OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt would be nice to think that short stories find their way into the hands of those who will appreciate them. A book of short stories found its way into my hands recently, and in it was the story Miggles by Francis Bret Harte.

Set in the old west (but written in the days when it wasn’t that old!) the story opens with a stage-coach journey truncated by flooding on the trail ahead. Advice is to head for Miggles! Though nobody aboard knows what or who that is. Well, anyhow (in an American accent), that’s what they do, arriving to find no-one at home; though a voice answers their calling from the locked gate. So, as you do, they beat down the gate and let themselves in. There’s an old man in a chair, but he’s been struck down by a stroke, and is incommunicado.

It’s a rum do; and then the eponymous Miggles arrives… a bright, vivacious, young woman, who feeds ’em up and finds ’em a bed fer the night. After a short while she comes back to join the men, who have bedded down in front of the fire in the main room, and she tells them her story, and that of her stricken partner, Jim.

In the morning the travellers resume their journey, and on arrival at their destination, drink a toast to Miggles, and the story closes with a brief authorial/narrator’s comment. It’s a first person narrative, by the way.

What struck me about it, was the segments of the story, the phases through which it moved to its conclusion. They were quite distinct: the journey – the arrival – the evening meal – Miggles’ story – the resumed journey – the last comment. It is not merely a series of events, but a highly structured sequence.

In fact that ‘last comment’ is slipped in almost as an aside, were it not for the fact that it ends the piece, and so is quite noticeable. Obviously the comment is upon an aspect of the story, the most important aspect one presumes; the story is a preparation for the comment. Miggles has explained her situation, and we (and the travellers) have been put into a state of readiness for the comment. In fact, each part of the story has been a preparation for the following part: The journey leads us to Miggles. The arrival poses a mystery and her arrival and the evening meal go some way towards explaining it. When we get to her story we have already travelled a good long way into the story. We have observed our fellow travellers, and Miggles! Perhaps we have held and revised opinions about what might be going on. There was a moment, before she appeared, when the story seemed to be taking quite a magical turn. Miggles’ story could have been the denouement. After all, it explains her situation; but Harte has another scene to play out, one which doesn’t seem to add anything to our understanding. What it does do is to complete our journey, with the other travellers, who, we are told, do not speak, but seem to be reflecting on what has passed, as perhaps do we. When they get to their destination they mark what they have witnessed, and understood, by that celebratory drink, and as we stand with them at the bar the narrator/author poses a question.