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Transformation at Wall's Station
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The Spectator
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 by Frank Shortt
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C

In late autumn he rode up to the little stage station with one thought on his mind! Revenge!

Everything he had held dear on earth was gone; his wife, property, and his little infant son. A man named Fred, whom he had never seen, had left him almost bereft of even his sanity! He would not even have a name had not one of the raiders called out the name during the heat of battle. Blood, from a wound inflicted on one of the raiders during the attack on his home, led him to his present location.

Mindy Wall, hearing the incessant rapping on the door, feared to open it. “Who’s there,” she cried pitifully!

“It’s Tom Treyer from up Mountain View way, I need water and food most urgently, and I need fodder for my horse. I heard that you always kept extra supplies here at the station.”

Reluctantly, the young lady opened the door a crack. The man’s voice seemed pleasing enough. Upon seeing that the man was not dressed as a vagabond, she was less distressed and began treating him just as she would any would-be passenger on the stage to Mount Hamilton. Inside, Tom looked around as best he could in the poorly lit room. After what he had been through the last couple of days, he was suspicious of anything that had life in it. He strained his ears for any sound that would reveal the presence of a wounded man. Off to the back, was another lean-to room that could possibly house a fugitive. The freshly scrubbed rough floor boards gave Tom reason for contemplation. She was either a very immaculate housekeeper, or, she had a good reason to scrub the floor in the middle of the week!

The girl, possibly around eighteen, had the rough hands of a person used to the rigorous exertion required at a way station for the Butterfield stage line running between San Jose and the little settlement that had grown up around the observatory at Mount Hamilton. She was tall, slender, with dirty blond hair, and Tom could barely keep from gazing at her steel blue eyes, slightly slanted, with the far-away look of a dreamer. The kerosene lamp, now lit during the evening repast, reflected her stature that any man would have had a hard time avoiding unless he was a woman hater!

“Do you ever hire extra help around here,” Tom asked absentmindedly.

He was destitute since he had lost his whole world! He only had the clothes on his back, his horse, and the single-six revolver that hung loosely at his hip in an old scarred-up holster from riding the rough terrain at his now defunct little spread.

“We’re not a large operation, she replied, but we sometimes hire transients to feed and water the stage horses. Dad has been doing poorly lately and most of the load has fallen to me.”

“I’ll be glad to help out for a few days providing I can sleep in the hay barn and have a couple of meals each day” Tom said without too much forethought as to his future plans.  He did not dare reveal his sole purpose in coming to Wall’s Station.

Mindy refused to reveal that her father’s illness was due to a gunshot wound through his right shoulder. He possibly needed a doctor, but she had patched him up as best she could as she would one of the horses that had been chaffed by the reins or from an over exuberant muleskinner’s whip. She walked and talked gingerly in Tom’s presence, being kind but firm,  but always treated the stage travelers with great respect, tending to their needs as best as her ability allowed. She always made sure there were a pot of beans on the stove and a pone of cornbread that her mother, God rest her soul, had taught her to make before succumbing to an especially hard winter a few years ago. The stage drivers were always amenable to her needs and carried extra supplies to her as space allowed. She kept the little way station in a clean and orderly state. Her garments were always clean and sanitary, as well as, her speech. Tom soon realized that this was not just any ordinary girl! After all, he was still a young man and was very lonely after losing his wife and infant son. Mary had often wondered why her father often rode off with some uncouth looking riders sometimes staying away for several days. She did not realize that they were looking for an easy way to make a living.

Cold frosty mornings began showing an early winter, and Tom wondered why Mindy’s dad never got well. He sometimes yearned to go see the man for himself, but out of respect for Mindy, contained himself. After all, she was feeding and housing him! When any new person came around the station, Tom would examine him discreetly with a fine-toothed comb. Mindy, meanwhile, kept up the day to day operations, as well as, taking care of her father’s needs, heating water for his bath, emptying and cleaning the chamber pot, and changing his bedding as often as time allowed. Tom, during evening talks, soon saw that what made this girl different was her strong faith in her God. Her only reading material of importance was her mother’s worn bible and what used catalogs the teamsters brought.  She would often reprimand him softly when he would accidently swear an oath while repairing the stubborn, stiff harnesses or some other task that required a little extra exertion. He could hear her softly praying while in another part of the room.

Came the day when groans emanated from the little lean-to room. Mindy dropped what she was doing and ran to see what caused the commotion. On examining the wound, she found red streaks emanating down the arm and pus pockets forming around the wound. She had read enough medical journals, brought by the teamsters, to know that blood poisoning had begun to set in! Her father had begun to refuse food a couple days ago. She did not know what to do! She was caught between revealing her father’s true illness and having him die for lack of proper medical attention! “Oh God, what must I do!” she cried out in anguish. Tom hearing the cry, hurried to the little room. What met his first attention was a man who had emaciated to almost a skeleton, pale as a ghost, with sunken in eyes staring hauntingly up at him begging for mercy! Tom knew immediately that this was the man for whom he sought. His first thought was to dispatch him to Kingdom Come, but immediately feared doing anything so drastic because of all the kindnesses Mindy had shown him. 

Mindy cried, “Tom, please hitch up the buckboard and take dad to San Jose to a doctor!”

“What is this man’s name,” Tom asked.

“Fred Wall” she replied, not knowing she might be signing his death warrant!

Mary had been unaware that Fred Wall had been involved in the raiding of Tom’s little ranch. He had told her that he was shot accidently while out hunting with some other men. All the other’s had scattered when Tom began shooting, and he had followed the only lead that he had, the one that dripped blood. What the men sought were Tom’s thoroughbred horses brought all the way from Kentucky. The escapees managed to run off all the horses, had shot Tom’s wife and son, and set fire to the rest of the ranch thinking they had gotten Tom in the bargain. Tom had managed to escape by rolling into an irrigation ditch and covering his body with loose brush that grew along the ditch. He often blamed himself for the death of his wife and son. It tormented him for many days thereafter!

Out of respect for Mindy, Tom stated, “I will try my best to get Fred to the doctor in San Jose. He looks on the verge of death if you ask me!” Mary pondered many things before she answered.

“Please, don’t kill my father! He has been both mother and father to me since my mother died. We do not make a living from this way station so my dad has to take on extra chores wherever he can find them to supplement our living.” Tom thought, “Yeah, even stealing other folk’s horses and cattle to make a little extra money! It is too bad my bullet was too far from his vitals!”

Tom’s soul was tormented as he set out for San Jose. The man lying in the back of the backboard was bound for jail as soon as the sheriff at San Jose found out he was a cattle thief. After a few tortuous miles, the man cried out to Tom to stop the buckboard! “I need to unburden my soul,” he cried! Tom did his bidding and walked back to where the man lay in agony.

“Yes, I was with the men who raided your ranch. I went along thinking that I could use my part of the horse money to pay off some debts I owed. The problem is, I wasn’t thinking rationally. When the other men began to shoot up the place, I turned away from the whole mess. One of the raiders let me have it in the back calling me a turncoat. After I was shot, I rode straight back to Mindy and the only safety I knew. I suffered many days fearing that Mindy would have to witness you shooting me. In fact, I didn’t know what to do, so I did nothing! If you shoot me and get me out of my misery right now I will not blame you at all. I just wanted to protect Mindy. She is the only thing that I care for in life.”

Tom went back to the reins, beginning the ascent to San Jose. He stopped every few miles to check his patient. As he drove, Tom’s anger began to assuage. He could only think of Mindy all alone in the way station. About ten miles out from San Jose, Tom stopped to check on Fred. By this time he had believed Fred’s story about the raid. As he walked back to the buckboard, he could see that Fred’s eyes had turned back into their sockets and that his body had taken on the rigidity of death. He drove the remaining miles to San Jose and sought out the first doctor he could find. The doctor confirmed the death of Fred and suggested an undertaker down the street to place Fred in his final resting. Tom had the doctor sign a death certificate and, after a few hours rest, began the ascent back to Wall’s Station.

Mindy’s heart was breaking as she saw Tom’s approach driving the buckboard. She thought, “Where is my father?”

If he was still alive he would be sitting on the seat next to Tom! Her next thought was to take down the little Winchester carbine and shoot Tom before he got close enough to do her any harm.!

With heavy heart, Tom drove up to the station. This would be one of the hardest tasks he had ever set out to do. First he had to tell Mindy that her dad had died on the way to San Jose. Secondly, he must convince her that he had nothing to do with the death of her father. He knew that Mindy would be ready for anything, even a huge lie, but this was the chance he had to take.

Tom took the direct approach explaining to Mindy why he came to Wall’s Station in the first place. “Mindy, I am sorry that I lost your dad! He told me all about the raid on my ranch and how he came to be shot in the shoulder. (Tom related the story to Mindy just as Fred had told it)Believe it or not, I believed him, as I had no reason not to. He told me of the whereabouts of the remaining raiders, I informed the sheriff of their location, some in another district, but I have decided, thanks to you, that I will allow the law to handle rounding up the miscreants and giving them their just dues.”

Mindy did not know what to think! She could only stand there with her mouth open, staring in disbelief of what she had just heard. After Tom presented her with the death certificate, he told her, “I will be riding with the sheriff to round up the rest of the gang, and as soon as I return, with your permission, I will ask for your hand in matrimony!”

Mindy gave thanks to the Creator, thanks to Tom for sparing her father’s life long enough for him to explain his part in the raid, and she was most thankful that faith in her God sustained her through this entire ordeal. Wall’s Station became the foundation for two lives that were transformed by the mundane operation of a service to mankind! Our mundane lives could be accomplishing this if we could only look into the future at the ones our services touch!