Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Outlaw's Pursuit

Max Brand

  Copyright © 2008 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.

  “Dust Storm” by Max Brand first appeared in Collier’s (4/3/37). Copyright © 1937 by Crowell Collier Publishing Company. Copyright © renewed 1965 by the Estate of Frederick Faust. Copyright © 2008 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material.

  “Outlaw’s Pursuit” first appeared under the title “On The Trail of Four,” a four-part serial by Max Brand in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (8/15/25–9/5/25). Copyright © 1925 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1953 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2008 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for their 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].

  Skyhorse® and Skyhorse Publishing® are registered trademarks of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.®, a Delaware corporation.

  Visit our website at

  10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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

  Cover design by Brian Peterson

  Print ISBN: 978-1-63450-759-2

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63450-760-8

  Printed in the United States of America


  Dust Storm

  Outlaw’s Pursuit

  Dust Storm

  In the mid thirties, Frederick Faust abandoned what had been his primary story market, Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, due to decreases in the rate he was paid per word. While his stories still appeared in pulps—Argosy and Detective Fiction Weekly—his market had expanded to the slicks, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, and Collier’s. “Dust Storm” was one of three of Faust’s stories that appeared in Collier’s in 1937. It was published in the issue dated April 3.

  For seven days the wind came out of the northeast over the Powder Mountains and blew the skirts of a dust storm between Digger Hill and Bender Hill into the hollow where Lindsay was living in his shack. During that week Lindsay waked and slept with a piece of black coat-lining worn across his mouth and nostrils, but the dust penetrated like cosmic rays through the chinks in the walls of the cabin, through the mask and to the bottom of his lungs, so that every night he roused from sleep gasping for breath with a nightmare of being buried alive. Even lamplight could not drive that bad dream farther away than the misty corners of the room.

  The blow began on a Tuesday morning and by twilight of that day he knew what he was in for, so he went out through the whistling murk and led Jenny and Lind, his two mules, and Mustard, his old cream-colored mustang, from the pasture into the barn. There he had in the mow a good heap of the volunteer hay that he had cut last May on the southeast forty, but the thin silt of the storm soon whitened the hay to such a degree that he had to shake it thoroughly before he fed the stock. Every two hours during that week he roused himself by an alarm-clock instinct and went out to wash the nostrils and mouths of the stock, prying their teeth open and reaching right in to swab the black off their tongues. On Wednesday, Jenny, like the fool and villainess that she was, closed on his right forearm and raked off eight inches of skin.

  Monotony of diet was more terrible to Lindsay than the storm. He had been on the point of riding to town and borrowing money from the bank on his growing crop so as to lay in a stock of provisions, but now he was confined with a bushel of potatoes and the heel of a side of bacon.

  Only labor like that of the harvest field could make such food palatable, and, in confinement as he was, never thoroughly stretching his muscles once a day, Lindsay began to revolt in belly, and then in spirit. He even lacked coffee to give savor to the menu; he could not force himself more than once a day to eat potatoes, boiled or fried in bacon fat, with the dust gritting continually between his teeth.

  He had no comfort whatever except for Cæsar, his mongrel dog, and half a bottle of whiskey, from which he gave himself a nip once a day. Then in the night of the seventh day there came to Lindsay a dream of a country where rolling waves of grass washed from horizon to horizon and all the winds of the earth could not blow a single breath of dust into the blue of the sky. He wakened with the dawn visible through the cracks in the shanty walls and a strange expectancy in his mind.

  That singular expectation remained in him when he threw the door open and looked across the black of the hills toward the green light that was opening like a fan in the east, then he realized that it was the silence after the storm that seemed more enormous than all the stretch of landscape between him and the Powder Mountains. Cæsar ran out past his legs to leap and bark and sneeze until something over-awed him, in turn, and sent him skulking here and there with his nose to the ground as though he were following invisible bird trails. It was true that the face of the land was changed.

  As the light grew, Lindsay saw that the water hole in the hollow was a black wallow of mud and against the woodshed leaned a sloping mass of dust like a drift of snow. The sight of this started him on the run for his eighty acres of winter-sown summer fallow. From a distance he saw the disaster but could not believe it until his feet were wading deep in the dust. Except for a few marginal strips, the whole swale of the plowed land was covered with wind-filtered soil, a yard thick in the deepest places.

  Two-thirds of his farm was wiped out, two-thirds of it was erased into permanent sterility, and the work of nearly ten years was entombed. He glanced down at the palms of his hands, for he was thinking of the burning, pulpy blisters that had covered them day after day when he was digging holes with the blunt post auger.

  He looked up, then, at the distant ridges of the Powder Mountains. Ten years before in the morning light he had been able almost to count the great pines that walked up the slopes and stood on the mountains’ crests, but the whole range had been cut over in the interim and the thick coat of forest that bound with its roots the accumulated soil of a million years had been mowed down. That was why the teeth of the wind had found substance they could eat into.

  The entire burden of precious loam that dressed the mountains had been blown adrift in recent years and now the worthless underclay, made friable by a dry season, was laid in a stifling coat of silt across the farmlands of the lower valleys and the upper pastures of the range.

  Lindsay did not think about anything for a time. His feet, and an automatic impulse that made him turn always to the stock first, took him to the barn, where he turned loose the confined animals. Even the mules were glad enough to kick up their heels a few times, and fifteen years of hard living could not keep Mustard from exploding like a bomb all over the pasture, bucking as though a ghost were on his back and knocking up a puff of dust every time he hit the ground.

  Lindsay, standing with feet spread and folded arms, a huge figure in the door of the barn, watched the antics of his old horse with a vacant smile, for he was trying to rouse himself and failin
g wretchedly. Instead, he could see himself standing in line with signed application slips in his hand, and then in front of a desk where some hired clerk with an insolent face put sharp questions to him. A month hence, when people asked him how things went, he would have to say: “I’m on the county.”

  When he had gone that far in his thinking, his soul at last rose in him but to such a cold, swift altitude that he was filled with fear, and he found his lips repeating words, stiffly, whispering them aloud: “I’ll be damned and dead first.” The fear of what he would do with his own hands grew stronger and stronger, for he felt that he had made a promise that would be heard recorded by that living, inmost god of all honest men, his higher self.

  Once more, automatically, his feet took him on to the next step in the day: breakfast. Back in the shanty, his lips twitched with disgust as he started frying potatoes; the rank smell of the bacon grease mounted to his brain and gathered in clouds there, but his unthinking hands finished the cookery and dumped the fried potatoes into a tin plate.

  A faint chorus came down to him then out of the windless sky. He snatched the loaded pistol from the holster that hung against the wall and ran outside, for sometimes the wild geese, flying north, came very low over the hill as they rose from the marsh south of it, but now he found himself agape like a schoolboy, staring up.

  He should have known by the dimness of the honking and by the melancholy harmony that distance added to it that the geese were half a mile up in the sky. Thousands of them were streaming north in a great wedge that kept shuffling and reshuffling at the open ends, ten tons of meat on the wing.

  A tin pan crashed inside the shack and Cæsar came out on wings with his tail between his legs; Lindsay went inside and found the plate of potatoes overturned on the floor. He called: “Come in here, Cæsar, you damned old thief! Come in here and get it, if you want the stuff. I’m better without.”

  The dog came back, skulking. From the doorway, he prospected the face of his master for a moment, slavering with greed, then he sneaked to the food on the floor and began to eat, guiltily, but Lindsay already had forgotten him. All through the hollow which a week before had been a shining tremor of yellow-green wheat stalks, the rising wind of the morning was now stirring little airy whirlpools and walking ghosts of dust that made a step or two and vanished.

  It seemed to Lindsay that he had endured long enough. He was thirty-five. He had twenty years of hard work behind him. And he would not, by God, he would not be a government pensioner. The wild geese had called the gun into his hand; he felt suddenly that it must be used for one last shot anyway. As for life, there was a stinking savor of bacon that clung inevitably to it. He looked with fearless eyes into the big muzzle of the gun.

  Then Mustard whinnied not far from the house and Lindsay lifted his head with a faint smile, for there was a stallion’s trumpet sound in the neigh of the old gelding always, just as there was always an active devil in his heels and his teeth. He combined the savage instincts of a wildcat with the intellectual, patient malevolence of a mule, but Lindsay loved the brute because no winter cold was sharp enough to freeze the big heart in him and no dry summer march was long enough to wither it. At fifteen, the old fellow still could put fifty miles of hard country behind him between dawn and dark. For years Lindsay had felt that those long, mulish ears must eventually point the way to some great destiny.

  He stepped into the doorway now and saw that Mustard was whinnying a challenge to a horseman who jogged up the Gavvigan Trail with a tell-tale dust cloud boiling up behind. Mechanical instinct, again, made Lindsay drop the gun into the old leather holster that hung on the wall.

  Then he stepped outside to wait.

  Half a mile off, the approaching rider put his horse into a lope and Lindsay recognized, by his slant in the saddle, that inveterate range tramp and worthless roustabout, Gypsy Renner. He reined in at the door of the shack, lifted his bandanna from nose and mouth, and spat black.

  “Got a drink, Bob?” he asked without other greeting.

  “I’ve got a drink for you,” said Lindsay.

  “I’ll get off a minute, then,” replied Renner, and swung out of the saddle.

  Lindsay poured some whiskey into a tin cup and Renner received it without thanks. Dust was still rising like thick smoke from his shoulders.

  “You been far?” asked Lindsay.

  “From Boulder,” said Renner.

  “Much of the range like out yonder?”

  “Mostly,” said Renner.

  He finished the whiskey and held out the cup. Lindsay poured the rest of the bottle.

  “If much of the range is like this,” said Lindsay, “it’s gonna be hell.”

  “It’s gonna be and it is,” said Renner. “It’s hell already over on the Oliver range.”

  “Wait a minute. That’s where Andy Barnes and John Street run their cows. What you mean it’s hell up there?”

  “That’s where I’m bound,” said Renner. “They’re hiring men and guns on both sides. Most of the water holes and tanks on Andy Barnes’s place are filled up with mud, right to the ridge of the Oliver hills, and his cows are choking. And John Street, his land is clean because the wind kind of funneled the dust up over the hills and it landed beyond him. Andy has to water those cows and Street wants to charge ten cents a head. Andy says he’ll be damned if he pays money for the water that God put free on earth. So there’s gonna be a fight.”

  Lindsay looked through the door at that lump-headed mustang of his and saw, between his mind and the world, a moonlit night with 5,000 head of cattle, market-fat and full of beans, stampeding into the northeast with a thunder and rattle of split hoofs and a sword-like clashing of horns. He saw riders galloping ahead, vainly shooting into the face of the herd in the vain hope of turning it, until two of those cowpunchers, going it blind, clapped together and went down, head over heels.

  “They used to be friends,” said Lindsay. “They come so close to dying together, one night, that they been living side-by-side ever since . . . and they used to be friends.”

  “They got too damn’ rich,” suggested Renner. “A rich man ain’t nobody’s friend. It was you that saved the two hides of them one night in a stampede . . . ten, twelve years ago, wasn’t it?”

  Lindsay pointed to Mustard.

  “Now, I’m gonna tell you something about that,” he said. “The fact is that those cows would’ve washed right over the whole three of us, but I was riding that Mustard horse, and, when I turned him back and pointed him at the herd, he just went off like a Roman candle and scattered sparks right up to the Milky Way. He pitched so damn’ hard that he pretty near snapped my head off and he made himself look so big that those steers dog-gone near fainted and pushed aside from that spot.”

  Renner looked at the mustang with his natural sneer. Then he said: “Anyway, there’s gonna be a fight up there, and it’s gonna be paid for.”

  “There oughtn’t be no fight,” answered big Bob Lindsay, frowning.

  “They’re mean enough to fight,” said Renner. “Didn’t you save their scalps? And ain’t they left you to starve here on a hundred and twenty acres of blow-sand that can’t raise enough to keep a dog fat?”

  “Yeah?” said Lindsay. “Maybe you better be vamoosing along.”

  Renner looked at him, left the shack, and swung into the saddle. When he was safely there he muttered—“Ah, to hell with you.”—and jogged away.

  Lindsay, with a troubled mind, watched him out of sight. An hour later he saddled Mustard and took the way toward the Oliver hills.

  The Oliver hills lie west of the Powder Mountains, their sides fat with grasslands all the way to the ridge, and right over the crest walked the posts of the fence that separated the holdings of Andy Barnes from those of John Street. Lindsay, as he came up the old Mexican trail, stopped on a hilltop and took a careful view of the picture.

  He had to strain his eyes a little because dust was blowing like battle smoke off the whitened acres of Andy Barne
s and over the ridge, and that dust was stirred up by thousands of cattle that milled close to the fence line, drawn by the smell of water. Down the eastern hollows some of the beeves were wallowing in the holes where water once had been and where there was only mud now. But west of the ridge the lands of John Street were clean as green velvet under the noonday sun.

  Scattered down the Street side of the fence, a score of riders wandered up and down with significant lines of light balancing across the pommels of the saddles. Those were the rifles. As many more cowpunchers headed the milling cattle of Andy Barnes with difficulty, for in clear view of the cows, but on Street’s side of the fence, ran a knee-deep stream of silver water that spread out into a quiet blue lake, halfway down the slope.

  He found a gate on to the Street land and went through it. Two or three of the line riders hailed him with waving hats. One of them sang out: “Where’s your rifle, brother? Men ain’t worth a damn here without they got rifles.”

  He found John Street sitting on a spectacular black horse just west of a hilltop, where the rise of land gave him shelter from ambitious sharpshooters. When he saw Lindsay, he grabbed him by the shoulders and bellowed like a bull in spring: “I knew you’d be over and I knew you’d be on the right side! By God, it’s been eleven years since I was as glad to see you as I am today. . . . Boys, I wanna tell you what Bob Lindsay here done for me when I got caught in. . . .”

  “Shut up, will you?” said Lindsay. “Looks like Andy has got some pretty dry cows, over yonder.”

  “I hope they dry up till there’s nothing but wind in their bellies,” said John Street.

  “I thought you and Andy been pretty good friends,” said Lindsay.

  “If he was my brother . . . if he was two brothers . . . if he was my son and daughter and my pa and ma, he’s so damn’ mean that I’d see him in hellfire before I’d give him a cup of water to wash the hellfire cinders out of his throat,” said John Street.

  So Lindsay rode back to the gate and around to the party of Andy Barnes, passing steers with caked, dry mud of the choked water holes layered around their muzzles. They were red-eyed with thirst and their bellowing seemed to rise like an unnatural thunder out of the ground instead of booming from the skies. Yearlings, already knock-kneed with weakness, were shouldered to the ground by the heavier stock and lay there, surrendering.