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Authors: G. Clifton Wisler

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BOOK: The Return of Caulfield Blake
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“Calm down, Matt,” Henry Simpson urged. “We've barely begun our game.”

“You mean to let his words stand, Grandpa?” Matt asked.

“Nobody's heard 'em,” Simpson declared. “You boys know a lie at its face, don't you?”

The men on the dam laughed nervously. Caulie tensed. Abe Jenkins ran his fingers along the barrel of a Colt.

“You heard him,” Matt said in disgust. “Get back to your work.” The Jenkins brothers turned away. Then Matt pointed to Blake and cried, “It's not finished. Just postponed. I'll be coming for you.”

“I'm not hard to find,” Caulie responded. “But you make sure you do your prayin' first 'cause there's not apt to be time after. You hear?”

“I haven't heard a word you've said since I met you,” Matt said, laughing loudly. “Now get off our land!”

A rifle barked from the dam, and a single bullet split the air to Caulie's left. Slowly, cautiously, Caulie turned and rode away. The day would come when he'd have to settle with Matt Simpson, but that could wait. The odds weren't favorable at present.

Chapter Seven

As evening shadows settled upon the land, Caulie made a second visit to Simpson's dam. Under the cloak of night he crawled along the creekbed until he was within ten feet of the dam itself. The guards huddled around a small fire and sang camp songs as they gazed out across the valley. Their eyes searched for men on horseback, though, and they failed to detect the lone shadow, that ghost of a man crawling along the dying stream below.

Caulie examined the dam as carefully as he could without risking discovery. Even blowing a small hole in the stone surface would be no easy task. A solitary man couldn't creep in and plant explosives. He would need help.

He studied the structure for a moment before slipping back into the cover of nearby boulders. Three charges set near the base of the dam might crack the rock wall. The force of the water backed up in Siler's Hollow would likely do the rest. If not, he'd better convince Hannah to leave.

He led his horse back through the tangle of briars and scrub mesquite that covered the broken country south of Carpenter Creek. He didn't mount up until he was a quarter mile off. Then he rode briskly toward the gap he'd tom in the Diamond S fence abutting Dix Stewart's place. From the fence it was less than two miles on to Dix's cabin. He was there almost before he knew it. After seeing to his horse, he took out a yellowing sketch pad from his saddlebags and penciled in the dam, the creek, what cover he'd located, and which paths might offer escape.

Caulie knew Simpson's men would have the wire mended by the time Dix and the others would be ready to move against the dam. The best way out would be along the creek, toward Hannah's place, or else straight into town. Taking the creek would be tricky, what with a wall of water raging down on them once the dam burst. But the route to town led past the Simpson ranch buildings, and no one crossing the Diamond S after the explosion could expect a friendly greeting.

The following morning Caulie met with Marty and Dix at the cabin. The three old friends pored over the rough map, then argued about the plan.

“You know this is like touchin' off a powder keg under old man Simpson,” Dix said, scratching his head. “It'll mean open war.”

“Hasn't it come to that already?” Caulie asked. “Water out here's life.”

“He could send riders over to Hannah's place,” Dix pointed out. “It could get really rough. Who's goin' with us anyway?”

“Us?” Caulie asked. “It's certain you can't come.”

“Nothin' short of death would stop me,” Dix declared. “I always rode at your side when General Forrest had somethin' of this sort in mind.”

“Not this time, Dix. If you leave town, someone's bound to take note. If it doesn't tip Simpson, you're sure to catch the blame once it's done. This way you can invite somebody over, maybe sup with the minister or die sheriff.”

“Caulie's right,” Marty agreed. “But that argument hardly applies to me. I can slip away anytime I care to, and nobody's the wiser. Shoot, I stay out on the range three nights out of four in the summer. All that wailin' of the little ones drives me to drink.”

“You'd best change that habit,” Caulie said, frowning. “Once trouble starts, you'll want Eve to have somebody around.”

“She will, Caulie. Caleb and Court'll be there. That Caleb's close to as fine a shot at ten as you were.”

“This isn't shootin' turkeys, Marty. There'll be dyin'. I wouldn't want Carter or Zach facin' those Jenkins brothers.”

“You know about that, do you?”

“We had a disagreement last year up at The Flat. Seems Abe was playin' with his sleeves when he should've been dealin' top cards.”

“You must've mellowed some, Caulie,” Dix observed. “Time was you shot card sharks.”

“They mostly get themselves hung, but we had the money, and I guess we considered that satisfactory. Wish I'd known then I'd wander across those two again down here. Might've saved some trouble.”

“Simpson'd only've hired himself another pair,” Dix said, angrily staring out the door toward the Diamond S. “One thing Texas hasn't been short of since the war's men long on shootin' talents and short on cash money. And that doesn't take into account all the renegade bluecoats run off from the army posts or the washed-up buffalo hunters.”

“No,” Caulie agreed. “Next thing is to get hold of some dynamite. We'll need fuse, too. Five to ten minute lengths. Three charges ought to get the job done. Marty and I can set 'em. We'll need a third fellow to tend the horses and watch our rear.”

“I'll speak to Hernando,” Marty offered. “He's steady.”

“No,” Dix objected. “Anybody leaves Ox Hollow, a dozen folks'll know. Better to speak to Joe Stovall. I use him sometimes on the ranch. I can send him out toward dusk, say he's gone to mend fence or look to the stock.”

“Then as soon as you get me the dynamite, we're ready,” Caulie said, grinning grimly. “The rest is up to you.”

“I'll get the dynamite to Marty. You'll be set to go tomorrow night?”

Caulie nodded, then led his friends to the door.

He thought to make a third and final scout of the dam that next afternoon, but he'd scarcely left the cabin when he came upon Abe Jenkins and a young cowboy.

“Should've known you'd be nearby,” Jenkins remarked. “We've been havin' a lot of trouble with clipped wire and broken fenceposts. Wouldn't have any notion as to how such a thing might've happened, would you, Blake?”

“Nary a one,” Caulie answered. “I would mention you're not on Diamond S range now. This stretch of range belongs to Dixon Stewart. You're trespassin'.”

“As I'd suspect you have been. Stay clear of Mr. Simpson's property. We've got good eyes, and they're mainly lookin' out for you. I saw the way you looked at the dam the other day. You got any idea to raid that place, best lose it. We keep watch there all night.”

“What business would I have at a dam? It's enough of a job keepin' track of all the stock.”

“You mark my words, Blake. Me, I'd as soon settle it right here and now, but Mr. Simpson says we're to be patient. I can be patient as Moses when the need arises. Just you remember what I said about the dam.”

“Man'd be a fool to argue, Abe.”

“Sure would!” Jenkins shouted. “And he'd wind up dead.”

Caulfield Blake passed the remainder of the afternoon at the cabin. He kept his rifle handy lest Abe Jenkins or some other fool decided to pay a call. Two miles wasn't much distance from Simpson's gunmen. But Dix's cabin stood atop a hill, and a man could see down toward Carpenter Creek. Caulie couldn't help feeling better knowing he stood between the Diamond S and Hannah.

Shortly before dusk Marty Cabot rode up. With him was a slim-shouldered rider whose dusty leather hat concealed his face.

“This isn't any Joe Stovall,” Caulie complained at once. “What in heaven's name . . .”

He never finished. A nervous hand removed the hat, and Caulie discovered Marty's companion was none other than Zach.

“Guess I'm not much of a replacement, huh?” the boy asked as he read his father's disappointment. “Simpson had a man in town watchin' Joe and Dix both. I was in town fetchin' Ma some sugar. Was bound this way anyway, so Dix sent word with me.”

“She doesn't know you're here?” Caulie asked. “Well, that's just fine. Get along home with you now, boy. This isn't goin' to be a good place to be on toward dark.”

“I know about the dam, Pa,” Zach said, placing a stubborn hand on each hip. “I've never fought a war, but I can hold horses just fine. I know that country, too. Carter and I've been ridin' Carpenter Creek since, well, since you were here yourself.”

Caulie frowned. Again he remembered how long a time it had been. But he smiled, too. There was grit in young Zach, and the boy's stringy, unkempt walnut hair reminded Caulie of his own.

“He's good with horses, Caulie,” Marty declared. “I wouldn't've brought him along if I could've found anybody else. Simpson's got riders everywhere.”

“Don't you think I know that?” Caulie asked. “They won't be asleep tonight. There's apt to be shootin'. Somebody . . . could get killed.”

The two old cavalrymen gazed sadly at young Zach, but the thirteen-year-old would have none of it. He brushed back his hair, stroked his bay's neck, and grinned.

“It's my home, too, Pa. Maybe more'n yours. I've passed my whole life here. Besides, you need me. There's nobody else.”

“He's right,” Marty agreed.

“Looks like I'm outvoted. You do as you're told, though, son. There are enough Blakes buried in this country. Your time's not up for years yet.”

“Yes, sir,” Zach said as he slapped the dust out of his hat. “I won't let you down, Pa.”

Marty and Zach dismounted and tied their horses to the porch rail. The three of them then collected around a fire and watched the sun fade as Caulie fried a tin of beans and some jerked beef. It wasn't much of a supper, and Caulie could see his guests were a bit disappointed. It was hard for a man accustomed to a woman's touch to satisfy himself with dried beef and tinned beans.

Once darkness had settled in, Caulie hauled a bucket of well water over and muddied a bit of earth. He then painted his companion's faces. Marty did Caulie's the same way.

“Next thing is to make sure you've got not a flicker of white or yellow to your outfit,” Caulie explained as he looked over the horses. The he turned his attention to Zach. The boy was soon rid of a white cotton shirt and a yellow kerchief. “Can't do much about the bay, but I trust she'll keep to the trees. You can wear this old poncho of mine,” Caulie went on, tossing Zach a weathered garment of black canvas. “Once we head out, ride low, bent over so you appear to be part of your horse.”

“That how you did it in the war, Pa?” Zach asked.

“Long before that,” Caulie said, laughing as he recalled watching with wonder at the way Comanche raiders could close to disappear on horseback.

“It's time,” Marty announced finally. “We'd best get to it before moonrise. I'd not care to hand over our little packages without a bit of cover from those trigger-happy fools atop the dam.”

Caulie nodded, then mounted his black stallion and led the way toward Carpenter Creek.

He wouldn't dare force the fence line anywhere near the dam. After all, the Jenkins brothers were famous for setting ambushes. And riding along the creekbed was the natural, expected approach, so Henry Simpson would never expect them to try it. Even so, Caulie had his right hand gently resting on the cold walnut handle of his Colt revolver.

The three riders rode as one as they wound their way past the barbed wire and splashed into the muddy remnant of Carpenter Creek.

“We won't be able to come back this way,” Marty whispered. “The whole stretch of creek'll be flooded.”

“Wish I could've warned Ma,” Zach grumbled.

“Shhh,” Caulie urged. “Once it's done, we'll deal with things as they are. We haven't got any dynamite planted as of yet.”

The others nodded, and Caulie led on. The three rode silently up the creek bank and onward through the tangled wilderness beyond. None of them emitted so much as a sigh. Noise brought attention, and discovery meant swift and certain death. Fortunately Simpson's riders were elsewhere. Caulie reached the dam unseen. He then dismounted, helped Marty take out the dynamite charges, and watched young Zach gather the horses' reins.

Father and son exchanged a nervous glance. Caulie then touched his son on the shoulder, allowing the boy to lean on the father he scarcely knew. Then Caulie headed toward the boulders above the creek and left Zach to await their return.

Three guards paced back and forth atop the dam. No one guarded the streambed, though, and that was Caulie's destination.

BOOK: The Return of Caulfield Blake
3.25Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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