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The Battle of Busted Thumb Creek by T.J. Spears

© T.J. Spears

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The Battle of Busted Thumb Creek

*(Eldorado County, California, 1871. Nat Hopper, Murch and Lafeet set out early one morning to rescue their friend Wang who has been virtually abducted by unscrupulous gold prospectors working a claim illegally.)*

Lafeet was waiting for us a little way along the Carson Road at dawn. When we drew up alongside and saw the revolver on his belt and the rifle in the saddle bucket Murch looked a little shaken. He said, “I hope we can achieve our purpose without recourse to firearms.”

Lafeet grinned. “We ain’t settin’ out to kill no-one, Murch.” He patted the bucket. “If we use them firearms right then everybody lives to see another sunrise. Ain’t you brought your own cannon?”

I reached into my saddle wallet and brought out Murch’s old Walker. “Got Murch’s pistol right here.” I passed it across to Murch. “Five chambers loaded and capped.”

Murch took it and turned it over as if he had never seen a firearm before and didn’t quite know whether it played a tune or was generally employed for hammering in nails.

“Stick it in your belt for now, Murch,” said Lafeet. “Chances are you won’t need to use it. I got a better plan for you.”

We rode a couple of miles and then turned on to the mule trail. By and by Lafeet called a halt and dismounted. He pointed to a tree on a slope about eighty yards distant. “Can you see something white on that lone pine tree?”

The sun was coming up behind me but I could only just make a out a light smudge against the bark.

“White and red,” said Murch. “Is it a card from the devil’s book?”

“Ace of diamonds,” said Lafeet. “I pinned it up yesterday. D’ye think you can put a ball through it?”

Murch shook his head. “Too far away.”

Lafeet reached up and slid his rifle out of the bucket. “Reckon you could with this. Lie down there and I’ll show you how to use it.”

“Lafeet I am coming with you and Nat to help rescue Wang. I have no intention to fire on a fellow human being. Your lesson will be pointless.”

Lafeet was adjusting the sight and cocking the weapon. “Murch, if you use this tool right there ain’t nobody goin’ to be hurt, and you’ll be doing Wang a big favor. Mebbe even save his life. Now ain’t that worth doing? Nat,you take the reins of them horses in case they take off at the shot.”

With a little more persuasion Murch settled himself down on the grass bank by the trail and Lafeet continued his instruction. “It ain’t just point and shoot and hope for the best like your old pistol. No, with this weapon you lay down if you can and take it slow. You line up that playing card in the sights there until you’re steady on it. Then let your breath out and squeeze on the trigger.” He stepped back. I watched the little tremor on the barrel fall still and Murch’s breathing slow. Then the rifle roared and the horses started and bucked. Murch looked up inquiringly through the powder smoke as the report echoed round the low hills.

“We’ll see how you done in a minute, Murch. Roll over on your left side a little. Now push that lever forward and bring it back.” The spent cartridge popped out of the breech and Lafeet pocketed it. “You can’t see it but you got another ball in there all ready to go. Take another shot.”

Murch fired twice more and then handed the piece back to Lafeet. “Now we’ll see where these balls went,” said Lafeet and began to push through the underbrush to the pine tree. “Tie off the horses, Nat and come with us.”

The ace of diamonds was hanging loosely off the tree. Lafeet took it off and held it up. It had been penetrated twice. The torn bark showed where the two balls had buried themselves behind the card. He held the card in its original position. Half an inch to one side was another hole where the third ball had struck. “Guess you win the China Doll, mon brave.”

“The China Doll?” said Murch.

“Shootin’ gallery prize. Ain’t you ever seen a shootin’ stall at a fairground?“

Murch looked blank. Lafeet stared at Murch in disbelief and then he shook his head and said,“No, I guess maybe you never been to a fair. What I’m saying, boy, is that is high class shootin’. I allow I couldn’t do that from half the distance and I’ll wager that Nat Hopper couldn’t neither.”

“Don’t believe I could,” I said. “Didn’t I tell you Murch is the best shot I ever did see though he don’t care to even handle a weapon.”

Lafeet patted Murch on the back. “If you can shoot as good as that with this rifle up at Busted Thumb then ain’t nobody goin’ to get hurt.”

Murch said nothing but set off back through the brush towards the trail and we followed.

Back at the horses Lafeet put three shiny new cartridges into the weapon and pushed it back into the leather bucket and headed off. Murch still didn’t look too happy as he mounted up. I caught his rein and held him back a moment.

“Lafeet knows how you feel, Murch. I believe he won’t ask you to fire on the blaggards.”

“I wouldn’t do it if he did ask. Let us just see what he plans to do.”

Maybe half a mile from the claim Lafeet turned off the narrow trail and led us into a grassy glade “I scouted out this spot yesterda
y. We leave the horses here and we move on quietly on foot.”
In fifteen minutes we were lying concealed in the brush at the spot where Eva and I had stopped to look down on the camp. The low angled morning light poured through the pines and lit up the cleared area round the claim and reflected off the creek beyond. The blond ruffian and his partner, Slicker Man, were working over at the sluice. Below us the bearded watchman was sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree facing the trail with his rifle propped up beside him. A leather canteen hung from a convenient branch and, as we watched, he took it down and tipped water over his head and soaked his hair. Then he took a long draft from the spout and looped the canteen over the branch again. Lafeet spoke in a low whisper.“Guess he’s kinda dry this morning. I’ll wager he has the mal aux cheveaux. Too much passing round of whiskey last night.” He pointed to a gallon stoneware jug placed close by the rifle. “Surprised he ain’t uncorked it yet pour tuer le ver. Fur of the dog, you say.”

“Hair of the dog,” I said.

Just then Wang appeared from beyond the spoil pile with a barrow full of gravel and sand. He’d bound his feet in scraps of canvas and limped pitifully.

“Les fils de salope ain’t got heart enough to let him work in his brogans,” muttered Lafeet. I felt Murch lying close beside me shudder as he watched his friend struggle to push the barrow up the plank that led to the high end of the sluice. Neither of the two men picking through the washed gravel made to help him, or even raised their eyes as he strained to tip the pay-dirt into the flume.

“See now why we had to come, Murch?” I whispered, “Work of necessity and mercy.”

Lafeet began to wriggle back from our viewpoint and indicated that we should do the same.

Crouching down on the far side of the trail he spoke in a low voice. “This is our plan. Murch, you’re going to stay up here with the rifle. Your job is to keep the ugly barbu up here, not joining up with the other two. You shoot first at his gun. One ball in his gun can make it useless. You think you can hit it, you?”

Murch shrugged but didn’t deny he could. In truth it was an easier target than the playing card he’d struck twice from further off. Lafeet passed Murch his rifle. “Fifteen balls in this. You remember how to bring each one ready to fire? Push forward, pull back, old cartridge jumps out. Then is ready to shoot.” Lafeet fished a good handful of brass cartridges from his pocket and gave them to Murch. “Fifteen bullets probably enough but after ten shots you load again. Don’t wait till gun is empty. Bullets go in this side here.” He took the gun and ejected two shells and showed Murch how to load it. “Now you do it.” Murch’s nimble fingers slipped in the shell. Lafeet pointed to the rear sight. “Don’t move this, not even a little knock. Is set right for that distance. Sixty yards.”

Murch nodded.

“Fine, you learn quick. You aim for the wooden part of the big barbu’s rifle. Bigger target.”

“Why does Murch have to open fire? Can’t we just sneak up and hold the guns on them till we get Wang clear? There’s only three of them. We could surprise them.”

“Think, Nat Hopper. Maybe all three are killers. You ain’t, Murch ain’t, so we have to use our brains, we. The barbu is sitting there, half awake, pain in head, sick in belly. Bang! His rifle jumps in air, maybe in two pieces. What will the mec do? What would you do, Nat?”

“When I got my senses back I’d dive for cover, save my skin.”
“Exactement. Nearest cover is behind the tree he’s sitting on. Maybe he reaches for rifle. See if still shoots. Murch shoots again. Makes him keep down behind tree. Or maybe he’s brave or stupid and runs for the trees, or to fetch another rifle from tents?” He pointed a finger at Murch. “Any where he runs you shoot something close. Tells him very bad idea to go there. Best for him to stay low behind tree. No need to shoot him dead.” Lafeet grinned. “Maybe shoot his leg. Teach him a good lesson.”

“I have no wish to hurt the man.”

“Then shoot well to tell him to keep his head down.”

“What do I do, Lafeet?”

“Nat, you come with me. We goin’ to cross the creek down stream. Then we wait in those rocks on the other side. When Murch begins shooting you grab Wang and help him load his mules with his possibles. Me, I look after the men at the sluice.”

“You aren’t going to kill them?” said Murch.

“Same as you. I keep them from fighting us. Then I do something to make sure they don’t chase after us.”

I let that ‘something’ stick to the wall for the moment, though I guessed Lafeet was being miserly with the truth about the violence he was prepared to unleash if needs must.

“When do I start shooting?” asked Murch. “How will I know you are in the right place?”

“You see that big rock on the other side. One shaped like a bear head? You watch that. Nat and I are going to cut round and get in behind it. When we want you to begin I’m goin’ to push a small pine bough up over it. After you see that you begin, but choose when time is best for you. No hurry, shoot careful. You understand, you?”

“I know what you want me to do, if that’s what you mean. Keep the man with the beard away from what you and Murch are doing.”

“Exactement, you got it. We all ready now.” Lafeet was grinning with pleasure. I do believe he would have been sorely disappointed if Wang had come strolling up to where we lay with a poke of nuggets and a letter of apology from the rogues who’d shanghaied him.

Murch pulled his pistol from his belt and offered it to Lafeet. “I will not need this.”

“You keep. I got this one.” He drew a pistol from his holster. “Army Model 3. Much better. Got it in Fraser’s hardware yesterday.”

Murch returned his own pistol to his belt. “Two more questions, Lafeet. How will I know you have managed to get Wang away, and how long do I need to stay here after that?”

“We’ll bring Wang up this path to the trail. Then you give me the rifle and light out for the horses. I will stay here a few minutes, keep the connards’ heads down. Good plan, hein?”

Well, I sure couldn’t think of a better one and I don’t believe Murch could either so I said, “Let’s get on with it, Napoleon”.

Lafeet laughed. “Le petit caporal! C’est moi. Remember, wait until pine branch goes up behind the boulder. Then you begin to shoot.”

Murch was pale but he nodded. I squeezed his arm. “Don’t plug us, Murch, we’re the good eggs remember.”

We watched as he squirmed his way across the trail and settled himself comfortably and then we headed back the way we’d come. After a couple of hundred yards we left the trail and made our way quietly down through the pines to the valley bottom. Where we came out the creek wasn’t more than three yards wide so we forded it pretty easy. Lafeet cut a pine bough and then we began creeping upstream towards the jumble of boulders opposite the claim. Soon enough we could hear the scrape and clatter of Wang’s shovel on the gravel on the other side where the current slowed down considerable. Lafeet turned to me, eyes shining with excitement and whispered. “That one - the bear rock. Allez.” We slid and crawled through the boulders and in a moment lay on the shingle behind the rock. “When he fires you run across the creek and grab Wang. I’ll draw down on the scalliwags at the sluice. Give you plenty time to get Wang and his possibles together.” He peered round the boulder. “Nobody looking this way.” He slowly raised the branch above the boulder. Then we waited and watched.

Across the creek Wang laid down his shovel and stepped between the shafts of his barrow. His small body leaned forward into the load, and with a mighty effort he rolled the barrow up the bank towards the sluice.

I sensed Lafeet tense beside me. “Putain, J’ai fait un gros betise. Je suis con.’

He saw I hadn’t understood. He frowned and said, “If Murch shoots now be more difficult for you to get to Wang. I should have told him wait till Wang is below creek bank, je suis con, moi!’

“Could be he’ll figure that out for himself.”

“Bad planning. I should have -”

Then three things happened at once. The crash of Murch’s shot, a puff of smoke from the trail and the sentry’s rifle jerked and toppled behind the tree. For a long second that was all. The bearded man seemed frozen where he sat. Then he rolled behind the widest part of the tree trunk and began shouting at the men at the sluice. They were gazing around wildly. Slicker Man pointed at the thinning powder smoke on the trail and they both dived behind the sluice. There was another report and the sentry’s whiskey crock exploded into a hundred shards.

Wang still stood poised at the top of the sluice ramp. At the sound of the second shot he swerved his barrow off the plank right on to the back of Slicker Man crouching below. Then he leapt down and limped towards the pines where the mules were tethered.

Lafeet was already splashing through the creek shouting for me to follow. I stumbled as the current dragged at my legs but gained the opposite bank without falling. The bearded thug sheltering behind the tree had seen us splashing through the water but his warning shouts were unheeded by the sluice workers. Slicker Man seemed winded and unable to rise from where he had collapsed under the weight of Wang’s loaded barrow. The other hoodlum had drawn a pistol and he was now emptying it in the direction of the fleeing Wang.

Lafeet was up to him, swinging his pistol like a club, before the man was aware of our wild charge. The blow took him on the temple and he fell face down in the puddles beside the sluice. Lafeet picked up his gun and threw it into the creek.

“Go get, Wang and his mules and whatever he wants to take with him,” he shouted. “I’ll keep these fils de pute here.”

I found I had drawn my pistol in the excitement. Now I put it back in my belt and ran to where Wang was hiding among the panicked horses.

“Mr. Hopper, how you come here?” He was trembling with shock.

“We can talk about that after. Unhitch your mules and we’ll get your things.”

“All things under brown tarp. Pack saddles too.”

It didn’t take but a minute to separate his mules from the spooked horses and we walked them calm enough across the claim. Lafeet was now sitting on the overturned barrow unwrapping a small stogie. The man he had felled with his pistol butt was recovering his senses enough to struggle to a sitting position and cuss. Lafeet rose very cool and leveled his revolver at the man, “Lay yourself face down, blondasse, and mind yer manners.” The man swore again but did as he was told. Lafeet sparked up a lucifer with his thumbnail, lit his smoke and puffed with relish. “Morning, Wang,” he said as we passed, “Figured you might be inclined to retire from the gold prospecting business.”

“Thank you Mr. Lafeet. Not good men these. Very cruel.”

“Hear that, fella?” Lafeet picked up a rock and threw it at the head of Slicker Man who was trying to drag himself out from under the sluice. “My good friend Wang, ain’t happy with the working conditions in this here enterprise. Now you two fellas just lay still there and quit cussin’ while he collects his possibles. If you ain’t good little boys I’m going to tell to him fetch his bluntest cleaver and use it to cut off your talleywhackers.”

Wang was shaking his head. Lafeet winked at him. “Off you go Wang. Get your things. I’ll keep company to these gentlemen.”

The old brown tarp tented over a rope between two pines was store, cook tent and Wang’s sleeping quarters. He pointed to the chain and padlock on his blanket. “Night they chain my legs. Can’t run away.” He began to collect his belongings and I loaded them any old way on to his mule panniers. From time to time up by the trail Murch’s rifle cracked to remind the bearded claim jumper to keep his head down.

“Reckon you’d better climb up on one of them mules, Wang. You can’t hardly walk.”

“After, walk first. Easier walk than work.” He made a barrow pushing motion with his hands. From the look of the blood seeping through his foot bindings I doubted if he could have done either for much longer, but he smiled and said, “Trouble finish now. Mister Lafeet good kind man.” He was a gritty little devil, Wang, ain’t nobody can deny that.

Lafeet called from the sluice. “You find the gold, boys?”

“We just got Wang’s goods. Didn’t see no gold.”

“They have gold, Wang?”

“Yes, Mr Lafeet, plenty gold everyday. Maybe more than four whiskey bottles full already.”

The blond man began to cuss Wang most foully.

“You got room in those panniers, Wang. Go fetch them bottles.”

“Sorry Mr.Lafeet. No seeing where gold hid.”

“We’ll have to ask your friends here,” said Lafeet. He dropped his half smoked cigar into the matted blond hair of his captive. The man yelped as it began to singe his scalp. “I beg your pardon, monsieur, so careless of me.” He leaned forward, cuffed the stogie away and pushed the man’s face into the mud. “Where did you hide the gold, salaud?”

The man twisted his head and swore horribly.

Lafeet caught him by his hair and said, “Ecoute bien, salope. If you don’t split I’m going to shoot your friend. Then if that don’t make you see sense I’m goin’ to shoot you too. After that we’ll find the gold at our leisure.”

The man tried to spit at Lafeet.
“I think that means he ain’t goin’ to tell, Nat. Hold your pistol on him while I shoot his partner. Put your foot on his neck there. If he moves an inch let him have it. Make sure the ball won’t kill him right away. Leave him enough breath to tell us where they’ve hid the gold.”

Slicker Man must have been still stunned, for I do believe if he had heard Lafeet’s words and the chilly way he spoke them he would have piped up mighty hasty and told us himself where the gold was hid. I’d always known that Lafeet was a wild character and had been caught up in some dreadful doings in the Comanche wars, but to see him crouched down with his pistol at the head of the dazed man shocked and sickened me, so that I almost neglected my duty in guarding the blond villain. Lafeet must have seen the horror on my face for he grinned and winked, laid his pistol barrel flat against Slicker Man’s ear and fired. The moans that escaped the poor man’s mouth would have softened the hardest heart for the report had surely exploded his eardrum. When the deafened man had fallen quiet, Lafeet said with horrible satisfaction, “Didn’t die easy but I reckon he won’t need another. You want to plug le blondasse, Nat, or will I do the honors?”

Quick as a flash the blond man babbled out, “Don’t neither of you need to shoot. The gold’s buried under Belcher’s blanket up by the fire shelter. The one nearest the fire pit.”

Lafeet flipped a shovel towards me with his foot. “You go and dig it up, Nat. I’ll socialize with le blondasse here.”

The prostrate man caught my ankle. “For God’s sake don’t go straight to it. Make it out you’re searchin’ the whole camp and just happen on it. If Belcher thinks I peached he’ll sure as hell kill me.”

Lafeet said, “We ain’t got time for boondoggling games, connard. Could be we’ll plug le barbu before we light out and you too. I’m kinda antsy to try this fancy new pistol out again so just you lay there peaceable in case you vex me.”

When Belcher saw Wang and I were heading for the bivouac he raised up a little and hollered wilder than ever at us. Mostly it was threats about the ghastly things he would do to us if we interfered with his possibles.Then Murch fired the rifle twice knocking chunks of bark from the tree trunk just above his head. That persuaded him to hunker down pretty sharp but he continued to hurl profanities at us.

Wang shivered a little but went straight to the bedroll that hogged prime position by the firepit and tossed it aside. “Take care, Mr Nat. Gold in bottles. No break them with shovel.” But I didn’t hardly need the shovel. There was a scant three inches of soft earth and pine needles under the blanket, and when I’d scraped it gently off there lay five bottles, mostly old whiskey fifths, all brown and green except for one pint flask of clear glass. I brushed away the clay that still stuck to the clear flask and held it up to the sun. I could see the dull glow of the gold dust and tiny nuggets that filled it to the neck. A pint flask full of gold! It must have weighed nearly ten pounds. Wang passed me one of the brown fifths and I nearly dropped it not expecting the dead weight.

“Bring ‘em all down here,” hollered Lafeet.

Between us we managed to carry the bottles down to where Lafeet leaned on the sluice and laid them down in front of him. “Hold your pistol on these salauds, Nat.” He stepped to the head of the sluice, hauled out the hose which was still spilling water on to the shingle, and turned the jet on the captives. “You fellas got yer senses back? Good sit up and listen.”

Shivering with cold and fear Blondy did as he was bid. He gave a mighty start when he saw Slicker Man struggle upright his hand pressed to his deafened ear.

“You lyin’ bastard!”

“I do declare I must have missed. Land sakes that ain’t good enough.” Lafeet shook his head sadly. “But ain’t ye pleased to see yer partner alive?”

Blondie spluttered and cursed but seemed hard put to find a suitable answer to that. Some way off, still cowering behind his fallen tree, Belcher quit his hollering, no doubt wondering what we aimed to do.

“Now, I calculate that Mr. Wang here did most of the labor, digging and hauling that dirt out of the creek, while you two feignasses took your ease at the sluice.” Lafeet set two of the larger bottles to one side. “That’s Mr. Wang’s share.”

The water treatment must have sharpened up their wits considerable because right away they set to bitchin’ and bleatin’ that Wang was only a fucken Chinaman and didn’t have no right to American gold, and he was damned lucky to have been taken into honest employ by skilled prospectors. Lafeet didn’t say nothin’ but just stooped over and added another fifth to Wang’s pile. Lafeet was reaching for another bottle when a little candle lit up in Slicker Man’s brain and he smote his pardner and told him pretty blunt to shut his trap.

“Wang, you pick up them three bottles and put them in yer pack saddle. I reckon that is fair wages, plus -” Lafeet glanced at me searching for the word.


“Plus compensation for the way you ill-used him.”

Wang’s eyes bugged out but he picked up the bottles and limped over to where the mules were standing. Lafeet picked up the remaining bottles. “I ain’t a mean curmudgeon, moi. I allow some of this here gold is rightfully your share so I aim to leave it with you.” Never taking his eyes off the pair Lafeet drew the cork from one bottle with his worn brown front teeth and poured a stream of yellow metal into the palm of his hand. “Now watch carefully, mes fils de pute.” He swung his arm as if he was sowing corn and the dust and nuggets pattered into the shallows of the creek. Up in his cover Belcher began yelling furiously again. The blond man began to get off his haunches, but when he saw me swivel the cocked pistol towards him he sank back with a curse.

Again Lafeet whirled a bright shower of gold into the water where it ran clear and shallow over the gravel. “Mark well where it sinks. It ain’t goin’ to be too tiresome to wash that gravel through and then you’ll have it all back.” Another handful hit the water like a flurry of golden hail. Lafeet dropped the empty fifth and then seeded the creek bed with the gold in the last bottle. “Reckon that will keep you busy here a day or two while Mr. Wang takes himself off to China. Now, fellas, I’d be much obliged if you’d unlace them boots and chuck them over to Mr. Wang. We don’t want you getting bold and following us down the trail.”

The blondasse snarled, “You ain’t gettin’ my boots. Man with no boots might die before he walked into town.”

Lafeet took his new pistol from his belt and cocked it. “A man with a 44. ball through his foot would be pretty sure to bleed to death before he made it down that stony trail. Your choice, blondasse.”

They both fell to taking off their boots.

“Tell you what, fellas, I’m feelin’ real christian today,” said Lafeet,” We’ll hang your boots on a bough a couple of miles down the trail. How’s that sound?”

“The horses. What about the horses?” Slicker Man heaved his boots at Wang’s head.

“We ain’t horse thieves,” said Lafeet. “My pardner here will set them loose. Guess they won’t go far.” He nodded to me. “Chase them off into the woods a little.”

The horses were pretty antsy on account of Murch’s rifle fire so it didn’t take but a moment to unhitch them and send them trotting into the pines.

When I got back to Lafeet he’d set the two empty bottles on the sluice. Never taking his eye off the captives he waved to Murch where he lay concealed on the trail. “I advise you to pay attention here.” Lafeet pointed to a bottle and then stepped clear of the sluice. The report of the rifle and the explosion of glass happened in the same instant. Lafeet grinned and said, “Mighty good shooting. Could have been your skull, blondasse. We’re heading off now but my boy up there will be covering us, so it’d be best for ye to sit here peaceful and take yer ease for half an hour.”

Neither man said anything as we backed away and hooked up with Wang and his mules, but never in my life had I seen such black scowls and poisonous stares. I boosted Wang aboard the least laden beast and we picked our way up the rocky path to the trail. We had to pass the fallen tree where the man Belcher raged and ranted. Lafeet paused to give him the same sound advice about not being too hasty to crawl from his cover. In return the ungrateful wretch damned Lafeet’s eyes and ventured an opinion as to the profession his mother had followed. Well none of that bugged Lafeet one little bit, and he bowed and apologized most elegantly for spoiling Belcher’s Sunday. Then laughing and mighty pleased with himself for the way things had panned out he urged the mules up and over the bank and on to the trail.

“That fella sure can cuss but he don’t sound like an American,” I observed.

“Goddam Cannuck,” said Lafeet. “Ain’t we got enough goddam desperados in the USA without that bastard crossing the parallel.”

Once out of sight from below he told us to head on down to the glade where we had left the horses. “Start back to Placerville slowly. We’ll catch you up.” Then he doubled back to fetch Murch.

In a couple of minutes we heard the rifle fire once more, and then along came Murch and Lafeet at a trot. “They were getting itchy so I told Murch to bust the last bottle. I reckon they’ll stay put for a while now.”

A mile down the trail we took the laces out of the boots and threw them into the brush. A little further on we stopped and Murch placed the boots on a stone. “We treatin’ those fils de pute too damn considerate,” said Lafeet, “ Look what they done to Wang’s feet.” He pointed at poor Wang’s feet which were bleeding through the bindings. “He’s goin’ to need a doctor when we get him to Placerville.”

Murch swung up into his saddle.“Your treatment of the two men by the sluice was hardly considerate,” he said. “Even from where I was watching I had the clear impression that you were enjoying the humiliation and pain you inflicted on them.”

“Hell, Murch. I had to make them believe I was as flinty hearted as they was so they wouldn’t try to get smart and rough. Didn’t nobody get killed, did they?”

“That’s true,” said Murch, “I’ll allow you that much, but you didn’t need to look as though you were enjoying the situation.”

“Maybe I was,” said Lafeet, and he spurred up his horse and lit out down the trail whistling a cheery air.

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