The Treasure of Eerie, Arizona
by Christopher Leeson and Ellie Dauber
December 13, 1871
Irene Fanning slept fitfully. When slumber fled and left her lying awake for a long while, she climbed out from the cot. It was still dark inside the infirmary. She walked on tiptoes to Myra's bed and gazed down at the patient, seeing her face only faintly in the dim lamplight.
“Oh, Myra,” she whispered. “Did I do the right thing?” Boys are so proud of being boys, she knew. Myron – Myra – was going to be devastated at what had happened. She cupped her hands and whispered a prayer for her nephew… her new niece.
The sleeper didn't awaken. The first trace of a gray dawning drew Irene to the window, and she lifted its shade. The dawn was about to arrive on a day like no other. She went into the deserted waiting room, hoping that solitude would help her think.
Doctor Upshaw had already removed Myra's stitches, satisfied that the patient's sleep was more or less a natural one. Later, Irene had heard him rise and go out. The woman sighed. So much of what had happened the night before seemed like a dream. Myron a robber? Myron near to death? Myron a… girl?
Dream? It was a nightmare.
Irene began to feel hunger, having missed supper the night before. A brief inspection of the doctor's outer office discovered no food, but in a corner of the infirmary stood a stoneware water cooler. She filled the tin cup next to it and drank.
Minimally refreshed, the farm woman wondered whether she should check in on Myra again. 'Oh, My Lord,' she realized in that instant, ‘I’m thinking of Myron as Myra.' She shook her head. How could she change set patterns of thinking so swiftly? She wouldn't have believed that such a thing were possible. It reminded her of a fall of heavy snow on autumn ground. One day, the green grass looked entirely natural; the next day all was blanketed in white. The mind accepted the radical change as normal. She sighed. 'I only hope that… Myra can get used to her own changes just as quickly.’
She felt like she had been forced suddenly into a world where the impossible was an everyday occurance. But, really, didn't life amount to one forced change after another? Irene thought back to that terrible letter from the War Department. As a young wife, she had shared so little time with her husband before he had gone away, only to die of camp fever in Tennessee. Left an impoverished widow, without any nearby family to assist her, she had had to sell the tiny house that they had purchased together, and for months after that, she had lived in a rooming house, barely scraping by doing work as a cleaning lady. How lonely, how empty were those days. Her brother, Amos, had died in his prime; deceased, too, were her parents and grandparents. By then, the only family she had left was Addie and her husband, Edgar, in far Arizona. And the latter had always been cool toward her.
Feeling forsaken, she had sought solace in prayer. If her prayers were answered, the answer had come in a terrible way. Both her sister and brother-in-law had suddenly taken sick and died, leaving behind a small farm and a twelve year old son, Myron Thornton Caldwell. Helping that boy suddenly became the focus of her entire life. Raising train and stage fare through the sale of her last few possessions, she had set out for the frontier.
At first, Myron had been a moody boy, still shocked by his family tragedy. He seldom smiled and rarely spoke more than a couple words at a time. But soon his manner started to change – and for the worse. He seemed perpetually angry, disdainful of everything and everyone around him.
Myron became increasing truant from school. There had been fights with other boys – a great many fights – and then came the petty crime and Irene's embarrassment at apologizing to the sheriff. The boy oftentimes went off by himself, roaming the hills all the way up to Stagecoach Gap. He used these frequent absences to avoid his chores, and Irene found that the work of the farm was just too much for one woman alone.
Talking, and even scolding, did no good, so she had started to hire local boys as day laborers. Myron, instead of standing aside, had picked fights with these youngsters. Young George Severin had been the only one who refused to back down.
One day, when he was sixteen, her nephew crossed over to the pasture of Tally Singer, the neighbor whom he liked least, and rode off on one of the man's horses. His action had disgraced both their names. People had started acting standoffish around her. Following long months of awkwardness, things seemed to settle down somewhat, but Irene's renewed friendships no longer felt as easy and spontaneous as they had once been.
For the past year, the widow had wondered where her sister's son had run off to, and what he was doing. It worried her that the boy who had such a knack for finding trouble might be getting into more serious trouble than he could handle alone. Now, as abruptly as a thunderclap, the world had changed again.
Myron a girl? ‘What does that mean?’ she wondered. ‘What sort of lives are the two of us going to be living from this moment on?’
She went back into the infirmary and stared down at the pretty, even features of the sleeping maiden. “Myra” looked about Myron's age, but there was nothing else familiar about her. She bore no resemblance to any member of the Olcott or Caldwell families. Myron had changed so much on the outside. Would there be any changes on the inside? ‘Will she still act like Myron, still want to spend so much time alone, and yet be so aggressive and abrasive?’
Another thought. ‘Did this happen by chance, or does the Lord have a plan?' It was said He knew everything about every person's life, past, present, and future, from the moment of their births. Did all these sorrows mean that He guiding her family's fate? To what end was He guiding it?
Irene glanced back at the window. It had brightened enough to let her see the line of foothills. 'Why hasn’t the doctor come back to check on Myra?' she wondered. She remembered, too, that her horse had stood hitched behind the office all night, untended. That was no way to treat a valuable animal. 'If Myra and I have to stay in town much longer, I’ll have to take the carriage over to the Ritter Livery Stable.'
Mrs. Fanning heard a door slamming and voices issuing from the waiting room. “Hello,” she said to the unseen visitors, stepping out into the short hall.
“In here,” Upshaw called.
Irene passed through the curtained arch and into the waiting room. The physician was standing near the door and with him was a young Mexican woman in a long green dress. She was carrying a tray with several covered dishes and a steaming coffee pot. “Good morning,” the farm woman said with a wan smile.
“Irene,” Doc said, “this is Maggie Sanchez. She runs a restaurant here in town. I thought you and your… niece could use something to eat. How is she this morning?”
Mrs. Fanning recognized the name. Maggie Sanchez’s restaurant was in Shamus O’Toole’s saloon, and Maggie was one of the potion-girl outlaws. Irene searched her features for any trace of maleness, but found none. “How do you do, Miss Sanchez? Myro… Myra’s still sleeping.” She glanced back at the doctor. “Is that normal?”
“I hope so,” he said, turning his attention to Miss Sanchez. “Please put the food down on the table, Maggie. I'll go check on my patient.” He proceeded through the curtain.
The Mexican gave Irene a friendly nod and commenced setting up a breakfast for two. “Is your niece – Myra is it -- very ill?” she inquired as she worked, her English not heavily accented.
Mrs. Fanning answered uneasily. She had never spoken to a potion girl, except for a brief pleasantry to Trisha O'Hanlan now and then. “Yes, Myra; she fell quite ill last night. But the doctor says that she's out of danger.”
“That is good. You have a farm outside of town, is that right?”
“Yes.” Irene didn't know what more to add.
Maggie didn't press the conversation and soon finished her task. Just then, the doctor returned. “If there is nothing else, Señor,” she said, “I will be returning to my kitchen.”
“Thank you. I'll see that your dishes are returned.”
Maggie nodded and excused herself.
When she was gone, Upshaw said, “The... young lady... is still asleep. We'll let her rest until Mrs. O'Toole arrives.”
“Yes. As Shamus explained last night, she's getting some clothes for Myra. And I think that she'll have some useful advice for you, too; about what you can expect from the girl once you get her home, for instance.”
Irene nodded, not sure what to say. Her life had once been so simple – sad, but simple. Now, suddenly, she seemed to have become a character out of Grimm's Fairy Tales.
“Try not to worry,” the physician urged. “We don't know a great deal about the potion. Not many people have taken it. They -- the subjects -- generally get their strength back almost at once, but in this case, Myron was badly injured. It might take more time with him.”
Irene could only return a look of confusion.
“I think you need a good breakfast,” Upshaw said.
She crossed listlessly to the table. Maggie had provided plentiful hotcakes and bacon, along with sliced apples. It was intended for both her and Myra, so she took only her share. Dr. Upshaw used the time while she was occupied to make some notes pertaining to Myra in his medical records. “Do you think...” the woman finally asked him, “that we've done the right thing?”
Upshaw looked up, his brows knitted. “That's a question I've often had to ask myself, even before I became a doctor. Is it ever wrong to save a life, even if it means a life of pain and helplessness? I don't know. With Myra, it will all depend on what she does with her new life, after she's had time to think things through.”
“She's going to be terribly shocked.”
“We should both pray for her. The other potion girls have done well for themselves. It’s hard to remember that they were once desperadoes. Maggie, the young lady who cooked your breakfast, has two children and a beau.”
“She's technically their father. Her boy and girl were brought up from Mexico by the gentleman that she's seeing.”
“She likes... men?”
He noded uncomfortably. “I think that Molly O'Toole is the one to ask about that. She's been very close to most of the potion girls.”
“Is she close to Pat... to Trisha O'Hanlan, too?”
“No, not her; Molly is the matron for the prisoners. Miss O'Hanlan broke no law and never had to stay at the saloon. Do you know...did you know Mr. O'Hanlan?”
“I knew Mr. O’Hanlan, but only slightly. I bought supplies from his store, and spoke to him once or twice in church. I've seen Trisha since then, at the store and in church, and I still can't put my mind around it. Tell me, do any… of the ladies... leave town after their sentences are served – so that they can live a...more normal life?”
“They could,” he replied, “but none have, so far. I guess they feel that they have no lives left out there. They're making new lives here. I think they actually prefer not to have to keep any secrets.”
“Is there any way to change them back?”
“No. The magic seems to be about as final as a hanging.”
“How do they feel about being changed?”
“It's not clear. I've mostly talked to them about their health. Jessie and Wilma Hanks had a couple of the worst outlaw reputations in this territory, but as they are now, I don't think they're bad people.”
“Jessie is the singer,” Irene said. “I've heard about the other one, Wilma.”
“Just about everyone has heard of Wilma,” the doctor observed wryly, but that was a topic that he wanted to leave right where it was.
A girl shrieked in the infirmary. Both man and woman hurried toward the sound.
Myra was sitting up, wild-eyed. The covers were on the floor, but she was wearing one of the doctor's shapeless gray gowns.
“What the hell! What the hell?” she was shouting.
“Easy, Myron,” Mrs. Fanning coaxed. “You'll be all right.”
“You're dreaming, young man,” Upshaw suggested. “Settle down, and you'll soon wake up.”
This advice surprised Irene, but it appeared to have a calming effect on the girl. Suddenly she looked more uncertain than horrified.
Myra settled down on the cot. She looked at herself, touched herself, wondering how a dream could seem so real.
“Tarnation!” said a woman from behind them. “Such shouting! Thuir must be a new potion girl somewhere around the house.” Upshaw looked back at the door and saw Molly O'Toole coming in. Her expression was both knowing and grave.
The taverner's wife was holding a wicker carryall by its handles. Mrs. Fanning had seen Molly before, from a distance. Her friends had mostly advised that the saloon-keeper's mate was someone to keep clear of. The Irishwoman was red-haired, handsome, and looked about the age that her older sister Addie would have been, had she had survived cholera.
“Molly,” the doctor said, indicating the young lady in bed, “this – this is Myra. Myra, this is Molly O’Toole, Shamus O’Toole’s wife.”
“Don't call me Myra!” the girl snarled.
Molly put her basket down on the floor and came closer. “Did ye just wake up, colleen?”
Myra reacted to the term “colleen” with a furious glare.
“Listen, Missy,” Molly continued. “We'll be getting right t’work. We're going t'talk, and ye’re not going t'be flying off the handle while we're doing it. Ye'll keep calm, and we'll be having ourselves a nice conversation.”
Myra blinked in surprise. The authoritative statement had fallen upon the girl like a skeleton's claw. The doctor had seen that sort of look before; Molly was one of the three that the girl was magically required to obey.
“For one thing, I think it's best to shoot straight w'potion girls. Ye’re not dreaming, honey pie. Ye’re wide awake. And ye’re a girl; ‘tis also me understanding that it's yuir own fault. After yuir tomfoolery of a robbery, ye’re durn lucky t'be so much as alive. Me husband, Shamus, saved yuir life with some special medicine that he's got. Some medicine is pretty rough in the taking. This medicine is about the best thing thuir is for saving a life, but it also turns a boy into a girl every time.” She studied Myra for a moment. “And I'd say it's done a right fine job on ye.”
“What did you do to me?” Myra demanded, but it was not quite a shout. Something had kept her from shouting.
“I told ye what me darling Shamus did. Gave ye some o’his special medicine. The part ye might not like so much is that ye'll be a lassie from now on. The better part is that, once ye’re all gussied up, ye'll be an eye-catcher, for sure.”
Myra leaped to her feet and grabbed at an empty pitcher. “Like Hell!”
“Stop!” declared Molly. The shout hit the girl like a January blast. She stood frozen in place.
“How did you do that?” Irene gasped.
Molly looked back. “It's part of the magic. Me Shamus had ye tell yuir niece to do whatever ye, me, and Judge Humphreys tells her to. And I'm not about to be letting a headstrong gal start throwing pitchers and hurting people.”
She folded her arms and regarded the seventeen-year-old. “Ye really seem t'be a sour one, Missy, but so was the whole Hanks gang before ye. It was tough for them, and it'll be tough for ye, too. But robbers go to prison, so ye can consider yuirself lucky – lucky to be as fit, fine, and free as ye are. Behave like a decent girl and ye won't get bossed around so much. And one other thing; don't try to hurt yuirself in any way. I'm telling ye now that ye just can't do it. We're all going to take good care o' ye and do the best we can to see that ye live a goody long time.”
Mrs. Fanning made a small sound of protest. “Aren't you being rather harsh?”
“Please trust me, ma’am,” the Irishwoman told her. “Taking precautions is better’n holding funerals. If we want this filly to be pulling the surrey without a lot of nonsense, ye'll have to keep her in tight traces, right up till she stops fussing about the bit. Let her play on yuir sympathy, and she'll be moaning, complaining, and feeling sorry for herself till the cows come home.”
Irene's expression remained grievous, but she stood silent.
Molly once more addressed the girl, who was still clutching the pitcher. “Put that vessel down gently, gal. It ain’t nice t’be breaking things.” Myra obeyed with a dazed look on her face. “Now, in case ye didn't understand what ye was told before, yuir name is Myra. So, no more snapping at people who call ye that. Agreed, Myra?”
She said "Yes" through gritted teeth.
"Fine. Come sit back down on the cot, easy like. Ye'll only have t'listen; we won't be needing any of yuir sass-talk for a while. If I need ye t'say something, I'll let ye know. Understand?” Myra scowled, but couldn't reply. There were voices in her head that, somehow, wouldn't let her speak.
Molly continued. “If ye understand, say that ye understand.”
Myra wanted to spew a tirade of obscenity, but only heard herself uttering, “I understand.”
“Good. Remember, politeness gets paid back with smiles.” The Irishwoman glanced at Mrs. Fanning and the doctor in turn, just in case either had anything to contribute. It didn't look like they did, so she went on talking to Myra. “I'm going to sit down next to ye. Ye won't mind, will ye?”
“Yes, I will!” Myra growled.
“Yuir feelings are yer own, but I'll be doing pretty much what I please, thank ye very much. And don't ye try laying a hand on me, either.”
Molly took a seat. “Let me tell a little story, so ye understand just how things work. Me man, Shamus, and his family come over t’America back in the 1830s. They was crossing the plains when his da got sick. His ma was what they called a hedge witch back in the auld county, but she couldn’t do nothing t’save him. They was lost ‘n’ a spring snow storm up by the Platte. It was bad. They woulda died ‘cept they got rescued by a Cheyenne hunting party that took Shamus ‘n’ his ma back t’thuir camp. Living the tribal life seemed to be in her blood, and by winter, she was married t’their medicine man. He took a shine to Shamus, too, and adopted him.”
“When Shamus was still a lad, he got to working at putting them Injun and Irish magics together. His idea was to make up new spells of his own, but most of them turned out to be about as useful as a leaky bucket. When they did work, they mostly stirred up more harm than good. But he found one spell that neither his mother nor the red men ever heard of before, a potion that made the man who drank it turn into the fetchingest woman that'd ever crossed his path. He tried it out first on camp animals, and it always worked right well, but try as he might, he never could find any way t'be changing a female into a male. The Cheyenne didn't much care for that sort of magic, and the elders told the boy to leave well enough alone.
“A few years afterwards, Shamus decided that he wasn’t cut out t’be no Injun. He said goodbye to his ma and his Cheyenne family and headed off to a fort a few days away. He took a job in a saloon, and it turned out that he had a knack for tending bar. Later on, he wandered as far as San Francisco. Me and him met where he was tending bar, and where I was dancing on stage. We got married, but, in a year or so, we decided t'be leaving Frisco. After a wee bit of roving, we took a liking to Eerie and settled in. The town's been good to us ever since.”
“Then, last July, a band of outlaws came along, wanting some revenge on Sheriff Talbot. They wasn't gunned down, like we told to the papers. Instead them outlaws was given beers loaded with the same potion you just got. Things worked out fine, and since then the Judge has been giving lawbreakers the choice to either take a draft of the same stuff or go to territorial prison for really bad crimes, like attempted murder or horse thieving.” She watched Myra for a reaction to that last mentioned crime. “Those that pick the potion spend two months as waitresses in our saloon, learning manners and honest work. Then they get let go.”
“Last month, we found out that the potion could also cure really bad wounds. A little boy named Elmer was in an accident. He was dying. Shamus’s potion saved him, but he's called Emma now.”
“That brings us to yuir situation, Missy. Ye’d have died if the potion hadn't dragged ye back from the devil's gate. I imagine it will be taking a little while before ye start appreciating how lucky ye've been, but we're patient folk. My advice is t’buck up and be grateful just for being alive. Ye’re going on one hell of an adventure. Keep yuir head and take one step at a time until ye learn to run.”
Myra's eyes flashed. She tried to say something, but wasn't able to.
“I reckon ye want to know what's going to t’be happening next. Ye're going home soon, and ye’re going to be yuir aunt’s responsibility. Ye just listen to her just like ye were still a wee tyke. If ye get too frisky and hard to handle, well, she's welcome to bring ye over to me Saloon. Thuir’ll be plenty of cooking and cleaning t'be keeping a lass yer age busy from sunup to sundown. For now, though, I want ye t’be taking the advice I'm giving ye.” Molly glanced up at Irene. “And, by the way, if yuir aunt don't care for anything that I'm saying, she can just tell ye to do something different. Do ye understand, Mrs. Fanning?”
“I… I suppose so.”
Molly looked back at the girl. “Before I say more, lassie, I want to ask if ye've stood toe to toe with a looking glass, since ye woke up so pretty, I mean?” She pointed to an ornately framed mirror hanging on a nearby wall.
Myra felt compelled to answer. “No.”
“Ye might as well get that over with. Scoot yuirself over to that mirror and take a gander. Ye don't have to be shy about touching yuir new parts, neither, if ye have a hanker to. Thuir's only us ladies and the doctor who'll be watching.”
Myra couldn't resist. She walked over and confronted a reflected face that was framed with long auburn hair. It had blue eyes like reflections from a stormy sky. The lips were full and pouty. The reflection had teeth as white as pearls on a fancy necklace, with a very healthy and very female frame.. But what bothered her, surprised her, was the fact that this face looked familiar. Her gut told her that she wasn't imagining the resemblance.
“Ye’re as charming as a little red wagon,” Molly adjudged. “Do ye agree, sweetheart?”
“That's – that's not me,” Myra stammered. “Is it?”
Molly had heard that sort of thing before and sighed. “It is now. How do ye feel about being that pretty little girl in front of ye?”
Myra turned, glaring. “Like I want to kill somebody – maybe myself!”
“I was afraid ye'd feel that way. Come back and sit down.”
When Myra was again seated, Molly spoke to her firmly, “Ye won't try t'kill yuirself or anybody else. Ye won't even try t’hurt them, except t'protect yuirself, or to protect someone who's with ye.
“Me Shamus tells me that ye don't want everyone knowing that ye used to be a boy. Was he wrong?”
Myra thought about that idea for the first time and then answered emphatically, “He's right!”
Molly nodded. “That makes things a little more complicated. It won't be such an easy secret for the keeping. If a new girl shows up out of nowhere talking like a boy, dressing like a boy, acting like a boy, people are going to be noticing. Just how long do ye think it'll be before someone guesses that ye're Myron Caldwell living at his old home place?
“Not long,” Myra reluctantly conceded.
“So what are ye going to do about it?”
The girl turned her face away. “I don't know.”
"Then put this in yuir pipe and smoke it, lassie. Ye say ye want people t'think yuir a regular sort of girl. If that's what ye want, ye'll have t'learn how a girl dresses, talks, and behaves. I reckon ye're unschooled in doing any of that, but yuir aunt can give ye a lot of good advice, advice ye should take.”
Then the woman glanced toward Irene. “Mrs. Fanning, what's Myra's full name?”
“It's... Abigail Myra Olcott.” She paused, and then added, “I'm going to tell people that she's my orphaned niece from back East.”
“I said don't call me that name!” the girl exclaimed.
Molly nodded and again faced off with Myra. “Maybe I wasn't clear enough before. Ye'll answer to Abigail, or Myra, or anything else yuir aunt says you should, and ye won't get snippish about it. Now, tell me what you name is.”
The name fought its way through jaws that the girl tried to keep locked. “A-Abigail… Myra… O-Olcott.”
Molly nodded. “Miss Myra, there's a lot that ye'll have t’be getting used to, and lots of unfamiliar things ye'll have t’be doing from now on. A girl don’t get into fistfights, for one thing. Don't be hitting anybody or insulting anybody just for treating ye like a lassie. If ye don't like that barrel of pickles, maybe ye'd prefer that everybody finds out that ye used to be Thorn Caldwell? Ye might give some folks a good laugh, but, if ye ask me, it'd be an easier row to hoe in the long haul. Don't ye wish deep down that ye could just fess up about how things are, take the embarrassment, and then put the whole business behind ye?”
Myra's stare could have killed a flock of prairie chickens. “No!” she said emphatically. Not if word could get back to Ike and his gang.
Molly shook her head. “Then ye'd better work hard at figuring out how a decent young lady handles herself.”
At that point, the matron paused. “That's enough for now.” She faced Mrs. Fanning. “I think it's time t’be having a powwow about... certain subjects that, perhaps, yuir niece ain't quite ready to start fretting about.”
Irene nodded disconcertedly and then picked up the green robe that the doctor had provided. She held it out to Myra. “Myra, please put this on, and then go out into the other room and eat your breakfast. I'll join you after I've spoken to Mrs. O'Toole.”
The girl's teeth gritted at being called Myra by her aunt, but – still furious – she donned the robe and crossed into the next room on bare feet.
“She'll need a bath,” Molly said after the patient had gone, “but we shouldn't be raising a lot of questions over at the bath house. For now, the doc has a tub ordered from back East. And after ye get her home, see that she cleans up every day or two. It’ll hel[ her get used t’her new body”
“How can I make her behave when you're not around?” Irene asked.
Molly looked doubtful. “Didn't Shamus explain it? Ye have just as much control over her as I do. Just tell the lassie what ye want her t’do. She'll feel obliged to do it, as long as ye make it clear that it's really an order. Don't be worrying too much. The gall'll be shaping up on her own soon enough, if she's like the girls over at the Saloon. When that happens, ye'll have a whole new set of issues, but everything happens in its own time. Meanwhile, ye’ll have t’be schooling her about a lot of girly things, like wearing dresses… and having monthlies. Just teach her what yuir ma taught ye.”
“What do you mean about there being other 'issues'?”
Molly sighed. “Don't be surprised when she starts acting all flustered-like – around boys, I mean. That sort of thing seems t'come natural with the potion.”
Astonishment transformed Irene's face. “Boys? She'll like boys, like the saloon outlaws do?”
“Don't fret about it,” advised the older woman. “’Tis for the best. Loving and being loved ain’t a bad thing. But there's many a slip between the cup and the lip. Myra is just at the age when a girl can go wrong.”
The widow's eyebrows went up. “Do you mean she might become a... a hussy?”
Molly met her glance intensely. “An ordinary girl is brought up t’be right sensible about the lads. Thorn never got that sort of teaching. What he got was an education from watching cows and bulls mate. If that niece of yuirs starts thinking about boys the way too many girls his – her – age do, she might run square into... consequences... ”
Irene felt a strong need to sit down.
Molly led Irene into the back rooms of Dr. Upshaw’s office, the part that served for his living quarters. There, in a cubical, was the physician's personal bathtub, also used by his patients when they needed it. “I got clothes for the gal,” she told Irene, extracting a bag from her big carryall. “They ain’t much, just some old things from when Jessie Hanks started, umm… working for me and Shamus.”
“Won’t Miss Hanks mind?” Irene asked.
“Not likely. She's all likes showing off in flashy stuff now, like that silky blue gown she wears when singing. And then thuir’s them frilly unmentionables for when… well, let’s just say when Paul Grant is talking to her in private.”
Mrs. Fanning returned a doubtful glance. “I think I understand.” Feeling slightly uncomfortable, Irene went to check on the heating bathwater. An extra-large kettle sat on the stove, a thin trail of steam wafting from it. When she dipped the tip of her finger, it hurt but didn't scald. “Mrs. O'Toole, could you help me carry this hot water?!”
The saloon proprietress joined her and, using potholders, they carefully and slowly carried the heated vessel to the bathtub. Bracing the pot on the edge of the fixture, they poured in its contents. Then ladies put more water on the heat and continued the process until the tub was half-filled.
At that point, Irene tested the bathwater to see if the tub had cooled it enough for comfortable bathing. It still felt too hot, so she added a kettle of cold water. That made it perfect. “Come back here, Myra!” she called.
The girl, who had long since finished breakfast, emerged from the reception area, where she had been sitting alone, her eyes downcast, her lips pursed glumly. Looking at the tub, she grimaced. Thorn, had gotten over her bashfulness about being undressed in front of a woman, but this was so very different.
“Time to shuck off those clothes and lose that trail-dust,” said the Irishwoman.
Myra sent a frown to each of her tormentors.
“Why so shy?” Molly asked. “Ye ain’t got nothing that yuir aunt and me ain't seen ten thousand times. But since ye’re not used to having what ye have, Mrs. Fanning and me’ll be strolling outside to continue our chat.”
Irene stepped up to her niece with a fluffy white terrycloth towel and a small washcloth. The latter was wrapped around an oval bar of soap. “Ye be sure t’be washing yuirself all over,” Molly instructed the girl. “Every inch o’ye, and when ye’re done, dry yuirself well.” With that, the two ladies went out the back door to the enclosed porch behind the building, and took their ease upon a white-painted bench suspended from chains.
After the women departed, Myra worked quickly, wanting to be done and covered up before they barged back in. She slipped out of her robe and peeled off her cotton gown, draping them both over a nearby chair. Then, using the same chair to support herself, she stepped into the tub and sank down to her knees. The water felt hot against her newly-sensitized skin.
Hurriedly, Myra used the slippery bar of soap to work up a lather on the washcloth. This she rubbed over her arms and torso. Upon touching her breasts, she gasped in surprise. Curiosity aroused, the girl persisted in stroking them, the sensation growing more intense. The feeling was not a bad one. Now she could imagine why Gilana moaned so much when Myron had…
“Oh, my Lord… Gilana!" she exclaimed, her eyes open wide. Molly O'Toole had said that any man who drank that damned potion would become the double of the “fetchingest” gal he'd ever known. The prettiest girl in Myron's acquaintance had been Gilana Hulbard, a young cancan dance in Yuma. Myra thought back to her reflected image in the mirror. “Shit, I look just like her!”
The bemused maiden leaned back against the end of the tub, remembering her last visit with Gilana. As the shock wore off, Myra grew curious about her present body, so much like Gilana's. She remembered how beautiful the dancer had been, especially in bed. That thought inspired Myra to touch her breasts again, which caused her to shiver.
She continued caressing her fullness, but now more gently. In her mind’s eye, she became Myron again, and it was the cancan girl's breasts she – he -- was petting. 'Ooh… ooh, God!' The pleasure of it! How could it feel so good when it also felt so wrong to have breasts -- especially the sort of breasts that would make men sit up and stare. But here they were. It felt like she had, in a sense, stolen them, and that tickled her bandit nature. The idea that stolen sweets were the most sweet occurred to her. It was good, the delight to gained from them. It was like she was a robber counting her precious loot with no one watching.
A moment later, a curious hand -- as if it had a mind of its own -- slid down to that… place between her legs. She began stroking what Gilana had so many times encouraged Myron to stroke. He had wondered why the girl had liked being touched there so much. Now Myra found out. She couldn't hold back soft sighs inspired by rubbing herself with the sudsy cloth. Myra, squirmed, savoring the moment. “Are all women’s bodies like this?” she wondered. “Maybe that's why gals take so many baths.”
Myra let out a low moan and sank on her side into the tub, exhausted by the intensity of the pleasure she was arousing. Still she kept the stimulation going, luxuriating in the little jolts the friction triggered. Thorn had always disliked bathing, but bathing had never been like this.... 'Oh, Lord, I could do this forever,' she thought.
No, she couldn't. Another voice in her mind was scolding her. Molly had said that she had to wash every inch of her body, and Myra couldn’t do that if she kept playing with her new body parts. She shook her head, refusing to heed what she was being told. But that voice was insistent, powerful. Slowly, reluctantly, she sat up and started to scrub her neck and behind her ears.
Following that, she lifted her left leg so that her ankle rested on the side of the tub. Her legs; that was something else Myron had admired about Gilana. When she danced, he couldn't take his eyes off them. At that point she felt she had to cover her thigh and calf with lather, proceeding to stroke their smoothness like Myron had stroked the cancan girl. The potion girl shifted and repeated the process with her right leg. Her pace started to quicken. 'Maybe I can get back to the better part of it all after I finish washing.'
It seemed like a good idea; if she had had a mirror, she would have seen herself grin.
But, just then, the O'Toole woman and Aunt Irene came back into the room. “Ain’t ye done, yet?” Molly asked, a sly smile curling her lips.
“J-Just finishing,” Myra answered, her cheeks warming with embarrassment.
Irene picked up the towel she’d draped over a chair and handed it to the girl. “Stand up and dry yourself,” she said.
“Aye, but be careful,” Molly added. “Ye’d best t’be patting yuirself dry. Yuir skin’s a lot more tender than it used t’be.”
Myra rose and stepped out of the tub. Not liking being nude in plain sight, but trying not to show it, she carried out Molly's instructions swiftly.
"Done,” the girl said a few moments later. She tossed the towel to the floor and looked around. Spotting the robe, Myra picked it up and wrapped it around herself.
“Let's go back to the infirmary,” Molly suggested. When the three reached that destination, the Irishwoman held up a pair of light gray drawers with white lace trimming on the legs.
Myra scowled. “These’re girl’s drawers.”
Molly nodded. “Aye, and ye’re a girl. There's no changing that fact, so ye'll have t'get used to the idea. Now…” her voice grew stern. “Put ‘em on and no guff about not wanting to.”
Myra tried to protest, but no words came out. She glared at Molly, even as she grudgingly stepped into the garment. With her hands trembling, she pulled them up and snugged them around her waist. She did notice that the material felt softer against her skin than Myron’s old cotton drawers had.
“Now tie ‘em so they won't slip down,” Molly said, “and then ye’ll be standing there – not talking – while I measure ye.”
Myra did as told. Molly took a rolled-up cloth tape measure, a pad, and pencil from her reticule. “Take notes o’what I’ll be telling ye,” she told Irene, handing her the pad.
“Very well,” the other woman responded.
Molly walked over to the potion girl and began measuring. Myra was five-foot one, a full nine inches less than Myron’s five-ten. Her neck was a slender ten inches around. Shoulder width and arm length were all quickly taken.
“Just above the breasts, it reads… 32 inches,” Molly called out. Then she shifted the tape down, so that it circled bare breasts. The girl squirmed as her nipples were touched. “Hold still,” Molly scolded. A few seconds later she announced, “Tape across her bust… 35.”
The inseam length was measured, as were the girl's waist and hips, 30, 22, and 35, respectively. Finally, Molly had her sit down while she checked the length and width of one foot. “For shoes,” she explained.
“All right, Myra,” Irene said, “Mrs. O’Toole has finished with her measuring, so you can get dressed. As she spoke, she handed her niece a gray chemise that matched her drawers. Bands of lace trim ran down its front, and there was a small lace rose at the edge of the U-shaped collar.
The girl scowled as she inspected the garment. ‘Too damned girly,’ she was thinking as she tried hard to resist putting it on. But she found herself slipping her arms through the narrow straps and letting it slide down her body. The fabric felt cool and the weave tickled her… tits.
“Ye can be sitting down now,” Molly said, “and putting on yuir stockings.” She gave Myra a pair of yellow and green striped stockings. “Ye tie ‘em up above yuir knees, and then ye bring yuir drawers down over ‘em and tie those off there.”
The girl had to obey. She could guess how feminine she must look, and it bothered her, but the damned magic had her in its grip. When Myra was done, she stood up and saw Molly holding…
“A corset?” she groaned. Out of all the outlandish, girlish things forced upon her, this was absolutely the worst. “Do – Do I gotta?”
“I'm afraid so,” Molly replied. “With yuir... figure, ye need the support.” The woman chuckled. “Or ye'll be jiggling for all t'see.”
Irene smiled for the first time that day. “Can't have that, can we?” Then, realizing what a tasteless time it was for humor, her expression grew sober. “Put it on, Myra.”
The girl took the garment and wrapped it around herself, as she'd seen Gilana do. Only now did she realize that the task was not a simple one. The corset had hooks in back, but because she needed her left hand to hold the thing up in front of herself, the other hand, working alone, couldn't get the hooks into the eyes. “How is this done?” she asked, her voice strained.
Irene stepped up and began closing the hooks. The resulting snug feeling didn't take her breath away, as Myra had expected it to. As Myron she had heard men joking about silly women who tortured themselves with corsets just to keep from looking fat. The garment, now fastened, felt like it was hugging her, but not uncomfortably.
“This is the most important piece.” Irene held up a dark brown...
“A dress!” Myra sneered. “Ain't all this other stuff bad enough?” she asked, gesturing at her body. “I gotta wear a dress, too?
“What do ye expect, t’ve going about in your unmentionables, like a lady of ill-repute?” asked Molly. “Don't think ye can dress like a boy anymore, neither. Ye, more than most girls, have t’be wearing dresses instead of britches, so people won't think there's something wrong about ye. Just put it on without ripping it.”
Myra sighed and slowly, carefully, stepped into the garment. Having pulled it up waist-high, she inserted her arms into the sleeves. Then, gathering the fabric to her shoulders, she worked herself inside it. “These buttons are on backwards,” she complained.
“Them buttons are on the other side from what you're used to,” Molly explained. “Just go slow; ye’ll be getting used to ‘em in a minute or two.” She set a pair of used shoes down at Myra's feet.
With the frock closed, the seventeen year old could look down and see how her corset pressed her breasts conspicuously out against the material of her dress. When someone saw her, her figure would probably be the first thing that they'd look at, and she didn't care for that idea at all.
To put on the wooden-soled clogs that Molly had provided, she needed to sit down. “At least these ain’t too girly,” Myra muttered. They allowed her feet to slip right in; a strap closed with a buckle went back around each heel, holding them securely. “There,” she said, rising, “I’m finished.”
“Sit back down,” Irene admonished. “You’re not done. Your hair…”
“Your hair is full o’knots,” interjected Molly. “Boys ignore their hair something fierce, and when it grows long it just makes things worse.” She took a wire hairbrush from her apron pocket. Each bristle ended in a tiny bead. “Now try not t’be squirming. It’ll only be making the job more painful.”
The comb hit a snag immediately. “Ouch!”
The Irishwoman spent a full hour – or so it seemed to Myra – working through the morass of tangles. The subject of the process yelped more than once as Molly showed the snarls no mercy. When there was no other choice, a mat of hair had to be snipped off with scissors. But, finally, the torturer had finished the session and Myra’s lustrous red-brown tresses flowed unimpeded down past her shoulders.
“Now, Missy,” Molly said, “let's take a look at ye.”
Myra stood up, her fists clenched, her brows knitted, her lips pursed.
Mrs. Fanning and Molly looked the result of their efforts over discerningly. Myra looked so different from Myron that it was hard for Irene to believe that the two were the same person. Local folks passing by the girl in the street wouldn’t hold anything to be out of order. In fact, though plainly dressed, it was her new niece's native prettiness that would be attracting all the attention. “What should we do next?” she asked Molly.
The Irishwoman motioned the widow to step to the next room with her. When they were alone, she advised, “I’d say ye should be getting her home, away from prying eyes. She looks like a fetching little lassie, but she ain't one yet. She'll be needing some private time t'get used to...to everything that's new. It’d be good t’be keeping her busy with chores, so she won't have idle time to mope around so much.” The matron then added, “I shouldn't be wasting any time before taking the stage t’Phoenix, tomorrow. Somebody needs to be shopping for that young lady, away from local people who might start asking questions.”
“You're very kind, Mrs. O'Toole, but I don't know you. I would hardly expect so much charity even from my closest friends,” replied Irene.
Molly shook her head. “Call me Molly. And I’m glad to have -- and t’be -- a new friend. Ye got into this trouble without asking for it; the climb out of it will be steep for a while, for both ye and Myra. I'm willing t’be helping ye carry a bit o’the load. Anyway, I’ll be enjoying an excuse t’be going into the big town. Christmas is getting close and there're things a body just can't buy in Eerie. And if ye find yuirself needing more help later on, ye can just let me know.”
“I could use a… another friend,” the widow admitted.
“A person never has too many friends.” Molly then led them back into the infirmary where she started to gather in her belongings. Irene stepped up closer to ask an urgent question. “Molly?”
“What should I tell people when they wonder where Myron is?”
The older woman frowned. “I don’t think ye should be saying a word. Most folks’ll figure that Myron died from that ricochet, and them outlaws hid the body. And even if a few believe he didn't die, they wouldn't be expecting him t’be paying a visit back home, not with the sheriff out t’arrest him.”
Irene, surprisingly, felt better. “I guess I should be grateful that none of that is true.”
“That's the spirit. There was times when I was absolutely at my wits' end about how t’be getting them potion girls to shape up, but the good Lord somehow got them and me through it. By the way, I've heard that the deputy is coming out to yuir place in a couple days. Tell... yuir niece... to be upfront when she's talking t’him.”
“What is he going to ask?”
Molly smiled wanly. “The main things he’ll be after are getting the gold back and catching them other outlaws. He won't be interested in making things harder for Myra. She already got hit with the worst punishment Judge Humphreys was ever likely t'be handing out to someone her age.”
“She looks so angry,” Irene observed. “Could we tell her to feel happy?”
Molly shook her head. “The magic won't make a soul feel things that it don't really feel. Happiness can't be put into a person's head through the ears.”
She finished filling her carryall. “I'll come out to the farm right after me Phoenix visit. By then, ye'll probably have a laundry list o’ new questions. Until then, Mrs. Fanning....”
“You can call me Irene,” the farm widow said. “Can I pay you then for… whatever I owe you?”
Molly shrugged. “Ye can pay for the clothes, pay Doc for breakfast, too, I suppose. Not for any Christian help. I look forward to us talking about it all later.”
“We will. Thank you so very much.”
TO BE CONTINUED IN CHAPTER 3
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