Glen of the High North by H. A. Cody
Chapter XXVII. In the Toils
Curly reached Big Draw only a couple of hours ahead of Reynolds and Sconda. He had travelled fast, impelled by a burning rage, eager to impart to others as vile as himself the story he had concocted in his venomous mind. He was seated in the roadhouse, surrounded by his favorite gang, as Reynolds and his guide rode into camp. He reminded his hearers how the former had gone with Frontier Samson in quest of gold, and that the old prospector had mysteriously disappeared. He informed them that he had met Reynolds at Glen West with Jim Weston's daughter, and that they had both sneered at him.
"I was walking along the street," the liar continued, "when I saw the two standing together, an' very chummy. When Reynolds saw me he tried to hurry away into an Indian's shack. But I stopped him, an' asked him what he had done with Frontier Samson. This made him mad, an' he told me it was none of my business, an' if I didn't leave Glen West at once he'd set the Indians upon me."
"What did you do?" one of the listeners eagerly asked, as Curly paused and lighted a cigarette.
"Oh, I just laughed an' told him that I didn't care a rip for him or the Indians, an' that I would leave when I got ready. Then he an' the girl made fun of me, told me I was a queer looking guy, an' if I was anxious about the old prospector I had better go an' hunt for him myself. I left them at that, an' strolled about the place for a while. But that night didn't the Indians come upon me. They took me down into the woods, tied me to a tree, an' were all ready to burn me alive. Say, it was hell fer a while, an' I thought sure I was a goner. But just as a big devil stooped to light the dry wood at my feet, Jim Weston arrived, beat them off, an' set me free. An' all the time I was tied to that tree, didn't Reynolds stand by an' make fun of me. He said he would shut my mouth once an' for all about Frontier Samson. When I told him I was certain he had killed the old man, he flew into a rage an' cursed like a pirate. That's what he did, the cuss. Hand me over a drink, Tom; I'm thirsty."
While Curly and his gang were talking and drinking, across the street Reynolds was recording three double claims, for Jim Weston, Glen Weston, and himself, as discoverers. He produced a specimen of the gold which he carried in his pocket, and explained the exact position where the claims were situated. This work completed, he went at once to the roadhouse, and asked for his mail. He saw Curly and his companions, but paid no heed to them. He was more interested in the letters awaiting him, for there were two, and from his friend the editor, at that.
"You've been a long time away," Shorty remarked, as he looked curiously at the young man.
"Yes, I suppose I have," was the absent-minded reply, for Reynolds was looking at his letters.
"I believe so. But, say, is Frontier Samson here? Have you seen him lately?"
"W-why, no," Shorty stammered. He had overheard Curly's remarks, so this unexpected question somewhat embarrassed him. "He went with you, didn't he?"
"He certainly did, but I got lost out in the hills, and haven't seen the old man since. I hope nothing has happened to him."
Not a word of this escaped the men at the table, and when Reynolds had left the building they stared at one another for a few seconds.
"Did ye hear what he said about the gold?" Curly eagerly asked. "I believe he's struck it rich, an' most likely he has put Samson out of the way."
"But he asked about him, though," one of the men replied.
"Oh, that was just a ruse, an' nothing more. He wanted to find out if we suspect anything. I say, Shorty, bring us something," he ordered. "This is my treat."
When the liquor had been brought, the men drank and talked in low voices. What they said Shorty could not hear, although he strained his ears in an effort to catch the drift of the conversation. After a while other men entered the room, and these were soon acquainted with Reynolds' return, the gold he had discovered, and the mysterious disappearance of Frontier Samson. A few agreed with Curly that it was strange that the old prospector had not been seen for some time, and that his partner had returned alone. Where was the discovery made? they wanted to know.
"Near the Tasan," a man replied. "I've just been to the Recording Office, and found that three double claims have been entered there in the names of Jim Weston, Glen Weston, and Thomas Reynolds. But I don't put any stock in that. Why, I've cruised all over that region, and so have others. There's not enough gold there to fill the eye-tooth of a mouse. I've been on too many fool stampedes of late, and I'm sick of them. What does that chechahco know about gold?"
"But Jim Weston is in with him," Curly reminded. "What d'ye make of that?"
"H'm, Jim Weston knows more about robbing Indians than he does about mining. He wouldn't know the real stuff from 'fool's gold.' No doubt that's what they've found."
The talk now became general and continued for some time. Several thought it worth while to go and see what the new discovery was like, but others scoffed at the idea. They also discussed the disappearance of Frontier Samson, and even hinted that perhaps his partner knew more than he was willing to tell. Curly suggested that he should be brought before them and questioned. This met with considerable favor, although no one seemed inclined to take upon himself such a responsibility. It was late when the men at length left the store, and took themselves off to their various cabins. Curly and his band went together, and for the rest of the night they communed and plotted in a lonely shack some distance up the creek.
With no idea that he was the centre of such interest, Reynolds slept soundly in his own little tent, for he was tired after his experiences in the hills. It was late when he awoke in the morning, and after he had eaten his frugal breakfast, he went over to the roadhouse for a supply of tobacco. Shorty was the only one present, for most of the miners were busy up the creek. Curly and his companions were still asleep after their night's vigil, and evidently would not show themselves for several hours. Shorty tried to learn from Reynolds something about the gold he had discovered, and also asked about Frontier Samson. But so little information did he gain, that he was much annoyed and became suspicious as well.
Reynolds went back to his tent, filled and lighted his pipe, and brought forth the two letters he had received, and read them again. They interested him, for they contained scraps of news of the outside world. But they were mostly filled with the editor's expressions of regret that Reynolds was wasting his time in the north, when he might be off on the great quest which was so near his heart.
"I hope you will return soon," he wrote, "and begin the search for Henry Redmond. Only yesterday I received what I consider a clue as to his whereabouts. I met a man who has been overseas, and telling him about Redmond, he informed me that he believed he knew where he was. He said that while in Switzerland he came across an old man and his daughter. The girl was about eighteen or nineteen years of age, and that corresponds with the age of the child Redmond took with him, for she was only three or four at the time of his disappearance. He said that the man had plenty of money, lived in a house beautifully furnished, and possessed a good library. But he was most reticent about himself, although he acknowledged that he was acquainted with Canada, and had lived here for some time. So you see, I have reason for believing that the man is Henry Redmond, and that you should go at once and hunt him out. Even after you meet him, your task will still bristle with difficulties, for he is evidently hard to approach."
Reynolds smiled as he read these words. He knew how anxious the editor was for him to return that he might start at once upon the search. But he had no idea of going to Switzerland, or anywhere else for that matter, while the northland held such attractions. He decided to write and tell his old friend to be patient a while longer, and then perhaps he would receive the greatest surprise of his life. He tried to picture the look upon the editor's face should he unexpectedly walk into his office with Glen by his side. He believed that he would be greatly pleased, for could any man in his right mind resist the girl's charms? He knew that Harmon would be somewhat annoyed, for a woman would ruin his hope of ever finding the missing Henry Redmond.
Reynolds spent part of the afternoon writing a long letter to the editor. He had much to tell him about the country, his experiences in the wilderness, and the mysterious ruler of Glen West. But of Glen he said little, nothing, in fact, that would in any way arouse Harmon's suspicion of the writer's deep interest in the girl.
When the letter was finished he took it over to the roadhouse to mail, and then spent the rest of the afternoon upon the creek in an effort to learn, if possible, something about Frontier Samson. But although he questioned all the miners he saw, not one could enlighten him in the least degree. He thought that several looked at him curiously when he asked about the old prospector, and he wondered what they meant.
He spent some time far up the creek, and ate the lunch he had brought with him in a quiet place near the stream which flowed down the valley, and provided the necessary water for the sluice-boxes where the precious gold was washed out. He enjoyed the seclusion, as it gave him an opportunity to think over what the editor had written, and also about Glen. He intended to leave early the next morning for Glen West by way of Crooked Trail, and he knew that Glen would be waiting and eager to greet him. Her face stood out clear and distinct in his mind, and he recalled the words she had spoken, and her charming manner. His heart beat fast as he thought of her, and he believed that she loved him. He chided himself for not pouring out his heart to her that evening as they stood by the side of the inland lake. The expression in her eyes and the tone of her voice were those of a woman whose heart must be filled with love, so he reasoned. Yes, he would speak to her just as soon as he reached Glen West. The way would be short, for she was his guiding star, and he would speed swiftly to the one he loved.
It was dusk when he at length rose to his feet and started down the creek. He did not hurry as he had the whole evening before him, and there was no one awaiting his coming. But there would be someone tomorrow, and his heart thrilled, and his eyes shone with animation as he thought of the girl beyond the Golden Crest.
Part way down Big Draw valley, and on the left side, was a sharp break in the bank, where a small creek met the larger one. This in ages past had evidently been a river, whose bed was now dry. It was up this creek that the trail led out into the hills, the one that Reynolds had always taken when he went forth on his hunting expeditions. The entrance to this draw was now wrapped in semi-darkness, for the high tree-clad banks shouldered toward each other, thus shutting out the dim light of departing day.
Reynolds reached this place, and with a glance up the trail which he would take in the morning, he had almost reached the opposite side, when, without a word of warning, a light was flashed into his eyes, and in an instant he was swept from his feet, hurled to the ground, and his arms securely bound. He had no chance to defend himself, for everything happened so quickly. There seemed to be quite a crowd of men holding him fast, some sitting upon his body, while others held his hands and feet. Although He strained and struggled desperately to free himself, his efforts were of no avail, and he soon realised that he might as well reserve his strength for whatever lay ahead.
"Now get on yer feet, an' be d---- quick about it, too." It was Curly's voice, and Reynolds knew that the villain was at the bottom of this affair.
He made no reply, however, but at once struggled to a standing position and looked around. There appeared to be more than a dozen men, and by the dim light he recognized several. They had been drinking, he could easily tell, and were in a quarrelsome mood, and wrangled with one another as to what they should do with their captive. One was for stringing him up to a tree; another was for shooting him; while a third suggested that they should pitch him head first down one of the mining-shafts. But Curly would not listen to these propositions, and gave orders that the prisoner should be taken up the creek in the direction of Crooked Trail.
"It's safer there," he told them, "an' we don't want our fun spoiled by the Police."
"There's none in camp to-night," one explained. "They're all off on the trail."
"An' lucky fer us," Curly replied. "Anyway, let's hustle an' get out of this."
Reynolds was immediately seized and hurried up the creek. He tried to think and plan some way of escape. He realised that the situation was serious, for with Curly, devilish and full of revenge, and at the head of a band of half-drunken men as reckless as himself, there was no knowing what he might do. But he was determined to be game, and await further developments as calmly as possible.
As they moved forward he partly learned from the men's conversation why they had waylaid him. He found out that Curly had been filling his companions' minds with gross lies, and now inflamed with impure whiskey they were willing tools in the hands of their revengeful leader.