A new story from Keith Errington!
Two Spoons McGraw was a legend on Hopeless, Maine. But, to be honest, being a legend wasn’t difficult on Hopeless, Maine – there were plenty of legends arising from the island, although, to be fair, few of them were told about people who were still alive. McGraw was both alive and famous. He was certainly more famous than Fork Leg Leon, but perhaps less famous than 110 Knives Patricia.
Now, do not think by this, that fame is measured in the amount of cutlery you are associated with; no, these enumerations were entirely coincidental. Fame on Hopeless, Maine, like pretty much anywhere else, was measured in deeds, words and actions (and access to a friendly storyteller like myself, of course.)
At this point, dear reader, I invoke my powerful clairvoyant skills to divine what you are thinking at this precise moment? Why the name Two Spoons McGraw? And what was his legend?
Not long ago, everyone thought that Martin McGraw was a simple fantasist. That he had lost his mind like so many others who dwelt on the Island for any length of time. It was often said that if you hadn’t lost your mind at least a tiny little bit, you were not a true islander. McGraw was convinced he was a cowboy, a rooting, tooting, hat wearing, trick shooting, tobacco chewing, son of a gun. He had managed to find an old hat that he had bashed about and steamed until it mostly resembled a Stetson. McGraw then added two leather belts – one slung across each shoulder, bandito style. The blacksmith had, somewhat reluctantly, fashioned a pair of simple spurs, although they weren’t very good. In fact, they were so bad that only McGraw knew what they were actually supposed to be.
By now, you have probably guessed that McGraw was not toting a pair of ivory handled Smith and Wesson six shooters on his belt. Nope – guns were non-existent on the island, and besides, ordinary powder was ineffective on Hopeless, Maine. Being as mad as a coot, and possessed of a vivid imagination, McGraw toted a pair of ivory handled, ornately decorated spoons. They were as beautiful to look at as they were as ineffective as a weapon – particularly at medium to long range.
So far – just another average citizen of Hopeless, but McGraw’s name became legend one day when a dispute with a neighbour, Captain Coleridge, came to a head. McGraw had challenged Coleridge to a mid-day duel. Like everyone else, Coleridge thought McGraw was mad, but felt like he needed to confront McGraw and sort out the matter. (no one, to this day, can remember quite what the dispute was about). Being an ex-military man, Coleridge had fashioned a bow and arrow, which he brought with him in case McGraw proved dangerous – after all, Coleridge knew from experience, being mad often went hand-in-hand with being dangerous.
Noon, the main street of town.
At one end, Captain Coleridge, 58, experienced soldier, seen too many wars and armed with flint-tipped arrows and a powerful bow.
At the other, McGraw, 32, deluded fantasist, believing himself a gunslinger, armed with the finest Sheffield could offer in the way of harmless cutlery.
Lillywhite Lanbury had been chosen as the signaller. It had been agreed that she would drop her handkerchief and at the moment it hit the ground, that would be the sign to draw.
Lillywhite, true to her name, was a lady pale of complexion, and delicate of figure. She took excessive care of herself, which, given her apparent frailty, was probably wise. She wore the finest silks and the most beautiful dresses. Her handkerchief, for example, was made of the finest gossamer thin silk, and weighed almost nothing.
And it was this one fact that would prove to be a significant factor in how the following scene played out.
At the stroke of noon, Lillywhite Lanbury held her hand up and let the handkerchief slip through her fingers.
The slightest of winds, funnelled down an alleyway between the buildings on the street, wafted across and lightly caught the handkerchief. It floated motionless for a moment, as if to tease the two combatants, and then, capriciously, it carried the square of white silk upwards in a slow spiral.
The reaction of the two men at either ends of the street could not have been more different. McGraw simply stayed motionless, his feet slightly apart, his hands hovering above his twin holsters, fingers mere millimetres from his spoons. Coleridge, on the other hand, who was already sweaty from his quick walk to the place, was now obviously agitated and had started to twitch. A military expletive issued from his lips as he watched the handkerchief dancing in the breeze.
As this was happening, a slight fog drifted across the town. This was perhaps the most normal event of the day. Hopeless, Maine was perpetually foggy, although admittedly less so in the town. Onlookers – of which there were many – could still see the duellists, but everything had that slightly blurry edge to it, typical of a mildly foggy day.
The eyes of McGraw and Coleridge were still fixated on the handkerchief, which was still several inches above the dirt of the street, but nevertheless, seemingly now travelling, but oh so slowly, downwards.
McGraw was as passive as before. He was born for this. Living by the code of the cowboy, by the might of the spoon, that was his calling.
Coleridge, on the other hand, was visibly shaking. His face had reddened, and his forehead was clearly traced with a couple of bulging veins. He had raised his bow, but his left arm was twitching, and he was struggling to hold it steady.
The handkerchief, in cahoots with the breeze, took one more opportunity to tease. It looped upwards and then down.
As the silken square was looping, Coleridge shouted something in total exasperation, which sounded like, “For Drury’s Sake”.
Silk touched dirt.
There was an instant flash of silver as twin spoons were drawn in the blink of an eye, then a twinkling as they were spun and holstered.
At the other end of the street, his face twisted in agony, Coleridge clutched his upper chest and went down.
Now the rule in most parts of the world is that you look for a rational explanation for events first, and then, and only then, when all logical possibilities have been exhausted do you imagine some other force at work, some magic, some mystical power, some influence. Only then does superstition take hold.
I suspect you can guess what I am going to say here. Superstition was the first port of call for any unexplained event on Hopeless, Maine. What the onlookers to the showdown had seen, clearly, despite the slight fog, was Two Spoons McGraw (as he had instantly been named) draw his spoons and Coleridge go down. There was a clear corelation between the two events. Captain Coleridge had died at the hands of Two Spoons McGraw and his deadly spoonfighting skills. He was truly a spoonslinging legend.
It so happened that Doc Willoughby was passing, and although in a desperate hurry to be somewhere else, as he often was,he nevertheless agreed to look at the body. The crowd described to him what had happened. Surely it was McGraw’s silver spoons that had killed him?
The Doc looked at the eager crowd around him, then down at the obvious heart attack victim, then back at the expectant crowd. Realising it would take at least an hour of explanation to deal with this, he sighed and said in his best Western accent, “Yep, reckon those spoons of McGraw’s are right lethal – I’d be about givin’ him a lot more respect from now on if I was you”. And he got up and wearily pushed his way back out, through the crowd, as quickly as possible.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the Legend of Two Spoons McGraw was born.