The Killer of Deep Creek
The Killer was bad medicine. But what happened when he met the mild little man—the quiet man who bided his time—and who struck quick as light— is well worth reading about.
J. H. McCULLOCH
BILL SETON, the genial driver of the B.X.stage,stepped out of the sunblistered hotel,
swung himself to his high seat and took the lines that the stable boss handed him. Six slashing horses, keen from the stable, plunged and pranced as the huge brake clanged loose and the stage pulled out of Ashcroft on its two hundred and eighty mile run along the Cariboo road to Barkerville.
“Let ’em ramble, boys!” sang out the driver and around the corner they rollicked, narrowly missing a Chinaman, over the planked bridge with a roar, and up into the dun-colored, destitute sandhills in a cloud of dust. The eager horses, upon breasting the steep ascent from the Thompson River, slowed to a quick walk, and Bill Seton leaned back and spoke cheerily to the occupants of the stage, who had been jolted breathless.
“All here yet, folks? Funny how them blamed cayuses likes to tear through the town. Ten men couldn’t hold ’em down till they got across the bridge. Seems like they ain’t got much use for Ashcroft.”
“I ain’t blaming them,” came a flat, disagreeable voice from the interior of the stage. “That dump back there is enough to make anything run. Deadest little hole I ever was in. Why, say, I even seen a rattlesnake on the street yesterday—a big fellow, as thick as my arm.”
The speaker’s tone held a quality of harshness, cynicism and menace that people of gentle habits seldom hear. He was short, but thick set and powerfully built and might have passed for a mine worker or a prospector with money in his wallet. The B.X. stage carried many queer customers into the wild hinterland of northern British Columbia in the hectic period following the Barkerville rush.
“Our town iss a little quiet nowadays,” ventured Murchison, manager of the Northern Crown Bank at Ashcroft. Murchison was a tall, sandy-haired Scotsman, of mild and retiring nature. His subdued voice masked keen business ability, but he was quite content with his position in the little town. “It was a ferry lively little place when Barkerville was booming—ferry lively indeed,” he concluded placidly.
“You don’t say?” sneered the hard-voiced stranger. “Yes, Ashcroft was ferry busy in Cariboo Cameron’s time. It iss a nice little place when you know the people. I have lived in worse places.”
The stranger replied with a grunt.
The stage rolled on toward Clinton, moving like an insect among the gaunt sandhills that hemmed it in. It-, was a long road, and lonely. After an all night stop at 70 Mile House they were off again before daybreak and early in the forenoon stopped at 83 Mile House. There was a bar at this hostel, and the stocky stranger drank freely.
As the stage rattled on toward 100 Mile House he talked with less and less restraint. He was going north, he said, to get hold of a claim. California was played out. He had met a miner in San Francisco who advised him to nose around Deep Creek.
“Where can I hang out until I get my bearings?” he asked abruptly.
“Soda Creek,” some one suggested.
“Soda Creek? Ha, ha! Sounds like a drink!”
His hard laugh filled the stage and the other occupants gave him a wide berth. They were relieved when, twenty hours later, the stage rolled into the heavy timber that surrounds Deep Creek.
A FEW miles before they reached Soda Creek the horses shied at a small, tunnel mouth that gaped in the shale of the precipitous road side. The driver gathered his lines to his chin and leaned sideways to berate in good-natured terms a miner, who appeared at the mouth of the cavern. The object of Seton’s genial abuse lifted his shovel in greeting and his face twisted in a smile.
“Funny devil, that!” exclaimed the driver, when his horses had settled to the road again. “He’s bored into the mountain a hundred feet. Got a truck on rails, and dumps his dirt into Deep Creek. He’s a queer one. Nobody knows where he came from, and he’s kinder close, and set in his ways. You’d ought to see the inside of his tunnel. Yes, sir, he has everything fixed up jake in there; kitchen, bedroom, ’n’ everything complete. Guess the poor old coyote does a lot of scratching for all he gets.” “Oh, there’s gold in the claim, alright,” said Murchison defensively, for the hermit was a customer of his bank. “He’s dbing ferry well and expects to do better. But the gold is ferry fine—not like Barkerville gold. He loses a great deal of it. He would do better with a flume. I like to see the placer gold in true nugget form.”
“Gold is gold, Dad,” rasped the stranger, and his
tongue darted round his thick
“Quite so,” replied the banker agreeably, “still, in the native state it varies a little. It takes an expert to detect it, but it can be done. I have—”
“Aw, gold is gold, with preachers and
miners alike,” interrupted the other
Murchison made no reply. His nature
was not equipped for argument or discord. The tone of the stranger was so deliberately offensive, however, that he drew the quizzical glance of the burly stage driver, who took up the discussion.
“Speakin’ of Barkerville gold,” he said, “them old claims on Stout’s Gulch is turning out well under hydraulicing. Guess I’ll be bringing down the first pickings on my return trip; thirty thousand, they say.”
“That ain’t much for a mining camp,” commented the stranger.
“I ain’t claimin’ it’s a record, brother,” replied the driver crisply. “It’s a good start, though. You’d ought to go on up there and see the old diggings. Ain’t much for a mining man around Soda Creek.”
“I know what I’m doing, big fellow,” retorted the stranger. “Reckon I’ll stop off at Soda Creek and look around till I get what I want. D’you suppose that old badger back at the tunnel would sell out cheap?”
“He might. I heard he’s ailin’ with his stomach. Some days he can’t work at all. He might sell.”
“I’ll have a talk with him,” the stranger said, and conversation ceased as the stage turned into the steep nose that led down into Soda Creek, a drab huddle of unpainted buildings fronting the swift-flowing Fraser.
“Worse than Ashcroft, ain’t it, Dad?” sneered the stranger as the stage creaked to a stop in front of the ricketty saloon. He looked up and down the squalid street. “Look out for them rattlers,” he jibed.
“The odd rattler will show up,” admitted the banker, gently, but his pale blue eyes glinted as they followed the figure of the insolent stranger till it disappeared into the saloon.
NEXT morning the stranger strapped his bundled belongings across his broad shoulders and set out on foot for Deep Creek. It was a long and toilsome climb from the edge of the Fraser to the Cariboo Road and he cursed the road and the country at every step. Y here the trail to Soda Creek joins the Cariboo Road he made for a group of majestic, shading pines, and wiggling out of his knapsack sat on the soft turf.
For some minutes the stranger sat there, his cold eyes traveling up and down the road. Then he got to his feet and walked to the junction of road and trail. He stood
there a minute as though calculating, looked down hill toward Soda Creek, then made directly for the heavy timber on the south side of the branch road. At the edge of the timber he halted, came back to the pines, looked carefully at his watch and continued his tramp.
In less than a half hour he was at the tunnelled claim of the hermit of Deep Creek. Working out of the galling shoulder straps he walked boldly into the cavern. The hermit was loading his truck by the light of a flickering lantern.
"Hello, old-timer!" cried the stranger.
The hermit glanced around in alarm.
"Who be you. mister?" he challenged suspiciously.
"Devine's my name Jake Devine,” answered the intruder coolly. "1 seem your place w hen I went by on the stage yesterday, and I took a fancy to your location. I’m looking for a claim that's worth working. Thought I might make you an offer, or maybe horn in on a partnership."
"I ain’t lookin’ to sell—one way or the other,” replied the hermit. “I got a living here when I can w'ork, and I aim to stay here a spell. It’s better than bein’ bossed around in the mines.”
The stranger looked up and down the rude diggings.
"What you need, old-timer,” he said at last, “is a partner with a bit of ready money and a stomach for work. I got both You and me could make things hum
in this here shaft."
"All it needs is working,” the miner admitted.
Pshaw!" went on the stranger glancing keenly at the sturdy figure of the hermit. “I betcha we could make a nice place out of this dump if we went at it right. I’d like to talk it over with you, partner. No harm done, whichever way you decide.”
in the end. the stranger was invited to look over the mine, for the hermit had great hopes for his claim and saw the advantage of having a working partner with some ready cash. He took his visitor through and over his claim, pointing with justifiable pride to his crude but efficient apparatus.
The stranger was particularly interested in the dump. The hermit trundled his loaded truck to the edge of the chasm through which Deep Creek boiled, and tilting it against a tog that was secured to the edge of the precipice, spiiled the useless shale downward upon a ledge that stuck out into the chasm fifty feet below. On this unapproachable ledge the wet ore was gradually accumulating as the tunnel expended into the mountainside.
"1*11 look around for a day or so,” said the stranger.
“Just make yourself to home,” the hermit responded.
\T THE end of the next day the stranger openly sug» * gested that the hermit sell him the claim outright. He produced a paper purporting to cover the deal and named his figure at eighteen hundred dollars. The hermit
opposed him with surly obstinacy.
“Think it over, oldtimer: think it over!” said Devine coolly.
“I don’t need to think it over,” retorted the hermit in a rage. “I ain’t a-figurin’ on selling this here claim, I tell you—not at twice eighteen hundred dollars. And I ain’t pertickler about a partner, either.”
"Well, if it’3 all the 3ame to you I'll 3tick around for a day or two longer to think over this partnership thing.
I’ll earn my grub while I’m here. Fact ia, I think I'll hoof it to Soda Creek and get you some bacon and potatoes. You're short here for two. And them moccasins you wear are no good amongthiswet shale. They’ll ruin your feet, man. I’ll get you a pair of boots.”
Devine spent the rest of that day in Soda Creek. He was liberal with hi3 money at the bar and in the stores and before he left for Deep Creek everyone in Soda Creek knew that he had practically completed the purchase of the tunnel mine.
It was nearly dark when Devine again reached the junction of the Soda Creek and Cariboo trails. Nevertheless he tarried there awhile, noting his surroundings with care.
For the next few days be worked wdth the hermit, and
repeatedly urged the mine owner to sell his property, but the latter proved obdurate. He had a childish faith in the future of his claim, and this faith, coupled with excessive greed, gave his obstinacy a distinctly irritating quality, to a man of Devine’s temper. The latter found pleasure in badgering the slow-witted hermit. Their discussions developed into arguments, and as the days passed the would-be buyer became more and more insulting toward the now thoroughly unsettled miner. Finally the hermit, in a fit of feeble rage, ordered Devine to leave the diggings.
"I ain’t a-selling my claim,” he cried, “and I ain’t a-taking you in as a partner, neither! We don’t pull together, an’ we better part!”
Devine’s cold eyes fastened upon the hermit’s with an expression so peculiar that the latter recoiled in sudden fear.
“Wh-what do you want to look at a man thataway for?” he mumbled. “You scared me for a minute.”
Devine overcame his rage. “I’ll go, old-timer,” he said bitterly. “I'll go—and you’ll sign this agreement of sale yet. I'm telling you!”
“Never!” the hermit shouted.
“Aw, shut your face,” snarled Devine. “I’ll get out in the morning, but I’ll be back.”
“Where you going?” asked the hermit suspiciously. “Soda Creek. There’ll be mail there for me. Then I’m coming back to pack for the south-bound stage.”
“It don’t git here till ten o’clock at night.”
“I know that, you old fool,” snapped Devine, “but I’ll be back long before ten o’clock. Better stick around close in case I try to steal your wad.”
“I’ll be sleepin’ by eight o’clock,” the hermit retorted. The following day passed without incident and Devine gave no sign of leaving the claim. At supper time the hermit remarked it.
“You still figurin’ on going to Soda Creek?” he asked. “Leave the figuring to me,” growled Devine.
Twilight was settling into darkness before he set out for Soda Creek. He carried the hermit’s discarded moccasins in his pocket, and wore the other’s white slicker, for rain was falling.
AT HALF-PAST nine that night Bill Seton sagged T*. sleepily forward on his perch as the B.X. coach crawled laboriously up the Soda Creek Hill. At his side was Murchison, the bank manager, and inside the coach were two drowsy, white-collared men from Barkerville.
Near the top of the hill a masked figure wearing moccasins stepped from behind a tree and fell in behind the groaning stage. He made no noise and was in no danger of being seen, for the night was murky. He crept abreast of the door of the stage, opened it and stepped inside, a long-barrelled revolver in his hand. The sleepy men whom he confronted had no chance to defend themselves or summon help. The bandit made no false moves. Cover-
ing the men with his gun he coolly picked up a heavy black bag at their feet, backed to the open door of the stage and stepped out into the darkness.
A moment later the brakes of the stage clanged, and Bill Seton’s voice rose high and blasphemous, as he questioned the dumbfounded occupants. Murchison leaped to the wet road and walked around the stage, examining the ground in the feeble light. The bandit stood behind a tree and watched him, and his thick lips parted in a grin as he saw the banker bend and follow his tracks to the grassy edge of the road.
“Damn him!” the bandit muttered, and raising his weapon pulled the trigger. Murchison gave a cry of pain, held up his foot in a manner almost comical, and limped hurriedly back to the stage. Seton released the brakes and lashed the horses, and in a few minutes the B.X. was swallowed up in the darkness.
The bandit tore his mask from his face, and plunging into the bush removed his moccasins and replaced them with boots. Then he set out for Deep Creek, keeping to the trees at the side of the road. The bag he carried was heavy, and he was sweating profusely when he reached the mouth of the little tunnel. He darted inside and walked through to the rudely furnished and dimly lit room where the hermit lay asleep. Without a moment’s hesitation the bandit shook him to wakefulness, and when the hermit sat up, blinking, he looked into the black muzzle of a pistol.
“Sign this, quick!” rasped Devine, spreading a paper in front of the trembling miner. The latter took the indelible pencil that Devine handed him and scrawled his name on the document, which bore a date a week old.
He found his voice as the bandit was scanning the uncouth signature, and started to his feet threateningly. Devine turned on him. There was a crack that reverberated through the dim cavern and the hermit of Deep Creek dropped.
The killer staggered back into the tunnel with the black bag, and in a few minutes returned empty-handed to the dead body sprawled grotesquely across the floor. He heaved it to his shoulder and stumbled out of the tunnel until he came to the edge of the precipice where the dump was located. Then he laid the body on the brink, gave it a shove with his foot and heard the scatter of shale as it struck the dump on the ledge far below. After wrapping the moccasins in the white slicker and dropping them after the body, the killer set feverishly to work dumping wet shale on the ledge until all trace of his crime was obliterated. He filled the truck with shale, and left it at the dump, ran back through the tunnel and made a few adjustments, then lay down to sleep.
THE morning was well advanced when a team of sweating horses drew up at the tunnel mouth. Devine saw them as he emerged with a truckload of shale, and hailed them cheerily. Two bulky men approached him, Phillips the sheriff, from Ashcroft, and Hitchcock the constable, from 150 Mile House.
“Guess you know why we’re here,” said Phillips shortly, his eyes searching the miner’s face.
“Can’t say I do, unless it’s a bite of breakfast you’re after,” answered the killer placidly.
“We’ll take a bite, if you’re fixed for feedin’ us,” said the sheriff. “We’ve been tamaracking all night.” “Come right in,” said Devine heartily. He stooped and blocked a whee1 of the little truck, then led the way back through the tunnel into the living quarters.
“Set yourselves,” invited Devine. “I’ve got the makings of a good breakfast here hut I’m a poor hand at cooking. My partner was good at it, an’ I let him go to it. Believe me—”
“Where is your partner?” Phillips interrupted sharply, and both constables leaned forward.
The killer was breaking eggs into the frying pan. He replied easily.
“Well on his way to Oregon, I guess. He left yesterday morning, hoofing it on moccasins like a blasted Siwash. Too darn mean to pay the stage fare
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to Ashcroft. Took enough grub with him to last a man a month. And he had eighteen hundred dollars in his wallet, too, and God knows how much in the bank at Ashcroft. Funny fellow, that. Used to talk in his sleep, and kept a gun under his pillow all the time.”
“How come your partner to leave this claim?” Phillips demanded suspiciously. “It’s been payin’!”
“Don’t I know it?” laughed the miner in the manner of a man relishing a good bargain. “This claim needs working, that’s all. I boughten it from my partner a week ago, lock, stock and barrel. Say, it’s worth ten times eighteen hundred.”
“You mean you bought this claim a week back?” asked the sheriff excitedly.
“I sure did,” chuckled the killer. “It was a measly price, I’ll admit, but that fellow got so jumpy, lately, that he’d have sold it for a hundred dollars. He had something on his mind. Loneliness, I guess. Here’s the paper.”
He stepped over to the bed, lifted the mattress, drew out the paper signed by the murdered man and handed it to the sheriff.
“I guess it’s all right—legal, an’ everything, ain’t it?” he asked anxiously, as the constables bent over the document.
“ Hell—I guess so!” exclaimed Phillips casting a disgusted look at his companion. He turned to the killer. “Say, the B.X. was held up last night above Soda Creek, near the cross roads. Fifteen thousand in gold was lifted, and the man that done the job is still at large.”
“And the man that done the trick wore moccasins and a white slicker,” added Hitchcock. “Murchison seen his tracks and got plugged in the foot for bein’ curious.”
The killer stood erect, a tin plate of savory ham and eggs in each hand and stared at his visitors in blank amazement.
“D’ye—do you suppose—” he began.
“Suppose, hell!” said Phillips savagely. “There’s no supposin’ about it. Give us some tea and we’ll get out of here. Your partner is somewhere between the Fraser and the Thompson, and we’ll get him yet, if we hustle.”
But they didn’t get him, although the telegraph wires along the Cariboo Road sang.
DEVINE boarded the south-bound stage and anxiously placed his deed to the tunnel claim before Timmins, the young attorney at Ashcroft. The latter assured him that his right to the mine was unassailable, and Devine left the docu-
ment with the teller at Murchison’s bank and went north again.
The killer at Deep Creek was not ignored. For weeks he was under surveillance of the police, but their work was fruitless. Devine proved to be a hardtoiling miner who minded his own business. He was the object of some sympathy when it became known that he was not getting results from his claim. It was plain to the people of Cariboo that the hermit had sold his partner a worked-out property.
For a time Devine had to arrange a bit of credit through Murchison’s branch of the Northern Crown Bank at Ashcroft in order to secure the necessaries of his simple life. But he delved and dug and said nothing, and presently he struck richer shale. Thereafter the bank manager received glowing reports of the miner’s work, to which rapidly increasing deposits of gold in the bank gave substance. The tunnel mine was turning out well, and people did not grudge its owner the fruits of his work A good mine was an asset to old Cariboo.
LATE in the year, about the time when -'the placer miners of Cariboo hit out for Vancouver and Seattle,the teller at the Northern Crown Bank, who had been weighing gold, called Murchison over to his desk.
“These scales don’t seem to balance right,” said he.
Murchison put on his steel-rimmed spectacles and bent over the scales, tipping them with his finger to test their delicacy.
“They’re out a little,” said the teller. He put weights on the scales and poured some placer gold into the balance scoop.
“See, Mr. Murchison,” he exclaimed, as the scales responded. “That gold weighs a little more than it did yesterday. Here’s the record. I weighed it myself and you checked it. It’s very slight, of course, but the scales should be adjusted, don’t you think?”
Murchison, puzzled, peered over his glasses at the gold in the balance. Then he straightened.
“Never mix placer samples, Gordon,” he said, in a tone of gentle reproof.
“I never do, sir,” said the teller defensively. “This is all from the tunnel mine at Deep Creek. It’s been coming in regularly. That chap up there is salting money away. He must have sent down ten thousand dollars worth in the last month.”
Murchison removed his glasses, rubbed the lenses briskly and peered at the gold again.
“Are you quite sure that this is all from
Deep Creek, Gordon?” he asked quietly.
“Positive! I never mix samples. Besides, this is the only gold that came in on the last stage.”
The banker went into his private office, closed the door and sat for a long time in his arm chair, rubbing his shoulder softly and gazing out the window.
THREE days later the following message, on the letterhead of the Northern Crown Bank was handed to Devine.
There is now a balance of $14,657.00 to your credit at this bank. In my opinion you would be well advised to invest a considerable portion of this amount in bonds at present being issued by the Province of British Columbia. It is the policy of this bank to assist its depositors in making sound investments. So I am taking the liberty of reserving bonds to the amount of ten thousand dollars, subject, of course, to your approval. It would be advisable for you to come to Ashcroft on the next stage to settle this transaction. I may add that we regard the progress of your mine with genuine satisfaction.
Yours very truly,
The killer cursed long and loud when he read this letter.
“Damn the old woman!” he snarled. “Why can’t he keep his nose out of my affairs? Bonds! What the devil do I want with his damned bonds? I’ll go south to-night and put a crimp in him. It’s time I was clearing out. anyway.”
That night he boarded the south-bound B.X. stage, and a few minutes after it reached Ashcroft entered the Northern Crown Bank.
Murchison met him cordially and escorted him into his private sanctum. Gordon, the teller, slipped out through the street door.
“Well, I’m through for the season,” said the killer, showing his yellow teeth in a grin.
“You have done well,” commented the banker.
“Luckiest strike I ever made,” said Devine. “I’m through with the game, though. Too hard on a man. I’m willing to see somebody else digging in the old hole. She’s good for years, yet. Me, I’m gonna take my money and put it in bonds, just like you told me to. I got a friend in Vancouver that deals in bonds, so if you’ll just give me my balance I’ll take my pickings and ...”
The door of the bank opened and a heavy step sounded behind the killer’s chair. Quick as a flash he turned. The sheriff confronted him, covering him with a revolver.
“Keep your hands on the table,” rasped the sheriff. “Mr. Murchison, take his gun away from him.”
As he spoke the sheriff poked the muzzle of his weapon against the killer’s back, and the banker, with an apologetic air, passed his hands over the prisoner and drew back with a long-barrelled revolver in his hand.
“Now slip these on him,” ordered the sheriff, and the killer from Deep Creek was securely handcuffed. He found his voice, then—the old, hard, blustering voice that Murchison knew’.
“Say!” he shouted. “What’s the idea here? What you got on me, you crazy hicks?”
“Tell him, Mr. Murchison,” said the sheriff.
Murchison, flushed, reached for the small pan of placer gold that was on his desk.
“This gold,” he began, almost apologetically, “came from your mine at Deep
“Well? What’s that got to do with the
“Shut up!” barked the sheriff.
“This gold came out of the tunnel mine all right,” Murchison went on in tones of gentle reproof, “but it didn’t come out of Deep Creek shale. It iss Barkerville gold—Stout’s Gulch gold.” “And it was Stout’s Gulch gold that was stolen from the B.X. stage at Soda Creek last summer,” added the sheriff, “Come on! We’ll drag the rest of it out of you at the Clinton Assizes. There’s more than a hold-up to this business.”
“Wait a minute, Phillips. He might as well know the rest,” said the banker.
‘ ‘Think a moment, Devine. We have been led to believe that the hermit held up the B.X. stage. There were several things against this theory, but we had no proof, so had to lie low for a time. If the hermit did not hold up the stage he had no crime to conceal. Why should he steal out of Cariboo? He was a man of—er—grasping habits. Why should he leave a balance of three hundred and eighty dollars in this bank? There iss another thing. He had poor feet; told me once he could not walk a mile. Why did he not take the stage to Ashcroft? If you told the truth he had eighteen hundred dollars in his pocket. I thought of all these things as soon as I saw the mixed placer. That made everything
clear.” He bowed to the prisoner. “I wish you a ferry good evening,” he said.
As the killer followed the sheriff to the door he turned on the bank manager with the fury of a cornered beast.
“Damn you,” he hissed, “I should have plugged you right when I had the chance.” “That clinches it!” said the sheriff triumphantly. “Come on!”
The gentle Murchison winced visibly at the coarse outburst.
“You should have listened to me last summer,” he said deprecatingly. “I told you that placer gold varies. It iss surprising how ...”
With his foot the killer slammed the door in the banker’s face.