon to tie her tangled hair back with then cautiously crept down the street and peered around the corner. The main street was nearly deserted. Apparently she wasn't the only person the Marshall had ordered inside. Slowly making her way down the street, Betty had just reached the Singer Saloon when a pair of hands grabbed her from behind and pulled her through the swinging doors. Whirling around angrily, she saw Shawn Sherman standing there arms folded across his chest. "What on earth do you mean scaring me like that? I ought to smack you."
"Me scaring you?" He asked incredulously. "When I saw you sneaking down the street like that, you nearly scared me half to death. Bettybettybetty, where have you been?"
"I was kidnapped by those horrible men who are trying to rob the stage. Marshall Cornstalk rescued me and he may need help capturing them. So let me go."
"Not on your life. If anyone's going out there, its going to be me. You'll stay in here where its safe."
"Mabel," he called out to a buxom redhead leaning against the bar "Keep an eye on Betty here, will you, and don't let her go outside again."
"Sure, Shawn, my love" Mabel replied coming over to them, her Irish accent so thick you could almost cut it with a knife. "You come on over here with me darling and let the menfolks do the dirty business."
"Thanks, baby." He grinned at them and disappeared out the door.
There was no help for it, she was apparently going to be stuck here until the menfolks got done capturing the criminals. Sighing loudly, Betty sat down onto the nearest chair and looked around curiously. She had never been in a saloon before and was interested in spite of herself to see what the place looked like.
Betty wasn't really sure what she had expected a saloon to look like, but it wasn't too bad. The walls were painted a bright green and the floor was kind of dirty and scuffed from the thousands of pairs of boots that had walked across it. There was the long mahogany bar of course and dozens of bottles of liquor on shelves behind it. Her eyes widened in surprise when she caught sight of the painting hanging above the whiskey. It was a huge portrait of a blonde haired lady, and she was reclining on the grass wearing only a thin chemise that was so sheer one could almost see right through it. Quickly she glanced away and looked around at the rest of the room. It looked pretty ordinary, tables and chairs and a staircase leading to the second floor.
"Never been in a saloon before, have you, honey?" Mabel's voice brought Betty out of her trance and she looked across at the barmaid and shook her head.
"No, never."
"Well, it's a good thing too. This is no place for a girl like you." Mabel said with a sigh. "Me on the other hand, this life is the only one I know."
"If you don't mind my asking," Betty said "How exactly did you get into your present line of work?"
Mabel laughed "No, I don't mind. I was born into it. My Ma was saloon dancer and as I got older, it was only natural that I became one too."
Betty's shocked expression seemed to make Mabel laugh even more. "Don't look so shocked, Betty. Its not as bad as you think. The guys aren't that bad and Jeffy Singer is a nice guy to work for."
Further conversation was interrupted by the sounds of gunfire out in the street and both women rushed over to peek through the doorway. Out in the dusty street, they saw the Marshall and Shawn Sherman walking by leading the three members of the Harper gang, hands tied behind their backs. Pushing the swinging doors open, Betty rushed outside and followed them down towards the jail. She was soon joined by the rest of the townspeople who came pouring out of the stores and businesses lining Main street.
After Marshall Cornstalk had securely locked up the gang, he came back out and seeing her standing in front of the building stopped and asked "Are you all right Miss Robertson, after your ordeal of this morning?"
"Yes, I'm fine, thank you, Marshall. Did you have any trouble capturing them? We heard gunfire." Betty replied, placing a slender hand on his arm.
"They didn't stand a chance," Shawn broke in with a cocky grin. "Did they, Vic?"
"Actually, I prefer Victor." The Marshall replied barely glancing over his shoulder at Sherman. "May I escort you over to the restaurant for a bite to eat, Miss Robertson? I am certain you must be famished by now."
Smiling up at him, Betty tucked her arm in his and they headed over towards Grace's Café.

End of Part One…
Is Betty ever going to wake up back in Pittsburgh?
Will Shawn Sherman prevail in his quest to win her heart?
Can she figure out how to teach school before Monday?