Bad Man’s Gulch - George Owen Baxter - ebook

Bad Man’s Gulch ebook

George Owen Baxter

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Max Brand, was the pen name of Frederick Schiller Faust. He was a prolific American author best known for his classic western novels. One sheriff and two deputies have already disappeared in the rough-and-tumble mining town of Slosson’s Gulch. The same fate awaits any other man who crosses the cutthroats and thieves who thrive there. Pedro Melendez is a gambler and a drifter, trying his best to put his gunslinging days behind him. But he’ll need all the sharp shooting he can muster to help a vulnerable young woman find her missing father – because there are plenty of miners eager to make sure Pedro’s the next one to go missing.

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Liczba stron: 128

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Contents

I. LAW AND ORDER

II. THE FURY OF NATURE

III. THE CRUEL SNAKE

IV. THE THINGS THAT ARE FATED

V. A BORN KILLER

VI. NOTHING BUT DEATH

VII. HANS GRIMM’S PLACE

VIII. THE GIRL’S MAN

IX. NO FIGHT IN HIM

X. A PROPHECY

XI. IT JUST HAPPENED

XII. HOPE

XIII. A LITTLE INFORMATION

XIV. RESCUE

XV. AT THEIR MERCY

XVI. IT ALL ADDS UP

I. LAW AND ORDER

IF William Berenger had, in the first place, known anything about gold mining and gold miners, he would never have brought his daughter along with him when he joined the rush for Slosson’s Gulch. What he knew about mining was connected almost entirely with the works on geology that he had read and mastered. As an amateur geologist he was a very well-informed man; certainly he made a greater picture of a successful man when he was out with a party of admiring friends, chipping fragments off bits of rock, here and there, and telling the story revealed there, than when he went downtown to his office where a sign on a clouded-glass door informed all who cared to look that William Berenger was a lawyer. But as time went on, very few cared to look at that sign. For when a case came the way of Mr. Berenger, he never allowed business to interfere with geology, and he never allowed fact to interfere with theory. Mr. Berenger held a confirmed theory that every man, in his heart of hearts, was perfectly honest, and nothing could wean him away from this belief. When he cross-examined a recalcitrant witness, it was in the fashion of a saddened uncle pleading with a misguided child to be charitable to the truth and his better self. The result was that no lawyer ever succeeded in making men and women feel more at home on the witness stand–which is exactly what a lawyer does not want, of course.

Obviously the proper attitude is that all of one’s own witnesses are scholarly gentlemen, and all of the opposition’s witnesses are scoundrels, liars, and thieves, if they can get a chance. But Mr. Berenger could not help treating the entire world, not only as though it were his equal, but even a little bit more. He could not so much as tip a waiter without asking the pardon of that gentleman in disguise.

When a jovial and heartless friend of Mr. Berenger suggested that he close a law office that was simply a useless item in rent, and apply some of his geological knowledge by joining the gold rush, Mr. Berenger took the matter instantly to heart. He called in his daughter to help him make up his mind, and she poked her walking stick at the potted geraniums in his library window and listened thoughtfully She put no faith in the ability of her father to be anything but the kindest of fathers and the worst of businessmen, but she was certain that nothing could be more disastrous than to keep on as they were doing. Knowing that the family fortune had diminished dangerously close to the vanishing point, she felt that, at least, this might be a cheap way of taking a summer’s vacation in the Western mountains.

So William Berenger was encouraged to make up his pack as a prospector, and in that pack, of course, his geology books formed the greatest item. He would have thought it absurd to advance upon the practical problem of locating gold-bearing ore without equipping himself with references, page, and paragraph, for every one of his steps. His legal training forced him into this attitude. But, in due time, they dismounted from the train, bought two pack mules and a pair of riding horses, built up two towering miracles of packs, and advanced on the mountains like two children on another crusade.

When they came to Slosson’s Gulch, they halted on the overhanging shoulder of a hill and looked down upon the long, narrow town of shacks and tents and lean-tos that straggled along both banks of the creek. Even at that distance, through the thin air, they could hear faintly the noise of the mining camp. While they waited in the rosy dusk of the day, they heard from different portions of the gulch three shots. It sounded to Louise Berenger like three signal guns, warning the newcomers away.

Her father was not dismayed. For a week he mixed in the wild crowd of the camp in the evenings, and spent his days with Louise in tramping along the hill slopes, where thousands of others had already wandered before him. They learned now what they could have read in the papers before they started–no more strikes were being made in Slosson’s Gulch. The vein seemed to have been traced as far as it ran, and as for the throngs that still rushed to the mining camp, some were simply blind sheep like the Berengers, and others were the exploiters of the miners. That is always the case in such a town; there are 500 hangers-on for every 100 honest laborers. But there is always a wild, vague hope of fortune lingering about a new-found ledge of gold ore. Mr. Berenger still tramped the hills farther up and down the valley, from day to day, talked with the adventurers in the evening, and then burned his lantern beside his heavy tomes of geological lore.

One day Louise came to him, with her eyes glittering and her face on fire. “I don’t think that this is a place for you, Father,” she said, “and certainly it is not a place for me!”

“What in the world has happened?” asked William Berenger, looking up over his glasses.

“Nothing,” said Louise, setting her teeth like a man about to strike or be struck.

She would say no more, but her father could gather that something disturbing had happened, and, since it was almost impossible for him to resist any suggestion, he agreed at once that they should give up the adventure. He only wanted a single day to try out a little theory that he had just found out.

That extra day was spent in roving far up the valley, leaving the noise of Slosson’s Creek behind them. They turned the complete flank of the great mountain and marched up a narrow ravine that, in those days, bore no name whatever.

As the town dipped out of view behind them, the girl asked: “Do you think that there will ever be law and order in that town?”

“Law and order,” said William Berenger. “My dear, wherever there are more than two civilized white men together, there is sure to be law and order!”

His daughter stared at him. “There have been five known killings since we arrived,” she reminded him.

“The dregs of society! The dregs of society!” Mr. Berenger explained easily. “They have to be disposed of in one way or another. Drones must be thrown out of the hive, my dear child. Wine is not good until the lees have settled.”

Louise sighed, helpless and hopeless. She murmured finally: “Metaphors are not arguments, Father, except in poems.”

“And what could be more of a poem than this spot?” Mr. Berenger said, waving his hand toward a blue giant of a mountain in the distance, for a turn of the ravine had just brought them into view of its sparkling head and white shoulders. “And what could be more of a poem… a living, breathing poem… than the strong men who have gathered in Slosson’s Gulch to hunt for fortune in the ribs of old Mother Earth herself?”

“Or… the earth failing them… in the first handy pocketbook,” suggested Louise.

“Ah, child,”–her father sighed–“a rough face does not make a rough heart. You must learn to look beneath surfaces… of men and of mountains! Age brings a gentler insight.”

She knew that it was foolish to argue. If she mentioned the fact that one sheriff and two deputy sheriffs had already disappeared from the ken of men in Slosson’s Gulch, and that the same fate had been promised for the next upholders of the established law that dared to show their heads near the camp, she knew that William Berenger would have some handy explanation. To dispute the goodness of mankind with him was like condemning the faith of an ardent priest. He felt that his hands were soiled even by opposing such mundane theories.

They rested at noon on the upper waters of the little creek that ran through that nameless ravine. As the western shadows began to come kindly out across the slope, Mr. Berenger advanced to make his exploration. He had not worked for an hour before he paused to consult the pages of his book again.

Louise, weary of idleness, seized the pick and struck it into an eroded ledge of rock. It struck so fast that she could hardly work it out. A bit of rock stuck on the end of the steel when at last it was free. She broke that fragment off in her hand–and found that sparkling threads of gold were shining back at her through the mountain shadows.

Even her silence seemed to send an electric warning to her father. He came hastily and saw what she held. Together they attacked the ledge. In half an hour they had no doubt. It was a strike and a wonderfully rich one, if only this were not a surface color that would soon disappear. They hastily staked out the claim and put up monuments.

Then they sat down in the shadow and made their plans. To Louise, it seemed that the whole world had instantly become an enemy, wolfishly eager to snatch their prize out of their hands. But her father had no such fears. When they finally turned down the valley, he, with a rich lump of the ore in his pocket, was already building hospitals and universities, and bringing Rembrandts across the Atlantic.

At their little lean-to on the lower edge of the town, Louise stopped to prepare supper. Her father went on into Slosson’s Gulch to file his claim.

She waited until the dark with no sign of him, and then she knew that it would be worse than foolish for her to go unescorted through the streets of the gulch.

In the morning she made her hunt–a frantic search. She made wild inquiries here and there; searched at the claim, everywhere, knowing in her heart that his body lay at the bottom of some abandoned prospector’s hole, or perhaps, weighted down with rocks, it was being rolled slowly down the bed of the creek.

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