Outlaws of Palouse - Zane Grey - ebook

Outlaws of Palouse ebook

Zane Grey

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Kidnapping Collie Younger: When Rod Brecken stole the most beautiful and outrageous flirting mistress who ever made the cowboy crazy, this is just the lesson she needs; but Rod may have tasted more than he can chew on. Palaces persecutors: Dale Brittenham follow the footsteps of the horse thieves to bring to justice before angry runners overtake them.

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Liczba stron: 173

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Contents

Chapter I

Chapter II

Chapter III

Chapter IV

CHAPTER I

THE lone horseman rode slowly up the slope, bending far down from his saddle in the posture customary for a range rider when studying hoof tracks. The intensity of his scrutiny indicated far more than the depth or direction of these imprints in the dust.

Presently the rider sat up and turned in his saddle to look back. While pondering the situation, his eagle eyes swept the far country below. It was a scene like hundreds of others limned upon his memory–a vast and rugged section of the West, differing only in the elements of color, beauty, distance and grandeur that characterized the green Salmon River Valley, the gray rolling range beyond, the dead-white plain of alkali and the purple sawtoothed peaks piercing the sky in the far distance.

That the tracks of the stolen Watrous thoroughbreds would lead over the range into Montana had been the trailer’s foregone conclusion. But that the mysterious horse thieves had so far taken little care to conceal their tracks seemed a proof of how brazen this gang had become. On the other hand, Dale Brittenham reflected that he was a wild-horse hunter–that a trail invisible to most men would be like print to him.

He gazed back down the long slope into Idaho, pondering his task, slowly realizing that he had let himself in for a serious and perhaps deadly job.

It had taken Dale five hours to ride up to the point where he now straddled his horse, and the last from which he could see the valley. From here the stage road led north over the divide into the wild timbered range.

The time was about noon of an early summer day. The air at that height had a cool sweet tang, redolent of the green pines and the flowered mountain meadows. Dale strongly felt the beauty and allurement of the scene, and likewise a presentiment of trouble. The little mining town of Salmon, in the heyday of its biggest gold-producing year–1886–nestled in a bend of the shining white-and-green river. Brittenham had many enemies down there and but few friends. The lonely life of a wild-horse hunter had not kept him from conflict with men. Whose toes might he not step upon if he tracked down these horse thieves? The country was infested with road agents, bandits, horse thieves; and the wildest era Idaho had ever known was in full swing.

“I’ve long had a hunch,” Dale soliloquized broodingly. “There’re men down there, maybe as rich and respectable as Watrous himself, who’re in cahoots with these thieves…‘Cause if there wasn’t, thick slick stealin’ couldn’t be done.”

The valley shone green and gold and purple under the bright sun, a vast winding range of farms, ranches, pastures, leading up to the stark Sawtooth Mountains, out of which the river glistened like a silver thread. It wound down between grassy hills to meander into the valley. Dale’s gaze fastened upon an irregular green spot and a white house surrounded by wide sweeping pastures. This was the Watrous ranch. Dale watched it, conscious of a pang in his heart. The only friendship for a man and love of a woman he had ever known had come to him there. Leale Hildrith, the partner of Jim Watrous in an extensive horse-breeding and trading business, had once been a friend in need to Brittenham. But for Hildrith, the wild-horse hunter would long before have taken the trail of the thieves who regularly several times a year plundered the ranches of the valley. Watrous had lost hundreds of horses.

“Dale, lay off,” Hildrith had advised impatiently. “It’s no mix of yours. It’ll lead into more gunplay, and you’ve already got a bad name for that. Besides, there’s no telling where such a trail might wind up.”

Brittenham had been influenced by the friend to whom he owed his life. Yet despite his loyalty, he wondered at Hildrith’s attitude. It must surely be that Hildrith again wanted to save him from harm, and Dale warmed to the thought. But when, on this morning, he had discovered that five of Edith Waltrous’s thoroughbreds, the favorite horses she loved so dearly, had been stolen, he said no word to anyone at the ranch and set out upon the trail.

At length Brittenham turned his back upon the valley and rode on up the slope toward the timberline, now close at hand. He reached the straggling firs at a point where two trails branched off the road. The right one led along the edge of the timberline, and on it the sharp tracks of the shod horses showed plainly in dust.

At this junction Dale dismounted to study the tracks. After a careful scrutiny he made the deduction that he was probably two hours behind the horse thieves, who were plainly lagging along. Dale found an empty whiskey bottle, which was still damp and strong with the fumes of liquor. This might in some measure account for the carelessness of the thieves.

Dale rode on, staying close to the fir trees, between them and the trail, while he kept a keen eye ahead. On the way up he had made a number of conjectures, which he now discarded. This branching off the road puzzled him. It meant probably that the horse thieves had a secret rendezvous somewhere off in this direction. After perhaps an hour of travel along the timber belt, Dale entered a rocky region where progress was slow, and he came abruptly upon a wide, well-defined trail running at right angles to the one he was on. Hundreds of horses had passed along there, but none recently. Dale got off to reconnoiter. He had stumbled upon something that he had never heard the riders mention–a trail which wound up the mountain slope over an exceedingly rough route. Dale followed it until he had an appreciation of what a hard climb, partly on foot, riders must put themselves to, coming up from the valley. He realized that here was the outlet for horse thieves operating on the Salmon and Snake river ranges of Idaho. It did not take Dale long to discover that it was a one-way trail. No hoof tracks pointing down!

“Well, here’s a rummy deal!” he ejaculated. And he remembered the horse traders who often drove bands of Montana horses down into Idaho and sold them all the way to Twin Falls and Boise. Those droves of horses came down the stage road. Suddenly Dale arrived at an exciting conclusion. “By thunder! Those Montana horses are stolen, too. By the same gang–a big gang of slick horse thieves. They steal way down on the Montana ranges…drive up over a hidden trail like this to some secret place where they meet part of their outfit who’ve been stealin’ in Idaho…then they switch herds…and they drive down, sellin’ the Montana horses in Idaho and the Idaho horses in Montana…Well! The head of that outfit has got brains. Too many to steal Jim Watrous’s fine blooded stock! That must have been a slip…But any rider would want to steal Edith Watrous’s horses!”

Returning to his mount, Dale led him in among the firs and rocks, keeping to the line of the new trail but not directly upon it. A couple of slow miles brought him to the divide. Beyond that the land sloped gently, the rocks and ridges merged into a fine open forest. His view was unobstructed for several hundred yards. Bands of deer bounded away from in front of Dale, to halt and watch with long ears erect. Dale had not hunted far over that range. He knew the Saw-tooth Mountains in as far as Thunder Mountain. His wild-horse activities had been confined to the desert and low country toward the Snake River. Therefore he had no idea where this trail would lead him. Somewhere over this divide, on the eastern slope, lived a band of Palouse Indians. Dale knew some of them and had hunted wild horses with them. He had befriended one of the number, Nalook, to the extent of saving him from a jail sentence. From that time Nalook had been utterly devoted to Dale, and had rendered him every possible service.

By midafternoon Brittenham was far down on the forested tableland. He meant to stick to the trail as long as there was light enough to see. His saddlebag contained meat, biscuits, dried fruit and salt. His wild-horse hunts often kept him weeks on the trail, so his present pursuit presented no obstacles. Nevertheless, as he progressed he grew more and more wary. He expected to see a log cabin in some secluded spot. At length he came to a brook that ran down from a jumble of low bluffs and followed the trail. The water coursed in alternate eddies and swift runs. Beaver dams locked it up into little lakes. Dale found beaver cutting aspens in broad daylight, which attested to the wildness of the region. Far ahead he saw rocky crags and rough gray ridgetops. This level open forest would not last much farther.

Suddenly Brittenham’s horse shot up his ears and halted in his tracks. A shrill neigh came faintly to the rider’s ears. He peered ahead through the pines, his nerves tingling.

But Dale could not make out any color or movement, and the sound was not repeated. This fact somewhat allayed his fears. After a sharp survey of his surroundings, Dale had led his horse into a clump of small firs and haltered him there. Then, rifle in hand, he crept forward from tree to tree. This procedure was slow work, as he exercised great caution.

The sun sank behind the fringe of timber on the high ground and soon shadows appeared in thick parts of the forest. Suddenly the ring of an ax sent the blood back to Dale’s heart. He crouched down behind a pine and rested a moment, his thoughts whirling. There were campers ahead, or a cabin; and Dale strongly inclined to the conviction that the horse thieves had halted for the night. If so, it meant they were either far from their rendezvous or taking their time waiting for comrades to join them. Dale pondered the situation. He must be decisive, quick, ruthless. But he could not determine what to do until he saw the outfit and the lay of the land.

Therefore he got up, and after a long scrutiny ahead, he slipped from behind the tree and stole on to another. He repeated this move. Brush and clumps of fir and big pines obstructed any considerable survey ahead. Finally he came to less thick covering on the ground. He smelled smoke. He heard faint indistinguishable sounds. Then a pinpoint of fire gleamed through the thicket in front of him. Without more ado Dale dropped on all fours and crawled straight for that light. When he got to the brush and peered through, his heart gave a great leap at the sight of Edith Watrous’s horses staked out on a grassy spot.

Then he crouched on his knees, holding the Winchester tight, trying to determine a course of action. Various plans flashed through his mind. The one he decided to be the least risky was to wait until the thieves were asleep and quietly make away with the horses. These thoroughbreds knew him well. He could release them without undue excitement. With half a night’s start he would be far on the way back to the ranch before the thieves discovered their loss. The weakness of this plan lay in the possibility of a new outfit joining this band. That, however, would not deter Dale from making the attempt to get the horses.

It occurred to him presently to steal up on the camp under cover of the darkness and if possible get close enough to see and hear the robbers. Dale lay debating this course and at last yielded to the temptation. Dusk settled down. The night hawks wheeled and uttered their guttural cries overhead. He waited patiently. When it grew dark he crawled around the thicket and stood up. A bright campfire blazed in the distance. Dark forms moved to and fro across the light. Off to the left of Dale’s position there appeared to be more cover. He sheered off that way, lost sight of the campfire, threaded a careful approach among trees and brush, and after a long detour came up behind the camp, scarcely a hundred yards distant. A big pine tree dominated an open space lighted by the campfire. Dale selected objects to use for cover and again sank to his hands and knees. Well he knew that the keenest of men were easier to crawl upon than wild horses at rest. He was like an Indian. He made no more noise than a snake. At intervals he peered above the grass and low brush. He heard voices and now and then the sputtering of the fire. He rested again. His next stop would be behind a windfall that now obscured the camp. Drawing a deep breath, he crawled on silently without looking up. The grass was wet with dew.

A log barred Dale’s advance. He relaxed and lay quiet, straining his ears.

“I tell you, Ben, this hyar was a damn fool job,” spoke up a husky-voiced individual. “Alec agrees with me.”

“Wal, I shore do,” corroborated another man. “We was drunk.”

“Not me. I never was more clearheaded in my life,” replied the third thief, called Ben. His reply ended with a hard chuckle.

“Wal, if you was, no one noticed it,” returned Alec sourly. “I reckon you roped us into a mess.”

“Aw, hell! Big Bill will yelp with joy.”

“Mebbe. Shore he’s been growin’ overbold these days. Makin’ too much money. Stands too well in Halsey an’ Bannock, an’ Salmon. Cocksure no one will ever find our hole-up.”

“Bah! That wouldn’t faze Big Bill Mason. He’d bluff it through.”

“Aha! Like Henry Plummer, eh? The coldest proposition of a robber that ever turned a trick. He had a hundred men in his outfit. Stole damn near a million in gold. High respected citizen of Montana. Mayor of Alder Gulch…All the same, he put his neck in the noose!”

“Alec is right, Ben,” spoke up the third member in his husky voice. “Big Bill is growin’ wild. Too careless. Spends too much time in town. Gambles. Drinks…Someday some foxy cowboy or hors hunter will trail him. An’ that’ll be about due when Watrous finds his blooded horses gone.”

“Wal, what worries me more is how Hildrith will take this deal of yours,” said Alec. “Like as not he’ll murder us.”

Brittenham sustained a terrible shock. It was like a physical rip of his flesh. Hildrith! Those horse thieves spoke familiarly of his beloved friend. Dale grew suddenly sick. Did not this explain Leale’s impatient opposition to the trailing of horse thieves?

“Ben, you can gamble Hildrith will be wild,” went on Alec. “He’s got sense if Big Bill hasn’t. He’s Watrous’s pardner, mind you. Why, Jim Watrous would hang him.”

“We heard talk this time that Hildrith was goin’ to marry old Jim’s lass. What a hell of a pickle Leale will be in!”

“Fellers, he’ll be all the stronger if he does grab thet hoss-lovin’ girl. But I don’t believe he’ll be so lucky. I seen Edith Watrous in town with that cowboy Les Crocker. She shore makes a feller draw his breath hard. She’s young an’ she likes the cowboys.”

“Wal, what of thet? If Jim wants her to marry his pardner, she’ll have to.”

“Mebbe she’s a chip off the old block. Anyway, I’ve knowed a heap of women an’ thet’s my hunch…Hildrith will be as sore as a bunged-up thumb. But what can he do? We got the hosses.”

“So we have. Five white elephants! Ben, you’ve let your cravin’ for fine hossflesh carry you away.”

An interval of silence ensued, during which Dale raised himself to peer guardedly over the log. Two of the thieves sat with hard red faces in the glare of the blaze. The third had his back to Dale.

“What ails me, now I got ‘em, is can I keep ‘em,” this man replied. “Thet black is the finest hoss I ever seen.”

“They’re all grand hosses. An’ thet’s all the good it’ll do you,” retorted the leaner of the other two.

“Ben, them thoroughbreds air known from Deadwood to Walla Walla. They can’t be sold or rid. An’ shore as Gawd make little apples, the stealin’ of them will bust Big Bill’s gang.”

“Aw, you’re a couple of yellow pups,” rejoined Ben contemptuously. “If I’d known you was goin’ to show like this, I’d split with you an’ done the job myself.”

“Uhuh! I recollect now thet you did the watchin’ while Steve an’ me stole the horses. An’ I sort of recollect dim-like thet you talked big about money while you was feedin’ us red likker.”

“Yep, I did–an’ I had to get you drunk. Haw! Haw!”

“On purpose? Made us trick the outfit an’ switch to your job, huh?”

“Yes, on purpose.”

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This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.

This is a free sample. Please purchase full version of the book to continue.