Halley Stoddard stepped down from the train, and shaded her eyes. The town had changed since she was last here, and even more since the old days. The streets were paved, for a start, at least some of them, and there were streetlights instead of kerosene lamps. People wore clean clothes, and worked in stores and offices, and almost none of them wore guns.
"Go west, young man, and grow old with the country".
So Horace Greeley had written, and so Ransom Stoddard had done. But Halley thought that if Mister Greeley had ever stood in the glare of the afternoon sun in Shinbone, he might have given different advice. Ranse might have stayed home, and become Professor Stoddard (instead of Senator Stoddard, or Governor Stoddard, or Ambassador Stoddard). He never would have met the outlaw, or her; and everything might have been different. For one thing, she wouldn't have known who Horace Greeley was.
This was all daydreaming of course; but she knew that there was more to it than that, because she needed to think about something, because if she didn't she was likely to rip the hide off of that puffed up pissant who thought he was a real newspaperman. "Who was Tom Doniphan ?"
A better man than you'll ever be, she thought.
Ransom Stoddard's Story
Ranse was always good at telling stories. Mister Peabody had a gift for eloquence, using words in unexpected ways, coming up with phrases that stayed in your memory even when you'd forgotten what he'd been talking about. But Ranse had a different style. He had a way of hesitating, even stammering sometimes, as if he was having trouble finding the words; and it wasn't like you were hearing a speech, it was more like an ordinary conversation with a friend. Yet somehow Ranse always found the right words in the end, and after seeing him do it a few times you wondered if maybe he'd had them all along.
It took him a while to set up the story. He talked about the trip to Shinbone on that old stagecoach, and of being robbed, beaten, and left for dead. He didn't talk about everything that had been done to him, but he got the point across.
He told of being rescued by Tom Doniphan, and of how Tom had brought him to Halley's parents, who nursed him back to health and gave him a job. He told of meeting the outlaw a second time, and of how Tom had almost goaded the man into a gunfight, and of how he had spoken up and stopped the two men from killing each other.
He didn't mention that he sometimes regretted doing that.
Then came his work with Mr. Peabody at the old Shinbone Star, writing editorials urging statehood, opening a school and teaching the children of the town to read - and some of the adults as well, including her.
Finally, he approached the climax of the story. There was going to be a convention to choose the men to go to Washington and petition for statehood, and Ranse was elected to be one of the representatives at the convention. The outlaw was also nominated, and when he wasn't elected he'd made some threats, and the most serious of them was aimed at Ranse.
Ransom Stoddard was a peace-loving man, and it was against his principles to kill a man. But that was the choice he had; he could fight (and nobody doubted that it would be to the death), or he could leave town. She told him to leave, his friends told him to leave, and he was all packed when they heard that the outlaw had gone after Mr.Peabody and burned out the office of the "Star".
So Ransom Stoddard stuck his old Colt in his belt, and went out in his work clothes to face the second toughest man in the territory.
The outlaw shot the gun out of his hand, then told him to pick it up. His hand was wounded, but he did it, and the outlaw raised his weapon, and said "This time, right between the eyes". Ranse got off a wild shot, and the outlaw fell.
Only the outlaw's henchmen missed him at all, and Tom ran them out of town in about ten minutes. Nobody seemed to think it was odd that a man shot from the front should have a gaping bullet wound in the side of his head.
Then came the convention, and Mister Peabody gave a barn burner of a speech, and at the end nominated Ranse to go to Washington, and somebody praised him for killing the outlaw. Rance almost threw up; he hated having done it, and being celebrated for it was more than he could stomach. He walked out, and was all set to pack up and head back east, and then Tom Doniphan stopped him. "Think back, Pilgrim", he said, and told him what he'd never tell anyone else as long as he lived...
Tom Doniphan's Story
Halley had been beside herself. Ranse was going out to fight the outlaw, and she knew, and so did Tom, that that was no fight at all. Even if Ranse could shoot worth a damn (and he couldn't), putting a bullet into a man just wasn't something that he could bring himself to do. Ranse was as good as dead, and he probably knew that himself.
So Tom got his hired man Pompey, and they circled around outside of town, and came back in through the alley opposite the outlaw. The outlaw raised his pistol slowly and deliberately, Ranse raised his desperately, and Tom put a rifle bullet into the outlaw's head from ambush.
Ranse was appalled at the story. "That was.."
"Cold blooded murder, but I can live with it", said Tom.
He argued Ranse into going back into the meeting room, and accepting the nomination. As far as he was concerned, what mattered was Halley. He loved her, and she loved Ranse, and that was it. "You taught her to read and write", he said. "Now give her something to read and write about !
Then he went home and crawled back into a bottle; and he never really climbed back out.
They'd hauled the outlaw's body off to Rafe Wilbur's storage shack, to keep until sunup. They'd bury him in the morning.
Halley and Pompey approached the shack quietly, not that they really needed to. There wasn't anyone around, and the whole town was fast asleep.
"You shouldn't ought to be doing this, Miss Halley", said Pompey. "You ain't the Slayer."
"Hell's fire, Pompey...I ain't even a Potential
any more", she replied, "but there's no one else. They don't know what he IS
, or how to deal with him. You know what'll happen. A bullet in the head won't put him down for more than a couple of hours... and the damned Watcher's Council couldn't send anybody in time, even if they'd paid any attention to our telegrams in the first place ! It's got to be us, 'cause we're all there is !"
"Then you should at least let me do it", said Pompey.
"I wish I could, Pompey", she answered, "But I was trained for this, even if it has been a couple of years (and it was more than a couple
). Besides", and she lifted her father's old cavalry sabre, "I'm the one with the sword."
Pompey shook his head, but he didn't argue. Arguing with Halley was pretty much a waste of breath, anyway.
They reached the shack and eased open the door, stopping briefly when it squeaked. Then Halley slipped inside, blade in one hand and kerosene lamp raised in the other. The outlaw lay on a work table on the right side of the room; his boots and gun belt were on a bench on the left.
And his glowing red eyes were wide open.
Halley thought fast. If he went for the gun, she was dead. But he always liked playing with his victims, and he always liked using that silver-mounted riding whip...if he went for the whip, she had a chance. He lunged suddenly, and turned towards her, with that crooked sneer of his, brandishing the barbed whip.
She slashed with the saber, catching him across the face. He laughed and struck, and the whip cut into her arm. She could barely hold the sword.
She threw the lamp at his head. He combusted like paper, giving a roar that didn't sound anything like a human, and fell thrashing to the floor.
The shack was catching fire around her. Pompey pulled her out, and they crouched in the darkness, watching the shack burn. Someone must have heard, but no one came to look until well after dawn. By that time, they'd both gone home; Pompey to look after Mister Tom, and Halley to explain to her father how she'd lost his sword.
Tom had been buried, and there were still a few people who remembered him and came to the funeral. They were waiting for the train when Pompey shuffled over to say goodbye.
Ranse took a short stroll and gave them their privacy. Halley had known Pompey longer than she'd known him, and they'd probably want to talk about the old days for a bit before she left. And it might be their last chance, because the old black man was really starting to show his age.
"Did you ever tell him the story, Miss Halley ?", Pompey asked.
"Hell's fire, Pompey. How could I ?", she replied.
"After all they both did ? After all they both went through, how could I tell either one of them that I
was the one who really killed Liberty Valance ?"
All characters, and most of the story, are the Property of Paramount Pictures.