"He killed me," the dying man had said. "He stabbed me." Those words stayed with young Jean Talon as he journeyed westward, finally reaching the Missouri in search of a simple and honest life building river boats. But the stranger died. And that meant unraveling a deadly knot that tied together a vicious renegade's army, the Louisiana Purchase, and the missing brother of a beautiful, headstrong woman. Too near the truth to break away, Jean Talon turns in the tools of his trade for a far more dangerous kind of work--the kind that either gets men killed or earns them a new home in a violent, untamed land.
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December 31, 1974
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Excerpt from Rivers West by Louis L'Amour
A ghost trail, a dark trail, a trail endlessly winding. A dark cavern under enormous trees, down which blew a cold wind that skimmed the pools with ice. A corduroy road made from logs laid side by side, logs slippery with rotting vegetation from the swamp.
Here and there a log had sunk deep, leaving a cleft into which a suddenly plunged foot could mean a broken leg, and on either side of the swamp ... well, some said it was bottomless. Horses had sunk there, never to be seen again-and men, also.
My father's house lay several days behind me, back of a shoulder on the Quebec shore above the Gulf of St. Lawrence. For days I had been walking southward. An owl glided past with great, slow wings, and out in the swamp some unseen creature moved, seemed to pause, listen.
Was that a step behind me
Astride a gap between logs, I paused, half turned to look.
Nothing. I must have been mistaken. Yet, I had heard something.
My shoulders ached from the burden of my tools. Straining my eyes in hte darkness, I looked for a place to stop, any place which to rest, if ever so briefly. And then I saw a wide stump from which a tree had been sawed, a full six feet in diameter. The tree cut from it lay in the swamp close by, half sunk.
With my left hand I swung my tools to the stump, keeping the rifle in my right, ready for use. This was a wild place. There were few travelers, and fewer still were honest men. Young I might be, but not trusting.
For the first time I was leaving my home, going south from Canada into the United States. Westward, it was said, they were building, and we are builders, we Talons.
There was a time when at least one of the family had been a pirate. He had been a privateer in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the Bay of Bengal, and the Red Sea, but mostly off the Coromandel and Malabar coasts of India. He'd done well, too, or so it was said. I'd seen none of the treasure he was said to have brought away.
What was that I half rose from my seat on the stump, then settled back, holding my rifle in both hands.
It was cold, growing colder.
Behind me, on the Gasp ' , I had left my father's cottage and the good will of at least some of my neighbors. My father was gone. My mother had died when I was yet a young boy, and I had no sweetheart.