Preacher's Justice

Preacher's Justice by William W. Johnstone Read Free Book Online

Book: Preacher's Justice by William W. Johnstone Read Free Book Online
Authors: William W. Johnstone
laughter, and the high, skirling sound of a fiddle.
    Finally, he rode into a clearing and saw it: men and women clad in buckskin and feathers, homespun and store-bought suits, bits of color, flashes of beads, silver and gold. Dozens of tents and temporary shelters had been erected, many of them little more than canvas flaps protruding from the wagons that had brought the traders, dealers, and goods here from back East.
    In front of him, and slightly to the right, Preacher suddenly saw a flash of light and a puff of smoke At almost the same instant he heard the shot and the sound of a ball whistling past his ear.
    Looking over in surprise, he saw Henri Mouchette toss his rifle aside, clawing for the pistol he had stuck down in his trousers. This was Preacher’s third encounter with Mouchette this year, and it looked like this one was going to settle the score between them—one way, or the other.
    Preacher leaped from his horse, not away from Mouchette, as Mouchette, might have suspected, but directly toward him. Mouchette was caught off guard by Preacher’s unexpected reaction. Rather than pulling his pistol cleanly, he dropped it as he jerked it from his trousers. Preacher shoved him hard, and Mouchette staggered back, a tree breaking his fall.
    Mouchette pulled his knife and held it in front of him, palm up, the knife moving back and forth slowly, like the head of a coiled snake.
    â€œThat’s all right,” Mouchette said. “I’d rather gut you than shoot you anyway. Shootin’ kills too fast.”
    Preacher held a hand out in front of him, as if warding Mouchette off. He pointed at Mouchette.
    â€œThat was you that tried to shoot me a couple of months back, wasn’t it?” Preacher asked.
    â€œYou’re damn right it was,” Mouchette answered. He nodded toward the pack horses Preacher had brought in. “By rights, them should be my plews. You pulled my traps out of the water and set your own.”
    â€œWe went through all of that,” Preacher said. “My traps were there first. You pulled them out and replaced them with yours. I was only returning the favor.”
    â€œWho give you title to that creek anyway?” Mouchette asked.
    â€œNobody has title to any land up here,” Preacher replied. “It’s first come, first served, same as it’s always been. And I was first there.”
    â€œYou wouldn’t even have know’d about it iffen you hadn’t heard me talkin’ about it last year.”
    â€œThat’s not true, and you know it. I’ve trapped that same creek for five winters now,” Preacher said. “You can ask anyone here.”
    â€œThat’s right, Mouchette. I know he was there three years ago ’cause he took me in for the winter when I got stoved up,” one of the trappers said. He, like several others, had been drawn in to the commotion. From other parts of the camp, people were moving as well, coming quickly to see what was going on.
    â€œYeah, well, it don’t matter none now ’cause he ain’t goin’ to be trappin’ it no more. I aim to split him open from his gullet to his pecker.”
    Mouchette lunged forward and made a swipe with his knife. The move was unexpectedly quick, and Preacher barely managed to dance back out of the way.
    â€œMouchette, I don’t want to fight you,” he said. “If you’ve got a dispute with me, we can take it up with the trappers’ court.”
    Trapper’s court wasn’t an official court; it was just a group of trappers who would hear arguments from both sides of a dispute, then suggest a settlement. Their suggestions had no power of law, only the power of public opinion, but for most mountain men, that was binding enough.
    â€œYeah, Mouchette, take it up with trappers’ court,” one of the others said, picking up on Preacher’s suggestion.
    â€œNah,” Mouchette replied, his evil grin spreading.

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