is dedicated to the late Mary Lynn Hardwick, aka as Mare-Mare or
SouthernFrau. I spoke to her the afternoon before she died suddenly on
Labor Day evening 2012. She was going to beta this for me since I didn't
think Lacy would be up for it.
Mary and I had a lot of laughs about a lot of things - Lancer, Emergency, History, her Brat Pack stories, family and so on and so forth. I can still hear her "doin' fine" when I'd ask how she was when she answered the phone and the "I'll try" when I told her to behave herself as we hung up after our weekly chat. Mary was an inspiration and a good friend. When I heard of her death I felt like I'd lost my best friend even though we never had the chance to meet face to face.
Mary - this story is for you, hon! I'm sure you would have gotten a few chuckles out of it and thanks for the suggestion about Val's drawl. It works really well with the name we chose.
Val Crawford wasn't a great poker player. He never claimed he was. As Sheriff of Green River he was more apt to be found throwing someone out of town or in jail for cheating or shooting it out with another player.
This particular Saturday night was different. Crawford wasn't in Green River, Morro Coyo or Spanish Wells where he was known. He was in Eagle Bluffs where he had just delivered a prisoner, and now had time to kill before his trip back. He'd wandered into the saloon for a beer but found himself in a friendly card game as well.
The saloon was rank with the smell of unwashed bodies, stale beer and the smoke of numerous cigars and cigarettes. The card players were a diverse group. Besides Val there were a couple of cowboys, a moderately well to do rancher, the owner of the hardware store and an older man who dressed like a professional gambler but sure didn't play like one.
Looking down at his cards, Val frowned. His hand wasn't very impressive if you asked him. He had two tens and two jacks along with a nine. He'd have to draw a jack or a ten in order to come up with a full house. He didn't think he had much chance of that but kept a straight face and threw the nine on the table.
"I'll take one," he said.
The dealer, in this case the rancher, gave Val the card at the top of the deck.
It was difficult for the outspoken lawman to remain silent and keep a straight face when he saw the jack he needed.
"Full house!" he thought. "But will it be good enough?"
"I'll see your ten and raise you ten," the younger of the two cowhands said. "I've been saving up for this for a long time."
"I'm out," the other one said.
One by one the players dropped out until only Val and the so-called gambler were left.
"I'll call your twenty and raise you another ten," the shabbily dressed older man said.
"You already have a fair amount of money in the pot," Val commented. "How do I know you've got enough left if I should call your bet and raise you?"
"I don't have the cash," the man said, "but I have a pure blooded Arabian mount. I'll give her to you if I lose."
"I already have a horse," Crawford told him. "What would I do with a second one?"
"She'd be quite valuable to you if you need to chase a fugitive through the desert," was the answer. "They're born and raised in the desert and can go long periods of time without water."
Val looked at the man skeptically. There was something about the way the man talked that irritated him. On the other hand a horse that could travel through the desert without needing a lot of water could come in handy.
"I think I'll take you up on that," the rumpled looking lawman said. "If nothing else, maybe I can sell it to Mr. Lancer. He appreciates a good horse. So do Johnny and Scott. Yeah, I'll take you up on that."
He looked at his remaining opponent and said, "I'm gonna want a bill of sale. Nobody's gonna accuse me of stealing that there valuable Arabian."
"Don't be so hasty, friend," the other man said. "You haven't won yet."
With that he laid down his cards. He had three nines and two queens.
"Nice try," the Green River sheriff said. "But read 'em and weep as they say."
With that he laid his hand out on the table. While his cards weren't the greatest they were good enough. Porter sputtered in disgust.
"My jacks beat your nines," Val laughed. "I'll take that bill of sale now."
Frowning, Josh Porter took the pen, ink and paper that were placed in front of him.
"If you would give me your full and proper name, sir, I'll turn over possession of my Arabian to you."
"Valentine Aloysius Crawford."
The snickering that was heard when Val told Porter, "Valentine Aloysius Crawford" stopped when he glared at the assembled group.
When he finished writing the older man handed Val the bill of sale which transferred ownership of one pure blooded Arabian by the name of Fellah to one Valentine Aloysius Crawford of Green River, California.
Satisfied, the sheriff folded the precious paper and put it in his vest pocket for safekeeping.
"Now where do I find my ‘pure blooded Arabian?’" he asked.
"Fellah is at the livery stable. You can claim her on your way out of town in the morning."
Val Crawford looked at him suspiciously. "Why can't I see her now?"
"She needs to rest and eat," Porter said smoothly. "Just as you do, I'm sure. You have the bill of sale. You won't have any trouble claiming her - in the morning."
Talking all the while, Porter managed to get the Green River sheriff to admit that he was tired and was ready for bed.
Scarcely had Porter entered his own room, leaving Val at the door to his, he was sneaking past Crawford's closed door, carpetbag in hand, and creeping down the back stairs to avoid paying the hotel bill he no longer had money for.
Around 7AM the next morning, Sheriff Val was in the local cantina having breakfast when he noticed the hotel clerk rush to the livery stable. He didn't pay much attention because the hotel clerk was such a fussy little man with nervous ways - like continually straightening his tie or jacket or hair. Crawford figured it wouldn't take much to set the man off.
Five minutes later, both the hotel clerk and the livery stable owner went running to the Sheriff's Office. Shortly thereafter the sheriff, followed by the other two men, crossed over and entered the cantina where they spoke with the owner in hushed tones.
Val ignored them and kept eating, pausing for a sip or two of his coffee to wash down the bacon and eggs. All he wanted was a peaceful breakfast and then he would check out and be on his way back to Green River. Alas, it was not to be.
"Excuse me, Sheriff Crawford?"
Val looked up from his meal to find Vance Hunter, Sheriff of Eagle Bluffs standing at his table.
"Yeah? What can I do fer ya?"
"Have you seen Josh Porter today?"
"Josh Porter - the man you beat in the poker game last night."
"Oh him? Nah. Not since last night when he gave me the paper for my new 'pure blooded Arabian mount'. We parted company at the door to my hotel room. Far as I know he's still sleeping."
"No, he's not," the hotel clerk said. "We checked."
"Well what am I supposed to do about it?" Crawford asked irritably. "Maybe he checked out early."
"He didn't check out at all," the other lawman said. "He seems to have skipped town without paying his bills."
The rumpled, and often grumpy - according to some - sheriff of Green River just shrugged his shoulders. "So I'll keep an eye out for him and notify the other lawmen in my area. I'm sure Gabe, over to Spanish Wells, will keep a sharp lookout for this Porter fella. And Sam Jayson, in Morro Coyo, as well." Val didn't mention that Sam was thought of as rather incompetent though a nice enough person.
"That's very nice of you," the elderly liveryman said, "but who's going to pay the bill for taking care of that 'pure blooded Arabian' of his? She's eating me out of house and home!"
"Get it out of Porter when you find him," Val said, turning his attention back to his meal.
"It seems to me," his fellow lawman said, "That it's your responsibility now."
"Why me?" Val nearly choked on his bacon and had to take a swig of his coffee.
"Because you own her now and you can't take her away until you pay the bill," he was told.
"How much is it?"
"Seven dollars and fifty cents for the stall and an additional fifty dollars for the extra hay plus another twenty for the trouble that beast has caused me."
"That's seventy-seven dollars and fifty cents!" Val exploded. "Even a pure bred don't eat that much!"
"That's three months of board and feed," the livery man told him. "Plus the extra food - that Arabian is a bottomless pit!"
"I don't have that much money," the Green River sheriff told them. “Not after paying for my hotel room and meals and boarding my horse.”
"Well you'd better find a way to get it," he was told by his counterpart.
Val thought about another poker game but it was really too early in the day. He couldn't sell any of his things - they weren't worth much. Then his eyes lit up - Johnny! Johnny would have the money he needed or get it from Scott.
"Where's the telegraph office?" he asked. "I know where I can get the money but I need to send a wire."
Johnny Lancer frowned when he read the telegram. He knew Val was generally short of cash - he spent a lot on unneeded Indian blankets just to try and keep Lone Crow's widow and five kids out of trouble and food in their bellies. But why would he need to borrow fifty dollars?
"Problems Johnny?" his brother, Scott, asked.
"I don't know," Johnny said. "This wire is from Val. He's in Eagle Bluffs and says he needs to borrow fifty bucks from me. Something about a 'pure bred Arabian' he won in a poker game."
"Sounds interesting," the blond said. "Arabians are wonderful mounts. Delicate, dish shaped faces. They can endure desert heat far better than any cowpony you ever saw. Only a mustang could come close to keeping up in such conditions."
"You think I should send it to him?"
"He is your friend," Scott replied. "Friends lend aid where, and when, needed. Besides you can always tell him it's an advance on his next two paychecks."
"More like six months what with all those blankets he buys from Shining Water," Johnny grinned.
"You and Murdoch have bought almost as many," Scott jibed.
"Not as many as Miz Talbot though."
Their tiny red-headed neighbor mothered all the young people and was noted for her acts of kindness and charity.
"Trouble is," Johnny started.
"You don't have fifty dollars to loan him."
Johnny grinned impishly at his brother.
"That's only because you cleaned me out at Saturday's poker game."
"Of course," Scott said. "It's all my fault."
"Glad to hear you admit it," the younger man said, and then ducked away from the playful punch his brother aimed at him.
An hour later, in Eagle Bluffs, Val received a wire authorizing the payment of sixty dollars from the bank at Eagle bluffs. He wasted no time in getting there as Holt, from the livery stable, was beginning to get on his nerves about paying Porter's bill and getting that "beast" out of his stable before it ate every bit of hay he had in stock.
Val found Elijah Holt at the livery stable pumping water into the trough outside the building. The sunlight shone down on the man's bald head, turning it bright red and causing beads of sweat to break out on his face.
"Here's your money. Now where's this 'purebred Arabian' I've heard so much about?"
"Inside." The stableman took the money from Crawford and stuck it in his pocket before ushering the lawman into the dim interior and to a stall in the back.
What Val saw, and what he had expected, were two very different things. Very different.
"What is that?" he asked eying the animal in the stall he stood before.
"That's your 'pure blooded Arabian mount'," he was told.
"That ain't a horse! It's a - it's a -"
"Camel," Holt finished for him.
"A camel," Val repeated in disbelief. "What do I do with it?" he asked as he continued to stare at it.
"Take her home with you. You won her. You paid the bill for stabling her here. She's yours."
"I don't want it!" Crawford exploded.
"Well good luck getting somebody to take her off your hands," Elijah Holt said. "Now get her and your horse and get out of here. I can't stand the stench or her lousy disposition, any longer."
Very reluctantly Val Crawford saddled his horse and then went for his latest acquisition whose big brown eyes looked at him as if to say "What took you so long? Let's get out of here."
It was a struggle to control his horse as the equine did not appreciate having the dromedary anywhere in the vicinity. Val had to use a very firm hand on the reins in order to keep his horse from bolting. By the time he was roughly two miles from town the bay gelding was very reluctantly obeying his rider and the unusual trio headed down the road leading back toward Green River.
Every now and then they passed a small town, farm or ranch. Each time they did Val attempted to get someone to buy Fellah. Each time the answer was "NO". A very definite "no" as the sight, sound and smell of the camel put off the people and frightened horses - even stampeding a small herd of milk cows.
Three days later Val arrived back at his little shack in Green River under cover of darkness. The animals were led into the small barn behind the house, placed in stalls, fed and watered before the lawman went into the house to get his evening meal and a few hours of sleep.
The next morning, after a couple of cups of frying pan coffee and some ham and eggs, Val wandered over to the feed and grain to order enough hay to feed both animals for a while. From there he went to the newspaper office and placed an ad for a "pure bred Arabian"
"Welcome back, Val," Scott said as he, and Johnny, approached the feed and grain where they had an errand to do.
"Hey buddy, good to see you made it back one piece," Johnny said as he shook Val's hand. "Did you get your prisoner delivered to Eagle Bluffs okay or is that why you needed the sixty bucks? Did he destroy something you had to pay for? Your horse runaway or get sick?"
"Nothing happened. Did you doubt I could do it or something?" Val responded.
"I don't know. Your telegram sounded pretty urgent," Johnny told him.
"Yeah, well it was but thanks to you the situation is under control." Val tried to leave but was delayed by the storekeeper.
"Sheriff Crawford? When do you want this order delivered?"
"I don't," Crawford told him. "I'll pick it up later."
"That's an awful lot of hay and straw, never mind oats and corn, for one horse!"
"It ain't none of your business as long as I'm payin' for it!" the sheriff snapped.
The storekeeper agreed. He had no other choice.
"Well, okay, but it's going to take you an awful long time to carry all that over to your place."
"We could give you a hand, Val," Scott offered.
"That ain't necessary," the blond was told. "I'll manage by myself later."
"Come on, Val!" Johnny exclaimed. "What's wrong with accepting a little help from friends?"
"I'll tell you what's wrong with it," a nervous, and irritated, Crawford said. "You're just wanting to nose around where you ain't wanted!"
The brothers looked at each other and started laughing. If they weren't suspicious before, they were now. Val's comment convinced them that he was hiding something.
"Come on, Val," Johnny said. "Tell us what's going on that you need so much grain and hay - let alone straw for bedding - that you have to make a lot of trips."
"Yes, do enlighten us," Scott said. "We're very curious."
"Nosy is more like it," Crawford huffed as he carried a couple of sacks of oats toward his barn.
The Lancer brothers were right on his heels. They were determined to find out what their sheriff was hiding.
Val's worries about his secret being safe multiplied when he saw five young Indian children - none of them yet in their teens - milling around his house.
"Oh, no," he moaned. "Just what I don't need right now."
Glaring at Lone Crow and Shining Water's children, he asked, "What are you kids doing here?"
Their apparent leader, a boy of about twelve, spoke for the group.
"We have come with the blankets you promised to buy."
"Well leave 'em in the cabin and I'll pay you next time I get paid," they were told.
The children did as they were told but did not leave right away. "We want to earn money to help our mother," their spokesman said.
"Doing what?" Johnny asked.
"We can clean house or barn. Feed horses..."
"I don't need anyone to do those things," Val told the boy.
"Have you looked around your place lately," Johnny asked him as Scott listened with a bemused look on his face. "It's a-a..."
"Disaster area," Scott supplied the missing, and to his mind, appropriate word.
"Yeah. A disaster area. It looks like a twister went through there."
Pressured by the presence of the Lancer brothers Crawford agreed to pay the children a dollar apiece to clean up the little shack - when he got paid again.
The children's spokesman often called Val "the meanest white man in the world" but they all knew Crawford had a soft spot for the whole kit and caboodle and would do anything to keep the kids from becoming "five more Lone Crows". He'd killed their father when he caught him in the act of committing a crime. Lone Crow had not wanted to submit to arrest and had attacked the Green River sheriff. Val didn't want the kids, or their mother to feel beholden to him so he gave them little jobs, now and then, and bought many blankets from their mother, blankets which he then gave away or sent to orphanages around the state. In this manner, they earned the money he gave them rather than taking a handout.
The children got right to work. The oldest, under Scott's supervision, built a fire in the stove to heat water for dishes and scrubbing. The others grabbed rags, soap and broom. They piled the dirty dishes in the washtub. The second oldest pumped cold water into the boiling water to make it safe to put their hands in.
With the children all working together it didn't take long to dust, make the bed, do the dishes and sweep the floors. They even washed the windows until they sparkled. Maura Talbot, along with several of the other women in town - including Rico Portillo's mother, who lived nearby with her large brood - had taught them that.
It was when the children were emptying the bucket of dirty water that Val's secret was revealed.
Fellah, tired of being locked up, had become quite vocal in her complaints. The two youngest children heard her and started toward the barn but their oldest brother told them to stay away. Hearing the little ones excited chatter over the noises they had heard he looked to see where the "meanest white man" was, then darted toward the barn.
Val saw him but his "Hey, you, get away from that barn" was too late. The boy opened the door. Fellah, who had escaped her stall, ran past the children, who were frightened by the "monster" and started screaming.
Scott stood with his mouth open in astonishment for a moment, then stated the obvious, "Val! That's a camel! What's a camel doing in your barn?"
Johnny was just as dumbstruck but was busy trying to calm two of the little ones.
"I know it's a camel!" Crawford snapped. "Help me catch Fellah before she gets away!"
"Feller?" Johnny asked.
"Never mind that now! Help me catch her before she stampedes every horse in town.
"How do you propose we go about doing that?" Scott asked. "We can't exactly chase and rope her."
"I don't know," Crawford admitted, "but we gotta do something."
Shrugging his shoulders, the blond followed the harried lawman as he chased Fellah down the dusty main street of Green River, dodging panicked horses and barking dogs as well as irate riders as they went.
It took a while but Fellah finally stopped running away from Val and started running toward him. The barking dogs and the shouting cowboys frightened her. She saw Val as her protector and went toward him at full speed. She came to a stop when he put his hand out.
"Now that you've caught her, what are you going to do with her?" Scott asked between gasps as he stood hands on knees, trying to catch his breath.
"For now, put her back in the barn," Val told him. "After that, I don't know - yet."
By the time they got Fellah back to Val's place Johnny had calmed the little ones.
"What is that thing?" Johnny asked.
Scott answered him. "That's a camelius of the Camelini tribe."
"That's an animal, not an Indian," Lone Crow's oldest said.
"Of the camelidae family which is of the artiodactyla Phylium and the animalia kingdom," he finished.
"It's a what?" Johnny asked. "Would you repeat that - in English this time?"
"It's a camel," Scott said with a huge grin on his face. "Val's pure blooded Arabian is a Dromedary camel." He burst out laughing.
"I ain't never seen one before," Johnny said. "Leastways not outside of that book you gave to the school awhile back."
"They're not native to this country," Scott told his brother. To the children he said, "You don't have to be afraid. She won't hurt you."
Fellah willingly went back into the barn. She'd had enough of screaming women and children, shouting men and being chased by barking dogs. The Dromedary was quite content to have some hay, followed by a drink and then to kneel down and have a nap.
"So if they ain't native to this country, how'd they get here?" Val asked.
"Well, back in 1835, a Major George Crosman encouraged the army to buy camels but the horses were frightened by them and they tend to have a nasty disposition." He paused and grinned at Val as they took seats inside. "Your camel seems to be just the opposite - she likes you."
"Anyway, from 1846 to 1848 the Mexican War was going on and officers seriously considered the idea when the war was over. An adventurer named Josiah Harlan lobbied the army to use the camels because he thought they'd be superior in the harsh climate of Arizona's desert region."
"The army was given thirty thousand dollars on March 3, 1855 and a Major Henry C. Wayne was assigned to procure them. Reports differ as to whether he imported twenty-one or thirty-one of the beasts."
"When they arrived at Indianola, Texas they had five handlers with them. The swells - waves - were too rough to unload them onto smaller boats. That was April 29, 1856 if I remember correctly."
"This is all very interesting," Johnny drawled sarcastically.
"Be quiet, little brother," Scott scolded, "and you'll learn something."
He turned back to the rest of his audience who were listening, if not with real interest then at least out of curiosity.
"On May 14, 1856 a ship named the Fashion arrived with another load and on February 10, 1857 a final load of fifty-one camels arrived in the states. The first bunch was driven to Camp Verde."
"Lieutenant Edward Fitzgerald Beale rode a camel on his survey trip from Fort Defiance to the Colorado River in 1857. His team used 25 camels on the trip."
"I was told that they're good in the desert," Val said. "Of course I thought I was getting a horse at the time."
"They're desert animals, Val," Scott explained. "Many are found in the Sahara Desert in North Africa."
"They are funny looking," the oldest child said.
"Yes, well, as I was saying," Scott continued. "The army thought they'd use them in Arizona. The survey expedition brought them here, to the Benicia Arsenal."
"There ain't no arsenal in Benicia," Val told him.
"I know. It was closed in '66 - a year or so after the war ended. When the war was over, and they'd completed several surveys they were forgotten about. Lieutenant Beale offered to keep them on his private property but Secretary of War Edwin Stanton rejected the idea and the camels were sold to private owners. Beale's personal favorite was a white camel by the name of Seid."
"What happened to them?" asked the oldest girl.
"Well, I think most of them died in captivity. Some ran away to the desert and lived wild."
"Yours isn't wild, is it?" she asked Val.
"No, I don't think so," he replied. "I think she was just tired of being cooped up." Putting the little one on her feet he told them to scoot along home before their mother began to worry. He promised he would pay them as soon as he got his next pay in a few days.
The children departed somewhat reluctantly, for their home. The men stayed put and talked for a while over some of Val's famous - or infamous- frying pan coffee.
"What are you planning on doing with 'feller'," Scott asked.
"It ain't 'feller', it's "Fellah'," Val told him.
"That's what I said," Scott retorted. "Feller."
"'Feller, F-e-l- Oh, heck, here," Val handed him the bill of sale.
"Oh, it's 'Fellah'," Scott said as he read the document he'd been handed.
"That's what I said," Val insisted.
"No, you said feller. The camel's name is Fellah. F-E-L-L-A-H."
"That's right - 'Feller'," Val's drawl continued to distort the animal's name.
They started to argue about it some more but Johnny finally spoke up. "Enough already!" Looking at his brother he said, "You're not going to get him to say it right so you might as well give up." Turning to his pal he asked, "What are you planning to do with it?"
"She, not it," the sheriff said. "I'm trying to find a buyer. I put an ad in the Gazette."
"You put an ad in the paper for a camel?"
"No, I put an ad in the paper for a pure bred Arabian."
"That could be considered false advertising," Scott told him.
"There ain't nothin' false about it," Val declared. "She's an Arabian. You said so yourself. And she's a purebred - I got the papers to prove it."
Scott just rolled his eyes. Val's logic seemed skewed but he wasn't lying - just not telling everything. He couldn't say Val was lying because, truth be told, Fellah was a purebred Arabian. In all his reading he'd never heard of a cross bred camel.
"I give up," he said. "Fellah is definitely an Arabian and a purebred. I just hope your potential buyers don't protest too much - there's no telling what someone might do."
Over the next two weeks Val met with several potential buyers only to have them back out when they discovered that the Arabian mount was a camel, not a horse.
"Your ad says it's a 'pure blood Arabian'!" one indignant respondent exclaimed. "That ain't no Arabian!"
"Of course it is," Val responded. "If you don't believe me just ask Scott Lancer - he'll tell you the same thing."
"The fiftyish heavset man looked at the brothers but focused on Johnny who was quick to correct him.
"Don't look at me," he said. "I'm Johnny and I know nothing about Arabians." He nudged his brother. "Scott, here, is the expert. Tell him Scott."
Scott conjured up his most charming, and endearing (his father would have said ingratiating) smile.
"Sheriff Crawford is correct in saying the Fellah is a purebred Arabian. I've never heard of camels being crossbred." He grinned at his brother. "A three humped camel would be quite a sight."
"Three humped?" the prospective buyer asked.
"Why yes, the Dromedary, or one humped camel, is prized for transportation and food by the Bedouins of the Sahara Desert in Africa. The Bactrian is a two humped camel. They're native to the middle Eastern countries such as Persia."
"I highly doubt that they could get a Bactrain together with a Dromedary for breeding purposes. No ship’s captain is very willing to transport them and there's no other way to get them across the Mediterranean Sea."
The prospective buyer stared at Scott in disbelief before turning back to Val Crawford.
"I wouldn't give you two cents for that monster - or touch it with a ten foot pole!"
"Well I wouldn't sell her to you nohow!" Val retorted. "Fellah's not a monster. You got no right insulting her like that!" he yelled.
"When word gets out about this - deception - you'll never sell it," the man said as he stormed off.
"Yeah, well we'll just see about that, won't we?"
Scott and Johnny shook their heads. Their grumpy sheriff wasn't going to have an easy time of it selling his camel - especially if he antagonized potential buyers. The brothers looked at each other and shrugged. There wasn't anything they could do but try and support Val as he endeavored to find a buyer. They did, however, burst out laughing at the expression on the man's face when Scott gave his mini lecture on camel breeding. It did not endear them to the sheriff who was still stuck with his "purebred Arabian mount" that he didn't want - though he had to admit that she had come in handy last week when he chased down the thieves that had robbed the express office. They'd fled into the badlands and Fellah had kept going when their horses gave out in the heat. Two very hot, dusty and tired thieves had trudged back into Green River in front of the sheriff who was mounted on his camel.
For three more weeks Val, or sometimes one of the Lancer brothers, showed Fellah to prospective buyers to no avail. Most everyone who came to see the "purebred' was angry when they found out that it was a camel. A few laughed - especially when told they were hurting her feelings when they insulted her. Then one day...
The rattle of wheels and the thunder of hooves on a team of four draft horses, along with a large cloud of dust announced the arrival of the Wednesday afternoon stagecoach at the Green River stage depot. As the passengers descended from the conveyance each shook, or slapped, the dust out of their clothes as best they could. A lovely young woman with jet black hair, dark eyes and an unidentifiable – to the locals - accent was among them.
The station agent came out to collect the mail pouches and check with the drive about his trip which had been uneventful.
"Excuse me, sir," the young woman approached him. "Where would I find the local newspaper office?"
"Yes, ma'am?" the agent said. "The newspaper office? It's across from the telegraph office which is three doors down from the corner of this street, and from the alley next to Mayor Higgs’ store, there."
"Thank you," she said with a smile. "I need to send a telegram as well. This works out nicely."
With a swish of her dark green cotton skirt, she headed off to the telegraph office first.
"May I help you?" the telegrapher asked as she entered the dim, cool interior.
"Yes, please. I need to send a telegram to San Diego."
"Write out your message and I'll tell you how much it will be." He pushed a pencil and a telegram form across the counter to her.
When she had finished she paid him and walked across to the newspaper office. The telegraph operator sat down to send her message.
JUST ARRIVED GREEN RIVER, CALIFORNIA. STOP. NO SIGN OF FELLAH IN STOCKTON. STOP. WILL KEEP IN TOUCH. STOP. SALIMA.
"What fella is she looking for?" the telegrapher wondered. "We have lots of fellas here - not to mention in Morro Coyo, Spanish Wells and all the ranches and farms."
The young woman made her way across the dusty street to the tiny newspaper office and, after a short conversation with the publisher settled herself at his desk to read the back issues of the Gazette.
For about an hour she sat in silence except for the rustling of paper as she turned the pages of the newspapers. It was when she had progressed to the June issues that she saw a clue that would help her in her thus far futile search.
Sir, excuse me sir," the excited young woman called to the editor who was busy writing an editorial deploring the condition of the local roads.
"Yes, miss? What can I do for you?"
"This article is very interesting. Could you tell me more about it - about this Sheriff Crawford and his 'purebred Arabian'?"
"Which article is that?" he asked.
"This one," she said pointing to one about Val and Fellah bringing in the men who had robbed the express office.
"Three weeks ago, two men robbed the express office and fled into the
Sheriff Crawford's regular mount was lame so he took that Arabian of his and tracked them down in two days. The Federal Marshal took them away to Sacramento to stand trial two weeks ago. They were wanted for a string of robberies - not just our express office."
"Tell me, does this Sheriff Crawford still have his Arabian or has he gotten rid of her?"
"Oh, he still has it," was the answer, 'but he's trying to sell it. That there's his ad - see?" He pointed to the boxed ad on the inside back page.
For Sale - purebred Arabian. Age unknown.
Approximately 18 hands high.
Contact Val Crawford - Sheriff,
"That's an interesting advertisement," she said. "Where might I find this Sheriff Crawford?"
"He has a small cabin, with a barn, just a quarter mile or so beyond the livery stable."
He went out the door with her and pointed her in the right direction. She thanked him and started down the street, her small green and gold reticule dangling, by its braided cord, from her right wrist.
Val wasn't at his cabin and the barn was closed up tight. Disappointed the young woman turned back toward town where she went for a second time to the telegraph office.
"Back so soon?" the telegraph agent asked when she entered.
"Yes," she replied. "I need to send another message to San Diego."
In San Diego, at the Larkspur Hotel, a second telegram was received.
BELIEVE I HAVE FOUND FELLAH. STOP. WILL SEND WORD WHEN CERTAIN. STOP. SALIMA.
"That is, indeed, good news, my daughter," the recipient when he read the message.
Salima Khoury was getting anxious. She believed she had finally tracked down her father's stolen camel but, until she met Sheriff Crawford, and saw his "purebred Arabian", she couldn't know for sure.
While she waited for Val to return from wherever it was he had gone, she walked around Green River. She found it more civilized than her family's beloved desert homeland, but not as "developed" as Stockton, Sacramento or San Francisco - cities she had visited during her search.
Salima had found the scoundrel, Josh Porter, who had stolen Fellah from her father by cheating him at this card game called poker. It seemed that many American men - the ones called cowboys at least, played this game all the time. Porter, it turned out, knew an easy mark when he saw one and had convinced her father, Haj Khoury, that the lower the cards the better. In a two handed card game (Porter had conned Khoury into a private game) Salima's father stood no chance of winning, being unfamiliar with the game. Consequently Salima, and her brother, had left their father in San Diego with orders to stay away from strange card games, and started searching for Fellah.
While most camels were noted for their nasty dispositions, and for being difficult to handle, Fellah had turned out to be gentle, calm and good natured. Salima wanted her back and she wasn't going to stop looking until she found her. This newspaper article about Sheriff Crawford, and the ad he had placed, were the strongest leads she'd had since the search had begun six months ago.
Sighing, she finished her meal at the cantina and started walking back to Val's place to see if he was home yet. He wasn't and he wasn't at the jail, but she saw unmistakable signs of a camel having been there recently. There were fresh droppings and camel tracks. The tracks led to the outskirts of town.
With wings on her feet, Salima Khoury followed the tracks until she found the object of her search. Fellah was happily munching on some leaves from the bushes that grew at the edge of a field a quarter mile or so from Val's cabin.
"Fellah? Fellah, sweetie, it's Salima. I've come to take you home." this was spoken in English and followed up by a torrent of words in her native language.
The camel stopped foraging and turned toward the young woman's voice. Recognizing both the human and the voice she gave a cry of happiness and started running toward her mistress.
"Hey! Hey Feller, come back here!" Val was returning to the spot where he'd left his "purebred" while he gathered some sweet grass from an untouched meadow a little further away. He stopped short when he saw the pretty girl approaching. "Who are you? What are you doing to my camel? Get away from her!"
Salima looked at the rumpled, unshaven man who was fast approaching her and Fellah.
"I mean her no harm," she said. "I assure you." She smiled at Crawford. "Fellah and I are old friends."
Val was still suspicious. Except for the Lancers, Teresa and a few others like the Talbots, Lone Crow's kids and the Prankster Posse's younger siblings, Fellah had been something to avoid, ridicule or try to get rid of.
"How do I know you ain't got somebody waiting to shoot her, or got some kind of poison you're planning on givin' her?" he asked. "She ain't exactly been real popular around here."
"That's because Americans don't understand or appreciate camels outside of zoos and circuses," Salima told him. "They think of them as freaks, or monsters or even just strange."
"To my people they are invaluable for transportation, food and clothing. They are often called 'ships of the desert' - in part because of the way they walk. People have gotten seasick when riding on a camel's back."
"You sound like Scott Lancer," Val grumbled. "He gave me a big lecture on them when I first got her, And then he told one of my potential buyers even more."
This Scott Lancer sounds like an intelligent man who appreciates camels," the young Arab woman said.
"I don't know about that - hey, you ain't answered my questions! Who are you and what makes you such an expert?"
"My name is Salima Khoury. My home is in Arabia. It is a land of much desert and hot sun. Only Arabian horses, and camels such as Fellah, can survive in such a harsh climate." Salima gently patted Fellah as she spoke.
"You're awfully friendly with my camel," Val said, "and she seems to like you."
"That is because she is my camel," Salima told him. "To be more precise she is my father's camel. A man named Porter cheated my father at cards and took her away. I have been searching for her for six months, but Porter was always gone just when I got - how do you say it - a leash?"
"A lead," Crawford corrected her.
"Yes, a lead." Salima smiled, her white teeth bright in her dark complexion. "I had almost given up hope of finding her when I saw the article about you and Fellah tracking down those thieves who ran into the desert."
"This Porter, feller - the one you say cheated your father - what did he look like?"
"Father said he was short, rather heavy and had very little hair. Also that he wore clothes that looked expensive but were rather old."
"That dirty..." Val muttered something under his breath that a lady wasn't meant to hear.
"You recognize the name?"
"Yeah, and the description. That's the same feller I won Fellah from in Eagle Bluffs. He didn't cheat at cards but he tricked me into taking Fellah off his hands by calling her a 'purebred Arabian mount'. I shoulda known better than to fall for that."
"But she is a purebred," Salima assured him. "Back in Arabia she would be worth a lot of money as a pack animal or for breeding purposes. She is too friendly, and gentle, to survive under most traders so my father kept her as a kind of a pet. My brother and I grew up with Fellah. She's practically a member of the family."
Val believed her. It was obvious that Fellah knew, and trusted, the young woman. He didn't realize how much the decision he was about to make was going to distress him.
"I believe she's yours and that Porter stole her by cheating your father," he told her. "He tricked me into taking her as part of my winnings and then snuck out of town without paying for her stay at the livery stable. If I ever catch up with him I'll wring his neck and then throw him in my jail for six months before I turn him over to the police in - where did you say your father lost possession of her?"
"In San Diego, where he waits for word that I have found her."
"Yeah, the San Diego sheriff is a friend of Gabe's over to Spanish Wells. I'll let Gabe know what happened and if we find Porter he'll soon wish he'd left the country - or at least left the state."
He held his hand out to Salima and introduced himself. "I'm Val Crawford. Sheriff of Green River - that little town over yonder."
"Yes, I know. I figured that out from the badge you're wearing." She smiled at him. "Thank you for taking such good care of Fellah for us. I'd like to reimburse you for what you paid for her board at that livery stable in Eagle Bluffs and what you've spent on her while you've had her. It's the last we can do," she added when Val started to protest.
They walked back to Val's place, Fellah following docilely behind them still munching on some leaves. By the time they got there Val had agreed to let Salima reimburse him for everything. It meant he'd be able to pay Johnny back who could pay Scott back. That ever vicious circle among friends who knew that Scott would almost always have the money they needed for something - even to pay a livery stable bill for a "pure blooded Arabian mount" that turned out not to be what they expected.
"You'll be sure to write and let me know how she's doing?"
It was two days later and Salima was leaving Green River with Fellah. Her brother had arrived from San Jose the day before and they were leaving for San Diego to meet up with their father before returning to their new home in New Mexico.
Val, Johnny and Scott were standing outside the boarding house where the Khoury's had spent the last two days. It was another hot, dusty day but Felllah wasn't the least bit disturbed. The long lashes on her eyes performed their function well by keeping the dust out of them.
"Yes, of course," the young Arab woman said. "Perhaps you, and your friends, could come and visit us sometime. New Mexico isn't that far away. Not like Arabia. I think Fellah would like that. I know I would, and my father would like to meet you."
"Maybe," Val said. "I ain't makin' any promises but I might mosey on down there sometime. A fella's got to take a trip, just for the fun of it, once in a while."
Johnny and Scott nudged each other and grinned. It looked like their sheriff was getting interested in a girl at long last.
The Khourys climbed into their wagon and drove slowly out of town. Fellah was secured to the rear of the wagon and followed along willingly, seeming to understand that she was headed for a new home, and content to be reunited with the Khorana again.
The Californians waved good bye and headed back toward the cabin.
"I'm gonna miss her," Val said with a little sigh.
"Who? Fellah or that girl?" Johnny wanted to know winking at his brother.
"Fellah, of course," Val told him. "I didn't want her at first but she kind of grew on me."
"Tell you what, Val," Scott said with a straight face, "we Lancers, and some of your other friends, will take up a collection and buy you a new 'pure blooded Arabian'."
Val glared at him. "I wasn't that fond of her."
"Sure you were, Val," Johnny got his digs in. "You fell in love with her the minute she turned those big brown eyes on you."
"Yes, indeed, Little Brother," Scott agreed. "The long lashes and the big brown eyes were an irresistible combination."
"You fellas keep it up," Val said, "and it'll be you that spends time in my jail instead of Porter."
"By the way, Val," Scott said, "Salima told me what Fellah's name means in English."
"Yes, it means Arabian jasmine."
"I don't get it," Johnny said.
"Jasmine is a flowering shrub. It's noted for it's characteristic fragrance."
Johnny bent over double he was laughing so hard and Scott wasn't much better. Val scowled at them and headed into his cabin, the brothers following behind, still laughing.