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Two Ambushes








From: The Highgrader

The clock at the new Verinder Building showed ten minutes past eleven as
Jack Kilmeny took the Utah Junction road out of Goldbanks with his
loaded ore wagon. It was a night of scudding clouds, through which
gleamed occasionally a fugitive moon. The mountain road was steep and
narrow, but both the driver and the mules were used to its every turn
and curve. In early days the highgrader had driven a stage along it many
a night when he could not have seen the ears of the bronchos.

His destination was the Jack Pot, a mine three miles from town, where
intermittently for months he had been raising worthless rock in the hope
of striking the extension of the Mollie Gibson vein. It was not quite
true, as Bleyer had intimated, that his lease was merely a blind to
cover ore thefts, though undoubtedly he used it for that purpose
incidentally.

Bleyer had guessed shrewdly that Kilmeny would drive out to the Jack
Pot, put up in the deserted bunk-house till morning, and then haul the
ore down to the junction to ship to the smelter on the presumption that
it had been taken from the leased property. This was exactly what Jack
had intended to do. Apparently his purpose was unchanged. He wound
steadily up the hill trail, keeping the animals at a steady pull, except
for breathing spells. The miner had been a mule skinner in his time,
just as he had tried his hand at a dozen other occupations. In the still
night the crack of his whip sounded clear as a shot when it hissed above
the flanks of the leaders without touching them.

He ran into the expected ambush a half mile from the mine, at a point
where the road dipped down a wooded slope to a sandy wash.

"Hands up!" ordered a sharp voice.

A horseman loomed up in the darkness beside the wagon. A second appeared
from the brush. Other figures emerged dimly from the void.

Jack gave his mules the whip and the heavy wagon plowed into the deep
sand. Before the wheels had made two revolutions the leaders were
stopped. Other men swarmed up the side of the wagon, dragged the driver
from his seat, and flung him to the ground.

Even though his face was buried in the sand and two men were spread over
his body, the captive was enjoying himself.

"This is no way to treat a man's anatomy--most unladylike conduct I ever
saw," he protested.

He was sharply advised to shut up.

After the pressure on his neck was a little relieved, Jack twisted round
enough to see that his captors were all masked.

"What is this game, boys--a hold-up?" he asked.

"Yes. A hold-up of a hold-up," answered one.

Three of the men busied themselves moving the ore sacks from his wagon
to another that had been driven out of the brush. A fourth, whom he
judged to be Bleyer, was directing operations, while the fifth menaced
him with a revolver shoved against the small of his back.

The situation would have been a serious one--if it had not happened to
be amusing instead. Kilmeny wanted to laugh at the bustling energy of
the men, but restrained himself out of respect for what was expected of
him.

"I'll have the law on you fellows," he threatened, living up to the
situation. "You'd look fine behind the bars, Bleyer."

"All those sacks transferred yet, Tim?" barked the superintendent.

"Yep."

"Good. Hit the trail."

The wagon passed out of the draw toward Goldbanks. For some minutes the
sound of the wheels grinding against the disintegrated granite of the
roadbed came back to Jack and the two guards who remained with him.

"Hope this will be a lesson to you," said the superintendent presently.
"Better take warning. Next time you'll go to the pen sure."

"Wait till I get you into court, Bleyer."

"What'll you do there?" jeered the other man. "You'd have a heluvatime
swearing to him and making it stick. You're sewed up tight this time,
Jack."

"Am I? Bet you a new hat that by this time to-morrow night you fellows
won't be cracking your lips laughing."

"Take you. Just order the hat left at Goldstein's for the man who calls
for it."

For an hour by the superintendent's watch Kilmeny was held under guard.
Then, after warning the highgrader not to return to town before
daybreak, the two men mounted and rode swiftly away. Jack was alone with
his mules and his empty wagon.

He restrained himself no longer. Mirth pealed in rich laughter from his
throat, doubled him up, shook him until he had to hang on to a wagon
wheel for support. At last he wiped tears from his eyes, climbed into
the wagon, and continued on the way to the Jack Pot. At intervals his
whoop of gayety rang out boyishly on the night breeze. Again he whistled
cheerfully. He was in the best of humor with himself and the world. For
he had played a pretty good joke on Bleyer and Verinder, one they would
appreciate at its full within a day or two. He would have given a good
deal to be present when they made a certain discovery. Would Moya smile
when Verinder told her how the tables had been turned? Or would she
think it merely another instance of his depravity?

The road wound up and down over scarred hillsides and through gorges
which cut into the range like sword clefts. From one of these it crept
up a stiff slope toward the Jack Pot. One hundred and fifty yards from
the mine Jack drew up to give the mules a rest.

His lips framed themselves to whistle the first bars of a popular song,
but the sound died stillborn. Sharply through the clear night air rang a
rifle shot.

Jack did not hear it. A bolt of jagged lightning seared through his
brain. The limp hands of the driver fell away from the reins and he fell
to the ground, crumpling as a dry leaf that is crushed in the palm.

From the shadow of the bunk-house two men stole into the moonlight
heavily like awkward beasts of prey. They crept stealthily forward,
rifles in hand, never once lifting their eyes from the huddled mass
beside the wagon.

The first looked stolidly down upon the white face and kicked the body
with his heavy boot.

"By Goad, Dave, us be quits wi' Jack Kilmeny."

The other--it was Peale, the Cornish miner--had stepped on a spoke of
the wheel and pulled himself up so that he could look down into the bed
of the wagon. Now he broke out with an oath.

"The wagon's empty."

"What!" Trefoyle straightened instantly, then ran to see for himself.
For a moment he could not speak for the rage that surged up in him. "The
dommed robber has made fool of us'n," he cried savagely.

In their fury they were like barbarians, cursing impotently the man
lying with a white face shining in the moonlight. They had expected to
pay a debt of vengeance and to win a fortune at the same stroke. The
latter they had missed. The disappointment of their loss stripped them
to stark primeval savagery. It was some time before they could exult in
their revenge.

"He'll interfere wi' us no more--not this side o' hell anyway," Peale
cried.

"Not he. An' we'll put him in a fine grave where he'll lie safe."

They threw the body into the wagon and climbed to the seat. Peale drove
along an unused road that deflected from the one running to the Jack
Pot.





Next: Mr Verinder Is Treated To A Surprise

Previous: A Warning



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