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husband. Little Molly's cart came next. Alongside the Caleb Price wagon,
wherein now sat on the seat - hugging a sore-footed dog whose rawhide
boots had worn through - a long-legged, barefoot girl who had walked
twelve hundred miles since spring, trudged Jed Wingate, now grown from a
tousled boy into a lean, self-reliant young man. His long whip was used
in baseless threatenings now, for any driver must spare cattle such as
these, gaunt and hollow-eyed. Tobacco protuberant in cheek, his feet
half bare, his trousers ragged and fringed to the knee, his sleeves
rolled up over brown and brawny arms, Jed Wingate now was enrolled on
the list of men.

"Gee-whoa-haw! You Buck an' Star, git along there, damn ye!" So rose his
voice, automatically but affectionately.

Certain French Canadians, old-time _engagés_ of the fur posts, now
become _habitants_, landowners, on their way home from Sunday chapel,
hastened to summon others.

"The families have come!" they called at the Falls, as they had at
Portland town.

But now, though safely enlarged at last of the confinement and the
penalties of the wagon train, the emigrants, many of them almost
destitute, none of them of great means, needed to cast about them at
once for their locations and to determine what their occupations were to
be. They scattered, each seeking his place, like new trout in a stream.




CHAPTER XLI

THE SECRETS OF THE SIERRAS


Sam Woodhull carried in his pocket the letter which Will Banion had left
for Molly Wingate at Cassia Creek in the Snake Valley, where the Oregon
road forked for California. There was no post office there, yet Banion
felt sure that his letter would find its way, and it had done so, save
for the treachery of this one man. Naught had been sacred to him. He had
read the letter without an instant's hesitation, feeling that anything
was fair in his love for this woman, in his war with this man. Woodhull
resolved that they should not both live.

He was by nature not so much a coward as a man without principle or
scruple. He did not expect to be killed by Banion. He intended to use
such means as would give Banion no chance. In this he thought himself
fully justified, as a criminal always does.

But hurry as he might, his overdriven teams were no match for the
tireless desert horse, the wiry mountain mount and the hardy mules of
the tidy little pack train of Banion and his companion Jackson. These
could go on steadily where wagons must wait. Their trail grew fainter as
they gained.

At last, at the edge of a waterless march of whose duration they could
not guess, Woodhull and his party were obliged to halt. Here by great
good fortune they were overtaken by the swift pack train of Greenwood
and his men, hurrying back with fresh animals on their return march to
California. The two companies joined forces. Woodhull now had a guide.
Accordingly when, after such dangers and hardships as then must be
inevitable to men covering the gruesome trail between the Snake and the
Sacramento, he found himself late that fall arrived west of the Sierras
and in the gentler climate of the central valley, he looked about him
with a feeling of exultation. Now, surely, fate would give his enemy
into his hand.

Men were spilling south into the valley of the San Joaquin, coming north
with proofs of the Stanislaus, the Tuolumne, the Merced. Greenwood
insisted on working north into the country where he had found gold,
along all the tributaries of the Sacramento. Even then, too, before the
great year of '49 had dawned, prospectors were pushing to the head of
the creeks making into the American Fork, the Feather River, all the
larger and lesser streams heading on the west slopes of the Sierras; and
Greenwood even heard of a band of men who had stolen away from the lower
diggings and broken off to the north and east - some said, heading far up
for the Trinity, though that was all unproved country so far as most
knew.

And now the hatred in Woodhull's sullen heart grew hotter still, for he
heard that not fifty miles ahead there had passed a quiet dark young
man, riding a black Spanish horse; with him a bearded man who drove a
little band of loaded mules! Their progress, so came the story, was up a
valley whose head was impassable. The trail could not be obliterated
back of them. They were in a trap of their own choosing. All that he
needed was patience and caution.

Ships and wagon trains came in on the Willamette from the East. They met
the coast news of gold. Men of Oregon also left in a mad stampede for
California. News came that all the World now was in the mines of
California. All over the East, as the later ships also brought in
reiterated news, the mad craze of '49 even then was spreading.

But the men of '48 were in ahead. From them, scattering like driven game
among the broken country over hundreds of miles of forest, plain, bench
land and valley lands, no word could come out to the waiting world. None
might know the countless triumphs, the unnumbered tragedies - none ever
did know.

There, beyond the law, one man might trail another with murder stronger
than avarice in his heart, and none ever be the wiser. To hide secrets
such as these the unfathomed mountains reached out their shadowy arms.

* * * * *

Now the winter wore on with such calendar as altitude, latitude,
longitude gave it, and the spring of '49 came, East and West, in
Washington and New York; at Independence on the Missouri; at Deseret by
the Great Salt Lake; in California; in Oregon.

Above the land of the early Willamette settlements forty or fifty miles
up the Yamhill Valley, so a letter from Mrs. Caleb Price to her
relatives in Ohio said, the Wingates, leaders of the train, had a
beautiful farm, near by the Cale Price Mill, as it was known. They had
up a good house of five rooms, and their cattle were increasing now.
They had forty acres in wheat, with what help the neighbors had given in
housing and planting; and wheat would run fifty bushels to the acre
there. They load bought young trees for an orchard. Her mother had
planted roses; they now were fine. She believed they were as good as
those she planted in Portland, when first she went through
there - cuttings she had carried with her seed wheat in the bureau
drawer, all the way across from the Saganon. Yes, Jesse Wingate and his
wife had done well. Molly, their daughter, was still living with them
and still unmarried, she believed.

There were many things which Mrs. Caleb Price believed; also many things
she did not mention.

She said nothing, for she knew nothing, of a little scene between these
two as they sat on their little sawn-board porch before their door one
evening, looking out over the beautiful and varied landscape that lay
spread before them. Their wheat was in the green now. Their hogs reveled
in their little clover field. "We've done well, Jesse," at length said
portly Molly Wingate. "Look at our place! A mile square, for nothing!
We've done well, Jesse, I'll admit it."

"For what?" answered Jesse Wingate. "What's it for? What has it come to?
What's it all about?"

He did not have any reply. When he turned he saw his wife wiping tears
from her hard, lined face.

"It's Molly," said she.




CHAPTER XLII

KIT CARSON RIDES


Following the recession of the snow, men began to push westward up the
Platte in the great 'spring gold rush of 1849. In the forefront of
these, outpacing them in his tireless fashion, now passed westward the
greatest traveler of his day, the hunter and scout, Kit Carson. The new
post of Fort Kearny on the Platte; the old one, Fort Laramie in the
foothills of the Rockies - he touched them soon as the grass was green;
and as the sun warmed the bunch grass slopes of the North Platte and the
Sweetwater, so that his horses could paw out a living, he crowded on
westward. He was a month ahead of the date for the wagon trains at Fort
Bridger.

"How, Chardon!" said he as he drove in his two light packs, riding alone
as was his usual way, evading Indian eyes as he of all men best knew
how.

"How, Kit! You're early. Why?" The trader's chief clerk turned to send a
boy for Vasquez, Bridger's partner. "Light, Kit, and eat."

"Where's Bridger?" demanded Carson. "I've come out of my country to see
him. I have government mail - for Oregon."

"For Oregon? _Mon Dieu_! But Jeem" - he spread out his hands - "Jeem he's
dead, we'll think. We do not known. Now we know the gold news. Maybe-so
we know why Jeem he's gone!"

"Gone? When?"

"Las' H'august-Settemb. H'all of an' at once he'll took the trail
h'after the h'emigrant train las' year. He'll caught him h'on Fort Hall;
we'll heard. But then he go h'on with those h'emigrant beyon' Hall,
beyon' the fork for Californ'. He'll not come back. No one know what has
become of Jeem. He'll been dead, maybe-so."

"Yes? Maybe-so not! That old rat knows his way through the mountains,
and he'll take his own time. You think he did not go on to California?"

"We'll know he'll didn't."

Carson stood and thought for a time.

"Well, its bad for you, Chardon!"

"How you mean, M'sieu Kit?"

"Eat your last square meal. Saddle your best horse. Drive four packs and
two saddle mounts along."

"_Oui?_ And where?"

"To Oregon!"

"To Oregon? _Sacre 'Fan!'_ What you mean?"

"By authority of the Government, I command you to carry this packet on
to Oregon this season, as fast as safety may allow. Take a man with
you - two; pick up any help you need. But go through.

"I cannot go further west myself, for I must get back to Laramie. I had
counted on Jim, and Jim's post must see me through. Make your own plans
to start to-morrow morning. I'll arrange all that with Vasquez."

"But, M'sieu Kit, I cannot!"

"But you shall, you must, you will! If I had a better man I'd send him,
but you are to do what Jim wants done.".

"_Mais, oui_, of course."

"Yes. And you'll do what the President of the United States commands."

"_Bon Dieu_, Kit!"

"That packet is over the seal of the United States of America, Chardon.
It carries the signature of the President. It was given to the Army to
deliver. The Army has given it to me. I give it to you, and you must go.
It is for Jim. He would know. It must be placed in the hands of the
Circuit Judge acting under, the laws of Oregon, whoever he may be, and
wherever. Find him in the Willamette country. Your pay will be more than
you think, Chardon. Jim would know. Dead or alive, you do this for him.

"You can do thirty miles a day. I know you as a mountain man. Ride!
To-morrow I start east to Laramie - and you start west for Oregon!"

And in the morning following two riders left Bridger's for the trail.
They parted, each waving a hand to the other.




CHAPTER XLIII

THE KILLER KILLED


A rough low cabin of logs, hastily thrown together, housed through the
winter months of the Sierra foothills the two men who now, in the warm
days of early June, sat by the primitive fireplace cooking a midday
meal. The older man, thin, bearded, who now spun a side of venison ribs
on a cord in front of the open fire, was the mountain man, Bill Jackson,
as anyone might tell who ever had seen him, for he had changed but
little.

That his companion, younger, bearded, dressed also in buckskins, was
Will Banion it would have taken closer scrutiny even of a friend to
determine, so much had the passing of these few months altered him in
appearance and in manner. Once light of mien, now he smiled never at
all. For hours he would seem to go about his duties as an automaton. He
spoke at last to his ancient and faithful friend, kindly as ever, and
with his own alertness and decision.

"Let's make it our last meal on the Trinity, Bill. What do you say?"

"Why? What's eatin' ye, boy? Gittin' restless agin?"

"Yes, I want to move."

"Most does."

"We've got enough, Bill. The last month has been a crime. The spring
snows uncovered a fortune for us, and you know it!"

"Oh, yes, eight hundred in one day ain't bad for two men that never had
saw a gold pan a year ago. But she ain't petered yit. With what we've
learned, an' what we know, we kin stay in here an' git so rich that hit
shore makes me cry ter think o' trappin' beaver, even before 1836, when
the beaver market busted. Why, rich? Will, hit's like you say, plumb
wrong - we done hit so damned easy! I lay awake nights plannin' how ter
spend my share o' this pile. We must have fifty-sixty thousand dollars
o' dust buried under the floor, don't ye think?"

"Yes, more. But if you'll agree, I'll sell this claim to the company
below us and let them have the rest. They offer fifty thousand flat, and
it's enough - more than enough. I want two things - to get Jim Bridger his
share safe and sound; and I want to go to Oregon."

The old man paused in the act of splitting off a deer rib from his
roast.

"Ye're one awful damn fool, ain't ye, Will? I did hope ter finish up
here, a-brilin' my meat in a yaller-gold fireplace; but no matter how
plain an' simple a man's tastes is, allus somethin' comes along ter bust
'em up."

"Well, go on and finish your meal in this plain fireplace of ours,
Bill. It has done us very well. I think I'll go down to the sluice a
while."

Banion rose and left the cabin, stooping at the low door. Moodily he
walked along the side of the steep ravine to which the little structure
clung. Below him lay the ripped-open slope where the little stream had
been diverted. Below again lay the bared bed of the exploited water
course, floored with bowlders set in deep gravel, at times with seamy
dams of flat rock lying under and across the gravel stretches; the bed
rock, ages old, holding in its hidden fingers the rich secrets of
immemorial time.

Here he and his partner had in a few months of strenuous labor taken
from the narrow and unimportant rivulet more wealth than most could save
in a lifetime of patient and thrifty toil. Yes, fortune had been kind.
And it all had been so easy, so simple, so unagitating, so
matter-of-fact! The hillside now looked like any other hillside,
innocent as a woman's eyes, yet covering how much! Banion could not
realize that now, young though he was, he was a rich man.

He climbed down the side of the ravine, the little stones rattling under
his feet, until he stood on the bared floor of the bed rock which had
proved so unbelievably prolific in coarse gold.

There was a sharp bend in the ravine, and here the unpaid toil of the
little waterway had, ages long, carried and left especially deep strata
of gold-shot gravel. As he stood, half musing, Will Banion heard, on the
ravine side around the bend, the tinkle of a falling stone, lazily
rolling from one impediment to another. It might be some deer or other
animal, he thought. He hastened to get view of the cause, whatever it
might be.

And then fate, chance, the goddess of fortune which some men say does
not exist, but which all wilderness-goers know does exist, for one
instant paused, with Will Banion's life and wealth and happiness lightly
a-balance in cold, disdainful fingers.

He turned the corner. Almost level with his own, he looked into the eyes
of a crawling man who - stooped, one hand steadying himself against the
slant of the ravine, the other below, carrying a rifle - was peering
frowningly ahead.

It was an evil face, bearded, aquiline, not unhandsome; but evil in its
plain meaning now. The eyes were narrowed, the full lips drawn close, as
though some tense emotion now approached its climax. The appearance was
that of strain, of nerves stretched in some purpose long sustained.

And why not? When a man would do murder, when that has been his steady
and premeditated purpose for a year, waiting only for opportunity to
serve his purpose, that purpose itself changes his very lineaments,
alters his whole cast of countenance. Other men avoid him, knowing
unconsciously what is in his soul, because of what is written on his
face.

For months most men had avoided Woodhull. It was known that he was on a
man hunt. His questions, his movements, his changes of locality showed
that; and Woodhull was one of those who cannot avoid asseverance,
needing it for their courage sake. Now morose and brooding, now loudly
profane, now laughing or now aloof, his errand in these unknown hills
was plain. Well, he was not alone among men whose depths were loosed.
Some time his hour might come.

It had come! He stared now full into the face of his enemy! He at last
had found him. Here stood his enemy, unarmed, delivered into his hands.

For one instant the two stood, staring into one another's eyes. Banion's
advance had been silent. Woodhull was taken as much unawares as he.

It had been Woodhull's purpose to get a stand above the sluices, hidden
by the angle, where he could command the reach of the stream bed where
Banion and Jackson last had been working. He had studied the place
before, and meant to take no chances. His shot must be sure.

But now, in his climbing on the steep hillside, his rifle was in his
left hand, downhill, and his footing, caught as he was with one foot
half raised, was insecure. At no time these last four hours had his
opportunity been so close - or so poor - as precisely now!

He saw Will Banion's eyes, suddenly startled, quickly estimating,
looking into his own. He knew that behind his own eyes his whole foul
soul lay bared - the soul of a murderer.

Woodhull made a swift spring down the hill, scrambling, half erect, and
caught some sort of stance for the work which now was his to do. He
snarled, for he saw Banion stoop, unarmed. It would do his victim no
good to run. There was time even to exult, and that was much better in a
long-deferred matter such as this.

"Now, damn you, I've got you!"

He gave Banion that much chance to see that he was now to die.

Half leaning, he raised the long rifle to its line and touched the
trigger.

The report came; and Banion fell. But even as he wheeled and fell,
stumbling down the hillside, his flung arm apparently had gained a
weapon. It was not more than the piece of rotten quartz he had picked up
and planned to examine later. He flung it straight at Woodhull's
face - an act of chance, of instinct. By a hair it saved him.

Firing and missing at a distance of fifty feet, Woodhull remained not
yet a murderer in deed. In a flash Banion gathered and sprang toward him
as he stood in a half second of consternation at seeing his victim fall
and rise again. The rifle carried but the one shot. He flung it down,
reached for his heavy knife, raising an arm against the second piece of
rock which Banion flung as he closed. He felt his wrist caught in an
iron grip, felt the blood gush where his temple was cut by the last
missile. And then once more, on the narrow bared floor that but now was
patterned in parquetry traced in yellow, and soon must turn to red, it
came to man and man between them - and it was free!

They fell and stumbled so that neither could much damage the other at
first. Banion knew he must keep the impounded hand back from the knife
sheath or he was done. Thus close, he could make no escape. He fought
fast and furiously, striving to throw, to bend, to beat back the body of
a man almost as strong as himself, and now a maniac in rage and fear.

* * * * *

The sound of the rifle shot rang through the little defile. To Jackson,
shaving off bits of sweet meat between thumb and knife blade, it meant
the presence of a stranger, friend or foe, for he knew Banion had
carried no weapon with him. His own long rifle he snatched from its
pegs. At a long, easy lope he ran along the path which carried across
the face of the ravine. His moccasined feet made no sound. He saw no one
in the creek bed or at the long turn. But new, there came a loud,
wordless cry which he knew was meant for him. It was Will Banion's
voice.

The two struggling men grappled below him had no notion of how long they
had fought. It seemed an age, and the dénouement yet another age
deferred. But to them came the sound of a voice:

"Git away, Will! Stand back!"

It was Jackson.

They both, still gripped, looked up the bank. The long barrel of a
rifle, foreshortened to a black point, above it a cold eye, fronted and
followed them as they swayed. The crooked arm of the rifleman was
motionless, save as it just moved that deadly circle an inch this way,
an inch back again.

Banion knew that this was murder, too, but he knew that naught on earth
could stay it now. To guard as much as he could against a last desperate
knife thrust even of a dying man, he broke free and sprang back as far
as he could, falling prostrate on his back as he did so, tripped by an
unseen stone. But Sam Woodhull was not upon him now, was not willing to
lose his own life in order to kill. For just one instant he looked up at
the death staring down on him, then turned to run.

There was no place where he could run. The voice of the man above him
called out sharp and hard.

"Halt! Sam Woodhull, look at me!"

He did turn, in horror, in fascination at sight of the Bright Angel. The
rifle barrel to his last gaze became a small, round circle, large as a
bottle top, and around it shone a fringed aura of red and purple light.
That might have been the eye.

Steadily as when he had held his friend's life in his hand, sighting
five inches above his eyes, the old hunter drew now above the eyes of
his enemy. When the dry report cut the confined air of the valley, the
body of Sam Woodhull started forward. The small blue hole an inch above
the eyes showed the murderer's man hunt done.




CHAPTER XLIV

YET IF LOVE LACK


Winding down out of the hills into the grassy valley of the Upper
Sacramento, the little pack train of Banion and Jackson, six hardy mules
beside the black horse and Jackson's mountain pony, picked its way along
a gashed and trampled creek bed. The kyacks which swung heavy on the
strongest two mules might hold salt or lead or gold. It all was one to
any who might have seen, and the two silent men, the younger ahead, the
older behind, obviously were men able to hold their counsel or to defend
their property.

The smoke of a distant encampment caught the keen eye of Jackson as he
rode, humming, care-free, the burden of a song.

"Oh, then, Susannah!" admonished the old mountain man, and bade the said
Susannah to be as free of care as he himself then and there was.

"More men comin' in," said he presently. "Wonder who them people is, an'
ef hit's peace er war."

"Three men. A horse band. Two Indians. Go in easy, Bill."

Banion slowed down his own gait. His companion had tied the six mules
together, nose and tail, with the halter of the lead mule wrapped on
his own saddle horn. Each man now drew his rifle from the swing loop.
But they advanced with the appearance of confidence, for it was evident
that they had been discovered by the men of the encampment.

Apparently they were identified as well as discovered. A tall man in
leggings and moccasions, a flat felt hat over his long gray hair, stood
gazing at them, his rifle butt resting on the ground. Suddenly he
emitted an unearthly yell, whether of defiance or of greeting, and
springing to his own horse's picket pin gathered in the lariat, and
mounting bareback came on, his rifle high above his head, and repeating
again and again his war cry or salutation.

Jackson rose in his stirrups, dropped his lead line and forsook more
than a hundred and fifty thousand dollars some two mule-pack loads of
gold. His own yell rose high in answer.

"I told ye all the world'd be here!" he shouted back over his shoulder.
"Do-ee see that old thief Jim Bridger? Him I left drunk an' happy last
summer? Now what in hell brung him here?"

The two old mountain men flung off and stood hand in hand before Banion
had rescued the precious lead line and brought on the little train.

Bridger threw his hat on the ground, flung down his rifle and cast his
stoic calm aside. Both his hands caught Banion's and his face beamed,
breaking into a thousand lines.

"Boy, hit's you, then! I knowed yer hoss - he has no like in these
parts. I've traced ye by him this hundred miles below an' up agin, but
I've had no word this two weeks. Mostly I've seed that, when ye ain't
lookin' fer a b'ar, thar he is. Well, here we air, fine an' fatten, an'
me with two bottles left o' somethin' they call coggnac down in Yerba
Buena. Come on in an' we'll make medicine."

They dismounted. The two Indians, short, deep-chested, bow-legged men,
went to the packs. They gruntled as they unloaded the two larger mules.


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