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Max Brand

  First Skyhorse Publishing edition published 2015 by arrangement with Golden West Literary Agency

  Copyright © 2011 by Golden West Literary Agency.

  “The Man from the Sky” by Peter Henry Morland first appeared in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (6/2/28). Copyright © 1928 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1955 by the Estate of Frederick Faust. Copyright © 2011 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for their co-operation.

  “Peyton” under the title “Jerry Peyton’s Notched Inheritance” by George Owen Baxter first appeared as a five-part serial in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (11/25/20 – 12/25/20). Copyright © 1920 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1948 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2011 by Golden West Literary Agency for restored material. Acknowledgment is made to Condé Nast Publications, Inc., for their co-operation.

  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.

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

  Cover design by Brian Peterson

  Print ISBN: 978-1-62914-372-9

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63220-089-1

  Printed in the United States of America

  Table of Contents

  The Man from the Sky


  About the Author

  The Man from the Sky

  “The Man from the Sky” is the second short story in the four-part saga of Paul Torridon. The first story, “Torridon”, appeared in Gunman’s Rendezvous (Skyhorse Publishing, 2015).


  When Torridon wakened, the sun was not five minutes below the horizon, and he jumped from his blankets and reproached himself in silent gloom. For many days, now, he had been striving to imitate the habits of Roger Lincoln. That great hunter had observed that life on the plains was best begun with the first grayness of dawn, and best ended with the total dark. Or, he would say, a little more morning, a little more evening, made one day into two. Even the Indians might be gained upon in this manner, and as for the ordinary whites who trekked across the plains, they worked like moles, a step at a time, blindly.

  But here was another day stolen almost upon Torridon before he was on his feet.

  He was surprised that the fire was not burning, but, as a matter of fact, Roger Lincoln was nowhere around. The gray mare grazed close to the camp, near tall Ashur. But Roger Lincoln apparently had gone off to hunt; his rifle was missing with him.

  This was not extraordinary. Between the dark and the dawn always was the best hunting, he used to observe—when the plains animals were least aware of the world, their senses yet unsharpened, and before they were aware that the sheltering blanket of the night had been withdrawn from them they might be stolen upon and dispatched.

  The sun had a dazzling eye out over the plain before Torridon had finished these observations. In a moment more it was above the edge of the sky. It was time to prepare breakfast. As a matter of fact, Roger Lincoln did not like to make fires in the day; the thin arms of smoke that rose waved signals to a great distance and attracted unknown eyes.

  “Everything you don’t know is dangerous,” Lincoln was apt to say.

  Therefore, in the preparation of the fire, Torridon was extra careful. In a small patch of brush nearby he found some dead branches, and these he broke up small, and lighted and maintained the smallest of fires. He had learned from Lincoln, too, that a great flare of fire is not necessary for cookery. A small tongue of flame playing constantly right on the bottom of a pan will accomplish great results. And it is a fine art to extend gradually a bed of coals that casts off no smoke at all.

  By great efforts and perfect concentration, he was assured when he had breakfast prepared that there had not been more than one or two puffs of smoke large enough to be worth noticing. The rest was a fume that hardly could have been visible two hundred yards away.

  When he had finished the cookery, he sat down to wait. It might be that Lincoln had found an attractive shot, wounded the game, and been drawn far afield to track it.

  So he waited a full hour, ate a cold meal, and settled himself again.

  The sun was high, walking slowly through the heavens, and the heat became momently greater. The air was delicate with the scent of the May bloom of the prairie. And he began to drowse.

  Since they began their long march for Fort Kendry, and had voyaged beyond the settlements into the emptiness of the plains, Lincoln had insisted on hard journeys every day, and Torridon, in consequence, had been put through a severe grilling. He had grown thinner and more brown in the open air. His muscles were taking on a tough fiber such as they never had possessed before, but nevertheless it had often been torture. He was just beginning to be inured to the labor and the constant racking in the saddle. If it had not been for the silken gaits of the great black stallion, he knew that he never could have kept up his end. But now he saw a chance to rest.

  Roger Lincoln, no doubt, never would have dreamed of drowsing in the uncovered nakedness of the prairie during the day, but that was because he was almost more panther than man. And young Torridon felt that he was gathered into a deep security by the very fact that, no matter what enemy the prairie might hold, it also held Roger Lincoln. To the wisdom, the skill, the courage of that famous man he implicitly bowed.

  So he fell sound asleep, with his head in the shadow of a small bush. There would be a quiet lecture from Lincoln when that hunter returned to the camp, but the joy of relaxing in the sun that drew the soreness from his muscles was more than the youngster could forego.

  He wakened at last with a start, feeling that he had been hearing whispering voices. His heart was beating wildly, and he got to his knees and looked cautiously about him.

  Lincoln’s gray mare and Ashur still were grazing nearby; nothing stirred on the plain except the shining footprints of the wind upon the grass, now and again.

  He was reassured by this sense of peace until, glancing down, he saw that his shadow lay small at his feet. The sun was straight overhead, and he had slept away the entire morning. Half a day had gone by, and there was no trace of Roger Lincoln’s return.

  In seven hours he could have gone afoot nearly twenty miles out and twenty miles back. But it might be that, starting back with a heavy load of newly shot game, he had stepped in a hole and wrenched an ankle. Even Roger Lincoln could not be entirely impervious to accident.

  Torridon made up two packs, carefully, like a schoolboy working to please a master, for Lincoln was a shrewd and keen critic of everything that his pupil did. He knew how to make silence thunder with his displeasure.

  When that work seemed fairly well done, then he mounted Ashur, and, taking the gray on the lead, he began to ride through the prairie. Lincoln had showed him how to go abou
t such a thing, using a starting point as the center of widening circles, and so tracing a larger and a larger web, covering every inch of the ground.

  For two hours he kept Ashur in brisk motion. At the end of that time he paused at the verge of a riverbed and began to arrange his thoughts. There had been no sight and there had been no sign of his companion. Though, from the back of a horse, half a dozen times he had been on low hillocks from which the plain was visible for many miles around, nothing had moved into his ken.

  He freshened his grip on the heavy rifle that he had learned to balance across the pommel of his saddle, and fought back the panic that leaped up in his breast. Something had happened to Roger Lincoln! He swallowed hard when he thought what that meant.

  Fort Kendry, where he hoped to find Nancy Brett, still was eight days’ march away from them, Lincoln had said, and, as for its direction, he had only the slightest idea. He could see, now, that he had been following the great scout with half of his brain asleep, trusting blindly to the guidance of his companion and never trying to think out the trail problems for himself.

  He was lost, then. He was totally lost.

  Across his mind went grim memories of tales he had heard from Lincoln about the plains—men who wandered for weary weeks, with no game in sight, with no glimpse of a human being, until chance saved them—saved one out of a hundred who passed through such a time.

  And he, Paul Torridon, ignorant totally of all that a lonely man should do, ignorant of the way to return, ignorant of the trail that lay ahead, what would become of him? Dreadful panic gripped him, shook him. He was lost!

  He got down off his horse and took out paper and pencil. He wrote swiftly:

  To whoever finds my body. If my gun and my horse are near, you are welcome to them. Treat the horse well. It is the best I ever have seen. Only—if you wish to ride him, don’t wear spurs. They drive him mad. Whatever I have you are welcome to.

  But for heaven’s sake take the enclosed note to Nancy Brett, at Fort Kendry. She is living there with her cousin, Samuel Brett, and his wife.

  He signed that Paul Torridon, and then he went on to write, more slowly:

  Dear Nancy:

  I write this knowing that I am hopelessly lost on the plains and that I haven’t one chance in a hundred of coming out alive. This will reach you only if white men and not red find my body.

  Dear Nancy, you will have heard terrible things about the way we broke out from John Brett’s house. They kept me locked in the cellar for ten days. They did what they could to torment me, and on the eleventh morning they were to finish me off. That night Roger Lincoln came. He managed to slip past the guards and get to me. They surprised us as we were trying to get out. In the fight, I know that we shot down four men. I hope that all of them lived. If not, I want you to know that we only fired because we were fighting for our lives.

  Then Roger Lincoln started to take me west to Fort Kendry, because he had heard from Jack that you were to be taken there. We got to this point, then Roger disappeared one morning from the camp.

  Whether some animal killed him, or Indians surprised him, I don’t know. I only know that he didn’t come back. If he is dead, heaven be good to him. He was the bravest and the best man in the world!

  Oh, Nancy, if I had known that our ride down the valley was to be the last time that I should ever see you, I never would have left. But that chance is gone. I’d think that my life was thrown away—because I’ve never done anything worth living for—but I know that for one day, at least, you loved me, dearest Nan, and that is more than the world to me. And when I think of you now, it makes my heart ache more than death can do.

  Beautiful, beautiful Nan, good bye. Remember me.


  When he had written this he put it away in his wallet, and then he gave himself up to sad thoughts until tears came into his eyes, and even trickled down his cheeks.

  Something stirred on the inner side of the riverbank. He caught up his rifle from the ground beside him and listened, hair on end. It was a stealthy rustling, a stealing noise that seemed to his straining senses to come straight toward him.

  And then, above the bank, came the proud head of a stag, and a beautiful young deer stood outlined against the sky just above him.


  His heartbreaking sorrow he forgot with desperate speed. Here was food for a month, if only he could catch it. At the shift of his rifle to his shoulder, the deer saw him and leaped not back, but straight ahead. It was a blurred streak at which he fired. The racing animal gave three tremendous bounds, the last high in the air, and fell dead.

  Torridon stood up and looked to the white-hot sky in mute thankfulness. Certainly this was a gift from heaven to him, the novice hunter.

  Feverishly, paying no heed to the future, but all for the sake of the future, he worked during the rest of that day. He had been shown by Lincoln the proper way to strip off a pelt, but he rather hacked the good hide away. The meat was what he wanted, and that meat he cut into long strips. Out of the willows along the riverbed he prepared many slender sticks, and these he used to hang the venison upon.

  How long would the sun take to dry the meat thoroughly?

  Then night came on him as his labors neared an end. He was tired with excitement and with work. He lay down and slept like a child. Once, before morning, Ashur neighed softly, and stamped. Torridon was on his feet at once, and found the great black stallion beside him, almost trampling on him, while the pricked ears and the glistening eyes of the horse were turned toward the north. Yonder in the darkness some danger was moving—coyote, wolf, bear, Indian, renegade white. He knew that the two fine horses would be enough to enlarge the heart of any trapper with fierce greed, and, as for the Indians, Roger Lincoln had assured him that any Indian on the plains would pay all but life for the possession even of the famous gray mare, to say nothing of that matchless king of runners, Ashur.

  Still lay Torridon, one ear close to the ground, his attention directed by the stallion, as Ashur veered a little, and pointed now more to the east. Yet Torridon heard nothing whatever. A long half hour—and then Ashur put down his head and began to graze once more. The danger had ended.

  And Torridon, though he told himself that he could not sleep again after such a shock, was almost instantly in slumber once more. After all, there was Ashur, more keenly alive and alert, more dependable than any human sentinel.

  The morning was only past him while his brain still was befogged. His first thought was: I have lived one day in the desert, and the finish of me is not yet. No, there’s the meat that will keep me alive for a long time, if I use patience.

  It was a day of burning heat. It ate through the coat of Torridon, stout homespun though it was, and fairly singed his shoulders. It covered the prairie with shimmering lines of heat as with a veil, and it wrought wonders upon the meat, as though a slow fire were playing on the wet venison.

  All that day and the next Torridon watched the curing of the meat. But by that time he began to feel that the prairie, after all, was not so totally dangerous. Running down the edge of the narrow rivulet that wound back and forth through the pebbles and the boulders of the stream bottom, there seemed to be a constant procession of rabbits. He did not need to shoot them. The simplest little traps, constructed as Lincoln had showed him how to do, were sufficient to snare the jacks. Torridon lived well and watched his venison cure to strips withered and black-looking, hard as boards, but promising much nutriment. He had a pack of that food prepared before the thing was ended, and then he asked himself where he should go.

  What would Roger Lincoln do if he were not dead and ever managed to escape from the troubles that now held him? It seemed obvious to Torridon. In the first place, the hunter would inquire at Fort Kendry to learn if the traveler had come. In the second place, Lincoln would go to the spot of that last camp and there strive to take up the trail.

  So Torridon went back, and, where the fire had been built, he drove down a strong stake. The
stake he split, and in the split he fixed firmly a bit of paper that simply said:

  Dear Roger:

  I’ve decided to go south to the first river, and then follow that river toward the right—west. I’ll keep on it to its source. I don’t know what else to do, and I’d go mad if I stayed here in the loneliness without a move of some kind.

  Paul Torridon

  He added as a postscript:

  If I turn to the left from the river, I’ll put two blazes on a big tree. If I turn to the right, I’ll put one.

  That might, eventually, be the means for bringing Roger Lincoln to the trail of him.

  Then he went back to the river to the south, by the banks of which he had killed the deer and cured its venison. He turned to the right and journeyed slowly up its banks. He had no reason to journey fast; rather he dreaded leaving the stream by coming to the end of it. For a day he went up it, and then came to a fork. A mere trickle of water descended each big gorge. Apparently later in the summer the bed would be entirely dry, and only in the winter the water roared down in floods. He hesitated for a long time at that division of the trail. Both forks seemed of an equal size. Neither carried more water than the other, and as for their direction, one pointed a little northwest, the other a little south of west. There was not a whit to choose between them.

  He chose the northern one, therefore, because this made it unnecessary for him to cross either of the beds of the streams.

  Up the northern fork he continued for two days, and all that time he had no cause to use up his precious stock of dried venison. Rabbit meat was plentiful, and rabbit was not yet a weary diet to him.

  The third day he found the stream diminishing rapidly in size. And before noon he came to another forking. Once more he paused to consider his course. At the junction of the two streams high water had carved off the point of land and left there a little triangular island, with one of two trees supported on it, a willow, and an oak, half of whose roots had been washed bare, so that the trunk sagged perceptibly to the north and seemed in danger of being carried away in the floods of the next winter.