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The Silver Canyon: A Tale of the Western Plains

George Manville Fenn

  Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

  The Silver Canyon, A Tale of the Western Plains, by George ManvilleFenn.


  This book is by an author who revels in putting his heroes into tenseand dangerous situations, and never more so than in the Western plainsof North America in the middle of the nineteenth century. The Indianswere armed with rifles, and had immense prowess at creeping up unseenupon their enemies. In addition there are rattlesnakes, bears, andother nasty things.

  The young hero, Bart for short, is out there with his uncle, seeking fora new life. And they all but got the next life out of it! Afterenduring these and other privations, they find a massive rocky eminence,which they find to have a good lode of silver in it, one which had beenmined before, perhaps thousands of years before. It is also fairlydifficult to get up to the summit of this great hill, which makes iteasier to defend, but when you do get up there you find a large area ofgood grazing for their cattle and horses. So they make their homethere, but of course the Indian attacks continue right up to almost theend of the book.

  Though the mine had been worked before there was still plenty of goodore in it, so they start to mine it commercially.

  Eventually a railway is made up to the mine, thousands of workers settlethere, and our heroes are heard bemoaning that their way of life is nolonger as dangerous and thrilling as once it was. They'll just have toput up with the boredom, I'd say.





  "Well, Joses," said Dr Lascelles, "if you feel afraid, you had bettergo back to the city."

  There was a dead silence here, and the little party grouped aboutbetween a small umbrella-shaped tent and the dying embers of the fire,at which a meal of savoury antelope steaks had lately been cooked,carefully avoided glancing one at the other.

  Just inside the entrance of the tent, a pretty, slightly-made girl ofabout seventeen was seated, busily plying her needle in the repair ofsome rents in a pair of ornamented loose leather leggings that hadevidently been making acquaintance with some of the thorns of the ruggedland. She was very simply dressed, and, though wearing the high comband depending veil of a Spanish woman, her complexion, tanned is it was,and features, suggested that she was English, as did also the speech ofthe fine athletic middle-aged man who had just been speaking.

  His appearance, too, was decidedly Spanish, for he wore the short jacketwith embroidered sleeves, tight trousers--made very wide about the legand ankle-sash, and broad sombrero of the Mexican-Spanish inhabitant ofthe south-western regions of the great American continent.

  The man addressed was a swarthy-looking half-breed, who lay upon theparched earth, his brow rugged, his eyes half-closed, and lips poutedout in a surly, resentful way, as if he were just about to speak and saysomething nasty.

  Three more men of a similar type were lying beside and behind, allsmoking cigarettes, which from time to time they softly rolled up andlighted with a brand at the fire, as they seemed to listen to theconversation going on between the bronzed Englishman and him who hadbeen addressed as Joses.

  They were all half-breeds, and boasted of their English blood, butalways omitted to say anything about the Indian fluid that coursedthrough their veins; while they followed neither the fashion ofEnglishman nor Indian in costume, but, like the first speaker, weredressed as Spaniards, each also wearing a handkerchief of bright colourtied round his head and beneath his soft hat, just as if a wound hadbeen received, with a long showy blanket depending from the shoulder,and upon which they now half lay.

  There was another present, however, also an anxious watcher of thescene, and that was a well-built youth of about the same age as thegirl. For the last five minutes he had been busily cleaning his rifleand oiling the lock; and this task done, he let the weapon rest with itsbutt upon the rocky earth, its sling-strap hanging loose, and its muzzlelying in his hand as he leaned against a rock and looked sharply fromface to face, waiting to hear the result of the conversation.

  His appearance was different to that of his companions, for he wore aclosely fitting tunic and loose breeches of what at the first glanceseemed to be dark tan-coloured velvet, but a second look showed to bevery soft, well-prepared deerskin; stout gaiters of a hard leatherprotected his legs; a belt, looped so as to form a cartridge-holder, anda natty little felt hat, completed his costume.

  Like the half-breeds, he wore a formidable knife in his belt, while ontheir part each had near him a rifle.

  "Well," said the speaker, after a long pause, "you do not speak; I say,are you afraid?"

  "I dunno, master," said the man addressed. "I don't feel afraid now,but if a lot of Injuns come whooping and swooping down upon us fullgallop, I dessay I should feel a bit queer."

  There was a growl of acquiescence here from the other men, and the firstspeaker went on.

  "Well," he said, "let us understand our position at once. I wouldrather go on alone than with men I could not trust."

  "Always did trust us, master," said the man surlily.

  "Allays," said the one nearest to him, a swarthier, more surly, andfiercer-looking fellow than his companion.

  "I always did, Joses; I always did, Juan; and you too, Harry and Sam,"said the first speaker. "I was always proud of the way in which myranche was protected and my cattle cared for."

  "We could not help the Injuns stampeding the lot, master, time aftertime."

  "And ruining me at last, my lads? No; it was no fault of yours. Isuppose it was my own."

  "No, master, it was setting up so close to the hunting-grounds, and theInjun being so near."

  "Ah well, we need not consider how all that came to pass, my lads: weknow they ruined me."

  "And you never killed one o' them for it, master," growled Joses.

  "Nor wished to, my lad. They did not take our lives."

  "But they would if they could have broken in and burnt us out, master,"growled Joses.

  "Perhaps so; well, let us understand one another. Are you afraid?"

  "Suppose we all are, master," said the man.

  "And you want to go back?"

  "No, not one of us, master."

  Here there was a growl of satisfaction.

  "But you object to going forward, my men?"

  "Well, you see it's like this, master: the boys here all want to workfor you, and young Master Bart, and Miss Maude there; but they think youought to go where it's safe-like, and not where we're 'most sure to betortured and scalped. There's lots o' places where the whites are inplenty."

  "And where every gully and mountain has been ransacked for metals, mylad. I want to go where white men have never been before, and searchthe mountains there."

  "For gold and silver and that sort of thing, master?"

  "Yes, my lads."

  "All right, master; then we suppose you must go."

  "And you will go back because it is dangerous?"

  "I never said such a word, master. I only said it warn't safe."

  "And for answer to that, Joses, I say that, danger or no danger, I musttry and make up for my past losses by some good venture in one of theseunknown regions. Now then, have you made up your minds? If not, makethem up quickly, and let me know what you mean to do."

  Joses did not turn round to his companions, whose spokesman he was, butsaid quietly, as he rolled up a fresh cigarette:

  "Mind's made up, master."

  "And you wil
l go back?"

  "Yes, master."

  "All of you?"

  "All of us, master," said Joses slowly. "When you do," he added after apause.

  "I knew he would say that, sir," cried the youth who had been looking onand listening attentively; "I knew Joses would not leave us, nor any ofthe others."

  "Stop a moment," interposed the first speaker. "What about yourcompanions, my lad?"

  "What, them?" said Joses quietly. "Why, they do as I do."

  "Are you sure?"

  "Course I am, master. They told me what to do."

  "Then thank you, my lad. I felt and knew I could trust you. Believeme, I will take you into no greater danger than I can help; but we mustbe a little venturesome in penetrating into new lands, and the Indiansmay not prove our enemies after all."

  "Ha, ha, ha! Haw, haw, haw, haw!" laughed Joses hoarsely. "You waitand see, master. They stampeded your cattle when you had any. Now lookout or they'll stampede you."

  "Well, we'll risk it," said the other. "Now let's be ready for anydanger that comes. Saddle the horses, and tether them close to thewaggon. I will have the first watch to-night; you take the second,Joses; and you, Bart, take the third. Get to sleep early, my lads, forI want to be off before sunrise in the morning."

  The men nodded their willingness to obey orders, and soon after all werehushed in sleep, the ever-wakeful stars only looking down upon one erectfigure, and that was the form of Dr Lascelles, as he stood near thefaintly glowing fire, leaning upon his rifle, and listening intently forthe faintest sound of danger that might be on its way to work them harm.