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Destry Rides Again

Max Brand




  Max Brand®



  Cover Page

  Title Page

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Chapter Twenty-three

  Chapter Twenty-four

  Chapter Twenty-five

  Chapter Twenty-six

  Chapter Twenty-seven

  Chapter Twenty-eight

  Chapter Twenty-nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-one

  Chapter Thirty-two

  Chapter Thirty-three

  Chapter Thirty-four

  Chapter Thirty-five

  Chapter Thirty-six

  Chapter Thirty-seven

  Chapter Thirty-eight

  Chapter Thirty-nine

  Chapter Forty

  Chapter Forty-one

  Chapter Forty-two

  Chapter Forty-three

  Other Leisure books by Max Brand ®


  Chapter One

  “Lil’ ol’ town, you don’t amount to much,” said Harry Destry. “You never done nothin’ an’ you ain’t gunna come to no good. Doggone me if you ain’t pretty much like me!”

  So said Destry as he came from the swinging doors of the First Chance and now leaned against one of the slim, horse-eaten pillars that supported the shelter roof in front of the saloon. The main street of the town of Wham stretched before him, until it wound itself, snakelike, out of view. It had gained its title in yet earlier days when it was little more than a crossroads store and saloon where the cowpunchers foregathered from east and west and south and north; and meeting from all those directions, often their encounters were so explosive that “wham!” was a really descriptive word. It had grown to some prosperity, and it was yet growing, for the cattlemen still came in, and, in addition, long sixteen-mule teams pulled high wheeled freight wagons out of Wham and lugged them up the dusty slopes to the gold mines of the Crystal Mountains.

  But still Wham had not grown too fast for the knowledge of Destry to follow it. It was held in the cup of his memory; it was mapped in his mind; he knew every street sign, and the men behind the signs, from the blacksmiths to the lawyers, for Destry had grown up with the place. He had squirmed his bare toes in the hot dust of the main street; he had fought in the vacant lots; and many a house or store was built over some scene of his grandeur. For the one star in the crown of Harry Destry, the one jewel in his purse, the one song in his story, was that he fought; and when he battled, he was never conquered.

  His wars were not for money, and neither were they for fame; but for the pure sake of combat in itself, he used his fists, and never wearied or shifted with ambidexterity to knives or guns, and still was at home with his talents. To him, Wham was a good and proper name for a city; it expressed his own character, and he loved the town as much as he esteemed it little.

  Having surveyed it now, he took note of a new roof, white with fresh shingles, as yet unpainted, and went strolling down the street to examine the newcomer. He had turned the first bend of the way when he met Chester Bent.

  “Why, doggone my eyes,” said Destry gently, “if here ain’t lil’ ol’ Chet Bent, all dressed up pretty and goin’ to Sunday school agin. How are you, Chet, and how you gettin’ on? Where you get them soft hands of yours all manicured?”

  Chester Bent was by no means “little”; he had a spare pair of inches from which he could look down at Destry and twenty-five pounds to give weight to his objections, but in the younger days he had fallen before the rhythmic fury of Destry’s two-fisted attack. It had been no easy victory, for under the seal-like sleekness of Chester Bent there was ample strength, and behind his habitual smile was the will of a fighter. Three times they met, and twice they were parted with blood on their hands; but the third time they had battled on the shore of the swimming pool until Chester fell on his back and gasped that he had enough. Therefore, having conquered him, the hard hands of Destry were averted from him, and he became one to whom Destry spoke with a sort of affectionate contempt.

  It made no difference that Chester Bent was a rising man in the town, owning a store and two houses, or that he had stretched his interests to include a share in a mine of dubious value; to Harry Destry he remained “lil’ old Chet” because of the glory of that day by the swimming pool. And in this, Destry was at fault, since he failed to understand that, while many things are forgotten by many men, there is one thing that never is forgiven, and that is the black moment when man or boy is forced to say: “Enough!”

  Chester Bent merely smiled at the greeting of the cowpuncher.

  “What you-all doin’ here in front of the shoe shop?” went on Destry. “Waitin’ for a pair of shoes, Chet?”

  “I’m driving out the west road,” said Bent, “and I promised Dangerfield to take Charlie out and deliver her; she’s in collecting a pair of shoes.”

  “Is Charlie in there? I’m gunna go in and see her,” announced Destry. “You come along and hold my coat, will you?”

  He marched into the shoe store, and found a perspiring clerk laboring over a pair of patent leather dancing slippers which he was trying to work onto the foot of a pretty sixteen-year-old girl whose hair was down her back, and the end of the pigtail sun-faded to straw color.

  “Why, hullo, Charlie,” said Destry. “How you been, and whacha done with your freckles?”

  “I bleached ’em out,” said Charlie Dangerfield. “Whacha done with your spurs?”

  “I left ’em in the First Chance,” said Destry, “which they’re gunna hang ’em on the wall by token that a man has been there and likkered.”

  “You lost ’em at poker,” said she.

  “Who told you that so quick?” asked Destry.

  “It don’t have to be told, or wrote either,” said the girl, “and it don’t take any mind reader to tell where you’ve been. Did you spend your whole six dollars, too?”

  “It was five and a half,” said Destry. “Who told you that?”

  “I know you been out at the Circle Y about six days, that’s all.”

  “I tell you how it was, Charlie. It was a pretty hand as you ever see; it was four sevens pat; and I stand, and Sim Harper draws three, and doggone me if he didn’t raise me out of a right good slicker, and my old gun, and a set of silver conchos, and a brand new bandana, nearly, and my spurs, and then he lays down four ladies to smile at me. D’you hear of such luck?”

  “You can get all kinds of luck off the bottom of the pack,” said Charlie Dangerfield. “That’s where Sim mostly keeps his.”

  “I wasn’t watchin’ too close,” said Destry. “I gotta admit that when I seen the four of a kind it looked to me like a hoss and a saddle, and a pack and a fishin’ rod, and a month of fishin’ up the Crystal Mountains. I was feelin’ the trout sock the fly, and how come I could watch Sim’s hands at the same time?”

  “Did you lose your hoss and saddle, too?”

  “Would I of got to my spurs without that?” asked Destry. “You’ve kind of slowed up in the head, Charlie, since you l
ost your freckles. Freckles was always a sign of brains, ain’t they, Chet?”

  Chester Bent was idly running his glance over the names on the rows of shoe boxes, and he shrugged his shoulders for an answer.

  “Lil’ ol’ Chet is day dreamin’ and raisin’ his interest rates to nine per cent,” suggested Destry. “Look here, George”—this to the shoe clerk—“tell me what’s the size of that shoe?”

  “Five, Harry,” said the clerk.

  “D’you aim to get that slipper onto that there foot?” asked Destry, “or are you just wrestlin’ for the sake of the exercise?”

  “Fives ain’t a bit too small,” said the girl. “The last time I——”

  “You musta been to the Camp Meeting and got saved,” declared Destry, “and swallered the miracles down and everything, because you sure are askin’ for a tidy little miracle right along about now!”

  “You ain’t amusin’, Harry,” she told him. “You’re jes’ plain rude, and ignorant!”

  “About most things, I certainly am, but feet is a thing that I can understand, and shoein’. Fetch down a pair of number sevens, George, because I ain’t gunna send this here child home with blistered heels.”

  He reached down and took the stockinged foot in his hand. The foot jerked violently.

  “Whoa, girl,” said Destry. “Steady, you sun-fishin’, eye-rollin’, wo’thless bronc, you! Don’t you kick me in the face!”

  “You’re ticklin’ my foot,” said the girl. “Leave me be, Harry Destry, and you go and run along about your business. I don’t want to waste no time on you, and Mr. Bent is plumb hurried, too.”

  “I’m aimin’ to save the time of Mister Bent,” said Destry. “George, you go and fetch down them number sevens. But look here what she’s been doin’ to herself, and crampin’ up her toes, and raisin’ corns on the tops of the second joints. Doggone me if this old hoss ain’t gunna be spoiled for me.”

  “For you?” asked Bent, now standing by to listen.

  “Sure,” said Destry. “When she gets filled out to these here feet, I’m gunna marry her. Ain’t I, ol’ hoss?”

  “Bah!” said the girl, and wriggled with mental discomfort, because she felt her face growing hot. “You jus’ talk and talk, Harry Destry, and you never say nothin’!”

  “Hello, Chet!” called the store owner, letting the door slam as he walked in. “You seen the sheriff?”

  “Have I seen what?” asked Chester Bent, without raising his eyes.

  “He’s been lookin’ for you mighty busy. He’s just down the street.”

  “Ah,” said Chester absently, “he’ll maybe find me, by and by! Are you gunna marry him, Charlie?”

  “Why for should I marry such a lazy, shiftless thing?” she asked, looking at Destry with indignation.

  “Because I plumb love you, honey,” said Destry. “And don’t forget that you’re all promised to me.”

  “I ain’t any such thing,” she declared.

  “Are you forgettin’ that day that I carried you across the Thunder Creek——”

  “Chet!” she exclaimed in furious protest. “Listen at how he carries on, teasin’ a poor girl. He wouldn’t take me all the way over till I said I’d marry him.”

  “And you kissed me, honey, and sure said you’d always love old wo’thless Harry!”

  “Harry Destry,” said the girl, “I wasn’t no more’n hardly a baby. I wasn’t more’n twelve or thirteen years old. I’d like to beat you, Harry, you wretched thing!”

  “You were never a baby,” said he. “You were born old, and knowin’ more than any man would ever know. Now there, you see how neat that fits?”

  The number seven, in fact, fitted like a glove on the long, slender foot.

  Tears came up in the eyes of Charlie.

  “Oh, Harry,” she said, “ain’t it monstrous big? I’m gunna grow up six feet high, I guess!”

  “I mighty sure hope you do,” said Destry. “Because it looks like I’m gunna be a tolerable ailin’ man the most of my days, and never take kindly to work.”

  “How come you lost that Circle Y job?” she asked him, forgetting his illimitable personalities. “I’ll tell you how. You been fightin’ again!”

  “Why, how you talk!” said Destry innocently. “Who would I be fightin’ with over to the Circle Y, where they ain’t had nothin’ but scared greasers and broke-down nigger help for years?”

  “They gotta rawboned Swede over there lately,” she said, “that looks like he could lift a thousand pound. I bet it was him.”

  “Oh, Charlie,” said Destry, “you was born old and wise! What a hell of a life I’m gunna lead with you, honey!”

  “How’s the Swede?” she snapped.

  “Tolerable sick,” said Destry. “Tolerable sick and run down. Which his stomach is kind of out of order, and that’s got his eyes all involved up, so’s he’s hardly able to see. He ain’t got no appetite, neither, and if he had, he ain’t got the teeth left to bite with. But the doctor is gunna get him a new set of celluloid, and pretty soon he’ll be better than new!”

  “If I had you,” said the girl, “I’d keep you muzzled and on a leash. I’d never loose you excepting at loafer wolves and such. That’s what I’d do, if I had you!”

  “Oh, you’re gunna have me, honey!” said he. “Lemme help you out the door, will you?”

  “You run along and help yourself,” she advised him, “but don’t you help yourself to no more redeye!”

  “Why, Charlie, I ain’t hardly had no taste of it!”

  “You do your tastin’ by the quart,” she observed, “but even if you can fool the bottle, you cant fool me! Come on, Chet! Mighty sorry that I’ve kept you so long!”

  They went out to the hitching rack, where Bent’s span of matched bays were hitched in silver bound harness to a rubber tired buggy whose blue spokes were set off with dainty stripes of red.

  “I’m gunna drive,” said the girl, and leaped into the driver’s place.

  “You ain’t gunna kiss me good-by, Charlie?”

  “I’d slap you, you impident thing!” she said, grinning at him. “Listen at him talk, Chet!”

  “Say, Chet,” said Destry, “now you’re gunna take my honey away from me, mightn’t you leave me something in her place?”

  Chet Bent looked up the street with a nod.

  “There’s Pike’s bull terrier loose again,” he said. “He’ll leave another dead dog along his trail before the day’s out!”

  “Will he? He will!” said Destry, turning to watch, and as the wind blew open the flap of his coat, and as the girl sat up to watch the white streak across the street, neither Destry nor she saw the swift hand of Bent slip a thin package into the inside pocket of the cowpuncher’s coat.

  “About leavin’ something—even trade rats do that!” said Destry.

  “They leave rocks and stones,” said Bent, smiling.

  “And gold, I heard tell once!”

  “Did you hear tell? Well, here’s something. Make it last, Harry, will you?”

  Destry was counting it, entranced.

  “Forty—fifty—I’m gettin’ plain dizzy, Chet!— sixty—seventy—this ain’t real, but all sort of dreamlike!—seventy-five—eighty—who’s put the new heart in, Bent? Is it your fault, honey?— ninety—a hundred—a hundred dollars——”

  “You better start a bank account,” suggested the girl.

  “Wait a minute, Chet!” cried Destry. “What’ve you done that you wanta repent it as hard as all of this? Have you got religion, Chet? Have you sold a salted mine?”

  He followed them a few steps along the sidewalk as Bent, laughing, started up his team.

  Then Destry turned back to survey the town, which had taken on a new aspect.

  “I’m gunna buy me a bronc and a saddle and git,” said Destry. “Cowboy, buy yourself some spurs, and hump! Because money don’t rain down every day, nor ham and eggs don’t grow on the cactus, nor Chester Bent unlimber his wallet wide open like this! I’
m gunna get reformed and start to work!”

  So he said, frowning with resolution, but at this point he saw the swinging doors of the Second Chance saloon, and he felt that no atmosphere was so conducive to serious thought and planning as the damp coolness of that barroon.

  So he passed inside.

  Chapter Two

  If alcohol is a mental poison, at least it did not show in Harry Destry by thickness of speech, or uncertainty of hand and foot. His eye grew brighter, wilder, his head was higher; his hand was more swift and restless before he ended the first fifty that Bent had given to him.

  A hundred dollars, in those days, could be spread thick over many slices of good time, and Destry was both spreading and eating, and taking friends with him. No one knew how trouble started; they rarely did, when Harry Destry went on the warpath, but already there was a commotion in Donovan’s Saloon when the sheriff rode up beside the whirling, flashing wheels of Chester Bent’s buggy and raised his hand. Bent drew the horses back to a walk, and they went on, switching their tails, stretching their necks out against the uneasy restraint of the bits, and eager to be off again at full trot.

  The sheriff brushed some of the dust from his black moustache, of whose sheen and length and thickness he was inordinately proud; then he said: “Chet, I wanta ask you a coupla questions. Where was you Wednesday night?”

  “Wednesday night?” said Chester Bent, calmly thoughtful. “Let me see! I was doing accounts, most of the evening. Why d’you ask?”

  “Because the express was held up that night, and the mail was robbed,” said the sheriff.

  He looked earnestly into the face of the younger man to see if there was not some change of expression. In fact, Chester Bent grew pale, with purple spots faintly outlined on his sleek cheeks.

  “And seventy-two thousand dollars was taken,” said the sheriff, “as maybe you know!”

  “Great Lord!” murmured young Bent, aghast, and added in a rapid muttering: “And poor Harry Destry spending money like wildfire all over town——”

  He checked himself, and glanced guiltily at the sheriff.

  “Whacha say?” asked the sheriff, his voice high and sharp.