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Iron Dust

Max Brand

  Copyright © 2010 by Golden West Literary Agency

  First Skyhorse Publishing edition published 2016 by arrangement with Golden West Literary Agency.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the publisher, except in the case of brief excerpts in critical reviews or articles. All inquiries should be addressed to Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018.

  “Iron Dust” by George Owen Baxter and Max Brand first appeared as an eight-part serial in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (1/29/21–3/19/21). Copyright © 1921 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1948 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2010 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for its cooperation.

  The name Max Brand® is a registered trademark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office and cannot be used for any purpose without express written permission.

  Skyhorse Publishing books may be purchased in bulk at special discounts for sales promotion, corporate gifts, fund-raising, or educational purposes. Special editions can also be created to specifications. For details, contact the Special Sales Department, Skyhorse Publishing, 307 West 36th Street, 11th Floor, New York, NY 10018 or [email protected].

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  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

  Cover design by Brian Peterson

  Print ISBN: 978-1-63450-739-4

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63450-740-0

  Printed in the United States of America

  Editor’s Note

  Although the majority of Frederick Faust’s many serials were generally published in six or seven installments, ten were somewhat longer, appearing in eight parts. One of these was “Iron Dust,” which was published in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine in 1921 in the issues dated from January 29 through March 21. Since then, it has never appeared as originally published. The task of rounding up the installments finally ended in 2008, thanks to the Special Collections of the University of Oklahoma Library, the Library of Congress Periodical Division, and William F. Nolan.

  The sequel to “Iron Dust”—“When Iron Turns to Gold”—is published in The Black Muldoon (Skyhorse Publishing, 2016).

  Chapter One

  Beside the rear window of the blacksmith shop, Jasper Lanning held his withered arms folded against his chest. With the dispassionate eye and the aching heart of an artist, he said to himself that his lifework was a failure. That lifework was the young fellow who swung the sledge at the forge, and truly it was a strange product for this seventy-year-old veteran with his slant, Oriental eyes and his narrow beard of white. Andrew Lanning was not even his son, but it came about in this way that Andrew became the lifework of Jasper.

  Fifteen years before the father of Andy died, and Jasper rode out of the mountain desert like a hawk dropping out of the pale-blue sky, for the clan spirit of the Lannings was as strong as the clan spirit of the Campbells and Stewarts in the old days. Jasper buried his brother without a tear and then sat down and looked at the slender child who bore his name. Andy was a beautiful boy. He had the black hair and eyes, the well-made jaw, and the bone of the Lannings, and if his mouth was rather soft and girlish, he laid the failing to the weakness of childhood. Jasper had no sympathy for tenderness in men. His own life was as littered with hard deeds as the side of a mountain with boulders. But the black, bright eyes and the well-made jaw of little Andy laid hold on him, and he said to himself: I’m fifty-five. I’m about through with my saddle days. I’ll settle down and turn out one piece of work that’ll last after I’m gone, and last with my signature on it.

  That was fifteen years ago. And for fifteen years he had labored to make Andy a man according to a grim pattern that was known in the Lanning clan and elsewhere in the mountain desert. His program was as simple as the curriculum of a Persian youth. On the whole, it was even simpler, for Jasper concentrated on teaching the boy how to ride and shoot, and was not at all particular that he learn to speak the truth. But on the first two and greatest articles of his creed, how Jasper labored.

  For fifteen years he poured his heart without stint into his work. He taught Andy to know a horse from hock to teeth and to ride anything that wore hair. He taught him to know a gun as if it were a sentient thing. He taught him all the draws of old and new pattern, and labored to give him both precision and speed. That was the work of fifteen years, and now at the end of this time, the old man pressed his bony shoulders against the wall of the blacksmith shop and knew that his work was a failure.

  It came coldly and smoothly home to him, as truths that we discover for ourselves are apt to do, or as a poniard point comes easily home to the heart. Jasper felt like that—there was death inside him—but he rolled his cigarette in Mexican style, thin and hard, and smoked it with a mask-like face. His lifework was a failure, for he had made the hand of Andrew Lanning cunning, had given his muscles strength, but the heart beneath was wrong.

  It was hard to see Andy at the first glance. A film of smoke shifted and eddied through the shop, and Andy, working the bellows, was a black form against the square of the door, a square filled by the blinding white of the alkali dust in the road outside and the blinding white of the sun above. Andy turned from the forge, bearing in his tongs a great bar of iron, black at the ends but white in the middle. The white place was surrounded by a sparkling radiance. Andy caught up an eight-pound hammer, and it rose and fell lightly in his hand; the blows were a shower; there was strength for you. The sparks were flung to the farthest corners of the shop. On the floor they became little spots of darkening red; they rushed against the leather apron of the hammer wielder, and as the blows fell, rapid waves of light were thrown against the face of Andrew.

  Looking at that face, one wondered how the lifework of Jasper was such a failure. For Andy was a handsome fellow with his blue-black hair and his black, rather-slanting eyes, after the Lanning manner. Yet Jasper saw, and his heart was sick. The face was a little too full; the square bone of the chin was rounded with flesh, and above all, the mouth had never changed. It was the mouth of the child, soft—too womanly soft. And Jasper blinked.

  When he opened his eyes again, the white place on the iron had become a dull red, and the face of the blacksmith was again in shadow. All Jasper could see was the body of Andy, and that was much better. Red light glinted on the sinewy arms and the swaying shoulders, and the hammer swayed and fell tirelessly. For fifteen years Jasper had consoled himself with the strength of the boy, smooth as silk and as durable, the light form that would not tire a horse, but swelled above the waist into those formidable shoulders.

  Now the bar was lifted from the anvil and plunged, hissing, into the bucket beside the forge. Above the bucket a cloud of steam rose and showed clearly against the brilliant square of the door, and the peculiar scent that came from the iron went sharply to the nostrils of Jasper. He got up and straightened his long, age-withered limbs as a horseman entered the shop. He came in a manner that pleased Jasper. There was a rush of hoofbeats, a form darting through the door, and in the midst of the shop, the rider leaped out of the saddle, and the horse came to a halt with braced legs. It knocked up a cloud of dust that blew slowly over to Jasper in the rear of the shop.

  “Hey, you!” called the rider, as he tossed the reins over the head of his horse. “Here’s a hoss that needs iron on his feet. Fix him up. And look here”—he lifted a forehoof and showed the scales on the frog and sole of the hoof—“last
time you shoed this hoss you done a sloppy job, son. You left all this stuff hangin’ on here. I want it trimmed off nice an’ neat. You hear?”

  The blacksmith shrugged his shoulders.

  “Spoils the hoof to put the knife on the sole, Buck,” said the smith. “That peels off natural.”

  “Hmm,” said Buck Heath. “How old are you, son?”

  “Oh, old enough,” answered Andy cheerily. “Old enough to know that this exfoliation is entirely natural.”

  The big word stuck in the craw of Buck Heath, who brought his thick eyebrows together. “I’ve rid horses off and on come twenty-five years,” he declared, “and I’ve rid ’em long enough to know how I want ’em shod. This is my hoss, son, and you do it my way. That straight?”

  The eye of old Jasper in the rear of the shop grew dim with wistfulness as he heard this talk. He knew Buck Heath; he knew his kind; in his day he would have eaten a dozen men of such rough words and such mild deeds as Buck. But searching the face of Andy, he saw no resentment, merely a quiet resignation.

  “Another thing,” said Buck Heath, who seemed determined to press the thing to a disagreeable point. “I hear you don’t fit your shoes on hot. Well?”

  “I never touch a hoof with hot iron,” replied Andy. “It’s a rotten practice.”

  “Is it?” said Buck Heath coldly. “Well, son, you fit my hoss with hot shoes, or I’ll know the reason why.”

  “I’ve got to do the work my own way,” protested Andy.

  A spark of hope burned in the slant eyes of Jasper.

  “Otherwise I can go find another gent to do my shoein’?” inquired Buck.

  “It looks that way,” replied the blacksmith with a nod.

  “Well,” said Buck, whose mildness of the last question had been merely the cover for a bursting wrath that now sent his voice booming, “maybe you know a whole pile, boy… I hear Jasper has give you consid’able education… but what you know is plumb wasted on me. Understand? As for lookin’ up another blacksmith, you ought to know they ain’t another shop in ten miles. You’ll do this job, and you’ll do it my way. Maybe you still got another way of thinkin’?”

  There was a little pause.

  “It’s your horse,” repeated Andy. “I suppose I can do him your own way.”

  Old Jasper closed his eyes and grinned in a silent agony. Looking again, he saw Buck Heath grinning with contempt, and for a single moment, Jasper touched his gun. Then he remembered that he was seventy years old. He stood up. “Well, Buck?” he said, coming forward. For he felt that, if this scene continued, he would go mad with shame.

  There was a great change in Buck as he heard this voice, a marked respect was in his manner as he turned to Jasper. “Hello, Jas,” he said. “I didn’t know you was here.” He stretched out his hand, but Jasper brushed by as if he did not see it.

  “Come over to the saloon, Buck, and have one on me,” said Jasper. “I guess Andy’ll have your hoss ready when we come back.”

  “Speakin’ personal,” said Buck Heath with much heartiness, “I don’t pass up no chances with no man, and particular if he’s Jasper Lanning.” He hooked his arm through Jasper’s elbow. “Besides, I’m all lined with alkali, Jas.” Then he added: “And that boy of yours has got me all heated up. Where’d he learn them man-sized words, Jas?”

  All of which Andy heard, and he knew that Buck Heath intended him to hear them. It made Andy frown, and for an instant, he thought of calling Buck back. But he did not call. Instead he imagined what would happen. Buck would turn on his heel and stand, towering, in the door. He would ask what Andy wanted. Andy chose the careful insult that he would throw in Buck’s face. He saw the blow given. He felt his own fist tingle as he returned the effort with interest. He saw Buck tumble back over the bucket of water. His thoughts roved on. He saw Buck drag himself up and away with a lump on his jaw. He saw the faces of other men as he passed them on the single street of the town. He felt their eyes on him—the man who beat up big Buck Heath.

  By this time Andy was smiling gently to himself. His wrath had dissolved in that thinking, and he was humming pleasantly to himself as he began to pull off the worn shoes of Buck’s horse.

  Chapter Two

  Young Andrew Lanning lived in the small, hushed world of his own thoughts. Between him and the bitter necessities of a man’s world stood the figure of Jasper, and Uncle Jasper’s name was one to frighten off trouble from the most troublesome. Half a century ago, he had done things that were now legend, and the awe of his past still surrounded him. It was pleasant for Andy to make things with his hands, and therefore the blacksmith shop contented him. As for the hard labor, his muscles made it play, and as to the future, for which every young man lives, the dreams of Andy made up that time to come.

  In reality he neither loved nor hated the world and the people around him. He simply did not see them. His mother—it was from her that he inherited the softer qualities of his mind and his face—had lived long enough to temper his vocabulary; also, she had even left him a little stock of books. And although Andy was by no means a reader, he had at least picked up that dangerous equipment of fiction that enables a man to dodge reality and live in his dreams. Those dreams had as little as possible to do with the daily routine of his life, and certainly the handling of guns, which his uncle enforced upon him, was never a part of the future as Andy saw it.

  It was now the late afternoon. The alkali dust in the road was still in a white light, but the temperature in the shop had dropped several degrees. The horse of Buck Heath was shod, and Andy was laying his tools away for the day when he heard the noise of an automobile with open muffler coming down the street. He stepped to the door to watch, and at that moment, a big, blue car trundled into view around the bend of the road. The rear wheels struck a slide of sand and dust, and skidded. A girl cried out, and then the big machine gathered out of the cloud of dust and came bowling toward Andy. It came with a crackling like musketry, and it was plain that it would leap through Martindale and away into the country beyond at a bound. Andy could see now that it was a roadster, low-hung, ponderous to keep the road. The ways through the mountains must be murderous to such a make of car.

  Pat Gregg was leaving the saloon; he was on his horse, but he sat the saddle slanting, and his head was turned to give the farewell word to several figures that bulged through the door of the saloon. For that reason, as well as because of the fumes in his brain, he did not hear the coming of the automobile. His friends from the saloon saw, however. They yelled a warning, but he evidently thought it some jest, as he waved his hand with a grin of appreciation. The big car was coming, rocking with its speed; it was too late now to stop that flying mass of metal.

  But the driver made the effort. His brakes shrieked, and still the car shot on with scarcely abated speed, for the wheels could secure no purchase in the thin sand of the roadway. Andy’s heart stood still in sympathy as he saw the face of the driver whiten and grow tense. Charles Merchant, the son of rich John Merchant, was behind the wheel. Drunken Pat Gregg had taken the warning at last. He turned in the saddle and drove home his spurs, but even that would have been too late had not Charles Merchant taken the big chance. At the risk of overturning the machine, he veered it sharply to the left. It hung for a moment on two wheels. Andy could count a dozen heartbeats while the plunging car edged around the horse and shoved between Pat and the wall of the house—inches on either side. Yet it must have taken not more than the split part of a second.

  There was a shout of applause from the saloon. Pat Gregg sat his horse, mouth open, his face pale, and then the heavy car rolled past the blacksmith shop. Andy, breathing freely and cold to his fingertips, saw young Charlie Merchant relax to a flickering smile as the girl beside him caught his arm and spoke to him.

  And then Andy saw her for the first time. She wore a linen duster and a linen hat. All Andy could see was the white flash of her hand as she gestured and her face. But that was enough. His eyes had been traveling with light
ning speed, as the car threatened the horse and Pat. Now, in the brief instant as the machine moved by, he not only saw her clearly, but he printed the picture to be seen again when she was gone. What was the hair? Red bronze and fiery where the sun caught at it, and the eyes were gray, or blue, or a gray green. But colors did not matter. It was all in her smile and the turning of her eyes, which were very wide open. She spoke, and it was in the sound of her voice.

  “Wait!” shouted Andy Lanning as he made a step toward them. But the car went on, rocking over the bumps, the exhaust roaring. Andy became aware that his shout had been only a dry whisper. Besides, what would he say if they did stop?

  And then the girl turned sharply about and looked back, not at the horse they had so nearly struck, but at Andy standing in the door of his shop. It seemed to him that that glance entered his eyes and reached his soul; he felt sure that she would remember his face; her smile had gone out while she stared, and now she turned her head suddenly to the front. Once more the sun flashed on her hair, and then the machine disappeared. In a moment even the roar of the engine was lost, but it came back again, flung in echoes from some hillside.

  Not until all was silent, and the boys from the saloon were shaking hands with Pat and laughing at him, did Andy turn back into the blacksmith shop. It confronted him like a piece of black night with shadows in it. Perhaps that was the effect of the sudden turning from bright daylight.

  He sat down on the anvil with his heart beating and began to recall the picture. Yes, it was all in the smile and the glint of the eyes. And something else—how should he say it?—of light shining through her.

  Once, in the mountains, looking suddenly up, it had seemed to Andy that all the stars were looking at him, that he could hear the silence of the wilderness. And his heart had beat as it was beating now. He had never had that sensation again, but he knew the sky would always be there, waiting. And so with this girl. In the dusty street, in the sharp, hot sunshine, in the roar of the motor and the crackling of voices, she had fallen on the mind of Andy like a holy quiet. But having seen her once, he would never see her again.