Will Jones and the Blue Dog

Chapter Thirty-one: Tracks in the Mud

Will Jones and the Blue Dog by Greg Barron

Little Blue was sitting at the edge of the shelter provided by the tarpaulin, staring out in the direction Will had gone. Now and then he let out a whimper as soft and distressed as a cornered mouse.

‘Where the hell has that blarsted Will got to? The dog’s havin’ a fit,’ said Lainey.

‘P’raps looking for horse?’ Sam suggested.

But Jim shook his head. He always knew where the horses were. He had a map in his head of their wanderings. He laid the pipe he had been smoking near the fire and rose to his feet. Still with no shirt, his skin spattered with rain, he reached for his Henry rifle, half working the lever to check that there was no cartridge in the breech.

‘I’ll ‘ave a scout around,’ he said, and left the camp, the dog wasting no time in getting up and walking at his side. Few men could match Jim’s ability to see in low light, but this night was gloomier than most, and he had to use every trick to use his eyes to best advantage.

Even so, rain had obliterated most of Will’s footprints, and Little Blue proved his worth. He took the scent, padding along with his nose down. Now and then Jim managed to pick out rain-resistant sign, once even the pale core of a freshly-broken twig.

No more than a hundred yards from the camp, Jim whistled the dog to a stop as they reached one of the many tracks that wound around the hills. In the heavier mud of the trail he clearly saw boot-sized holes in the earth, now filled with water. Some belonged to Will, but others appeared to have been made by a man coming from the other direction.

Jim squatted down and placed two fingers into the nearest hole, feeling the depth, aware of Little Blue’s presence, whining quietly beside him. He looked around, judging the direction of travel. It seemed to him that the two men had walked together away along the ridge.

‘Looks like trouble to me,’ said Jim, talking to the dog. ‘But we’ll find ‘im, won’t we boy? We gotta follow before the dashed tracks wash away.’

Even in his urgency Jim knew that following on foot and alone would be foolish, so instead he headed back. It took a few minutes of precious time to rouse the camp, catch horses and tack them up.

Leaving Lainey and Luke to protect their gear, Jim and Sam, with the dog running alongside, rode out of camp and back to where the tracks were slowly disappearing into larger rain puddles. This mattered little to the blue heeler, who found the scent and followed.

Even with the horses at a walk they soon came upon the place where more horses had been waiting, and both Will and the other man had saddled up. There was one boot print near the base of a tree that Jim could see clearly enough to identify as being Will’s. Already the two men were throwing up theories and ideas as to what might be happening. It was foul play of some sort. They both knew that. Exactly who and why were still questions that had to be answered.


When Johnson and Will Jones reached the hills above Sam’s market garden, dawn was on the way. Just enough light filtered through the clouds to reveal a creek that had already broken its banks, a churning sheet of brown water as wide as a strong man can throw a stone.

The creek flat itself was still above water, but it was dotted with puddles and pools. Will could still see the rows of carrots, tomatoes and leafy vegetables where Sam’s caring hands had planted them.

Johnson turned to face Will, the muzzle of his revolver boring into his chest. ‘Dismount. You and me are going for a walk down there.’

Both men were saturated, but Johnson’s oilskins had kept the rain out better than the serge of Will’s navy jacket. Even so, water had run down between necks and collars, through felt hats and into hair and faces. After a hard ride, however, the air did not feel cold, but cloying and warm.

‘That’s black soil down there,’ Will said. ‘I don’t fancy paintin’ me arse in mud, and floppin’ around like a lung-fish. You want that gold you’re goin’ to have to wait until it dries out.’

‘You don’t unnerstand, Will Jones,’ said Johnson. ‘I ain’t going back. I’m ridin’ south, tonight, and taking your gold with me on that packhorse there.’ He shook the pistol like a child with a rattle. ‘Now get off like I told you, and wait while I fix the horses.’

Will swung down from the saddle. It occurred to him that he might try to run, but he knew enough about Johnson to guess that he was a fine pistol shot who would show no hesitation in shooting him down. Besides, it seemed to Will that the game had not run its course. That his best bet was to see this through.

Soon enough, with the horses tethered ready, the two men were walking down the hillside and onto the creek flat, the whispered flow of that waterway mixing with the sound of falling rain.

The mud on that creek flat was even worse than Will had expected. Their feet were soon sinking to the ankles, and each step came with sweat and toil. Sometimes they sloshed through puddles, and when they reached Sam’s vegetable garden, the tilled soil was even softer.

‘This caper ain’t possible,’ shouted Will.

Johnson ignored his plea. ‘Just find where youse hid it. I know there’s a hidey hole somewhere here.’

Will looked at the site. Everything was different. Finding the spot would be challenging, and digging through mud even more so. ‘Give it up, you bally idiot.’

‘Get down on yer knees, an’ start digging,’ yelled Johnson.

Will shook his head. He had reached a point where he no longer cared about Johnson and his firearm. Their legs had sunk past their calves and the water was filling the spaces made by their limbs. ‘Bugger you. I’m goin’ up,’ and with that he turned and began the difficult and messy process of walking away. After the third or fourth tortuous step he turned back to see that the revolver was again pointing at his back. ‘Shoot me mate,’ he said, ‘but that won’t help get what ya want.’

Johnson, hesitated, seemed to be about to shoot, then stuck the pistol in the pocket of his oilskin. Now he sank to his knees, tearing at the ground with his hands, scrabbling at it like a dog. ‘Damn you Will Jones, I’ll find it. I’ll find your gold.’

Will ignored him, and continued on, step after tortuous step.

He was almost halfway back across the creek flat when he heard a terrible sound. A cataclysmic roar. He looked upstream to see a wall of water churning down along the creek bed. It was a maelstrom, an inland tide of water, carrying trunks of trees and even boulders as it advanced.

At that moment Will was pretty sure that he was about to die. This was not something he could stand against. In that final moment, just before the wall of water hit, he thought of all the things he had not done, and now would never do.

© Greg Barron 2022

New chapter next Sunday.

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