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Max Brand

  First Skyhorse Publishing edition published 2014 by arrangement with Golden West Literary Agency

  Copyright © 2013 by Golden West Literary Agency

  Stagecoach first appeared as “Sammy Gregg’s Mustang Herd” in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (10/3/25). Copyright © 1925 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1953 by Dorothy Faust. “Gregg’s Coach Line” in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (10/17/25). Copyright © 1925 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1953 by Dorothy Faust. “Sammy Gregg and the Posse” in Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine (10/31/25). Copyright © 1925 by Street & Smith Publications, Inc. Copyright © renewed 1953 by Dorothy Faust. Copyright © 2013 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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  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.

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

  Cover design by Brian Peterson

  Print ISBN: 978-1-62914-382-8

  Ebook ISBN: 978-1-63220-133-1

  Printed in the United States of America

  Chapter One

  Someone who knew what he was talking about said that no man should go into the West—the real frontier West, that is—unless he was capable of inspiring some measure of awe. Perhaps by his personal dignity, which is, after all, the best way of keeping a man out of trouble. Or through physical strength or mere size, or by dauntless power of eye, or through fighting skill—any or all of these attributes would be most serviceable. But Sammy Gregg did not have any of them.

  He wasn’t a whit more than eight inches above five feet, and he did not stand straight enough to take advantage of all of those meager inches, even. He walked with a slight stoop, as a rule, leaning over like a man about to start from a walk to a run. He looked as though he were always in a hurry, and, as a matter of fact, he usually was. His weight was about a hundred and thirty pounds, or a trifle more in winter, and a little less when the hot weather of the summer began to set in. It was not tough, well-seasoned muscle, either. It was quite flabby. And he had small bones, and little, narrow, nervous hands. His eyes were pale, and rather near-sighted, so that he had a half frightened look, when it wasn’t simply wistfully inquiring. His pale forehead was constantly contorted with a frown—which was not a frown of bad temper, but of eagerness.

  The only truly remarkable thing about Sammy, indeed, was that same eagerness. Like the eagerness of a hunting ferret—if you can imagine a ferret without teeth. But one felt about Sammy a vast earnestness, rooted as deep as the roots of his soul, a singular intentness in which he was absorbed. That was the secret of the bigness that was in Sammy, for some bigness there was. The trouble was the West, and the people of the West, were not fitted for understanding this small man.

  I suppose, for that matter, that he was a rarity in almost any climate. He had the simplicity of a child mixed oddly with some of the guile of a serpent, I am afraid. It was always very hard to understand Sammy. I, for one, never could pretend to hold the key to his complex nature. I can only describe him as he was.

  In the first place, he did not come West to raise cattle nor horses, or to ride herd on the cow range, or to dig gold for himself or any other, or to start up as a storekeeper in one of the new towns. He came West with $5,000 in his pockets and a desire to invest it. Choice he had none. He was ready for anything out of which he might make money.

  You will think that he would have been wiser to sink that sum of money in a bank rather than expose it, naked, to the air of that climate where gold turned so quickly to bloody rust. But I must add one more thing to my character of Sammy Gregg. He was not afraid. There was no fear in him. Fear did not interest Sammy, but dollars did.

  Not from a blind love of coin, either. The impelling motive was love for a girl who kept house for an uncle in a Brooklyn flat and waited for word from Sammy from the wilderness. Sammy had found the lady of his heart long before he ever got on the train that brought him to Munson. Oh, unromantic Sammy. He had fallen in love with her not suddenly, and not from any exciting meeting, but simply because this fair-haired girl had been known to him during his entire life. She had grown up in the back yard next to his. He had made faces at her when he was five years old, peering at her through a hole in the board fence, and that day she ran crying into her house for fear of him. Afterward, he walked to school with her at his side, regardless of the other boys who pointed their fingers at him.

  Sammy had no time for the opinions of outsiders. If you consider it from the most logical point of view, you will see that we indulge ourselves in a luxury when we spend energy to conciliate the good will of our neighbors. And Sammy never had any extra strength to spend. He was not, in short, interested in public opinion, and that was why he was such an oddity as I, for one, have never seen the like of.

  For instance, he was known as a coward in the schoolyard for years, simply because he did not think that it was worthwhile to fight back and have his face smashed up by the fists of another. But when the legend of his cowardice made the schoolyard tyranny too uncomfortable—when his schoolfellows could not let him alone at any recess but had to pluck at him like sparrows at a strange bird—then he changed his mind. He decided that the time had come to end the persecution. He deliberately selected the largest boy in the yard, picked a fight, and had the satisfaction beyond his fondest hopes of planting the first two blows upon the other—one hard little fist on either eye of the tall youth. Afterward he received a tremendous thrashing from the capable fists of that same boy, but thereafter he was left in peace. If it cost the best fighter in the school two black eyes to handle Sammy, the others decided that they wanted none of his medicine. So he was allowed to go his way, no longer pointed at, even when he wheeled out his infant brother in the baby carriage, or when he packed the books of the girl next door to school and walked beside her going home. It was taken for granted even thus early that Sammy was to marry Susie Mitchell. Their own parents pointed out that there was even something in the names that fitted them for one another. Sammy and Susie. Like two names picked out of a book and linked together in fiction.

  I should not say that Sammy loved Susie with a devouring passion as he grew up. But she was a part of his life. He cared for her as he cared for himself, I might say. He had admitted her into his life and she had grown into it like a graft into the trunk of a tree. He thought of her as often as he thought of himself. And if he were not passionately unhappy when he was away from her, he was certainly worried and irritated and confused and ill at ease. When he was at her side, he did not want to kiss her or fondle her or say foolish things to her, or even hold her hand. But he was satisfied—as a cow is satisfied when it is in its own pasture, near its own red barn.
r />   I do not want to cheapen Sammy. But I want to point out that his steadfastness in his love was not the result of overwhelming passion. It was rather the result of weakness. He had not room for many hearts of others in his life. There was no strength or space in him for that. For his own mother or father, or brother or sisters, he felt not the slightest emotion. And when brother Charlie died, Sammy went to sleep at the funeral. More than that, he was not ashamed of his sleep.

  “Why not?” he said to his outraged mother. “The room was so hot and stuffy with the smell of all those flowers.”

  After that, the members of his family scorned him. Their own hearts were so tender, so true, and their own sentiments were so noble and so pure. But Sammy simply went on busily with his affairs, doing the things that counted most practically for his own ultimate happiness. And, among others, he worked as often as he could and he saved every penny of his earnings.

  Because he knew his weaknesses. He knew that he was not brilliant or wise or studious or profound, or physically powerful or nervously dynamic. He was simply a little bit weaker than everyone he knew—except the cripple on the corner—and he realized that the only manner in which he could make any progress would be to attempt to do only a few things, but to do those few things very well. And, to increase his own strength, he must have some other allied power working for him as soon as possible—the power of money.

  So he saved and scraped and lived cheaply and labored earnestly at his jobs. He was out of school at fifteen and he was constantly contributing to the savings bank on the first of every month until one day in his twenty-fifth year when he had a little talk with Susie Mitchell.

  “When are we to be married?” asked Susie.

  “Oh, someday,” Sammy answered. “When I get enough money to live on right . . .”

  “I’m twenty-five, the same as you,” said Susie. “That’s not so young.”

  He looked askance at her in wonder. But her pretty face was very grave and her blue eyes—as pale and gentle as his own—were fixed firmly upon his face.

  “Besides,” Susie said, “I don’t go in for style. You know that. I don’t mind working. I don’t mind a small house to live in. I don’t aim much higher than what my mother got when she married. But I think that it’s time we married, and had some children . . . and things like that. Jiminy, Sammy, you’ve got a lot more than most young fellows have. And look what a swell salary you get . . . fifteen a week. A regular position, I call it, down there at the paper mill . . . where you’ll be raised, too, after four or five years more. The manager certainly told you about that himself.”

  Mind you, this was long before the day when carpenters got as much a day as Sammy worked for in a week. In the time of which I write, $60 a month was enough for an office man, with many other men under him, assistants, and all that. Those were the days when the boys pointed out the man who lived in the big corner house, because it was said that he got $125 a month.

  So $60 was quite a bit, but it was not enough for Sammy. He said: “Let me have a chance to think this over.” Then he went away and reviewed his position.

  In the first place, he had to marry Susie, there was no doubt about that. And he had to marry her quick. He would as soon dream of going on through life without her as he would dream of going on through life without a leg—or without two legs. Susie was simply a part of his spirit and of his flesh, too. But he was afraid of marriage. He had seen other youths attempt marriage and he had seen children and accompanying doctor bills and ill health break down their savings, ruin their nerves, keep them awake with worry, and fill their lives with gloom. Sammy would not stand the chance of such a disaster, because he knew his own strength and he knew that it could not endure through sleepless nights. He felt that he could never marry unless he could marry comfortably. And he had established as a goal a sum of $15,000. With that amount working for him at interest, he would be safe. Even if he lost his health, he could support his family on that same interest until he was well again. A goal still $10,000 away—and Susie wanted to get married.

  He came back to Susie. He said: “I am going away for six months. Will you wait that long?”

  “Going away!” cried Susie.

  “To make ten thousand dollars.”

  Susie laughed, at first. But when she saw that he was in earnest, she was filled with a sort of religious awe. It seemed hardly moral and decent for a young fellow to speak of hoping to make $10,000 in a mere half year. It had never been done in her family. It made her almost think of enchantment—certainly it made her think very strongly of crime.

  She could almost see her little Sammy Gregg with a black mask tied across the bridge of his nose and a snub-nosed revolver clutched in his hand stealing up behind the back of some florid banker. She could almost see it, and the thing gave her a shock of horror.

  “Don’t go, Sammy,” she breathed to him. “Don’t go, Sammy.”

  He did not listen to her. He hardly heard her voice. He was filled with his own thoughts, which were already in a far-away country where dollars grew more readily than they grew in Brooklyn. He was thinking of the accounts that flooded newspapers and magazines from time to time of great fortunes scooped up by a single gesture of the wise men.

  In crises we are apt to stop thinking and fall back upon superstitions, religion, fairy tales. So did young Sammy Gregg. He decided to follow his new vision. It was a hunch, and for the first time in his life he was about to do a risky thing. I had to explain all of this because without understanding a little of the background of Sammy, it would be quite impossible to make head or tail of him as he was when he appeared before the grinning populace of Munson, that rude little city in the Western hills. But if Sammy performed at times feats that seemed well beyond his strength, you must remember that there was a spur driven constantly into his soul—the loss of Susie. He was in constant misery. For he was away from her. He could not hurry home from his work and wave out of his window and see her waving back from hers. He could not walk through the little park with her in the evening. Her flesh was three thousand miles away. Her spirit was three thousand miles away. And Sammy was maddened by the sense of loss.

  Chapter Two

  I have called Munson rude, and it was still something more than rude and rough. It was self-conscious. The worst and the toughest town that ever existed on the cattle trails or in the mining districts in the very early days, when murders punctuated every day of a community’s existence, could never equal for concentrated viciousness the towns of the later periods of the Western frontier—the periods of which I am writing now.

  In the early times, when a man committed a murder it was, nine chances out of ten, because he had been blinded and poisoned and maddened with bad whiskey. Or else, he was simply a brute and a bully, and as such he did not last long to murder others. A noose was fetched around his neck and he was yanked up to the limb of a tree and left to wriggle there.

  But in the later days the real bad men began to crop up. They were bad with a capital B. The reason was that the Easterners and the foreigners and the bad actors of the cities—the rooks and the gamblers and the yeggs and the safe-crackers and the gunmen decided to move two thousand miles West and start life over again wearing two guns openly, instead of one gun hidden. And they went West with a rush and right away they started in being “open and spacious” and “free and easy” and “silent” and “noble”. Oh, yes, there were hundreds of men out there being dignified and noble as fast as they could load their guns, you might say. And they were the ones who made all of the worst trouble, I can tell you.

  Were they tenderfeet? No, they weren’t. No man who has done his stretch or his fiver is a tenderfoot. Any man who has done his bit of time up the river has acquired a skin thick enough for all ordinary purposes of wear in any part of this globe. Those fellows went West with their guns. And they started right in begging for attention.

  They were the boys who began to kill not because they were drunk, or because they were stup
id bullies. No, they were intelligent, cunning, cruel men, and they killed because they wanted fame—or that article that will do for fame on the rough frontier—notoriety.

  Think of it from a point of view of advertising. A man who could shoot straight might buy himself a dozen headlines for the price of one loading of his six-gun. That’s what you might call something for nothing. And so, when you trace it back to the beginning, it was the wonder and the shuddering and the worship of the coddled, comfortable East that created the real Western bad man who would as soon kill as light a cigarette. So, after a little time, you began to have your real outlaw—your fellow with a list of twenty deaths, say, established on his record and as many more not proved. And still the bad men lived.

  Not so in the old days of the first frontiers. No, the bad boys were taken out under a tree and their necks were stretched like the very deuce, and they were left hanging there to stretch all the crimps out of their souls. Amazing what a lot of good one hanging like that would do in a whole big county the size of the state of Maine.

  Well, the fashion changed. It became admirable to shoot straight—at other human beings. There was always the plea of self-defense. What a ghastly lot of crimes were attached to that pair of words.

  I have gone on at some length to give you an idea of just the sort of place Munson was—Munson, to which our thin-skinned Sammy was being swiftly whirled by the train. And that is why I say that Munson at this era was tougher than tough—because it was self-conscious.

  The train stopped, and Sammy swung down from the steps and reached for a platform, but unfortunately he found none. The sight of that swinging, pawing foot of his, and his skinny leg, was enough to catch half a dozen wicked eyes. He was already being laughed at before he dropped down to the ground and presented all of himself for the first time to the eye of Munson.

  Before he had well landed, Lawson himself was in charge. The first thing he did was to let out a yell that so startled young Sammy that he almost leaped backward under the wheels of the slowly moving train. Sammy, however, was perfectly lacking in the very thing of which Munson was full—self-consciousness. He did not dream, after a moment of reflection, that that yell had been meant for him. So he simply picked up his heavy grip and stepped forward toward the crooked little dusty street where the sign said Hotel. He stepped forward, and as he walked, he settled his hat more firmly on his head.