Apache Gold. A Story of the Strange Southwest - Joseph A. Altsheler - ebook

Apache Gold. A Story of the Strange Southwest ebook

Joseph A. Altsheler

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Apache Gold. A Story of the Strange Southwest” is a rip-roaring tale of adventure set on the Arizona frontiers of the American Old West written by Joseph Alexander Altsheler (April 29, 1862 – June 5, 1919). He was an American newspaper reporter, editor and author of popular juvenile historical fiction. An abiding classic of western literature, our hero in this tale is Charles Wayne, a young but strong and sharp lad who seeks adventure in the southwesterly desert frontier of Arizona. Charles has terrifying encounters with wild beasts and Indians when he searches for the lost treasure of the Spaniards. Joseph A. Altsheler describes the vast open frontier evocatively, placing the reader in a time when equal measures of freedom and danger were abundant. Throughout Mr. Wayne’s traversals, we’re reminded of how difficult it was to survive – let alone thrive – in the Old West. The beauty of the unforgiving land forms a vibrant backdrop to the scrapes and challenges our heroes must face.

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Contents

I. The Station

II. The Start

III. In the Desert

IV. The Lost Village

V. Making a Home

VI. Marooned

VII. Among the Stars

VIII. A Sudden Encounter

IX. New Resources

X. The Lost Herd

XI. The Ancient Tower

XII. The Community House

XIII. The Grip of the Shaman

XIV. The Witless Dance

XV. The Shot of Shots

XVI. "Behind the Veil"

XVII. Winter in the Canyon

XVIII. Gray Wolf's Coming

XIX. The Mighty Defender

XX. The Departure

XXI. On the Hot Sand

XXII. The Desert Battle

XXIII. The Last Fight

CHAPTER I. THE STATION

The young agent, a boy only, but large and strong beyond his years, sat at the door of the station, and he was alone in his world–he was nearly always alone. Two parallel lines of shining steel stretched away to the east, across the hot sand, and two other parallel lines stretched away to the west, also across the hot sand. On the crest of a low hill a giant and malformed cactus stood out against the burning blue sky, in the rude simile of a gallows. At times, especially in the twilight, when the resemblance increased, it seemed to offer the lad an invitation to come and make use of it.

Far in the northwest showed the dim, blue line of mountains, and Charles longed to be there among the forests on the slopes, rambling as he chose, but he took his gaze away from the temptation, and brought it back to his prison, the little railroad station, where he was agent and telegrapher, for the meager salary that he needed. Jefferson, although it had hopes, was not a large place, consisting of two buildings, the station of corrugated tin, with a glittering red roof, and the water tank. At normal periods it had a population of two, but Dick Anthony, the assistant, was off duty for a few hours–he had gone down the line on a visit to Madison, a magnificent metropolis of at least fifty people.

The boy was terribly lonely, and, as he sat in the doorway at an angle that protected him from the fiery sun, he looked around at his world, merely a circle in the desert, dotted at the center with the station and the water tank. About these two structures empty tin cans flashed in the sunlight, but beyond this area the desert showed only dead grays and browns. It was absolutely silent, seeming to have been so for thousands of years, and ready to remain so for eternity. Charles looked at his watch. The ‘Frisco express, that ray out of the live world, coming and going like a spark, was not due for three hours, and he wondered how he could ever pass the time. Far to the south two or three “dust devils” rose, and danced across the desert. He watched them eagerly, not because they were a novelty, nor because anything would come of them, but because they represented motion, and, when they sank away in the sands, he sighed. The diversion was over.

He looked up at the sky. Perhaps a bird would be flying across it somewhere, but the blue was unmarred by a single dot. He groaned, and let his hands fall helplessly to his side. “How long! Oh, how long!” he repeated. Thus he sat, an athletic lad, in shapeless clothes of dark brown canvas, and lamented, because he had reason for lamentation. He remained awhile, motionless, a yellow straw hat, with a wide brim drawn down over his eyes. At last he took a novel, with paper covers, from a shelf in the corner of the room and tried to read, but it failed to interest him, and he threw it abruptly on the floor.

Charles Wayne was often rebellious, as any other youth would have been thus cast away, but his mood was stronger than ever that afternoon, and when he walked about outside, in search of distraction, he found none better than to kick savagely at the empty tin cans. They only flashed the sunlight back at him in the same brilliant, monotonous fashion.

He returned to the station, and presently the telegraph key began to chatter. It was merely the agent at Madison saying that the ‘Frisco express was on time, and would take water at the Jefferson tank.

The sun was going down the slope, but the intense burning heat still hung over the earth. All things were parched and lifeless, there were no more “dust devils,” but after a while, as the sun sank lower, gray shadows came out of the east, and a sudden coolness swept down from the north. Then the shining rails began to hum, and the red eye of the train looked over a bare hill.

When the express stopped and the connection was made with the water tank, Charles strolled along beside it, speaking with the engineer and brakemen, who were his messengers from the real world outside.

“Things lively in Jefferson?” asked the engineer.

“Fairly,” replied Charles. “A cowboy from the Mexican border looked in about ten days ago.”

“That so? You can’t down Jefferson!”

The passengers, cramped by the long journey, alighted from the train, and walked up and down in the twilight, which was now full of chill. Among them was a large elderly man, with a heavy, red mustache, and a pompous arrogant manner, accompanied by a tall, slender boy about the age of the young agent.

The two walked side by side, and Charles noticed the lad particularly. He had fair hair and a fine face, but he saw that he was not used to wild life. His face and hands were untouched by tan, but he wore a suit of the finest khaki, obviously cut by a high-priced tailor, and once he looked at a beautiful, jeweled gold watch that he drew from his belt.

“A mollycoddle! only a mollycoddle!” murmured Charles. He felt for the moment a bitter pang of resentment, because the lad was so obviously favored by fortune, while the same fickle dame had resolutely turned her back upon him.

He glanced again at the man, and he thought that he had never seen a face more repellent. The narrow, heavy-lidded eyes had the look of a vulture’s, and the folds beneath them continued the simile. He spoke sharply to his companion, and the boy’s fair face flushed. Charles dismissed his resentment in an instant. His nature was too high to cherish such thoughts, and his sympathy was with the lad who apparently had received an unjust rebuke about something. He heard the man call him Herbert, and once he would have laughed at the name. He had classed Herbert with Percy, and thought both effeminate, but now it made little impression upon him. His sympathies were still with the fair youth.

The two did not notice him, and they walked on, the man speaking contemptuously of Arizona to the boy. The conductor of the train appeared on the steps, and Charles, indicating the couple, asked him if he knew how far they were going.

“Only to Phoenix,” was the reply; “but they’ve come through from New York. That’s Mr. George Carleton, and the boy is a cousin of his, I think. I don’t know who Mr. Carleton is, but whatever he is, he doesn’t let you forget it.”

Charles slipped away from the light and bustle of the train, which he had been awaiting so anxiously, and withdrew into the station. He was just as eager now for the train to go on, and leave him alone in his desert. The sight of the other lad had only made him unhappy. But a clamor arose, and there was the sound of a blow and protesting cries. He went out again–it was quite dark now–because something had happened; nothing had ever happened before in Jefferson, and this could not be missed.

There was a ring of people on the sand, and a commotion at the center of it. Wayne pressed into the crowd, and saw on the ground a dark figure, shapeless and repellent. He was not sure what it was, but the other form, bending over it was certainly that of a man, Jim Grimes, a brakeman on the express.

“Now you clear out o’ this!” said Grimes, kicking the bundle, which groaned, and resolved itself into the shape of a tramp.

Herbert Carleton saw the rough act and became indignant.

“Why do you do such a thing? It’s a shame!” he exclaimed, his fair face flushing with anger–Charles liked him better than ever now.

“Excuse me, me bold young champion,” replied Grimes, ironically raising his cap. “You wouldn’t say that if you had to travel through these parts and learn the tribe to which this scamp belongs. They are murderers, when they’re brave enough, an’ sneak thieves when they ain’t. I found him ridin’ on the brake beam, an’ he couldn’t have stood it much longer. I’ve saved him from sudden death, by pitchin’ him off here in the sand.”

Grimes grinned a little. A life of constant motion had not taken all his sense of humor. The man on the ground stirred and groaned again.

“Playin’ ‘possum,” said the brakeman scornfully.

“All aboard!” shouted the conductor, and the train bell began to ring. Most of the passengers hurried up the steps, but Mr. Carleton, refusing to relax his dignity, would not hurry, austerely following his young relative.

Charles stood farther back in the shadow, and gazed at the lithe figure of the lad, as he stood at the car entrance, watching the tramp who still lay motionless in the sand. He plainly saw pity in his eyes, and his own sense of loneliness suddenly became overwhelming. “I, too, ought to be pitied!” was his angry thought. The engine whistled, and the train shot away into the dark. “Gone forever, like all the rest,” murmured Charles, as he saw the rear light die in the desert. Again he was alone in the silence.

Charles Wayne had felt the spur of ambition already, and longed for a great place in the world, but as he had not a single relative who was able to help him, it seemed very far from the little station in the sand to any higher step on the ladder. Young as he was he had been fortunate to get even so small a position.

He returned to the station, and, lighting a train lantern, put it upon his telegraph desk. He was touching the depths of despair. The space between what he was and what he wanted to be was as wide as the world, and he felt it in its full measure. The apparition of the other boy, in his fine clothes, passing gayly from one great city to another, deepened his loneliness and desolation fourfold.

“Jim Grimes was right,” he said to himself, “this life in the desert is different, and it makes people act differently.”

The thought took him back to the tramp. The fellow, whom he knew to be shamming, might prove dangerous. Courage was instinctive with the boy, but having no mind to run foolish risks, he took a loaded revolver from his desk, and went into the dark. He expected to be met by an able-bodied man with a request for food, and incidentally for drink, but the tramp was still lying in the sand. Wayne saw that his eyes were fitful and uncertain, and he was struck with pity.

“Poor devil!” he murmured. “This is no make-believe.”

The face that looked up at him belonged to an old man. It was seamed and wasted by the winds and heat of the desert, by want and suffering. Gaunt and hollow, it was stamped deep with the marks of decay. He was not pretty to look upon, and the boy had a sense of repulsion, but his feeling of pity was stronger.

“Do you want something to eat?” he asked, bending down.

Fear leaped into the man’s eyes, as he saw the face approaching his own, and he shrank away.

“He’s been running a gantlet somewhere,” thought Charles, who knew much of life in a wild region, but he said aloud:

“I’m a friend, and I want to help you.”

The man looked at him in wonder, and then shook his head slowly, as if he could not understand. Charles, perplexed, gazed down at his recumbent form. Here was one who was either sick or out of his head or both, and what was he to do with him? It was brutal of the railroad to throw him off there. The other boy was right.

The moon was rising slowly over the desolate plains. From the far mountains came a chill wind. Charles shivered. The stranger began to mumble something.

“What is that?” asked the boy.

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