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Gold Rush Fever Conclusion
By
Rascal

Gold Rush Fever Conclusion

Glimpse of the Old West



They sat around the table pondering the the future. Marshal Hagen finished his food, quickly drained his glass and stood.

“I'd like to say that this was great meeting you all, but under the circumstances I think I'll postpone that. I better get back to my partner.”

Tom said, “Wait a bit, Art, if you're not in a rush. We have a prisoner out in one of the outbuildings but he hasn't been very talkative. If he sees a U.S. Marshal he might loosen up some.”

“It's sure worth a try, Tom.”

Amos said, “You go ahead, my leg isn't in shape to hobble down there. I'll just watch the bottle to make sure it don't evaporate.”

Art, Roy and Tom had Jasper show them where the prisoner was kept. It was the old stone milkhouse where the dynamite was stored. When the door was opened and a light shown in the man could be seen sweating.

“Didja have to lock me up with this stuff? If it went off they'd never find me.”

Roy scoffed, “It's as safe as church, get outa there, somebody wants to talk to you.”

“I already told you everything I know. You ain't got no right to try to beat more outa me.”

“No, they don't, but I do. I'm U.S. Marshal Hagen and you've been a bad boy. You've been identified as one of those bushwhackers that's been killin' people on the trails hereabouts. You're due for a hangin'.”

“Wait a minute, Marshal, I ain't killed nobody. I was hired to shoot up their water or maybe a horse 'cause I'm a good shot. The other fellas tortured them to get information, I didn't.”

“What kind of information?”

“I don't know. Whoever was payin' us knew there was gold about and wanted to know what was bein' planned to get at it.”

“How did he know about the gold?”

“I swear, you could beat me 'til you're blue in the face, that's all I know. I just heard the others talkin' about it.”

After more questions but no more answers Art said, “Lock him up again, I'll pick him up after this is over.”

As they were walking back to the house Tom said, “I always wondered why they didn't just kill them right away if they wanted them dead. It's just as easy to hit a man's head as his canteen. I'll be there in a couple minutes, I want to see Ed.”

He went to the bunkhouse and quietly woke Ed and led him outside, “Ed, I have a little chore for you if you'll do it.” He outlined that he wanted Ed to go to the gold site and see if there was any activity there and told him how to get there. “Be careful, these are not nice critters. If you see anything I should know get back as soon as you can. You'll have to walk as you won't be able to follow the trail, I'm sure they're watching it. I'll go to the house now and make you a light pack, but you'll have to live off the land.”

“That's not a problem. I'll leave now while it's dark and finish my sleep later on. I can get there faster by running than a horse can anyway. Let me get my moccasins and I'll be at the house soon.”

Tom saw Ed off and returned to the house to find everyone had gone to bed but Yaz. “Why are you still up, Yaz? You should sleep when you can, who knows when you'll get more.”

“I wanted to talk to you and ask you if it's worth it, all these people dying, everyone in danger, and it's nowhere near done. I wish I hadn't found it.”

“You're asking the wrong person. Ask the skunk that's hiring all those killers. All we're doing is trying to get something that's rightfully yours. If we succeed you will have enough money to make a lot of the wrongs right and many more , or at least better. A lot of the gold you found went to buy food for the hungry at the reservation. That may save more lives than have been lost.”

Yaz thought about that and said, “ You're right, and I'm going to make sure it does. Thanks Tom, I think I can sleep now.”

“Before you leave, I'd like to ask you something.”

“Alright, ask away.”

“Uh, I hope I say this right. Do you have a, er... are you seeing anyone? I mean, uh, do you have a boyfriend?”

Yaz smiled, “Why Mr. Wesson, are you courting me?”

“Well, uh, I guess I'm asking if you'd mind if I did?”

She walked very close to him, looked up and said, “No, Tom. I wouldn't mind that at all. Now, good night.”

They went off to their beds.

Tom rose early the next morning. After breakfast he had the men parcel out the food that was for those he'd brought for them and had the rest loaded on mules. Three of the experienced skinners were sent off with the train to the reservation.

While waiting for the outlaws to hit the ranch work still had to be done. Jasper was acting foreman and sent out pairs of armed men to do what was necessary for the cattle. He also sent experienced men to scout the area for other groups of badmen. Tom and Roy worked at setting up barrels of water wherever fires might be set.

That afternoon two men were seen approaching the ranch. Jasper recognized Marshal Hagen and allowed them passage but shouted their arrival to the house. Amos and Yaz came out on the porch as Tom and Roy walked up.

Amos stepped forward, “Climb down, gents, come sit in the shade.” Then shouted, “Chen Li, bring a pitcher of that cider out here.”

Marshal Hagen said, “This my partner, Matt Bigelow. Matt, This is Mr. Haynes and Miss Haynes. The two disreputable lookin' fellas are Tom Wesson and Roy Dalton, don't play poker with them.”

“Hello folks, I'm glad to meet ya, even the card cheats. I'm afraid we got some bad news for ya. About twenty more hardcases rode into that camp today and they're startin' to pack up. From what we were able to hear it's on for tonight. That's about fifty men comin', how many are here?”

Tom figured, “Let's see, Amos has ten with the six I brought back, I hired four in Denver and another four in Harper's Gully, but three left with the food, with us four that's nineteen, but the mule skinners are expected back today if they make it on time.

Yaz demanded, “Don't forget us, Poppa and I can shoot just as good as you.”

Tom said, “Good, you two stay in the house and cover us if we have to retreat to it. How do you think they'll come at us?”

Art thought a bit, “I figure they'll try the gates first. They haven't any jumping horses that'll go over the wall, but they can jump from them to the top of the wall.

Roy suggested, “Tom, why don't you and me set a charge outside the gates. If they group up there a rifle shot will set it off and it might catch a bunch of 'em. A couple sticks will do it.”

“Good thinking, Roy. If nothing else it'll sure scare hell out of their horses, let's go.”

Amos yelled, “Jasper, nail that milkhouse door shut good and tight, we'll need those guards elsewhere.”

Tom and Roy were setting the charge at one gate when they saw another rider coming. “Is that a horse or an elephant he's riding, Tom. I've never seen one that big used as a mount.”

“Look at the size of the man and you'll see why. That's the town Marshal from Harper's Gully, what the hell is he doing here? Did you lose your way again, John?”

“When I find Matt and Art I'm gonna knock their heads together. When they made me a deputy U.S. Marshal they forgot to tell me I was on call anytime, anywhere. They sent some Mex sheepherder to tell me to come here.”

“Come up to the house, we're done here.”

As they walked to the house John whispered to Tom, “Will you give me a hand getting off when we get there? I rode the whole way without my butt touching the saddle, just standing in the stirrups, and my legs are wobbly, I don't trust them.

“I don't know, John. If you ride over by the barn they have a block and tackle to lift hay in the barn, that might work better than breaking my back.”

“Maybe I'll just fall off on you and see how your back holds up to that.”

“Roy, give me a hand, we have to get this poor old man off his elephant.”

With difficulty they got him off the horse and up the stairs onto the porch.

Tom introduced everybody and Amos said, “Here Marshal, I think this chair will hold you.”

“Uh, No thanks, I think I'll stand... or maybe lean.”

“Are you having a problem, Sir?”

Tom was snickering, “You might say that, he was shot in his, uh, posterior.”

Yaz jumped up, “You poor man! I think I have something,” and rushed into the house and returned with a round bolster from the couch. “Just coil this on the chair where your, er, where...”

“Thank you, Miss Jasmine, I get the picture and I'll forever be in your debt.” He arranged the bolster and gingerly lowered himself into the chair, then gave a long sigh. “Now would somebody tell me why I had to ride all the way out here?

“Sure, Matt and I wanted to share the fun with you and we needed someone that knows how to use a few Sharps that we got off five dead and one live shooters. You used to use one, didn't you John?”

“Yeah, when I hunted buffalo. Why do you need a long range rifle like that? There's no buffalo around here.”

“No, but there's buzzards.” Art explained that they were expecting a raid and needed every man they could get.

“You want me to try to pick off the fella in the back that's runnin' things. If he's within range I'll get him.

Matt straightened up, “I meant to tell you, Amos, we got word of maybe who's runnin' this thing. We knew he had to have money to hire this gang so the office sent out some snoopers. There's some English Lord or something that was caught cheating on a land deal and there's a warrant out for him. Does that ring a bell?”

“Yes, it does. A little over a year ago the Governor sent me a message to ask for a favor. This Lord Trumbull wanted to hunt and I put him up for a while until he got snotty with the help and way too friendly with Jasmine. I sent him packing. I don't know where he hunted but Jasper would, he guided him. JASPER, come here.”

Jasper confirmed that the Englishman and his valet had hunted in the gold area. Usually he and his man would go off by themselves while Jasper took care of the campsite. They left his kills where they lay unless Jasper needed meat for the pot.

Art finished his cider and stood, “This is how I want to do it. Everyone act normal 'til after dark. Put your lights out at your normal times. Then I'll post the men before the moon comes up, I don't want any noise. Jasper, tell the men that. I hope they wait 'til the moon is up 'cause it's almost full tonight.”

Roy wondered,“What do hope to accomplish tonight, Art? I don't think you're going to scare them off.”

“If we can really hit them hard it will scare some off. I want to cut their numbers and give you a chance to get to the gold site and set up some fortifications. They'll be lickin' their wounds for a day or so. I plan on leaving for there in the morning and told Jasper to get everything ready to go.”

“We have to leave a guard here, that's gonna cut down on the men going there.”

“Yes, it will, but I sent a wire to headquarters to send more marshals. I hope they get here in time.”

Just at dusk the three men that had delivered the food to the reservation returned, giving them three more guns.

As night fell things looked normal. There was a man at each gate but, again, anyone watching would expect that.

Darkness fell. A few men could be seen on evening chores but that soon tapered and stopped. One by one the lights in the house and bunkhouse were snuffed and quiet settled.

Some time later muffled footsteps, slight noises and whispered orders could be heard but they carried no further that the stone walls as Art and Matt positioned the men. The men hunkered against the inner wall. Some fell asleep as they sat there but were awakened by a nudge in the ribs by a boot.

Full darkness slowly retreated as the moon crept over the horizon and rose in the night sky. Then, in the distance, could be heard faintly the sound of many hooves beating the ground. It increased quickly as riders appeared from the shadows and raced toward the South gate.

In the lead were ridden eight horses, four on each side of a massive log suspended by ropes between them and protruding forward. They were followed by a band of riders that were firing their rifles and pistols as they sped onward.

Jasper was peering through a crenelation in the wall and as the log laden group approached a white rock lying in the roadway he sprang up and quickly fired at it, once, then again. On his third shot just as the horses reached the rock there was a loud explosion and bright flash as the dynamite exploded.

There was great turmoil as most of the horses were blown off their feet pulling down the rest with the ropes tied between them to their saddle horns. The men fared no better as horses and men laid there screaming from their wounds, broken limbs and abrasions.

When Jasper fired it was the signal for the rest of the defenders to commence their rifle barrage. The horsemen that had been following the log were in total bedlam as their horses bucked and pitched making their riders easy targets.

There were three men sitting their horses on a hilltop, out of range of the rifles the guards were using and just at the end of the range of a Sharps. They could be seen talking animatedly among themselves over the carnage they could see below them.

John leaned on the wall and fired a Sharps. A clean miss, the men didn't even notice the deep roar from the Sharps. Dropping that rifle he picked up the next and after raising the sight a bit fired again. This time one of the men slipped from his saddle.

Before the remaining two realized what had happened John grabbed another rifle and fired. Another man went backward over the tail of his horse. The third man spurred away followed by another round from John to no visible effect.

Far few of the aggressors left than had arrived and many of these were slumped across their saddles.

The last shots fired put the disabled horses out of their agony.

It wasn't until dawn that some men left the enclosure and gathered the few wounded men that had survived the night. A wagon followed and was piled with the dead that were taken to the lip of gully where they would be buried. The wagon made the trip twice. Matt and Art searched the bodies for any personal papers or information on identity and stripped their possessions.

When they'd finished the Marshals joined Roy and Tom on the porch. “Have you got everything ready to go, Tom? I'd like to be leaving before noon.”

“Just as soon as Roy retrieves that other charge we laid at the North gate. If some of them do come back I don't think they'll try the gates again, we laid some more white stones around.

Roy walked up and a few seconds later John, Amos and Yaz came from the house. John was carrying a large pillow.

Tom grinned, “Figurin' on takin' a nap, John?”

John's only reply was, “Shut up.”

“How's the wounded, Yaz,?” Matt asked.

“The three of ours are alright now that I got them bandaged, they were only light wounds, but I'm keeping them here as part of the guard. Their wounded are locked in the milkhouse except for two here in the house that I don't think are going to make it.”

“Alright, let's move out.” They left in the late morning, sending out scouts well ahead. Each of the men were eating a sandwich that Chen Li had made a pile of on a tray by the gate. Matt, Art and John rode a short distance ahead of the long string of mules loaded with supplies, tools, and the dynamite spread throughout the train. At intervals there was a man on both sides of the mules. Tom and Roy, with a few other men, made up the rear guard.

Late in the afternoon when they had stopped to rest and water the mules Tom rode to the front to see how it looked ahead for a place to camp. The four were talking when they heard a hail from the heavy brush and a man stepped out.

“Put your guns away gents, that's Ed Hawk, the fella I sent to scout the site.” When Ed reached them Tom asked, “What's it look like, Ed?”

“There's only about six men there now. They're camped a couple hundred yards up that creek from the spire in a grove of trees. They've hauled in some equipment and they're building a big sluice box. I think they're planning to wash the talus. The boss of that crew is one mean SOB. He caught one of the men with some gold and beat hell out of him while yelling that they were told not to pick any up. Then he shot him dead.”

“Damn it.” Tom swore. “If they start that talus sliding they could bring the whole thing down. We have to stop them.”

“Whoa, Tom. They haven't started anything yet. I think they're waiting for someone or something. Whoever is running this wants every ounce accounted for. These boys are working for wages, I reckon.”

“Good we have to get there first. Is there a good place to fort up close by?”

“Yeah, there's a great place. There's a hill right against the mountain that's fairly flat on top just a little way South. It's pretty rocky and will make good cover and the only thing higher is the mountain itself.

A mountain goat can't get above you. It's even got a little runoff from the mountain for water. It's dry sometimes but when it's not there's plenty if you can store it. Dig a catch basin and you'll do okay. There's only a few ways to get up there and it should be easily defended. It's where I've been holed up.”

“What do you lawmen think. This is not my area of expertise, but I think we have to get there and fort up quick.”

Matt, Art and John looked at each other and John said, “Now he wants to listen to his betters. Will wonders never cease. I think our best bet is if we take half the men in the morning and hit them hard. Those claim jumpers won't be taking this route to the site so the train will be safe enough. They're still prob'ly gettin' straightened away.”

“I agree, but Matt and I will lead them. Your pillow's not in any shape for heavy riding. Stay here, John and take charge. Ed, when these fellers are working on the sluice do they have guns close by?”

“They bring them with them, but you know hard hard it is to work with a sixgun on your hip. They park then somewhere around. They don't impress me as gunmen.”

“Huh,” John snorted, “How the hell would Art know anything about working, he's never done any.”

“I've done more work on Sundays than you did all week. I don't sit around on a fat pillow all day like you do.”

Matt interrupted, “Let's not fight, children. That sounds like a plan. Ed, do you know a good place for the mules to spend the night?”

“Sure, about two more miles on the trail. Good water and grass and it's protected too. You'll be just a hop skip and jump from the site in the morning.”

The camping went off without a hitch, but there were more than a few that had trouble sleeping with the thought of possibly more gun play on the morrow.

In the morning after a quick bite and some strong coffee Art laid out the plan to the men. “Ed, I want you to lead us off the trail in case they got a lookout. When we get close we'll tie the horses and go on foot. If we can get close enough and surprise them there might not be any shootin'.”

They were able to approach through a grove of young aspens to very close to the site. Any noise they made was drowned by the swift moving stream and the talk of the working men. Only two men were armed, one with a rifle on the other side of the stream, just watching, and one with a handgun directing the work.

Art whispered to Matt, “You cover the hombre with the pistol, I'll take the rifle.” As the men jumped from the trees Art yelled, “Hands up and don't move.”

The rifleman raised his rifle and took aim but Art already had a bead on him and fired, putting him down. The one with the pistol jumped behind the wooden sluice and fired a wild shot at them. Matt put a round through the plank hiding him and ended that threat. The rest of them stood with their hands overhead.

They grouped the men And Art stated, “I'm a U.S. Marshal and you're on private land What are you doing here?”

One spoke up, “Most of us were shanghaied, Marshal. We were hired to do mining, that's all we knew 'til we were brought here. Hell, check our guns, they're empty. Those two gunnies you shot said they'd give us ammo if we needed it.” They all chimed in and agreed with the speaker.

“Alright, knock off work on the sluice. There'll be a mule train here soon and you can unload it and help us set up. If you're tellin' the truth there'll be plenty of work here for you at top pay.”

The mules and men arrived a few hours later. Guards were sent close and far to warn of any intrusion while the rest of the men unloaded the mules and set up camp on the hilltop. The dynamite was unloaded at a remote part of the hill out of any gunfire's way and tarps were lashed over it. The cement was treated the same.

Tom and Roy looked over the spire, “You sure do pick the tough ones, Tom. Give me a couple hours to look this over and I'll tell you what I think. He spent the rest of the day climbing over the rocks and up onto the mountain, taking notes and chipping small samples from the spire. He returned to the camp at dusk.

“Tom, this is going to be real tricky and a one shot deal. If it don't work the first time there ain't gonna be a do-over.”

“That's why you make the big money, Roy. You're the best explosives man I know of and why I wanted you here. What's your plan?”

“I'll tell you what I have figured and you tell me where I went wrong. You're right, that spire is really rotten. Hit it with a pick hammer and big chunks spall off and if we do it right you'll have mostly dust when we're done. I think your idea with the concrete packed charges will work right too, but timing them is going to be the problem.”

“That's what I thought but what do we do about it?”

“Look, if we try to blow the whole thing at one time the weight of the top will stop the bottom from moving much and most will just fall straight down which is what you don't want, But if you blow the top too soon before the next charge the vibration of the whole spire will do the same thing. The charges have to be almost simultaneous but not quite. We have to get the weight of one off the next down so it has room to go where we want it to.”

“Okay, how do we do that?”

“Ah, here's where luck comes into it. We're lucky that you're so dumb about explosives that you bought everything in sight when you bought the explosives. You bought a lot of that quick fuse. Normally you wouldn't have much use for that.”

“Without the compliments on my dumb luck explain how that will work.”

“Ill make some burn tests with it tomorrow to check its rate of burn. Then you and I will do some measuring of the spire and figure out its weight. Meanwhile you can have some men start cutting timbers. We'll need a crane on the mountain to haul stuff up and down, but I found a place for that.”

“Let's hope we have time to do that before Trumbull shows up again. I don't think he's given up after spending all that money that he must have so far.”

Things went very well the next few days. The miners they'd captured pitched right in and were happy to be out from under the gun of their lately departed overseer. Tom and Roy had done their calculations and had some of the charges in place already on the lower sections of the spire. There was no sign of anyone around to cause trouble, but Tom sent Ed out to scout the whole area when he became very apprehensive.

Over a week went by. Preparations for the blast were slowing as the charges had to placed exactly on the higher ones. There were a few that had to be moved when new information was gained from ongoing observations. Tom and Roy were constantly checking their figures to make sure they were correct.

One evening after dark Ed slipped into camp unnoticed. He woke by placing his hand over Tom's mouth. Tom jerked and started to fight but Ed whispered, “It's me, Tom, Ed,” and Tom stopped. “I don't want to let everyone know so I snuck into camp. I'm pretty sure trouble's back. I think Trumbull has taken the time to scour the country for badmen. They've been trickling in from all directions to a camp about ten miles Southwest of here.”

“How many are there?”

“That's not the question. The question is, how many will there be when they all arrive. There's only a dozen now but they keep coming. I saw one with a telescope watching you from a distance. I didn't kill him 'cause I didn't want him to know we're wise to him.”

“Okay, I'll tell the marshals. Keep an eye on them and come runnin' if they start to move.”

Trumbull is there if he's who I think he is. A tall, skinny, fancy dude with another guy following him around waitin' on him. I think he knows what you're plannin' and aims to hit you after you do. You do the work and he cleans up after you're all dead.”

“We'll just have to try to disappoint him. Great work, Ed, I'll make sure you get taken care of if we live.”

“You have already, Tom, I have relatives on the reservation. My mother is one.”

In the morning at breakfast Tom gathered the three marshals and told them what Ed had said. Art picked the coffee pot from the coals and poured himself another cup while in deep thought. “I can't think of any more we can do except making sure we have enough food. If we get penned on this hill they might try to starve us out.”

“What are you talking about,” scoffed John, “We can always butcher a mule.”

Art took the suggestion seriously, “I think we should send more hunters out for our day to day meat and save them for a siege. Matt, you and I should check the defenses and see if we can strengthen them. Does anyone think they'd fall for the charges in the road again?”

Roy had been listening, “We can't do that, Art. We have too much traffic up and down the ways up here and someone might set one off. I can prepare some with short fuses we might be able to throw if they get close enough. Damn it, if they had held off for a couple days we'd be done with the blow and could start using that sluice they built for us. The charges are all set to go.”

“Riders comin', Boss,” one of the guards yelled.

Art yelled back, “Hold 'em there, I'll be right down.”

Tom wondered aloud, “Who can that be? They're coming on the trail from the ranch.” He and the rest followed Art down the hill and approached the horsemen.

Art introduced their leader, “This is Sid Taylor. He's brought fourteen other deputy marshals with him.

Sid, don't come out of the trees 'til dark, we're being watched and I don't want them to know you're hereabouts. I'll explain then. Let's carry some of this wood back so it looks like that's why we came down.”

After dark Sid and the rest of the marshals left their horses at the foot of the hill and walked up. They had a late meal of venison and beans, washed down with coffee.

After Art had explained the situation he told Sid, “I don't think they know you're here and I don't want them to know. Before light in the morning pack up some grub and go across the stream. Find yourself a good hideout and don't show yourself. I'm thinking that it'll be a good thing to have a force on their rear if they gain ground here.”

A few days later Ed returned in the night and gathered Tom and the lawmen. “I'm pretty sure they'll be here early tomorrow, they all hit their sleeping rolls early and plan on sneaking up close in the dark.” Art ordered, “Call everybody in but the close guards and tell them to be careful. I don't want anyone to get their throat cut 'cause they were careless.” Ed, can you sneak back out and warn Sis and his men to be careful and stay hidden. Alright, everyone get a couple hours sleep, I'm calling reveille early.”

The defenders were in place when dawn broke. Tom and John were hunkered down behind a dry stone wall they had erected peering through chinks in it. “The sun's getting up pretty high, John. Do you think they're out there? “

“Yup, I saw a boot a bit ago, and then he pulled it in. I think they're waitin' for the men to come down and go to work.” After more than an hour John said, “They must know by now that they haven't surprised us, but what are they going to do next?”

One of the men stepped up on a rock and looked out, “I don't think they're out there.” John reached for his leg to pull him down,but before he could a loud report came from the brush and a .50 caliber slug knocked the man off his feet onto his back some feet away. “Not much doubt now that they're here, and they've got more of those long range rifles.

The outlaws below ran from cover to cover as the snipers below kept the men on the top of the hill from doing much to impede them. You couldn't jump up, aim, and fire below without one or more Sharps sending lead your way. Soon there were men among the rocks at the base of the hill firing up at the fortification.

Roy crawled up with some sticks of dynamite cradled in one arm, “These have got short fuses so I wouldn't hold onto them for long after they're lit.” Tom lit a cigar and lit the fuse on a stick John was holding. John threw it over the wall and peeking through the chinks saw it land too far to be effective.

The next one landed right next to a rock with a man behind it. He panicked and hurriedly just threw it away before it blew, but he threw it close to three other men that were clustered. They were dead or unconscious as they were blown from their cover. The next few sticks had the outlaws retreating to their original line.

Trumbull and his valet could be seen on a distant hill. He was berating the men for their withdrawal. The rest of the day followed the same pattern. The outlaws would be driven forward and then driven back. Some shots were exchanged, but outside of some men getting hit by stone chips, there was little damage done.

When dark fell they held a pow wow led by Art, “Well, we did alright so far. We only lost that one fool that had to take a look and a couple wounded, but nothing serious. How many did we get with the dynamite do you think, John?”

“Hard to tell, four for sure but there might be others behind the rocks down there. I did get one with my rifle when he ran too slow.”

“I plugged one too, but I mighta only wounded him, he crawled pretty slow though,”claimed Matt.

“I think that Trumbull was disgusted, I looked for him late in the day but he'd pulled out. I'll bet he's chewin' somebody's butt tonight though.” Well let's get some sleep, there's always tomorrow.”

The next morning they were at their positions by dawn. John laid in the same spot as yesterday while Tom had moved to his other side. “It'll be easier for you to throw if I'm on this side, John. I can see just as good here.”

“I was thinkin' that you'd throw today and I'll smoke the cigar. Let me have one.”

“Aren't you afraid you'll stunt your growth? You might never reach your full potential.”

“I'm big enough to take one from you, or all of them, for that matter. Do I get one or not?”

“Why sure, John. Would you like me to get your pillow in case you want to take a nap too?”

“Maybe I'll just throw you down there and you can smart alecky talk them into givin' up.”

“In that case, here's two cigars. One for now and one for the dynamite. I'd prefer to stay here.”

When John had finished his cigar he asked, “You seen anything, Tom?”

“Nope, Have you?”

“Nothing, not even a branch movin'. Hey, Matt, you see anything?”

“Not even a whisker. I sure would like to know what they're fixin' to do now. The sun's getting' pretty high.”

They laid there another hour or so when they heard from the trees across the stream, “Halloo the hill.”

“What kind of trick are they trying to pull, do you figure?”

“Beats me.”

Art yelled back, “Whatta you want.”

“A palaver. Give me your word you won't plug me if I come out and one of you come down and we'll meet at the bottom of the hill and talk.

“Everybody hold your fire. You can come out or stay there, I can hear you fine. Nobodies dumb enough to trust you skunks and come down.”

“Well, I'm not gonna scream all day, I'm comin' out.” A large burly man with two guns strapped on and a rifle stepped from behind a large tree and started forward.”

Art yelled, “Hold it, leave your rifle there, you won't need that for talk. You can wear your handguns if you want but I wouldn't touch them if you know what's good for you.”

He leaned his rifle on the tree and walked to the base of the hill. Art ordered, “That's far enough, what's on your mind?”

“I don't know how you did it but you got him and he was the money man for us, but you're still pinned up there and neither one of us can get at the gold. Why don't we make a deal?”

“Just a minute, we have to talk about it.”

The marshals, Tom and Roy huddled. John asked, “What the hell is he talkin' about? We got who?”

Art smiled, “Sid and his crew must have taken Trumbull somehow. I wondered why he disappeared yesterday. Let's see what kind of a deal this yegg has in mind.”

Art yelled, “What kind of a deal?”

“Well, me and the boys ain't exactly used to pick and shovel work, but the way we see it we got an investment in that gold too. We'd like to see a good return on that investment. How about we let some of you come down and work that sluice. You'll be as safe as if in your momma's arms, we won't shoot the golden goose. After say, five hundred pounds of nuggets we leave and the rest is yours. The rest of you we keep pinned up there, kinda friendly like.”

“You stay there, we'll talk it over.”

“Well, what do you think?”

John scoffed, “I wouldn't trust that bunch with my dirty longjohns. What's to stop them from capturing the miners and telling us to go to hell? They could do that from cover and we sure wouldn't shoot the miners.”

“Wait a minute, I've got an idea,” stated Tom. “These yahoos don't know how rich that slope is. These aren't the same men that were here before. We can't let them dig into it or it will drop the spire. Why don't we tell them we have to blast before the rich ore is available.”

“What will that gain us, Tom? They'll still be here.”

“Maybe they will, but maybe they won't. Let me spell it out.” Tom laid out his plan and after a lengthy discussion they all nodded.

Art agreed, “It's the best plan we've got, let's see if it'll work. You, down there, that won't work, There's only about enough gold in that slope to fill a couple teeth. To get enough to satisfy you we have to blast to get at the vein.”

“Why don't I believe you? I know enough about mining to know you wouldn't bet on the come like that. There's no way you can tell what's in a vein you can't see.”

“You want to see it? You've got a telescope, take a look at the bottom of the spire. There's the vein we uncovered but if we dig out more the whole spire will come down on our head. We have to blast the spire away. Why do you think we brought all the dynamite?”

“Alright, give me an hour or so to take a look. I'll be back.”

They waited around a small fire with an ever present pot of coffee until they heard a hail from the outlaw leader. They gave him a come ahead and he walked to the hill. “Yeah, I see what you mean, I guess you weren't lyin'. But with a vein like that I think I have to up the ante to a half ton for us.”

“Man, that's crazy, there might only be a few more inches of gold there. We were takin' a big gamble that it would pay off at all with what we got stuck into it.”

“I guess we're both gamblin'. Let's see after you blow it.”

“Wait a minute, we're going to have our men out there, how can we trust you?”

“You mean my word's no good? That's not neighborly at all. What's it gonna take for you to trust us?”

“I ain't gonna trust you nohow. You see that clear area over there? When my men come out yours do to. That's far enough away that if either side pulls something the other side can still reach cover.”

“Let me think that over and I'll let you know. When do you want to do that?”

“Tomorrow, if you agree. We have to check everything before we set it off so it'll be in the afternoon when we blow it but the men will be checking it in the morning.”

“Okay, there'll be no shooting from now on both sides or the deals off.”

At the evening meal they discussed the day. Tom asked, “Art, do you think he's going to go for it?”

“Oh, he'll go for it alright, what's he got to lose? But I'll bet a dollar against all the gold that's here that he's got somethin' up his sleeve. Fellas like that can't take a crap without tryin' to cheat somehow.”

“You bet.” John snarled, “I'll bet he'll have those sharpshooters in the brush with a bead on you, me, and Matt. Probably Tom and Roy too.”

“Yeah, I figured he would too, but I got my faith in Sid. We were yelling loud enough for him to hear our little talk with that skunk. At least I hope he did. He'll corral them.”

From the dark they heard, “Alright, we agree, tomorrow it is.”

A few minutes later Ed walked from the shadows and Art gave a start, “Damn it, Ed, I'm gonna have to hang a bell on you, you scared the liver out of me. How in hell do you get past the guards?”

“Ugh, me injun, me go wherever I want. Does that answer your question, you supercilious white man?”

“So you think I'm super silly, do you?”

Tom told him, “That's not what that meant, Art. Did you know Ed went to college?”

“Forget I asked, I'm not about to trade words with you. Why'd you come?”

“To reassure you, I heard your talk with their head man and told Sid. If they have those snipers out he'll get them. I also was close enough to hear their plan for tomorrow. When you make the shot he figures there's going to be a cloud of dust that will hide them and a lot of confusion. They're going to come in with guns blazing.

“That relieves my conscience,” Roy said. “I almost felt sorry for them.”

The next morning some men warily came down the hill, just a few at first, but when they saw the outlaws riding into the clear area more of then followed. As they walked down the hill John told Tom, “See, if they were playing this straight they wouldn't need their horses.” All the men carried their guns as did the outlaws.

Tom and Roy checked the figures and then Roy was pulled up by a rope on the crane to check the charges. The other men did small unnecessary chores to rationalize their presence. When all was ready the men stepped around a corner of the mountain away from the outlaws. Tom and Roy took one last look and lit the slow fuse that led to the fast fuses that would trigger the blast. They then ran quickly to shelter.

Slow fuse burns at approximately two feet per minute. It was many minutes for the fuse to burn it's way up the spire and ignite the fast fuse. When it did there came a deafening boom, followed by no longer than a second by another boom, and then another, and another, until there were twelve.

After that barrage of sound there wasn't the sound of rocks falling one would expect, but the sound of men and horses crying and screaming as rocks from the size of a horse down to a pebble came hurtling through the air at the outlaws. Tom and Roy came from their shelter but could see nothing through the thick cloud of dust that roiled in the aftershock. The outlaws had planned it to be their passage to riches. Instead it was their passage to misery and death.

Although the dust was still extremely thick in the air Tom and his men felt their way through it to the outlaws. The few that were still living were in no shape to put up any resistance to being tied and taken to the side. Tom found the leader half buried where a huge bit of debris had pounded him into the earth.

Roy had gone to check on the spire, or what was left of it, and met Tom as he was walking up to the camp. “Well genius, your plan worked, there's very little of the spire left above the seam and it also shook the scree enough to start a slide. It exposed solid enough rock beneath the seam to build a scaffold on. You'll need it, the seam's about ten feet up now.”

“Good, tomorrow start washing the talus after we bury all the dead. Amos and Yaz will need some cash to pay for all this.

When they reached the top they saw that Sid and some of his men were there and having coffee with the other marshals. He approached in time to hear Sid say, “I thought they would have beat us here. We had to pack up those snipers.”

Tom asked, “Who are you missing, Sid?”

“I sent two men that were guarding Trumbull and his valet here as soon as I saw it was safe. I wonder where they are?” Pointing to some of his men he ordered, “You four, go find them.”

When they started down the hill one yelled back, “Here comes Stan now.” When Stan staggered to the group he said, “ I'm sorry, Sid, they got away.”

“What! How the hell did that happen?”

“That little pipsqueak valet hit me with a rock and knocked me cold while I was gettin' a cup of coffee. When I woke up I saw Herb layin' there bleedin'. He told me that cane that Trumbull was using to hobble around with had a sword in it and he skewered Herb when he went to grab the little bastard that cold-cocked me.”

“Where's Herb?”

“I sent some of the guys for him. They took our horses and guns and I couldn't carry him so I put a bandage on him and came as fast as I could. I think he'll be okay.”

“Alright, all you men mount up and get after them. Don't take no chances. At the first sign that they don't want to give up shoot 'em. I want 'em dead or alive!”

The men returned after dark. Sid reported to Art, “We found their trail but lost it when it got dark. Ed's still out there but I don't know what he figgers he can do at night. The men and horses need rest and food, but we'll go out again at dawn.”

“Alright, Sid, but I don't want him gettin' away. There's some grub bein' kept warm, get your boys some and get some sleep.”

A few hours later Ed woke Art and told him, “I saw the direction they were taking was toward the trail so I took a chance and went there. Their tracks show that they spurred hard toward the ranch.”

“That devil has got something in mind but the ranch is guarded and the men are beat. I'll get them going in the morning. You should get some rest too, Ed.”

In the morning he sent some of the marshals to escort the prisoners to the closest jail and others toward the ranch. Tom insisted on accompanying them.

Tom argued, “Roy and the miners know more about mining gold than I do, I'm just an engineer. I want to take Ed with me too, he might be able to find Trumbull's tracks. I want to make sure that Amos and Yaz are safe.”

“Sure, Tom, I'll bet you're really worried about Amos. I saw the way you look at that girl and how she looks at you.”

Tom and the marshals rode hard and reached the ranch late in the day. As they rode up to the house Amos walked onto the porch. Although limping he wasn't using the crutch, just a cane.

“Is everything alright, Amos, ” Tom asked.

“Why shouldn't they be? Did you have trouble?”

“I'll tell you about that later. Where's Yaz?”

“She went for a ride a couple hours ago. I expected her back before now.”

Tom yelled, “Jasper, get these men men some fresh horses, quickly! We have to search for Yaz!”

Amos cried, “Tom, what's going on? What's the matter?”

Tom dismounted and turned his horse over to a ranch hand to change his saddle to a new mount.

“Amos, Trumbull might be out there. We captured him but he escaped and headed this way.”

Tom called Ed over, “See if you can find her hoof prints leaving and which way she's headed. We'll search that way.”

The men spread out to cover as much area as possible in the short time before nightfall. Tom and Ed rode together, following Yaz's hoof prints.

They came upon a disturbed area. Ed dismounted and surveyed the scene. “It looks like two horses came from that brush there and stopped Yaz's horse. Look here! There was a scuffle. From these tracks I'd say that they have her, Tom. They're heading off that way.”

They followed the tracks although in the quickly disappearing light it was difficult. When they led into a small stream they disappeared completely.

“What can we do, Ed? Can you find where they came out in the dark?”

“Most likely not. You go upstream a ways and I'll go down, but if you don't find a big sign with an arrow on it I think we're out of luck 'til morning.”

Tom rode down the middle of the stream, checking both sides for broken brush or any other indication of someone having left the stream.

He had just followed the stream around a bend when he heard behind him, “Stop right there and don't move or I shall shoot you. Take his gun, Henry.”

Tom needed to think quickly. “Who are you mister? Why are you stopping me?”

“I think that I will ask the questions. What is that band of horsemen doing out here?”

“We're looking for a young lady, She should have returned home some time ago.”

“Why are you so concerned, she must know this country?”

“We're afraid she may be taken by some Indians.”

“Nonsense, there are no hostile Indians around here, they're on a reservation.”

“Not since they were being starved. Some of the young braves are raiding the ranches.”

“I believe you're to deceive me, Mr. Wesson. Yes, I know who you are. Allow me to introduce myself, I am Lord Trumbull. I believe that you have heard of me.”

“Of course I have, but why are you here? We thought you'd gone South when you escaped.”

“Without my gold? I was the one that first discovered it before that young woman stumbled across it. I have depleted my resources rather badly attempting to obtain it. Dismount and follow Henry to our camp. I remind you, I have my pistol on your back.”

They didn't go far before Henry ducked behind some thick brush and when Tom followed saw a cave entrance. They entered and went a short distance, then around a bend, and Tom could see flames coming from a small campfire.

He also saw Yaz lying in a corner, bound and gagged. Her hair was disheveled and she had a bruise on her cheek. Tom rushed to her and started to untie her. While doing so he whispered that Ed was somewhere close and what he'd said about Indians.

Trumbull asked, “What are you two scheming? It will gain you nothing. In the morning I shall send Henry with a ransom note to be left where they will find it. You can't escape, either Henry or I will be watching.”

Tom rubbed circulation in Yaz's hands where the ropes had cut her circulation, then put his arm around her and held her to his side. “Are you alright, Yaz?”

She showed her spirit as she spat, “Do you think these two snakes could rattle me?” She then spat at Trumbull which landed on his boot.

“She is a bit fiery, isn't she? I'd think twice if you have any designs there, Mr. Wesson. Henry, why are you fidgeting so?”

“I have to go, Mr. Trumbull.”

“Go? Go where? Ooh, yes. Well, be a gentleman and go outside, we wouldn't want to offend Miss Haynes.”

Yaz scornfully asked, “Just how much of that gold do you think belongs to you?”

“Why, all of it of course, but I'm not a greedy man. I think that four or five mules loaded will suffice under the present circumstances. When Henry and I are well away I shall release you, Miss Haynes, unless you become a burden. I advise you to not become one, I think Henry has become quite fond of you. He's a little...unconventional that way.”

“What plans do you have for me? I don't think you plan to take me anywhere.”

“You're right, Mr. Wesson. I think that if I need to show my determination to have my just rewards you will make a splendid example. Henry is quite proficient in that regard too.”

A coyote howl was heard, sounding very close. Trumbull said, “I've never heard them that close, they must be after the food scraps we threw out.”

Yaz scoffed, “I've never heard a coyote like that. I think you'll find that one is on two legs and has red skin. Have you wondered why Henry hasn't returned?”

Trumbull called, “Henry. Henry, where are you, boy? Come in here.” There was silence from outside.

“You two, get over in that corner by the packs. Move!” After they had moved as far away as possible Trumbull went to the bend of the tunnel and called, “Henry? Henry, are you there?” Glancing back at his prisoners he went a little farther.

When Tom sat among the packs something jabbed him in the back. He reached back and found Trumbull's cane. Seeing Trumbull looking away he pulled the sword from the cane a few inches to show Yaz, then shoved it back.

“Don't you move, I still have my pistol,” Trumbull said as he went farther toward the outside.

The moment he disappeared Tom quietly rose and crept forward. As Trumbull backed into the cave Tom leaped at him, grabbing the gun barrel with one hand and trying to wrest it away from him. A furious struggle ensued for the pistol and dominance over the other.

Suddenly Trumbull was able to get his leg behind Tom's leg and throw him off balance. He pushed Tom onto some rocks where he struck his head, momentarily stunning him. Trumbull regained his grip on the pistol and swung it toward Tom.

Instead of firing he looked down at his chest to see inches of a thin steel blade protruding from it. He turned slowly toward Yaz and quietly said, “You devil bitch,” and slumped to the floor, dead.

Yaz stood there trembling as Tom rose. She had the other part of the cane in her hand but dropped it as Tom gathered her in his arms, She silently started weeping.

“Shh, Yaz. It's over, don't cry. You had to do it and I'm sure glad you did.”

She pushed herself away from him enough to be able to look in his face, “That's not why I'm crying. I'm crying because I'm so damn mad. That bastard made me kill him and I hope he rots in Hell for it.”

After a bit Tom went out and called Ed into the cave. Ed said that when he had looked for Tom he had seen them, followed them, and saw them going into the cave, but couldn't see a way to enter without getting shot. He told them, “You've heard the expression “caught with your pants down” haven't you? Trumbull's flunky could tell you just how embarrassing that is, if he could talk anymore.”

After they had removed Trumbull's body from the cave Ed looked for a comfortable place to sit, but Yaz looked up through her lashes and suggested, “Ed, why don't you let them know at the ranch that we're okay and will be there in the morning. I'm too tired to travel tonight.”

Ed looked at Tom and received a nod. “ Oh, uh, sure, I'll be glad too, I'm sure that Amos is worried.”

When Tom and Yaz stepped up on the porch in the morning, hand in hand, Amos hugged the pair and with misted eyes said, “Welcome home, you two.”

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