Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Weird Western Tales #49 "The Belle"

 Weird Western Tales #49 Nov 1978 

"The Belle"

Gerry Conway, story - Dick Ayers & Luis Dominguez, art - Luis Dominguez, cover

End of April, 1862. Fifty miles North of New Orleans, Louisiana.

First off, WWT goes monthly with this issue! Next we find Scalphunter sitting in a roadhouse, minding his own business when some yahoos start talking about an Injun being uppity and needing to teach him some manners. Needless to say, but I'm gonna say it anyway, this doesn't play out as the yahoos expected. Sure, they dump Scalphunter's soup in his lap and douse him with water. Sure, they get in several HAW HAW HAWs. But then they get thrown across the room, a broken arm, a chair across the head and then thrown over a table. 

When the dust settles the owner of the roadhouse pulls a shotgun and tells Scalphunter to just hold still until the railroad guards get there. Aaaaand THAT doesn't end up as intended when Scalphunter snatches the shotgun out of his hands. An older man dining at a nearby tables stands up, and tells the roadhouse owner that HE will vouch for Scalphunter and there is no need to get the authorities involved.

The man introduces himself as Judge Jeremiah Halleck and his wife Charity. The Judge invites Scalphunter to discuss some business on the train along with partaking of some tea. On the train, in the Judge's private car, the Judge explains that they are fleeing the Union soldiers that have overtaken New Orleans. He has converted all of his cash holdings into jewelry and placed it all in a lockbox. Their plan was to take the train to Montgomery but they have learned that several prisoners that the judge sentenced have escaped in the confusion of the occupation of New Orleans. The judge says the prisoners know of his wealth and he expects them to try to overtake the train and exact their revenge upon he and his wife. Of course, the judge can't seek military assistance and offers Scalphunter the job of bodyguard.

Scalphunter asks why the judge doesn't think that he will just kill the judge and take the jewels. The judge states that Scalphunter is a man of honor and the both know it. Scalphunter agrees, but only as far as Montgomery for he has business in Atlanta. The judge signals the engineer to get started.

That night, northeast of New Orleans, several escaped prisoners break into a plantation house and overpower the owner in his bed, knocking him out and taking his shotgun. Dutch, the leader, has the men search for other guns, food and horses while he takes care of 'other business' whilst he leers at the wife sitting in her bed.

The next day, Scalphunter is standing on the back of the train, watching the track vanish in the distance as they cut their way across southern Alabama. Charity comes out on the platform and comments that he is the strongest man she has ever seen. She asks what his name is, his Christian name. Scalphunter states that his father named him Brian but his real name is Ke-Who-No-Tey. Charity says that Brian is a wonderful name and it makes her weak inside, like a little girl. She starts to swoon and Scalphunter boldly asks "What do you WANT, woman?"

Charity cuts the act and explains that she is terribly unhappy, the judge is a beast and she feels so hopeless she could kill herself. Scalphunter asks if the judge mistreats her and she acknowledges that. He asks why she hasn't left and she explains that the judge gave her parents money to buy their plantation in exchange for her marrying the judge. She says that Brian is her only hope.

Then the train is making its way around a blind curve and ends up running into an avalanche. As the train topples over, Scalphunter is able to leap from the back of the train, grabbing Charity and taking her with him. He breaks her fall with his own body and then runs back to the train. 

He finds the judge, crushed in the private car. The judge explains that the jewels are for Charity and gives Scalphunter the box and the key. Scalphunter swears the box won't fall into the wrong hands.

As Scalphunter emerges from the wreckage, Charity calls out that she couldn't warn him but the prisoners have descended upon the wreckage. Dutch manages to knock Scalphunter out using his rifle butt and as he passes out, Scalphunter sees Dutch grab Charity and the box and ride off.

Hours later Scalphunter comes to and starts tracking the riders.

Later that night, by the campfire, Dutch explains that Charity's information regarding the train was so bad, they almost didn't find the right train. They were able to escape with her help of the knives she smuggled in and now Dutch is going to give her the share of the reward, as he grabs her and starts forcing a kiss on her. Just then the horses take off running and the men run off into the darkness to retrieve them, leaving Dutch and Charity to hear their horrific screams in the darkness.

Scalphunter steps out of the black and demands Dutch release Charity. Dutch pulls his rifle and Scalphunter charges with his knife. The two tumble into the campfire, battling it out and in the end, Scalphunter and Charity walk away.

The next morning in Magnolia, Mississippi (more on that later), Scalphunter is explaining the entire story to the local sheriff. The Sheriff wants to know how the convicts knew the location of a private train. Scalphunter explains that Charity was working with the convicts. Charity denies it and says that Scalphunter betrayed her husband and killed the judge. The sheriff pulls his pistol and Scalphunter knocks him out and runs out the door, dropping the key to the lock box. Charity picks it up, grabs the lock box next to her and opens it up.... to find the jewels gone!

On the road to Atlanta, Scalphunter stops by a stream and tosses the jewels into the water, fulfilling his promise to the judge that the jewels will not fall into the wrong hands.

Statistics for this issue
Men Killed by Scalphunter - Four
Running Total - 95
Compared to Jonah Hex - 11th appearance and Scalphunter has 95 vs Jonah's 65
Scalps Taken - 0
Running Total - 14
Injuries - Knocked out
Timeline - Three days. First day to meet the judge, second day to travel, and the third day to get to the sheriff. So we are very close to the end of April.

This one was pretty good. The cover promises a lot and delivers on every bit of it, the train wreck, the jewels, the prisoners. I actually laughed when Scalphunter said "What do you WANT, woman?" seeing through her charade and not having any of it. The artwork was gritty and well done, showing the action very well. 

Now about geography, They start fifty miles north of New Orleans which would have put them just north of Lake Pontchatrain, probably near Hammond, Louisiana. The test tells us they are heading across southern Mississippi. This all makes sense as they would have to head east, cross Mississippi, then into Alabama to get to Montgomery. Now the detour to Magnolia, Mississippi, THAT's the problem. Magnolia is due north of Hammond, LA and it is barely within Mississippi (just 13 miles across the state line), not enough for them to have been traveling across 'Southern Mississippi'. I guess you could argue that the geography is correct, but it didn't strike me that they would be heading due north to get to Montgomery to the northeast. ANYway!!!

The issue was rounded out with another eight page Cinnamon backup feature. 

Next Issue: The 50th issue, Scalphunter makes it to Atlanta, finds his sister, gets fitted for a suit, and gets sentenced to HANG!!!

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