Authors: Chris Scott Wilson
Double Mountain Crossing
Other Boson Books by Chris Scott Wilson
“. . .
western books . . . earned critical praise all round . . .”
. . no nonsense about may the best man win.
Interesting to Western lovers.”
. . the author is a novelist and he knows how to tell a story . . .”
Mary Williams of
Chris Scott Wilson
Published by Boson Books
An imprint of C&M Online Media Inc.
Â© 2011 C.J.S. Wilson
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This is a work of fiction. Names, with the exception of historical figures, characters, places and incidents are the product of the author's imagination, and any resemblance to any actual persons, living or dead, events or locales, is entirely coincidental.
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Cover art by the author
my wife, Susan
When Morgan Clay found color, nobody could have been more surprised than he. Dogged, stubborn man that he was, he had already given up looking.
But there it was
A wide vein of gold running through quartz, a vein that began as a pinpoint, then broadened to an inch wide, offshoots breaking away in all directions, tapering to hairline cracks. Although he was no expert prospector, even he could see the gold was almost pure. It was rich, thick, and as he smiled to himself, decidedly the most beautiful thing he had seen in the last three months.
Yet he could not believe it.
But there it was
Morgan Clay shook his shaggy head and lifted the canteen he had been filling in Sun Creek to taste the coldest, sweetest water he could imagine. As he drank he raised his eyes and scanned the timber. It was habitual. He had seen a Sioux brave cut down once because he had been too intent, bending over the neck of his pony as he tracked a deer that he had not sensed the two white men sitting their horses ahead of him on the trail, waiting patiently for him to come within range. From that day Morgan Clay had always taken time to look around him.
When he had drunk enough, he pushed the neck of the canteen back under to allow it to fill then again peered down at the shelf of rock that formed the bed of the creek.
It was still there
. He wasn't dreaming. The water rippled over the quartz, the pattern of the gold vein shimmering and altering with the changes in the current.
,” Morgan Clay said in wonder over his shoulder to his waiting horses. “It was here all the time. I knew I was right.” His saddle horse, a lineback dun, dipped his head and shook out his mane, blowing softly through dilated nostrils. The packhorse, a sultry bay, shifted uneasily, nostrils flared at the scent of water.
The bay was only lightly loaded now, just tools and Morgan's camping outfit. His supplies were well down, depleted by his three month prospecting trip in the high peaks. He'd panned creeks, scratched at rocks, looking for signs in every canyon, gulch and arroyo in the whole chain of mountains. All the time that feeling had been there in his heart. He
there was gold there, somewhere, but as the weeks passed, then the
he had become despondent, his natural optimism fading with each successive and equally fruitless day.
He had worked hard and long, his back breaking and burning under the hot sun, sheltered where he could when the storms in that “sudden” country had lashed him with needlepoints of rain or hammered him with duck egg-sized hailstones, and through it all he had nurtured hopes of a strike. For three months' work he had absolutely nothing to show.
One big fat zero.
And when you weighed that in on the banker's scales you didn't get many dollars in return for all those endless hours. Out of pocket, eyes and muscles aching, he had folded up his meagre outfit and headed onto the downward trails. The only reason he had stopped here was he had tasted the water once before at Sun Creek and he knew it was good.
And now this
“Goddam,” he said aloud again, reaching down into the water to caress the rock shelf with his callused hand. It was as smooth on his fingertips as a silk handkerchief. He glanced round, furtively scanning the timber as men do when they've found something precious. It was as though now that he had discovered it someone would sneak up and steal it away.
By nature, Morgan Clay was a cautious man, and had proved so by attaining the age of forty-five in a country where many men barely made it past their youth. He watered the horses then led them into the belt of pines, away from the lure of the rock shelf. He found a small clearing to provide grazing for the animals, then stripped off their harness and hobbled them. He built a small fire near the base of a rangy pine so the branches would dissipate the thin smoke, and as he labored he was aware of the dun and the bay greedily cropping the dewy mountain grass. He filled the coffee-pot and set it to simmer then rolled himself a smoke to aid his thinking.
He was sure he had crossed Sun Creek at that point on the mountainside before and he hadn't spotted the shelf. Why? Reasons tumbled through his mind and then a thought occurred to him. He dug out his ten gauge shotgun from his gear and set off back to Sun Creek.
Although Morgan was a fair hand at most things, he had never been much use with a rifle. He'd always blamed it on a poke in the left eye suffered as a boy when a half broke mustang had thrown him onto the corral rails then tried to stomp him. Only a ball from his father's gun had stopped the crazy horse, and it had stopped him good. Morgan had been covered from head to foot in the thick blood from the horse's jugular vein. When his ma had washed the gore off, he had a black eye that lasted for weeks. Since then he had always wasted more ammunition than enough and found the switch to a scattergun more economical, even though it meant he had to pick buckshot out of his teeth when he ate fresh meat. But that was little hardship when he was certain he could hit most targets he set his one good eye on.
Back at the creek he waded through the shallow water and followed the trail east. Two hundred feet into the pines he found another crossing, this time a dry creek bed. He paused and inspected the arrangement of trees. It looked familiar. This was the place he had crossed on his way up to the high country. The creek must have changed course recently. He began to walk up the dry wash, his legs pushing up the steep incline.
He was right. Not far up the mountainside he found where the original watercourse had run in a tight bend. Either the passage of time or a heavy storm had built up a network of dead branches against which soil had collected until an effective dam had blocked the natural downward flow. Back a little from the bend, the loose soil of the banks had burst and the creek had carved a new course down the mountain.
As he stood cradling his shotgun, Morgan could see the pressure of the teeming water during the storm had scooped out the crumbly earth, suspending the soil in the strong
and in doing so would have exposed the rock shelf. It could only have happened in the last few days otherwise the water would have washed out part of the gold.
He smiled. All he had to do now was loosen the natural dam that had formed and rebuild the creek banks where they had burst and the water would again flow along the original course. As soon as the quartz shelf drained he would be able to chip out the gold with ease.
Leaving the dam, he picked his way back down among the pines and circled his campsite, coming into the clearing from the opposite side. The lineback dun
his head on catching his master's scent, snickered softly, then returned to cropping the grass. Morgan patted the gelding's rump as he passed, already sniffing the aroma of coffee.
As he drank from his tin cup, he began planning, assessing how long his depleted stores would hold out before he was forced to return to Redrock to resupply. There was flour for biscuits and some tobacco. What little coffee was left could be stretched by mixing in mesquite beans, and there was ample game roving the high country. If he could get himself a good sized deer in the bag, then there would be fresh meat for several days and the rest could be dried into jerky in the sun. That way he would be able to work at the gold vein without taking spells to hunt.