Westward the Tide

Matt Bardoul rode his long legged zebra dun down the dusty main street of Deadwood Gulch a few minutes ahead of the stage. He swung down and tied his horse to the hitching rail, then stepped up to the boardwalk, a tall young man in a black, flat crowned hat and buckskin shirt.

Instead of entering the IXL Hotel and Restaurant, he pushed his hat back on his head and leaned against one of the posts that supported the wooden awning.

In his high heel star boots with their huge rowelled California spurs, and his ivory-handled tied-down guns, he was a handsome, dashing figure.

It was the summer of 1877 and the "Old Reliable Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage Line" boasted the Shortest Safest, and Best Service in the west. When the stage swung into Main Street Matt Bardoul turned his green, watchful eyes toward the racing six horse Concord and watched it roll to a stop in front of the IXL.

He had kept pace with the stage most of the way from Cheyenne, but aside from the mutual protection from marauding Indians, he had no interest in the stage or its passengers until he saw the girl alight from the stage at Pole Creek Ranch.

He was lifting a match to the freshly rolled cigarette when he saw her, and he looked past the flame into her eyes and something seemed to hit him in the stomach. He stood there, staring, until the flame burned his fingers. He let out a startled yelp and dropped the match, and he saw just the flicker of a smile on her lips as she turned away.

Discreet inquiry, laced and bolstered with a couple shots of rye, elicited the information from stage driver Elam Brooks that her name was Jacquine Coyle, that she was bound for Deadwood to join her father Brian Coyle, and that she was a pleasant, saucy, and thoroughly attractive young woman.

"Not a kick from her the whole trip!" Brooks said with satisfaction. "Most of these darned stage ridin' females are cantankerous as all get out!"

Stepping from the stage into the dusty street of Deadwood, Jacquine looked up quickly, her alert blue eyes searching the crowd of onlookers for her father or brother. The first person she saw was the tall, narrow hipped and broad shouldered young man leaning so nonchalantly against the awning post.

Instantly she was aware of two things. That he was not at all nonchalant, and that he had been waiting to see her.

This was the man she had seen at Pole Creek Ranch. The man who had accompanied them on horseback. She remembered him very well, both from his picturesque appearance and because of what she had overheard Fred Schwartz, the owner of Pole Creek, say to Elam Brooks.

"There's one man Logan Deane will do well to leave alone!"

"Who is he?"

"Name's Mathieu Bardoul. He's a Breton Frenchman, Maine born, but raised in the west. He was in the Wagon Box Fight."

"The hell you say!" Brooks turned to stare. "Then he's the same Bardoul that killed Lefty King, over at Julesburg!"

"He's the one, all right. Nice fellow to have for a friend, and a bad one with whom to have trouble. If he's ridin' on to Deadwood you won't be surprised by any Indians. He can smell out a bad Indian a mile away!"

All that went through her eyes in the flashing instant their eyes met across the heads of the crowd. She remembered his startled stare at Pole Creek, and now when their eyes met she saw something else, something that left her startled and confused. There was no effort to mask the look in his green eyes. It was the look a man, full in the pride of his strength, gives to a woman he wants.

Her breath caught, and she turned her face quickly, yet she was conscious of a quick, stirring excitement that left her wide eyed and a little breathless.

As she averted her face, her cheeks flushing and her breasts rising under a quick gasp, the crowd parted and a big man in a black beaver hat and Prince Alpert coat thrust his way through. "Jackie, honey! It's good to see you again! Where's that brother of yours? Isn't he here?"

"I haven't seen him, Father." For on flickering instant her eyes wavered back to the man under the awning. This time he straightened, and he took his cigarette from his mouth in one quick impatient gesture, and threw it down.

She had a sudden fear that he would come right through the crowd, walk right up to her and take her in his arms. The impression was so definite that she turned abruptly away and taking her father's arm, hurried him toward the comparative safety of the IXL.

Matt Bardoul stared after her. This girl he had to have. She stirred something within him that no woman had ever touched, she awakened something in him that left him restless and excited. He liked the proud lift of her chin, liked the blue of her eyes, and like most of all her awareness of what she was, her knowledge that she was a beautiful and desirable woman.

Something had happened. The thought disturbed and irritated him. He had known many women, but none until now that he knew had had to have. Always before he could mount up and ride away, and while he would often remember, he would never feel the urge to go back. Now, he knew that was over. This time he would not ride on.

Turning on his heel, Matt shoved through the doors of the IXL, and wormed his way through the sweating, laughing, cursing crowd to the bar. He had no more than won his place and called his order to the harried bartender when a bellow broke out behind him.

"Matt! Matt Bardoul! By all that's holy!"

He forced his shoulder around, recognizing the voice, and a grin broke over his sun browned face. A huge, bearded man with almost as much hair on his chest as in his beard was plunging through the crowd.

"Buffalo Murphy! What the hell are you doing in Deadwood? I'd think this was too civilized for you! Last time we were together was up on the Humboldt, and you were headed for the Snake!"

"It's been a long time!" His shoulder length hair was as impressive as his beard. "I came down from the Yellowstone with Portugee Phillips."

"What's going on around? Anything interesting?" Matt tasted his rye. "I'm on the loose," he added, "had an idea I'd ride up to Virginia City or Bannack."

Murphy leaned closer, glancing left and right. "Stick around, boy," he whispered confidentially, "there's something good in the wind. Some of the big men around camp are getting together a wagon train for the Big Horns."

"What is it?"

"Gold." Murphy downed his drink.

"Who's back of this? Who found the gold?"

"Man named Tate Lyon. He was prospectin' back in the Big Horns. He found gold, but his partner was killed an' he had to get out, quickest an' best way he could."

"Know him?"

"No, I don't. He's a stranger to me. But Brian Coyle an' Herman Reutz set a lot of store by him, an' they are smart enough."

"How about the Sioux?"

"It ain't the Sioux that's so bad, it's some of these ornery thieves of white men. Lots of killin' goin' on in this camp an' there's a lot of poison loose here." He looked around at Matt. "Logan Deane's in town."

"Deane?" Matt Bardoul's eyes narrowed at the thought. "The Colorado gunman? I see."

"Thought you'd better know after what happened at Julesburg." Murphy stared into his glass. "Bat Hammer's here, too, an' you'll remember him."

If Logan Deane was in Deadwood it would mean trouble sooner or later. Plenty of trouble. Deane was a brother-in-law to Lefty King, a bad man who had come out on the bad end of a gunfight with Bardoul in Julesburg.

"What's the plan behind this wagon train?"

"This here Tate Lyon went to Herman Reutz with his story and Reutz liked the sound of it. He called in Brian Coyle.

"Coyle was interested, an' he's one of the biggest men in camp. He come in here with a fine outfit an' he's got the money to make more. It seems he'd been discussin' the chances of there bein' gold in the Big Horns with Clive Massey and a former Army officer, Colonel Orvis Pearson."

"I've heard of him."

"Well, the four of them got their heads together an' the plan is to head out to the Big Horns with a party of picked men, nothing but the best in wagons, stock, an' goods."

"Coyle's going himself?"

"Sure! He's the ringleader! Him an' Massey. It's a closed deal, an' only a few picked men will get a chance to go along. Now if you want to go, I can swing it. They need me, an' I'll refuse to go unless they count you in."

"Who's going to guide them into the mountains?"

"Lyon himself an' Portugee Phillips. Pearson's been selected as commander of the bunch because of his experience. They are plannin' on havin' plenty of fightin' men along just in case. It will be a rich wagon train when it finally pulls out!"

If Brian Coyle was going along there was a good chance his daughter might go, too. Matt reached for the bottle and poured a drink for each. He lifted his glass and looked over it at Murphy "To the Big Horns!" he said.

There were thirty men and a girl in the back room of Reutz' store at nine that night. Buffalo Murphy pushed his way through the stacks of bales and packing cases to the meeting place. The girl, Matt saw at once, was Jacquine Coyle.

After a quick glance, Matt turned to look over the crowd. If these men were to be his companions on the trail he wanted to see what manner of men they were.

His first impression was good. These were obviously a chosen lot. They had confident, intelligent faces, the sort of men who had done things and could do more. Yet as his eyes strayed over the group they hesitated more than once, for there were faces here of another type of man, and they were not faces he liked.

Brian Coyle stepped up behind a large barrel and rapped on the head of it with a hammer. Voices died away and heads turned toward him. Coyle glanced around, drawing all attention to him, and then he began to speak. He spoke quickly and well in a deep, strong voice.

"You all understand that you have been carefully selected and called here for a meeting whose purpose is not to be discussed beyond these walls. We expect our secret to get out eventually, but by that time we hope to be well on our way, and hence to arrive far in advance of those who attempt to follow.

"There is gold, and plenty of it, at the end of this trail. We have samples of that gold to show you. We are not calling you here to do you favors, but because we know the danger of the country into which we go and that only a large party of competent men can hope to survive there. Your safety is our safety, and vice versa.

"We think so much of this project that Herman Reutz is selling his store and I am closing out my business here. We intend to proceed to the site of the discovery, scatter out and stake the best claims, and then build a town. In that town we will have a store, and each of you will be a stockholder in that store. We intend to sell shares here tonight, and while no man may hold over ten shares, each man must hold at least one."

Coyle hesitated then, waiting for questions. When none were forthcoming he turned his head and waved a hand toward Colonel Pearson. "The Colonel here, Colonel Orvis Pearson, is a military man accustomed to command and the handling of large bodies of men. He will be in command of the entire wagon train and all personnel."

Listening, Matt Bardoul could see what an attractive setup it was. The talk Coyle had made was empathic and to the point, and offered much to be preferred to the usual haphazard organization of wagon trains which were more often than not badly planned and poorly led.

A big, rawboned man got to his feet. "Name of Stark," he said clearly, thumbs hooked in his suspenders, "Aaron Stark, from Tennessee. What about the women folks?"

Brian Coyle smiled. "If you got `em, bring `em! I'm takin' my daughter, younder!" He waved a hand at Jacquine, who blushed at suddenly becoming the center of attention, but her chin lifted slightly and she glanced out over the room. Her eyes met Matt's, and he smiled. She lifted one eye brow very coolly, and glanced away.

Coyle faced the crowd. "If you're all agreed," he suggested, "just step over to Clive Massey there and he'll take your money for shares in the company. Then all you have to do is have your wagons at Split Rock Springs, ready to roll at daybreak Tuesday!"

Several men stepped out in a bunch and started for the barrel, and that began it. Without further question the crowd lined up to a man, Matt Bardoul with them. He did notice, however, that the first four or five men who stepped out were among those whose faces had arrested his glance when he first looked at the crowd.

As he neared the barrel where Clive Massey was taking names and money he got his first look at the man. Massey was as tall as he himself and a good twenty pounds heavier, a stalwart, handsome man with intensely black eyes and a finely clipped black mustache. He wore one gun, low down on his right hip. It showed slightly under the skirt of his black coat.

Matt had a haunting feeling he had seen Massey before, but could not place him. When Matt stepped up to the barrel, he put down his money. "Mattieu Bardoul," he said.

There was a sudden movement as a man seated behind and to the left of Massey turned suddenly to glance up at Matt. The man was sharp featured with a hooked nose. The man stared up at Matt, unsmiling. "From Julesburg?" he asked.

"I've been there."

Massey looked around. "You know this man, Logan?"

Logan Deane!

Matt's expression did not change. This then was the killer, the man reputed to have slain twenty men in gun battles.

The man at Dean's side was Batsell Hammer.

"Don't reckon I do," Dean said, keeping his eyes on Matt's "only there was a Matt Bardoul in Julesburg who was quite a hand with a six-gun."

Clive Massey looked up. Their eyes met. "Sorry," Clive said, "we don't want any gunfighters. Too much chance of trouble, and we want this to be a peaceful trip."

The room was suddenly quiet, and men were listening. Into that silence Matt dropped his words like a stone into the utter calm of a pool. "If you'll take a renegade like Bat Hammer, you'll take anybody!"

Hammer's face whitened and he came to his feet with an oath. "I don't have to take that!" he shouted.

"That's right," Bardoul replied calmly, "you don't."

Silence hung heavy in the room, and Logan Deane, his thin, cobralike lips parted in a faint smile, watched Matt as a tomcat watches another. Matt was aware of the glance, but his eyes held Hammer's and he waited, his hands hanging loosely at his sides.

Bat's gunhand hovered over his pistol butt, and his eyes held Bardoul's, then slowly his fingers relaxed, and his hand eased cautiously to his side. Abruptly, he sat down.

Massey hesitated no longer. "Who recommended this man?"

Buffalo Murphy stepped forward belligerently. "I did, an' if he don't go, I don't. We need him bad. He knows the Sioux, an' he knows that country."

"With Phillips, yourself and Tate Lyon, I scarcely think we'll need him." Massey's voice was final.

"We'd better take him," Phillips said suddenly. "We need him."

Massey glanced up impatiently. This man, Matt decided, disliked opposition, was impatient of all restraint. Massey was irritated now, and his face showed it.

A recommendation from Phillips who enjoyed the respect of all these men for his knowledge of the country and the Sioux was not lightly to be passed over, yet Bardoul was sure that Clive Massey intended to do just that, but before he could offer further objections, Brian Coyle interrupted.

"What are we waiting for?" he boomed. "Sign him up!"

Only an instant did Clive Massey hesitate, then he wrote down the name and pocketed the money Matt had placed on the barrel head.

Matt did not move.

Massey looked up impatiently, angrily. "Next man!" he said sharply.

"Not yet." Matt Bardoul smiled down at Massey. "I want a receipt."

Clive Massey's eyes narrowed and temper flamed in his face. "Listen!" he snapped. "Do you intend to . . .!"

"This is merely business," Matt interrupted, "no offense intended."

"Give it to him!" Coyle said, waving a hand. "Why not? Come to think of it, I'll want one myself!"

Clive Massey let the air out of his lungs slowly, but anger betrayed itself in his every movement. He wrote out the receipt, and then Buffalo Murphy followed. He demanded and got his receipt. Matt's demand had set a fashion and every man who followed asked for his receipt. Even a few of those who had gone through before Matt did, returned, and asked for them.

If ever he had seen hatred in a man's eyes it had been in Massey's when he looked up at him that last time. Already, Matt reflected, they were taking sides. Clive Massey, Logan Deane and Bat Hammer. There was more than accident in their sitting together, more than accident that Massey had been so determined to weed him out.

Why?

It was a question to which he could find no answer. It was a question to which he could find no answer. One thing he did know, and that was that this was only a beginning, and that more was to come between himself and Clive Massey.