Those of you who have read Gibbous House will know that Moffat bumps into contemporary figures from time to time. This continues to occur in No Good Deed. The first piece of writing here “On the St Louis Stage” is the excerpt from the book and the second is the same scene written from one of the other passengers’ point of view. If you realise who that is, put a comment below.
On the St. Louis Stage
My two fellow travellers proved notable for their peculiarities. They were fellows of similar age, neither seeming more than thirty. Both were possessed of prodigious moustaches and dressed in what I had come to view as the colonial style. This seemed chiefly to consist of wearing any mismatched colours and cloths cut in unflattering imitations of earlier fashions from London, except for the matter of what one wore on one’s feet and head. They each wore the ubiquitous boots and a most peculiar hat. It came as some surprise when one of these fellows thrust out a hand and bellowed over the rattle of the wheels,
‘Clemens! Both of us, that is. Pleased to meetcha!’
I took the proffered hand. It was not calloused, but the grip was firm and recognisably on the square. He held my eye as I switched my handshake to what was clearly his brother’s hand and gave the name that had served me best.
‘Moffat, at your service.’
It transpired that this Clemens and his brother were bound for the Nevada Territory.
‘Orion has become part of the grand orchestra of the State,’ Clemens said.
I enquired as to what instrument he played.
Clemens’ laughter took some time to subside, before he enlightened me further,
‘Hell, no! Orion’s on his way to a job as Secretary to the Utah State Governor. Imagine that! My own brother a durned parasite.’
His brother gave him a look of affection rather than distaste, which I found surprising.
Out of manners and nothing more, I enquired,
His eyes gleamed: there was something puckish about the fellow; as though he found me, his brother, the world at large – and even himself – a rich and satisfying source of amusement.
‘Silver!’ he said. He swept off his peculiar high-crowned, broad-brimmed hat.
‘See! I’ve even got my Boss of the Plains hat! Got to help a Missouri boy get ahead, after all.’
He pointed at a crudely fashioned maker’s label inside the lining. I could not read it in the poor light inside the coach.
‘JB Stetson’ll be as famous as Mr Samuel Colt, or I’m a Dutchman.’
I doubted that, the hat was ugly and hardly suitable for a gentleman. It would not have surprised me to learn that the Clemens brothers had been the only purchasers of this innovatory item. Evidently, Mr Clemens was possessed of an unseemly curiosity, for he chose to enquire of me,
‘What brings you here, Mr Moffat? You ain’t a prospecting type, I reckon.’
‘Prospects interest me, not prospecting.’ I said.
It was a foolish answer to give such a curious fellow.
‘I can tell you’re a swell feller, ain’t he though, Orion? I reckon we’ll rub along fine with him.’
I was unsure whether the fellow could be quite such a pudding-head as he appeared.
Over the next few hours, Mr Clemens junior kept a running commentary of the things he expected to do, and the enormous fortune he expected to make, in the booming frontier towns of Nevada. This fascinating subject exhausted, he began to regale me with the qualities of the wondrous seven-shot pistol he had brought along to defend himself on the wild frontier. He avowed it to be a marvel of engineering so sophisticated that it had taken two fellows to design it. A Mr Smith and a Mr Wesson. He was so enamoured of it that he declared himself prepared to overlook its only fault: that one was unable to hit anything with it. Almost every anecdote provided him with an opportunity to blow such gales of laughter as ought to have despatched his sibling’s own ridiculous hat out of the stage-coach window. I began to look forward to our arrival in St. Louis. Mr Clemens informed me that the next stage of their journey would be by steamboat from thence to St Jo, where they would once more try the overland stage.
Strangers on a Stage
I have been known to exaggerate a little, there ain’t no denying that. The defence posits that if you travel the Missouri river without meeting a liar, you’re either a fish or as credulous as the crowd at an Appalachian tent revival. No matter, get us both a drink whilst I tell you a story that is almost all true.
My brother and I were travelling by stage-coach to St Louis, as we had not time enough to travel by the river. Orion was heading up to Utah to work for the Governor, and I had it in mind to accompany him. Thenceforth I would go on to Nevada and set myself up as a silver prospector. There was but one fellow traveller aboard the stage; a tall and brooding guy* who looked to be in the prime of life, though there was something about his manner which put a man in mind of an old geezer. One who’d seen enough of life to decide it wasn’t fair and there was no point – come hell, high-water or a hallelujah chorus at the end – in being so yourself.
He said his name was Moffat, ‘though it took a mite of encouragement to get him to speak at all. Hell, I even showed him my Boss of the Plains hat, but he seemed not a whit impressed. Fact was, his own hat looked like something a rich fool might wear to an opera. This Moffat had a danged peculiar way of speaking: his every conversationalism marked him out as a Britisher. Hell, I never heard him utter a curse-word, not even a goldarned dang. On occasion I thought he had a bit of Scotch about him, but I couldn’t smell any drink on him though it was after noon. Nevertheless, Orion didn’t take to him much and that alone made the mystery man worth speaking to, in any fool’s estimation.
That dour fellow had a sense of humour though. When I told him about my plans to find silver up in Nevada, he said he was ‘more interested in prospects than prospecting’. I laughed to be polite but Orion, well, he was going to work in government, so he didn’t.
Anyways, after a while I could tell he wasn’t so interested in my plans and with the aim of keeping the man’s interest I told him about the seven-shot Smith and Wesson pistol I was carrying in case of any encounter with Nevada ‘varmints’ at some future time. He didn’t even laugh when I told him the weapon was so sophisticated that it had taken two men to design it. Nor were his ribs tickled by my assertion that the weapon only had one drawback, that being the inability to hit anything with a round fired from it.
Orion and I got off the stage in St. Lou. I said to Orion I had the feeling I might see the man again. My brother’s reply was succinct,
‘If’n’ you’re hellbound yerself, brother Sam.”
*for those of a pedantic bent, like me, guy is first noted as in American use in 1847, 13 years before the above takes place (or didn’t, as it’s fiction 😉 ),
Anyway, REALLY well done for getting this far. Pre-order a copy of No Good Deed for yourself here . You can get your name in the back (or front – for a slightly higher fee) of the book as someone who made the book happen, how about that?