Hidden gold, p.1
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Hidden Gold

  Produced by D. Alexander and the Online DistributedProofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net (This file wasproduced from images generously made available by TheInternet Archive)





  G. W. GAGE




  At the sharp crack of the rifle, Moran stopped short.]




























  From his seat on the top of a high ridge, Gordon Wade looked into thebowl-shaped valley beneath him, with an expression of amazement on hissun-burned face. Pouring through a narrow opening in the environinghills, and immediately spreading fan-like over the grass of the valley,were sheep; hundreds, thousands of them. Even where he sat, a goodquarter mile above them, the air was rank with the peculiar smell of theanimals he detested, and their ceaseless "Ba-a-a, ba-a-a, ba-a-a,"sounded like the roar of surf on a distant coast. Driven frantic by theappetizing smell of the sweet bunch-grass, the like of which they hadnot seen in months, the sheep poured through the gap like a torrent ofdirty, yellow water; urged on from the rear and sides by barking dogsand shouting herders.

  Straightening his six feet of bone and muscle, the cattleman stood upand stepped to the extreme edge of the rim-rock, with hardenedcountenance and gleaming eyes. A herder saw him standing there, in opensilhouette against the sky line, and with many wild gesticulationspointed him out to his companions. With a quick motion, Wade halfraised his rifle from the crook of his arm toward his shoulder, and thensnorted grimly as the herders scrambled for shelter. "Coyotes!" hemuttered, reflecting that constant association with the beasts that suchmen tended, seemed to make cowards of them all.

  With an ominous shake of his head, he went back on the ridge to hiswaiting horse, eager to bear word of the invasion to Santry, his ranchforeman and closest friend. Thrusting the short-barreled rifle into itsscabbard beneath the stirrup leather, he mounted and rode rapidly away.

  Dusk was gathering as he pushed his way through the willows whichfringed Piah Creek and came out into the clearing which held his ranchbuildings. Nestling against the foot of a high bluff with the clearwaters of the creek sparkling a scant fifty yards from the door, the logranch house remained hidden until one was almost upon it. To the left,at the foot of a long slope, the corrals and out-buildings weresituated, while beyond them a range of snow-capped mountains rose inmajestic grandeur. Back of the house, at the top of the bluff, a broadtableland extended for miles; this, with Crawling Water Valley,comprising the fine range land, on which fattened three thousand head ofcattle, carrying the Wade brand, the Double Arrow. Barely an hourbefore, the owner had surveyed the scene with more than satisfaction,exulting in the promise of prosperity it seemed to convey. Now all hisbusiness future was threatened by the coming of the sheep.

  After putting his horse in the corral, the ranch owner turned toward thehouse. As he walked slowly up the hill, he made a fine figure of a man;tall, straight, and bronzed like an Indian. His countenance in reposewas frank and cheerful, and he walked with the free, swinging stride ofan out-door man in full enjoyment of bodily health and vigor. Enteringthe cabin by the open door, he passed through to the rear where arattling of pots and pans and an appetizing smell of frying bacon toldthat supper was in progress.

  Bill Santry was standing by the stove, turning the bacon in its sizzlinggrease, with a knack which told of much experience in camp cookery. Theface which the lean and grizzled plainsman turned toward his friend wasseamed by a thousand tiny wrinkles in the leathery skin, the result ofyears of exposure to all kinds of weather.

  "Hello, Gordon!" he exclaimed. His pale blue eyes showed like pin pointsunder the shaggy, gray brows. "You're back early, just in time for me toremark that if we don't get a pot-wrastler for this here outfit prettydurn quick, the boys'll be cookin' their own chuck. I'm blamed if I'llherd this stove much longer."

  Wade smiled as he passed into the adjoining room to remove his spurs andchaps. "There's a Chinese coming up from town to-morrow," he said.

  Santry peered across the stove to watch him as he moved about his room.The week before, a large picture of an extremely beautiful girl, whichshe had sent to Wade and which at first he had seemed to consider hismost precious ornament, had fallen face downward on the table. Santrywas curious to see how long it would be before Wade would set it upagain, and he chuckled to himself when he saw that no move was made todo so. Wade had presented Santry to the girl some months before, whenthe two men were on a cattle-selling trip to Chicago, and the oldplainsman had not cared for her, although he had recognized her beautyand knew that she was wealthy in her own right, and moreover was theonly child of a famous United States Senator.

  "There's thunder to pay over in the valley, Bill." Wade had produced"makings," and rolled himself a cigarette as he watched the foremancooking. "Sheep--thousands of them--are coming in."

  "What?" Santry straightened up with a jerk which nearly capsized thefrying pan. "Sheep? On our range? You ain't kiddin' me?"

  "Nope. Wish I was, but it's a fact. The sheep are feeding on the grassthat we hoped to save against the winter. It's the Jensen outfit, Icould make that out from where I stood."

  "Hell!" Stamping angrily across the floor, Santry gazed out into thetwilight. "That dirty, low-lived Swede? But we'll fix him, boy. I knowhis breed, the skunk! I'll...." The veins in the old plainsman's throatstood out and the pupils of his eyes contracted. "I'll run his blamedoutfit out of the valley before noon termorrer. I'll make Jensenwish...."

  "Steady, Bill!" Wade interposed, before the other could voice thethreat. "Violence may come later on perhaps; but right now we must tryto avoid a fight."

  "But by the great horned toad...!"

  Santry stretched out his powerful hands and slowly clenched his fingers.He was thinking of the pleasure it would give him to fasten them onJensen.

  "The thing puzzles me," Wade went on, flecking his cigarette through thewindow. "Jensen would never dare to come in here on his own initiative.He knows that we cowmen have controlled this valley for years, and he'sno fighter. There's lots of good grass on the other side of themountains, and he knows that as well as we do. Why does he take chances,then, on losing his stock, and maybe some of his herders by butting inhere?"

  "That's what I want to know," Santry immediately agreed, as though thethought were his own. "Answer me that! By the great horned toad! If Ihad my way...."

  "This country isn't what it was ten years ago, Bill. We're supposed tohave courts here now, you know." Santry sighed heavily. "To-morrow,"Wade continued, "I'll ride over and have a talk with whoever's in chargeof the outfit. Maybe I can learn something. You stay here and keep Kellyand the rest quiet if they get wind of what's going on and seem inclinedto show fight. I've been, in a way, looking for trouble ever since werefused to let that fellow, Moran, get a foothold in the valley. If he'sback of this, we've got a clever man to fight."

  "There's another _hombre_ I'd like awful well to get my hands on to,"declared Santry belligerently. "Damned oily, greedy land shark! Allright, all right! Needn't say nothin', Don. You're the brains of thishere outfit, an' 'thout you say the word, I'll behave. But when the timecomes and you want a fightin' man, just let me at him! When you want torun some of these here crooks outer the country, you whisper quiet liketo old Bill Santry. Until then, I'll wait. That is--" He waved a warningfinger at Wade.--"That is, up to a certain point! We don't want war,that is to say, to want it, you understand me! But by the great hornedtoad, I ain't a-goin' to let no lousy, empty headed, stinkin',sheepherdin' Swede wipe his feet on me. No, siree, not by no means!"

  Wade made no reply to this, and with a further admonitory shake of hisgrizzled head, the old man resumed his cooking.

  "You're sure that Chink'll be over in the mornin'?" he asked anxiously,after a little; and Wade nodded abstractedly. "Cookin' ain't no job fora white man in this weather. Breakin' rock in Hell would be plumb coolalongside of it." He wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back ofhis hand. "Say, do you remember them biscuits you made over in thePainted Rock country? The batch I et ain't digisted yet.

  "Every time I cook a meal," he went on, chuckling, "I think about thetime Flour Sack Jim hired out to wrastle grub for that Englishman. FlourSack was one of your real old timers, rough and ready, with a heart asbig as a bucket, but he wouldn't bend his knee to no man livin'. TheEnglish jasper was all kinds of a swell, with money enough to burn a wetdog. For family reasons, he'd bought him a ranch and started to raisehosses. He wore one of these here two-peaked hats, with a bow on top,and he always had an eyeglass screwed into one eye.

  "The first night after Flour Sack come on his job, he got up a mess ofjack-rabbit stew, and stickin' his head out the door, yelled in realround-up style--'Come and git it!' Then he piled up his own plate andstarted in ter eat. In about ten minutes, in walks the English dude, andwhen he seen the cook eatin' away, he rares back and says,haughty-like--'Bless me soul, I cawn't eat with me servants, doncherknow.' Flour Sack never bats an eye, but says, with his mouth full 'Takea cheer,' he says, 'an' wait until I git through.'"

  Although Wade had heard the story before, he laughed pleasantly asSantry began to dish up the food; then the latter summoned the hiredmen.

  "Mind, now, Bill," Wade admonished. "Not a word about the sheep."

  The next morning, after a restless night, the young rancher set outalone for the sheep camp. He was more than ever concerned over theoutlook, because sleep had brought to his pillow visions of cattlestarving on a denuded range, and of Santry and Race Moran engaged in adeath struggle. Particularly because of the danger of this, he hadinsisted upon Santry staying at home. The old plainsman, scarredveteran of many a frontier brawl, was too quick tempered and tooproficient with his six-shooter to take back-talk from the despisedsheep herders or to bandy words with a man he feared and hated. Wade wasbecoming convinced that Moran was responsible for the invasion of therange, although still at a loss for his reasons. The whole affair wasmarked with Moran's handiwork and the silent swiftness of his methods.

  This Race Moran was a stranger who had come to Crawling Water somemonths before, and for reasons best known to himself, had been trying toingratiate himself in the neighborhood, but, although he seemed to haveplenty of funds, the ranch and stock men did not take kindly to hisadvances. He posed as the agent of some Eastern capitalists, and he hadopened an office which for sumptuous appointments had never been equaledin that part of the country; but he had not been able to buy or leaseland at the prices he offered and his business apparently had notprospered. Then sheep had begun to appear in great flocks in variousparts of the surrounding country and some of these flocks to overflowinto Crawling Water Valley. Moran denied, at first, that they had comeat his instance, but later on, he tacitly admitted to the protestingcattlemen that he had a certain amount of interest in sheep raising.

  More far-sighted than some of his neighbors, Wade had leased a largestrip of land in the valley for use as winter range. Moran had seemed towant this land badly, and had offered a really fair price for it, butWade had not cared to sell. Relying upon his privilege as lessee, Wadehad not feared the approach of the sheep, and he had no reason to wishto dispose of his holdings. Now, it began to look as if the purpose wasto "sheep" him out of his own territory, so that the agent might buy upthe lease and homestead rights on practically his own terms. The thinghad been done before in various parts of the cattle country.

  Cattle and sheep cannot live on the same range, and when sheep takepossession of a country, cattle must move out of it, or starve. Nowonder, then, that the cattlemen of Crawling Water Valley were aroused.Their livelihood was slipping away from them, day by day, for unlessprompt steps were taken the grass would be ruined by the woolly plague.

  Thus far, Gordon Wade, a leader in the cattle faction, had been firm forpeaceful measures though some of the ranchers had threatened an open waron the herders. "Avoid bloodshed at almost any cost," had been hisadvice, and he had done his best to restrain the more hot-headed membersof his party, who were for shooting the sheep and driving out theherders at the rifle point. But there was a limit, even to Wade'spatience, and his jaws squared grimly as he considered the probableresult, should Moran and his followers, the sheep owners, persist intheir present course of action.

  It was still very early in the morning when Wade arrived at the herder'scamp. Oscar Jensen, a short, thick-set man, with an unwholesome, heavyface, stepped out of the little tent as the rancher rode up.


  "Good-morning!" The cattleman affected a cheerfulness which he did notfeel. "Are these your sheep, Mr. Jensen?" He waved in the direction ofthe grazing band, a dirty white patch on the green of the valley.


  "Perhaps you don't know that you are on Double Arrow land? I've riddenover to ask you to move your sheep. They're spoiling our grass."

  Jensen grinned sardonically, for he had been expecting Wade's visit andwas prepared for it.

  "I got a right here," he said. "There's plenty good grass here and Itake my sheep where they get fat. This is government land."

  "It is government land," Wade quietly acknowledged, "but you have noright on it. I control this range, I've paid for it, and unless you movewithin the next twelve hours you'll be arrested for trespass."

  The sheepman's sullen face darkened with anger.

  "Who'll do it? The sheriff won't, and I'm not afeerd of you cattlemen.My sheep must eat as well as your cattle, and I got a good right here. Iwon't move."

  "Then remember that I warned you if you get into trouble, Jensen.There's plenty of open range and good water on the other side of thehills. I advise you to trail your sheep there before it is too late.Don't think that Race Moran can save you from the law. Moran is notrunning this valley, and don't you forget it."

  "How do you know Moran's backin' me?" The Swede could
not conceal hissurprise. "You can't bluff me, Wade. I know my rights, and I'm goin' tostick to 'em."

  "The devil you say!" Now that he was sure of Moran's complicity in thematter, Wade felt himself becoming angry, in spite of his resolve tokeep cool. "You'd best listen to reason and pull out while you're ableto travel. There are men in this valley who won't waste time in talkwhen they know you're here."

  "Bah!" Jensen snorted contemptuously. "I can take care of myself. I knowwhat I'm doin', I tell you."

  "You may, but you don't act like it," was Wade's parting remark, as heturned his horse and rode off.

  "Go to hell!" the Swede shouted after him.

  Heading toward Crawling Water, the ranch owner rode rapidly over thesun-baked ground, too full of rage to take notice of anything except hisown helplessness. The sting of Jensen's impudence lay in Wade'srealization that to enlist the aid of the sheriff against the sheep manwould be very difficult, if not altogether impossible. There was verylittle law in that region, and what little there was seemed, somehow, tohave been taken under the direction of Race Moran.

  It was now broad day and the prairie warmed to the blazing sun. Long,rolling stretches of grass, topped with rocks and alkaline sand, gaveback a blinding glare like the reflection of a summer sea, from whicharose a haze of gray dust like ocean mists over distant reaches. Far tothe South, a lone butte lifted its corrugated front in forbiddingmajesty.

  Beyond the summit of the butte was a greenish-brown plateau of sagebrushand bunch-grass. Behind this mesa, a range of snow-topped mountains cutthe horizon with their white peaks, and in their deep and gloomy canyonslurked great shadows of cool, rich green. As far as the eye could see,there was no sign of life save Wade and his mount.

  The horse's feet kicked up a cloud of yellow dust that hung in the airlike smoke from a battery of cannon. It enveloped the ranchman, who rodewith the loose seat and straight back of his kind; it came to lie deeplyon his shoulders and on his broad-brimmed Stetson hat, and in thewrinkles of the leather chaps that encased his legs. He looked steadilyahead, from under reddened eyelids, over the trackless plain thatencompassed him. At a pace which would speedily cover the twenty oddmiles to Crawling Water, he rode on his way to see Race Moran.

  Two hours later Oscar Jensen was shot from behind as he was walkingalone, a little distance from his camp. He fell dead and his assassindisappeared without being seen.

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