This second book in William W. Johnstone's classic Preacher series finds Preacher leading a wagon train of settlers into the Rockies--and through dangerous territory. Trapped on the Continental Divide by a blinding snowstorm, Preacher must fend off the gunfire of the wicked Pardee gang, and a band of marauding Utes.
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The First Mountain Man
Blood on the Divide
By William W. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 1992 William W. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Put your faith in God, my boys and keep your powder dry.
Preacher had been smelling smoke for a couple of days, and when the plumes finally came into view, he had steeled his mind and stomach to the horrible sight of dead and mutilated and tortured bodies of men and women and children.
Too damn many people in their wagon trains trying to move west and getting themselves ambushed by hostiles. "This land ain't ready for settlers," Preacher muttered, as he rode up toward the crest of a ridge. "Why in the hell don't people see that?"
He topped the ridge and stared in utter disbelief. No burning wagons here. No tortured and savaged bodies. He couldn't believe his eyes. It was a damn settlement. A diddly-damned settlement right in the middle of nowhere. He counted the houses. Five houses and a big, long log building that was probably some sort of community meetin' house that also served as church and schoolhouse.
Preacher had seen some white folks just last week, and now he'd run up on some more. The wilderness was fillin' up faster than a city. Why in the hell didn't people stay to home?
Preacher stayed just inside the stand of timber on the ridge and thought that if this kept up, in two, three more years they'd be a damn road all the way from New York State to the blue of the Pacific. Women a-flappin' their dress tails and shakin' their bustles and a-battin' their eyes and doin' all them other strange things that women is prone to do when a man is around, and they'd have hoards of squallin' kids a-runnin' around and farmers cuttin' up the land and growin' things. And the Injuns would get all riled up and go on the warpath and they'd be graveyards fillin' up faster than who'd a thunk it.
Pitiful. Made Preacher sick to his stomach just thinking about it.
"Horse," he said to Hammer, "do we want to go down yonder and listen to a whole passel of nonsense out of the mouths of them pilgrims?"
Hammer swung his head around and gave Preacher a very dirty look. Hammer didn't like people no more than Preacher did. Although neither man nor beast disliked humans as much as he let on.
Preacher swung down from the saddle and stretched, then squatted down on the ground, eyeballing the settlement from his position on the ridge. He had to admit, though, that somebody among the movers had them an eye for land and had picked them a right nice spot to light. There was a pretty little creek runnin' soft and sweet nearby, with stands of cottonwood and willow and oak and elm dotted all about. Preacher guessed that Fort William was about forty miles away. He'd been figurin' on meetin' up with some ol' boys there and gettin' drunk and tellin' lies and dancin' and shootin' and lots of other good stuff.
But this totally unexpected sight had shaken him right down to his moccasins. He couldn't figure just what the hell these folks was doin' out here. The summers were hotter than the fringes of hell and the winters were brutal. This wasn't crop land. Preacher figured those folks down yonder could raise kids, but that was about it.
"Just ride on around these crazy folks," Preacher muttered. "Leave them be. 'Cause if you ride down yonder, they gonna be askin' your opinion on matters and wantin' you to stay and hep out and they'll be some white woman, sure as hell, without no man, and she'll be sashayin' around a-winkin' and a-gigglin' and a-wigglin' this and that and knowin' you, boy, you'll be trapped down there for the winter." Which was a long way off, since it was early spring.
The mountain man called Preacher shook himself like a big dog and stared down at the settlement. It was either '38 or '39 — he wasn't sure. So that made him about thirty-five or thirty-six — he wasn't sure about that either. Close enough.
There was a grimness on his tanned face as he stared at the homes below him. He could just about predict with deadly accuracy what was going to happen to them folks down yonder. And that was something he didn't like to think about because of the kids. Preacher rubbed his smoothly shaven face. He'd shaved his beard off, leaving only a moustache. This time of year fleas tended to gather in a woolly beard.
Preacher had gotten shut of people last fall, leaving them over to Fort Vancouver. Missionary types, come to spread the good word to the savages. He'd spent a quiet and peaceful winter holed up in a favorite cabin of his and he was in no mood to put up with another bunch of silly pilgrims who should have stayed back in Pennsylvania or New York or wherever the hell they came from.
Movement caught Preacher's eyes and he shifted his gaze without moving his head. Hammer's head came up and his ears were pricked. "Steady, ol' hoss," Preacher said. "They ain't Injuns, but I 'spect they ain't up to no good. Not the way they're movin' so quiet like."
The half dozen riders were approaching the settlement from the northeast, keeping the line of trees along the creek between the buildings and themselves. And taking great pains to do that, too, Preacher noted.
The buckskin-clad mountain man remained where he was, watching the valley below him. Pretty little valley it was, too. The settlers had them plowed-up gardens about to sprout, and milk cows and goats and chickens and the like. Sure looked to Preacher like they'd come to stay. During the time he'd squatted on the knoll, he had counted five growed-up men, eight filled-out females, four good-sized teenagers, and what looked to be a whole tribe of kids. Two of the women were ample ladies. Didn't appear to Preacher that none of them folks down yonder had ever missed a meal; but them two ladies in particular would near about take a whole bolt of cloth to make just one of them a dress. Well ... not quite, but close. Howsomever, ample ladies cold keep a man warm in the winter and cool in the summer. They give off lots of shade.
Preacher leaned against his Hawken rifle and watched as the half dozen riders reined up, still hiding behind the line of trees, and dismounted, just like if anyone was watching', it would appear that they was gonna have them a drink and a rest by the creek. But Preacher didn't believe that for a second.
"They ain't up to no good, Hammer," he said. Then with a sigh, he stood up and stepped into the saddle, taking up the lead of his packhorse. Staying in the timber, Preacher angled around and headed toward the creek. When he reached the banks, he cut north and headed into the cottonwoods and stopped. He was curious as to what the suspicious-acting riders were up to. But he thought he had him a pretty good hunch. Preacher was close enough to the settlement to hear the sounds of children playing and the laughter of a woman. He could also smell bread that was fresh baked. Got his mouth to watering, for he was mighty low on supplies. He could just about taste hot bread all smeared with butter and a tall glass of milk from the coolness of the well ledge.
"Well, hell, Hammer," he said as he moved his horse out of the trees and toward the cabins. "Might as well go on up and be sociable. I ain't forgot all my upbringin'."
The riders had moved out of the trees. "If they was decent folks, Hammer, they'd have already made their presence known, so I got to figure they ain't nothin' but a pack of highwaymen who run out of highways back East and come out here to rob and kill. I reckon we'll see about that in a short enough time."
Preacher sat his saddle and waited. He had him a hunch the riders would pretty soon ride on into the settlement, all smiles and howdy-do's, and then when the settlers was unexpected of it, they'd jump them.
Then it came to him. Six riders. The Pardee brothers. Sure. That pack of no-counts from Ohio. Least that's where they claimed to have been whelped. Preacher wasn't sure about that. The Pardee brothers was so sorry, he doubted any woman would have the nerve to lay claim to them.
He heard their ponies splash across the creek, and leaving his packhorse in the trees, Preacher rode Hammer straight up into the clearing on the knoll, arriving a couple of minutes before the Pardees could make it. Men and women and kids all rushed up to meet him. Once they saw he wasn't an Indian. Preacher noticed with some degree of satisfaction that the men were all armed. That meant they wasn't all totally ignorant.
"You got a bunch of scalawags ridin' up here, folks. Don't trust 'em and don't present your backs to 'em. I think it's the Pardee brothers. And them's the sorriest pack of white trash that ever sat a saddle on a stole horse."
The children all stared wide-eyed at Preacher. They had probably never seen a mountain man before, for if that breed of man did not wish to be seen, he wasn't. Preacher's old black hat was battered and had a musket-ball hole in it. He was dressed all in buckskins and wore high-top leggin's. Behind the sash around his lean waist were two .50 caliber pistols. On holsters attached to the saddle were two more pistols of like kind. He carried one of the biggest knives any of the children — or the adults — had ever seen. It had been hand made for him by a top knife maker in New Orleans. The scabbard for the razor-sharp blade was beaded and very elaborate.
"Riders coming, Pa," a boy who looked to be about fifteen said.
"Yep," Preacher said, twisting in the saddle and eyeballing the riders. "It's them damn worthless Pardees all right. Do anyone here know what year it might be?"
"It's 1838, friend," a man said.
"I was close," Preacher muttered.
"Hallo the settlement!" came the call from down on the flats. "We're friendly and white."
"Just like I figured," Preacher said. "They comin' in all smiles and grins, and when they get you to trust them, they'll cut your throats and have their way with the women." He looked at several girls, ten or eleven years old. "And with them, too. Don't doubt it none."
"Why should we believe you?" a haughty-sounding lady asked. One of the ample ones.
"Ain't no reason to," Preacher told her. "'Ceptin' I'm known from Missouri to Oregon as a man of my word." He swung down from the saddle, Hawken in hand, and flipped the reins to a youngster. "Stable him safe 'fore the shootin' starts. If it starts. And be careful. He bites and kicks." He faced the line of approaching riders. "Malachi Pardee!" he shouted. "Hold it right there, you snakehead."
The riders abruptly stopped. "Who you be, friend?" the call came from the line.
"I damn shore ain't your friend, Malachi," Preacher called. "You or none of them damn worthless brothers of yours. Now you hear me, Malachi, you'll not snollygoster these good folks like you done them poor movers up on the Paintrock."
"I don't know what you mean, friend!" Malachi called, standing up in the stirrups, trying to see who was hurling the insults at him.
Movement down by the creek caught Preacher's attention. "All your people gathered here?"
"Yes, sir," a woman said. "Why?"
"More of 'em down by the crick. I heard that Malachi had him a regular gang now. All the petticoats and kids in the buildings. You men see to your families. Move. I think we're only minutes, maybe seconds from bein' attacked. If they're stupid, that is. And they is."
"They all appear to be nothing more than harmless vagabonds to me," the haughty, ample lady said.
Preacher looked at her. Or as much of her as he could in one settin'. "Lady, you best get movin'. As much as you got to tote around, you're gonna be the last one in the house anyways."
She huffed up. "Well! I never!"
Preacher let that alone ... with an effort on his part. "Move, people."
"It's that damn meddlin' Preacher!" one of the Pardees hollered. "Where in the hell did he come from? I thought he'd be down at the rendezvous."
The line of men and women and kids stopped suddenly and slowly turned around. Everybody from St. Louis to Vancouver knew that name. "The mountain man ... Preacher?" a man questioned.
"I been called that. Get in the buildin's, damnit!"
"Pa," a boy said. "He's famous."
"And vulgar," the ample lady said. "Besides being an uncouth ignoramus."
One of the Pardee brothers let loose a ball that whined wickedly close to the lady. She let out a squall, jerked her dress up past her knees, and went up the grade like a buffalo headin' toward a wallow. Whoopin' and hollerin' and huffin' all the way up. She was the first one inside the big building.
Preacher ducked down and took shelter behind one of the wells the men had dug. "Stay in the stable, lad," he called to the boy tending to Hammer. "If you can shoot, they's a brace of pistols on the saddle."
"At a man?" the teenager questioned.
"Forget it," Preacher said. He eared back the hammer on his Hawken. "Pilgrims," he muttered. "They gonna be the death of me yet."
But the one shot appeared to be all the Pardees wanted to give this time around. They had lost the element of surprise and they hadn't counted on Preacher being anywhere within five hundred miles of the settlement. Preacher listened to the splash across the creek, then he ran up the slope to the flats where the buildings were located and climbed up on the sod roof of a cabin. He stood and watched the Pardees link up with half a dozen more men and ride off.
"Scum and trash," he muttered darkly, hopping down to the ground.
A settler came out of the community building and stood by Preacher. "They'll be back, won't they?"
"More than likely. You got food, clothin', possessions, and fair females. Yeah, they'll be back. You men stand ready. You had any problems with the Injuns?"
"A bit. But once they saw we would fight, they left us alone."
Preacher grunted as the others gathered around. "That didn't have nothin' to do with it, pilgrim. Injuns is notional folks. They might have taken a likin' to you. They do that sometimes. Maybe on that day they felt their medicine was bad. But out here in the Big Empty, you always stay ready for a fight with the Injuns. More and more people comin' out here is really gonna stir 'em up. This is Cheyenne and Arapaho country mostly. But at one time or another, you'll have bands from a dozen tribes wanderin' through. Any of them can and will lift your hair. Exceptin' maybe the Crow. They'll just steal your horses, usually. How long you folks been here?"
"We arrived last summer and just managed to get our homes built before the winter came. I'm Robbie MacGreagor and this is my wife, Coretine."
"Pleased, I'm shore. I'm Preacher. Y'all got anything to eat?"
* * *
The children sat on the floor and watched in awe as Preacher ate. They had never seen anybody his size eat so much. When he was through, he belched loudly and wiped the grease from his hands onto his buckskins. "Helps keep 'em soft and waterproofs 'em, too. You ever get invited to eat in an Injun camp, you be sure and belch like I done when you're finished grubbin'. If you don't, the Injuns'll think you don't like what they served you and be offended."
"Where is your home, Mr. Preacher?" a lady who had been introduced as Rosanna asked. She was married to a Millard somebody or other.
"Just Preacher, missy. My home? Anywhere I want it to be, I reckon. I left my folks' home back East when I was just a tadpole. Twelve, I think I was. I been out in the wilderness near 'bout all my life. Why'd you folks come out here?"
"To settle the new land," a man called Efrem said. His wife was the lady who bore a striking resemblance to a buffalo. Maddie did not like Preacher and made no attempt to hide her feelings. They had four kids — two boys, two girls. Fortunately, they took after their father.
"It's too soon, folks," Preacher tried to caution them. "Besides, this ain't farming country."
"Oh, but I beg to differ," Efrem said. "I think it is. We shall certainly see, won't we?"
"You might, I won't."
A man who was named Gerald Twiggs opened his mouth to speak. A young girl of no more than three or four who was standing in the open doorway said, "Daddy? There are a whole bunch of wild red Indians in the front yard."CHAPTER 2
"Easy!" Preacher said sharply as everyone reached for weapons. "If they'd wanted us dead, we would be. Just stand quiet and ready." He walked to the open door and stood there looking at the dozen or so Cheyenne who had silently walked their ponies up the slope and onto the flat of the settlement. Preacher breathed easier. He knew the subchief leading this band. "Lone Man moves as silently as ever." Preacher spoke the words in Cheyenne as he made the sign of peace. "It is good to see that he is too great a warrior to make war against women, children, and peace-seeking men."
A smile flitted across the Cheyenne's face. He grunted and spoke in rapid-fire Cheyenne. What he said, loosely translated, was that while Preacher was still as full of buffalo turds as ever, it was good to see him.
Excerpted from The First Mountain Man by William W. Johnstone. Copyright © 1992 William W. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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