Chris Scott Wilson Writer
scanning the timber as men do when they've found something precious. It was as though now that he had discovered it someone would sneak up and steal it away.
By nature, Morgan Clay was a cautious man, and had proved so by attaining the age of forty-five in a country where many men barely made it past their youth. He watered the horses then led them into the belt of pines, away from the lure of the rock shelf. He found a small clearing to provide grazing for the animals, then stripped off their harness and hobbled them. He built a small fire near the base of a rangy pine so the branches would dissipate the thin smoke, and as he laboured he was aware of the dun and the bay greedily cropping the dewy mountain grass. He filled the coffee-pot and set it to simmer then rolled himself a smoke to aid his thinking.
He was sure he had crossed Sun Creek at that point on the mountainside before and he hadn't spotted the shelf. Why? Reasons tumbled through his mind and then a thought occurred to him. He dug out his ten gauge shotgun from his gear and set off back to Sun Creek.
Although Morgan was a fair hand at most things, he had never been much use with a rifle. He'd always blamed it on a poke in the left eye suffered as a boy when a half broke mustang had thrown him onto the corral rails then tried to stomp him. Only a ball from his father's gun had stopped the crazy horse, and it had stopped him good. Morgan had been covered from head to foot in the thick blood from the horse's jugular vein. When his ma had washed the gore off, he had a black eye that lasted for weeks. Since then he had always wasted more ammunition than enough and found the switch to a scattergun more economical, even though it meant he had to pick buckshot out of his teeth when he ate fresh meat. But that was little hardship when he was certain he could hit most targets he set his one good eye on.
Back at the creek he waded through the shallow water and followed the trail east. Two hundred feet into the pines he found another crossing, this time a dry creek bed. He paused and inspected the arrangement of trees. It looked familiar. This was the place he had crossed on his way up to the high country. The creek must have changed course recently. He began to walk up the dry wash, his legs pushing up the steep incline.
He was right. Not far up the mountainside he found where the original watercourse had run in a tight bend. Either the passage of time or a heavy storm had built up a network of dead branches against which soil had collected until an effective dam had blocked the natural downward flow. Back a little from the bend, the loose soil of the banks had burst and the creek had carved a new course down the mountain.
As he stood cradling his shotgun, Morgan could see the pressure of the teeming water during the storm had scooped out the crumbly earth, suspending the soil in the strong current, and in doing so would have exposed the rock shelf. It could only have happened in the last few days otherwise the water would have washed out part of the gold.
He smiled. All he had to do now was loosen the natural dam that had formed and rebuild the creek banks where they had burst and the water would again flow along the original course. As soon as the quartz shelf drained he would be able to chip out the gold with ease.
Leaving the dam, he picked his way back down among the pines and circled his campsite, coming into the clearing from the opposite side. The lineback dun raised his head on catching his master's scent, snickered softly, then returned to cropping the grass. Morgan
Double Mountain Crossing
“. . . his western books . . . earned critical praise all round . . .” - Middlesbrough Evening Gazette