A Novel of the Wild West

            The Tucson Daily Star ran the following article regarding the Indian menace:
      That the Indian menace is still very real has been borne out by Mr. Harry Kent and Mr. Fred McSween of Graham County and the Blue Jay Ranch in the Gila Valley. Last week they reported large numbers of Apache riding southwest toward Tucson. These hostiles undoubtedly belong to those that left the reservation with Geronimo. McSween informed the authorities at Safford, who in turn alerted the military, of a fire and massacre at the ranch of his neighbor, Louis Hancock. The bodies of Louis's wife and child were found nearby in what appeared to be an Indian burial ritual. It was reported that she was an Apache. Mr. Hancock's body could not be found, and it is assumed he was completely consumed by the fire. We strongly urge all citizens to be on the alert. If any of you don't have enough ranch hands to adequately protect and defend your property, by all means come into a larger, more populated area. We are all in this together.
            The Indians were a real threat to anyone traveling outside the town limits, or who lived in isolated areas, but those living in Tombstone didn't share their fear. A grand ball had been organized and was scheduled to take place that very night in the hall of the Turn Verein, the German Athletic Club. It was considered one of the most important social events of the year, and a great deal of effort always went into these affairs. Let the Apache rage in the hills. Here in the safety of downtown Tombstone, the dance would go on.
            Nellie Cashman, the best in the business, had been hired to cater the affair. She arrived at the ball dressed in a spectacular gown of ice-blue satin. Her dark locks were piled high on her head, and wisps of hair outlined her cheeks and tumbled down the back of her neck.
            Setting up the bar across the room was Tombstone's favorite and most jovial bartender, Frank "Buckskin" Leslie. Frank looked up as Nellie came in. He stopped what he was doing and stared, thinking he had never seen Nell look more beautiful or more desirable. The sheen of her satin gown, and its ice-blue color, combined to entice Frank almost beyond his ability to control himself. The vision would be indelibly imprinted on his mind. This promised to be a memorable evening.
            Nellie had arranged to be at the club the whole night. This had presented a problem, because her sister Fannie, and Fannie's five children, needed Nell's attention, especially after dark. Nell solved the problem by enlisting the aid of Father Gallagher, who agreed to put the children up in his rectory for the night.
            The oldest boy, Mike, was ten. He was a handful, but had a healthy respect for the priest. Besides, his good pal, Carlos Niños, also ten, would be there for the night. Carlos, a full-blooded Apache, had been taken in by the priest after his parents were killed, and now, after four years at the rectory, he seemed more white than red. He and Mike served together as altar boys, and they enjoyed each other's company. They shared adventures, and had planned one for tonight.
            The orchestra began warming up at five in the afternoon. There were two pianists, two violinists-J. L. Fonk on lead-and two flutists, Tombstone ladies who advertised theirs as the "sweetest flute music in the southwest." Jose Fernandez and his five mariaches had been hired to stroll about the hall and play between dances. After dinner the music would liven up when the violinists turned to being fiddlers.
            By six the hall was pretty well filled, and even though Frank was doing great business at the bar, everyone stayed on their best behavior in keeping with the occasion, and also because the law was very much in evidence. John Behan, city sheriff, was there. He had cleverly commissioned Harry Jones as a deputy, and Harry was now sitting it out alone in the sheriff's office thereby, as Behan had planned, leaving Kitty Jones free to spend the entire evening with him. They drew applause with their version of the schottische, thanks to the lessons they'd taken in San Francisco.
            There was another election in the offing, and when not showing off his skills on the dance floor, Johnny was all over the place shaking hands, patting backs, buying drinks, and being very much the politician. The only people he avoided were Sarah Marcus and her tall, handsome escort, Wyatt Earp. They showed up early, arm in arm, and stayed late. According to Sarah, Wyatt wasn't much of a dancer, but he went through the motions. Missing was Mattie Blalock, Wyatt's friend from Kansas days.
            All the Earp brothers were there. Morgan came in with his stunning wife, Louisa. Typically Earp, he too wasn't much of a dancer. He sat most of the evening on the sidelines, puffing on a cigar, sipping beer, and marking time with his feet. He didn't object when other men asked for the privilege of taking a turn around the floor with Louisa. He'd nod assent and boom out, "Just so's you bring her back." Louisa loved the attention. She was born to dance, flirt, and captivate men.
            So was her niece, Hattie, who came with her father, Jim Earp. Hattie was eighteen years old, big-breasted, vivacious, and very pretty. With her come-hither look, it was no time at all before her dance card was filled.
            Virgil Earp came with his wife, Allie, who was content to stay by his side and listen as he regaled any available listener with his stories. He got the biggest laughs when he recounted the story of John Behan and the Chinese laundry.
            More than a few eyebrows were raised when Doc Holliday appeared with his woman, Mary Katherine "Kate" Haroney. They were dressed to the nines, and smelled of perfume, liquor and tobacco. Despite her rather unsavory reputation, plenty of men there would have loved to take Kate for a turn around the floor, but they weren't about to ask Doc's permission. No one could predict the mood he might be in.
            Although the law prohibited the carrying of handguns within the city limits, it was obvious that Doc wasn't wearing an empty holster. For that matter, neither were the Earps, John Behan, and several others. The situation in Tombstone made it almost mandatory that these men be armed.
            Mollie Fly's eyebrows arched higher than a cat's back when she saw Doc settle Kate on a chair, bring her a drink, and then make a beeline for Nell Cashman. Men who had only seen Doc gambling and drinking in the saloons were surprised at the change in him as he engaged Nell in spirited conversation. None of this was lost on Kate, either. She flounced to the bar where she'd have some company, and where Frank was engaged in telling stories. The more beer he drank, the funnier and more exaggerated they became, and that suited Kate just fine.
            Funny thing about Frank. There was no May. It came out that he'd left her alone at their ranch in the Swisshelms. His partner for the night, or so it appeared, was Mollie Williams, known as Blonde Mollie. She was a singer at the Bird Cage Theater, and was endowed with a voluptuous figure and a lusty voice. Several times during the evening she and Frank sang for the crowd, and everyone enjoyed their performances. Everyone, that is, except Nell Cashman.
            When Frank asked her for a dance, she responded by lighting into him for leaving his wife home and openly sweet-talking Blonde Mollie. "I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it," she exclaimed. "You who always spoke of the sanctity of marriage! Now look at you! Don't be asking me for any dances. I don't care to dance with the likes of you!"
            She turned abruptly and stepped to where Doc Holliday was sipping Irish coffee. She held her hand out to him and inquired, "Doctor?"
            "Magnolia blossom," he replied as he stood and offered her his arm.
            As they stepped onto the floor, Doc raised his hand to the musicians and called, "The mazurka, if you please."
            Frank Leslie's mouth dropped open, Mollie Fly's eyebrows went to the ceiling, and a collective gasp came from the crowd.
            The festivities didn't stop, but they sure stumbled a bit as Doc Holliday, deadly gunfighter, and Nell Cashman, pillar of the community, picked up the beat and abandoned themselves to that lively dance. Doc danced with skill and grace, and Nell followed his lead with ease. Bystanders picked up on the tempo and began clapping their hands; Morgan Earp's right foot was really banging away; and when the dance finally ended, Doc was bushed. But Nell was just getting warmed up.
            The next dance was a Viennese waltz, and none other than big Bob Paul led Nell onto the floor. The six foot six inch, two hundred and forty pound Paul was amazingly light on his feet, and he gave the diminutive Nell a real whirl. Everyone was caught up in the spirit of the evening, and the good time just kept rolling along.
            Frank Leslie knew why he'd been rebuffed, and it stung him. He went back to the bar and poured himself a stiff shot of Double Eagle Whiskey, and looked around for Kate. She was gone. She'd left for one of Tombstone's less elegant gin palaces.
            Around nine that night, to everyone's disbelief, Billy Clanton, Billy Claiborne, Tom McLaury and Frank Stillwell showed up at the dance. They'd decided to come and see how the "other half" lived. Even though they were sober and reasonably well-dressed, these cowboys from Galeyville weren't welcome. They looked around, then made for the bar.
            Frank Stillwell right away took a shine to Blonde Mollie, and ordered a drink for her. But Buckskin Leslie put his hand on Frank's arm and said quietly, "The lady's with me."
            Claiborne piped up, "I thought you was married to May Killeen."
            In the same quiet voice, Leslie said as he slid him a glass of bourbon, "Don't pursue it, Billy." Then, with a grin and in a loud voice, he added, "The folks are all having a good time, and you're welcome to join in. Have yourselves some fun." With those words he defused the explosive atmosphere.
            Another disturbance that went unnoticed by most of the revelers involved handsome, twenty-eight year old Tom McLaury, who'd been silently drooling over the vivacious Hattie Earp. It took a while, but he finally worked up the courage to ask her to dance, and she accepted. Though he was more than a little clumsy, and managed to step on her toes several times, they got along well, carrying on a lively conversation between dances.
            Then, out of the blue, her father confronted them. "We'll have no more of that," he said stonily. "Hattie, you go back to your aunt, and reserve your favors for honest folks. McLaury," he continued, "you keep your hands to yourself, and don't let me ever hear of you approaching my daughter again."
            Tom reddened. His pals were watching. He was embarrassed, and getting angry.
            "And what if I do?" he snapped.
            "Yeah, we'd like to know just what you'd do, gamblin' man," Frank Stillwell chimed in as he, Claiborne, and Clanton moved toward the irate Jim Earp.
            At that point, Wyatt arrived on the scene. "I reckon he'd do what we'd all do," he answered. "We'd kick your goddamn asses all the way down to Mexico, and then we'd feed you to the coyotes."
            The cowboys looked the Earp brothers over and noticed the bulges in their coats. Claiborne stepped back, grumbling, "You're lookin' for trouble. We ain't got any weapons with us. Go pick on someone else. You wouldn't dare talk to us that way if we had our pieces."
            A cold look passed across Wyatt's face. "Maybe next time you'd better bring them."
            The boys glared at the Earps, then turned on their heels and left. They weren't sure they liked how the other half lived.
            The festivities continued until the sun came up the next morning. This Grand Ball would be remembered as the best that Tombstone ever had.
            In the meantime, everyone in the hall was busily engaged. Those not dancing were either watching from the sidelines, gossiping, or indulging themselves at Frank's bar or Nell's punch bowl. The Oriental and Alhambra had closed early, and Frank had arranged for a couple of their bartenders to help out at the ball, which gave him an opportunity to take an occasional breather. That's what he was doing now as he wended his way through the crowd to Nellie's table.
            "Nell," he shouted over the din, "what do you say we do a couple rounds together?"
            Nell gave him a withering look and replied tersely, "I've already given you my answer on that, Frank, and my feelings about it haven't changed one iota."
            She turned her back on him and went on serving her customers, while Frank slowly made his way back to the bar.
            Just a few minutes later, eight-year-old Theresa Cunningham timidly entered the hall and sought out her Aunt Nell. Nell looked up just as Theresa reached her table, and was dumbfounded to see her niece. This was certainly not the place for her to be, and Nell's first reaction was to give her a good tongue-lashing. Then she saw the girl's red, puffy eyes. Nell leaned down and put her arms on the girl's shoulders. "What's the matter, Teree?" she whispered.
            "It's Mike," Theresa tearfully replied. "Mike is gone."
            Nell drew aside one of her committee, saying, "I'll be back shortly," then hustled her niece over to the relative quiet of the cloak room.
            "Where did Mike go?"
            "He and Carlos went. They said they were going prospecting in the old Yanky Sam Mine."
            "Where's Father Gallagher?"
            "Somebody got real sick, and he had to leave."
            "Didn't Mike say when he'd be back?"
            "He said he'd be back in a couple hours, but that was way before it got dark. Biddy went with them."
            Nell's mind was whirling. It had been dark for two and a half hours, which meant the boys had been gone for several hours, at the least. She was frightened, but took a little comfort knowing the dog had gone with them. Telling her niece to stay put, Nell hurried back into the hall and found Sheriff John Behan. After she explained the situation, he put his arm around her shoulders and said, "Nell, the boys are probably just playing with their pals and have forgotten all about the time. They'll be along any minute now. Trust me."
            "Sheriff, please come with me and help me find them," Nell pleaded.
            Johnny looked over at Kitty Jones, who was making time with her feet and anxious to get on with another dance. He wasn't about to leave.
            "I tell you, Nell, they're just out having fun. If they're not back by morning, I'll wire Fort Huachuca and they'll send out some soldiers. We wouldn't dare go traipsing around the countryside without a soldier escort. There's Apache fires to be seen all over the mountainsides. Just keep a good thought, Nell," he told her, and walked away.
            Nell was so astounded at his attitude that her mouth fell open as she watched him leave. She quickly recovered herself and looked around, hoping to find Doc Holliday or Bob Paul, but they'd already left.
            She took a deep breath. "Behan's probably right," she thought, "but I'd better go and have a look-see."
            She returned to the cloak room to get her niece, and they slipped quietly out the side door where she'd left her horse and buckboard. She lifted Theresa onto the seat and climbed aboard.
            "First things first," she said, and headed for the church at a fast pace. Father Gallagher's faithful old housekeeper was waiting at the door, and she burst into tears when Nell approached.
            "No están aquí, no están aquí," she wailed.
            Nell quieted the old woman, and led her and Theresa into the sitting room of the rectory. She checked the guest room to make sure the other children were sleeping, told the housekeeper to get Theresa back to bed, and scrambled onto the buckboard.