Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  


Max Brand



  A Western Trio


  “Jim Curry’s Compromise” © 1922 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. © renewed 1950 by Dorothy Faust. © 2009 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. “Jim Curry’s Test” © 1922 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. © renewed 1950 by Dorothy Faust. © 2009 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. “Jim Curry’s Sacrifice” © 1922 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. © renewed 1950 by Dorothy Faust. © 2009 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material.

  © 2009 by Golden West Literary Agency.

  E-book published in 2017 by Blackstone Publishing

  All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  Trade e-book ISBN 978-1-4708-6116-2

  Library e-book ISBN 978-1-4708-6115-5


  CIP data for this book is available from

  the Library of Congress

  Blackstone Publishing

  31 Mistletoe Rd.

  Ashland, OR 97520

  Editor’s Note

  Frederick Faust’s most prolific year was 1922, in which his output consisted of eleven serials and thirty short novels, or the equivalent of twenty novels. The majority were Westerns published in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, his most important market from 1920 through 1933. The three short novels about Jim Curry in this volume appeared in that magazine in that year. Although Faust commonly featured series characters in his stories—Bull Hunter, Ronicky Doone, James Geraldi, Chip, Speedy, Reata, and Silvertip—Jim Curry is the most moving and tragic of these creations, since he is set on a course from which he can never return to a normal life when his father is wrongfully killed by a posse of masked men. As in The Quest of Lee Garrison, a Max Brand story can defy all generic conventions.

  Jim Curry’s



  Everyone was so used to seeing Jim Curry breezing and blustering about the town, hearing his great voice raised in laughter or in anger that the pale-faced giant who strode into the sheriff’s office brought Sheriff Mason himself straight out of his chair.

  “He’s dead,” declared Jim Curry. “He’s dead. I dunno how it happened. He’s dead!”

  Curry stared at the sheriff, and Sheriff Mason stared at him. At last, thought the sheriff, Jim Curry had come to grief. Everyone had known that sooner or later the blow must fall. Always fighting, always ready for trouble, big or little, Curry had stormed his way through many years of life in safety, but the period of safety was approaching an end, so the sheriff felt, and so the whole town shared his feeling.

  Curry was one of those fellows who never grew up. Marriage and fatherhood had not aged him. He wore long mustaches, and the holster of his revolver was worn thin, but inside their wrinkles his eyes were as bright and careless a blue as they had been in his youth. Women in the town had shaken their heads, when he was a youngster, and prophesied that “Jimmie Curry won’t come to no good unless he settles down pronto.” That prophesy always hung like a heavy cloud over Curry. In fact, the whole community was waiting for the time when Jim Curry would take a step too far, a step from which he could not redeem himself through the simple expedient of a laugh and a smile. When he married and settled down on the little ranch, half a dozen miles from town, some people had a hope that Jim would give up his foolish way of life, particularly after Jim Jr. was born. But there was no changing Curry. If he altered a little at first, after the death of his wife, he reverted to his old habits. The boy was allowed to raise himself. Jim Curry could not bother himself with such a problem as the rearing of a freckle-faced child. The child grew to be a man, and his father was past forty-five years of age. But the badge of his age was his mustaches and his wrinkles—his soul was as young as ever.

  There was this difference as time rolled on. People forgive many things in a youth that are intolerable in a man. What had caused the citizens of Chester to smile when Jim Curry was twenty, made them shake their heads when he was thirty, and it made them scowl when he was forty. The world seems to have a certain limited stock of tolerance for pranks. Once the stock is exhausted, it goes hard with those who still make demands in the same direction. So it was with Jim Curry. He avoided one thing only. He was never contemptible. Those who were occasionally tempted to sneer at his antics revised their opinion when they considered the weight of his fists and his acknowledged skill with a revolver. In the use of the latter weapon, at least, Jim Curry had practiced industriously. But, in spite of all that was held against Curry, everyone really wished him well and the sheriff shook his head with a sigh when he started from his chair and heard that exclamation: “I dunno how it happened. He’s dead!”

  “Who’s dead?” asked the sheriff. “Who’ve you run into this time, and who’ve you finished up?”

  “It’s … it’s Jackson … it’s Dad Jackson,” replied Jim Curry.

  The sheriff winced and changed color. This was quite another tale. “Jim,” he said, “tell me that you don’t mean it. Tell me that it ain’t so.”

  For Dad Jackson, as he was fondly known, was the best-loved citizen of Chester. In the old days, Dad Jackson had been a very prosperous prospector, but his nearest and dearest friend, using his hold on the affections of Jackson to betray him, had nearly stripped him of his money. The blow had not robbed Dad Jackson of his trust in human nature, however, and there was hardly a man in Chester who, at one time or another, had not gone to Dad Jackson for help. Therefore it was that the sheriff winced, as if he had been struck in the face, when he heard the fatality named.

  “If unsaying it would undo it,” declared Curry, “I’d sure unsay it. But unsaying it won’t help. I seen him fall. I listened over him for his heart. He’s dead, Sheriff, and he’ll haunt me.”

  “Dead!” exclaimed Mason, and then he shrugged his shoulders and gave his entire body a vigorous shake to get rid of the inertia that the word brought to him. “Tell me the straight of it, Jim. What happened?”

  “We were talking along friendly,” said Jim Curry. “We were talking about some of the old times, and, in the midst of things, I started showing Jackson the double roll, and a gun went off … and …” He paused, unable to finish the description. “You come along with me, Mason, and I’ll show you. I … I can’t no way talk about it as easy as showing you what happened out at Dad’s house.”

  The sheriff nodded. “I’m plumb sorry, Jim,” he said, “that this here happened. But I can’t take you out there. You’ll have to wait here until I come back.” He opened a drawer in his desk and took from it a bunch of keys.

  “Wait!” exclaimed Curry. “You don’t mean that you’d lock me up, Sheriff?”

  “It don’t mean nothing, Jim,” Mason assured him mildly. “It don’t mean a thing. You just stay here, safe and quiet. Even if worse come to the worst, which it won’t, they can’t do no more’n send you up for manslaughter.”

  “Send me up? Prison, you mean, Sheriff?”

  “In a manner of speaking,” said Mason not too adroitly, dodging the issue. “That’s what I mean. You ain’t going to die just because you stay overnight in jail.”

  But big Jim Curry was gray with fear of which the sheriff was not an altogether unknowing witness. He had seen, before this, big men and brave men tremble at the thought of imprisonment, men who would dare a hundred dangers readily enough in the open, but whom the thought of prison walls threw at once into a panic.

  “Wait a minute, Mason,” protested Curry, backing towa
rd the door. “I come in here to tell you what’s happened. I didn’t come in to see you shove me into a cell and turn the key. Is that friendly, Mason? Or d’you think I’m so dog-gone’ cheap that I’d let you do all of that without a fight?”

  The sheriff nodded. “I know how you feel, partner. I’d like to let you out of this if I could, but it wouldn’t be right, and it wouldn’t be good even for you, Jim. You know how Dad Jackson stood with the boys around here. We all plumb loved that old man, Jim, and the boys are sure going to take it mighty hard when they hear what’s happened. Just for a day or two, mind you, some of the gents are apt to talk about guns and ropes and whatnot, and the best thing you can do, to keep your hide safe, is to get inside of steel bars and stay there. Understand?”

  Jim Curry was still gray, and he shook his head. “I don’t like it, Sheriff,” he kept saying. “It makes me all wrinkle up inside. Takes all the starch out of me, you see?”

  “I can’t stand here arguing!” exclaimed the sheriff. “You step over here and go through that door, Curry. They’s nobody else inside. You’ll have the whole place to yourself … all the blankets you want for your bunk, magazines to read, and everything else. But inside you go. It’s for the sake of your own neck that I’m talking, you fool.”

  As he spoke in this burst of temper, he walked across the room, straight at Jim Curry. And, quite unconsciously, he dropped his right hand on the butt of his revolver. It was a most unfortunate move.

  On the very verge of being persuaded, Curry saw the sheriff apparently resort to the most violent of threats. Was it as serious a matter as that? He peered through the open door. The room beyond, used as a jail, loomed dark and forbidding to Jim. With all his soul he loathed that room.

  “Mason,” he pleaded, “don’t push me too hard!”

  “Why, you’re a fool!” exclaimed Mason. “I can’t stay here all day and argue with you. Will you come along or do I have to call Harry and bring him in to help me drag you in there?”

  Plainly the sheriff was very angry indeed, or he would never have suggested “dragging” to such a man as big Jim Curry. The answer of the latter was brief. It was not even as extended as a syllable. He found himself hemmed against the wall with no escape except by the use of force. And force, accordingly, he used. He stepped neither forward nor back, but, swaying a little to the left, he jerked up his right fist and landed it squarely under the chin of the surprised sheriff.

  There was not a sound of protest. Only the head of the sheriff, as he fell, bumped loudly against the desk, and then he slumped to the floor, the rattle of his revolver muffled in the holster at his side.

  Jim Curry looked down in relief. This obstacle was out of the way. That it might be replaced by another more formidable did not occur to him. Jim looked only from step to step in this future. He lingered, however, regardless of what danger might come to him from the sheriff’s boy, Harry, in the next room. He lingered long enough to bend over the sheriff and make sure that he was not badly hurt. He had always been afraid to use his full strength on any man, but now, in the excitement of the moment, he had smashed up with all of his might.

  Observing that the sheriff’s jaw sagged crookedly to one side, he took hold of the end of it and stirred it. He could hear the scraping of bone on bone. Plainly that jaw was broken, badly broken. Moreover, at the back of the head appeared a gash, and under the gash was a growing pool of crimson. That was the result of the blow against the edge of the desk. Sudden panic rushed through the brain of the big man at the sight. He slumped to his knees and pressed his ear against the breast of the sheriff. He could hear nothing. As a matter of fact, his brain was so disturbed that he might not have heard the gallop of a horse.

  But this, with the sight of the crimson pool, was enough for Jim Curry. He started to his feet and rushed out of the office, moaning. What unlucky demon had inspired his actions this day of days? In another moment he was on his horse and galloping full speed for his home.


  Straight out of town and down the road toward the little shack that he called home sped Jim Curry. Plunging from the saddle, he dashed open the door and confronted his son.

  The accidental killing of Dad Jackson had sent him rushing to the sheriff to make his confession. The encounter with the sheriff nearly maddened him, for he did not know that the sheriff had not been killed by the fall.

  In a single great rush of words he babbled out to his son all that he had done, or thought that he had done.

  Jim Curry the second listened and said nothing. He was a second edition of his father in many ways. He was equally indolent, equally skillful with his hands and with weapons, equally careless about money and the things money could buy. Indolence, however, so far predominated over other qualities that he had not yet become obnoxious to the world, or perhaps he would outgrow his faults with more years. At present, the whole inner furnishing of his mind came from his father, although quickened and refined by the qualities that had come to him from his mother. He could not, for instance, go blundering and blustering through the village picking fights. He was more apt to sit still all day in the sun, or jog off through the hills on his pony. Physically he was an equal contrast. He was tall, to be sure, but his strength lay in the quality of his wiry muscles rather than in the bulk of them. His hands were excessively long and slender, and they seemed at first glance sheer bone and tendon, without flesh. His face, too, was of a long mold, rather innocuously handsome, as he leaned against the side of the wall and rolled his cigarette. Shaking the tobacco firmly down in it, to give a lip hold, he lighted it and tossed the match through the window. He performed all of these maneuvers without ever taking his eyes from the bowed and swaying form of his father.

  “Say something,” said the big man at last. “What’ll I do? What’ll I do?”

  The silence that met this appeal caused him to jerk up his head suddenly, as if to curse, but the impassive pair of gray eyes that met his daunted him.

  “Well?” he demanded. “What is it, Jimmie? Don’t stand there like that, never even winking. It … it’s too much like your mother, lad. It’s like the ghost of her come back to stand there and look at me with the same eyes. She got over being sad. She used to just stand there and watch me and seemed to be waiting. Though what for, except death, I dunno.”

  He brooded a moment on this, dropping his head so that he did not see the slight shudder pass through the body of his son. When he looked up again, the eyes of Jimmie were grave and emotionless. In truth there was a great gulf between these two, in spite of the relation of father and son.

  “You’re all your mother,” he said. “All your mother and none of me. But ain’t you got nothing to say? Any place I can go and cache myself? You’d ought to know the hills like a book. You spent enough time in ’em.”

  “No use,” said the son.


  “It’s too late,” said the emotionless voice.

  “You lie,” retorted the father.

  “You couldn’t hide out in the hills.”

  “Why not?”

  “You’d get lonesome. You ain’t the kind to go living off by yourself. You’d miss your friends. Some night you’d ride in to see ’em, and they’d hang you in return.”

  The father swallowed hard as the truth of this prophecy was borne upon him.

  “I’ll get out and ride … then I’ll get distance behind me, anyways.”

  “That won’t do you no good,” said the boy. He was hardly nineteen, but his calm exposition of the facts made him seem vastly older. “You ain’t got a hoss on the place that’ll stand up under a stiff ride for five hours. They’s trail you down before night.”

  The big man roared in protest: “What’s the matter with Bess?”

  “You forget about her. You foundered her six weeks ago. I’ve kept her feet from falling off … that’s about all.”

  “Bess gon
e? I plumb forgot … I plumb forgot. But then there’s the sorrel, eh?”

  “The sorrel? He’s gaunted up so’s one stiff ride would about kill him.”

  “Gaunted up? Why don’t you feed the hosses? What else have you got to do?”

  “I’ve told you,” said the youth, “that the sorrel can’t keep in shape for working unless you’ll keep grain to feed him. You ain’t had a speck of barley on the place for months.”

  His father regarded him an accusing glare, as if each fact that had been elicited was another burden to be heaped upon the head of Jimmie, rather than his own.

  “Then what d’you think?”

  “Only one thing. Stay here and wait for ’em, and, when they come, go with ’em.”

  The elder man gasped. “Just stand up and let ’em put the rope around my neck, eh? D’you think I’m plumb crazy, boy?”

  “It’s the best way … this going right with ’em,” said Jimmie. “You’ve done wrong enough to run away this far. That’s apt to make ’em think all wrong about you.”

  “Stay here and wait? I suppose you’d do that if you was in my boots?”

  “I sure would.”

  “I kind of believe you would, Jimmie … I kind of think you would. You ain’t got no red in your veins, just water. But I ain’t that kind. I … I’d die, Jimmie, if I had to spend a week in a jail. I couldn’t breathe inside them cursed walls!”

  His son shook his head gravely.

  “Ain’t you got no feeling?” demanded the father suddenly. “Don’t it make no difference to you? You go on smoking like you was at a party.” He added bitterly, “Any stranger would do more for me than my own son.”

  “I’m a poor hand at talking,” said Jimmie. “I know that tolerable well.”

  “Poor at talking and poor in every other way. What’ve you ever done to help me, or help yourself? What’ve you ever done, I ask you?”