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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE GASH

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on an antique Western painting (ca. 1900)

Ex Libris

Collected in Two Stories of Adventure,
Blackie and Son Ltd., London and Glasgow, 1940

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2022
Version Date: 2022-12-02

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Illustration

Two Stories of Adventure, with "The Gash"
Blackie and Son Ltd., London and Glasgow, 1940



TABLE OF CONTENTS


CHAPTER 1. — KIT RAND

PETER HOLT rode slowly across the desert. He had to go slowly for the heat was fearful, and Texas, his old cow pony, was too heavily laden to travel at much more than a walk. The sun's rays, blazing down from a cloudless sky, beat back from the yellow sand and made the still air dance so that the brightly coloured cliffs which rose a mile to the south were like a shimmering rainbow.

Peter pulled up and, shading his eyes with his hand, gazed steadily at the flaring ridges. "Can't be far off the Gash now," he said to himself. Then suddenly he stiffened.

Something was moving across the foot of the cliffs. Though the glare was so fierce that it was difficult to make out anything clearly, Peter saw that it was a man on horseback. He also saw that the stranger was coming straight towards him.

Peter's grip tightened on his whip. There were queer folk to be found in this desert. Of that his Uncle Mark had warned him before starting from the ranch. But next moment his look of anxiety changed to one of pity.

"Why, the poor fellow is ill!" he said aloud, and immediately started towards the other.

As he came nearer he saw that the stranger was a lean brown-faced man riding a pie-bald pony. It was a question which of the two—man or beast—was in worse case. The man was swaying in his saddle and the pony stumbled at every step.

However, the stranger saluted as Peter came up.

"Can you spare a little water, mister?" he asked, in a hoarse whisper.

But Peter had already spotted what was wrong, and his fingers were busy with the strap of one of his water-tins. The man took it eagerly and quickly, but instead of drinking at once, spoke again.

"How much of this can you spare?" he asked.

"All of it, I've got another bagful," said Peter quickly.

"Thank you," said the other.

Then he slipped out of the saddle, poured a pint or so into the crown of his felt hat, and offered it to the pony. Not until the poor beast had licked up the last drop did he drink himself, and then only sparingly. As he drank, his eyes brightened, and his lean body straightened.

"You have saved both of us," he said gravely as he handed back the tin. "I had a little accident a while back. Pinto jumped to clear a snake that lay in the path and bumped into a prickly pear. A thorn went through our water-bag, and I never saw it till it was too late."

"Bad luck!" said Peter. "I'm glad I happened to come along."

"Not half so glad as I am," replied the other, with a slow smile which made his tanned face very pleasant. "You're British, aren't you?"

"English," said Peter. "Peter Holt's my name."

"I'm Rand," said the other—"Christopher Rand, but my friends call me Kit. I'm the United States Government Guard in this part of the world."

Peter's eyes widened. "A Government Guard! But what are you guarding in a district like this?"

"The frontier, son," said the other gently.

Peter whistled softly. "Rum runners and that sort of thing?"

Kit nodded. "Aye, and cattle robbers. I earn my pay."

"I should rather think you do," said Peter. "I'd want a lot of pay to ride this desert." Then he laughed. "You'd like to ask me what I'm doing here, I expect," he went on. "Only I've been West long enough to know it's not good manners to ask questions."

"That's a fact, son," said Kit. "I was certainly surprised to see a youngster like you riding across the Painted Desert all alone. Why, you aren't more than sixteen, are you?"

"Sixteen next month," said Peter, with a smile on his freckled face. "And as for this desert, I hate it. But my Uncle Bill is up in the hills there, and I have to find him."

"I'd like to hear your story," said Kit Rand, "but it's mighty hot out here in the sun. Come in under these rocks, where we shall find some shelter."

It was hot enough even under the cliffs but it was something to get out of the direct sun glare. Peter got off his horse, and he and Christopher Rand sat on two boulders and talked.

"We live with Uncle Bill's brother Mark at Silver Creek," Peter said. "Uncle Mark was hurt in an accident, and Uncle Bill and I came out to help him. Then the cattle turned sick and a lot died, and last winter's dry spell killed more. We had to raise money somehow, and Uncle Mark told us of how years ago he got gold up in a canyon called the Gash. Uncle Bill used to be a mining engineer, and he said he'd go and look at the place, just on the chance of finding something worthwhile.

"He started out three weeks ago and he said he'd be back in ten days. Uncle Mark got badly worried when he didn't come, so I said I'd go and try to hunt him up. And now, since you know the country, I'd be very grateful if you'd tell me just which of these gullies is called the Gash. You see, I'm still a bit green to this country," he added simply.

"Green! I'd call you a different colour," said Kit Rand with a smile. "You're white, son."

Peter flushed a little at the praise, and Kit went on. "You aren't a mile from the mouth of the Gash. Your uncle was right. There's gold in the Gash, for there are dry-blowers working it."

"Dry-blowers?" repeated Peter, much puzzled.

"Dry-blowing is the way they get the gold dust where there isn't water to wash the gravel," said Kit. "But it's a poor kind of job, and mighty few men get much out of it at the best. And see here, son, these blowers are a bad crowd. Keep clear of them. The worst of the lot is a fellow called Sid Larkin, who is a sort of king of the canyon."

Peter looked anxious. "Do you think he has got hold of Uncle Bill?"

"I couldn't say. What kind of a man is your uncle?"

"Six foot high. Hard as nails. He was all through the Great War."

Kit nodded. "Sounds good to me," he said. "I don't think Larkin would touch a man like that."

"Then why hasn't Uncle come back?" asked Peter.

"There are other things," said Kit gravely. "Accidents, snakes, and—" shaking his head "—burst water-bags."

"Then the sooner I get on the better," said Peter.

"I think you're right, son," Kit answered. "I wish I could go with you, but my job's along the line here."

"Now see here." He began to draw with his whip on the sand. "The Gash doesn't run straight south into the hills. It curves eastward, and runs pretty well in a straight line with the desert. It is nowhere more than a mile or so from the flat. I'm telling you this so that you won't make a mistake and get off into a box canyon that turns due south four or five miles up the main canyon. It was in that box canyon that Sid Larkin was working the last time I heard of him. So keep out of that, for Sid is a bad lot. Is that clear?"

"Yes; but suppose Uncle is up that box canyon?"

"I don't think he will be—not if he knows gold signs. The old river that cut the canyon thousands of years ago came from the top of the Gash, and most likely you'll find your uncle up that way."

"Thank you very much," said Peter earnestly. "You've helped me tremendously. But don't you want some more water before I go?"

"Oh no, I'll be all right. There's a spring that Pinto and I can reach in an hour. I can mend this water-bag there. You'll need all you have, for the next water-hole is just above the mouth of the box canyon."

Peter got up and scrambled into the saddle. "Well, good-bye," he said. "Hope I'll see you again."

"Likely you will, son. I'll be camping near here to-night, and I'll be looking out for you."


CHAPTER 2. — LARKIN'S PLAN

IF the open desert had been hot the Gash was a furnace. Yet the scenery was so splendid that Peter almost forgot the fury of the sun. The chasm, only a few hundred feet wide at the bottom, spread out to a mile at the top of its dizzy walls. The cliffs looked like giant stairways, each step forming great shelves which ran far back into the rock walls. Peter felt very small and lonely as his pony plodded up the great gorge.

At last he came to the mouth of the box canyon. Here were foot-marks in the sand, but he saw nobody. He pressed on to the spring, where he and his horse drank deeply. Then finding shade among some fallen rocks, Peter took food out of his haversack and ate hungrily.

He had just finished when he heard the sound of voices. Two men came out of the box canyon and turned south. One was a great bull of a fellow, with a black beard. The other was smaller, but as hard-faced as his companion. They came quite close to Peter, but luckily for him he and his pony were hidden by the rocks.

"As tough looking a couple as ever I saw," said Peter to himself "I wish I knew what they were after."

As if in answer to his words the smaller man spoke.

"I tell you we're starting too early, Sid," he said. "That big fellow will spot us coming up the canyon."

"What kind of a fool do you take me for, Sam Gubbins?" said the other, in a rough voice. "Do you think that I'm going to walk up and say how-do-you-do to Cottle? No, sir, I mean to climb up on the right by Black Gulch and lie there till midnight. Then we'll slip along and see what he's really found. And after that we can help ourselves."

Peter was shaking with excitement. His uncle was alive and had found something of value. And whatever it was, these two beauties, Larkin and Gubbins, were after it. He crouched among the rocks, watching them.

Black Gulch—the name stuck in his mind, and it seemed to him that he would be able to spot it fairly easily. His uncle must be somewhere near this gulch, and the minute that Peter was in sight would be sure to see him and call to him.

The trouble was that Larkin and Gubbins would see him first and stop him. At first this seemed to kill his plan, but when he came to think it over he was not so sure. Larkin of course did not know that he had been overheard. He would never dream that Peter knew his plan for a midnight attack. He would not know who Peter was. Even if he did think that the boy was looking for Bill Cottle, he would not think it worthwhile stopping him.

The more Peter thought about it, the more certain he felt that they would let him pass. They would not worry about a mere boy, and they would take it for granted that he, like his uncle, would be sound asleep at the hour which they had set for their attack.

"Anyhow, it's the only thing for me to do," said Peter half aloud, "for if I wait till dark I shan't be able to spot this gulch they talked of. But I'll give them an hour, and then I'll start."


CHAPTER 3. — PETER FINDS HIS UNCLE

"THAT'S it," said Peter to himself as he came opposite a great gloomy gap in the right-hand wall of the Gash. In spite of the fierce heat a shiver ran down his spine as he thought of the two men lying hidden there. Without doubt they were watching him, and in his mind's eye he could see Larkin fingering the trigger of his pistol and wondering whether to try a shot at him.

Peter wanted to hurry past this danger spot. But he knew that this was the one thing he must not do, so he jogged steadily on. He breathed more freely when at last he was out of range of a pistol bullet. He even chuckled softly. "A jolly good bluff," he said to himself. "And now I'd like to know where Uncle Bill is camping."

The words were hardly out of his mouth before a small stone came leaping and bounding down from the right-hand wall. Looking up, Peter saw a tall figure standing on one of the broad ledges, and sighed with relief as he recognized his uncle.

"Tie your horse among the boulders, Peter, and come straight up," said Mr. Cottle.

A jutting shelf gave shelter for Peter's mount, and Peter wasted no time in climbing to the ledge.

"Good lad!" was his uncle's warm greeting "I was praying you would come. If you hadn't I should have had to give it up, for I'm out of food."

"Give up what?" asked Peter.

For answer his uncle led the way to the back of the ledge and showed him a newly cut hole in the cliff. The first thing Peter saw was bright little yellow streaks seaming the freshly broken rock.

"Gold?" he whispered.

"Gold, Peter. It's a regular jeweller's shop. How far it goes in I can't tell, but even if it's only a pocket it's a fortune."

Peter stared at the gleaming metal which meant the end of all their troubles. Then his mind came back with a jerk to the present.

"There are two fellows called Larkin and Gubbins who mean to rob you of this, Uncle Bill," he said.

"I didn't know their names," said Uncle Bill, "but it's no news to me that some of those dry-washers suspect I've made a find. That's why I dared not leave it. But what do you know?"

"Good lad!" said Uncle Bill when his nephew had finished. "We'll be ready for those gentlemen at midnight. They'll get the shock of their lives. Now we'll get up the food."

They got the provisions up, gave the horse water and oats, and then cooked supper. At supper, Peter, who had been thinking hard, spoke up:

"What are we going to do, Uncle Bill? The food will only last a few days, and don't we need machinery for getting out that gold?"

Uncle Bill's eyes widened. "Why, boy, I thought you knew. By State law I have to register this claim. Once that's done all the dry-washers in the Gash can't touch it."

Peter whistled softly. "I see now. Then you want me to go back to Las Cruces and register."

"Yes, while I keep guard here."

Peter nodded. "Then I'd best get off as soon as it's dark."

"No," replied his uncle. "That's just what Larkin would expect. We'll sit tight till they attack us, and with luck we'll collar them or wipe them out. Then you can get off just before dawn."


CHAPTER 4. — TEXAS TRIPS UP

HOT as it is in the day, the Arizona desert can be very cold at night. Peter shivered as he and his uncle lay on the terrace edge waiting for the attack.

There was a rustle from below and he felt his uncle stir. The next sound was the slight clink of a nailed boot on rock. Peter nudged his uncle and pointed to dim shadows below creeping silently up the steep slope.

Uncle Bill let them come quite close. Then all of a sudden he spoke:

"Good morning, Mr. Larkin. What can I do for you?"

A pistol crashed out, but Uncle Bill had already drawn back out of harm's way. Before the echoes of the shot had ceased crashing up and down the gorge, he had picked up a large stone and flung it straight down at his enemy.

There was a thud, a groan, then the sound of a heavy body slipping down the slope. "Got one of them anyhow," said Uncle Bill softly. "But sit tight, Peter. The other may still be able to shoot."

He sent a second rock crashing after the first, but there was no answer, and presently all was quiet.

"Nothing to do but wait," whispered Uncle Bill. "Fetch me a blanket, Peter. Then you go back and sleep."

Grey dawn was just breaking when Uncle Bill roused Peter.

"I hit the wrong man," he said. "Gubbins is below with a broken leg, but Larkin has got away."

"He'll be afraid," said Peter cheerfully, as he jumped up.

"But he'll be angry, Peter," said his uncle gravely. "I hate to let you go, lad."

Peter laughed. "I've got a horse and he hasn't. Don't forget that, Uncle Bill. I shall be all right."

Barely ten minutes later, Peter, having drunk a cup of hot coffee, was riding down the Gash. Old Texas, freed of his heavy load of food and fodder, went along at a brisk pace. Peter kept as far away as possible from the mouth of the Black Gulch, but there was no sign of life there. He felt in his pocket to see that the claim paper made out by Uncle Bill was all right, and rode on faster than ever.

Just above the box canyon there lay a soap-hole, one of those queer quicksands which are common in parts of the desert. Peter kept well over to the right to avoid it. He was cantering past when old Texas caught his feet in a cord which was stretched across his path. He came down with a crash, pitching Peter clean over his head.

The shock knocked all the breath out of Peter, and before he could get up Sid Larkin dashed out from among the rocks and pounced on him. Peter fought well, but Larkin was twice his size.

"Keep still!" he growled angrily. "Keep still or I'll choke the life out of you."

Kneeling on Peter he searched his pockets, and there was a gleam in his eyes as he pulled out the claim paper.

"Just as I thought," he said. "He's found a rich mine. Well, you can tell him from me that he won't work it."

"Do you think you can turn him off?" said Peter.

"I don't have to," sneered Larkin. "The food that you took him won't last him for ever. In less than a week he'll have to clear out. And even if he doesn't it makes no odds, for this claim is going to be registered by Sid Larkin, not by Cottle."

He grinned evilly, and Peter's heart sank. He knew that, according to State law, a gold claim belongs to the man who registers it. But he stuck to his guns.

"We've got Gubbins," he said boldly.

"Aye," sneered Larkin, "and you're welcome to keep him, especially as you'll have to feed him."

He chuckled again, and Peter had never heard an uglier sound. "I was wondering what I'd do with you," added Larkin. "I thought I might throw you into that soap-hole, but now I have a better plan. I'm going to send you back to help to eat up the grub."

As he spoke he got to his feet and drew a pistol. "Don't move," he said. Then he backed away until he reached Texas, who was standing quietly a little way off, swung into the saddle, and rode off.


CHAPTER 5. — KIT RAND PAYS A DEBT

PETER knew that he was in a very bad way. All that Larkin had said was true. The food was not enough to last him and Uncle Bill more than a week, even if they could get rid of Gubbins. In any case, if Larkin got to Las Cruces and registered the claim the mine would be his.

Peter felt quite sick. To go back and tell Uncle Bill that he had failed was hard. Yet what else was he to do?

Suddenly he thought of Kit Rand. If Kit could be warned he might stop Larkin. But how was he to be warned? Peter's heart dropped to his boots, for at this early hour Kit would be either asleep or cooking his breakfast. He would never be expecting anyone out of the Gash so early in the day.

Peter looked down the canyon stretching away for miles. Larkin was still in full sight, jogging along quite slowly.

All in a flash Peter remembered what Kit Rand had said about the way the canyon ran—"alongside the desert and nowhere more than a mile from it." Then if he could climb the northern cliff he would be above the desert; and if he could see Rand he could signal to him, and get him to stop Larkin. It was a slim chance, but still a chance, and Peter did not waste one moment in taking it. Slipping in among the rocks he began to climb.

At first it was easy, for the cliffs were so broken. It was not until he had gained the last of the big ledges that he got into difficulties. The cliff above was almost sheer, and the rock face was very smooth. Peter got up about twenty feet, but then he stuck and had to come back. He hunted along the ledge for a better place, but all looked equally bad.

At last he came to a narrow crevice which ran up from the ledge to the top. He decided to try it. But the rock was so smooth that his feet kept slipping. He was forced to come back again. He took off his boots, tied them to his belt by their laces, and started once more.

This helped him, and foot by foot he worked his way up the crack. Then, when no more than a dozen feet below the upper rim of the cliff, the crack gave out. With one foot on each side of the crack, and clinging with bleeding fingers to a ledge barely three inches wide, Peter gazed helplessly up. He could go no farther.

It was at this moment that he saw the boulder which jutted out from the face of the cliff about three yards to the left of where he was clinging. He saw that, if he could reach it, there was an easy way up to the top. He saw, too, that the only way to reach it was to let his feet hang and go hand over hand along the three-inch ledge. A moment later he was out of the crack and hanging by his hands, with his body dangling over the gulf.

The strain was frightful, and the crossing of those eight or nine feet of wall seemed to take hours. Actually it took only a couple of minutes. When at last he did reach the boulder he lay flat on it, his heart thumping and his breath coming in gasps.

Luckily the rest was easy, and when he gained the top it was as flat as a table. He ran across and found himself looking down upon the desert. A yell of joy escaped him as he saw almost beneath him the yellow dot that was Kit's tent. And there was Kit himself frying his bacon on a tiny fire. Peter shouted and shouted again, but his voice was so weak that Kit did not hear. In despair he threw a stone, and then at last Kit looked up.

"Larkin!" shouted Peter. "He's got our claim papers and my horse. Stop him." As he spoke he waved in the direction of the mouth of the Gash.

He saw Kit spring up and start saddling Pinto, then he himself began the long climb down. Kit sprang to the saddle and galloped away, and Peter stopped to watch.

Kit kept going sharply all along the base of the cliff. Then Peter gasped as he saw a mounted man come riding hard out of the mouth of the Gash.

Faintly from the distance came Kit's hail. But the other man only dug in his heels and galloped the harder.

Kit pulled up short, and the rays of the rising sun gleamed on the barrel of his rifle as he raised it. A sharp crack echoed along the rock face. Poor old Texas reared, and then pitched forward, throwing his rider with such force that he rolled over and lay still. Kit rode on and Peter started scrambling madly down the rest of the slope.

When he reached the spot he found Sid Larkin tied up hand and foot. To his joy Texas was on his feet, and Kit was cleaning out a small wound on his neck.

"I—I thought you'd killed Texas," panted Peter.

"No," explained Kit. "The bullet went through the muscle of his neck, but he'll be none the worse. But how did you manage to warn me the way you did?"

Peter told him, and Kit's brown face lit. "I said yesterday you were white, son. To-day I say it again. Here's your paper. Now help me to lift this fellow on to Pinto. Then come back to my camp and we'll have some breakfast, and after that I'll go along with you to Las Cruces. I have been trying to land Larkin in the gaol there for a long time, and now I don't think he'll bother you again for quite a time."


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.