Walker didn’t like town all that much, and he wasn’t sure what drew him there this particular morning. He had waked before daylight with his friend Dusty on his mind. Something was wrong or was about to happen, of this he was sure. Long ago he learned to pay attention to the strange premonitions he would get from time to time. The one time he didn’t pay attention, it almost cost him his life.
Breaking up the fracas in the Grub Tent seemed to only pacify part of his anxiety. He knew in his heart he was supposed to do something else, but what it could be he couldn’t imagine. In the confusion that had taken place after he had forced the man with the knife to give it up, he slipped away and found a vantage point from where he couldn’t be observed from the Grub Tent.
What he saw while watching from his hiding place was a town buzzing with excitement. All the new gold seekers hurrying about gathering the supplies and equipment they would need in their quest for gold. Some, he knew, had already taken to the trail. Those were the ones who came prepared and had brought all the needed gear with them.
Most all the locals were standing around the dock where the L.J. Perry, a sturdy two-mast schooner piloted by “Cap” Lathrop, was in the process of tying up. By the way she was riding in the water, she had a full load on. Like the Utopia, she too was carrying a full complement of passengers and cargo, even the aft deck was loaded with livestock; horses, a few cows heavy with calves, and cages holding chickens and ducks.
Dusty and Dynamite O’Brien strolled down from the Grub Tent and stood watching as they put the gangplank in place and the passengers started coming ashore. Mostly they looked like all the other gold seekers that had come before them, but some. . . Some had another look . . . the look of trouble. They wore Colts tied low on their hip. Personal upkeep wasn’t a top priority, and they all had a shifty look about them, but inspecting their hands told the actual story, they were soft-looking, with no apparent calluses were visible. It was obvious these men hadn’t done a hard day’s work in their adult life, and it was very unlikely they were about to start now. Looking hard at them, Dusty tried his best to memorize as much as he could about each individual’s appearance. By the time all the passengers were ashore, Dusty had counted a total of seven men that were suspect. More than likely they were all wanted for something somewhere, and now they were his problem.
After all the passengers were ashore, then came the livestock. Last fall Jeb over at the livery had sent a friend down to Seattle with a poke of gold for the purchase of more livestock, namely horses and mules. He knew they would take up a lot of space and need a considerable amount of care on the voyage north. So it wasn’t too hard to understand why it would cost more for their passage than it did the actual purchase price of the animal. He also knew what would be involved in their upkeep during the winter and he had planned accordingly for that by having five one hundred pound sacks of alfalfa seed brought up too.
Last summer, the old wrangler thinking ahead, and while most of the menfolk were out digging for gold, he had spent the long summer days of never-ending light, getting a plot of ground cleared and ready for planting. He figured it was a win, win situation. If he didn’t sell the animals, he’d have his own hay to feed them, and if he sold the stock to someone, that person would need hay. He would have it available for sale, so either way, he’d be making a living.
Along with Jeb’s stock, there were a few dozen chickens and two milk cows were soon to drop calves. These animals were for George Roll. Like Jeb, he was a real entrepreneur. Eventually, George planned to have enough hens laying that he could sell fresh eggs at his store and once the cows calved there would be fresh milk to sell too.
It took most of the morning to offload all the supplies. When all the passengers had come ashore and of course the mailbag, most of the townfolk lost interest and drifted back to their work or to George’s store to wait for mail call.
Dusty and Johnny decided rather than fighting the crowd at the general store, another cup of coffee was in order, so they headed for V.O.‘.
The two friends found an empty table by the kitchen and made themselves comfortable. It was still busy, so they helped themselves to a steaming hot mug of the dark brew V.O. claimed was coffee.
“Bilgewater!” the old sea Captain declared with a twinkle in his eye, as V.O. approached their table.
“You could always get on your little boat and row to the next port.” The grub tent owner said, jabbing right back in fun. He always could get the better of Johnny by calling the Utopia a “little” boat.
Dusty knew this could go on for a while, so with a smile on his face, he sat back, enjoying the fun right along with his two good friends. Soon it settled down, and the conversation turned to the earlier trouble of that morning.
Dusty looked about, seeing that no one was paying attention to them, then he spoke in a low voice so only his friends could hear.
He told V.O. of the letter asking him to return to active duty with the Marshal’s service and he spoke of the danger the town was about to find itself in and he assured his friends he had a plan, albeit a feeble one. But Dusty needed help, someone not afraid of long odds, and he let V.O know he was his first choice.
This was because V.O. himself had been a lawman in the Arizona territory some years back and was no stranger to danger. He was considerably older now, but then too, so was Dusty.
“I can’t prove it yet, but all these hard cases we’ve seen comin’ ashore I believe are all part of a gang, and whatever they have on their minds I guarantee will bring nothing but grief ta this here town,” Dusty stated this with unmistakable trepidation in his voice.
“Well, what can be done? We just can’t go up and ask one of them . . . hey, are you a crook and what are you doing here?” V.O asked with a chuckle, trying to bring a little levity into the serious conversation.
“That might not be such a bad idée,” Dusty said. “I’m goin’ a need a deputy ta watch my back. I don’t think any of these guys would be opposed ta shootin’ a feller in the back ifin the opportunity presented itself.”
Dusty watched V.O. closely as he said this, and the reaction he was hoping for was instant and showed on the old lawman’s face.
“You know I can do that for you, even though I might be a little rusty with my colt. I haven’t had one of those blackout spells in months. Maybe the Doc down in Arizona was wrong. Maybe I’m over them.”
V.O. sounded sincere, and Dusty knew he could trust him with his life. V.O.’s integrity and grit were without reproach, and even if he was rusty, he would still be better than most. His gun skills were what legends were made of.
Dusty didn’t hesitate. After accepting V.O.’s offer and swearing him in as Deputy U.S. Marshal, Dusty explained what their next move would be, and then the trio agreed they would meet up later.
When they split up Dusty headed to the general store to post a notice calling for a town meeting and to check out one of his theories.
“Back so soon?” George asked with a smile as Dusty closed the squeaky front door and a little bell above it jingled, announcing his arrival.
“As long as ya don’t oil the hinges on this here door I don’t see any reason fer that annoying, noisy little bell, this squeaky door could wake up the dead,” Then, taking his friend aside he told George of his suspicions and told him of his decision to return to active duty with the Marshal’s service until they could find someone else to take the job. The storekeeper listened closely and had very little to say at the conclusion of the grim news. Dusty said he was posting a notice calling for a town meeting for the following evening. He would, at that time, let the town folks know the law had come to Hope … and he was it.
The history of the Grub Tent owner can be found in “The Adventures of Dusty Sourdough,” book two, “The Trail to Wrangell.”
To Be Continued …